Thursday, February 28, 2013

The War on Women

It has claimed many lives, and looks to claim many more.

Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.--Pope Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae: On The Regulation of Birth, July 26, 1968, article 17

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Pope Benedict Asked Bishops to Resign

Interesting.  I hadn't heard this from anywhere else.  Excerpts:
A Vatican diplomat has given Pope Benedict XVI credit for a “cleansing of the episcopate,” saying that the Pope has removed many bishops from office during the course of his pontificate.

Speaking in Madrid, Spain, Archbishop Miguel Maury Buendia said that the Pope has confronted bishops who have proved incompetent or unworthy, and asked them to resign. The Spanish archbishop--who is the apostolic nuncio to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tadjikstan—said that most of the bishops acknowledged their failings and agreed to resign. “There have been two or three instances in which they said no, and so the Pope simply removed them,” he said.

“This Pope has removed two or three bishops per month throughout the world because either the accounts in their dioceses were a mess or their discipline was a disaster,” Archbishop Maury disclosed.

Pope Emeritus, "Two Popes," And Facepalm

This is what happens when a media without a substantial understanding of Catholicism starts trying to do some serious reporting on the Church--they keep on trying to force an institution with its roots in the eternal communion of the Trinity into the flat, horizonless secular perspective dominant in the West which sees all power emanating from money, sex, and political power.  Which then leads to serious chin-pulling speculation about the inevitable future difficulties of a pope emeritus walking the earth while a present pontiff serves as the rock.  Cause, well, you know...

All right, I suppose I can't blame them entirely. Some blame has to go to Catholic commentators such as Mr. Michael Walsh.  Mr. Walsh--really? Really? Excerpts:
...Catholic author Michael Walsh told CNN he was unsurprised by Benedict's desire for more privacy.

"He's a rather private man. He wants to get back to his books and his cats, he wants to get back to prayer," he said. "He's obviously coming towards the end of his life -- he's 85 -- so I understand that."

But, Walsh added, "what I don't understand is that he says he wants to be part of it all, which could be disastrous if you take it at face value," referring to Benedict's promise not to abandon the church.

"The notion that you have two people that claim to be pope, in a sense, is really going to be very confusing," Walsh said.

Vatican officials have said they don't anticipate any interference from Benedict as a new pope takes office.
Okay, so why is this such a bad bit of commentary?  First of all, because the quote as included from Mr. Walsh makes it sound like the Vatican has announced that the Pope intends to be gadding about, peeking in now and then, just to give a little input, nothing too some Dowager Pope of Vatican City.  Someone here is totally missing what's actually being said.

Hint: Catholicism does not accept that the only way to influence world events is by the use of power (political influence) or wealth (economic influence) or even worldly culture (even though that last was one of Blessed Pope John Paul II's greatest tools).  What's this strange source of Catholic power that the Pope intends to use in order to have influence on the Church and the world?  Gee!  What on earth could it be?  I mean, it's not as though he's indicated what that power was in his last statements these past few weeks.

Come, Anchoress! Make things well again! Excerpts:
...You might call it a supernatural gambit (and it wouldn’t be Benedict’s first) as in one move Benedict is both teaching by example and subverting the world in a way perhaps only the evil one understands; the prayers and penances of a Vicar of Christ, unimpeded by the trappings and distractions of an office, will be powerfully efficacious.

Those who think Benedict has simply lain down his staff do not understand that he lays it down to pick up a flamethrower of sorts. For however long he lives as a monastic, he will be a conduit of prayer, praise, adoration and supplication for the rest of the world. He is taking on huge duty.
In faith he will have delivered the powerful lesson that a life of faith is never without resources, because prayer extends beyond time and space, through darkness and into light.

And perhaps we will need to learn that lesson well, to face our future, together...
...We’ve never seen this before in our lifetimes; it’s remarkable to ponder that the pope, along with monastics around the world, will be so very focused on the selection of the next pope.
A monastery is a kind of powerhouse of prayer, but with distractions and impediments removed from its functioning; in enclosure, Benedict will become “a house of prayer and a temple of intercession” for us all. His hope and ours may reside, as it has before, in the simple yet profound reach of a monk.
And the Cardinal Secretary of State has made public a letter to the contemplative communities of the world in the last few days. It reads in part:
...His Holiness Benedict XVI has asked all the faithful to accompany him with their prayers as he commends the Petrine ministry into the Lord’s hands, and to await with trust the arrival of the new Pope. In a particularly urgent way this appeal is addressed to those chosen members of the Church who are contemplatives. The Holy Father is certain that you, in your monasteries and convents throughout the world, will provide the precious resource of that prayerful faith which down the centuries has accompanied and sustained the Church along her pilgrim path. The coming conclave will thus depend in a special way on the transparent purity of your prayer and worship.

