Sunday, April 26, 2015

Diplomacy and the Petrine Ministry

Over a year ago now (here and here) I wrote two pieces on Vatican diplomacy, let us say, more properly speaking dealing with the diplomatic activity of the Holy See vis-a-vis "diplomacy" as it is commonly defined. I mention them, because they garnered more attention than most other blogposts I have written over the years. Actually, to those two pieces I prefer my own sequel writing to the piece on the three pillars of diplomacy (here), making the point about the supremacy of truth and Christ's Kingship. Just recently again, I shared with my readers my fear that there is something less than deliberate, insufficiently pondered, about the way the Holy See goes about plying the diplomatic trade (here). Again, not long ago, this skeptic repeated his insistent cry that in troubled times and for extreme situations we need to get beyond diffidence in the face of evil and aggression, if we as Catholic Church want to be of service in building up the edifice of diplomacy, which owes much to the Holy See, diplomacy seen as something noble, contributing to world order and the common good (here).

Undaunted by my observations, one or the other vaticanista continues to throw around the word diplomacy, applying it to countless things, as if it were some sort of wonder ointment or balsam, that if rubbed in with enough determination could become the cure-all for what ails our world and the Church. I am just as uneasy about this enthusiasm as I am about the malaise in which we find ourselves; I am saying that things are not good, but this is far from the worst of times. The point being that you can't claim that there was such a thing as a golden epoch of Vatican diplomacy, which perhaps peaked under Cardinal Casaroli and proceed from there to call just about anything and everything which doesn't go or plain fails a "martyrdom of patience", dispensing with a thorough-going analysis of the problem and the admission of errors of judgment, of failures, and perhaps, of the need for a radical course correction (if given the possibility) in order to address certain problems straight on.

In the literature one reads that Pope St. Pius X wanted very much to redirect the mission of the apostolic nuncios away from the purely secular and classically diplomatic. Granted, the diplomat is not a preacher and even for the Holy See diplomacy as it is practiced around the world today must also seriously take into account the work of a papal nuncio when he's "doing diplomacy", if there is such an expression. Nonetheless, as a papal legate, the nuncio's mission is two-fold. That other type of legation, which commands most of his time and talent, is that of being the Pope's representative to the Catholic Church in the country or region where he is accredited (note my intentional omission of ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue from the constellation solely for reasons of length). That is indeed a form of legation, but it is not diplomacy in any sense of the term generally defined. The overarching term then is that of "legation" and not "diplomacy". Diplomacy is and must remain firmly in the temporal sphere, political even. Legation does not escape that sphere but is open enough to be used in the service of the Pope as the successor of St. Peter, in his Petrine ministry. The content of the Petrine ministry was defined essentially by Christ in the Gospel as the work of "strengthening the brethren", the brethren being first and foremost the successors of the Apostles.

The only ambassadorial Letters of Credence I have ever seen are those of a nuncio, in thirteen cases now those being my own. They are signed by a monarch, the Pope who sometimes is writing to another monarch or maybe to the president of a republic. These Letters announce the sending of someone who has the sender's trust to act in his name, extraordinary and plenipotentiary. I guess there may be occasions where some nuncios or some ambassadors still do handle in that fashion, as if the head of state or in my case the Holy Father really wanted me to stand in for him and get done on the level of the extraordinary whatever it is that needs to be done. But the world has changed a lot even since when, as a young diplomat, I went to Kigali, Rwanda in 1985. Back then, ordinary communication depended almost entirely on the exchange of reports and dispatches written and sent by diplomatic pouch. The Holy See never went in for those big radio or satellite operations, the relic of which (a rusting giant motorized satellite dish) is still standing in front of the closed building of the former US Embassy here. Granted, by 1985 the pouch exchange no longer took place by slow boat but by airplane, but even so, it was a far cry from the continuous and instantaneous cabling done by my ambassador colleagues today. Back then, you had to go to the central post office and send a telegram if the matter was urgent and there was need of consultation; otherwise, and seemingly rightly so in the logic of things, you were on your own as plenipotentiary. Not that many years ago, legation and in the narrower sense diplomacy were exercised with a measure of personal responsibility on the part of the plenipotentiary, but no more.

