Thursday, February 28, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI: a fond farewell

One of the first thoughts that rolled through my head as I awoke this morning was that I would not to post anything today, the day Pope Benedict XVI abdicates the Chair of Peter. Shortly after having that thought, I came across this on Facebook by Dr. Susan Windley-Daoust, the Ironic Catholic, a friend and former theology professor: How about everyone post their favorite line/paragraph out of one of Pope Benedict's books, audiences, or encyclicals tomorrow as a tribute? He's written some beautiful pieces about the faith, and this could make for a small but real tribute on a rather poignant day, with lots of good reading across the blogosphere. Plus we could learn something about each other in this exercise. Are you in??? I'm in.

While it would not be possible for me to identify a favorite quote from all that I have read that was penned by Josef Ratzinger, I will take my prompt from another FB encounter yesterday. A friend asked me if I had read the Pope's Jesus of Nazareth trilogy. I responded that I have read each one as soon as they were published and relished every word. But even among those works, one stands out for me, the second volume: Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem to the Resurrection. I read this book over Holy Week two years ago.

Pope Benedict speaking to the College of Cardinals assembled in the Clemintine Hall earlier today

"'Bearing witness to the truth' means giving priority to God and to his will over against the interests of the world and its powers. God is the criterion of being. In this sense truth is the real 'king' that confers light and greatness upon all things. We may also say that bearing witness to the truth means making creation intelligible and its truth accessible from God's perspective - the perspective of creative reason - in such a way that it can serve as a criterion and a signpost in this world of ours, in such a way that the great and the mighty are exposed to the power of truth, the common law, the law of truth.

"Let us say plainly: the unredeemed state of the world consists precisely in the failure to understand the meaning of creation, in the failure to recognize truth; as a result, the rule of pragmatism is imposed, by which the strong arm of the powerful becomes the god of this world" (Chapter 7, "The Trial of Jesus" 192-193). It is from Josef Ratzinger that I took the line I use often: there can be no love without truth. It stands to reason that there can be truth without love. Jesus' passion unites the two in an awe-inspiring, sublime way.

Perhaps the reason that quote came to mind was that just yesterday, in the wake of the controversy that caused the sudden resignation of Scotland's Cardinal Keith O'Brien, Damian Thompson posted a piece by Professor Tom Gallagher, in which the professor observed something about Scotland that is broadly applicable to the West: "The secular liberal drive to increase regulation and uniformity, supposedly in the name of progress and fairness, is too coercive and too self-evidently an elite project, to enjoy real credibility. There is no unifying ideology behind secular liberalism other than perhaps a desire to end what remains of the Christian ascendancy over the minds and hearts of ordinary folk."

It has often been observed that the reason Josef Ratzinger chose the papal name Benedict was his intention to re-evangelize the West, especially Europe. Let's hope his successor continues this worthy initiative. God bless you Holy Father as you climb the mountain the Lord has called you climb.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI's friend, the "Punk" Princess

I have never posted on one my favorite ladies, Princess Gloria Von Thurn und Taxis, the so-called "Punk Princess" of the 1980s, also known as "Princess TNT, the dynamite socialite." In her eighties heyday she was on David Letterman, stayed out parting all night with Prince (the rock star), and was arrested at the Munich airport for hashish possession. She hung out with all the "cool" people, throwing, to quote the Eagles song, "Life in the Fastlane," outrageous parties (her husband's 60th birthday featured "a birthday cake decorated with 60 marzipan phalluses," and paying "heavenly bills." At the end of the party, costumed as Marie Antoinette, she "descended on a gilded cloud at the end of a scene from Don Giovanni—performed by the Munich Opera—and sang 'Happy birthday, Johnny" to her husband).

When her husband, Prince Johannes von Thurn und Taxis, who was 34 years her senior, died at age 64 in 1990, she inherited a vast international business empire. However, it was an empire that was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. After Johannes' death, Princess Gloria spent most of the decade of the 1990s raising the three children she bore Prince Johannes and receiving private tutoring in business and economics, using her education to turn the family's fortunes around. A task at which she has succeeded magnificently.

Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis in 1980s

She was once again catapulted to international prominence, though far less than in her wild days, when Josef Ratzinger, her friend, someone to whom she is a benefactor, became pope. Their connection is Regensburg, Germany. Located in Bavaria, Regensburg is home of the House of Thurn und Taxis, where their ancestral estate, Schloss St. Emmeram, is located. It is also where Professor Ratzinger taught theology from 1969 until 1977, when Pope Paul VI named him Archbishop of Munich and Freising. In an interview she gave to Vanity Fair- "The Conversion of Gloria TNT," she recalled her first encounter with then-Cardinal Ratzinger. It happened in 1983, when Gloria was just 23, and roughly three years into her marriage to Johannes, who was an outrageous figure himself, being quite publicly bi-sexual, to give but one indication. At that time she was well into her career as the Punk Princess. The occasion was a Mass celebrated by then-Cardinal Ratzinger, who by then had been called to Rome by Bl. Pope John Paul II to serve as Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, which happened in 1981.
"Cardinal Ratzinger came to Regensburg on Saint Wolfgang's Day—Wolfgang was the bishop who reformed the diocese in the 900s—and I heard him preach. I came home and told Johannes, 'That's the first time in my life that I heard somebody speak who was lit up by the Holy Spirit.' Johannes said, 'But he's famous. I've known him for years
This was not the occasion of her definitive conversion, however. It wasn't until after the death of her husband, beginning in 1991, that she turned to the faith with full fervor. Of her twenties and the early days of her marriage, Gloria said, "I was a spoiled brat. My only responsibility was to entertain Johannes and his guests and look after my children My biggest challenge was to get close to rock stars. But once I met them, the myth collapsed. With the Church, it was exactly the contrary. When I met Pope John Paul, he was even more than I thought he would be." She related in the interview that when she heard Cardinal Ratzinger "preach that day I knew that this guy was a saint." After the death of her husband, she was able to have Cardinal Ratzinger celebrate Mass in the chapel on the family estate every year.

It was not until she moved with her children to Rome after Johannes' death, at the insistence of her friend, another fervent Catholic revert and former flamboyant Italian socialite, Alessandra Borghesea, that their friendship began in earnest: "When I moved to Rome, I was already friendly with the cardinal's secretary, Monsignor Josef Clemens. The children and I had made a trip to Israel with him that year at Eastertime." It was as a result of her relationship with Clemens that she first had dinner with then-Cardinal Ratzinger, who, she says, showed great sympathy for her beloved Institute of Christ the King, society dedicated to the Latin Mass, fully in communion with Rome. "He understood that the Second Vatican Council had gone too far and that now we had a happy-clappy situation with guitars and drums and people gathering around the altar and yelling. The cardinal felt that people who believed in the old traditions needed to have an existence in the Church, too."

Her Serene Highness, Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis, with her children, the Princesses Elisabeth and Theresia, and Prince Albert today

On the blog The Whole Pretty, I found a really interesting post-"Sister Heiresses The Von Thurn Und Taxis" (from whence I poached the family photo)- one that I think Princess Gloria would probably appreciate for its charming snarkiness.

Having dedicated her life to her family and her faith, Princess Gloria has not remarried.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Year C Second Sunday of Lent

Readings: Gen 15:5-12.17-18; Ps 27:1.8-9.13-14; Phil 3:17-4:1; Luke 9:28b-36

From darkness He brings light; from evil He brings good; from death He brings life. This is what God does, or sets out to do, perpetually. We can be confident that God is at work in this extraordinary moment the Church is living, brought about by Pope Benedict's stunning act of freedom in renouncing the papacy. Of course, He accomplished this most profoundly in the resurrection of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. God wants to do this for each of us, but too often we offer nothing but resistance. We waste time, effort, and energy in useless complaining, which arises from our anxiety, our distress, wondering, like Job’s well-meaning but misguided wife and friends, what we have done to displease God in such a way as to cause Him to punish us.

