Sunday, February 19, 2017

"The Good of Truly Diverse Pluralism"

Padre J.J.
Two months ago I made the mistake of visiting a local parish wherein the popular Pauline Novelty Mass is celebrated. This parish, advertised as St. Rita Catholic Community, and boasting a rather sizable campus, went somewhat beyond the banal and into the offensive in its celebration of newness and undeserved familiarity. I will not bore our readers with the details, since they are as common as they were repulsive, but I thought of SRCC when I noticed the publication of an opinion piece concerning our new bishop by its so-called pastoral administrator, Rev. Joshua Jair Whitfield.

Padre J.J.'s article, "Why the new bishop of Dallas matters, even if you aren't Catholic," is rather dull and generic piece of brown-nosing until the end, where he drops this whopper:
This is the sort of city I believe in, a city of genuine diverse voices both secular and spiritual. It's a city in which I may grow under the wisdom of the Torah as well as the insights of the Hadith, sanctified in the teachings of Jesus as well as enlightened by the precise beauties of science. A city in which these voices come together as one chorus, not in any sort of tired blurred syncretism, but truly symphonic. A city in which each person keeps his or her authentic faith and authentic voice, speaking and bearing witness to it peacefully; each sharing the wisdom and insights of his or her traditions for the good of all. A truly diverse city: this is my vision, my hope and my prayer.
And I believe this new bishop will add to this chorus beautifully. Dallas is a city of remarkable men and women, remarkable leaders of faith. It's a city of civic and political leaders of good will and good argument. A city that doesn't hide its differences, it celebrates them as it struggles to live an ethics of dignity and fairness for all. It's a great city, great because of this diversity. It's a city we love.
Quite an insult to Bp. Burns, to suggest that the man considers himself the spokesman for just one spiritual voice among many "genuine diverse voices," rather than the local shepherd of the One Church outside of which one cannot be saved. At least, I have no particular reason to suspect His Excellency of indifferentism. No doubt his response to Padre J.J.'s doctrinally confusing article will be swift and clear, but merciful—after all, the good reverend is a former Anglican minister, and has a wife and children to support.

A disturbing stained glass window Padre J.J. contemplates daily at St. Rita's, courtesy of Mr. Lyle Novinski.

Friday, February 17, 2017

1967 Revisions: Back to the Future

Bill Riccio's poignant reaction to recent proposals to modify the "liturgical books of 1962" (aka the "Mass of the Ages") brought to my mind the parallels with the reforms of the 1960s. It seems in the "liturgist" crowd reform can really be reduced to just a few unique features of Paul VI's new Mass and nothing else. Still, the proposals really are a flashback to the halcyon days just after Vatican II, when no one knew what the hell was going on. It instantly brought to mind a little hand Missal I saw in a used bookstore for a mere $6.00; I was tempted to buy the item for its historical value, not for actual use; the lack of any markings or wear shows just how useless this book was, of value for only two full liturgical years before the Pacelli-Montini revolution was brought to completion.

Popular participation, the be all and end all of worthy latria.

The reduced preparatory prayers, still with the double-Confiteor.
At first glance I wondered if the phonetic Latin text below the English
might be useful, but if one knows Latin is phonetic one need not
separate each syllable. The Fore-Mass has been rebranded "Liturgy of the Word of God"
and Mass is now assumed to be versus populum according to the decorative "art."

The newly translated Canon of the Mass, in direct contradiction
to the last vote of Vatican II. The translation, aside from being inferior
to those of many hand missals from the prior thirty years, looks remarkably like
what the Anglophonic world was given until 2011, and this two years before
the introduction of the new Ordo.

"I never knew a translation could be heretical." -Alexander Schmemann

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Legacy of Benediktuskirche

The recently published book-length interview with the Pope Emeritus, Last Testament: In His Own Words, goes far beyond the opening discussion about his resignation and retirement, also recapitulating the childhood, youth, and unexpectedly dramatic ecclesiastical career of Joseph Ratzinger. Some items from his memoirs and earlier interviews are revisited and clarified, and some controversies—like his falling out with the heretic Hans Küng—are discussed at length. Most interesting is the P. Emeritus’s continued identification as a theological progressive, and his belief that being such was always the right choice.

