Monday, July 31, 2017

Mount St. Helens after the Blast

Kwasniewski, Peter. 
Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness: Why the Modern Age Needs the Mass of Ages. 
Angelico Press. 2017. Kindle Edition. 

In his new book pleading the case for a full liturgical restoration, Peter Kwasniewski is really feisty, but in a well argued, pondered sense of the term. I generally like the professor's writing, but apart from refreshing, I found this particular book timely, both for my own reflection and apropos to the present hour. I expect to read nothing better during this year of the tenth anniversary celebrations for Summorum Pontificum. It fits my way of thinking and will inspire much of what I want to say in an upcoming lecture I want to prepare for a sympathetic audience during this jubilee.

Peter is not restrained in the critical observations he makes about the harm done to the life of the Church by the Consilium crowd after Vatican II. He expresses his hope of recovery or for the restoration of the usus antiquior using the striking image of the volcanic eruption of Mount St. Helens (1980, Washington State), which destroyed all for miles around, but only for a time as nature soon began to rejuvenate itself. His book makes the best case I have read to date for an unapologetic restoration of the Church's ancient liturgy. In more than one chapter of the book, he approaches the topic of the central role of liturgy in the life of the Church and elucidates the sense of the teaching of the Council about the Eucharist as the source and summit of Christian existence.

Dr. Kwasniewski's book deserves to be read, pondered and discussed. If I do nothing else with this blog post, I would encourage you to take up this book and read it. I have highlighted tons in the book for myself and will go back to it, I am sure, again and again. Let me mention, just mention one of his refrains, and namely, that liturgy is not meant to be easy, neither for celebrant nor for folk. He approaches that notion from various angles, all worthwhile, but I'll quote just one:

"Let me summarize my argument against liturgical rationalism. Liturgy that is totally intelligible is irrelevant, because it no longer summons forth from us the leisurely labor of the deepest and fullest response we can give, with our senses, imagination, memory, intellect, will. Liturgy that is totally transparent is invisible and thus ignored, because it does not catch our attention at the very point where the invisible God becomes visible in otherworldly signs and symbols, like light becoming narrative in the stained glass window." (Kindle Locations 679-682)

Better reviewers than I have already reveled in the beauty of Dr. Kwasniewski's prose, that only makes the reading that much more enjoyable. The point he makes, which I wish to underline because it is mine as well, is that what happened after the Council was probably not what was in the mind of the Fathers to the extent of their general intention to make the Church more fit to face the challenges of the times. Perhaps they failed to understand the sad lesson of Pistoia, which took liberties with the liturgy, only to have them rolled back by Pope Pius VI: 

Traditionalists today recognize, with some melancholy, how right Pope Pius VI was to condemn, over 200 years ago, the Synod of Pistoia (1786), with all its pomps and works. That pope identified part of the Pistoian program as “recalling [the liturgy] to greater simplicity of rites, by expressing it in the vernacular language or by uttering it in a loud voice,” on which he commented: “as if the present order of the liturgy received and approved by the Church had emanated in some part from the forgetfulness of the principles by which it should be regulated.” To this view Pope Pius VI memorably applied the following pontifical appraisal: “rash, offensive to pious ears, insulting to the Church, favorable to the charges of heretics.” (Kindle Locations 4800-4806). 

Liturgy is of its nature the celebratory part of a life lived, focused primarily on our duty to give glory to God in union with Christ. We cannot come unprepared for our sharing in the action of the Lord of Life.

As tempted as I am to drive several points home, I will rest here and allow Dr. Kwasniewski to speak to those who read him. The tender growth is ineluctably returning to the highlands not of Washington State but of Mother Church!


Sunday, July 30, 2017

Crime and Punishment - Superior Accountability

Lehner, Ulrich L. 
Monastic Prisons and Torture Chambers: 
Crime and Punishment in Central European Monasteries, 1600–1800. 
Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. 
2013. Kindle Edition. 

