Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Reconciliation and Penance

When a penitent confesses his sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation, the priest assigns a penance, something that the absolved sinner has to perform as an act of atonement. The grace of the sacrament is not complete until the penance is performed. Long ago, penances could be quite severe and public. In modern practice, penance is private and typically light, the emphasis being upon the mercy of God.

I am often tempted to think that the penance is too easy. I am unburdened of the same sins yet again, and all that I have to do is say a few Our Fathers and Hail Marys? God indeed is merciful, for the penance that I truly deserve would be harsh. If the penance truly was just, according to our worldly thinking, I might be more readily dissuaded from committing the sin, or I might just as likely be dissuaded from seeking forgiveness (or putting it off for as long as possible).

At my last confession, I was given the usual penance of Our Fathers and Hail Marys. As I kneeled before the tabernacle, saying the prayers, I let the words enter into my consciousness, and I realized that these two prayers are, in fact, good penance for the absolved sinner.

In the Our Father we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” It brings to mind the parable that Jesus told of the man who was unable to repay a huge debt. He pleaded for mercy and was granted it, but then refused to show mercy to another man who owed him much less. The absolved sinner has been forgiven a debt that he cannot possibly repay. Praying the Our Father reminds us that we have been shown great mercy, and must “pay it forward” to those who have wronged or will wrong us.

Furthermore, we add, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Another of the requirements for absolution in the sacrament is a resolution not to repeat the sins just confessed. Contrition, or sorrow for our sins, cannot be genuine if we intend to continue sinning. Sometimes the resolution lasts less than a full day. If we find that we are repeatedly going to confession and repeating the same sins, then maybe we need to make a change in our life to avoid the occasion of sin. In other words, avoid temptation. The Our Father is a gentle reminder that we need to avoid temptation, and God’s grace makes it possible. We must be faithful in the small things if we are to have any hope of being faithful in the really big things.

In the Hail Mary we ask the Mother of God to “pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.” Again, we acknowledge our sinfulness and ask Jesus’ own mother to intercede for us on our behalf. She is our loving mother, given to us by Christ himself from the cross. She wants us to be received into heaven, and for that, we must avoid a life of sin. When we fail in our resolutions to avoid sin, her prayers can obtain for us the grace of repentance and contrition.

Now, the next time that I hear the priest utter the words “for you penance say four Our Fathers and four Hail Marys,” I will have an increased appreciation for the penance that I am to perform, and with every prayer, I will remember that I have been shown a great mercy.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sin and Prayer in the Catechism

The final year of the Why Catholic program covers Part Four of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: Christian Prayer. The part on prayer is the smallest of the four parts of the Catechism, so the number of paragraphs covered by each of the 12 sessions is smaller than in any of the previous three years. I've read the covered paragraphs as we've worked our way through, so in just two weeks, I will have completed reading the Catechism cover to cover for the second time (plus going to it for reference).

Every now and then, I read something that I don't understand. Such is the case in paragraph 2744, which quotes St. John Chrysostom's Sermon on Anna:

Nothing is equal to prayer; for what is impossible it makes possible, what is difficult, easy. . . . For it is impossible, utterly impossible, for the man who prays eagerly and invokes God ceaselessly ever to sin.

When I first read this, I though, "Whoa, that's way over the top! We're all sinners! I pray, and I sin. For this to be true, either my prayers aren't prayers, or my sins aren't sins!" I freely admit that I was conflicted. I thought that the quoted passage couldn't possibly mean what it literally said, and so I assumed that the original context of the quote would provide the true meaning. Perhaps when he says sin, he's specifically talking only about mortal sin. But, I can't find the Sermon anywhere on line, and I don't have any compilations of St. John's writings anywhere at hand. I have no idea what the context is.

I tried to convince myself that the passages in the Catechism that are in the smaller font are ancillary. They are there to add flavor, if you will. What's more, a quoted passage is no more infallible by virtue of being included in the Catechism than it was in its original context. Saints, while holy and virtuous, are not necessarily infallible with respect to the doctrine of their writings.

Now, as I sit pondering the passage, I suppose that the whole thing pivots upon those two words, "eagerly" and "ceaselessly." If one is in constant communion with God in prayer, then there would be no sin. It is only when we break that communion, or flag in our devotion, that we fall from grace.

I have apparently come around on the quote by St. John Chrysostom, at least to the extent that praying eagerly and ceaselessly is as hard as living completely free from sin, and the attempt is necessary for any who wishes to lead a holy life.

For the second saint quoted in paragraph 2744, St. Alphonsus Liguori, I'm going to have to give that more thought on a different day.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Companion to the Catechism

Way back in 1994, when the 1st edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church was released, my wife and I bought a copy of the Catechism, but we also purchased the Companion to the Catechism. According to the information provided by the publisher,

This Companion to the Catechism of the Catholic Church Book of References contains all the passages of Sacred Scripture referred to in the Catechism arranged according to the paragraphs in which the references are made.

But that is only a beginning. The Catechism also refers to conciliar texts, papal documents, writings of the Fathers and of the Saints. There are more than 3,600 of these references extending from the earliest credal formulations of the ancient Church to the documents of Vatican II and beyond to the magisterial teaching of Pope John Paul II. The Book of References includes all the texts referred to arranged, along with the Scripture passages, according to the paragraphs of the Catechism in which they are referred.

So, we thought we had it made. We would have at our fingertips all of the passages referenced by the Catechism. If only that were true. I've found, in the last few weeks, that some of the references that I want to look up are most decidedly not included in the Companion.

Need an example? Consider paragraph 2760 from the Catechism:

2760 Very early on, liturgical usage concluded the Lord's Prayer with a doxology. In the Didache, we find, "For yours are the power and the glory for ever."4 The Apostolic Constitutions add to the beginning: "the kingdom," and this is the formula retained to our day in ecumenical prayer.5 The Byzantine tradition adds after "the glory" the words "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." The Roman Missal develops the last petition in the explicit perspective of "awaiting our blessed hope" and of the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.6 Then comes the assembly's acclamation or the repetition of the doxology from the Apostolic Constitutions.

There are three references in the paragraph: (4) Didache 8,2:Sch 248, 174; (5) Apostolic Constitutions, 7,24,1:PG 1, 1016; and (6) Titus 2:13; cf. Roman Missal 22, Embolism after the Lord's Prayer.

What do you get when you turn to the references for paragraph 2760 in the Companion? A single entry: Roman Missal 126 (Embolism after the Lord's Prayer). The other references aren't there! Not even the referenced scripture passage from Titus!

