Sunday, December 31, 2017

European Geopolitics then and now

Luther, der Ketzer: Rom und die Reformation 
Reinhardt, Volker. 
C.H.Beck. Kindle Edition. 

"So lautet die Nutzanwendung aus diesen Überlegungen: Nur wenn man auch die römischen Quellen betrachtet, lässt sich der Prozess der Ablösung, Spaltung, Trennung und Verteufelung adäquat nachvollziehen, dessen Auswirkungen bis in die Gegenwart reichen. Dabei geht es – anders als im 16. Jahrhundert – nicht darum, wer recht oder unrecht hat und wer über die besseren Argumente oder gar die höhere Moral verfügt. In der Auseinandersetzung zwischen Luther und Rom ging es um Glaubensfragen, das heißt um unterschiedliche Auffassungen von heiligen Texten, priesterlichen Vermittlungsfunktionen und Wegen zum «Heil». Das waren und sind bis heute Fragen, in denen es kein objektives Urteil geben kann. Stattdessen geht es darum zu beobachten, wie auf beiden Seiten Ängste und Heilserwartungen, Loyalitäten und Feindbilder, politische und gesellschaftliche Ordnungsvorstellungen, Denkstile und Glaubensweisen zu der subjektiven Überzeugung führen, objektiv auf der richtigen Seite zu stehen. Das ist der Standpunkt, der in diesem Buch vertreten wird, und deshalb gibt es darin keine «Guten» und keine «Bösen», keine Parteinahme für oder gegen die eine oder andere Seite. Es geht nicht darum, aufzuzeigen, wer wen zuerst angeprangert, verleumdet und verteufelt hat, sondern darum zu zeigen, warum es zu dieser Zuspitzung kam. Die Eskalation des Konflikts wurde dadurch vorangetrieben, dass es in diesem Streit nicht nur um unvereinbare theologische Lehrsätze, sondern von Anfang an auch um Machtfragen ging. Auf beiden Seiten formten sich schnell Netzwerke heraus, deren Mitglieder intensiv miteinander kommunizierten und gemeinsame Interessen verfolgten. Diese Interessenverbände schlossen sich umso schneller und fester zusammen, als sich ähnliche Gruppierungen schon vor 1517 in kirchlichen und weltanschaulichen Streitigkeiten voneinander abgegrenzt hatten." (158-172).

Well, I just got under the wire with my read of an historical analysis of the Reformation period in this 500 year anniversary. If you read German and have not done anything so far to acquaint yourself, I can recommend this book because of all the Vatican archival material it brings to light in German translation, but also because I think it is a great piece of history writing and deserves to be known and discussed from any number of points of view.

Whether Reinhardt thinks this way or not, his book provoked a reflection in me on the state of affairs in the Church today. I think his analysis of the past leaves Catholic ecumenism today, its premises and objectives, in tatters. There is no reason as well why we shouldn't be anxious about general developments within the Church in our own day and time, as not all that foreign to the type of unraveling which shattered the unity of faith in Europe five centuries ago. Reinhardt's historical analysis of the failures of the leadership in papal Rome and in imperial Germany to grasp the gravity of the turn of events in their day seems not without implications for our day and time. Reinhardt makes cautious allusions to the crisis within the European Union but I think he has every reason to put forward his concerns and doubts.

From my own perspective and abstracting from this historical event of the Protestant Reformation, I know of no other way to put it than perhaps to say, I must be growing up, losing it or something. I am dumbfounded, if you will, by the consequences for today of the Reinhardtian description of the Reform of yesterday, where there were no giants, no bigger-than-life-like protagonists on the world stage who contributed to this major tectonic shift in the life of the Church; things just sadly and stubbornly deteriorated over the course of decades. Pettiness and ego had the upper hand. Reinhardt describes a "1517" made up of little men on both sides of the aisle. The popes throughout that period show themselves not only as flawed characters, but as utterly so at the expense of the Petrine Ministry; few if any of their closest collaborators were any better. In his epilogue, Reinhardt even points out that Luther's teaching has not stood the test of time, that nobody on the protestant side of the aisle today would still hold to the teaching Martin held central to his reform. Far from a work in progress, it seems little more than a devolution. Drift, yes, little more than drift with cataclysmic consequences for the light on the lamp stand, the city on a mountain top. I do not think mine is a jaded growing up, but certainly represents a more sober appreciation of the implications of serious things perpetrated within the Church by little men even yet today.