This book may not be for everyone, but after mulling it over for a time, I have decided to go on record thanking the author for having taken the risk of treating such a delicate topic. 

Most of us, if we know anything at all about the topic, we know it from St. John of the Cross, imprisoned by his confreres. Lehner's book puts a much larger phenomenon in a broader context and helps one to understand better at least two matters at issue during the two hundred year period he examines and perhaps also for a couple centuries prior and since.

There seems to be a direct correlation between the criteria used by religious authorities for admitting candidates to the consecrated life and the frequency in their ranks of the moral turpitude, mental illness and serious crimes which led superiors to apply harsh punishments. During the two hundred year period examined, prisons were kept and punishments meted out often despite the objections of the secular authorities who sought to establish their primacy, even over monasteries and convents, in matters of criminal justice.   

Lehner's work helped me sort out another book I have read: Damian, Peter. "The Book of Gomorrah and St. Peter Damian's Struggle Against Ecclesiastical Corruption." Ite ad Thomam Books and Media. 2015. Kindle Edition. Damian wrote six centuries earlier than the period studied, but with the help of Lehner's observations about the lack of rigor in the acceptance of candidates into religion helps to explain the moral turpitude which the saint sought to convince to Pope to combat more energetically.

In our day, while the first point of Lehner's analysis might hold in terms of the frequency of genuine debility among clerics and religious being attributable to laxity in the application of admissions requirements, it would seem that the second criterion must be considered in the obverse sense. The scandal of recent decades would seem to arise from the unwillingness of bishops and superiors to deal with crimes. In the period discussed in Lehner's treatise there was an eagerness to punish one's own and not admit the interference of the secular arm, whereas today the religious authorities can seem want to face the reality of crime within the walls of the cloister. In a sense, the reference to corruption in the title of the Peter Damian book would suggest parallels between the approach of superiors in the 11th Century to those of the 21st (a certain reticence to intervene even in matters of crime).

We pray that justice might be done and that superiors would assume responsibility for past negligence, resorting when so called for to those in contemporary society entrusted with the duty of keeping the peace and protecting the innocent.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Integral as Integral can be

I am immersed in and thoroughly  enjoying the recently published book by Peter Kwasniewski, "Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness: Why the Modern Age Needs the Mass of Ages" (Angelico Press. Kindle Edition). An enthusiastic review on my part will be forthcoming. Meantime, I want to share a bit of vacation caprice or impulsiveness, as I followed a reference from Peter to a little book which I proceeded to read in one setting.

Clayton, David. 
The Little Oratory: 
A Beginner's Guide to Praying in the Home. 
Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition. 

Peter pointed to David's book as a resource used by Catholic families eager to live their faith, by parents seeking to share the "pearl of great price" with their children. It's mostly a how to book for praying at home, but includes some straightforward theology to ground the notion of more personal, private, and family prayer than many would think possible in the lives of ordinary Catholics. Here's a great quote:

"Thus, Christian life consists of a public, visible life of worship of God in the church; fellowship with other Christians; service to one’s neighbor; evangelization. And then there is the inner, invisible spiritual life of the Christian, which is less visible: the inner spiritual life of prayer and devotions, fasting and almsgiving." (p. 4)

I will do no more than propose David's book to those seeking resources to help with their family prayer. I would put it out there as a challenge to priests and church professionals lacking imagination when it comes to encouraging their people to make the "house church" all that it can be for the sake of the life of the world.
Take and read!

Friday, July 28, 2017

A Thousand Years Is But A Day

By Robert Hugh Benson 
Kindle Edition. 

An historian friend told me that this is by far the best of Robert Hugh Benson's historical novels. I thoroughly believe it, and hope to read more of the author. Perhaps I should interject that reading his "Confessions of a Convert" was what got me started. I am so glad "By What Authority?" was at the top of my chart for vacation reading this year. I could hardly put it down and never found the book tedious in all its 466 Kindle pages, in book format over 560.

