Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Pugnacious Ignatius

The system won't let me copy and post graphics here on the computers at SJU Collegeville, but here is a great quote for the feast day of St. Ignatius Loyola.

Like its author and the Society of Jesus he founded, the quote takes no prisoners. But, it rings true. This is so especially in light of my week-long conference here at St John's University Collegeville with that OTHER world-changing society, the Companions of Christ. There's not much time or facility for blogging right now, but trust me, this week continues to be a life-changing time. .

The breath becomes a tempest.

"It is true that the voice of God, having once penetrated the heart, becomes strong as the tempest and loud as the thunder. But before reaching the heart it is as weak as a light breath that scarcely agitates the air. It shrinks from noise and is silent amid agitation."

A Realistic look back

From Zenit, a little perspective from our holy Fatheron the place of the Vatican II council in the post-modern world.

Pope Surveys Post-Vatican II Trials

Aide Says He Gives Vision of Realism and Humility

VATICAN CITY, JULY 29, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI says he had great enthusiasm during the Second Vatican Council, but acknowledges the difficulties the Church has faced since those years.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi recounted the Pope's words during the most recent edition of the Vatican Television program "Octava Dies." The Vatican spokesman was commenting on the Holy Father's question-and-answer session last Tuesday with priests from two dioceses of northern Italy.

Father Lombardi recalled that the Bishop of Rome answered a priest who spoke of living through the Second Vatican Council, the hopes of "changing the world," and the difficulties of the succeeding years.

The Pontiff replied: "I also lived the time of the Council with great enthusiasm; it seemed that the Church and the world had met again. We had hoped a great deal -- but things showed themselves to be more difficult."

Father Lombardi affirmed that the question-and-answer session had a "relaxed climate of reciprocal confidence among those who have dedicated their lives to so many years of pastoral service in a difficult world that is in constant change."

In this context, "the Pope delineates with a few very effective sketches the Church's path of the last decades, profoundly interpreting it in the context of the contemporary world," the Vatican official added.

Real hope

Father Lombardi said Benedict XVI recalled "above all the cultural crisis of the West that exploded in '68, with the fascination for Marxism and the illusion of creating a new world, and the crumbling of the communist regimes in '89: the fall of the ideologies that did not give room to faith but rather to skepticism.

"The Christian proclamation has to come to terms with this context," the Vatican spokesman added. "And the Church faces it with realism and humility without ceding to the triumphalism of those who think that they have found the way to the new world.

"At the bottom of this is the humility of the Crucified, which will always be contrasted by the great powers of the world, but which generates a real hope that is manifested in the creative vitality of the Church: in her communities and her movements, in the new responsibility of the laity, in ecumenical relations, in liturgical and spiritual experiences.

"The Pope of great theological ideas and great cultural wealth is also the one who helps us to live the simultaneously humble and rich condition of the hope of the Church on its way, as he says: 'With our feet on the ground and our eyes turned toward heaven.'"

Sunday, July 29, 2007

the Price of Souls: Never Give Up

There's some old-fashioned Middle Eastern haggling going in today's Old Testament Reading (Genesis 18:20-32) between Abraham and God. The subject is Sodom and Gomorrah, and the price of souls is.... well.... the subject of negotiation. Listen To Abraham's approach:

"Then Abraham drew nearer to him and said: "Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty? Suppose there were fifty innocent people in the city; would you wipe out the place, rather than spare it for the sake of the fifty innocent people within it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to make the innocent die with the guilty, so that the innocent and the guilty would be treated alike! Should not the judge of all the world act with justice?"

The LORD replied, "If I find fifty innocent people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake." Abraham spoke up again: "See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord, though I am but dust and ashes! What if there are five less than fifty innocent people? Will you destroy the whole city because of those five?" "I will not destroy it," he answered, "if I find forty-five there."

But Abraham persisted, saying, "What if only forty are found there?" He replied, "I will forebear doing it for the sake of the forty." Then he said, "Let not my Lord grow impatient if I go on. What if only thirty are found there?" He replied, "I will forebear doing it if I can find but thirty there."

Still he went on, "Since I have thus dared to speak to my Lord, what if there are no more than twenty?" "I will not destroy it," he answered, "for the sake of the twenty." But he still persisted: "Please, let not my Lord grow angry if I speak up this last time. What if there are at least ten there?" "For the sake of those ten," he replied, "I will not destroy it."

Set aside the fact that Sodom and Gomorrah ended up being destroyed anyway because, according to the story, only Lot and his family were righteous. Set aside, too, the fact that our concepts of God have matured in the four millenia since Abraham struck this bargaining pose with the Almighty.

There is still something quite admirable in Abraham's intercessory persistence. A similar merciful winsomeness adheres to the persistent friend in today's gospel parable (Luke 11:1-13). Jesus commends his persitence in asking for help:

"I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence. "

Thank heaven that God NEVER gives up on us. And thank God that there are these kinds of people, ...irksome, troubling, nagginhg intercessors who continue to pray for faithless relatives and friends when everyone else has folded up their tents and gone home.

They are like dripping water faucets, like recurring taps on the divine Shoulder. But they get the job done. I know at least two families who are facing this type of situation with family members right now.... dealing with those who are recalcitrant in regard to self-care, and in regard to their responsibilities to God and others. But my friends keep on praying and hoping that somehow, some way God will intervene and change their family members' lives.

These hapless, hopeful intercessors are reflections of the Divine Mercy, which never asks whether it should persist in love. He only asks that we continue to respond, both on our own and on behalf of others, "for us and for the whole world."

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Weeds and Wheat

Another small but (to me) amazing triple confluence in the river of Life.

I went to Mass this morning and listened to the parable of the wheat and the tares.

Mt 13,24-30. He proposed another parable to them. "The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well.

The slaves of the householder came to him and said, 'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?' He answered, 'An enemy has done this.' His slaves said to him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?'

He replied, 'No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, "First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn."'"

Then I went home to tackle my appointed semi-annual task- the pulling of weeds from the cracks in the gutter on the street in front of my house.

A few minutes ago I also read the July 28th reading from the Rule of Benedict: Chapter 48- On the Daily Manual Labor. It reads in part:

And if the circumstances of the place or their poverty
should require that they themselves
do the work of gathering the harvest,
let them not be discontented;
for then are they truly monastics
when they live by the labor of their hands,
as did our Fathers and the Apostles.
Let all things be done with moderation, however,
for the sake of the faint-hearted.

Ok, so weed pulling isn't exactly harvest gathering.

But it IS hard, back-breaking and sweaty work. Labora with a capital L. However, even if I could afford it I'm not sure I would pay someone to do this particular piece of yardwork for me. There is something very salutary about working hard, and then looking back down the road and seeing the clean and visible seams of asphalt which until this morning had been spotted over with weeds in various stages of ugly development.

But as good as the labora of weeding feels to the gardening soul, we still hear a Gospel warning about our weeding work in the Kingdom.

In a word. Don't do it.

The householder says 'No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, "First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn."'"

It's not ours to try and practice unnatural selection either in the Church or out in the world, not even in the garden plot of our own lives.

Why is that?

The householder of the parable is simply reflecting the Divine Father's merciful heart. We are told over and over again in Scripture that God wants us, has a passion for our souls, and will go to almost any length to help us return to Him. He loved us so much that sent His Son to die for us.

Therefore, it behooves us who are called into His presence to act like him. Yes, we need to call sin a sin and let people know when they are sowing bad seed in their own lives and in the world (to extend the metaphor a bit).

But, steadfastly Christ chose not to judge another person's state before God. That was part of the Divine winsomeness of His ministry. He didn't. We aren't supposed to either.

Judge not, lest ye be judged. Period. End of story.

But not really the end. Because Christians can sometimes be even harder on themselves than they are on other people. So God is telling us again here, don't even judge yourself. "Let me do that," the Father says "in my kind and stern yet merciful way. Let me bring you home. Let me weed your garden. Let me bring you life."

