Saturday 24 December 2016

We come like the shepherds who followed the call of the angel ....

Fr Raniero Cantalamessa is the preacher to the Pontifical Household, and has been so for many years. One of the tasks associated with this office is that of preaching the sermons to the Holy Father and his co-workers in the Vatican during Advent. The text of his fourth sermon for Advent 2016 is at the Vatican Radio website, and is worth reading. The prayer offered below the extract from Fr Cantalamessa's homily is one that I used one Christmas with children and families in a parish several years ago.

St. Augustine distinguished between two ways of celebrating an event in salvation history: as a mystery (in sacramento) or as a simple anniversary. In the celebration of an anniversary, he said, we only need to “indicate with a religious solemnity the day of the year in which the remembrance of the event itself occurs.” In the celebration of a mystery, however, “not only is the event commemorated, but we do so in a way that its significance for us is understood and received devoutly."
Christmas is not a celebration in the category of an anniversary. (As we know, the choice of December 25 as the date was chosen for symbolic rather than historical reasons.) It is a celebration in the category of a mystery that needs to be understood in terms of its significance for us. St. Leo the Great had already highlighted the mystical significance of the “the sacrament of the Nativity of Christ” saying, “Just as we have been crucified with him in his passion, been raised with him in his resurrection, . . . so too have we been born along with him in his Nativity.”

A prayer for a visit to the Crib during Christmas time
[This prayer was adapted from a meditation of St Edith Stein]

Dear Jesus, your hands reach out to us as we come to the Crib.
We come like the shepherds who followed the call of the angel.
We come like the wise men who followed the star.
“Follow me” say your little hands.

May we always listen to you when you call us.
Keep us together in faith and in hope.

Dear Jesus, your open hands welcome us, and they ask us at the same time.
They ask us to be at the service of your Peace.

Open our hearts to people who are suffering.
May each of us offer signs of friendship and welcome to people who are less well off than us.

Dear Jesus, your open hands welcome us, and they ask us at the same time.
They ask us to give our lives to you.

May we choose the way in life that you want us to follow.
In the light of Christmas, may we face the problems of life today, together with people of other Churches and religions.

Mary, you are the Mother of Love.
You praised the great things done by the Lord.
You sang about how God kept his promises to the people of Israel.

Mother of Love, protect our families.
Help them to stay together.
Give them the happiness of loving and passing on life.


Fr Cantalamessa: The Holy Spirit and the Charism of Discernment

This is the title of the second of Fr Cantalamessa's Advent sermons for 2016, delivered in the presence of the Holy Father and those who work at the Vatican.

It is a most interesting read, and, if I say that that the titles of its two main sections are "Discernment in ecclesial life" and "Discernment in our own lives", you will perhaps readily see why.

This sermon's explanation of discernment as a charism, and its indications of how this should be exercised in practice (with particular reference to Ignatius Loyola), can shed considerable light on Pope Francis' reference to discernment in Amoris Laetitia.