The Companion is useless for me when I turn to it in desperation to try to get some context for the quotes from St. John Chrysostom and St. Alphonsus Liquori in paragraph 2744. More on that in a future post.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Fr. David Zink and Sr. Ann Shields at Holy Angels

On Friday night, my wife and I traveled to Holy Angels church in Sidney for mass celebrated by Fr. David Zink and a talk by Sr. Ann Shields. Both are featured locally on Radio Maria, WHJM 88.7 FM. [UPDATE: Russ Martin has photos of the event posted at Cross Tipped Churches.]

Fr. Zink gave an inspired homily, stretching the normal weekday mass to almost an hour and a half. With the gospel read from John 7, Fr. Zink used a discussion of the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles as his starting point. He described how the feast memorialized the 40 years spent by the Jews in the desert following the exodus from Egypt. Of course, there was great murmuring by the Jews over the course of those 40 years. Many longed to return to Egypt. The ungrateful, unfaithful desert Jews could be likened to today’s cafeteria Catholics, who pick and choose which moral teachings of the Church they are going to follow.

Fr. Zink pulled no punches in his critique of modern society. It was teaching of the sort that is, sadly, rarely heard from Catholic pulpits today.

After mass, Sr. Ann Shield spoke about suffering. Much of her talk was based on Colossians 1:24, where St. Paul writes, "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is the church." Pain and suffering will find us. It might be physical or it might be emotional, but we all suffer at some point. Through the grace of God, we can unite our suffering to that of Christ. Our suffering is redemptive, if we let it be. We must not let our suffering go to waste.

At one point, Sr. Ann recounted a trip to Rome in 1995 with Ralph Martin, the President of Renewal Ministries where Sr. Ann works and produces her daily radio program. They were invited to attend a private mass and reception with Pope John Paul II. The Pope had justed started to suffer the effects of Parkinson's disease, and as he was leaving, he held up his cane and said, "Why this?" In the final years of his life, he struggled with the advancing infirmities of his age and disease, and in the process, he taught us all how to suffer with dignity, doing as much good for the Church as in all of his healthy years when he strode the world like a collosus.

The evening was very rewarding, and many people in attendance went away wishing there had been more time for both speakers.

The program was sponsored by Radio Maria. This is a radio station that does not play advertisements. They operate solely on donations from listeners and benefactors. They operate with the blessing of the Archbishop, but are not funded by the Archdiocese, so it is understandable that they would ask for pledges. It is the only Catholic radio station that we are able to pick up in the area, and it's only been broadcasting locally for three years. It is an apostolic outreach that we should be eager to support and promote.

Friday, March 27, 2009

You Know You're Suffering from Obama Derangement Syndrome When . . .

. . . you scan the headlines at the Drudge Report and the juxtaposition of the stories shown at the left leads you, on your first read, to conclude that troops are being dispatched to South Bend.

Happy Birthday

One of those things that has to be shared. It brought tears to my unfeeling German eyes.

H/T: Kevin Knight at New Advent and California Catholic Daily.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Do You Smell Something?

You never know where some conversations might lead, especially when conducted via email. Please allow me to share one such instance from this very weak. I warn you, however, that this tale is not for the faint of heart. If you are easily offended or disgusted, you will want to stop reading now.

For those of you who are still curious about where this might lead, I shall continue. On Thursday nights, I and some other men are involved in a boys’ youth apostolate. We get the boys together for dodgeball and try to mix in a little Catholic formation. In the whole grand hierarchy of the apostolate, I am quite content to be just a cog. I am happy, generally speaking, to follow the lead of our “President.” The Pres takes care of all our paperwork, insurance, meeting facilities, fundraisers, etc. In the grand scheme of things, he does a lot of work; I just show up.

The Pres sent an email earlier this week notifying all of us cogs that Brother M was interested in coming to our meeting Thursday, and by the way it was sports and awards night, the last meeting of the current campaign. Cog E replied with a suggestion for how we might put Brother M to work, but also noting that we would not be able to use the school gym next week because of a meeting that has been scheduled for kindergarten parents. Cog E is kind of like a super-cog. He actually has responsibilities above and beyond us other cogs. Cog E, for instance, is the only cog capable of activating our emergency broadcast in the event that we have to cancel one of our scheduled meetings.

I, with all the wisdom of a mere cog and having just looked at my calendar, noted that next Thursday is the fourth anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul the Great, and since we were banished from the gym, we might be able to do the sports part of the evening outside on the lawn, but the 10-day forecast predicts rain. The Thursday after that is Holy Thursday, and most of us would rather attend the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. We aren’t scheduled to meet on Holy Thursday anyway, but if we cancelled next week, we would then be three full weeks behind the schedule promulgated by The Pres back in September (Cog E had to cancel some earlier meetings due to bad winter weather and an elementary school open house).

Cog E was impressed by my use of the words “banished” and “promulgated.” I had no idea he was so easily impressed.

The Pres now wrote back with a new schedule for the last campaign of the year. We would meet next week at the Parish Center, replacing the sports segment with a rainy day activity that he’s been keeping up his sleeve. We would not meet on Holy Thursday, but would meet the next four Thursdays, concluding with a cookout at a local park on Saturday featuring chili dogs and orange Crush. On Sunday, we would all have gas. His revised schedule included dates, but he placed Holy Thursday on April 7th, rather than April 9th.

I had to take the bait. I wrote back that I preferred my Holy Thursday to fall on Thursday and did not agree with moving it to Tuesday. It was still trying to cope with moving Ascension Thursday to Sunday. And, of course, I had to note that my gas would not wait until Sunday.

Cog E thought this was all great fun, and chimed in that his doctor had identified the cause of his gas, and unfortunately it was oxygen.

At this point, the whole discussion thread was spiraling dreadfully out of control into uncharted waters. But I couldn’t help myself from doing what came next.

Cog E had already tweaked me on my vocabulary, and having recently watched a certain episode of Myth Busters, I crafted a new direction for the thread, skillfully weaving in a very little bit of theology. The correct terminology, I informed Cog E, is “flatus.” Flatus is composed of about 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen, just like the air we breathe. There is, however, a little sulfur thrown in for flavor. Now sulfur is commonly associated with the devil. I found it interesting to contemplate the idea that the Evil One smells of flatus.

The Pres immediately ordered us not to share this new information with our sons or any of the Thursday boys, lest they be encouraged to “let the devil out.” Cog E agreed, but added that this dangerous new idea should be kept from his daughters as well.