A few years ago, a friend of mine, mourning the sudden and tragic loss of her husband, asked me how I could have confidence that there is life after death. I responded by saying that I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t at least wish for everlasting life, but that there is a fundamental difference between wishing and hoping. We wish for things that seem to us impossible and likely are impossible. But hoping for something is rooted in experience. Of course, we experienced dying and rising to new life in baptism. Some of us can remember this experience, others cannot. Either way, it remains a fact, which is why you can’t be unbaptized. Through life’s ups and especially through life’s downs, we have many opportunities to experience for ourselves God’s goodness, His faithfulness. So, if we were to look for a more descriptive synonym for hope, which is the flower, or fruit, of faith, “trusting” is far better than “wishing.”

In our first reading today God promises Abram that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the heavens and that God will give them a land that is theirs. Scripture then relates that “Abram put his faith in the LORD” and that God “credited it to him as an act of righteousness.” St. Paul, in the third chapter of his Letter to the Galatians, citing this same passage from Genesis, wrote: “Realize then that it is those who have faith who are children of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7). The apostle goes on to point out that it is by faith, not by works of the law, that we are counted righteous by God, which is only possible because of Jesus Christ. My dear friends, we need to stop inflicting God’s punishments on ourselves, which is a sure sign of exactly the kind of spiritual childishness, as opposed to child-likeness, St. Paul insists in several of his New Testament letters we must overcome if we are reach full Christian maturity.

In today’s Gospel Peter, James, and John are to receive a preview, a dress rehearsal for Christ’s resurrection. What was their response, even as the glory of Jesus’ Transfiguration began to occur? They were asleep. But the glory of this event was so radiant that it awoke them from their slumber. Upon awakening and seeing what was going on, Peter suggests building three tabernacles on the site, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. But the author of Luke tells us, “he did not know what he was saying” (Luke 9:33). As with Abram, who was enveloped in “a deep, terrifying darkness” (Gen. 15:12), Peter, who was frantically reacting to what he saw- thus giving lie to the humorous exhortation, “Look busy, Jesus is coming”- “a cloud came and cast a shadow over them” (Luke 9:34). The three disciples “became frightened” as they were enveloped in the cloud and heard the Father’s voice tell them, “This is my chosen Son, listen to him” (Luke 9:35). Their response went from babbling in the face of divine glory to silence, ready to listen. This is what the darkness we experience can do for us. In the words of a recent popular song by Flo + the Machine: “it’s always darkest before the dawn.”

In the ninth chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel, the same chapter from which our Gospel reading for today is taken, just prior to Luke’s account of His Transfiguration, Jesus sets forth what we often call “the conditions of discipleship.”- “Then he said to all," Luke writes, "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself? Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:23-26).

It's Lent. So let’s listen to Christ by heeding St. Paul’s exhortation from our second reading and not be enemies of the cross of Christ, not letting our stomachs, or other bodily desires be our god, or be overly pre-occupied with the things of this world. What does it mean to be overly pre-occupied with the things of the world? Do you skip praying because you think you’re too busy? Do you miss Mass on Sunday or holy days because you think you have better things to do? Do you avoid examining your conscience and availing yourself of the Sacrament of Penance because you are convinced that your sins of omission and commission “really aren’t that bad?” Because you’ve given no thought to mortification, are you prone to forget obligatory Friday abstinence during Lent, or even worse, just blow it off, thinking yourself so reasonable a person that to bother with such things is beneath you?

We do not perform our spiritual disciplines in order to earn God’s favor, make ourselves more pleasing to Him, or to stave off hardship, difficulty, and pain. Neither do we engage in them to make ourselves more deserving of God’s love, which was made most manifest in the excruciating death of His Son for our sakes. As James Kushiner observed, “A discipline won’t bring you closer to God. Only God can bring you closer to Himself. What the discipline is meant to do is to help you get yourself, your ego, out of the way so you are open to His grace.” We do them as acts of hope that express our trust in God’s promise of eternal life. We do them in response to God’s love. We do them as a way of cooperating with what God is doing in each one of our lives, if nothing else, to better attune ourselves to recognize more clearly just how God is at work in our lives.

It is only by embracing the darkness, embracing the crosses that come our way, that, like Abraham, our father in faith, and like the apostles, we experience for ourselves “in this valley of tears,” just how the “Lord is [our] light and [our] salvation” (Ps. 27:1). Embracing the cross is always an act of hope that allows God to show us He is worthy of our trust.

Pope Benedict XVI's final Sunday Angelus reflection

Below is the reflection for the final Sunday Angelus of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI:


On the second Sunday of Lent, the liturgy always presents us with the Gospel of the Transfiguration of the Lord. The evangelist Luke places particular emphasis on the fact that Jesus was transfigured as he prayed: his is a profound experience of relationship with the Father during a sort of spiritual retreat that Jesus lives on a high mountain in the company of Peter, James and John , the three disciples always present in moments of divine manifestation of the Master (Luke 5:10, 8.51, 9.28).

The Lord, who shortly before had foretold his death and resurrection (9:22), offers his disciples a foretaste of his glory. And even in the Transfiguration, as in baptism, we hear the voice of the Heavenly Father, "This is my Son, the Chosen One listen to him" (9:35). The presence of Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets of the Old Covenant, it is highly significant: the whole history of the Alliance is focused on Him, the Christ, who accomplishes a new "exodus" (9:31) , not to the promised land as in the time of Moses, but to Heaven. Peter’s words: "Master, it is good that we are here" (9.33) represents the impossible attempt to stop this mystical experience. St. Augustine says: "[Peter] ... on the mountain ... had Christ as the food of the soul.

Why should he come down to return to the labours and pains, while up there he was full of feelings of holy love for God that inspired in him a holy conduct? "(Sermon 78.3). We can draw a very important lesson from meditating on this passage of the Gospel. First, the primacy of prayer, without which all the work of the apostolate and of charity is reduced to activism. In Lent we learn to give proper time to prayer, both personal and communal, which gives breath to our spiritual life. In addition, to pray is not to isolate oneself from the world and its contradictions, as Peter wanted on Tabor, instead prayer leads us back to the path, to action. "The Christian life - I wrote in my Message for Lent - consists in continuously scaling the mountain to meet God and then coming back down, bearing the love and strength drawn from him, so as to serve our brothers and sisters with God’s own love "(n. 3).

Dear brothers and sisters, I feel that this Word of God is particularly directed at me, at this point in my life. The Lord is calling me to "climb the mountain", to devote myself even more to prayer and meditation. But this does not mean abandoning the Church, indeed, if God is asking me to do this it is so that I can continue to serve the Church with the same dedication and the same love with which I have done thus far, but in a way that is better suited to my age and my strength. Let us invoke the intercession of the Virgin Mary: may she always help us all to follow the Lord Jesus in prayer and works of charity. I offer a warm greeting to all the English-speaking visitors present for this Angelus prayer, especially the Schola Cantorum of the London Oratory School. I thank everyone for the many expressions of gratitude, affection and closeness in prayer which I have received in these days. As we continue our Lenten journey towards Easter, may we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus the Redeemer, whose glory was revealed on the mount of the Transfiguration. Upon all of you I invoke God’s abundant blessings!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, Apostle

Readings: 1 Pet. 5:1-4; Ps. 23:1-6; Matt. 16:13-19

Today we observe the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, Apostle. Yesterday we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the re-dedication of our beautiful Mother Church, The Cathedral of the Madeleine. “Chair” is the English translation of the Latin word cathedra. It is the presence of the bishop’s cathedra that makes this Church a Cathedral. It is from this chair that Bishop Wester presides in love over our local Church, the Diocese of Salt Lake City. He does so in communion with his fellow bishops and, along with them, in communion with the Bishop of Rome. It is the Church of Rome “who,” according to the second century bishop and martyr, St. Ignatius of Antioch, “ presides in love” over all the Churches.

Next Thursday, precisely at noon Mountain Time, when the surprising renunciation of the papacy by our beloved Pope Benedict XVI goes into effect, the Chair of St. Peter will be sede vacante, that is, “a vacant seat.” So, we observe this feast and celebrate this liturgy, with a bit of sadness, but certainly not without hope and joy.

Cathedra Petri

As Fr. Julían Carrón, President of the Fraternity of Communion & Liberation wrote about Monday, 11 February 2013: “For an instant, the world stopped. All of us, wherever we were, stood in silence, seeing our same amazement reflected on the faces of those around us. Everything was contained in that moment of silence. No communication strategy could have provoked a similar reaction: we were faced with a fact as incredible as it was real, a fact that imposed itself with such evidence that it drew us all, forcing us to look up from everyday things.”

