Sunday, January 13, 2019

Time and Faith

Média nocte surgébam ad confiténdum tibi... ps. 118

Kindle via Amazon continues to put me in touch with books I might otherwise never get around to reading. In theology class (over forty years ago!) at some point I know we spoke about Rosmini, but just the other day I took on a free copy of: Rosmini, Antonio. Of the five wounds of the Holy Church. London: Rivingtons. Kindle Edition. Reading through two of the five wounds was enough exposure to Rosmini to convince me that I had not missed much.

When it comes to liturgy, Rosmini's premise that the Church suffers from the distance between the priest at the altar and the folks in the pews, that liturgy needs to be made accessible, etc. is part and parcel of the liturgical movement mindset of the 1950's and of what became the post-conciliar liturgical reform. This progressive approach couldn't be more ex opere operato in its reliance on a pedagogical model of supposedly refined methodology cut off from the life lived. Faithlessness is confronted with a discursive format, variety and the vernacular. Rosmini was discontented with the faith life of his day and blamed the Mass of the Ages for not carrying the ball. Today, we are fifty years into his dreams for reform realized (at least partially) and can claim to be none the better for all the "proximity" and willfulness. 

Why couldn't Rosmini, a man who sacrificed his health and his life for an ideal, realize that when we say that faith comes through hearing, what we mean is that it requires a genuine personal exchange with that significant other during our formative years, namely the witness of our parents and/or tutors. The Divine Liturgy (fons et culmen, source and summit of Christian existence cannot supplant that fundamental exchange in everyday life) must be sublime. It is anchored in the life lived of bedtime prayers and the kind of faith sharing which parents have even with babes in arms. Rosmini for all his reflection and study evidently could not grasp that. He is sadly very much like parents who don't have enough faith to personally share with their children and attempt to soothe their consciences about having done their duty by insisting that they got the kids to twelve years of Catholic school and sent them on to Notre Dame or some Jesuit University somewhere... They are at a loss because, despite all that professional "Catholic input", their more or less grown up children are at best indifferent to the faith and have no time for church and no prayer life of their own. 

Granted, we are all free agents and can turn our backs on the very best upbringing, but that does not allow us to kid ourselves about having planted the seed, when in point of fact our witness has been less than wholehearted. The old common wisdom presumed that the older generation had done their part and when the tempest of youthful irresponsibility had passed, all that Catholic learning would come to the fore in marriage when the new parents looked into the eyes of that firstborn and got back with the program. If that be so, why am I witness to the tears of so many grandparents whose children cannot be bothered even to baptize that baby, let alone teach their child or children a prayer or two. The older generation's witness was lacking, despite their lip service to the faith, and their adult children are so distant that they have nothing to give to those who should follow them in this life.

How do I gauge the witness of my faith? Fair enough! That is a million dollar question and perhaps impossible to answer in a satisfactory way. Nevertheless, I think we would do well to find our way to a life of prayer not just as a starter but as an obligatory. How? We need to ask our guardian angel to carry us, we need to hold Mary's hand, we need to be on the way to a tender love of God's Anointed, the Christ. We need to keep knocking at the door day and night.

Would you believe that the above quote from Psalm 118 got me started on this track? "I rose at midnight to give praise to thee..."

Some weeks back on Facebook I asked my friends for prayers as I began my commitment to the 1962 Breviary. Concretely, I needed a special grace to make time for the Sexta Hora around midday, so as to make sense of some of the prayers. Those prayers were answered for me in a rather delightful way, I would say. Since then I have been waking up at some time past midnight and praying Matins! No bragging, because the fuller Psalter with the Vulgate renditions mean that I am discovering parts of the Prayer of the Church anew. Despite the unfamiliar Latin however, my principal takeaway so far from the experience is a new notion of time or, maybe, the confirmation of long held convictions about the importance of sanctifying time... around the clock.

I add this little bit about me as an encouragement to young and younger parents especially to keep knocking at the door of prayer, day and night, kindling that faith to be passed on to your children. Children's Mass of a monthly Sunday, catechism class or in Europe religion class in public school, youth groups, retreats and seminars cannot bear their fruit, if the spark has not already lit the pilot light in the domestic church. 


Sunday, January 6, 2019

It's Clericalism, Stupid!