The question arises then why the ongoing financial and personal outlay, why continue spending so much for the biggest item in the budget of the Holy See next to the communications ensemble presently facing rationalization and reform, as we read in the news from the Vatican? Diplomacy being what it is today, many small countries are able to economize on diplomatic staff and buildings by relying on honorary consuls, usually native to the country where they serve and invariably ready to pay their own way in exchange for the honor of serving as consul. Part of the reason the system works is that in secular diplomacy, whether in the hands of professional or honorary protagonists, the activity carried on has much to do with economics and trade. Even cultural exchanges between two nations, language programs or student exchanges can be worked out through the system of honorary consuls. It is debatable whether you really need someone on the ground for diplomatic work, taken in its most restrictive definition. Other ways can be found to organize visits by high-level delegations. Even in times of crisis, it would be hard to claim that for most countries the embassy staff has more to do than cover logistics for the shuttle diplomacy of foreign ministers, premiers and presidents.

Times have changed too for the Holy See. It used to be that every nunciature had a throne room ready for a papal visit, which was at that time unthinkable. I remember one of my nuncios joking about a house renovation which eliminated the throne room, just as Pope St. John Paul II started traveling. In bygone days trips by curial cardinals were few and far between, usually timed for the sunset years of a pontificate and aimed at making His Eminence better known to other cardinals outside Rome, who might be potential electors in the next conclave. It would be hard to fathom otherwise the reason for the invite to Cardinal Pacelli to come and bless the Brooklyn Bridge. No, today the Cardinal Secretary of State and the Secretary for Relations with States are on the road an awful lot because that is how secular diplomacy works; they have to be present abroad after the manner of their secular counterparts.

Basically then, if the Holy See can be said to conform to the common usage when it comes to the strictly diplomatic, it is hard to see why the need for nunciatures. One needs to keep the notion of legation and the nuncio's service to the Petrine ministry then in view. Here too, if the conciliar principle of subsidiarity is ever to find application, as more desirable than concentrating the power to make decisions in Rome, then either you give the nuncio more possibility to work things out locally or you withdraw the nuncio in favor of the local Church and its exercise of responsibility in communion with the See of Peter.

While leaving discernment concerning the ways and means of proclaiming the Gospel of Christ in our day to others, I cannot help but be a bit impatient about the Holy See's diplomatic policy on many issues, which seems less than energetic and decisive. I only ask if the structural dynamics of how legation is carried on could not be improved through change. How can the Holy See be a player in what is strictly diplomatic? Does the present legation structure best serve the Petrine ministry in its efforts to "strengthen the brethren"? There is linkage between the two questions, but please, dear vaticanisti, the fundamental category is legation and not diplomacy.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Rooting International Law and Reaching for Peace and Reconciliation in Europe

Last night I participated in the round table discussion, following the keynote addresses which opened an International Conference here in Kyiv, bearing the title: Ukrainian Reconciliation Projects and the Future of Europe. The event was encouraging because it was so upbeat by comparison with the usual diplomatic concerns burdening war-torn Ukraine.

All three keynote speakers were convinced that there is a European way of doing things and which can be applied to conflict resolution, in this case toward putting an end to Russian aggression in Ukraine, and fighting corruption and internal divisions here in the Country. I was particularly impressed by the reference made by Prof. Jose` Casanova back to the origins of the OSCE from HELSINKI in long ago 1975, in the FINAL ACT of the CONFERENCE ON SECURITY AND CO-OPERATION IN EUROPE. The professor focused on Helsinki as the best possible formulation of the principles of international law in the matter of "Questions relating to Security in Europe". I will list all ten from the Helsinki Final Act, but he highlighted the first five points of the "Declaration on Principles Guiding Relations between Participating States" as decisive yet today for how European nations should be dealing with each other: 

I. Sovereign equality, respect for the rights inherent in sovereignty 
II. Refraining from the threat or use of force 
III. Inviolability of frontiers 
IV. Territorial integrity of States 
V. Peaceful settlement of disputes 
VI. Non-intervention in internal affairs 
VII. Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief 
VIII. Equal rights and self-determination of peoples 
IX. Co-operation among States 
X. Fulfilment in good faith of obligations under international law

Do I need to say that the first five in particular shine a very bright light on Russia's bad behavior?

I offer this reminder in the hope and prayer that policy makers in Russia and in Europe, all those who adhere to the OSCE, might find their way "home" to the good sense which inspired those who went before them back in 1975. There is little to be lost and everything to be gained by finding our way back to such wisdom as a guide for relations among states, and not only in Europe.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Arbitrariness as Scourge.

