Thursday, January 30, 2020
Be England Thy Dowry - Crisis Magazine: On November 4, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI issued an Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum Coetibus, in response to “groups of Anglicans” who had petitioned “repeatedly and insistently to be received into full Catholic communion individually as well as corporately,” which created for them a new ecclesiastical structure: the Personal Ordinariates. The stated purpose of these was “to …
There Is No 'Catholic Feminism' - Crisis Magazine: Modern Catholicism needs to re-examine its uneasy relationship with feminism, and there’s no better time than this year’s tragic anniversary of Roe v. Wade. As it turns out, January 22 follows hard on the heels of a new landmark—January 15—for Catholic feminists, namely, the Pope’s unprecedented appointment of a woman, Francesca Di Giovanni, to a …
Sunday, January 19, 2020
Tuesday, January 14, 2020
Catholicism is even more local than politics
It has been said that “all politics is local”, and this is a valuable axiom for winning public office. Unfortunately, after such victories, politics mostly proceeds from the top down. This creates a huge temptation to seek change by leaping over what is local in an effort to control high-level socio-political policies. In the Church, this temptation tends to take its most virulent form in the role by national episcopal conferences. I began an assessment of such conferences last week in On funding (or dissolving) episcopal conferences. Today I take up their tendency to substitute a thirst for political influence for each soul’s thirst for God.
Last week I mentioned the tendency of episcopal conferences to focus on desired policies and goals, including influencing other institutions and governments in their response to major public issues. At the same time, this tendency tends gloss over each bishop’s direct personal responsibility for his own local flock. Attention is often focused more on the positions the conference is taking on public issues, and less on creating a vibrant local Catholic culture beginning with each parish and diocese.
A vibrant local Catholic culture will naturally give rise to various groups and institutions which advance specific Catholic goals at higher levels. But the essence of what the Church has been called into being to do does not consist in adopting influential socio-economic and political positions in the hope of transforming the surrounding secular culture. Rather, it has to do with forming Catholics to create radically different communities, communities which live and breathe the Gospel in all the concrete interactions which constitute our daily lives.
One wonders where the idea came from that we can make the world better, as a Church, by advocating social, political, and economic programs at the governmental level? I do not mean that Catholics have no responsibility as citizens of a particular political entity. The laity do have a responsibility to vote wisely and for the common good, and to serve in a Christ-like manner should they be elected to public office. But the Church’s job is not to change the world through political advocacy at the macro level. The Church’s job is to make her members holy, so that in all their interactions they live and act as Christ has called them to do. It is in this way that her members will form, in many places, local Catholic cultures—vibrant cultures tangibly different from the surrounding wasteland.
Obstacles in the way
Historians have said that one reason for the rapid spread of Christianity in the earliest years is that the Christians took care of those in their communities better than the did the mighty Roman Empire. Of course there are many obstacles to such an achievement today. Local cultures have dwindled with the rise of commuting, the increase in electronic forms of entertainment, and the breakdown of the values common to the natural law. The lack of cohesive communities of Catholics within parish boundaries has been further exacerbated not only by easy transportation but by what we call upward mobility.
Various experiments have been tried in the establishment of alternative Catholic communities, but since parishes have fallen into such ill health, these have affected very few people. Again, in some places vibrant Catholic communities have grown up spontaneously around outstanding Catholic schools, communities which have often strengthened parish life as well. But very often the local churches seem to have lost the vision of becoming the hub of vibrant Catholic communities capable of transforming everything that is drawn into their local orbits.
Still, we must recognize that the Church’s mission is not to map a political landscape but to foster vibrant Catholic cultures locally, on the ground, so to speak—communities which can achieve a certain critical mass. In the negative sense, St. Paul captured this thought very well in 1 Corinthians 5 and 6:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men; not at all meaning the immoral of this world…. But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber…. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the Church you are to judge? God judges those outside. [1 Cor 5:9-13]
When one of you has a grievance against a brother, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?...If then you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who are least esteemed by the Church? I say this to your shame. [1 Cor 6:1-6]
But there are plenty of positive instances as well, such as this exhortation to form a genuinely Christian community in the Letter to the Romans:
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality…. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited. [Rom 12:9-16]
All Catholicism is local
What I am trying to highlight here is the relative fruitlessness of activities at the level of the episcopal conference to influence public opinion, control political outcomes, distribute funds on the national level, establish policies and programs to address the issues proposed to us by the larger secular world, and advocate behavioral change through national politics. I do not say that any of these things are evil; what I say is that they provide an ever-increasing multitude of ways to evade the primary responsibility of the Church to sanctify those in the parishes, transforming local Catholic individuals into mutually-supportive local communities steeped in the Christian sense of what it means to be and do good constantly, within the community of which we are blessed to be a part.
