Thursday, January 28, 2016

Approved Author and Great Doctor Points to the Cross

For the memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas today, the Second Reading comes from a conference by Saint Thomas Aquinas, entitled: "The Cross exemplifies every virtue"

"Why did the Son of God have to suffer for us? There was a great need, and it can be considered in a twofold way: in the first place, as a remedy for sin, and secondly, as an example of how to act.

  It is a remedy, for, in the face of all the evils which we incur on account of our sins, we have found relief through the passion of Christ. Yet, it is no less an example, for the passion of Christ completely suffices to fashion our lives. Whoever wishes to live perfectly should do nothing but disdain what Christ disdained on the cross and desire what he desired, for the cross exemplifies every virtue.

  If you seek the example of love: Greater love than this no man has, than to lay down his life for his friends. Such a man was Christ on the cross. And if he gave his life for us, then it should not be difficult to bear whatever hardships arise for his sake.

  If you seek patience, you will find no better example than the cross. Great patience occurs in two ways: either when one patiently suffers much, or when one suffers things which one is able to avoid and yet does not avoid. Christ endured much on the cross, and did so patiently, because when he suffered he did not threaten; he was led like a sheep to the slaughter and he did not open his mouth. Therefore Christ’s patience on the cross was great. In patience let us run for the prize set before us, looking upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith who, for the joy set before him, bore his cross and despised the shame.

  If you seek an example of humility, look upon the crucified one, for God wished to be judged by Pontius Pilate and to die.

  If you seek an example of obedience, follow him who became obedient to the Father even unto death. For just as by the disobedience of one man, namely, Adam, many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one man, many were made righteous.

  If you seek an example of despising earthly things, follow him who is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Upon the cross he was stripped, mocked, spat upon, struck, crowned with thorns, and given only vinegar and gall to drink.

  Do not be attached, therefore, to clothing and riches, because they divided my garments among themselves. Nor to honours, for he experienced harsh words and scourgings. Nor to greatness of rank, for weaving a crown of thorns they placed it on my head. Nor to anything delightful, for in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink."

We find ourselves generally in the midst of outspoken persons who are always kicking against the goad. I need to remind myself to ignore them in their wrath and pretense, to return again and again to the reliable fonts, like the great St. Thomas Aquinas, to the people who over the course of time have taught wisely by drawing us with them to embrace life to its full in embracing the Cross of our Redeemer.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Staking out our Plot or Homestead

A Godly Humanism: 
Clarifying the Hope That Lies Within 
George, Francis E.
Catholic University of America Press. 
Kindle Edition. (2015-08-20). 

"As a Catholic and a bishop, I have worked to integrate my own thinking with that of the Church, God’s instrument for handing on the most important truths about who he is and who we are. The papal Magisterium of the last fifty years, the years of my priestly life and ministry, has been developed in dialogue with the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, and each of the last several popes figures prominently in the final chapters of this book." (Kindle Locations 130-134).

My respect for Cardinal George (may he rest in peace!) is practically unbounded. It is based on a couple brief personal encounters with this great churchman, on testimony from friends of a broader and more profound intellectual basis than mine, who knew Cardinal George well, and from testimony from younger OMI confreres on two continents, who never ceased to marvel at his solicitude for his brethren in religion. Cardinal George has earned a place high up the list of all time leading American Catholic hierarchs and great men.

This book, his last effort before commending his soul unto the Lord, is serious but accessible scholarship. It is a picture of the man, one which merits our attention and respect.

Perhaps by reason of his age and personal life story, the Cardinal seems to situate himself to one side of what I imagine as a great divide which from his side, for all its clarity of thought and principles, over-confidently or perhaps ingenuously pretends to negotiate the shoals (charted or uncharted) of this life without a sea anchor. No offense or disrespect intended, but we cannot just marvel at the unfounded enthusiasm for contemporary society of the Council Fathers of Vatican II and not draw conclusions for present comportment from the bumps, bruises and head traumas received over the past half century.

