Sunday, January 30, 2011

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Whose Reckoning?

I love the Second Reading for this the 4th Sunday Throughout the Year (Cycle A):
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
“Take yourselves for instance, brothers, at the time when you were called: how many of you were wise in the ordinary sense of the word, how many were influential people, or came from noble families? No, it was to shame the wise that God chose what is foolish by human reckoning, and to shame what is strong that he chose what is weak by human reckoning; those whom the world thinks common and contemptible are the ones that God has chosen – those who are nothing at all to show up those who are everything. The human race has nothing to boast about to God, but you, God has made members of Christ Jesus and by God’s doing he has become our wisdom, and our virtue, and our holiness, and our freedom. As scripture says: if anyone wants to boast, let him boast about the Lord.”

These words of St. Paul can (as they have for me) give perspective to a person’s vocational journey, reminding us that both celibate priesthood lived to the full and a truly blessed marital union, as vocations to which we are called by God, are gift and grace revealing the handiwork of the Most High for His greater glory and our joy always, but always, in Him Who has not only begun the good work in us but Who brings it to fulfillment with our cooperation.

It is another aspect of this reading, however, that I would like to reflect upon briefly. The penultimate sentence of this passage is the one which strikes me above all today: “The human race has nothing to boast about to God, but you, God has made members of Christ Jesus and by God’s doing he has become our wisdom, and our virtue, and our holiness, and our freedom.” It is another way of saying Christ is everything in all of us. That is a notion which has consequences for the way we lead our lives and for the sorts of causes we may choose or attempt to champion. Should everything else pass away, libraries, monuments or whatever, and we as a race or generation fail, we, God’s little ones, the common and contemptible can still boast about God’s handiwork as revealed in us through Christ. That accomplishment is reflected in lives lived so as to radiate the presence of the gentle Savior Who dwells in our hearts.

“…Members of Christ Jesus…”   Too often, I am afraid, we gloss over the wonder of our, by God’s doing, being incorporated into the Son of God made Man. By reason of our dullness or distraction, perhaps, we rarely pick up on more than the flutter of the emotions of those scholars and mystics who wax eloquent or gushing over the implications or import of words like “sanctification” or “divinization” for our lives. Maybe, in point of fact, the problem is less with our dullness or distraction and more with that of the bravado of some of those who try to limbo under the bar of human comprehension placed on what for casual party-goers, at least, is the impossibly low notch of these “–tion” words! It might be better to leave the low, low bar to the stage performers and professionals and dwell both simply and profoundly upon the consequences of our baptism, of our having put on Christ, but in a fashion more intimate and earth-shaking that can be rendered by just a perfunctory glance at the great images of the white garment and our candle catching fire from the Easter candle.

“…Christ Jesus … by God’s doing … our wisdom, and our virtue, and our holiness, and our freedom.”  Ours must be the mind of Christ. Jesus condemns hypocrisy and commands those among His listeners for whom the shoe fits to first pull the plank from their own eye before attempting to pull the splinter from their neighbor’s eye. In that regard, I have to say (at the risk of condemning myself by my own judgment) that I have been particularly troubled of late by encounters (both through the media and directly) with the intolerance of any number of prelates within the Church: intolerance not directed toward wicked people, but intolerance toward those who are attempting as best they can to be faithful, especially in matters concerning Divine Worship and the education of children and youth. 

Why, even three years after the issuance of Summorum Pontificum (just to name one example), are well-meaning lay folk still treated with such great disdain by no less than bishops, bishops in communion (of heart, soul, mind and strength?) with the Successor of St. Peter when they ask for Mass in Latin? Is this anything other than blind hypocrisy (the plank!)? You tolerate no small amount of bad taste, bad music and caprice, while begrudging some few a port in the storm of liturgical abuse which seems not to want to subside? Can we be after His own Heart and not just claim to be members of Christ’s Body while still acting so at odds with the example set by the Holy One of God, meek and humble of heart? Such prelates are at counter or cross purposes to the sense in which the Church wants to go; they are ignoring what the Spirit is saying to the Churches and doing so with a backhand to some who are branded common and contemptible, but certainly not in the eyes of Christ... Let me say it more clearly! My issue is with the contempt shown for an outstretched hand, contempt such as would not be shown toward someone asking for some other benefit. 

