Victimized again

In an unconscionable power play, today’s Vatican shenanigans have revealed the meaning of the much-bandied-about watchword “synodality.”

It is decidedly not subsidiarity. Rather it is centralization: an attempt to impose controlling structures upon most bishops by increasing the power of archbishops.

As a reporter at the news conference following this astonishing proposal pointed out, McCarrick was an archbishop. Law was an archbishop. One could go on and on.

There is a callous disregard for the victims of abuse here. Abuse is a weaponization of sexuality. Weaponizing a synod on abuse to achieve irrelevant and predetermined ends redoubles the injury.

St. Peter, pray for us!

St. Peter Damian, pray for us

The cardinal-monk and Church reformer St. Peter Damian had a hobby. He wrote hymns.

It’s lovely, I think. that this zealous and gifted leader who wrote against the sins of Gomorrah among the clerics of his day, and revived the use of physical discipline as a help to the soul, also showed himself to be truly a simple monk at heart.

Before they were rewritten in the 17th century, many of the hymns of our vast treasury were characterized by a candor and simplicity that would seem to belong peculiarly to the monastery. And yet their devotional tone also shares with us profound theological truths.

Among the objects of St. Peter’s devotions was the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom we acknowledge in our day as the Mother of the Church.

Today would be a good day to offer our prayers with his for the Church’s purification in trial, perseverance in truth, and the blessings of endless multitudes of new Catholics devoted to, and trusting in, Jesus Christ, whose graces come to us through the “yes” of our Blessed Mother.

O Theotokos, Mary blest,
Our human nature’s shining crest,
Through you we have our liberty,
Free children of the light to be.

O Virgin, Queen of heav’n and earth,
Though of King David’s stock by birth,
Your royal dignity has come
Not from your fathers, but your Son.

Remove us from the ancient root.
Graft us in Him, the newborn shoot.
Through you may we become by grace,
A royal, priestly, human race.

O offer holy prayers to win
Release from all our bonds of sin.
We praise your merits to the skies:
May we in heaven share your prize.

Exemplar of virginity,
Give glory to the Trinity,
Whose endless treasure-store of gifts
Through you our human nature lifts.

St. Peter Damian. My trans.

The realism of inflated expectations

 On one occasion Abba Moses of Patara was engaged in a war against fornication, and he could not endure being in ‎his cell, and he went and informed Abba Isidore of it; and the elder entreated him to return to his cell, but he would ‎not agree to this. And having said, “Fr., I cannot bear it,” the elder took him up to the roof of his cell, and said ‎unto him, “Look to the west,” and when he looked he saw multitudes of devils with troubled and terrified aspects, ‎and they showed themselves in the forms of phantoms which were in fighting attitudes. Abba Isidore said unto him, ‎‎”Look to the east,” and when he looked he saw innumerable holy angels standing there, and they were in a state of ‎great glory. Then Abba Isidore said unto him, “Behold, those who are in the west are those who are fighting with the ‎holy ones, and those whom you have seen in the east are they who are sent by God to the help of the saints, for those ‎who are with us are many.” And having seen this Abba Moses took courage and returned to his cell without fear.

For two thousand years, in season and out of season–mostly out of season–the Catholic Church has been fighting a war against principality and powers.

Our collective wisdom on battle tactics, if used in cooperation with the grace of God, which we enjoy in full sacramental measure, should be more than enough to overcome any malevolence, including the spirit of fornication.

Let’s face the fact that the 20th century was a century of total war on every level, and that wise fathers were hard to find even in the Church. Some were not fathers at all but perverse and perverting uncles.

Sexual abuse is not a Catholic problem. It is a human problem. But the Catholic Church is unique.

Because we have the solution.

We are called to be a city on a hill, attracting others to Christ by the authenticity of our re-creation by the water and the Blood. We have the call, and the means, to be a singular oasis of goodness and freedom. We have hard-won solutions to problems of loneliness, shame, compulsion, bad friendships, gluttony, sloth, curiositas–all of the handmaids of fornication. And we have a superabundance of grace if only we avail ourselves of it. If only we ask for it.

If only we put our faith in God.

Is “Listening” Enough?

Leonard J. DeLorenzo of Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life believes there is more to working with young people than meeting them as equals, or teachers.