Some months back I was sharing with the Swiss bishops on what I see as an enormity here and elsewhere which goes on week for week and year for year, without consequences, namely the number of Catholic priests who no longer include the Creed in Sunday Mass. Yesterday, I was confronted with a harrowing example from Turin, Italy of a fat old priest who explained to his Christmas crowd the decision to substitute the Creed (which he said he didn't believe anyway) with the all time Italian Christmas carol Tu scendi dalle stelle... The erosion of the faith, Trinity, divinity of Christ, virginity of the Mother of God, transubstantiation... is moving ahead by drift and brainless substitution, not driven by a single "name" in theology or what not. 

Reinhardt documents how for geopolitical reasons that the Council of Trent was decades late in coming. I wonder what our excuse today is for not intervening to set right some of the folly... 


Thursday, December 28, 2017

T&T Clark Studies in Fundamental Liturgy - FAIL

With its iconic cover, based on past experience with other pricey titles in the same series, I did not hesitate long and looked forward to reading this tome. I must say it was a disappointment. I cannot recommend:
The Banished Heart
Origins of Heteropraxis in the Catholic Church
Geoffrey Hull
T&T Clark International, New York, 2010

Giving it my best effort, I attentively read the first half of the book and sampled here and there in the latter part, with special attention for the author's conclusions. The book just does not deliver. No doubt, if I had perused the bibliography before ordering the book, I may have given it a pass, although the chapter headings are quite captivating.

The author's oriental bias is just that, a bias. His preference for the married parochial clergy of the Byzantine world over and against Tridentine, seminary trained celibate Latin clergy is unfounded, as are the conclusions which he draws concerning the relative vivacity of the liturgical life in the pre-conciliar period of the Church's two lungs. There is no rhyme or reason to what he chooses to praise in one tradition and criticize in another. I say this on the basis of my own experience as papal representative to Ukraine and what I know about the ongoing efforts of bishops and clergy to meet the challenges of living the faith in a Byzantine context in our day and time. 

His caricature of  the Latin confessional as a deformation of auricular confession and penitential practice is nothing more than a shot from the hip. As recently ago as my young priest days in Italy, in most parishes the confessional was reserved for women's confessions (for the sake of the grate to separate confessor and female penitent) and for men the confessor sat up front in the open.

Dumbfounding was the author's dismissal of Baroque art, architecture and liturgy, summing up polyphony as little more than a mean transfer from the opera stage to the high altar. 

For these and for many more generalizations or snap conclusions, one might rightly mistrust the author's sweeping condemnations of nearly every Pope in the last 150 years, plus countless conspiracy theories plotted against the tradition by the curial entourage.

 Chalk this one up to impulse buying and let's move on! 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Born of Necessity or Dealing with the Maccabees

Picking through my "to read" pile of gifts from Christmas, I came across and read two articles in the genre of what in German is know as "Staatskirchenrecht"[1]. It may not sound like much fun to you, but the gift-givers did really provide me with a treat (excuse my professional deformation!).

Staatskirchenrecht: In Germany especially, it is a category of law with proud and capable practitioners; it goes well with concordats with the Holy See, but also can and does stand alone. It is a discipline which exists in other countries, but which in Germany now for a goodly number of years has managed well relations between Church and State and generally with an honest eye toward justice. I would say what makes this particular category of law and its practice great in Germany is that it is more inspired by principles comparable to hygiene than it is by the sort of adversarial wringing, as in clerics vs. statesman, which leaves the Church neither time nor place to swallow its spit. It would seem that thanks to Bismark's "sins" the Germans for the most part have managed to get something ugly and ignoble out of their systems in order to get on with higher flown notions of what should be meant when referring to the common good. Their legal system, though not perfect in managing Church-State relations, makes reasonable room for the Church and stands head and shoulders above most everybody else.

Elsewhere on the globe we don't fare quite that well. For lack of imagination or for some lingering and visceral prejudices there remains a partial refusal, greater or lesser depending on the country, to let the Catholic Church be fully itself in society. Even so, we live in hope of better times and ampler mechanisms for just letting everyone be and allowing us without qualification to our Catholicness. Those who insist on keeping the Church on a short chain usually do so by plying us with money and seeming advantages which can easily be labelled privileges. They might be our due, but can easily be categorized as conceding us an unfair advantage within a secular state, which has either separated itself from the Church or has forgone the establishment of any particular religious confession as defining a given society, if for no other reason than for historical precedent.