Thursday 22 December 2016

Pope Francis to the Curia 2016

The part of Pope Francis' address during the exchange of Christmas greetings with those employed in the Curia and their families that I enjoyed most was the following, the reflection offered at the beginning:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I would like to begin this meeting of ours by offering cordial good wishes to all of you, superiors and officials, papal representatives and staff of the Nunciatures worldwide, all those working in the Roman Curia and to your families.  Best wishes for a holy and serene Christmas and a happy New Year 2017!
Saint Augustine, contemplating the face of the Baby Jesus, exclaimed: “immense in the form of God, tiny in the form of a slave”.  To describe the mystery of the Incarnation, Saint Macarius, the fourth-century monk and disciple of Saint Anthony Abbot, used the Greek verb “smikryno”, to become small, to reduce to the bare minimum.  He says: “Listen attentively: the infinite, unapproachable and uncreated God, in his immense and ineffable goodness has taken a body, and, I dare say, infinitely diminished his glory”.
Christmas is thus the feast of the loving humility of God, of the God who upsets our logical expectations, the established order, the order of the dialectician and the mathematician.  In this upset lies all the richness of God’s own thinking, which overturns our limited human ways of thinking (cf. Is 55: 8-9).  As Romano Guardini said: “What an overturning of all our familiar values – not only human values but also divine values!  Truly this God upsets everything that we claim to build up on our own”.  At Christmas, we are called to say “yes” with our faith, not to the Master of the universe, and not even to the most noble of ideas, but precisely to this God who is the humble lover.
Blessed Paul VI, on Christmas of 1971, said: “God could have come wrapped in glory, splendour, light and power, to instill fear, to make us rub our eyes in amazement.  But instead he came as the smallest, the frailest and weakest of beings.  Why?  So that no one would be ashamed to approach him, so that no one would be afraid, so that all would be close to him and draw near him, so that there would be no distance between us and him.  God made the effort to plunge, to dive deep within us, so that each of us, each of you, could speak intimately with him, trust him, draw near him and realize that he thinks of you and loves you… He loves you!  Think about what this means!  If you understand this, if you remember what I am saying, you will have understood the whole of Christianity”.
God chose to be born a tiny child because he wanted to be loved.  Here we see, as it were, how the logic of Christmas is the overturning of worldly logic, of the mentality of power and might, the thinking of the Pharisees and those who see things only in terms of causality or determinism.
The thought of this last paragraph reminds me of the particular charism of Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity - the "I thirst" of Jesus on the Cross seen as a call that he should be loved.

And I laughed heartily when, at the end, Pope Francis referred to the reaction of one participant at the corresponding occasion in 2014:
When, two years ago, I spoke about the illnesses, one of you came to say to me: “Where must I go, to the pharmacy or to confession?”  “Well… both!” I replied.  And when I greeted Cardinal Brandmüller, he looked me in the eye and said: “Acquaviva!”  I, at the time, did not understand, but later, thinking about it, I remembered that Acquaviva, the third general of the Society of Jesus, had written a book which we students read in Latin; the spiritual fathers made us read it, and it was entitled:  Industriae pro Superioribusejusdem Societatis ad curandos animae morbos [roughly translates as "Guidance for Superiors of the Society for the care of illnesses of the soul"], that is, the illnesses of the soul.  Three months ago, a very good edition came out in Italian, done by Father Giuliano Raffo, who died recently, with a good prologue which indicates how to read the book, and also with a good introduction.  It is not a critical edition, but it is a really beautiful translation, very well done, and I believe it could be useful.  As a Christmas gift, I would like to offer it to each one of you.  Thank you.

NOTE: The Italian text includes extensive footnotes that have not been included in the English translation.

Tuesday 20 December 2016

The end of Traditionalism?

Traditionalists have always risked the following temptations:

1. That of being "cafeteria Catholics", but ones who pick different bits of the Catholic whole than do the liberal minded to whom at one time the Traditionalists would have applied this epithet. Isn't this the import of the discussion of the "non-magisterial" nature of those recent exercises of the office of the Successor of Peter that are not amenable - and this appears now to extend beyond Pope Francis?

2. That of making absolute for all time those things that are relative to their own particular time or place. Isn't this what lies behind the insistence on the "Traditional Latin Mass", even though Pope Benedict indicated that the Ordinary Form, celebrated according to the Missal of Paul VI, should be considered an authentic expression of the tradition of the Church?

3. That of becoming an alternative to the present day teaching office of the Church, with its own respected authorities and defining axioms. Do we not see this in the replacing of the "non-magisterial" in the exercise of the office of the Successor of Peter with the teaching of the Traditionalist "blogisterium", something that the internet has enabled in a way not seen before? And isn't there an irony in its claim to authentication by the support in the media of Catholic intellectuals* when it was precisely such a display of intellectuals in the media that they blame for undermining catechetics in the 1960s and 1970s?

4. That of living in a permanent state of contestation with others in the Church. Do we not see this in the critique of "conservatives" now, when in the past that contestation might have been directed only towards the liberal minded in the Church? Where other movements in the Church  can find their origin in a founding charism, an individual gift of grace given at a time and place but with a value for the Church as a whole, does not the Traditionalist movement only find its definition in contestation with the contemporary life of the Church in favour of a concept of "Tradition"?

