Monday, December 26, 2016

Frohbotschaft, Drohbotschaft!


Viderunt omnes termini terrae salutare Dei nostri.

For some odd reason, in these very days I have been cursed or privileged with a kind of new awareness, a shocking sensation of how in the world it must feel to be people who have for decades and still do wield the German expression "Frohbotschaft, Drohbotschaft" (FD), or its equivalent in some other language, against the shepherds and preachers within the Church who are trying to do their very best to lead others to Christ, true to the faith as it comes to us from the Apostles. It's the very same "no" some children, once grown, interpose to their parents' best efforts to share the faith with their offspring.

This FD posture has always been foreign to me and utterly impossible for me to reconcile with the faith gifted to me by my parents' loving witness and in which I have now grown almost old myself. I've always experienced this FD opposition to the Church's Tradition as not unlike a big, fat club swung indiscriminately against folk, against parents and especially against priests and bishops, against all those trying their loving best to be faithful to Christ and His saving word of salvation. Now, for whatever reason, I seem to have gained some appreciation for their funk. This is not to say that I accept it as a tenable position within the body Catholic; it is their mood, this negativism, so blunting and paralyzing, which I have sort of come to appreciate for whatever reason or insight. It hurts and fills me with compassion for those so afflicted.

When someone is in an FD mood, possessed or obsessed by such a negative spirit, there's nothing the apostle can say or do to touch this heart. This cant (there's no other way to describe it from outside) would seem to describe the guilty or intransigent party to a conflict, which one could label a case of irreconcilable differences. Confronted by one adept at FD, one cannot help but be tempted of despairing not only of the possibility of truth or nobility winning the argument but even of achieving together some sort of shared life lived under a flag of truce. The estrangement is total here and I wonder at the tolerance the Church has shown toward any number of FD movements over the past decades.

Today on St. Stephen, I was thinking about what is at stake in the FD position. It cannot be other than the heart of the Creed, our faith in the person and nature of Jesus Christ. Those who opposed Stephen, those who with Saul ultimately stoned him to death, would not accept Stephen's witness to the Son of God. To say they were faithless is accurate, but ultimately it's the rage which taints the FD position and renders it a negation, challenging the fullness of faith with proposals, but ultimately not exceeding a very bitter "no" to the Good News.

The other day, a priest told me about a conflict he had with the redaction of the parish bulletin and the description of the various services offered therein on any given weekend. He insisted that it should be noted in the parish bulletin where and which were Masses and which were services of the word. The FD opposition was furious and nearly "stoned" him for his profession of faith in the source and summit of Christian existence, namely the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

From the Second Reading of today's Office (A sermon of St Fulgentius of Ruspe, entitled: The armour of love):

"Yesterday we celebrated the birth in time of our eternal King. Today we celebrate the triumphant suffering of his soldier.
  Yesterday our king, clothed in his robe of flesh, left his place in the virgin’s womb and graciously visited the world. Today his soldier leaves the tabernacle of his body and goes triumphantly to heaven.
  Our king, despite his exalted majesty, came in humility for our sake; yet he did not come empty-handed. He brought his soldiers a great gift that not only enriched them but also made them unconquerable in battle, for it was the gift of love, which was to bring men to share in his divinity. He gave of his bounty, yet without any loss to himself. In a marvelous way he changed into wealth the poverty of his faithful followers while remaining in full possession of his own inexhaustible riches.
  And so the love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven; shown first in the king, it later shone forth in his soldier. Love was Stephen’s weapon by which he gained every battle, and so won the crown signified by his name. His love of God kept him from yielding to the ferocious mob; his love for his neighbour made him pray for those who were stoning him. Love inspired him to reprove those who erred, to make them amend; love led him to pray for those who stoned him, to save them from punishment. Strengthened by the power of his love, he overcame the raging cruelty of Saul and won his persecutor on earth as his companion in heaven. In his holy and tireless love he longed to gain by prayer those whom he could not convert by admonition.
  Now at last, Paul rejoices with Stephen, with Stephen he delights in the glory of Christ, with Stephen he exalts, with Stephen he reigns. Stephen went first, slain by the stones thrown by Paul, but Paul followed after, helped by the prayer of Stephen. This, surely, is the true life, my brothers, a life in which Paul feels no shame because of Stephen’s death, and Stephen delights in Paul’s companionship, for love fills them both with joy. It was Stephen’s love that prevailed over the cruelty of the mob, and it was Paul’s love that covered the multitude of his sins; it was love that won for both of them the kingdom of heaven.
  Love, indeed, is the source of all good things; it is an impregnable defence,- and the way that leads to heaven. He who walks in love can neither go astray nor be afraid: love guides him, protects him, and brings him to his journey’s end.
  My brothers, Christ made love the stairway that would enable all Christians to climb to heaven. Hold fast to it, therefore, in all sincerity, give one another practical proof of it, and by your progress in it, make your ascent together."

I need to believe with Fulgentius and the whole tradition that Christ-like love can win the victory over the FD funk. In the face of something so dark and sad, it is not easy, but the love which has come into the world truly casts out darkness.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Established Church: The Volkskirche Debate

With the "O Antiphons" under a full head of steam as we go hurtling toward the great feast of the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior, it always seems as though the Second Apostle to Germany, St. Peter Canisius, gets short shrift on his feast day. One of the joys of 2016 for me was celebrating the feast of the Archangels at the altar where Canisius is buried in Fribourg. The recollection of that blessing made me pensive this morning and drew me to a quote from the second reading for his office of today:

“So, after daring to approach your most loving heart and to plunge my thirst in it, I received a promise from you of a garment made of three parts: these were to cover my soul in its nakedness, and to belong especially to my religious profession. They were peace, love and perseverance. Protected by this garment of salvation, I was confident that I would lack nothing but all would succeed and give you glory.”

When we reflect upon St. Peter's role as apostle to Germany, we encounter first and foremost a consecrated soul, a man on fire with Christ's love, whose heart was at one with that of his Lord. It was thus that he could achieve so much in restoring Catholic faith. The qualities of the priest Canisius are something worth begging the Lord to bestow upon His Church in the persons of new apostles for the faith and they are worth priests begging for themselves that "three part garment": peace, love and perseverance. Even a diocesan priest would be good to be clothed with such a glorious garment.

Too often we fail to recognize that the Counter Reform was the long awaited beginning to the much needed reform of the Catholic Church in the 16th Century. In the persons of St. Peter and other religious, it was a thoroughly charismatic and evangelical movement carried forth by the example of spirit-filled men and women, who founded or renewed institutes of perfection for that very purpose in the Church. The so-called reform nunciatures, like the one in Luzern, were also intended for the reform of the Catholic Church, but seemingly had much less traction than the holy men and women who drew others to Christ by their personal witness. Everyone has their theories on Church reform. The Church being a visible body with a social dimension, the rational component to reform and governance is undeniable. Without discounting the pragmatic, I think I'd like to reserve center stage for the greats like St. Peter Canisius.

