The Spirit(s) of the Synod

That Pope Francis would have executed the synod in the manner in which he did was predictable from many things he has said over the course of his papacy, including Evangelii Gaudium, esp. 32-39. From what he says there, especially about the “conversion of the papacy,” it seems he is not adverse to critique, as long as there is ultimate unity with Peter and under Peter (cum Petro et sub Petro).

One ought to make a distinction between legitimate but respectful criticism from those who are genuinely concerned about the preservation of the deposit of faith, and the radicalizing tendencies of certain factions who will use anything to promote their own interests. One group uses Francis’ openness to sinners as an excuse to justify the unjustifiable, and the other is bent on using the synod to prove that everything since Vatican II was a mistake. Continue reading

Peace for the Afflicted

The Church never abandons her children, especially those who suffer.  Dawn Eden, through her book My Peace I Give Youcontinues to be an instrument of Christ for the healing of those who have suffered sexual abuse.

Anthony Esolen, a writer I greatly admire, has written an essay in defense of the innocence of children inspired by reading Dawn’s book.   And The Catholic Herald picked up on her work, occasioned by her recent speaking engagements in the UK.

Her she is speaking on the healing of memory, a subject, which I believe is terribly important:

Teaching from Lost Teaching Moments

Good for him. I would have no sense of judgment on him. God bless ya. I don’t think, look, the same Bible that tells us, that teaches us well about the virtues of chastity and the virtue of fidelity and marriage also tells us not to judge people. So I would say, “Bravo.”

–Cardinal Timothy Dolan on Michael Sam’s coming out

I have received a number of frustrated and angry emails about this.  Though I think it should be fairly obvious that the Cardinal is not condoning homosexual behavior, His Eminence clearly fell into the trap set for him.

Without a doubt, no matter what any person with same sex attraction actually believes about his or her sexual orientation and the acts that might proceed from that attraction, letting other people know about it involves the risk of public embarrassment and rejection.  The answer that society at large presents us is that there is nothing wrong with either the attraction or the acts and that rather than be embarrassed by one’s homosexuality, gay people and the rest of us should celebrate it.  Unfortunately the Cardinal’s remarks only reinforce this idea, even if he is otherwise clear that same sex attraction is disordered and homosexual acts sinful. Continue reading

In the Eye of the Vortex

More evidence of the wedge being driven between the Benedictine and Franciscan pontificates can be seen in the recent disclaimer/clarification of Michael Voris in which he refuses to publically criticize Pope Francis.  In itself this is only a small example of the difficulty, but it is also another instance of a mounting problem manifesting itself at various levels: doctrinal, liturgical, pastoral.  Voris knows he is on the cutting edge of the problem.

You might legitimately ask why I think his refusal to publically criticize Pope Francis is a problem.  I don’t.  But Voris does find himself to be part of the wedge between Pope Benedict and Pope Francis, and in my estimation he has not really got himself out of it.  Let me explain. Continue reading

Vatican Insider Interview with FI Spokesman

Unofficial translation of the Italian original follows:

Vatican City
In an order whose predominant attention is to the traditional liturgy. A decree of the Pope appoints an apostolic commissioner

Alessandro Speciale
Vatican City

The Congregation for Religious, with the approval of Pope Francis, decided last July 11 to appoint a commissioner to the Congregation of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, a religious order in which the spirituality of Saint Francis of Assisi had, in recent years, been combined with a predominant attention given to the traditional liturgy.

The appointing of a commissioner, one reads in the decree of the vatican ‘ministry’ for religious orders, aims to “protect and promote the internal unity of religious institutes and their fraternal communion, their adequate formation in religious and consecrated life, the organization of apostolic activities “and” the proper management of temporal goods. ” Continue reading

Pope Francis on Ideology

The following remarks were made by Pope Francis yesterday to the leadership of the Council of Bishops’ Conferences of Latin America and the Caribbean concerning he Church in Latin America.  Take it for what it is.  Personally, I do not believe the critiques apply only to that part of the world.  Stay away from the fringes.

4. Some temptations against missionary discipleship

The decision for missionary discipleship will encounter temptation. It is important to know where the evil spirit is afoot in order to aid our discernment. It is not a matter of chasing after demons, but simply one of clear-sightedness and evangelical astuteness. I will mention only a few attitudes which are evidence of a Church which is “tempted”. It has to do with recognizing certain contemporary proposals which can parody the process of missionary discipleship and hold back, even bring to a halt, the process of Pastoral Conversion.

