Friday, August 26, 2016

Lessons of the Early Church

I am the Catholic I am, in large part because of the martyrs of the early Church.  Their faith shamed my lack of faith, and understanding why they felt it was worth sacrificing the world for the sake of Heaven gave me the impetus to return to the Church as the only way to salvation.  Now, the Church needs their witness again, as the world around us seems primed to descend into a new paganism.

Martyrdom of St. Polycarp - "Away with the atheists!"
The Christian refusal to cooperate with pagan Roman society was rooted in three connected things: (1) The Roman Empire was inherently idolatrous.  Civic participation required participation in pagan ritual worship.  Oaths of office required the same, to be a soldier, a teacher, etc., not just for politicians.  (2) The reality of (unjust) persecution.  Romans persecuted Christians mostly because they saw Christian faith as "atheism" and "innovation," two things that threatened the stability and success of the Empire as a whole.  But as Tertullian famously pointed out in his Apologeticum, forcing Christians to worship other gods by violence made that worship ineffective for the good of the Empire.  (3) Idolatry and unjust persecution represented abuses of power by the Empire.  All worldly authority comes ultimately from God, as Paul argued.  Its uses must therefore conform at least to natural law standards of justice.  That the Empire abused its power in these (and other) ways justified Christian non-participation.

This line of argument, which permeated Christian thought for two centuries, has been buried under other understandings of the Church's relationship to a world seemingly cooperative rather than repressive.  The successful evangelization of the West and the creation of Christendom meant that we didn't need to think much about things that support a Christianity of non-participation.  But we have this treasure somewhere in the attic, not entirely lost or forgotten.  If we confront the increasingly hostile world only with the lessons of cooperative Christendom, we will probably lose.  We need the lessons of conflict as well, distilled from that earlier Christian experience of martyrdom.

Here are three of those critical lessons.

1. The world can never provide an avenue of salvation.  This should be obvious to Christ's disciples.  Only God can forgive sins; only God can save souls; our ultimate homeland is not earth, but Heaven.  But in contrast, it's a key plank of modernism, more or less obvious in all three of its branches (liberal democracy, Communism, and fascism), that the State aspires to become all-in-all, the "savior," in a sense.  In fascism, it does so directly.  In Communism, it does so as the mediating institution of the people's revolutionary will.  In liberal democracy, it does so more subtly, as the mediating institution between conflicts of rights and powers; but over time, its mediation inevitably expands and coems to dominate everything else. In all three, "scientism" promises imminent salvation from all the suffering and evils of the world.

Reductio ad absurdum of acceptance of modernism.
Any uncritical acceptance of modernism, then, implicitly accepts the (false) claim that the State exercises the highest and most decisive form of authority.  This claim tends to be not merely political, but also moral (i.e., abusing God-given authority!).  It rejects, more or less explicitly, a traditional, Bible-informed moral vision.  Acceptance of modernism therefore also means accepting the relegation of religion to the private sphere only.  The moral verities and priorities of the culture (which are, in terms of Christian Revelation, not true) come to be enforced as true, and any serious objection to them is firmly punished, at least socially (loss of status, respect, jobs, friends, etc), possibly legally (fines, jail, the police showing up in the middle of the night to investigate your family, etc), and even (sometimes) fatally. 

A different acceptance of modernism - no less absurd.
If we accept, even implicitly, that the world offers salvation within itself, we cannot be Christians.  We must stand firmly and intentionally in the core Christian claim of salvation through Christ alone.  Short of martyrdom, we do this especially in our (public) worship. Worship focused on God (as in traditional modes) demonstrates our conviction, and teaches spiritual salvation.  Worship focused on ourselves (as in "theater in the round" church design, or hymns all about us or making us speak in God's first person voice, etc.) opens the door to implicit acceptance of the lie of the world saves itself. 

2. Forms of idolatry must be clearly rebuked.  The Church of the martyrs taught clearly and consistently to all its members that cooperation with idolatry leads to loss of saving relationship with Christ.  It wasn't just pagan rituals that were identified, it was a whole host of public or civic activities or positions that were inherently idolatrous - teachers and soldiers, attending theater or civic games, etc etc.  This process of identifying and rebuking forms of participation in idolatry was very successful.

