01 August 2013

Be back Aug 11th

Headed to Michigan this morning to give a ten day retreat to the nuns of Mt Thabor Monastery.

Pray for them and for me, please!

See y'all on Aug 11th.

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

31 July 2013

On the Sharp Edge of Contemplation

Way back in 2005, I used Hans Urs von Balthasar's book, Prayer, in a graduate seminar on the theology of prayer.

I ran across this book this morning while looking for something else and opened it to notice that I'd marked it up with notes, etc.

One marked passage stood out, so I thought I'd share it with you:

If we fail to let the word's sharp edge have its effect on us, we shall always be meeting the merely imaginary Redeemer; if we fail to face the judgment of Christ every time we contemplate, we shall not perceive the distinctive quality of divine grace. The consuming fire of crucified Love is both redemption and judgment; the two are inseparable and indistinguishable (224-5).

I've never thought of divine love in terms of both redemption and judgment, but this makes perfect sense when you think about the nature of divine love: Love Himself.

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

30 July 2013

Francis and the Franciscans: deep breath, people!

It's not only the anti-Catholic bigots in the MSM that get the Church and her Pontiff wrong.

There's been a firestorm on the interwebs about yesterday's release of an order from the Vatican prohibiting the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate from celebrating the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (a.k.a. the Tridentine Mass).

Many in the Catholic blogsphere have freaked out b/c they see this as an assault on BXVI's motu propio, Summorum Pontificum, the 2007 document that gives priests the privilege of celebrating the older form under certain conditions. 

The order prohibiting the FFI's from celebrating the E.F. is specific to this congregation and has no effect outside the congregation. But many Traditionalists have blown gaskets over the order.

This morning, the FFI's released a statement about the order.  In part, it reads:

Pope Francis has also severely restricted our use of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, and this has been reported by a major italian journalist as a “contradiction” of Pope Benedict’s permission granted in the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum.  This is an unfortunate instance of an overeager journalist sensationalizing something he can only speculate about.

The restrictions on our community are specific to us and have been put in place for reasons specific to us.  Pope Francis has not contradicted Pope Benedict.  The visitation of our community began under Pope Benedict and the Commission was recommended by Cardinal João Braz de Aviz who was appointed to the Congregation by Pope Benedict.

The most impressive part of this statement, and the part that all Catholics need to study carefully and take to heart, reads:

Many of the comments in the blogosphere about Pope Francis concerning his decision in regard to our Institute are simply disgraceful, and “justified” by the most tenuous rationalizations.  He is the Vicar of Christ.  It is less than twenty-four hours since this hit the Internet and so many think they have got it all figured out.  I have also seen sheer fabrications about the situation in our Institute within some of these comments.  May God have mercy on us.  Thank God for all the holy popes we have had for the past fifty years, who all have had much to suffer.

NB. I will not publish any negative comments about the Holy Father. 

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

Aquinas converts an abortionist

Wow. Just. . .wow.

A Serbian abortionist tells his pro-life conversion story:

In describing his conversion, Adasevic “dreamed about a beautiful field full of children and young people who were playing and laughing, from 4 to 24 years of age, but who ran away from him in fear. A man dressed in a black and white habit stared at him in silence.  The dream was repeated each night and he would wake up in a cold sweat. One night he asked the man in black and white who he was. ‘My name is Thomas Aquinas,’ the man in his dream responded. Adasevic, educated in communist schools, had never heard of the Dominican genius saint.  He didn’t recognize the name”

“Why don’t you ask me who these children are?” St. Thomas asked Adasevic in his dream.

“They are the ones you killed with your abortions,’ St. Thomas told him. 

Read the whole thing.
Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

"Men who are not ambitious, who are married to one church. . ."

In his address to the CELAM (South America's USCCB), the Holy Father addressed the role of the bishop in the missionary work of the Church:

Bishops must lead, which is not the same thing as being authoritarian. . .Bishops must be pastors, close to people, fathers and brothers, and gentle, patient and merciful. Men who love poverty, both interior poverty, as freedom before the Lord, and exterior poverty, as simplicity and austerity of life. Men who do not think and behave like “princes”. Men who are not ambitious, who are married to one church without having their eyes on another. Men capable of watching over the flock entrusted to them and protecting everything that keeps it together: guarding their people out of concern for the dangers which could threaten them, but above all instilling hope: so that light will shine in people’s hearts. Men capable of supporting with love and patience God’s dealings with his people. The Bishop has to be among his people in three ways: in front of them, pointing the way; among them, keeping them together and preventing them from being scattered; and behind them, ensuring that no one is left behind, but also, and primarily, so that the flock itself can sniff out new paths.

