Tuesday, August 11, 2020

We cannot live without Sunday - St. Justin Martyr

    This old man (yours truly) was both proud and pleased to see Bishop Donald DeGrood of Sioux Falls in the forefront of Diocesan Ordinaries calling their people back to Sunday obligation (here). From the looks of some of the Facebook comments, by calling the healthy folk back to church he has risked critique and controversy. It could not be otherwise. Bravo!

    In some ways, I suppose, St. Justin Martyr had it easier. Threatening him and his loved ones with execution, his judge was intent on pressing him to deny the living God and pay service to the empire's false gods. Nothing seems to be that straightforward today, but in a sense Catholics today are confronted by the same issue. We are called to do what Catholics of every age, nation and generation have been called to do on Sunday: get out of the sack, clean yourself up, and move across the threshold into the Temple of the living God, whether it be a grandiose basilica or some quaint little wood frame building at the intersection of two county roads, paved or gravel.

    It is that getting up and moving, not soapbox rhetoric, which has always been our confession, our glory. As for St. Justin Martyr, so also for us it is simply a matter of necessity, a matter of life and death. No human tribunal can dispense me from the Lord's reasonable commands.

    Not wishing to play down the risks involved in COVID both for ourselves and for others, we still recognize that Sunday is not dispensable. Our lives need Sunday, the first day of the week which belongs to God and therefore to all of us just that much more. 

    Where bishops and priests are hesitant, I pray that individuals and heads of households will courageously move themselves and their loved ones. More than ever today we need confessors of the faith. Martyrdom for the sake of Christ is not sought out in our tradition, but then it is not shunned when such a stance is unavoidable for the sake of His Holy Name and for our everlasting life.


Friday, August 7, 2020

The Need for Anchorage in Troubled Times


Reclaiming our Roman Catholic Birthright

The Genius & Timeliness of the Traditional Latin Mass

by Peter Kwasniewski

Angelico Press, 2020

    My copy of Dr. Kwasniewski's book reached me by mail the other day. From Lincoln, Nebraska to Bern, Switzerland it took over two months (memories of my seminary days in Rome in the 1970's!). That is part of the COVID story as well. All of a sudden the forward march of history/progress no longer seems quite so ineluctable. 

    With the book in my hands finally, the first thing I did was to look at what I had written back then for the cover of the book. I asked myself just what I would change if I were writing my recommendation for the book now these so many months, almost a half year, later. Let me draw out these couple sentences for comment!

    "Overwhelming numbers of practicing Catholics cannot seem to move past the worldly solutions of the last half-century. Dare I say that they cling to the Novus Ordo in desperation, rather than embracing a full project of being the Church, with catechesis and family life, finding in the Vetus Ordo the source and summit of Christian existence? ... May the virtue of hope inspire them to make the leap and the sacrifices involved in what amounts to a true paradigm change!"

    This talk of a "paradigm change" has real urgency for me, as I feel there is nothing too salvific about trying to reassure people with appeals to pursuing a hermeneutic of continuity, whatever that is supposed to entail. In calling for a paradigm change, I am very consciously declaring that the object of the exercise goes far beyond a ritual rerooting. The sad reality of Catholic life/lite in no few places around the globe over this last past half century is the result of a reductio ad absurdum. A once multifaceted Catholic life has been dismissed as unsustainable and the cornerstone of that life, the Holy Sacrifice - Divine Worship, has been reduced to a discursive exercise with nary a hint of the sublime.

    While the situation has been grave and in earnest need of attention, I think I wrote the sentences above, not only not knowing about the consequences of a 21st Century pandemic, but also very much abstracted from the possibility that Corona and COVID lock-down would be more than a bump in the road. Perhaps naively enough back in March or early April, I believed that after a time of deprivation, old rhythms of church practice would pick up where they left off last February. How wrong could I have been! I ask myself whether the measures so tenaciously imposed by civic authorities do not amount to a coup de grâce for the Novus Ordo. 