I do not intend to review the book as a whole, but I will share a few interesting selections from Ratzinger’s final interview. We need to be reminded, I think, of how little of a friend he was and is to the various traditionalist movements in the Church.

After the war, Ratzinger began his studies in Freising with his brother Georg, at a school that had been founded with a monastery by St. Corbinian in AD 716. He speaks of a retreat led there by a certain Professor Angermair:
He was a fresh, new thinker who particularly wanted to take us out of the cramped piety of the nineteenth century, and into the open. You sensed the new mood, and it was a breakthrough for me, so to speak. Accordingly, your curiosity then grows while you’re in university, even if everything wasn’t quite so convincing there. (Ch. 6)
This sense of moving out of a cramped spirituality and theology was a prominent aspect of the 20th-century Modernists and quasi-Modernists, although in many respects their accusations were true. There was a kind of tunnel vision when it came to theology and spiritual formation, especially as it was disseminated to the laity, and this sense of unjust confinement led contemporary thinkers to be careless when breaking off their shackles.

The topic comes up again when Seewald asks Ratzinger why he has seldom addressed the topic of Hitler and the Third Reich:
Well, the eyes are always looking to the future. And it was not specifically my topic. We had the experience within us, but to reflect further on it historically or philosophically was something I never saw as my task. For me the important thing was to conceive the vision for tomorrow. Where are we today? How will things proceed with the Church? How will things proceed in society? (Ch. 6)
From there the questions proceed deeper into his theological vision, and it is worthwhile to quote him at some length:
Well, I didn’t want to operate only in a stagnant and closed philosophy, but in a philosophy understood as a question—what is man, really?—and particularly to enter into the new, contemporary philosophy. In this sense I was modern and critical…. [I] didn’t simply want to learn and take on a closed system, I also wanted to understand the theological thinkers of the Middle Ages and modernity anew, and to proceed from this. This is where personalism, which was in the air at that time, particularly struck me, and seemed to be the right starting point of both philosophical and theological thought….
We were forward-thinking. We wanted to renew theology from the ground up, and thereby form the Church in newness and vitality. In this respect we were lucky that we lived in a time in which both the youth and liturgical movements had opened up new horizons, new paths. Here we wanted to press forward with the Church, so that, in precisely this way, she would be young again. At that time we all had a certain contempt for the nineteenth century; it was fashionable then. So neo-Gothic and those rather kitschy figures of saints, the narrow, somewhat kitsch piety and over-sentimentality—we wanted to overcome all that. We wanted a new era of piety, which formed itself from the liturgy, its sobriety and its greatness, which drew on the original sources—and was new and contemporary precisely because of this….
As mentioned already, I wanted out of classical Thomism, and Augustine was a helper and guide with this. In this connection it was worthwhile entering into a living conversation with contemporary philosophy. But I’ve certainly never been an existentialist….
I thought: we are young people, we have a point of entry. From this certainty that we are able to build the world anew, I was fearless before great things…. The personal struggle which Augustine expresses really spoke to me. Thomas’s writings were textbooks, by and large, and impersonal somehow….
It [the “Munich School”] was defined by the fact that it was completely biblically oriented, working from Holy Scripture, the Fathers and the liturgy, and it was very ecumenical. The Thomistic-philosophical dimension was missing; maybe that was its real benefit. (Ch. 6)
Neither I nor His Traddiness are great defenders of the Thomistic school, but the hubris of thinking that one can discard what had been a long-proven instructional tool for basic theology and exchange it for something which the beginners themselves were building from the ground up, is obvious. The theological legacy of Thomas of Aquino is no more disposable than the Fathers and Scriptures that the amatores aggiornamento supposedly respected. It is probably true that Thomism was in need of serious reform and correction, but the Summa has always been effective in its original intended use, as a beginner’s guide to theology. That is not something to be lightly dismantled.