If there weren't many boasting media platforms who deny our Catholic patrimony, spiritual or ascetic, and intellectual, I think much of today's disarray among Catholics, clergy and laity, could quickly be set aside. If only we could see that we today in the Church are and must be on the same page as the great saints and spiritual authors of every day and time! Why? Because we have no place else to be. It is as simple as that. Nothing changes all that much in the world or in the Church; we have a history, which is our ultimate point of reference. 

We need look no further than the present crisis of authority in the Church. Abuse of power by clergy (including sexual abuse and solicitation/seduction) or dereliction of duty by hierarchy have never been acceptable. What was once wrong or contrary to nature remains so today. Always in the past, disordered behavior was reckoned sinful and in many cases as criminal and deserving of punishment. It was easier to plead possession by the devil than insanity or diminished responsibility for reasons of health or poor upbringing.

St. Peter Damian might have recommended imprisonment, torture and even capital punishment to root out certain evils tracing the fame back to Sodom, destroyed by God's wrath because of its impenitence. That we are uncomfortable with Peter Damian's recommendations to the pope to correct, control and root out such behavior by priests and religious takes nothing away from his objective assessment of the sins or crimes committed. Nothing has changed in the world; pederasty for example is no less foul today. Some authors, such as John Climacus speaking out against sin and counseling toward perfection, might trouble me immensely, but since he and countless others are the approved authors, I guess the conclusion should be that I am the one who needs to do some catching up. We don't cast aside our patrimony, we let the authors of centuries past speak to us over and again. The presumption would be that my heart must change to come in line with the tradition.

I had a superior once, who had no time for St. Francis de Sales, because of issues he had with the saint's botanical imagery, with his cosmology somewhat, and with what seemed to be the saint's ignorance of the birds and the bees. What St. Francis had to say about the spiritual life held no stock because he couldn't get cross pollination right. No doubt, it was the likes of my boss who were responsible for purging references to unicorns from the breviary as part of the post-conciliar reform. Obviously, the 60's and 70's had their issues with continuity; things had to be relevant to the times. The protagonists of the times were generally bent on rupture with our rich past, as if they knew better than saints who hadn't figured out caterpillars and butterflies. I remember, back in the 20th Century, encountering religious women especially who unashamedly disavowed St. Paul as a misogynist and had no time for St. Augustine, for what they believed were obvious failures on the part of the great Doctor of the Church that discredited his message all together. As I say, we need to reinstate the tradition as normative and give the approved authors priority. We need to question ourselves first and our generally unfounded reasons for departure from our blessed patrimony. The Fathers and Doctors of the Church are no less relevant for our day and time. We need to give more space for emulation to the greats of all times and places. We need to read them and ponder their message. 

Among these a favorite of mine is Pope St. Gregory the Great. He suffered dearly for having to leave monastic life behind upon his election as pope. He yearned for silence and solitude, but prayed the Lord would deal with him mercifully in the unavoidable excesses of the public life he was called to lead for the good of the Church. His biography of St. Benedict is not only a monument to the Father of Western Monasticism, but is testimony to what Gregory would no doubt consider (à la Martha and Mary at Bethany) to Benedict's having chosen the better part.

In that life of St. Benedict by St. Gregory, I often return to the incident of the jealous secular priest who sought to destroy Benedict and failing at that attempted to corrupt the younger brethren of the nearby monastery. For the sake of his monks, Benedict withdrew from the neighborhood in the direction of Monte Casino, and as he was processing away with some of the brethren chosen for the new foundation got word that the wicked priest was killed in the collapse of his home together with partners in crime and courtesans. As with cases of the wonders worked through monastic obedience, what shines through in Gregory's portrayal of the life of Benedict is the Divine Will, the Lord's own power and presence at work in the lives of those who die to this world and all its vanities in order to live for Christ.

No doubt, in that sense, I suppose I could side with those today who label the Church's Achilles heel to be clericalism. I won't however do that for as long as people deny that certain thoughts, words, deeds, and omissions are gravely disordered and objectively sinful. Who am I to abandon the standard of what has always and everywhere been judged by God, as taught by Mother Church, to be gravely disordered? In his book, "Enlightened Monks: The German Benedictines, 1740-1803", Ulrich Lehner does a masterful job of intimating just how unenlightened these upstart monks were and the havoc their pretense worked on Western Monasticism, contributing to its near demise at the hands of the likes of Joseph II or Napoleon. Modernism or Neo-modernism, all of it smacks of a refusal to look on the Lord for Who He is in His universe.