Sometimes we get so down on ourselves that we can't even hear the Dvinie Mercy calling out to us. We might be like Groucho Marx who claimed that he wouldn't join any club which would have him as a member. So, if you aren't supposed to ride herd on others, and not even on yourself, then what are you left with? A listening heart, and a willing spirit, which only God can give.

I love Pope Pius XII (1939-1958). He's always so practical, if a little pompous in his language.

He addressed this issue of the holiness of the visible Church in his encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi (On the Mystical Body of Christ), 1943. Read it here if you get time. The writing style is a little foreign, but the concepts in this letter led directly into some of the most profound insights of Vatican II.

“Let them grow together until harvest”

"Nor must one imagine that the Body of the Church, just because it bears the name of Christ, is made up during the days of its earthly pilgrimage only of members conspicuous for their holiness, or that it consists only of those whom God has predestined to eternal happiness.

It is owing to the Savior's infinite mercy that place is allowed in His Mystical Body here below for those whom, of old, He did not exclude from the banquet (cf Mt 9:11). For not every sin, however grave it may be, is such as of its own nature to sever a man from the Body of the Church, as does schism or heresy or apostasy.

Men may lose charity and divine grace through sin, thus becoming incapable of supernatural merit, and yet not be deprived of all life if they hold fast to faith and Christian hope, and if, illumined from above, they are spurred on by the interior promptings of the Holy Spirit to salutary fear and are moved to prayer and penance for their sins.

Let every one then abhor sin, which defiles the mystical members of our Redeemer; but if anyone unhappily falls and his obstinacy has not made him unworthy of communion with the faithful, let him be received with great love, and let eager charity see in him a weak member of Jesus Christ.

For, as[Augustine] the Bishop of Hippo remarks, it is better "to be cured within the Church's community than to be cut off from its body as incurable members." "As long as a member still forms part of the body there is no reason to despair of its cure; once it has been cut off, it can be neither cured nor healed."

Friday, July 27, 2007


From Zenit, B-16 on listening to God:

AURONZO DI CADORE, Italy, JULY 26, 2007 (Zenit.org).-

The task of the Church is to develop the human person's God-given ability to listen to the voice of truth, says Benedict XVI. The Pope said this Tuesday during a question-and-answer session with 400 priests of the dioceses of Belluno-Feltre and Treviso, in the Church of St. Justina Martyr in Auronzo di Cadore, near Lorenzago di Cadore, where he is nearing the end of his vacation.

A priest asked the Holy Father about dealing with widespread misconceptions about good and evil, saying that these moral concepts are confused with merely feeling good or feeling bad.The Pontiff responded that a "world without God becomes a world of arbitrariness and egoism. But where there is God, there is light and hope. Our life has a meaning that we cannot give it, but which precedes us, and guides us."

He recommended a path of "patient education," guiding people along the paths that "even a secularized conscience today can easily find." And from there, the Pope said, "let us try to guide people toward more profound voices, the true voice of the conscience, which can be heard in the great tradition of prayer, the moral life of the Church."

Benedict XVI acknowledged that today morality and religion "are almost replaced by reason," and "the only criterion of morality and religion is the subject, the subjective conscience.""In the end, only the subject, and his feelings, his experiences and the other criteria he has found, are deciding factors," the Pope said. "

In this way, however, the subject becomes an isolated reality, and the parameters change day after day."But, he explained: "In the Christian tradition 'conscience' means 'with-knowledge.' That is to say us, our being is open, it can listen to the voice of being itself, the voice of God."

The voice, therefore, of great values is written in our being. And the majesty of man is found in the fact that he is not closed within himself; he is not reduced to material things; he is not able to be measured.
Instead he has an interior openness to essential things, the possibility to listen."

In the depth of our being we can listen not only to the needs of the moment, not only to material things, but to the voice of the Creator himself, and in this way we recognize what is good and what is evil."

"Naturally," Benedict XVI affirmed, "this ability to listen must be learned and developed. This is our task in the Church -- to develop this high ability given by God to man to listen to the voice of the truth, the voice of values."

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Open the Eyes of Our Heart, Lord.

From John Tauler (around 1300-1361), Dominican Sermon 53

“Blest are your eyes because they see”

"Our Lord said: “Many a prophet and many a saint longed to see what you see but did not see it.” We must understand the prophets as being the great, subtle and reasoning minds who hold to the sublety of their natural reason and draw from it emptiness. Those eyes are not happy.

We must understand the kings as being men who are naturally dominant, with strong and powerful energy, who are masters over themselves, their words, their works, their language, and who can do whatever they want when it comes to fasting, vigils and prayers. But they make a big thing of it, as if this were something extraordinary, and they despise the others. These are also not the eyes that see the things that make them happy.

All those people wanted to see and did not see. They wanted to see, and they held on to their own will. Evil resides in the will… Our own will covers our interior eyes like a membrane or a film covers the exterior eye and prevents it from seeing… So long as you stay within your own will, you will be deprived of the joy of seeing with your interior eye.

For all true happiness comes from real abandonment, from being detached from our own will. All that is born in the depth of humility… The more a person is small and humble, the less does he have his own will. When all has been calmed, the soul sees its own essence and all its faculties; it recognizes itself as the rational image of Him from whom it came.

The eyes… that look this far can rightly be called blest because of what they see. What a person discovers then is the marvel of marvels, what is most pure, most sure… May we be able to follow this path and to see in such a way that our eyes might be blest. And may God help us in that!"

Dense Cloud of Love

In today's First Reading (Ex. 19,1-2.9-11.16-20) God tells Moses, "I am coming to you in a dense cloud, so that when the people hear me speaking with you, they may always have faith in you also."

I sat at Mass this morning thinking about other signs of God's presence in our lives. I considered the lives of SS. Anne and Joachim, Mary's parents, whom we remember today. I thought about their loving household.

Love for others is the sure sign that we are in the presence of God. It is the singular way in which we ourselves and those around us can have faith that God exists and that He has spoken to and acted through men.

Anne and Joachim's family must have been enveloped in such a cloud of love. After all, they gave birth to Mary, the model of perfect Love and Faith.

Such nuclear families are ordained by God as the privileged place where we first learn what love is from parents and also learn how to show love to others. Anyone who has ever borne children or been a child knows in their own hearts that this is true. Love for a child takes many forms, changes, develops, matures, gets disappointed. But it never fails.

However, there are larger arenas here where love is at work and play.

In religious communities, parishes, and the workplace we are to be surrounded by a dense cloud of love. Here we also experience the love of God and in turn show our concern by loving service to others. The nuclear family is to be the birthplace of such love, but it dare not become its endpoint. That is why a stable family life is so important to our churches, our neighborhoods, our society.

Here is a novena prayer to Anne and Joachim. They are powerful intercessors to bring this kind of love into our lives, in the family and wherever we find ourselves.

The Novena Prayer:

Good parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
grandparents of our Savior, Jesus Christ,
When life seems barren,
help us to trust in God's mercy.
When we are confused,
help us to find the way to God.
When we are lost in the desert,
lead us to those whom God has called us to love.
When our marriage seems lifeless,
show us the eternal youth of the Lord.

When we are selfish,
teach us to cling only to that which lasts.
When we are afraid,
help us to trust in God.
When we are ashamed,
remind us that we are God's children.
When we sin,
lead us to do God's will.

You who know God's will for husband and wife,
help us to live chastely.
You who know God's will for the family,
keep all families close to you.
You who suffered without children,
intercede for all infertile couples.
You who trusted in God's will,
help us to respect God's gift of fertility.
You who gave birth to the Blessed Mother,
inspire couples to be co-creators with God.

You who taught the Mother of God,
teach us to nurture children in holy instruction.
You whose hearts trusted in God, hear our prayers for ...
(mention your requests here).

Pray with us for the ministry of Catholic family life.
Pray with us for the ministry of Natural Family Planning.
Pray with us for all who give their time, talent and treasure to this good work.

Hail Mary... Our Father... Glory be...