The other cogs were strangely silent throughout the exchange; and the subject line never changed. Right up until the very last message, the subject was “Brother M.” Poor Brother M.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Annunciation

by Samuel Menashe
Copyright (c) 2008 First Things (August/September 2008).

She bows her head
Submissive, yet
Her downcast glance
Asks the angel,
“WhyFor this romance,
Do I qualify?”

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

An Evening with Sister Ann Shields

Sister Ann Shields of Renewal Ministries has a daily program that airs on Radio Maria (heard locally at 88.7 FM out of Anna, OH) every morning at 7:30 (and also at 1:30 pm). That's usually when my wife and I are getting our kids ready for school, so I don't get to hear the show. Luckily, audio of each day's program is available online. I listen nearly every day, and I get a lot from her reflections on the mass readings of the day.

I was delighted, then, to hear from a friend that she will be speaking at Holy Angels Church in Sidney on Friday, March 27. My wife and I both grew up attending Holy Angels. We were married there, and three of our six children were baptized there. In many ways, it will always feel like home.

The evening will begin with mass at 6:00 pm, celebrated by Fr. David Zink. Sister Ann Shields will speak at 7:30 pm. I am looking forward to the evening.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Second Sign

Often when I read the Bible, I note something that obviously has some significance beyond what is apparent to me. I might do some initial exploration, checking sources close at hand, but if I don't find the answer that I'm looking for, I make note of the text and ponder it.

Such is the case with the gospel for today's mass, John 4:43-54. The reading concerns the return of Jesus to Galilee and the healing of an official's son. The parts that had me scratching my head and thumbing around through the rest of John's gospel were in verses 46 ("he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine") and 54 ("this was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee").

John, inspired by the Holy Spirit, thought that it was important to tie this sign, performed in Cana, to the changing of the water into wine, also at Cana. John 2:11 notes on that occasion, "This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him." Now Jesus performs his second sign, also in Cana. What happened in between the first and second signs?

According to John, Jesus went down to Jerusalem for the Passover and drove the money changers from the Temple. "What sign have you to show us for doing this?" the Jews asked (John 2:18). Is it significant that this is asked between the first and second signs? But then in John 23 we learn "when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs which he did." So much for the idea that turning the water to wine and healing the official's son are first and second in a chronological sense, for it is apparent that there were other signs in between.

After his discussion with Nicodemus, Jesus goes out to Judea and spends some time baptizing (not Jesus himself, but his disciples) with John the Baptist. Once the Pharisees learn of it, Jesus heads back to Galilee by way of Samaria, where he encounters the woman at the well. And that brings us to taday's gospel and the second sign.

The Ignatius Study Bible for the Gospel of John notes, "The Fourth Gospel draws attention to seven signs: (1) the miracle at Cana (2:1-11), (2) the healing of the official's son (4:46-54), (3) the healing of the paralytic (5:1-9), (4) the multiplication of the loaves (6:1-14), (5) the restoration of the blind man (9:1-41), (6) the raising of Lazarus (11:17-44), and, most important of all, (7) the Resurrection of Jesus, which is the second sign mentioned in the Gospel (2:18-22) but the final and climactic sign to be accomplished (10:1-10)." The seven-fold signs in John's Gospel increase in importance and significance while recalling the seven days of creation and the new Covenant instituted through Christ's sacrifice on the cross.

Only the first and second are identified by number in the text, though. And the first two are specifically linked together by the text. Why? The closest explanation I can find near at hand is from St. Augustine, who explains that of all that saw the sign of the wine in Cana, only his disciples came to believe. Now, back in Cana, the official comes to him, but does not believe. Thus Jesus says to him, "Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe." The official does not believe until he is met by his servants on the way home. Thus, the connection between the first two signs and Cana.

Now why are only these two numbered?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

What Would Joseph Do?

Jesus never had a wife. He never had a family for which he had to make provisions. Yes, I understand that the Church is his bride and that he would have had to provide for his mother and that we are all, in some sense, his children. Still, as a husband and father, it is sometimes hard for me to look to Jesus as the model of my behavior. I am tied down in a way that he never was.

The Church also proposes to us the Blessed Virgin Mary as a model of holiness. Again, the argument can be made that, as a parent, she raised the Son of God and that, when Jesus from the cross, entrusted to her motherhood the beloved Apostle, he was entrusting to her motherhood all believers. But I’m a little old-school in thinking that motherhood is a little different from fatherhood. The ideal of the perfect woman cannot be applied to a man to arrive at the perfect man.

I have, for a long time, had a special devotion to St. Joseph. As a husband and a father, he provides an example that I often have trouble seeing in Jesus or Mary. On occasion, I find myself wondering, “What would Joseph do?”

When I have a busy week, with meetings and activities every night, I can't help but wonder whether St. Joseph would have done all this. Would he have been on the pastoral council at the local synagogue? Would he have participated in the local Jewish Men's Fellowship? Would he have coached a sports team or led a cub scout den for little Jesus?

I have trouble picturing it. He seems to me to have been a just man who worked hard, loved his family, and sought righteousness before God. Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God -- isn't that the message of the prophets? So why do I feel compelled to try to do more? Taking Joseph as a model, my most important tasks in life are to love God, love my wife, and love my children.

Things sometimes seem harder for me. My wife, though she has many virtues, was not immaculately conceived. There are rare occasions when she makes it hard for me to be holy. My six children, likewise, are not like us in all things but sin. When it comes time for them to go to Confession, they might claim to be sinless, but their parents know better. Joseph didn't have to work with the family that I've got. Yet, perhaps if I were a little more like Joseph, my wife would find it easier to imitate Mary and my children to imitate Christ. I haven't had to flee from any homicidal kings who wish to see my children dead.

I have much to learn from St. Joseph, and I pray that he will intercede on my behalf.

St. Joseph, most chaste spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, pray for us!

St. Joseph's Sublime Dignity

Today is the Solemnity of St. Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

It is certain that the dignity of the Mother of God is so exalted that nothing could be more sublime; yet because Mary was united to Joseph by the bond of marriage, there can be no doubt but that Joseph approached as no other person ever could that eminent dignity whereby the Mother of God towers above all creatures. Since marriage is the highest degree of association and friendship, involving by its very nature a communion of goods, it follows that God, by giving Joseph to the Virgin, did not give him to her only as a companion for life, a witness of her virginity and protector of her honor: he also gave Joseph to Mary in order that he might share, through the marriage pact, in her own sublime greatness.

Pope John Paul II in Redemptoris Custos,
quoting Pope Leo XIII in Quamquam pluries.