The scriptural validation for the approach to “walking with” that the Synod has heralded is the action of Jesus in his encounter with the two travelers on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13–35). As stated in the final document, “the Risen Lord wants to walk alongside all young people, hearing their expectations, even those that are unmet, and their hopes, even those that are paltry. Jesus walks, listens and shares” (§5). This is not wrong. What it is, though, is a partial reading of this narrative that functions more like eisegesis than as a faithful contemplation of Scripture.

Yes, Jesus draws near and, yes, he does ask the travelers what they are discussing (twice) and he does indeed listen to everything they have to say (through verse 24). But then Jesus takes control of the action. He starts off by calling those two chatty, downcast, disoriented travelers “foolish” (v. 25).

The impression that the final document gives—along with the preparatory document before it—is that this conversation on the road is an exercise in mutuality, in paired sharing, and in equality. Since Jesus drew near and listened to the travelers, the Church must do what Jesus did and listen to young people. But that leaves out the truly decisive thing: Jesus does not stop at listening to them; Jesus leads them because they really do not know where they are going. His business is to communicate a gift to them. After silencing and teaching them how to listen (not unlike Zechariah who had to learn how to listen at the beginning of this same Gospel), he reforms their imaginations according to the scriptures. He illuminates for them the meaning of his suffering, and then he feeds them with his sacrifice, filling them with a mission on the basis of this intentional formation. Hope hangs in the balance, and so does salvation.

Might this complete action of Jesus actually reveal what a true, genuine encounter with young people should be? Jesus forms them, educates them, preaches to them, nourishes them, and frees them so that they may become witnesses of his Gospel. The point was not in Jesus listening for its own sake; the point was listening to them in order to skillfully heal, liberate, and empower them. The Church should do what Jesus did—all of what he did. That is how we form mature disciples.

The guiding vision for this Synod could and should have been about what mature Christian discipleship looks like. The critical issue is not first of all that young people are lost but rather that the Church has become all too vague in what we hope for young people to become. And when I say “the Church,” I mean the gross majority of those of us called upon to form young people, including parents, ministers, mentors, teachers, religious, priests, and bishops. I also mean our institutions of formation in which young people—from their earliest years to their ripe old years—are supposed to be culturally formed: parishes, religious education programs, schools, lay associations, ecclesial movements, and the family home. Because we have lost touch with what mature discipleship looks like, what constitutes true life, and what holiness means, our ways of forming young people in the faith have become dysfunctional. This Synod should have asked and clearly answered the question “What are we forming young people for?” and considered everything else—including what young people themselves say—in view of that.

Much more here.

Do we need a softer, more secularized approach?

[In the course of a recent on-line conversation about why secular-sounding music doesn’t belong in the Mass, I offered this comment.]

I could understand the intention to create an easy, comfortable experience for outsiders: having the interior of the building look like an auditorium or a shopping mall food court; having no-brainer music that sounds like evangelical choruses from Christian radio. Some clergy and musicians might think that a soft-style approach would help some people feel comfortable setting foot in a Catholic parish church: people whose background didn’t include the faith.

This approach has its limitations, though: it doesn’t provide the liturgical formation that growing Christians need. It reminds me of the idea of having separate Masses for various age groups of young people on Sunday. It’s well-meant, and some people say they like it. But it creates a ghetto situation, and doesn’t lead the children into the regular parish experience.

If there were a Mass conducted specifically for “seekers” as a transitional experience for them — where they wouldn’t be expected to know the rites, sing the songs, stand or sit; where people who aren’t Catholic and aren’t ready to receive Holy Communion could stay in their pews without standing out: there might be some benefit for some souls.

But treating the whole parish as though they aren’t able to appreciate the authentic rites, or genuine church art, or music that sounds like church music: as though these things were over their heads: that’s really a kind of disrespect, and an imposition.

The soft-style approach is ultimately even deceptive, because Christianity is not a low-commitment religion that people can reasonably take or leave, according to their personal tastes and preferences. Belonging to Jesus is a matter of high commitment.

From Abp. Sample’s pastoral letter on sacred music (5)

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council [wrote]:

The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy. Therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, in setting out the norms for the celebration of Holy Mass reiterates this last point of the Council:

The main place should be given, all things being equal, to Gregorian chant, as being proper to the Roman liturgy.

