Monday, May 21, 2018

Some Thoughts à la Thomas Howard on Secularism

Chance or the Dance?
2nd Edition: A Critique of Modern Secularism 
Howard, Thomas.  
Ignatius Pr. Kindle Edition. 

"In any case, there is the situation: the old myth saw the world as image; the new sees it as a chance concatenation of physical events. This book is an attempt to describe how our experience might look if we looked at it once more under the terms of the old myth. Or, put another way, to observe some of the regions in which, probably unaware, we keep the old myth alive by acting as though it were at least useful in organizing our experience. In the way we handle experience, from ordinary conversation to social custom to poetry, painting, ceremony, sex, and ritual, we do obeisance to the old myth. Whether that obeisance is fanciful and superstitious or is an authentic index of the way things are is, of course, the big question. The modern world supposes that it is the former. This book supposes that it is the latter. God (or somebody) will have to let us know which is the case." (Kindle Locations 229-235). 

I have never really liked or understood the appellation "dark ages" as a designation of times pre-Enlightenment in Europe. While in my mode of living I would never think about going back to horse-and-buggy or dressing in the Victorian style, I still abhor much of the trajectory which the so-called Enlightenment has given to our world as ambivalent and without direction, if not therefore simply chaotic and dark. Thomas Howard's book lends words and tales to much of the disdain which is mine when it comes to the scientific or progressive. Even so, don't ask me to be as enthusiastic about the "master" as Eric Metaxas is in his foreword.

That said, I would like to encourage people to pick up this book, which despite its profundity reads very lightly. It is a playfully serious contribution to the cause of restoring poetry and thereby light, joy and real depth to our going in and going out. Now I know that there are a lot of said atheists out there who anxiously or wickedly cling to a worldview which is flat and scattered, for all its pretense at being scientific. The Apocalypse warns us of such, who remain attached to the Beast. They will be judged and go their way. If Howard has a gift to give in his prose, it would be to reassure those who waver on the path to glory, uncomfortable in being cloaked in what he calls the "old myth".

Give me my microwave, but give me my angels too!


Sunday, May 20, 2018

Soft Power and Pentecost

An official blog post by the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, H.E. Mrs. Callista L. Gingrich, explaining the origins of the resident embassy of the U.S. in the Eternal City, kind of got me reflecting again on the topic of Vatican Diplomacy. Ambassador Gingrich would have us understand the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See to be a brainchild of President Ronald Reagan, who by this institutional means was eager to join forces with Pope St. John Paul II in the fight for justice in the international arena. The motivation she attributes to President Reagan is a strategic one and one seemingly which has remained a constant in U.S. foreign policy, and that for furthering the cause of justice the Holy See is a valuable ally for the U.S. She states that the Holy See can be classed a "superpower" when it comes to soft power, soft power being synonymous with moral authority. 

As I say, Ambassador Gingrich got me thinking. The term "soft power" is not an unfamiliar one. In diplomatic circles, you regularly hear talk of "hard" and "soft" diplomacy. The "hard" is usually associated with commerce and trade and the "soft" with cultural exchanges. In that sense, Ambassador Gingrich may be stretching it a bit in terms of the why and wherefore of diplomacy as we know it. It would seem she intends something more principled and born of truth, something worthy of Pope St. John Paul II and certainly right up the great President Reagan's alley. Here we see the Church standing forth and witnessing to Christ, using diplomacy for something quite different and exalted than the run of the mill; in the very spirit of the Ambassador's words, we see her country inspired by noble values, seeking an alliance with such a "power" as the Holy See and for the good of all. 

In her blog post, Ambassador Gingrich is making a huge compliment to the diplomacy or agenda of the Holy See in the international arena. I wonder, however, if she is not mixing metaphors or going beyond what is possible with the vehicle at hand. In season or out of season, it seems to me that diplomacy, no matter who is wielding it, cannot be a primary means to further the cause of the Gospel, or any kind of moral agenda for that matter. Leaving aside the slur normally tacked on to us, that truth has never been a diplomat's strong suit, diplomacy has always been a rather pragmatic means for defending one's interests and better understanding neighbors. It does indeed serve the cause of peace and mutual understanding and diplomacy certainly has an ancillary role to play in the cause of justice and truth. The question is: Where does Vatican diplomacy fit into the equation of a system made for promoting other things like trade and language studies or tango lessons, which it tends toward especially in the world of bilateral relations? What is its proper role?

As dean of the diplomatic corps in Bern, I try my best to make all the various embassy receptions, for national days. Often in the course of a given evening the ambassador offers a few words of circumstance about how things have gone in the homeland in the past year and how relations with Switzerland are progressing. Balance of trade and educational cooperation top one, the "hard" list and, the other, the "soft" list in these annual reports, and rightly so. Such an occasion lends itself only with difficulty to a Holy See "soft" list of the Gingrich art. What to do? 