    My lawyer, a young, regular practicing Swiss Catholic, put it this way: The lock-down deprived us of a sacramental life for longer than we could hold out... I had not thought of it that way. Namely, not only did being cooped up in tiny apartments yield its share of domestic violence, pathological depression, intensified alcohol and drug abuse, suicide attempts and broken families, but the hiatus in Sunday parish life and Mass practice took lots of lay people, who had been faithful, beyond the point of no return. Thanks to the lock-down and the hard-nosed attitude toward church of many civil authorities, Sunday Mass attendance has become discretionary.

    A cousin of mine in the States wrote me telling of an old school mate who had tried to go back to church, but panicked after a couple weeks for the percentage of people in the pews who were not wearing masks and announced he was settling from now on for Sunday TV Mass. I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that the Novus Ordo has been totally relativized by the lock-down and the demands of social distancing; for most ordinary folks the Mass of Paul VI has lost whatever staying power it might have had. The pre-Mass ritual of taking down your contact details and sanitizing your hands in the vestibule has not helped matters either.

    Some people would blame this disaffection, at least in part, on all the live-streaming of Masses on the internet, which took something once done for the edification of elderly shut-ins and as a supplement to Sunday (daily Mass on EWTN) and made it the Sunday experience and in some countries the sole access to church. From family and friends I know of the kind of exchanges which went on among pious folk, recommending to each other their favorite TV or internet Mass experience, whether Word on Fire or somebody's cathedral half way across the continent.

    As far as the Vetus Ordo goes, the TV and live-streaming experience has been rather positive. A young Dominican priest told me the other day, that the size of their tiny traditional Sunday Mass has doubled since their return to public Masses. He attributes it in part to the video offerings of the traditional Mass, which acquainted especially young families with the Mass of all ages. Because of the two-meter-distancing rule, they are presently offering two Sunday Masses. He is hopeful that when restrictions are finally lifted, they will still have a house full in their tiny church. Moreover, news of these increased and constant numbers at Mass has reached the diocesan curia and they are eager to guarantee a sufficient number of priests for this chapel and to guarantee another Vetus Ordo Mass every Sunday in the other major population center of the diocese. Deo gratias!

    I have read any number of glowing reviews of Dr. Kwasniewski's book and I find them all very much to the point. My own hope would be that people will take up his book and read all or part, as their personal interest dictates. We need to read, study and reflect. Because the object of this exercise is not just to encourage choosing a different address for Sunday Mass, but of owning for yourself a new (yes, new) way of articulating your Catholicism, getting your hands on a book or ebook and moving beyond sympathies is a sine qua non

    Peter's Conclusion, For a Darkening Church, the Light Is Tradition, might be a good place to start for those of you still new to the business of reading real books (especially of 300+ pages). Some might brand Dr. Kwasniewski as strident or hard-hitting. Don't let those moments put you off but recognize just how upbeat he is in what he has to offer as the "pearl of great price"!



Sunday, July 26, 2020

Make Friends before the Throne and that Terrible Day

8. Sonntag nach Pfingsten 
26. Juli 2020 – Volkertshausen, DE 

Röm 8, 12-17
Lk 16, 1-9

    Gelobt sei Jesus Christus! 

    Das Tagesgebet des heutigen 8. Sonntag nach Pfingsten enthält eine Bitte zu unseren Gunsten und zu Gunsten der Kirche Gottes, mit der wir uns aus ganzem Herzen verbinden wollen. 

    “Verleihe uns, so bitten wir, Herr, immer gnädig den Geist, zu denken und zu tun was recht ist, damit wir, die wir ohne Dich nicht sein können, Dir gemäss zu leben vermögen.“ 

„…zu denken und zu tun was recht ist…“ 

    Ich weiss nicht, was Sie für Erfahrungen gemacht haben, aber ich selber muss immer wieder Menschen begegnen, welche unserem Herrn Jesus Christus den Willen absprechen, heute durch die Kirche unser Heil zu wirken. Auch Menschen innerhalb der Kirche scheuen sich nicht, die Zehn Gebote, das Credo, die Lehre über Glauben und Sitten der Kirche abzulehnen. Sie meinen, Söhne und Töchter der Kirche zu sein und lehnen gleichzeitig die Kraft des Wortes Gottes ab, wie es durch die Kirche verkündet wird. Sie lehnen die prophetischen Worte ab, welche die von Christus der Kirche anvertraute und über die Jahrhunderte kontinuierlich verkündete Botschaft enthält. 

