Sunday, November 29, 2015

How About a Trappist Revival?

"He gave to his God not just the fruit,
 but the root, trunk and branches of his life. 
He gave all and won all— the only All—
 the eternal All— God."

Raymond OSCO, Fr. M. (2015-09-07). From Cowboy to Contemplative: The Amazing Story of the Trappist Monk, Brother Mary Joachim, O.C.S.O. “The Man Who got Even With God” (Kindle Locations 120-123). Institute on Religious Life (here). Kindle Edition.

At 25 pages, this is little more than an epitaph for the first American citizen to become a Trappist brother and persevere in the vowed life until his death. It is a masterful celebration of this man's life, offering countless insights into Trappist spirituality and what we class as heroic virtue. I hope Amazon won't delay too long in making the whole book available in a Kindle Edition.

A frequent topic in my years in Ukraine was the urgent need for a revival of Byzantine monasticism and its full insertion into the life of the Church as it is today. Among the monks with whom I spoke, there reigned a certain anxiousness concerning their possibilities to find their place anew in society as Christian and living for Christ. The general Western tendency has been to despair of the possibilities for monks and especially for contemplatives to contribute to the life of the Church. There is a fundamental insertion into the lives of others which must be: it is so that we understand the care which St. Teresa of Avila took in choosing the places for her new foundations. Even so, the genius of the contemplative life is in its hiddenness and self-abnegation:

"Jesus had died because of sin, so, 
because of sin, 
Joachim would live what the world called death."

(Kindle Locations 242-243). 

Advent is meant to be a time for all of us to discover our vocation to be watchmen, keeping a lookout in expectation of the coming of the Lord. Pray with me this season for a monastic revival in the Church, especially for the Trappists. The self-abnegation of some out of love for the Person of Jesus Christ can certainly help us all to live more fully our specific vocations to priesthood, apostolate, marriage and family life.


Saturday, November 28, 2015

My Struggle is not in Vain

Bishop Athanasius Schneider is a great teacher and he has taught again well recently in Rome (here). 

I know for a fact that many Catholic people today have a difficulty with Bishop Schneider. Some lay people, some bishops and priests are frightened by such clarity of teaching in part because it is confrontational and sadly, for whatever reason, they have been conditioned falsely to seek a semblance of peace which has nothing to do with the truth which comes to us from God alone in Jesus Christ. 

In this context, I would like to recommend for your consideration another approved author, a layman, Dietrich von Hildebrand and especially his book: Transformation In Christ, On the Christian Attitude and of that book, especially Chapter 13, Blessed Are the Peacemakers, (Kindle Location 4970). Ignatius Press. There we read:

"God alone, not a peaceable behavior as such, is the absolute good. Our fight for the cause of God is necessarily also a fight for true peace, seeing that the latter coincides with the victory of the kingdom of God. Therefore, the spirit of peace which must animate a true Christian will never restrain us from fighting for the kingdom of God. It will determine a basic difference in quality between that fight and any merely natural conflict." (Kindle Locations 5173-5176).

Many, and not necessarily all convinced Christians, diagnose the malaise affecting much of Western society, especially our youth, as rooted in the aimlessness which springs from a refusal to embrace real values and goals, enlightened by the truth. We, as adults, owe our young people an example approaching that of Dietrich von Hildebrand; we owe them a life's witness of clear thought and consequent action in defense of truth and God-given values. Beyond ethics or aesthetics, we owe them a witness of life lived in union with the Almighty.

On this last Saturday of the Church Year, the Office of Readings quotes St. Augustine talking about the Christian life as song pointed toward a more perfect hymn in our heavenly homeland:

"O! what a happy alleluia there, how carefree, how safe from all opposition, where nobody will be an enemy, where no-one will ever cease to be a friend! God’s praises sung there, sung here – here, by the anxious; there, by the carefree – here, by those who will die; there, by those who will live for ever – here, in hope; there, in reality – here, on our journey; there, in our homeland.
  So now, my brethren, let us sing, not to delight our leisure, but to ease our toil. In the way that travellers are in the habit of singing, sing, but keep on walking. What does it mean, “keep on walking”? Go onward always – but go onward in goodness, for there are, according to the Apostle, some people who go ever onward from bad to worse. If you are going onward, you are walking; but always go onward in goodness, onward in the right faith, onward in good habits and behaviour. Sing, and walk onwards."

Best wishes for an Advent truly lived and sung in company with the One Who comes, with Immanuel!


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Lost without Religion, without a Grounding in the true Faith

The Spiritual History of English
Thornton-Norris, Andrew
Kindle Edition.  (2009-12-01).

"The question is how any standards or authority external to the individual can be upheld when a philosophy and a practice prevails that makes the sole source of those standards or authority the individual conscience. This is also the problem of the role of individual conscience and external authority in religion, the problem of justification by grace or works, the question of transubstantiation and the nature of the sacraments. It is a problem of theology but also the problem of the institutional survival, and therefore the survival at all, of religion. This is the problem that has faced religion and hence culture since its institutional triumph at the Reformation, since the beginning of the emergence of modernity. In religion it determines the nature of ecclesiastical organization and social and moral teaching. In culture it is the similar question of the authority of the tradition, or the historic community, over the individual personality, where respect for tradition includes respect for accumulated wisdom. This book traces this relationship through the earlier period, when a literature was sustained by a collective faith that was orthodox or continuous with the historic faith. That was, in other words, external to the individual." (pp. 32-33). 