One of the great Popes of our time, St. John Paul II, made the teaching of Pope St. Pius X his own:

With regard to compositions of liturgical music, I make my own the “general rule” that St Pius X formulated in these words: ‘The more closely a composition for the Church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savor the Gregorian melodic form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple.’ It is not, of course, a question of imitating Gregorian chant but rather of ensuring that new compositions are imbued with the same spirit that inspired and little by little came to shape it.

[…] The U.S. Bishops’ document on sacred music, Sing to the Lord, also reminded the Church in the United States of the importance and pride of place enjoyed by Gregorian chant. Some practical suggestions are given in that document for the implementation of this principle.

Given all of this strong teaching from the Popes, the Second Vatican Council, and the U.S. Bishops, how is it that this ideal concerning Gregorian chant has not been realized in the Church? Far from enjoying a pride of place in the Church’s Sacred Liturgy, one rarely if ever hears Gregorian chant.

This is a situation which must be rectified. It will require great effort and serious catechesis for the clergy and faithful, but Gregorian chant must be introduced more widely as a normal part of the Mass.

Duc in Altum

Yesterday I found myself at a local megachurch for a convention that was being held there. As a music lover and an introvert, I studiously tried to avoid two things: the astonishingly loud and repetitive praise and worship music, and small-group discussions.

There was an older man sitting not far from me during a breakout talk, and I didn’t want him to think I was dismissing him by avoiding the discussions, so as the session ended I said hello. Turns out this was his home church, and since I am Catholic, he wanted to know two things: what books he could read on contemplative prayer, and how to pray the rosary.

He made it clear that he did not want to become Catholic but said they don’t hear anything about contemplative prayer at his church, and wanted to know more about it. I told him about a lot of different authors from the Catholic mystical tradition. He settled on St. Teresa of Avila, and asked if there were a Catholic bookstore in the area where he could buy her books and a rosary. I gave a brief tutorial on the rosary, and we talked about asking for Mary’s and the other saints’ intercession, which he used to think idolatrous but now feels it is similar to asking a fellow believer for their prayers. We spoke until his wife called his cell, and said goodbye.

I have often felt that our efforts at Catholic evangelization aim too low. There has to be a “low door” for the unchurched seeker to enter, and thankfully we have good programs for that. But that simply cannot be where we stay. We have a journey to make, and that journey is serious and demanding, unchartable and rich beyond measure.  We are all called to the mystical life. (A good book to read on this point is Fr. Thomas Dubay’s Fire Within.)

I learned a few things from the megachurch. They had excellent coffee and cookies. Their church members are dedicated to service, to the point of meeting very basic needs such as keeping restroom supplies stocked. Attention to these practical details makes for a very warm welcome. The music, while problematic on many levels, was very well produced. Our liturgical music, on the other hand, is often played and sung without a “reality check” such as a recording. Organists and singers in Catholic churches definitely benefit from hearing their own sound, correcting and polishing.

However, we as Catholics have much more important things to teach than to learn–if we haven’t forgotten them. And it sometimes seems as though we have forgotten. In some parishes, preaching rarely changes, and rarely has much content beyond the vaguely therapeutic message that God overcomes fear. This is inadequate. In a world hungry for spirituality, we offer a very weak tea, instead of the riches within our grasp and online for free: the Fathers, the Councils, the Rhineland mystics, the liturgical riches of the ancient hymns, St. Catherine and St. Therese, the lives of the saints, and ever so much more.

This morning, on the Feast of the Presentation, one of the giants of our mystical memory passed into eternal life. Fr. Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD, co-translated and annotated the Collected Works of both St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. Fr. Kavanaugh labored to make the writings of these Mystical Doctors accessible, in all their richness, in flowing English of the present day. Here is an example from St. John’s Spiritual Canticle.

My Beloved, the mountains,
and lonely wooded valleys,
strange islands,
and resounding rivers,
the whistling of love-stirring breezes,

the tranquil night
at the time of the rising dawn,
silent music,
sounding solitude,
the supper that refreshes, and deepens love.

May Fr. Kavanaugh, and all who guide others along the paths of contemplative prayer, be blessed themselves with the beatific vision, and union with God. May he rest in peace.