He asked, “What was capable of filling the entire world with silence, all of a sudden?” Writing further of this extraordinary moment, which demolished “in one stroke, the images that we normally have of Christianity” as “a past event, an earthly organization, a group of roles, a morality about things that we should or shouldn’t do,” he observed that none of these common reductions of the Church are capable of answering this question. Facing squarely the Holy Father’s gesture caused Fr. Carrón to wonder if anyone will ask, “who Christ is for Joseph Ratzinger, if the bond with Him led him to carry out an act of freedom this surprising, which everyone—believers or not—recognized as exceptional and profoundly human?”

Freedom is the key to understanding the Holy Father’s initiative, with which, turning again to Carrón, he “gave such a witness to Christ that it made all of [Christ’s] attractiveness shine powerfully through,” forcing us to “admit how rare it is to find a witness that forces the world, [even] for an instant, to fall silent.” It is precisely this freedom that is mentioned in our first reading from 1 Peter, which exhorts priests- “Tend the flock of God in your midst, overseeing not by constraint but willingly” (1 Pet. 5:2). After all, one can only preside in love freely because without freedom love is impossible.

Msgr. Luigi Giussani, founder of the ecclesial Movement Communion & Liberation, who passed into eternity eight years ago today and for whom this Mass is offered in memoriam, begins the preface to the final work of his magnificent trilogy, Why the Church?, with this quote from the magisterial document Dominus Iesus: “Jesus Christ continues his presence and his work of salvation in the Church and through the Church, which is his Body,” noting that “The Church offers itself as the continuity of Christ.”

Therefore, the question for us, especially in light of this extraordinary present moment we are living, is “how can the Church be recognized as the continuity of Christ?”

Giussani presents three ways the Church can be so recognized: one way is through rationalism; inner enlightenment, the chief focus of most forms of Protestantism, is another; the working of the Holy Spirit: the mystery of the communion of believers, as set forth in historical, especially conciliar, documents, is the focus of Orthodox Christians. It bears noting that what makes us Catholic is not our rejection of any of these: the use of reason, our need for inner enlightenment, or, as believers, participating in the mystery of communion, the very act in which we are presently engaged.

Msgr. Luigi Giussani

Because, at least for those who follow the charism given to the Church through Luigi Giussani, we always start with the present moment, it is in the mystery of the communion of believers that gives us the answer “to the question of the historical reading of texts and the movement of the Spirit… in order to understand who is standing before us.” If we are not attuned to recognize Christ precisely here, in this liturgy, where He is already really and truly present in our gathering together, in the proclamation of the word, and in Fr. Silva presiding in persona Christi capitis, then how can we be recognized, either individually or together, as His continuity in the world when are dismissed?

Fr. Carrón, in his judgment concerning the extraordinary gesture of the man who renounced the papacy out his freedom, quoted Jacopone da Todi: “Christ in His beauty draws me to Him.” It is because Christ, in His beauty, has drawn us to Him that in freedom we can say to Pope Benedict XVI and to his successor what Christ says to Peter in today’s Gospel: Tu es Petrus (Matt. 16:18).

It is the constant duty of the one who walks in the shoes of the fisherman from Galilee along those over whom he presides in love, to proclaim what we affirmed in our Psalm response: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want” (Ps. 23:1). Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who not only laid down His life for us, but took it up again, which means that even on this Friday of Lent, in our freedom, we say, Christos anesti; Christ is risen!

Living in front of God

Unlike many of my Catholic friends, I enjoy a fair amount of contemporary Christian music. My enjoyment of such music, by no means all of it, as much of is lamentably bad, has no liturgical implications, which means I have no desire for it to comprise any part of the Sacred Liturgy. But for devotional purposes, I find some of it wonderfully suitable in that way only music can be.

I have had a copy of the 1992 album Coram Deo since a few years after it was released. I had not listened to it for years, that is, until the beginning of Lent, when I put it in my CD case in my car. So, for the past few weeks I have listened to it a lot. Literally translated, Coram Deo means "before God," as in, "in front of God" and so, "in God's presence."

Titian's portrait of John Calvin

I never cease to be amazed at the convergences that happen in life. Currently I am reading T.H.L. Parker's John Calvin: A Biography, along with some of Calvin's Institutes on the Christian Religion. As Parker notes, in the Institutes the phrase coram deo, along with the phrase apud Deum, which means "with God," "meet us at every turn." According to Parker, Calvin "based his theology on the belief that the decisions and judgments of God are the ultimate and real truth about man."

Our traditio for the second Friday of Lent, on which we observe the Feast of the Chair St. Peter, Apostle (I already used Tu es Petrus)- making my mention of Calvin even stranger I suppose, is Charlie Peacock's "Now Is the Time for Tears" off Coram Deo. This is a brilliant song about how to minister to those experiencing pain and loss.

Today also marks the eighth anniversary of the death of my dear Msgr. Luigi Giussani.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Freedom's waiting for you

Writing of the time when he first came into contact with the so-called New Movements, like Comunion & Liberation, Focolare, etc., then-Cardinal Ratzinger, in a 1998 article for Communio described that time, "The early 1970s," as "a time when Karl Rahner and others were speaking of a winter in the Church."

"And it did seem," he continued, "that, after the great blossoming of the Council, frost was creeping instead of springtime, and that exhaustion was replacing dynamism. The dynamism now seemed to be somewhere else entirely-where people, relying on their own strength and without resorting to God, were setting about creating a better world of the future. That a world without God could not be good, let alone a better world, was obvious to anyone who had eyes to see." This prompted him to ask, "But where was God in all this? Had not the Church in fact become worn-out and dispirited after so many debates and so much searching for new structures?"

"What Rahner was saying was perfectly understandable. It put into words an experience that we were all having." Then, all of a sudden, "here was something that no one had planned. Here the Holy Spirit himself had, so to speak, taken the floor. The faith was reawakening precisely among the young, who embraced it without ifs, ands, or buts, without escape hatches and loopholes, and who experienced it in its totality as a precious, life-giving gift. To be sure, many people felt that this interfered with their intellectual discussions or their models for redesigning a completely different Church in their own image-how could it be otherwise?"

"Every irruption of the Holy Spirit always upsets human plans."

In his book At the Origin of the Christian Claim, Msgr. Luigi Giussani, the founder of Communion & Liberation, wrote:

"Jesus Christ did not come into the world as a substitute for human freedom or to eliminate human trial. He came into the world to call man back to the depths of all questions, to his own fundamental structure, to his own real situation. He came to call man back to true religiosity, without which every claim to a solution of the human problems is a lie."

For most utopians, especially the religious ones, like those described by then-Cardinal Ratzinger, freedom is either not a value, or is misunderstood as the multiplication of choices. In either case it is cut-off from truth, thus freedom is turned into an end in itself. As Green Day sang: "At the center of the earth is the parking lot of the 7-11 where I was taught the motto was just a lie." Of course the motto referenced in the song is: "At your 7-11, freedom’s waiting for you."

I remember an episode of Beavis and Butthead when, looking through the window of a 7-11-like convenience store, Butthead says to Beavis- "Everything I ever wanted is behind this window." Talk about narrowing the scope of human desire! Can we say that desire connects freedom to truth, even if often by an indirect course?

Monday, February 18, 2013

May we ever obey thy godly motions

Discernment, to be true to reality, must be something that happens in light of experience. So it appears that for me freedom, what it means to be truly free, is my Lenten focus. This focus came to me through Pope Benedict XVI's announcement of his decision to abdicate the papacy, which thoroughly shook me, through Fr. Carrón's perception of what Joseph Ratzinger's decision means, and through my decision, quite unrelated to either of the first two things, but decided upon on the basis of my remembrance that at the beginning of his spiritual exercises Archbishop Forte dealt in detail with the subject of yesterday's Gospel- Jesus' temptations in the wilderness- to take To Follow You, Light of Life, as my main Lenten reading. Also, during this season of Lent, I am praying Morning and Evening Prayer from the traditional Anglican Book of Common Prayer.