Pope St. John Paul II, for one example, did an excellent job throughout his pontificate (and even before) of doing the equivalent for us today.  We don't tend to think in terms of "idolatry" today, but the moral equivalent corrupting the Church and society is "secularism" (and similar labels).  A creeping domination of "secular" ideas in all spheres of life is intent on displacing any Biblical or natural-law-based cultural patrimony in the West.  This is especially apparent at the moment in issues of sexuality and family, or education policy, for example.  Pope St. John Paul II showed us how to parse the good and the bad in all such conflicts, and having identified the elements or ideas inconsistent with truth and therefore unacceptable to Christians, he rebuked ideas without condemning people. 


March for Life 2013 - excellent example of rebuking without condemning

The more we conform ourselves to the mores of the world, the more this creeping secularism insinuates itself into our faith.  Pope St. John Paul II told us constantly, "Be not afraid!"  Short of martyrdom, we can be clear and consistent in our rejection of modern forms of idolatry by fearlessly knowing the truth (virtue of faith), living the truth (virtue of hope), and speaking the truth (virtue of love) - always with charity and mercy.  It is, in fact, the visibility of the true charity and mercy of Christ in our lives that can attract those mired in worldly idolatry.

3. Faith in Christ is the greatest treasure.  If we look to the world for our salvation (even unconsciously), and fall into secular (idolatrous) modes of thinking, we will inevitably undervalue our faith.  This doesn't necessarily mean we will lose our faith entirely, but we won't have much motive for living it out consistently.  We will be "secular Christians," who, even when we go every Sunday to worship God, live the rest of the week as if Christ doesn't matter to us.  We will be "formed by the culture" rather than "formed by the Church."  We will have fallen into the trap of privatizing our faith - which is precisely what the totalizing, secular world demands of us.

Pope Benedict XVI Adoring our Lord Jesus Christ
Pope Benedict XVI understood this dynamic deeply.  So much of his pontificate was aimed at enflaming our faith anew, at helping us realize just what an inestimable treasure faith in Christ actually is.  Nobody is attracted to a faith that seems not to matter even to its regular practitioners!  Only those who are on fire for God have the chance to spread the fire to others.  Only those who, by how they live in every sphere of life, clearly value above other things the love of God can proclaim the value of that love. 


If it's true, finally, that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church," then our evangelizing efforts can only bear fruit if we first die to self, and to the world, and live only in Christ. 



Friday, November 20, 2015

Pope Francis addresses Deacons at International Deacon Centre

 
Dear Brothers in the Diaconate,
dear Brothers in the Presbyterate and Episcopate,
dear wives of deacons,
dear participants in the Jubilee of the International Diaconate Centre,

Bild vergrößern
www.diaconia-idc.org
I send you warm greetings and congratulate you on the 50th anniversary that you are celebrating these days on the occasion of the restoration of the Permanent Diaconate by the Second Vatican Council together with 600 people from 35 countries.  When Cardinal Oswald Gracias told me on behalf of your President Klaus Kießling that you were interested in meeting me, I agreed right away – full of anticipation to receive you.  However now I have to dedicate my full attention to the Synodal processes, so a direct meeting will not be possible during your Jubilee celebration. I regret this very much and look forward to another opportunity.

St Stephen the Protomartyr
exercising the original diaconate
www.catholicsaints.info
In view of the first International Study Conference on the Permanent Diaconate, Paul VI stated on 25 October 1965: “Surely the Council acted in accordance with a providential inspiration of the Holy Spirit when it decided to renew the original ministry of diaconate at the service of the People of God.” It is in this conviction that I ask you not to relent in your commitment to a diaconal Universal Church and a world of solidarity. You are ambassadors of Jesus Christ who rejects anything related to authority and puts human hierarchies upside down like anyone who serves. You are ambassadors of our incarnate God who shows solidarity up until death and beyond death. You are called to accompany other people on their way to incarnation, in solidarity, everywhere in the world.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart for this commitment. At the same time I ask you to accompany me and my ministry with prayer. I also promise to take your concerns to the Lord and cordially impart to you my Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, on 20 October 2015
FRANCIS