    Diese „Erleuchteten“ meinen, es sei unmöglich, ein erfülltes, schönes und vor allem katholisches Leben zu führen, wenn man der Lehre, wie sie uns von den Aposteln überliefert ist, treu bleibt. Diese Lehre kennen wir aus der Heiligen Schrift und aus der Tradition, die treu und verbindlich durch die katholische Kirche ausgelegt werden. Ich möchte Sie heute einfach ermutigen und ermahnen, klug zu sein, damit Sie nicht den Lohn verspielen, welcher im Reich Gottes denen gebührt, welche im Glauben treu bleiben. 

    „Und der Herr lobte den ungerechten Verwalter, dass er klug gehandelt habe, denn die Kinder dieser Welt sind unter ihresgleichen klüger als die Kinder des Lichtes.“ 

    Mit dem heutigen Gleichnis aus dem Lukasevangelium will der Herr uns, die Söhne und Töchter der Kirche, zum Nachdenken bringen. Wir müssen der Gnade entsprechen, welche wir empfangen haben und welche uns zu Kindern Gottes macht. Im technischen Apparat, der dem Katechismus des Konzils von Trient hinzugefügt wurde und Ratschläge zu geeigneten Themen für das Evangelium an jedem Sonntag im Jahr bietet, wird klug handeln unter anderem übersetzt mit: Schon auf dieser Welt Freundschaft mit Engeln und Heiligen zu schliessen, um im Himmelreich leichter akzeptiert zu werden. Nach dem Vorbild des ungerechten Verwalters, der durch List Freunde unter den Schuldnern seines Herrn gefunden hat, rät uns der Katechismus, Gebete und Busse zugunsten der Seelen im Fegefeuer anzubieten und durch ihre Befreiung daraus, Freunde zu gewinnen, die am Tag des Gerichts vor dem Thron Gottes für uns Fürsprache einlegen. 

    “Wir sind nicht Schuldner des Fleisches, so dass wir nach dem Fleisch leben müssten…“ 

    Nein! Unsere Würde und unsere Berufung in dieser Welt ist eine andere. Das gilt sowohl für Priester und Ordensleute, als auch für Eheleute, Verwitwete oder Alleinstehende, für Alte und Junge. Wir sind alle dazu berufen, im Licht Gottes zu leben. Wir sind nicht dazu verdammt, in der Finsternis zu bleiben, welche uns von Jesus fernhält. 

    Wenn wir das heutige Evangelium betrachten, zusammen mit dem Abschnitt aus dem Brief des Apostels Paulus an die Gemeinde von Rom, dann sehen wir vor uns das Bild und die Bedeutung unserer Identität als Kinder Gottes. 

    “Der Geist selbst nämlich bezeugt unserem Geist, dass wir Kinder Gottes sind. Wenn aber Kinder, dann auch Erben, nämlich Erben Gottes und Miterben Christi.“ 

    Die Herausforderung, die wir im Leben meistern müssen, ergibt sich aus dem Bewusstsein, dass wir zu Christus gehören und als «Adoptivkinder» unseres Himmlischen Vaters eine Würde besitzen. Diese unsere Würde als Kinder Gottes ist tatsächlich sehr gross. Nicht alle verstehen, was wir wirklich sind: „Wir heissen Kinder Gottes und sind es.“ Wir schulden Gott alles, denn er hat uns gerettet und er will uns ganz für sich haben, damit wir immer bei ihm in der Freude sind. 