The author is an English Catholic poet, but for the life of me, having lived in Trinidad for six and a half years, I am puzzled by the authority he attributes to V.S. Naipaul.  Be that as it may, Thornton-Norris does bring home a very important point for the survival of culture about the death-dealing nature of protestant liberalism.

I won't recommend the book, but in the light of the continued and renewed dangers for western civilization which manifest themselves with greater clarity and force each day, I will raise a cry for the urgency of a rediscovery of Catholicism as the basis of culture, for a renewed and vibrant practice of the faith freely embraced by a world too long deprived of real and lasting joy. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Another Possibility for Enrichment of the OF?

The nomination of a bishop for the Anglican Ordinariate in the US and Canada served as a "poke" to get me to look at the description of their new missal (Divine Worship), which got news coverage in these days:

As a liturgical text, it expresses a Eucharistic celebration that is “at once distinctively and traditionally Anglican in character, linguistic register, and structure, while also being clearly and recognizably an expression of the Roman Rite.” It has the stated purpose of situating itself “firmly within the shape and context of the Roman Rite so that it might be approached in a manner which respects its own integrity and authority.” As such, the text uses what is called “Prayer Book English,” making allowances for “a certain adaptability to local custom.”

Technically, the liturgical provision for the Ordinariate does not constitute its own proper rite. Any validly ordained Roman Catholic priest can concelebrate at a Mass according to Divine Worship, but such liturgies can be celebrated publicly only at parishes or communities of the Ordinariate. Catholics can licitly fulfill the Sunday obligation to attend Mass by hearing a liturgy celebrated according to the new missal.

Divine Worship ...offers two Eucharistic prayers, the normative one being the Roman Canon. An alternative prayer is included for use during the week...

Unlike Roman Catholic missals, Divine Worship does not have a liturgical season called Ordinary Time. Rather, “Time After Epiphany” (“Epiphanytide”) or “Pre-Lent” and “Trinitytide” fill out the year. Both Ember Days and Rogation Days are included. Christmas and Easter are celebrated on the same day universally throughout the Catholic Church. And, the cult of the saints is observed according to the General Roman Calendar. Some provisions have been made for the calendars of local or particular churches.

I pose the question about whether it be possible to see "Divine Worship", despite its being essentially Anglican, as a source of enrichment for the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. I do so rather spontaneously, because DW notably does two good things: in restoring the normativity of the Roman Canon for Catholic Sunday worship; in going with the older and more suggestive names for times of year in the liturgical calendar: Time after Epiphany, Pre-Lent, Trinitytide. Ember and Rogation Days make a comeback as well in DW.

Needless to say, "Divine Worship" does not represent even a potential reset for the Roman Rite as such, capable of driving the recovery of that continuity with our Catholic tradition which would be a sine qua non for genuine organic development in the Roman Rite, but for so many who offhandedly reject restoration as the path to liturgical renewal, my hope would be that in the two points I have singled out DW might give certain hardened hearts pause to reflect on their refusal to look again at the EF as the ineluctable reset point.

We pray unceasingly for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for the Supreme Legislator, that he might find ways to gently guide the flock home through adherence to worship ad Orientem and sound teaching on the requirements for worthy reception of Holy Communion. Generous exposure of our future priests to the EF being part of what might be understood as a necessary and serious commitment to the mutual enrichment of the two forms of the one Rite.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Church's Freedom to Witness to Christ

Today's Gospel for Christ the King Sunday from John 18:33-37:

"‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ Pilate asked. Jesus replied, ‘Do you ask this of your own accord, or have others spoken to you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? It is your own people and the chief priests who have handed you over to me: what have you done?’ Jesus replied, ‘Mine is not a kingdom of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews. But my kingdom is not of this kind.’ ‘So you are a king then?’ said Pilate. ‘It is you who say it’ answered Jesus. ‘Yes, I am a king. I was born for this, I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.’"

Beyond the Church's ongoing struggle against Principalities and Powers, against the gates of Hell, the Roman Catholic Church has generally found itself at odds with the powers that be in this world: with emperors who persecuted, as well as with those who feigned devotion while seeking to impose their own will upon the Church especially through the selection of bishops. In the last analysis, the condemnation of the tyranny of relativism even today is launched against the successors in law to types like Henry VIII, Hitler or Stalin, against a Godless constitutional order which imposes through law, fiat or higher court decision a common denominator with no sense for the truth which comes to us from God in Jesus Christ alone.

An old friend just sent me his new book, which is couched very much in these terms but which appeals to one of my great heroes, the church historian Hubert Jedin (1900-1980), to extend this condemnation beyond kings, dukes, diets and parliaments to the mass media, which seem already for a long time, but especially in our day, to lead the whole constitutional order around by the nose. In his book, my friend recounts a valiant struggle, apparently lost, to witness faithfully to the truth of the Gospel as applied to marriage and family in the Church. With all the serenity he can muster, he sums up the bishop's lot at the hands of the media and in the face of terrible odds with the Latin expression 'Victor Quia Victima'. 