I am hopeful that this Pope will push to end careerism, ladder-climbing, and other forms of Miteritis. The politics involved in climbing the ecclesial ladder encourage secrets-keeping, trading favors, back-stabbing, and other worldly tactics that destroy trust in the Church. Too many priests tread to a lukewarm, squishy path in order not to draw the Wrong Kind of Attention to themselves so that their ambitions for the Miter aren't diminished. We need faithful teachers at the cathedral not CEO's and politicians.

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

Francis: parodies of missionary discipleship

Before heading back to Rome after a wildly successful WYD, the Holy Father met with the bishops of the CELAM (the South American equivalent of the USCCB).

In his address, the Holy Father commented on the CELAM's Aparecida Document issued in 2007.

Taking up the theme of "Temptations against missionary discipleship," Pope Francis outlined several contemporary obstacles to preaching the Good News:

[. . .]

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.

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 question was, rather: How are we going to look at reality in order to see it? Aparecida replied: With the eyes of discipleship.

     a) Sociological reductionism. This is the most readily available means of making the message an ideology. . .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. [This critique hits everyone from Neo-Cons to America Magazine]

     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. [This hits LCWR-types, various New Age perversions, extreme social-justice advocates]

     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”. . .Generally its adherents are known as “enlightened Catholics” (since they are in fact rooted in the culture of the Enlightenment).  [Another hit for LCWR-types, elitist academic theologians, those preoccupied with continental-style philosophical theology, Roger Haight's Christology comes to mind]

     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. [Obviously, a hit at Traditionalists, certain Neo-Con tendencies, those preoccupied with Form over Substance, "law & order" Catholics]

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. [This is pretty much a hit against most of the Spirit of Vatican Two interpretation of the Council. Think: bare modernist liturgy, stripped altars/churches, a focus on organizational problems/solutions, the bishop as CEO, the priesthood as a job, diocesan bureaucracy, commissions/committees/study groups, process-process-process, and my favorite functionalist bit of nonsense: referring to diocesan clergy as "personnel"]

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. [Notice that his critique hits at the modernist version of clericalism not the pre-modernist version (Fr. Mack the tyrannical pastor of St. Bubba's). Clericalism, in its modernist version, relieves the laity of its specific baptismal responsibilities by granting it clerical status; thus, leaving lay folks to believe that only by being clericalized can they be truly Catholic. In this section the Holy Father also commends popular piety, another victim of functionalism and modernist attempts to eliminate transcendental elements from the faith]

[. . .]

Read the whole thing.

This talk effectively puts to an end any talk of the Holy Father being an advocate of Liberation Theology. He embraces certain elements of that approach (base communities, focus on the poor) but absolutely rejects its Marxist analytical tools, esp its reliance on the fiction of historical materialism.  It also puts Traditionalist elements of the Church on notice that mere "restorationism" is not a viable means in pursuing our missionary work. 

There's something in this talk to offend/energize just about everyone. This Pope is quite the dynamo!
Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

28 July 2013

Lord, teach us to pray!

17th Sunday OT 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP 
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA 

John the Baptist teaches his disciples how to pray. The Pharisees and the Sadducees know how to pray. The Zealots and the scribes can pray. Even the Roman occupiers—with their home altars and idols—know how to pray. Why don't the disciples of Christ know how to ask God for what they need? How could they spend so much time with Christ and not understand the basic rules and methods of prayer? Well, part of the reason could be that every time he needs to pray, Jesus runs off to the hills or the desert, or gets in a boat and flees the crowds. He needs some space, some time alone to properly pray. It could be that pretty much all he does with the disciples is teach, preach, and heal. Or it could be that he is teaching them to pray all along and they don't recognize the lessons for what they are. Regardless, they wanted to learn to pray, so they ask a Master for instruction. What does Jesus teach them? He teaches them that prayer is first about knowing who and what you are in relationship with God. And that knowing and understanding this relationship to God brings exactly what you need. 

