Sunday, December 29, 2013

Liberal Deception and Christmas Cards

Worshipping the State: 
How Liberalism Became Our State Religion
Wiker, Benjamin
Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition. (2013-03-25).

"When the day finally comes that the Free Exercise Clause is reunited with the Establishment Clause (through a series of judicial precedents making it clear that any attempt to use the latter to impose secularism is a violation of the former), then we will have arrived again at the Amendment’s original purpose—to prevent the federal government from either interfering with citizens’ religion or establishing a religion of its own choosing (including an anti-religious religion like secular liberalism)." (p. 313)

This book is another stirring battle cry from a no less energetic for the passage of time Benjamin Wiker inviting Catholic Christians in the US to wake up and seize the high ground before it is too late, appealing to the First Amendment in the courts, reclaiming the public square, by exposing the contemporary secular ideology for what it is: a religion, a false religion of intolerance. He would take on the whole academic world from day one through graduate school to banish the mindless revisionism which dumbs down our children and youth. The man is a Don Quixote if ever there were one.

The book undoubtedly has merit, but only relatively so. I think it should be placed on reading lists ordered alphabetically, that is under "W". There is much else which needs to be given priority. I say this out of an inherent mistrust for Wiker's scholarship, which he brings on himself by his cavalier approach to history. Facit:

"I have a confession to make. I was lying to you all along when I told you that the church invented the distinction between the church and state. Well, I wasn’t really lying, but I wasn’t being completely accurate either. But it wasn’t really my fault. The problem is the word “state.”' (p. 103).   

 I'm a third into his book, puzzled by his insistence that the Church invented the distinction between "church" and "state", when all of a sudden he tells me he lied. Can I trust his scholarship on other points or are we somewhere lost in the heady intrigues of somebody's high school debate team, where winning is all that matters?

Excuse me if I sound bitter about Wiker's flippancy, but the matter is in earnest. Let me just bring up the seasonal case of the news item from a Dallas, Texas christian academy, whose students had wanted to visit a Veterans' Hospital for Christmas, had made cards and were all prepared when their offer was rejected because of an official censorship prohibiting references to Christmas, etc. Secular state religion, imposed on the Veterans' Administration from Washington, is effectively quarantining those confined to a hospital bed and with the same arguments as was done under the communist system in Europe, hellbent on rooting out faith all together. The children's Christmas cards will go abandoned as their witness to Christ (and the reason for the season) does not have A&E economic repercussions a la Duck Dynasty.

In the Roman Catholic Liturgical Calendar, this Sunday within the Octave of Christmas celebrates the Holy Family. The Roman Catholic Church here in Ukraine has prepared all sorts of materials to make this Sunday a source of encouragement for families today, modeling on the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Wiker throws himself into the middle of the fight for the hearts and minds of coming generations. I think he needs to regroup, do some homeschooling and some catechesis as the foundations seem to be lacking.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Russian Position on Papal Primacy

I was interested to read the English translation of the position paper of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church on the question of primacy and Papal primacy in the Church. As the preface to the document explains, this is their minority report in response to the work done in their absence by the Joint International Commission on Theological Dialogue Between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. It conforms to the tripartite distinction used in the Ravenna document of three levels of church administration, namely, local, regional and universal, and outlines them as follows:

"In the life of the Church of Christ, which lives in this age, primacy, along with synodality, is one of the fundamental principles of her order. On various levels of church life, the historically established primacy has a different nature and different sources. These levels are 1) the diocese (eparchy), 2) the autocephalous Local Church, and 3) Universal Church."

No doubt, this minority report represents a willingness on the part of the Moscow Patriarchate to engage the rest of Orthodoxy, as well as the See of Rome. The goal is the oneness of Christ's Church according to His Divine Will. At the Joint Commission's 2010 meeting a course correction was made in hopes of furthering the dialogue; we can only hope.

Since the time of Blessed Pope John Paul II the Holy See has attempted to further the cause of Christian unity with the Orthodox by inviting a study of how communion between East and West was possible in the First Millennium. The tripartite division and distinctions concerning the primacy attributed to each is helpful, but I think the notion of autocephaly has been historically compromised and it might be better to go with a more neutral expression like our Catholic one: Church sui iuris headed by either a patriarch or a major archbishop.

From my experience here in Ukraine I must say I find difficult the Russian definition of regional as being the "autocephalous Local Church". The divisions within Orthodoxy here in this country are for the most part exacerbated by this notion of autocephaly. A part of the Church in Ukraine would argue that civil/national sovereignty should lead to autocephaly. I remember when Czechoslovakia divided into two countries the two Orthodox bishops of the new country of Slovakia demanded recognition as an autocephalous Local Church; that rift seems to have been repaired. This way of understanding autocephaly is rooted in the pattern followed as nations were carved from the former Ottoman Empire, some of them (on whatever basis) asserting patriarchal dignity as well. Not that the Russians are saying it, but on the basis of recent historical precedent a lot of other Orthodox do say it: Local Churches are national. As I say, that is a problem, which would seem to be inherent in recourse to a notion like autocephaly, corrupted by usage.

Since the publication of the article by Father Cyril Hoverun, a Ukrainian Orthodox theologian (see my post), a growing body of intellectuals have commented on his description of the reality evinced by what we call "Maidan" as Church over and against Government and Society. The articles are in Ukrainian and difficult for me to read and so I won't attempt an analysis of my own on their relative merit. Basically, I wish to stand my ground; I still think there is to be gained from refusing the classic distinction between temporal and spiritual power, which puts the Church on the outs when it aligns itself with society over and against unjust or rogue government. Authority or power is one and the Church's duty is to call everyone in society to faithfulness to the truth as it comes to us from God; the Gospel applies universally because though not all will be saved, the message is to be proclaimed to one and all. Charitas Christi urget nos!

I saw a nice, but rather odd little video from a newscast for Christmas night (24-25 December) commenting as exotic our Latin Christmas. Actually, I think many people here very charitably look upon us Roman Catholics as exotics. In the framework of the aforementioned discussion as it regards the commitment of the various Christian Churches to the phenomenon "Maidan", one commentator relegated the Roman Catholic Church to its niche as a bona fide minority here in Ukraine. While such a perception is understandable and corresponds to the tendency, let us say in the USA, to class Byzantines as an exotic minority, it flies in the face of the Gospel message and of Christ's truth. Christian unity, our communion in the Blood of Christ would be the antidote.

We hope and pray that Church leadership would be more profoundly moved to seek unity for the sake of the Gospel! 
Charitas Christi urget nos! 

Rachel weeping for her children

"Herod was furious when he realised that he had been outwitted by the wise men, and in Bethlehem and its surrounding district he had all the male children killed who were two years old or under, reckoning by the date he had been careful to ask the wise men. It was then that the words spoken through the prophet Jeremiah were fulfilled:
A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loudly lamenting:
it was Rachel weeping for her children,
refusing to be comforted because they were no more." (Matt. 2:16-18)

Today's Feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs for Christ, impresses upon me the fact that not enough tears are shed for children, born and unborn, cast out for the crimes of their parents, for the bizarre plans of ruling elites and warring factions, children, born and unborn, sacrificed on the pagan altar of somebody else's expediency.

We need to redouble our efforts to end the crime of abortion, to rescue all we can from infanticide, but we also need to bring our world to tears for so many other crimes perpetrated against children. Much of this happens in the Western world today because the high and mighty have driven out the Christ Child. They cannot get their hands on Him but to banish Him from hearts, minds and public places, but with impunity they abuse and kill in His stead the infant in the womb, the newborn, the child.