My English composition teacher back in college spent a lot of time teaching us if not how to read news magazines critically with an eye for the facts then at least to be skeptical in terms of what TIME and NEWSWEEK were feeding us back then about the Vietnam War and what either one or both weeklies might have had as an agenda which precluded simply chronicling what had happened in a given battle in which people died. Those were simpler times, no doubt, when even a lay teacher at a Catholic College could have recourse to talking about the truth without undue anxiety about being challenged by his students or denounced to the college administration for being rigid or sectarian.

Whenever I get onto such topics or think about the Kingship of Christ, Psalm 2 always comes to mind. I think of a world raging against God's Anointed. I draw confidence from the image of the victorious Lamb, once slain and now seated upon His Throne in glory. 

My own worry is about bishops today, about the resort to expediency which seems to move many entrusted with the shepherding task to step back, to stumble and to be lost or rather to be condemned for having abandoned the sheep entrusted to their care to the wolf, the lion and the bear. Broad-mindedness or tolerance don't fall in the usual catalog of attributes for the Son of Man. 

Jesus showed Himself triumphant lifted upon the Cross. May His bishops and priests find not so much the courage, but the love, profound and longing, to run after the King, drawn by the fragrance of His robes.



November Thoughts on Purgatory

Back in the early 70's as as seminarian in Rome there was on the book market in English something less than a coffee table edition of a picture book with a brief and easy to read text; I think the title was "Rome, the Fifth Day". It was partly meant as a guide for folks who spent more than the standard few days in the Eternal City and pointed out sights beyond the usual which were well worth seeing. One of those which, even in eight years in the Urbs, I never got to was the Purgatory Museum. It included artifacts, like fiery hand prints, from Poor Souls who besought prayers from the living such that they might complete their painful purification and pass into the glories of the Heavenly Kingdom.

I'm not going to take a stance one way or the other as to whether the Holy Souls have permission to rattle our cages or nerves in supplication for the prayers and sacrifices from us the living to hasten the completion of their purgation. I will just urge the reader to pray insistently for those who have gone before us that the expiation of the punishment due for sins committed and forgiven might quickly come to pass.

Not to be outdone by the Purgatory Museum, however, I want to relate a November experience which moved me to celebrate Mass again after some years for a younger friend who died of leukemia time back and whom I always considered an integral and zealous priest. Shortly after his death I cancelled him from Facebook but still received birthday reminders.... No big thing, given the way Facebook works! However! Finally, the other day, on the recommendation of technicians both in Ukraine and here in Switzerland, I changed phones when I signed my postpaid contract for cell service here in Bern. Against my own better judgment I succumbed to pressure also from my secretary to go with an IPhone, as this was supposed to better assure if not guarantee a break with my past and the menace of continued surveillance by whomever. As my dear Mother used to say, "Whatever!"

Despite my best efforts I lost all my phone contacts in the transition and must recopy them by hand from my computer... that is, with the exception of one which just popped up! You guessed it: that of my dear departed friend! Hence the Holy Mass for the repose of his immortal soul. May he and all the faithful departed mercifully rest in peace! 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Infancy Narratives as Real, Down-to-Earth Ecclesiology

Pope Francis' address to the German Bishops on the occasion of their ad Limina visit caused quite a stir, especially the quote: "Given these facts, one can truly speak of an erosion of the Catholic faith in Germany.”

What the Holy Father describes in Germany applies quite generally to most countries in Western Europe. What 25 years ago was 25% Mass attendance and infrequent Confession, Pope Francis generously pegs now at 10%, when in actuality few would give it 8%. What Pope Benedict XVI predicted about a much smaller Catholic presence is there and with no seeming vibrancy whatever. The sober optimism of the Pope emeritus about regrouping for mission from a smaller basis still eludes us as we continue to create and fund structures with money from the church tax or its equivalent, far from the Gospel freshness and dynamism, which could mark something worthy of the name New Evangelization. “We always inaugurate new facilities, from which, in the end, the faithful are missing,” Pope Francis said. 

Vatican Radio translates most of the German text into English, highlighting certain parts. As is his custom, in his words to the bishops the Pope is death on an institutional approach to solving these problems, recommending rather episcopal and priestly zeal to win people back to the Sacraments during the Year of Mercy, first of all through the Sacrament of Penance and a return to the worthy celebration of the Holy Eucharist. He attacks head-on the tendency to deprive priests of their dignity and their principal ministry in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, supplanting them with lay ministries:

“The precious collaboration of the laity, especially in those places where vocations are missing, cannot become a surrogate for the ministerial priesthood, or give it the semblance of being simply optional,” he said. “If there is no priest, there is no Eucharist.”  