These days I am reading: Orestes Augustus Brownson's "The American Republic: constitution, tendencies and destiny". He wrote just after the Civil War in the United States and despite or perhaps because of that tragedy is very high on the American experiment in democracy and governance, especially with regard to the constitution. I am wondering not so much if (a century and a half later) he would feel obliged to revise his observations seeing how things are going today in the great Republic, but whether (on a very different topic near to my heart) and how he'd pronounce himself, namely on the issue of Church governance and reform. I am tempted this because Brownson was so unashamedly Catholic. For civil government Brownson is convinced that statesmanship as he defines it trumps virtue for the sake of governing and even empire building. Is it just a lack of great statesmen which renders our civil society so dysfunctional? What can we say about that "perfect society", as the Church once was called? Is it any less dysfunctional than the state today? What is needed for governing the Church? Different than civil leaders, should church leaders be holy? Here's his statesmanship quote which got me thinking about that question:

"Edward the Confessor was a saint, and yet be prepared the way for the Norman conquest of England; and France owes infinitely less to St. Louis than to Louis XI., Richelieu, and Napoleon, who, though no saints, were statesmen. What is specially needed in statesmen is public spirit, intelligence, foresight, broad views, manly feelings, wisdom, energy, resolution; and when statesmen with these qualities are placed at the head of affairs, the state, if not already lost, can, however far gone it may be, be recovered, restored, reinvigorated, advanced, and private vice and corruption disappear in the splendor of public virtue. Providence is always present in the affairs of nations, but not to work miracles to counteract the natural effects of the ignorance, ineptness, short-sightedness, narrow views, public stupidity, and imbecility of rulers, because they are irreproachable and saintly in their private characters and relations, as was Henry VI. of England, or, in some respects, Louis XVI. of France. Providence is God intervening through the laws he by his creative act gives to creatures, not their suspension or abrogation. It was the corruption of the statesmen, in substituting the barbaric element for the proper Roman, to which no one contributed more than Constantine, the first Christian emperor, that was the real cause of the downfall of Rome, and the centuries of barbarism that followed, relieved only by the superhuman zeal and charity of the church to save souls and restore civilization."  (Brownson, p. 73, Kindle Edition). 

 Brownson has various theories on government and from whence it draws its authority. Beyond the  "sanctity versus bravado" debate as it may apply to church, we can say that ecclesiologies as well would seem to be multiple and I think it legitimate to ask which might be the right one or the one which best defines the Church in its nature and mission. If I could, I would ask Brownson to take a stance on what I experience here in Europe as all too common: an idle attempt especially by church professionals of an older generation (over 50) to prop up what is referred to in German as the "Volkskirche" and which might best be rendered in English by the expression "the Established Church" without necessarily implying an unwavering bond between throne and altar. Once upon a time, plagues or wars emptied churches, but today and not only in Europe the bane of organized Christianity as a churchgoing thing seems to be disaffection or indifference. The parallels to what St. Peter Canisius or St. Francis de Sales experienced are not to be discounted. At any rate, "Volkskirche" is no more and it would seem the older professional crowd seeks to recover or restore it, as if it were the only way or the best way to be Church. Peculiar to the notion of "Volkskirche" is the image of it which is commonly expressed by the admonition to "keep the church tower in the village". By holding and maintaining properties, like church buildings, the advocates of this notion of "Volkskirche" would seem to want to declare their eagerness to keep the option open for a return to popular religion, where those now empty pews would all of a sudden be filled again...

Apart from the desirability on all sides of recovering as many fallen away Catholics and their offspring for the life of faith in the Catholic Church as possible, if you will, the "Volkskirche" mentality is at odds with the oft quoted Ratzingerian speculation about the real possibility that to remain faithful to Christ the Church might just have to let go of its real estate and become very small again. In more upbeat fashion, George Weigel and others describe faithfulness to the founding will of Christ within His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church in terms of Evangelical Catholicism. To my mind, theirs (Ratzinger and Company's) is a dynamic school and that of the "Volkskirche" static, sclerotic and ultimately destructive, as it is willing to sacrifice all to keep the church tower in the village. A Canisius like closeness to the Heart of the Redeemer does not seemed to be factored into the "established church" mentality. Despite its pretense at being progressive and open, the stance of your typical "Volkskirche" (We are Church) campaign is tainted by rupture (as one strips and whitewashes these same towers adapting them to accommodate some form of the Zeitgeist) with the living tradition which binds us to Christ within His Church. Their slogan seems to be "Cut your losses, but save the bell tower!"

More often than not, the advocates of this form of "Volkskirche" ignore the centrality of Sunday Mass and the ministerial priesthood to the Catholic equation. Dogma and morals typically take a back seat to some sense of belonging or entitlement grounded in a vague personal option or physical proximity to that church tower. Years ago, we saw it in the United States when cloakrooms and "fellowship" entered into our Sunday Catholic vocabulary and practice. Aesthetics apart, devotion and awe are seemingly less valuable than communicating some vague sense of belonging. "Volkskirche" advocates would see themselves justified in keeping the place swept and ready for the day someone might demand their services. They are wrong to the extent that their fascination with brick and mortar is carried on at the expense of the living Christ, Whose Bride we identify most clearly as She acts in the worthy celebration of the seven Sacraments. As St. Justin Martyr testified so clearly before his pagan judge, without Sunday (Eucharist) we cannot live. The terms for Sunday's celebration are handed down to us from the tradition by Christ's Will. The village church tower, for all its sentimental significance, is not what makes us Church.

 "When an unclean spirit goes out of a person it roams through arid regions searching for rest but finds none. Then it says, 'I will return to my home from which I came.' But upon returning, it finds it empty, swept clean, and put in order. Then it goes and brings back with itself seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they move in and dwell there; and the last condition of that person is worse than the first. Thus it will be with this evil generation." (Mt. 12: 44-45)

In a sense, I suppose Brownson is being unfair to the memory of civil leaders with a fame for sanctity by discounting the possibility of their possessing at the same time the qualities of genuine statesmen. Perhaps St. Louis failed as a statesman, but few for example would contest the qualities of statesmanship of St. Stephen of Hungary. While Celestine V, as Pope, did not evidence any particular skills at governance, St. Charles Borromeo certainly did. On second thought, maybe Brownson would disqualify himself if asked to speak or write on the qualities of Church governance. It is not an easy topic and I guess I would let him off the hook. Even so, I would like to hammer out a strategy for how best to be Church today. To say that it has to be innovative and dynamic to be alive would seem totally wrongheaded if that meant jettisoning all that which Justin Martyr and countless saints in every age have died for, namely the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the source and summit of Christian existence. St. Peter Canisius being close to the Heart of Christ and transformed by His saving grace is worlds away for striving to maintain rootedness in village or city borough.

