Sunday, March 31, 2013

He Is Risen...

Bl. Fra Angelico's fresco of the Resurrection of Christ and the women at the tomb at the Convento di San Marco in Florence, c. 1440.
...really risen, bodily and physically.  Not metaphorically, not symbolically.  He did not simply emerge from a comatose state and wander off (through the immense rock stopping up the entrance to the tomb?), nor did His disciples come in and steal His body so they could say He rose.  He was really dead -- and remained in the tomb three days, long enough to prove it.  He really went down and raided Hell, snatching out of it the souls of the just who had previously been barred from heaven, and really rose again.  

From Pope Francis' Easter Vigil homily:

...let us return to the Gospel, to the women, and take one step further. They find the tomb empty, the Body of Jesus is not there, something new has happened, but all this still doesn’t tell them anything certain: it raises questions; it leaves them confused, without offering an answer. And suddenly there are two men in dazzling clothes who say: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; but has risen” (Lk 24:5-6).  What was a simple act, done surely out of love – going to the tomb – has now turned into an event, a truly life-changing event. Nothing remains as it was before, not only in the lives of those women, but also in our own lives and in the history of mankind. Jesus is not dead, He has risen, He is alive! He does not simply return to life; rather, He is Life Itself, because He is the Son of God, the living God. Jesus no longer belongs to the past, but lives in the present and is projected towards the future; He is the everlasting “today” of God. This is how the newness of God appears to the women, the disciples and all of us: as victory over sin, evil and death, over everything that crushes life and makes it seem less human. And this is a message meant for me and for you, dear sister, dear brother. How often does Love have to tell us: Why do you look for the living among the dead? Our daily problems and worries can wrap us up in ourselves, in sadness and bitterness… and that is where death is. That is not the place to look for the One who is alive!
Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome Him as a friend, with trust: He is life! If up till now you have kept Him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms. If you have been indifferent, take a risk: you won’t be disappointed. If following Him seems difficult, don’t be afraid, trust Him, be confident that He is close to you, He is with you and He will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as He would have you do. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Church of Nice

The other night, I sat down and watched The Robe all the way through for the first time in my adult life. The product of a now-long-gone era when Hollywood respected the sensibilities of its audiences, The Robe has some fairly compelling scenes, and some pretty good features.  Richard Burton made a good swashbuckling Christian; Jean Simmons was demure and virtuous, yet noble and steely; Jay Robinson made an especially diabolical Caligula.  His oak-leaf chaplet was even arranged to make him look like he had horns.  

On the other hand, the story is clearly told from a non-Catholic point of view.  There are some things one would not expect to find in a story about the earliest Christians, and other things one would expect to find but does not.  For example:

-- Judas Iscariot delivers an inspirational message before going out to hang himself. 

-- Peter hides the fact that he denied Jesus, and allows everyone to think that he stuck with Jesus right to the end. 

-- Jesus is held to be present only in His Word and not in the Real Presence of the Eucharist.  In fact, it is not clear that Jesus is present among the early Christians at all, except as a memory.

-- There are no priests.

-- Nobody gets baptized or receives any Sacraments.

-- The Blessed Virgin Mary is virtually absent, and plays no role even at the foot of the Cross, where Scripture plainly places her.

-- And an item that I felt especially sensitive to because it was during the interregnum: the early Christians depicted in this movie do not respect the primacy of Peter. 

Without the Sacraments, and the Mother of God, and the Holy Father, the Church is a cold, sterile, one-dimensional thing.  It is just a collection of people being nice to each other for no apparent reason.  What we see in The Robe is the beginning, not of the Universal Church, but the church of nice.  There is no roaring furnace of charity at the heart of mere niceness: nothing to inspire missionaries, or artists, or musicians, or poets, or martyrs.  There are no miracles in the church of nice, and no great saints.  The church of nice, having no priests, offers no sacrifices, not even the Sacrifice of Calvary.   In the church of nice, Peter has no real authority, nor any integrity, since it is permissible for him to allow the propagation of a falsehood about himself for the good of the church.  The members of the church of nice will not worship Caesar as a god; but since Peter has no real authority, and the Mother of God does not illuminate the truth about her Divine Son, and there are no Sacraments to stoke the fires of sanctifying grace, there is nothing to prevent the worship of Caesar in the fullness of time, once it is judged expedient.  The two main characters of The Robe do end up as martyrs; but if one's knowledge of Christianity came solely and entirely from the information conveyed in the film, one would be hard pressed to understand why they should have given up their lives for it.