The setting is in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, against the background of her excommunication by the Pope, the defeat of the Spanish Armada and the bitter persecution of English Catholics in those years. The tale is of two befriended families with neighboring estates just outside of London, the one Catholic, the other Puritan. Benson interjects a fair amount of historical data. His account of the trial and martyrdom of St. Edmund Campion alone would make the book worthwhile but there is so much more.  

If you love history and hagiography, this novel and the many issues of life and faith which it so deftly analyzes will not leave you disappointed. It has me thinking about all sorts of things and reveling in the high spiritual tension lived out by these noble figures of Catholic recusancy. Although Benson never takes his eye off his principal protagonists for long, he draws some beautiful word pictures of the faithful Catholics among the common folk of the period and is just descriptive enough of the pursuivants and protestant spies who lured priests and great Catholics to the rack and martyrdom. Time and again the bonds of friendship between the two families are stretched to the limit, but seem to come through nobly and in some of the most memorable chapters with undiminished respect for the other's religious convictions.

In the last year I had read two of Eamon Duffy's history books on the reformation period in England and John Gerard's, SJ, "Autobiography of a Hunted Priest" (Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition. 2012), which made the reading of Benson perhaps even more enjoyable. All in all, I am confronted here again, as I was with Gerard's accounts of the spiritual direction which he gave to lay people, with the very fundamental question about what it means to be a practicing Catholic in any time or place. I ask myself how much more I could be doing to inspire fellow Catholics to much more spiritual tension or dynamism in their lives and in mine.

Basically, Elizabethan England had no comprehension and less patience whether for Catholicism or for Puritanism, because neither fit the dull and decadent patriotic scheme of a state religion tailored to a country willing to sacrifice all for a chance to rule the waves. Benson seems respectful of sad Puritan attempts at devotion, but paints the established Church of England as little better than a charade. Although his primary focus in the novel is on a very real but definitely elite Catholicism in times of persecution, Benson makes the case for a very vibrant lay Catholic spirituality as the norm.

My quandary, as I say, has to do with Catholic dynamism. If there had ever been a time when being Catholic in the fullest sense of the term was something mainstream to society and flourishing in the parish and beyond, well it's not in my lifetime. This is not only in the U.S. Years back friends would joke about Italians being born Catholic; that baptism was a formality in a thoroughly Catholic world... not any more. The other day here at home I asked a very good Catholic layman where the vitality of the Church is to be found today and he said in the so-called movements and I completed his sentence saying, "and you mean not in ordinary parish life, which is losing quota even in the heartland..." 

In recusant England for every Catholic martyr for the faith there were scores of confessors: people who paid penalties, spent time in jail, lost position and property, were driven into exile because they refused to give up being privately and discreetly Catholic. They risked all to confess their sins and assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass when a priest could be found. They had vibrant devotional lives at home and did their utmost to raise their children in the faith. I fear that Catholic life today is rather marked by tepidity and the "penalties" for leading a life grounded in prayer and nourished by Scripture and spiritual reading would be less time on the net or on the course or missing a favorite TV show.

Maybe the heroes of Benson's novel were so devotedly Catholic because the authorities tried to take away from them all they loved and cherished in their relationship with the Lord and His Blessed Mother. "Not with a bang, but a whimper": Eamon Duffy maintains in "Reformation Divided" that in the Reformation in England all were losers and there was no real Christian substance of any sort as a result of the neglect. Perhaps in our day it may take some fines for being Catholic or banishment and prison to get people to react and resort to those spiritual means needed to resist Satan.

In Elizabethan England many folks were sold on a paltry substitute for the true faith and a sort of national pride. What is the "thirty pieces of silver" being offered today for estrangement from Mother Church? For betraying our loving Savior?

It is time for restoration and recovery. There is no other way.