Discernment is in many ways a very odd word. I think it leads me well, even if not always that surely. St. Ignatius of Loyola in explaining how discernment works talked of how he on his sick bed discarded his tales of chivalry and adventure for the reading of the life of Christ and His saints. I think I would tell him, if I could, that this whole business of "established church" whitewashed, swept and seemingly rational leaves me tired and distant from our living Lord. I wouldn't want to be too black and white about the whole thing, but my heart is drawn to something which clearly leads to and flows from the worthy celebration of the Holy Eucharist, something turned more to the Lord. Better the pilgrimage than the bell tower close at hand; better the yearning than the familiar proximity of the tidy space without its Eucharistic Lord.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

My Favorite Book for 2016

Even though December is but half gone, I no longer expect to be surprised by a better book for 2016:

The Awakening of Miss Prim: A Novel
Fenollera, Natalia Sanmartin.
Atria Books. Kindle Edition. 

Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera is a journalist and novelist based in Madrid, Spain. She is Comment Editor of the Spanish economics and business daily newspaper Cinco Días. This is her debut novel; it was originally published in Spanish in 2011 as El despertar de la señorita Prim. It bears a Copyright © 2013 by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera in Spanish and for the English language translation copyright © 2014 by Sonia Soto.

My attention was drawn to the novel by a book review published by the son of John Senior, who lauds the book as accomplishing that which his father had so wanted to do, namely, in the art form of the novel to flesh out his world of ideas. Knowing both of John Senior's books and the legacy he has bequeathed to the world in numerous religious and priestly vocations from among his former university students and most appreciative of the beacon which is Clear Creek Monastery in Oklahoma, I cannot help but agree with Senior's son and thank God that Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera has so eminently succeeded at her task.

As far as new novelists go generally, I am a skeptic and have cast aside more than one from disappointment and delusion. This work however was such that I really did not want to put it down. Everything is right about it: narrative, landscape or visual descriptions, character studies. The food descriptions, especially of teas, desserts and hot chocolates may be a bit over the top, but perhaps only while I can't reconcile them with my diet! Perhaps it is a book more for women than men, but Natalie casts a benevolent eye in the direction of her men characters as well. Far from tedious, the book is genuinely profound and surpasses, if you will, John Senior, in bringing his ideas to life.

It would be wrong to see the book as a blue print for homeschooling, although discussion of the education of children and the recovery/promotion of Western culture are as central to her work as they were to John Senior's. I don't think that her focus on the awakening of a young woman to life and culture in all its wholesomeness is necessarily conditioned by any particular bias due to the fact, obviously, that Natalia is herself a woman. As notably G.K. Chesterton before her, so she has understood the primacy of women in nurturing or fostering human development or culture at its exquisite best. The novel is an uncompromising attack or critique, without a hint of harangue, against contemporary educational models and a vapid caricature of feminism, which deprive both sexes of their God-given glory and true dignity.

I know some thoughtful and truly admirable women to whom I would love to make a gift of this book, as well as no too few men, especially priests and bishops, who could benefit from a read.

They think that they regret the past, 
when they are but longing after the future. 
—John Henry Newman

Take and read!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Homily for Immaculate Conception at the Abbey of St. Maurice

Solennité de l'Immaculée Conception de la Bienheureuse Vierge Marie
8 décembre 2016 – St-Maurice

Genèse 3, 9-15.20
Cantate Domino canticum novum
Eph 1, 3-6.11-12
Luc 1,26-38

Le Seigneur Dieu appela l’homme et lui dit : « Où es-tu donc ? ». Notre Dieu est ainsi, et depuis toujours. C'est ainsi qu'il a été perçu, loué et adoré par le peuple élu de l'Ancien Testament, comme en témoigne le troisième chapitre du livre de la Genèse : «Le Seigneur Dieu appela l'homme et lui dit : "Où es-tu ?"». L'humanité, choisie de toute éternité, jouit de la faveur du Père. L'homme a été créé à l'image et à la ressemblance de Dieu, et il est enveloppé dans le mystère de l'Amour Divin, dans la communion de la Très Sainte Trinité.

Aujourd'hui, je veux partager avec vous une petite réflexion née d'une certaine perplexité de ma part au sujet de la discussion sur le rôle central dans l'œuvre du salut de l'Immaculée, la Bienheureuse Vierge Marie, Mère de Dieu. Perplexité à propos de ce que je lisais ces jours-ci et de certaines discussions, spécialement dans le contexte œcuménique, sur la nature et le rôle de l'Eglise dans l'histoire du salut, c’est-à-dire, dans notre histoire et notre cheminement vers Dieu et vers l’éternité avec Lui dans le ciel.

Dans l'Église Catholique la première lecture d'aujourd'hui est lue comme prophétie accomplie dans la plénitude des temps en Jésus, né de la Vierge Marie : « Je mettrai une hostilité entre toi et la femme, entre ton lignage et le sien. Il t'écrasera la tête et tu l'atteindras au talon ». La Femme et son lignage en lutte avec le serpent et son lignage ! Très catholique est le concept que dans la dernière bataille, mais aussi dans la bataille constante de notre existence, la bataille contre le mal, nous sommes vainqueurs par les forces de lumière déployées autour de la Vierge Marie.

«Marie dit à l’ange : « Comment cela sera-t-il, puisque je ne connais pas d’homme? L'ange lui répondit : « L'Esprit Saint viendra sur toi, et la puissance du Très-Haut te prendra sous son ombre ; c'est pourquoi l'être saint qui naîtra sera appelé Fils de Dieu.»

Le Verbe de Dieu s'est fait chair grâce au plein consentement de l'Immaculée. Marie, Immaculée dès le premier instant de sa conception, rend possible, étant sans péché, le libre choix de la part de l'humanité de la communion avec Dieu, pour toujours, dans la lumière. Mais le Seigneur Dieu appela l'homme et lui dit : « Où es-tu ? ». Les portes de l’enfer ne prévaudront pas contre l’amour éternel.

Ma perplexité ? On parle de l’Église comme l'Épouse de l'Agneau, et de Marie comme Mère de l’Église, mais aussi comme image de l’Église. Il s'agit d'une épouse active et dynamique, qui s'identifie parfaitement avec l’Époux, avec le Christ Jésus. Pourquoi donc cette réticence à parler de l'Église unique et vraie, qui nourrit ses enfants à la table de la Parole qui donne la Vie, la table où nous sommes rassasiés avec le Corps et le Sang précieux de Jésus, dans son unique et parfait sacrifice pour le salut du monde?

L’Immaculée ! La solennité d’aujourd’hui célèbre la prédilection divine pour une créature : Marie sans péché dès le moment de sa conception dans le sein de Sainte Anne. La fête nous enseigne que Dieu a voulu nous sauver du péché et de la mort, de nous-même, non sans la coopération de l’homme à ce projet. Je pense qu'il serait juste d‘exprimer ce grand mystère en disant qu'il n'y a pas d’Époux/Sauveur sans l’Épouse qui a donné son consentement à coopérer avec le plan divin : « Marie dit alors : ‚Voici la servante du Seigneur ; que tout m’advienne selon ta parole’ .»

