31 March 2013

Christos Anesti!

Alithos Anesti!

I have way too many thoughts swimming around in my head right now to form a coherent post, but it boils down to this: best.  Easter.  Ever.  The best possible thing I could have asked for to celebrate my ten year anniversary in the Church.

30 March 2013

Today there is a great silence over the earth...

I first came across the following ancient (ca. 2nd century) homily from Holy Saturday last year.  It remains extremely powerful each time I read it.  Since the text is so powerful, I am posting the whole thing here -- I challenge you to read it without tears of joy coming to your eyes and chills running down your spine.

What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled. 
Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam's son. 
The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: "My Lord be with you all." And Christ in reply says to Adam: "And with your spirit." And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: 'Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light. 
"I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise. 
"I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person. 
"For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden. 
"Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image. 
"See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one. 
"I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you. 
"But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God. 
"The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages."
This text creates a vivid image in my mind of Christ descending to the righteous dead, who had been waiting millennia for this moment.  Jesus comes to everyone from Adam and Eve to St. John the Baptist and St. Joseph and says "Come with me, you blessed by my Father, and inherit the kingdom created for you from the foundation of the world."

I can only imagine the patriarchs' joy when the long-expected Messiah came to free them from the bondage of death.  Jesus himself told us that Abraham rejoiced to see His coming (I take this to mean that God the Father granted Abraham a vision of Christ's coming into the world) -- how much more joyful Abraham and all of the righteous dead must have been to finally be able to enter into eternal happiness in heaven that Easter morning.

An excellent precursor to tomorrow's Easter joy, no?

29 March 2013

Behold the wood of the Cross...

And we come to it at last: the one day of the year when the Holy Mass is not celebrated anywhere in the world.  And yet this day, on which we remember the most awful event of human history and are filled with utter despair, is called "Good" Friday?

The Baltimore Catechism answers this paradox thusly: "We call that day 'good' on which Christ died because by His death He showed His great love for man, and purchased for him every blessing."

In addition to remembering Christ's wondrous love for us, we also have occasion to remember something else "Good" today: the holy cross.

One of my favorite things about Passiontide is being able to hear the Preface of the Holy Cross (from Passion Sunday through Maundy Thursday), which I think sums up perfectly the awesome power of the cross:
It is truly meet and just, right, and for our salvation, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to Thee, holy Lord, Father almighty, eternal God: Who didst establish the salvation of mankind on the tree of the cross: that whence death rose, thence also life might rise again, and that he who overcame by a tree, by a tree also might be overcome . . . .
The ultimate irony, expressed above, is that Satan was conquered by the same thing by which he originally drew mankind away from God -- and on that day, he may have thought that he had won.  By all appearances, it looked as if evil had triumphed on that "Good" day.  But the Father's plan, ordained from the beginning of time, called for the ancient foe to be vanquished by a tree.

St. Ephrem the Syrian expresses this in one of his homilies on the Crucifixion:

He who was also the carpenter's glorious son set up his cross above death's all consuming jaws, and led the human race into the dwelling place of life. Since a tree had brought about the downfall of mankind, it was upon a tree that mankind crossed over to the realm of life. Bitter was the branch that had once been grafted upon that ancient tree, but sweet the young shoot that has now been grafted in, the shoot in which we are meant to recognize the Lord whom no creature can resist.
We give glory to you, Lord, who raised up your cross to span the jaws of death like a bridge, by which souls might pass from the region of the dead to the land of the living. We give glory to you who put on the body of a single mortal man, and made it the source of immortality for every other mortal man.

Ecce lignum Crucis, in quo salus mundi pependit... Venite, adoremus.

"A new commandment I give you: Love one another"

On a night when we remember the institution of the most wondrous thing ever given to man, it might seem a bit odd for me instead to reflect on the gift of the priesthood, but I have to share some of the homily I heard at Holy Mass this evening.

Father began by pointing out how "This is my body, which is given for you" can be used outside of the realm of the Holy Eucharist -- both of the transformative vocational sacraments, matrimony and holy orders, also contain this complete gift of one's own body.  In matrimony, the gift is truly of one's body to provide the instrument for God to create new life.

He then spent a while explaining how the priesthood is a complete gift of self in service of the people of God, though in a different manner.  Priests cannot do anything for themselves -- they cannot absolve, anoint, or counsel themselves.  As he put it, every priest needs a priest, just as every Christian needs Christ.

Pope Francis touched on the relationship between priest and people in his homily at the Chrism Mass this morning:
People thank us because they feel that we have prayed over the realities of their everyday lives, their troubles, their joys, their burdens and their hopes. And when they feel that the fragrance of the Anointed One, of Christ, has come to them through us, they feel encouraged to entrust to us everything they want to bring before the Lord: “Pray for me, Father, because I have this problem”, “Bless me”, “Pray for me” – these words are the sign that the anointing has flowed down to the edges of the robe, for it has turned into prayer. The prayers of the people of God. When we have this relationship with God and with his people, and grace passes through us, then we are priests, mediators between God and men.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI expounded even further on priests' gift of self during his homily for the Chrism Mass in 2012:
“Are you resolved to be more united with the Lord Jesus and more closely conformed to him, denying yourselves and confirming those promises about sacred duties towards Christ’s Church which, prompted by love of him, you willingly and joyfully pledged on the day of your priestly ordination?” After this homily, I shall be addressing that question to each of you here and to myself as well. Two things, above all, are asked of us: there is a need for an interior bond, a configuration to Christ, and at the same time there has to be a transcending of ourselves, a renunciation of what is simply our own, of the much-vaunted self-fulfilment. We need, I need, not to claim my life as my own, but to place it at the disposal of another – of Christ. I should be asking not what I stand to gain, but what I can give for him and so for others. 
. . .  
We are concerned with the salvation of men and women in body and soul. And as priests of Jesus Christ we carry out our task with enthusiasm. No one should ever have the impression that we work conscientiously when on duty, but before and after hours we belong only to ourselves. A priest never belongs to himself. People must sense our zeal, through which we bear credible witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us ask the Lord to fill us with joy in his message, so that we may serve his truth and his love with joyful zeal.
On a personal note, it was a great joy for me to be present at my own diocese's Chrism Mass this morning and to see almost all of our priests renew their priestly vows to the bishop, and, by extension, to all of the people of the diocese.  May we lay Catholics always pray for our priests to Jesus, the great High Priest, and ask Him to keep all of His priests close to His heart.

27 March 2013

"And he, from that time onwards, looked about for an opportunity to betray him"

Today, the Church celebrates Spy Wednesday, so named because this is traditionally the day when Judas betrayed Jesus to the chief priests and began plotting to hand him over to them.  This event is recorded in all of the Synoptic Gospels (St. John only mentions that Satan had entered Judas by Chapter 13).

Spy Wednesday also brings one of my favorite liturgical happenings of the year: the Tenebrae service.  Technically speaking, Tenebrae is celebrated on each day of the Triduum (traditionally very early in the morning, as it encompasses both Matins and Lauds), but most parishes only do it on Wednesday night.  The format of the Tenebrae service is very loose these days, but traditionally, there are set readings for each nocturn of the Matins service.  The first lesson from the first nocturn is the beginning of Lamentations, which I think is among the most beautiful text in all of Holy Scripture:
Alone she dwells, the city erewhile so populous; a widow now, once a queen among the nations; tributary now, that once had provinces at her command. 
Be sure she weeps; there in the darkness her cheeks are wet with tears; of all that courted her, none left to console her, all those lovers grown weary of her, and turned into enemies. 
Cruel the suffering and the bondage of Juda’s exile; that she must needs dwell among the heathen! Nor respite can she find; close at her heels the pursuit, and peril on either hand. 
Desolate, the streets of Sion; no flocking, now, to the assembly; the gateways lie deserted. Sighs priest, and the maidens go in mourning, so bitter the grief that hangs over all.
Exultant, now, her invaders; with her enemies nothing goes amiss. For her many sins, the Lord has brought doom on her, and all her children have gone into exile, driven before the oppressor. 
Fled is her beauty, the Sion that was once so fair; her chieftains have yielded their ground before the pursuer, strengthless as rams that can find no pasture.
The utter desolation present in these words is almost overpowering.  Given that we are about to embark upon the most sorrowful time of the Church year, it is a good time to reflect on these words.