1. Making the Gospel message an ideology. This is a temptation which has been present in the Church from the beginning: the attempt to interpret the Gospel apart from the Gospel itself and apart from the Church. An example: Aparecida, at one particular moment, felt this temptation. It employed, and rightly so, the method of “see, judge and act” (cf. No. 19). The temptation, though, was to opt for a way of “seeing” which was completely “antiseptic”, detached and unengaged, which is impossible. The way we “see” is always affected by the way we direct our gaze. There is no such thing as an “antiseptic” hermeneutics. The question was, rather: How are we going to look at reality in order to see it? Aparecida replied: With the eyes of discipleship. This is the way Nos. 20-32 are to be understood. There are other ways of making the message an ideology, and at present proposals of this sort are appearing in Latin America and the Caribbean. I mention only a few:

a) Sociological reductionism. This is the most readily available means of making the message an ideology. At certain times it has proved extremely influential. It involves an interpretative claim based on a hermeneutics drawn from the social sciences. It extends to the most varied fields, from market liberalism to Marxist categorization.

b) Psychologizing. Here we have to do with an elitist hermeneutics which ultimately reduces the “encounter with Jesus Christ” and its development to a process of growing self- awareness. It is ordinarily to be found in spirituality courses, spiritual retreats, etc. It ends up being an immanent, self-centred approach. It has nothing to do with transcendence and consequently, with missionary spirit.

c) The Gnostic solution. Closely linked to the previous temptation, it is ordinarily found in elite groups offering a higher spirituality, generally disembodied, which ends up in a preoccupation with certain pastoral “quaestiones disputatae”. It was the first deviation in the early community and it reappears throughout the Church’s history in ever new and revised versions. Generally its adherents are known as “enlightened Catholics” (since they are in fact rooted in the culture of the Enlightenment).

d) The Pelagian solution. This basically appears as a form of restorationism. In dealing with the Church’s problems, a purely disciplinary solution is sought, through the restoration of outdated manners and forms which, even on the cultural level, are no longer meaningful. In Latin America it is usually to be found in small groups, in some new religious congregations, in tendencies to doctrinal or disciplinary “safety”. Basically it is static, although it is capable of inversion, in a process of regression. It seeks to “recover” the lost past.

2. Functionalism. Its effect on the Church is paralyzing. More than being interested in the road itself, it is concerned with fixing holes in the road. A functionalist approach has no room for mystery; it aims at efficiency. It reduces the reality of the Church to the structure of an NGO. What counts are quantifiable results and statistics. The Church ends up being run like any other business organization. It applies a sort of “theology of prosperity” to the organization of pastoral work.

3. Clericalism is also a temptation very present in Latin America. Curiously, in the majority of cases, it has to do with a sinful complicity: the priest clericalizes the lay person and the lay person kindly asks to be clericalized, because deep down it is easier. The phenomenon of clericalism explains, in great part, the lack of maturity and Christian freedom in a good part of the Latin American laity. Either they simply do not grow (the majority), or else they take refuge in forms of ideology like those we have just seen, or in partial and limited ways of belonging. Yet in our countries there does exist a form of freedom of the laity which finds expression in communal experiences: Catholic as community. Here one sees a greater autonomy, which on the whole is a healthy thing, basically expressed through popular piety. The chapter of the Aparecida document on popular piety describes this dimension in detail. The spread of bible study groups, of ecclesial basic communities and of Pastoral Councils is in fact helping to overcome clericalism and to increase lay responsibility.

We could continue by describing other temptations against missionary discipleship, but I consider these to be the most important and influential at present for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Queen of the May

O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May,
O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May.

Bring Flowers of the Rarest” is an extra-liturgical May crowning hymn that seems to be a rather sentimental nod to the ambiguity of modern May “devotion,” and perhaps (or perhaps not) an assault upon it.  It is a preconciliar hymn that I have often heard characterized as “schmaltzy” and inappropriate for the liturgy, though I have heard it many times used in traditional circles for Holy Mass.

What interests me here is its relation to the pagan or neopagan celebrations associated with May Day, the spring festival.  The “Queen of the May” or “May Queen” is a personification of Spring which is ritualized in May Day celebrations by the selection of a young girl dressed in white and crowned with flowers who leads the May Day parade. British folklore has it that of old the ritual ended with the blood sacrifice of the May Queen. Continue reading

St. George and the Damsel

Here is an excerpt from an old post “Damsels in Distress,” in which I mention St. George whose feast we celebrate today:

That brings me more directly to the question of the “damsel in distress.”  It is a chivalric image of vulnerability and innocence.  Of course, such an image is not complete without the “knight in shining armor,” who conveys the sense of courage and heroism.  The image, completed with the damsel in distress being saved by the knight in shining armor, is the picture of courtesy and contains as happy an ending as anyone could hope for.  Perhaps the word that best describes it is one coined by Tolkien: eucatastrophe, meaning the complete reversal of catastrophe, idealized as the triumph of the Cross made available to all of us in the Eucharist.