The Robe is far superior to the standard run of Hollywood fare today, 99.99% of which is just pure trash.  But it shows the Christian faith through a lens, darkly and incompletely, and therefore inaccurately.  The Pope, the Sacraments (and therefore the priesthood) and the Holy Mother of God are precisely the things the world has against the Catholic Church; but her Founder made them necessary elements of the Christian faith, without which it has neither depth nor breadth nor height.  It is necessary to bring a lot to the film in order to fill in the gaps, and not accept the errors.  One more reason why Catholics need to know their faith.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The World Does Not Understand Humility


Fr. Zuhlsdorf expresses beautifully and concisely what I have been struggling to put into words on the subject of humility, which the world does not understand:


Fr. Blake beautifully addresses false humility, and the special dangers it poses for clergy:


Aquinas also sheds some light on humility in the Summa Theologica.  A little taste:
Humility restrains the appetite from aiming at great things against right reason: while magnanimity urges the mind to great things in accord with right reason.
Humility ceases to be humility when it causes us to look with satisfaction upon ourselves, or to seek notice and praise from others.

Pope Francis, whom the liberals appear to misunderstand as grossly as they do Bl. John XXIII, has been jettisoning the trappings of the papacy during the first days of his reign.  The liberals are jumping up and down for joy over it, believing that it heralds a new Age of Aquarius without the medieval Benedictine trappings, and that finally, we have a Pope centered on humility.  I don't know Pope Francis' reasons for doing what he is doing; nor am I out to explore his motivations, or impute any particular motivations to him.  Rather, the point here is that neither the world, nor those who think with the mind of the world, get what humility is all about.

The world is constantly being taken in by hucksters because it equates humility with a no-frills lifestyle.  This, without more, can't be humility.  Gandhi, with his loincloth and his round spectacles, is held up in the world as a model of humility, yet it was said to have cost a fortune to keep him living in poverty.  False asceticism is an old trick to lend credibility to lies, worked to great effect by enemies of the Church from the Albigensians to the Communists.  Then there are the proud poor who lead a no-frills lifestyle only because they lack the resources for screaming opulence.  

On the other hand, there are those who live in opulence who (a) would give it up in a heartbeat, if they were not prevented by the duties of their position or state in life, and (b) are perfectly willing to be misjudged and take all kinds of grief for not giving it up.  Such is Pope Emeritus Benedict.  Consider the absolute nonsense he put up with during his eight years as Pope: the carping about "triumphalism" and "trying to turn the clock back"; the whining about the old vestments and regalia that he took out of mothballs; the incessant braying about his beautification of the liturgy; the idiotic stories about Prada attire.  Here was a man who had wanted nothing more than to retire to a quite life of study and prayer, but who suddenly found himself thrust onto the Throne of Peter.  Being a man of duty, he conformed himself to his new situation and uncomplainingly accepted all that went with it without taking any notice of the criticism.  He was willing to ignore what others thought of him, and to be misunderstood, in order to reconnect us with the sacred things of our past, and to lift our minds and our hearts out of mediocrity.  In the end, Benedict gave up all his purported luxury and wealth, of his own accord, and without looking back.

We should study and reflect true humility, and genuine exemplars of it, lest, like the world, we be taken in by hucksters.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Low-Church Catholicism: Not to Be Confused with Humility

Exhibit A:


That a prince of the Church should engage in this kind of moral preening at the expense of our former Holy Father -- who truly was and is a Holy Father -- is revolting.

The mark of a truly great ascetic is that he humbles himself.  Christ humbled Himself.  However, it is not for us to humble Him.  When St. Alphonsus Liguori was a bishop, he drastically cut his household, got rid of the sumptuous furnishings, and dispensed with fancy modes of transportation; but I have never read that he went in for mediocrity in the liturgy.  Ven. Pius XII only wanted to be a simple parish priest but accepted God's will that he be exalted in the Church, and resigned himself to all that went with that.  He was hard on himself, practicing mortifications and penances, such as sleeping on the floor, on top of working long hours.  But he did not shrink from pomp and ceremony, because those things came with the office, he saw it as his duty to conform to its requirements, and they were for the glory not of him, but of God.  As for Benedict XVI, shy and retiring by nature, it is clear that the public side of his ministry as Pope was an ordeal that he endured out of a sense of duty, and the idea of any vanity in him is preposterous on its face.  Therefore, it is equally clear that he revived many trappings and ceremonies, not to please his own ego, but, firstly, to give God the honor He is due; and secondly, in an effort to lead his flock out of our shameful love affair with banality, and teach us that in fact beauty IS truth, and truth beauty.  