Sadly, much of the press commentary and even ecclesial commentary on the Holy Father's words fails to recognize his efforts to discuss such problems "thinking outside the box". People tend to point to what Pope Francis seems to criticize or exclude, in terms of institutional or structural (money-based) solutions to the lack of vibrancy in the faith, but they never seem to discover the real bottom line, if you will. There seems to be a reluctance to get beyond the rebel Gioachino da Fiore to the saint Francis of Assisi. Few are ready, especially here in Europe, to look again at a radical young woman named Elizabeth of Hungary, or if you live in Germany St. Elizabeth of Thuringia, and see that person and substance was what made her tick and what transformed the hearts of those around her.

What Pope Francis proposes to the German bishops by allusions to the zeal of a couple from Apostolic times, Priscilla and Aquila, I would like to propose in more radical fashion through reference to two small children from the Gospels: Mary, actually as we know her from the Tradition, and Jesus, as we know the baby and the boy, especially from the Synoptic Gospels. Today's Feast of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple, just like the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels concerning Baby Jesus, speak directly to what others address through a form of discourse which is readily labelled as anti-institutional. The point being that our recovery of the Church's vibrancy will require institutional reform and restoration, rooted in the personal embrace of the Divine Will which we see already in Mary the toddler and some years later in her beloved Son, the Savior of the World.

Empowering lay people for ministry has nothing to do with being Catholic and living in the Church centered on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The wholesale abandonment of the Tradition in the years following the Council was a break with living the Gospel in and through the worthy celebration of the Eucharist, which requires a life lived and the wholehearted embrace of auricular Confession, as the apex of post-baptismal penitential practice. The Holy Father rightly urges the bishops of Germany to their primary mission in defense of human life. There is a culture of nurturing and treasuring, best characterized by Joachim and Ann on behalf of their daughter Mary and by Mary and Joseph on behalf of Jesus, which has been jettisoned on behalf of self-realization schemes which smack of degradation or at best of something far short of that dignity with which we were endowed by our Creator.

Not just Germany, Switzerland or Austria, but our world needs prayers and the discovery of family time as oriented toward Sunday Mass and thereby to all that is possible at the feet of our Creator, Redeemer and Friend. Let Pope Benedict's little and vibrant Church come, such that the work of Evangelization for the sake of the life of the world truly might begin.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Properantes Adventum Diei Dei

The anniversary of my episcopal consecration on the feast of St. Martin always gets me pensive, and depending on the year and circumstances, alternately over the great saint and/or over my bishop's motto taken from 2 Peter 3: 9-10:

"Since everything is to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought (you) to be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire."

This year the enigma of waiting for and at once hastening (without willfully attempting to steer or force Christ's final coming and judgment of the world) was the particular object of my meditation. Our righteousness is indeed key, but to the extent that it is Christ's and not our own, to the extent that it is Christ's judgment and not my own over my neighbor or our world. Jesus sits upon the Throne of Judgment, thankfully and in His great mercy. Next Sunday is already the end of another Church year and we celebrate the Kingship of Christ, albeit too often without surrendering to His command. I think this points out our need to focus vividly on Final Judgment both as final justice and sure ransom at the feet of the Son of Man for us sinners. 

The first reading from this Sunday's Mass is particularly poignant in its vision of just how this not only should but will be at the end of time:
‘At that time Michael will stand up, the great prince who mounts guard over your people. There is going to be a time of great distress, unparalleled since nations first came into existence. When that time comes, your own people will be spared, all those whose names are found written in the Book. Of those who lie sleeping in the dust of the earth many will awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting disgrace. The learned will shine as brightly as the vault of heaven, and those who have instructed many in virtue, as bright as stars for all eternity.’ (Daniel 12:1-3)

The fundamental lesson: we need to be attuned to Christ and His teaching as it comes to us from the Apostles and gives life within the communion of His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, founded up the rock which is Peter and passed on to us in living fashion through the successors of the Prince of the Apostles, Christ's Vicar upon earth. We are dealing with matters which call the principalities and powers into play; strictly speaking we are out of our league to the extent that we attempt to arrogate such sublime to our own selves written small and unattached.

This year these matters are anything but abstractions or platitudes for me as I reflect on countless encounters with people kicking against the goad. In a sense, it is a common defect of our fallen human nature: to the extent that we feel young and strong, we tend to force situations. When it comes to the arts (Dewey Decimal System) this points out the wisdom of teachers and trainers, masters who with a strong hand bend young wills to the discipline of whatever it might be from classical ballet to football. When it comes to Church life, be it the moral life or pastoral skills, we move beyond aesthetic canons requiring the young disciple's obeisance to reach absolute heights, in our own cooperation in something infinitely greater than ourselves. It is here that we come to grips personally with the real possibility of:  Properantes Adventum Diei Dei. My striving for holiness and devotion forces nothing but fosters God's plan for the world through my receptivity: we really are in the realm of personal freedom maximized for the common good, as the Creator and Redeemer invites us to come to full stature.

We should not be surprised, shocked or scandalized if many people in high places, even within the Church, fall short of the goal. We pray for their purification sooner rather than later, without ourselves losing confidence. There is something terribly enigmatic about St. Peter's expression of this higher calling as being one to: waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God. Holy indifference in the face of foot-draggers and obstructionists? Well, I guess you could begin to explain the mystery that way. Obviously, when it comes to the need for liturgical reform and restoration of continuity with the great tradition of the Roman Rite, we can see what is needed embodied almost to perfection in the counsel and call of Pope Benedict XVI to choose the path of mutual enrichment: judgment is withheld or rather entrusted to the action of the grace of the Holy Spirit, to the Church indefectible.    

