Saturday, August 29, 2015

Praying for Rain

EPPC reports, from 26 August 2015, a rather upbeat article from George Weigel, entitled Catacomb Time?  George does some very important things in the article which deserve attention and reflection. While the "wind" could change at any moment, I guess I am of the opinion that liberalism is in the process of pressing home its "advantage" and in short order all those who are nominal Catholics or lukewarm will deny knowing us out of fear of persecution by the "beasties" of political correctness. Whether in that sense we are destined to become a pusillus grex, a little flock of modest means, is anybody's guess.

One of the things which puzzled me in my years stationed in Germany 1996-2004 was the gargantuan size of all the German dioceses except for one. I can remember thinking a lot about whether making more dioceses wouldn't improve pastoral care, finally coming to the conclusion that, sort of like Egypt, the system worked for both the fat and the lean years. I am sure this was not the sense of the Ratzinger quote at the heart of the Weigel article.

My own reflection, a bit differently, was more attuned to the challenges facing Catholicism in Ukraine today and for some reason reminded me of a much enjoyed book which I read years ago thanks to the recommendation of a kind parishioner and friend. I may just read it again and so have made it mine with one click (terrible!). The linkage I made was between Ukraine and Archbishop Lamy's Santa Fe. To think that in 1884, the archbishop went begging funds for the construction of his poor cathedral in rich Mexico:

"WITH SALPOINTE, HIS COADJUTOR, to share his duties, and to be ready to succeed him if sudden need arose, Lamy was lighter in spirit and more energetic than he had been for some time. His main local concern now was to see the cathedral completed. It stood covered, services were regularly held there, but the towers rose slowly, the sanctuary was still the old tapering, coffin-headed, adobe enclosure which he had found in 1851; and funds were slow to come. 
He worked every possibility to bring in more; but it was still an astonishment, given his recent serious illnesses, when he left Santa Fe in 21 July 1884, for another trip of many months in Mexico, to raise money by donation, loan, and the little fees which would come to him in giving confirmations. The prospect of a long journey and hard work in the great land of which his diocese was a physical extension seemed to bring him zest and a return of strength." [Horgan, Paul (2012-05-01). Lamy of Santa Fe (p. 435). Wesleyan University Press. Kindle Edition.] 

I had never quite thought of the Church here in Ukraine in terms of late 19th Century New Mexico,  which is to say that youth, vitality, promise, faith, ... don't necessarily allay poverty and provide for the monuments in brick and mortar, and for their decoration, which might in turn hover over this brood like a dove and foster further growth. The debate here is a rather forthright one about how best to invest the means at our disposal for the sake of the proclamation of the Gospel. That is what makes initiatives like the pastoral assembly of the Greek-Catholic Church just concluded in Ivano-Frankivsk so very important. They talked about what constitutes a vibrant parish and what that can mean for the life of the Church. In a world of appearances, focusing on the essential is terribly important.

Talking about appearances, the indications that the liberal press has finally opted to abandon Pope Francis seem to be increasing; in the last couple of days there have been some very unkind remarks, especially in the Italian press, about decreasing numbers at Wednesday Audiences with the Pope in St. Peter's Square. We knew it had to come and well, just like not having enough money to complete a building project, it does not necessarily mean the end of the world. My personal hope is that without the constant chatter of a secular and secularizing liberal press we might find the space necessary to enable the faith again at the grass roots level, where it really counts. It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if Wednesday's in Rome there were fewer traffic problems and St. Peter's Square lost the air of a stage set ever in the remaking.

In this part of the world, Potemkin villages (Merriam-Webster: an impressive facade or show designed to hide an undesirable fact or condition) are and long have been the order of the day. It is part of what makes for unrest in a given neighborhood when the sign goes up about a new church coming soon to a vacant lot where everybody and his friend used to walk the dog. The alternative is not a social gospel regime, which ultimately and at length does no better job of feeding what fails and healing what ails a society. Paul Horgen goes to great lengths to insist that as best he knew how, Archbishop Lamy wanted something with fullness for the flock entrusted to his care.

I wish and pray especially for Ukraine, but most insistently for the Catholic Church throughout the world, that fullness of Gospel which says, "Lord, it is good that we are here!" but then draws conclusions both profound and unbounded, instructed by God, Who speaks to His people from the midst of the cloud and directs their eyes to the vision of His Beloved, Only-Begotten Son.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

About Stay-at-home Moms

Today seems to be one of those days for taking refuge in G.K. Chesterton. I just finished an essay entitled: "Turning Inside Out. Fancies vs. Fads, 1923" (Chesterton, G.K. (2011-10-20). In Defense of Sanity (p. 159). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.). To my way of thinking, its 90+ years gives this reflection a certain freshness and perhaps keeps my contemporaries from feeling offended as they fancy female careerism in the 21st Century. As fun and mocking as Chesterton can be, he makes his point with heart, soul, mind and strength. In the case of this particular essay, that being: for a gillion reasons no mission can top that of the stay-at-home-mom for importance on behalf of the life of both the individual and therefore of society, of our world. 

He concludes the essay as follows:

"But this is only one of many instances of the same truth: that what is called public life is not larger than private life, but smaller. What we call public life is a fragmentary affair of sections and seasons and impressions; it is only in private life that dwells the fullness of our life bodily." (p. 168). 