This beautiful text has inspired some breathtaking musical compositions.  For the past two years, we have done the setting by Tallis at the parish where I sing:

Seriously, one of the richest and most profound pieces of music I have ever heard.  I also came across another setting by Victoria on YouTube that also sounds lovely.

And off we go into the Triduum.  In just three days from now, we will be celebrating the Paschal Vigil...hard to believe, isn't it?

26 March 2013

Lion's Heart in the Lion's Den

I know this will come as a surprise, but I really like Archbishop Cordielone.  I think Pope Benedict did a fantastic thing in appointing him to the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

In light of today's events, I came across an excellent interview he did last week with USA Today.  In this interview, +Cordileone does an excellent job of articulating the best arguments in favor of maintaining the traditional definition of marriage.  He does so with surprisingly few references to the religious arguments in favor of traditional marriage and instead focuses on some of the more pragmatic issues.

The whole thing is worth a read, but here are some snippets:
To legalize marriage between two people of the same sex would enshrine in the law the principle that mothers and fathers are interchangeable or irrelevant, and that marriage is essentially an institution about adults, not children; marriage would mean nothing more than giving adults recognition and benefits in their most significant relationship.
. . . 
So there are really two different ideas of marriage being debated in our society right now, and they cannot coexist: Marriage is either a conjugal union of a man and a woman designed to unite husband and wife to each other and to any children who may come from their union, or it is a relationship for the mutual benefit of adults which the state recognizes and to which it grants certain benefits. Whoever is for one, is opposed to the other.
. . . 
Notice how there is no controversy in this country now over the evil of Jim Crow laws. Shortly after the Civil Rights Act the cultural change was complete. This is because it was the right thing to do. The truth cannot be suppressed indefinitely. 
Draw a contrast here with the pro-life movement: After the Roe decision, it was commonly thought that our society would soon easily accept the legitimacy of abortion. But what has happened? The pro-life movement is stronger now, 40 years later, than it ever has been. This is because of the truth: Abortion is the killing of an innocent human life. That is not a matter of opinion or religious belief; it is a simple fact that cannot be denied. 
The same principle applies with marriage: It is simply a natural fact that you need a man and a woman to make a marriage and that a child's heart longs for the love of both his or her mother and father. Even if the Supreme Court rules against this truth, the controversy will not die out, as it hasn't on the abortion issue.
That first point is one that I always want to make - since when did marriage become a state-sponsored valentine?  The only reason that the state is involved in marriage to begin with is for self-preservation: marriage is the one institution that can produce new members of society.  If that is taken out of the equation, the state is left regulating people's sex lives.  How can that be justified?

Hosanna filio David...

True story - I sat down to write a Palm Sunday post last night and promptly fell asleep with the computer in my lap (only to wake up an hour later when it fell on the floor...).  Ah, the life of an overworked father of small children.

Most of what I was going to write yesterday I formulated during Mass.  Now, of course, I can't remember a lot of it, so here are a few random Palm Sunday thoughts:

  • Aside from Christmas and Easter, the two days that get the most people to show up for Holy Mass are Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday.  I can only surmise that for some reason, more people come when they can get something at Mass.  Because, y'know, the Eucharist isn't anything special.

(Not as important as a piece of tree, apparently.)
  • Someday, I'm going to write a whole post on processions and why they are such a marvelous expression of our faith.  Suffice to say, if you have never experienced a real procession, find one at the next opportunity (I hear Corpus Christi is coming soon).
  • The bulk of what I was going to post for Palm Sunday wasn't about Palm Sunday at all, but about the Passion, which I got to hear chanted in Latin in all of its twenty-minute glory yesterday :-).  It struck me as I was reading along that the Passion story really encompasses all of human relations with God in the behavior of the various persons in the story:
    • The crowd, which bullies Pilate into sending Jesus to his death, is like the world, which hates Jesus and the Gospel message (though, of course, we have heard this already from Jesus himself).
    • Judas, who pays lip service to Jesus but ultimately betrays him, is like those who claim to be part of the Church, but betray her teachings on abortion, same-sex "marriage", contraception, and a whole host of other issues.
    • Peter, who stands with Jesus for almost all of his public ministry but becomes weak and ashamed when Jesus is arrested, is like so many of us, who are faithful to the Gospel when it is in season, but do not boldly proclaim the truth when it is out of season. 
    • And through it all, Jesus remains faithful.  He did not become angered with the crowd's intransigence, Pilate's indifference, or Judas's betrayal.  After the Resurrection, he allowed Peter the chance to make amends for his denial and affirms Peter as shepherd of the Church.  As in all of salvation history, God is infinitely faithful, loving, and patient even when we do not deserve it.
On the topic of faithfulness, I leave you with a beautiful part of an ancient hymn:

Crux fidelis,
inter omnes
arbor una nobilis;
nulla talem silva profert,
flore, fronde, germine.
Dulce lignum, dulci clavo,
dulce pondus sustinens!

Faithful Cross!
above all other,
one and only noble Tree!
None in foliage, none in blossom,
none in fruit thy peers may be;
sweetest wood and sweetest iron!
Sweetest Weight is hung on thee!

23 March 2013

Vatican II: Gaudium et Spes VI

Into uncharted waters here -- the sixth post on one of the Vatican II constitutions!  This has to be the last one, though...the tentative plan is a Palm Sunday post tomorrow, Dei Verbum Monday and Tuesday, and the remaining days of Holy Week as they come.

After marriage and the family, the Fathers next examine economic development and political order through the lens of the Church's teachings.  Much of this section is fairly predictable and reminiscent of earlier papal writings on economic matters: economic progress should be for the betterment of the whole world, not just wealthy nations.  The Fathers make it clear that the Church has a role to play in the world order that is separate from that played by civil governments, but still related:

It is very important, especially where a pluralistic society prevails, that there be a correct notion of the relationship between the political community and the Church, and a clear distinction between the tasks which Christians undertake, individually or as a group, on their own responsibility as citizens guided by the dictates of a Christian conscience, and the activities which, in union with their pastors, they carry out in the name of the Church. 
The Church, by reason of her role and competence, is not identified in any way with the political community nor bound to any political system. She is at once a sign and a safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person. 
The Church and the political community in their own fields are autonomous and independent from each other. Yet both, under different titles, are devoted to the personal and social vocation of the same men.
From here, the Fathers turn to a discussion of war and peace.  It should not be surprising that the Fathers plead for peace in the world.  However, this is not the free love hippie idea of peace -- true peace comes from knowing God the Father and Our Lord Jesus Christ:
That earthly peace which arises from love of neighbor symbolizes and results from the peace of Christ which radiates from God the Father. For by the cross the incarnate Son, the prince of peace reconciled all men with God. By thus restoring all men to the unity of one people and one body, He slew hatred in His own flesh; and, after being lifted on high by His resurrection, He poured forth the spirit of love into the hearts of men.
While not explicitly calling for the establishment of a worldwide government, the Fathers do state that cooperation among nations and international organizations are vital for the establishment of peace.