When the Holy Father speaks of his will to see these two forms of the Roman Rite (ordinary and extraordinary) enrich each other, when he and others express eagerness for a recovery of the sense of the sacred in our churches and in how we worship, I am convinced that he has indicated the true nature of the rupture which has indeed occurred and needs to be mended or healed. You would think that those in communion with the Pope would seek to understand him and embrace his point of view. There is too much room for caprice and hence the need to reform contemporary Catholic worship. This is evidenced time and again, by way of one example, in the sense of helplessness many priests experience when confronted by musical groups moving into church with inappropriate repertoires, not to mention the dance and puppet troupes which should have been banished long ago. If a bishop does not want to discipline at least he can respect and foster those seeking good order.

St. Charles Borromeo advised his priests to fight distractions and foster devotion the same way that you keep a stove lit with only a flicker of flame inside, and that is, by keeping that stove closed up tight until you get the fire going strong. I think that has to be the aim of the reform of the reformed liturgy. That was the genius over centuries of the old Latin Low Mass, tamper-proof and self-contained throughout the vicissitudes of time. The pendulum swing to the other extreme, which has swept away everything that was popular devotion and religious expression, while at the same time opening up that stove to nearly anything and everything, has had little more effect than to have diminished the liturgy’s capacity for providing heat and light. Contemporary worship is too often held hostage by caprice (tasteful or tasteless is not the point), by creativity, if you will, but still something not foreseen by legitimate authority. 

Among the things which contribute to the crisis of faith among our youth, among those things which contribute to their dismissal of the Sunday obligation to assist at Mass (see the statistics for Mass attendance by young Catholics!) is the absence in what they experience in their parishes and Catholic school settings of an approach to Divine Worship marked by the healthy fear and trembling which time and again brought His disciples to their knees before the Son of Man. Just the other day in an airport waiting lounge I caught a conversation, in the row of seats back to back with me, between two elderly Catholic couples who were miffed at Father for having admonished them to go to confession for having failed to fulfill their Sunday obligation on the day after Christmas! The grounds for their dismissal of Father’s well-meant admonition were that such rules are man-made anyway. This is to my mind a logical conclusion to be drawn from a Sunday service as free-flowing and de-sacralized as they probably experience, as anything on cable TV or to be found in a passing revival tent meeting.

The human race has nothing to boast about to God, but you, God has made members of Christ Jesus and by God’s doing he has become our wisdom, and our virtue, and our holiness, and our freedom.”
Apart from this intolerance, I’ve been confronted again and again recently with the reality of how oblivious many priests, religious and laity are to the de-sacralized character of their liturgizing. Jeff Tucker at “The Chant Café” is swarming about all he sees as progress toward the reform of the reform. I wish I could see what he sees. The promotion of the extraordinary form is an encouragement to reforming vernacular liturgy. The hunger of many of the laity for a reformed vernacular liturgy marked by noble simplicity has been and continues to be fostered by encounters with the extraordinary form. My guess is that a more positive attitude by more bishops toward the extraordinary form would go a long way to moving some of the priests toward an examination of conscience concerning their approach to celebration.

Why do some successors to the Apostles seem so unaware of the injustice of the double standard they apply in reacting negatively to requests for Mass in the extraordinary form? If they are unwilling to restore decorum to vernacular worship “cold turkey” for lack of courage or whatever, then the least they could do is recognize and support those among them who seek better.

            Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto Thine!


Friday, January 28, 2011

Transcendent, Immanent or Evanescent?