(As a sidenote, it is interesting that at the end of this chapter, Ratzinger discusses the novels of Hermann Hesse, especially The Glass Bead Game, which ends with a spiritual-intellectual leader deciding to lay down his responsibilities and retire into a more humble life. I noted the similarities between the action of the novel and the P. Emeritus’s actions in a post last year.)

His thoughts continue as he hikes over the mountains and valleys of memory through his higher education:
In Munich we had of course grown up with a modern philosophy. Certain professors had taken us to pastures new and opened them up for us. I had taken this mood on internally, and tried to perpetuate it according to the possibilities at my disposal….
Only later was there separation between those who rejected the Magisterium and went their own way, and those who said that theology can only be done within the Church. [Meaning the supposedly divergent paths of the progressive school. -J] Then, everyone was still aware that theology obviously has its own freedom and task, that it cannot be completely servile to the Magisterium, but we also knew that theology without the Church would be theology in name only, and would no longer have any meaning. I was considered someone who is young, who opens new doors, treads new paths, so then persons who were just plain critical came to me. (Ch. 7)
He reflects later on many aspects of his experience during the recent Council:
During the period of the Council in Rome, did you sometimes stop for a couple of drinks with someone along the way?
Not as a pair, no, but as part of a small group. Especially in the theological commission. Then we often drank plentifully in Trastevere.
[The Pope laughs loudly.]…
Which theologians do you actually appreciate the most?
I would still say Lubac and Balthasar….
Which camp did you belong to at that time: the progressives?
Yes, indeed, I would say so. At that time progressive did not mean that you were breaking out of the faith, but that you wanted to understand it better, and more accurately, how it lives from its origins. I was of the opinion then that that was what we all wanted….
You were charged with that [freemasonry]?
[Laughs] Yes, yes, although I really shouldn’t be held in suspicion of being a freemason…. 
Was it a mistake to convoke the Council at all?
No, it was right for sure. One can ask whether it was necessary or not, OK. And from the outset there were people who were against it. But in itself it was a moment in the Church when you were simply waiting on something new, on a renewal, a renewal of the whole…. In that respect the time was simply nigh. (Ch. 8)
Presumptions of inaugurating a new dispensation in the Church was common among mid-20th century theologians, especially the Germans. The “new wine” apparently flowed freely across the Tiber during the Council, the same place where Fr. Bouyer famously penned the corrected text of Eucharistic Prayer II on a napkin.

It was also in Trastevere, on an outdoor table at a small restaurant in 2004, where I talked at great length with another recent American convert well into the night about the many troubles in the Church. I had barely been Catholic a full year, and already I was growing sickened by the theological and moral disintegration that most of my fellow Catholics were happy to willfully ignore or excuse. It is sad to see that Joseph Ratzinger is still so full of his youthful naïveté that he defends every principle he followed, even while weakly condemning their usual consequences.

The penultimate chapter of the interview, “Shortcomings and Problems,” is a far cry from the example of Ratzinger’s hero St. Augustine, who wrote a series of Retractationes. In here, the P. Emeritus makes a long series of excuses, and casts blame for some events (especially the “Williamson affair”) on others. He claims also that the “gay lobby” problem had been entirely taken care of before his resignation.

In the concluding chapter, he ominously describes the historical import of his papacy:
Do you see yourself as the last Pope of an old era or the first Pope of a new era?
Between the times, I would say. 
As a bridge, a kind of connecting link between the two worlds? 
I don’t belong to the old world any more, but the new world isn’t really here yet.
The new world is still being constructed around us, with the neverending “year” of “mercy” and “humility.” We can only pray that its reforms will be stopped before they are irreversible.