The Catholic Church makes a pretty big deal out of St. Joseph, even though very little is written of him in scripture. God entrusted to him the care of his own Son. St. Joseph continues that role as patron of the whole Church. The Popes have asserted that St. Joseph approaches in a way that no other saint can, the unique role that Mary played and continues to play.

you entrusted our Savior to the care of Saint Joseph.
By the help of his prayers
may your Church continue to serve it Lord, Jesus Christ
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

5K Season Approaching

I received my invitation to the dance over the weekend. OK, that might be just a little melodramatic. What I actually received was an email notification of the first race in this year's Shelby County 5K Tour, a series of 5K races, all in Shelby County, beginning in late April and concluding in mid October. A new race has been added this year, bringing the total to twelve.

The tour begins with the BEST (Bringing Everyone at Shelby Hills Together) 5K at Tawawa Park in Sidney on April 25. That gives me 5-1/2 weeks to prepare. I think that I'm a little ahead of where I was at this point last year, but I've got to make more of an effort to get out and log some miles. I jogged 5-1/2 miles yesterday, and I can feel it in my feet, knees, and hips today.

A week or so ago, I ran outside for the first time in a while. My wife commented, "I'll bet you enjoyed running outside." I paused, not sure how to answer, then said, "Now that it's over, yes, it was nice to run outside." It seems as though I am chasing that runner's high that exists only in my memory and the jogging propaganda.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Naaman's Silver

I've read and heard the story before, and I'm sure you have too. It's tied to the gospel from Luke 4, when Jesus goes home to Nazareth to initiate his ministry by reading from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue, then proclaiming, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:21). The people ask him to do some miracles, and he replies by noting that Elijah went to a foreign widow, rather than one from Israel, and Elisha healed a leper from Syria, rather than one of the many lepers in Israel. "When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath" (Luke 4:28).

At Mass today, the story of Naaman from 2 Kings 4 was read. We heard how Naaman was a general in the service of the king of Syria and a leper. A slave girl told him of a prophet in Israel who could cure him. So he packed his bags with valuables and set out with his entourage for Israel. Elisha told him to wash seven times in the Jordan River. Naaman is offended. What's wrong with the rivers in Syria? He storms off, but his servants calm him down, and he returns. Upon bathing for the seventh time, his leprosy is cured. He returns to Elisha and praises the God of Israel. So ends the passage read at Mass, but it's not the end of the story.

Naaman is grateful, and he wants to give gifts to Elisha, but Elisha refuses. Naaman leaves to return to Syria with dirt from Israel so that he can offer sacrifice and worship to the God of Israel. Now the story gets interesting.

One of Elisha's servants, Gehazi, sees Naaman leaving with all of his silver, gold, and festal garments. Gehazi runs after Naaman and tells Naaman that Elisha sent him. Gehazi asks Naaman for two talents of silver and two festal garments, to which Naaman generously agrees. A talent of silver must have been quite a sum, for Naaman had taken with him ten talents of silver and 6000 shekels of gold.

Elisha knew exactly what Gehazi had done, and was not happy! The leprosy that had been removed from Naaman was bestowed upon Gehazi. And now you know the rest of the story.

There are so many spiritual lessons that leap out from the full story. The words of Christ upon sending out the apostles seems appropriate: "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without pay, give without pay" (Matthew 10:8).


Listening to this past Sunday's Gospel reading at Mass reminded me why I prefer the Revised Standard Version (RSV) to the New American Bible (NAB). For the most part, the readings used in the English Lectionary are from the NAB translation. A notable exception is Luke 1:28, read at the Annunciation (only nine days away!). The Lectionary retains the phrase, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!" The NAB reads "Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you."

What got me on Sunday, though, was at the very end of the Gospel. John 2:24-25 is rendered by the NAB as "But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well." The deacon reading the Gospel even stumbled over the wording. The RSV translation, which I understand is closer to a literal translation of the original language, reads "but Jesus did not trust himself to them, because he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man."

I think we're all mature enough to understand that when the Bible uses "man" in this context, it's not meant to exclude women. When political correctness has us rewriting scripture to avoid offense to the overly sensitive, I think we've officially surrendered our claim of fidelity to the eternal, unchanging word of god.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

What Do Catholics Really Believe?

Many years ago, I asked myself several questions that, in my naivete, I had since assumed that all serious Christians have to ask themselves upon attaining maturity. Somewhere I must have made a false assumption, for every time that I delve into survey results on what other Catholics believe, I cannot help but be amazed and distressed.

The questions that I had were pretty basic, or so I thought. Why am I Catholic? Why am I not Lutheran or Methodist or some other Christian denomination? Why aren’t I a Jew, a Moslem, a Hindu, or a Buddhist? Does it make a difference? If I tell people that I am a Catholic, what am I saying about myself? Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I am Catholic because I believe the claims of the Catholic Church, that it does make a huge difference, and that when I tell people I am Catholic, I am telling them that I believe what the Catholic Church teaches.

Apparently, most Catholics never deal with these questions. I hope that it’s a larger problem out in the broader world than it is here in the German-Catholic ghetto at the extreme north of the Cincinnati Archdiocese. I say that based solely upon a single anecdote. I knew a woman who moved into the area and converted to Catholicism. She was a lovely lady. A few years after her conversion, she changed jobs and moved to a nearby city—not a big city, mind you, one with a population of about 20,000. A year or two after her move, I ran into her at a pilgrimage. She shared that she missed the faith of the people from our area. People in the city are as likely as not to say, “I’m Catholic, but . . . .” That little three letter conjunction, which is intended to signal high-minded independent thought, so much more instead.

What prompted all of this is an examination of survey results. The American Religious Identification Survey 2008 results have been in the news recently, mostly for noting an increase in those claiming no religion whatsoever. About a year ago, in February 2008, it was the results of the Pew Forum U. S. Religious Landscape Survey, which made waves in Catholic media for noting that 32% of U.S. residents who were raised Catholic no longer consider themselves Catholic. God only knows how many more still call themselves Catholic, although they functionally ceased being Catholic long ago. Finally, there was the Survey of Religion and Politics conducted by the University of Akron dealing with voting patterns in the presidential election. All three are available on-line.

If the Catholic Church is known for anything in the United States, it would be for it’s staunch opposition to abortion. And yet, among individual Catholics, 48% think that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and only 45% think that abortion should be illegal in most or all cases. The majority of Catholics, it would appear, are pro-choice, even though the Church calls abortion an intrinsic evil.

