Saturday, October 31, 2015

Faithfulness to Christ in troubled times

I really think more of us need "to switch on the lights" and reflect on the unrest stemming or at least somehow emanating from the just closed synod in Rome. To give you an idea of the amount of insecurity at large and the sense, now post-synod, of a Church very much adrift, watch Raymond Arroyo's interview with the Cardinal Archbishop of Washington (here).

First Things makes us a gift by publishing the video of the Erasmus Lecture of Ross Douthat. Douthat speaks convincingly of the crisis of conservative Catholicism and urges all who class themselves conservative or who worry about Catholic Orthodoxy to clean up their own act by getting to work on appropriating and better articulating the heritage of Pope St. John Paul II. Take a half hour to watch the video and take time to formulate your own judgment in this regard.

Douthat takes a couple potshots at what he considers the extremes, namely Catholic liberalism and Catholic traditionalism; he does so confident that Catholic conservatism should be the mainstream and appropriate vehicle for facing the challenges of the age and doing the kind of evangelizing willed by the Second Vatican Council as mediated by the two great post-conciliar popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Frankly, I am not so sure that he isn't shortchanging Catholic traditionalism. Sadly, and maybe here Ross needs to take his own advice and get down to brass tacks. He may discover that there is more to traditional Catholicism than the conservative mantra would admit.

This morning I was working on a homily for All Souls' Day. To keep it short and to the point, I decided I would have to focus on just a couple of ideas, but in trying to choose all sorts of points came crowding into my head. One of the things which did not make the cut is the liberal admonition to not judge but rather meet folks where they are and through sharing walk together to Christ. I couldn't help thinking of my reading from a collection of homilies of the great Saint Augustine. He met people where they were at and more often than not right between the eyes, making them think and challenging them often quite brutally to get on to changing their ways and hurrying their step to get in line with the Gospel.

We always urge parents not to cut ties with adult offspring who fail to meet their expectations. Even so, we have to let them know that we judge their choices or choice to be wrong. Truth is and it comes from God; not everything is up for discussion or constitutes a matter of choice.

I need to try harder straight across the board in my own life, to hasten like the saints along the path which Christ sets for us. Good will and a partial effort is not enough and Purgatory is very real. I would spare all my loved ones that and see them great saints. Please, God, also for me too. "Tough love" is a trite expression. Caritas Christi urget nos! We need some spurring on and a lot less compromise. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Cruising for a Bruising!

The Sleepwalkers: 
How Europe Went to War in 1914. 
Clark, Christopher 
(2013-03-19). Harper Collins. Kindle Edition. 

One of my resolves for the centennial to commemorate the beginning of World War I was to read something of value on the topic during 2014. I picked two books on the basis of recommendations received and eventually settled on this great work, explaining how WWI came about. My only regret is that time got away from me and just now was I able to finish the reading. Clark is writing about WWI, but you will excuse me if I draw all kinds of parallels to today, what some people refer to as the prelude to WWIII. This brief section on Serbian nationalism speaks loads to me about Russian imperialism or about all the turmoil in the Middle East today:

"However, it was also true that the partisan warfare of irregular militias and guerrilla bands which was such a central theme in the story of Serbia’s emergence as an independent nation owed its durability to the persistence of a peasant culture that remained wary of the regular army. For a government confronted with an increasingly arrogant military culture and lacking the organic connection with a large and prosperous educated class that underpinned other nineteenth-century parliamentary systems, nationalism represented the single most potent political instrument and cultural force. The almost universal enthusiasm for the annexation of yet unredeemed Serb lands drew not only on the mythical passions embedded in popular culture, but also on the land-hunger of a peasantry whose plots were growing smaller and less productive. Under these conditions, the argument – however dubious – that Serbia’s economic woes were the fault of Vienna’s punitive tariffs and the stranglehold of Austrian and Hungarian capital could not fail to meet with the most enthusiastic approbation. These constraints also fed Belgrade’s obsession with securing an outlet to the sea that would supposedly enable it to break out of backwardness. The relative weakness of commercial and industrial development ensured that Serbia’s rulers remained dependent upon international finance for the military expenditures they required in order to pursue an active foreign policy. And this in turn helps to explain the deepening integration of Serbia into France’s web of alliances after 1905, which was rooted in both financial and geopolitical imperatives." (p. 33)

I don't know if the reader might consider the historical moment for dedicating time to such a reading as long past, but I would encourage you to rethink and perhaps take up this tome: if you are a history lover, then simply for the entertainment, if you are a thinking person, then for what you might gain as insight into the once workings which could be today's paltry machinations and hence a ponderous risk for our world. 