The most significant example of this spiritual elevation which manifests the most authentic and profound dimension of every ecclesial action, the presence of the Holy Spirit who guides the Church, is offered to us by His Holiness Benedict XVI who, after having steered the barque of Peter amid the waves of history, has chosen to devote himself above all to prayer, contemplation and reflection...
This confusion on the part of some authors and the media is rather like the section in Carl Bernstein and Marco Politi's His Holiness about Pope John Paul II. There was one section in the book where they give a run down of all his great work, his many accomplishments, and wonder how on earth he does it all. Then a few paragraphs later, in a very casual, throwaway line sort of way, they mention how much he prayed. As though the two had nothing to do with each other.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

How To Be A Christian In A Church Full of Sinners

I have been writing hitherto on the assumption that the people in the next pew afford no rational ground for disappointment. Of course if they do – if the patient knows that the woman with the absurd hat is a fanatical bridge player or the man with squeaky boots is a miser and an extortioner – then your task is so much the easier. All you then have to do is to keep out of his mind the question ‘If I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the different vices of those people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention?’ You may ask whether it is possible to keep such an obvious thought from occurring even to a human mind. It is, Wormwood, it is! Handle him properly and it simply won’t come into his head.--C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Letter 2
John Allen has addressed the latest rumor and scandal out of Rome.  Excerpts:
...I've received numerous requests to comment on the sensational story in an Italian newspaper Thursday suggesting the existence of a shadowy "gay lobby" in the Vatican, linking it to the prospect of blackmail and suggesting that such dark forces may have factored into Benedict XVI's decision to resign.

For what it's worth, I'll lay out my initial reaction here...

In terms of the story's specifics, I don't know whether it's accurate that a commission of three cardinals created by Benedict XVI to investigate the Vatican leaks affair, composed of Cardinals Julian Herranz Casado, Jozef Tomko and Salvatore De Giorgi, actually considered possible networks inside the Vatican based on sexual preference, but frankly, it would be a little surprising if they hadn't.

Here's why. In 2007, Msgr. Thomas Stenico in the Congregation for Clergy was suspended after being caught on hidden camera making contact with a young man posing as a potential "date" in gay-oriented chat rooms, then taking him back to his Vatican apartment. In 2010, a "Gentlemen of the Pope" named Angelo Balducci was caught in a wiretap trying to arrange sexual hookups through a Nigerian member of a Vatican choir. Both episodes were highly public and caused massive embarrassment.

In that context, it would seem odd if the cardinals didn't at least consider the possibility that somebody with a big secret to hide might be vulnerable to pressure to leak documents or spill the beans in other ways...
In the comments, "CAELewis" shares a common complaint:
It is so (expletive) difficult to focus on the good that the global Church does when the "leadership" is embroiled in all the evil and corruption that is constantly reported. It's hard to remain a proud, faithful, involved member in this institution when its leadership doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to a picture of a Christian based on the Gospel. Apostolic succession or not, can this really be Jesus' church?
Which prompted me to add my two cents.
Yes, since it's the Church of he who came for sinners, not for the righteous; for the sick, not for the well. We keep on going out to the nations to draw in the rest of the sinners of the world to join us--of course there will be scandal. Of course there will be trouble. It's a Church-full of sinners on the long, slow road to Calvary to die and be raised again.

What do we do? Walk the road to Calvary, fasting and praying, doing penance for our sins and the sins of others. We pour ourselves out to God and receive him in return, then, deified and sanctified, strengthened beyond our own finitude into everlasting grace and strength, we can be God's face in the word, God's hands, God's feet, doing works of mercy, mediating divine life and love into the cosmos at large. We can raise up our neighbors, our brothers, our enemies, our friends, into communion with the life and love of God.

See Father Barron's The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path; Dorothy Day's retreat master Father John Hugo's writings in Weapons of the Spirit; Ralph Martin's synthesis of the teachings of several doctors of the Church in The Fulfillment of All Desire; Father Michael Gaitley, MIC's The One Thing Is Three: How the Most Holy Trinity Explains Everything; Pope Benedict XVI's What It Means to Be a Christian: Three Sermons; and Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange's The Three Conversions in the Spiritual Life to see the road to be walked laid out in clarity.
Looking at my list, I see I've neglected to include a few key books--see below for the rest.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

All You Need Is Love

But romantic love is not the only form of love.
“Those who cannot conceive Friendship as a substantive love but only as a disguise or elaboration of Eros betray the fact that they have never had a Friend. The rest of us know that though we can have erotic love and friendship for the same person yet in some ways nothing is less like a Friendship than a love-affair. Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends hardly ever about their Friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest. Above all, Eros (while it lasts) is necessarily between two only. But two, far from being the necessary number for Friendship, is not even the best. And the reason for this is important.

... In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets... Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth, if only the newcomer is qualified to become a real friend. They can then say, as the blessed souls say in Dante, "Here comes one who will augment our loves." For in this love "to divide is not to take away.”― C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves
So here we are presented with a rare being in the modern age--a man coming out of the closet and intending to remain celibate. Excerpts:

I first saw this video in an article from Slate magazine. In it, Jimmy, a gay Mormon, comes out to his friends and family and videotapes their reactions. Thankfully, most of them seem positive, if a little awkward. His mother's reaction is priceless.