At this point, I go back to where I started and to the two mentioned articles. They are good, I would say, but with one reserve: they enter on the scene and do what most folk have done now for half a century and that is both articles sing the praises of religious liberty as the new synthesis bringing peace to social pluralism and doing so in justice. They apply whether a country has a healthy tradition of Staatskirchenrecht or not. 

Religious liberty: Why so much enthusiasm for something which is hard to document anywhere it may be applied, let alone as being evenhandedly applied anywhere? Land of the free, home of the brave? Canada? Australia? Where, pray tell, is this religious liberty accorded to all and especially to conscientious Catholics as an uncontested and unlimited good? Sorry if I am tempted to suspect that the doctrine on religious liberty, embraced today generally by both sides of the Church-State divide is little more than an untried or perhaps already failed hypothesis. I'm not talking about any of various schemes for financial support as promoting liberty, but seemingly granting us space to be ourselves in the public square. Where does religious liberty ever deliver such? Just try talking to the nice young man or woman at any U.S. Embassy with a religious liberty portfolio and see if the conversation gets to those implications at home or abroad which go beyond the freedom to attend the church of your choice or some carefully circumscribed tax-exempt status shared with who all.

A conflict ridden history has not been well managed, to say the least. All that once upon a time was ancien regime and which held us bound until the French Revolution, secularization or the Risorgimento swept everything away (wealth, property, prerogatives, libraries, schools, much that was beautiful and sacred) included a stubborn or desperate refusal on the part of the hierarchy in the Church, aided and abetted by the emperor and Europe's crowned heads, to move beyond accidents to substance. How could the upper crust get along without the perks provided by the social order of once upon a time which yoked throne and altar? What to do without the third son's niche as abbot here, the second son's carrier as prince bishop and elector of the realm there, not to mention settling an unmarriageable daughter as abbess somewhere else, and for tops, well, cardinale nipote...?

You might say that impatience with the Church's sense of entitlement is more than understandable and that there must be a place in heaven for a Joseph II and for Garibaldi's like as well. All that is fine for as far as it goes, but lest we forget or discount the zeal of the Maccabees for the restoration of the Temple, the covenant of circumcision and the dietary laws, as Church we do have non-negotiables, which just don't seem to be covered under the hypothesis of religious liberty, regardless of who is explaining it. Believe it or not, Church has its inalienable hallmarks, which are born of necessity and flow from the will of God for the sake of the life of the world.

No doubt, the only right place to start a conversation of this sort is by calling bishops and priests to account in terms of their faithfulness to the Gospel. We need more honest, integral, bold witnesses like St. Charles Borromeo, who by prayer and penance sought to conform their lives to that of our Loving Savior, thus credibly speaking His Truth and shepherding His Flock. Maybe it is too much to expect that we can walk hand in hand with a given temporal power for the sake of the good of society.

What I'd like to say is that past schemes (ancien regime) may have been unacceptable vehicles for establishing Christ's Church and furthering its mission. As I read, look and listen, however, I am missing the restless search for whatever that better or adequate vehicle might be. As I say, religious liberty comes up more than short, when it comes to guaranteeing unfettered discourse in the public square, about the truth which comes from God in Jesus Christ. But it's all we've got does not do it for me as a response and hence my insistence that we stand somewhere between a pipe dream and an untried hypothesis when we appeal to religious liberty as the better mousetrap. 

Maybe for next Christmas, some original thinker will have the matter worked out and send me his pioneering new synthesis. Until then I live in hope of better days. 

[1] Das Staatskirchenrecht ist ein Teilgebiet des deutschen öffentlichen Rechts. Es umfasst die vom Staat gesetzten Rechtsnormen, die sich auf die Rechtsstellung von Religions- und Weltanschauungsgemeinschaften sowie deren Verhältnis zum Staat beziehen. Mit einer Staatskirche hat der Begriff nichts zu tun.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Like the Daystar... I have begotten You!

At the close of our Christmas Mass in the Night, we pause before the Infant King. The sisters have quite a set-up for Baby Jesus under the Altar. I really like it and will enjoy again this year this marvelous touch to Christmastide in the chapel of the Nunciature.

