Good Friday: An Open Heart

This is the great day of mercy in which the reality of daily life finds its true meaning in the commemoration of the event which is at the center of all history.  The preoccupation with “reality” as we know is no longer the focus of our attention.  The narcissism of relating everything to ourselves cannot endure the gaze of the Crucified.  It is though we must now focus a camera on the background instead of the subject.  The unfortunate reality is that we are too often focused on ourselves, even in religious matters. Religious experience and not the service of God and his people is too often the object of our quest.

The oxymoron of “reality tv” is a profanation of the humane.  The self-indulgent staging of life must stop in the face of today’s reality.  It is the reality of what our sins do to God.  It is the reality of what the Love of God does for us poor sinners.  The “big reveal” is symbolized by the unveiling of the Crucifix:

Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the Savior of the World.

Come let us adore. Continue reading

The Coredemptrix

Sermon for the Friday before Holy Week


Solidarity and Compassion

Newman’s Note on the Hermeneutic of Continuity

On Friday morning Father Edward Ondrako, Ofm. Conv. delivered a paper at the symposium entitled:  “Mary and the Church in Newman with and Eye to Coredemption.”  He was very insightful in bring to the fore the way in which John Henry Newman’s seven notes on the development of doctrine help us to understand the position the doctrine of Coredemption enjoys in the tradition of the Church.

I particularly latched onto the sixth note:  “The Conservative Action Upon It’s Past,” because of what I had said in the previous post about Vatican II triumphalism.  Here is Newman quoted by Father Ondrako:

A true development, then, may be described as one which is conservative of the course of antecedent developments being really those antecedents and something besides them: it is an addition which illustrates, not obscures, corroborates, not corrects, the body of thought from which it proceeds; and this is its characteristic as contrasted with corruption.

This is consistent with what Pope Benedict says about the hermeneutic of continuity, and what St. Thomas Aquinas said about using the Fathers in such a way as to interpret them favorably and to find ways to reconcile newer insights with the authority of the past.  Our age has much to learn from this.

It seems to be that this is all the more reason to continue defending the doctrine of Our Lady’s Coredemption and to be concerned about any interpetation of the Theology of the Body that holds the Church’s previous approach concerning chastity to be misguided.

Triumph or Triumphalism

Today at the “9th International Conference on Marian Coredemption” here in Fatima, the first four papers were read, including one by Msgr. Arthur Calkins, renowned Mariologist.  His paper is entitled “Mary and the Church in the Papal Magisterium before and After the Second Vatican Council.”  One would think that in the many years since the council some theologian would have written on the subject of Mary’s relation to the Church in papal magisterium, but apparently not.

In a particular, a remark of Msgr. Calkins made about what he calls “Vatican II triumphalism” struck me:

“Vatican II triumphalism” is virtually always a partial and one-sided interpretation of council documents which favors a position espoused by one party at the time of the council and studiously avoids mention of any conciliar statements which would counterbalance the “favored” position.

Boy, that nails it for me.  This has been particularly true in the case of Mariology, which is the exact context in which the monsignor presents this observation.  But this VII-T Syndrome has been adopted in many other respectes as well.  Without belaboring the point, I think there is a robust TOB-T (Theology of the Body Triumphalism) at work here in the United States as well.

One instance of this problem in Mariology has been the way in which the relative place of Mary in the Church in respect to the magisterium has been minimized.  The ancient title of  Our Lady, Doctrix Apostolororum (Teacher of the Apostles) is not a very popular idea among the VII-triumphalists and has been judged by them to be an “outmoded form of theological attribution and piety.”  Yet both John Paul II (see note 8 at this link for quote) and Benedict XVI (March 22, 2006) have acknowledged that the Marian dimension of the Church is prior and more fundamental than the petrine (having to do with the office of Peter).  The triumphalists will say that on these points the popes are out of step with Vatican II, just as they did when John Paul II used the title Coredemptrix six times during his pontificate.

But the idea of Doctrix Apostolorum, is neither a post-Vatican II innovation, nor is it an idea that has been condemned or discouraged by Vatican II.  Msgr. Calkins quotes Pius XII at length on the same subject.  I will just give a bit of it here:

More exalted than St. Peter, the Vicar of Christ on earth, the Mother of our Lord Jesus yet has in common with Peter in a manner all her own a dignity, an authority, a power which associates her with the Apostolic College as its Queen.