At end of Morning Prayer as laid out in the Book of Common Prayer three collects are recited, two (one for peace and the other for God's grace), which the rubrics stipulate "shall never alter, but daily be said at Morning Prayer throughout the year," and the collect for the day, most often meaning the collect from the preceding Sunday. Because I am now highly attuned, that is, very aware of when exhortations or supplications for freedom pop up, I was twice struck this morning while reciting these prayers. First, by the collect for peace: "O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom: Defend us thy humble servants in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in thy defence, may not fear the power of our adversaries; through Jesus Christ our Lord." Then I was struck by the collect for the First Sunday in Lent: "O Lord, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights: Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness and true holiness, to thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end." Ever obeying God's divine and providential "motions" strikes me as true freedom.


Yet another experience brought home my call to focus on freedom. I mentioned at the end of my earlier post that last night I watched the fourth of Éric Rohmer's Six Moral Tales, La Collectionneuse. I began watching these magnificent films in order well before Lent and certainly before last Monday's startling announcement. Rohmer ends this film with what I hope I can call an existential meditation on freedom without sounding too abstract. As with the café scene from Rohmer's Ma nuit chez Maud, I want to try and capture it in written form (there is another scene in which the subject of the meaning of work is discussed that is also worthy of some treatment).

Upon deciding to leave Haydée in the company of two men who called out to her on the road, Adrien begins to relish what he thinks is his hard-won freedom. Haydée is a rather promiscuous young woman with whom Adrien had been maneuvering to sleep for weeks. Upon his arrival at his friend Rodolphe's villa on the Riviera he unexpectedly discovered her to also be a guest, along with his friend, the artist Daniel, whom he expected. Adrien quickly recognized her as the same young woman he encountered before going on vacation when he unintentionally walked in on her having sex. Just a moment before deciding to leave her there, Adrien, who is restless and rootless, an anti-hero, was selfishly enjoying the fact that he now had Haydée all to himself for the final the week of his vacation, reflecting about how reality seemed to be conspiring, through a series of unlikely events, to give her to him.

It was on their drive back to the villa, while passing through the nearby village, that Adrien and Haydée pass two men in a white convertible who, recognizing Haydée, summon her. Adrien stops his vehicle and she gets out. The two men invite her to another friend's villa. She declines to go with them just then, but wants to take down the address in case she decides to join them later. Adrien is stopped in the road, as are the two men in the other vehicle. Both cars are blocking traffic. A car pulls up behind Adrien and the driver, growing impatient, honks several times, prompting Adrien to move in order to make way. It is here that Rohmer's meditation on what I will call our "freedom" from which we must be liberated begins, as he drives from the village to the isolated villa:

When I started the engine, it was just to clear the road and perhaps put an end to Haydée's dallying.

But I quickly realized that I wasn't going to stop and that I was making the right decision for the first time.

This is the story of my twists and turns.

The way was finally cleared for the decision of my first days here ["here" being his friend's villa, his "decision" was to be by himself and do nothing].

Adrien on the porch of the villa

Now I could actually live my vacation dream [being by himself and doing nothing].

Peace and solitude were at last mine for the taking.

They weren't just handed to me.

I'd gained the right to them by at last asserting my freedom.

I reveled in my victory and ascribed it to my actions alone, not chance.

I was overwhelmed by a feeling of exquisite freedom.

Now I could do whatever I wanted.

Upon arriving at the villa, he gets out of his car and enters the house. He makes his way to his "monastic" bedroom, begins to undress, with the idea of getting some sleep. His monologue continues as he continues to undress and lays down on the bed:

But once back in the emptiness and silence of the house, I was seized with anxiety and unable to sleep.

Once on the bed, he lays restlessly looking around the room. He arises, moves to the window, and looks out the window. He clearly does not find the beautiful, early morning rustic setting, featuring as it does the crowing of the roosters, soothing. Rather, he seems to become more anxious, feeling even more isolated. So, he changes into clean clothes, picks up the book he has been trying read since his arrival, The Complete Works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and enters the room in which Haydée, who clearly went with the two guys, had been staying. He takes a cigarette from her nightstand and lights it. As he stands smoking, he glances at her bed, which has some of her clothes laying on it.

The scene then shifts outdoors, where we see Adrien sitting in a chair under a tree with his book open on his lap, but he is not reading it. Instead, he sits looking at the villa. He closes the book, stands up, looks around and meanders slowly towards the house. As he reaches the porch, which has a commanding view of the surrounding fields and woods, with the Riviera visible over the treeline, he stands for a moment, surveying the view, then, with some determination enters the house, reaches for the telephone and dials a number. On making the connection, he says,

Hello, is this the airport?

When's your next flight to London?

Yes, today.

This hearkens back to the beginning of the movie, when Adrien endeavors to talk his model girlfriend into coming to the villa on the Riviera with him instead of going to London for her work. She insists Adrien come with her, but he strongly refuses, hoping to prevail upon her to come with him. They end at an impasse, which occurs just before his first encounter with Haydée. This is the same girlfriend who expresses a fascinating view of beauty during the final of films three prologues, which, along with the scene in which the meaning of work is the subject, could also be treated at length.

Much can also be said for how Rohmer deals with Rousseau's thought in this film, especially Rousseau's explication of human freedom, which was coming to be widely accepted in the 1960s (La Collectionneuse dates to 1967). While Rousseau's philosophy does not occupy as central a place in this movie as does Paschal's in Ma nuit chez Maud, it does frame Rohmer's tale. Briefly, Rousseau believed human freedom was corrupted by society. Rohmer does not necessarily set about to completely overthrow this understanding, but he does try to engage it, to argue with Rosseau.

Of course, Rousseau's conception of freedom has long since become culturally dominant in the West, a development that Rohmer, who was described in his 2010 Telegraph obituary, as "a Roman Catholic film-maker rather than a film-maker who happened to be Roman Catholic," could not accept uncritically. It is a freedom that, as exemplified by Adrien, is as cold and calculating, in a (hyphenated) word self-centered, as it is indifferent and untethered in Haydée. A freedom that both characters show to be fickle and ultimately unsatisfying. Nonetheless, any story of freedom, even an authentic story, is a story of our twists and turns.

I owe my present fascination with Rohmer's ouevre to my dear friend Sharon, who reviewed a film I have not yet been able to watch, Rohmer's Le rayon vert, for Il Sussidario in a piece entitled "A Restless Vacation."

To be free is to be liberated from our own "freedom"

An interesting and, I think, fruitful, conversation about Christian freedom arose from my post on Saturday. The immediate cause of the discussion was something I quoted from Fr. Carrón's letter-to-the-editor of the Italian newspaper La Stampa: "I was then forced to shift my gaze to what made it possible: Who are You, who fascinate a man to the point of making him so free that he provokes the desire for the same freedom in us, too?" This provoked a response from a friend. Her response was that she saw no freedom at all in Benedict XVI's decision to abdicate the Chair of St. Peter because in giving up the papacy to devote himself to a life of prayer, he was giving up something demanding for something even more demanding. I responded by writing, "Freedom is not freedom from, but freedom for... I think one of Carrón's main points is that with this gesture Joseph Ratzinger shows us that true freedom is only realized by being dependent only on Christ, who is Freedom, just as He is Truth."

In turn, this response of mine prompted another friend to observe that the word freedom "is a great and ancient word of Christianity, and is not to be abandoned simply because the world has made it petty and twisted it." I agree, which is why I needed to reflect on what I meant by invoking freedom, not glibly, but perhaps a bit too ambiguously.