With all the pretty stuff out there at this wonderful time, I was nonetheless troubled by the usual statistical notice from the various news services here regarding Switzerland, of just how few Swiss make it to church on Christmas. No doubt some journalists just throw it out there as a challenge: to justify their own non-attendance, because of their own doubts, out of anger or bewilderment, perhaps sorrow. In any case, there it is, supposedly how many folk don't even stand before the Throne of the Infant King on His Birthday...

These days I am reading a collection newly translated into English of orations by St. Charles Borromeo. I am thoroughly convinced that the author of the book has it right in saying that St. Charles was no great orator, but plugged on as best he could out of his conviction that it was a bishop's and a priest's primary duty to feed God's flock by his preaching. This convinces me all the more of the grace of office: that Catholic preaching must be reserved to bishops and priests, if it is to bear fruit among the flock unto salvation. It also confirms my belief that if I am not a holy man, an ascetic, a man on fire with Divine Love, then I really am a clanging cymbal or a thumping gong.

Why are the pews empty? Dear journalists! Don't blame the Lord of Life! Don't blame the One Who came before the dawn to save us from our sins! Blame the foolish shepherds! Blame me!

St. Charles lived intensely the reform message of the great Council of Trent, which his uncle the pope had entrusted to him to bring to a successful conclusion. Charles was consumed by his prayer and his personal penance. Milan was thrice blessed to have him as a bishop and from that local church light went forth for the sake of the Catholic Reform.

Being an Apostolic Nuncio, a Papal Representative, I haven't been called to take on a local church and its presbyterate, leading God's People, by leading His Priests on to conform to the life of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Rather, I need to pray harder and make of my life an oblation for the sake of those who have that call. That is the sense of a nuncio's call to share in the Petrine Ministry for the sake of strengthening the brethren.

Filling the pews would be the mark that prayer has returned to our homes, that the Infant King has been enthroned in our hearts. It doesn't happen by osmosis, but by sending out zealous preachers, confessors, presbyters. It happens when we lay down our lives for the sheep.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! May those who love you prosper!


Sunday, December 24, 2017

Who is God?

I just finished reading one of my Christmas gifts, a small book of 137 pages, which is well worth the read.

God is not Nice
Ulrich L. Lehner
Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, Indiana, 2017

Two words come immediately to mind for describing this book aimed at giving the reader a handle or help for discovering the true God, the only One Who is worth living for. These words are: witness and diagnosis.

Professor Lehner gives witness to his faith, the faith of a Catholic layman, a husband, a father, a Church historian with lots to say about the Enlightenment period, a teacher in contact with small children in a catechetical setting and predominantly dedicated to his work with university students studying theology. His witness is pondered, it's credible, it is that of a young Catholic man living in our day and time. It is a humble witness lived in a social context at the heart of which is his marriage open to life and love, that is to say to family, to progeny. Ulrich gives witness by who he is together with his dear wife and children to what Church is at its very heart.

{ASIDE: This is not to say that his book is aimed at guys. That is the wealth of describing what he does by using the term witness. Each and all can gain from reading, reflecting and making application in his or her own life.}

The author diagnoses where the dominant "culture" falls short in misrepresenting the God of the Universe, in Jesus Christ the God of our Salvation. He does so by latching on to and going round and round with the catch phrase "God is not nice". In doing so he is a giant step ahead of common discourse, which you often hear berating the so-called "Church of nice". Ulrich rightly perceives and reflects in his God-centered approach to what ails society that the anthropological question is derivative and to my way of thinking a no starter. Moralizing and what not desperately need to take a back seat to the primary question and confession about "Who is God". My faith needs to be fleshed out in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. There are countless so-called theologians out there who expatiate without having the rudiments of the game down: see here the ultimate tragedy of the Catholic Enlightenment and the scourge of neo-modernism, wreaking havoc with the truth which is ours in Jesus Christ in His Church.

Lehner's book is born as much as anything from his classroom experience. It represents a reasoned approach more than a jousting tournament or a name calling contest with the dominant "culture". It is born of compassion toward those who have gone astray from fundamentals. It is not a new synthesis, not a gantlet thrown down as a challenge, but a hand extended in love by a man who lives his Catholic faith.

With best wishes for a rediscover of Who God is, born in Bethlehem, to us and for us given! Merry Christmas!