From Abp. Sample’s pastoral letter on sacred music (4)

Since everything associated with the Mass must be beautiful, reflecting the infinite beauty and goodness of the God we worship, this applies in a special way to the music which forms an essential and integral part of our divine worship. In the words of Pope Francis:

Liturgical and sacred music can be a powerful instrument of evangelization, because it gives people a glimpse of the beauty of heaven.

Pope Benedict XVI states:

Certainly, the beauty of our celebrations can never be sufficiently cultivated, fostered and refined, for nothing can be too beautiful for God, Who is Himself infinite Beauty. Yet our earthly liturgies will never be more than a pale reflection of the liturgy celebrated in the Jerusalem on high, the goal of our pilgrimage on earth. May our own celebrations nonetheless resemble that liturgy as closely as possible and grant us a
foretaste of it!

Pope St. Pius X spoke of the artistic value of sacred music, another way of considering its intrinsic beauty:

[Sacred music] must be true art, for otherwise it will be impossible for it to exercise on the minds of those who listen to it that efficacy which the Church aims at obtaining in admitting into her liturgy the art of musical sounds.

(From “Sing to the Lord a New Song” by Abp. Alexander Sample, 2019; emphasis added)

Conflict and Communion: It’s later than you think

There’s a story about the Council of Ephesus that I doubt is true. What they say is that the assembled bishops were preparing to call the Mother of God “Christotokos,” and an angry mob of Ephesian laity heard about it and stormed the assembly, and the frightened bishops declared the Blessed Virgin to be Theotokos instead.

Another story has to do with the 2nd Council of Lyons, to which St. Thomas Aquinas was traveling, carrying his treatise On the Errors of the Greeks , when he died. The Greek bishops were required to sing the Creed with a triple filioque, thus restoring unity between East and West–a unity that did not last.

The days of schism, if we are not very careful, are upon us. The question at hand is the perennial one: to whom does this Church belong? If we are not to be clericalist, or Gallican, or neo-Protestants, I think we have to be careful how we answer that question.

There was a time, in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s, when to differentiate themselves from more lukewarm institutions with Catholic heritages, young fervent institutions would announce that they were “faithful to the magisterium.” This was a statement of two things: continuity with the Holy Spirit’s revelation through the Church’s life and teaching, and trust in the Holy Father and the bishops of the Church. Renegade theologians and pagan religious were wreaking a great deal of havoc, but the teaching of the Church remained true to itself and to Jesus, as the Holy Spirit reminded us of all He had told us.

Where, one sometimes wonders, is that magisterium now? Who among the ordinary magisterium is determined to teach the faith in apostolic continuity?

That is one side of the problem, and one of two reasons why some bishops, such as Cardinal Dolan at the moment, are probably feeling like the laity will not give them the benefit of the doubt. The first reason, which continues to go unaddressed, seven months now after the McCarrick scandal became public, is the astonishing unaccountability of bishops for even the most condemnable of crimes. The injustice is absolutely wrenching. The second reason has to do with truth. Where exactly is the magisterium? Are there pastors for whom the care of souls is uppermost in mind? Is perseverance in the perennial teaching a priority for most?

In the absence of apostolic teaching, people will run to those who at least hold the truth. And that is the other side of this very dangerous time: the growing electronic industry that relies on intimidation, “outing,” and scandal for its fame and fortune.

I’m afraid these two parties are at an impasse. Bishops cannot condone scandalmongering. They should not. Faithful, educated Catholics cannot abide predatory shepherds or erroneous teaching. They should not. And so here we are.

It seems to me that the ball is in the bishops’ court. Not about Archbishop McCarrick; the Holy See has reserved that judgment to itself.  But about the rest, there is plenty to do. At this historical moment, bishops can become holy and bold, sheep-concerned, and forgetful of ambition. Many are; for those who are not, this is the hour for true greatness and heroism.

For the Catholic tabloids and those who skirt along the edges of that industry, it is worthwhile to examine one’s conscience frequently. Am I helping or hurting? Will I be happy when the crisis is over?

There is not a “side” in schism that is without fault. The Catholic Church will always hold and teach the truth. But historically, time and time again, things might not have gone so badly if we had acted with better judgment.