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Bishop Olmstead (Phoenix) - "Into the Breach"

Yesterday, Bishop Olmstead published an apostolic exhortation to men to step "into the breach" of faith and spiritual life.  His exhortation is excellent!  Please read it.  It's entirely relevant to deacons and those of you in deacon formation, too.  The main point is about a revival of Catholic manliness by:
  • a rejection of postmodern culture's confusion about anthropology and gender, and an embrace of traditional and Biblical norms for masculinity (i.e., strength with gentleness, justice with mercy, wisdom and humility, basic courtesy, boldness to face down evil and to lead to the good, protection of others, especially those who can't protect themselves, the Biblical "widows and orphans" - in a word, chivalry),
  • chastity,
  • fidelity for fathers and husbands (and a deliberate promotion of the necessary norms for being good fathers and husbands, over against the self-indulgent decadence of the culture and the scourge of divorce),
  • return to the Mass and the sacrament of Confession,
  • prayer and personal devotion.
I'm hoping that the website will continue to be a good source for informationa and resources.  Click through to see a short video associated with the exhortation.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Pope Francis in America - Homily, Midday Prayer with the Bishops, 9/23

This is, I think, the clearest, most comprehensive articulation that I've seen, of what Pope Francis is trying to do as Pope.  Some of his actions and words have, at times, been seen with confusion and ambiguity.  His "style" can be abrupt and imprecise, especially in comparison with his two immediate predecessors.  But here, there is nothing unclear or objectionable in what he's laying out, and there is a full embrace of Tradition, just as I also embrace, believe, and strive to act.  Especially, his words here are full of charity and joy, as he invites his brother bishops (and, through them, all of us) again to work with him in the vineyard of Christ.  Read the whole thing at the above link.

Some highlights:

www.gettyimages.com
The heart of the Pope expands to include everyone. To testify to the immensity of God’s love is the heart of the mission entrusted to the Successor of Peter, the Vicar of the One who on the cross embraced the whole of mankind. May no member of Christ’s Body and the American people feel excluded from the Pope’s embrace. Wherever the name of Jesus is spoken, may the Pope’s voice also be heard to affirm that: “He is the Savior”! From your great coastal cities to the plains of the Midwest, from the deep South to the far reaches of the West, wherever your people gather in the Eucharistic assembly, may the Pope be not simply a name but a felt presence, sustaining the fervent plea of the Bride: “Come, Lord!”  Whenever a hand reaches out to do good or to show the love of Christ, to dry a tear or bring comfort to the lonely, to show the way to one who is lost or to console a broken heart, to help the fallen or to teach those thirsting for truth, to forgive or to offer a new start in God… know that the Pope is at your side, the Pope supports you. He puts his hand on your own, a hand wrinkled with age, but by God’s grace still able to support and encourage.
 
I speak to you as the Bishop of Rome, called by God in old age, and from a land which is also American, to watch over the unity of the universal Church and to encourage in charity the journey of all the particular Churches toward ever greater knowledge, faith and love of Christ. Reading over your names, looking at your faces, knowing the extent of your churchmanship and conscious of the devotion which you have always shown for the Successor of Peter, I must tell you that I do not feel a stranger in your midst. I am a native of a land which is also vast, with great open ranges, a land which, like your own, received the faith from itinerant missionaries. I too know how hard it is to sow the Gospel among people from different worlds, with hearts often hardened by the trials of a lengthy journey. Nor am I unaware of the efforts made over the years to build up the Church amid the prairies, mountains, cities and suburbs of a frequently inhospitable land, where frontiers are always provisional and easy answers do not always work. What does work is the combination of the epic struggle of the pioneers and the homely wisdom and endurance of the settlers. As one of your poets has put it, “strong and tireless wings” combined with the wisdom of one who “knows the mountains”.
 