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Pietà - from Violence back to Nurturing Compassion

Of all things on the great feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, this heart-wrenching image of Adam and Eve mourning the death of their son Abel, the just, came crowding into my mind. I think I know why. 

This pain is closer to most of us than is the tenderness of the Guadalupana toward Juan Diego and the peoples of the Americas held bound by the circle of violence set in motion in the course of the Conquista. Had she not come and shown herself a sister and a mother of boundless compassion, the death's of countless Abels would have left so many Adams and Eves in their tears and a whole hemisphere wrapped in a mourning cloak. Not chance but Divine Providence in the intervention in time of the Mother of God changed mourning into dancing and for over half a millennium without flagging.

Guadalupe continues today to radiate hope and promise for a fallen world. The immediacy of whatever our pain may be deprives us of experiencing the tenderness of the beautiful young woman on the hill of Tepeyac. For not being touched by her in our anguish or simple torment, we fail to obey her simple but insistent plea, we miss the tilma, the roses and love's lightning conquest of a world for Her Son.

This arid pietà depicting our first parents with their dead son, depicting the devastating effects of a fratricide from the dawn of creation and confirming God's judgment on the worthlessness of Cain's feigned sacrifice, looms big and leaves me powerless. In the extreme, it illustrates my loss of words before people's pain at gross injustice suffered here and now.

I guess all I can do, or rather the best which I can do, is humbly beg the lovely Morena to come again and touch hearts with a gentle word and a bouquet of roses.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Older and Better

I guess it would be fair enough to say that blogs are within the scope of propriety even if in a very public sphere they offer personal, bordering on intimate, reflections. With the wonderful celebrations at the Basilica in Fribourg on 8 December, I guess you could say that my heart is overflowing and I must speak.

2017 here in Switzerland has gifted me with three occasions, all of them Marian, to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass: in Fischingen, a Pontifical High Mass on the occasion of a pilgrimage for the Fatima Centenary, a Missa Praelatitia in Sankt Pelagiberg for the Holy Name of Mary, and now for the Immaculate Conception a Pontifical High Mass in the Basilica Notre Dame de Fribourg. These three moments have had their positive, yes warming and reassuring impact on my heart. No doubt a person has to do something to prepare his heart to receive them in this way, but in any case, the Tradition, or should I say the Blessed Mother has won my heart in most delicate fashion.

Without having such a chair, I'd like to say ex cathedra, that the Vetus Ordo is how a bishop is meant to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The Traditional Latin Mass in all its solemnity really carries the bishop. The above picture captures it quite well, as I sit front and center, with my old knees covered!, while the subdeacon reads the Gospel in French, I listen waiting to preach my homily. With the Novus Ordo, we were taught in the seminary at Mass practice or in homiletics to be sharp, to be proactive... in the Vetus Ordo, the liturgy, with Christ the High Priest, Mary with all the angels and saints, carries me in most attentive fashion and challenges me to allow myself to be changed, transformed, really made over to Christ Jesus. The liturgy carries the old man in me and makes me an icon of something of which I am not worthy and for which from beginning to end I repeat my Domine, non sum dignus... and my miserere nobis! It is so right and so age appropriate!

It took me really too long to let go and allow others to carry me through this experience. Obviously, a priest who celebrates his daily low Mass or a Sunday High Mass, Missa Cantata, without assisting ministers, well, he has to be at the top of his game, so to speak. I just want to go on record that bishops get the better part of a free ride, even if they should really interiorize it all by memorizing a goodly part of the liturgy.

Bishops, do yourself and the Church a favor by accepting the invitation should it come your way and doing your little, old part to let this great icon shine forth from the heart of Christ's Church!


Friday, December 8, 2017

On the Occasion of Marian Congregation's Prayer of Engagement

avec la Congrégation Mariale de la Basilique Notre-Dame de Fribourg
Mot d’accueil - Immaculée Conception - 8 décembre 2017

C’est un honneur pour moi d’être avec vous aujourd’hui pour la « Prière d’engagement » des nouveaux membres de la Congrégation Mariale de la Basilique Notre-Dame de Fribourg. À travers l’abbé Arnaud Evrat je vous remercie tous pour l'invitation qui m'a été faite de venir ici cet après-midi, en témoin d'une grande et belle démarche.