Imbuing the Ordinary Form with Extraordinary Form Spirituality

I shared this article from New Liturgical Movement on Facebook and was surprised to actually receive comments as opposed to the usual pro forma "Likes" and "Shares", which I interpret as a sign of recognition, not necessarily even guaranteeing that the person has read the post. Almost a week has gone by and from time to time I come back to the issue, which the author of the article raises and to which I received reactions, it being one or two issues really, of: a) putting some meat on the bones of mutual enrichment; b) articulating as best one can the scandal involved in the rupture or discontinuity brought upon the Roman Church's Liturgical Tradition by the Novus Ordo.

Basically, despite my profound respect, I want to differ with Peter Kwasniewski on this article. His intention is well-meant, but does not address the heart of the problem or adequately express the ultimate intent of efforts at mutual enrichment between the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the one Roman Rite:

"Since the usus antiquior preserves in a specially intense way the theology and piety of many centuries of faith, a judicious emulation or adoption from it of elements of holiness and “good form” will make a real difference in the devotion of the celebrant and the ensuing fruitfulness of the Mass."

a) Mutual enrichment can't be about putting meat on the bones of either of the two forms, if it cannot do that for both; what other sense can the word mutual have? The 1962 Missal and the 3rd Edition of the Roman Missal are both equally untouchable as far as anyone other than the Supreme Legislator goes. Apart from nourishing piety, mutual enrichment cannot do anything but inspire reflection. It cannot do other than touch hearts and stimulate thoughts on the question of the organic development of the Roman Rite.

b) Apart from the rational or rationalizing character of the post-Conciliar liturgical reform, I think it is important to note that its execution in the late 1960's and the 1970's, in my part of the world, for sure, and in many other places as well, was marred by violence. It was imposed and all which had been before was taken away and proscribed. It was a break with the past which cannot be justified by any reading of the Apostolic Constitution on the Liturgy, hermeneutic or no hermeneutic. The ongoing, up to our day, saga of liturgical abuse and legal optionality, which seem to go hand and glove with the Ordinary Form, makes of it something quite arbitrary and hence laboring under of deficit of what Kwasniewski describes as, "... elements of holiness and “good form” ..." As one of my commentators observes, Peter's approach to enhancing the Ordinary Form, by adding or clarifying according to three principles (continuity, augmentation, mnemonic) seems like too much effort. Or as another commentator put it: as effort needed to change the people's hearts and prepare them for something else, namely a restoration, totally foreign to the experience of their life time, if, as most are, they happen to be under sixty years of age and still have not been exposed to the Extraordinary Form.

Recently, I saw pictures and video of two hierarchical liturgies which were celebrated in my beloved Caribbean region with all manner of singing and swaying and clapping after the popular manner. I will not take on anyone who insists that this is liturgy from the heart and after the manner of the folk. The point is not to deprive anyone of the means of self expression as Saul's daughter attempted in criticizing her husband, henceforth estranged, King David, dancing before the Ark of the Lord as it was being carried up to Jerusalem. The point is obvious, namely that processions are not Temple worship, any more than the popular devotion of a prayer meeting is the same as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The ultimate tragedy of the last fifty years has been to radically narrow the Church's devotional radius to one act, depriving the Eucharist of its unique and sublime character. The major error of the rational reform was the banalization of  all by abandoning the once rich variety of devotions which characterized Catholic culture and its popular particularities outside of Mass in all the various parts of our great Catholic world.

I understand and respect what Kwasniewski is advocating. Some of it, like proper decorum in Divine Worship and celebration of the preparation of the gifts and the Eucharistic Prayer of all together directed ad Orientem, eliminating chaotic moments during the liturgy and slowing down the Communion procession by returning to the reception of Communion at the Communion rail, are not embellishments but options which should be taken and held without variance. Nonetheless, the intent of mutual enrichment would seem to be to expose people to the Extraordinary Form in all its glory or in the case of the Low Mass in all its noble simplicity. The author's three principles presume that priests are familiar with the Extraordinary Form. Maybe priests who find the hurdle to introducing the Extraordinary Form to their parishes as insurmountable should visit with confreres who have succeeded. Maybe seminaries should open up or loosen up (you choose the metaphor) to the Extraordinary Form under the rubric of "try it, you'll like it" and let the creativity of a younger generation of soon to be priests face the challenge of restoring the full spectrum of Catholic devotional life, leaving no one deprived of culturally correct self-expression, while at the same time allowing young and old to be caught up into the mystery of standing, sitting and kneeling before the Throne of God.