What is freedom, at least from a Christian perspective? While I would never presume to give a definitive answer, I assert strongly that it is only by looking at Jesus Christ that we have any hope of arriving at a truthful answer. So I turned, as I did yesterday, to the Lenten spiritual exercises given in 2004 by Archbishop Bruno Forte to the papal household, still headed at that time by Bl. Pope John Paul II, published in English as To Follow You, Light of Life. Taking Jesus' three temptations as his starting point, Forte wrote:
Jesus does not seek easy consensus or pander to people's expectations, but rather subverts them. Jesus chooses the Father: with an act of sovereign freedom he prefers obedience to God and abnegation of self over obedience to self, which would imply the rejection of God. He does not succumb to the pull of immediate success; he believes in the Father with indestructible confidence. In the hour of temptation, Jesus reaffirms his freedom from himself, free for the Father and for others, free with the freedom of love
Jésus tenté dans le désert, by James Tissot

Turning to Jesus' "Yes" to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, Archbishop Forte noted that it is only in Mark's account of this event (8:35) "that the Gospels preserve Jesus' use of of the affectionate Aramaic form Abba in addressing the Father." He then observed that our Lord's "Yes" to the Father "is born of unconditional love: his freedom is the freedom of love, the freedom of one who finds his life by losing it... able to risk everything for love. It is the daring of one who gives all."

Finally, His Excellency attested beautifully to the witness given us by Jesus- "He witnesses to how none are freer than those who are free from their own freedom in the name of a greater love. Free from self, he exists for the Father and for others: he is not concerned with self-promotion, but with promoting God and his Kingdom among men and women."

I believe it is this freedom that Fr. Carrón points to in both his initial response to the news of Pope Benedict's decision to abdicate, "The Incredible Freedom of a Man Taken Hold of By Christ," and in his letter-to-the-editor of La Stampa, "Ratzinger's Cross."

Last night, after finishing this post, I finished watching Éric Rohmer's La Collentionneuse. This movie ends with a remarkable reflection on freedom, on its existential dimension.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Transforming the desert of our hearts

Given the tumult of the past week and the unrelenting busy-ness of my life, both that which I choose and that which is imposed on me- the latter of which I need to deal with more patiently (if nothing else I need to learn that I don't get to pick my own crosses), my Lenten observance has gotten off to a slow start. I have found it difficult to pray, read, and reflect. So on this First Sunday of Lent, when we hear about Jesus' three temptations in the desert, I began reading the spiritual exercises given by Archbishop Bruno Forte to the Papal Household during Lent back in 2004. The English translation of these exercises is To Follow You, Light of Life.

Cutting to the chase of his introduction, Archbishop Forte observes that due to human sin the world is changed from a garden paradise into a desert. The work of redemption, then, is nothing less than transforming the world from a desert back into a paradise. I think, too, that he suggests that the transformed paradise is somehow more paradisaical than the original, possessing a beauty, a depth, a richness not found in the original, due to the fact that the transformation does not seek to erase the memory of our desert exile.

Forte begins by referring back to the twentieth century, which cannot be seen as anything other than perhaps the worst in human history, an age of horrors. He refers to it as "the age of heady ideologies that recognized in reason alone the ability to transform the world and life." He then proceeds to mention "the violence produced by the historical forms taken by those ideologies," noting that they have "brought humanity to an experience of darkness." It precisely here that he invokes Martin Heidegger, whose flirtation with and, at least temporary, relationship to Hitler's National Socialism, which Forte only implies, I cannot go without bringing up explicitly because it is highly relevant, who said, "this is the night of the world."

Forte then seeks to flesh out the darkness he has described, noting "the darkness of this night is not so much the absence of God as the fact that human beings feel nothing for this absence," what Dr. Glen Olsen has recently described in great detail as the consequences of our collective cultural and societal loss of any sense of the transcendence of the human person. "This is the night of nihilism," Forte continues, "that indifference to eternal values which corrodes the very capacity of human beings to set out in search of the meaning of life and history." This reminded me of Vidal, the Marxist philosophy professor from Rohmer's Ma nuit chez Maud, a film about which I wrote recently, who said, "Personally I very much doubt that history has any meaning."

This indifference to eternal values, which is indifference to God, is, for Forte, "the condition expressed by the rabbinic saying quoted by Martin Buber: 'Israel's exile began when the Jews learnt how to bear that exile.'" Hence, "Exile does not begin when we leave home, but when we no longer miss it."

How do we "emerge" from our exile and turn our hearts toward home? Forte insists that this "happens every time the Word is proclaimed" because the proclamation of the Word sends "us back to search for lost meaning" and points "us to the dawning of a new day." Therefore, it is the Church's task to proclaim the Word in season and out of season, but especially "at this time of the world's night, of the crisis of modern utopias and postmodern disillusionment, in this world often perceived as scarred by the clash of civilizations and religions, the church is called more than ever before to make the desert of the world and of our hearts flower again so as to become God's new garden."

Of course, the Word proclaimed by the Church is none other than Jesus Christ, Whom Forte describes as "both our journey and our destination." It is Jesus Christ and Him alone who can ultimately bring about the transformation described, dispelling darkness with light and turning the desert of our hearts and of the world (the latter a product of the former) into a garden. He cites John 8:12- "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

Let's not forget that the origin of the word "Lent" is derived the Anglo-Saxon word lencten, meaning "Spring." The reading for Lauds for this First Sunday of Lent coheres nicely with all of this. It is taken from the eighth and ninth verses of Nehemiah chapter 8: “Today is holy to the LORD your God. Do not lament, do not weep!... for today is holy to our LORD. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the LORD is your strength!” It is interesting that the part about eating "rich foods and drink[ing] sweet drinks" is omitted, especially given that today is Sunday and so does not technically count as a day of Lent.

Be of good cheer. We are reminded by our reading today from St. Paul's Letter to the Romans: "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart."

Saturday, February 16, 2013

"[T]he Church is Christ’s"

One of the greatest things about sharing in the charism given to the Church through Luigi Giussani and tangentially being part of the Movement that carries on this charism, Communion & Liberation, is that it allows me to spiritually discern and judge what reality sets before me. Like everyone, I was taken completely by surprise when Pope Benedict XVI announced early in the week that he was abdicating the papacy. Unlike many, I was very disheartened and left a more than a bit dismayed. Frankly, I have been a little discouraged by this news. It would be difficult to exaggerate the joy I felt on 19 April 2005 when I heard and saw the former-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger emerge from the conclave as the newly selected Bishop of Rome, chosen to walk in the shoes of Peter, the Galilean fisherman.

By God's grace I was able to greet Fr. Julián Carrón's letter-to-the-editor of the Italian newspaper La Stampa, which he wrote just yesterday, with great openness. My openness was rewarded by seeing how Fr. Carrón, who is Giussani's successor, serving as President of Communion & Liberation, spiritually discerned this momentous event in the life of God's people. The Holy Father himself shares in this charism, his household consisting of members of Memores Domini, an order of consecrated lay men and women belonging to CL, who are committed to living the evangelical counsels, including lifelong celibacy. It has been made known that when he takes up residence in the Mater Ecclesiae convent within the walls of the Vatican, after he abdicates and spends some time at Castle Gandolfo, that the members of his household will continue to live in community with him, to accompany him. Fr. Giussani was very clear that the Movement of Communion & Liberation is above all a companionship. Therein lies its strength and, writing from my own experience, also its greatest vulnerability.

It is true that were hints of this happening from the beginning of Pope Benedict's papacy (in his homily for the Mass in St. John Lateran for the inauguration of his pontificate) and throughout it (his answer to Peter Seewald's question in Light of the World about this very thing). But when something significant goes from a possibility, or even a likelihood, to suddenly becoming a reality with which we must reckon, in addition to being a surprise, it is disconcerting, perhaps even a bit disorienting.

It is with no hesitation whatsoever that post Fr. Carrón's letter in its entirety:


Ratzinger’s Cross

Dear Editor,

Your editorial about Benedict XVI’s announcement describes the situation in which we all came to find ourselves on Monday morning: “This is universal news, which travels around the world and stuns it. (…) It would be foolish to act as if nothing happened.”

For an instant, the world stopped. All of us, wherever we were, stood in silence, seeing our same amazement reflected on the faces of those around us. Everything was contained in that moment of silence. No communication strategy could have provoked a similar reaction: we were faced with a fact as incredible as it was real, a fact that imposed itself with such evidence that it drew us all, forcing us to look up from everyday things.

What was capable of filling the entire world with silence, all of a sudden?

That astonished moment destroyed, in one stroke, the images that we normally have of Christianity: a past event, an earthly organization, a group of roles, a morality about things that we should or shouldn’t do... No, all of this cannot give adequate reasons for what happened on February 11th. We must look elsewhere for the explanation.