5. That of siding with a concept of Tradition over and against the Successor of Peter. Do we not see this in the discussion of "conservatives" who have "sided with the Pope against Tradition"? When one moves aside from the exercise of the office of the Successor of Peter - and, indeed, from that of an ecumenical council - does not Tradition become something of the past rather than something that has its living expression in the exercise of office in the Church? Are we not seeing a certain legitimisation here of the stance taken by the Society of St Pius X at the time of their illicit episcopal ordinations?

When I read something like this, from a spokesman of the Traditionalist movement, and I cut through its apparent credibility and its pigeon-holing of others, do I not in reality see Traditionalism arriving at a destination that is inherent in its risks highlighted above? A move away from a living of a Catholic whole towards an isolated corner, in a permanent state of "against" and adhering to a certain concept of Tradition as its prime source of judgement? means is that a very large proportion of our conservative Catholic voices have been forced to reconsider the narrative, which has been a favourite of their school of thought, that everything which has gone wrong has gone wrong because of people misunderstanding or mis-implementing Vatican II or the post-Conciliar popes. When a pope has made it clear that his personal view is something nor really consistent with the Tradition--Paul VI on the liturgy, John Paul II on the death penalty or the authority of the husband over the family--they have tended to side with the Pope against Tradition, despite the fact that the Papal statements on the subject tended to lack magisterial weight....
...What happens to ultra-montanist Catholic conservatives** who finally realise that some at least of the Church's problems go right to the top--who take, as the metaphor of the hour has it, the red pill?
Ask a Traditionalist. Almost all us have gone through this process personally: I certainly have.
That move from the "conservative" to the "Traditionalist". Isn't it telling that the terms are "conservative" and "Traditionalist", and not "Catholic"?
Are we not instead called to live according the Catholic "whole", in which Tradition lives in its context of Scripture and the living teaching office, the Magisterium?

*... but are these intellectuals in large part from among the "usual suspects" of Traditionalism?
** .... the irony of this when Pope Francis has been accused of setting up "straw men"!

Saturday 17 December 2016

Amoris Laetitia nn.304-306

Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin - which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such - a person can be living in God's grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church's help to this end. [AL n.305]
In context, this refers to "irregular" marital situations such as those of the person who has divorced and re-married. In this situation, the Church's discipline does not allow the person to receive Holy Communion.

But I do think we need to be careful in how we understand the grounds for the Church's discipline in this regard. It represents a particular application of Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law:
Those ....  obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion. 
The key words here are, firstly, persevering. For the person who is re-married, their situation is one that persists and is not going to foreseeably end, it is one in which they perservere, continue. Secondly, the word manifest. Their situation is a visible situation, one that can be seen in the public record and practice of life, that can give scandal in the technical sense of the word.  And the third word is grave (sin). Divorce and re-marriage constitutes what is termed "grave matter", and this not only because of the injustice it represents to the nature of marriage seen in its human dimension but also because it denies its irrevocable representation of the union of Christ and his Church, that is, the love of God towards mankind.

In other words, it is the "objective situation of sin", to use the words of n.305, that is the ground for not admitting the divorced and remarried to Holy Communion, and this remains in place independently of any judgement or discernment that might be made with regard to mitigating factors.

The teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on mortal sin is found in n.1855 ff (my italics added):
Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God's law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him. .... Mortal sin, by attacking the vital principle within us - that is, charity - necessitates a new initiative of God's mercy and a conversion of heart which is normally accomplished within the setting of the sacrament of reconciliation.... For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: "Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.".... Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God's law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice.
It is clear from this that a person who is divorced and remarried might be in an objective situation of sin - and therefore be unable to receive Holy Communion - but not in a situation of mortal sin. Equally, if the conditions of knowledge and consent are met, they might be both in a situation of objective sin and unable to receive Holy Communion for that reason, and in a situation of mortal sin and unable to receive Holy Communion for that reason too (cf Canon 916), though it is unlikely to be publicly visible.

When Amoris Laetitia n.305 refers to the possibility that someone living in an objective situation of sin can nevertheless be "living in God's grace" it is referring to the first of these two possibilities. Charity might be wounded in that case, but it is not destroyed as would be the case in the second of the two possibilities.