Forgive me if I resist the temptation to quote some of the great lines he has in this essay and launch into a very brief reflection on home schooling and some of its equivalents, I am thinking of manifestations such as the "soccer mom". I wish to make the point, that even our most valiant have lost the point of just being for the sake of another. If blame were to be assigned, I would need someone else to help me point to the extra-curricular revolution which took place somewhere between 1970 and 1974. Maybe it had something to do with the expanded fare offered on TV, but in any case, I mean that thing, person or things, persons, which contributed among other things to doing away with the supper hour and long before the microwave oven came on the scene.

My Mother used to reminisce about a particular occasion when only she and I (Dad was also down sick) in our ten person household were spared a very virulent stomach flu. She spoke gratefully of the valiant assistance her oldest son provided in this great trial. My only recollection was of the bed sheets we had put down in the hallway to our one and only bathroom. Maybe it was then, but at some point in adolescence I can remember pondering Mom's self-sacrifice and around the clock with whiny babies and on and on (the stomach flu plague was perhaps an epic moment in an ongoing saga). She was herself very modest, paying a compliment to the only lady in the neighborhood at that time who knew how to drive a car, saying that she really admired her, as she could not imagine the added burden of chauffeuring. 

Frequently, among home schooling or soccer moms you hear the explanation for their commitment to be in reaction to the failures of regular schools and school sport programs; these moms somehow label their efforts as a necessary choice by way of supplement or compensation, when not counter-cultural. The whole truth it seems to me has more to do with how God created things good and envisioned not only male-female complementarity, but the nurturing which is supposed to go on within the walls of the "little Church" which is the home. 

I wish we could reclaim the wisdom of G.K. Chesterton, who let the schools run their negligent and chaotic course, insisting rather on the noble calling of the wife and mother, and with far more profundity than the old quote: "The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world" (from a poem by William Ross Wallace that praises motherhood as the preeminent force for change in the world. The poem was first published in 1865 under the title "What Rules the World" - Wikipedia).

My prayer is that the Mater et Magister, our Church will find ways to call women and men back from the brink to exercise their noble calling on behalf of the next generation.


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Optimism and Why Not? Full Speed Ahead!

The Tyranny of Liberalism: 
Understanding and Overcoming Administered Freedom, Inquisitorial Tolerance, and Equality by Command
Kalb, James
(2014-04-29). Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Kindle Edition.

"THIS IS A BOOK ABOUT THE TYRANNY OF LIBERALISM: WHAT IT IS, HOW IT comes about, what its implications are, and what to do about it." (Kindle Locations 24-25). 

Believe it or not, the author remains faithful to his purpose throughout this book, which is thoroughly upbeat and is far from pedantic. I recommend it. The book is very readable.

That said, I have a question which the book really didn't answer for me: Has Kalb indeed posited the conditions for the triumph of traditionalism over liberalism and how does he see this triumph coming about? What makes the traditionalist Kalb's formula for the restoration of culture better than a neoconservative recipe for turning our world around? Be it noted that Kalb is quite dismissive of neoconservatism and its possibilities for effectively countering liberalism:

"For some, neoconservatism has served as an initial step out of liberalism. On the whole, however, it has functioned more as a way of lining up conservative impulses in the service of the established public order. It has confused the loyalties it tries to promote by subordinating them to liberal goals and by sapping resistance to the direction of events. It follows simple conservatism in recognizing no ultimate authority other than social practice, and in the end it concedes every issue to whatever positive beliefs have become dominant. Neoconservatives have been ready to follow the development of liberalism wherever it might go, distancing themselves from the center of ideological power as it moves to the left only to the degree needed to establish their position as necessary participants in the mainstream political discussion. That approach to politics can claim the virtue of immediate practicality, but it is often difficult to distinguish from careerism." (Kindle Locations 2597-2603). 

I guess I will have to ask my neocon friends to explain themselves.

At any rate, it is hard to see whence the traditionalist will draw the wherewithal and the direction for his mission and how he will carry it through. Maybe I missed a chapter. His Chapter Nine on Faith and Authority does not seem to have that as its purpose.

The present sense of disarray which we are experiencing in the Catholic Church in the run-up to the October Synod of Bishops for me is perhaps most telling in terms of the dimensions of the problem. Perhaps St. Augustine needs to be quoted more often where he insists that there never were good old days. As bankrupt as Liberalism is, I'm wondering if any other scheme or recipe can be assured the ultimate triumph over such sin and division this side of heaven. Tyranny needs to be fought and the Kingship of Christ needs to be proclaimed.

I like Kalb's neat categories, but other than concurring with his judgment that the kind of liberalism which runs roughshod over our world today is nothing but a curse, the vote is still out on whether I need to cut my ties with neoconservatives in favor of an all-out "Gospel without compromise" traditionalist approach. Stay tuned?



Saturday, August 22, 2015

Ukraine: Global Bone of Contention - Apple of Discord

As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” (Luke 19: 37-40)

I spent my Friday evening on YouTube with another Timothy Snyder lecture, another great one also because it synthesizes his historical observations on what is at stake in the ongoing crisis which finds its focal point here in Ukraine. Perhaps because Snyder is a historian and not a political commentator, he does not seem to want to prognosticate about an imminent and game-changing downfall of Russia; he remains of the idea that Russia's obsession with the notion that bigger is better will continue to be played out no matter what. Part of Snyder's thesis concerning the conflict between Russia and Ukraine rests on a shared vision of the importance of Europe but with opposite conclusions concerning its implications for their respective countries: Ukraine drawn toward the EU and Russia repulsed by the very thought of it, if you will.