Therefore, faced with the Pope’s gesture, I wondered: Will anyone ask themselves who Christ is for Joseph Ratzinger, if the bond with Him led him to carry out an act of freedom this surprising, which everyone—believers or not—recognized as exceptional and profoundly human? Avoiding this question would leave the event without an explanation and, what is worse, we would miss the most precious part of what it witnesses to us. It cries out, in fact, just how real the person of Christ is in the life of the Pope, how much Christ must be contemporaneous and powerfully present in order for him to generate a gesture of freedom from everything and everyone, an unheard-of novelty, so impossible for man. Full of wonder, I was then forced to shift my gaze to what made it possible: Who are You, who fascinate a man to the point of making him so free that he provokes the desire for the same freedom in us, too? “Christ in His beauty draws me to Him,” exclaimed another man passionate about Christ, Jacopone da Todi. I haven’t found a better explanation.

With his initiative, the Pope gave such a witness to Christ that it made all of His attractiveness shine powerfully through, to the point that it somehow grasped all of us—we were faced with a mystery that captured our attention. We have to admit how rare it is to find a witness that forces the world, at least for an instant, to fall silent.

Even if, immediately afterward, distraction was already pulling us elsewhere—causing us to slip (as we saw in many reactions) into the netherworld of interpretations and calculations of “ecclesiastic politics,” preventing us from seeing what really captivated us in the event—no one will ever be able to erase from every fiber of our being that interminable instant of silence.

Not only his freedom, but also the Pope’s capacity to read reality, to understand the signs of the times, announces the presence of Christ. In speaking of Zacchaeus, the publican who climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus as He was passing by, St. Augustine says, “And the Lord looked right at Zacchaeus. [Zacchaeus] was seen and then he saw. If he had not been seen, he would not have seen.” The Pope showed us that only the present experience of Christ allows one to “see,” that is, to use reason with clarity, to the point of coming to an absolutely pertinent judgment about the historical moment and imagining a gesture like the one that he carried out: “I have done this in full freedom for the good of the Church, after much prayer and having examined my conscience before God, knowing full well the seriousness of this act, but also realizing that I am no longer able to carry out the Petrine ministry with the strength which it demands.” This is unprecedented realism! But where does it originate? “I am strengthened and reassured by the certainty that the Church is Christ’s, who will never leave her without His guidance and care” (General Audience, February 13, 2013).

The last act of this pontificate appears to me to be the extreme gesture of a father who shows everyone, within and outside of the Church, where to find that certainty that makes us truly free from the fears that ensnare us. And he does it with a symbolic gesture, like the ancient prophets of Israel who, in order to communicate the certainty of return from exile to the people, did the most apparently absurd thing: they bought a field. The Pope, too, is so certain that Christ will not leave the Church without His guidance and care that, in order to proclaim it to everyone, he does what, to many, seems absurd: he steps aside to leave Christ the room to provide a new guide for the Church, with the necessary strength to perform the task.

But this does not reduce the value of the gesture to the Church alone. Through His care for the Church, according to His mysterious design, Christ places a sign in the world in which everyone can see that they are not alone with their impotence. Thus, “in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance,” which often cause confusion and dismay, the Pope offers to every man a rock to which he can anchor the hope that does not fear the daily storms, allowing him to look to the future with confidence.

         Julián Carrón
President of the Fraternity
of Communion and Liberation

Friday, February 15, 2013

Tu es Petrus

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina's Tu es Petrus seemed to me to be the only fitting traditio for this First Friday in Lent, given the historical event that took place earlier this week.

Throughout the wall-to-wall coverage of Pope Benedict XVI's abdication one article stood out for me. The article is by Fr. George Rutler, whose writings are always worth my time: "Benedict’s Decision in the Light of Eternity." Among the many insights Fr. Rutler shares is this:
The personality cults of our present age had to a degree shaped the young in the Church who had only known one pope. A most attractive charism of Benedict XVI has been his desire to vanish so that the faithful might see only Christ: “cupio dissolvi.” He strengthened the papacy by vaulting sanctity over celebrity. In a grand paradox, nothing in him has become so conspicuous as his desire to disappear. Christ gave the Keys to a Galilean fisherman with a limited life span. He chose Peter; Peter did not choose Him. When the pope relinquishes the Petrine authority, he does not submit a letter of resignation to any individual, for the only one capable of receiving it is Christ. This is why “renunciation” or “abdication” is a more accurate term than “resignation” in the case of the Supreme Pontiff. Unless this is understood, the danger is that a superficial world will try to refashion the pope into some hind of amiable but transient office holder.

Since I am a deacon and the title of my blog is Catholic Deacon, I would be remiss not to note the passing of Deacon Bill Steltmeier. Some readers may recognize Deacon Bill from his many appearances on EWTN. He was instrumental in helping Mother Angelica establish that global Catholic network. The National Catholic Register has a nice article on the life and many contributions of this faithful servant. For any deacon engaged in social media, it is safe to say Deacon Bill led the way. Requiescat in pace.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday

Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.

Remember, you are dust and to dust you will return.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

"Let us move forward in the joy of the Risen Lord"

At the risk of being a participant in beating Pope Benedict's decision to resign to death, I had an experience yesterday that I want to share.

To do so I have to back-up to Sunday when I spent time reflecting on what I was going to do for Lent, not give up, but do. Specifically, how I was going to pray and reflect more. As I have shared previously, it is fruitful for me to pick a book of Scripture to read and re-read several times at the pace of three chapters a day (one in the morning, one at noon, and one in the evening). The book I chose for this year is 1 Corinthians. I determined that if I started yesterday, reading three chapters a day, I would read this Pauline epistle through nine times over Lent (Ash Wednesday through Wednesday of Holy Week).

While reading chapter three yesterday afternoon, a chapter which begins with the apostle rebuking the Church in ancient Corinth for being so factional and fractional, I was struck by what St. Paul asks them, rhetorically, at the beginning of verse 5: "What then is Apollos? What is Paul?" Then, answering his own question, the apostle writes, "Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building" (1 Cor. 3:5b-9 ESV).

In his response to the news of the Holy Father's resignation, Fr. Julián Carrón, leader of Communion & Liberation, wrote: "With this gesture, as imposing as it is unexpected, the Pope witnesses to us such a fullness in the relationship with Christ that he surprises us with an unprecedented act of freedom that puts the good of the Church before all else. Thus he shows everyone that he is completely entrusted to the mysterious design of an Other."

This reminded me of the words Pope Benedict spoke from the central loggia on St. Peter's Square on 19 April 2005, his first words as Roman Pontiff:
After the great Pope John Paul II, the Cardinals have elected me, a simple and humble laborer in the vineyard of the Lord.

The fact that the Lord knows how to work and to act even with inadequate instruments comforts me, and above all I entrust myself to your prayers.

Let us move forward in the joy of the Risen Lord, confident of his unfailing help. The Lord will help us and Mary, his Most Holy Mother, will be on our side. Thank you

Monday, February 11, 2013

Monday begins with a heavy heart

Like millions of Catholics this morning I am in shock at the news Pope Benedict XVI announced today- that he is resigning the papacy effective 2000 hours, Roman time, 28 February 2013. Many people wonder whether a pope can resign. Canon law clearly permits this: Can. 332 §2: "If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone."

The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII on 4 July 1415. Unlike today's resignation, Gregory's election and resignation occurred during a perilous crisis in the Church. Despite his resignation, a new Pontiff was not selected during Gregory's lifetime: Pope Martin V, was chosen at the Council of Constance (in Germany) on 13 November 1417- Gregory having died 18 October 1417.

It appears a conclave to select Pope Benedict XVI's successor will be held in March. Hence, we will have a new Roman Pontiff by Easter. Christ's Church is not and will not be in crisis.

Dear Brothers,

I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.

Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.

From the Vatican, 10 February 2013


When he was named Pope at age 78 back in 2005, Joseph Ratzinger was one of the oldest popes in history at the time of election. His brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, speaking to the media from his home in Regensburg, Germany, indicated that the Pope had been advised by physicians not to take anymore overseas trips. He also pointed to the increasing difficulty the Pope had in just walking, noting his brother's resignation was a "natural process." Msgr Ratzinger, who is his brother's confidant, indicated that Pope Benedict has been thinking about resigning for months. I think we will see more of this due to the age people are prone to live in our day and the unmitigated infirmity that comes along with old age.