Restoration for the sake of organic development is not restrictive but rather particularizes and reopens a window to heaven. The didactic and the rational, the popularly devotional and expressive should not be given short shrift by being crammed into a scarce hour on Sunday morning or whenever you can cram it in on a regular, preferably weekly, basis. What else could it possibly mean to claim our world for Christ?


The Upper Room - Praying for Pentecost

Since last Sunday, Easter Sunday on the Julian calendar, I have been kind of mulling over or reflecting upon my experience in the early hours with Easter Morning Prayer in the Greek-Catholic Cathedral of Uzhhorod. The Cathedral was packed full and by the time we came outside so were all the streets leading to and from this lovely house of God on the hill, as well as the processional space which surrounds it. People were assisting at the service broadcast outside by loudspeaker, waiting patiently and joyously to have blessed their "paskha", their baskets with the foods for the early morning Easter breakfast: breads and salt, meats and sausages, eggs and more, each with its carefully tended Easter candle. Besides the prayers and blessing, the bishop expressed words of greeting and warm welcome for Easter to all present, as well as for their loved ones at home. In Ukraine, as to be expected, there were lots of young adults and children, even babes in arms, carefully bundled against the chill of the night, all wanting to be doused with holy water along with their baskets.

 For me this is the Church of the Acts of the Apostles, faithful to the admonition of the Risen Christ to watch and pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The Upper Room could not hold them all and they listened attentively to the words of Peter, announcing the victory of Jesus over sin and death, and eagerly seeking direction as to what they had to do to be saved.

I look at my pastors and priests here, many of them wearied, worn down by the aggression against their land and their people, perhaps from a human point of view even overwhelmed at the challenges which face the nation. We all need to repair to the Upper Room, persevering in prayer, confident that God will show Himself in power by a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. 

We gather our strength from the power of Christ's Resurrection. Through the gracious words of His ministers, we draw courage and strength from Him alone. He feeds and carries us. Let us all fervently pray, unceasingly pray for the outpouring of His Holy Spirit! For the renewal of the face of the earth!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Leva in signum super nos lumen vultus tui, Domine.

The English translation for the refrain of the Responsorial Psalm for this Third Sunday of Easter Time is: Lord, let your face shine on us. For some reason, I associate the light radiating from the face of Jesus Risen from the dead with this Rubens painting of His encounter with my Patron Saint, the Doubting Thomas. I suppose I could have cropped out the two "prominent Catholics" who had themselves painted into this glorious scene, no doubt in exchange for the financial remuneration of the great painter. I hope the two of them are in heaven and I wish this Sunday to recommend the 100 prominent Catholics of San Francisco to their intercession. Would that those so-called prominent of today would humble themselves or at least learn to spend their money as these two did, namely, to edify, to build up, rather than to tear down.

The first two readings for this Sunday are really powerful and could knock the socks off anyone seeking space within the Church for his or her sin. In the glory of Easter St. Peter and St. John proclaim the hope which can be ours through repentance and conversion.

I hope and pray that priests everywhere in the world this Sunday will have the love and the courage to let the truth of the unabbreviated Gospel shine forth with all its might for the prominent and not so prominent to hear. That stubborn and hardened hearts might repent! That the world might be saved through the preaching of the Gospel in all its fullness!

Leva in signum super nos lumen vultus tui, Domine.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Asleep at the Helm

I am honored by friends known and less known, who quite regularly send me manuscripts of articles and talks not yet out on the public square. Rarely do they admonish "FYI only"; that is a given and their trust is not to be betrayed. Permit me a quote from an undisclosed source, which captures quite elegantly what must be the best approach possible to a very painful issue, namely that of addressing or analyzing the Church's failures when it comes to carrying forth the work of evangelization:

"For almost two millennia now, the Church has striven, in the power of the Spirit, to fulfill the Great Commission: to “go...and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” [Matthew 28.19-20]. The trajectory of that striving has been uneven, jagged, anything but smooth." 

In these words I see reflected the Church's ups and downs over these two millennia: times and places of bitter suffering and persecution alternating with genuine flourishing, marked by expansion, countless baptisms, the heroic sanctity of men and women in all walks of life and with great teaching. Our Gospel image for somehow explaining those times of hardship usually refers to Jesus sleeping through a storm on Lake Gennesareth in the stern of the boat, not at the helm where perforce one of the Apostles must be in charge. We imagine ourselves as striving on our own but somehow always in God's Hands and dependent on His intervention when necessary to save the barque of Peter.

