Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Spirituality Revisited

The Fulfillment of All Desire:  A Guidebook to God Based on the Wisdom of the Saints. 
Martin, Ralph (2006-07-01). 
Emmaus Road Publishing. Kindle Edition.

"Part of Catherine's special mission as a Doctor in the Church is to teach the biblical worldview that is found in the Scripture, augmented by the particular insights that the Father gives her for this purpose. But all the Doctors of the Church that we are considering share this worldview, in all its essentials. All of them write in light of the seriousness of the situation of the human race apart from Christ, the reality of heaven and hell, and the urgent necessity to order one's life as much as possible to the following of Jesus— right now. As Bernard bluntly puts it: 

Lord Jesus , whoever refuses to live for you is clearly worthy of death, and is in fact dead already. Whoever does not know you is a fool. And whoever wants to become something without you, without doubt that man is considered nothing and is just that. . . . You have made all things for yourself, O God, and whoever wants to live for himself and not for you, in all that he does, is nothing. “Fear God, and keep his commandments,” it is said, “for this is the whole duty of man (Eccles. 12: 13).” (p. 61)

Ralph Martin never disappoints. This title was one of the highlights of my summer reading. It is the fruit of his years of studying and lecturing. The book binds the great Western mystics, especially Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, Bernard of Clairvaux, John of the Cross, Francis de Sales, Therese of Lisieux, to Sacred Scripture in contemporary fashion; it offers some very special challenges and a good measure of hope to lay people in their quest for a deep prayer life.

Some of those who read me faithfully might be aware that with the exception of Francis de Sales, I struggle with this category of saints and find it hard not to class them obscure. Let us just say that I am most grateful to have had the possibility of standing on Ralph Martin's shoulders to get a better look! Thank you, Ralph! Readers, give this one a try! You will be handsomely rewarded.

The Interior Life

Soul of the Apostolate. 
Chautard, Dom Jean-Baptiste (1977-06-01).
TAN Books. Kindle Edition. 

"The mortal life of Our Lord was nothing else but a continual manifestation of this inexhaustible liberality. The Gospel shows us the Redeemer scattering along His way the treasures of love of a Heart eager to draw all men to truth and to life. This apostolic flame has been passed on by Jesus to His Church, which is the gift of His love, which diffuses His life, manifests His truth, and shines with the splendor of His sanctity." (p. 5)

This 1946 title is a veritable classic, which formed part of the library of most priests with 60 years of ministry under their belts. Except for the above quote, it can be hard reading because it comes out of a world and a vocabulary unfamiliar to most folks. Nonetheless, it makes an important point that would be worth the while of lots of pastoral agents of today to learn. The soul of the apostolate is the interior life, the ongoing and tenacious quest for sanctity, for union with Christ. 

Apart from insisting that the personal sanctity of the priest is the key to spiritual fruitfulness, Chautard spends time debunking the claim that the success of the then popular Catholic Action Movement rested on gimmicks. He in effect restores the heart to St. John Bosco's oratory movement: more than soccer, Foosball, marching bands and clean movies, he insists that promoting the few young men and boys capable of interiority, giving them spiritual direction through weekly confession, that there is no other way to spread the Gospel.

I read the book on my retreat this summer and recommend it highly. It is a Catholic alternative to much of what is presently in favor among those zealous folk who are truly seeking the spread of the Kingdom. I really think that it presents some of the key elements for the recovery and promotion of the faith among the younger generation. It is far more concrete about the requirements of a genuine priestly spirituality, yes also for our day, than most of what you will find on the market.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Dirty Thirties

It is great being home on vacation! Apart from renewing old friendships, making new ones and seeing how much the younger nieces and nephews have grown since last year, it truly becomes a time of reminiscing and retracing roots. Although my parents were young children in the hard times of the 1930's here in the Upper Midwest of the US, putting me a full generation away from the ecological disaster which was the Dustbowl, invariably reminiscing touches indirectly on the period by recalling family which fled west from that cataclysm in hopes of finding the wherewithal to survive. Most everyone has a shirttail relation in California, Washington or Oregon.

In many cases those economic refugees, because of the proximity in time to parents and grandparents who had settled on the prairie having turned their backs on tough times in the Old Country,  hadn't really been on this treeless land all that long. You might say they were just continuing a journey in stages, not unlike Israel's 40 years of wandering in the desert. Established ourselves, we can hardly relate to the fragility of human existence, which made our grandparents especially so terribly frugal.

