Christmas Distractions?

The center of every Christmas is the Christ Child in the manger, really present in the Holy Eucharist on our altars and visually represented in our mangers.  We are all aware of how many ways contemporary culture provides us with distractions from this supreme truth in our celebration of Christmas.  It is a bit of a paradox.  Chesterton said that the mystery of Christmas is too good to be true, except that it is true.  Mankind has never gotten over it, even if it has largely forgotten why the lights and tinsel are so important.

This Christmas entry is a rewriting of one I posted several years ago about the place of Santa Clause in our celebration of the Birth of Christ.  It is the fruit of further reflection on a subject relevant to those concerned about our culture.

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Benedict XVI on New Media


Attention should be paid to the various types of websites, applications and social networks which can help people today to find time for reflection and authentic questioning, as well as making space for silence and occasions for prayer, meditation or sharing of the word of God. In concise phrases, often no longer than a verse from the Bible, profound thoughts can be communicated, as long as those taking part in the conversation do not neglect to cultivate their own inner lives.

At some point soon I will get to the Holy Father’s Twitter account.

Cornwall: Land of Saints

I write this post from my where I am now assigned as chaplain to our contemplative sisters in Lanherne, St. Mawgan in the County of Corwall in England.  I am taking the place of Fr. George Mary Roth, who has faithfully served the sisters and the local people of Cornwall for nine years.  His departure is deeply felt by all and he will be sorely missed.  May God reward him for all the good he has done here. May Our Lady keep him under his mantle along the path on which She guides him.

The picture above is the front yard of the friary which is at the left (click on the photo for a larger file).  Actually the front of the building as you see it is the extern quarters to the convent of our contemplative sisters who occupy the much larger part of the building.

The property of the convent lies in a valley through which formerly ran a river.  It is a approximately a mile and a half from the sea at St. Mawgan Porth, which can be reached from a footpath nearby.

Christianity arrived in Cornwall in the 5th century, at places like Lanherne, at what became various monastic centers situated around the area.  That was at the time of the legendary Arthur Pendragon, who is said to have been born in Tintagel, which is about a half hour north of here on the coast, where the friars play tennis once a week with a local priest and friend, Fr. Brian Storey. Glastonbury, or the legendary Avalon is about one hundred miles to the north.

Celtic monks founded a monastery at Lanherne in the 6th century the site of the present convent, which later came into the possession of the bishops and still later of the great English noble family of Arundell.  The present building is the medieval Manor House of the Arundells, which is the center of Catholicism in the area. The estate provided work for many people and the family built the Medieval Church of St. Mawgan which you can see in the background of the picture above.  The parish church is now in the possession of the Church of England and the convent is separated from the church property by an ancient wall.

The Arundells remained a faithful Catholic family that suffered terribly throughout the period of the English Reformation. They used the manor house to hide Catholic priests, who were in threat of certain death if captured.  Not least of these courageous priests was St. Cuthbert Mayne, who was eventually captured nearby at and hung drawn and quartered at Launceston, his quarters being sent to the four corners of the realm, his head being placed on a pike.  The top of his scull is in the possession of the convent and is venerated here every Sunday after Mass.  One can clearly see the hole in the top of the cranium from where his head was placed on the pike.

Local historians know more or less where the hiding places for priests (priest holes) were built into the manor house walls.  One of them is believed to be in the present chapel of the friars, though modern paneling currently prevents its definitive discovery.

The Manor House was also a way station along the route of the Welsh pilgrims to St. James of Compostella.  The scallop shell of St. James is engraved in stone above the front door.

In 1794 the Manor House was offered by the Arundell family to a group of English Carmelite nuns who were fleeing France because of the persecution of the French Revolution.  From that time until fifteen or so years ago the Manor house has been a carmelite monastery.  The Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate took it over and it remains the place of their enclosure as contemplatives consecrated unlimitedly to the Immaculate.