 Leaving the good cardinal behind, my point would simply be that we cannot launch into the deep, carried by momentum, but not really capable of showing that the direction chosen is indeed "forward". I guess I am calling the dominant paradigm into question which claims "forward" for itself and dismisses all else as retrograde. I keep running into new Catholic friends almost daily, who intuitively sense the wrongness of the paradigm, but also understand that the Amish or Old Believer approach doesn't cut the mustard either.

We need to let out the "sea anchors" and stabilize the vessel.



Sunday, January 17, 2016

In the Way of Peace

Let us pray.
Almighty God,
  ruler of all things in heaven and on earth,
listen favorably to the prayer of your people,
  and grant us your peace in our day.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
  who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
  one God, for ever and ever.

Lots of liturgical prayers, including this Sunday's Collect, are petitions for peace, at least this suggestion keeps coming home to me repeatedly, quite strongly and for whatever reason. Peace keeping and peace making have always struck me as energetic actions, which demand and make understandable a certain amount of policing. Nonetheless, without attempting either to deny or escape our stewardship/enforcement responsibilities in favor of good order at home, in society, in the Church or wherever, the teaching coming to mind from today's collect has to do very clearly with our dependence upon God in Jesus Christ. How this is to happen can be beautifully extrapolated from the Virgin Birth, as well as from the Son of God's lavish, but oh so discreet, miracle of transforming plain water into choice wine at the wedding feast in Cana, in our Gospel for today. For me, the overall lesson is one of hopefulness, of confidence in the Lord of Life and in His power to save.

For me the Christian life is very much about receptivity to favor bestowed upon us by God; what is the Blessed Mother urging in today's Gospel if not receptivity to the person and work of her Divine Son? The First reading from Isaiah 62:1-5 helps therewith:

"About Zion I will not be silent, about Jerusalem I will not grow weary,
until her integrity shines out like the dawn and her salvation flames like a torch.
The nations then will see your integrity, all the kings your glory,
and you will be called by a new name, one which the mouth of the Lord will confer.
You are to be a crown of splendor in the hand of the Lord,
a princely diadem in the hand of your God; no longer are you to be named ‘Forsaken’,
nor your land ‘Abandoned’, but you shall be called ‘My Delight’ and your land ‘The Wedded’;
for the Lord takes delight in you and your land will have its wedding.
Like a young man marrying a virgin, so will the one who built you wed you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so will your God rejoice in you."

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Never Far From The Action

"If you believe that an aging, secularized, heretofore-mostly-homogeneous society is likely to peacefully absorb a migration of that size and scale of cultural difference, then you have a bright future as a spokesman for the current German government."

Germany on the Brink
 SundayReview | OP-ED COLUMNIST
Ross Douthat JAN. 9, 2016

One of my duties as the dean of the diplomatic corps here in Bern is to present New Years Greetings on their behalf to the President of the Swiss Confederation. That appointment is coming up on the 13th. Preparing my brief message this last week and discussing it with collaborators brought back memories of years ago when I used to help compose the text for my nuncios who were born deans and that in three different European countries. Back then, as it seems now, life must have been easier or at least the problematic more straightforward than it is now, what with the questions related to migration toward Europe.

Needless to say, such an occasion as New Years Greetings with the diplomatic corps is not one for stepping out on any delicate or controversial matter, but migration is very much on everyone's mind. All of us, first and foremost the migrants who would rather have stayed in their own home countries and no doubt miss their families and friends dearly, wish we could ease the pain and restore order.

Although I would not give him a "blank check" to represent my ideas, Ross Douthat is a favorite columnist and a man whose ideas I respect. This hard hitting piece on Germany "out of control", which I quote above, is well worth a read. It cuts through some people's scruples about the demands of Christian charity and uses some hard math to confront a problem which is more arithmetic than it is algebraic. 

Already before Christmas, I was not answering people's questions on the topic of welcoming migrants. I was responding simply by citing the example of the heroic generosity of both Jordan and Lebanon already now for years in the face of the crisis of displaced persons in the Middle East. While it is not an answer or a solution to the problem, to point to another's heroic virtue, it can inspire the kind of soul-searching which opens people up to welcoming the stranger. One of my collaborators would have wanted me to address the topic directly in my brief talk next Wednesday. My objection was twofold: 1. moralizing statements are not constructive (moralizing is what is left to someone who really does not know better or has no real solution); 2. to speak in the name of the diplomatic corps is to respect very different points of view on a topic and hence to abstain from taking a partisan political stance when not obliged to do so. 