But the line in the video that is causing controversy is when Jimmy says, "What does being a gay Mormon mean? Well, it means that I'm going to live a celibate life... sucks!"

Of course, many people are commenting on the video on YouTube, urging him to give up the celibate lifestyle:
"It would be a real sin to live a lonely, loveless life."

"He is way too happy about being celibate and single and that is just sad."

"This is simultaneously very cool & very sad. I applaud you for having the courage to admit to yourself & to others about your sexuality. But I'm profoundly sad for you that you seem unable to also unshackle yourself from the idiocy that is organized religion"
What struck me about these comments is that many people simply do not accept that living a life of celibacy as a gay person is an acceptable choice. There are many examples of brave gay people who choose to marry the opposite sex, or choose to live a celibate life because of their religious beliefs, but this is deemed unacceptable by many. You can either be gay and acting upon it, or something is wrong with you. 

Which is kind of funny to me, because "You are free to be gay, just not a celibate gay" sure sounds a lot like the much maligned, "You are free to be gay, just not to act upon it." Both of these attitudes impose rather than invite.
We are all children of the sexual revolution in the west these days. Former ways of life, former norms of sexual morality seem unthinkable, impossible, even though they were widely believed and practiced in those "bad old days." Even those who have been practicing the older habits for some time can often find those ways difficult and discouragement ready to hand.  And really, the whole sexual revolution was possible and popular because chastity is difficult.  Sex outside of marriage often feels good.  We're aimed in all the wrong directions internally--away from fidelity and constant self-gift without counting the cost, away from receiving the other in love, and towards taking what feels good, taking what we want without counting the cost to ourselves or others.  We're all upside down and inside out, with weakened wills, darkened intellects, and disordered desires.  Some people are healthier than others.  Some are less well off.  Some people will never struggle with lust a day in their lives.  Others may struggle with lust all their lives.  Some people never have an issue with gluttony, but wrath is a real trial to them and those around them.  Some will never fight envy, but may deal with pride.  I have my own share of temptations and struggles, my own history of failures and fallenness, as well as moments of goodness and adherence to truth.  As Red Green says, "I'm pulling for ya.  We're all in this together."

But for all of us, the truth remains that the meaning of life is love.  And all is grace.

“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless - it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”
C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Permanent Versus Perennial

One of the key features of modernity is a desire for permanent and total solutions. We want to deal with a problem once and be done, to completely resolve an issue and place it out of the concern of our old age or the time of our children. We do not simply try to reduce drug use. We have a war on drugs. We don't attempt to mitigate poverty. We go to war against poverty. We don't just talk about proper gun use in the wake of tragedies. We debate whether to ban guns or to have no restrictions on guns at all.

We are impatient this way, thinking in really broad strokes, making vast generalizations, aiming for the stars with all the subtlety and nuance of--well, of all totalitarians and dictators.  We want to triumph, you see.  We want to have our vision of the world win out once and for all, want to demand total surrender from the Nazis we face today, whoever those Nazis may be--conservatives or liberals; sexual revolutionaries or religious folks; them foreigners or the frightening "enemy" next door.  We want a total triumph for all that we believe to be right and true, even if what we believe to be right and true is that there is no such thing as an absolute truth and we are universally called to tolerance by that truth.

We want to win.  Kill those weeds!  All of them!  Let them never return in my garden again!  Those mosquitoes!  End them!  Exterminator!  Exterminator!  Each presidential election is framed in apocalyptic/messianic terms.  Their candidates are the anti-Christ, and our guys are chosen, anointed, destined.  If we win, it is the victory of all that is right and true.  If they win, it will be unspeakable.  But somehow we all survive each victory of the dreaded other side.  Somehow, we live on, watching the nation go further and further into debt under fiscally conservative Republicans and tax-and-spend Democrats alike.

We live in an age whose spirit is that of the via moderna, the modern way.  That way has led to a culture of death, to a culture which pursues the triumph of the will over reason, over truth, over any objective standard.  We have seen the long war of man versus nature, of neighbor versus neighbor, of flesh versus spirit, of man versus God taken to a hyper-efficient end.  To be free, it's every man for himself.  Either I have power or they have power--there is no middle way.

This has been destroying us for a very, very long time--working in these absolutes.  Why?  Because they are the wrong absolutes.
“[M]an has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to having a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn't think of doctrines as primarily "true" or "false," but as "academic" or "practical," "outworn" or "contemporary," "conventional" or "ruthless." Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don't waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong or stark or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That's the sort of thing he cares about."--C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
Put mind over master for a time. Put first principles over power, the intellect over the will, truth over action.  Submit yourself to the mastery of the natural law, of the Creator of all things, of the truth, the good, the beautiful, of life and love, of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It's a road that is as hard as the road to Calvary, as hard as iron nails and the wood of the Cross--but it leads to life through death, to One Threesome who love you eternally.  Love yourself because you are beloved by omniscient omnibenevolent omnipotency, by God, and love those whom your Beloved loves.  Accept the rhythms of the seasons, of human life, of the liturgy, of love, rather than grasping for power and perfect control.  Accept community, and charity, and the love of your "lesser" fellow man--the annoying, the weak, the foolish, the sinful, the sorrowful, the stupid.  Many of these are your betters.   As Pope Benedict once said, part of the reason for the commandment to love our neighbor is that they have to put up with us.  Love, and forgive, and forbear, and find yourself borne up on a great tide of loving, forgiving forbearance in your turn.