When one thinks of the millions who died in the 19th Century's Crimean War and again millions in World War I, looking at what stands behind either conflict for human ignominy, it becomes difficult to dismiss as little more than misbehavior the actions of certain figures who to no lesser degree are putting our world at risk.

As wrong as it is for a Christian to succumb to hysteria or  despair, me thinks we are obliged to demand accountability from both elected politicians and self-appointed leaders.

Although I am still far from settled here in my new home in Switzerland, I am hoping to get back on a regular reading schedule. I have a couple super books in the hopper, I hope to share before long.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Don't Stand in the Way of Martyrdom!

St. Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr

Let us pray.
Almighty, ever-living God,
  the sufferings of the martyrs adorn the Church,
  which is the Body of Christ.
As we celebrate the martyrdom of Saint Ignatius of Antioch,
  grant that it may be for us a constant source of strength,
  as it was for him the entry into glory.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
  who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
  one God, for ever and ever.

Much of the stuff which the secularizing media have been peddling from the Synod on the Family undermines the quest for virtue, a quest central to the Christian life. Whether from ignorance or malice they do their very best to distort the emphasis which Pope Francis in his pontificate has placed on mercy and compassion, turning it into something which is akin to the relativist or valueless approach to governance of the bulk of western democracies, a monstrosity which offers no answers to honest questions and clips the wings of even the tiniest angel who would direct us toward the light. They, the media, are promoting sound bites from hierarchs that ring very 1970's and which put us back on the "high seas" without a catechism and without a prayer. Although we should always pray for deliverance from trials, I sometimes wonder if there might actually be a grace to be found in "bottoming out" and winning over those who have lived in denial about the sad state of affairs in the Church. As wrong as it is to wish trials upon the faithful, perhaps we should do so finally in hopes of living to see the beginning of a full restoration and new flowering of the Church, please God!

Let me quote briefly from the Office Reading of the saint of the day, from the letter to the Romans of St. Ignatius of Antioch:

"The prince of this world is determined to lay hold of me and to undermine my will which is intent on God. Let none of you here help him; instead show yourselves on my side, which is also God’s side. Do not talk about Jesus Christ as long as you love this world. Do not harbour envious thoughts. And supposing I should see you, if then I should beg you to intervene on my behalf, do not believe what I say. Believe instead what I am now writing to you. For though I am alive as I write to you, still my real desire is to die. My love of this life has been crucified, and there is no yearning in me for any earthly thing. Rather within me is the living water which says deep inside me: “Come to the Father.” I no longer take pleasure in perishable food or in the delights of this world. I want only God’s bread, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, formed of the seed of David, and for drink I crave his blood, which is love that cannot perish.
  I am no longer willing to live a merely human life, and you can bring about my wish if you will. Please, then, do me this favour, so that you in turn may meet with equal kindness. Put briefly, this is my request: believe what I am saying to you. Jesus Christ himself will make it clear to you that I am saying the truth. Only truth can come from that mouth by which the Father has truly spoken. Pray for me that I may obtain my desire. I have not written to you as a mere man would, but as one who knows the mind of God. If I am condemned to suffer, I will take it that you wish me well. If my case is postponed, I can only think that you wish me harm."

The saintly bishop begs his fellow Catholics not to interfere with the judgment of the pagan authorities which has condemned him to be thrown to the beasts in the circus at Rome upon his arrival from the east. With Ignatius as a special case, we can see how the blood of martyrs can become the seed of Christians. My prayer is that the obfuscating of our day and time might give way to the bright light of the urgency of embracing the Gospel without compromise.