Diplomacy by its very nature is not a pulpit or watchtower exercise. The prophetic role is better played by the local Church within a given country, when we are talking bilateral. I think in most cases we have to play the role of the "friend of the Bridegroom" and point with rejoicing to the one who has the Bride. While living in the truth, we can never forget that whoever attached the terms "extraordinary and plenipotentiary" to the title of ambassador had something very different in mind than Merriam-Webster's Dictionary. The word "power", soft or no, almost seems antipathetic to what your average ambassador or nuncio is about.

Speaking the truth in love, hardly seems an exercise in power, no matter how much it may bother the consciences of some. It really is a work of witnessing more than an attempt to win others over. I guess that really is Gospel, leaving all to Christ. St. Paul spoke of his mission not being focused primarily on counting the numbers baptized by his own hand as a result of his preaching:

“For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning. The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside." Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (I Cor. 1: 17-25)

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost was accompanied by tongues of fire and signs of power like the great wind blowing. People were disarmed and turned to the faith as a result of Peter's preaching that day. Everything took place in God's good time and the Apostles emerged from the Upper Room with boldness, not of their own accord but compelled by the grace of God and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Secular diplomacy does not yoke well with this beautiful scene from the Acts of the Apostles. 

I take consolation here from figures like St. Rita of Cascia, a great intercessor whose feast comes up this week, or from St. Faustina and the mission to propagate the message of Divine Mercy, which she took on despite her inadequacy. God's wisdom and power shown forth brightly from these two women, but in God's own good time. We need but watch and pray, pouring ourselves out to make room for the King of Glory.

Let me rejoice in hearing the Bridegroom's Voice and pointing to Him when He should come no matter the day or the hour.


Jubilee Homily - 30 Years Archbishop Haas

Festpredigt aus Anlass des dreissigjährigen Bischofsjubiläums
SER Erzbischof Wolfgang Haas
Dienstag 22. Mai 2018, Kathedrale von Vaduz
Maria, Mutter der Kirche
Apg 1, 12-14
Joh 19, 25-27

Gelobt sei Jesus Christus!
Maria, Mutter der Kirche!

„Frau, siehe, dein Sohn! Dann sagte er zu dem Jünger: Siehe, deine Mutter! Und von jener Stunde an nahm sie der Jünger zu sich.“

Die Entscheidung, unser Fest zum 30-Jahr-Jubiläum des Erzbischofs von Vaduz mit der Votivmesse “Maria, Mutter der Kirche” zu feiern erleichtert meine Aufgabe über den bischöflichen Dienst zu meditieren. Dafür bin ich Gott dankbar. Mit dem Titel „Maria, Mutter der Kirche“ und ausgehend vom Evangelium dieser Messe, haben wir alles was nötig ist, um ein vollständiges Programm für das Bischofsamt auszulegen.

„Seine Mutter sagte zu den Dienern: Was er euch sagt, das tut!“ (Johannes 2: 5)

Ich glaube, dass wir in der heutigen Zeit solch ein marianisches Programm brauchen, um das Amt des Bischofs zu beschreiben. Wir müssen eindeutig darauf bestehen, dass die Kirche Christi ohne die Muttergottes in ihrem Zentrum undenkbar ist. Aus diesem Grund sollte das einzige bischöfliche Amt, das man sich in der Kirche vorstellen kann, dasjenige sein, das durch das Gebet, die Gegenwart und den Rat der Seligsten Jungfrau Maria erleuchtet wird.

Es gäbe so viel über das Amt des Bischofs zu sagen! Wir hätten das Liber Regulae Pastoralis von Papst Gregor dem Grossen und seine Lehre über das magisterium humilitatis, das Lehramt der Demut untersuchen  können. Dazu passt immer auch ein Zitat des Freundes vom heiligen Karl Borromäus, vom grossen Erzbischof von Braga in Portugall, Bartolomeu dos Martires, und seines Stimulus Pastorum: “Quid aliud est Episcopus, quam quidam suae dioecesis sol, & homo totus igneus, totus conquirendis Christo animabus intentus exemplo semper, et verbo saepissime praedicans?” “Was anderes ist der Bischof als die Sonne seiner Diözese und ein Mann voll Feuer, der ganz darauf bedacht ist, Seelen für Christus zu gewinnen, indem er ständig durch sein Beispiel predigt und sehr oft durch sein Wort?” Aber dank der Priorität, die der Mutter Gottes gegeben wird, können wir Gregor und Bartolomeu ein wenig auf der Seite lassen und uns heute auf eine andere Art von Gedankenaustausch konzentrieren. So können wir den Akzent auf die marianische Spiritualität legen, indem wir die Worte als Ausgangspunkt nehmen, die Jesus selbst an die Apostel gerichtet hat und die damit auch für ihre Nachfolger Gültigkeit haben. Er hat sie von zwei Berghöhen aus gesprochen: vom Kalvarienberg und vom Ölberg. Von Jesus selbst kennen wir die Aufgabe, die der Herr seine Mutter auf dem Kalvarienberg zugunsten der Kirche zuerkannt hat. Dies gilt vor allem für den bevorzugten Apostel, den heiligen Johannes, und auch für das ganze Apostelkollegium und damit auch für alle Bischöfe, die ihm im Laufe der Jahrhunderte gefolgt sind bis zur Wiederkunft des gerechten Richters.