Needless to say, it would be presumptuous of me to try and challenge the view of a man who knows more about the last 200 years of the history of the European continent and the atrocities of Stalin's Great Terror and Hitler's Holocaust than most anybody. Nonetheless, living and working here in Kyiv now for four years, sharing much with many ordinary and great people, and having done my best to study the so-called "revolution of dignity" which found its focal point here on Maidan and continues steadfast in its devotion to its martyrs and confessors, I find the notion both forced and patronizing that Ukraine's longings and its energy come out of some almost chemical suspension like a precipitate reducible to a longing to be part of recent history's third "great idea" for Western Civilization, the European Union.

Let's just blame it on the Enlightenment and move on! The EU was not and never will be enough for my friends and acquaintances here in Ukraine. People here did not make the sacrifices they did, take the risks with life and limb which they took for some European dream. As valuable as is the insight that civil society is or can be an agent working over and against oligarchy and corruption for the sake of justice and peace, articulated through the establishment of the rule of law, there is a greater and individual component in play in this world which is Ukraine. The truth about man, created in the image and likeness of God, cannot be so easily stifled, even in the hearts of people officially deprived of knowledge of the living God under generations of sovietism and materialism. There is within many people, great and small, the profound awareness that they are endowed by God with dignity and hence with certain inalienable rights. This is not utopian, it is imminent and goes before and far beyond building any sort of metropolis. The makeshift barricades and fortifications of Maidan were this for me: an essential stance over and against the powers at work to deprive man of his nature coming forth from God.

In the question and answer session after his lecture, Snyder is asked what the US or Europe can do for Ukraine and whether defensive weapons to fight off Russian aggression might help bring this all to a quicker and happier conclusion. It may be unfair of me to judge the professor's response as noncommittal; perhaps he is remaining faithful to his thesis that Russia and Ukraine are clashing over opposing reactions to a common view of Europe. Granted: a battle field victory no matter how decisive would not be enough; corruption must be rooted out of this country. I don't think a day goes by when I don't read something about someone's frustration with the Ukrainian government's foot-dragging on genuine reforms. Let's blame that on Enlightenment mindsets as well. We need to think our way out not only of corruption but out of the tyranny of liberalism, which holds not just Europe but most of our world in thrall.

I guess I'm wishing and praying for Ukraine, for Russia, for our world a saving and transforming encounter with our meek and humble Savior, that all might sing His praises before the stones cry out the truth about God and the world.


Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

From today's Office of Readings:

"Dwelling in the loftiest citadel of virtue, like a sea of divine grace or an unfathomable source of love that has everywhere overflowed its banks, she poured forth her bountiful waters on trusting and thirsting souls. Able to preserve both flesh and spirit from death she bestowed health-giving salve on bodies and souls. Has anyone ever come away from her troubled or saddened or ignorant of the heavenly mysteries? Who has not returned to everyday life gladdened and joyful because his request had been granted by the Mother of God?
She is a bride, so gentle and affectionate, and the mother of the only true bridegroom. In her abundant goodness she has channeled the spring of reason’s garden, the well of living and life-giving waters that pour forth in a rushing stream from divine Lebanon and flow down from Mount Zion until they surround the shores of every far-flung nation. With divine assistance she has redirected these waters and made them into streams of peace and pools of grace. Therefore, when the Virgin of virgins was led forth by God and her Son, the King of kings, amid the company of exulting angels and rejoicing archangels, with the heavens ringing with praise, the prophecy of the psalmist was fulfilled, in which he said to the Lord: At your right hand stands the queen, clothed in gold of Ophir."

From a homily by St. Amadeus of Lausanne, bishop

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Fresh Look at an Old Debate

The Old Mass And The New
Aillet, Marc
(2010-09-03)  Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

“I am convinced that the crisis we are going through in the Church today is largely based on the disintegration of the liturgy, which is even sometimes conceived in such a way —etsi Deus non daretur—that its intention is no longer at all to make it known that God exists, that he speaks to us and that he listens to us.” (pp. 45-46).

On a periodic check of books on my Amazon wish list, to see whether in the meantime they have come out on Kindle and at a lower price, I came across this little book from 2007 (Kindle 2010). I am very glad I did. Bishop Marc Aillet is a faithful son of the French community of St. Martin, which promotes the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, celebrated in Latin and accompanied by Gregorian Chant. He is anything but a zealot about promoting the Extraordinary Form. Basically in this book, he writes in praise of Pope Benedict XVI and his wisdom, as demonstrated by Summorum Pontificum. The Bishop writes it for average folk, who want something short (minus notes and bibliography: 112 pages, including the motu proprio in English and the Holy Father's accompanying letter to bishops). I highly recommend the book even for the initiated on the topic.

The thing I liked best about his excursus was his take on "active participation" and how the concept has become skewed by popular sociology and psychology. Even so, I find the present state of Roman Rite Liturgy much more worrisome than what I pick up in the book. Granted, he can appeal to the motu proprio and claim we are in the same ballpark with these two missals, but in point of fact, we are not and that is the problem with the missal of Paul VI and why it cannot serve as a basis for the needed reset of the liturgical movement on the foundations of the tradition. As genial as his idea is that the hermeneutic of rupture can be identified in the hearts and minds of the reformers, the rupture also touches the substance and requires more than an attitude change.

I understand that restoring our liturgy in the face of the enduring resistance (often irrational) of those whose life story is coterminous with the half century of the Novus Ordo is a monumental challenge, but that is all the more reason for embracing the wisdom of Benedict XVI when it comes to promoting the mutual enrichment of the two forms. If priests and future priests were to discover our rich liturgical patrimony, I feel confident they would become our best allies in leading us as a Church to genuine Divine Worship.