That's all for Gaudium et Spes.  The end is in sight!

Vatican II: Gaudium et Spes V

Wow, I'm running out of time here.  I can't believe that Holy Week is almost upon us.

The second major part of Gaudium et Spes addresses "problems of special urgency" in the modern world and what the Church teaches on these issues.  They begin with marriage and family life, which is the cornerstone of society.

Though the push for same-sex "marriage" had not yet begun at the time of the Second Vatican Council, there still were plenty of challenges to traditional notions of marriage and family life: widespread divorce, the "free love" movement, etc.  Acknowledging these problems at the outset, the Council Fathers provide a very nice exposition of the basis of Christian marriage:
The intimate partnership of married life and love has been established by the Creator and qualified by His laws, and is rooted in the conjugal covenant of irrevocable personal consent. Hence by that human act whereby spouses mutually bestow and accept each other a relationship arises which by divine will and in the eyes of society too is a lasting one. For the good of the spouses and their off-springs as well as of society, the existence of the sacred bond no longer depends on human decisions alone. For, God Himself is the author of matrimony, endowed as it is with various benefits and purposes.
In this area as well, the Fathers state that the most effective means of changing the culture around us is to give faithful and authentic witness to the ideals of Christian marriage:
Authentic conjugal love will be more highly prized, and wholesome public opinion created about it if Christian couples give outstanding witness to faithfulness and harmony in their love, and to their concern for educating their children also, if they do their part in bringing about the needed cultural, psychological and social renewal on behalf of marriage and the family. Especially in the heart of their own families, young people should be aptly and seasonably instructed in the dignity, duty and work of married love.
The primary function of married couples, as the Church has always taught, is to bring new life into the world and form it according to God's will.
Hence, while not making the other purposes of matrimony of less account, the true practice of conjugal love, and the whole meaning of the family life which results from it, have this aim: that the couple be ready with stout hearts to cooperate with the love of the Creator and the Savior. Who through them will enlarge and enrich His own family day by day.
Recognizing that, even at that time, the problems of abortion and contraception had already taken hold of the modern world, the Fathers devote a lengthy paragraph that prefigures what Pope Paul VI would write in Humanae vitae:
For God, the Lord of life, has conferred on men the surpassing ministry of safeguarding life in a manner which is worthy of man. Therefore from the moment of its conception life must be guarded with the greatest care while abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes. The sexual characteristics of man and the human faculty of reproduction wonderfully exceed the dispositions of lower forms of life. Hence the acts themselves which are proper to conjugal love and which are exercised in accord with genuine human dignity must be honored with great reverence. Hence when there is question of harmonizing conjugal love with the responsible transmission of life, the moral aspects of any procedure does not depend solely on sincere intentions or on an evaluation of motives, but must be determined by objective standards. These, based on the nature of the human person and his acts, preserve the full sense of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love. Such a goal cannot be achieved unless the virtue of conjugal chastity is sincerely practiced. Relying on these principles, sons of the Church may not undertake methods of birth control which are found blameworthy by the teaching authority of the Church in its unfolding of the divine law.
I wonder if the "Spirit of Vatican II" crowd knows that the Council documents contain a prohibition on birth control.

I will wrap up tomorrow with the Fathers' words on economic and foreign relations matters.

21 March 2013

Ite ad Joseph!

Well, this obviously should have been posted yesterday, but I was having internet issues...so here we are.

Yesterday we celebrated one of the great feast days of the Church -- that of St. Joseph, foster father of Jesus and spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  St. Joseph has been one of my favorite saints at least since I became a father -- I often ask for his prayers that I may be a loving and humble husband and father, as he was.

As commonplace as it seems now, devotion to St. Joseph is a relatively recent phenomenon, given the two-millennia-long history of the Church.  He was declared Patron of the Universal Church in 1870; only at this time was his feast day raised to the status of a first-class feast.  His name was inserted into the Roman Canon by Blessed John XXIII in 1962 during the early stages of the Second Vatican Council.

I was particularly struck yesterday by the introit for the Mass for St. Joseph's feast (from the Missale Romanum): "Behold, a faithful and prudent steward, whom the Lord set over his household."  The stewardship aspect reminded me of part of a post written by my esteemed sister-in-law for the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter last month in which she compared St. Peter to the Steward of Gondor.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this stewardship aspect creates a strong connection between St. Joseph and the Petrine Office.  While the pope is steward of Christ's body, the Church, St. Joseph was steward of Christ's actual body during his infancy and childhood.  Thus, it is fitting that many of our recent pontiffs have had a special devotion to St. Joseph, as his guardianship of Jesus prefigures their guardianship of the Church.

We ask St. Joseph's prayers for us and for the Church on this day and always, that by his intercession, the Church may grow in humility and docility to the will of God.
O Glorious Saint Joseph, you were chosen by God to be the foster father of Jesus, the most pure spouse of Mary, ever Virgin, and the head of the Holy Family. You have been chosen by Christ's Vicar as the heavenly Patron and Protector of the Church founded by Christ.  
Protect the Sovereign Pontiff and all bishops and priests united with him. Be the protector of all who labor for souls amid the trials and tribulations of this life; and grant that all peoples of the world may be docile to the Church without which there is no salvation.  
Dear Saint Joseph, accept the offering I make to you. Be my father, protector, and guide in the way of salvation. Obtain for me purity of heart and a love for the spiritual life. After you example, let all my actions be directed to the greater glory of God, in union with the Divine Heart of Jesus, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and your own paternal heart. Finally, pray for me that I may share in the peace and joy of your holy death.  
Sancte Ioseph, ora pro nobis!

19 March 2013

Vatican II: Gaudium et Spes IV

We pick up with Chapter IV of Gaudium et Spes, which addresses the role of the Church in the modern world.  This section builds off of the Fathers' previous writings on freedom, belief, human progress, etc.
For by His incarnation the Father's Word assumed, and sanctified through His cross and resurrection, the whole of man, body and soul, and through that totality the whole of nature created by God for man's use. 
Thanks to this belief, the Church can anchor the dignity of human nature against all tides of opinion, for example those which undervalue the human body or idolize it. By no human law can the personal dignity and liberty of man be so aptly safeguarded as by the Gospel of Christ which has been entrusted to the Church. For this Gospel announces and proclaims the freedom of the sons of God, and repudiates all the bondage which ultimately results from sin.
The Fathers keep returning to the idea of true freedom not as the ability to do whatever one pleases, but the obligation to do what one ought:
The Church, therefore, by virtue of the Gospel committed to her, proclaims the rights of man; she acknowledges and greatly esteems the dynamic movements of today by which these rights are everywhere fostered. Yet these movements must be penetrated by the spirit of the Gospel and protected against any kind of false autonomy. For we are tempted to think that our personal rights are fully ensured only when we are exempt from every requirement of divine law. But this way lies not the maintenance of the dignity of the human person, but its annihilation.
This message was echoed by Blessed John Paul II in, among other things, his message for the 1981 World Day of Peace:
Finally, true freedom is not advanced in the permissive society, which confuses freedom with license to do anything whatever and which in the name of freedom proclaims a kind of general amorality. It is a caricature of freedom to claim that people are free to organize their lives with no reference to moral values, and to say that society does not have to ensure the protection and advancement of ethical values. Such an attitude is destructive of freedom and peace.
The Council Fathers make it clear that one cannot divorce one's religious life from one's earthly responsibilities:
This council exhorts Christians, as citizens of two cities, to strive to discharge their earthly duties conscientiously and in response to the Gospel spirit. They are mistaken who, knowing that we have here no abiding city but seek one which is to come, think that they may therefore shirk their earthly responsibilities. For they are forgetting that by the faith itself they are more obliged than ever to measure up to these duties, each according to his proper vocation. Nor, on the contrary, are they any less wide of the mark who think that religion consists in acts of worship alone and in the discharge of certain moral obligations, and who imagine they can plunge themselves into earthly affairs in such a way as to imply that these are altogether divorced from the religious life. This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age. . . . Therefore, let there be no false opposition between professional and social activities on the one part, and religious life on the other. The Christian who neglects his temporal duties, neglects his duties toward his neighbor and even God, and jeopardizes his eternal salvation. 
Reading the emphasized section above, my mind immediately went to the "personally opposed, but..." politicians that seem to be in such abundance these days -- those persons who claim to be personally opposed to things like abortion but who are unwilling to act on those beliefs in the public arena.