Here in Switzerland, I am hoping to have time to listen and to learn; I am grateful for the many informal exchanges which are helping me to appreciate this unique reality of Church. The other day, a fine young parish priest patiently responded to my questions about the composition of his German-speaking parish. His parish is situated in a small town and rural setting with less than 7000 inhabitants equally divided in thirds of ethnic Swiss: Catholic, Protestant, and "Nothing" (unbaptized, if you will). Of his 2000 Catholics, he tells me he can count on about 150 a Sunday and maybe as many as 400 for the big feast days (Christmas, Easter, Kirchweih). His description of the non-baptized pretty well fits that of two of my dear uncles by marriage, both of whom were very devoted to my aunties, one of the men seeking baptism at age 60 and the other not ever.

That one uncle sought baptism out of love for my aunt and the other did not is no judgment on the relative merits of the two women. They were both good women and both faithful daughters of the Church. I think we all prayed equally for the baptism of these two men and as to why one responded to grace and the other did not we will leave in the merciful hands of God Who knows and sees all, understanding the hearts of men. We nieces and nephews loved both men and wished the best for both; we trembled and prayed for their eternal salvation as assured through the waters of Baptism.

Much of the relativizing talk we hear round and about the Synod, which seems to be little more than a capitulation before failures in marriage and family life, would seem to fall in the category of the misplaced compassion which might have deprived St. Ignatius of the crown of martyrdom and eternity with his beloved Lord. We owe people rather solidarity in carrying their share of the Cross of Christ.

Let us entrust today's bishops to the clear witness of St. Ignatius of Antioch and pray that we not be deprived of teaching and leadership pointing the way to heroic virtue here in this valley of tears!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Wisdom: I loved her more than health or beauty, preferred her to the light, since her radiance never sleeps

The readings for this Sunday teach with eloquence and power; we need such in the midst of uncertainty and trial. The rich young man from Mark's Gospel today always strikes me, but I'd like to share a couple of the thoughts which came to me today in particular.

‘Master, I have kept all these from my earliest days.’ Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him, and he said, ‘There is one thing you lack. Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ But his face fell at these words and he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.
  Jesus looked round and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!’ The disciples were astounded by these words, but Jesus insisted, ‘My children,’ he said to them ‘how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ They were more astonished than ever. ‘In that case’ they said to one another ‘who can be saved?’ Jesus gazed at them. ‘For men’ he said ‘it is impossible, but not for God: because everything is possible for God.’

The fullness of Catholic Truth has never compromised itself by adhering to what is often referred to as the "prosperity gospel". The Church at its healthiest has never seen any particular favor associated with living high on the hog. Jesus Himself in His own words gives us from the mouth of Abraham the explanation as to why Lazarus found consolation in heaven after his suffering and deprivation here on earth whereas the rich man traded his sumptuous banquets and self-indulgence for the unrelenting fires of hell. So too the rich young man of good morals; he would not place himself under the Cross; he would not abandon self reliance based on material goods for the high road in the footsteps of the Eternal High Priest and Universal King.

The thought came to me today, however, that it's not enough to mimic the poverello, to be an Assisi type. At age 65 I have already met too many who live poor, go about subdued, practically with little more than the threadbare clothes on their backs, who remain willful and unflinching about fashioning their own present and future, far from bending under God's Almighty Hand. Granted, Jesus asked the young man to sell all and give to the poor, but not without putting himself unconditionally in Christ's train. As earnest as one's poverty can be, I am sorry, but it is naught without charity, without Christ's love drawing us on in the fragrance of His robes.

Today's first reading centers on prayer and insistent supplication, pleading from God for the gift of the spirit of Wisdom. St. Francis certainly courted Lady Poverty and embraced Sister Death, but his self abnegation was not a self serving asceticism, but proceeded in lock-step with his haste to follow his Lord. Happy the poor, for with lightened load and no strings attached they can follow Jesus, the God Man on His Way to the Father.

Some people say that modernism is raising its ugly head within the Church with a determination perhaps unrivaled since the error was first pointed out and rebuked by Pope Saint Pius X. Moral relativism and indifference to the truth as it comes to us from God are rampant. Quare fremuerunt gentes, et populi meditati sunt inania? Astiterunt reges terrae, et principes convenerunt in unum adversus Dominum et adversus christum eius... (Psalm 2).