God of our fathers,
you gave Saints Anne and Joachim the privilege of being the parents of Mary,
the mother of your incarnate Son.
May their prayers help us to attain the salvation
you have promised to your people.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

What's So Great about James? Lots!

This is the Feast of St James the Greater, as opposed to that other James, the Less (aka, son of Alphaeus- and there is a THIRD James, Jesus' brother, and perhaps a fourth, but we won't go there. )

Calling this one "the Greater" is kind of ironic in light of today's gospel reading, which indicates that both James and his brother John had "issues" with pride and leadership.

B-16 had some good words to say last year about James the Greater during a General Audience. The Holy Father points us to the school of glory and suffering in which this future Apostle was enrolled. Once taught, James responded generously to God, even to laying down his life. Have you and I been to this school?

Pope Benedict XVI General Audience, 21 June 2006

"My cup you will indeed drink”

"This James belongs, together with Peter and John, to the group of the three privileged disciples whom Jesus admitted to important moments in his life. Since it is very hot today, I want to be brief and to mention here only two of these occasions.

James was able to take part, together with Peter and John, in Jesus' Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and in the event of Jesus' Transfiguration. Thus, it is a question of situations very different from each other: in one case, James, together with the other two Apostles, experiences the Lord's glory and sees him talking to Moses and Elijah, he sees the divine splendour shining out in Jesus.

On the other occasion, he finds himself face to face with suffering and humiliation, he sees with his own eyes how the Son of God humbles himself, making himself obedient unto death. The latter experience was certainly an opportunity for him to grow in faith, to adjust the unilateral, triumphalist interpretation of the former experience: he had to discern that the Messiah, whom the Jewish people were awaiting as a victor, was in fact not only surrounded by honour and glory, but also by suffering and weakness. Christ's glory was fulfilled precisely on the Cross, in his sharing in our sufferings.

This growth in faith was brought to completion by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, so that James, when the moment of supreme witness came, would not draw back. Early in the first century, in the 40s, King Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great, as Luke tells us, "laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the Church. He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword" (Ac 12: 1-2)...

Consequently, we can learn much from St James: promptness in accepting the Lord's call even when he asks us to leave the "boat" of our human securities (Mt 4:21), enthusiasm in following him on the paths that he indicates to us over and above any deceptive presumption of our own, readiness to witness to him with courage, if necessary to the point of making the supreme sacrifice of life.

Thus James the Greater stands before us as an eloquent example of generous adherence to Christ. He, who initially had requested, through his mother, to be seated with his brother next to the Master in his Kingdom, was precisely the first to drink the chalice of the passion and to share martyrdom with the Apostles."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

It seems that I have been asleep...

Today the Church looks East and awakes again to the deeply felt Maronite tradition of Lebanon and surrounding areas.

Deep suffering and deep faith co-exist here, as exemplified in the life of St Sharbel Makhluf. He lived and died in the nineteenth century, was canonized by Paul VI in 1977, and his holiness has proved a blessing by way of example and miracle to thousands.

Father Sharbel displayed a strong devotion to the Eucharist, celebrating Mass at noon each day so that he could spend the morning in preparation for it and the afternoon in thanksgiving. He died a hermit, in poverty and in relative obscurity. He truly is a modern exemplar for the truth of the ancient monastic way of life.

In St. Sharbel the Incarnation had its full effect, redeeming him and those whose lives he touched, both before and after death.

About him Thomas Merton journaled....

"Sharbel lived as a hermit in Lebanon — he was a Maronite. He died. Everyone forgot about him. Fifty years later, his body was discovered incorrupt and in a short time he worked over 600 miracles. He is my new companion. My road has taken a new turning. It seems to me that I have been asleep for 9 years — and before that I was dead.”

Especially in these dark days of Middle Eastern conflict and dispair, may St Sharbel light the way for all people to live in peace, with our God, with each other, and with His creation.

Dare to go without everything

A gem from Meister Eckhart (around 1260-1327), Dominican theologian

“Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is brother and sister and mother to me.”

"Many people say: “We are of good will.” But they don’t have God’s will. They want to have their own will. They want to tell our Lord that things have to be done in this or that way … In all things, it is God’s plan that we give up our own will.

Saint Paul talked a lot with the Lord and the Lord with him, but none of that was of any use so long as he could not say to him: “What is it I must do, sir?” (Acts 22:10) For our Lord knew very well what he would do with Paul.

It was the same when the angel appeared to the Virgin Mary. Everything that each of them had said would never have made of her the Mother of God, but from the moment she gave up her own will, she immediately became the true Mother of the eternal Word. She immediately conceived God, who became her natural son.

Nothing in the world makes true human beings of us like giving up our own will before God... If we succeed in abandoning our own will, if, for love of God, we dare to go without everything, both what is interior and what is exterior, then we will have realized our profound being.

Thus, you have to abandon yourself entirely to God, with all that you are, and no longer worry about what he will then do with what belongs to him… The more we advance on this path, the more we are truly in God."

Monday, July 23, 2007

Gee, can a 50 year old go too?

From Zenit's report on the message of Benedict XVI to young people:

The Holy Father presents three objectives to the young people, both those who will be in Sydney and those who are unable to attend.He invites them to "recognize the true identity of the Spirit by listening to God's word in the revelation of the Bible."

He suggests they "learn about his continuous and active presence in the life of the Church, in particular rediscovering that the Holy Spirit is the 'soul,' the life-giving breath of the Christian life, thanks to the Christian sacraments of initiation -- baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist."

Finally, he exhorts them to "deepen their understanding of Jesus and at the same time to implement the Gospel at the dawn of the third millennium."

The Pontiff says that preparation for Sydney should be an opportunity to "verify the quality of our faith in the Holy Spirit, to find it again if we have lost it, strengthen it if it is weakened, to savor it as a companion to our faith in the Father and the Son, Jesus Christ."

He added: "Never forget that the Church, rather, all of humanity, all that which surrounds you and what awaits you in the future, expects much from you, young people, because you have in you the supreme gift of the Father, the Spirit of Jesus."

Sunday, July 22, 2007

One Thing Needful, and Two Slight Correctives

Coincidences abound.

I've been starting the last few days to prepare for a class I'm taking this Fall, Theology of the Sacraments. I've been personally involved in liturgical matters for many years, as student, presider, lector, extraordinary minister. However, as I begin some reading, I've started to have a new appreciation for the source and summit of our faith.

Then along comes yesterday's gospel reading... Martha, Mary and the one thing needful. How perfect!

Lk 10,38-42.

"As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary (who) sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me." The Lord said to her in reply, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her."

This gospel reading puts the focus of our worship and our lives where it really belongs... on being with Christ. We need to hear this again and again.

I was taught early on at (Lutheran) seminary that liturgy meant "the work of the people." Liturgical reform was seen by some as if lay folk were storming the Bastille of clergy dominated rites and re-taking their rightful place as the focal point of the Church's public worship.

Liturgy... of the people, by the people, for the people.

For Christians in general and for Catholics in particular that word "liturgy" by the mid 20th century had come to mean the cultic acts of public worship, the pious exercises God's people engage in communally in worship and praise of God.

Pope Pius XII sensed the need to point the Church toward a deeper understanding of liturgy with his encyclical Mediator Dei. There he said that essential liturgy was not just our actions. It is the extension of Christ's saving presence as High Priest into our world. An important message. However, that early 1950's reminder was soon overtaken and swamped by the current events of the Second Vatican Council.

Turn the altars around!
Anoint the lay folk to take over roles previously reserved to clergy!

Make the language spoken intelligible and every-day so the people can "relate!"

Rightfully, the Vatican II Council pointed once again to active, full and conscious participation in the liturgy as one goal among others. Indeed, many of these changes rendered valuable service to a Church in sore need of reform.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think we need to turn back the clock. However, I also don't think the Reform can progress much further going forward without a much-needed Reform of the Reform.

The zeal for immedate reform in the wake of Vatican II seems to have obscured the importance of Pius XII's statement. Two other important elements of worship only now, a generation later, can be rediscovered, unpacked and fully appreciated.