Land of Saints

If one considers the whole length of history of Lanherne from the earliest Christian times when monasticism was developing and becoming the means of spreading the faith, to the period of the Middle ages in which a great Catholic family provided the means for the local people to live a life of faith in peace, to the time of the persecution of the Church, when the same family made sure that priests were protected and the Sacraments continued to be made available to the people, to the time of restoration in which contemplative nuns rekindled the fire in a place hollowed by holy men and women who suffered and bled for Christ, then one can come to appreciate what an important place Lanherne is to the Catholic Church in England.  Indeed, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass has been celebrated here continuously since the foundations of Christianity in England, even during the penal times.  It is perhaps the only place in England where Jesus in the Eucharist has had such a continuous and enduring presence.

Cornwall is known as the Land of Saints because of the numerous places throughout the county that are named after saints, most of them very ancient local saints.  England, like so many other places in the Western World has had a lapse in its Christian memory.  But England in particular, as Our Lady’s Dowry, is particularly haunted by the ghost of Catholicsm.  It is everywhere present, but often stands almost unnoticed as though it was invisible.  However, the fire kindled by the saints remains alive.  An ancient building may merely be a monument to past ages, or it may be a meeting place of multiple generations of men and women who pass on the flame.  To think I pray each morning in a room that one day long ago may have been searched by the enemies of the faith, and behind a hidden panel in the wall a saint, and soon to be martyr, held his breath lest he be discovered!  May we never forget!  May we never allow ourselves the pitiable luxury of forgetting the true cost and value of Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament.

Pastoral Authority of Peter II

Rorate Caeli has given a translation of an excerpt of yesterday’s  address of the Holy Father to the Italian episcopal conference:

[M]ay the 50th anniversary of its beginning [of Vatican II], which we will celebrate in the fall, be an occasion to deepen the study of its texts, the condition for a dynamic and faithful reception. “That which above all concerns the Council is that the sacred deposit of the Christian faith be kept and taught in a more efficacious way,” Pope Blessed John XXIII affirmed in his opening address. And it is worthwhile to meditate and read these words.

The Pope charged the Fathers to deepen and present such a perennial doctrine in continuity with the millennial Tradition of the Church: “to pass on the doctrine, pure and whole, without attenuations or distortions,” but in a new way, “according to what is required by our times.” (Address of solemn opening of the Ecumenical Council of the Vatican II, October 11, 1962). With this key for its reading and application – according to a view, certainly not of an unacceptable hermeneutic of discontinuity and of rupture, but of a hermeneutic of continuity and of reform -, listening to the Council and making ours the authoritative indications are the path to ascertaining the ways with which the Church may offer a significant response to the great social and cultural transformations of our time, which have visible consequences also on the religious sphere.

That last sentence underscores the importance of the “supreme, effective, and authoritative pastoral office of Peter” as the only adequate principle of unity for the Church.  Pope Benedict speaks of “authoritative indications” pointing the way toward discernment in matters pertaining to the “great social and cultural transformations of our time.”  The pope is not simply arguing for the doctrinal continuity of the Council with Tradition, but also that the pastoral discernment of the Council and its correct interpretation by the papal magisterium is the work, not of man but of God.

Applying the principles of the faith to the problems of the modern world has been a complicated process.  Progressives used the liberty granted by the Council as a pretext for a modernist revolution.  It was a risk all the postconciliar popes have been to say was necessary to take, and while we can continue to argue to the end of the world about what hypothetically would have happened had there been no Council, Peter, to whom Christ entrusted his Church, has settled the matter.  This is abundantly clear, but, of course, not clear enough to those who really “know” what is good for the Church.  Take a look at the comments on Rorate Caeli.  This one, fairly moderate as they go, is a succinct summary:

Father B said…
More and more I look at Vatican II as an event of unnecessary surgery.
24 May, 2012 16:50

It is a bit disconcerting that Cardinal Brandmüller refers to Dignitatis humanae and Nostra aetate as “non-binding,” because of a lack of “binding doctrinal content.”  Is he suggesting that “pastoral authority” is no authority?  It seems that Pope Benedict’s argument regarding the “hermeneutic of reform,” which includes both a measure of discontinuity of application within the continuity of doctrine, is not an attempt at all to declare that the Council must be followed because it is infallible, or always doctrinally binding.  Rather, it is the affirmation of the magisterium’s pastoral authority to interpret doctrine and apply it according to circumstances. Furthermore, such applications are not always merely pastoral, as is the case in regard to religious liberty.  They constitute a development of doctrine.