My four years here in Ukraine have offered me a rich and beautiful acquaintance with Byzantine Liturgy. This experience is a great help as it has put me in living contact with, among other things: a liturgical calendar that thrives without "ordinary time", an essential lectionary of just epistles and gospels familiar to people, offertory and communion treasures to spark the imagination and devotion, and of course, worship which is thoroughly oriented. 

I want the Extraordinary Form to play a bigger role in my life, as soon as my circumstances permit. I finally have a bit more time these days for study and I have been working on familiarizing myself with the Extraordinary Form texts and memorizing them. Old eyes and bifocals, I am finally getting serious about memorizing the celebrant's prayers, which I absolutely cannot seem to read on the altar cards. If only there were a beautiful big print pontifical for us half blind!  

No doubt some would consider me less than tactless, but we really need to branch out of the present situation which offers especially our young people only meager fare.


Monday, August 17, 2015

True and Strong, Finding Rescue in Him

"May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." (Col. 1:11-14)

The other day I got a message from someone who signed himself in Latin, after the manner of St. Augustine, as the "restless heart". Whether inadvertently or through auto-correct his message put me off as it came out the "iniquitous heart". Fortunately I didn't cancel immediately and received his nice message. In a sense, even the word "restless" correctly spelled is ambiguous as we are restless only until we rest in the Lord. You could say that everything depends upon our ultimate referent, namely Christ. Restless or in danger of being lost, that is where we are without the Lord Jesus.

One of the odd-ball mantras repeated by some of the more relevant of my priest contemporaries was a lament against psalm praying, declaring David's, Israel's and the Church's song prayer as all of a sudden irrelevant and burdensome. These days I find those psalms which lament the oppression by wicked rulers to be strikingly to the point. My heart is restless, waiting to pass beyond the iniquitous, the usurpers of power, and to pass into the hands and under the dominion of the Righteous One.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Organic Development: It's Real

Yesterday I had the treat of assisting at what would be the equivalent for us Roman Catholics of vespers and matins in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Cathedral here in Kyiv. Because of the two week difference in our calendars (Gregorian vs. Julian), it was not yet second vespers of the Assumption but the regular vigil office of the post-Pentecost season, organized with a summer outdoor concert of classical music, for the anniversary of the Cathedral's dedication. After three hours of singing and praying, including a procession around the outside of the church, I begged off the concert and took my old bones home to bed. It was a perfect night, especially since I could assist at the liturgy in choir.

One of the things which struck me during the office were its intricacies and, by the same token, its limpidity. This was especially true for the veneration of the book of the Gospels which included the proclamation of the passage on the vocation of St. Peter. Such long and elaborate Byzantine Rite celebrations of the Divine Office are more typical of the monastic office, but obviously, from my observation of the congregation, not at all unfamiliar to a regular congregation at the Cathedral in Kyiv.

Reflecting quietly to myself on our own liturgical situation on the way home in the car, it struck me that this is perhaps the greatest tragedy we suffered in the post-Conciliar reform of the Roman Rite, apart from all the abuse which crept in, of course. The rationalizing of word and gesture deprived us generally, yes, of the sacral nature of our worship and prayer, but also banned the intricacy of all that was, which as I witnessed last night in church is far from foreign to the men and women of today, no, it is perfectly comprehensible and more accessible, if you will, than what we do. What I want to say is that I was struck last evening by how counter-intuitive rationalizing is to what liturgy is really about. I note a very simple thing, which was the presiding bishop's changing vestments twice in the course of the liturgy, once for the procession and again later to full hierarchical vestments, so before and again in between with simple choir dress = three changes, really. Rational, not, but certainly comprehensible and appreciated by all who participated in the office.

I know what got my thoughts channeled this way; it was a sensational headline for an article which appeared on a web site offering devotions and direction for the Roman Catholic Man. I am not generally taken in by the sensational, what with all the disinformation about Ukraine that I have to deal with day in and day out, but I guess the headline: BREAKING: CATHOLIC CHURCH IS RETURNING TO AD ORIENTEM WORSHIP! did nonetheless turn my head. All I can say is "I wish it were so", and yesterday as opposed to today or tomorrow.

Returning to the intricacy of traditional worship, with all its formalism, may seem contrary to good sense, but I fear the rationalizers are no better than the iconoclasts. Such efforts from the past are rightly perceived as attacks and reparation needs to be made through restoration. I wish that bishops and seminary rectors would understand that the first best step on the road to recovery and relevancy is the choice always and everywhere possible of orienting Divine Worship. The above cited article offers all kinds of reasons but ultimately it all boils down to one: we need again to turn to the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul and strength... starting from our posture.


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Movers and Shakers

Stalin and Europe: Imitation and Domination, 1928-1953
AA.VV. (2014-05-30).
Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

"By the time of Stalin’s death, Soviet preoccupations were globally dispersed, and the role of Europe had receded. It was the rise of Nazi Germany, first as Soviet partner and then as Soviet enemy, that forced Europe to the center of Soviet preoccupations and defined the second half of Stalin’s rule. With the defeat of Germany, Soviet intellectual geography returned to the norm, which was global."(Kindle Locations 442-445).

Here is an anthology I would like to have read much earlier in my stay here in Ukraine: for what it says about the dynamics behind the attitudes of various peoples toward each other; for the way it presents war data; for its insights or clarification of the status quo on Holocaust studies concerning Ukraine; for what it says about the psychology of top-ranking diplomats, statesmen and dictators, not to mention the way their personal ambitions ride roughshod over a people's right to self-determination.