Monday, July 24, 2017

There for once for God

A Requiem in London: on silent and hidden liturgy posted at LMS Chairman by Joseph Shaw could have helped me in a conversation with an old and dear friend. At some point in a thoroughly priestly and zeal-filled exchange, he blurted out that we absolutely had to get better preaching from our priests at Sunday Mass. I disagreed, but could have used the Shaw article to help illustrate just what the Holy Sacrifice is and what it should be especially on Sundays in the life of a Catholic if it is to be as the Council would have it fons et culmen, source and summit of Christian existence.

"The point of these ceremonies and texts is that they are liturgically appropriate, indeed called for. They are part of a liturgy which expresses in all sorts of ways the things which we want it to express, addressed not to us, but to God. And they are part of a ritual which has an objective value and efficacy. The blessings and, above all, the consecration of the Sacred Species, is something which happens really, objectively, and it is important for us to know that it does so: it is not dependent on the Faithful's response, any more than on the priest's worthiness."

Too many people pay thoughtless lip service to what an integral faith life should be all about. What more ought that life be than a generous half hour in church on the weekend? The words just seem too often to flow on by and we seem incapable of drawing the most evident conclusions. Apart from so much and horrendous liturgical abuse, we have been starving our people for a good half century for the most part, by giving them the impression that their profound conviviality accompanied by hymns of praise can do it all. If there is no sense of the presence of God in the home, no informed encounter with our beloved Lord and His dearest Mother, mediated by our parents, the priest can jump and shout all he wants from the pulpit, the ambo or the main aisle, but to what avail?

Obviously, I cannot be making a plea for the restoration of the Roman Rite alone. This is the jewel in the setting of a life lived in communion with Christ within the community of His Church and starting from the home.

Why do we hear of conversions and vocations attributed to the discovery of Perpetual Adoration? Because that is what happens when right order begins to return to the life of the baptized. 

I reminded my priest friend of the Holy Name Society once popular in my youth. Basically, it banded men together at the parish level to struggle with the bad habit of cursing and swearing, of taking the Lord's Name in vain. How rude we have become in our vulgarity and how distant from love for the One Who bears that Name which is above every other name! Source and summit, we need to challenge people where they are at and lead them to that place on high, which can be cloaked in mystery because we have worked things out before ever crossing the threshold of His Sanctuary.

No, better preaching won't do the job. A consequent and virtuous life has to be led. Penance appropriate to one's state in life has to be done. Sacramental forgiveness for grave sin has to be sought with urgency. The Temple is not a gathering hall but the footstool of the One upon the Throne. 

People "tank up", or so they say, by contemplating a sunset from their hot tub with a glass of Chablis in hand. Sorry, but my parents sensitized me to something much more sublime even with patched overalls and powdered milk. A life lived for God might be enough to render Sunday morning uncrowded for the sake of the source and summit of Christian existence. The Liturgy even in its silence will do the rest to draw seekers up the slopes of the mountain of God.


Sunday, July 2, 2017

"Ave Crux Spes Unica" and the Intercession of our Patron Saints

Patrozinium – Sankt Ulrich, Kreuzlingen
2. Juli 2017
2 Kgs 4:8-11, 14-16a
Rom 6:3-4, 8-11
Mt 10:37-42

Gelobt sei Jesus Christus!

Der Tag des Heiligen Ulrich ist hier in Kreuzlingen das jährliche Patronatsfest der Pfarrkirche. Das Jahr 2017 gibt zudem Anlass, das goldene Jubiläum der Erhöhung der Kirche zum „Basilika minor“ zu feiern. Aus Anlass dieses Jubiläums kommt das berühmte Kreuzreliquiar aus den Vatikanischen Museen als Leihgabe hierher zurück. Ein Erinnerungsstück aus der Urgeschichte des Glaubens hierzulande kommt zu Besuch! Genau so sollten wir unsere Geschichte immer erleben: Als etwas das wir, nicht ohne Stolz, mit Freude und Dankbarkeit annehmen können.