www.gettyimages.com
We are bishops of the Church, shepherds appointed by God to feed his flock. Our greatest joy is to be shepherds, and only shepherds, pastors with undivided hearts and selfless devotion. We need to preserve this joy and never let ourselves be robbed of it. The evil one roars like a lion, anxious to devour it, wearing us down in our resolve to be all that we are called to be, not for ourselves but in gift and service to the “Shepherd of our souls” (1 Pet 2:25).  The heart of our identity is to be sought in constant prayer, in preaching (Acts 6:4) and in shepherding the flock entrusted to our care (Jn 21:15-17; Acts 20:28-31).  Ours must not be just any kind of prayer, but familiar union with Christ, in which we daily encounter his gaze and sense that he is asking us the question: “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” (Mk 3:31-34). One in which we can calmly reply: “Lord, here is your mother, here are your brothers! I hand them over to you; they are the ones whom you entrusted to me”. Such trusting union with Christ is what nourishes the life of a pastor.
 
The great mission which the Lord gives us is one which we carry out in communion, collegially. The world is already so torn and divided, brokenness is now everywhere. Consequently, the Church, “the seamless garment of the Lord” cannot allow herself to be rent, broken or fought over.  Our mission as bishops is first and foremost to solidify unity, a unity whose content is defined by the Word of God and the one Bread of Heaven. With these two realities each of the Churches entrusted to us remains Catholic, because open to, and in communion with, all the particular Churches and with the Church of Rome which “presides in charity”. It is imperative, therefore, to watch over that unity, to safeguard it, to promote it and to bear witness to it as a sign and instrument which, beyond every barrier, unites nations, races, classes and generations.
 
 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Is the "deaconess" a female deacon?

Deacon Greg Kandra on Deacon's Bench notes today a recently-published interview with Austrian theologian Dietmar Winkler of Salzburg University.  The English version is picked up by the Tablet, hardly a reliable source, and my German isn't up to reading the original.  Dr. Winkler is reported to have said, among other things,

“Married priests and women deacons should be reintroduced as soon as possible. That would bring new dynamism to the Church”, the future dean of Salzburg University’s Catholic theological faculty, Professor Dietmar Winkler, told the Austrian daily Salzburger Nachrichten

What Dr. Winkler and so many who promote the ordination of women to the diaconate don't know (or at least don't seem to know) is that the ancient order of "deaconess" was never seen by the Latin Church as a female version of the Order of Deacons.  Rather, it was parallel to the Lector - a ministry, certainly, but not a consecrated ministry of the sort reserved to the sacrament of Holy Orders.  Deaconesses did not ever receive that sacrament.  Deaconesses had several roles, nearly all of which were serving other women in situations where it would be improper or scandalous for men to do so.  The most common role was in the baptism of women, which was often done disrobed; from that also came a catechetical roles forming those women.  Other liturgical roles, like reading and ushering, were predominantly in women's monastic houses or groups, where men (apart from priests) were not present.

This distinction is deeply embedded in the liturgical texts of the "ordination" of deaconesses.  (One can, in the broad sense, speak of "ordination" of a deaconess.  The root meaning of "ordination" is simply "induction into an order," and no one is arguing that deaconesses did not constitute an order, like that of the Order of Widows, say.  But this should never be confused with the special sense of "ordination" which means "induction into one of the orders of the sacrament of Holy Orders.")  Even if the symbols of the diaconate (laying on of hands, giving of a stole) could be used for deaconesses sometimes, the words (and therefore the meaning) of the rituals remain quite different.  For example, here's the earliest known pair of ritual texts, from the Apostolic Constitutions from Syria in the 4th century (Book III has other interesting info on deacons and deaconesses):

Prayer for a deacon:  "...[H]ear our prayer, Lord, and give ear to our supplication, and let your face shine on this your servant who is appointed to you for ministry, and fill him with spirit and power, as you filled Stephen the protomartyr and imitator of the sufferings of your Christ.  And grant that he, acceptably performing the sacred ministry entrusted to him, may be worthy of a higher rank through the mediation of your Christ..."*

Prayer for a deaconess: "Eternal Father..., creator of man and woman, who filled with the Spirit Miriam and Deborah and Anna and Huldah; who did not disdain that your only-begotten Son should be born of a woman; who also in the tent of the testimony and in the temple appointed women to be guardians of your holy gates: now look upon this your servant who is being appointed for your ministry, and give her the Holy Spirit and cleanse her from every defilement of body and spirit so that she may worthily complete the work committed to her, to your glory and the praise of your Christ..."*

Note the key distinctions.  The ministry of the deacon is "sacred," it is done "with spirit and power," and it may lead to "a higher rank" (namely the priesthood).  The ministry of the deaconess is simply "ministry," not sacred (Holy Orders) ministry, it is done with the spirit but not "power," and it is completed worthily without any indication of "higher rank."  The text for a lector from the same source uses, for a lector, the same "ministry" (not sacred ministry) and the same "spirit" (not spirit and powe), but then does indicate the "higher rank" that follows. 