This then makes complete sense of Amoris Laetitia n.306:
In every situation, when dealing with those who have difficulties in living God's law to the full, the invitation to pursue the via caritatis must be clearly heard. Fraternal charity is the first law of Christians ....
Where "the vital principle within us - that is, charity -" has not been broken, then the pastoral discernment of the particular situation should arrive at that style of charitable engagement that is appropriate to the individual situation and which will lead to a growth in grace. It is this growth in charity that is the first object of pastoral discernment and accompaniment.

It also makes sense of the reference in the preceding n.303 to the role of conscience, suggesting that it will firstly recognise the objective wrong of the situation and then prompt towards a progress along the way of charity:
...conscience can do more than recognise that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognise with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that is what God himself is asking ...
Much of the comment that is critical of Amoris Laetitia, and of these paragraphs in particular, lazily conflates the "objective situation of sin" to being one of "mortal sin", and with similar laziness identifies the mortal sin as the canonical ground for the Church's discipline of refusing the divorced and remarried Holy Communion. Having done these two, it is then natural to accuse these paragraphs of Amoris Laetitia and their urging of pastoral discernment - utterly  inaccurately - of having overturned the Church's discipline on Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried.

Peter: A rock who has been asked to love.

In May 1952, Madeleine Delbrel undertook a visit to Rome, spending some twelve hours in prayer at the tomb of St Peter in the Vatican Basilica. Madeleine travelled by train from Paris, spent her time in prayer, and returned by train, all in 24 hours. The circumstances of the visit are described in We, the Ordinary People of the Streets pp.77-78 and on pages 125-127 of the biography Madeleine Delbrel: A Life Beyond the Boundaries.

Madeleine's note of her visit was circulated to a few of her friends and can be found in We, the Ordinary People of the Streets pp.114-116. The following is an extract:
During the journey and also in Rome, I discovered the immense importance of bishops for the faith and the life of the Church.
"I will make you fishers of men". It seem to me, in relation to what we call authority, we tend to react either as liberals or as people with a fetish. We do not flow back to the bishops with everything we have encountered in or learned from the world.
Either we obey like a second-class soldier; or else at best we submit our requests for their signature. We do not bring back images, or sensations, etc, like eyes to the brain.
We're under the rule of authorizations rather than the rule of authority, which would mean to receive that which is "to be done", that of which we are meant to be "authors" in the work of God.....
I also thought a lot about the fact that, though St John is the "disciple Jesus loved", it was Peter that Jesus asked: "Do you love me?" and it was after his affirmations of love that Jesus gave him the flock. He also explained what it means to love: "That which you have done to the least of my brothers, you have done unto me".
It became clear to me how essential it is that people, all people, come to know that the hierarchical Church loves them. Peter - a rock who has been asked to love. I understood that all the expressions of the Church have to be penetrated through and through with love.

Wednesday 7 December 2016

The Pope today

Earlier today I re-read the essay with this title, to be found in Hans Urs von Balthasar's book Elucidations. First published in German in 1971, the immediate context of the essay is the pontificate of Pope Paul VI.

It is an essay that has a striking resonance for the pontificate of Pope Francis, and for many of the critical observations made of him and of those who defend him. It does need to be read as a whole, so that the trenchant critiques of the behaviour of ecclesiastics (this is not in von Balthasar's original context a reference to cardinals as it might be in the present context in respect of Amoris Laetitia) is seen also against its background of von Balthasar's equally trenchant comment on the teaching of Vatican I with regard to the Papal office and its balancing by the teaching of Vatican II (that at the former bishops seemed to readily offload to the higher authority a responsibility that was rightly their own, a tendency which achieved its correct balancing at the latter).
In the process of humiliation it is necessary to distinguish between the burdensome responsibilities which are accepted for the wrong reasons (even if in good faith) and that pastoral load which the man who follows in Peter's tracks cannot pass on to other men. The formulations promulgated in such an inflated style by Vatican I will, in a quite different style, retain their truth, a very humble truth, without sparkle or strength, for as long at least as men do not seek spontaneously to take the lowest place.
On the other hand, the loud-mouthed, Christian, mostly clerical rogues who take such pleasure in attacking Rome can study their own physiognomies in the satirical pictures of Bosch and Breughel. They will never be truly in the right even if they themselves imagine that they are angels of truth sent by heaven or by the human race or by the future to the Church, and even it if appears that they again and again receive plausible confirmation of their views by innumerable faux-pas of the central government of the Church. They have all the laughs on their side. But Peter must have seemed fairly laughable too when he was crucified upside down ....
There ... I did say the critiques were trenchant! It is perhaps the observation that "they will never be truly in the right .." to which we must pay most heed.