We need to be crying a lot more.

Saturday, December 21, 2013


"Quis venit? - Christus exemplar omnis sanctitatis, atque virtutis, quod olim in monte calvariae monstratum est, et nunc quotidie in Eucharistia monstratur: cui debent omnes electi conformes fieri." (Mensis Eucharisticus, ed. D. Giuseppe Santoro, LEV, 2011)

Of late there have been a goodly number of marvelous pieces published by some of my favorite bloggers on some of my favorite blogs. They share in common a defense of the Mass of the Ages and the importance for liturgy of continuity with the tradition. They are all works of depth, which merit our attention and respect. Priests and bishops should read them and reflect on the implications of what is being said for the Catholic Faith. At some point, I want to come back and single out the series which Joseph Shaw is publishing over at Latin Mass Society Chairman for particular attention.

For now I want to send out, well not a call for help, but an invitation for directions toward further insights into the matter of the organic development of the liturgy. I ask this for a very simple reason: there seems to be a diversity of opinion concerning just how free the supreme legislator (the Pope) is when it comes to liturgical law (this is the canonist speaking, but I cannot help it). It is a theoretical question, because much of what ails the Novus Ordo today stems from abuse. The abuse cries out to heaven, but the question remains how far a Pope can go with liturgy. Obviously, as self-assured "Romans" we'd never hold him to a Council document, but the issue is historical and the point would seem to be that departures from the tradition in matters liturgical have consistently over the centuries been remedied by later popes. Without even touching the Missal, there are numerous issues which could be addressed concerning the Divine Office going back to reforms made by Pope St. Pius X.

Nobody wishes necessarily to condemn anyone, but as I have said before, I think the late Laszlo Dobszay has much to say to us about how a pastoral reform of the Divine Office could have been accommodated without venturing so far afield.

As those who have read me know, I'm convinced that nothing better could be done for the Novus Ordo than quickly to restore celebration ad Orientem, than slowing down the Communion procession through the restoration of Communion at the rail and on the tongue, by banning all but truly sacred music from the Liturgy and reviving chant as eminently singable not only by scholas and choirs, but by anyone's children with a bit of training and explanation, as we children did once upon a time.

As my reading on restoring Catholic culture of recent date has brought home to me, liturgy alone cannot heal what ails the Western world today, but by restoring beauty and right order in the sanctuary we extend one more invitation to people to step out of the shadow of death and walk. While some would say that the difference between a reform of the reform and a restoration of the liturgy is only semantic, I think there is no getting around a restoration as the sine qua non for jump-starting a living liturgy capable of organic development as willed by the Council Fathers. That might mean that our present Holy Father is obliged to do a course correction on his predecessors. If so, let it be so!

I would never call into question the wisdom of Pope Benedict XVI's exhortation to follow the path of mutual enrichment for the two forms of the Roman Rite. Perhaps noting that correcting the abuses which plague the Novus Ordo seems to be going nowhere would indicate that a more aggressive therapy just might be needed.

Depending on Your Point of View

Different informal, friendly exchanges with Ukrainians have confirmed my impression that "Euromaidan" 2013 is another landmark in an ongoing process in the life of a people. An older person told me that it is for many unthinkable that people have achieved such freedom and confidence in self-expression: in living memory, laughing at a joke or telling a cute story could have landed you on a train to Kazakhstan or Siberia, but not so today. A young woman told me of meeting comrades in arms of the Orange Revolution now on Maidan with their children, more determined than ever for their future in freedom under a genuine rule of law. Just this evening I saw a young father pushing a baby buggy in the park; he had a neat ribbon in the national colors tied to his parka; his world and his child's holds much promise.

We can't forget, of course, that this side of heaven justice doesn't get much beyond an approximation of that willed for His people by the God Who loves us. Even so, those who would serve their people in the political sphere should probably enroll in the school of Maidan, to learn something of the dignity of the human person and what they, by their service to the nation, should be promoting. Strong-arming, conditioning or containing are not worthy of the people as created in the image and likeness of God, as truly noble.

One of the sobering aspects of all this is recognizing how much Ukraine is left to its own in this all. One of the nicest statements of solidarity I have come across is Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt's KvivPost op-ed from the 20th of December, posted on the Embassy's Page as well. He entitles it "Ukraine in 2014", sort of ominous as it sounds a bit like pre-holiday, see you next year. His assessment of the situation and prospects for the future is great, no contest:

"Based on all I have seen in my first few months here, I remain very optimistic about Ukraine’s future and am firmly convinced that any lasting solution to the current political situation must involve the Government of Ukraine working with the people of Ukraine, and their representatives, to forge a path all can agree on toward a brighter tomorrow.  In particular, I am inspired by the vibrancy of Ukraine’s civil society, evidenced so dramatically over the past three weeks."

Maybe he and the European Union with their line about how "the door remains open" are somewhat disconcerting for me because that all ends up being reduced to a sort of admonition to get on the stick economically and without further delay:

"In October, when I addressed students at the National University of the Kyiv Mohyla Academy (NAUKMA) I spoke of challenges and the potential I saw here, but I also spoke about an introspective Ukraine.  A Ukraine that often looks inward to focus on its problems.  I want to reiterate my thesis – you may need to look inward for the strength to make and face tough decisions, but only by engaging, with one another, with society writ large and with the world can Ukraine come to embody the change its citizens are demanding and fully participate in global affairs."

What's so wrong with a little more introspection? Where else in the world do you find a society which has gotten it right, if you will? I don't want to take anything away from politicians or diplomats, but I think we all could enroll in the school of Maidan and learn something about the basis for peaceful social change being repentance done for violence and disrespect for our neighbors. I cannot help but think that if their hearts were to change our oligarchs here could successfully invest in this nation.

Maybe a priest's point of view isn't practical enough to get the job done, either short or long term. I really don't care. Distopias around the world we know aplenty; utopias are not to be striven for. But we could spread a table; we could give people equal protection under the law; we could give people hope and reason not to emigrate.

Ambassador, don't mind my reservations; you published a great statement. I'm really convinced that beyond good sense, beyond reasonableness, leadership whether present or emerging must experience a profound change of heart and come to love and serve their people. We'll entrust this one in prayer to the Lord, Who rules the universe and all it contains.

Orientation: I'm All in Favor!

With gratitude to Joseph Shaw!

"Lord, shall we use our swords?" Lk 22:49

If at the end of this little "Christmas Wish" video you hissed a little "Yes!" and made some sort of victory gesture with a clenched fist, then you might think about getting in a good Confession yet before Christmas. Our longing be not for either inclusion or in its absence for getting the upper hand, but rather that the Infant King would come and in His mildness preside over the hearts and lives of all!

As hard as it has been for me to attend to other than what is happening right here on my doorstep almost in Kyiv, I couldn't help but be distracted by the coup, so to speak, of TIME Magazine naming Pope Francis the POY, the commentary about that, and now the last few days, all the venom spewing forth from various media forces, depicting the Catholic Church as faction-wrought, in total disarray... On top of it all, the announcement of the awarding of a contract to some Madison Avenue (?) company to study and advise the Vatican on how to get the most out of its radio, television, internet and print media! You'll find me reacting neither with a "yes!" nor a "no!", but with a certain perplexity.