One might also note that the Old Testament typology and the New Testament roots of the deaconess are likewise completely different from those of deacons, as elaborated in other version of the rituals.  So there's really no question that deaconesses are not female versions of the Holy Orders rank of deacon, but rather female versions of something like the lector, with a few differences specific to their unique context (lectors don't baptize, for example, except in case of emergency, but they do catechize).  Finally, one might point out that, in fact, we have already "restored" the deaconess in the modern Church - they're now called "Lay Ecclesial Ministers."

*(Source: Paul Bradshaw, Ordination Rites of the Ancient Churches of East and West (New York, 1990) 116-7.)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Homily outline for Wednesday 7/8/15 - Evangelization

Here's today's Gospel (Mt 10:1-7):

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Apostles_capp.JPG
Jesus summoned his Twelve disciples
and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out
and to cure every disease and every illness.
The names of the Twelve Apostles are these:
first, Simon called Peter, and his brother Andrew;
James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John;
Philip and Bartholomew,
Thomas and Matthew the tax collector;
James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus;
Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot
who betrayed Jesus.

Jesus sent out these Twelve after instructing them thus,
“Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town.
Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”


For my homily, I gave St. Jerome's two-point interpretation of this passage from the Catena Aurea.  Here's the quick summary.

First point - Scripture doesn't contradict itself.  So, this sending of the Apostles only to their fellow Jews is not in contradiction with the later sending to "all nations" (Mt 28:19).  Rather, it's two steps in the fulfillment of God's one plan for salvation.  The Jews already had their special status as God's preistly people, and the Revelation of Scripture, to prepare them for this proclamation of the Kingdom; and indeed, many of them did hear and respond, not least the Apostles themselves.  The Gentiles, lacking this relationship with God, would wait for the Resurrection to have the whole Gospel proclaimed to them.

Second point flows from this.  Since Scripture doesn't contradict itself, we can't read this passage as any kind of limit on where and when we ourselves proclaim the Kingdom.  We're sent everyone by our Baptism and Confirmation, and for the ordained, by our Orders.  But, St. Jerome says, the verse should be read spiritually, as an indication of how we proclaim.  If we live our lives in the manner of those who don't know Christ ("Gentiles"), or who have accepted only part of the Gospel ("Samaritans"), we can't evangelize effectively.  We have to live entirely as disciples of Christ, and evangelize from that standpoint first and foremost, by how we live.  Thus we may show in our daily actions, even before we may have a chance to speak, the joy, mercy, grace, and hope of Jesus Christ, to a world starving for His love.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Order of Penitents

Dominican Father Thomas Michelet has written an intriguing article in Nova et Vetera, (English 
Christ the Good Shepherd( from St. John's Icon Studio)
translation) arguing that a reclaiming of something like the ancient Order of Penitents could be pastorally useful today.  For those who find themselves in irregular situations with respect to the sacramental disciplines of the Church, such as the divorced-and-civilly-remarried or those who have fallen away from the Church, it could provide both a concrete position in the Church, instead of the often-nebulous injunction not to present oneself for Communion; and a predictable structure for offering them pastoral care and a path of conversion and regularization.  What he has sketched out in the article appears to remain consistent with Scripture and Tradition, and the current discipline of the Sacraments, while attempting a bridge between where people are (away from the Sacraments) and returning them to full communion.  Notably, Fr. Michelet argues for the importance of reaching out to those most in need of penance, in order to bring them to an interior understanding of their sins and need for conversion, rather than (as we too often do) just waiting for them to show up, contrite.