Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Too Big for our own Britches?

Lots of news and opinion coverage over Christmas has been given to the story of the Catholic priest and his hover-board, who got himself suspended.

Actually, he's a drop in the bucket when it comes to liturgical abuse which cries out to heaven to be confronted by legitimate authority, assigning these men a "time out" to reflect on the gravity of the stunts they have played, drawing attention to themselves and denigrating the Sacred Mysteries.

My brief point is not to scold anyone or to wring hands over the sad state the Church is in. These countless abuses (how many sacrilegious wedding mass videos of that very entertaining Italian priest are out there on YouTube!) argue something else and more for me.

If anyone is still contending, seriously, that the way forward with our liturgical malaise in the Roman Catholic Church is by way of a reform of the reformed liturgy, let him or her think again. The OF simply lends itself to abuse and as such is not reformable. The only way forward, toward a recovery of our living patrimony and solid ground for worship is restoration, is reset, such that we can pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start all over again.

Mutual enrichment of the two forms is meant to melt the hardened hearts of OF intolerants. But at some point we have to move beyond safe spaces to a general recovery.

We need to pray about it more than we do. Priests, seminary staff and bishops in particular, need to look to their responsibility of gently leading the flock home to a genuine sense of the sacred, within the tradition, as a precondition for Church renewal all across the spectrum.

Enough said! Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

First Draft: New Year's Resolution #1.

While confessing that I can't seem to be any more enthused about making New Year's resolutions than I am about staying awake to ring out the old and ring in the new, I think I will make a resolution for 2016, which I will do my very best to keep. My resolution would be to avoid labeling people. I don't know as I am all that great of an offender personally, but the labels I have been given of late are really beyond me. It's not that I would class them a micro-aggression or anything, but I can't make heads nor tails of them. No less important an inspiration for my resolve would be the pointlessness of the labeling which I see going on, especially in Church circles.

According to two Swiss journalists, I guess I am supposed to be a conservative and no doubt Catholic at least as far as Americans go. In one case, the label applied to me in an interview done for Christmas reads Konservativer Kommunikator, and in the other Konservativer Botschafter des Papstes. Be that as it may, a dear and eminent friend in the Curia tells me I'm a "radical". What to do? Maybe I am both, but in any case, there's something a little untoward about this name calling, which doesn't really seem to clarify anything. Here we go then! Do unto others: I resolve not to tag folks with labels. We will see how it goes in 2016.

At any rate, the "radical" thing is a title I consider a compliment, an honor. As far as "conservative" goes, beyond the basic black, I guess the tag is not far from the mark. At any rate, I identify with that compliment easier than I do with the fruits of those rather lengthy photo sessions with two pro photographers. Sorry guys, but out of the tens of photos (hundreds?) you took, I wish I could have picked. 

Christmas levity aside, the other type of labeling does have me at a loss. What I mean are the categories: "traditionalist", "conservative", "neo-con", "neo-Catholic", "liberal". There is not a one of these five (and to be sure the list is not exhaustive) which impresses me as having a clear or unequivocal definition à la Merriam-Webster. Apart from the "liberal" business, which isn't Catholic, all the others seem to gain their particular weight or importance from tone and context, none offering any definable measure of salvation, however.

Be it resolved! No labels! Needless to say, I would be profoundly grateful to many of my favorite authors in Church circles, not to mention Facebook friends, if you would join me in my pledge. Substantive, reasoned discourse must be possible without tags... Or is this why His Eminence chides me for being radical?  

Blessings for Christmas and a prosperous New Year of growth along with the God Man born for us at Bethlehem, growth in wisdom, grace and favor!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Last Minute Stocking Stuffer

Hints of Heaven 
Rutler, Fr. George William
Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition. (2015-01-05). 

