Homily for the Feast of St. Andrew
Homily for the Feast of St. Andrew
“Being a 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.”
—Benedict XVI, quoted by Francis in Evangelii Gaudium, 7
The Year of faith has just ended with the proclamation “Christ is the center of the history of humanity and also the center of the history of every individual.” And today Pope Francis has released his first Apostolic Exhortation in which he encourages us to create the conditions in which all men may find Christ in an “event,” a personal encounter capable of bringing a “new horizon and a decisive direction.” Both Benedict and Francis have invested much in this event of the encounter with Christ, and have proposed it as the way that supersedes all ethical choices and lofty ideas. This is the new evangelization.
With this post I would like to examine a specific problem regarding the reception of Pope Francis’ teaching. Unfortunately, some have already pigeonholed Pope Francis as a liberal and are poised to parse his every word in that light. I would suggest his teaching ought to be approached not simply through an assessment of “lofty ideas,” but as an encounter—a personal opportunity in the here and now to accept a transformative grace. It is too soon for me to write anything in depth about the Apostolic Exhortation, but not too soon to suggest a manner of reception that will prove to be fruitful. And for that we need to avoid a serious pitfall. Continue reading
Last week I was in Bloomington Indiana where I gave a retreat on the Apocalypse. The retreat conferences should be up on AirMaria at some point in the near future, at which time I will provide links here.
Today’s Solemnity of Christ the King is a reminder of Christ’s ultimate triumph over sin and death, as well as his ultimate control over history. The Apocalypse begins with St. John’s vision of Christ, who announces his definitive triumph over all dark forces:
I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. . . . Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One. And I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades (Rev. 1: 8, 17-18).
After this announcement the rest of the Apocalypse is the proclamation and experience that the One who holds the keys of death grants life to all those who are faithful and persevere.
It is in the Apocalypse of St. John that the Greek mártys, martyr, literally “witness,” comes to mean one who dies giving testimony to Christ. In the Apocalypse there is no passage from the “present age” to the “age that is to come,” without passing through the mystery of the Cross. The one-hundred and forty-four thousand, sealed by the living God, stand before the throne and the Lamb and it is asked: “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and whence have they come?” The answer: “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev 17:13-15). To wear white one must bleed red. This is the lot of those who follow Christ the King.
History teaches us that mankind is caught in a perennial crisis. The conflict between the light and darkness defines our experience of human history at the center of which is Christ the King, who reigns from the Cross. The Apocalypse is not so much the end of the world as it is the status quo across the ages—our age no more or less than any other. If the potential for evil in our age has multiplied exponentially because the works of human pride have come to full fruition, our time can claim for itself the graces given to the Christians of the early Church to whom the Apocalypse was addressed:
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne (Rev. 3:20-21).
The other thing to remember about both the Kingship of Christ and the Apocalypse is that they are ecclesial realities. Both our personal and social apocalypses will be solved in and through the Church which is in crisis. The crisis within society and the Church is never an excuse to find solutions elsewhere. There have been many apocalyptic communities throughout history, who used crisis within the body of Christ an excuse to compromise their ecclesiality.
The social reign of Christ the King will come in and through the Church—always, even if we must pay for entrance with the price of our blood.
Several weeks ago I gave a conference to our Third Order in New Bedford on St. Francis and his charism entitled “St. Francis through the Eyes of St. Bonaventure, through the Eyes of Pope Benedict, through the Eyes of Pope Francis.” It is largely based on three general audiences that Pope Benedict delivered in March of 2010 (3, 10, 17), about St. Bonaventure, his life, his influence on the Franciscan Order and his theology.
Pope Benedict is somewhat of an authority on St. Bonventure, having written a thesis on the Seraphic Doctor’s theology of history. Some have said that it is Pope Benedict’s understanding of this teaching of St. Bonaventure’s that is a key to his papacy. At least, I would contend that it is a key to what Pope Benedict called the ”hermeneutic of continuity.”
I believe this is all helpful to understanding where the Church is headed under Pope Francis and may help to explain the style and content of his comments, particularly in his interviews. In the following audio recording of my conference one will hear me make reference to the interview with Eugenio Scalfari, in which, according to Scalfari, the Holy Father stated that that the most the “most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old.” I suggested, with Zygmunt Bauman, writing in L’Osservatore Romano, that Pope Francis may be saying something more than is suggested in the all the commentary. Since I gave the conference the Scalfari interview has been removed from the Vatican website, presumably because Scalfari’s recollection of the Pope’s words leaves something to be desired. This is all worth keeping in mind.
In any case, even if the Holy Father said nothing like the quote above, I believe it remains true that his emphasis on the relational aspects of the new evangelization will continue to be key to his pontificate and its advisability will continue to be debated.