As a young priest of 28 years of age, I can remember being pleased/rejoicing about the seeming coup worked early on in the Pontificate of Blessed Pope John Paul II, who seemed to succeed in breaking through the glass ceiling, which had imposed a press and media embargo upon the ministry and action of the Servant of God Pope Paul VI, certainly following his publication of Humanae Vitae in 1968. Decades later, we can say that getting the message out is not as simple as winning for oneself a favorable press. You'd be hard-pressed to convince me that Pope Francis' so-called "honeymoon" with the press serves either his message or the Gospel better than the press which Pope Benedict XVI enjoyed.

Pope St. Gregory the Great classed the teenager St. Benedict of Nursia as wise beyond his years when he simply walked away from schooling and the corruption of Rome to seek the Lord in penance and seclusion, first in the wilderness of Subiaco. Gregory understood clearly that a Pope didn't have that luxury, but he never lost from view his awareness of what is prime.

Do the divisions, the contrasts, the clenched fists as portrayed by mainstream media exist among us Catholics? If so, we need to repent. If not, how can we get the truth out? Should we be wishing for a better and maybe bigger communication "machine" to fight back and blow the opposition away? Bad thought! Better confess it and move on! We know from the Gospel that Jesus Himself was misrepresented by is opponents; the servant can expect nothing other than what was dished out to the Master.

Granted, we cannot withdraw as indeed our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ did not withdraw from the fray but carried His Cross unto victory. Sharing in His mission, completing what is lacking for the sake of the life of the word, means taking on culture and claiming it for Christ:

"It is because, however, the Catholic Church cannot be a sect, simply enjoying the integrity of its worship, doctrine and behaviour within the walls of a fortified city, but ever seeks to mediate in a universal way the Christ who would 'make all things new', that she cannot be content with the life of even flourishing parishes, monasteries, Church societies, but has to strive to permeate and re-form culture, and the circumambient world of thought and institutions in which men and women live." [Aidan Nichols. Christendom Awake: On Re-Energizing the Church in Culture (Kindle Locations 139-142). Kindle Edition.]

 Rod Dreher, whom I don't always quite understand, put out a nice piece about the lay people choosing to build their homes and raise their families in the shadow of classic St. Benedict; I'll mention Clear Creek Monastery in Oklahoma as one esample he commented upon. There are lots of little cells like that around the US and elsewhere in the world. We pray that the children so raised will embrace what their parents fought for to gift them. I don't think that big political moves change the world any more than the media can. Ultimately, both have their part in serving something nobler, if they choose, but the world is transformed one sinner at a time: one by one in the confessional, if you will. Some of my more savvy friends and acquaintances reject the distributivism of  G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, scoffing at the idea that you can organize the world around political units so small as an English county or just by giving folks the possibility of self-determination through ownership either of the means of production in some sort of industrial scheme or through planting and growing their own. 

As a follow-up to a reading lesson with my Ukrainian teacher, I looked on YouTube at the first 15 minutes of one of the classic films of all time: Zemlya Earth, from 1930, by Dovzhenko. I shouldn't watch such as it only increases my nostalgia for something I only know through the childhood memories of my mother: subsistence farming. Hardship and deprivation, even death, are mightily counterbalanced by immediacy and the contemplation of creation, God's creation. 

Can we tame "progress": political, technical, communicational? I don't know. St. Benedict walked away from a world corrupt and drew hearts to him and to God. St. Monica prayed her son, St. Augustine out of worldliness and error; God moved him for teaching and guiding our world yet today for more than a millennium and a half. I don't want a snow tank to blow away my enemies, competitors or those who simply ignore me, for whatever reason, with a certain disdain. Join me in wishing, wanting or praying that the Infant King will reign exclusively in our hearts this Christmas. That before Him, even fleeing to Egypt, the idols would fall and that He would enter into His sanctuary, our hearts, by our free choice and His might!


Sunday, December 15, 2013


"The Maidan pushed the churches to rise above the status quo that dominated their relationship with the state for years, and to take the side of the society in its struggle with the violent regime. Now the churches need to make a step further and to judge the regime honestly. It is irresponsible for them to hide behind the reduced interpretation of the Scriptural statement that ‘all authority comes from God’ (Rom 1, 13). This interpretation is reduced because it cannot explain the position of such great saints as Athanasius of Alexandria, Ambrose of Milan, John Chrysostom, Maximus the Confessor, and others. These and others saints openly accused the authorities of their time of abuses. They did not limit themselves to the self-evident and secure appeals to be good and not bad. They called things by their proper names and were direct in accusing the authorities to their face. Now the churches that want to follow the example of the saints have an opportunity to articulate what the majority of the Ukrainian people have clearly understood, even though these people did not study moral theology in the theological seminaries and academies."

The above quote is taken from an essay entitled "On Maidan" by a noted Ukrainian Orthodox theologian, Fr. Cyril Hovorun. Hats off to the blog "The Raven" of the Friends of St. Elias Church for making it available in English, Ukrainian and Russian to a wider readership. The painting above famously recalls St. John Chrysostom in his role of advocate of Gospel truth over and against imperial power at Byzantium. The article has enjoyed no small amount of attention and respect in Catholic circles here in Ukraine.

Father Cyril labels his work a first theological reflection on a rapidly developing situation; he has unbounded admiration and praise for his people as they endure the cold and danger of "Europe Square" (Maidan), to assert their hope for a free and democratic future for their country, insisting upon respect for their dignity as persons. He challenges his Church to accept finally a new, post-totalitarian role in proclaiming the Gospel to Ukrainian society and, after the manner of St. John Chrysostom, challenging the powers that be in our day and time.

I think it is important to remember that no one  in these parts and for generations escaped the scarring and trauma of hell-bent repression in the 20th Century. Ukrainian society, thanks be to God, is emerging from the ruins; it is growing and changing, showing itself as noble and hopeful; Father Cyril wants the same for his Church.

That would indeed be enough said. It's considerably more than what a "tweet" allows, but then I guess younger people can understand my "old-fashionedness". Permit me to go on with a bit of a Gaudete/3rd Sunday of Advent reflection. 

The lighter or upbeat tone of the 3rd Advent Sunday finds its inspiration in the Lord's closeness. Nothing could be more important or helpful to our world, baptized or not, than to finally "get it", so to speak. The Lord Jesus Christ, His Coming and His Coming in Glory, is indeed what life and destiny is all about. "Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain..." Worldwide, those who continue to try and hobble us, to drive us from the public square, are doomed, for indeed He will come on the clouds of heaven for all to see. Respect and justice cannot be deprived of their rootedness in the truth which comes to us from God. It is time to let in the King of Glory; it is time to stop kicking against the goad and finally let Him in.

Father Cyril wishes with the saints to assign the Church a prophetic role in support of society over and against temporal authority. Perhaps Father unfairly accuses his people of a reductionist interpretation of St. Paul to the Romans. At any rate, St. Paul and Church teaching is much more ample than the one scripture verse. I think better and more ancient teaching might be found in understanding the nature of all authority on earth as God-given from Jesus' own words at His Passion: 

“So Pilate said to him, "Do you not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?" Jesus answered (him), "You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above.”’  (Jn. 19:10-11)

St. Paul and the Church from Apostolic times understood the respect reserved for temporal authority as anything other than an abdication of our responsibility but rather as a recognition of the accountability of even a pagan like Pontius Pilate before the Throne of God's Judgment. Authority is one. Christ will come again and before Him every knee shall bow. Advent gives us hope even in the face of repressive, western, secularist societies like those bordering on either side of the Atlantic.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Upbeat Analysis of the Vocation Situation Today

Renewal: How a New Generation of Faithful Priests and Bishops Is Revitalizing the Catholic Church
Hendershott, Anne; White, Christopher
 (2013-12-03).  Encounter Books. Kindle Edition.