Let's just say that I really, really enjoyed this little book. The title "Hints of Heaven" applies to the parables of Jesus and Fr. Rutler offers a profound and oftentimes playful commentary on each single one. I call the book a stocking stuffer and think you'd be doing any priest a favor by gifting him with this one. Provide the instruction that on the Monday before the Sunday, when the Gospel includes a parable, that he should give the relevant chapter a read and not stifle the possible thoughts or insights which might be forthcoming.

Despite the fact that Fr. Rutler has an active English vocabulary surpassing the average, using words with a certain naturalness that would cause my friends to do a double-take should they come from my mouth, his book is readily accessible and to be enjoyed by your average Catholic lay person as well. Though contextualized in his own stomping grounds of big city New York, it is not without merit for the suburb or the prairie. "Hints of Heaven" is a good read and a good book for spiritual reading. Have at it at your earliest convenience.

Each parable is treated separately and can edify. Here is my favorite quote on the sacrament centered nature of life within the Catholic Church:

"Fine studies of this parable by evangelical Christians miss the one point that is the whole point — the center of the parable that is also its circumference, rather like God Himself: the wedding feast is the Eucharist, to which we are admitted by baptism, and those baptismal robes are laundered in the confessional and flaunted in all the sacraments. For the Catholic, the wedding garment is worn all the time in the sacramental life. It should not be hidden away in a hope chest for the Last Judgment." (p. 72). 


Sunday, December 13, 2015

Ultramontanist and Proud of It

Liberalism is a Sin (Illustrated)
Doctor Don Felix Sarda Y Salvany
Aeterna Press. Kindle Edition. (2015-04-21).

The first English translation of this little book bears a nihil obstat and an imprimatur from St. Louis, Missouri from 1899. The controversial Spanish first edition of 1886 was denounced to Rome and subsequently lauded for the soundness and objectivity of its doctrine. In the present edition, notes have been added that help contextualize certain things for today. To give you the flavor of the book, I have lifted these two quotes as they appear in capitals on the copyright page.



As "in your face" as the book is, I would counsel men and women of good will to an attentive reading of this book. It makes distinctions and opens doors to Catholic living for those who seek to follow Christ rather than embrace the spirit of the age. The book coaches, if you will.

Sadly, the 19th Century praise for Civilta` Cattolica deserves a few qualifiers, as does the book's enthusiasm for the Catholic parochial school system. Even these shortcomings cannot diminish the solid work. The journalism caveat is especially opportune. 

Happy reading!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Why the Bottom fell out of the Priest Market

I just saw another one of those horrible articles written to convince people that cell phone radiation provokes cancer and that you shouldn't carry a phone close to any part of your body... I think we're in the same genre here as "smoking causes cancer" or the refusal to see the various COPD illnesses among non-smokers as often linked to chemo or radiation treatments, according to the maxim "kill or cure".

I don't want to talk either about causes of cancer or of shortness of breath, but rather set the scene for not really having an answer to the contemporary crisis of priestly vocations or the disturbing loss of faith in the Western world. A book review I read this morning has provoked me to make an attempt to explain the crisis and suggest that we can turn our world around. I say this while holding firm to the contention that the book, for all its pages, footnotes and statistics has nothing new to say on the topic, simply because it misses the point of what is really at stake in the world many claim lost to the faith by way of something they call secularization.  This book, which I certainly won't purchase even on Kindle, like so many publications and commentaries on life and faith, is based on the universally accepted premise, that "times have changed", that "things are more complicated nowadays". Like much of our world, the author assigns blame, noting symptoms or phenomena without ever getting fundamental about what was and still is important in life and in the Church. Everybody ends up being as unrepeatable as a snowflake and nothing from once could possibly be relevant to now. It's sort of like distinguishing between the young man St. Benedict of Nursia and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, T.O.S.D., an Italian Catholic social activist, who was a member of the Third Order of St. Dominic, by saying the same about these two men, that they were not cut of the same stuff; no parallels can be drawn in their both having walked away from privileged lifestyles for the sake of the love of God and neighbor. No matter how specific I could get in drawing my comparison, many would accuse me of not taking into consideration the millennium and a half separating the two men in time, as if that, above and beyond clothing, diet and housing on the same peninsula, had anything to do with anything.