My impression is that all of the articles in the book demonstrate a healthy reserve and are quite even in terms of all being of high quality. I have no illusions about the picture being complete, but I would recommend the book to you for the simple reason that I would hope it would do for other readers what it has done for me: get me thinking about some issues of relevance for today, especially as regards the reticence of the Western powers to honestly adhere to the principles of international law which form the backbone of the 1945-postwar system ordering relations among states.

One of the things which I have been grappling with in trying to understand the Ukraine crisis, first off, but also what is happening in the Middle East, for what concerns Russia and the U.S. or more broadly with this whole world order crisis thing which seems coterminous with Vladimir Putin's rise to power in Russia, seems to be a presumption that the jaded sort of stuff that the secret protocol signed "Molotov-Ribbentrop" on behalf of Hitler and Stalin or the kind of horse-trading which went on later in WWII and thereafter between emissaries of Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt/Truman somehow represents the way things ought to be in our world. It would seem to be that over the course of the last couple centuries almost the ultimate question is one of establishing the criteria for who might be called "movers and shakers"; how do you go about agreeing on who gets classed a "big dog" and thereby gains admittance to the "big poker table" where the "big questions" get decided.

I guess I understand the importance of membership in the big clubs, like G7 or whatever, and the dread of being ostracized from such a group or having yourself and your country labelled a pariah. Nonetheless, it would seem high time to find new rules for governing international relations not conditioned by the ability of the actors on the stage to throw their weight around or hornswoggle their unsophisticated or indifferent voters.

No doubt a certain almost unspeakable great amount of travail comes with living this side of heaven. That does not mean we have take it at the hands of movers and shakers who are so at their own admission or by their own cunning.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Joy and TV across nine time zones

This afternoon, as I finished up a little book I cannot remember who recommended to me, I sort of wanted to remember so that I could protest at having been deceived. Deceived may be too strong a word. Let us just say that I was thoroughly disappointed by a book caught at the bottom of the depths it plumbed. It makes of TV a vehicle or the scepter of governance, giving the Tube a place in history and in time both unworthy of man's desserts and overrated in terms of its capabilities:

"But in Russia, working in television is about more than being a camera, an observer. In a country covering nine time zones, one-sixth of the world’s land mass, stretching from the Pacific to the Baltic, from the Arctic to the Central Asian deserts, from near-medieval villages where people still draw water from wooden wells by hand, through single-factory towns and back to the blue glass and steel skyscrapers of the new Moscow— TV is the only force that can unify and rule and bind this country. It’s the central mechanism of a new type of authoritarianism, one far subtler than twentieth-century strains. And as a TV producer I would be directed right into the center of its workings." (Pomerantsev, Peter (2014-11-11). Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia (p. 3). PublicAffairs. Kindle Edition.)

I will not deny that Russia has this seedy side to it as described in the book; Ukrainian oligarchy would seem to be of a piece with it. That much of Russia today is surreal, okay, but that "TV is the only force that can unify and rule and bind this country."  - NO! Sorry, Peter, but not acceptable. If I had known you were a nihilist, I never would have bought the book.

Flight from the pits took me inexplicably to Georges Bernanos, The Diary of a Country Priest: A Novel,  Kindle Edition and this lovely quote:

"I'd say: I can't help wearing an outfit fit like an undertaker's man. After all, the Pope rigs himself self up in white and the cardinals in red, so what's the odds? But I'd have the right to go around adorned like the Queen of Sheba because I'm bringing you joy. I'll give it you for nothing, you have only to ask. Joy is in the gift of the Church, whatever joy is possible for this sad world to share. Whatever you did against the Church, has been done against joy." (Kindle Locations 307-310).

 No, Peter, TV can't even come a close second to soothing what ails Russia. Russia like so much of our world needs to be prayed out of the tomb: Lazarus, come forth! Faithful to our Blessed Mother's plea, let us pray and sacrifice for the conversion of Russia. That better than TV, all nine time zones might be bound together by the saving grace of Christ's Passion and know joy in His and our Mother's arms!


Sunday, August 9, 2015

Russian Orthodoxy in Exile

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

It cost me a lot to read volume two of Metropolitan Evlogy's memoirs, well, just because that is what they are and it is something I vow never to do: no diary, no journals, no memoirs! I am not faulting those who made this gift to humanity; it just is not for me. Hence, you might say, my revulsion over something which I could never bring myself to do.

I reviewed "Part One" last April and must say that I was fascinated by the Metropolitan's observations concerning this part of the world, which has also been mine now for almost four years. "Part Two" is very different in the sense that it describes really Evlogy's struggle to carve out an existence for a part of the Russian world set adrift by Bolshevism, practically on his own in the midst of competing church structures or superstructures claiming his allegiance while failing to prove their authority or legitimacy over him.

Has the Roman Catholic Church ever been this far adrift, so totally deprived of its moorings? Maybe at the time of the Great Western Schism? It is hard to say, but in the case of Russian Orthodoxy I think the premises are missing: Evlogy's malaise indeed is that of the Third Rome, which cannot justify its claims.

In Part Two, the Metropolitan makes thoroughly clear his utter disdain for the Catholic Church. Reading the chapter on ecumenism, I could not help but wonder if it does not represent the Russian Orthodox view today. The only reason we might have for doubting that would be an a priori assumption that the world has changed: not really tenable. 

Who is Evlogy, you might ask, and why should I hold him representative of the Russian world and its religion today? Good question and one for which I really don't have an answer.
* * *
On a very different note, it would seem that the Metropolitan despairs of keeping his church alive in exile. He talks about the failure of his French language parish, saying that it just isn't the same, that the children of Russian emigres are lost per force. This topic has constant relevance when we are talking about the Christians of the Middle East as they are being driven from their ancient homelands. Will they survive elsewhere as Syrians, Copts, Melchites, Maronites or Chaldeans? Evlogy seems to join his voice to the chorus of those who say no, that without a homeland as a point of reference, no.