Follow the way of the Cross, sowing yourself in love, bearing up underneath the weight of your burden by the abiding power and presence of the Trinity in your heart, by the force and fire of the Holy Spirit.  Life will explode from you like the sun.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Novena to St. Peter for the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter

This certainly seems timely.

Novena Dates February 14-22, Feast Day February 22

O Holy Apostle, because you are the rock upon which Almighty God has built His church, obtain for me I pray you, firm hope and burning love; complete detachment from myself, contempt of the world, patience in adversity, humility in prosperity, recollection in prayer, purity of heart, a right intention in all my works, diligence in fulfilling the duties of my state of life, constancy in my resolutions, resignation to the will of God and perseverance in the grace of God even unto death; that so, by means of your intercession and your glorious merits, I may be made worthy to appear before the chief and eternal shepherd of souls, Jesus Christ, Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns forever. Amen.
Who told you that it is not manly to make novenas? These devotions are manly, when it is a man who performs them in a spirit of prayer and penance.--St. Josemaria Escriva

The Pope: Center of Christian Unity

An interesting perspective from a new convert. Excerpts:
...In Lent 2011 I was taking some time to read more about the Catholic faith. My wife had bought this book about Catholic dogma by John Hardon and I was reading through it during Holy Week.

I was particularly struck by a passage in the book that argued for the validity of the papacy by arguing that Christ intended the church to be a Universal reality (p. 217-218). Hardon used Matthew 24:14 as a jumping off point. In the passage Jesus promises that the Gospel will go forth into the world beyond Judea and into the gentile world before the end of the generation. He points out that Jesus' vision was for a truly Catholic Church in union, where all people could find a place, and no group was excluded. The Church is a collection of diverse and particular faith communities that are all in union in one Body.

I loved that vision. One in which every culture could bring their own encounters with God and use them to help the Church see the mystery of the incarnation more clearly. In the protestant world we had been bitterly divided over ever conceivable issue. Diversity caused division. The same seemed to be true in the Orthodox world, where churches were so often divided along ethnic lines, and unity seemed almost impossible. Hardon pointed to the papacy as a center of unity around which diverse groups could truly voice their particularity while still being in union with those who were different them them.

I had never read Matthew 24:14 as a vision for a global, but united church, but I liked it. It was the first time in years I had taken the idea of the Papacy seriously. I resolved to think about it more in the days to come...

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Jesus Loves to Help Us

According to Saints Padre Pio and Faustina. Excerpts:
I've always been amazed at how Jesus tells St. Faustina (and other mystics) that by our actions, such as trust or lack of trust, we either comfort him or make him sad.  Think of it: we can actually comfort Jesus and give him joy when we trust in him!  Here's another example from the Diary of St. Faustina: "You will give Me pleasure if you hand over to Me all your troubles and griefs.  I shall heap upon you the treasures of My grace."

Years ago, after reading several passages like this one, I decided to strive to console Jesus by giving him my trust.  Therefore, I frequently pray the prayer, "Jesus, I trust in you," whenever worries oppress me.  Or sometimes I pray a prayer composed by a priest whom St. Padre Pio called a saint, Fr. Dolindo Ruotolo, who claimed that Jesus himself taught it to him.  Here's the prayer:  "O Jesus, I surrender this to you.  You take care of it."

According to Fr. Dolindo, Jesus promised that he would take special, even miraculous care of any worries, difficulties, or problems surrendered to him with the words of this prayer.  (The idea behind this promise actually goes back to the words from the Sermon on the Mount cited earlier.)  Anyway, I've prayed this prayer many times, and it's never failed me.  Of course, things haven't always turned out as I've expected, but I've often noticed that Jesus took care of the situations in a much more beautiful way than I could have imagined.--Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, The One Thing Is Three: How the Most Holy Trinity Explains Everything, (Stockbridge, MA: Marian Press, 2013), pg. 275-276.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Eucharist, The Heart of Life

I was talking with a friend the other night, and she asked what the Catholic teaching on the end of the world (eschatology) was--whether we expected Christ to come again, or whether we thought that he came at each Mass.  I said, "Both."

As Dr. Hahn lays out explicitly, Jesus comes to us in the Mass in a uniquely strong sense.  Excerpts:
...The Eucharist is the parousia. I have given many lectures on this subject since 1999, when I published The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth. In that book, I examined the Book of Revelation in light of the liturgies of the Church and of Israel, and I examined the Church’s Mass in light of the biblical Apocalypse. Most of my readers and listeners were aware that the Book of Revelation had something to say about the coming of Jesus at the end of the world. Few knew, however, that the Book of Revelation had anything to say about Jesus’ coming in the Eucharist.