"For faithful Catholics, priests are still heroes. Even in the aftermath of the clergy abuse scandal, national surveys consistently indicate that most Catholics deeply respect their priests. They are grateful for the sacrifices these men have made on their behalf, and faithful Catholics are optimistic about the future of the priesthood and the Church itself. Progressives maintain that no priest deserves such an honor—and define such respect as leading to “clericalism.” Many progressives do not even see the need for priests." (p. 174)

This is a great book for many reasons. It says an awful lot about the importance for the life of the Church of a clear traditional grasp of the dignity of the priesthood. The genre is a bit more on the journalistic side and as such is not a primary source, but the authors do a brilliant job of explaining much and documenting unabashedly bad and good. I don't think everyone will be happy with the easy "off" they give to many aspects of the Church today, but the book is definitely a contribution.

If I had to point out an eye-opener in the book, it would be the strong reservations expressed by the authors concerning the USCCB. This quote was sort of a shocker for me:

“In Orwell’s dystopia, as the truth becomes uncomfortable, facts are redefined—or sometimes removed—by the Office of the Ministry of Truth. This new version of the “truth” is then disseminated by the Office of the Ministry of Propaganda. While this is not to suggest that the USCCB has become the Catholic Church’s Ministry of Truth, it is difficult not to conclude that the Ten Year Review of the Implementation of Ex Corde Ecclesiae provides readers with absolutely no information about what is really happening at Catholic colleges and universities. In fact, the report says nothing about campus problems in the past except to claim that despite the progress that has been made, “there is still work to be done.” To understand how such a vacuous report could be disseminated by the USCCB, one has to go back to November 14, 2010, when the USCCB Committee on Catholic Education approved a ten-year review of the application of Ex Corde Ecclesiae for the United States. Headed by Most Reverend Thomas Curry, then an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, the Committee on Catholic Education set the goals and the guidelines for the ten-year review. (Curry recently resigned as bishop in the wake of the release of documents showing that he deliberately and knowingly took steps to conceal the abuse of children from law enforcement and to protect abusive priests.)” (p. 97)

Naively I had presumed reforms had limited the power of the apparatus, but evidently not. Perhaps financial default is the only way to get a handle on these so-called "catholic" institutes of higher education. They are way too expensive and only undermine the cause for recovering or restoring Catholic culture. Fortunately, a number of seminaries seem to have recovered. We can only hope and pray for further development in this sense.

I am really quite hopeful about the younger generation of priests. There is much good will and desire to serve. I hope they get the kind of direction and support they need to grow and become true leaders. We pray for them and for all us older folk as well!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Perfect Joy!

Here is my reminder to me today of what is joy. I hope reading it will challenge you to see and willingly embrace the only joy that counts.

One winter day St. Francis was coming to St. Mary of the Angels from Perugia with Brother Leo, and the bitter cold made them suffer keenly. St. Francis called to Brother Leo, who was walking a bit ahead of him, and he said: "Brother Leo, even if the Friars Minor in every country give a great example of holiness and integrity and good edification, nevertheless write down and note carefully that perfect joy is not in that."

 And when he had walked on a bit, St. Francis called him again, saying: "Brother Leo, even if a Friar Minor gives sight to the blind, heals the paralyzed, drives out devils, gives hearing back to the deaf, makes the lame walk, and restores speech to the dumb, and what is still more, brings back to life a man who has been dead four days, write that perfect joy is not in that."

And going on a bit, St. Francis cried out again in a strong voice: "Brother Leo, if a Friar Minor knew all languages and all sciences and Scripture, if he also knew bow to prophesy and to reveal not only the future but also the secrets of the consciences and minds of others, write down and note carefully that perfect joy is not in that."

And as they walked on, after a while St. Francis called again forcefully: 'Brother Leo, Little Lamb of God, even if a Friar minor could speak with the voice of an angel, and knew the courses of the stars and the powers of herbs, and knew all about the treasures in the earth, and if be knew the qualities of birds and fishes, animals, humans, roots, trees, rocks, and waters, write down and note carefully that true joy is not in that."

And going on a bit farther, St. Francis called again strongly: "Brother Leo, even if a Friar Minor could preach so well that be should convert all infidels to the faith of Christ, write that perfect joy is not there."

Now when he had been talking this way for a distance of two miles, Brother Leo in great amazement asked him: "Father, I beg you in God's name to tell me where perfect joy is."

And St. Francis replied; "When we come to St. Mary of the Angels, soaked by the rain and frozen by the cold, all soiled with mud and suffering from hunger, and we ring at the gate of the Place and the brother porter comes and says angrily: 'Who are you?' And we say: 'We are two of your brothers.' And he contradicts us, saying: 'You are not telling the truth. Rather you are two rascals who go around deceiving people and stealing what they give to the poor. Go away]' And he does not open for us, but makes us stand outside in the snow and rain, cold and hungry, until night falls-then if we endure all those insults and cruel rebuffs patiently, without being troubled and without complaining, and if we reflect humbly and charitably that that porter really knows us and that God makes him speak against us, oh, Brother Leo, write that perfect joy is there!

'And if we continue to knock, and the porter comes out in anger, and drives us away with curses and hard blows like bothersome scoundrels, saying; 'Get away from here, you dirty thieves-go to the hospital! Who do you think you are? You certainly won't eat or sleep here'--and if we bear it patiently and take the insults with joy and love in our hearts, Oh, Brother Leo, write that that is perfect joy!

And if later, suffering intensely from hunger and the painful cold, with night falling, we still knock and call, and crying loudly beg them to open for us and let us come in for the love of God, and he grows still more angry and says: 'Those fellows are bold and shameless ruffians. I'll give them what they deserve.'  And he comes out with a knotty club, and grasping us by the cowl throws us onto the ground, rolling us in the mud and snow, and beats us with that club so much that he covers our bodies with wounds--if we endure all those evils and insults and blows with joy and patience, reflecting that we must accept and bear the sufferings of the Blessed Christ patiently for love of Him, oh, Brother Leo, write: that is perfect joy!

'And now hear the conclusion, Brother Leo. Above all the graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ gives to His friends is that of conquering oneself and willingly enduring sufferings, insults, humiliations, and hardships for the love of Christ. For we cannot glory in all those other marvelous gifts of God, as they are not ours but God's, as the Apostle says: 'What have you that you have not received?' But we can glory in the cross of tribulations and afflictions, because that is ours, and so the Apostle says: 'I will not glory save in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ.'"

To whom be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. 

from The Little Flowers of St Francis of Assisi, The "Fioretti"

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Secularization: Like Cold and Flu!

Florebit in diebus eius iustitia, et abundantia pacis in aeternum. (Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace forever.)

As the days pass here in Ukraine, the world is being treated to an ongoing and hopefully ever more profound acquaintance with what is at stake in or on "Euromaidan". Facile or dismissive assessments of what is happening are out of place, disrespectful of the reality that is there for all to see. Nonetheless, for much the same reason, whatever you say you are bound to sell someone short; we are dealing with an hour in the life of a people, an opportunity which has true potential for greatness. It is all too evident that what is going on here could be stifled, it could end in tragedy, but it won't fizzle. A historic passage has taken place and all the world must take account of the great Ukrainian people as they stand now before the world. Stereotypes or reductive classifications from the past must finally be abandoned.

