Tuesday, July 29, 2014

To Men in Holy Orders: A Cri de Coeur

Choosing the hard path: Athanasius contra mundum.
I know it's easy for me to say this.  I also know that what I am about to say will sound harsh.  But I am going to say it anyway.  Those of you to whom this does not apply know who you are, and know I am not talking to you.  If it does apply to you...you also know who you are.

I hear it often said that, despite the headline-making scoundrels in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, there are nevertheless many faithful bishops, priests and deacons.  

Where are they?

As I shade my eyes with my hand and scan the ecclesiastical landscape, straining my sight toward the horizon, I find it hard to make very many of them out.  As I cup my hand to my ear, listening with all my might for the rolling thunder of the Gospel, I hear an isolated voice here and there; but mostly, what I get is the chirping of crickets.

You orthodox men in Holy Orders, why are so many of you undetectable?  Why are you hiding?  What are you afraid of?

Are you afraid of being suspended?  Are you afraid of being called on the carpet by the bishop?  Are you afraid of trumped-up accusations?  Are you afraid the contributions will dry up?  Are you afraid of the powerful feminist crowd at the chancery?  Are you afraid of being transferred to a remote corner of the Dry Tortugas?

Of course, nobody wants to have to face any of these things.  But facing up to such was part of the deal you signed up for; and in the Sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Orders, you were given the supernatural assistance and the authority you need to do it.   Why don't you use these?  Can you really serve the Church from under your beds?  Are you really doing your flocks and the Church any good by neglecting the graces you were given, and allowing yourselves to be muzzled in order to avoid repercussions?

Redemption and salvation are founded upon suffering.  Does Christ not enjoin us to take up our crosses and follow Him?  St. Paul rejoiced in his sufferings, filling up those things that were wanting in the sufferings of Christ in his flesh, for His Body, which is the Church (Colossians 1:25).  And Tertullian is credited with the saying that martyrs are the seedbed of the Church.  Has the Church ever taken root in a mission field, from Rome to the Americas, that was not first consecrated by the suffering and even blood of Christians, especially priests?  What if these martyrs had refused suffering?

If you men in Holy Orders have to suffer for Christ's sake, do you honestly suppose God cannot make anything out of your sufferings?  Do you honestly suppose God will not support you in doing the right thing?  Do you honestly suppose He will not reward you for doing the right thing, either in this life or in the next?  Have you forgotten about the supernatural order, in which your sufferings draw down graces upon your flocks?  Put it another way:
Do you do your sheep more good by suffering unjustly; or by letting us see you stand around, mute and impotent, wringing your hands, while the wolves run riot amongst us?
I get that you have to pick your battles.  But many of you have gotten so used to passing up opportunities to fight in the name of "picking your battles" that now there is no battle you will fight.  Many of you have gotten so used to keeping your mouths shut that now silence is your default setting, even when you should speak up.  So the wolves do whatever they want, secure in the knowledge that there will be little or no push-back from the shepherds.

Let me ask you this: what if ALL the priests who labor under the rule of modernist bishops did the right thing?  If these bishops order you to suppress the Gospel you were ordained to preach, are you bound to obey them to that extent?  They can't send you ALL to the Dry Tortugas.  What if ALL faithful bishops did the right thing without fear or favor?  Even if they take ALL of you out, do you really think your courageous example will not inspire others to spring up to take your place?

We live in a time when charity has run cold and very many Catholics -- even many who attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days -- simply do not believe the content of the Catholic faith.  This is obvious from the way they conduct their lives.  Our enemies outside the gates do not fail to notice this, and to plan accordingly.  This is no time for you who are supposed to be shepherds to be shrinking violets.  By keeping your head down and your mouths shut, men in Holy Orders, you avoid repercussions -- for now.  But the repercussions that you avoid for yourselves fall on your sheep.  How do you expect to explain this to God, when you stand before Him in judgment?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

On Hell's Doorstep

Battlefield Mass: Korean War
When I saw For Greater Glory a couple of years ago, I was struck by the scenes showing the Cristeros at worship in their desert hideaways.  The priest at the altar was like a general leading his troops into battle -- onward and upward to Calvary, where the titanic battle for the salvation of the world was fought and won upon the Cross.  Reason number 454,823,231 to put an end to facing the priest toward the congregation at Mass.

Battlefield Mass: Iwo Jima
The Tridentine Mass on the field of battle, amid death and destruction, is simple, stark, masculine and beautiful.  Here, hell is crushed underfoot.  There is no room for the decadent displays that most of us are forced to settle for Sunday after Sunday, with their narcissistic accretions, beneath which the August Sacrifice is almost totally undetectable.