This Marian office does not supplant the petrine or apostolic, but it is, nevertheless, superior to it.  Pope Pius goes on:

While Peter has the key of heaven, Mary has the key to God’s heart;  while Peter binds and looses, Mary also binds with the chain of love and looses with the gift of pardon (address to pilgrims from Genoa, April 21, 1940).

Another speaker today, Father Etienne Richer, pointed out that in the eithgth chapter of Lumen Gentium which treats of the Blessed Virgin, the council fathers write that the council

does not, however, have it in mind to give a complete doctrine on Mary, nor does it wish to decide those questions which the work of theologians has not yet fully clarified. Those opinions therefore may be lawfully retained which are propounded in Catholic schools concerning her, who occupies a place in the Church which is the highest after Christ and yet very close to us.

Thus VII triumphalism has gone way too far.  It is time to stop presuming that the Church woke up to the modern age in the 1960′s.  It is just not true.  In particular, in respect to Marian doctrine and devotion, we should be cooperating with the Queen of Apostles to bring about the Triumph of Her Immaculate Heart and not hindering it by misguided triumphalism.

Seven in the Heart, One in the Hand

king_alfred

One commenter pointed out that in my exposition of the Blessed Mother’s courage (“Damsels in Distress“), that my distinction between the masculine courage of action and the feminine courage of suffering, according to St. Bonaventure, did not sufficiently take account of the many biblical images, nor of the great Chesterton’s “The Ballad of the White Horse.”  She is right, of course, that discussion about passive courage does not do enough to account for the Blessed Virgin’s active role in the redemption of mankind, or of women in general throughout history.  I have no disagreement with the commenter.

In fact, I have have written on the subject Our Lady’s presence in “The Ballad of the White Horse” in a paper I delivered at our international symposium on the Coredemption in England, 2001, entitled “Seven in the Heart, One in the Hand:  The Mediation of the Immaculate in the Poetry of Hopkins and Chesterton” (Mary at the Foot of the Cross II:  Acts of the International Symposium on Marian Coredemption, New Bedford:  Academy of the Immaculate.  395-439).  I am attaching here a pdf of the complete paper for those who are interested.  Also, FYI, there is an excellent reprint of the 1928 illustrated edition of “The Ballad of the White Horse,” published by Ignatius Press, that also includes a very helpful introduction and endnotes by Sister Bernadette Sheridan.

Since I have been studying the Theology of the Body lately, I would like to suggest that one of John Paul II’s insights–one that is thoroughly traditional–would be helpful here.  There is no question that man is characteristically the “giver” (“the one who loves”) and woman the “receiver” (“the one who is loved”; cf. TOB 92.6); however, the Holy Father also  says:

The two functions of the mutual exchange are deeply connected in the whold process of “gift of self”: giving and accepting the gift interpenetrate in such a way that the very act of giving becomes acceptance, and acceptance transforms itself into giving (TOB 17.4).

By way of analogy, I think we can say that the “giver” is also the “defender,” and the “receiver” is also the “defended,” but this does not preclude a mutuality, though the courage of action in a woman, such as in the case of Judith or St. Joan of Arc is particularly marked by empathy and uniquely maternal characteristics.

I think of St. Joan, in particular, who received the ability to ride a horse, to formulate military strategy, especially the placement of artillery, as an extraordinary grace.  She was not merely a figure head of the French army; nevertheless, she never raised her sword against a man.  It was merely enough for her to get to the enemy castle and touch it with her banner.  I also recall how she nursed the dying, including the English, and shed tears over them.

I include below an apropos excerpt from my paper.  Without burdening this post with too much back story, one should at least know that at the beginning of the ballad, King Alfred, who is leading the Saxons against the invasion of England by the Danes, receives a vision of Our Blessed Lady in an hour when he has all but lost hope.  In desperation he asks Her:

“When our last bow is broken, Queen,
And our last javelin cast,
Under some sad, green evening sky,
Holding a ruined cross on high,
Under warm westland grass to lie,
Shall we come home at last?”

Her answer is paradoxical:

“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?”