Pope Benedict, Papa Ratzi, I love you, I will continue praying for you, specifically that God, in His infinite goodness, will grant you several years of peaceful serenity. Above all, thank you for your many years of faithful, creative, and inspiring service to the Church. In imitation of our Lord, you have been a good shepherd, or, hearkening back to your remarks on the day of your election, a faithful worker in the Lord's vineyard.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

God's mercy is always relevant

Why a homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent on the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time? Because last night I found and transferred some old files on to my personal laptop. The homily below is the first Sunday homily I preached after my ordination.

Just this morning Pope Benedict tweeted: "We must trust in the mighty power of God’s mercy. We are all sinners, but His grace transforms us and makes us new." Trusting in these words is what makes Lent even remotely worthwhile.

On Facebook not long ago I read something along the following lines: I could turn to the Bible for morality, but then I could pick corn out feces. Despite the best efforts of some Christians, we do not read the Bible like Muslims read the Qu'ran, or Jews read the To'rah. For Christians, God's mercy, given us gratuitously in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, trumps law. The Bible is not first and foremost a handbook of morality. Rather, it is the story of God's mercy, of how our good and gracious God takes pity on our folly out of love for us.

Prior to or at the beginning of Lent each year for the past five years or so I have re-read a snippet from an Ash Wednesday homily delivered by Fr. Harry Williams: "It is a pity that we think of Lent as a time when we try to make ourselves uncomfortable in some fiddling but irritating way. And it’s more than a pity, it’s a tragic disaster, that we also think of it as a time to indulge in the secret and destructive pleasure of doing a good orthodox grovel to a pseudo-Lord, the Pharisee in each of us we call God and who despises the rest of what we are." It is to offset this tendency that I humbly offer my first-ever homily.


Readings: Isa 43:16-21; Ps 126:1-6; Phil 3:8-14; John 8:1-11

Jesus’ experience as he descends the Mt. of Olives into the precincts of the Temple early in the morning is one to which many of us can relate. It is easy to imagine Jesus on the Mt. of Olives in a deep, intimate prayer-experience with his Father. As he enters the courtyards of the Temple he is confronted by the mundane head-on. But rather than responding as we often do to worldly cares and concerns, especially after deeply spiritual moments, with impatience, Jesus remains true to his mission of uniting heaven and earth in his very person.

What Jesus encounters, as the Gospel makes explicit, is a test, a trap, yet another attempt by the religious authorities of his day to impale him on the horns of a vicious dilemma. In the Judaism of Jesus’ time, when a difficult legal question arose, it was taken to a Rabbi. So, it is as a Rabbi that Jesus is approached with the case of a woman caught in an act of adultery. Rather than the particulars of the case, or the trickery of the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus perceives a person in distress, a scared and shamed woman, a person stripped of her dignity and seemingly at the mercy of the merciless. In the story there is no question about her guilt, though one wonders to where her partner has disappeared. She is a person, when measured by the law, “not having a righteousness of her own” (Phil 3:9). In his response to this distressed and about- to- be- killed woman, Jesus reveals the mystery of his very person. In his words and actions he reveals that he is at once true God and true man.

In an act of human solidarity he sees the distress of this woman as his own. He takes pity on her and shares in her fear and shame. Among the many explanations given by commentators as to why or possibly what he wrote in the dirt, one stands out particularly well with regard to Jesus’ truly human response to this situation: he was seized with an intolerable sense of shame. As a result, he could not make eye contact with the crowd nor with the woman’s accusers and least of all with the accused herself. “In his burning embarrassment and [initial] confusion he stooped down so as to hide his face and began writing . . . on the ground.” Perhaps the leering, lustful looks on the faces of the accusers and the bleak cruelty in their eyes combined with the prurient curiosity of the crowd, not to mention the shame of the woman, all ‘combined to twist the very heart of Jesus in agony and pity, so that he hid his eyes” (Barclay Gospel of John, Vol. 2, pg. 3).

After His pause, Jesus, begins to reveal his divinity, not by cleverness, but by his love born of human compassion. And, without impugning the law of Moses, he challenges the scribes and Pharisees and beats them at their own game. “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her,” he says to the accusers (Jn 8:7). After speaking these very few words, he bends down and resumes writing on the ground. Upon his doing this the crowd disperses, the accusers drop their stones and slowly walk away, no doubt murmuring among themselves. After the crowd leaves, much to her surprise, Jesus, though himself without sin, refuses to condemn the woman. Yet in refusing to condemn her for her sin, Jesus does not condone her sin. Rather, he acknowledges it and admonishes her to “go, and do not sin again” (John 8:11).

Christ and the woman taken in adultery, by Giuseppe Nuvolone, second half of 17th century

By forgiving so freely, without the sinner uttering one word of contrition, Jesus does not defeat divine justice. Instead he transcends the demand of justice (in this case death) and seeks to turn a sinner into a righteous person (gives life). By so doing he displays his divinity. He fulfills the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Behold I am doing a new thing.” (Isa 43:19) God gives us the free gift of Jesus Christ “to manifest his own justice.” This manifestation of God’s justice is at odds with how we typically conceive of justice. “Spare us your justice and grant us your mercy” is our prayer. However, it is to satisfy divine justice that we are offered Jesus Christ.

Despite the graciousness of God’s gifts of mercy and forgiveness, there is always an implied mutuality. A good example of this is when we pray, as we will in a few moments, the Our Father and say: “forgive us trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This implied mutuality is best described as receiving a gift. Because God’s mercy and forgiveness, offered to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is a gift, our refusal to respond to God’s grace does not cancel out this gracious offer.

As with so many stories told by and about Jesus in the Gospels, this story remains unfinished. It remains unfinished because we do not know how the woman lived the new life gained for her by her Savior. Of more importance to us than speculating about the woman in this story is our own unfinished story. Are we living a new, grace-filled life gained for us by the Savior, Jesus Christ?

There is a connection between today’s Gospel reading and those of the past two Sundays: the thread that links these stories is the call to conversion. The attitude of the men condemning the woman is much the same as the attitude of the older brother in last week’s Gospel. In neither case do those who consider themselves righteous want to show mercy- to forgive. Like the gardener with the barren fig tree, the adulterous woman is given a second chance. If we are to be Jesus’ disciples we must change from self-righteous, judgmental people looking for opportunities to throw stones, into compassionate and forgiving people. We must show the same love for others shown to us by the Father in his Son. It is only by and through such a conversion that we will become God’s Holy People. Let us, as St. Paul admonishes, forget “what lies behind” and “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14). And may we, like Jesus, pull others upward with us.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Called to bear witness

St. Paul, simply referred to by no less than St. Thomas Aquinas as "the apostle," composed the largest proportion of the New Testament, our uniquely Christian Scriptures, single-handedly. As I mentioned in passing last week, his First Letter to the Corinthians was perhaps the first book of the New Testament to be written. The apostle wrote it while he was in Ephesus. The letter dates from sometime between AD 53-57. This is one of the things that makes our second reading for this Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time so important and also because it gives us what we can confidently call the first creed:
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures; that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. After that, Christ appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me (verses 3-8)
Paul calls himself "the least of the apostles" and writes that he is "not fit to be called an apostle, because"- here he is referring back to events recorded in Acts chapters 7-9, including the stoning of Stephen- "I persecuted the church of God (verse 9)." While Paul may not have felt himself fit to be called an apostle, he is an apostle because the Risen Lord saw fit to appear to him on the road to Damascus, where he was headed after Stephen's stoning, armed with a letter from the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, to conduct further persecutions of those he viewed as apostate Jews.

Worthiness is never the issue. What God calls you to do, He will equip and strengthen you to do. As the apostle wrote in his First Letter to the Thessalonians (the letter that vies with First Corinthians as the first book of the New Testament to have been written), "The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it" (1 Thess. 5:24).

While we are not all called to be apostles- there were ever only 12- or successors of the apostles (i.e., bishops), or priests, or even deacons, we are all called and, by virtue of our call, sent (apostle means one who is sent) to bear witness to what St. Paul captures in this earliest Christian creed. This is why Roman Catholic "ministries" are more appropriately called apostolates.