The other day, visiting with my brother on Skype, I could assure him that little boys in Switzerland were no less excited by dinosaurs than their American counterparts. There really is something called commonality, called typical, which doesn't flatten people but makes their similarities all that much more endearing.

We need to stop parroting statements about the paucity of priestly vocations having something to do with our world being another. God calls young men from the first moment of their existence; He will not leave His flock untended; sacramental priesthood is the cornerstone of Church life and it is we ourselves who discourage those called. Over recent years in the United States we have seen vocation shortages turned around time and again by a zealous bishop eager for priests and clear about the central importance of the Holy Eucharist and the other Sacraments, especially Penance, to the life of the Church. Eager bishops, flanked by good priests and enthusiastic Serra Clubs have brought in numbers.

This is one of the reasons why a liturgical restoration is so important. If Sunday Mass is to be the source and summit of our Christian existence, the Eucharist must become all it can be for our people.

At the risk of repeating myself, apart from longing for good priests, we ourselves must seek to recover a sense of the sacred by restoring continuity with the always and everywhere and simply realizing that our world and time are smaller and more proximate than those who would alienate us from what is truly close at hand and shared by all.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Isaiah and the Baptist Speak

Today's Gospel from Luke 3:1-6 quotes a most familiar Advent themed passage from the Prophet Isaiah, which somehow struck me as more relevant than ever before, as to where we find ourselves in the world:

"In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar’s reign, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judaea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of the lands of Ituraea and Trachonitis, Lysanias tetrach of Abilene, during the pontificate of Annas and Caiaphas the word of God came to John son of Zechariah, in the wilderness. He went through the whole Jordan district proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the sayings of the prophet Isaiah:
'A voice cries in the wilderness:
Prepare a way for the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley will be filled in,
every mountain and hill be laid low,
winding ways will be straightened
and rough roads made smooth.
And all mankind shall see the salvation of God.'"

I need to do the leveling, straightening and smoothing in my life. Obvious? You say? Certainly as concept, it is, but maybe I am the only one so thick-skinned as to balk at the Lord having His way with me through my genuine repentance, my embrace of the grace of Baptism for the forgiveness of sins. 

Apart from my own personal devotion and transformation into Christ, for my own sake and for the sake of the life of the world, this Second Sunday of Advent and the prophet Isaiah came home hard to me on the topic of welcoming the stranger in the face of the menace of Islamic and other terrorism. The other day at a reception, a lady shared with me her reservations about Pope Francis' formula for solving the refugee problem facing Europe, and not many hours later, a journalist shared with me his impatience with statesmen, politicians and churchmen, who are unwilling to get on board with Francis' program for reaching out and welcoming those in need.

At the very same time thinking about the Holy Year, the Year of Mercy which opens on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, I am thinking about the dynamics of the Holy Door, the Door of Mercy, which the Pope has already opened in Bangui and will open in St. Peter's on the day after tomorrow. It is certainly an image of Christ Who opens up to us and welcomes us in to Him, repentant and eager as we are. Vis à vis a hostile world, the door being opened represents an icon of what the Church, as People as Christ's Mystical Body, can be by way of an invitation and a challenge to others to come in and find light and life in the only One Who is Victor over sin and death, in Jesus True God and True Man.