Looking again at Pius XII's statement and the ancient sources it seems to me that the word "liturgy" really has two additional and slightly different foci. The word leiturgeia was used most commonly in the ancient world to reflect the work done on behalf of another.... public service, if you will, whether that be civic, political or religious duties. The focus of liturgy rightly belongs on Christ's priestly work and on others, not on us.

One of the "others" we focus on is God Himself. As Pius XII said, true worship is Christ-o-centric. It comes from Christ and remains centered on his salvific work as our great High Priest. The priesthood and accompaning sacramental ministries all turn back toward this one point, the source of all grace and all life who is that greatest of all High Priests. He mounted the altar of the Cross and gave himself for us. This is where we need to aim our worship, and not at the lower (but admirable)goals of "relevance" and "intelligibility."

A counter-balancing facet keeps this turning upward from becoming some sort of inward-turning introspective, convoluted maze, unrelated to the world at large. The "for other-ness" of liturgy also means that the entire assembly is called to worship and serve the living God in order to help bring life to the world.

We're not here in Mass to make ourselves feel good, or be affirmed or even to be "strengthened for service," All of those results may be helpful by-products of our liturgical involvement. We are really there on behalf of another or really LOTS of others... to help make the salvation which Jesus Christ won for us more real in its salvific effects in the world.

We really need both elements of "for-otherness" to make liturgy work right.

The high-priestly work of Christ made present in and for the world. What could be better? What could be more needful?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Don't Drink Samuel Adams Beer

I happened to run across today some news about Sam Adam's past participation in a sex-in-the-cathedral scheme. Here are the gory details- not G rated.

Illegal, in bad taste and disrespectful of my religion. Those are the mildest responses I can think of... oh, and one other. I can no longer enjoy their very fine beer and will do everything within my power to recommend that others join me in abstaining from Sam Adams beer.

How disappointing. love their beer, but will consume it no longer.

I'd urge you to do the same. and write to them to let them know of your disappproval here.

Why bread and wine?

From the daily e mail ....

Why did Our Blessed Lord use bread and wine
as the elements of the Memorial?

First of all, because no two substances in nature
better symbolize unity than bread and wine.
As bread is made of a multiplicity of grains of wheat,
and wine is made from a multiplicity of grapes,
so the many who believe are one in Christ.

Second, no two substances in nature
have to suffer more to become what they are than bread and wine.
Wheat has to pass through the rigors of winter,
be ground beneath the Calvary of a mill, and then subjected to
purging fire before it can become bread.
Grapes in their turn must be subjected to the Gethsemane of a wine press
and have their life crushed for them to become wine.
Thus do they symbolize the Passion and Sufferings of Christ,
and the condition of Salvation,
for Our Lord said unless we die to ourselves we cannot live in Him.

A third reason is that there are no two substances in nature
which have more traditionally nourished man than bread and wine.
In bringing these elements to the altar, men are equivalently bringing themselves.
When bread and wine are taken or consumed,
they are changed into man's body and blood.
But when He took bread and wine, He changed them into Himself.

Bishop Fulton J Sheen
Life of Christ

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Give Peace a Chance...at last

U.S. Bishops Discuss Iraq With Democrats
Call for End to Stalemate Over the War

WASHINGTON, D.C., JULY 19, 2007 (Zenit.org).-

The U.S. bishops will meet with a group of Catholic House Democrats to discuss a responsible transition to end the war in Iraq.In a letter sent Tuesday, the bishops reiterated their call for members of Congress and the Bush Administration to break the political stalemate in Washington and to pursue a bipartisan policy to bring the war to an end as soon as possible.

Bishop Thomas Wenski, chairman of the bishops' committee on International Policy, wrote the letter in response to a June 28 request for the meeting from Representative Tim Ryan and 13 other House democrats. "Our conference hopes to work with the Congress and the administration to forge bipartisan policies on ways to bring about a responsible transition and an end to the war," Bishop Wenski wrote.

"Too many Iraqi and American lives have been lost. Too many Iraqi communities have been shattered. Too many civilians have been driven from their homes. The human and financial costs of the war are staggering. "Representatives of our conference welcome the opportunity to meet with you and other policy makers to discuss ways to pursue the goal of a 'responsible transition' to bring an end to the war in Iraq."

He added: "The current situation in Iraq is unacceptable and unsustainable, as is the policy and political stalemate among decision makers in Washington."Our shared moral tradition can guide this effort and inform our dialogue with other leaders as we seek a way to bring about a morally responsible end to the war in Iraq."

Why the Church?

Yesterday I received an e mail forward from a friend that ended with these words "And yet I’m never out of mind of what Annie Dillard said: What a pity, that so soon after Christ came the Christians."

We all get discouraged with the institutional church from time to time. Understandable. Some of us have given up on Her entirely. We prefer instead to stay in our individually wrapped spiritual environments like so many slices of processed American cheese. Understandable but unfortunate.

I don't think God meant it to be that way. In fact, I'm quite sure He meant the opposite..... Theologically, it is impossible to draw a line separating the resurrected Christ from His Church, which is his Presence on earth. When we say (as has been re-hashed in recent press articles) "outside of the Church there is no salvation" we are not saying that from within a ticket booth with a crossing guard arm we raise and lower to decide who is out and who is in. Catholics are very clear (or should be) on this. We don't get to decide who's in and who is excluded. That's God's job.

But by the same spiritual law we ARE required to let everyone know what the God of reason and faith requires from each of us. Then, the decision to respond to or turn away from that Presence is left to each one of us.

And that Presence comes to us in with and under the most distressing guise of other people. Others who are hard to get along with, others in their need, others who force us to do what Jesus our Lord did,... love and serve others.

When we withdraw ourselves from that sharpening Presence both we and the Church lose. We lose the ability to grow in actual holiness, which equals loving and serving others who may or may not be "like us." But the Church also loses, because if this process goes on ad infinitum then the Church is left as a lonely parody of modern life.

We sit in homes with no front porches listening to our I-pods and eating food from plastic containers prepared for us by people whose names we will never know. In ecclesial terms, without the Church we are left sitting in a comfy chair, reading about, praying to, and serving a God whose true Face we will never know.

That's the pity.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

You have revealed these things to the childlike

As Jesus reminds us in today's Gospel (Matthew 11:25-27) sometimes less is more, humility is exalted, the simple becomes profound.

William of Saint-Thierry (around 1085-1148), Benedictine, then Cistercian Monk

From The Mirror of Faith 6

"When nature hesitates before mysteries of faith that are too deep, say without fear, not in opposition but with the desire to obey [like Mary]: “How can this be?” (Lk 1:34) May your question be a prayer; may it be love, piety, humble desire; may it not haughtily scrutinize the divine majesty, but may it seek salvation in the means of salvation given by the God of our deliverance.

“No one knows what lies at the depths of God but the Spirit of God.” (1 Cor 2:11). So hasten to be in communion with the Holy Spirit. He is there as soon as we call upon him. If someone calls upon him, it is because he is already present. When called, he comes; he comes in the abundance of divine blessings. It is he, the “stream whose runlets gladden the city of God.” (Ps 46:5)

If, when he comes, he finds you humble and without anxiety, but trembling at the word of God, he will rest upon you (Isa 11:2) and will reveal to you what God hides from the wise and prudent of this world. Then will begin to shine forth for you all the truths, which Wisdom could tell the disciples while she was on earth, but which they could not bear before the coming of the Spirit of truth, who would teach them the whole truth (Jn 16:12-13)."

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Love is a righteous turning

What turns your spirit toward love and toward God?

Here are some sage words from Richard Rolle, (+1349), hermit, mystic, writer of devotional works and translator of the Bible.

Love is a righteous turning
from earthly things,
and is joined to God, without departing,
and kindled with the fire of the Holy spirit:
far from defiling,
far from corruption,
bound to no vice of this life.
High above all fleshly lusts,
aye ready and greedy

for the contemplation of God.