Ma perplexité ? Pourquoi cette réticence dans certains secteurs de l'Eglise catholique à reconnaître en Marie Immaculée, la Mère de Dieu, l'image de l'Eglise, Épouse de l'Agneau sans tache, la coopératrice choisie par Dieu pour apporter la vérité aux nations ? Le Concile nous a enseigné que l’Église de Dieu, l’Épouse du Christ, subsiste dans l’Église Catholique. Sur son unité partout dans le monde préside le Vicaire du Christ, le Successeur de Saint Pierre, le Pape de Rome. Pourquoi cette réticence ? Pourquoi le manque de foi dans cet article aussi fondamental à notre identité de coopérateurs avec le Christ dans l’œuvre du salut ? Le Seigneur Dieu appela l’homme et lui dit : « Où es-tu ? »

En célébrant aujourd'hui l'Immaculée, je ne veux faire rien d'autre que voir dans la prédilection divine pour cette créature parfaite, la fierté de notre race, un signe de la volonté éternelle de notre Dieu un et trine de partager Sa joie avec nous. Le vieux petit catéchisme, comme le nouveau d'ailleurs, pose une première et fondamentale question : Pourquoi Dieu nous a-t-il créés ? La réponse est : Pour le connaître, pour l'aimer et pour le servir dans ce monde et nous réjouir avec lui dans le monde à venir.

Je crois que l'accusation de triomphalisme n'est pas juste si elle concerne l'affirmation du rôle central de l'Eglise visible, ici sur la terre, dans le plan du salut. Nous voyons ce rôle-clé s'accomplir dans le rôle décisif du consentement de Marie à l'Incarnation du Verbe Divin. Et malgré son exaltation, Marie est toujours restée l'humble servante du Seigneur. Qu'il en soit de même pour l'Eglise Catholique, c’est-à-dire pour nous, aujourd'hui, dans notre tâche de présenter le Christ, Lumière du monde, à nos contemporains, baptisés ou non, pour qu'ils puissent voir l’Épouse de l’Agneau dans toute sa splendeur.

Ne manquons pas, comme ce fut une fois le cas pour Adam et Eve, notre rendez-vous avec la gloire : Le Seigneur Dieu appela l’homme et lui dit : « Où es-tu ? »

Loué soit Jésus-Christ !

Sunday, December 4, 2016

SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT - Adult Baptism and Confirmation

4 December 2016
English Language Community
at Bruder Klaus Parish in Bern

Is 11:1-10
Rom 15:4-9
Mt 3:1-12

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

“Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

The Fathers of the Church teach us that there are two types of water for salvation, two ways to wash, if you will, for the forgiveness of sins: there are the waters of rebirth in the Sacrament of Baptism and there are the tears of sorrow leading to forgiveness for sins committed after Baptism through the Sacrament of Penance. Even though it is incorrect, I would like to say that St. John the Baptist in Matthew’s Gospel today has the order of things turned around. John’s baptism is with water for repentance and reminds me more of Confession. That of Jesus clearly is Baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire unto everlasting life.

Granted, sincere repentance on the part of an adult candidate for baptism goes before the sacrament itself. Rightly, we can admit with John the Baptist that it is only right for the catechumen to shed tears over past failures, over bad choices or just plain reluctance to run after Jesus, binding ourselves more closely to Him on that road less traveled. The baptismal choice, the joy of the road less traveled is that of choosing the only one that leads to glory, which leads to Heaven and happiness, both here and now, and forever.

David, we thank you for sharing with us today this most important moment in your life, your birth into God and your coming to share in the dynamic life of the Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Today, as is proper for an adult, David, your washing clean of sin will be sealed and strengthened by the gift of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation. In a truly Advent spirit, we can apply to you what the prophet Isaiah said of Jesus, the Root of Jesse:
“The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him; a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.”

I pray that today will be personally memorable and life changing for you, David. Baptism, Confirmation and later your first Holy Communion, your first reception of the Lord Jesus, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, under the forms of Bread and Wine, but truly and fully the Christ, God’s only Son, His Anointed One, truly and fully God and Man.

For all here present, I pray that David’s sacramental initiation might mark this Second Sunday of Advent for you too. May you be enlightened and enriched with a clearer understanding of the greatness of your own Baptism. If any here have become lukewarm or ambivalent about your faith, may this Sunday bring you to tears of sorrow for your sins; lead you to the Sacrament of Penance and renewed life in Christ.

I would ask parents, especially, later today at home to ask your children about their impressions at seeing a grown man reborn to new life in Christ. In very simple exchanges and with prayer, we need to bring Jesus and His Blessed Mother into our family life and conversation. We need to stop giving Jesus the silent treatment.

Let us enter now joyfully into this great celebration of our faith, something we can touch, hear, see and taste in the great Sacraments, which are our very life here in Christ’s Church.

To say it in an Advent kind of way, let me take words from the Entrance Antiphon assigned by the missal for this Second Sunday of Advent:
O people of Sion, behold, the Lord will come to save the nations, and the Lord will make the glory of his voice heard in the joy of your heart”.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Solid Rock of a Personal Relationship with Jesus Christ

1. Dezember 2016
Donnerstag vom 1. Advent Woche
Is 26:1-6
Mt 7:21, 24-27

Gelobt sei Jesus Christus!

„Wir haben eine befestigte Stadt, zu unserem Schutz baute der Herr Mauern und Wälle.“

Was bedeutet es, eine befestigte Stadt im Herrn, unserem Fels zu sein? Worin besteht oder wie erkennen wir, dass ein gerechtes Volk hier auf der Erde wohnt? Es scheint, als spreche die Heilige Schrift hier von einer institutionellen Körperschaft. Aber für uns in der Kirche Gottes ist es gerade nicht so! Was wir eben im Ausschnitt aus dem Evangelium gehört haben, sprechen wir schon seit uralter Zeit wie der Prophet Jesaia es sagt, von einer persönlichen und besonderen Entscheidung, welche gesellschaftliche Konsequenzen hat: „Verlasst euch stets auf den Herrn; denn der Herr ist ein ewiger Fels.“

Wir hier in der Schweiz, in Europa und auch anderswo in den Ländern mit alter katholischer Tradition müssen uns eine Frage stellen und zwar mit den gleichen Worten, mit denen schon der Prophet Jesaia Juda herausgefordert hat: Worin besteht unsere Gerechtigkeit? Was lässt uns geborgen sein beim Herrn des Universums?

Du kannst diese Frage verdrängen, wenn du willst, aber die Zeitgenossen in der „alten Welt“ mit ihrem „pro forma“ Kulturkatholizismus, mit einem dünnen Belag, der sich „Seriosität“ nennt, um so der Etikette „atheistisch“ oder „agnostisch“ zu entgehen, unterscheiden sich kaum von der Situation, die der Prophet im Namen Gottes tadelt und verurteilt.