I think we have much to entrust to the intercession of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, who did what they did at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, gifting a world beyond the Greeks with a Byzantine heritage which in the Baptism of the Rus took root and blossomed among the Slavic peoples starting from Kyiv and prince Volodymyr.

Don't get me wrong! I stand with Catholic teaching so well interpreted thirty years ago in Slavorum Apostoli:

"31. To you, therefore, God the Father Almighty, God the Son who have redeemed the world, God the Spirit who are the sustainer and teacher of all holiness, I desire to entrust the whole Church of yesterday, today and tomorrow, the Church both in Europe and throughout the earth. Into your hands I commit this singular wealth, made up of so many different gifts, ancient and new, placed in the common treasury by so many different sons and daughters.

The whole Church thanks you, who called the Slav nations into the communion of the faith, for this heritage and for the contribution made by them to the universal patrimony. The Pope of Slav origin in a special way thanks you for this. May this contribution never cease to enrich the Church, the Continent of Europe and the whole world! May it never fail in Europe and in the world of today! May it never fade from the memories of our contemporaries! We desire to accept in its entirety everything original and valid which the Slav nations have brought and continue to bring to the spiritual patrimony of the Church and of humanity. The whole Church, aware of this common treasure, professes her spiritual solidarity with them and reaffirms her own responsibility towards the Gospel, for the work of salvation which she is called upon to accomplish also today in the whole world, unto the ends of the earth. It is essential to go back to the past in order to understand, in the light of the past, the present reality and in order to discern tomorrow. For the mission of the Church is always oriented and directed with unfailing hope towards the future.

32. The future! However much it may humanly speaking seem filled with threats and uncertainties, we trustfully place it in your hands, Heavenly Father, invoking upon it the intercession of the Mother of your Son and Mother of the Church, the intercession of your Apostles Peter and Paul, and of Saints Benedict, Cyril and Methodius, of Augustine and Boniface and all the other evangelizers of Europe who, strong in faith, hope and charity, proclaimed to our fathers your salvation and your peace, and amid the toils of the spiritual sowing began to build the civilization of love and the new order based on your holy law and the help of your grace, which at the end of the age will give life to all things and all people in the heavenly Jerusalem. Amen!

To you, dear brothers and sisters, my Apostolic Blessing."

Given in Rome, at Saint Peter's, on 2 June, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, in the year 1985, the seventh of my Pontificate.


Saturday, August 8, 2015

"But before all this occurs..."

"Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls." (Luke 21:10-19)

I really think we need to look at our world more through the eyes of the proto-martyr Stephen, that enthusiastic young deacon, who in life and in death emulated so perfectly his crucified Lord. What makes such a figure or orientation in life absolutely decisive? Does it really matter? Yes, it does! We cannot fudge; we must choose. You and I in our everyday life must choose to live as St. Stephen, in the midst of contrast, to live as St. John in his letter invited:

"Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world— the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches— comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever." (1 Jn 2:15-17)

One of the odd things about FACEBOOK is that, unless you put your filters up as high as my one brother-in-law, you see things like a motivational video by Arnold Schwarzenegger posted by a young friend (no fear! I started to watch it, but dropped it after less than 48 seconds). Maybe it is my age, but terms like "success" or even "accomplishment" have become deceptive at best and, at times well, delusional. To get excited about how the great Dietrich von Hildebrand explains what I am saying, well, you have to be his wife Alice:

"Even this phase of our active contact with a good reveals a characteristic difference from the contemplative attitude. For the good is still embedded there, in the thematic context of realization through my action; whereas, in contemplation, the thematic quality of the object’s inner goodness unfolds in unalloyed purity. So long as the realization of a good through my action is still part of my theme, the prevalence of the good as such cannot fully express itself in all dimensions attached to that good. Nor do I, in that case, experience the good by my striving. In contemplation, I abandon myself to an object as a majestic entity which reposes in itself and does not require me in order to exist." (von Hildebrand, Dietrich (2011-02-04). Transformation In Christ (Kindle Locations 1846-1851). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.)

My point being that as brainy as it sounds coming from von Hildebrand (pace Alice's enthusiasm) that is how we are to be, like St. Stephen, who did not only gaze on the Face of Christ when the rocks of Saul and company were raining down upon him; he sought the Face of his Lord constantly. He was not so much striving for a goal as looking beyond and discovering fullness as the three chosen disciples had faced it in a powerful moment on Mt. Tabor... transfigured, seen and embraced.

I hope many young people at various summer camps these days, beyond sunburn and bug bites, might experience the "veil" lifted and come away not so much pumped for action as seeing and no longer anxious about finding words to counter this world or the right path to confront it: "This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict."