In all things not overcome.
The sum of all good affections.
Health of good manners;
goal of the commandments of God;
death of sins; life of virtues.
Virtue whilst fighting lasts,
crown of overcomers.
Mirth to holy thoughts.
Without that, no man may please God;
with that, no man sins.

For if we love God with all our heart,
there is nothing in us through which we serve sin.
Very love cleanses the soul,
and delivers it from the pain of hell,
and from the foul service of sin,
and from the ugly fellowship of the devils;
and out of the fiend's son, makes God's son,
and partner of the heritage of heaven.

We shall force ourselves to clothe us in love,
as iron or coal does in the fire,
as the sir does in the sun,
as the wool does in the dye.
The coal so clothes itself in fire that it is fire.
The air so clothes itself in the sun that it is light.

And the wool so subnstantially takes the dye that it is like it.
In this manner shall a true lover of Jesus Christ do:
his heart shall so burn in love,
that it shall be turned into the fire of love,
and be as it were all fire;
and he shall so shine in virtues
that no part of him shall be murky in vices.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Hospitality: Christ who is wandering by

Those of you who know the movie "Babette's Feast" will recognize the picture and also the message of this great movie about Grace and Feasting and Hospitality. Babette received grace and gave it under the distressing guise of hospitality in a less than hospitable community.

Under the category of "getting it right" here is a commentary on hospitality from Saint John Chrysostom (around 345-407), Bishop of Antioch, then of Constantinople, Doctor of the Church. He usually tells it like it is.

Homily 45 on the Acts of the Apostles; PG 60: 318-320

“Whoever gives only a cup of cold water to drink… will surely not lose his reward."

"I was a stranger," Christ says, "and you took me in" (Mt 25:35). And again, "In so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me." (Mt 25:40). In each believer and brother, though he may be the least, Christ comes to you through him. Open your house, take him in. "He that receives a prophet, shall receive a prophet’s reward."…

These are the qualities that ought to be in those who welcome strangers: readiness, cheerfulness, liberality. For strangers feel abashed and ashamed, and unless his host shows real joy, he feels slighted and goes away, and his being received in this way makes it worse than not to have received him.

Therefore, set aside a room in your house, to which Christ may come; say, "This is Christ's room; this is set apart for him." Even if it is very simple, he will not disdain it. Christ goes about "naked and a stranger"; he needs shelter: do not hesitate to give it to him. Do not be uncompassionate, nor inhuman.

You are earnest in worldly matters, do not be cold in spiritual matters… You have a place set apart for your chariot, but none for Christ who is wandering by? Abraham received strangers in his own home (Gn 18); his wife took the place of a servant, the guests the place of masters. They did not know that they were receiving Christ, that they were receiving angels.

If Abraham had known it, he would have lavished his whole substance. But we, who know that we receive Christ, do show not as much zeal as he did, who thought that he was receiving mere men."

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Let's Play Five Questions

While I was away on retreat the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released a brief document re-iterating some points of Catholic doctrine. To all appearances, the five questions and their answers appeared scandalous and new to those who don't take time to study what the Church actually teaches. The questions and answers are here on the Vatican website.
I am trying not to be or sound cynical, but I was amazed once again (and probably shouldn't be) at the inaccurate reporting by the media. I was also dismayed by the response from other folk in "ecclesial bodies" who really ought to know better. However, giving the latter the benefit of the doubt, if they only read the press reports, then their response to the document appears more understandable.

Two items in particular caught my attention. The first was the treatment of the Q and A by the Associated Press as it appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The article read in part:

The new document - formulated as five questions and answers - restates key sections of a 2000 text the pope wrote when he was prefect of the congregation, "Dominus Iesus." The earlier text riled Protestant and other Christian denominations because it said they were not true churches but merely ecclesial communities and therefore did not have the "means of salvation."
The commentary repeated church teaching that says the Catholic Church "has the fullness of the means of salvation."

First, the article misquotes the predecessor document "Dominus Iesus." Winfield implies that somehow the Catholic Church believes and teaches that there are no elements of truth or graces to be found outside of the Roman Catholic Church.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The earlier document actually states the polar opposite regarding other Christian faith communities: they
"have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation."

This research and reporting error is made even more agregious by the fact that the recent Q and A also makes a similar assertion. This fact is also ignored by Nicole Winfield.

"It is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them."

This makes me wonder whether Nicole Winfield even read the Q and A, much less the predecessor documents which it clarifies.

All of this discussion would be really low priority for me were it not for a letter printed in this morning's Pioneer Press. The letter illustrates the spiritual damage the publication of such quasi-theological tripe as fact can inflict.

The letter writer has taken obvious and justified umbrage at what he takes to be the Church's position:

"Praise to Pope Benedict XVI ... for reminding Protest-ants what it is that compelled us to protest Catholicism in the first place. Ever since Constantine married Christianity with paganism and made Catholicism the mandatory religion of the conquered world, the "church" of Rome has been a thorn in the side of the true message of the Gospel. To this day our dear pontiff asserts that salvation comes only through the Catholic "church." This is a glaring contrast to the doctrine of the great apostle Paul, who said, "There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." Therefore, the true Church comprises only those who are mediated to God through the sacrifice of his son, not through an institution and its sacraments.

Cottage Grove"

The false dichotomies in this letter are numerous. I won't go right now into detail on the danger inherent in opposing heirarchy to grace, or Christ as mediator with His Mystical Body, the Church. I've done that elsewhere.
Suffice it to say that Chris needs to read the source documents he's criticizing, and then pray long and hard over another couple of verses in 1 Timothy, 3:15-17. There the same writer (AKA the great apostle Paul) links the earthly Church (pillar and ground of the truth) with the resurrected and ascended Lord Jesus.

That's the Church Jesus founded. It's the Church I joined in 1998, and this is the Church where Christ's incarnational presence subsists today... the Roman Catholic Church of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

So today I'll pray for all of those who read the article.... for all those in ecclesial bodies not united with the Church.... that we all may eventually be one in truth as in spirit as our Lord prayed in the Gospel of John.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Peace awaits its builders

Today's gospel sends some mixed messages.... peace and then the final blast of hot judgement a la Sodom and Gomorrah. The mixed bag of this reading reminds us that there is always conflict even among the people of peace.

Mt 10,7-15.

As you go, make this proclamation: 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'
Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons. Without
cost you have received; without cost you are to give.
Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts;
no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick.
The laborer deserves his keep.
Whatever town or village you enter, look for a worthy person in it, and
stay there until you leave.
As you enter a house, wish it peace.
If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; if not, let your peace
return to you.
Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words--go outside that house
or town and shake the dust from your feet.
Amen, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and
Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

Pope John Paul II reminded us of the importance of peace during his speech to the Representatives of the Christian Churches and Ecclesial Communities and of the World Religions in Assisi, October 27, 1986

"This Day at Assisi has helped us become more aware of our religious
commitments. But is has also made the world, looking at us through the
media, more aware of the responsibility of each religion regarding problems
of war and peace. More perhaps than ever before in history, the intrinsic
link between an authentic religious attitude and the great good of peace
has become evident to all. What a tremendous weight for human shoulders to

But at the same time, what a marvellous, exhilarating call to
follow! Although prayer is in itself action, this does not excuse us from
working for peace. Here we are acting as the heralds of the moral awareness
of humanity as such, humanity that wants peace, needs peace.

There is no peace without a passionate love for peace. There is no peace without a
relentless determination to achieve peace. Peace awaits its prophets.
Together we have filled our eyes with visions of peace: they release
energies for a new language of peace, for new gestures of peace, gestures
which will shatter the fatal chains of divisions inherited from history or
spawned by modern ideologies.

Peace awaits its builders. Let us stretch our hands towards our brothers and sisters, to encourage them to build peace upon the four pillars of truth, justice, love and freedom. Peace is a workshop, open to all and not just to specialists, savants and strategists.