The Church’s fundamental purpose is not to transform society at the macro level but to ignite the love of Christ in real people living real daily lives in each of her dioceses and parishes. The Church’s fundamental mission is to build the Kingdom of God soul by soul, person by person, in local communities which are shaped gradually through the Church’s own ministry. This mission is properly ordered to the formation of particular communities into the body of Christ through the Eucharist. The Church must do everything she can to help local people, like you and me, to change our daily habits and personal and familial aspirations through our sharing in the gifts of Word and Sacrament. As we are thus grafted into the Body of Christ, even our extended local communities can become gateways to new life.
Effectiveness here may not always result in major transformations of the larger society. The mysteries of Providence call at some times for apparent honor and success in the larger world, and at other times for apparent rejection and failure. Therefore, the Church is not to place the emphasis here because she is sure to change the whole world, but through simple fidelity to her own mission, which is to act directly in particular persons through the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. It is not that this mission will always succeed. It is simply that no other mission can ever succeed.
By Br. Cyril Stola, O.P. on January 14, 2020
In nineteenth-century America, worlds collided when Catholic nuns moved into predominantly Protestant lands. These habit-clad, Latin-chanting women travelled across the Atlantic in order to build convents and live behind iron grates, entirely cut off from their new neighbors. The populace of the growing United States could not understand why anyone would go through the effort of immigrating just to stay behind closed doors.
Anti-Catholic sensationalism fueled suspicion of all things Catholic, and rumors abounded that nuns were prisoners of depraved clergy. From time to time, well-meaning individuals offered nuns freedom from captivity and were often surprised when they learned that nuns did not see themselves as damsels in distress; instead, they were quite happy to stay where they were.
We may forgive these would-be liberators for their misguided enthusiasm. After all, the prison and the monastery have a certain affinity. In each place, men and women live a regimented life, eat plain meals, and have limited contact with the rest of civilization. To many people living outside the cloister, the monastery is a prison, and why anyone would willingly subject themselves to such a life is beyond human wisdom. Yet the Gospel teaches us precisely that: to live beyond human wisdom.
The Gospel teaches us to live by divine wisdom, “you have heard that it was said, ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:43-44). By God’s power, the meek inherit the earth, the Virgin bears a Son, and an instrument of death saves mankind. The same aspects of life in a cloistered monastery that seem restrictive are meant to free the nun from worldly cares and occupations to focus on the one thing necessary—God and his grace.
Grace in the soul is the ultimate measure of man. Nuns know this well. After death, natural things pass away, but the grace present in the soul remains. For this reason, Aquinas writes, “the good of grace in one is greater than the good of nature in the whole universe” (ST I-II q. 113, a. 9, ad. 2). A life spent seeking grace, then, is a life well-lived. Everyone should seek grace, but cloistered nuns are remarkable for their singular determination to win it for themselves and for others—for you and for me—by their prayers and penances.
Living apart from the rest of society gives nuns a certain distance from the ideologies and fashions of the day and the worries of day-to-day life. It better enables them to contemplate divine mysteries. The other sisters in the convent provide them with mutual support and worthy examples in the pursuit of holiness. Nuns live under the same roof as their eternal spouse, Jesus, and they visit him often. In him they find everything needed for their sanctification and happiness, so they need not go anywhere else.
Entering a cloistered monastery requires genuine sacrifice, but those whom God calls to live such a life receive a hundredfold (Mk 10:29-30). Perhaps they are the lungs of the body of Christ. They are hidden yet consistent, and their prayers give life to the rest of the body. The stone walls and iron bars of monasteries make fortresses rather than prisons, and in those fortresses the devil is defeated and souls are won for God.
The lives of nuns testify to the primacy of God’s power over human power. Through the prayers of these secluded women, he showers plentiful graces upon his children. We should be grateful for their vocations and entrust ourselves to their prayers.
Image: Charles Allston Collins, Convent Thoughts
Thursday, January 9, 2020
Monday, January 6, 2020
The Face of the Deep - Crisis Magazine: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. I thought often of these first lines from Genesis while crossing the North Atlantic two weeks …
Sunday, January 5, 2020
We are trying to present a stage play / pilot video (The Real Golden Girls) using a story that is mainly about baptism. To be or not to be as it were. "The play is the thing that captures the conscience of the king"
Thursday, January 2, 2020
A Man's Home Is His Monastery - Crisis Magazine: If the Church is a body, as St. Paul describes it in 1st Corinthians, then the heart of Catholicism here on earth must be the monastery. Its prayers to God for the world are pumped, like blood, throughout the body of Christ giving Christianity life. If by analogy the monastery serves as our heart, what …
If the Church is a body, as St. Paul describes it in 1st Corinthians, then the heart of Catholicism here on earth must be the monastery. Its prayers to God for the world are pumped, like blood, throughout the body of Christ giving Christianity life. If by analogy the monastery serves as our heart, what is it in reality? There are many different answers to this question. One answer is that it is a place where men have given up their worldly concerns and taken up a new life of joyful prayer. The monk has shunned the temporary things of this world that waste away to live in the next. They continually proclaim to the rest of us that the eternal Kingdom of Heaven is here and now. It is also a hospital for the soul—a place of respite for when the world becomes too much for believers.