Note: I have not been able to find an on-line text of this essay, so if you do know of one, I would be happy to link to it.

Thursday 1 December 2016

Four Cardinals and a funeral?

It is axiomatic ("self-evident" according to the Concise Oxford Dictionary) to much of the commentary and reaction to Amoris Laetitia that is visible in the media that:
there is something wrong with Amoris Laetitia;
and there is widespread confusion among Catholics as a result of Amoris Laetitia.
I don't think there is anything wrong with Amoris Laetitia, if it is read for what it actually says;  and I believe that a significant responsibility for the spreading of confusion lies with those who are themselves exerting great effort in decrying the said confusion. Had the great and good kept rather more of their own counsel, I suspect that there would have been rather less legitimisation of such confusion as might have existed.

On the latter point, I think most of the Church's pastors and faithful would see it rather as Aunty does here (but I don't share the sentiments of the comments), or as Bishop Egan described it in a pastoral letter in July 2016:
When Amoris Laetitia was published, there was a controversy about the care of the divorced and remarried. In fact, Pope Francis reaffirms Jesus’ teaching on chastity, marriage, sexuality and family life; he does not change Church discipline. But he does speak in a new compassionate way about those who have drifted from the practice of faith because they have found themselves in marital situations and patterns of behaviour at variance with the Gospel....
Given this perspective, there is a certain bemusement that pertains with regard to the efforts of 45 theologians and, more recently, four cardinals to seek clarification from Pope Francis in respect of what has not in the first place been denied. As far as the cardinal's letter is concerned, I am inclined to characterise Pope Francis' choice not to respond in a similar way as does Rocco Buttiglione - that he has considered it not opportune to respond rather than it constituting a refusal to respond. And in respect of the 45 theologians, I just wondered what, with all the doctorates represented among them, they thought to achieve by writing in the language of censure and the citation of authorities. It is difficult to appreciate their approach to capital punishment, for example, when the question of today is no longer about the exercise of justice by Christian rulers but about executions under Sharia law in countries like Saudi Arabia and the experience of "death row" in the United Stages to which Sr Helen Prejean gives witness.

I find fanciful in the extreme the idea that Pope Francis has in some way declined to exercise his teaching authority because he happens not to have replied to a particular communication from four Cardinals (or, earlier, to 45 theologians). That this has subsequently engendered a discussion - taken seriously in some particular quarters - about a "suspension of the Magisterium", "doubts" and "a formal act of correction" is even more fanciful; and all the more so for its appearance of learning. "Authoritative teaching" might suit the mind set of some; but Pope Francis more gentle style of such teaching does not represent the absence of teaching of which he is accused.

In September, I read the following in a blog post reflecting on the situation since Amoris Laetitia :
...I fear for many Catholics that rather than as Newman says, "I shall drink to the Pope, if you please, still, to Conscience first", we must make a conscious choice between Conscience and the Pope, and that choice will have very uncomfortable consequences for those who feel compelled to follow conscience. The Kasper doctrine which the Pope has signified he favours is for many of us a sign of the distancing of the Church from Revelation and the person of Jesus Christ, that is not what the Church is for ...
At the time, I wondered on the final destination of one whose orientation moves from an adherence to the exercise of the office of the Successor of Peter towards an adherence to a notion of Tradition or of ecclesial life that is in some way distanced from the exercise of that office (though in the blog post cited this was articulated as a choice of conscience). Perhaps we are now seeing the final working out of such a distancing, the emergence of an orientation towards a Tradition distinguished from a Magisterium rather than an orientation towards a Tradition that lives with a Magisterium.

I, for one, prefer to stay alongside the successor of St Peter.

[Postscript: It should be clear that this is not a question of having to like everything a particular Pope does and says. The question is indifferent as to whether I like what Pope Francis does or do not like what Pope Francis does. The question is an objective one about an ecclesial orientation.]