What about God? 93% of Catholics are absolutely or fairly certain that God exists, but only 60% believe in a personal God (in the Akron study the figure is a mere 41.9%!). That means that 40% of Catholics either don’t believe in God or believe that God is an impersonal force. It’s not a question covered by the survey, but I can’t help but wonder how those 40% view the divinity of Jesus, whom Catholics profess in the Creed to be “the only Son of God eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.”

There are some inconsistencies in the numbers. Only 70% of Catholics believe in life after death, but 82% believe in heaven. The disparity must come from those who believe the souls in heaven are dead.

Not surprising is the statistic that most Catholics rarely read their Bible. A third of Catholics never read their Bible. Another third read scripture either seldom or several times a year.

The University of Akron study divided Catholics into three categories: Traditionalist, Centrist, and Modernist. When I first read those divisions, I assumed that I would fall within the Centrist division. I am certainly not a Modernist, and I don’t reject the Second Vatican Council. I was surprised to see that a higher percentage of Traditionalist Catholics voted for Obama than Centrist Catholics (surprised because of Obama’s support for abortion and the Catholic Church’s opposition). Even among Traditionalist non-Latino Catholics, weekly worship attendance (one of the precepts of the Church) and belief in a personal god are less than total at 89.4% and 72.9% respectively. The numbers for Centrist Catholics are much worse.

These kinds of numbers are a temptation to despair. Although 24% of the American population identifies itself as Catholic, many (most?) don’t really mean what they say. It’s hard to say whether all these muddled souls are willfully dissenting from Church teaching, or are just ignorant products of poor catechesis. It is clear that the Church in America has some work to do.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Why Catholic? Faith Sharing

For the last three years, my wife and I have participated in the Why Catholic program through our parish. Why Catholic is a faith sharing program based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is a four year program with each of the four years following one of the pillars of the Catechism. Thus, year one focused on the Creed, year two on the sacraments, year three on Christian morality, and year four on prayer. In each of the years, our group met six times in the autumn and six times in the spring. We are currently two sessions into the last six sessions of the entire program.

I’ve spoken with people who believe that Why Catholic is a flawed program. Their main concern, as I understand it, is that the books, because of their size, selectively pick what material from the Catechism to present and the discussion questions do not ensure an orthodox presentation or discussion of the deposit of faith. While that is true, I can only point out that, if participants read the sections of the Catechism that are recommended for each session, they will have, at the end of four years, read and discussed the entire Catechism, and that is not a bad thing. As for the possibility of heterodox conversation, that danger exists in any Bible study or prayer group, and it is up to the individuals leading the group to recognize and correct it, in a sensitive and charitable way.

More to the point, Why Catholic is not designed to be a study of the Catechism. It is designed to be a vehicle for people to share their faith with others within the context of what the Catechism teaches. Paragraph 2689, which I read in preparation for last week’s session seemed appropriate to the whole program:

Prayer groups, indeed “schools of prayer,” are today one of the signs and one of the driving forces of renewal of prayer in the Church, provided they drink from authentic wellsprings of Christian prayer. Concern for ecclesial communion is a sign of true prayer in the Church.

Ours is only one group within our parish. Our initial group has grown smaller since we first started, and this year we merged with another group that had grown smaller. At the beginning of the program, there were about 300 people participating—I don’t know what the figure is now. I also don’t know how many other groups there are that meet on different nights. We have always made an effort to “drink from authentic wellsprings” in our group, limiting the resources that we use to the Bible, the Catechism, and the Why Catholic books themselves. In our discussions, we often go back to the Catechism to highlight points that might have been omitted, but which we thought were important. Some leaders, I am afraid, are not so scrupulous. I have heard of groups that introduce other materials, be they books or videos or invited speakers. “Concern for ecclesial communion” becomes, at that point, purely a function of the authenticity of the auxiliary material. I can understand why the critics are wary.

That said, I think that it’s been a positive experience for the members of our group. We’ve shared stories with each other, prayed with each other, and learned from the Catechism with each other. I like to think that, after four years, we will all have a more mature faith, and that the lens through which we look at the world will be a little more spiritually in focus.

And that’s a good thing.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

First Communion in the Telegraph

I would like to call your attention, in case you might have missed it, to the article on First Communion in the March 6, 2009 issue of The Catholic Telegraph. It has been five years since I raised concerns about the way that the First Communion liturgy was done at my parish. At that time, I was told that we had a dispensation from the Archdiocese to deviate from the standard rubrics. The content of the article in The Catholic Telegraph seems to indicate that the Archdiocese might have rethought its position. Both the director of the archdiocesan Worship Office and the director of the archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis are quoted. The specific paragraphs (with emphasis added by me) from the article on pages 12 and 13 are reproduced below.

One issue that Karen Kane, director of the archdiocesan Worship Office, says her office often addresses with parents that seems to distract them from the sacrament itself is “the desire on their part to ‘involve’ the children more in the Mass, for example singing a song after Communion or serving as lectors. In our diocesan sacramental guidelines (spelled out in the document Sacraments for Young People), and from a Worship Office point of view, we strongly discourage these types of practices,“ she said. “The reception of Holy Communion should be the focus and should be where parents and catechists spent their time and energy in preparing the children. What is most important is helping the children understand what it means to receive the body and blood of Christ. That’s the focus.”

Also important for religious educators and parents to remember, said Ken Gleason, director of the archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, is that first Communion should be held during a regularly scheduled Mass, and a special Mass should not be scheduled. The reasoning behind this, he explained, is that the children are joining the Eucharistic community, and “it is hard to celebrate becoming part of the community when the community isn’t present.”

There is not ritual for first Communion, added Gleason. “While there are special rituals for baptism, confirmation, etc. . . the fact that the only ritual for first Communion is the usual rubrics for Mass tells us that we should not add anything to the Mass. It also implies that the second, third and fourth and so on, reception of the Eucharist ought to be just as special as the first reception of the Eucharist.”

He believes that the efforts of many parishes and parents to “make first Communion special” can detract from the meaning of the occasion.

“It means they don’t really appreciate what we are doing at Mass,” he said. “It would be impossible to come up with anything more special than what we are already doing.”

“I wish we could help parents to see that we are bringing their children to the table, that they are now initiated into the Eucharistic community, which has the honor and privilege of celebrating the sacrifice of the Lord and our subsequent salvation, including the intimate experience of Christ through the reception of His body and blood,” Gleason said. “There is no cute song or white dress that could top that.”