    Ich erinnere mich daran, wie vor einigen Jahren ein Priester des Novus Ordo (ich meine, es sei sogar ein Professor für Liturgie gewesen), gegen die von Rom bestätigte Entscheidung der Bischöfe der englischsprachigen Welt protestierte. Diese entschieden damals in Übereinstimmung mit der Tertia Editio Typica des Missals von Paul VI., zur traditionellen Übersetzung des Confiteor zurückzukehren: “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa”. Mit den Worten des heutigen Evangeliums gesprochen, würde ich sagen, dass sich dieser Priester ohne weiteres für ein “Kind des Lichtes” hielt, dass er aber nicht besonders erleuchtet war, wenn er die Formulierung “mea maxima culpa“ für übertrieben hielt. Ich habe den Eindruck, dass er mit diesen Äusserungen sich selber vor Gott losspricht. Dieser Mann hat gerade nicht verstanden, dass wir alleine durch die Gnade Gottes das sind, was wir sind. Dieses Geschenk kann von uns Sündern nie ausreichend geschätzt werden. Da irrte er sich sehr. 

    Es gibt in unserem Leben als Christen keinen Platz für Halsstarrigkeit und Widerstand dagegen das Kreuz anzunehmen und Christus bis nach Golgota nachzufolgen. Dieser Weg führt uns durch den Tod zum glorreichen Tag der Auferstehung. Wenn wir gerettet werden und in der ewigen Freude des Himmels leben wollen, dann müssen wir der in der Taufe empfangenen Gnade entsprechen. Das verlangt uns in diesem Tal der Tränen zwar einiges ab, aber es entschädigt uns auch sehr, ja unermesslich. 

    Ohne die Gnade Gottes, welche uns in Christus rettet, können wir uns vor Gott niemals „Heilige“ nennen. Selbst wenn wir niemals eine Todsünde begangen hätten, müssen wir dennoch ehrlich auch unsere lässlichen Sünden bereuen und auch unsere Trägheit und unsere zögerliche Antwort auf den Ruf Gottes, der uns liebt und der sich uns in Christus geoffenbart hat. 

    Aber warum müssen wir uns unserer Trägheit anklagen? Ganz einfach deshalb, weil wir auch dann, wenn wir noch relativ brave und anständige Menschen sind, niemals angemessen auf die Liebe Gottes antworten können. Die angemessene Formel ist daher ganz richtig: “mea maxima culpa“. 

    Ich möchte noch einen Augenblick nachdenken über die notwendige Tiefe unserer Reue. Wenn wir gerettet werden und in den Himmel kommen wollen, müssen wir uns vor dem Allerhöchsten beugen und unsere Sünden bereuen, sowohl die allfälligen Todsünden als auch die lässlichen Sünden. Wir müssen unsre Sünden in Gedanken, Worten und Werken bereuen, ja sogar die Unterlassung unserer Pflichten. Der Richter ist Christus selbst. Wir stehen unter seinem Urteil und nicht unter unserer Entscheidung. Der Kern unserer Würde als Getaufte besteht darin, dass wir im eingeborenen Sohn wahrhaft Kinder Gottes sind. 

    Nach dieser Erfahrung des „Lock-down“ im Angesicht der Bedrohung durch das COVID-19 Virus fragen sich viele, was denn das „Normale“ im Leben sei. Diese Frage wird uns noch länger beschäftigen, wohl besonders diejenigen, die wegen bestehender gesundheitlicher Probleme oder durch das hohe Alter schon besonders gefährdet sind, aber nicht nur diese. Andere fragen sich aus der Sicht des Glaubens, was denn das Wesentliche des Glaubens sei. 

    Die Formel des “mea maxima culpa” sagt uns dazu sehr viel. Was bedeutet es, „zu denken und zu tun, was recht ist“, wenn wir uns nicht vor dem König des Universums beugen. Wir sollten uns nicht weigern, uns vor dem göttlichen Richter niederzuwerfen. Wir sollten vielmehr im Wissen darum, dass er uns so sehr liebt, dass er für unsere Sünden sein Leben dahingegeben hat, nicht aus Furcht sondern aus Liebe unsere Sünden und Schwächen bereuen, damit er unsere Wunden heilen und uns retten kann. Und ja, wir sollten keine Zeit verlieren, sondern durch Gebet und Opfer zugunsten der armen Seelen, vor dem Richterstuhl des Allerhöchsten Freunde für uns schaffen! 

    Gelobt sei Jesus Christus!