In another little book I read over Christmas, reflecting the mendicant Dominican tradition as lived out by St. Vincent Ferrer, Treatise on the Spiritual Life (Ravenio Books. Kindle Edition), it was made just as clear to me that renouncing self is the high road to true happiness with God in Christ.

If there is an urgency about in these days, it would be to humble ourselves and reconnect with our betters from the past... before it is too late.


Saturday, January 5, 2019

Hail, Infant King!

The Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord
Sunday, 6 January 2019, Bruder Klaus

Is 60:1-6
Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6
Mt 2:1-12

Praised be Jesus Christ, True God and true man!

“May the splendor of your majesty, O Lord, we pray, shed its light upon our hearts, that we may pass through the shadows of this world and reach the brightness of our eternal home.”

That is the prayer of the Church on this Solemnity. Epiphany! Christ manifest! The Wise men, the Magi, the three kings from the East, drawn by a star to pay homage to the Child Who brings with Him a new world order. He brings a new world order affecting time and eternity. He, Baby Jesus, is the be-all and the end-all, the alpha and the omega. Granted, coming into our world and into our lives as a baby, it is sort of like tiptoeing onto the scene. There are no trumpet blasts or earthquakes at His Coming. Yet He is no less God for that and it is no less true to say that He comes in splendor.

“Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.” Epiphany!

And would you believe? Most folks in history and over time have just not been and still today are not a bit impressed by God showing Himself in time, as one like us in all things but sin! God in man made manifest! Even so, you and I both know that does not constitute a reason or an excuse for giving up on such great news. In His Coming at Bethlehem, Jesus provides us with all we need in freedom to choose Him, to choose His Kingship, His Rule over us, and thereby for us with Him to come out into the light.

“See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples;”

Over two thousand years ago now at Bethlehem, the Angels from Heaven announced Christ’s coming on the scene to the shepherds, to the lowliest, to the social outcasts of the day, sort of like how we would consider homeless people. We really are talking about those most in need in the world, the shepherds in their day and the homeless in ours. Two thousand years ago, the star drew the greatest of this world, kings, learned wise men coming from afar to place their expensive gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh at the feet of Baby Jesus. Epiphany: world shaking but not for everyone to see and comprehend! The shepherds and the Magi were privileged, as so are we.

Even back then, the Bethlehem innkeeper and his guests missed out on the Birth of the Child. Just outside the back door of the inn in that humble stable, the only begotten Son of the Father was busy shaking the world’s foundations by His Birth. King Herod missed out entirely on the implications of His Birth foretold in Scripture, of the coming in time of this King Who was no threat to him, but was destined to rule over peoples and nations for all eternity. Already over two thousand years ago, judgment had come upon the world; one only needed to read the prophet Isaiah correctly to be able to see and confess God in man made manifest.

“See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the Lord shines, and over you appears his glory.” Judgment is what choosing Christ the King, the Baby Jesus, is all about: separating the sheep from the goats!

Today, if we fast-forward two millennia from the day of His Birth, we can ask what if anything has changed in our world. For as unimpressed and distracted as many of our neighbors are and remain, I guess it would be fair to say that our world still has not heard, has not comprehended, is still desperately in need of this prophecy; we need to hear the powerful words of Isaiah. This Old Testament prophet needs to ring out once again and for us. Today, as much as ever, Isaiah needs to be heard and understood in the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the Lord shines, and over you appears his glory.”

In some countries, the Epiphany is actually more popular than Christmas.

“Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord.”

It is sometimes classed as the Christmas of the Gentiles. The Feast of the Epiphany shows the importance of the Coming of the Messiah for the salvation of not just God’s Chosen People but for all the nations. Epiphany brings light to the world. We are not talking about something nice, simply to notice or pick up on, but this feast relays to people of good will a joyous call to bend the knee before your Maker and Redeemer.

As I say, today we pay homage to the Child Who brings with Him a new world order. I don’t know about you, but I spend way too much time dealing with those who have missed out on the proclamation, with, let’s call them, present day “King Herods”, with people who have ordered their world as they see fit, who don’t give a care for the words of the prophet, and who would give no place to the Infant King. Would you believe that even within the Church of God there are people who will not bend, who just will not deal with that Baby born of the Virgin? Freedom calls for our subjection to this Child. Marveling, wonderment is the order of the day.