This year for Saint Martin, however, what troubles me the more is the failure of many in the Church to be of encouragement to others, who for lack of love or vision may fail to surrender their lives to the One Who loves us beyond measure, to Jesus. We impede the coming of the Son of Man to the extent that, as His Body, we fail to reflect His unbounded love as He chose it to be experienced within the communion of His Bride under His Headship. His Day comes no closer to the extent that "our day" takes precedence over His. Our righteousness does not serve that of the Lamb upon the Throne. 

Through indiscretion we learn about all sorts of things happening in the Church which point to resistance on the part of some to Christ's Reign now and for Eternity. I am less worried by those who are faint of heart or cling to the tried and true. My problem is with those who identify their own agenda as salvific and proceed to condemn others this side of the Day of Wrath. Just the other day, I had a man try to tell me that there are people in the Roman Curia who hate Pope Francis. I did my best to urge him not to talk that way, but rather to see that despite honest differences of opinion, there are also cases where an opponent needs to be encouraged rather than chastised. I do not damn someone just because he or she is not prompt to fulfill my command, labelled by little me as that of someone higher up the totem pole whose patronage I may think to enjoy. The urgency of Christ's Day is something we best learn under His tutelage.

waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God

Properantes Adventum Diei Dei

Monday, November 9, 2015

Keep going back to Scripture for more

The opening to tomorrow's reading from the Book of Wisdom struck me as never before:

"God formed man to be imperishable;
   the image of his own nature he made them.
But by the envy of the Devil, death entered the world,
   and they who are in his possession experience it."

We usually focus, as at funerals, on the next verses: "The souls of the just are in the hand of God..." It is a marvelously consoling and upbeat passage. That is only right. But maybe, especially in this month of November, we just might need a bit of sobering up and a full stop to contemplate those first words.

We live in a world which takes too much in stride when it comes to death; it is a world possessed, which pushes away the fullness of life in Christ. We live in a violent, death-dealing world, which aborts, euthanizes and brings death upon itself, a world in the possession of the Devil.

We need to redouble our prayers and sacrifices for those who have gone before us in death, but we also need to be less intimidated by those who are far from Christ's election and the light. Ours is the better part and no one should take it from us.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Post-Conciliar Minimalism

As of today, I am convinced that there exists something which we can properly label "post-conciliar minimalism". The thing in and of itself is not of today and might even predate the Second Vatican Council; it is not the same as Modernism; perhaps it is no more than a consequence of certain human defects, like laziness or indolence. Fundamentally, it ends up being a kind of short changing of most everything in Catholic life after Vatican II. It is that multifarious blight on the Church which should never have happened, had what Pope St. John XXIII hoped for from the Council actually come to be. I use the term "minimalism" because the thing is static and overarching, covering phenomena or tragedies like iconoclasm, which, especially from the time of the Council itself, reared its ugly head and destroyed much without substitution or explanation:

"At the time of the first discussions about liturgical reform, Archbishop Tchidimbo returned to Conakry and ordered the destruction of the baldachin and the main altar. We were angry, incredulous at this hasty decision. Rather violently, we passed without any preparation from one liturgy to another. I can attest to the fact that the botched preparation for the liturgical reform had devastating effects on the Catholic population, particularly on the simpler people, who scarcely understood the swiftness of these changes or even the reason for them." [Sarah, Cardinal Robert; Diat, Nicolas (2015-08-31). God or Nothing (Kindle Locations 1344-1348). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.]

 Minimalism is the word, because it describes destruction as reduction, which left us with a crust of bread of a devotional life and never honestly faced the challenge of nourishing people of our time generally bent on consumption, living in a post-industrial urban setting too noisy and too demanding for past practices to face, that is, without some imagination and creative effort. Hence the more politically correct term "minimalism" for those too squeamish or scrupulous to call a half century of movers and shakers, together with both willful and unknowing accomplices, either lazy or indolent.

Everyone, or so it seems, has a pet theory to explain the general collapse of regular Sunday Mass attendance nearly everywhere in the Catholic world. Understanding the thing by means of the interpretive key of minimalism as attitude or approach, one understands readily that you can call the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass the "source and summit" of Christian existence, but then you have to prepare people for it and offer opportunities after it for consequent expression. The Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite is sadly or too often reduced to a discursive exercise which has taken the place of a whole gamut of devotions and lessons both at catechism and in the home.