Sunday, July 19, 2020

#CancelCulture: a New Lease on Life for the Old Anathema

Over years of reading Church History, I have been continually confronted with the thesis that at some point after Thomas Becket or the famous scene in Canossa, the site where Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV did penance in 1077, standing three days bare-headed in the snow, in order to reverse his  excommunication by Pope Gregory VII, the old anathema lost its coercive force, hardened public sinners could no longer be so brought to their senses. Once the secular arm failed or refused to do the Church’s bidding, it was all over: you could forget not only the anathemas but the indices of forbidden books, the whole shooting match.

Granted, consciences were and still are bound by ecclesiastical penalties, but we have been led to believe that the hardened sinner just sloughs them off and nobody else seems much bound to respect them, failing to do their Catholic part by turning their backs on those so publicly condemned by the Church.

Well, these days, watching a very barbarous contingent of a very uncivil society just #cancel things and people, I am beginning to think the Church should probably give the declared anathema another try. I am not being facetious, I really mean it. In other words, the historians who were so sure that without the support or enforcement of the secular arm a Church censure was futile, just might have been dead wrong.

#Cancelling someone like JK Rowlings does seem to have an effect, for whatever reason, on a broader social group, with people distancing themselves from the one so anathematized (to use the old expression).  Perhaps the Church could benefit and benefit the body Catholic, by unashamedly #cancelling public figures who claim the name Catholic while denying all and everything which such a confession implies.

Let his or her local bishop lay a resounding “Anathema sit” on a nominally Catholic politician who is rabidly pro-abortion! Until we try, we will never know if it might help the Church close ranks and bring others to their senses. Caveat! St. Thomas a Becket’s firm stance was ultimately crowned with that glory which is martyrdom. What else could it mean, though, when we invite believers to embrace the Lord’s Cross?


Saturday, July 11, 2020

Confirmation and the Christian Life after the Manner of St. Benedict

Confirmation Mass

Feast of St. Benedict

11 July 2020 at Bruder Klaus

Prv 2:1-9

Rsp. 34: 2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9, 10-11

Mt. 19: 27-29


        The custom, not only here at Bruder Klaus but also elsewhere in Switzerland has been to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation in the context of Sunday Mass, wearing red vestments for the Holy Spirit, but taking the readings for the Sunday. It is actually a very good tradition, one that encouraged me on this Saturday to look to the saint of the day, Saint Benedict, Abbot, one of the major patron saints of Europe, to find my inspiration for a few words to all those gathered here.

        Praised be Jesus Christ!

        The Collect for the feast of St. Benedict sums up very well my prayer for all of you today:

        O God, who made the Abbot Saint Benedict an outstanding master in the school of divine service, grant, we pray, that, putting nothing before love of you, we may hasten with a loving heart in the way of your commands.”

        “O God…putting nothing before love of you…”

When we say that religious orders like the Benedictines or the numerous religious congregations in the Church are institutes of perfection we are saying and at the same time not saying something that should play a role in the lives of all of us who are baptized. Certainly, we are saying that religious men and women have a very high calling (putting nothing before love of you, O God). Nonetheless, we are not saying that the rest of us, ordinary priests and lay people, have nothing in common with religious or that we do not share a certain identity with members of institutes of perfection.

I remember studying Canon Law and discovering, but never quite understanding, that the big division in law in the Church is between clerics and non-clerics, between bishops, priests and deacons on one side and the laity and religious on the other, that religious were to be categorized under the heading of the laity. That would mean that all of you have more in common with religious than you do with me or than I do with you. Let me put it another way! If you will, you confirmands are just as much called to holiness of life as any monk, nun, religious brother or sister. We could spend a lot of time talking about what that means in terms of your reception of Confirmation which brings to completion your Christian initiation, which began with Baptism.