Historically one of the earliest and most important examples of the image as it entered the West is the legend of St. George and the Dragon.  The story is by no means an exclusively Western treasure (I think of Russia and Lebanon, for example), but it is particularly important for an understanding of Western chivalry (especially in England).

As the legend goes, or at least one version of it, a dragon took up its abode at the spring from which the locals drew their water.  The dragon thus took custody of the spring and demanded a price for its use.  The only way the townsfolk could draw their water was by the offering of someone to the dragon as a human sacrifice.  Each day a new victim was selected by common agreement through the drawing of lots.  One fateful day, the lot fell to the princess of the kingdom, and even the intervention of her father, the king, was not enough to save her from the dragon; the people insisted that the arrangement be respected.  At this point, St. George providentially ride up on his steed and volunteered his services to face the dragon, which he did to great effect, the dragon being slain and the damsel rescued.  The awestruck townspeople as a result abandoned the ways of paganism and became Christians.

Crusaders, it is said, brought the story back from the East, and retold it as a courtly romance.  In a way typical of the Middle Ages, Christian tradition and hagiography was transformed into quasi-secular romance.  Certainly, for courtiers who heard this story the “art of courtly love,” could easily serve as the hermeneutic for the understanding of the story, in which case, it would not be any different from the story of the rescue of a damsel in the Arthurian cycle.  However, the Christian symbolism, even in the most embellished version of the legend, is unmistakable: the Christ figure enters into combat with the Demon and rescues the Virgin Church from his clutches.  This is paradise regained.  In some versions of the legend, there is even a tree (Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil) to which the maiden is tied and from which she is rescued.

The damsel in distress is the bride of Ephesians 5.  This passage of St. Paul on marriage is a holy incantation and exorcism that scatters the feminist demons to their dark and gloomy pits.  St. Paul, the “misogynist,” is actually the guardian of feminine weakness and the promoter of chivalry.  He admonishes the coward Adam and kneels at the feet of the hero Christ.  Both men and women are better for it, if by casting off the modern prejudice they can just for a moment wave away the wafting mist of the Ms. Rambo deception and see the Bridegroom and Bride for who they truly are.

The Cost of Making War

Continue to pray the Rosary in order to obtain an end of the war.

—Our Lady of Fatima, September 13, 1917

In her spiritual commentary on these words of Our Lady of Fatima, Sr. Lucia dos Santos, the eldest of the three seers at Fatima, states that war can only be brought to an end by prayer and sacrifice. Of, course the “war” Our Lady is speaking of is the First World War. However, Sr. Lucia’s ties the praying of the Rosary to the end of all war. Her reflection about “the end of the war” is a long disquisition on the existence of evil spirits and our combat with them.  Salvation is a matter of spiritual combat.  Its weapons and tactics are not those of this world.  The prayer of the Rosary is, so to speak, the weapon of choice in the conflict at which our souls are at stake.

The Church Militant is the term used to identify the life of Christ’s followers on earth.  It is a general term that situates us between heaven (the Church Triumphant) and purgatory (the Church Suffering) in a state of crisis and combat.  St. Paul’s exhortation to put on the armor of God urges us to act like we are at war, to be aware of the “enmity” that exists between God and Satan and how that conflict is played out in our souls and in the history of men. St. Paul is clear about distinguishing this war from general human conflict:

For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places (Eph 6:12). Continue reading

Frodo and the Machine

I have tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me.  It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger. Someone has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.

Love, sacrifice and the primacy of the ordinary life, enjoyed as the fruit of freedom, are the beginning and end of The Lord of the Rings.  The story begins with the microcosm of the ordinary, the Shire, among Hobbits who have little knowledge or care for the bigger and darker currents swirling around their little world.  The story ends with a bewildered Sam arriving back at his home, just having concluded a long hero’s journey, bearing all the tragedy and loss that it entailed, saying:  “Well, I’m back.”

Although the conflict arising from the logic of power, symbolized by the Ring, dominates the story, Tolkien said that LOTR is really about love, sacrifice and the struggle for happiness that arises out of the limitations of our mortality.  Frodo is an icon of those limitations.  Small in stature, he was made even smaller in the comparison to his quest, the accomplishment of which Gandalf himself claimed was based only on a “fool’s hope.”  That the Shire might be saved Frodo has to give up everything, including any rational hope of succeeding.  And in the end it is precisely in his failure that he succeeds.  In Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse, which some argue had a significant influence on Tolkien, Our Lady tells the Frodo-like figure of King Albert, whom She sends on a fools quest:

“I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.

“Night shall be thrice night over you,
And heaven an iron cope.
Do you have joy without a cause,
Yea, faith without a hope?”

Continue reading