I bring this up simply as an aid to my own understanding of why so much of the tragedy of both the Middle East and of Ukraine just passes right over people's heads today. A young journalist friend in particular comes to mind. He seemed indeed puzzled when in a recent interview I gave to Vatican Radio, I spoke of as life threatening for the minority Catholic Church in Ukraine the destabilization provoked by Russian aggression. Not only he perhaps fails to grasp the menace. Shooting down a passenger plane to make a point goes far beyond saber rattling. Lots of older people I know would comprehend immediately, as far as family goes, the implications of such a menace for life and family, and hence for the Church. While wishing no one the tenuous existence of the 30's, I feel stymied by the incomprehension of those who have never been or even felt endangered. In the Dustbowl days some headed west, while others remained on the land, but everyone suffered.

In medicine, you can have a doctor who is a great surgeon and another who is a great diognostician. If you cannot have your cake and eat it too, I guess I would prefer the diagnostician. For Ukraine with the renewed buildup of Russian troops along the Ukrainian border, the worst case scenario news articles are legion. They are easily dismissed, but the suffering in the war zone, the displaced population, the dead cannot so be dismissed. Destabilization: how many young parents are agonizing over whether they should press their children to "go west", perhaps before it is too late.

I stand by my assertion that at present the Catholic Church has been put at risk by an outside aggressor, who seems to care little for the families of that land. The great mystery of Divine Providence forbids us to lose hope, confident as we are of the love Whose Face we have seen in Christ, but it is sort of like King David choosing his punishment for the sin of having counted the people. He chose not to be delivered up to his enemies. Please, pray with me that Ukraine be spared from the hands of men as well. Joseph was able to understand that his brothers' selling him into slavery in Egypt was to be the ransome of his people. May the Name of The Lord be praised!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Joshua's Vision

"Once when Joshua was by Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing before him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went to him and said to him, "Are you one of us, or one of our adversaries?" He replied, "Neither, but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and he said to him, "What do you command your servant, my lord?" The commander of the army of the LORD said to Joshua, "Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy." And Joshua did so."  (Joshua 5:13-15).

Thinking about the ruthless attacks of the Russian soldiers of fortune in Ukraine and the even more devastating destruction of Mosul and all it stands for in terms of the survival of Christianity in the Middle East, Joshua's vision came to mind, the encouragement he received as he prepared to lay siege to Jericho and begin the conquest of the Land promised to Israel by God. As convinced as I am, that if it be His Will, God will save the Christian presence in its cradle lands even without a 3rd millennium edition of the Crusades, I would not be adverse to hearing news that "The commander of the army of the LORD" had made his appearance. Maybe it is enough to say that there is something terribly wrong about the world standing idly by to the tune of another genocide. You might say that I keep waiting for another parting of the waves.

Preach against this so called caliphate or against Putin's horde I cannot nor will I. Somehow announcing that trust in the LORD is our salvation seems just too enigmatic. Nonetheless, I would be wrong if I did not confess all the marvels I have witnessed over the last months in Ukraine. I can wish that others would share in my hope for victory over oppression. I suspect that we owe more to the LORD of all, that our worship cannot match Joshua's, that we are not prompt enough in obeying His command to remove our shoes in His Presence.

Lest it all sound too Old Testament, too warrior-like, let me close by confessing faith in the Blood of Christ's Cross, sufficient once and for all to save us from sin and everlasting death. Let us all take refuge in the Saviour's outstretched arms, for indeed His mercy will not fail us.


The Other Zebedee

St. James was the other son of Zebedee, both Apostles, but different than his brother John, the beloved disciple, James is among the earliest martyrs, another eliminated by Herod in his wrath.

Was he any less loved by God for not being spared a martyr's death? Hardly! Our faith teaches that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. James is a giant, as the centuries of pilgrimage to Compostela  attest.

And yet, those who would enter into the mystery of Christ's love are discouraged from outright seeking martyrdom. The Blood of Christ is sufficient and our witness in faith to that Blood might just as well be a confessor's or a virgin's, like John, as that of a martyr, like James.

These days I am reading a 20th Century spiritual classic from 1946, The Soul of the Apostolate, which is very much about the personal prerequisites for fruitful ministry for the sake of the Gospel. The book condemns activism in no uncertain terms and teaches the cultivation of an interior life, a life of prayer, as indeed it is The Lord Jesus Who accomplishes everything.