Tomorrow: the Council on marriage and the development of culture

17 March 2013

Vatican II: Gaudium et Spes III

From their discussions of some of the specific issues facing modern man, the Council Fathers turn next to the interaction of Christians with the world around them.  Much of this section is about what one would expect -- striving to meet the basic needs of others, treating others with love and respect, etc.  The Fathers are clear that respect toward all does not equate to the "tolerance" preached by modern man, which states that all people must approve of everything everyone else does (unless what other people are doing is expressing a viewpoint that isn't "tolerant" -- that is not allowed):
This love and good will, to be sure, must in no way render us indifferent to truth and goodness. Indeed love itself impels the disciples of Christ to speak the saving truth to all men. But it is necessary to distinguish between error, which always merits repudiation, and the person in error, who never loses the dignity of being a person even when he is flawed by false or inadequate religious notions.
In short: love the sinner, hate the sin  Sound familiar?

The Fathers move on to a general discussion of man's activity and development.  They go to great pains to explain how human development and the works produced by man are not in opposition to God's will or religious thought:
Thus, far from thinking that works produced by man's own talent and energy are in opposition to God's power, and that the rational creature exists as a kind of rival to the Creator, Christians are convinced that the triumphs of the human race are a sign of God's grace and the flowering of His own mysterious design. For the greater man's power becomes, the farther his individual and community responsibility extends. Hence it is clear that men are not deterred by the Christian message from building up the world, or impelled to neglect the welfare of their fellows, but that they are rather more stringently bound to do these very things.
They continue in paragraph 36:
Therefore if methodical investigation within every branch of learning is carried out in a genuinely scientific manner and in accord with moral norms, it never truly conflicts with faith, for earthly matters and the concerns of faith derive from the same God. Indeed whoever labors to penetrate the secrets of reality with a humble and steady mind, even though he is unaware of the fact, is nevertheless being led by the hand of God, who holds all things in existence, and gives them their identity. 
Of course, one of the most strident arguments made by atheists is that the Church is opposed to scientific progress -- they cite the Galileo controversy and not much else and conclude triumphantly that the Church hates science.  (By the way, their portrayal of Galileo is fairly inaccurate.)  The Council Fathers clearly set forth the actual teaching of the Church with regard to scientific progress.

At the risk of repeating themselves, as with the sections on freedom, the pursuit of knowledge, etc., that all human activity must be grounded in faith in Christ in order to lead to true progress:
Hence if anyone wants to know how this unhappy situation can be overcome, Christians will tell him that all human activity, constantly imperiled by man's pride and deranged self-love, must be purified and perfected by the power of Christ's cross and resurrection. For redeemed by Christ and made a new creature in the Holy Spirit, man is able to love the things themselves created by God, and ought to do so. He can receive them from God and respect and reverence them as flowing constantly from the hand of God. Grateful to his Benefactor for these creatures, using and enjoying them in detachment and liberty of spirit, man is led forward into a true possession of them, as having nothing, yet possessing all things.
Tomorrow: the specific role of the Church in the modern world.

16 March 2013

Inauguration Irony

The booklet for the upcoming papal inauguration is now available -- as our friends over at the Chant Cafe point out, the irony here is that even though liturgically-minded folks have been stirring up a ruckus since Pope Francis was elected, the upcoming inauguration Mass contains about as much chant as a Mass possibly could.  There isn't really anything in here that I find objectionable.  This probably is due in large part to the presence of Msgr. Marini as Master of Ceremonies and the tremendous work done by Pope Benedict in building a sound liturgical mindset in the Church.

Vatican II: Gaudium et Spes II

Back to business...only sixteen days until Easter.  I'm beginning to think that my Seven Sacraments series may not happen before the end of Lent, but I still could prove myself wrong.

The first truly substantive part of Gaudium et Spes deals with some of the more fundamental and profound issues facing modern man: his own existence, life, death, conscience, freedom, belief, truth.  Each of these topics is worthy of its own post.  However, in the interests of not spending two weeks getting all the way through Gaudium et Spes, I will focus on what I believe are the issues that most affect the modern world: the pursuit of knowledge, belief (and the lack thereof), and freedom.

The Council Fathers are abundantly clear that the quest for knowledge, while laudable, must be tempered by wisdom and should not be an end in itself.  In paragraph 15, we find:

The intellectual nature of the human person is perfected by wisdom and needs to be, for wisdom gently attracts the mind of man to a quest and a love for what is true and good. Steeped in wisdom, man passes through visible realities to those which are unseen. 
Our era needs such wisdom more than bygone ages if the discoveries made by man are to be further humanized. For the future of the world stands in peril unless wiser men are forthcoming. It should also be pointed out that many nations, poorer in economic goods, are quite rich in wisdom and can offer noteworthy advantages to others.
The Fathers then deal with the concepts of freedom, conscience, and death in the following paragraphs, before devoting a significant amount of time to speaking of atheism.  Since in our time atheism and the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge's sake often go hand in hand, I will address this next before returning to the issues of freedom and conscience.

The Fathers first point out that "atheism" encompasses a wide variety of philosophies, from those who believe that man can know nothing of God to those who believe that scientific progress has proven that God does not exist.  Before addressing any of the specific claims made by modern atheists, the Fathers explore briefly the reasons for the existence of atheism, and not without pointing out that believers share the blame for its existence by imperfectly living out their own faith:
For, taken as a whole, atheism is not a spontaneous development but stems from a variety of causes, including a critical reaction against religious beliefs, and in some places against the Christian religion in particular. Hence believers can have more than a little to do with the birth of atheism. To the extent that they neglect their own training in the faith, or teach erroneous doctrine, or are deficient in their religious, moral or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God and religion.
The solution to this is to live a life authentically in line with what the Church professes:
The remedy which must be applied to atheism, however, is to be sought in a proper presentation of the Church's teaching as well as in the integral life of the Church and her members. For it is the function of the Church, led by the Holy Spirit Who renews and purifies her ceaselessly, to make God the Father and His Incarnate Son present and in a sense visible. This result is achieved chiefly by the witness of a living and mature faith, namely, one trained to see difficulties clearly and to master them. Many martyrs have given luminous witness to this faith and continue to do so. This faith needs to prove its fruitfulness by penetrating the believer's entire life, including its worldly dimensions, and by activating him toward justice and love, especially regarding the needy. What does the most reveal God's presence, however, is the brotherly charity of the faithful who are united in spirit as they work together for the faith of the Gospel and who prove themselves a sign of unity. 
The Fathers close the section on atheism by arguing that the vocation of man proclaimed by the Church is not oppressive, as many atheists argue, but brings him true and authentic freedom:
Above all the Church knows that her message is in harmony with the most secret desires of the human heart when she champions the dignity of the human vocation, restoring hope to those who have already despaired of anything higher than their present lot. Far from diminishing man, her message brings to his development light, life and freedom. Apart from this message nothing will avail to fill up the heart of man: "Thou hast made us for Thyself," O Lord, "and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee." 
In between these sections on knowledge and atheism, we find two more fundamental topics: conscience and freedom.  The concept of conscience is one that is bandied about very loosely by some of our more progressive brethren.  Their argument is that the Church states that following one's conscience is paramount -- therefore, they are justified in holding (and working actively in favor of) positions that are contrary to the Magisterium of the Church (such as the ordination of women, same-sex "marriage", etc.).  