Of that debate, I will have more to say in the next few days. Here is the conference:
Update: Scalfari Confesses to having published his own invention under the title “interview.”
Homily for Thursday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time
Homily for Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
I have sat back a bit to observe the reaction to Pope Francis’s interview with Father Antonio Spadaro. So far, I have only mentioned it briefly in my last post where the Holy Father touched upon a topic I was already working on. I do not think anyone is surprised that pundits on the far left and right have interpreted the Holy Father’s remarks as expressing freewheeling liberalism. Neither is it surprising that those loyal to the Holy Father have dedicated most of their time to clarifying what the Holy Father actually said. Hopefully, now more time will be spent assimilating his words without fear of receiving or conveying the wrong message.
I think Pope Francis in the interview is perceived by many commentators the way he must be by the Vatican Police who are constantly challenged in their efforts to maintain a parameter of safety around this man who is of the people, and who finds it necessary to relate directly with them. The Vatican police must wonder if the Holy Father is aware of the danger, because he does not seem to show it. On the contrary, from his contact with the people as well as from his teaching and example, it seems that Pope Francis sees a greater danger in not taking such risks. Continue reading
Pope Francis has recently criticized the modern versions of Pelagianism and triumphalism in a way that has left some devout Catholics scratching their heads. The Holy Father seems to be taking aim at the more traditionally minded that are intent on bringing about a restoration of Catholic life, and they find it hard to understand why the Vicar of Christ would have a problem with, of all things, “traditional Catholicism.” So what exactly is Pope Francis trying to accomplish?
Faith and Future
I believe the Holy Father is attempting to underscore the supernatural character of faith in a time when everyone is affected by the deviations of modernity, including the very people who are reacting against these deviations. In his encyclical Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis says that faith is a supernatural gift that lights our way, “guiding us through time.” It comes from the past as a “foundational memory.” Yet, because faith proceeds from the Risen Christ it is also a light that comes from the future, “opening before us vast horizons which guide us beyond our isolated selves towards the breadth of communion” (4). Thus, Pope Francis calls faith memoria futuri, “remembrance of the future” (9). Coming from the past, faith is an unshakable memory of what God and done for us in Christ Jesus, and what He has revealed to us through His Son. Coming from the future, faith is bound up with hope in the promises God has made and guaranteed by the resurrection of His Son. Thus, in practice to keep the faith means never allowing ourselves to be robbed of hope. It means never being frozen in time because we are afraid of the future (57). Continue reading
ON THE OCCASION OF PERPETUAL PROFESSIONS
Tarquinia, August 31, 2013.
Dear young people,
In the Bible one reads two episodes happily matching up with what you will celebrate in the church of your Institute at Tarquinia.
The first took place on the banks of the Jordan, when, after their endless journey in the desert, Joshua told the people to choose whom they would serve: “Do you choose the Lord or the foreign gods, the gods beyond the river?” (Joshua 24,15). Know that in choosing the Lord, you choose the liberator, the savior, the one who is close to you, because you are the people He has received and whom He cares for without cost, for whom He wants true freedom. If you choose Him, know, however, that He is a jealous and demanding God: He ensures loyalty, but asks of you fidelity.
The foreign gods, those across the river, are not demanding. They don’t disturb the life of ease and quiet. They promise a cheap happiness, roads open wide in front of you. Later, however, you will discover that a cheap and easy happiness is illusory, that it is a new form of slavery, more painful than the one known in Egypt.
The second episode we read in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, referring to what occurred more or less near the same waters of the Jordan, which for the Jews sprang, as it were, from Heaven. It speaks of Jesus witnessing many of His listeners turn away from Him because, according to them, He used a language that was too hard. He then asked the Apostles: “Will you also go away?” (Jn 6:67). It is as if he said: make your choice! Peter, who was not expecting that question, looked at the apostles standing near, and before anyone could give a reckless or wrong answer replied: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, we have believed and know that thou art the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:68-69).
My dear young people , Peter responded on behalf of all, and therefore in your name also, since you have chosen Him who has called you with eternal words, who reveals that to walk in the footsteps left by the Holy One of God is the most beautiful of all of life’s decisions.
The religious profession that you will make, which you have prepared for with the seriousness proper to your Institute, is in fact a response to a choice. It is a generous and demanding choice, because you choose the Lord, who is All, the Supreme Good, endless beauty, the absolute truth, nothing more beautiful or greater that one could desire. I said “response” because you know better than I that it was not you who chose the Lord, but He who chose you, because he loves you with a wholly particular love, a love of predilection, a love beyond all human imagination. The “yes” that you will pronounce with the formula of profession is a response to God’s initiative.