Faith, Reason and the War against Jihadism: A Call to Action,
by George Weigel (Kindle edition)

A dear friend of mine recently conned/duped/tricked me into reading the second George Weigel book of my life. As it was the case with the first, so also this time I could hardly put the book down. It truly read well. George is indeed a wordsmith and as I could cheer him on in that first book I read as an apologist for the role which soon-to-be Blessed John Paul II played in bringing down the Berlin Wall, so this time I can identify with George as he holds up our present Holy Father’s Regensburg Lecture as beacon and prophecy for the demands of reasoned discourse and not only in the dialogue between Christianity and Islam.

Nonetheless, don’t expect me to pick up another one of Weigel’s books anytime soon. It is not that I disagree with him; it is not that I do not admire his command of the sources. As a say, he’s quite the wordsmith. Although I was a bit distracted by his repeated (at least twice) use of the word “fecklessness”. It is a word I understand, just like I understand many words in foreign languages which are not part of my active speaking vocabulary:
feck·less         adj \ˈfek-ləs\
Definition of FECKLESS
feck·less·ly adverb
feck·less·ness noun
Examples of FECKLESS
1.      She can't rely on her feckless son.

I have never heard with my ears the word “feckless”. Maybe it is everyday in Scotland or on the eastern seaboard of the U.S… in Canada or Australia, perhaps?

At any rate, this “Call to Action” lauding world-changing interventions by Winston Churchill or Harry Truman in the past, full of confidence that we’re still capable of “one more for the Gipper” seems more a recipe for nightmares. Mind you, I agree wholeheartedly that George is at his best arguing that nuclear disarmament has never been a more urgent need, but he seems to gloss over countless reasons beyond two hundred years of Islamic heresies underpinning the desperate acts of people who have more reason that Britney Spears to hate the “Great Satan”. There are countless reasons for the mad rage which comes flying at us, innocent or not. “Self-imposed dhimmitude” may not always be the best description for why a Western European might react with genuine contrition for crimes committed against humanity in the Arabic world and elsewhere.

The book is indeed masterful; it is a great piece of work. I think the movers and shakers of society could profit immensely from not only skimming this book but reading and reflecting upon it. It is however, and hats off to the master, a series of variations on a theme. 

A no less important question to be faced is really, I mean really, “What can I do about it?” George very aptly describes an “Unhinged Left” and an “Unhinged Right”. In the almost four years since he wrote the dedication to the book these two camps have drifted even farther apart and are even less willing to carry on civil discourse with one another. What is one to do from an armchair far from the corridors of power populated by the very same persons who run rough-shod over our basic civil liberties, like the right to life?

George’s book will nonetheless be treasured by me for his introductory remarks concerning the otherness of Islam. While I have on more than one occasion been preached to by those who wished to make it clear to me that my faith in the Living God as revealed in Jesus Christ had been superseded by the teaching of the Koran, I had never really appropriated as well as I could thanks to this book the notion of a God so totally apart and transcendent. The Mystery of the Incarnation, of God become Man, and of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit for the life of the world become for me more so good news and more urgent to proclaim. 

The hastening of the coming of the Day of God through my conformity to His Will for the sake of the establishment of His Reign becomes all the more urgent. The Love which has come to dwell in our hearts must be better known! Thank you, George, and thank you, Mike, for the book suggestion!  

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Icon Shopping

Heroic Virtue and Intercessory Power

The good news of the upcoming beatification of Pope John Paul II on Divine Mercy Sunday, 1 May 2011, got me thinking about my own choice of an image, an icon to express my very own personal understanding of and devotion to this venerable man who has had a remote and proximate impact on my life since I was 28 years of age. There are lots of images to choose from: which one speaks most to my heart? Should it be one of the engaging photographs of the young pope who broke through the isolation which the powers that were (mediatic and otherwise) had imposed on Pope Paul VI? There’s always the windblown image of a not much older pope burying his forehead in the crucifix of bended crossbeam which surmounted his pastoral staff? The other day, on the wall of a bishop’s office here in my region, I saw a kind of “last hour” picture of him very much afflicted by Parkinson’s disease, which obviously spoke to the heart of my confrere? No, I guess I’ve had my picture all along in the one which my predecessor here had enlarged and framed for the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Pontificate of John Paul II: he’s radiant but oh so mellow with age! I think I’ll leave that picture right where it is too: on the wall just outside the chapel, where you meet his benevolent gaze each time you leave the Presence of the Lord.