The problem is, nowhere does any Church document state that this is the case.  Both paragraph 16 of Gaudium et Spes and the Catechism do indeed state that one must follow one's own conscience -- however, the crucial part omitted in the above argument is that one's conscience must be formed properly in light of the truth of the Church's teaching.  
In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of men in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems which arise in the life of individuals from social relationships. Hence the more right conscience holds sway, the more persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and strive to be guided by the objective norms of morality. Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin.
This line of thinking is fleshed out more fully in the Catechism, which quotes part of the above language from Gaudium et Spes: 

1790 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.
1791 This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man "takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin." In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits.
1792 Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one's passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church's authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.
Finally, we come to the issue of freedom, which I think is the synthesis of all of these topics.  As with conscience, many in the modern world, both within and without the Church, argue that freedom is the ability to do whatever one chooses.  Under this line of thinking, one is more free as more of the impediments are removed that prevent one from doing as one pleases.  The end result of this line of thinking is total chaos -- with no moral compass to guide any actions, anarchy would ensue.  

Fortunately, the Council Fathers disagree with this idea of freedom.  Paragraph 17 is so good that I have to reproduce it in its entirety:
Only in freedom can man direct himself toward goodness. Our contemporaries make much of this freedom and pursue it eagerly; and rightly to be sure. Often however they foster it perversely as a license for doing whatever pleases them, even if it is evil. For its part, authentic freedom is an exceptional sign of the divine image within man. For God has willed that man remain "under the control of his own decisions," so that he can seek his Creator spontaneously, and come freely to utter and blissful perfection through loyalty to Him. Hence man's dignity demands that he act according to a knowing and free choice that is personally motivated and prompted from within, not under blind internal impulse nor by mere external pressure. Man achieves such dignity when, emancipating himself from all captivity to passion, he pursues his goal in a spontaneous choice of what is good, and procures for himself through effective and skilful action, apt helps to that end. Since man's freedom has been damaged by sin, only by the aid of God's grace can he bring such a relationship with God into full flower. Before the judgement seat of God each man must render an account of his own life, whether he has done good or evil. 
Again, these ideas are echoed in the Catechism:
1732 As long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil, and thus of growing in perfection or of failing and sinning. This freedom characterizes properly human acts. It is the basis of praise or blame, merit or reproach.
1733 The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to "the slavery of sin."
1734 Freedom makes man responsible for his acts to the extent that they are voluntary. Progress in virtue, knowledge of the good, and ascesis enhance the mastery of the will over its acts. 
The common theme throughout much of this section is that modern man continues to pursue concepts like knowledge, freedom, and conscience to their extremes without grounding these concepts firmly in the dignity of man as the beloved children of the Creator and the natural law implanted in the human heart.  Modern man does so at his own peril.

14 March 2013

A beautiful sight

How can I keep being apprehensive about a man who, as his first act the day after being elected pope, went to Our Lady's Church to pray?


Habemus Papam

As has been broadcast to all corners of the globe, we have a new Holy Father, Pope Francis (not Pope Francis I).  I had a feeling today was going to be the day, and I was not disappointed.

I will confess, the traditionalist side of me was not ecstatic about his election, primarily because I did not know a great deal about him (and what little I did know, primarily regarding his stance on liturgical matters, did not thrill me).  I wasn't in as sour of a mood as our friends over at Rorate Caeli (seriously, most of the comments on here make me ashamed to call myself a traditionalist), but I also wasn't as giddy as some others.

So, to help myself sort out my thoughts, here are reasons why I am happy today, followed by things about which I will reserve judgment.  First, the happy things:

  • We have a pope!  Enough said.
  • By all accounts, Pope Francis is a staunch defender of the Church's moral teachings in the public arena (not that this is surprising, given the fact that all of the Cardinal electors were appointed by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI).
  • He has been excellent in combating the aggressive secularism that is plaguing his native country of Argentina.
  • The Cardinals seem to have found the one man even more humble than Pope Benedict -- I have enjoyed reading of his deep and gentle humility in the way he lives his life.  
  • Even more than that, his request to have everyone in St. Peter's Square pray for him before he imparted the Urbi et Orbi blessing was absolutely stunning.  I had chills.
  • His appointment continues to confound the news media and those of a more progressive mindset. This is summed up well by this remark on Twitter from New York Times resident nitwit, Nicholas Kristof: "Pope Francis seems liberal on social justice but sadly traditional on sexuality and contraception." My response: "So you mean he's actually Catholic? The horror."
  • I love, and I mean LOVE, his choice of name.  Before the Vatican clarified that he had chosen the name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, it could also have been in honor of St. Francis Xavier, the great Jesuit saint.  But the invocation of the Poor Man of Assisi, whom God instructed to rebuild His Church, is a powerful statement in this age, when the Church is under siege from forces both within and without.
  • He is emphatically not part of the Curial wing of the College of Cardinals, and I pray that he will be able to clean house and get the Curia in order.
In spite of all of this (much of which I did not fully hash out in my own head until just now), I could not help but feel a twinge of frustration when Cardinal Tauran announced who our new Holy Father was going to be.  I have written before of my deep love for Pope Benedict's liturgical mindset.  Though I realize full well that the sacred liturgy is not the only important issue in the Church, in my mind, it is the most important and the key to the New Evangelization.  It is for several reasons related to the sacred liturgy that I am apprehensive about his election:
  • Pope Francis presided over this travesty that apparently was supposed to be a Holy Mass.  (Warning: this is as bad as any puppet "Mass" you have seen.)
  • If this report and the accompanying photograph are to be believed, he once received a "blessing" from a Protestant televangelist.
  • He declined to wear the traditional papal mozzetta today when he made his first public appearance and only wore the papal stole while he was giving the Urbi et Orbi blessing.  Before you say anything, I know that vestments and liturgical fineries are not everyone's cup of tea.  But he still should have worn them.  As I remarked to a friend earlier, humility need not entail eschewing the Church's liturgical traditions.
  • (Admittedly unsubstantiated) reports from people living in Argentina have said that as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he was not at all friendly to the implementation of Summorum Pontificum.
Because of these issues, my initial reaction was one of disappointment that the wonderful liturgical legacy begun by Pope Benedict would not continue under Pope Francis.  My thoughts have been tempered over the course of the day.  Though he may not do much to encourage the Traditional Mass, I do not believe that he will actively move to discourage or suppress its use.  I remain concerned about the example he will set in his public Masses -- though Pope Benedict never celebrated a public Extraordinary Form Mass, he did a great deal in orienting us toward a more reverent and traditional Novus Ordo Mass (with things like communion kneeling and on the tongue, wider use of Latin, use of the Propers of the Mass, etc.).  I also lament the loss (or at least the passing from view) of Pope Benedict's writings on liturgical theology, though there certainly is nothing stopping Pope Francis from taking up his mantle (please?).