You have decided to follow Jesus in the way of chastity, obedience, poverty and the Marian vow . You want to be so united to Him as to imitate Him in these fundamental options of life. With the vows that you will profess you pledge to be transparently His, revealing his chaste, poor and obedient face. Those seeing you must be able to see Christ: Christ who is chaste, because one loves with a pure and unreserved love unto the gift of self; Christ who is obedient because one abandons himself to the liberating will of the Father; Christ who is poor because true wealth is not found in material goods, but in the values of the Kingdom. The Marian vow because you have chosen to go as missionaries which was the particular desire of St. Maximilian M. Kolbe.
Blessed Giles of Assisi, the third companion of St. Francis, summed up this idea in a popular saying coming from his simple wisdom: “He who loves more, longs more.” By this it is intended that the more ones love God, the more one desires his riches, which, according to what St. Bonaventure wrote in The Journey of the Mind to God, are “fruits that no one comes to know if not received, nor received if not desired, nor desired unless inflamed by the Holy Spirit.” The religious vocation is one of those fruits that mature with the profession you are about to make.
Allow me now to mention the Institute to which you will belong. I know that it arose at the doors of the third millennium as a response to the conciliar Decree Perfectae Caritatis that invites religious to “return to the sources.” In addition to the Rule of the Order of Friars Minor, you also profess the Marian Traccia of Franciscan Life which is it’s Marian expression, whose spiritual legacy you have accepted fully and live out within the Marian Houses and in the Houses of the Immaculate, engaged in the use of modern means of communication (television, radio), and in religious-priestly activity and that which is missionary.
Very well, I am pleased with all it all. You too are witnesses to the variety of charisms mentioned by S. Paul (1 Cor 12:4 ), poured forth by the same Spirit, and which therefore cannot contradict each other. Consecrated life and new ecclesial subjects are living forces of the Spirit of the Church; forces that appeal to the youth because of the freshness of their phenomena, the authoritative presence of the founders, and because of the agility of organizational structures not as yet so complex . However, I am reminded of the words of the Blessed John Paul II on May 30, 1998, adressed to the leaders of the new forms of consecrated life: “The emergence of new institutes and their diffusion has brought to the Church’s life a newness that is unexpected and sometimes even disruptive. This has given rise to questions, uneasiness and tensions, at times it has led to presumptions and excesses on the one hand, and not a few prejudices and reservations on the other. It was a period of trial for their loyalty, an important opportunity to verify the authenticity of their charisms. Today a new stage opens in front of you: that of ecclesial maturity . This does not mean that all the problems are solved. It is above all a challenge, a road on which to travel. The Church expects the fruits of communion and commitment.”
One of the central issues, in my opinion, is the threat of a certain self-reference, that is, the desire to emphasize at all costs one’s own distinctive characteristics. Instead, I believe it is a certain proof of maturity to try to overcome this attitude, recognizing with a humble and Franciscan spirit that the edification of the Church is the ultimate reference point of one’s particular charismatic experience.
The theologian von Balthasar in an essay on spirituality (Verbum Caro) sustained that when a religious and ecclesial reality is essentially preoccupied in distinguishing itself from others by setting their own convictions as the only excellence to be referred to, it is a sign of closure that can only be of harm to the future of the Church. As also can be, I might add, a certain confusion between the ends and the means, whereby the texts, suggestions, attitudes or words of the founders can be considered more decisive than the teaching of the magisterium and even than that of the biblical texts. In this case, a movement that officially professes to be a mediator for a new form of evangelization, becomes the substitute.
Listen to this anecdote: a father was watching his child one day trying to move a very heavy flowerpot. The little child one was trying, puffing, growling, but could not move the flowerpot even an inch.
“Did you use all your strength?” asked the father.
“Yes,” replied the child .
“That is not true, said the father, because you did not ask me to help you.”
Dear young people and dear confreres : let us all, together, move this flowerpot toward the light of God in order to understand that which it is in need of, and to cause an explosion in various colors of it’s flowers swollen with heavenly nectar.
P. Fidenzio Volpi, ofm cap
But in recent years I have found my relationship to many (not all or even most) traditional Catholics tested and strained. I say “tested” because I have found that if I do not adhere to a rather strict, and I would say “narrow” line, I am relegated to be thrown out of the feast, and there in the “outer darkness” to wail and grind my teeth.
It would seem that for some, I am required to bash bishops, lament that the Church has “never been in worse shape,” and that every single solitary problem in the Church today is “due to Vatican II” and the “Novus Ordo” Mass. Stray too far from this, either by omission or commission, and I am in the hurt locker, the penalty box, and relegated to being no better than one of “them.”