I know that our second graders put a lot of effort into singing a song, complete with hand motions, after Communion. The Archdiocese says they strongly discourage it. Our parish has a special First Communion mass in the afternoon. The Archdiocese says it should be during a regularly scheduled mass. During the mass, those making their First Communion gather around the altar during the Eucharistic Prayer and consecration. The Archdiocese says that we should follow the usual rubrics for the Mass, which forbid this. I’ve brought this to the attention of our Pastor and our Coordinator of Religious Education. The ball is in their court to either run with or ignore.

Light Blogging

There's lots to blog about, I just haven't been able to find the time. I admire those prodigious bloggers who pound out post after post, but I try not to do too much cutting and pasting, so I'm typically looking at about an hour of effort for each post (each substantive post, this is an on-the-fly quick post). I told my dear wife that I've got at least three things that I want to post about, but I'm not looking forward to the amount of thought and effort required, and I haven't been able to find the time.

I'd just like to share what my week looks like.

I managed a post on Sunday, mostly typed one-handed as I cared for our clingy nine-month old. Yes, she did take a nap, but during that time, I engaged in a little online Call of Duty gaming. I might be pushing middle age, but I'm still a kid at heart. Back when she was eight, our nine-year old had a couple of friends over (Jamie's Emma and Alice, actually). I was playing a first person shooter on the computer, and one of the twins (the one who likes cats) looked at me like it was the strangest thing she had ever seen. This past Sunday, the rest of the family eventually came home, and the house returned to its usual chaos.

Monday is my selfish day. You'll be lucky to get a post out of me on most Monday's, unless it's an early post. Typically, after dinner (did I mention that I have a day job?), my wife and I will go to the evening (7 p.m.) mass at Holy Redeemer, and then I'll stop in for adoration at St. Augustine. There's a rosary and prayer for vocations starting at 8 p.m., then Benediction (sometimes with Evening Prayer, depending on which deacon is assigned that week), closing at 9 p.m. This is where the selfish part starts. When I get home, my wife usually has the kids in bed, and I am able to sit down and watch Heroes on NBC, followed by Medium. It's the only two hours of television that I actually look forward to each week. Strangely, when the new episodes run out and the Monday programming schedule returns to reality shows and game shows, it is liberating. When Howie Mandel is on instead of Heroes, I experience both disappointment and relief.

Tuesday is Knights of Columbus night. Every other week I have a meeting, either a General Meeting on the second Tuesday of the month or an Officers Meeting on the fourth Tuesday of the Month.

Wednesday is Why Catholic? Six weeks in the fall, six weeks in the spring. We're in the final session of the four year program now. More about Why Catholic in a future post.

Thursday is ConQuest. From 6:30 til 8:30, me and several other men are trying to form young boys aged 8 or 9 through junior high, with the help of a few older boys. Virtues are taught through stories of saints and athletic contests, especially dodge ball. Poster night and skit night always produce interesting results. ConQuest this week, however, is cancelled, because of an open house and a musical production by the elementary school. Tomorrow evening, I'll be watching my third grader play an owl on stage, and then joining the rest of the throng of parents in touring the classroom.

On Friday night we usually try to do something as a family, whether it's playing a board game or sitting down together to watch a family movie.

Add in time for prayer and devotions, reading and exercise, and I don't have a lot of time left for blogging. I don't know how some people do it. Rest assured, however, that I have lots of thoughts bouncing around in my head. They want to come out, and I'll try to get them out, if only so they don't disappear as if they never existed.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Let Us Make Three Booths

In his book, Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI discusses two ways of looking at the Transfiguration of Christ on Mt. Tabor. The first, and the one that he clearly favors, is that the event occurs within the context of the calendar of Jewish festival. One suggestion is that Peter’s confession occurs on Yom Kippur, the feast of atonement, and that the Transfiguration occurs during Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, which follows five days later. Another suggestion is that the both events occur within the Feast of Tabernacles, which lasted an entire week. The Transfiguration would then occur on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, “which was both its high point and the synthesis of its inner meaning.”

Both interpretations have in common the idea that Jesus’ Transfiguration is linked with the Feast of Tabernacles. We will see that this connection actually comes to light in the text itself and that it makes possible a deeper understanding of the whole event. In addition to the specific elements of these accounts, we may observe here a fundamental trait of Jesus’ life, which receives particularly thorough treatment in John’s Gospel. As we saw in chapter 8, the great events of Jesus’ life are inwardly connected with the Jewish festival calendar. They are, as it were, liturgical events in which the liturgy, with its remembrance and expectation, becomes reality—becomes life. This life then leads back to the liturgy and from the liturgy seeks to become life again.
The Jewish liturgy saw its fulfillment in Christ. Our liturgy, makes present to us the actions of Christ. Liturgy is not just a memorial; it brings about a spiritual reality. The sacraments are not just symbols, they are efficacious signs.

To understand what happened at the Transfiguration, we need to understand the context of the events, which the Pope suggests is the Feast of Tabernacles. From Companion to the Calendar, A Guide to the Saints and Mysteries of the Christian Calendar, on Sukkot, The Festival of Booths:

At Sukkot, people obey the biblical command to live for seven days in huts. Each family or congregation constructs a shelter, usually with wooden slats and boughs from trees. (In Hebrew, this is called a sukkah. The plural of sukkah is sukkot.) As they build and decorate these beautiful booths, the people recall the 40 years when the Jews, wandering in the desert, put together sukkot each evening. . . .

Jewish mystics taught that the ancestors, beginning with Sarah and Abraham, come to visit the sukkah each evening. According to tradition, the Messiah will come at Sukkot and welcome all creation into God’s sukkah.
So according to some Jewish mystics, the feast of booths would have a Messianic fulfillment. That gives some explanation to the seventh chapter of John’s Gospel, where Jesus is reluctant to attend the feast in Jerusalem because his time has not yet come. Being an observant Jew, however, he does go later, not publicly but in private. The events of John 7 probably take place a year or more before the Transfiguration. With the Transfiguration coming six days after Peter’s confession, his suggestion to build booths for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah makes some sense.

What is most interesting to me, however, is Benedict's assertion that the Jewish calendar and liturgy were pivotal in the events of the New Testament. Jesus completed his mission in a liturgical context. It is not unreasonable to assume that our mission as Christians also occurs within a liturgical context. The liturgy is not secondary; it is central. The liturgy is life!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Mass Intentions

Take a look at your average Catholic church bulletin, and you’ll find a schedule of masses for the week. Typically, you’ll also see listed an intention for the scheduled mass. The practice of applying masses for specific intentions is recognized in the Code of Canon Law (see canons 901 and 945-958). According to the Commentary, the Church does not have any firm doctrine on what it precisely means to “apply the Mass.”