Perhaps the best way to understand the baptismal calling in which you will now be strengthened or confirmed in this Sacrament of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Confirmation, can be found in our first reading from the Old Testament, from the Book of Proverbs. It is a father/son advice kind of thing:

“My son, if you receive my words and treasure my commands, turning your ear to wisdom, inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call to intelligence, and to understanding raise your voice; if you seek her like silver, and like hidden treasures search her out…”

While yet a boy, St. Benedict was sent to Rome to study by his well-to-do parents. They sent him together with his nanny to look after him. Young Benedict was not impressed by Rome (in the late 5th Century, it must have been quite corrupt and lax, even as far as study opportunities went. We are talking about the no longer great Roman Empire, which had fallen into chaos. We are talking about life, society and Church a good century after St. Augustine lived). Young Benedict had the faith and he had a prayer life as well. He had been brought up well in his parents’ home, thoroughly Catholic. Hence, he wanted no part of what was going on in Rome and so he left his nanny behind and withdrew to a cave near Subiaco to become a hermit, to pray constantly and to do penance. In a word, Benedict chose to follow Christ and thus became perfect like His Lord. In living this hard life in the wilderness far from civilization and without advertising, he drew to himself others seeking such a holy life. They asked this holy man to teach them and to rule over them.

Let us go back to our first reading from the Book of Proverbs!

“Then will you understand the fear of the Lord; the knowledge of God you will find; for the Lord gives wisdom, from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; He has counsel in store for the upright, he is the shield of those who walk honestly, guarding the paths of justice, protecting the way of his pious ones.”

Benedict is the Father of Western Monasticism; he is a religious, but from his life story, we can glean the essential of what it should mean for any young person to live the Catholic Faith to its fullness, whether you are called by God to enter a monastery or a convent or not. From Benedict we learn and the Church teaches us that life is an all or nothing adventure. Either you choose God’s path, His wisdom and His truth, or you are lost, as are many folks are in our world today.

Let us talk about the significance of the Sacrament of Confirmation which you are about to receive and which us older folks have already received earlier on in life!

What do we pray for when we ask God to pour out the grace of His Holy Spirit upon these young people, upon you, in the Sacrament of Confirmation? What is the upshot of receiving the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and being strengthened in the great virtues, which make for the fullness of life: prudence, justice, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord? Well, we are asking God for a good Catholic life for you now and for as long as you may live. We ask this for the sake of your eternal salvation, that having known, loved and served God in this life, you might be happy with Him forever in heaven. For God’s sake and for the sake of the life of the world, we are making it as an open-ended request, that the Holy Spirit lead you to Benedict-like holiness, with no conditions or withholding on our part. We turn you over in this Sacrament to God’s grace and we say, “Lord, surprise us! Gift our Church and our world with some great saints!”

The grace of the Holy Spirit transforms us and shakes the foundations of the people around us, as it did those who were in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost day. If they are at all attentive to genuine goodness, they will be shaken. What might God be calling you to do or be? To have an answer to that question is not any more important in your life than it was in the life of Saint Benedict. Just follow Benedict’s lead; reject Satan and all his works, learn your faith, pray constantly, and seek the Lord above all else!

The COVID-19 lock-down business has called much into question. So much of what we were so sure of, back before March 13, lays in shambles. We need to leave those things behind which we can now see as unessential. It is not a matter of being lost or being without but of choosing, as did the great monk father of the West. Benedict did not set out to be some kind of revolutionary and challenge his world. Rather he turned his back on Rome, the great metropolis. He did so in order to seek Christ. You, confirmands, in the grace of this sacrament, do likewise, find joy for yourself, and give Christ’s glorious light to the world around you! Receive the Holy Spirit!

Praised be Jesus Christ!


Thursday, July 2, 2020

How goes the Battle?

I watched a video from Father Schmidberger the other day. It's in German, but for all those who are able to follow it, Father's presentation is well worth the hour time because it is so well crafted and comprehensive in his analysis of the situation in the Church today and for his apologia in favor of the mission of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X on behalf of our Church, which seems on a number of accounts to be foundering. 

I say foundering, because of the "drop on the monitor" of more than a few health indicators for the Church. Regular Sunday Mass attendance is an indication of Church vitality, and it is definitely down, as are respectable numbers of people coming regularly to the Sacrament of Penance, to Confession. Being confronted in Confirmation preparation classes by young people who cannot make the Sign of the Cross, let alone recite their basic prayers, is a lack which should set off alarms. The huge drop in the number of sacramental marriages is certainly due to more than a lower birthrate. Seminaries continue to close. Foundering is, well, as good a word as any to describe a situation of change which must be worrying.