Sts. Benedict and Joseph, pray for us!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Painted Churches of Texas IV: Ss Cyril & Methodius

The last church we visited was the first with an explicitly Slavic name, named for Ss. Cyril and Methodius, the Byzantine missionaries who initiated the Easternization of Slavic Christianity and who wrote the Cyrillic alphabet. The church was locked when we arrived, but we were able to snap some shots of the nave and sanctuary from the narthex. We also found the bathroom horrific from our comfortable distance.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Lady Day & the One Ring

A nasty cold retired me from my day job and any productive blogging this past week, but it did give me ample time to resume my reading of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, which I last read in 2003 while Peter Jackson's "adaptations" were in theaters. This rereading has yielded many interesting reflections lost on the thirteen year old version of myself, particularly the religious components. It would be a danger to read Lord of the Rings as a direct Christian allegory, for it is not, but it does have broad Catholic themes, a strict outlook of good and evil, and the construction of the world, through revisions, seems to mirror the composition of our world (angelic elves, demonic orcs, Sauron as Satan, men running from their fate while capable of good and evil). One minor detail which stunned me came in chapter IV of Return of the Ring, "The Field of Cormallen." You see, Tolkien writes this little passage:
'The fourteenth of the New year,' said Gandalf; 'of if you like, the eighth day of April in the Shire reckoning. But in Gondor the New Year will always now begin upon the twenty fifth of March when Sauron fell, and when you were brought out of the fire to the King....'
The wizard, Gandalf, refers to the date of the destruction of the One Ring, the tool by which the invisible antagonist tempts men to turn against their innate knowledge of right and wrong and to do his bidding until their own countenances are vanished. The Ring, whether conceived as such or not, is a clear analogue for the "stain of Original Sin" (cf. Vatican I) that infects men who do not live in the life of grace. Tolkien picked for its destruction Lady Day, when after centuries of prophets and kings dragging their feet to do some, but never all of God's will, a poor Jewish maiden in Nazareth gave the angel Gabriel an unequivocal "Yes" and conceived the God-Man of the Holy Spirit. Unlike C.S. Lewis, Tolkien seems too restrained to make a perfect Christological equivalent in his classic work, yet the obedience of Mary and the sin-vanquishing presence of Christ are made present by Aragorn's acceptance of his own destiny, in contrast with his vacant ancestors, and Frodo's destruction of the Ring, albeit with the help of the creature Gollum (Frodo cannot be perfect like Christ, so evil must play a part in its own destruction).

There is also the curious dating of the same to April 8th in "Shire reckoning." With no proof from the author's own records and no specialized knowledge of Tolkien aside from having read a few books, I gander that he is testing competing views of man's happiness. The Shire, isolated from the troubles of Middle Earth and also its progress, is a place of natural contentment where people carry on their lives in a traditional manner (tradere, passing on what was received) and are fortified by their living within the confines of their realm. According to a footnote the Shire calendar has one thirty days, not thirty-one; for April 8th to coincide with March 25th the two would have to be thirteen days apart, the variance of the Julian and Gregorian calendars. Apart from the blissfully ignorant Shire, Gondor is in the heart of Middle Earth, the capital of men and right next to the citadel of evil. Aggression has less to do with its decay than its absent kings and lost purpose, all of which are put right by Aragorn's ascent to the throne after Frodo's deed. Gondor becomes what it was always meant to be, like mankind in the Saints after the Incarnation. By the end of the story Gondor is fulfilled, but the bucolic Shire has not been saved from the ravages of reality by its remoteness.

As happy and preferable as hiding from the machines of our day may be, it will not save either our world, our Church, or our souls. We must controvert our day if we are to enter our own heavenly city and join the ranks of men who were changed after the Annunciation and were restored from ancestral guilt to ancestral innocence.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

A New Bishop

Thursday's installation mass at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe gave Dallas Catholics a new bishop, Edward Burns. The mass itself was rather banal and bursting with concelebration, and I was able to watch it online while simultaneously getting some work done. I managed to snag a few screenshots during the live stream for our readers' edification.