I hope that our new Holy Father, Francis, grows into his role as pastor of the Universal Church, accepts its incidentals, and continues Pope Benedict's work of restoring beauty to its rightful place in Catholic life -- right after putting an end to vulgar moral exhibitionism at the expense of his holy predecessor.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Pope Francis

The first Pope from the New World.  The first Jesuit Pope.  The first Pope to be named Francis.  Since he is the first Pope to follow a Pope who abdicated for reasons of age and health, it is fitting that the new Holy Father should be a Pope of Firsts.  

But Pope Francis is not the first Pope to prove that, as usual, the "experts" don't know squat.  So much for all the talking heads!  So much for my (non-expert) opinion, too, for that matter, since I was wrong all the way down the line: Cardinal Burke did not get elected, and the new Pope did not take the regnal name of Benedict.  Evidently, at this moment, Cardinal Burke is exactly where the Church needs him.  I can't deny I'm disappointed, but the Holy Spirit may safely be presumed to know better than I.

Therefore, I hope I can look forward to being cured of my disappointment very soon.  Long Live Pope Francis!

UPDATE: Word on the street: it appears that, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the new Holy Father had Summorum Pontificum up and running in his archdiocese in 48 hours.

SECOND UPDATE: It seems the first update was a bit hasty.  See here.  Clearly, thought and prayer are needed.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Papacy Is an Essential Element of the True Church


The Catholic Church will survive until the Last Day.  Why?  Because we have the Pope.  The papacy was not cobbled up by a cabal of power-hungry old men in the Middle Ages, but is a divine institution personally erected by Christ.  The divine institution of the papacy is supported in Scripture.

All of this is superbly and clearly explained by Fr. Eduard Perrone at Assumption Grotto parish -- the existence of which is the only thing capable of making me seriously contemplate living in Detroit.  How fortunate the people there are to have such a parish, and such a pastor!  You can find audio of Fr. Perrone's talk on this page.  There will be more talks to come.  As we find ourselves on the eve of a papal conclave, now is a good time to brush up on our papal theology, and remind ourselves why it is so important to pray for the election of a holy and heroic Pope (ahem)(Cardinal Burk)(ahem).

Thanks to Diane at Te Deum Laudamus! for bringing this to our attention.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Raising the Roof

Bl. Pope Gregory X.
Rorate Caeli has a handy calendar of events for the conclave set to start on Tuesday.  At 16:30, Rome time, the cardinal process into the Sistine Chapel.  At 17:00, the cardinals take their oaths.  All extraneous persons are then made to leave, and the conclave begins.  At 19:00, we start watching the chimney.  

How will we stand the suspense?  Especially if the election takes more than a day.  In the age of fast food, one-hour dry cleaning, internet shopping, transcontinental and transoceanic flight, and instantaneous communication, we have become enamored of the idea of having everything right now, this instant.  

But life doesn't always work out that way.  Papal elections don't always work out that way.  For example, after the death of Clement IV on November 29, 1268, it took almost three years to elect his successor.  At that time, the cardinals were not sequestered during their deliberations, which took place in the town of Viterbo.  The fact that they were split into parties along nationalist lines did nothing to speed things along.  Eventually, the townspeople, fed up with the indecisiveness of the cardinals and determined to force a vote, locked them up in the episcopal palace and cut their daily allowance of food.  At one point, one of the cardinals remarked sardonically that maybe somebody needed to take the roof off the building so the Holy Spirit could get through.  The townsfolk thought that was a good idea and promptly obliged.  