Considering all of these factors, if Pope Francis concentrates on cleaning up the Curia and other problematic areas within the Church and steers clear of the Traditional Mass and other liturgical issues as much as possible, I think his pontificate will be a success.  Given his age, it may not be a long one anyway, so I will pray that in whatever time he is given in the See of Peter, he will effect the change in the Church for which the Holy Spirit called him to the office.

V.  Oremus pro Pontifice nostro Francisco.
R.  Dominus conservet eum, et vivificet eum, et beatum faciat eum in terra, et non tradat eum in animam inimicorum eius.
Deus, omnium fidelium pastor et rector, famulum tuum Francisco, quem pastorem Ecclesiæ tuæ præesse voluisti, propitius respice: da ei, quæsumus, verbo et exemplo, quibus præest, proficere: ut ad vitam, una cum grege sibi credito, perveniat sempiternam. Per Christum, Dominum nostrum. Amen.

P.S.  One of the other things that excites me, though it may not have been our new Holy Father's doing entirely, is that his installation Mass will take place on the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Patron of the Universal Church.  How awesome is that?

12 March 2013

Vatican II: Gaudium et Spes I

As a postlude to my Lumen Gentium posts, it's nice to see I'm not the only one calling out the "Spirit of Vatican II" crowd for their horrendous misinterpretation of the Council documents.  And by "misinterpretation", I mean "non-reading".

Gaudium et Spes was the fourth and final major constitution written by the Council Fathers and promulgated by Pope Paul VI.  The subject is the Church in the modern world.  As one might expect given It is a very long document, so for the sake of not taking a week with my posts on it, I'm going to take a broader view than I have been with the other documents.

The Fathers begin with a lengthy section on the current status of modern man.  While recognizing the tremendous advancements of recent decades, the Fathers' overall view of modern man is not a rosy one:
Never has the human race enjoyed such an abundance of wealth, resources and economic power, and yet a huge proportion of the worlds citizens are still tormented by hunger and poverty, while countless numbers suffer from total illiteracy. Never before has man had so keen an understanding of freedom, yet at the same time new forms of social and psychological slavery make their appearance. Although the world of today has a very vivid awareness of its unity and of how one man depends on another in needful solidarity, it is most grievously torn into opposing camps by conflicting forces. For political, social, economic, racial and ideological disputes still continue bitterly, and with them the peril of a war which would reduce everything to ashes. True, there is a growing exchange of ideas, but the very words by which key concepts are expressed take on quite different meanings in diverse ideological systems. Finally, man painstakingly searches for a better world, without a corresponding spiritual advancement.
. . . 
The truth is that the imbalances under which the modern world labors are linked with that more basic imbalance which is rooted in the heart of man. For in man himself many elements wrestle with one another. Thus, on the one hand, as a creature he experiences his limitations in a multitude of ways; on the other he feels himself to be boundless in his desires and summoned to a higher life. Pulled by manifold attractions he is constantly forced to choose among them and renounce some. Indeed, as a weak and sinful being, he often does what he would not, and fails to do what he would.
After these introductory remarks, the Fathers turn to a discussion of the values that were important to the world at the time (many of which remain valid today).  I will take a look at some of these points tomorrow.

11 March 2013

Vatican II: Lumen Gentium V

After a two-day hiatus during which I couldn't really string together coherent sentences at this time of night, I'm back!  And just in time for the conclave, too.  Assuming a pope isn't elected on the first ballot tomorrow, I may offer some thoughts tomorrow on who I hope/think will be elected, but for now, it's time to finish up my posts on Lumen Gentium with the last topic covered by the Council Fathers: the Blessed Virgin Mary.

According to esteemed sources (read: Wikipedia), there apparently was some debate over the format of the Fathers' writings on Mary -- some of them wanted to keep this part as a separate document so as not to offend Protestants.  Because really, Protestants weren't offended enough when the Fathers wrote that salvation comes through the Church?  Fortunately, that argument did not win the day, and Lumen Gentium closes with a lengthy section on Mary's relationship to the Church.

The Fathers begin by setting forth Mary's role in the economy of salvation.  In paragraph 56, we find:
Embracing God's salvific will with a full heart and impeded by no sin, she devoted herself totally as a handmaid of the Lord to the person and work of her Son, under Him and with Him, by the grace of almighty God, serving the mystery of redemption. Rightly therefore the holy Fathers see her as used by God not merely in a passive way, but as freely cooperating in the work of human salvation through faith and obedience. For, as St. Irenaeus says, she "being obedient, became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race." Hence not a few of the early Fathers gladly assert in their preaching, "The knot of Eve's disobedience was untied by Mary's obedience; what the virgin Eve bound through her unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosened by her faith." Comparing Mary with Eve, they call her "the Mother of the living," and still more often they say: "death through Eve, life through Mary."
In expounding on Mary and the Church, the Council Fathers make it abundantly clear (to answer a common Protestant objection to the Church's view of Mary) that the honor given to her does not diminish Christ's role as the sole mediator between God and man.
For all the salvific influence of the Blessed Virgin on men originates, not from some inner necessity, but from the divine pleasure. It flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on His mediation, depends entirely on it and draws all its power from it. In no way does it impede, but rather does it foster the immediate union of the faithful with Christ.
 On Mary as preeminent example for the Christian faithful:
Piously meditating on her and contemplating her in the light of the Word made man, the Church with reverence enters more intimately into the great mystery of the Incarnation and becomes more and more like her Spouse. For Mary, who since her entry into salvation history unites in herself and re-echoes the greatest teachings of the faith as she is proclaimed and venerated, calls the faithful to her Son and His sacrifice and to the love of the Father. Seeking after the glory of Christ, the Church becomes more like her exalted Type, and continually progresses in faith, hope and charity, seeking and doing the will of God in all things. 
The Fathers certainly do not call for a de-emphasis on the Church's Marian teachings, as many of the "Spirit of Vatican II crowd" like to claim.  Instead, they are clear about the Blessed Mother's role in salvation history and the Church.
This most Holy Synod deliberately teaches this Catholic doctrine and at the same time admonishes all the sons of the Church that the cult, especially the liturgical cult, of the Blessed Virgin, be generously fostered, and the practices and exercises of piety, recommended by the magisterium of the Church toward her in the course of centuries be made of great moment, and those decrees, which have been given in the early days regarding the cult of images of Christ, the Blessed Virgin and the saints, be religiously observed.
The section (and the constitution) close with a wonderful petition to Mary, asking her prayers and protection for all people of the world, that we may all be gathered together as one:
The entire body of the faithful pours forth instant supplications to the Mother of God and Mother of men that she, who aided the beginnings of the Church by her prayers, may now, exalted as she is above all the angels and saints, intercede before her Son in the fellowship of all the saints, until all families of people, whether they are honored with the title of Christian or whether they still do not know the Saviour, may be happily gathered together in peace and harmony into one people of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity. 
Amen.  On the eve of the conclave, may Our Lady protect us with her most powerful motherly intercession as she always does.

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided.  Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me.  Amen. 