What Douthat does for me in "Germany on the Brink" is to confirm part of my thesis on the present east-west crisis in Europe. Secularization is Western Civilization's greatest liability in facing challenges both at home and abroad, as indeed it must face them (head-in-the-sand is not and never was an option in a world where nothing and no one is far away). Ross rightly points to the inability of an aging European population to contend with so much youth all at once. I would add that the prospect of contributing at all factors out to null, when you exclude objective truth from any equation and write the Creator and Savior out of the script, or seek to distort His image (à la Charlie Hebdo).

In addition to Douthat's suggestions, I would urge men and women of good will to place themselves before the Mercy Seat and flee to the protection of the Mother of God.


The Baptism of the Lord

The Gospel for today's feast of the Baptism of the Lord has had my mind racing all morning:

"A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people, who were beginning to think that John might be the Christ, so John declared before them all, ‘I baptise you with water, but someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Now when all the people had been baptised and while Jesus after his own baptism was at prayer, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily shape, like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’" (Luke 3:15-16,21-22) 

Truthfully, what above all has me going is the distinction St. John the Baptist makes there between his baptism, with water unto repentance, and baptism into Jesus, God's Chosen One, which is a Baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire. John himself, then, says clearly that there is no comparison between the two. Use words for the role of Jesus in the life of the baptized like primacy, like centrality, like inexorable, like absolute. However you turn the phrase, just remember that John discounted his own striking call to repentance and the baptizing he had done in the Jordan to make way for the author of Baptism, God's only Son: oportet Illum crescere! He must increase and I must decrease!

Epiphany/Manifestation: the adoration of the Magi, the wedding feast at Cana, the Baptism in the Jordan, and relevant though perhaps to a lesser extent, the multiplication of loaves and fishes, the walking on the waters and the calming of the sea! OPORTET ILLUM CRESCERE! It is all far from the point when the crowds or even the chosen few are not living in expectancy of Jesus alone, with their hearts set on His appearance, on the manifestation of the Messiah, as an event with real and great consequences for those who seek. 

Our environment is so poisoned by various relativizing tendencies born of a certain indifference, from cold or hardened hearts, that we get jumpy when praise to the Infant King, when homage to Christ, the Universal King and Eternal High Priest ring through, having caught our dullness off guard.

Referring to the Jubilee Year of Mercy, I see there are a few alarms being sounded by bloggers that too much mercy talk might not work to the advantage of the other forgiving waters at the Church's disposal, namely the tears of penance shed within the context of a good sacramental Confession. Certainly, mercy stands over and against judgment, but at least for today, for the Feast of the Baptism, I'd like people, on the word of John the Baptist, to turn to the One of whom he said, that He, Jesus, "... is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals".  We are not our own arbiters and far less than the Baptist can we claim to call the shots.


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Game Changers

I am still trying to decide whether or not Peter Kwasniewski did me a service with an article he posted on Rorate Caeli entitled: "10th Anniversary of the Hermeneutic of Continuity Speech". The reference, of course is to one of the most important papal discourses of the last fifty years (22 December 2005), wherein Pope Benedict set forth the fundamental principle of his pontificate: reform in continuity, rather than discontinuity and rupture. This is the paragraph where Peter got me into trouble or rather tempted me to read the Ferrara book:

"At the same time, the past ten years have exposed some of the weaknesses, logical and practical, that are contained in the hermeneutic of continuity approach. The new edition of The Great Façade, with 250 new pages by Christopher Ferrara on Popes Benedict and Francis, has probed the issues with great insight, as has Henry Sire's Phoenix from the Ashes. What exactly counts as continuity or rupture? Where do we look for either of them? How do we know when we have found it? If there has been rupture, how should it be repaired -- do we discard the novelty and return to the preceding phase, or attempt to incorporate a reinterpreted novelty into the next phase? Is continuity something to be assumed or something to be demonstrated? How easy is it to postulate (as Pope Benedict did) different "levels" of continuity and discontinuity in magisterial teaching or church discipline, such that apparent contradictions or tensions can be resolved? So numerous and weighty are such questions that one may safely say the proposal generated as many questions as it resolved."