Of course, you cannot be a witness to an event you have not experienced. Like St. Paul, you can only witness the event of Christ's glorious resurrection by way of an encounter, an experience, which is not just something happens to you, but something that moves you. I employ "move" here not in a sentimental sense, but literally, it is something that causes you do something, provokes a response from you.

Pope Benedict XVI articulated this well towards the very beginning of his first encylical letter, Deus caritas est, in what is without doubt the most quoted sentence from that popular letter: "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction" (par. 1).

Friday, February 8, 2013

"She too was loved"

I am remiss and feel remorseful that in my busy-ness I did not take the time to point out that today is the Memorial of a dear heavenly friend, St. Josephine Bakhita.

This is why I am so glad that someone with much greater ability (spiritual, moral, and intellectual) than me can step in. Of course, just about anyone could meet the criteria give, but I turn to His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, who wrote an extended meditation on her witness in his second encyclical- the far too little read- Spe Salvi, which he promulgated in 2007:
We who have always lived with the Christian concept of God, and have grown accustomed to it, have almost ceased to notice that we possess the hope that ensues from a real encounter with this God. The example of a saint of our time can to some degree help us understand what it means to have a real encounter with this God for the first time. I am thinking of the African Josephine Bakhita, canonized by Pope John Paul II. She was born around 1869—she herself did not know the precise date—in Darfur in Sudan. At the age of nine, she was kidnapped by slave-traders, beaten till she bled, and sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan. Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general, and there she was flogged every day till she bled; as a result of this she bore 144 scars throughout her life. Finally, in 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant for the Italian consul Callisto Legnani, who returned to Italy as the Mahdists advanced. Here, after the terrifying “masters” who had owned her up to that point, Bakhita came to know a totally different kind of “master”—in Venetian dialect, which she was now learning, she used the name “paron” for the living God, the God of Jesus Christ. Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her, or at best considered her a useful slave. Now, however, she heard that there is a “paron” above all masters, the Lord of all lords, and that this Lord is good, goodness in person. She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that he had created her—that he actually loved her. She too was loved, and by none other than the supreme “Paron”, before whom all other masters are themselves no more than lowly servants. She was known and loved and she was awaited. What is more, this master had himself accepted the destiny of being flogged and now he was waiting for her “at the Father's right hand”. Now she had “hope” —no longer simply the modest hope of finding masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope: “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.” Through the knowledge of this hope she was “redeemed”, no longer a slave, but a free child of God. She understood what Paul meant when he reminded the Ephesians that previously they were without hope and without God in the world—without hope because without God. Hence, when she was about to be taken back to Sudan, Bakhita refused; she did not wish to be separated again from her “Paron”. On 9 January 1890, she was baptized and confirmed and received her first Holy Communion from the hands of the Patriarch of Venice. On 8 December 1896, in Verona, she took her vows in the Congregation of the Canossian Sisters and from that time onwards, besides her work in the sacristy and in the porter's lodge at the convent, she made several journeys round Italy in order to promote the missions: the liberation that she had received through her encounter with the God of Jesus Christ, she felt she had to extend, it had to be handed on to others, to the greatest possible number of people. The hope born in her which had “redeemed” her she could not keep to herself; this hope had to reach many, to reach everybody (par. 3)
St. Josephine, beloved of the Lord, pray for us.

"When the Angels Sing"

It's the Friday before Lent. We start Lent by calling to mind our mortality, a communal momento mori. In light of this our Friday tradito is Social Distortion's "When the Angels Sing."

Life, love, suffering, death, what significance do they have, what does any of it mean? This is why we need stories, like the kind C.S. Lewis wrote, or Walker Percy's late modern tales of life, love, faith, and death. These rely on a true story, the greatest story ever told.

During Christmas Dan DeWitt wrote about why Lewis politely declined to write for Christianity Today at the invitation of the magazine's founding editor, Carl F.H. Henry, back in 1955. On the power of fiction to set forth truth Lewis wrote, "But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons?" DeWitt is correct to note that "Lewis thought so." After about 1947, Lewis' "writing career focused on smuggling theology behind enemy lines. The enemies Lewis now faced were comfort and post-war apathy. To battle both, he would engage his readers' imagination." DeWitt points to something Lewis told his biographer, George Sayer, namely that after writing his book Miracles, "he would never again write another 'book of that sort.' And he didn't. From that point forward, he published primarily fictional, devotional, and biographical material."

Along these lines, let's never forget that we evangelize, we catechize, we don't indoctrinate. Indoctrination is what ideologues seek to do. Indoctrination is done by those who, according Lewis, "dream of systems so perfect that no one needs to be good." Nothing is more antithetical to Christianity than such schemes.

As Christians we believe in angels. Yet angels occupy a weird space in creation and in our individual and collective imaginations. Looking at a most interesting article, Angels in Modern Theology, I came across this:
Modern approaches to angels have included many who would like to eliminate angels from consideration because of the excesses like that of Pseudo-Dionysius. Karl Rahner, perhaps the foremost Catholic theologian of the twentieth century, had little room for angels. On the other hand, John Macquarrie sees angels as a limitation on humanity's creaturehood. For him, angels opens the possibility of life on other planets and assures us that God is involved in creation and guidance of all races everywhere (Principles of Christian Theology; New York: Scribners, 1977; 237). Billy Graham wrote his excellent, popular book Angels: God's Secret Agents (Minneapolis: World Wide, 1975) for the purpose of comfort. He believes that there are angels at work in the world today to help Christians
Macquarrie wrote a later article on angels too.

When the angel of death comes to looking for me
Hear the angels sing
I hope I was everything I was supposed to be
When the angels sing
There's gotta be a heaven
Cause I've already done
My time in hell
And a little baby's born
when it all comes down
Hear the angels sing

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Faith begins with the recognition of mystery

Over the course of the day I've had the opportunity to reflect a bit more over the conversation between Jean-Louis and Vidal in Rohmer's Ma Nuit Chez Maud. Since the conversation happens near the beginning of the movie, it becomes clear pretty quickly that Pascal's "wager" forms what might be called the thematic center of the film.

What Jean-Louis says about Pascal- "I feel I know him almost by heart, yet he tells me nothing. It all seems so empty. I'm a Catholic, or at least try to be, but he doesn't fit in with my notion of Catholicism. It's precisely because I'm a Christian that his austerity offends me. If that's what Christianity is about, then I'm an atheist"- has bearing on a great number of things of concern to a Catholic, a Christian, not least among which is evangelization, which we often reduce to mere apologetics. It seems to me a fairly safe bet that for most Catholics today, especially in the United States, the only utility for doctrine is in apologetics, which quickly becomes a dry, historical discourse. It seems that the days are long gone when a leading theologian like August Adam could write a book such as Tension and Harmony: About the Value of Dogma for Personal Life and expect it to sell well. It is a source of consolation to me that many of Dietrich Von Hildebrand's books, like Liturgy and Personality: The Healing Power of Formal Prayer, remain in print and are still read, albeit by a small group of Catholics.

Éric Rohmer

With Jean-Louis' expressed view on Pascal, Rohmer shows his viewer, even if unintentionally, why most atheistic critiques of Christianity aren't worth the time of day. It's not that Pascal is incorrect, or his reasoning is faulty. While consonant with and even complementary to reason, it is easy to forget that faith, being a theological virtue, is a gift.

How often do we treat it as such? Is it fair to say that beauty is both the mediator of truth and goodness and between truth and goodness? It seems fitting here to once again employ an observation of Hans Urs Balthasar, one I used when I wrote about Pasolini's Mama Roma last summer: "Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance."

Faith begins with the recognition of mystery, which leads to a refusal to reduce everything to my own measure. In this context by insisting on recognizing faith as a gift, I mean to imply the rejection of it as a product of our own deductive calculation and/or inductive insight. It is an event borne of an encounter and so it changes everything.

Year B Third Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 3:13-15.17-19; Ps 4:2.4.7-9; 1 John 2:1-5a; Luke 24:25-48 “You are witnesses of these things,” Jesus tells his incredulous...