Take the matter of the reduction to an absolute minimum of preparation for reception of Holy Communion: My mother's family, when she was a child, went to Mass every Sunday and prepared themselves as a family for the worthy reception of Holy Communion once a month. That preparation involved above all a monthly Saturday confession. I remember Mom making discreet and appreciative comments about how Grandma prepared her youngest daughter for this event, both for Saturday confession and for Sunday Communion. Although by the time of my childhood, yet before the Council, that type of conscious, methodical, monthly preparation for Communion seems to have been replaced by weekly Communion and for those who went to daily Mass almost always, nonetheless it was not surprising for people at Mass not to come up to the rail to receive at Communion time. At the time of my first Holy Communion the fast was from midnight and many who chose the late morning Solemn High Mass at the Cathedral on Sunday might not have fasted since midnight and hence could not receive. As reasonable as the move to the three hour fast was, it didn't take long for the push to one hour before Communion, which amounted to a de facto abolition of the fast and perhaps explains all the chewing gum stuck underneath the seats of the pews, which pious janitors and volunteers would spatula/scrape off a couple times of year during pre-holiday church cleaning: post-conciliar minimalism.

The other day the Bishops of Switzerland as a Conference published a pastoral letter teaching on the roles proper to priests, permanent deacons and lay people in pastoral service. Apart from a reminder that the preaching office in the Church is proper to the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the bishops earned scorn for teaching about the fundamental differences between these three categories in the Church. To be fair, I did run across one article from the Jura region, which in the light of the new pastoral encouraged lay people to participate generously in a program of accompaniment for people who had suffered the loss of a loved one in their family. Retweeting one of the news reports on the new pastoral, I got a couple respectful comments from regular Catholics in the pew, who seemed bewildered by this reservation of the preaching office to the priest and wondering what would become of them if their last bulwark was deprived of a sermon by a lay theologian in the absence of a qualified priest... The reductionism just keeps paring away at something which has long since lost its proper framework and unfolding as the source and summit. (I am purposely avoiding the vocations crisis, which in its complexity goes far beyond the minimalist interpretation.)

Truth to be told, the solution is not as simple as restoration; Pope St. John XXIII wanted creativity and energy renewed within the Church and hence perhaps the allergic reaction of those days to the word reform. It would be enough, I think, for lots of folks to stop denying that we have a problem and to open up to the tradition not as form but rather as culture. The hope would be that we might be able to decide on a new approach to Divine Worship which might in turn inspire mothers and fathers to take time to prepare their children for Sunday Mass. The type of scorn for solid notions like "holy fear" which is so common in certain circles is no more than an indication of the indolent nature of much of what is supposed to pass for critical analysis. We need urgently to free ourselves from the shackles of the all to frequently minimalist approach to things Catholic, which deprives the faith of those supports which in times past encouraged or fostered its vitality.


This Sunday, Starring two poor Widows

As edifying as Jesus' teaching from today's Gospel about the greater merit in God's eyes of the widow's mite, I have to say that my "admiration for piety award" goes to the widow in the Old Testament Book of Kings (1 Kgs 17:10-16) who shares her last scrap of bread and bit of oil with the prophet Elijah, cutting herself and her young son free of the assurance of one last mouth full to show charity. These two women are absolutely great and as caught up in the mystery of God's life in and for the world as I could ever hope to be.

My sister sent me an Edith Stein (another woman who cut herself free and went into God) quote in French (sorry, no footnote or reference):

"Les tournants décisifs de l'histore du monde sont essentiellement conditionnés par des âmes dont aucun manuel d'histoire ne parlera. Et nous-mêmes, nous ne saurons à qui nous devons les tournants decisifs dans notre vie personnelle qu'au Jour où tout ce qui est caché sera révélé."

Even though not touching upon their substance as radically as in the case of the two widows, I had the privilege of witnessing a couple who took a man, a poor stranger, in, giving him work, bread, pocket money, and their love and respect. People like this in our world are certainly many and we thank God for them as did St. Edith Stein, confident as was she that they are the ones who move our world for the better and further the cause of the Kingdom.

This evening I have the first of a couple celebrations for the Feast of St. Martin of Tours: some to a military beat of Martin the young soldier seeking Christ in His guise of poverty and one very personal, recalling an elderly pastor ready to forego heaven for yet a time should his brethren's need exceed his own longing to be with the Lord. I will be hoping and praying these days that we have enough Martins both military and hierarchical to make our world move in charity toward Christ.


Saturday, November 7, 2015

Picking up the Thread and Carrying the Task Forward

God or Nothing
Sarah, Cardinal Robert; Diat, Nicolas
(2015-08-31).  Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

"Here are the words of Pope John at the opening of Vatican Council II: “The serious problems confronting the world after almost two thousand years remain unchanged. Jesus Christ is ever resplendent as the center of history and of life. Men are either with Him and His Church, and then they enjoy light, goodness, order, and peace. Or else they are without Him, or against Him, and deliberately opposed to His Church, and then they experience confusion, bitterness in human relations, and the danger of fratricidal wars.” From the start of Vatican II, although concerned about aggiornamento, the renewal of the Church, and the reunion of Christians, the pope had strongly emphasized that the Council’s chief task was to reveal God to the world, to defend and promote doctrine. That is why the Church, while rejoicing in the admirable inventions of human genius and in the progress of science and technology, had to remind mankind that beyond the visible aspect of things the primordial duty remains to turn to God. For John XXIII, the Council was first of all an encounter with God in prayer, with Mary, like the apostles in the upper room on the eve of Pentecost." (Kindle Locations 1656-1664). 