The monastery is where the faithful can recover from the wounds sustained in their everyday struggle between faithfulness and sin. The monastery foreshadows heaven, providing the regular clergy and laity a taste of our home country; it is where we can be fed on the Word. Once healed and nourished, we can go out into the world better prepared to be faithful and claim more souls for Christ and his Church. This, among other reasons, is why the monastery is so important. It is there that we the laity can find peace and a space for prayer. Inside this sacred place, guided by the monks, we can work on our relationship with God divorced from all the distractions and cares of the secular world.
The monk and the monastery not only create the space for peace but they also serve as a kind of magnet in attracting others to the contemplative life. The monk reminds those in and of this world that the better way is to sit at the feet of Jesus. Along with serving the laity in an iconic fashion, the monks, through their prayers, sustain the Faith. Without them who knows what state Christianity would be in? This why it is so important to preserve monastic life in the Church. We need to do all we can to promote monastic vocations and make this extraordinary life an ordinary part of our Church again. While we may consider the monastery a relic of the past, it is where the Christian life—on this side of the eschaton anyway—is led to the fullest. It serves as an example of how we should all live. Every parish and home should model itself on the monastery and become a house of prayer and hospitality.
Even before the legalization of the Faith throughout the Roman Empire, we see the monastic idea flowering into life. Men and women who wanted to better imitate the apostolic life flung themselves into a sort of martyrdom. After legalization, this style of life gained a whole host of adherents. In many ways, the monastery became and still is the best example of people living the way the apostles lived in Acts. As history unfolded, monasteries grew to serve as the economic, political, and hospitality centers of many European communities. While we might be slightly bemused by the fact that monasteries brewed and sold beer, what we generally do not appreciate is that these were real economic undertakings that fueled communities. Monasteries were also leading agricultural reforms that would help feed millions. In the Middle Ages, monasteries trained and educated the men who formed the current nations of Europe. This eventually led to the university system that has educated untold millions and developed the various sciences that underpin our lives today.
As important as monasteries were in building Western civilization, we need to recognize that they serve first and foremost as the heart of the Church. John Paul II taught the Church in Orientale Lumen that “the monastery is the prophetic place where creation becomes praise of God and the precept of concretely lived charity becomes the ideal of human existence; it is where the human being seeks God without limit or impediment, becoming a reference point for all people.” If the laity and clergy who work in the world no longer have that reference point, whom can we look to as role models in seeking God? While it is good, praiseworthy, and absolutely necessary to call more and more men to the priesthood, we need to make the same vigorous cry for men to join the monastery.
I dare say, one of the problems with the Church’s current reform efforts is it does not include significant monastic input. Monks have implemented the best and truest Church reforms throughout history, the most famous example of these are the Cluniac reforms. Our greatest pope and reformer, Gregory the Great, came from a monastic background. Our best bishops came from a monastic background, such as Gregory of Nazianzus. In other words, the laboratory of Church reform and governance is the monastery. However, monasteries cannot lead new reforms or give us new bishops and popes if there are no monks. Along with being a source of renewal and reform, the monastery is a house of prayer that sustains us, the laity. Without their prayers would any of our Christian work even be possible?
The Church must realize that if the heart is not being taken care of and fortified it will weaken and the body will then become sick. Much like a doctor checks the heart of a patient to see if he is alive and proscribes a regime to strengthen it if need be, the faithful need to check on the Church’s heart to see how well it is doing and work toward its health. Therefore, as a church we need to ask whether we are doing enough to sustain our monastic heart. Are we encouraging vocations to the monastic life? Are we supporting monasteries materially? Are we learning at the feet of monks? We must address these matters to ensure the health of the body of Christ.
With each passing day, the monastic life should become more relevant to our lives as believers, not only because it reconnects and helps us to build our relationship with God, but because it helps us to become more authentically human. Today, the average believer is bombarded with a world that is hostile to the Faith and intent on replacing it with something that will never fully satisfy us. We Christians also must contend with a world that is dissolving the bonds of fraternity, as a people are lonelier than ever. The monastery, however, gives us a chance to remember what we are supposed to be.
Image: Monks in a Cave by Francois-Marius Granet
NOTE SEE LOVELACE POEM
Wednesday, January 1, 2020
New Year's Resolutions for Catholics - Crisis Magazine: During and after the grim martial law period in the early 1980s, many freedom-minded Poles would greet each other on January 1 with a sardonic wish: “May the new year be better than you know it’s going to be!” As 2020 opens, that salutation might well be adopted by Catholics concerned about the future of …
Nutcracker Not-So-Sweet - Crisis Magazine: During a recent eighth-grade trip to Chicago, chaperones and students of Notre Dame Academy in Toledo walked out of a performance of The Nutcracker after learning that lead characters would be portrayed in a gay marriage. This was a courageous and bold move—a correct application of Pope Francis’s well-publicized encouragement of young people “to make …