Verstehen wir uns richtig: Wer von Gott gerettet wird, ist nicht notwendigerweise derjenige, der in den kirchlichen Steuerlisten steht. An diesem ersten Donnerstag der Adventszeit ist es der Herr, der uns entgegen kommt und wir sind eingeladen, wie die Hirten in der Weihnachtsnacht, dem Herrn entgegen zu gehen. Um das zu tun, müssen wir unser Leben auf dem Felsen bauen, der Christus ist. So wie das Evangelium sagt: „Nicht jeder, der zu mir sagt: Herr! Herr!, wird in das Himmelreich kommen, sondern nur, wer den Willen meines Vaters im Himmel erfüllt.“

Es wird gesagt, dass unsere Zeit, die sogenannte „moderne Zeit“ eine andere Vorstellung von der Gesellschaft und von der Rolle des Individuums habe, als die Vergangenheit es hatte, das heisst die über tausendjährige christliche Tradition. Persönlich glaube ich das nicht.

Es wird gesagt, dass wir schon seit einigen Jahrhunderten Kinder der Aufklärung seien. Besonders seit mehr als einem Jahrhundert und mit Sicherheit seit ich lebe, handelt es sich um einen unerbittlichen Angriff auf die Tradition der Kirche, um die Ziele der Französischen Revolution zu erreichen und eine kirchliche Disziplin nach dem Geschmack Josephs II. aufzudrängen, welcher nicht mehr als 2 Kerzen auf dem Altar tolerierte und die Mönche aus dem Chorgestühl jagte, damit sie ausserhalb der Klostermauern die Bauern lehrten, wie man Gerste pflanzt und Fruchtbäume beschneidet.

Es ist nicht so. Die Welt hat sich nicht verändert. Die Tradition bleibt. Die Herausforderung ist immer diejenige des Herrn, der lehrt: „Nicht jeder… wird in das Himmelreich kommen, sondern nur, wer den Willen meines Vaters im Himmel erfüllt.“
Die Ermahnung, zuerst Gott in Jesus Christus zu suchen, hat sich nie geändert. Sie ist auch gültig in den sogenannt modernen Zeiten. Wir sind berufen, den Willen Gottes zu erkennen und zu erfüllen. Einzig und allein in Jesus Christus, dem einzigen Sohn des Vaters finden wir Rettung vor dem Unheil, das alle treffen wird, die nicht auf dem Felsen gebaut haben.

In meinem privaten und beruflichen Leben versuche ich treu meinem bischöflichen Motto Properantes Adventum Diei Dei dieses Konzept zu verwirklichen, so wie es im 2. Petrusbrief heisst:
„Der Tag des Herrn wird aber kommen wie ein Dieb. Dann wird der Himmel prasselnd vergehen, die Elemente werden verbrannt und aufgelöst, die Erde und alles, was auf ihr ist, werden (nicht mehr) gefunden. Wenn sich das alles in dieser Weise auflöst: wie heilig und fromm müsst ihr dann leben, den Tag Gottes erwarten und seine Ankunft beschleunigen! An jenem Tag wird sich der Himmel im Feuer auflösen und die Elemente werden im Brand zerschmelzen. Dann erwarten wir, seiner Verheißung gemäß, einen neuen Himmel und eine neue Erde, in denen die Gerechtigkeit wohnt. Weil ihr das erwartet, liebe Brüder, bemüht euch darum, von ihm ohne Makel und Fehler und in Frieden angetroffen zu werden.“ (2 Petr 3,10-14)

Praktisch überall in der westlichen Welt lernen die Getauften nicht mehr die Grundgebete: Das Kreuzzeichen, Das Vater Unser, das Gegrüsst seist du Maria. Es ist nicht mehr wie früher als das 2. Vatikanische Konzil gelehrt hat, dass die Familie die Hauskirche sei, ein Herd kirchlichen Lebens. Oft wachsen die Kinder zu Hause nicht mehr mit dem Bewusstsein der Gegenwart Gottes auf, die so zentral ist für das Wachstum des Glaubens.

“Wer aber meine Worte hört und nicht danach handelt, ist wie ein unvernünftiger Mann, der sein Haus auf Sand baute.“

Ich schlage Ihnen ein Projekt für den Advent vor, aber auch für das ganze Leben. Nehmt das ernst, was Euch so wichtig ist und was Euch als Gruppe auszeichnet - „eine kleine Gruppe von jungen Erwachsenen, die jeden Donnerstag eine heilige Messe auf dem Gelände der Berner Pfarrei Dreifaltigkeit...“ feiert),“- nehmt diese Liebe für die Heilige Messe und das Allerheiligste Altarsakrament und erzählt von dieser wertvollen Perle in Eurem persönlichen Umfeld. Dabei dürft Ihr diese Entdeckung nicht jedem Beliebigen weitersagen, sondern nur denjenigen unter Euren Freunden und Familienangehörigen, welche auf der Suche sind nach dem rettenden Felsen im Sturm des Relativismus.

Ich will Euch keine neue Pflicht auferlegen, Euch vielmehr einladen, wie die Jünger zusammen mit Maria im Abendmahlssaal zu beten in der Hoffnung und Erwartung des Heiligen Geistes.

Der kirchliche Apparat, wovon ich Teil bin, hat ohne Zweifel seine Bedeutung. Aber der Gehorsam gegenüber dem Willen Gottes läuft über die persönliche Beziehung zur Person Jesus, dem Fels, der uns rettet.

Gelobt sei Jesus Christus! 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Christ the King - Bilingual Homily - German and Italian

Domenica Cristo Re – 20 novembre 2016

2 Samuel 5, 1-3
Kolosser 1, 12-20
Lukas 23, 35-43

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

“Viderunt omnes fines terræ salutare Dei nostri. Jubilate Deo, omnis terra. Notum fecit Dominus salutare suum; ante conspectum gentium revelavit justitiam suam.”

„Alle Enden der Erde sahen das Heil unsres Gottes. Jauchzt vor dem Herrn, alle Länder der Erde..!“ 

„Tutti i confini della terra hanno veduto la salvezza del nostro Dio. Acclami al Signore tutta la terra..!”

Qui si tratta del testo in latino del Graduale preso dalla Messa di Natale. Pensavo di cominciare così con una terza lingua oggi, cioè con il Latino. Il testo del Graduale è preso dal Salmo 98. Senza voler anticipare troppo il 25 dicembre nel nostro calendario liturgico, credo di aver trovato in questo antico canto liturgico una chiave di lettura per oggi, per la nostra celebrazione comune e bilingue della Domenica di Cristo Re. Lingue, tradizioni di famiglia, usi e costumi diversi, si! ma un solo Re e Signore, il nostro Gesù Cristo!

Er hat uns der Macht der Finsternis entrissen und aufgenommen in das Reich seines geliebten Sohnes… Denn Gott wollte mit seiner ganzen Fülle in ihm wohnen, um durch ihn alles zu versöhnen. Alles im Himmel und auf Erden wollte er zu Christus führen, der Friede gestiftet hat am Kreuz durch sein Blut.