Apart from his invitation to look at the clarity or consequential character of the traditionalist position, as I now know it more fully after reading The Great Façade, this whole topic comes home with a vengeance here in Switzerland, where certain people make no secret of their having bought into the rupture scenario. I keep running into people here who not only reject the classically Catholic, but in their attempts for all practical purposes to squelch it,  go to work on Catholics, especially Catholic recusants, with a similar fury to the English "locomotive" which started off under Henry VIII and gained steam under subsequent crowned heads and their henchmen, bent on rationalizing church things and breaking completely with Rome.

Next up is a book review of The Great Façade and some thoughts on the questions Peter raises in his piece:  "10th Anniversary of the Hermeneutic of Continuity Speech"!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A Matter of Conscience

A 2015 burden, which may become a 2016 menace, is the old question of conscience and religious liberty.

My college years coincided with the military draft for the war in Viet Nam. I can remember many a heated discussion with young men my age, expecting to be drafted, as to why Catholics couldn't individually declare themselves pacifists by conscience and avoid the draft. Officially the US authorities held themselves to the position that Church teaching required that an eligible Catholic be ready to defend his country if so called. 

Time and again in 2015, we have been confronted with cases where that respect for Church teaching, with civil authorities taking respectful distance from Church teaching and official policy, no longer seems to apply. Apart from ways the health care business has come to weigh on Catholic institutions, the courts seem to have found ways to split hairs or worse, come down hard on Catholic schools and other entities when it comes to hiring or firing people who don't meet a minimum of principle, which 40 years ago would have been in the Church's domain and hands off on the side of the state.

These days I am reading two books which deal with the traditional doctrine on Church-State relations treating the Church as a societas perfecta, out of the realm of state control. One book stands to one side of what we might call the "conciliar divide" and the other its opposite. One author declares the traditional teaching passé and the other insists that the conciliar parenthesis on religious liberty needs to be closed and we need to get back to reasonable men like St. Robert Bellarmine, who knew the limits of the two swords business, but would not renounce the Church's God-given prerogatives.

Streams of ink or their toner equivalent have flowed over the proper role of the Church vis-à-vis the State in society. Of late, or thanks to these two books and the caprice on the part of the state which has marked the experience of my lifetime, I have become less sure that the "religious liberty" explanation carries with it any guarantees. The joy of Bellarmine is that he insists on the principle, never loosing sight of the despot's caprice which thumbs its nose at the societas perfecta and denies it its proper domain also in the public sphere.

Things need to go or do better, but they never really have. Perhaps all I am experiencing is one more brick in an edifice built on shifting sands losing all anchor. There is something more realistic about holding for a principle despite the other's refusal to concede you the point.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Tyranny of Relativism: Where does it stop?

The First Reading assigned for January 2 (post Christmas Octave and pre Epiphany) got me thinking about principled Catholic living in a world allergic to good old fashioned absolutes, a world sadly hell bent on absolutely rejecting both the first and the last things. This year today's passage from 1 John is the only reading of the OF lectionary we will share in common throughout the world, because of the divergence of Epiphany dates (Sunday versus 6 January) depending on where you live in the world:
"The man who denies that Jesus is the Christ – he is the liar, he is Antichrist;
and he is denying the Father as well as the Son,
because no one who has the Father can deny the Son,
and to acknowledge the Son is to have the Father as well.
Keep alive in yourselves what you were taught in the beginning:
as long as what you were taught in the beginning is alive in you,
you will live in the Son and in the Father; 
and what is promised to you by his own promise is eternal life.
This is all that I am writing to you about the people who are trying to lead you astray.
But you have not lost the anointing that he gave you, and you do not need anyone to teach you; the anointing he gave teaches you everything; you are anointed with truth, not with a lie, and as it has taught you, so you must stay in him.
Live in Christ, then, my children, so that if he appears, we may have full confidence,
and not turn from him in shame at his coming." (1 John 2:22-28)

As much as any of us might disdain the very notion of relativism, undermining truth and virtue as it does, all too often we are intimidated by its tyranny in public life. We are cowed, many of us, by its scorn for our most precious values. In many circles, relativism turns our world upside down transforming tolerance into a virtue, which it is not. 