In a 2005 question and answer published by the Zenit news agency, Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University provided the following opinion:

Any Catholic may offer up the Mass in which he or she participates for any good intention. Certainly, graces will accrue in accordance with the intensity of that person's participation and sincerity.

This is a genuine exercise of the royal or common priesthood of the faithful.

However, the custom of requesting a priest to offer the Mass for a specific intention, even when one cannot be physically present at the Mass, is a longstanding tradition in the Church.

This is because the Church considers the Mass as the greatest possible prayer of intercession insofar as it is the perfect offering of Christ to the Father by making present the paschal mystery of his death and resurrection.

Because of the particular role of the priest as mediator between God and man, acting "in persona Christi" when offering the holy sacrifice of the Mass, it is usually considered that special graces may be obtained when he applies the Mass to a particular intention.
And so, when I saw that last Sunday’s mass at St. Joseph in Egypt would be offered for members of the Kuether family. I decided that I should attend. You see, my grandmother was a Kuether. In some mysterious way, it seemed as though my participation in a mass offered for her (among others), might somehow be more efficacious. Of course, the mass, being the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, is already of infinite value. What could I possibly add to it?

I keep the holy card from my grandmother’s funeral in my Office of Readings. It’s one of the nicest holy cards I’ve seen. My Mom’s mother had 13 children, 57 grandchildren, and 84 great grandchildren. Needless to say, I’ve got a lot of cousins running around, and that’s just on my Mom’s side. My cousins on my Dad’s side are a little more dispersed and mostly older than I am – I don’t know them as well. When you consider that my in-laws were both from families of 13 children, you can guess how many cousins my wife has out there. Let’s just say that if our kids marry local, they’ll have to trace back their geneologies to ensure they aren’t related to closely!

Rosary of the Seven Sorrows

A combox question finally penetrated through my extra-thick cranium to the soft gray matter underneath. Russ asked whether a special rosary was required to pray the Sorrowful Mysteries.

There is, in fact, a version of the rosary that differs from the standard five-decade version that most of us know, and that version does indeed require a special set of beads. The Rosary of the Seven Sorrows, also known as the Servite Rosary or the Dolors Rosary, is prayed on beads divided into seven groups of seven (as opposed to five groups of ten).

The basic mechanics are the same, with each mystery including one Our Father, and seven Hail Marys, but there is no Glory Be. Where the standard rosary begins with the Apostles’ Creed, Our Father, and three Hail Marys, the Rosary of Seven Sorrows begins with an Act of Contrition and prayer to the Holy Spirit. The prayers at the end are also a little different.

The seven sorrows are (1) the prophecy of Simeon; (2) Mary flees into Egypt with Jesus and Joseph; (3) Mary seeks Jesus lost in Jerusalem; (4) Mary meets Jesus on the way to Calvary; (5) Mary stands near the cross of her Son; (6) Mary receives the body of Jesus taken down from the cross; and (7) Mary places the body of Jesus in the tomb.

It’s always been interesting to me that two of the seven sorrows (the prophecy of Simeon and the losing of Jesus in Jerusalem) have corresponding Joyful Mysteries (the Presentation, and the finding of Jesus in the Temple).

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Esther C

Every night before I go to bed, I read the Bible passages scheduled for the next day's mass readings. It may sound strange, but I miss Ordinary Time. Back then, I could bookmark the passages, knowing that the passages for the next day would be just a few verses away. Now that it's Lent, I'm jumping all over my Bible.

Last night, I looked at my Lectionary chart and saw that the first reading was to be from Esther C. Huh, I thought. That's odd. So I opened my Bible and searched out the book of Esther. It started with chapter 11, then came chapter 12, and then finally came chapter 1. I searched, but I couldn't find chapter C. I had already read the gospel, so I closed my Bible, figuring that I would just read it off the USCCB website in the morning.

I went to sleep muttering about Esther C, to which my wife said that it sounded like I was talking about a cold remedy.

I did catch up on the reading this morning from the USCCB website. It corresponds to chapter 14 in my Bible, which naturally comes right after chapter 4. Here's the interesting thing, though. If you follow back the USCCB hyperlink to the indicated verse, it brings you to chapter 1, which is not the mass reading!

I use the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition Bible published by Ignatius Press. It didn't give me any help in finding the readings, and only added to my confusion. I do, however, have a Catholic Youth Bible published by Saint Mary's Press on my bookshelf. I don't use it much, because it's a New Revised Standard Version and I prefer the RSV translation to the NRSV. However, it had a nice explanation at the beginning of the book of Esther.

The deuterocanonical portions of the Book of Esther are several additional passages found in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Book of Esther, a translation that differs also in other respects from the Hebrew text (the latter is translated in the NRSV Old Testament). The disordered chapter numbers come from the displacement of the additions to the end of the canonical Book of Esther by Jerome in his Latin translation and from the subsequent division of the Bible into chapters by Stephen Langton, who numbered the additions consecutively as though they formed a direct continuation of the Hebrew text. So that the additions may be read in their proper context, the whole of the Greek version is here translated, though certain familiar names are given according to their Hebrew rather than their Greek form; for example, Mordecai and Vashti instead of Mardocheus and Astin. The order followed is that of the Greek text, but the chapter and verse numbers conform to those of the King James or Authorized Version. The additions, conveniently indicated by the letters A-F, are located as follows: A, before 1.1; B, after 3:13; C and D, after 4.17; E, after 8.12; F, after 10.3.

The Rosary in Lent

My wife and I received an email from a friend who reads our blogs, asking whether the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary are prayed more often during Lent. The short answer is that they can be if you want them to be. Before the Luminous Mysteries were added by Pope John Paul II in Rosarium Virginis Mariae, the typical pattern was Joyful Mysteries on Monday and Thursday, Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday and Friday, and Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday. When I started praying the Rosary, the Sunday mystery floated -- Glorious was the default, but if it was Advent or Christmas, it was Joyful, and if it was Lent, it was Sorrowful.

With the addition of the Luminous Mysteries, John Paul II rearranged the typical schedule.

According to current practice, Monday and Thursday are dedicated to the “joyful mysteries”, Tuesday and Friday to the “sorrowful mysteries”, and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday to the “glorious mysteries”. Where might the “mysteries of light” be inserted? If we consider that the “glorious mysteries” are said on both Saturday and Sunday, and that Saturday has always had a special Marian flavour, the second weekly meditation on the “joyful mysteries”, mysteries in which Mary's presence is especially pronounced, could be moved to Saturday. Thursday would then be free for meditating on the “mysteries of light”.