Peace is a universal responsibility: it comes about through a thousand
little acts in daily life. By their daily way of living with others, people
choose for or against peace… What we have done today at Assisi,
praying and witnessing to our commitment to peace, we must continue to do
every day of our life. For what we have done today’s is vital for the
world. If the world is going to continue, and men and women are to survive
in it, the world cannot do without prayer."

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

When the Swallows Return to Spring Bank

Last evening after supper one of the brothers here at the Cistercian Abbey near Sparta WI pointed out the swallows which fly around the Abbey in late afternoon. They have a funny way of swooping up in an arc like motion and then when they reach the tree tops and the top of the building they just sort of "let go" and let the wind pull them backward. You can almost hear them saying "Whheeeeeeeeeeee." It looks like a lot of fun.

I am very thankful for the discipline and ascesis which the rule of Benedict has brought to my life. I think back on how well- intentioned I was in my younger years. I WANTED to serve God, but something just always got in the way. People, emotions, practicalities. It was only when I submitted to the Benedictine spiritual exercises of daily prayer and frequent lectio that I began to make headway... to move up the arc, speaking in swallow-flight pattern terms.

So, I am very happy on this Feast of St Benedict- a Solemnity for us Cistercians- after all he is the font from which the Cistercian charism flows. I feel blessed to have the ora et labora paradigm- prayer and work- as my mission in life.

But those swallows call to me, too. They remind me that all work and no play makes Jack a very sad boy. Benedict himself realized the need for moderation and relaxation for even the most dedicated monks. He counselled against taking too much on. Some fasting, some prayer, some work, some recreation- and all in moderation.

Sometimes we each need to play like the swallows..... just arc up and let go and let God take care of things.... forget the schedule, forget the goals, forget the seriousness of the moment.

I was reminded of the need to loosen up again recently when a good friend reported that he had too much on his plate- a variety of roles- a huge plethora of tasks are all demanding his attention. As he continued to describe them- one after another- my heart sank and I became sad for him. I realized that my friend is weighed down by his work, his ministry, his leadership responsibilties.

Will you pray for him tonight?

Pray for us all that we will find a way to imitate the swallows.

St Benedict, patron of the Middle Way, pray for us.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

This Is the Mass

Bishop Fulton J Sheen had such a gift for putting things so simply and yet so profoundly. Thanks to Spence's Mom, here is quote from Bishop Sheen that reflects the importance of Mass in the life of the believer.

I said last week that I had to fast from Eucharist for a few days due to timing issues on my trip. This describes perfectly why I felt famished afterward. We need Jesus!

There is another life above the life of the body; namely, the
life of the soul. Just as the life of the body is the soul, so,
too, the life of the soul is God.

This Divine life we receive in
Communion. If the sunlight and moisture and the chemicals of
the earth could speak they could say to the plants:
"Unless you eat me you shall not have life in you;" if the
animals and plants and the chemicals of the universe could speak
they would say to man: "Unless you eat me you shall not have
life in you."

So, too, the Son of God says to us that unless we
receive of Him we shall not have Divine life in us. The law of
transformation holds sway, the lower is transformed into the
higher; chemicals into plants, plants into animals, animals into
man and man into God without, however, man ever losing his
personal identity.

Hence the word that is used for Communion
is "to receive" Our Lord, for literally we do receive the Divine
life, more significantly than a babe receive human life as it is
nursed by the mother, for in this latter case, the human is being
nourished by the human, but in Communion the human receives
Divine life from God. But like all words, even this one has some
imperfection for in communion it is not so much we who receive
Christ as Christ who receives us, incorporating us into Himself.

Bishop Fulton Sheen
This Is the Mass

a Generous and Unconditioned Yes

A prayer totally appropriate for today's gospel:
“Ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers"

John Paul II Message for the XXXVIII World Day of Prayer for Vocations, 6th May 2001

"Holy Father, eternal source of existence and love, who, in living man, show the splendour of your glory, and who put in his heart the seed of your call, let no-one, by reason of our negligence, ignore or lose this gift, but may everyone walk, with wholehearted generosity, towards the realisation of your Love.

Lord Jesus, who in your pilgrimage along the roads of Palestine, chose and called the apostles and entrusted to them their task of preaching the Gospel, feeding the faithful and celebrating divine worship, ensure that today, too, your Church may not lack numerous holy priests, who can bring to all the fruits of your death and resurrection.

Holy Spirit, who sanctify the Church with the constant pouring out of your gifts, place into the hearts of those called to the consecrated life a deep-rooted and resolute passion for the Kingdom,so that with a generous and unconditioned "yes", they may place their entire existences at the service of the Gospel.

Most holy Virgin, who without hesitation offered yourself to the Almighty for the carrying out of his plan of salvation, pour trust into the hearts of young people so that there may always be zealous pastors who are able to guide the Christian people on the way of life, and consecrated souls who may know how to witness, in chastity, poverty, and obedience, to the freeing presence of your risen Son. Amen."

Monday, July 09, 2007

the Law of Prayer

I am neither as smart nor as quick as others in the blog-o-sphere, many of whom are reacting quite swiftly to the recent publication of Benedict XVI's motu proprio allowing wider use of the Extraordinary Rite of the Roman Mass FKA the Tridentine or "Old" Mass.

I'm not quite sure I know what to say. However, I have wondered why liturgy is so darned important, and even more why it is charged with sooooo much emotion on all sides.

I think the answer can be expressed in four words (Latin) or seven (English): lex orandi, lex credendi or the law of prayer is the law of belief. Most Christians, Eastern, Western or other flavors, will never crack a book of theology, some will never even study the Bible on their own. Most (if they are fortunate) will never have to wade through volumes of systematic or historical theology.

Reading theology is sometimes (even for those of us with a 35 year history of it) a little like memorizing the periodic table of elements. You have to do it, but it really doesn't change the elements to call salt NaCl or gold Au. Salt is still salt on the table and gold will ever be gold, glittering in my girl's ear or on her hand.

However, every Christian, without exception, will at some point worship God. If repeated enough times in one's life this worship becomes part of the warp and woof of one's existence. I grew up a Missouri Synod Lutheran, and have pages 5 and 15 stenciled onto my soul right next to that bit of catechism-ic doggerel.... "this is most certainly true." Only true Missouri-sinners will understand these references. But, what the hey? It shows how obtuse and idiosyncratic our theological constructs and our worship can be.

Back on track.... worship doesn't just in-form our theology, worship forms it. So, any time one makes an alteration (major or minor) in "how we do things around here" that alteration has consquences for how we relate to God. The more liturgical a church is, the more that this is true.

Hence the high emotion around this past weekend's announcement.

And now for my own preliminary observations about the motu proprio.

I was pleased with how even-handed it all was.... it was not really backtracking to before Vatican II but simply stating the organic unity which exists along the developmental line from the Tridentine era rite to our own vernacular Paul VI rite. Each rite has its strengths, but the insistent drumbeat of this particular decree is that both- hear this all camps- BOTH- are expressions of the one Mass of antiquity which goes on being offered each day by good and holy priests around this beleaguered world of ours.

Second, the option of whether or not to have the earlier Mass form now moves from the chancery and the rectory out to the pew. If people ask for it, the Church has a duty to provide it. Good idea.

I live in a diocese with many hundred thousands of Catholic (and not so Catholic) souls. Yet, there is only one small parish which has a weekly Tridentine Mass. I go occasionally, and this Mass is not packed with people on a regular basis... at least not during the times I have been there. But I personally respect the decision being made to offer this Mass more widely. I think we owe it to the traditionalists. But we also owe it to ourselves as Church.

Here's why (last observation). I believe (and have admitted as much here) that there is an appalling lack of reverence and respect and mystery in many of our celebrations of the liturgy. If the Tridentine Mass is as good as its proponents say, then over time I believe we will see a migratory effect. Maybe not much at first, but perhaps eventually this form of Mass will find a limited but powerful place in our Church again. Think Apple versus PC... 10% market share but rocking the world.