“See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the Lord shines, and over you appears his glory.”

I hope your Christmas holidays were not that hectic or that you did not find them boring. For people without faith in Christ, for people who do not believe or who are heavy burdened by self-indulgence, this can be maybe the worst time of year. That would certainly account for the anger of many nominal Catholics who believe some injustice is being done them because the Church does not fully conform to the world (equal opportunity employment, sheer willfulness when it comes to understanding and accepting God’s creative will). They do not seem to know the Baby Boy from the stable. They, like King Herod, seem to be threatened by someone so much greater than the plans they have set for themselves and want to impose on those around them. This Baby brings with Him a new world order and they would have none of it.

Epiphany has customarily been a time of house blessing for the New Year. May our families all be blest, may we learn to bow, to bend the knee to the Baby in 2019!

“May the splendor of your majesty, O Lord, we pray, shed its light upon our hearts, that we may pass through the shadows of this world and reach the brightness of our eternal home.”

That is the prayer of the Church on this Solemnity. May we be so graced!

Praised be Jesus Christ, True God and true man!


Reassurance from Approved Authors

Finding Confidence in Times of Trial: 
Letters of St. John of Avila. 
John of Avila. 
Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition. 

No contest: it is hard to buy me a gift. I am mostly happy when friends and loved ones don't even try. I must say, however, that this little book served as treasure in many of its parts, but especially for its later chapters and this one in particular: To a Friend On Preparation for Epiphany —  the Gold of Divine Love (p. 117).

By way of explanation: I was ruminating over the redeeming social value of the homily I have prepared for tomorrow, when St. John of Avila came to reassure me that my effort has its worth (Finding Confidence in Times of Trial).

There are hard sayings in this little volume as well, but they actually helped me push through another book which I have been at for the longest time:

The Ladder of Divine Ascent. 
Climacus, John. 
Kindle Edition. 

Climacus' thesis for the whole book is fairly well summed up in this quote from early on:

"Those who desire to rise with their body to the heavens, need first struggle and constant suffering, especially in the first part of their renunciation, until our inclination to pleasure and unloving hearts reach the love of God and purity by a manifest grieving. A great labor, very great, with unseen grieving, most especially for those who live recklessly, until by simplicity, lack of anger and toil we force our mind, which is a hungry dog of the kitchen given to barking, into one who instead loves purity and watchfulness. Let those of us who are feeble and lustful have the courage to present our illnesses and feeble nature to Christ with undoubting faith, and speak to Him. And we will confidently receive His help, even though this is beyond what we deserve. But only if we unrelentingly move to the full depth of a humble nature." (p. 2)

For the longest time, I put the book down and could not get past Step 5 - On Painful and Genuine Repentance Which is the Life of Godly Convicts, and Concerning the Prison. The whole thing seemed way too macabre. Enter John of Avila, who is not the least bit compromising, but who in his letters respectfully challenges his correspondents to grow in spirit. I really liked his letter to the priest on how to celebrate Mass:

"In short, such considerations, by God’s help, entirely change and possess the soul, and draw it out of itself — at one time, by feelings of reverence, at another, by love, and yet again, by the strong emotion caused by the realization of Christ’s presence. Although these thoughts do not inevitably produce this result, yet unless the heart hardens itself into stone against their influence, they strongly conduce to it. Let your mind, then, dwell on such reflections; listen to the cry: “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh” — your God cometh! Retire into the secrecy of your own heart, and open it to receive what is wont to come from so powerful a Light. Beseech this same Lord that, as He has deigned to place Himself within your hands, He will give you the further grace to esteem and venerate and love Him as you should. Beg Him fervently not to permit you to be in the presence of His Majesty but with reverence and fear and love. Endeavor constantly to have a fitting sense of our Lord’s presence, even should you contemplate no other part of this Mystery." [John of Avila. Finding Confidence in Times of Trial: Letters of St.  (pp. 27-28). 

Sorry, just a thought on the Vigil of the Epiphany and a word of encouragement to never cease reading in hopes of piercing the armor and slaying that wayward heart!