The Knights of Columbus dress better than all present clerics.
An audience that will fail to appreciate the Gospel being read in Spanish.
The letter of installation from P. Francis is read.
Bp. Burns shows the letter to the people.
Greeted by a representative from the ELCA, the liberal branch of the American Lutherans.
More promisingly, he is greeted by the Coptic Orthodox.
Cdls. Farrell and Wuerl in attendance, looking very pleased.
The Concelebration Flashmob
Fully installed.
Man with a memorable tie live-tweets his episcopal encounter.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Bits of Butler

Our readers seemed to enjoy the recent post wherein I commented upon the nature of vocation as it relates or fails to relate to the religious life. The book on which I based most of my thought, Fr. Richard Butler O.P.’s Religious Vocation: An Unnecessary Mystery, has other interesting, more general digressions about the spiritual life that are worth sharing. For instance, he notes how important a healthy psychology is for the proper living out of the religious counsels:
Even St. Thomas’ stand in favor of admitting habitual sinners, converts and children to the religious state must be qualified in order to be understood. He is speaking abstractly, not in reference to particular people, and ideally, without reference to prohibitive conditions. He presumes in the former sinner a will fixed sufficiently to break bad habits of the past. In the convert he is speaking of one embracing Christianity as a unified faith, without the need for the kind of re-education and re-orientation required in the contemporary convert from Protestant faith, tradition, environment and psychological orientation. In the child, he is anticipating a normal development to a well-balanced maturity. (116)
The need for a more complete understanding of conversion, especially from quasi-Christian sects, is something I’ve written about before. The same warnings about needing to thoroughly deprogram the convert from his former way of life before being considered for the monastery, should apply also to candidates for the priesthood.

Butler continues about the difficulty of finding mentally healthy people in our artificial age:
Social and personal conditions of human life are far different today than they were in the Middle Ages. Most obvious is the difficulty of achieving a normal personality in a social environment which is so removed from natural principles and so corruptive to the practice of faith. The force of faith has been diminished by the spirit of compromise and the ascendency of emotional attitudes over reasoned convictions…. Opposed to the supernatural values of poverty, virginity and obedience in religious life, are the modern tendencies towards material acquisitions, sexual promiscuity, and the revolt against authority. This is the Age of Selfishness. Artificiality of custom and pettiness of concern cramp the natural generosity of youth. (117)
He also notes that a healthy sense of humor is essential for living in a religious community, not to mention life in general:
Montalembert, in the introduction to his Monks of the West, gives three classic traits which indicate a healthy religious personality: simplicity, benignity, and a sense of humor….
Humor is based on man’s reasoned perception of incongruities. A lack of a sense of humor indicates a defect of the practical reason, symptomatic of nearly every form of derangement. Because of the religious man’s recognition, naturally speaking, of the implicit incongruity of man’s ascent to God, he must learn to laugh at his own nothingness before the august presence of God—He who is, while we are who are not. A sense of humor combats the thousand petty afflictions of a confined community life in the religious state. (122-123)
Towards the end of the book, he muses on the ways in which improper beliefs about “calling” and “vocation” tend to attract the wrong kind of person to the religious life:
Even in more scholarly presentations of the subject, the religious state is seldom seen in the context of theology, in the whole economy of salvation. There is always an unmistakable emphasis on exclusiveness, on something “special” and “extra.” Little wonder that the average generous soul cringes in abject retreat, before such august presumptions. As a result, religious institutes often attract the imprudent and the truly “special” fringe characters who are easily drawn to the esoteric. If we are not getting more sound, rounded, wholesome types as candidates but more odd, narrow, unbalanced postulants, then obviously our approach to the Christian faithful is somehow distorted and misleading. (153)
Fr. Butler’s book is worth reading in its brief entirety. From the time of his religious profession in 1943 until his death in 1988, Butler received multiple academic degrees, was ordained a priest, served in various campus ministry roles, served as the Vatican’s Secretariat for Unbelievers, and published six books. It’s a pity that none of his other works appear to be in print, and that TAN no longer has Religious Vocation in stock.