„Frau, siehe, dein Sohn! Dann sagte er zu dem Jünger: Siehe, deine Mutter! Und von jener Stunde an nahm sie der Jünger zu sich.“

Vom Ölberg aus, hier in der Apostelgeschichte kurz vor dem Abschnitt, den wir für unsere erste Lesung gewählt haben, finden wir den Auftrag, den der auferstandene Herr im Augenblick seiner Himmelfahrt den Aposteln gegeben hat, auch wenn er für uns in etwas rätselhafte Worten gekleidet ist.

„Geht nicht weg von Jerusalem, sondern wartet auf die Verheißung des Vaters, die ihr von mir vernommen habt. Johannes hat mit Wasser getauft, ihr aber werdet schon in wenigen Tagen mit dem Heiligen Geist getauft… Euch steht es nicht zu, Zeiten und Fristen zu erfahren, die der Vater in seiner Macht festgesetzt hat. Aber ihr werdet die Kraft des Heiligen Geistes empfangen, der auf euch herabkommen wird; und ihr werdet meine Zeugen sein in Jerusalem und in ganz Judäa und Samarien und bis an die Grenzen der Erde.“

Es ist klar: die Apostel haben verstanden, dass ihre erste Aufgabe darin besteht, wachend zu beten und auf die Ausgiessung des Heiligen Geistes zu warten. Gleich nach der Himmelfahrt gehorchten die Apostel dem Wort Jesu und zogen sich zum Gebet in den Abendmahlssaal zurück, und wie man sieht, fanden sie sich dort als Kollegium versammelt um die Muttergottes.

„Als sie in die Stadt kamen, gingen sie in das Obergemach hinauf, wo sie nun ständig blieben… Sie alle verharrten dort einmütig im Gebet, zusammen mit den Frauen und mit Maria, der Mutter Jesu, und mit seinen Brüdern.“

Als Kinder haben wir beim Studieren des Katechismus gelernt, dass die Kirche Christi die eine, heilige, katholische und apostolische ist. Wir haben der Bedeutung dieser vier Zeichen einige Lektionen gewidmet. Ich muss hinzufügen, dass für die Kirche, sowohl für die universale als auch für die Teilkirche, die Pflicht, auf diese vier Zeichen besonderes Gewicht zu legen, auf den Schultern des Bischofs liegt. Er ist es, der das glorreiche Antlitz des Herrn Jesus auf dem mystischen Leib Christi für das Heil der Welt erstrahlen lassen muss. Es ist eine gewaltige Aufgabe, die Jesus selbst dem Bischof zu Gunsten seiner Herde anvertraut hat. Der auferstandene Herr spricht durch seine Kirche und durch die Gnade des Heiligen Geistes. Der Auftrag erfüllt sich in der Zusammenarbeit des Bischofskollegium und des Presbyteriums und dem Mitwirken aller Getauften. Der Bischof und sein Klerus tun dies immer zusammen mit Maria zuhause und im ständigen Gebet (in der Apostelgeschichte liegt der Schwerpunkt auf dem Haus des heiligen Johannes und auf dem Abendmahlssaal bis zum Pfingsttag). Es gibt und es kann auch keine Kirche Christi geben, die nicht ganz marianisch ist. Durch das Wort Christi sind wir der Person und dem Gebet Mariens anvertraut. Wir müssen vor allem das Antlitz Mariens in unserem Glaubensleben und in unserem priesterlichen Apostolat suchen.

Was für ein schöner Gedanke, dass wir alle als Kirche in Gemeinschaft mit Maria leben! Dies ist ein grosser Trost, aber gleichzeitig auch eine grosse Herausforderung.

Das Wort, das unseren Familien gepredigt werden muss, immer durch Taten und sehr oft auch in Worten, ist, dass die Mutter im Haus gegenwärtig ist, wie es Maria im Haus von Johannes war. Man erkennt die Gegenwart der Gottesmutter durch unsere Gebetsgewohnheiten. Mit dem heutigen hektischen Leben, das nicht so viel Raum für die einfache gegenseitige Anwesenheit von Menschen lässt, ist es wirklich eine Herausforderung.