One of the things children used to learn, that experience which marked their coming of age, their adulthood, was reverence for parents, not because we recognized them as having something over on us, but because we understood that they had learned life's lessons and stood noble and tall in the midst of all that could not be explained except by closeness to the Almighty. Suffering and deprivation not so much embraced in and of themselves but met and faced in company with Jesus Crucified and Glorified.

Nicolas Diat does a great job in an interview book of giving us access to Cardinal Robert Sarah as an elder, as a father in faith.

I'll say no more but encourage you to read and enjoy. This might be the book which helps you to come humbly home to the tradition and stop kicking at the goad. This might be the book that shames you for your modernism or iconoclasm to place you at the feet of God's little ones, great in His eyes and light to the world.

You may think you know some things better than the Cardinal, but in this world, God's world, it is long since time for you to recover reverence for the immediacy of experience in Christ's presence, for the prayerfulness which bows the head and bends the knee.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Never Too Late to Start Thinking Straight

The Gospel from today's Mass got me thinking:
"Jesus said to his disciples, ‘There was a rich man and he had a steward denounced to him for being wasteful with his property. He called for the man and said, “What is this I hear about you? Draw me up an account of your stewardship because you are not to be my steward any longer.” Then the steward said to himself, “Now that my master is taking the stewardship from me, what am I to do? Dig? I am not strong enough. Go begging? I should be too ashamed. Ah, I know what I will do to make sure that when I am dismissed from office there will be some to welcome me into their homes.”
  Then he called his master’s debtors one by one. To the first he said, “How much do you owe my master?” “One hundred measures of oil” was the reply. The steward said, “Here, take your bond; sit down straight away and write fifty.” To another he said, “And you, sir, how much do you owe?” “One hundred measures of wheat” was the reply. The steward said, “Here, take your bond and write eighty.”
  ‘The master praised the dishonest steward for his astuteness. For the children of this world are more astute in dealing with their own kind than are the children of light.’" (Luke 16:1-8)

Who or what is the authority which can call us to order? How do you get a wasteful or slacking steward to recognize the error of his ways? The slacker is classified by Jesus as dishonest, because, caught and called to account, he stole from his master to assure himself a future outside his master's service. He is a child of this world; he knows his own kind and how to get ahead for today. Jesus would have the children of light, those who profess faith in Him and seek His paths, show themselves as clever in seeking Him.

Maybe it is indeed astuteness which is lacking among Catholics today and hence the dumb and stubborn refusal of many who claim to be Catholic on their own terms to recognize the threat of judgment hanging over them, over those who run roughshod over the Church. But we know these are not the children of light; they have not chosen the narrow way, but the wide track which leads to perdition. Maybe an appeal to authority to try and call them back is out of place; maybe it is more a question of encouraging those who firmly desire to be children of the light, children of God, true followers, committed Catholics. In effect, Jesus with His parable is calling the "good guys" to be more astute in promoting the faith, in striving for holiness, of binding the Church together in love.

If we were more astute, we might walk away from certain lost causes, shaking the dust from our feet and quickening our steps along Christ's path, tried and true, since apostolic times.

As tempted as I am to point fingers, I think the better choice is to urge myself along, first of all, and then all who are well disposed to seek Christ's Kingship over them within the Catholic Tradition as practiced always and everywhere, to render an account of our stewardship and throw ourselves upon the mercy of the Just Judge. Let us be drawn and hasten after Jesus in the fragrance of His garments!

Stubborn insistence upon bad choices cannot save.


Monday, November 2, 2015

Omelia per i Defunti - Tutto verso Dio

2 novembre 2015
Commemorazione di Tutti i Fedeli Defunti

Isaia 25, 6a. 7-9
Romani 8,14-23
Matteo 25,31-46

“L’ardente aspettativa della creazione, infatti, è protesa verso la rivelazione dei figli di Dio.” (dalla Seconda Messa, Lettura ai Romani)

“I Santi” (la festa di ieri) meritano una solennità nel calendario liturgico; essi ci ispirano per parole e per esempio di capire meglio che significa essere figlio di Dio, andando verso Cristo, attirandoci nel loro seguito. “I Morti” (oggi) invece hanno come festa solo una commemorazione; è un altro tipo di celebrazione liturgica oggi. Va notato che dopo Natale, però, oggi è l’unica occasione nell’anno liturgico quando il sacerdote è autorizzato a trinare, ad offrire il Sacrificio Eucaristico tre volte nello stesso giorno. Oggi si intende in suffragio per i cari defunti: la prima Messa per tutti, poi l’altro secondo la mente del Santo Padre, e in fine la terza per i suoi morti, cioè applicata l’intenzione a scelta dal sacerdote celebrante. Questa nostra seconda Messa è per i defunti secondo la mente di Papa Francesco.