So, who are we in relationship with God? “Man is a beggar before God.” So says St. Augustine. And he's right. But being a beggar before God and knowing that we're beggars before God are two very different things. What separates the truth from our ignorance is the sin of pride, more specifically, the lack of humility before God and His gifts. We are beggars but we don't know how to beg well b/c we do not yet fully understand what we truly need to thrive as children of God. To learn what we truly need, we must embrace a life of discipleship, the life of a student and learn to beg at the feet of a Master. The disciples—Jesus' students—realize this, so they ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.” And he gives them The Lord's Prayer. He gives them not only the words to pray but shows them the proper attitude of prayer: humility, not demeaning groveling or sniveling toadyism but the truly, deeply held understanding of their creaturely nature. Like all created things, we are wholly dependent on God for our being, for our very existence. Absent this basic understanding of our nature, we cannot properly ask God for anything useful, for anything at all helpful to our flourishing. Humility, then, is the foundation of prayer. 

Recognizing our total dependence on God for absolutely everything, we can begin our lessons in how to beg. First, asking God for what we need is not the be-all and end-all of prayer. St. Thérèse of Lisieux writes in her autobiography, “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” This surge of the heart might be humility rolling out in force; or it might be delight in love, or anguish during trial. What does she recognize while praying? Does she see her end, her purpose? Does she see-again Christ's love for her on his cross? Maybe she is reminded that she is a creature, a made-thing who has been remade in her freedom from sin? Begging before God is fundamentally about knowing who and what we are before a thought or a word can form; before we can even name our need, we must know that Love draws us to beg; Love seduces us into prayer and teaches us to ask. That we must ask is itself a gift precisely b/c the need to ask pulls us into a tighter union with God. This is why Jesus teaches his students to begin their prayer, “Our Father. . .” Our source. Our beginning. Our origin. Think about it: You cannot ask for directions if you do not know where you are going. And you cannot ask for directions unless you know how to speak to the One Who knows the way. 

Abraham learns to speak to God, and finds his way. In what may look like a flea market negotiation, Abraham and God haggle over the fate of Sodom-Gomorrah. Back and forth they propose and counter-propose the acceptable number of righteous citizens allowable to save the city from destruction. God finally settles on the not destroying the city if Abraham can find ten righteous souls. The lesson seems to be: God is reasonable with our demands if we are properly respectable but persistent, even if we're trying to save a cesspool like Sodom. Wrong. This story has little to do with sinful Sodom and more to do with Abraham learning the true nature of the God he serves. With each step in the negotiation with God, Abraham learns that the Lord hears, listens, and concedes not b/c Abraham is persistent or respectable or desperately needful but b/c God is merciful. How is his mercy made real in the world? At the request of His faithful servants! God wills that we ask for what we need so that His mercy and generosity can be made manifest, so that His mighty works can be seen and bear witness to His saving love. But in order for that to happen, we must ask for, receive, and then make known the blessings He pours out for us. 

So, the first lesson about prayer is that we must know and understand who and what we are in relationship with God: dependent creatures. The second lesson is that prayer—undertaken with all humility in recognition of our creatureliness—releases the already given blessings of God for us to receive. The third lesson is that receiving God's blessings always and immediately merits copious thanksgiving. Gratitude is the essential ingredient in humility. Try making a roux without flour. Gumbo without filé. Try celebrating Madri Gras without beads or beer. Won't work. Humility without genuine gratitude is simply a less obnoxious form of pride. When we receive a blessing from God, our gratitude, our expressed gratitude, deepens and strengthens our bond to God and purifies our humility. If humility is the foundation of prayer, then giving thanks for the blessings we receive reinforces the ground upon which we stand to pray. We come to know ourselves more fully. We come to see and hear God more clearly. And the bonds of divine love that we share among ourselves grow stronger even as our selfishness and pride wither away. 

Jesus makes a significant promise to his disciples regarding prayer. He says, “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find. . .For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds. . .” The keys to understanding this promise are selflessness, service, humility. He's not promising us that God will be our celestial Santa Claus, or our divine Sugar Daddy. Ask in humility and you will receive in love. Seek in service to others and you will find merit in sacrifice. Before you give voice to prayer, remember who and what you are in relationship with God. Remember that what you are given reveals God's nature to you and to the world. And never forget that God Himself has no need of our thanks or praise. Giving thanks to Him for His gifts is for our benefit not His. He calls us to prayer so that we might grow in holiness, grow closer to His love, and become beacons of that love for a darkening world. Without His prompting, without the good work of His Holy Spirit, we cannot pray. So know that every urge to pray, the very need to pray is the Holy Spirit working His loving work within you. We can nothing good without Him. With Him, every door falls open.

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->