Friday, August 7, 2015

Embracing Martyrdom

I attempted to open and read an article entitled "The Coming Persecutions", written by Patrick Archbold of Creative Minority Report. My guess is that the persecutions have already begun or that the Remnant Newspaper website is down; try as I might, with none of my browser options could I open the thing. Anyway, we won't get paranoid. The thought about persecution had already come to me earlier this morning on the memorial of Pope St. Sixtus and his four deacon companions, martyrs. For some odd reason Valerian's persecution seemed familiar and possible in our day and time, and not just at the hands of the crazed fanatics of ISIS. Blame if you will the Second Reading from the Office of St. Sixtus and Companions, martyrs, from St Cyprian's letter to Successus:

"Dear brother, the reason why I could not write to you immediately was that all the clergy were embroiled in the heat of the conflict. They could not possibly leave, all of them having prepared themselves for divine and heavenly glory.
  But now the messengers have come back, those whom I sent to the City to find out and report the truth of whatever decrees had been made about us – for people have been imagining all sorts of different possibilities. Here, then, is the truth:
  Valerian sent a rescript to the Senate, saying that bishops, presbyters, and deacons should all receive immediate punishment; that senators, knights, and other men of importance should lose their rank and their property, and if they still persisted in being Christians, they should lose their heads; and that matrons should be deprived of their property and be sent into exile. Members of Caesar’s own household, whether they had confessed their faith before or were only confessing it now, should be deprived of their property, bound in chains, and sent as slaves to his estates.
  To this command, Valerian attached a copy of the letters which he had sent to the governors of the various provinces about us; and we daily await the arrival of these letters, bracing ourselves, each according to the strength of his faith, for the suffering that is to be endured, and looking forward to the help and mercy of the Lord and the crown of eternal life.
  You should know, however, that Sixtus was martyred in the cemetery on the sixth of August, and four deacons with him. Moreover, the prefects in the City are daily pushing forward this persecution, and anyone who is presented to them is martyred and all his property confiscated by the state.
  I beg you to make these things known to the rest of our colleagues, so that through their encouragement the whole brotherhood may be strengthened and made ready for the spiritual conflict – so that each one of us may think less of death and more of immortality – so that everyone, dedicated to the Lord with full faith and total courage, may rejoice in this confession and not fear it, for they know that the soldiers of God and Christ are not destroyed, but crowned.
  Dearest brother, always fare well in the Lord."

The thought came to me this morning that, contrary to all the evidence, we tend to attribute civility to those who govern now in the place of Emperor Valerian and his magistrates, excluding the possibility that they are indeed just as likely to turn on us as the emperor did on the members of his own extended family, slapping them in chains and sending them off to his estates when some odd scruple kept him from beheading them and ridding himself of them immediately and entirely. I think it had something to do with the way St. Cyprian wrote up his report. Cyprian, if you will, understood and got himself and his Church busy preparing for something quite real and not all to be excluded just because we want so desperately to cling to this existence: "the grass withers and the flower fades".

More important for me than drawing parallels between "the prefects in the City" and whomever might be somebody's useful idiot today was the counsel given to the saints and not to pretend the civility of the other or to stand on our own rights and prerogatives, but rather we too in our day "... dedicated to the Lord with full faith and total courage, may rejoice in this confession and not fear it, for they know that the soldiers of God and Christ are not destroyed, but crowned."

We're approaching the feast days of not only the witness of St. Lawrence but also of that of St. Maximilian Kolbe, neither man destroyed by his torturers and murderers, but both indeed crowned and filling our world with hope for all their courage and light. To think of these crowned champions and wish/pray ourselves into their company is to set our souls aright and abandon certain delusions and much folly about what ought to be in this world.

It is quite hot these days in Kyiv (dog days of summer). Windows open at night remind me of my own younger days at home before AC, when folks sat outdoors visiting until it got cooler and sleep came per force to overwhelm the restless soul. While there is no particular virtue in that sort of living (before AC), there is certainly realism displayed. Would that with realism we could face those who seek to harm us (spawn of Satan as they are) and we could set our hearts and our sights more perfectly on the Dawn from on High Who comes to visit us and will take us to Himself in Glory.


Sunday, August 2, 2015

A Ride on Belloc's Rollercoaster: good, clean fun!

Europe and the Faith "Sine auctoritate nulla vita"
Belloc, Hilaire
A Public Domain Book. 1920 Edition 
(2012-05-17). Kindle Edition.

Wretch that I am, every once in a while I must indulge myself in Hilaire Belloc's swashbuckling. I've done it again and with no regrets! It's no spoiler, as the value of this adventurous book is found in the course of following his reasoning and analysis, and so I can quote his conclusion:

"So things have gone. We have reached at last, as the final result of that catastrophe three hundred years ago, a state of society which cannot endure and a dissolution of standards, a melting of the spiritual framework, such that the body politic fails. Men everywhere feel that an attempt to continue down this endless and ever darkening road is like the piling up of debt. We go further and further from a settlement. Our various forms of knowledge diverge more and more. Authority, the very principle of life, loses its meaning, and this awful edifice of civilization which we have inherited, and which is still our trust, trembles and threatens to crash down. It is clearly insecure. It may fall in any moment. We who still live may see the ruin. But ruin when it comes is not only a sudden, it is also a final, thing. 

"In such a crux there remains the historical truth: that this our European structure, built upon the noble foundations of classical antiquity, was formed through, exists by, is consonant to, and will stand only in the mold of, the Catholic Church. 

"Europe will return to the Faith, or she will perish. 
The Faith is Europe. And Europe is the Faith." (pp. 260-261).

Naturally, such reading and my recommendation is reserved to Belloc and Chesterton enthusiasts. If you haven't got the "bug" you might put this book down prematurely. Even so, I will risk recommending it. For me personally, it puts a certain spin on my other favorite authors (like John Senior), who yoke classic Western Culture and Catholic Faith. Throw in Belloc on the topic of faith and culture and you may begin philosophizing seriously about which came first? The chicken? or The egg?

No doubt some will reprimand my "political incorrectness", coming as it does on the verge of a big Reformation anniversary, for recommending such an ecumenical wet blanket, but I will stand by the "redeeming social value", yes, even of Hilaire Belloc.