„Wer einen Propheten aufnimmt, weil es ein Prophet ist, wird den Lohn eines Propheten erhalten.“

Mit Bezug auf die erste Lesung aus dem 2. Buch der Könige, habe ich mich zum Spass gefragt, ob wohl der Prophet Elischa auch ein dem deutschen “Vergelt’s Gott!”, entsprechendes Wort verwendet habe, um der Schunemitin zu danken, die ihm zu essen gab und ihm dann auch noch ein Zimmer in ihrem Haus bereitet hat. Gott hat, durch das Wort des Propheten, die Grosszügigkeit der Familie in ausserordentlicher Weiser verdankt: Er gab der Frau und ihrem Mann das einzige, was die beiden sich selber nicht geben konnten: Das unerwartete Geschenk eines Sohnes. “Vergelt’s Gott!”

„Wer einen Propheten aufnimmt, weil es ein Prophet ist, wird den Lohn eines Propheten erhalten.“

Was können wir uns hier in Kreuzlingen erwarten vom Heiligen Ulrich, dem Patron dieser Pfarrei? Für viele bleiben das Patrozinium und der Patron nur auf der Ebene der Folklore, das heisst auf der Ebene der schönen Bräuche und zum jeweiligen Ort passenden Ritualen, aber oftmals ohne Glaubensinhalt. Das Fest darf schon sein. Aber es ist noch wichtiger zu wissen, dass die Fürbitte des Heiligen ebenso wie der dem Schutzengel übertragene Auftrag Gottes eine wirkliche und reale Verbindung darstellt zwischen uns und diesem Gott, der uns liebt und uns unsere Liebe mehrfach vergilt. Unsere Liebe zu Gott spiegelt sich wieder in unserer Verehrung des Heiligen und unseren herzlichen Zuwendung zu ihm.

In einem guten katholischen Kalender wurden die Besonderheiten des Hl. Ulrich folgendermassen beschrieben: “Patron… von Schwaben, der Reisenden, der Wanderer, gegen Fieber, Tollwut und anderes Unheilbares„. Bitte schön! Vielleicht ist nur Tollwut heute nicht mehr so aktuell. Aber auch heute noch gibt es viele Anliegen, in denen wir den Hl. Ulrich um Fürbitte anrufen können! Dank den prophetischen Worten des Elischa konnte die Schunemitin Gott als Ursache ihres Kindes erkennen. Es geht dabei um einen starken Glauben an Gott und ein vertrauensvolles Verhältnis zum Propheten, welcher zugunsten des Paares bei Gott als Mittler aufgetreten war. Ich hoffe, dass auch die Leute von Kreuzlingen nicht zögern, ihren Hl. Patron als Fürbitter anzurufen und dass diese Pfarrei dem Hl. Ulrich „die Schuld geben“ kann für die gewährten Gnaden und empfangenen Geschenke.

“Sind wir nun mit Christus gestorben, so glauben wir, dass wir auch mit ihm leben werden.“

Für diese Welt zu sterben, um für Christus zu leben ist eine Definition der grundlegenden Wirkung unserer Taufe. Es ist das Holz des Kreuzes Christi und sein Tod, welche die Wasser der Taufe geheiligt haben und ihnen die Kraft verliehen haben, nicht nur den Körper zu waschen, sondern auch die Person neu zu schaffen, und damit zu befähigen, jetzt und immer in Gott zu leben. Die Taufe unter dem Zeichen des Kreuzes, die Taufe auf den für unser Heil gekreuzigten Christus, die Taufe im Namen des Vaters, des Sohnes und des Hl. Geistes, diese Taufe reicht weit über die schönen Bräuche hinaus. Bei der Taufe geht es um eine wesentliche Verwandlung, um ein wiedergeboren werden in Gott für die Ewigkeit. Und genau dafür wurden wir geschaffen und genau dafür hat uns Jesus Christus erlöst.