Mit dem lateinischen Zitat aus der Weihnachtsliturgie am Anfang dieser Predigt, möchte ich unterstreichen, was eigentlich am Christkönig Sonntag auf dem Spiel steht und warum es sinnvoll ist, dass wir hier heute zusammen feiern. Wo in dieser Welt eigentlich liegen Sieg und Rettung wenn nicht im Herrn Jesus Christus, der für uns geboren und für uns geopfert wurde?

La nozione della Regalità del Figlio unico di Dio si distingue da quella del Re Davide, come si legge nella prima lettura della Messa di oggi: "Ecco noi ci consideriamo come tue ossa e tua carne.” Il concetto di Cristo come Re per ora ed in eterno non si lascia spiegare nei termini delle solite categorie umane (carne e ossa). In termini umani, in Cristo Gesù il contrasto con il Re Davide non poteva essere più estremo. Corona regale? Trono? Si vede solo scandalo nel trono che Gesù ha scelto per se stesso in obbedienza alla volontà del Padre Eterno per la salvezza del mondo. Il trono regale del Cristo non è una sedia dorata ma un patibolo. Il trono di Gesù è un altare di sacrificio in alto; egli regna sulla Croce. Con la Croce si tratta di una cosa umanamente incomprensibile, come il Vangelo oggi ci racconta: “C'era anche una scritta, sopra il suo capo: Questi è il re dei Giudei.”

„In jener Zeit verlachten die führenden Männer des Volkes Jesus and sagten: Anderen hat er geholfen, nun soll er sich selbst helfen, wenn er der erwählte Messias Gottes ist… Bist du denn nicht der Messias? Dann hilf dir selbst und auch uns!”

Eine der grössten Auseinandersetzungen unserer Tage besteht darin, zu verstehen, worin unsere Rettung besteht, unsere tagtägliche und dauerhafte Freude. Wahlen und Volksabstimmungen enden oft mit Enttäuschung. Es besteht die Gefahr, dabei stehenzubleiben. Präsidentschafts-kandidaten, Unionen, Bünde und Parteien: die sind fast nie auf der Höhe (ihrer Aufgaben) und ständig lassen sie die Kleinsten im Stich. Angesichts der alles durchdringenden Unzulänglichkeit der Politik braucht man ein echter Querdenker oder Träumer zu sein, um sich nicht in der Resignation zu verlieren.

Che cosa ha visto in Gesù il Buon Ladrone gli accanto sulla Croce? Se non fosse morente, quell’uomo avrebbe potuto esprimersi più a lungo, magari nelle parole di S. Paolo: “Egli è prima di tutte le cose e tutte sussistono in lui.” Gesù, il Re sfinito sulla Croce, il Giudice che dall’alto getta luce sulle realtà di questo mondo, colui che è Dio in pieno, per mettere tutto in ordine.

“Denn Gott wollte mit seiner ganzen Fülle in ihm wohnen, um durch ihn alles zu versöhnen. Alles im Himmel und auf Erden wollte er zu Christus führen, der Friede gestiftet hat am Kreuz durch sein Blut.“

Heute können wir wieder ein liturgisches Jahr abschliessen und am nächsten Sonntag mit Advent ein neues anfangen. Meine Botschaft für euch heute ist:  Im Leben schaffen wir es allein nicht; unser Leben wird nur mit Christus gelingen. Am Kreuz mit Christus verbunden, finden wir die frohe Verwirklichung unseres Lebens. Weder Alleingang, ohne Mitbrüder und Mitschwestern, noch intensives Schaffen in sogenannten demokratischen Verfahren bringen aus sich allein das ewige Heil. Was wir eigenmächtig, ohne Gott, versuchen ist doch Sünde und ebenso verwerflich wie Babel.

"’Venite, facciamoci mattoni e cuociamoli al fuoco’… Poi dissero: "Venite, costruiamoci una città e una torre, la cui cima tocchi il cielo e facciamoci un nome, per non disperderci su tutta la terra". Ma il Signore scese a vedere la città e la torre che gli uomini stavano costruendo. Il Signore disse: "Ecco, essi sono un solo popolo e hanno tutti una lingua sola; questo è l'inizio della loro opera e ora quanto avranno in progetto di fare non sarà loro impossibile. Scendiamo dunque e confondiamo la loro lingua, perché non comprendano più l'uno la lingua dell'altro". Il Signore li disperse di là su tutta la terra ed essi cessarono di costruire la città.”   

Supplico tutti semplicemente di abbandonare i progetti tipo “Babele” e di impegnarsi a vivere la nostra fede in tutta la sua pienezza e nella sua semplicità. Cristo dev’essere Re dei nostri cuori. Giovani sposi e genitori in particolare devono condurre i loro figli a Cristo Re, dare testimonianza a casa di una vita schietta di preghiera in unione con Gesù in compagnia con Maria, la Madre di Dio. La casa come focolaio di vera vita, sostenuta, nutrita ed arricchita dalla prassi della Messa domenicale ogni domenica e dal ricorso frequente e regolare al Sacramento della Penitenza.

Anders als die Menschen dieser Welt, leben wir in der Hoffnung, an der Herrlichkeit Christi teilzuhaben. Teilzuhaben an der Herrlichkeit Christi unseres Herrn, Königs, Hohepriesters und Erlösers.

Gelobt sei Jesus Christus!  

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Acriter et Fideliter - Patronal Feast of Swiss Guard

Sonntag, 13. November 2016
Hl. Martin von Tours
Patronatsfest der Schweizergarde
Bern,  Dreifaltigkeitskirche

Jes 61,1-3abcd
Ps 89
Mt 25,31-40

Gelobt sei Jesus Christus!

„Der Geist Gottes, des Herrn, ruht auf mir…“

Vor einigen Jahren war es in der Kirche vielerorts üblich geworden, nach Heiligen zu suchen, die gelebt haben, ohne die Gelübde des geweihten Lebens (Armut, Ehelosigkeit, Gehorsam) abgelegt zu haben. Man wollte diese Heiligen dem Volk Gottes vorstellen zur Erbauung und als Beispiele zur Nachahmung. Als Beispiele hierfür möchte ich nur die Eltern der Hl. Therese von Lisieux nennen. Ich denke, dass wir diesen „Trend“ so interpretieren können: Man sucht Beispiele eines tugendhaften Lebens, um damit andere zu motivieren, besser oder gar voll und ganz als Katholiken zu leben. Man suchte dafür Männer und Frauen, die „einfache Gläubige“ geblieben sind, Eheleute, Väter, Mütter. So wollte man die universale Berufung zu Heiligkeit betonen in der Hochachtung der zentralen Bedeutung der heiligen Salbung, die wir mit den Initiationssakramenten empfangen haben, das heisst in Taufe, Firmung und Eucharistie. Ohne Zweifel etwas wunderbares.

