Happy Easter, 2019!

|
The Empty Tomb, Mikhail Nesterov 


You must read this from my great teacher, Fr. James Schall, who passed away this week.

We know that we shall be different. We also believe that we shall be quite literally ourselves, with our own name, as Jesus was not some new or Third Man, but himself, Jesus.


Holy Saturday, 2019

|


An internet friend calls this icon of the harrowing of hell, "Busting Your Dudes Out"

Which reminds me that I liked this homily of the Holy Father's about Confession.


Holy Thursday, 2019

|

Pope Francis' homily for this morning's Chrism mass for priests. Wasn't sure where he was going with this at first, but it's lovely. He likes to invent terms, and here he coins "inclusive preferentiality." He means that when Christ heals or interacts in some way with one person in the crowd, that person receives grace for everyone in his or her "category," for lack of a better term. One widow receives grace meant for all widows, one blind person for all blind persons, etc. 

He uses this to talk about what a priest is: someone called from the crowd for a singular grace from Jesus, and sent back to the crowd to share that grace. 

dear brother priests, we must not forget that our evangelical models are those “people”, the “crowd” with its real faces, which the anointing of the Lord raises up and revives. They are the ones who complete and make real the anointing of the Spirit in ourselves; they are the ones whom we have been anointed to anoint. We have been taken from their midst, and we can fearlessly identify with these ordinary people. Each of us has our own story. A little bit of memory will do us much good. They are an image of our soul and an image of the Church. Each of them incarnates the one heart of our people.
We priests are the poor man and we would like to have the heart of the poor widow whenever we give alms, touching the hand of the beggar and looking him or her in the eye. We priests are Bartimaeus, and each morning we get up and pray: “Lord, that I may see”. We priests are, in some point of our sinfulness, the man beaten by the robbers. And we want first to be in the compassionate hands of the good Samaritan, in order then to be able to show compassion to others with our own hands.




Spy Wednesday

|
Prayer (Modlitwa) by Stanisław Dębicki

As it's Spy Wednesday, a good moment to think about those who betray Christ while occupying the posts of his apostles, and the Pope Emeritus' letter to the German church about the abuse crisis. The Usual Suspects have arisen as one to denounce it, mostly adopting the tone of "more in sorrow than in anger":  I really respect him, but the old man has lost it now and is out of touch

The Catholic Thing has a pair of commentaries that are worthwhile, and Phil Lawler notices something about the letter's reception. By far the most important commentary I've seen, however, comes from Janet Smith, who rightly understands the letter's intended scope. Papa Benedict is a humble man. He's not swooping in from retirement to tell people how it's done. He's a priest with a fatherly heart who's noticed that in all the discussion over causes ("homosexuals!" "clericalism!" "both"), no one has addressed the aching hearts of the faithful who wonder if it's possible to remain Catholic. 

Remember the words of the late Oriana Fallaci, often cited here in the days of yore when the blog was more active? "When I read the words of Ratzinger, I feel less alone." That's exactly the way I felt reading this letter, for two reasons.

First, as he always does, Ratzinger goes straight at 'em. He says the thing which is the most obvious, and yet, at least in my reading, the thing no one in authority has ever said: these people (priests and bishops who prey on those in their charge of whatever age) are unbelievers

Only where faith no longer determines the actions of man are such offenses possible.

THANK YOU!  We are not dealing with good Christians who have a mysterious vice to conquer. This is not going to be solved by therapy or importing more women into positions -- there isn't a bureaucratic fix to be had for a problem which is spiritual at its roots. We are dealing with men who have lost their faith and have lost sight of protecting the Faith as their first duty. 

As products of the sexual revolution, through an intellectual process Benedict outlines loosely (as he's witnessed it over the years), they've lost their faith, and their actions are not only sexual sins, but sins which destroy faith -- their own and others'. (A young priest once told me after he had some experience counseling marriages in crisis that he'd come to see that sexual sins destroy faith. When sex is used to tell lies -- the lie of false intimacy-- it makes us cynical and unable to believe in love, only in use.) 

Have you marveled at the seeming lack of episcopal horror at grave sin, and the dogged determination to address only child abuse, but not adult fornication, no matter how depraved? This too is not so much "clericalism," as losing sight of the duty to protect the Faith. Benedict reminds the clergy that "the little ones" whom the Lord loves are not only children, but all the simple faithful. Yes, the accused has rights which must be protected, but the first duty is to protect the Faith of the people in the pews. 
In light of the scale of pedophilic misconduct, a word of Jesus has again come to attention which says: "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea" (Mark 9:42). 
The phrase "the little ones" in the language of Jesus means the common believers who can be confounded in their faith by the intellectual arrogance of those who think they are clever. So here Jesus protects the deposit of the faith with an emphatic threat of punishment to those who do it harm.  
The modern use of the sentence is not in itself wrong, but it must not obscure the original meaning. In that meaning, it becomes clear, contrary to any guarantorism, that it is not only the right of the accused that is important and requires a guarantee. Great goods such as the Faith are equally important. 

Direct, but also gentle and subtle, Benedict does not say more than that unbelief is at work, but the example he uses of how it is Faith that is being damaged, not just bodies and psychologies, implies something worse than unbelief. He cites the case of a woman, a former altar server, he met whose abuser "always introduced the sexual abuse he was committing against her with the words: 'This is my body which will be given up for you.'" That's not just sexual sin, that's Black Mass- level blasphemy and sacrilege -- the action of someone who has come to hate the Faith. The Pennsylvania AG report includes some similarly horrifying allegations --scenes of not only sick sexual compulsion, but hatred of Jesus Christ, hatred of innocence.

Who is your God?  Is it sex? Or is it Jesus? That's the real question. And if it's Jesus, and you're going to stand with Him, that implies courage, martyrdom if necessary, to live from Faith, and not from dull politics, as if we were ashamed of God.  