È più che giusto pregare per i nostri morti, non solo oggi e non solo durante il mese di novembre, ma incessantemente. Questo è un obbligo di amore verso loro e verso Gesù Cristo, Nostro Signore e Nostro Dio. Questo esercizio ha merito presso Dio non solo per quelli che ci hanno preceduto nella fede, per affrettare la fine delle loro sofferenze in Purgatorio, ma anche per noi. Si tratta di un insegnamento, di uno sprono ai battezza di vivere non solo per oggi ma soprattutto per l’eternità nella comunione dei santi, con Dio nella gloria. La commemorazione di tutti i defunti ci aiuta a capire meglio la nostra natura umana alla luce della grazia che ci salva; siamo motivati a vivere la carità cristiana, che non arde mai abbastanza nei nostri cuori. Il messaggio non potrà essere più schietto o più chiaro: non facciamo mai abbastanza nella sequela di Gesù; dobbiamo sforzarci di più per poter stare alla destra all’Ultimo Giudizio davanti al Re. Chi è mai partito da questo mondo senza bisogno di purificare i suoi sentimenti, senza dover riparare danni fatti verso Dio e verso il prossimo, danni o dispetti fatti per pensiero, parola, opera o omissione? Purgatorio, purtroppo, è per molti il comune destino al momento del Giudizio particolare. Dobbiamo pregare per affrettare il loro entro nel Regno dei Cieli.

“L’ardente aspettativa della creazione, infatti, è protesa verso la rivelazione dei figli di Dio.”

Il nostro è un mondo che prega poco, e che pertanto non conosce il Dio rivelato in Cristo che ci ama così tanto a dare il Suo unico Figlio per la nostra salvezza eterna. Per amore, la nostra preghiera di intercessione e di supplica è il nostro debito agli altri, nostri parenti, amici, conosciuti e sconosciuti, affinché questo mondo si salva; il nostro buon esempio di vita vissuta comunica ad altri la nostra consapevolezza della traiettoria giusta della vita cristiana, che rispecchia la perfezione di questa “ardente aspettativa della creazione”, di cui S. Paolo parla ai Romani.

Vivere come se Dio non fosse fanno molti; questi non si interessano per le nostre prediche. Si spera, però, che la nostra preghiera e la nostra testimonianza di vita tocchi questi cuori di pietra e che ci salvano dalla dannazione eterna. Offriamo il Santo Sacrificio per chi, senza peccato grave, ha lasciato questo mondo ancora bisognoso di purificazione.

Affidiamo tutti, e oggi soprattutto le anime di Purgatorio, alla Madre di Dio, Maria Santissima, che nella sua materna bontà, stenda il suo mantello protettivo sopra i suoi figli!


Sunday, November 1, 2015

How can this be? Hardly a dead end!

"Atheism represents a supreme threat to humanity." Bishop Robert Barron says some super-powerful things in this video. He does it in his inimitable style, at once reassuring and frank. Please, take a look and a listen!

With each passing day, my schooling on Switzerland teaches me new lessons and gets more intense. A repeating or repeated message which it seems is important for people here from very different walks of life to share with me might be so expressed: "The so-called 'culture of death' is much more pervasive here than one would like to believe." 

Granted, I knew before I came that representatives of a notorious assisted suicide group have unlimited access to nursing care facilities where a priest might not be admitted to visit an elderly parishioner or the mother or father of someone in his parish. They tell me now that Italians tired of life cross the border into Switzerland to have themselves killed. I could go on. All of a sudden that third category in society in terms of religious profession: "Catholic", "Protestant", "No religious affiliation" or simply "None", becomes frightfully ominous in terms of its consequences, not just for individuals, but for the sake of the life of the world.

Between Halloween and threats of a staged exorcism in St. Louis, much has again been said about the diabolical, about Satan, who ultimately tempts people to deny God in favor of the illusion that their own preferences may reap them other than the whirlwind. Godlessness is a terrifying, death-dealing resignation to darkness, which destroys one and all who get in the path of that person. Good people are dumbfounded by the lack of response at all the horrible revelations of late concerning Planned Parenthood, and a whole series of people, some paying lip-service to religion and even to Catholicism, continue to insist on infanticide, whether inside or outside the womb, no long even denying the dark and far from infect free hell of the abortoria, which are as back alley as you can imagine. "Atheism represents a supreme threat to humanity."

I don't suppose we can get "Nones" to fear hell, to dread eternal damnation; they live it now without God. Still, maybe we should try, because dreading the loss of heaven and the pains of hell is the anti-chamber to hope and the embrace of Christ's unbounded love.

How can so much sadness resist in the shadows of such a beautiful land? Why resist the Good News which saves and allows us to enter into the company of the saints, here and now, one day, sooner than we think, in glory for all eternity? The unbaptized and unconverted whom I have known or observed in my life are either dumbed down to despair or frazzled nerves on the verge of crashing and burning. The unenviable and terrible "periphery" of our world is a clogged, dark and murky mainstream, which kicks against the goad.

We owe this world our frankness and our joy. Saints of God, come to our aid and theirs! Please, God, that no more souls be lost to everlasting death!

Arranging my books on the shelf the other day, I saw a good sized biography of St. Niklaus von Flüe in French there. Maybe somebody else's gift left behind will help me gift others and touch hearts here at the top of the world, as the great hermit did born now almost 600 years ago.

Un silence qui fonde la Suisse.