Für die Schweizer Garde hingegen, das heisst für die Soldaten im Dienste des Papstes und so auch für euch Ex-Gardisten, ihr habt den Hl. Martin von Tours als Schutzpatron. Er ist doch ein Soldat, aber der nicht als Märtyrer in einer Schlacht gefallen ist, sondern Bischof geworden ist und dann als über 80-jähriger im Kreise seiner monastischen Mitbrüdern stirbt, als er von einem Pastoralbesuch zurückkehrte, bei dem es ihm gelungen war, den zerstrittenen Klerus einer bestimmten Kirche wieder zu versöhnen und der Kirche den Frieden zu schenken. Warum diese Wahl?

Nein, Exzellenz! Du hast nichts verstanden! Unser Patron ist nicht der alte Martin, sondern der junge kraftvolle Mann. Unser Patron ist Martin, der junge römische Soldat, der, noch nicht einmal getauft, in einer kalten Winternacht seinen Mantel zerteilt, um damit einen armen nackten Mann am Strassenrand Wärme zu schenken. Unser Martin ist ein Held, ein romantischer Typ so zu sagen. Und deshalb hat ja auch die Kirche das Evangelium vom jüngsten Gericht für seinen Festtag ausgewählt:

„Amen, ich sage euch: Was ihr für einen meiner geringsten Brüder getan habt, das habt ihr mir getan“

Martin der Ritter, der junge und leidenschaftliche, das ist unser Heiliger!

Das kann sein, aber ich sehe für Euch keine Schwierigkeit darin, den Heiligen mit dem ganzen Verlauf seines Lebens zu betrachten. Der Soldat in der Jugend, der Mönch als reifer Mann und als alter Mann der Bischof: es ist immer Martin. Immer im Verlauf der Lebensgeschichte des Hl. Martin, bis ins Alter von 80 Jahren, begegnen wir einem aussergewöhnlichen und leidenschaftlichen Mann. Er ist immer ein Held, der eifrig ist für den König der Herrlichkeit. Martin geht immer dem Richter beim Jüngsten Gericht entgegen. Martin sucht Christus, der das Zeichen unserer Liebe zu ihm darin sucht, wie wir uns für die geringsten Brüder und Schwestern einsetzen. In der Lebensbeschreibung des Heiligen, lesen wir im Brevier, wie sich der Heilige Martin von den Tränen seiner Mitbrüder berühren lässt und wie er Gott darum bittet, dass, wenn es Gottes Wille sei, dieser ihn doch noch eine Weile im Dienste seiner monastischen Mitbrüder lassen möge, denen er als Vater Bischof und Abt vorstand. Das treffende Wort zur Beschreibung des Heiligen Martin ist „Allzeit zu Diensten“ – „Dienst zu jeder Zeit“. Das heisst: Die bedingungslose Bereitschaft von Jugend an und ohne je damit aufzuhören, den Brüdern und Schwestern entsprechend dem Willen Christi zu dienen, den er so sehr liebt.

Ich bin sehr glücklich, den Heiligen Martin mit euch teilen zu können. Der Heilige Martin, der, wie einige von euch wissen, der Heilige des Tages meiner Bischofsweihe ist und der daher für meinen Dienst als Bischof und Nuntius im Dienste des Nachfolgers Petri Vorbild und Ansporn ist. „Acriter et Fideliter! (tapfer und treu)“ Ob es sich um den jungen oder um den weniger jungen Martin handelt, das Leben des Heiligen Martin ist eine Einheit, ein Stück. Ein Verlangen – sagen wir es sportlich – Christus entgegenzurennen, auf Christus zuzugehen mit Hilfe der Menschen, die um und mit ihm leben. Ich erbitte mir für mich selber einen solchen Eifer, eine solche Liebe zum nächsten:

„ ... denn der Herr hat mich gesalbt. Er hat mich gesandt, damit ich den Armen eine frohe Botschaft bringe und alle heile, deren Herz zerbrochen ist, damit ich den Gefangenen die Entlassung verkünde und den Gefesselten die Befreiung, damit ich ein Gnadenjahr des Herrn ausrufe, einen Tag der Vergeltung unseres Gottes, damit ich alle Trauernden tröste...“

Dieselbe Leidenschaft wünsche euch allen auch euren jungen Gardisten Kollegen, die jetzt ihren Dienst im Vatikan leisten. Ich bete zu Gott, dass er euch diese Leidenschaft schenken möge. Die Welt von heute ist immer eine Herausforderung, ein Kampf – sei es für die Jungen, sei es für die reifen Männer, sei es für die Alten.

Es kommt nicht darauf an, ob einer zölibatär, verheiratet oder verwitwet ist. Ob er bereits gebunden ist durch das Sakrament der Ehe, durch das Weihe Sakrament oder durch die ewigen Gelübde in einem Institut des geweihten Lebens. Es kommt nicht darauf an, ob einer noch auf der Suche nach seiner Berufung ist, auf der Suche nach dem Weg, sich selbst zu verwirklichen in einem Leben nach dem Willen Gottes, der uns mehr liebt als wir uns selber. Das was zählt, ist sich vollkommen der Liebe Gottes hinzugeben im Dienst am Nächsten, ohne zurückzuschauen wie es der junge Martin gemacht hat.

Eine meiner schönsten Überraschungen in meinem ersten Jahr hier in der Schweiz ist es gewesen, euch Ex-Gardisten und euer Ansehen als Männer mit einem grossen Herzen kennenzulernen. Anders als der Schweizer Landesheilige, der Hl. Bruder Klaus, hat der Hl. Martin in seinem langen Leben die Erfahrung der Ehe und der Familie nicht selber gemacht. Aber auch als Mönch stellt er den Kern der Taufberufung dar: Gesalbt zum Soldaten Christi im Kampf gegen das Böse in dieser Welt und für die Verteidigung der Armen und Schwachen. Sowohl die Kirche als auch die Welt haben es so sehr nötig, dass Eheleute, Väter und Mütter (Acriter et Fideliter!) jeden Tag die Waffen des Geistes zur Hand nehmen, um die Braut Christi und die Würde der Familie zu verteidigen. Sowohl die Kirche als auch die Welt brauchen gute Bischöfe, Priester, Mönche und Ordensleute, (Acriter et Fideliter!) welche dafür kämpfen, dass wenigstens einige in dieser Zeit vor dem Bösen bewahrt bleiben. (Acriter et Fideliter!) So wie es auch der Heilige Martin getan hat.

Gelobt sei Jesus Christus!

Hl. Martin,  bitte für uns! 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Beyond All Saints and All Souls

How to be a conservative.
Scruton, Roger.
Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

I just finished this book, which I enjoyed immensely, even if Scruton's approach to Christian faith (from an Anglican perspective?) has me in anguish. Whatever tenderness he might have toward England's national religion, he dismisses its role in his definition of conservatism, society and politics in the life of the world.