Needless to say, I have an ulterior motive in bringing up my rather personal search for an icon, which has to do less with John Paul II and more to do with all sorts of ideas which have been whirling around in my head partly due to Fr. Barron’s (Word on Fire) video which underlines the world-changing power of the accomplished rhetoric, promoting Christian nonviolence to bring down racial segregation, as practiced by Martin Luther King, Jr., of fond memory, who as Fr. Barron assures us was no saint. How decisive is (or can be) good or great rhetoric (without heroic virtue) to the equation of bringing light to the dark corners of our world? The old toastmasters slogan, about how to win friends and influence people by speaking well, has certainly had its adherents over the years, but it is not so much that I want to take on Fr. Barron as if he had given the impression that good rhetoric is all there is, but rather I am speaking to what must be the more central combat in the real quest for which I should be trying to win people today. Fr. Barron would never say that it is rhetoric which will make up for what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ. We need a world sanctified and united with Christ in deed and in truth, as well as in word.

The Gospel for this the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) comes to my aid expressing clearly the proper focus or the absolute priority as laid down by Christ Himself:

Matthew 4:12-23
“Hearing that John had been arrested, Jesus went back to Galilee, and leaving Nazareth he went and settled in Capernaum, a lakeside town on the borders of Zebulun and Naphtali. In this way the prophecy of Isaiah was to be fulfilled:
‘Land of Zebulun! Land of Naphtali!
Way of the sea on the far side of Jordan,
Galilee of the nations!
The people that lived in darkness has seen a great light;
on those who dwell in the land and shadow of death
a light has dawned.’
From that moment Jesus began his preaching with the message, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’
He went round the whole of Galilee teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness among the people.”

The life itself of and identification with Our Lord and Savior does count. Eloquent preaching or grand gestures are not what is determinant. Hence my choice of a well-weathered image of John Paul II, his face radiant with that glory in Christ which is not meant to be veiled! The fight or flee image used by Fr. Barron should not be directed primarily toward forces without but toward forces within my soul which must be confronted and subjected to the Will of Christ.
For that reason I get only somewhat of a kick out of the most popular icon at the moment of Blessed Piergiorgio Frassati, which shows him the youthful mountain climber with a pipe in his mouth. The picture says loads about life, health and youth, but little about the heroic virtue of this young man noted for his filial piety (respectful obedience to his parents), his unbounded devotion and love for Holy Mass and the sacraments, not to mention his devotion to friends in need and to the poor and destitute whose service also brought him into contact with the tuberculosis which carried him away before he could launch out on a life’s career. Piergiorgio carried on and won by the grace of God the only struggle which counts, the struggle to place his own heart on the Cross next to that of Christ. The poor of Turin, who came thronging to the young man’s funeral, had been touched not by good rhetoric, but by the love of Christ radiating from this man who sought to do his Lord’s Will in all things.
Tomorrow is the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the great communicator and patron of Catholic journalism. He made significant inroads for the renewal of Catholic faith in the territory of his diocese left fallow so to speak by the Protestant Reformation. He did so not only by winning words but by the holiness of his own life sustaining the clarity of his thought. St. Augustine’s City of God is another monument not only to clear thinking but to such as it pours forth from a once restless heart now firmly attached to Christ. I’m reading a very engaging book by Jonathan Robinson of the Oratory, Spiritual Combat Revisited (Ignatius Press, 2003), which comments on the book of Lorenzo Scupoli from the application made of that little book in the lives of St. Francis de Sales and Blessed John Henry Newman. He makes a marvelous apology for fighting hard to subject our will to that of Christ for the sake of our own salvation and obviously for the sake of the life of the world.
“From that moment Jesus began his preaching with the message, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’ … He went round the whole of Galilee teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness among the people.”