Right as all that is, I think it is important to be reminded that the barque of Peter is not some kind of ghost ship cutting its path through the Bermuda Triangle, its helmsman long dead or asleep. Christ established His Church on the Rock of Peter; the Church does the binding and loosing in His Name. St. Augustine was among those great Fathers and Doctors who trembled at the awesome burden coming to the Apostles and to their successors in the office of Bishop for the sake of the life of the world. The imagery usually cited to admonish or condemn those who fail is drawn from animal husbandry, from shepherding, the dog which does not bark to alert shepherd and flock to the danger at hand, the bad shepherd who drops and runs, abandoning the flock to the wolf, the lion and the bear.

True as it is that certain situations may be beyond our control, such as refer to the horrible persecution visited upon the Christians of the Mideast and North Africa these days, the lack of due diligence, the uncertain trumpet not really sounding the alarm, would more often be the root cause of why the devil, always prowling about looking for someone to devour, gets the upper hand and with the helmsman asleep, we find the ship all but lost on stormy seas.

If you happen to know him from his video blog, Michael Voris grates on a lot of people's nerves as he almost hisses out his condemnations of what he calls "the church of nice" which fails in its duty to truth and to the fullness of the Gospel message. Let the Gospel itself (even without Michael's help) admonish the shepherds to be always vigilant, not sleeping, with staff in hand to defend the sheep against the wickedness and the snares of the devil. Caritas Christi urget nos. The love of Christ impels us to give of ourselves totally, to lay down our lives for the sake of His beloved flock. With the Lord on board, seemingly at times asleep in the stern, let us cut the course He has set out for us regardless of the wind and the waves.

The old rhetorical thing about ours being "the best of times and the worst of times" doesn't really help much, nor does dwelling overly on the sad state of metaphysics. Maybe that is the genius of renewing Baptismal Promises at Easter, before professing our belief in the Triune God and in His Church, we renounce, we reject Satan, his works and his empty promises. Helmsmen, wake up! Shepherds and watchmen, to your post! Yes, it is the Lord Who guards the city, but by His grace and in His Name we keep vigil!


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Russian Orthodoxy - Once upon a Time

My Life's Journey
The Memoirs of Metropolitan Evlogy
As Put Together according to His Accounts by T. Manukhin
Part One
Translated by Alexander Lisenko
St. Vladimir's Seminary Press
Yonkers, New York, 2014

By sheer happenstance, a gift, I find myself initiated into a world propagated until now by Russian speakers, that being the world of Metropolitan Evlogy, now available in a most readable English translation. I don't know if I will be quite so interested in volume two, which takes up with his move to Berlin in 1921 to assume his duties as Russian Orthodox Metropolitan for Western Europe, but this first part from his birth in old Russia in 1868 up until then has truly been captivating.

Apart from giving to the Bolshevik Revolution a very personal perspective, I found Part One particularly captivating because it recounts his life as Bishop of Lublin, vicar of the Archbishop of Warsaw-Kholm, Archbishop of Kholm, and then Archbishop of Volynia, which is to say here in my territory of Ukraine.

During his imprisonment at the end of World War I, Evlogy was for a time house guest of Metropolitan Andriy Sheptytskiy in Lviv. Places familiar to me have taken on new historical depth, thanks to his memoirs. There's even an odd little encounter with the "Red Prince", the tragic, comic Habsburg figure who sought to set himself up as ruler over Ukraine.

If I were to claim that Evlogy's Russian chauvinism was oppressive I would be lying. At the distance of a century, his prejudices against Polish and Ukrainian Catholics, his disdain for Austrians and his characterization of Don Cossacks border on the humorous, viz. his refusal to accept food or drink at the old Dominican monastery not far from Pochaiv for fear of being poisoned by the good friars who received him so warmly.

Anyway, volume one reads quite well and offers a wealth of information about a famous offspring of a Russian Orthodox priestly family, about the world in which he lived. I do not regret a moment spent and would not hesitate to recommend it to others.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Living with Alice in Hope

Despite the wise counsel of very savvy friends to "take Rod Dreher sparingly", I cannot help recommending, especially to parents and young adults, his recent blogpost entitled "The Post-Indiana Future for Christians" The article is wide-ranging and touches on many topics, among the more frightening being the sad state of major US law schools. Read the article also for what it has to say about child rearing! Many things spin out in classic Dreher, but I think he is right, especially when it comes to the topic of nurturing children.