Votre témoignage de foi et de communion avec la Vierge Immaculée, Mère de Dieu, est une confirmation ou disons une vérification d'une chose dont j'ai moi-même depuis quelque temps la forte conviction qu'elle est essentielle pour nous catholiques. Je crois fermement que notre foi catholique a, certes, sa dimension intellectuelle, et certes, elle a des possibilités de s'exprimer par des projets et des programmes de grande importance, mais par-dessus tout la foi est révélée par notre attachement personnel et filial au Dieu vivant et vrai, en union avec Marie, à travers une simple union de prière avec l'Immaculée.

Choisir simplement Marie «comme patronne et avocate auprès de son Divin Fils», et promettre notre attachement et notre profond respect pour la Vierge Mère, suffit à nourrir et à épanouir notre vie chrétienne. Comparée à la façon de vivre des autres baptisés, votre option est à la fois simple et extraordinaire, modeste et profonde. Notre union de prière avec Jésus par Marie, je tiens à le souligner avec insistance, union de prière avec Jésus par Marie : pour moi, tout est là.

Je promets mon soutien dans la prière pour les nouveaux membres de la Congrégation Mariale de la Basilique Notre-Dame de Fribourg qui prononcent aujourd’hui leur Prière d’engagement. En vous félicitant tous pour votre offrande personnelle à la Sainte Vierge comme ses "fidèles serviteurs", je vous bénis de tout cœur au nom du Saint Père, le Pape François.

Sainte Marie, Mère de Dieu, priez pour nous pauvres pécheurs, maintenant et à l'heure de notre mort. Amen!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

"Our Tainted Nature's Solitary Boast"

La Fête de l’Immaculée
8 décembre 2017 - Fribourg
Prov. 8: 22-35
Luc. 1, 26-28

Tota pulchra es, María: et mácula originális non est in te.
Vous êtes toute belle, ô Marie, et la tache originelle n’est pas en vous.

Je suis né le 14 août 1950, donc l’année de la définition du dogme de l’Assomption. C’est peut-être la raison pour laquelle j’ai toujours eu un rapport spécial à ce mystère de Marie, accueillie corps et âme au ciel. Quand j'étais au catéchisme à l’école primaire, j'avais l'idée (bien sûr erronée) que le dogme de l’Immaculée Conception de Marie, que nous célébrons aujourd’hui, avait été défini un siècle avant celui de l’Assomption parce que celui-ci soulevait de plus grandes difficultés doctrinales. C'était une logique enfantine selon laquelle les choses les plus faciles sont faites en premier…

A propos de la fête d’aujourd’hui : on constate que le dogme de l'Immaculée Conception est souvent confondu avec l'Annonciation, c'est-à-dire le moment de la conception de Jésus dans le sein de Marie, fêtée le 25 mars, neuf mois avant Noël, la Nativité du Seigneur. En fait, aujourd'hui, 8 décembre, nous célébrons Marie conçue sans péché originel, et qui naîtra à ses saints parents, Anne et Joachim, neuf mois plus tard, le 8 septembre. Aujourd'hui, nous célébrons la Divine Providence qui, de toute éternité, a voulu préserver la Mère de Dieu de toute souillure du péché originel et aussi actuel. Comme le dit, en parlant d’elle, le poète William Wordsworth : “Our tainted nature’s solitary boast”[1] (l'unique fierté de notre nature contaminée).

Dans la fête d’aujourd’hui, nous sommes surtout appelés à nous réjouir de cette particularité de l'histoire de notre salut. La sainteté du premier instant de l'existence de Marie est un indice, et certainement le plus significatif, de la sublimité des dispositions prises par Dieu pour sauver le monde dans l'Incarnation du Verbe, la naissance de son Fils unique. L'étoile de Bethléem a sa signification cosmique pour indiquer le début d'une époque sans précédent dans l'histoire du monde, mais nous pouvons voir plus profondément le grand mystère accompli dans le Christ en contemplant le « fiat », le « oui », de l’Immaculée qui consent à coopérer avec ce plan divin pour la rédemption du monde.

Dans un sens, pour notre vie de foi, il n'est besoin de rien d’autre : en connaissant Marie dans son élection dès l'éternité, nous pouvons accéder à la volonté de Dieu, le Très-Haut, pour nous pauvres fils et filles d'Adam et Eve. Cela se voit dans le choix de l'épître de la Messe pour aujourd'hui, où l'Église dans la prière établit un lien entre la Mère de Dieu et la Sagesse éternelle.