Fr. Willie Doyle, S.J., the "Trench Priest" of the First World War, describes offering Mass in the trenches during the Battle of the Somme in October of 1916:
By cutting a piece out of the side of the trench, I was just able to stand in front of my tiny altar, a biscuit tin supported by two German bayonets. God's angels, no doubt, were hovering overhead, but so were the shells, hundreds of them, and I was a little afraid that when the earth shook with the crash of the guns, the chalice might be overturned. Round about me on every side was the biggest congregation I ever had: behind the altar, on either side, and in front, row after row, sometimes crowding one upon the other, but all quiet and silent, as if they were straining their ears to catch every syllable of that tremendous act of Sacrifice - but every man was dead! Some had lain there for a week and were foul and horrible to look at, with faces black and green. Others had only just fallen, and seemed rather sleeping than dead, but there they lay, for none had time to bury them, brave fellows, every one, friend and foe alike, while I held in my unworthy hands the God of Battles, their Creator and their Judge, and prayed to Him to give rest to their souls. Surely that Mass for the Dead, in the midst of, and surrounded by the dead, was an experience not easily to be forgotten.
What could be more fitting than Holy Mass on hell's very doorstep?  Did not St. Paul say that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more?  Where is the Blood of Christ more needed than those places lashed by the fury of demons?  There is nowhere that Blood has not penetrated.  Not even Hitler's death camps.

In 1941 Karl Leisner, a young deacon of the Diocese of M√ľnster, was thrown into Dachau for his opposition to the Nazi regime.  Already tubercular, his health deteriorated further, until it seemed that he would never fulfill his dream of becoming a priest.  But Divine Providence had other plans.

Here indeed is a subject for meditation.  Picture the young deacon lying awake in his hard bunk, staring up into the darkness.  He imagines himself at the altar, holding his Eucharistic Lord in his hands; or in the confessional, freeing souls from the bondage of sin; or at a sickbed, bringing the comfort of Extreme Unction to the dying.  But now he himself is weak, and sinking toward death, and cut off from his bishop, and apt to be put to death as an unproductive prisoner at any moment.  It seems as though God does not want him for His priest after all.  

Then, one day, a group of French prisoners is brought to Dachau.  Among them is a bishop.  Here is a man who can confer the sacred priesthood on Karl!  But bishops cannot act without jurisdiction.  Permission from the local ordinary is needed.  With the aid of the other prisoners in his block, all clergy, and the intrepid Sister Imma Mack, who regularly visits the camp, Karl petitions the local cardinal for permission to receive ordination at the hands of his fellow prisoner.  Imagine Karl struggling to be patient as he awaits the cardinal's response.  Finally, the following week, it comes.  Not only does the cardinal grant his permission; he also sends along chrism, a stole, and the book containing the Rite of Ordination, all of which are to be returned after the ordination, along with credible documentation that it has taken place.  

Now the camp is abuzz with activity.  Secret preparations are afoot for the ordination that is to take place right in the heart of Hitler's extermination complex.  Imagine prisoners -- some Catholic, some not -- in various parts of the camp, risking their lives and sacrificing precious spare moments and hours of sleep in order to work on vestments for the bishop and for Karl.  The angels must have doubled their vigilance, for no hint of what is going on reaches the enemy.  At last, all is ready, and on Gaudete Sunday, December 17, 1944, Karl becomes Father Leisner.

A unique photo: Blessed Father Karl Leisner, moments after his ordination at Dachau.
Here was a thing unheard of inside a death camp and, so far as known, absolutely unique.  Imagine the bishop and the newly ordained priest in their simple yet lovingly-made purple vestments; the candle-lit faces of the other prisoners; the Litany of the Saints being sung; the smell of holy chrism pervading the air of Dachau itself.  Here, surely, is a little taste of what the Harrowing of Hell must have been like: when Christ descended into hell to liberate the souls of the Just; whereupon, in that moment, that part of hell ceased to be hell.  Now Christ stooped down to hell on earth to raise up a priest out of its depths.  

But Father Leisner's ministry would consist mainly in suffering.  His health would not permit him to offer his first and only Mass until December 26th -- fittingly enough, the feast of St. Stephen.  Meanwhile, the fortress of death where he was consecrated to God was doomed.  Only a few months later, on May 4, 1945, the Allies liberated Dachau.  On August 12, 1945, Father Leisner -- now Blessed Karl Leisner -- closed his eyes forever on this fallen world that had been his battlefield.

When we find ourselves wondering where God is in the midst of our trials and tribulations, perhaps it would pay to think about Holy Mass on the battlefield, and the priestly ordination at Dachau.  The God Who has never failed to make His presence known and felt on the very doorstep of hell is surely with us now in our own troubles.