A second (and I believe even more far reaching) effect will be to strengthen and deepen the celebration of New Order Masses. Call me a romantic, but I believe that the mere presence of the Tridentine Mass will help highlight the things I love about a well-said Mass- reverence, quiet, focus, mystery, respect for tradition. That's what I hear many of my younger (less than 40 year old) counterparts asking for. No disrespect intended... but I just don't hear younger folk crying out for more guitars, social justice seminars or communal penance services.

So, look for more in this space about this change as information becomes available. Meanwhile, I am going off to Sparta WI again tomorrow to celebrate the Feast of our Holy Father St. Benedict with my brothers at Our Lady of Spring Bank Abbey.

They do a really great new order Mass in Latin and most of the day's offices, with the exception of Vigils are in our Mother's tongue also. I say that because it is true.... I was born a human and baptized a Lutheran but became a Roman Catholic Christian by choice. So, how could I pass up an opportunity to worship in a language and mode which has blessed many hundreds of generations before me?

The Recovery of the Sacred

Here is the second of a three part series on worship from Bishop Arthur Seratelli of Paterson, New Jersey. It contains some helpful suggestions toward recovering the sense of the sacred in our worship. I am working on a longer post regarding Benedict XVI's motu proprio, but that's going to take some time to do.

The Recovery of the Sacred

"The Dutch historian and philosopher of religion Gerardus van der Leeuw once said, “The modern man is not capable of finding himself in several circles simultaneously as his primitive cousins did. ‘When we dance, we do not pray; when we pray, we do not dance. And when we work, we can neither dance nor pray.’” In a word, the sense of the sacred has disappeared. But not completely nor irretrievably. The Liturgy of the Church is a moment where all the dimensions of our lives come before the living God. It is the place where we have an active encounter with God. It is the place, therefore, where we can rediscover the sacred in our lives.

The Second Vatican Council began the liturgical reform with the hope of reinvigorating this sense of the Presence of God who comes to meet us in love. Two generations after the Council, we are still searching for a deeper sense of the sacred in our Liturgy. We now realize some of the ways in which this can be accomplished. It is good to look at a few of these. Certain settings demand their own particular etiquette. Dress at a wedding reception differs from dress at a sports event. Conversation in a bar is louder than in a funeral home. The more we realize we are coming into the Presence of God in Church, the more respectful and reverent our whole person becomes. Chewing gum in Church, loud talking, beach attire and immodest dress simply do not belong!

In church, we need to cultivate a sense of God who is present to us. This is why we are called to observe moments of silence. Both before Mass begins and during Mass. Liturgy is much more than our joining together. It is our opening ourselves to God. By our singing and praying, we respond to the God who addresses us in Liturgy. A constant torrent of words and songs filling every empty space in the Liturgy does not leave the heart the space it needs to rest quietly in the Divine Presence.

In the Annunciation, after the angel announces to Mary that she is to be the Mother of the Lord and Mary gives her fiat, there is silence (cf. Lk 1:38). In this pregnant silence, that Word becomes flesh. Mary remains the model of the disciple before the Word of God. She reminds us that we need moments of silence for God to enter our life. We need those moments in our personal prayer and in the Liturgy.

In the Liturgy recorded in the last book of the New Testament, in the Book of Revelation, the word proskynein (to bow) is used twenty-four times -- more than in any other part of the New Testament. John, the author of the Book of Revelation, presents this heavenly Liturgy as the model and standard for the Church’s Liturgy on earth. Our body bowed in prayer acknowledges the Lord’s majesty. It visibly confesses our belonging to God who is the Lord of all. Here is a strong reminder of the place of body in Liturgy.

We are not just spirit when we pray. We pray in our total reality as body and spirit. And so, to recapture the sense of the sacred, therefore, we need to express our reverence through our body language. The norms of the Liturgy wisely have us stand in prayer at certain moments, sit in attentive listening to the readings, and kneel in reverent adoration during the solemn prayer of consecration. These norms are not arbitrary nor are they left to the discretion of any individual celebrant.

Creativity is not an authentic rule for celebrating the Church’s Liturgy. In many cases, it humanizes the Liturgy and draws attention from God to the celebrant. The priest is merely the servant of the Liturgy, not its creator or center.

Commenting on this, Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, said: “The great¬ness of the Liturgy depends—we shall have to repeat this frequently—on its unspontaneity (Unbeliebigkeit)…. Only respect for the Liturgy’s fundamental unspontaneity and pre-existing identity can give us what we hope for: the feast in which the great reality comes to us that we ourselves do not manufacture but receive as a gift (Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 170). Since the Liturgy is a gift and not something of our own creation, it takes great humility to celebrate the Liturgy properly and reverently.

Observing the norms of the Liturgy helps to create a profound sense of the sacred in each of us at Mass. Celebrating Mass and observing liturgical norms also makes us visibly one with the entire Church to which we belong. “Priests who faithfully celebrate Mass according to the liturgical norms, and communities which conform to those norms, quietly but eloquently demonstrate their love for the Church” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 52).

Today it has become commonplace at the end of the Liturgy to recite a litany of gratitude for all those who, in some way or another, have made the celebration beautiful. No doubt there is a way to express gratitude at the end of Mass. But is it possible that each time applause breaks out in the Liturgy at the end of the Mass for someone’s contribution, we lapse into seeing the Mass as a human achievement? Sometimes even during the Mass after someone has sung a beautiful hymn, there is spontaneous applause. At such a moment, does not the real meaning of Liturgy lapse into some kind human entertainment?

We can recapture more and more the sense of the sacred, the more we allow the Liturgy to be what it is. A gift from God that allows God to speak and act in our life. A gift that draws us out of ourselves and out of time into the eternal life of God even now."

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Love: Soul of the Church's Mission

Today's gospel reading recounts the first mission of the Church: the sending out of the seventy to the villages of Palestine (Luke 10:1-12, 17-20). We are the inheritors of that mission, into all the world.

Pope Benedict XVI Message for the World Mission Day 2006

"Charity: soul of the mission"

"Unless the mission is oriented by charity, that is, unless it springs from a profound act of divine love, it risks being reduced to mere philanthropic and social activity.
In fact, God's love for every person constitutes the heart of the experience and proclamation of the Gospel, and those who welcome it in turn become its witnesses. God's love, which gives life to the world, is the love that was given to us in Jesus, the Word of salvation, perfect icon of the Heavenly Father's mercy.

The saving message can be summed up well, therefore, in the words of John the Evangelist: "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him" (I Jn 4: 9).
It was after his Resurrection that Jesus gave the Apostles the mandate to proclaim the news of this love, and the Apostles, inwardly transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, began to bear witness to the Lord who had died and was risen. Ever since, the Church has continued this same mission, which is an indispensable and ongoing commitment for all believers."

THE text

Apostolic LetterIn the form of “Motu Proprio”


It has always been the care of the Supreme Pontiffs until the present time, that the Church of Christ offer worthy worship to the Divine Majesty “for the praise and glory of his name” and “for the good of all his Holy Church.”As from time immemorial so in the future the principle shall be respected “according to which each particular Church must be in accord with the universal Church not only regarding the doctrine of the faith and sacramental signs, but also as to the usages universally handed down by apostolic and unbroken tradition.

These are to be maintained not only so that errors may be avoided, but also so that the faith may be passed on in its integrity, since the Church's rule of prayer (lex orandi) corresponds to her rule of belief (lex credendi).”Among Pontiffs who have displayed such care there excels the name of Saint Gregory the Great, who saw to the transmission to the new peoples of Europe both of the Catholic faith and of the treasures of worship and culture accumulated by the Romans in preceding centuries. He gave instructions for the form of the Sacred Liturgy of both the Sacrifice of the Mass and of the Divine Office as was celebrated in the City. He made the greatest efforts to foster monks and nuns, who militating under the Rule of St Benedict, in every place along with the proclamation of the Gospel by their life likewise exemplified that most salutary expression of the Rule “let nothing be given precedence over the work of God” (ch. 43).