Qui me invénerit, invéniet vitam et háuriet salútem a Dómino.
Celui qui me trouvera, trouvera la vie, et puisera le salut dans le Seigneur.

Marie Immaculée est la clé d’interprétation du mystère de notre salut en Christ ; Connaître la Vierge Mère sans tache, sans péché depuis le commencement, nous ouvre l'immensité de ce que Dieu a voulu dans Son Fils unique fait homme.

C’est pourquoi je pourrais m'arrêter ici dans la contemplation de la Vierge Immaculée, point de référence et ancrage de notre foi en Jésus qui nous sauve. Ce serait un cadeau, une contribution décisive à la conversion de beaucoup. Mais, en tant que prédicateur, j'ai le devoir non seulement d'augmenter la dévotion, mais aussi de susciter en vous et en moi le progrès dans notre vie, notre comportement, et cela pour notre propre bien et pour le salut de ceux qui ne connaissent pas encore Jésus ou qui n'ont qu'une foi tiède ou indifférente. C'est-à-dire que je dois faire mon possible pour éloigner de nous le péché et l'indifférence envers nos devoirs de baptisés.

Saint Augustin, dans le chapitre 18 du livre 7 de ses Confessions, intitulé dans l'édition française que j’ai consultée : "Jésus-Christ seul est la voie du salut", prie notre Père céleste et parle de son processus de conversion du péché à la vie :
Et je cherchais la voie où l’on trouve la force pour jouir de vous, et je ne la trouvais pas que je n’eusse embrassé « le Médiateur de Dieu et des hommes, Jésus-Christ homme (I Tim. II, 5) ; Dieu souverain, béni dans tous les siècles (Rom. IX, 5) ; » qui nous appelle par ces paroles « Je suis la voie, la vérité, la vie (Jean, XIV, 6) ; » et qui unit à notre chair une nourriture dont ma faiblesse était incapable. Car le Verbe s’est fait chair (Ibid. I, 14), afin que votre sagesse, par qui vous avez tout créé, devînt le lait de notre enfance.

Dans l’évangile, dans le récit de la Passion et la mort de Jésus sur la croix, on parle de l’obscurité en plein jour et du tremblement de terre qui a divisé en deux le voile devant le Saint des Saints du Temple, à Jérusalem. Il n'y a pas de substitut à l’œuvre de Jésus pour notre salut. Dans la prédilection du Père Éternel pour Marie, Mère de Son Fils, nous voyons la sublimité que Dieu a voulu restituer à notre nature humaine. Déchirer le voile de l’époque passée, nous voyons en Marie l'Immaculée l'Arche de l'Alliance qui concentre la dévotion de son peuple au seul Dieu vivant et vrai dans son Fils Jésus.
Heute feiern wir die göttliche Vorsehung, die von Ewigkeit her die Mutter Gottes vor jedem Makel der Sünde bewahren wollte. Und zwar besonders vor dem Makel der Erbsünde, aber auch vor jedem Makel der persönlichen Sünde. Wie der Dichter William Wordsworth schrieb: „Our tainted nature's solitary boast…“ (Der einzige Ruhm unserer verdorbenen Natur).
Die Heiligkeit Marias vom ersten Augenblick ihrer Existenz an ist ohne weiteres der bedeutungsvollste Hinweis auf die Erhabenheit mit der Gott bei der Menschwerdung seines einzigen Sohnes zur Rettung der Welt arbeitet. Der Stern von Bethlehem hat seine kosmische Bedeutung, um den Anfang einer neuen und nie dagewesenen Epoche in der Weltgeschichte anzuzeigen. Aber wir können uns wohl noch tiefer bewusst werden, wie gross das Geheimnis Christi ist, wenn wir das „fiat“/das Ja-Wort Marias betrachten, Ihre Zustimmung zur Mitwirkung am göttlichen Plan zu Erlösung der Welt. In gewisser Weise brauchen wir für unser Glaubensleben nicht mehr als das Geheimnis Marias zu kennen: Wenn wir Maria erkennen in ihrer ewigen Erwählung, so können wir den Heilsplan des höchsten Gottes mit uns armen Kindern Adams und Evas erfassen.
Oh Maria, ohne Erbsünde empfangen, bitte für uns, die wir bei dir Zuflucht suchen!
O Marie, conçue sans péché originel, prie pour nous qui avons recours à toi !
Sancta Maria, Stella Orientis, filios tuos adiuva! Ora pro nobis, Sancta Dei Genitrix, nunc et in hora mortis nostrae, Amen!