Alfred then goes onto gather his chiefs and army in order to enter into a battle and quest in which he is offered no promise of victory.  Here is the excerpt from my paper:

King Alfred, after an initial victory in battle (Book V), and then the eventual slaying of all three of his chiefs (Book VI), was left in a predicament very much like the one he had been in when he had seen Our Lady, although his later doom and England’s was far more imminent.  The Battle of Ethandune was all but lost.  In a long speech Alfred convinced what was left of his army that “death is a better ale to drink” (bk. 7, 119) than to drain the cup of surrender to heathendom.  Convinced by their captain, the soldiers “stood firm” and “feeble” (153).  Alfred blew his horn calling his men to the hunt, and “The people of the peace of God/ Went roaring down to die” (184).  But in the desperation of the situation the Immaculate was present in Her causeless joy and hopeless faith:

And when the last arrow,
Was fitted and was flown,
When the broken shield hung on the breast,
And the hopeless lance was laid at rest,
And the hopeless horn was blown,

The King looked up, and what he saw
Was a great light like death,
For our Lady stood on the standards rent
As lonely and as innocent
As When between white walls she went
In the lilies of Nazareth.

One instant in a still light,
He saw Our Lady then,
Her dress was soft as western sky,
And she was queen most womanly–
But she was queen of men.

Over the iron forest
He saw Our Lady stand;
Her eyes were sad withouten art,
And seven swords were in her heart–
But one was in her hand. (185-205).

In the moment of supreme sacrifice, the Mother of God interceded on behalf of Her children.  The seven swords of Her own heartfelt sorrow, became one which She wielded in hand on behalf of those for whom She suffered:  In the first vision of King Alfred Mary had said to him:

“But you and all the kind of Christ
Are ignorant and brave,
And you have wars you hardly win
And souls you hardly save” (bk. 1, 250-53).

Thus we are shown how this intercession of the Immaculate in temporal war is also connected to a greater war for the salvation of souls.  These wars hardly won and souls hardly saved are remarkably juxtaposed in another of Chesterton’s poems whose theme is along the same lines, viz., “The Queen of the Seven Swords.”  That poem is actually the introduction to seven monologues delivered by seven saints of Western Europe, who, as Chesterton notes, “have no connection with the historical saints” that “bore their names,” but rather are types of the different nations, viz., St. James of Spain, St. Denys of France, St. Anthony of Italy, St. Patrick of Ireland, St. Andrew of Scotland, St. David of Wales and St. George of England.  There, in “The Queen of the Seven Swords,” Chesterton records a dream in which he saw Europe as a waste land, and after surveying the panorama of desolation said:  “There is none to save.” It is obvious from his descriptions that the wasteland is typical of moral desolation.  In the gloom, however, he saw a source of hope:

I saw on their breaking terraces, cracking and sinking for ever,
One shrine rise blackened and broken; like a last cry to God.

Old gold on the roof hung ragged as scales of a dragon dropping,
The gross green weeds of the desert had spawned on the painted wood:
But erect in the earth’s despair and arisen against heaven interceding,
Whose name is Cause of Our Joy, in the doorway of death she stood.

The Woman who had asked of Alfred “Do you have joy without a cause?” is in fact the Cause of His Joy, and this as She stands in the “doorway of death.”  Thus we begin to understand that the doom of Alfred is not a joy strictly without cause, but one without any natural explanation, for his joy has its source in the Heart of the Queen of the Seven Swords.  Chesterton goes on in “The Queen of the Seven Swords:

The Seven Swords of her Sorrow held out their hilts like a challenge,
The blast of that stunning silence as a sevenfold trumpet blew
Majestic in more than gold, girt round with a glory or iron,
The hub of her wheel of weapons; with a truth beyond torture true.

That truth which is beyond torture true is that faith which saves, not in spite of suffering, but because of suffering.  Hence we understand what the Lady meant when She asked Alfred “Do you have faith without a hope?”  Not a natural hope, or a conviction that things will get better, but a conviction that God is faithful to His promises.  In “The Towers of Time,” Chesterton says that “the heart of the swords, seven times wounded,/ Was never wearied as our hearts are.” And in the poem “In October,” honor is due to Mary, because Hers was “The broken Heart and the unbroken word.” Is this not why in his Encyclical, Redemptoris Mater, the Holy Father compares the Blessed Virgin to Abraham, saying with St. Paul that in hope believed against hope, She is blessed for Her unwavering faith?