08 March 2013

Vatican II: Lumen Gentium IV

From their discussion of the nature of the episcopate and the hierarchy of the Church, the Council Fathers move next into an extensive discussion on the function and role of the laity.  I don't know if it is just because I am a layman myself, but I find this section very powerful.  It is a veritable treasure trove of excellent passages.  In paragraph 31, we find:
But the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven.
For all of the intrigue and suspicion that surrounds Opus Dei in the secular sphere, I see definite shades of it in this passage.  The primary function of the group (or personal prelature, if we are going to be precise) is to lead ordinary men and women to holiness through the work of everyday life in the world.  The sanctification of the world through the work of everyday life is a concept that has been on my mind a great deal recently, as I struggle to see how my (often rather dull) daily activities are helping me grow closer to God.

Of course, since one of the primary functions of the laity (specifically, those lay men and women called to married life) is the rearing of children, the Council Fathers discuss the importance of family life in paragraph 35:
For where Christianity pervades the entire mode of family life, and gradually transforms it, one will find there both the practice and an excellent school of the lay apostolate. In such a home husbands and wives find their proper vocation in being witnesses of the faith and love of Christ to one another and to their children. The Christian family loudly proclaims both the present virtues of the Kingdom of God and the hope of a blessed life to come.
The following chapter, flowing logically from these topics, is about the universal call to holiness in the Church.    In paragraph 41, we find:
The classes and duties of life are many, but holiness is one—that sanctity which is cultivated by all who are moved by the Spirit of God, and who obey the voice of the Father and worship God the Father in spirit and in truth. These people follow the poor Christ, the humble and cross-bearing Christ in order to be worthy of being sharers in His glory. Every person must walk unhesitatingly according to his own personal gifts and duties in the path of living faith, which arouses hope and works through charity.
The Fathers then explore the path to holiness for all of the various states in life.  Continuing their thoughts from above with regard to married couples, they write in paragraph 41:
Furthermore, married couples and Christian parents should follow their own proper path (to holiness) by faithful love. They should sustain one another in grace throughout the entire length of their lives. They should embue their offspring, lovingly welcomed as God's gift, with Christian doctrine and the evangelical virtues. In this manner, they offer all men the example of unwearying and generous love; in this way they build up the brotherhood of charity; in so doing, they stand as the witnesses and cooperators in the fruitfulness of Holy Mother Church; by such lives, they are a sign and a participation in that very love, with which Christ loved His Bride and for which He delivered Himself up for her.
These two chapters really should be required reading in marriage preparation classes -- there is so much good material in here about married life and finding holiness in the midst of everyday life.

Tomorrow: the Blessed Virgin Mary and her relation to the Church.

07 March 2013

Vatican II: Lumen Gentium III

We now have the opportunity to explore what the Council Fathers actually say about another one of those "Spirit of Vatican II" topics: collegiality and the nature of the episcopate.  According to the "Spirit of Vatican II", the Council did away with all of that papal primacy nonsense and decreed that the bishops should all vote on everything (just a stepping stone to a purely democratic Church).  This, of course, is nonsense and not at all what Lumen Gentium says.

The chapter on the Church hierarchy begins by setting forth the historical basis for apostolic succession.  From the start, the Fathers make it clear that the primacy given to Peter remains effective to this day.  Thus, we find in paragraph 19: "And the apostles, by preaching the Gospel everywhere, and it being accepted by their hearers under the influence of the Holy Spirit, gather together the universal Church, which the Lord established on the apostles and built upon blessed Peter, their chief, Christ Jesus Himself being the supreme cornerstone."

From the historical basis, the Fathers then turned to a (quite edifying) exposition of the special role of bishops as successors to the apostles and of priests and deacons as their assistants.  We then arrive at the discussion of the collegial nature of the episcopate:
Just as in the Gospel, the Lord so disposing, St. Peter and the other apostles constitute one apostolic college, so in a similar way the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter, and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, are joined together. Indeed, the very ancient practice whereby bishops duly established in all parts of the world were in communion with one another and with the Bishop of Rome in a bond of unity, charity and peace, and also the councils assembled together, in which more profound issues were settled in common, the opinion of the many having been prudently considered, both of these factors are already an indication of the collegiate character and aspect of the Episcopal order; and the ecumenical councils held in the course of centuries are also manifest proof of that same character.
Much as the "Spirit of Vatican II" folks would like the section to end there, there is more:
But the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope's power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head. This power can be exercised only with the consent of the Roman Pontiff. 
 Later, in paragraph 25, we find:
But when either the Roman Pontiff or the Body of Bishops together with him defines a judgment, they pronounce it in accordance with Revelation itself, which all are obliged to abide by and be in conformity with, that is, the Revelation which as written or orally handed down is transmitted in its entirety through the legitimate succession of bishops and especially in care of the Roman Pontiff himself, and which under the guiding light of the Spirit of truth is religiously preserved and faithfully expounded in the Church.
One of the more drastic changes brought about by this idea of collegiality has been the increase in number of and authority wielded by national bishops' conferences.  On a basic level, these conferences make sense -- given the common issues facing all of the bishops in a particular country, it would seem prudent for bishops to come together to develop common strategies.  But nothing in the Council documents states that national conferences of bishops should even exist, let alone wield as much influence as they do.

In fact, the Council fathers clearly believe that a bishop still has complete authority over what happens in his diocese:
The individual bishops, who are placed in charge of particular churches, exercise their pastoral government over the portion of the People of God committed to their care, and not over other churches nor over the universal Church. (Par. 23)
Bishops, as vicars and ambassadors of Christ, govern the particular churches entrusted to them by their counsel, exhortations, example, and even by their authority and sacred power, which indeed they use only for the edification of their flock in truth and holiness, remembering that he who is greater should become as the lesser and he who is the chief become as the servant. (Par. 27)
Don't get me wrong -- I very much appreciate the path down which the USCCB has been moving in recent years, with the revision of the English translation of the Mass and their strong words in defense of religious liberty, the right to life, traditional marriage, etc.  However, for much of its existence prior to a few years ago, it was part of the problem, not the solution -- primarily by issuing poorly-worded and poorly-conceived documents that they intended the Church in America to follow.

I really need to get a move on in this series, as I have other things I would like to hit before Holy Week and I still have the other two constitutions from Vatican II to cover.  I have to limit myself to two more posts on Lumen Gentium, even though there are many more worthwhile topics: one on the laity and the universal call to holiness, and the other on the Blessed Mother.

06 March 2013

Vatican II: Lumen Gentium II

The second chapter of Lumen Gentium deals with the people of God.  The Council Fathers begin first by setting forth the history of God's people, from the first covenant with Israel through to the fulfillment of the old covenant and the establishment of the new by the coming of Christ.  Much of the first few paragraphs deal with the functions performed by the people of God and the gifts allotted to them.  The Fathers are clear in paragraph 13 that all men, whatever their state in life, work together to build up the Church:
In virtue of this catholicity each individual part contributes through its special gifts to the good of the other parts and of the whole Church. Through the common sharing of gifts and through the common effort to attain fullness in unity, the whole and each of the parts receive increase. Not only, then, is the people of God made up of different peoples but in its inner structure also it is composed of various ranks. This diversity among its members arises either by reason of their duties, as is the case with those who exercise the sacred ministry for the good of their brethren, or by reason of their condition and state of life, as is the case with those many who enter the religious state and, tending toward holiness by a narrower path, stimulate their brethren by their example.
The Council Fathers then turn their attention to the Church, Protestants, and non-Christians in three respective paragraphs.  With regard to those within the Church, the Council Fathers make it clear that the Church is the sole means of salvation:
Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved.
The "harshness" of this passage, of course, hinges on one's interpretation of the word "knowing" -- must one only be made aware that the Catholic Church was founded by Christ, or must one come to know the Church's fundamental teachings?