I find it remarkable that Pope Benedict patiently reaffirms this at every turn in spite of the unvarying responses of traditionalists.

The Saints and the Healing of Memory

Dawn Eden recently published a wonderful book on the topic of healing from the wounds of sexual abuse.  My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints.  This new publication follows her highly successful The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On. Dawn explains the inspiration behind her new book, as flowing from her experiences of speaking to people who had read Thrill of the Chaste.  In that book she wrote of her own journey from a life of promiscuity to discovering the beauty and joy of chastity as opposed to the destructive dead-end that is lust.  Dawn recounts how many who were not convinced by her arguments in Thrill of the Chaste were angry and hurt, feeling that she was judging them. She found that many of them had been a victim of sexual abuse at some time in their life.  Dawn also experienced sexual abuse  as a child and knows how abuse victims tend to blame themselves for what happened to them.

In an interview with AirMaria (21:00-ff) back in 2009, Dawn explained how it was that devotion to the Blessed Mother can be huge factor in bringing about transformation in a life plagued by sexual temptation.  She relates that after she had written Thrill of the Chaste she would get into arguments on her blog with feminist bloggers over the subject Christianity and chastity specifically.  Many times the feminist bloggers manifested a great deal of anger, which they directed at Dawn because they felt that she was judging them, or that Church, because of her doctrine on chastity, was judging them.  Ironically, because Our Lady and purity are so closely identified, she also found that those living and impure life also had an aversion to Marian devotion.  But the purity of Our Lady is not a judgment, but a living fire that is purifying, liberating and welcoming.  If the just father embracing his prodigal son is the image of Divine Mercy, then the Immaculate Virgin Mary is the image of pure love delivering us from selfishness and at the same time showing us unconditional compassion.  This is the Marian message that we need to communicate to the world about chastity.

One of the great attractions of devotion to Our Lady and, in particular the sacramental of the Miraculous Medal, is the compassion of Mary, who as Mother of Jesus is also our Mother, and who is present to Her children not to judge but to nurture, heal and affirm.  This was exactly the attitude of St. Maximilian Kolbe, who knew that the Blessed Mother was the easiest way to God, precisely because She is pure, pleasing to God and does not judge the sinner.  He used to give out the Miraculous Medal to souls in need because he simply wanted to introduce the presence of Mary into their lives.

I often think of this power of Our Lady, resplendent and transformative as the Way of Beauty.  Our Lady is both Icon of all that we hope to be and Mother of our soul, bringing to pass a transformation from sin to grace that we are too broken to accomplish ourselves.

In My Peace I Give You, Dawn points out that although the Immaculate Virgin underwent no purification, sinless as She is, Mary does have a wounded heart through which She is uniquely associated with the suffering of Her Son.  It is an interior wound that lays bare the secret of hearts (cf. Lk 2:35).  Our Lady knows the pain of Her children, and She holds them in the piercing of Her Heart.  This is the realm of mental suffering, where all pain is synthesized and either accepted or rejected, where the human condition is placed in the crucible of God’s love and divine, sacrificial and suffering love is rarefied and separated from the suffering of sin and darkness and fear.  Christ underwent both a physical and mental suffering in the agony of his Passion.  Blessed John Henry Newman called this the “double agony” of Christ.  But it was the mental suffering of Our Lord that gave form and purpose to the rest.  Our Lady is particularly iconic of this mental suffering, because Hers is a suffering of “compassion.”  She suffers with the One who suffers because She loves Him and is present in His sufferings.

In a particular way Dawn points to the faith Our Lady exercised after Our Lord’s Ascension—a time in which She had only the memories, the mental images of Her Son’s death and resurrection, but continued with the rest of the Church to participate in these mysteries though the veiled but transformative presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist.  In the Heart of Mary, especially in that Heart which is a tabernacle for the Eucharistic presence of the Sacred Heart of Her Son, all memory is recapitulated and recirculated.  Everything that hurts is given a meaning beyond itself and all who suffer experience both the Passion and Resurrection of Christ as the purpose of their lives and the means of their own healing.