The scandals surfacing within the Church attributable to greater or lesser self-indulgence in violation of one or more of the Ten Commandments point out the urgency of rejoining the battle on the only front worthy of the witness to God’s Love given to us by Jesus Himself and namely within my own heart.
‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Communicating the Sacred

There are countless signs that progress is being made in recovering a sense of the sacred in worship. Needless to say, much is left to be done as still too much abuse occurs and begs the question that ends up not getting asked: "Is nothing sacred anymore?"

After being exposed to a wretched little YouTube video of a Christmas Mass in the north of France, where a youngish looking priest (fully garbed) seemed to be leading what looked like an aerobics class in church, I've been feeling a bit like the man who has had the proverbial rug pulled out from under his feet. One of my hopes was never again to see a youngish face so compromised on the altar and yet there he was, swinging, dipping and twirling as if he had no good sense at what was touted as Catholic liturgy. Sad and discouraging! "Is nothing sacred anymore?"

Fr. Z came to the rescue this morning by drawing my attention to a Michael Vorris video on RealCatholicTV entitle: 1 Peter 3:15. Michael basically invites the laity to make a New Year's Resolution to dedicate 30 minutes each day to formation, to learning your faith, to becoming strong in your faith. I think the resolution was presented as doable and giving priority to sanctifying one's own soul, lighting that little candle rather than cursing the darkness is a right approach. Meantime, some of us have to do something to take a stand and counter such sacrilegious behavior as took place in the north of France at the hands of someone (a priest) who ought not to be classed a barbarian or an infidel.

How can self-education in the faith counter my French aerobic priest? Obviously it can't and that is the point. Education of the laity in the faith can only and rightly be aimed at giving ballast to the barque of Peter. It won't close the seminary in France that produced our whirling dirvish or rid parishes of all those willing to splice into a sound system so as to blast the sound needed to thump-thump accompany such poorly choreographed folly. It is unlikely to nudge older priests straddling the fence or the less than courageous "Hamlets" among God's anointed to opt for decorum and strict adherence to the rubrics for the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice. It won't keep buildings in the round from being built or inspire criteria at diocesan level for rennovating churches which are once again oriented and focused on the Dawn from on High Who has come to visit us.

The pictures from this morning's celebration of the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord in the Sistine Chapel are beautiful, but even there I still haven't seen an image of the Holy Father at the Altar for the Eucharistic Prayer, all together turned toward the Lord. I have to admit I was looking for something sacred and beautiful to wash the images and droning of that Frenchy from my mind's eye and ear. Honestly, that is not so important as the fact that despite the Holy Father's writings and example, at least one young priest in northern France seems totally oblivious of what is expected of him when he leads God's people in worship.  "Is nothing sacred anymore?"

Let me renew my appeal especially to learned canonists to start writing for a renewal of the practice of issuing diocesal or better provincial synodal norms which apply the existing law of the Church in a manner which would put e.g. rubrics in the hands of priests who seem incapable of gleaning them from the General Instruction to the Roman Missal. I can remember going through and finding such small handbooks in the libraries bequeathed to the seminary by deceased priests. Such books seemed superflouous to me back then as they only applied the universal norms everyone was supposed to know. The older I get the more I see the wisdom of stating the obvious even for those who are supposed to be wise.

Good example and reasoned discourse, just like self-education by a laity deprived of basic knowledge of the faith, are terribly right and wholesome. But with a manual bound and in hand it's easier to say that playing a recording of Frank Sinatra's "I did it my way" after Communion at Grandpa's fineral just doesn't go, nor does a danced Ave Maria by Grandma's budding ballerina.

"Is nothing sacred anymore?" It can be through reasoned discourse, good example and applied norm.

properantes adventum diei Dei