Selbst die einfachen Getauften müssen sich wegen all der Ablenkungen und des Lärms, der die Gelassenheit wegnimmt, sehr bemühen. Die Aufgabe des Priesters und vor allem des Hohepriesters, also des Bischofs, ist es, das Leben der kleinen Kirche, also der Familie, in diesem Sinne nützlich zu machen. Für den Bischof bedeutet seine Mission wirklich eine Herausforderung. Seit jeher tragen die Nachfolger der Apostel eine grosse Verantwortung, wie es der heilige Augustinus bangend ausdrückte: Mit euch bin ich getaufter Christ und für euch bin ich Bischof. Mit der Übernahme des Pontifikats beklagte sich der heilige Gregor der Grosse über den Verlust der Ruhe und der Sammlung in der Klausur. Der grosse heilige Papst bedauerte zutiefst den Verlust der Gelegenheit, die klösterliche tiefe Verbundenheit mit dem Herrn und natürlich der Gemeinschaft mit Seiner Mutter zu leben.  Wie kann man das durch die Ausübung des bischöflichen Amtes retten?

Heute sprechen wir oft über Subsidiarität und leider auch über die Grundlagen des Aktivismus. Die Merkmale eines marianischen Dienstes des Bischofs sollten den Schwerpunkt anderweitig legen, und zwar auf das Gebet, in der Erwartung mit Maria, und im Hören darauf, alles vom Sohn zu erwarten, entsprechend der prophetische Aufforderung seiner Heiligen Mutter: “Was er euch sagt, das tut!”

Exzellenz! Wir feiern heute mit Ihnen! Wir sind heute bei Maria, unserer Mutter, zu Hause! Inbrünstig im Gebet mit der Mutter der Kirche bitten wir den eingeborenen Sohn des Vaters um jede Gnade für Sie als Nachfolger der Apostel.

Das heisst so zu sein, wie die Apostel, die ihren Platz erkannt haben in der Gemeinschaft mit Maria und unter ihrem Segen. Exzellenz, schreiten Sie weiter voran in der Gnade, die sie vor dreissig Jahren empfangen haben! Sei es, wie Gott es will, und ja, wie Bartolomeu dos Mártyres sagt, seien Sie voll Feuer für die Kirche, die Ihrer Sorge anvertraut ist, die Sonne der Erzdiözese, und predigen Sie immer durch das Beispiel und sehr oft mit Worten!

Gelobt sei Jesus Christus!
Maria, Mutter der Kirche!


Our Calling to Intercessory Prayer

St. Rita Feier
Messe, Einsiedeln, 22. Mai 2018

Phil 4:4-9
Lk 6:27-38

Gelobt sei Jesus Christus!
Heilige Rita!

„Freut euch! Eure Güte werde allen Menschen bekannt.“

Ich muss gestehen, dass mich bei der Vorbereitung der diesjährigen Wallfahrt nach Einsiedeln die Bezeichnung der Hl. Rita besonders erstaunt hat: „Die Heilige für aussichtslose Angelegenheiten“. Eine Heilige für Unmögliches – offensichtlich beabsichtig man mit dieser Bezeichnung die Gläubigen zu ermutigen, der Heiligen Rita auch die schwierigsten Fragen anzuvertrauen, ihr die unmöglichsten Bitten zu unterbreiten. Wenn es gelingt, in unserer Zeit des Zweifelns und Glaubensmangels mit Hilfe der Heiligen wieder zum Glauben zu finden, dass Gott uns wirklich rettet, so wäre das bereits eine gute Sache.

Aber das Adjektiv „aussichtslos“ „unmöglich“ eignet sich auch sehr gut, um eine ganze Reihe von Ereignissen im Leben der Heiligen zu beschreiben: Man erzählt von: ihrer Geburt als Kind von Eltern, die schon im fortgeschrittenen Alter waren – unmöglich; von der Bekehrung ihres Mannes – unmöglich; von der Bewahrung ihrer beiden Kinder vor Todsünden – unmöglich; von ihrem wunderbaren Eintritt in ein Kloster – unmöglich; von ihrer vorübergehenden Heilung von einer Wunde auf der Stirn, so dass sie an der Wallfahrt im Heiligen Jahr 1450 nach Rom teilnehmen konnte – unmöglich; von der auf Anweisung der sterbenden Heiligen erfolgten Ernte von Feigen und einer Rose ausserhalb der Saison – ja, unmöglich.

Aber das vielleicht grösste Wunder für unsere heutige Zeit ist, dass eine solche Frau eine so grosse Verehrung und Anerkennung in der katholischen Welt finden konnte. Eine Frau, die nicht lesen und nicht schreiben konnte, die mehr als die Hälfte ihres Lebens nicht nur in der Klausur des Klosters lebte, sondern auch da drinnen nur wenig Kontakt mit ihren Mitschwestern hatte. Wie konnte die Hl. Rita einen so grossen Einfluss auf die Welt haben? Wie konnte sie solche Berühmtheit als Fürbitterin erlangen? Rein menschlich gesehen tatsächlich unmöglich!