There are values which must never be abandoned for a greater value and even surpass the preservation of physical life. There is martyrdom. God is (about) more than mere physical survival. A life that would be bought by the denial of God, a life that is based on a final lie, is a non-life.

That's the bad news. Or anyway, hard to hear. You can't be a Christian and conform to the spirit of the world, and Benedict very simply re-presents the Faith to his fellow German clergy -- to "Christian" unbelievers-- and shows how this has been the answer all along. He returns us to the Eucharist, to Jesus. 

Which brings me to the second thing that's heartening about this letter.  Heartening not because it is new -- this letter hits all the Benedict-an themes--but because it is true. If the first part of the letter is for clergy, the latter portion is really for us "little ones," the simple people of Faith who love Jesus and his Bride, the Church, but don't know how to remain united to such corruption, when so many hierarchs obviously do not have our good in view.  

How and why ought we to stay?  First of all, because there isn't anything else. 
What must be done? Perhaps we should create another Church for things to work out? Well, that experiment has already been undertaken and has already failed. 
But really the answer is Jesus. It's not as if he hid the mystery of the Church from us: 
Jesus Himself compared the Church to a fishing net in which good and bad fish are ultimately separated by God Himself. There is also the parable of the Church as a field on which the good grain that God Himself has sown grows, but also the weeds that "an enemy" secretly sown onto it. Indeed, the weeds in God's field, the Church, are excessively visible, and the evil fish in the net also show their strength. Nevertheless, the field is still God's field and the net is God's fishing net. And at all times, there are not only the weeds and the evil fish, but also the crops of God and the good fish. To proclaim both with emphasis is not a false form of apologetics, but a necessary service to the Truth.
If Benedict is earlier subtle about where the devil might be at work, in the final portion of his letter he addresses the demonic directly.  Satan is the great Accuser. He tempts us to sin and then turns around and throws our sins in our faces, making it seem as if there's no good in the world  (I've been thinking about Satan as Accuser a lot lately, in connection with the internet's daily "two minute hates," but that can wait another post, perhaps). Riffing on a passage from Revelation, the Pope Emeritus writes, 

The devil is identified as the accuser who accuses our brothers before God day and night (Revelation 12:10). St. John’s Apocalypse thus takes up a thought from the center of the framing narrative in the Book of Job (Job 1 and 2, 10; 42:7-16). In that book, the devil sought to talk down the righteousness of Job before God as being merely external. And exactly this is what the Apocalypse has to say: The devil wants to prove that there are no righteous people; that all righteousness of people is only displayed on the outside.

Satan's purpose in suborning and then revealing sin is to attack God. See how evil are the works of men? If God permits these things, He is not good. You should leave. 

But these are lies. God is good, and there are righteous men --among the common folk, and also among the clergy and hierarchs. An important work of Faith in our time is to open our eyes and find them, and to create what Benedict calls "habitats of Faith" where innocence and goodness can thrive. 
It is very important to oppose the lies and half-truths of the devil with the whole truth: Yes, there is sin in the Church and evil. But even today there is the Holy Church, which is indestructible. Today there are many people who humbly believe, suffer and love, in whom the real God, the loving God, shows Himself to us. Today God also has His witnesses (martyres) in the world. We just have to be vigilant in order to see and hear them. 
In fact, it is the deadly sin of sloth, or acedia, to be unwilling to do this. 

Today's Church is more than ever a "Church of the Martyrs" and thus a witness to the living God. If we look around and listen with an attentive heart, we can find witnesses everywhere today, especially among ordinary people, but also in the high ranks of the Church, who stand up for God with their life and suffering. It is an inertia of the heart [my emphasis]  that leads us to not wish to recognize them. One of the great and essential tasks of our evangelization is, as far as we can, to establish habitats of Faith and, above all, to find and recognize them.
There is more to say, but I thank Benedict for this letter, which seems to come from a fatherly heart that isn't thinking primarily of how to preserve institutions, but of how to encourage our aching hearts. To the clergy he says: decide this day whom you will serve and don't think you can reverse the trouble with a new policy, even if some changes to canon law and policy are certainly necessary. To us he says, look at Jesus and stick with Him. It's not meant to be a programmatic examination of the many topics involved. It's a word of encouragement from the man who daily prays and sacrifices for the Church. 

Passion Sunday, 2019

|

Entry of Christ into Jerusalem, Pietro di Giovanni d'Ambrogio, via Wikimedia Commons



Feast of the Annunciation, 2019

|
Nesterov, the Annunciation, 1901 

Reprising this image because it's my favorite. And I have mixed feelings about the Denise Levertov poem, below (of which the final 18 lines are sometimes omitted due to a re-publication error).  Qua poem, it annoys me.  But I think it's a beautiful meditation on the mystery.


Annunciation, Denise Levertov
We know the scene: the room, variously furnished, 
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
       Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.

But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
courage.
       The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
         God waited.

She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.

                  ____________________

Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
         Some unwillingly
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
uncomprehending.
More often
those moments
      when roads of light and storm
      open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from

in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
                                 God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.

                  ____________________

She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child–but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.

Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
  only asked
a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
the astounding ministry she was offered:

to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power–
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.
                     Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love–

but who was God. 


This was the moment no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse.

A breath unbreathed,
                                Spirit,
                                          suspended,
                                                            waiting.

                  ____________________

She did not cry, ‘I cannot. I am not worthy,’
Nor, ‘I have not the strength.’
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
                                                       raging, coerced.
Bravest of all humans,
                                  consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
                               and the iridescent wings.
Consent,
              courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.


Happy Epiphany, 2019

|
Jean Bourdichon, Adoration of the Magi