The idea seems alien to faithful churchgoers in the twenty-first century. Yet it was commonplace to Christians of the first, second, and third centuries; and, to scholars of history—whether Catholic or not—the notion appears so pervasive as to be obvious. The great historical theologian Jaroslav Pelikan, writing as a Lutheran, observed of the early Church: “The coming of Christ was ‘already’ and ‘not yet’: he had come already—in the incarnation, and on the basis of the incarnation would come in the Eucharist; he had come already in the Eucharist, and would come at the last in the new cup that he would drink with them in his Father’s kingdom.”

Though a final parousia will one day come, the Eucharist is the parousia here and now. Anglican scholar Gregory Dix wrote that this notion was “universal” by the third century, and probably long before, since he adds that there are no exceptions to this rule: “[N]o pre-Nicene author Eastern or Western whose Eucharistic doctrine is at all fully stated” holds a different view...
So at the Mass, the eschaton--the end of time and history, the end of the world--is present. The fulfillment of all desire--God--comes to us to be eaten and to transform us by our eating, by word and sacrament, bathing us in the blood and water which poured forth from his side on the cross. As Stephen Colbert said, "You are what you eat." So at the Mass, when we eat his body and drink his blood, we are drawn into communion with Christ, and through Christ, with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  As we are transformed, so too is the cosmos.  As Pope Benedict teaches:
...The substantial conversion of bread and wine into His body and blood introduces within creation the principle of a radical change, a sort of "nuclear fission," which penetrates to the heart of all being, a change meant to set off a process which transforms reality, a process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all in all (cf. 1 Cor 15:28).--Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritas, art. 11
With every Eucharist, with every transubstantiation, with every time of communion between human beings and the Triune God, every aspect of the cosmos is touched. Humans participate in all layers of reality, being creatures of matter and spirit. As we are transformed, every part of creation is transformed. The end of the world comes as God becomes all in all, gradually permeating the cosmos until the forces of evil and privation, the forces of the devil, are pressed to a last stand. That shall be the great confrontation between anti-Christ and the Church, between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman, where he shall crush the head of the serpent, and the serpent shall bite at the heel of the Body of Christ. Good shall triumph. God shall be all in all, leaving no room for the denizens of hell. They shall be cast into the outer darkness, where there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

And to receive the Eucharist is to come to live his life, and love with his love.
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day.  It is written in the prophets: ‘They shall all be taught by God.’

Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.  Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.  Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.  I am the bread of life.  Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”--John 6:44-51
So we are called to live Eucharistic lives in this world, lives of thanksgiving and self-donation, lives of charity and bearing those crosses which God has laid upon us for the life of the world.
...By his command to "do this in remembrance of me" (Lk 22:19; 1 Cor 11:25), he asks us to respond to his gift and to make it sacramentally present. In these words the Lord expresses, as it were, his expectation that the Church, born of his sacrifice, will receive this gift, developing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the liturgical form of the sacrament. The remembrance of his perfect gift consists not in the mere repetition of the Last Supper, but in the Eucharist itself, that is, in the radical newness of Christian worship. In this way, Jesus left us the task of entering into his "hour." "The Eucharist draws us into Jesus' act of self-oblation. More than just statically receiving the incarnate Logos, we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving." (21) Jesus "draws us into himself."--Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritas, art. 11

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Benedict Will Enter a Monastery

Pope Benedict will enter a monastery shortly after his resignation in order to pray for the Church and the world.  Excerpts:
Saying he would soon be “hidden to the world,” Pope Benedict XVI took his leave of parish priests and clergy members of the Diocese of Rome on Thursday as he offered personal, and incisive, recollections of the Second Vatican Council, the gathering of bishops 50 years ago that set the Roman Catholic Church’s course for the future...

“Though I am now retiring to a life of prayer, I will always be close to all of you, and I am sure all of you will be close to me, even though I remain hidden to the world,” Benedict, 85, and increasingly frail, told the assembly of hundreds of priests, who had greeted him with a long standing ovation and some tears...

Once retired, Benedict will live in a convent in Vatican City, and will be tended to by the nuns who look after him now. Father Lombardi said Benedict’s longtime personal secretary, Archbishop Georg GĂ€nswein, who was also named prefect of the papal household two months ago, would continue to work for him.
I think a lot of people have been so focused on his resignation, they haven't quite noticed how this next step is a logical working out of the Pope's own choice of name. "Benedict will enter a monastery." When you put it that way, matters become a lot clearer. Benedict will enter a monastery--of course! Whatever else would he do? He will retire to pray for the Church and the world--of course! He's named Benedict!
Founder of western monasticism, born at Nursia, c. 480; died at Monte Cassino, 543....
The Pope has offered his own evaluation of the life and work of St. Benedict. Might this not clue us in as to his own intentions by resigning to retire to a monastery?  Excerpts:
...According to Gregory the Great, Benedict's exodus from the remote Valley of the Anio to Monte Cassio - a plateau dominating the vast surrounding plain which can be seen from afar - has a symbolic character: a hidden monastic life has its own raison d'ĂȘtre but a monastery also has its public purpose in the life of the Church and of society, and it must give visibility to the faith as a force of life...