With Her new book, Dawn has taken these ideas to the next step, as a kind of bridge between our own brokenness and the immaculate integrity of the Blessed Virgin.  The saints underwent the transformation from the brokenness of original sin, the history of sin within their families and their own lives, to healing and re-creation in Christ Jesus.  As Dawn points out, some of them experienced even the wound of sexual abuse, and subsequently had to struggle against great odds to live authentic spiritual lives.   The stories of the saints, thus offers us who are broken the encouragement we are looking for and the powerful presence upon which we can rely:

No matter what evil was done to us, if we, like the saints, offer our hearts to God, he will take us as we are, with all our past experiences. Our hearts right now contains all the raw material Jesus needs to mold them so that, with his grace working over the course of time, they may become like His. This is true no matter how damaged we may feel. So long as our hearts long for union with Jesus’ Sacred Heart, our feelings about ourselves will not prevent such union, because God’s love is stronger than feelings. It is a presence.

Reading about the lives of the Saints is not just about seeing their example and figuring out how to imitate them, or how to integrate the teaching of Christ in a practical way.  It is all that, and more.  As we are taught in Lumen Gentium 50:

Nor is it by the title of example only that we cherish the memory of those in heaven, but still more in order that the union of the whole Church may be strengthened in the Spirit by the practice of fraternal charity. For just as Christian communion among wayfarers brings us closer to Christ, so our companionship with the saints joins us to Christ, from Whom as from its Fountain and Head issues every grace and the very life of the people of God.

The saints are living members of our family who are present and who teach from within because we are one with them in prayer, and because they intercede with God on our behalf.  We identify with their brokenness.  We aspire to their victory.  But we also know that they are on our side, fighting on our behalf.  We need a new set of memories in order to overcome the pain of  the past, active memories like the commemoration of the Mass by which we participate in purity itself.  We need also the active memory of Our Lady who ponders in Heart the mysteries of the faith She witnessed with Her own eyes, and the active memory of the saints who have accomplished the transformation we all long for and so desperately need.

In her book, Dawn writes much about memory and its healing, even of the memories of things that have been so painful that we have buried beneath our consciousness.  She quotes Pope Benedict:  “Memory and hope are inseparable. To poison the past does not give hope: it destroys its emotional foundations.”  The parallel between memory and the theological virtue of hope is very Bonaventurian.  St. Bonaventure also aligns memory and hope with the First Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Father.  How much sexual abuse today is somehow related to either the abuse of a father or at least the dereliction of the duty of a father.  Perhaps these are the toughest memories of all.  And that is why we need all the help we can get from the friends of Jesus to get us back to the embrace of our merciful Father, who alone can heal us.

Dawn has done another great service to the Church and to souls who are in need of encouragement and healing.  May God bless her for it.

Book by Father Angelo in Publication

Soon to be released by the Academy of the Immaculate.  A great read in preparation for the Year of Faith:

The well-documented, clear exposition of the issue by Father Angelo is among the best available in any language. It is a must read for anyone concerned with current controversies in the Church and with the efforts of Pope Benedict to resolve these bitter conflicts: those stemming from a one-sided love of tradition, and those stemming from a naïve confidence in modernity and secularism. In both cases, the ultimate response to each is Mary, Spouse of the Holy Spirit and Mother of the Church, prophetic voice of Vatican II and profile of its pastoral vision for the Church.


Fr. Angelo Geiger has done us all an immense service by carefully differentiating between “traditionalism” and the Catholic Tradition with a capital T. The use of the 1962 Roman Missal is one thing. The baggage that all too often accompanies its celebration is quite another. Surely both the Missals of Blessed John XXIII and of the Servant of God Paul VI are expressions of Catholic faith and my fond hope for many years has been that these two forms of the Roman Rite will eventually coalesce. What Fr. Angelo does, however, is to expose the agenda of many of the most avid promoters of the 1962 Missal. In fact not a few of those would really like to retreat to even earlier editions of the Tridentine Missal so as to avoid the Holy Week reform of the Venerable Pius XII. If so, how far back must we go? I believe the point is we must go forward under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and trust in the leadership of the Successor of St. Peter.