The Isaiah (Isaiah 22:8-23) passage in the Office of Readings for today hits hard in this sense. Hits not others hard but rather catches us, God's children, straight between the eyes. It should ruffle the feathers of all in authority (people in roles of governance, politicians, teachers and professors) who turn their back on the common Christian patrimony of Western society:

"You turned your gaze that day to the armory of the House of the Forest.
You saw how many breaches there were in the Citadel of David. You collected the waters of the lower pool. You counted the houses of Jerusalem, and you pulled down houses to strengthen the wall. In the middle you made a reservoir between the two walls for the waters of the old pool. But you had no thought for the Maker, no eyes for him who shaped everything long ago.
The Lord, the Lord of Hosts, called you that day to weep and mourn, to shave your heads, to put on sackcloth; instead, there is joy and amusement, killing of oxen, slaughtering of sheep,
eating of meat, drinking of wine, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we may be dead.’
My ears have had this revelation from the Lord of Hosts:
‘Most certainly this sin will not be atoned for, until you die’ says the Lord, the Lord of Hosts.
Thus says the Lord, the Lord of Hosts: Now go to this steward, to Shebna, the master of the palace,
who is hewing a tomb for himself high up, carving out a room for himself in the rock, ‘What right have you here, and what relatives have you here for you to hew yourself a tomb in this place? See, the Lord hurls you down, down with a single throw; then with a strong grip he grips you, and he winds you up into a ball and hurls you into an immense country. There you will die, and there will be sent the chariots you were so proud of, you, the disgrace of your master’s palace.’ I dismiss you from your office, I remove you from your post, and the same day I call on my servant Eliakim son of Hilkiah. I invest him with your robe, gird him with your sash, entrust him with your authority;
and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the House of Judah. I place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; should he open, no one shall close, should he close, no one shall open. I drive him like a peg into a firm place; he will become a throne of glory for his father’s house."

Isaiah had very tough words for Jerusalem and Shebna, the master of the palace, for turning their backs on God and mounting their own defense against foreign invaders. Would that a prophet today would call us to task for our self-sufficiency and unbelief! Would that a prophet today would touch hard hearts, which not only reject Syrian or Latino refugees, but who scorn traditional marriage's openness to children, who do the equivalent of Shebna, who unmindful of his Maker, built a tomb for himself on high.

The Old Testament teaches mightily about a people unwilling to have God as their Lord, unwilling to follow after Him no matter what. The 50 year jubilees of Old Israel restored justice and personal dignity, freeing slaves and returning homesteads. It is the principle and the teaching from God which is of importance here. What should our year of mercy look like? So far I have seen precious little from crusading journalists which would point to the noble usages of the Old Testament rendered even more radical, raised up and nailed to the Cross with our Loving Savior.

The only "Get Out of Jail Free" card I am hoping to see out of this jubilee is hearts near and far touched and touched profoundly: children saved and raised lovingly, husbands and wives reconciled and wounds healed. In short, I pray for a vision of valleys filled in and mountains laid low, straight paths to a rugged manger bed and all for the Infant King. Cutting our losses and moving on does not fit the scenario and begs for us an end like that reserved for hard-hearted Shebna. We need fathers like Eliakim for God's people. The estrangement which has brought so much suffering on defenseless Christians must be countered by a new witness to the Crucified One. Our prayer for peace in this Year of Mercy is informed by our sincere proposal to repent and be reconciled with God and neighbor.


Growing into Christ

Transformation In Christ 
von Hildebrand, Dietrich
 Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition. (2011-02-04).

"I discovered that my own readiness to change was highly selective, for whereas I was willing to improve in some areas of my life, I wanted to remain in command and to determine myself the scope and limits of my transformation. Rare are those (and they are properly known as saints) whose readiness to change is total, absolute, unconditional, and who let the Divine Master decide how deeply the marble is to be chiselled." (Kindle Locations 67-70).

I finally finished this classic! Although it would be wrong to encourage you to read it solely for gems like the quote above, it is these which keep the faint of heart, the sluggish, going, as for the most part von Hildebrand in this book plugs on in professorial fashion. What I want to say is that the book is systematic and reminiscent of a lecture course; it is not a novel, nor is it a poetic piece of the genre of a St. John of the Cross. As the author deals very much with specific virtues, which combined make for that transformation which is the road to heavenly glory, it can become for the reader, and it will be so for me, a book to which I will return for chapters on topics like "patience" or "meekness". 

Happy reading!