Throughout the second book of his Dialogues, Gregory shows us how St Benedict's life was steeped in an atmosphere of prayer, the foundation of his existence. Without prayer there is no experience of God. Yet Benedict's spirituality was not an interiority removed from reality. In the anxiety and confusion of his day, he lived under God's gaze and in this very way never lost sight of the duties of daily life and of man with his practical needs. Seeing God, he understood the reality of man and his mission...

The Abbot must be at the same time a tender father and a strict teacher (cf. 2, 24), a true educator. Inflexible against vices, he is nevertheless called above all to imitate the tenderness of the Good Shepherd (27, 8), to "serve rather than to rule" (64, 8) in order "to show them all what is good and holy by his deeds more than by his words" and "illustrate the divine precepts by his example" (2, 12). To be able to decide responsibly, the Abbot must also be a person who listens to "the brethren's views" (3, 2), because "the Lord often reveals to the youngest what is best" (3, 3). This provision makes a Rule written almost 15 centuries ago surprisingly modern! A man with public responsibility even in small circles must always be a man who can listen and learn from what he hears...

By proclaiming St Benedict Patron of Europe on 24 October 1964, Paul VI intended to recognize the marvellous work the Saint achieved with his Rule for the formation of the civilization and culture of Europe. Having recently emerged from a century that was deeply wounded by two World Wars and the collapse of the great ideologies, now revealed as tragic utopias, Europe today is in search of its own identity. Of course, in order to create new and lasting unity, political, economic and juridical instruments are important, but it is also necessary to awaken an ethical and spiritual renewal which draws on the Christian roots of the Continent, otherwise a new Europe cannot be built. Without this vital sap, man is exposed to the danger of succumbing to the ancient temptation of seeking to redeem himself by himself - a utopia which in different ways, in 20th-century Europe, as Pope John Paul II pointed out, has caused "a regression without precedent in the tormented history of humanity" (Address to the Pontifical Council for Culture, 12 January 1990). Today, in seeking true progress, let us also listen to the Rule of St Benedict as a guiding light on our journey. The great monk is still a true master at whose school we can learn to become proficient in true humanism...
It would seem that the Pope is acting according to a vocational call, discerned at the time of his own election--the call to be, in a certain sense, a son of St. Benedict.
...If you know Benedict XVI at all, you know that he is firmly convinced that his resignation reflects the prompting of the Holy Spirit—that in an important sense it is God’s decision, not his own. It is no accident that in his public audiences during the past few weeks, especially on Ash Wednesday, the Pope has exhorted the faithful to surrender themselves completely to God’s will...
And that surrender has been the story of the life of Joseph Ratzinger, as the Anchoress points out.  Excerpts:
...Because we know Benedict is an introvert, and we see his tiredness, it is easy to believe that the man simply wishes, as some have suggested, to spend his last days unburdened, “reading and writing’ in an fragrant castle garden.

I don’t think so; During his entire priesthood, the man has not shaken off duties and burdens, but consented to carry more and more. This is who he is.

Increasingly, I believe Benedict’s resignation, rather than releasing himself from a heavy weight, is necessary so he may take on something much more cumbersome.

Last November, in a beautiful, intimate talk to a small gathering of elderly people, Benedict urged, “. . .never feel down at heart: you are a wealth for society, even in suffering and sickness..."

As he has done from his first moments as pontiff, Benedict yesterday asked pardon for his “defects” and then said, “With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.” It’s not about him. It’s about the church he serves, as always.

He’s retiring to a monastery within the Vatican. One does not “retire” into monasticism; a monastery is not an idyllic place of retreat, but a full-thrust into spiritual depths. It is where one goes to pray, do penance and — if one is particularly holy and willing — to engage in supernatural battle with things seen and unseen.

This is grave stuff, indeed; a heavy task. My suspicion is that Benedict is not taking his leave of the papacy in order to play his piano and read his books. In the midst of the temporal Lent of 2013, he’s going to be immersing himself in the Long Lent that began for us in 2002, and is with us still.

I suspect he will be doing penance for the church, and for the world — for those of us who cannot or will not do it, ourselves.

He is going into deep prayer, and that is no easy thing. It is, in fact, his last and perhaps greatest act of self-abnegation in a life that has been full of them. He never wanted the papacy, but was obedient to where he was being led. Given that his whole life has been lived in obedience to the Holy Spirit’s lead, we should believe he is being led, yet again, and is meekly — but with paradoxical boldness — going where he would rather not go.

As did Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa, Benedict meant it when he offered himself to God in the full rush of love, and said “use me.” As with those two saints, he is being used up to his last ember. It is only my conjecture, of course, but in my gut, I think it is so.

We won’t get to witness the last flames and embers of the 80+-year holocaust that has been Joseph Ratzinger because, as penitents have taken themselves into the desert since the earliest church, to do their separate battle and offer their weary praise, this is between Benedict — carrying the weight of all of our church-wide sins on his back — and the God who has called him.