Fr. Geiger has written a badly needed volume indispensable for troubled souls bewildered by false accusations that Vatican II represented a “hermeneutics of rupture” with Catholic Tradition.

With theological discernment, he refutes the polemics of modernists, gnostic intellectual elites, pseudo-charismatics, and especially “traditionalists”. All these disturbers of ecclesial peace and unity assume to speak with the prophetic voice of the Church while undermining the Petrine ministry which alone has doctrinal authority to settle disputes affecting faith and morals. Real renewal of the Church demands fidelity to the Marian and Petrine principles of the Church heralded by its great Saints.


Fr. Geiger has written a beautifully clear and comprehensive defense of the providential inspiration behind the Second Vatican Council, faithfully following the hermeneutics of continuity and reform proposed by Pope Benedict XVI. It is of great value to anyone who wishes to deepen their understanding of the critical responses to the Council from both the modernist and the traditionalist ends of the spectrum.


He Has Become the Corner Stone

Crucem sanctam subiit,
qui infernum confregit,
accinctus est potentia,
surrexit die tertia. Alleluia.

Lapidem quem reprobaverunt
aedeficantes factus est
caput anguli, alleluia.

He bore the Holy Cross,
who broke the power of hell;
He was girded with power
He rose again the third day, alleluia

The stone that the architects rejected
became the cornerstone, alleluia.

I was blessed to be locked in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem last Friday night, the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.  A small group of our pilgrims were able to spend many silent moments in the tomb itself.  It was awesome to realize that I was in the place were the victory was won, and for which so many suffered and died in order to be in that blessed place and to protect it.

Within the tomb is an icon of Our Lady holding a sacred vessel–the Holy Grail, perhaps?  It is a door that opens to the rock of the tomb itself, which is otherwise covered with marble and icons:

I am just about to celebrate the Sacred Paschal Vigil.  Easter Blessings to all!

Let us rejoice with the Queen of Heaven, for He is risen as He said.

A Year of Faith or a Year of Doubt?

This is the last installment of a series that I originally planned to be just two posts, but has turned out to be four.  I link to them, not in the order that I posted them, but in the order of their logical development.   First, there is a bit of background about my own experience and formation with the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and what I mean by the term “traditionalism,” and why I think a discussion of it is important (“Traditionalism and Liturgy”).  Second, is a an explanation of the stated motives of Pope Benedict XVI for having promulgated the Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum and what he means by the “reform of the reform” (“The Spirit of Summorum Pontificum”). The third installment is an examination of what the current debate over the “hermeneutic of continuity” is all about and why a statement of Pope Benedict has been used speciously as a pretext to question the continuity of Vatican II with Tradition (“Traditionalist Sleight of Hand”).  And lastly, here I wish to illustrate the current problem of sympathy for traditionalism by means of the contrast between traditionalist incursions and the responses to them from the Vatican over the last several years.

On October 11, 2011, Pope Benedict promulgated an apostolic letter, Porta Fidei, “the Door of Faith” in which he announced “A Year of Faith” to begin in exactly one year on October 11, 2012, the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and the twentieth anniversary of the publication of The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict tells us that he is following in the footsteps of his predecessor, the Servant of God Pope Paul VI, who in 1967 announced a year of faith to commemorate the nineteenth centenary of the martyrdoms of Saints Peter and Paul.

I believe that this announcement is both providential and calculated.  The Holy Father is taking opportunity of the providence of God in the arrival of these anniversaries to address a mounting “orthodox” contempt for the Second Vatican Council—a traditionalist sleight of hand that proposes to dissect the Council and analyze it according to contingent opinions about Tradition and then invoke Pope Benedict as the one who mandated the exercise.  For a growing number of traditional Catholics, in spite of fifty years of papal teaching, the problems of our times within the Church were not occasioned by disintegration of modernity hitting the Church at the time of the Council.  On the contrary, they tell us, the Council itself has been the cause of a great anti-dogmatic revolution.  And Pope Benedict is on their side, they say!

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SSPX on the Brink

No joy for the SSPX.  They did not sign and the Holy Father has not backed down.  It seems, as I have said, that the Holy Father does not favor the position of Gherardini and De Mattei.