Die Antwort auf die Frage nach dem „Wie“ haben wir schon in den vom Evangelisten Lukas überlieferten Worten des Magnificat:

„Er vollbringt mit seinem Arm machtvolle Taten: Er zerstreut, die im Herzen voll Hochmut sind; er stürzt die Mächtigen vom Thron und erhöht die Niedrigen.“

Die Heilige Rita hat, einfach gesagt, ihren Teil beigetragen durch ihre Liebe zum gekreuzigten Jesus und durch ihr absolut demütiges Leben. Der mächtige Arm Gottes hat den Rest getan: „Er vollbringt … Er zerstreut… er stürzt… und erhöht...“ Indem sie Gott in ihrem Leben herrschen liess und immer mit dem geheimnisvollen Leiden ihres Herrn vereint war, konnte Rita ohne Anspruch oder Prahlerei siegen auch da, wo die Lage völlig aussichtslos war.

Die Botschaft der Hl. Rita ermahnt uns dazu, unser Leben zu ändern und unser Vertrauen allein auf den Herrn zu setzen. In der ersten Lesung der heutigen Messe hat uns der Hl. Paulus das mit eindrücklichen Worten gesagt.

„Der Herr ist nahe. Sorgt euch um nichts, sondern bringt in jeder Lage betend und flehend eure Bitten mit Dank vor Gott!“

Genau das hat die Hl. Rita gemacht. Aber leider tun das heute nur noch wenige Menschen in der Welt und vielleicht auch nur wenige hier unter uns. Die Einladung des heutigen Festes ist die, unser Leben zu ändern. Nehmen wir uns also folgende Vorsätze:

1. Erneuern wir unsere Verehrung und unser Vertrauen zur Hl. Rita als einer Person, die vor dem Thron Gottes steht und die durch ihr Gebet auch in aussichtslosen Situationen helfen kann.

2. Gehen wir bei der Hl. Rita in die Schule. Es ist eine Schule der Liebe zu Christus, dem Sohn Gottes, zu seinem geheimnisvollen Leiden. Eine Schule der Demut und des Verzichts auf die Eigensinnigkeit. Eine Schule des Vertrauens in die Gerechtigkeit und Weisheit des Willens Gottes auch inmitten unserer Leiden. Es ist eine Schule der Treue zu den Tugenden und vor allem in der Hingabe an den Willen Gottes, welcher uns zum einzigen wahren und dauerhaften Sieg führt.

3. Entdecken wir zum ersten Mal oder entdecken wir von neuem unsere Berufung als Fürbitter, unsere Berufung zum fürbittenden Gebet. Es spiel dabei keine Rolle, ob wir Priester, Ordensleute oder Laien sind. Es geht nur darum, den Weg des Magnificat zu gehen: Alles dem allmächtigen und ewigen Gott überlassen.

„Denn der Mächtige hat Großes an mir getan und sein Name ist heilig. Er erbarmt sich von Geschlecht zu Geschlecht über alle, die ihn fürchten.“

Das kontemplative Leben, das sogenannte Leben in der klösterlichen Klausur scheint manchmal weit weg von uns zu sein, unerreichbar für uns, die wir draussen in der Welt leben. Ein gottgefälliges Leben wie die kontemplativen Ordensleute scheint für uns unmöglich zu sein – oder? Ich frage mich, ob wir nicht von einem falschen Bild ausgehen. Vielleicht sollten wir das beschauliche Leben eher vom Gesichtspunkt des Aktiven beschreiben. Dass wir also unsere Beziehung zu Christus so sehen, als ob wir unser Joch gemeinsam mit ihm tragen, den Pflug zusammen mit ihm ziehen. In der Schrift steht, dass es am Tag des Gerichts nicht schwierig sein wird, den Menschensohn auf den Wolken des Himmels zu erkennen. Er werde wie ein Blitz aufscheinen, den man sofort von einem Ende des Himmels bis zum andern aufleuchten sieht. Lernen wir von der Heiligen in aussichtslosen Angelegenheiten, dass es nicht unsere Aufgabe ist, die Trompete zu blasen, aber dass es Gott ist, der das tut.

 „Freut euch! Eure Güte werde allen Menschen bekannt.“

Gelobt sei Jesus Christus!
Heilige Rita!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

For a Prosperous Church and the Spread of the Gospel

The lovely and very familiar Second Reading from the Office for Saturday of the 6th Week of Easter, taken from St Augustine's homilies on St John's gospel and entitled "The two lives", got me thinking about the topics of vocational discernment and integral Catholic living:

"There are two ways of life that God has commended to the Church. One is through faith, the other is through vision. One is in pilgrimage through a foreign land, the other is in our eternal home; one in labour, the other in repose; one in a journey to our homeland, the other in that land itself; one in action, the other in the fruits of contemplation.
  The first life, the life of action, is personified by the Apostle Peter; the contemplative life, by John. The first life is passed here on earth until the end of time, when it reaches its completion; the second is not fulfilled until the end of the world, but in the world to come it lasts for ever. For this reason Peter is told “Follow me”, but Jesus adds, “If I want John to stay behind till I come, what does it matter to you? You are to follow me”.
  You are to follow me by imitating me in enduring suffering; he is to remain till I come to restore the blessings that last for ever. To put it more clearly: let action, which is complete in itself, follow me and follow the example of my passion; but let contemplation, which has only begun, remain until I come, wait until the moment of its completion.
  It is the fullness of patience to follow Christ loyally even to death; the fullness of knowledge lies in wait until Christ comes again, when it will be revealed and made manifest. The ills of this world are endured in the land of the dying; the good gifts of God will be revealed in the land of the living.
  We should not understand “I want him to stay behind until I come” as meaning to remain permanently but rather to wait: what is signified by John will not be fulfilled now, but it will be fulfilled, when Christ comes. On the other hand, what is signified by Peter, to whom Jesus says “follow me”, must be realised now or it will never be fulfilled.
  But we should not separate these great apostles. They were both part of the present life symbolized by Peter and they were both part of the future life symbolized by John. Considered as symbols, Peter followed Christ and John remained; but in their living faith both endured the evils of the present life and both looked forward to the future blessings of the coming life of joy.
  It is not they alone that do this but the whole of the holy Church, the bride of Christ, who needs to be rescued from the trials of the present and to be brought to safety in the joys of the future. Individually, Peter and John represent these two lives, the present and the future; but both journeyed in faith through this temporal life and both will enjoy the second life by vision, eternally.
  All the faithful form an integral part of the body of Christ, and therefore, so that they may be steered through the perilous seas of this present life, Peter, first among the Apostles, has received the keys of the kingdom of heaven, to bind and loose from sin. And also for the sake of the faithful, so that they may keep the still and secret heart of his mode of life, John the evangelist rested on Christ’s breast.
  It is not Peter alone who binds and looses sins, but the whole Church. It is not John alone who has drunk at the fountain of the Lord’s breast and pours forth what he had drunk in his teaching of the Word being God in the beginning, God with God, of the Trinity and Unity of God — of all those things which we shall see face to face in his kingdom but now, before the Lord comes, we see only in images and reflections — not John alone, for the Lord himself spreads John’s gospel throughout the world, giving everyone to drink as much as he is capable of absorbing."

Whether you are Peter or you are John, your attachment to the Lord Jesus has to be ineluctable. It just kind of dawned on me the other day that many pious young Catholics seem to think they have permission to be standoffish or choosy. Although protracted adolescence may be a social component, it is not really the central problem, nor does it excuse one from responding with a wholehearted "Here am I, Lord, send me". The problem is spiritual blindness rooted in pride. We have so few vocations and so few young people at Mass every Sunday because they have the false impression that they do not need to pray in church, yes, they do not need to be there before the Heavenly Throne. Part of the problem is the Church's halfhearted presentation of itself, especially in divine worship, the Church as the Body of Christ, sent into the world to reconcile us with the Father. Part of the problem is a false irenicism or denominational indifferentism, which sees the Church's calling as something less than sublime and utterly essential for the life of the world unto eternity.

I have come to understand that my own analysis of the problem and its solution to date was at best partial. I thought that the key was good and holy hierarchy. For too long I was distracted by the leadership component in my analysis of this problem and ended up offering an apology to young people straddling the fence of commitment, simply put off by ambiguous or lukewarm bishops and their sad presbyterates. What I have to say about a vocation to celibate priesthood goes as well for the vocation to holy matrimony. Although you cannot expect a young man to throw himself into the fray where everything in his home diocese works against regular Catholic life (no regular offering of auricular Confession anywhere, difficulty in finding a proper celebration of Sunday Mass anyplace, ...), this does not excuse him from giving seminary a try or presenting himself to a bishop, just because he has the impression that the priests in a given diocese or region he encounters are less than perfect, slack, unhappy, less than on fire with the Holy Spirit. 

My fundamental mistake in analyzing the vocations crisis was that for too long I have been keying the thing to the importance of good bishops. As right as it is to say that Saint Charles Borromeo made the Tridentine Reform possible in the Archdiocese of Milan and throughout his ecclesiastical province, not having a Saint Charles today excuses no one from embracing the call. Granted, God's calling of the prophet Hosea to take a prostitute as his wife is not the ordinary route to a happy and successful marriage, even so, not every diocese is so terribly messed up as to excuse a young man from coming knocking on his bishop's door for help in discerning what may be a call to Holy Orders.

At the risk of taking St. Paul out of context:
"For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God." (I Cor. 1: 25-29) 

Perhaps then there is a certain justification or excuse for my impatience with some of those who hesitate to jump into the fray? I don't know. At any rate, I have been looking back at my own youth where I cannot see the process so conflicted because of the faults or shortcomings of others. I am sure that as a youth I saw the shortcomings of some of the members of the presbyterate I was called by my bishop to join. I think I persevered despite my own frailty because I learned to love and respect my brother priests for who they were in their own struggle to serve and because I recognized my calling no less than theirs as coming from Christ Himself through His Church. 