This indication is not intended to limit a rightful freedom in personal and community prayer, where account needs to be taken of spiritual and pastoral needs and of the occurrence of particular liturgical celebrations which might call for suitable adaptations. What is really important is that the Rosary should always be seen and experienced as a path of contemplation. In the Rosary, in a way similar to what takes place in the Liturgy, the Christian week, centred on Sunday, the day of Resurrection, becomes a journey through the mysteries of the life of Christ, and he is revealed in the lives of his disciples as the Lord of time and of history.
My personal practice will be to continue with the typical schedule, but John Paul II specifically noted that an individual is free to pray whichever mysteries meet his or her spiritual needs.

Gandhi's Legacy

During my drive in to work today, I heard on the radio that some items belonging to Mahatma (or is it Mohandas?) Gandhi were to be auctioned in New York. It brought to mind a Gandhi-related item that I would like to share.

Gandhi got around by walking, and he often did this either bare-foot, or with very thin sandals on his feet. As a result, the soles of his feet grew thick and hardened. He was also given to frequent fasting, which made him physically weak. The fasting helped him to develop a deep spirituality, and when he did eat, he ate some rather strange things, which caused his breath to become noxious.

You could say that Gandhi was a super-calloused fragile mystic vexed with halitosis (say it fast while thinking of Mary Poppins).

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Sorrowful Mysteries

My wife’s brother had a birthday party for his two-year-old son Friday evening. He and his family live in Troy, and it typically takes us about 40 minutes to drive there. Since it was the first Friday of Lent, and I had a captive audience, I decided that we would take advantage of the opportunity to pray the rosary en route.

I know that there are some families that pray the rosary together frequently. I have a high degree of certainty that those families are exceptional. As it is, I increasingly risk a mini-revolt just praying the Angelus before dinner in the evening. Prudence being the better part of valor, I typically try to entice my children to eat their spiritual vegetables rather than force-feed them. That being said, there are some non-negotiables (e.g., mass on Sundays and holy days).

I didn’t want to just say a standard rosary, so before heading out the door, I printed off the Sorrowful Mysteries of the scriptural rosary, and I let Amy drive (she said she liked it better that way anyway—something about getting there the same day) so that I could lead the rosary. I encouraged the kids to grab their beads, but, like typical teens, they deferred (“We’ll just use our fingers, Dad”).

All that I can say is that it was incredible. I haven't prayed the other mysteries using the meditations from the scriptural rosary, but the sorrowful mysteries are excellent, especially for a Lenten Friday. I hope the kids were paying enough attention to have gotten something out of it.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

SSPX Still Rejects Vatican II

When Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the man who led the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) into formal schism, died, leadership of the SSPX passed to Bishop Bernard Fellay. Fellay was one of the four men illicitly ordained to the episcopate by Archbishop Lefebvre, thereby earning for all five of the men an automatic excommunication.

In an effort to move efforts toward ending the schism, Pope Bennedict XVI recently rescinded the excommunication of the four bishops ordained by Lefebvre, including Fellay. The move hasn’t worked out very well for the Vatican. One of the four has now become widely notorious for denying that millions of Jews were killed by the Nazi regime in Germany.

The attempt at rapprochement has not produced any apparent movement toward reunification by the SSPX. Indeed, it appears that Bishop Fellay continues to refuse to accept the authority of the documents of the Second Vatican Council.

From the National Catholic Register:

Hopes of reconciliation between Rome and the Society of St. Pius X appear to have suffered a serious setback.

The Italian news agency ANSA has reported that Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior general of the traditionalist society, told the Swiss daily Le Courier yesterday that the society will not accept the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

Vatican officials have made it clear that, even in the wake of Pope Benedict’s lifting of the excommunications of Bishop Fellay and three other Society of St. Pius X bishops, reconciliation with the society is possible only if it accepts the authority of all of the Council’s documents.

But Bishop Fellay told Le Courier that the Second Vatican Council has caused the Church “only damages,” ANSA reported.

“The aftermath of the Council has been to empty seminaries, nunneries and churches,” Bishop Fellay said. “Thousands of priests have left their orders and millions of faithful have stopped being practicing Catholics and have joined sects.”

Bishop Fellay stressed the SSPX is not prepared to budge on its opposition to the Second Vatican Council before the start of discussions with the Vatican about coming back into full communion with the Church.

“The Vatican has acknowledged the need for preliminary talks aimed at dealing with basic issues which stem from the Second Vatican Council,” said Bishop Fellay. “Making the acceptance of the Council a preliminary condition is putting the cart before the horse.”

According to the ANSA article, there was no immediate comment from the Vatican about Bishop Fellay’s remarks.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Rosary Mortification

My wife and I wanted to get Lent off on the right foot, so we went early to the Saturday mass at Maria Stein in order to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation (aka Confession) before mass. In addition to mass and confession, the rosary is prayed before mass, starting at 11:05 am. These are old-fashioned Catholics who insist on praying the Glorious Mysteries on Saturday, even though Pope John Paul II changed all that with his apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Maria. He "suggested" adding the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday and rearranged the order for the other three mysteries such that the Joyful Mysteries now fall on Saturday.

As we crossed the parking lot to approach the entrance to the chapel, another woman was entering. I turned to my wife and said (in perhaps slightly less charitable language), “There’s that blessed soul who always says ‘amongth’ during her Hail Marys.” My wife replied to me, “Are you sure? Is she one of the leaders?” “Yes,” says I, “and it annoys me to no end. When we take our seats after confession, please don’t sit in front of her.” My wife, ever the jokester, answered, “I’ll sit right in front of her so that you have something more to offer up during mass.” I was relieved, after confession, to find my wife sitting on the far side of the chapel from Mrs. Amongth. During the rosary, I could still hear her strange pronunciation if I listened for it, but it wasn’t nearly as distracting.

Upon reflecting on this incidence, two additional thoughts came to me. First was that, if I were more charitable and determined to follow a path to perfection, I suppose that, ala St. Therese of Liseux, I would have purposefully not only sat near this woman, but warmly greeted her as well. I guess I’m not there yet.

My second observation is that, as I type these things out, I must appear to be annoyed by everything. I’ve never thought of myself that way, but there it is. Maybe what I should really give up for Lent is complaining about others. My dear wife has quite a burden to put up with in me. Do you suppose that I can claim that I’m just doing my part in helping her get to heaven?