Pray for Pope Benedict XVI as he becomes again Ratzinger, and — for the sake of the rest of us — willingly takes on a burden he will not shrug off. If he is, in fact, headed into battle for our sake, it is the most heroic thing we will never know about, in a whole life of quiet heroism...

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Catholic Agenda: A New Age of the Holy Spirit

Pope Benedict's challenge to the rising generations today. Excerpts:
“...You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you”. These words of the Risen Lord have a special meaning for those young people who will be confirmed, sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, at today’s Mass. But they are also addressed to each of us – to all those who have received the Spirit’s gift of reconciliation and new life at Baptism, who have welcomed him into their hearts as their helper and guide at Confirmation, and who daily grow in his gifts of grace through the Holy Eucharist. At each Mass, in fact, the Holy Spirit descends anew, invoked by the solemn prayer of the Church, not only to transform our gifts of bread and wine into the Lord’s body and blood, but also to transform our lives, to make us, in his power, “one body, one spirit in Christ”.

But what is this “power” of the Holy Spirit? It is the power of God’s life! It is the power of the same Spirit who hovered over the waters at the dawn of creation and who, in the fullness of time, raised Jesus from the dead. It is the power which points us, and our world, towards the coming of the Kingdom of God. In today’s Gospel, Jesus proclaims that a new age has begun, in which the Holy Spirit will be poured out upon all humanity (cf. Lk 4:21). He himself, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin May, came among us to bring us that Spirit. As the source of our new life in Christ, the Holy Spirit is also, in a very real way, the soul of the Church, the love which binds us to the Lord and one another, and the light which opens our eyes to see all around us the wonders of God’s grace...

The power of the Holy Spirit does not only enlighten and console us. It also points us to the future, to the coming of God’s Kingdom. What a magnificent vision of a humanity redeemed and renewed we see in the new age promised by today’s Gospel! Saint Luke tells us that Jesus Christ is the fulfilment of all God’s promises, the Messiah who fully possesses the Holy Spirit in order to bestow that gift upon all mankind. The outpouring of Christ’s Spirit upon humanity is a pledge of hope and deliverance from everything that impoverishes us. It gives the blind new sight; it sets the downtrodden free, and it creates unity in and through diversity (cf. Lk 4:18-19; Is 61:1-2). This power can create a new world: it can “renew the face of the earth” (cf. Ps 104:30)!...

Empowered by the Spirit, and drawing upon faith’s rich vision, a new generation of Christians is being called to help build a world in which God’s gift of life is welcomed, respected, and cherished—not rejected, feared as a threat, and destroyed. A new age in which love is not greedy or self-seeking, but pure, faithful, and genuinely free, open to others, respectful of their dignity, seeking their good, radiating joy and beauty. A new age in which hope liberates us from the shallowness, apathy, and self-absorption that deaden our souls and poison our relationships. Dear young friends, the Lord is asking you to be prophets of this new age, messengers of his love, drawing people to the Father, and building a future of hope for all humanity...--Pope Benedict XVI, 2008 World Youth Day homily
We are called to a new evangelization aimed at ushering in a culture of life which will lead to the rise of the civilization of love.  How?  Answering the universal call to holiness, which means living life in the Holy Spirit--partaking of the divine nature and becoming sons and daughters of God in Christ.  All of that agenda, by the way, is laid out in a supremely readable fashion in The One Thing Is Three: How the Most Holy Trinity Explains Everything.
When I came to you, brothers, proclaiming the mystery of God, I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.  I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive (words of) wisdom, but with a demonstration of spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.--1 Corinthians 2:1-5

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Note to Self: Don't Read Gary Wills

Oh.  My.  Goodness.  Stephen Colbert, defender of the faith!
Gary Wills is a Protestant, claiming to be Catholic. I'm not quite sure I understand how this man pulls this off. See here for a sampler of St. Augustine explaining and defending the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  Why don't I want to read him?  He's lying to himself, let alone to his readers, if he truly believes he can profess what he just professed in that video and still even want to be a Catholic.  Catholicism holds these truths to be, you know, true.  He's repudiated that faith in the course of the interview, let alone in whatever he's written.  Why would I listen to a man in such confusion?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Lent Teaches How to Give Yourself Away

At once the Spirit drove him out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.--Mark 1:12-13
Lent often seems like an imposition, an exercise in pointless self-denial and suffering. Why does it matter whether or not I eat chocolate for 40 days? If I wanted to diet, I'd do it rather differently. Why do we put ourselves through this exercise in frustration and little irritations?  What's the point?