Bishops must be standard bearers leading the forces forth into battle against Satan. There may be hiccups along the way, but the whole enterprise is anything but earthbound. We are terribly right to pray for vocations and as adults, as those who have gone before, to clean up our act as best possible. My latest insight, then, would be to place a double portion for the vocations crisis where it belongs, namely on the shoulders of those called. The Lord will not leave His flock untended. We are not far from wrong in being sad, as was Jesus Himself, when the rich young man turned and walked away.

"The young man said to him, "All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?" Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions." (Matt. 19: 20-22)


Sunday, May 6, 2018

Reverential Fear

The Exodus account of Moses' encounter with the Living God in the Burning Bush is a classic for expressing what we mean by the fear of the Lord, by the reverential fear to be expected of God's chosen ones, from those to whom the Almighty chooses to draw close. In times past, the concept may have been more accessible to the comprehension of people generally than for the mainstream of Western society in our day. Even though Jesus would not in His own day, nor in ours, transport us back to the base of Mount Sinai, spewing smoke and fire, the casual which marks so much of today seems no less an exaggeration in the opposite direction. So many of the First Communion pictures I see posted on Facebook might show the communicant all dressed up, especially the girls in the white dresses. When a family picture records the event, it is not unlikely that the proud daddy might be standing there behind his daughter in a knit shirt and shorts, with sandals or sport shoes. The incongruity of the scene tends to jump out at you.

What we sometimes peg as casual is symptomatic for whatever it is in us, which seems to have banished the slightest comprehension of what is meant by reverential fear from the registers or keys in which we can sing of life and love. We see it in church going; we see it in family life and in interpersonal relationships. Married couples and families have lost fear as a category in describing their mutual respect. Talk of fear of the Lord, as well, does not rate much more than a hunch or a shrug of the shoulders. It would seem that thoughtless familiarity has banned from relations with both God and neighbor that respectful distance which should animate and enrich our relationships.

I remember from my own adolescence (mid 1960's!) two conversations with my father in which he professed to me, by way of witness and teaching to his son, his faithful and undying love for my mother. Dad did so speaking in terms of respect, maybe better of reverence, and of a reverence definitely shot through with fear. The one time I remember his anguished look after she walked out of the house and went to my aunt's when he raised his voice to her. Dad's reverential fear for my mother, his bride, inspired the remorse written all over his face, as he confessed to his oldest son, still a boy, his being in the wrong and his panic over how he would ever be able to make things right again. Of course he did, because the reverential fear was mutual and demanded as much from my mother as well.

Apart however from the existential, from our relations with family, friends and acquaintances, I am more concerned in sharing a thought or two about the reverential fear we owe to the Almighty, that is about the Fear of the Lord, that virtue listed among the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.

Lots of serious people of every age in the Church today are on the search for a recovery of reverence in our relationship with God Almighty. Not two months ago I was asked to address the Irish Confraternity of Catholic Clergy. They asked me to address them on priestly spirituality and reverence in the liturgy. The other day, I saw a video interview with a young man speaking to the issue of the preparations for the youth synod to be held next fall in Rome. He was saying that in his circle of friends, when it comes to liturgy, true reverence and a reverential atmosphere is something his generation strives to practice and seeks above all when it comes to searching out a Sunday Mass to attend. I still remember years back my sister telling me how impressed she and my brother-in-law were when their eighteen year old son expressed a preference for the quiet 8 a.m. Mass on Sunday morning over the youth liturgy on Sunday evening with guitars, percussion and what not. The young man had his ideas about where God was to be found and worshiped.

Where do you find reverent worship these days? I hope my readers will bear with me and refrain from shock and other theatricals, when I state that there is something ingenuous in the aspiration to be able to do one's duty to God and His Church by achieving a constantly reverent celebration of the Novus Ordo (NO) Mass. Just how do you go about doing that? Is it enough to clean up liturgical abuse, to sticking faithfully to the script (rubrics and approved liturgical texts), to order our priorities by going Ad Orientem or Ad Dominum, by forswearing the discursive tone and the running commentary in the order of Mass, by beautifying churches and choosing noble appointments for worship (sacred vessels and vestments)? All of this and more is what is meant by the reform of the reformed liturgy (starting with a purge of so much of what passes as liturgical music). It is all well and good, but more is required of us.

You might say that I am going overboard in taking a more absolute stance in favor of the Vetus Ordo (VO) than do the most vocal of the prelates (bishops, archbishops and cardinals) who speak to the topic of the mutual enrichment of the two forms of the one Roman Rite. Why? Simply by reason of how I understand the notion of reverential fear and how it should animate our worship and our acting! I will limit myself to giving you two indicators: optional modes of expression and the preparation of the chalice.

What is wrong with the rubric: in these or similar words? In one sense nothing and in another, everything. Discretion in the context of programmed choices (options) may not be disrespectful but it is neither awe inspired or awe inspiring. It is not conducive either to soliciting or to confirming reverential fear. Good! Well then just get rid of the options and establish one constant order of service. The question, of course, is whether (with the exception of Scripture reading) it is even possible knowing how most good priests go about celebrating Mass. How do you break priests of the habit of paraphrasing? Reverential fear demands no less.