Pace George Weigel's Evangelical Catholicism, I doubt if even a 100 years ago Belloc swept away all adversaries by the force of his arguments. Moreover, given my origins, I doubt if anyone would accuse me of wanting to make unqualified Eurocentrism a necessary qualifier of Catholicism and a premise for the Faith fulfilling the evangelizing mission Christ entrusted to His Church. Even so, in Belloc I find an ally against the tyranny of relativism so rightly condemned not only as the death of thought, but as that fault which deprives us of any vitality or hope.

From my Sitz im Leben, I have to add that if Europe were Catholic to the hilt, it probably would not be speechless before the propaganda machine which from Moscow out thumbs its nose at our world and lays claim to titles and property for which it has no claim.

Give me those old "G" rated movies in black and white where the whole theater could nod agreement when wisdom personified as somebody's grandma could respond to tragedy and hardship by saying, "I just don't know where we'd be without our faith!"

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Reconfiguring the Cosmos - Under Christ's Lordship, Today and Tomorrow

The sad litany of all in the world that we can recount as disordered these days seems to be without end. The most common and for me unacceptable reactions to the folly/tragedy of any number of wrongs out there would seem to be two: a sense of helpless desperation and/or a kind of undifferentiated hysteria, both inclined to feigning acceptance of things as they seem to be. Both are little more than emotions; either or both seems to be embraced by many, even among our family and friends, out of a certain sense of resignation to well "that's just the way things happen to be", demonstrating if not almost tolerant comprehension, then sympathy for some folks misplaced "drama" (viz. SSM propaganda). This cannot be right. Our world seems very much out of kilter. Boldfaced lying to gain temporary personal advantage over others seems to characterize the rule of today's jungle. The powers-that-be in government, business and labor resort to such violence as readily as does the proverbial spoiled brat, whom nobody seems to be allowed to discipline any more. As I say, this cannot be right, because God created an ordered world, which, after the sin of our first parents, He redeemed once again from chaos and darkness by His own Son's redemptive death; cost us what it may, we need to be cooperating with His Will. There has got to be something we can do to reconfigure that cosmos of our daily living in conformity with the Divine Will for our happiness in this life and in the life to come.

For some reason in analyzing this drama, a passage from the Book of Jonah came to mind:

"The LORD God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” Then the LORD said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?” [Jonah 4:6-11]

Most people will shake their head at this passage and deny Jonah his temper tantrum before God. My presumption is that they do so firmly taking God's part in the conversation: Jonah is the "drama queen" if you will and God is in the right, sparing Nineveh. Many of these same people, when they are not reading Scripture, keep silence about God's rights and accede to cries no less petty than the bush lament of Jonah. To my way of thinking these cries are far less honest than that of the OT prophet, as when we talk about anything "pro-choice" regarding the crime of abortion (an industry born out of hell, criminal in every way long before the appearance of the undercover videos which powerful political and economic interests are struggling hard to suppress). These same "Christians" express sympathy for all those folks who are at the same time disconsolate over the shooting of Cecil, the African Lion. Countless husbands and wives abandon their duties in justice and in charity toward their spouses, totally ignoring their children's need for a safe and stable environment for growth. These people fidget over some power-lifter, who just can't decide between competing as a man or a woman. As surely as Jonah thought to deny the Lord His justice and truth toward Nineveh repentant, so an overarching "political correctness", denying objectivity and truth, lyingly suppresses all that "me-myself-and-I" finds uncomfortable. My annoyance is principally with those who make themselves accomplice to such falsehood by their silence, resignation or dissimulation in the face of such wickedness.

I just finished spending some of my Saturday free time listening to a knowledgeable podcast on prospects for peace in Ukraine. Apart from doing expert kind of sharing on future scenarios for the region and the world, the participants in the discussion made very clear that the West has put Ukraine "on the back burner" perhaps even until the end of 2015. I'd like to frame my own analysis of much of the discussion you hear on implementing Minsk 2 and the neglect of the urgency of the present still very violent situation by focusing on the countless people in the fighting zone of the Donbas and displaced elsewhere who lack shelter, food and water. In the terms outlined above about my perception of the pendulum swing between some people's hysteria and that sense of helpless desperation which most folks take as an out from their having to assume responsibility. It would seem that prevarication is the order of the day. It would seem that the lies and their perpetrators have the upper hand as good men and women remain silent or shrug their shoulders.

For all the urgency we see in ordering relationships among persons and defending traditional institutions like marriage and family, in respecting life, in caring for a world of people in desperate need through no particular fault of their own (refugees and illegal immigrants), I would further make a plea to resist the temptation to cede ground before the onslaught of lies, falsehood and denunciation, which can only find its origin in the machinations of the "accuser of our brothers". Discrediting the other as unworthy of our defense or respect and walking away from his plight is also wrong when we need to be facing the challenge of Ukraine. The failures of the past in Moldova, Armenia, Georgia and countless other frontier territories does not excused continued withdrawal in the face of lawless aggression.

While Christ's Kingship will indeed find its fullness for all to see when time is no more, it must be conceded that we do indeed have a part in preparing His Coming by choices made in the here and now. Prevarication can even cloak itself in the trappings of religion. This should not necessarily confuse us because such pious show never truly gives God His due. 

It could be that the movers and shakers of society have sold themselves to expediency and cloak their accommodations in empty thunder. Truth and the service of the living God demands more of His servants. We hope and pray that no matter the cost God will be served for His own glory and our salvation on that great and terrible day.