If you will "Euromaidan" embodies what is ailing in the world today, while not failing to shine forth as light and promise in a people's quest for dignity and the right to self-determination. We stand by all these men and women of good will and pray for their nation, its integrity and progress.

Excuse me though if on this Second Sunday of Advent I look beyond this particular process of discernment and treat it as a piece in the greater mosaic and a much more generalized struggle. Of late, in this 1700th anniversary year of the Edict of Milan, much of what I have been reading is a rejection of the so-called "Enlightenment" and its fruits as witnessed in the sad reality of post-modern secularist society. The hope would be for a new Constantine, if you will, for a revival of Catholic Christian Culture, a new Christendom. If I were to write my own book contribution to the discussion, it would have to be a pretty hefty tome, but forget it. Let me just affirm that nothing could contribute more to furthering the cause than an interiorization in the hearts and minds of all Christians of that which is our Advent hope: Maranatha, Come O Christ the Lord!

The verse from today's responsorial psalm says it well: Florebit in diebus eius iustitia, et abundantia pacis in aeternum. We cannot want more or better for our world than that it and we be subject to Christ, true God and true Man, our Savior, Redeemer and Friend.

My cold for this winter is dragging into it's almost fourth week already and beginning to seem normal. Sadly, the way people live without God in Christ Jesus is much the same way, such that we don't, despite our profession of faith, give Him priority, not so much as deference but as hope for that which is all in all.

Let us let the Baptist's cry in the wilderness shake us up and help us cast off so much, such that we might live in the light of day!


Saturday, December 7, 2013

50 Years! Recovery Overdue!

I am most pleased to report Joseph Shaw's publication of the latest in the series of Position Papers. It bears the title: "FIUV PP: The Reception of the Host Alone by the Faithful". On his own LMS Chairman's Blog he offers additional commentary on a couple three issues regarding the reception of Holy Communion, including the glutin issue. There he also references a recent article by Peter Kwasniewski on the New Liturgical Movement blog, which makes well the point about the situation in which we live, as not being that intended by the Vatican Council's Document on the Liturgy now fifty years old.

Reading and reflecting on the worthy (Confession!) and devout reception of Holy Communion deserves exposure to an ever broader base of baptised people. The winter cold and flu season will bring an almost now traditional annual halt in many parishes across America to Sunday Communion under both kinds and exchanges of the handshake type greeting of peace. It is a pleasant season for many Catholics, because the church environment automatically becomes more settled and hopefully reflective. It should give us pause to question the sense of what we do almost in calloused fashion the rest of the year. Even here in Ukraine, where the more common form of reception of Holy Communion by Roman Catholics is for them to be kneeling and receiving on the tongue from the priest or deacon, it is hard to get priests to even imagine eliminating the wander around handshaking at the greeting of peace.

Very simply, we often find ourselves far from God, celebrating without Him as our only focus. I would beg priests to lead their parishes in and around liturgy first to simple decorum and then further to Divine worship oriented toward the One Who first deserves our love and adoration.

For us an essential choice has nothing to do with "bare bones", but rather with orientation, with turning toward the Lord, Who made and saved us.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

St. Michael, defend us in battle!

"Reflecting on the hidden life of Nazareth and on Mary’s spiritual progress in its silence, and reflecting by way of contrast on what the world terms progress, we are forced to conclude: men never talked more of progress than since they began to neglect its most important form, spiritual progress. And what has been the result? That the baser forms of progress, sought for their own sake, have brought pleasure, idleness and unemployment in their train, and prepared the way for a moral decline towards materialism, atheism—and even barbarism, as the recent world wars prove. In Mary, on the contrary, we find the ever more perfect realization of the gospel words: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.”' [Reverend Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange O.P. (2013-03-22). The Mother of the Saviour: And Our Interior Life (Illustrated Classics) (pp. 106-107). Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle Edition.]

Father's book has an Imprimatur from 1941 and an original copyright from 1948, so it safely can be said to antedate present polemics. I thought of this quote as I read a post from the blog The Sensible Bond, which I was going to link, only to discover the author thought better (?), but at any rate, took it down. He discusses the notion of "mission" and whether it could be considered an adequate Church paradigm. So as to get no one in trouble, I'll appeal to Father Garrigou-Lagrange who is safely dead and gone to heaven at the moment. The hidden life of Nazareth, both for Jesus (until age 30) and for the Blessed Mother, loving God above all, the first commandment, challenges our anger and frustration, at any age, about not "accomplishing".

The nice thing about a Church paradigm is the facility with which we can apply it to the life of the Church as well as to the lives of individual Christians, always following Our Lord and Master, enlightened and accompanied by the example of Mary, His Mother and from the foot of the Cross our Mother as well. Society and politics get a bit more tricky, above all because "enlightened" secularists tell us we have no place on the public square. They, of course, are wrong. If Christ's reign is not acknowledged, we have nowhere else to turn.

That thought came home to me very poignantly this morning when one of the photos which confronted me this morning was that of some young men who had barricaded themselves inside the iron gates of St. Michael of the Golden Domes Monastery here in Kyiv, having fled the violence which drove them from their peaceful watch during the night at "Europe Square" down the hill. I refuse to believe that it was an accident that these men sought refuge in the citadel of prayer. 

We need to think about what should animate human discourse, whether it be interpersonal, somehow social or political. If as at Nazareth the first commandment had its due in every aspect of our lives, the second would be less problematic.

I saw some video clips today of adults attempting to reason with the young militiamen charged with holding "Europe Square" today: something was missing from the equation and to make it seem like a futile exercise. For Greek Catholics and Orthodox here in Ukraine this Sunday is the first Sunday of the Christmas Fast. For us Latins, for the Roman Catholic Church throughout the world, it is the First Sunday of Advent.

I am praying that Jesus will come (sovereignly) into all our hearts and minds. May He take us by the hand and lead us to Nazareth, to love, to His citadel of prayer, which may give us all the right counsel for moving forward!



Monday, November 25, 2013

Certain Demons only with Fasting and Prayer

Pope Saint Gregory the Great. 
Saint Benedict: The Life of Our Most Holy Father Saint Benedict 
(A Catholic Classic!) (2009-11-15). ignacio hills press (TM) and e-Pulp Adventures (TM). 
Kindle Edition. 

"But when he saw there many through the uneven paths of vice run headlong to their own ruin, he drew back his foot, but new-set in the world, lest, in the search of human knowledge, he might also fall into the same dangerous precipice. Contemning therefore learning and studies and abandoning his father’s house and goods, he desired only to please God in a virtuous life. Therefore he departed skilfully ignorant and wisely unlearned." [Kindle Locations 75-78]

Pope St. Gregory the Great is speaking of St. Benedict still a boy in the care of his nurse, leaving the world behind: "... skilfully ignorant and wisely unlearned." If you know and love St. Benedict, spend 99 cents and relish this gem!

Besides confirming me once again in the conviction concerning the nature of vocation, that God calls us from our mother's womb, reading Pope Gregory on Benedict was a great nudge today to assume the heroic quest for virtue through personal penance. We are too much at our ease, at least I am. With no intention of putting myself at odds with Pope Francis, I am taking my distance from popular notions of "engagement" as the strategy for our supposedly different times. Reading Gregory's account of the life and works of St. Benedict makes it all too clear to me that Benedict's heroic absorption with prayer and penance are what rendered him and his brethren victorious over Satan, bringing the light of Christ to a world still in the grips of the devil despite five centuries having passed since Christ's victory upon the Cross.