From Merriam-Webster:
Simple Definition of tolerance
: willingness to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own
: the ability to accept, experience, or survive something harmful or unpleasant
medical: your body's ability to become adjusted to something (such as a drug) so that its effects are experienced less strongly

 Full Definition of tolerance
1:  capacity to endure pain or hardship (endurance, fortitude, stamina)
2 a :  sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own
b:  the act of allowing something (toleration)
3:  the allowable deviation from a standard; especially:  the range of variation permitted in maintaining a specified dimension in machining a piece
4 a (1) :  the capacity of the body to endure or become less responsive to a substance (as a drug) or a physiological insult especially with repeated use or exposure <developed a tolerance to painkillers>; also:  the immunological state marked by unresponsiveness to a specific antigen (2) :  relative capacity of an organism to grow or thrive when subjected to an unfavorable environmental factor
b:  the maximum amount of a pesticide residue that may lawfully remain on or in food

At the core of tolerance is a type of endurance which must not and usually does not have either heart or brain. The very concept is rather biological, as much chemical or animal as it could be applicable to humans. Tolerant, we are without God; we are all alone in the world: denying Christ His rightful primacy in our personal lives and relationships with fellow human beings, and therefore surrendered to the grasp of the Evil One! 

My hope and prayer would be that 2016 would find us reflecting more on what we confess and profess. Believing is a commitment in the light of the Absolute. Embracing the Gospel without compromise as notion would be somewhat of a tautology; we cannot do otherwise.  Our valueless or relativized world provokes the scorn of those who have not yet lived long enough to know compassion for sheep without a shepherd.


Friday, January 1, 2016

Day 1 - Resolve Check

So far so good on my resolve in 2016 to not tag folks as belonging to one camp or another (liberal, conservative, traditionalist, et al.). That proposal has worked for these first few hours of 2016, but for the rest I seem to have started the New Year a bit absent minded, as I spent much time looking for two misplaced items this morning.

In one case, a friend came to the rescue and replaced the lost letter for me with his copy. In the other, I guess I will just have to do without a future footnote to a book review in the making. For the life of me, I cannot find the original recommendation which put me on the track of a book I never would have come across on my own. What to do? Be thankful for the hint, I guess, and when I've finished reading, own the thing myself without appealing to a higher authority? Time will tell.

In my search through tweets and timeline entries this morning looking for my book reference, I did come across some of those annoying adjuncts which Facebook automatically (?) generates and places on your timeline without any permission. The one headline took me back years to a favorite annoyance from the religion page of local Saturday newspapers at Mom's house. With a certain regularity, usually around the time of priesthood ordinations or major feast days like Easter, somebody would be out there criticizing the next generation of priests for being young, inexperienced and (horror of horrors) inflexible. The thing was thoroughly diabolical, as the articles proposed a model for young priests which would have found no backing in any college developmental psychology textbook referring to men in their late 20's. What 26 year old has a life behind him? Domestication for most males is still far off at age 28. The object of the newspaper column exercise had nothing to do with wishing the best for ministry in the Church, but rather with denying any place within the Church to real ministry by real men.

As I could see from the Facebook adjunct to my timeline this morning, the game plan continues with tagging and skewing a whole vision of the world. People out there are trying to sell the notion that being of a traditional mindset means being unthinking and rigid for lack of thought or insight. Getting "with it", whatever "it" might be in this 21st Century, would seem to be the only "thinking" thing to do. How sad! It would seem to be that the only noble option for life or ecclesiology would be the "STAR TREK" philosophy or trajectory of "daring to go where no man has gone before..."  

I guess all I want to say is that Day 1 has brought me new resolve not only for not pegging others, but for demanding critical thinking from those who belligerently insist upon going on their "STAR TREK journey" into a bright, beautiful future without anchor in the truth which comes from the God Who loves us and has saved us in Christ.

Yes, tagging is bad news; especially if it draws us off the course set by the Tradition for the joyful realization of God's plan for us His children, washed in the Blood of the Lamb.