Finally, on September 1, 1271, the cardinals elected Teobaldo Visconti, Archdeacon of Liege.  But the good people of Viterbo, along with the rest of the world, still had to wait another almost seven months for the new Pontiff to settle himself on the Throne: he was not a cardinal or even a priest, and had to be summoned from a pilgrimage, accept the Petrine Office, and then be properly ordained.  But, under the regnal name of Gregory X -- now Bl. Gregory X -- Teobaldo Visconti embarked on a reign whose effects were out of all proportion to its length.  One of these effects was -- the establishment of the papal conclave.

I do not see why it should take our current crop of cardinals all that long to fill the Throne of Peter, but I am willing to give them as much time as they need to get the job done right and elect Cardinal Burke.

Adopt a cardinal elector to pray and make sacrifices for.  Pray for the election of a holy and heroic Pope, and pray that this be done as speedily as possible.  It won't be so easy to take the roof off the Sistine Chapel.

The Conclave, the Church and the Touching Naivete of Liberals

Paul at Catholic Cartoon Blog gets it right once again.
The Cardinal Electors have now fixed a date to begin the conclave: Tuesday, March 12th.  Of course, for an event for which I want to be glued to the news, they had to choose a date when I will be in court all day.  Yet another matter of earth-shaking importance on which nobody consulted me.

But in any case, I don't want to be glued to just any old news source.  The secular media (and some "Catholic" media, too) just don't get who the Church is and what she's all about.  They don't get why their sacred cows aren't sacred to her.  And they don't get the fact that a change in Popes does not translate to a change in doctrine.  They need not hope that the next Pope will permit gay "marriage," or extol the virtues of abortion, or start ordaining women to the priesthood.  Bl. John XXIII is the nearest thing to a "good" Pope that there is in the minds of liberals, because they hopelessly misunderstand him, but it never entered his mind to implement these policies of theirs.  Even Paul VI, who allowed the liberals to run riot on his watch, upheld the Church's prohibition of birth control, in the face of acute and immense pressure from both Catholics and non-Catholics to do the opposite.

Nevertheless, uncorrected by experience, the liberals go on hoping.  It would almost be cute, if it weren't so sad.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

A Good Prayer for the Selection of a New Pope

The Coronation of St. Joseph by Juan de Vald├ęs Leal (1622-1690).
The Church is at a crossroads.  The cardinal electors obviously sense this, and that may be the reason they have yet to set a date to begin the conclave, despite Pope Benedict's motu proprio authorizing them to start sooner than otherwise dictated by law.  Since we know from history that the Holy Spirit has, from time to time, allowed the Church to be afflicted by a bad or incompetent Pope; and since many -- perhaps most -- Catholics have gone off the rails in recent decades, it is imperative that we pray for the selection of a man after God's own Heart.

It seems advisable at this time to beg the intercession of St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church.  Herewith a particularly good prayer that I have uncovered, and one that seems highly appropriate to this moment in history.  This is my prayer during the interregnum, and I recommend it to all:

Prayer to St. Joseph to Obtain a Special Favor

O Blessed St. Joseph, tenderhearted father, faithful guardian of Jesus, chaste spouse of the Mother of God: we pray and beseech thee to offer to God the Father His Divine Son, bathed in blood on the Cross for sinners, and through the thrice-holy Name of Jesus, obtain for us from the Eternal Father the favor we implore.  Namely, the election of a holy and heroic new Pope.

Appease the Divine anger so justly inflamed by our crimes; beg of Jesus mercy for thy children.  Amid the splendors of eternity, forget not the sorrows of those who suffer, those who pray, those who weep.  Stay the Almighty Arm which smites us, that by thy prayers and those of thy most holy Spouse, the Heart of Jesus may be moved to pity and to pardon.  Amen.

St. Joseph, pray for us.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Truths about Peter

Tu Es Petrus: one of the beautiful stained-glass windows of St. John's Cathedral, Boise, Idaho.

Now that the papacy is so much in the minds of Catholics and non-Catholics alike, now seems like a good time to reflect on its importance.  I therefore draw attention to a couple of classics in this space where we consider the prerogatives and responsibilities of the Petrine Office, and the charism of infallibility:



And now, one of my favorite passages from the Gospel, Matthew 16:18-19.  I especially love it in Latin:


Et ego dico tibi quia tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam et portae inferi non praevalebunt adversum eam. Et tibi dabo claves regni caelorum et quodcumque ligaveris super terram erit ligatum in caelis et quodcumque solveris super terram erit solutum in caelis.

And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.