"I may well say, therefore, that his holy man lived with himself, because he never turned the eye of his soul from himself, but standing always on his guard with great circumspection, he kept himself continually in the all-seeing eye of his Creator." [Kindle Locations 163-165]

The enthusiasm of unreflective youth needs to be confronted with the purpose of our great fathers Benedict and Gregory. The authority they exercised was Christ's; the wonders they worked were from His Hand.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Yes, He is King. He rules in All Things!


 (2013-02-11).  Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle Edition. 

This little pamphlet is a great pick-me-up, no doubt enhanced by the English translation of Paul Garvin. It has genuine authority to offer consolation to whomever might be in doubt about the whole gamut of questions which face us individually and in relationship as priests, religious, lay people, whether married or single.

The following passage really got me thinking about the mystery of vocation and why a family might not be blessed with a religious or priestly vocation. It says a couple things better than I have been able to formulate them for myself to date:

"If you are the father or mother of a family, you ought to conform your will to God’s with regard to the number or sex of the children He pleases to give you. When men were animated by the spirit of faith they regarded a large family as a gift of God and a blessing from heaven, and considered God more than themselves as the father of their children. But now that faith has weakened and people live isolated from God, or if they think of Him at all it is mostly to fear Him and hardly ever to have trust in His providence, they are reduced to bearing the burden of their families alone. And as a man’s resources, however ample and assured they may seem, are always limited and uncertain, even those who are most favored by fortune view with dismay an increase in their family. They regard it as a kind of disaster which fills them with apprehension, an endless source of worry to poison their existence. How different it would be if we realized God’s paternal treatment of those who submit to Him with filial trust! If we did so we should realize also what St. Paul meant when he said that God is able to make all grace abound in you, so that always having ample means, you may abound in every good work." (2 Cor. 9:8)[Kindle Location 431-440] 

One cannot be "pollyannaish" about the responsibilities entailed by marriage and family life, especially the worries which accompany having a large family, but if a husband a wife could truly believe and consider "God more than themselves as the father of their children"... I think we would have less worry about having enough priests and sisters for the needs of the Church.

Over and over again we hunch our backs at the insults and unjust demands heaped upon us by our superiors; we have no confidence in them. It is good to remember that is not the point of the exercise. Divine Providence is ultimately in charge of the game and seeks our conformity to His Will, often foisted upon us by the coarse, the wicked or the vain:

"God makes use of men as the doctor does of leeches. Neither should we then stop to consider the evilness of those to whom God gives power to act on us or be grieved at their wicked intentions, and we should keep ourselves from feelings of aversion towards them. Whatever their particular views may be, in regard to us they are only instruments of well being, guided by the hand of an all-good, all-wise, all-powerful God who will allow them to act on us only in so far as is of use to us. It is in our interest to welcome instead of trying to repel their assaults, as in very truth they come from God. And it is the same with all creatures of whatever kind. Not one of them could act upon us unless the power were given it from above." [Kindle Locations 189-194]

Thinking about this final Sunday of another liturgical year, I think it crucial for myself and for all believers to renew our faith in what is meant by the mystery of Christ's Kingship: that He is indeed in control of the universe, that He reigns over all, and that, yes, He indeed hears and answers our prayers:

"It is a strange fact that though Christ repeatedly and solemnly promised to answer our prayers, most Christians are continually complaining that He does not do so. We cannot account for this by saying that the reason is because of the kind of things we ask for, since He included everything in His promise—All things whatsoever you shall ask. Nor can we attribute it to the unworthiness of those who ask, for His promise extended to everybody without exception—Whoever asks shall receive. Why is it then that so many prayers remain unanswered? Can it be that as most people are never satisfied, they make such excessive and impatient demands on God that they tire and annoy Him by their importunity? The case is just the opposite. The only reason why we obtain so little from God is because we ask for so little and we are not insistent enough. Christ promised on behalf of His Father that He would give us everything, even the very smallest things. But He laid down an order to be observed in all that we ask, and if we do not obey this rule we are unlikely to obtain anything. He tells us in St. Matthew: Seek first the kingdom of God and his justice and all these things shall be given to you besides." [Kindle Locations 913-921]

Many times I try my best to remember how life was for me as a small child (before TV! - yes, that old!), which means before all the gadgets and invasive expectations which toss me willingly or unwillingly to and fro. Above all, I guess I'd like to understand what perseverance in prayer should mean in my life, what storming heaven for something or someone would be all about. My questions revolve around both length and intensity. Just today I was reading an account of the type of Lenten fasting which St. Gregory the Great did as a monk, to the point of fainting dead away... Not that I am advocating such, but the King deserves more I suspect, when I come to Him with my petition. St. Monica, pray for us!

"In fact it took St. Monica sixteen years to obtain the conversion of Augustine, but the conversion was entire and far beyond what she had prayed for. Her desire was that her son’s incontinence might be checked by marriage, and instead she had the joy of seeing him embrace a life of holy chastity. She had only wanted him to he baptized and become a Christian, and she saw him a bishop. She asked God to turn him aside from heresy, and God made him a pillar of the Church and its champion against heretics. Think what would have happened had she given up hope after a couple of years, after ten or twelve years, when her prayers appeared to obtain no result and her son grew worse instead of better, adding avarice and ambition to the wildness of his life and sinking further and further into error. She would have wronged her son, thrown away her own happiness, and deprived the world of one of the greatest Christian thinkers." [Kindle Locations 991-997]

As this great Year of Faith draws to a conclusion, we may find our efforts to seek God and submit to the Divine Will not up to the measure of the Church's saints. Let us not despair but renew our resolve and as it says somewhere in Holy Writ gird up the loins of our understanding!


Friday, November 22, 2013

Outrun, Outgun, Outnarrate

While I make no mystery of my great admiration for Father Robert Barron and his evangelization apostolate, WORD ON FIRE, these last two videos published on the 50th death anniversary of the great C.S. Lewis have me stymied. I am waiting for the other shoe to drop, if you will. While I'd like to cheer Father on when he cries to the effect that we as followers of Christ have what it takes to outnarrate the sad secularists and consumerists and take the hill, I don't know what that means. While his narrative advanced C.S. Lewis farther than many, it didn't bring him all the way to full Communion with the Catholic Church and the fullness of life in the Sacraments. Where his narrative drew him I cannot and will not judge, but it would be hard for me to conclude that C.S. Lewis actually took that hill. He seems to have fallen short and the great narrative somehow seems not to have been quite enough. We'll leave the matter in God's Hands and stick to parsing the narrative.

The popularity of movies like LORD OF THE RINGS or TALES OF NARNIA does not necessarily correlate with anything other than that nice glow emanating from a sweet Hindu woman I met once, who in an attempt to enter into a conversation I was having with a lady about the Blessed Mother, interjected "We have a blue god too!" Or the Jamaican priest who had to defend to the Legion of Mary his practice of giving rosaries to gang members who asked for them to wear around their necks. Some of his parishioners thought the exchange required some explanation about the prayer to be said with the beads.

It took me decades after university to overcome my resistance and actually read the Tollkien trilogy plus the Hobbit. In the late 60's these books were the provenance of liberated female religious and Peter Pan types who would have been thrilled to awake with fur on the bottom of their feet. 