No doubt those who hold for the Kingship of Jesus Christ, who proclaim Him crucified, died and buried, risen victorious over sin and death for the salvation of the world will not falter, regardless of the pressures upon us. Even so, I want to recommend a book by Alice von Hildebrand which I reviewed here recently: Memoirs of a Happy Failure

Maybe that is why my friends counsel against "overdosing" on Rod Dreher? We need to be rooted like Alice. Rooted in the Cross, sobered by the silence of the Tomb and overwhelmed by the proclamation of Easter Joy.


And with the dawn comes the Alleluia!

Friday, April 3, 2015

A Little Priest's Day Reflection

In the quiet of Holy Thursday, I took the time to read this relatively long article about the process and results of  liturgical reform of Holy Week. Rorate Caeli is presenting in English translation a work by Stefano Carusi, from Disputationes Theologicae: THE REFORM OF HOLY WEEK IN THE YEARS 1951-1956 FROM LITURGY TO THEOLOGY BY WAY OF THE STATEMENTS OF CERTAIN LEADING THINKERS (ANNIBALE BUGNINI, CARLO BRAGA, FERDINANDO ANTONELLI).

There is no denying that if you are not a specialist, then you have to be immersed in the topic and its issues as they face the Church today, this is if you want to make sense of the reading or time devoted to reading. For me, the article opened a new vista while confirming a fundamental principle which under-girds my own approach to the liturgical question and its importance for the life of the Roman Catholic Church: Liturgical law and discipline cannot be arbitrary. Much of the scandal of today in matters liturgical has to do not so much with egregious abuse as it does with the arbitrary character of the reform and the consequent attitude which tends to poison our approach to Divine Worship. While there is merit in a recovery of sobriety and decorum, in strict adherence to the rubrics for the celebration of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, it is not the heart of the problem. Restoration is required; returning to that reset point in the past which will enable us to heal the rupture with the tradition and then seek cautiously to respond to the question of the organic development of the Roman Rite in the light of the Constitution on the Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council.

This article was a wake-up call for me in the sense that I had presumed, on the basis of my impressions of Pope Pius XII, that the Holy Week Reform, begun just before my birth and implemented when I just had kindergarten behind me, was something of that seriousness or profound respect for the edifice of cult, which I was trying to imagine for the future. Anyway, to my friends who follow my liturgical ramblings, I wish to give notice quite simply that the hoped for reset, the restoration required to heal the scandal of arbitrariness in matters liturgical must precede this reform as well.

It looks as though caprice had the upper hand in 1956 as well. We are scandalized by the rumblings coming out of certain sectors in the Church today, related to marriage and family, well, it would seem that the immediate post-war period saw some rather vociferous clamoring concerning matters liturgical.

Nonetheless, I still hope and pray that decorum will find its way into every celebration of the Ordinary Form and that worship ad Orientem will help, along with a generous offering of the option of the Extraordinary Form, to center and deepen our faith in the Lord Jesus.

For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The perfection of love

When you are dealing with Saint Augustine, I think it impossible to reduce down to a single favorite quote or passage. The great Father and Doctor of the Church never stops surprising me and that is indeed good. The Second Reading from the Office for this Wednesday in Holy Week is somewhere near the top of the list:

"Dear brethren, the Lord has marked out for us the fullness of love that we ought to have for each other. He tells us: No one has greater love than the man who lays down his life for his friends. In these words, the Lord tells us what the perfect love we should have for one another involves. John, the evangelist who recorded them, draws the conclusion in one of his letters: As Christ laid down his life for us, so we too ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. We should indeed love one another as he loved us, he who laid down his life for us.
  This is surely what we read in the Proverbs of Solomon: If you sit down to eat at the table of a ruler, observe carefully what is set before you; then stretch out your hand, knowing that you must provide the same kind of meal yourself. What is this ruler’s table if not the one at which we receive the body and blood of him who laid down his life for us? What does it mean to sit at this table if not to approach it with humility? What does it mean to observe carefully what is set before you if not to meditate devoutly on so great a gift? What does it mean to stretch out one’s hand, knowing that one must provide the same kind of meal oneself, if not what I have just said: as Christ laid down his life for us, so we in our turn ought to lay down our lives for our brothers? This is what the apostle Paul said: Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we might follow in his footsteps.
  This is what is meant by providing “the same kind of meal.” This is what the blessed martyrs did with such burning love. If we are to give true meaning to our celebration of their memorials, to our approaching the Lord’s table in the very banquet at which they were fed, we must, like them, provide “the same kind of meal.”
  At this table of the Lord we do not commemorate the martyrs in the same way as we commemorate others who rest in peace. We do not pray for the martyrs as we pray for those others, rather, they pray for us, that we may follow in his footsteps. They practised the perfect love of which the Lord said there could be none greater. They provided “the same kind of meal” as they had themselves received at the Lord’s table.
  This must not be understood as saying that we can be the Lord’s equals by bearing witness to him to the extent of shedding our blood. He had the power of laying down his life; we by contrast cannot choose the length of our lives, and we die even if it is against our will. He, by dying, destroyed death in himself; we are freed from death only in his death. His body did not see corruption; our body will see corruption and only then be clothed through him in incorruption at the end of the world. He needed no help from us in saving us; without him we can do nothing. He gave himself to us as the vine to the branches; apart from him we cannot have life.
  Finally, even if brothers die for brothers, yet no martyr by shedding his blood brings forgiveness for the sins of his brothers, as Christ brought forgiveness to us. In this he gave us, not an example to imitate but a reason for rejoicing. Inasmuch, then, as they shed their blood for their brothers, the martyrs provided “the same kind of meal” as they had received at the Lord’s table. Let us then love one another as Christ also loved us and gave himself up for us."

It is one up on a piece I wrote for friends unknown in Ireland, but may help contextualize my own poor attempt to say something of worth about an issue foremost in the minds of many.

The Persecution of Christians Looms Larger

Even if the June issue of the journal entitled 'CHRISTVS REGNAT' (which is published twice a year by the Catholic Heritage Association in Ireland: is still a ways off, I thought it appropriate to put down in writing now, during Passiontide, my reflections on the troubling question of the suffering caused through attack on the Church and on Christians, and the duties we owe to our fellow Christians under persecution. I thank Thomas Murphy for agreeing to the publication of this text also on my blog, DEO VOLENTE EX ANIMO ( As Mr. Murphy pointed out to me when proposing the topic, the persecution of Christians is very much on the minds and in the prayers of the members of the Catholic Heritage Association and ought to be more so for all of us, brothers and sisters in Christ.

As odd as it sounds, I suppose we ought to be grateful that as a Church we can still attract persecution, that our Christianity has not become so lackluster that the power of Satan simply ignores us in the world. The why’s and the how’s of persecution of Christians today are multiple. A short article can’t really do them all justice, but I hope it can set some things clear and motivate all of us to prayerful solidarity on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Christ, who find themselves, for whatever reason, under trial.

Where to begin? Perhaps we should start with the words “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians”? This statement teaches by describing what has happened time and again in the history of the Church: persecution and repression, even unto death, have not stifled but rather fostered the growth of the Church. Not only have their courage and singular attachment to Jesus Christ inspired others to martyrdom, but ultimately and often even quite immediately the accounts of the passio of certain martyrs have drawn others to faith in Christ. Similarly, it can be said of confessors of the faith, who laid their lives on the line for the Lord Jesus, even though the supreme sacrifice of their life’s blood was not required of them.

As Christians, we don’t seek banishment, prison, torture or martyrdom for ourselves, nor do we wish these on others, especially not on our brothers and sisters in Christ, whether close at hand or far from us in terms of space or custom. Nowhere does it say in explaining the quote about the blood of martyrs being the seed of Christians that the Church wishes people to be martyred for the sake of its own increment. We don’t solicit names for some list of martyr volunteers, such that the Church might grow and prosper. We know from the teaching of the Church Fathers, from the ranks of the great and saintly Doctors of the Church, of those who went overboard in their zeal for martyrdom; the Church does not accord them the title of saint because of this excessive longing to the point of provocation, to emulate Christ in His suffering and death; no one calls down martyrdom upon himself, despite his readiness and fervent prayer to receive that grace, as long as it be God’s will and not his own.  When martyrdom happens, we stand in awe before the witness of those called to testify with the supreme sacrifice of their own lives to Christ, the King of Martyrs and Confessors.