"George Orwell wrote in 1941 that ‘the common people of England are without definite religious belief, and have been so for centuries … And yet they have retained a deep tinge of Christian feeling, while almost forgetting the name of Christ.’ This ‘tinge of Christian feeling’ had a source, and that source is the Anglican Church, whose messages have not been shouted in English ears like the harangues of the Ranters and the Puritans, but filtered through the landscape, through the web of spires, pinnacles and finials that stitched the townscape to the sky, through the hymns, carols and oratorios that rang out in all their assemblies, and through that fragment of the Prayer Book that many people still recite each day, promising to ‘forgive them that trespass against us’, while never quite sure what the word ‘trespass’ really means." (Kindle Locations 3505-3511).

Everything else seems so right to me about Scruton, that I half suspect he is doing no more than unintentionally lifting the veil on Protestantism in its Anglican variety as something fundamentally unsubstantial and hence not enduring. I really hope I am wrong, but I suspect such an otherwise brilliant analysis is staring back at me as it plummets into the abyss.

The book bears a 2014 copyright and couldn't be more relevant to the Brexit discussions and the analysis of the causes of the present crisis in the European Union. Under the heading of religion, Scruton is even more dismissive of the role of Islam than he is of that of Christianity within civil society. There's a poetry in the way he describes civil society as an inter-generational pact between the living, the dead and those not yet born. It is just sad that he seems incapable of seeing that "first person plural" in the transforming light of Christ.

Beyond Scruton and his primary topic, a memory from almost forty years ago came back to me as I flipped the cover of my Kindle closed on this book. I thought of one of the quiet stalwarts of my childhood, youth and early priesthood, our long dead chancellor, a terribly urbane, somewhat scrupulous but most zealous priest, who came to South Dakota from Boston, after having caught St. Katherine Drexel's passion for the Native American peoples. Monsignor could speak Lakota and he loved the people of the high plains dearly. An intellectual and a savant, you couldn't stump him on anything.

As chancellor, with all the faculties of vicar general, he was responsible for granting the needed dispensations for mixed marriages (between a Catholic and another Christian). He never granted a simple dispensation for mixed religion, but always wrote it up as "mixed religion and disparity of cult ad cautelam". Disparity of cult covered anyone who was not baptized wishing to marry a Catholic. His scruple did not so much rest on any particular or general doubt concerning the validity of mainline Protestant baptisms, but rather their lack not only of baptismal records, but in some traditions of any guarantee of respect for the proper form of baptism. Thinking about Scruton's Anglicanism, I am wondering too if his ad cautelam did not arise from worries about the intention of the minister of baptism in many of these cases.  

In Sweden the other day, the world press quizzed a lot of folks on the sidelines of the papal visit about their Lutheranism and came up with the image of a thoroughly secularized landscape, maybe not even as heartening or disheartening as what can be read in the Scruton quote above. Where is the "we" in all of this if the fundamental tenants of the Creed are not even surely, commonly held? What is ecumenism all about for a Catholic where the other party is evidently on a very different page when it comes to basics? I think we need to look to the Fathers of the Church for direction. I cannot see it any differently than in the tenacity with which St. Augustine called the Donatists home to the Church.

I wish for Roger Scruton the fullness of Catholic Faith and the only real "we" which counts. May he and we come to life in the Risen Christ and together find life in that Mystical Body which is not only of profound beauty, but which is absolutely true and life giving.



Sunday, October 16, 2016

Seek the Lord in Prayer

It seems to me that the Second Reading from this Sunday’s Office of Readings from A letter to Proba by St Augustine  entitled "Let us exercise our desire in prayer" enriches the theme laid out in the Old Testament and Gospel readings from Mass which exhort to total dependence upon the Lord in prayer.

“Why in our fear of not praying as we should, do we turn to so many things, to find what we should pray for? Why do we not say instead, in the words of the psalm: I have asked one thing from the Lord, this is what I will seek: to dwell in the Lord’s house all the days of my life, to see the graciousness of the Lord, and to visit his temple? There, the days do not come and go in succession, and the beginning of one day does not mean the end of another; all days are one, simultaneously and without end, and the life lived out in these days has itself no end.
  So that we might obtain this life of happiness, he who is true life itself taught us to pray, not in many words as though speaking longer could gain us a hearing. After all, we pray to one who, as the Lord himself tells us, knows what we need before we ask for it.
  Why he should ask us to pray, when he knows what we need before we ask him, may perplex us if we do not realise that our Lord and God does not want to know what we want (for he cannot fail to know it), but wants us rather to exercise our desire through our prayers, so that we may be able to receive what he is preparing to give us. His gift is very great indeed, but our capacity is too small and limited to receive it. That is why we are told: Enlarge your desires, do not bear the yoke with unbelievers.
  The deeper our faith, the stronger our hope, the greater our desire, the larger will be our capacity to receive that gift, which is very great indeed. No eye has seen it; it has no colour. No ear has heard it; it has no sound. It has not entered man’s heart; man’s heart must enter into it.
  In this faith, hope and love we pray always with unwearied desire. However, at set times and seasons we also pray to God in words, so that by these signs we may instruct ourselves and mark the progress we have made in our desire, and spur ourselves on to deepen it. The more fervent the desire, the more worthy will be its fruit. When the Apostle tells us: Pray without ceasing, he means this: Desire unceasingly that life of happiness which is nothing if not eternal, and ask it of him who alone is able to give it.”

I just finished reading Cardinal Robert Sarah's new book written in collaboration with Nicolas Diat: La Force du silence (Documents) (French Edition). Fayard. Kindle Edition. I have no doubt that it will be received and read by many with profound respect. Some may find it mystifying if not perplexing for its unqualified embrace of silence as the quintessence of the God encounter. He says nothing different from St. Augustine, but for those not drawn by the monumental silence of the Grand Chartreuse, the great Western Father of the Church from Hippo might be easier fare.

In either case, for me on this 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time the shared lesson and exhortation would be toward accepting and professing the absolute primacy of the Lord Jesus for the sake of the life of the world and for my own sake. The supernal sufficiency of Christ in His Person and His Teaching, and the unambiguous call for us all to place ourselves at the feet of the Master as did Mary at home with Martha and Lazarus, as this call can only be lived out in the worthy reception of the Sacraments within His Church, cannot be overstated, let alone denied. 

"Desire unceasingly that life of happiness which is nothing if not eternal, and ask it of him who alone is able to give it.”

Of late and from some very unexpected quarters, from very pious people, seemingly, I have heard expressions of comprehension for the failure of young parents to seek the Lord above all else and share their quest for life in Christ, at one with His Blessed Mother, in simple prayer with their tiny children. Why has something so self-evident to my parents' generation become seemingly unattainable for many today? Spiritual combat, the notion of Confirmation making us soldiers for Christ, our prayer to St. Michael the Archangel to defend us in battle against the wickedness and snares of the devil... why so much complacency? Where are the spiritual athletes in numbers, who formed the basis of Christian culture? 

To reference the reading at Mass, "Amalek" is on the move! We need to fight against sin and Satan; we need to be combative! More than that, we need to give ourselves over unceasingly to prayer; we need to confess the primacy of Christ. Like Aaron and Hur, we need to sustain Moses in his prayer to God for the salvation of his people and the defeat of the enemies of God.