Sorry for being so cynical but I am waiting for Father to put the great narrative in its context. It is not only "The Greatest Story Ever Told", but it is our story within the community of the Catholic Church. This all seems reminiscent of St. Paul's experience in the Areopagus. Very few were struck by Paul's eloquence and charm. Better to confront with the folly of the Cross. 

As I say, if I miss it when the other shoe drops, someone please fill me in!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Restless Until We Rest in Thee

“For though the soul may seem to rule the body admirably, and the reason the vices, if the soul and reason do not themselves obey God, as God has commanded them to serve Him, they have no proper authority over the body and the vices. For what kind of mistress of the body and the vices can that mind be which is ignorant of the true God, and which, instead of being subject to His authority, is prostituted to the corrupting influences of the most vicious demons? It is for this reason that the virtues which it seems to itself to possess, and by which it restrains the body and the vices that it may obtain and keep what it desires, are rather vices than virtues so long as there is no reference to God in the matter. For although some suppose that virtues which have a reference only to themselves, and are desired only on their own account, are yet true and genuine virtues, the fact is that even then they are inflated with pride, and are therefore to be reckoned vices rather than virtues. For as that which gives life to the flesh is not derived from flesh, but is above it, so that which gives blessed life to man is not derived from man, but is something above him; and what I say of man is true of every celestial power and virtue whatsoever.” [Saint Augustine of Hippo (2009-10-22). The City of God (p. 638). Hendrickson Publishers. Kindle Edition.]

I finally finished reading all the way through St. Augustine's City of God. The quote above comes from the Saint's commentary on what Varro has to say about human happiness being rooted in virtue. St. Augustine takes such beyond the earthy city and situates it in the context of the city of God. It is a big, hearty work which St. Augustine did for his own times and of which any half intelligent person can see the application to our world today. Pagan folly and overall cynicism might have a somewhat different vesture in our day, but the whole pantheon still comes up wanting and challenged in 2013.

I'm still haunted a bit by John Senior's dismissal of the possibilities of raising up a first rate Catholic intellectual today for lack of cultural humus (as he would say). Look at what St. Augustine did in the midst of paganism and heresy! There is at least as much belief afoot today as there was in Augustine's day and hence potential for transforming culture. Let us give ourselves to the challenge of replacing bread and circus with humbled and contrite hearts set on the Kingdom which will have no end! Let us open to the Bridegroom!


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Getting Beyond Our Virtual World

The Restoration of Christian Culture
Senior, John
(2008-10-01). Ihs Press. Kindle Edition.

The fact that I read Senior volume II on the heels of Topping's fine book on recovering or restoring Catholic culture made this book more interesting for me. On its own this second Senior book is well worthwhile, but his analysis of our dark days is apocalyptic by comparison with Topping. Be that as it may, I think I'd follow John Senior anywhere.

"We must inscribe this first law of Christian economics on our hearts: the purpose of work is not profit but prayer, and the first law of Christian ethics: that we live for Him and not for ourselves. And life in Him is love." (p. 17)

As in his first book, Senior insists that culture will be restored through a monastic revival. He sees us all as having our part in insuring that young men and women choose the better part.

"For the rest of us, laymen and priests in the active life, we must put this on our agenda: Encourage young men and women–particularly women, who have the greater aptitude–to do as Our Lord said, “Be perfect.” Of all the possible careers the young might consider and choose, they must put God’s choice first and consider the possibility of a call to the contemplative life. That again is not a choice but an obligation. And this means that books must be made available describing and explaining the life, visits and retreats must be arranged if houses of contemplative prayer with the Latin liturgy can be found. Parents, priests and teachers who fail at this have committed sins of spiritual contraception against the next generation. For priests and religious who abandon or disgrace this life, it were better by far if a millstone were tied about their necks and they were cast into the sea." (p. 62)

As an educator, he argues convincingly the hopelessness of our situation. Not only are college freshmen poor readers, but they have been deprived of contact with nature and everything which would make children's books understandable to them. As he spoke about the futility of teaching a great books curriculum to such young people, I saw the wisdom of the hiking, horseback riding and survival techniques which form part of the curriculum at Wyoming Catholic (they are trying to recover the cultural humus in which an intellectual life can root and bloom).

Some might be puzzled by his insistence on the revitalization of a regimen of prayer, especially for secular priests, which even Pope St. Pius X sought to curtail. He argues convincingly for a full return to the Mass of the Ages as well.

"Everyone will say at once, it can’t be done. That is what I meant when I said that the first thing said about prayer is that we don’t have time for it. But the reason why we don’t is that priests don’t lead the way by praying their four hours every day, and monks and nuns don’t lead them by keeping all the vigils of the night. We are suffering from the domino effect. Every layman owes his tithe of time–two and one half hours per day!" (p. 63)

Senior's argument for such an abundant prayer life (four hours per day for secular priests) stems from his comparison of our world today to that of St. Benedict of Nursia. He observed that a millennium almost of Benedictine life is what rescued Europe from barbarism and engendered or served as the gestating womb for St. Thomas Aquinas. Senior says that we have fallen so far that it is pointless to attempt a revival of Thomism today; we need to do for our world what St. Benedict and his Rule did for another world and successfully. For Senior, monasticism/prayer and work (ora et labora) spawns culture, which then can produce a life of the intellect.

It is in this book that John Senior recounts his own experience of a Holy Week and Easter in the Monastery of Fongombault. That part of the book alone made it worth the read for me.

For fellow "Kindlers", one caveat: this book was obviously scanned in with software which did not know Latin. Invariably "ae" comes out "ce", which can be annoying. Too bad a proofreader didn't go through this Kindle edition.

Apart from the challenge which Senior presents to any serious Catholic, to restore the lamp to its stand or to give new luster to the city on a hilltop, I'm becoming more concerned generally about avenues open to us for genuine human exchange. Apart from issues about excessive time spent with Facebook and other media, plus gaming, I am beginning to suspect that genuine human exchanges are more of a rarity than we would like to believe. Senior was thoroughly against television, but it goes further. Talk years ago was about avoiding an objectification of the other, which keeps us from an encounter with the other as person. Maybe today we should say that the tendency is to "virtualize" the other and thereby deprive him or her, not so much of personhood as of the possibility to speak to us and touch our hearts. I ask myself whether even Pope Francis isn't more virtual than he is real for a lot of people.

That then for me would be another reason for getting on the Senior "bandwagon" of urging lay people to tithe prayer time/time for God each day: two and one half hours! I guess I better get busy setting an example by attaining my four hours a day! Pray for me as I do for you!


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Real Genius in less the 250 pages!

Rebuilding Catholic Culture
Topping, Ryan N.S.
(2013-01-07). Sophia Institute. Kindle Edition.

“What was missing after the council was an account and defense of the continuity of the embodied practices of the Faith that were to serve as the foundation for Christian renewal. Even a child can learn to call Mary Theotokos; but he is unlikely to think of her as his Mother until he has learned to thumb his way along a rosary. The effects of this loss in transmission are now everywhere evident. The problem facing Catholics forty years ago was how sensibly to integrate the old with the new. The wrong answer was to attempt a revolution within the Church. Genuine gains of the council have been lost because much of the postconciliar generation “often has never experienced the devotional practices of previous generations” (DPP 59). The loss of the habit of piety coupled with the advance of an aggressive secularism has generated some predictable and some surprising results. What has been predictable is the way that young people, often after years of attendance in parochial schools, simply abandoned the Church. Once they leave home these cradle Catholics amuse themselves with the same coarse entertainments and excesses that their peers enjoyed with ease long before. Such baptized but unformed souls receive Communion at Christmas, ask for a Church wedding, and maybe even pray at the Requiem Mass of their grandmother; but they will never attend the fraternities, catechism classes, or processions that their parents took for granted. The sentimental among these will join the legion of “spiritual but not religious.” They find their nourishment elsewhere, in yoga classes, or in a bowl of soft tofu.” (pp. 227-228).