In this way the sacred liturgy according to the Roman manner made fertile not only the faith and piety but also the culture of many peoples. Moreover it is evident that the Latin Liturgy in its various forms has stimulated in the spiritual life very many Saints in every century of the Christian age and strengthened in the virtue of religion so many peoples and made fertile their piety.However, in order that the Sacred Liturgy might more efficaciously absolve its task, several others among the Roman Pontiffs in the course of the centuries have brought to bear particular concern, among whom Saint Pius V is eminent, who with great pastoral zeal, at the exhortation of the Council of Trent, renewed the worship of the whole Church, ensuring the publishing of liturgical books amended and “restored according to the norm of the Fathers” and put them into use in the Latin Church.It is clear that among the liturgical books of the Roman Rite the Roman Missal is eminent. It grew in the city of Rome and gradually down through the centuries took on forms which are very similar to those in vigor in recent generations.“It was this same goal that as time passed the Roman Pontiffs pursued, adapting or establishing liturgical rites and books to new ages and then at the start of the present century undertaking a more ample restoration.” It was in this manner that our Predecessors Clement VIII, Urban VIII, St Pius X , Benedict XV, Pius XII and the Blessed John XXIII acted.

In more recent time, however, the Second Vatican Council expressed the desire that with due respect and reverence for divine worship it be restored and adapted to the needs of our age. Prompted by this desire, our Predecessor the Supreme Pontiff Paul VI in 1970 approved for the Latin Church liturgical books restored and partly renewed, and that throughout the world translated into many vernacular languages, have been welcomed by the Bishops and by the priests and faithful. John Paul II revised the third typical edition of the Roman Missal. Thus the Roman Pontiffs have acted so that “this liturgical edifice, so to speak, …might once again appear splendid in its dignity and harmony.”However in some regions not a small number of the faithful have been and remain attached with such great love and affection to the previous liturgical forms, which had profoundly imbued their culture and spirit, that the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II, prompted by pastoral concern for these faithful, in 1984 by means of a special Indult Quattuor abhinc annos, drawn up by the Congregation for Divine Worship, granted the faculty to use the Roman Missal published by John XXIII in 1962; while in 1988 John Paul II once again, by means of the Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei, exhorted the Bishops to make wide and generous use of this faculty in favor of all the faithful requesting it.Having pondered at length the pressing requests of these faithful to our Predecessor John Paul II, having also heard the Fathers of the Consistory of Cardinals held on 23 March 2006, having pondered all things, invoked the Holy Spirit and placed our confidence in the help of God, by this present Apostolic Letter we DECREE the following.

Art. 1. The Roman Missal promulgated by Paul VI is to be regarded as the ordinary expression of the law of prayer (lex orandi) of the Catholic Church of Latin Rite, while the Roman Missal promulgated by St Pius V and published again by Blessed John XXIII as the extraordinary expression of the law of prayer (lex orandi) and on account of its venerable and ancient use let it enjoy due honor. These two expressions of the law of prayer (lex orandi) of the Church in no way lead to a division in the law of prayer (lex orandi) of the Church, for they are two uses of the one Roman Rite.Hence it is licit to celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass in accordance with the typical edition of the Roman Missal promulgated by Blessed John XXIII in 1962 and never abrogated, as the extraordinary form of the Liturgy of the Church. The conditions laid down by the previous documents Quattuor abhinc annos and Ecclesia Dei for the use of this Missal are replaced by what follows:

Art. 2. In Masses celebrated without the people, any priest of Latin rite, whether secular or religious, can use the Roman Missal published by Pope Blessed John XXIII in 1962 or the Roman Missal promulgated by the Supreme Pontiff Paul VI in 1970, on any day except in the Sacred Triduum. For celebration in accordance with one or the other Missal, a priest does not require any permission, neither from the Apostolic See nor his own Ordinary.

Art. 3. If Communities or Institutes of Consecrated Life or Societies of Apostolic Life of either pontifical or diocesan rite desire to have a celebration of Holy Mass in accordance with the edition of the Roman Missal promulgated in 1962 in the conventual or “community” celebration in their own oratories, this is allowed. If an individual community or the entire Institute or Society wants to have such celebrations often or habitually or permanently, the matter is to be decided by the Major Superiors according to the norm of law and the particular laws and statutes.

Art. 4. With due observance of law, even Christ’s faithful who spontaneously request it, may be admitted to celebrations of Holy Mass mentioned in art. 2 above.

Art. 5, § 1. In parishes where a group of faithful attached to the previous liturgical tradition exists stably, let the pastor willingly accede to their requests for the celebration of the Holy Mass according to the rite of the Roman Missal published in 1962. Let him see to it that the good of these faithful be harmoniously reconciled with ordinary pastoral care of the parish, under the governance of the Bishop according to canon 392, avoiding discord and fostering the unity of the whole Church.§ 2. Celebration according to the Missal of Blessed John XXIII can take place on weekdays, while on Sundays and on feast days there may be one such celebration.§ 3. Let the pastor permit celebrations in this extraordinary form for faithful or priests who request it, even in particular circumstances such as weddings, funerals or occasional celebrations, for example pilgrimages.§ 4. Priests using the Missal of Blessed John XXIII must be worthy and not impeded by law.§ 5. In churches, which are neither parochial nor conventual, it is the Rector of the church who grants the above-mentioned permission.

Art. 6. In Masses celebrated with the people according to the Missal of Blessed John XXIII, the Readings can be proclaimed even in the vernacular, using editions that have received the recognitio of the Apostolic See.

Art. 7. Where some group of lay faithful, mentioned in art. 5§1 does not obtain what it requests from the pastor, it should inform the diocesan Bishop of the fact. The Bishop is earnestly requested to grant their desire. If he cannot provide for this kind of celebration, let the matter be referred to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei.

Art. 8. A Bishop who desires to make provision for requests of lay faithful of this kind, but is for various reasons prevented from doing so, may refer the matter to the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei”, which should give him advice and help.

Art. 9, § 1. Likewise a pastor may, all things duly considered, grant permission to use the older ritual in administering the Sacraments of Baptism, Matrimony, Penance and the Anointing of the Sick, as the good of souls may suggest.§ 2. Ordinaries are granted the faculty to celebrate the sacrament of Confirmation using the former Roman Pontifical, as the good of souls may suggest.§ 3. It is lawful for clerics in holy orders to use even the Roman Breviary promulgated by Blessed John XXIII in 1962.

Art 10. It is lawful for the local Ordinary, if he judges it opportune, to erect a personal parish according to the norm of canon 518 for celebrations according to the older form of the Roman rite or appoint a rector or chaplain, with due observance of the requirements of law.

Art. 11. The Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, erected in 1988 by John Paul II, continues to carry out its function. This Commission is to have the form, duties and norm for action that the Roman Pontiff may wish to assign to it.

Art. 12. The same Commission, in addition to the faculties it already enjoys, will exercise the authority of the Holy See by maintaining vigilance over the observance and application of these dispositions.Whatever is decreed by Us by means of this Motu Proprio, we order to be firm and ratified and to be observed as of 14 September this year, the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, all things to the contrary notwithstanding.

Given at Rome, at St Peter’s, on 7 July in the Year of Our Lord 2007, the Third of Our Pontificate.
BENEDICT XVI____________________

1. General Instruction of the Roman Missal, third edition, 2002, n. 3972. Pope John Paul II, Ap. Letter Vicesimus quintus annus, 4 December 1988, n. 3: AAS 81 (1989) p. 899.3. Ibidem.4. Pope St Pius X, Motu Proprio Abhinc duos annos, 23 October 1913: AAS 5 (1913) 449-450; cf. Pope John Paul II, Ap. Letter Vicesimus quintus annus, 4 December 1988, n. 3: AAS 81 (1989) p. 8995. Cf. Pope John Paul II, Motu proprio Ecclesia Dei adflicta, 2 July 1988, n. 6: AAS 80 (1988) p. 1498.(This unofficial translation has been prepared by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for the Liturgy. Only the Latin original of the Apostolic Letter may be considered the official text.)