The harshest words, though, are saved for those within the Church who do not live out their calling:
He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a "bodily" manner and not "in his heart." All the Church's children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged.
With regard to non-Catholic Christians, the Council Fathers recognize that many such persons love Jesus deeply, honor Holy Scripture, and even profess a love and admiration for our Blessed Mother.  The Fathers do not pass judgment on whether non-Catholic Christians will be saved, though they do mention in passing that they "do not profess the faith in its entirety."

Finally, with regard to non-Christians, the Council Fathers state that they also have a place in the plan of salvation.  Persons of the Jewish and Moslem faiths, in particular, may be included by virtue of their belief in the God of Abraham.  The Council Fathers also addressed the place of those who do not know the Gospel or God:
Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life.
My initial thought was that in this day and age, it would be almost impossible to find anyone who has not heard the Gospel.  In reflecting on this further, I believe that there are countless persons in our world (especially in "advanced" societies) who have never truly heard the Gospel.  Though by this reasoning, those who do not know the Gospel are not necessarily condemned for that lack of knowledge, is it not much more beneficial for all men to hear the Gospel and be saved?

To that end, the Fathers close this chapter with a paragraph on the missionary nature of the Church: "For the Church is compelled by the Holy Spirit to do her part that God's plan may be fully realized, whereby He has constituted Christ as the source of salvation for the whole world. By the proclamation of the Gospel she prepares her hearers to receive and profess the faith." The obligation to proclaim the Gospel extends to all of the faithful according to their state in life -- not just the clergy or those whose vocation it is to teach the faith.

This could easily form the topic of another post, but suffice to say that this is one of the things with which I struggle most -- how can I most effectively witness for my faith as a working layman with a family?  I still haven't found a definite answer, but I know that God has put me in this place for a reason.  By His grace, I pray that I will be an effective evangelist.

05 March 2013

A sad day

Just realized that my coffee mug will need to be replaced :-/...  I miss you already, Papa.

04 March 2013

Vatican II: Lumen Gentium I

From the focused subject of Sacrosanctum Concilium, we move now to the broader subject of the Church, as expressed in the constitution Lumen Gentium.  I always get this and Gaudium et Spes confused -- Lumen Gentium means "light of the nations," but this document is not the constitution on the Church in the modern world.

The first paragraphs of Lumen Gentium set forth a bit of exegesis on the history and mystery of the Church, beginning with its prefigurement in the Old Testament and continuing through Christ inaugurating the heavenly kingdom on Earth.  The part I found the most compelling was the section on the relationship between Christ and the Church in paragraph 6:
Often the Church has also been called the building of God. The Lord Himself compared Himself to the stone which the builders rejected, but which was made into the cornerstone. On this foundation the Church is built by the apostles, and from it the Church receives durability and consolidation. This edifice has many names to describe it: the house of God in which dwells His family; the household of God in the Spirit; the dwelling place of God among men; and, especially, the holy temple. This Temple, symbolized in places of worship built out of stone, is praised by the Holy Fathers and, not without reason, is compared in the liturgy to the Holy City, the New Jerusalem. As living stones we here on earth are built into it. John contemplates this holy city coming down from heaven at the renewal of the world as a bride made ready and adorned for her husband. 
The Church, further, "that Jerusalem which is above" is also called "our mother". It is described as the spotless spouse of the spotless Lamb, whom Christ "loved and for whom He delivered Himself up that He might sanctify her", whom He unites to Himself by an unbreakable covenant, and whom He unceasingly "nourishes and cherishes", and whom, once purified, He willed to be cleansed and joined to Himself, subject to Him in love and fidelity, and whom, finally, He filled with heavenly gifts for all eternity, in order that we may know the love of God and of Christ for us, a love which surpasses all knowledge. The Church, while on earth it journeys in a foreign land away from the Lord, is like in exile. It seeks and experiences those things which are above, where Christ is seated at the right-hand of God, where the life of the Church is hidden with Christ in God until it appears in glory with its Spouse.
The allusions to Holy Scripture in this passage are bountiful.  Of particular interest to me is the reference to Ephesians 5 (the subject of my marriage post in the upcoming Seven Sacraments series).

In paragraph 8, at the end of the section on the mystery of the Church, we find one of the more controversial passages in all of the Council documents:
This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which He erected for all ages as "the pillar and mainstay of the truth". This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity. 
The two highlighted phrases above gave rise to objections by traditionalists that Lumen Gentium changed the traditional thinking that the Church of Christ is the Catholic Church (the Latin reads subsistit in, not est) and that this passage seems to indicate that Protestant communities contain elements of sanctification and truth.  The latter, if it is to be interpreted as these traditionalists claim, would at least implicitly call into question the traditional Catholic teaching of extra ecclesiam nulla salus -- if "elements of sanctification and of truth" are found outside the bounds of the Church, could salvation not also be found there?

Due to the controversial nature of this passage, there have been several attempts to clarify what was meant by this text.  One such clarification came in Dominus Iesus, a 2000 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  This document was authored in large part by Cardinal Ratzinger, as Prefect of the Congregation, and Pope John Paul II gave it his seal of approval.  For our purposes, relevant passages can be found in paragraphs 16-17:

With the expression subsistit in, the Second Vatican Council sought to harmonize two doctrinal statements: on the one hand, that the Church of Christ, despite the divisions which exist among Christians, continues to exist fully only in the Catholic Church, and on the other hand, that “outside of her structure, many elements can be found of sanctification and truth”, that is, in those Churches and ecclesial communities which are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church. But with respect to these, it needs to be stated that “they derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”.

Therefore, there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches. Therefore, the Church of Christ is present and operative also in these Churches, even though they lack full communion with the Catholic Church, since they do not accept the Catholic doctrine of the Primacy, which, according to the will of God, the Bishop of Rome objectively has and exercises over the entire Church.
On the other hand, the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, are not Churches in the proper sense; however, those who are baptized in these communities are, by Baptism, incorporated in Christ and thus are in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the Church. Baptism in fact tends per se toward the full development of life in Christ, through the integral profession of faith, the Eucharist, and full communion in the Church.
This section is clear that whatever elements of truth are found outside the visible bounds of the Church are only present due to a sharing, albeit imperfectly, in the fullness of grace entrusted to the Catholic Church.  This passage was not abundantly clear on the subsistit in controversy, however, so the CDF issued further guidance in 2007 in the form of answers to specific questions regarding the Church's doctrine on the Church herself as expressed in Lumen Gentium.

This brief document sets forth the Church's authoritative interpretation of the controversial passage from Lumen Gentium.  In response to the question "What is the meaning of the affirmation that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church?", the CDF (with Pope Benedict XVI's authoritative approval) replied:
Christ “established here on earth” only one Church and instituted it as a “visible and spiritual community”, that from its beginning and throughout the centuries has always existed and will always exist, and in which alone are found all the elements that Christ himself instituted. “This one Church of Christ, which we confess in the Creed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic […]. This Church, constituted and organised in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him”. 
In number 8 of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium ‘subsistence’ means this perduring, historical continuity and the permanence of all the elements instituted by Christ in the Catholic Church, in which the Church of Christ is concretely found on this earth. 
It is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them. Nevertheless, the word “subsists” can only be attributed to the Catholic Church alone precisely because it refers to the mark of unity that we profess in the symbols of the faith (I believe... in the “one” Church); and this “one” Church subsists in the Catholic Church.
According to the CDF, the use of subsistit in instead of est "indicates the full identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church" and was not intended to change the traditional doctrine.  That, as they say, is that.

Tomorrow: the "People of God" and the Church's relationship to members of other faiths.