The point reaches right outside us into the heart of God.  The Trinity is a communion of persons, whose life at its core consists of eternal, total self-gift.  The Father gives himself utterly to the Son; the Son gives himself utterly to the Father; and the gift given is the Holy Spirit.  This level of self-gift is natural only for the Trinity.  It is truly supernatural--above our nature--for humanity.  When we give ourselves so utterly, we die.
Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself? Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. Truly I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”--Luke 9:23-27
But to give ourselves so utterly to Christ is to receive life eternal, for Christ is utterly generous with himself, pouring out the last of his blood for us and our salvation.  He offers to graft us onto himself so that we may share in his divinity.
Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.  Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned.--John 15:4-6
We come to live his life and share in his death. We come to the fullness of life by giving our lives away.
...The retreat examined this connection between sacrifice and agape love by expounding on two images Jesus used, "sowing" and "pruning." Both are practicable ways to follow Jesus's command to lose our lives. The divine way led to Christ's crucifixion and resurrection. "The cross is thought to be one of the less pleasing parts of Christianity," Father Hugo said. "But the cross is the most positive part of Christianity. Because Jesus died out of love." In sowing and pruning, we do the same.

Sowing is rooted in the idea of detachment from the love of worldly goods: the decision to let loose the goods of this world in order to clasp the love of God. The retreat treated Jesus's parable of the farmer to show this. We are like the farmer sowing wheat. The wheat is good, just as many of our possessions and activities are good. But the farmer still must throw away the wheat in order to gain a harvest, and the seed must die to bear fruit. Just like Jesus, we must "throw away" the good things of our lives in order to gain something better: divine life. "It is the law of life," Father Hugo said. "To gain life, you must first lose it."

Father Hugo taught that the holy sacrifice of the Mass is central to our work of sowing. The only true response to it is to lose our own lives. If we don't offer our lives along with Christ's sacramental sacrifice, Monsignor Meenan said, "the liturgy for us is, well, kind of phony."--"The Catholic Worker Retreat of Father Hugo changed my Life" by Rosemary Hugo

Friday, February 15, 2013

The God Who Is Hungry

"Were I hungry, I would not tell you, for mine is the world and all that fills it. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of he-goats? Offer praise as your sacrifice to God fulfill your vows to the Most High. Then call on me on the day of distress; I will rescue you, and you shall honor me.”--Psalm 50:12-15
And yet, God became man.  No, more shocking still--God became conception, became fetus, became baby.  God became helpless.
Any agnostic or atheist whose childhood has known a real Christmas has ever afterwards, whether be likes it or not, an association in his mind between two ideas that most of mankind must regard as remote from each other; the idea of a baby and the idea of unknown strength that sustains the stars. His instincts and imagination can still connect them, when his reason can no longer see the need of the connection; for him there will always be some savor of religion about the mere picture of a mother and a baby; some hint of mercy and softening about the mere mention of the dreadful name of God...

Omnipotence and impotence, or divinity and infancy, do definitely make a sort of epigram which a million repetitions cannot turn into a platitude. It is not unreasonable to call it unique. --G. K. Chesterton, "The God in the Cave," The Everlasting Man, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press)
When God becomes baby, then we can no longer say, "He has never told us when he was hungry, or when he was thirsty."
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.”  Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I thirst.”  There was a vessel filled with common wine.  So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth.  When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished.” And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.--John 19:26-30
We cannot say, "He has never asked for something to eat or drink."
While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?”  They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them.--Luke 24:41-44
We cannot say anymore, "God is never hungry. God is never in need."
Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’  Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’  And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'--Matthew 25:34-40
And the first people to be given the privilege of feeding God, of tending to the needs of God, are Mary and Joseph. God, who would not have said to the priests and leaders of the nations in the times of the Old Testament that he was hungry, thirsty, or needed a house, now calls two human beings "Mother" and "Father."
But that same night the word of God came to Nathan:  Go and tell David my servant, Thus says the LORD: It is not you who are to build the house for me to dwell in.  For I have never dwelt in a house, from the day I brought Israel up, even to this day, but I have been lodging in tent or tabernacle.  As long as I have wandered about with all Israel, did I ever say a word to any of the judges of Israel whom I commanded to shepherd my people, Why have you not built me a house of cedar?--1 Chronicles 17:3-6
The Son of the Father, the Son of God, looks at two human beings and sees in them a true reflection of the parental love and care which he'd had from all eternity from God the Father.  He obeys them and, in so obeying, grows in grace, wisdom and favor.
He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.  And Jesus advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man.--Luke 2:51-52
God honored his earthly Father and Mother. How can we avoid doing the same?
When I was a boy a more Puritan generation objected to a statue upon my parish church representing the Virgin and Child. After much controversy, they compromised by taking away the Child. One would think that this was even more corrupted with Mariolatry, unless the mother was counted less dangerous when deprived of a sort of weapon. But the practical difficulty is also a parable. You cannot chip away the statue of a mother from all round that of a newborn child. You cannot suspend the new-born child in mid-air; indeed you cannot really have a statue of a newborn child at all. Similarly, you cannot suspend the idea of a newborn child in the void or think of him without thinking of his mother. You cannot visit the child without visiting the mother, you cannot in common human life approach the child except through the mother. If we are to think of Christ in this aspect at all, the other idea follows I as it is followed in history. We must either leave Christ out of Christmas, or Christmas out of Christ, or we must admit, if only as we admit it in an old picture, that those holy heads are too near together for the haloes not to mingle and cross.--G. K. Chesterton, "The God in the Cave," The Everlasting Man, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press)


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