Generally, in Novus Ordo (NO) celebrations in public we bishops have someone else, either a deacon or a priest concelebrant, prepare the chalice for us at the Offertory. Reverential fear would call for due diligence on their part in the addition of those few drops of water to the wine in the chalice... Sorry, but my usual distraction at that moment in the preparation of the gifts might be attributed to the careless or exuberant "glug, glug" of the water and the splashed up interior of the cup which is then handed me without remedy. Reverential fear? I think not. Is this behavior capable of reform, how and at what cost to all involved?

The premise is wrong for the needed reform of the NO, that is, for a recovery always and everywhere of the kind of reverence in public worship sought by people young and old. Tell me why therefore I should not conclude that the NO would seem to be incapable of reform. The alternative to cultivating the casual would be a contrite and convinced return to cultivating the sublime, and yes to do so out of a genuine fear. Love knows no less, if we are to be faithful, if we are to enter fully into His presence. 

There's no turning back, you say. Such a proposal of a radical reset to the pre-conciliar form of worship would be to deny over a half century of experimentation and practice. I cannot help but ask myself whether it might not be that which the Bridegroom awaits. Is that not what genuine love shot through with fear, reverential fear, demands of me? "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding."


Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Logic of Necessity

Duty: Altar Boys as an Interpretive Key

Some time back, in the midst of somebody's Facebook/Twitter banter, I picked up on a smack-down between two people I cannot say that I particularly know. No doubt it happened not on my timeline but on a page I had liked at some point and was following. Person A (a priest) published a profile picture of himself at an altar in the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome, commenting about it being his first EF celebration in that great church. Person B expressed surprise that he would be celebrating the Holy Sacrifice without the assistance of a server... The mental note I registered has provoked some thoughts I would like to share.

Once upon a time, when I was a boy, we used to serve Mass both on Sundays and on Weekdays right through our years in high school. Naturally, because the Catholic High School campus was on the edge of town, the older boys were generally assigned for the Sunday Masses and the grade school boys had the privilege of weekdays. I remember as an 8th grader being weekday sacristan, which involved setting up for both Masses at the High Altar in the Cathedral and in between serving the daily private Mass of the director of Catholic Charities at Mary's Altar. I have shared memories with men my age and older of our walks or bike rides before dawn to be there to fulfill our duty. None of us doubted that we had our role, an important part, an integral part to play in the daily offering of the Holy Sacrifice. The logic of necessity explains the duty imposed upon us to freely choose to play a key role in enabling the Holy Sacrifice. At age 10 or 18 the Altar boy, I am the actor and my parents, yes, must respect my choice, not only to actively participate but through my service in the vesture of a cleric to sustain the priest who brings Christ down to our Altars. 

Today in many places around the world, you get the impression that it is a work of persuasion, not unlike pulling teeth, to get enough Mass servers to show up for Sunday and, well, lots of priests are constrained to celebrate daily Mass without assistance. To blame parents for this failure of their children to commit is to get the cart before the horse. A better approach starts again with the logic of necessity: the Holy Sacrifice, the Source and Summit of Christian Existence, should not take place without my collaboration as an Altar boy, deputed to fill out the number of clerics needed to give God His due, each and every day, but especially on Sunday. Decades ago, most Catholics understood the logic of it and were proud to have a son who wanted to serve Mass, who memorized all the prayers in Latin, who drilled and practiced, who made muster. This has nothing to do with the positive benefits of sports in the life of the child, here we are talking about an actual contribution a child or young man can make to the work of God.

My guess is that serving Mass today probably ranks somewhere below scouting, among the formative experiences which should be part of growing up. It cannot even compete with soccer, indoor ice hockey or swim team. My guess would be that no one, perhaps not even the priest, attributes to the service of the Altar a sense of its being something needed and hence to be taken on, after training, as a sacred duty. Having ruminated on this thing for some months, I see the "altar boy crisis" as a component or key which helps explain falling numbers of regular Mass attendance. People do not seem to be able to comprehend the idea that Sunday Mass is a sine qua non. Without Sunday Mass I cannot live as a Catholic. 

When Jesus proclaimed Himself the Bread of Life, He scandalized certain people who turned their backs on Him. Confronting His closest disciples on this point, He elicited Peter's response of: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life." 

I am sure that it escapes no one that the logic of necessity requires much more than a reverent celebration of Mass on Sunday. It requires recovering or building up anew the Catholic way of life. No boy, who hasn't been taught his basic prayers at home from infancy, who hasn't been properly catechized and who doesn't understand his Sunday obligation and the call to holiness of life which should draw him to the Sacrament of Penance as well, is going to recognize the sublimity of service at the Altar.

Where do you begin? Where else but with a true restoration of the Divine Liturgy, which draws with it the necessary catechesis and life context?