 „Wer das Leben gewinnen will, wird es verlieren; wer aber das Leben um meinetwillen verliert, wird es gewinnen.“

Bei meinen Reisen hier in der Schweiz begegne ich oft Erwachsenen, die von ihren oft wenig praktizierenden und der Kirche gegenüber kritischen Eltern sprechen. Von Eltern, die nicht an Christus glaubten. Es scheint, dass in diesen Familien oft das Bewusstsein für den Auftrag fehlt, die neue Generation durch Christus mit Gott vertraut zu machen. Aber trotzdem erzählen mir einige von ihrem lebendigen Glauben und davon, dass sie in der Kirche diese wertvolle Perle gefunden haben, von der das Evangelium spricht. Wenn diese Leute sich nicht definitiv von der Kirche entfernt haben, wenn ihre Verbindung zur Kirche die Kirchlichkeit ihrer Eltern übertrifft, so ist das vielleicht ein kleines oder grosses Wunder, das der Taufgnade zu verdanken ist.

Dieses Wunder der Gnade, welches sich überall und jederzeit im Leben ereignen kann ist kein Automatismus und auch keine Magie. Es handelt sich um das Glück einer Begegnung mit Gott in Christus, einer Begegnung mit diesem Gott, der uns liebt und niemals verlässt. Das Sakrament der Taufe bringt viele Früchte – oftmals auch ungeachtet eines dem Glauben feindlich gesinnten Umfeldes.

Wir müssen darauf hinweisen, dass die rettende Taufgnade die Freiheit der Person nicht aufhebt. Die freie Wahl bleibt – die Wahl zum Guten oder aber leider auch zum Bösen. Die Strasse führt in beide Richtungen. Wir können auch die Hölle, den ewigen Tod wählen, indem wir uns von Gott und seiner Kirche entfernen. Bei aller Verantwortung welcher die Eltern für die Erziehung ihrer Kinder im Glauben haben – Wegen dieser Freiheit des Individuums können wir die Schuld für den Glaubensmangel der Kinder nie ausschliesslich den Eltern zuweisen.

 „Wer Vater oder Mutter mehr liebt als mich, ist meiner nicht würdig, und wer Sohn oder Tochter mehr liebt als mich, ist meiner nicht würdig. Und wer nicht sein Kreuz auf sich nimmt und mir nachfolgt, ist meiner nicht würdig.“

Das Ärgernis des Kreuzes ist ein mehrfacher: Normalerweise wird unter diesem Ärgernis verstanden, den über die Welt und die Ewigkeit herrschenden Gott anzurufen und anzubeten in dem am Kreuz leidenden Christus. Wir verkünden tatsächlich den Sieg in der Niederlage.

Nicht weniger wichtig ist es ein Ärgernis in den Augen der Gelehrten dieser Welt, wenn wir aufgrund dieser Wahl bedingungslos dem Taufglauben anhangen und offen bekennen, dass wir hier die einzige Hoffnung gefunden haben, welche der menschlichen Person entspricht, welche in Christus geschaffen, erwählt und erlöst wurde:  Ave Crux Spes Unica!

Eine echte Anhänglichkeit der Pfarrei gegenüber dem Hl. Ulrich könnte als Indiz dienen für einen wirklich übernatürlichen Glauben an Gott, der uns zum Glück mit ihm ruft, zum Glück jetzt in dieser Welt in seiner Kirche und dann für immer im Himmel. Wenn wir die ganze Geschichte der Schunemitin mit dem Propheten Elischa im 2. Buch der Könige lesen, dann werden wir nicht nur die Macht der Fürbitte des Propheten entdecken, sondern auch den riesigen Glauben dieser Frau. Das Patrozinium und zugleich die Rückkehr hier in diese Basilika des Reliquiars, welches den grossen Glauben unserer Vorfahren an die Macht des Kreuzes Jesu Christi bezeugt, mögen uns auch heute, jedem einzelnen von uns, Anlass sein für die Erneuerung unseres Glaubens, den wir in der Taufe empfangen haben.

Gelobt sei Jesus Christus!
Ave Crux Spes Unica!

Heiliger Ulrich, bitte für uns!