 As with any work which extends beyond 30 pages not every chapter of this book is equally brilliant, but the author cannot be denied his laurels for having gifted us with a genius work. For my own propensity, I especially enjoyed his two chapters on the Church's liturgical and sacramental life. Nonetheless, I'd like to see a parish study group concentrate on his chapters on virtue, law and family. Working through this book could encourage people to more time with the Catechism of the Catholic Church itself, but no less be a source of reassurance and challenge in the face of ambiguity and discouragement.

I know that many good Catholics have been taken aback in the last months, given the "full court press" by liberal and otherwise relativist media interests. Topping reassures and does it with both intelligence and flair. Because the book covers the whole spectrum and the man who wrote it is not only erudite but communicative and down to earth, this one gets five gold stars!

It could be my imagination, but it seems to me also in these months, with greater frequency, one notes finger-pointing with shouts of "modernist" or tagging of things as smacking of the heresy of "modernism". I think I better understand the deleterious effect of this error on Christian life and faith. Modernism is many things, but always and everywhere it is aimless; it tempts really to unbelief and Godlessness. Topping concludes with a simple plan for restoring Catholic culture. It is a good one and in no way shape or form can he be accused of "obsessing" for the priorities he establishes:

"We have perhaps devoted too much time to marking the dissolution of Catholic culture. What practical steps might we take toward its renewal? I conclude with a strategy with four components. Let us end abortion; have more children; teach them Latin; and build better churches. These correspond, so it seems, to the most pressing social, educational, political, and liturgical needs of the Church in the West." (p. 236). 


Friday, November 1, 2013

Destination: Before the Throne!

I am beginning to suspect that "tolerance" is a bad or even impossible word and except for medicinal purposes to be avoided at all costs. It allows some people seemingly innocuous tweets and even real life comments, which at best lead nowhere and often lead astray. In saying this, I don't think I need fear or dread being accused of being an old Catholic bigot. Tolerance just doesn't aptly describe any virtuous or meritorious sort of relationship between or among people. I tolerate the heat; I have a certain tolerance for alcohol; I tolerate pain. If I tolerate a person, it is because he or she bothers me, but more likely simply because he or she departs from acceptable behavior and can rightly be expected to trouble not just me but also others living within the norm of the acceptable. Tolerance is neither a virtue nor a social grace. 

If I tweet something, then I either want to share it because it is great or worth while or because I want to warn or protest. I guess I could also seek feedback for something which I do not understand or which troubles me. If "Whispers in the Loggia" is signaling approval with his tweet, then well may his donate button freeze in hell. Here's one I woke up to today on Nov. 1, even if the author of the tweet might have still been trick or treating. [Honestly, this is not a rant, for not even “Whispers in the Loggia” can spoil All Saints Day for me, but it sort of got me thinking about appropriateness and proper discourse for myself and others, for having tweeted something which he should have passed over in silence.] I’m talking about his link to articles and glitzy videos celebrating the “gay marriage” of a formerly high profile Catholic priest… Don't go there as it is just plain wrong, there, in the midst of glamour, a cute Yorkie dog, tears and joy, is this bitter line:

“Carl: I feel that nothing or no one can take us away from each other–no church, no state, no federal government, no hospital denying either of us visiting or caring rights… Nothing!”

From the Office of today's Solemnity from the second reading from a sermon for the day from St. Bernard, abbot, illumined by the Beatitudes from St. Matthew’s Gospel, I took these words:

“Come, brothers, let us at length spur ourselves on. We must rise again with Christ, we must seek the world which is above and set our mind on the things of heaven. Let us long for those who are longing for us, hasten to those who are waiting for us, and ask those who look for our coming to intercede for us. We should not only want to be with the saints, we should also hope to possess their happiness. While we desire to be in their company, we must also earnestly seek to share in their glory. Do not imagine that there is anything harmful in such an ambition as this; there is no danger in setting our hearts on such glory.”

In the immediate post-conciliar period many of us were deprived of our angels and saints (who all was to blame is not for me to say). I do not know of anyone before Blessed Pope John Paul II who did more with his countless beatifications and canonizations to break down resistance and vanquish the hesitancy to engage in discourse and once again rejoice in devotion to the throngs of the Church Triumphant in Heaven. May we be aided through the intercession and teaching of Saint Bernard to increase our longing to be caught up in the great company of saints before the Throne on high! Clinging to other mortals outside an orderly sacramental marriage should not be tolerated (there's that word!).

Tomorrow on All Souls Day, I hope all will pray and sacrifice for the countless souls in Purgatory, that they might join the heavenly throng. Life's joy and intensity comes from responding wholeheartedly to the Bridegroom when He comes and knocks. 

"Hear, O daughter, consider and incline your ear; forget your people and your father’s house, and the king will desire your beauty." [Psalm 45:10-11]


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

And Why not Tradition?

The last days again, have brought heated exchanges, slaps, volleys fired back and forth (choose your description) between friends and acquaintances. George Weigel slamming Catholic Lite and Traditionalists and my tradition-minded friends inviting him in no uncertain terms to get a life. I've also seen much worse these days, as the "lite crowd", unmindful of recent history, attempts to win the world for the ho-hum social gospel which at best comes off naive after years of wreck and ruin, but stinks to high heaven of an unwillingness to accept the Lord Jesus at His word. What to do? Maybe risk fiddling from the rooftop? 

Despite all the dangers inherent in expressing the wish to recover something most of us never knew first hand, I really can't see how society can recover a sense of truth and a notion of the common good without tradition, without a sense of history. We cannot break with that of our past which represents continuity, faithfulness to Christ. I can't really argue with those who see much of the last 50 years as trading the Father's house for some unfriendly farmer's husks in a pagan land. The prodigal must return home; he'd be better off.

The unloved new form for the imposition of ashes to start Lent, "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel", says it quite well. We must be rooted and in nothing else but the Gospel as proclaimed by Christ's Church in faithfulness to the Divine Will. I'm thinking of a benevolent thought by Father Benedict Groeschel, about the crisis of the consecrated life, as the group most exposed to the currents and destructive tides the Council would have spared us. I love the word "retrench" when it comes to describing what is needed at this point in time, not sullen but sober about our possibilities if we do not grasp the extended hand of the One Who walks upon the waters.

Our world too eagerly shakes off too much. Whether backtrack is the right word does not matter much. The point would be that the working model was the tried and true. The teaching and interpretation of the Council needs to recover its millennial context. Wisdom dictates the return to the safe harbor of an ancient liturgical tradition as a part of that strategy along with what sensible folk know to be a definition of what is sacred. Marriage and family life, homeschooling and/or safe schools and environments for our children are a better plan than anything I see out there. 

I know there is a terrible amount of resistance to recovering the tradition or resetting the development process on the firm ground of the tried and true which once carried us. St. Augustine, in his homilies, more than once says that it is folly to think things were better back when, but that is not the point of the exercise. Without pointing fingers or judging we need our balance. Years back, I can remember my mother with very young grandchildren, wound tight with nervous parents, sitting quietly, playing, saying important things and preparing that needed nap. When you've tasted the old wine, who cares about the new?