The doctrinal preamble is non-negotiable.  The existence of a hermeneutic of continuity, as such, is not a matter for debate.

Here is a section from the Final Report for the Synod of Bishops of 1985. It seems to be one of the first, if not the first reference to conciliar continuity, and may have been influenced by Joseph Ratzinger.  It is highly unlikely, to my mind, that is was not:

The theological interpretation of the conciliar doctrine must show attention to all the documents, in themselves and in their close inter-relationship, in such a way that the integral meaning of the Council’s affirmations–often very complex–might be understood and expressed. Special attention must be paid to the four major Constitutions of the Council, which contain the interpretative key for the other Decrees and Declarations. It is not licit to separate the pastoral character from the doctrinal vigor of the documents. In the same way, it is not legitimate to separate the spirit and the letter of the Council. Moreover, the Council must be understood in continuity with the great tradition of the Church, and at the same time we must receive light from the Council’s own doctrine for today’s Church and the men of our time. The Church is one and the same throughout all the councils.

Basically, the doctrinal preamble states that “[i]t is not licit to separate the pastoral character from the doctrinal vigor of the documents. In the same way, it is not legitimate to separate the spirit and the letter of the Council.”  This has been the essential point all along and Joseph Ratzinger, now the Vicar of Christ, will not budge.

I know many have a problem with this statement, but at some point those who love the Church will have to concede to Peter.  This brings to mind the response of Cardinal Ottaviani to the new Mass and his eventual acceptance of the liturgical changes. [see comment below  The following quote was made by Cardinal Ottaviani before the intervention.  The comment linked to shows other evidence of his acceptance of the liturgical changes, though this one indicates his disposition of obedience]:

The words of Christ “feed my sheep” are words which have been addressed only to His Vicar, and it follows that whoever would wish to be counted among the Flock of Christ must submit to the Universal Pastor appointed by Christ.  No one can be an exception to this rule, not even bishops.

There is no way around this point except to fall into sectarianism.

I find this report concerning Bishop Fellay’s reaction to the decision of the CDF interesting:

During this morning’s meeting, however, he appeared more conciliatory, and in a private conversation that took place in the palace of the former Holy Office, he said he had “no difficulty in accepting the profession of faith,” and also claimed to have no difficulties with the principles expressed in the preamble: the problem, Fellay said, was not the principles, but their application – namely, the fact that the Church today lacks fidelity to the Magisterium.

But this not what he was saying six weeks ago, when it was clear that he would not sign and he was giving his reasons why:

And I may say, what is presented today, which is already different from what was presented on the 14th of September, we can consider it as all right, good. They fulfilled all our requirements, I may say, on the practical level. So there is not much problem there. The problem remains at the other level – at the level of the doctrine. But even there it goes very far – very far, my dear brethren. The key is a principle. Which they say, “this you must accept; you must accept that for the points that make difficulty in the Council – points which are ambiguous, where there is a fight – these points, like ecumenism, like religious liberty, these points must be understood in coherence with the perpetual teaching of the Church.” “So if there is something ambiguous in the Council, you must understand it as the Church has always taught throughout the ages.”

This is problematic to say the least.  Heads up and pray for Bishop Fellay and the members of the SSPX.  This is their last chance.

The Spirit of Summorum Pontificum

In this essay I continue to register my thoughts on traditionalism and liturgy, specifically with a discussion of the expressed motives for Pope Benedict’s promulgation of the Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum.  After this post I plan to take up where I left off with my “Traditionalist Sleight of Hand” essay.

The current biformity of the Roman rite, established formally by the Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum, is a reality that has existed and has been spoken about as such by Joseph Ratzinger for many years.  He has said numerous times that the old form, that is, the Extraordinary Form, was never abrogated.  However, the Motu Proprio establishes by way of “universal law” this biformal liturgical discipline, presumably, attempting to stabilize, at least for now, this condition as the liturgical status quo:  two forms, one ordinary, the other extraordinary.  The motives for this have been variously interpreted, and it seems to me that something parallel but antithetical to what happened in regard to the interpretation of the documents of the Second Vatican Council has happened in respect to the text of Summorum Pontifcum.   I hope to make this clear as well as suggest a sound alternative. Continue reading