None of us, on the basis of somebody else's bad example or tepidity, can find an excuse for not living the fullness of Gospel Truth. My secret hope has always been that the rich young man met Jesus again on Calvary and then Risen and Glorious, hence prompted to break the last ties of his own willfulness which kept him from Christ's embrace. I'm praying a lot for the Catholic Church in Switzerland and Liechtenstein these days, not so much for its poverty as for its freedom from all sorts of bonds which hold it back... because everything is possible for God.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Really Pope and Not Just Virtually So

I thoroughly enjoyed today's "Special Edition of Letters from the Synod" which included a discussion by Cardinal Pell concerning the application of the notion of subsidiarity to church governance in the Catholic Church. His Eminence's treatment is disciplined and worth the read and our thoughtful consideration. Here is a key passage, together with his closing paragraph, which gives you a good idea of what it is about:

"Just as one’s faith is defined by belief in, or rejection of, the divinity of Christ, so one’s Catholic ecclesiology is defined by the status ascribed to the papacy, to the pope as successor of St Peter. Sometimes our enemies understand better than we do the importance of the papacy. In every country the communists controlled they attempted to set up a national church independent of Rome. We know also from Hitler’s Table Talk that he intended to set up a pope in every country he conquered...
"In the first centuries, when Christians wanted to be sure they were teaching as Christ taught, they appealed to the churches founded by the apostles as custodians of the apostolic tradition. The church in Rome had a double claim to pre-eminence, being founded by both Peter and Paul. However the principle of subsidiarity might be applied prudentially within the Catholic Church from time to time, this will not change. The role of the papacy as providing the last word, defending the apostolic tradition, will always be unique."

In reading this, I was reminded of a famous statement attributed to Pope Saint John Paul II, where he taught or teased a bit that the real "pope" was the parish priest for his parishioners. Especially today, for the proximity of all manner of means of social communication, I find the compelling argument in favor of subsidiarity to rest on sorting out the virtuality-reality divide in human consciousness, whether individual or collective. If, thanks to the marvels of the media running full-throttle,  the Holy Father comes much closer in a way to everybody around the world and thus gives expression to the "role of the papacy as providing the last word, defending the apostolic tradition," the question becomes one of judging the adequacy or even the reality of such a presence. The media have rendered possible for millions upon millions from the comfort of home what was for St. Therese of Lisieux and her father a very intimate exchange in Rome with the reigning Pontiff about a little girl's sense of a call to cloistered life. The difference between the two, simply stated, was that the Little Flower and her dad had a real exchange and what happens most often today is a virtual exchange, that is, no human exchange at all. No less important is to remember that neither the Pope nor the father and daughter would have classed the Holy Father's counsel as "providing the last word, defending the apostolic tradition".

The other day in the Apostolic Palace I had a very wonderful sit down exchange with Pope Francis. We spoke about a lot of different topics ranging from the way I left Kyiv to his hopes and prayers for the life of the Church in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Forward, as I tend to be, I shared with him my present views on what being a Papal Representative, an Apostolic Nuncio, is all about. I defined myself and my colleagues as collegial figures able to do their job to the extent that the Pope and the Curia give us a mandate to do so, which in turn is accepted as such by the bishops of the territory to which we are sent. In effect I told him, "you, Holy Father, and the bishops of Switzerland are the ones who will let me be "pope" in your stead for them." He didn't object, nor did he correct my observation. The exchange was indeed a very real one, not in any way shape or for virtual or one-sided. Subsidiarity, I believe, serves the cause of real human exchanges regardless of their intent or capability of "providing the last word, defending the apostolic tradition,"

Subsidiarity, rightly understood in faithful adherence to the fullness of Catholic Truth, as it comes to us from the Apostles, risks nothing but rather renders our faith dialogue real. Many folks, most of them older, seem to thrive on the virtual and give it primacy over direct contact with those closer to hand whom they either fail to come to know in any kind of meaningful exchange or whom they reject off-hand for being too real. The principle or notion of subsidiarity applied might not come down to us from the Apostles, but there is something to be said for that "old-time religion" which not only bent knees and bowed heads in the presence of the Living God, but also acknowledged very real vicars closer at hand.

The Holy Father has his key role for Catholic Communion in providing the last word, defending the apostolic tradition". I don't think there has ever been a time when the Petrine Office was not exercised through living and breathing intermediaries, but above all by those entrusted with office in the Church as it has come down to us from the Apostles. If you will, to my way of thinking, subsidiarity is eminently Petrine and more necessary than ever today to the Church's length, height, depth and breadth.