Certainly, it was the faith of James, his sanctity of life, in communion with The Lord, Risen and Victorious over sin and death, which provoked Herod and crowned James with martyrdom. Not knowing which brother's lot will be ours, we must seek intimate union with Jesus and bend to His Holy Will. It cannot not be inspired by that boundless love which draws us to Him.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Charisma vs. Canon

Talking with a priest friend, who has given of himself without counting the cost to reform his parish's liturgy and feed his people, I found myself once again before a challenge which cannot be. According to my friend, reforming the liturgy, while a determined effort, is to be likened to a "win-you-over" game of able and gentle persuasion. Especially when it comes to church music, old favorites can't be banned simply for being bad favorites and bad theology, or for having abusively supplanted prescribed texts. A "maladroit" appeal to authority is unacceptable and brother priests easily dismiss the accomplishments of a "trad" or an overly zealous "neocon". You could say that it is an even more worrisome case of "post-Benedict panic" written small. Instead of "one sows and another reaps", it sounds like "one reforms and another wrecks" might be a description of a change of pastors, all of it perceived as capricious by the puzzled flock.

 Charisma seems to be the sine qua non for shepherding these days. It cannot be. Ultimately, I guess you have to ask, "Who was the Cure of Ars?" Isn't great holiness on the part of the priest sufficient to renew a parish? Shouldn't most things play out according to the book? The other day, a family member expressed shock at the newsworthiness of a bishop putting an end to the 30+ years of the abuse of lay preaching he had found in that diocese. Rules are rules, as any child will tell you. Why indeed can't I "play by the book"!

Since we are writing things small, I will limit myself to an appeal to episcopal authority. To do what? Simply to enforce the rules, I guess. First and foremost, to put an end to liturgical abuse, to laud priests with regular confession times that permit people to confess before Communion, to encourage truly sacred music and help priests make it possible even in tiny parishes. A lot of Vianney "stuff", if you will. If we do not hold to the sacred canons, well, then we're in Limbo, and that cannot be.

I laud the bravado of pastors with charisma, who do the right thing, but shepherding Christ's flock should not be comparable to some sort of athletic ninja challenge.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Breadth, Length, Height, and Depth of the Church as Worshiping Community

Sacra Liturgia 
Summer School 
5-20 July 2014

                            La Garde-Freinet
                            (Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur)
                         83680 France

For the very first time I participated also as a lecturer at a summer school devoted to the usus antiquior: singing and praying the full Divine Office together each day, with sung and solemn celebrations of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, pilgrimage opportunities in the south of France, with academic input (my part on 2 days), book discussions, offering training in chant for those who wished (a greater part of those present), and training in liturgical ceremonies for priests, seminarians and altar boys. 

I attended from the 5th to the 10th of July at the invitation of dom Alcuin Reid and just thoroughly enjoyed my time with enthusiastic young people, for the most part, from Lithuania, Great Britain, the United States and Canada. At my request, I had my own worthy tutor in the celebration of Mass, who dedicated an hour each day for three days to me. I presided over Solemn Sunday Vespers from the faldstool for the very first time in my life.

The experience convinced me even more of the approach I've generally taken in my blog, when it comes to questions liturgical. If I had a plea for Ordinaries of dioceses and for seminary faculties, it would be to expose our future priests to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite and as best you can to the beauty of our patrimony of chant.

Half hour talks are too long for blog posts, so I will link you to another page with the snappy title of longer interventions.

The Liturgy of Today and of Tomorrow: Cooperating with Grace and Discerning the Divine Will - Archbishop Thomas E. Gullickson, Apostolic Nuncio to the Ukraine (2 parts):

Part One: Indefectibility as Process in the Church - the application of SC to date and the re-emergence of the usus antiquior should give us pause to reflect upon God's providential care for His Church - 7 July

Part Two: “Attamen Liturgia est culmen ad quod actio Ecclesiae tendit et simul fons unde omnis eius virtus emanat.” SC 10. (Nevertheless the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows.) - Choosing vs. being led and our obligations to the liturgical patrimony - 8 July

My talks were meant to encourage discussion. I hope they might be of service in the ongoing reflection of others and not be a cause of distress for any who may choose to read them.

My basic point is that we find ourselves where we are for not having found ways to shore up Catholic culture straight across the board. The culmen et simul fons needs much more than an hour a week to display its radiant beauty.