Part of the art or insight of the novel of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, “Callista: a Tale of the Third Century”, is to illustrate the inexplicable in all of what came to be for good through the persecution under Diocletian of the Church in North Africa and through the shedding of the blood of Callista in defense of the Gospel. Blessed Newman offers a great and profound gift (and in the form of historical fiction) accessible to all who seek to enter more profoundly into the mystery of the role played by persecution in the life of the Church, then and now, as well as answering the question concerning the stuff of which martyrs are made by the grace of God.  Yes, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians”, but the mystery is intimately tied to Golgotha; the Gospel of St. John refers to Christ’s Death on the Cross as His being lifted up and drawing all to Himself, His Glorification, yes, but in and through His sorrowful Passion. We stand speechless on Calvary, whether at the foot of His Cross or that of those whose lives most perfectly emulate His through their martyrdom. We are drawn to Him and to them because of the absolute clarity of the witness of their love.

Time and again, we find people grappling with the injustice suffered by those under persecution and doubly so when it regards fellow Christians. Perhaps this is what makes any measure of persecution which may enter your life or mine so hard to accept. It is simply not fair; you don’t heap abuse on people of good will. It is a theme much rooted in the Old Testament with reference to the suffering of the virtuous man or of the innocent (cf. Wisdom 2:1,12-22). The relativism plaguing contemporary society, which denies the truth which comes from God alone, would beat down everything perceived as putting limits on their pretended options and unfettered choices. Of late, there has been much talk on college and university campuses of the so-called “new PC”, a moralizing “Political Correctness” which tolerates no linguistic bounds (not even standard pronouns: he, she, his or her) to their inglorious self-seeking (much of it centered on the topic of gender). Especially in North America and Western Europe, people berate the Church as tyrannical and judgmental, insisting that matters of personality and sexuality are questions of preference, not nature, of a self-centered longing hardly distinguishable from the caprice of the moment. The loneliness, the abandonment of Calvary is very much a part of this path of suffering, to be borne by those who object to such nonsense. Wickedness rejects virtue and turns its back on God; it pushes away not only fraternal correction but any form of counsel, denying even to parents the right to lovingly tell an errant, not-all-that-adult child that he or she is wrong and far from God.

Even in our supposedly civilized world we find Christians ostracized or otherwise persecuted and taken before the courts for defending marriage, for seeking to save unborn children from abortion, for wearing a little necklace with a cross to work. What is it, if not persecution, when court action threatens the possibility of a Catholic school to be just that, namely Catholic, both in its teaching and in its hiring policy? Our Catholic hospitals come under pressure from so-called good Catholic doctors on staff, who for money or prestige want to admit procedures which fly in the face of the unconditional respect due to the human person. Catholic social services are forced to close their doors rather than accept that they must also favor the placement with same-sex couples of children up for adoption.  Examples of this kind of discrimination against the Church or believing Christians could be recounted without number. Their common point of departure might be a denial of the existence of objective truth, but they are all shot through with the same venom of that black heart described in the Book of Wisdom, which refuses righteousness its due:

“Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray, for their wickedness blinded them, and they did not know the secret purposes of God, nor hoped for the wages of holiness, nor discerned the prize for blameless souls; for God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his company experience it.” (Wisdom 2:21-24)

This too is persecution, and while short of martyrdom, we pray for ourselves and those thus subjected that by the grace of God they might be of good courage, persevere and through their sufferings bear much fruit for Christ’s Kingdom.

Another image of persecution, however, I would wager is foremost in our thoughts. For most of us, our mind’s eye is filled with images from the news of the last months of the persecution and martyrdom of our fellow Christians from the Middle East and North Africa. Brutal men waving black flags, dumping the lifeless bodies of small children, young men being crucified or shot in the back of the head, or the twenty-one Coptic Christian martyrs brutally beheaded in Libya with the name of Jesus upon their lips! We are confronted with something on the rampage, which touts itself as Islam. It has been almost a millennium, but here we are again threatened with the extinction of Christianity in the lands of its birthplace and first flowering. Not only the Holy Land and its region have witnessed such trials; we need think only of Nigeria and Pakistan. Not only groups professing to be Muslim have been persecuting Christians, as Hindu rage in India would attest. Godless regimes in China and North Korea do not lag far behind in their fury to repress the faith.

We would like to see the leaders of our home countries championing the cause of justice before international forums, but we find groups like the UN to be generally impotent, and our own leaders diffident if not indifferent when it comes to the persecution of Christians. Nobody seems to care much even about the monitoring bodies meant to inform or document this specific type of terror, even as it happens in Europe. Hearts need to change and, as such, we must be confident and persevering in our prayer. Ours is not only a struggle against wicked men but against the powers of darkness. I would recommend the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel for your regular recitation and devotion.

St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.