[1] The Virgin

Mother! whose virgin bosom was uncrost
With the least shade of thought to sin allied.
Woman! above all women glorified,
Our tainted nature's solitary boast;
Purer than foam on central ocean tost;
Brighter than eastern skies at daybreak strewn
With fancied roses, than the unblemished moon
Before her wane begins on heaven's blue coast;
Thy image falls to earth. Yet some, I ween,
Not unforgiven the suppliant knee might bend,
As to a visible Power, in which did blend
All that was mixed and reconciled in thee
Of mother's love with maiden purity,
Of high with low, celestial with terrene!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Finally Got My Christmas Present Read!

The Biography
Marcel Lefebvre
Bernard Tissier de Mallerais
Angelus Press, Kansas City, MO, 2014

A year ago after the summer holidays, I got a package in the mail from Angelus Press, including a year's subscription to their great magazine and an autographed copy of The Biography. It was my first Christmas gift of 2016 and over the year I have enjoyed the magazine immensely. The big book took more courage to face. Normally by my reading with Kindle, big books are not all that intimidating, partly because you don't see nor do you have 600+ pages in a hard cover in your hands. Anyway, I finally started and almost couldn't put the book down until I had finished. Bishop Tissier de Mallerais has written a terribly interesting account of the life of Marcel Lefebvre and I have no objections to its English translation.

Part I, The Heir, taking us through family history, schooling, vocation and seminary, along with his Spiritan novitiate, is beautiful and truly inspiring. It makes a very ordinary boy of the people, like me, marvel at grace in action through family and the choice encounters in the life of a young man obviously destined for great things. The Archbishop's parents did an extraordinary job with all of their children.

Part II, The Missionary, almost by way of understatement illustrates the role that Archbishop Lefebvre played in the evangelization of a goodly part of Africa. Taken together with Part I, we see his homogeneous world, where he together with family and friends or proteges did a credible job of facing the social and intellectual challenges which were rushing in on the Church already in those years, paving the way for the rapid dissolution of our well-ordered Catholic universe.

Part III, The Combatant, recounts Archbishop Lefebvre's Council experience, moving from Dakar, to the small diocese of Tulle in France, to being Spiritan General and Council Father. Perforce we move from the serenity of his early life to an apology for his resistance to the forces of change which ran roughshod over the Council. Up until just recently, no doubt, this part of the book would have been the toughest for many of us to read.

Part IV, The Restorer, continues the apology of a ministry and life given totally to the defense and promotion of Catholic Priesthood in the sense of the Tradition. It clarifies well the nature of his adamant refusal to compromise for the sake of a false peace. The iter from Fribourg to Ecône, in particular, as well as the opening of other houses of priestly formation and the association of religious men and women in support of the primary work, The Priestly Society of Saint Pius X, is documented here as well. This section of 200 pages amounts to a good third of the entire book and explains the drama of his decision to proceed to the ordination of four auxiliary bishops. It concludes with the last illness and death of the Archbishop.

In the clerical world of which I am a part, for many, especially for hierarchs, just the name of Marcel Lefebvre is a provocation, a red flag. Among traditionalist lay Catholics, especially for those under fifty years of age, there do not seem to be battle lines or trenches which separate the good priests on one side from those on the other. A priest friend advised me not to review this book for fears of repercussions. I don't think my many lay friends would necessarily understand that counsel.

In the name of progress, then, and in hopes for the future, let me recommend this book to everyone who loves the genre biography and wants to learn more about the ins and outs of the 20th Century in the Catholic Church, especially in France, but very much so in Italy and Switzerland, as well as in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa.

The original French edition was published in 2002. Supplementary material was added to the English translation which has had both a first edition in 2004 and this second one in 2014.

No doubt it would take some courage for a Catholic bishop or priest to read this volume, but I think we urgently need to move forward by looking closely at what is certainly a crucial if not the most crucial chapter for understanding the life of the Church in our times. As we edge closer, hopefully, to finding the courage and the means for facing our "ghosts" in matters of the vocations crisis, the dramatic falloff in participation at Sunday Mass and the overall hemorrhage affecting Catholic practice and faith, we need to come to know Marcel Lefebvre better.