While an 85-100% reduction in the number of vocations to religious congregations for men in the United States, comparing statistics from 1965 and the year 2000, could be interpreted as a legitimate action of the Holy Spirit, moving the Church now and always by ever new means and perhaps even other charisms. Nonetheless such reductions and their consequences for countless traditional apostolates in the Church cannot go discounted. 

The counsels offered by Father to move at the level of personal faith and family to genuine renewal are the words of a wise old pastor. May he and many more wise and holy men be heard and heeded!


Saturday, June 27, 2020

The Lord's Triumph - His Reign

    From childhood, my guess is that no life of a saint has left me more perplexed than that of the Maid of Orleans, of St. Joan of Arc. How did she end up burned at the stake? Why did instances of Church, really, seethe so with rage against this young woman, who gave herself over totally to the promptings from God which came her way? She was God's Hand, if you will, slapped away by the high and self-declared mighty.
    I read a piece the other day by Anthony Esolen, marveling at the commanding influence which the holy nun, St. Hildegard of Bingen, had in the world of her day. Esolen roots her authority in the integrity of her life, in her holiness. It must be remembered that the powers that were in the world back then sought in her the face of God. She commanded in the Name of the Lord to Whom Popes and more authority figures in that Catholic world were ready to subject their lives.
    Saint Joan of Arc, on the other hand, stands there despised and rejected like her loving Lord, He on the Cross and she on the burning pyre! Each woman represents an important moment or aspect of an ongoing struggle or battle for souls. Both were called to play a prophetic role in Catholic society. Hildegard seems to have had more success at leading at least to the extent that she did not end up burned at the stake, for calling her world to order. Neither woman was gunning for a priest's stole, a miter or a scepter and crown. They were prophets, in the mix, only because they had been drawn into it by the message of an angel.
    The variable in the Hildegard or Joan of Arc equation seems to have been on the receiving end. What made the difference were those powers which were, those who called the shots in society, the ruling class, each day’s oligarchy, whether it clerical, secular or mixed. Like it or not, power in any bigger social structure seems to reside in the hands of a powerful few, sometimes clerics, sometimes blue bloods, sometimes robber barons or worse. The usual agent for social change or the catalyst for conversion to be confronted by the prophet is some sort of social elite, an oligarchy. 
     Since my time in Ukraine, I keep returning to ponder the scandal of oligarchy, which refuses to let folks live and won't settle for anything less than Naboth's vineyard, at the expense of the just man's annihilation. To the extent that you know the story of one of the world's failed states today, you have some notion of oligarchy's  power, its blocking force, rooted in its boundless greed and pretense. 
    Where has all this senseless violence and destruction in the US and elsewhere in the world come from? Does the rabble get loose on its own? Perhaps. One of the things which was all too clear from the senseless violence which held and still holds eastern Ukraine in its grasp was that terribly wealthy people were making sport of issues which could have better been addressed in respectful dialogue than in their promotion of mortal combat.
    The other evening in Lucerne, I participated in a podium discussion on a new novel. Much time in the discussion was dedicated to the question of whether the Church had failed to play its proper role in the whole СOVID-19 crisis. Such discussions can be thought provoking, but are rarely good for that necessary insight which might put us on the path to life. Clearing away "givens", which are wrong-headed is as daunting a task as taming an oligarch. I refuse to reduce Christ's Church to just one more social agent, no matter how important, in a mix which is deemed multi and competitive for the attention of folks who accord themselves a pass on commitment and insist on performance over and against others in their own little imaginary market of ideas.
    My petition or plea? Be holy as was Christ, as is the Triune God. Seek His Kingship in your life and wait to see what your world will do with you, whether you contribute as a Hildegard or they put you to burning like dear Joan of Arc. As the saying goes, God knows His own and will draw them to His right hand on the day of Judgment.