Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Dangerous Superficiality of Traditionalism

The above picture is one that is sure to warm the heart of every good Catholic traditionalist. Here is a priest celebrating the Mass ad orientem. This is the way Mass should be celebrated. This is the true Catholic tradition. In fact, Father John Zuhlsdorf recently wrote a post in which he said that this was the only way to achieve a true renewal in the Church [HERE]:
We need to rethink versus populum celebration of Holy Mass and adopt instead ad orientem worship. Joseph Ratzinger got it right in his The Spirit of the Liturgy. I’ll take Benedict XVI’s vision every day and as many times as it takes on Sunday.

As Klaus Gamber stated, and Ratzinger repeated, the shift from ad orientem worship to versus populum was the single most damaging change made in the name of the Second Vatican Council. Together with that came the jettisoning of Our Lord from sanctuaries, the de facto abolition of Latin along with worthy sacred music, irreverence due to Communion in the hand and the downplaying of kneeling and genuflection, etc. etc. etc.
The following pictures of the same Mass from above illustrate the beauty and sacredness which Father Z is promoting:








As Father Z wrote in another recent post:
As I have written a thousand times, unless there is a renewal of our sacred liturgical worship of God, no other initiative of “New Evangelization” will succeed.  It all comes back to worship.  That’s the activity, according to the virtue of Religion, that coordinates the hierarchy of our relationships with persons (Divine, angelic, human) and our loves (making sure that GOD has the throne of our hearts and minds).  If our relationship with God isn’t squared away, and that must include liturgical worship, everything else will be on shaky ground.  How can we who accept the claim that the Eucharist (the Sacrament and Its celebration) are the “source and summit” of our Catholic lives think that we can undertake something as sweeping as a New Evangelization apart from a renewal of Holy Mass, the Divine Office solemnly celebrated, and all our other rites?  And yet when we hear our leaders, our shepherds, go on and on and on about this or that project or initiative, how often do they connect it – heck, even mention – the centrality and urgency of sacred liturgical worship of God?
Of course, when Father Z and other traditionalists talk about "renewal" of the Mass, they mean a return to the Traditional Latin Mass. They want to see more - if not all - Masses celebrated as pictured above. Father Z and all of his traditionalist followers believe that the TLM is the salvation of the Church and the world. That is actually Father Z's motto: "Save the Liturgy. Save the World." Look at the reverence and sacredness. These people are serious about worship.

An article recently written for Crisis Magazine by a fellow Brooklynite explains very clearly the reasons for the traditionalists' belief that the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is essential for the salvation of the world.  The article is entitled, "What the Traditional Mass Means to Me." [HERE]  It is written by James Kalb. I know Mr. Kalb. We attended the same Mass at the one and only TLM here in Brooklyn.

Mr. Kalb is a convert from the Episcopalian Church. As stated by Mr. Kalb, he believes that the TLM is the true representation of Catholicism:
I came to the Church through the Traditional Latin Mass.
I would have converted anyway. It was becoming more and more obvious that the Church was where I belonged, and it seemed pointlessly obstinate and even artificial to remain apart from her. But the Traditional Mass made the situation clearer, because it made it more obvious what the Church is.
Mr. Kalb writes further:
The Traditional Mass made it clear that the Mass is something different from all that. The formality, the silences, the use of an ancient language, the orientation and gestures of the priest, the indifference to popularity—all those things meant the Mass wasn’t anything like an ordinary meeting. It wasn’t about the people present, and at bottom it wasn’t even their doing. To the contrary, those present evidently understood what was going on as awe-inspiring, mostly invisible, and dependent on someone other than themselves. There was no other way to make sense of how they were acting.
So the Traditional Mass made it clear that there’s a basic dimension in Catholic Christianity, the reliable concrete presence of God, that I couldn’t find anywhere else. That realization clarified what the Church is—she is the way God maintains a visible presence in the world—and the necessity of becoming part of her for those who want to live a complete life.
Notice all of the things which Mr. Kalb points to as setting the Traditional Mass apart: "formality, silences, use of ancient language, orientation, gestures of the priest."  Mr. Kalb feels it is these outward gestures and rubrics which make the Mass Catholic.  As Mr. Kalb writes, the "New Mass" is basically Protestant:
This discussion started as a conversion story, and every conversion has its more personal aspects, so I should also mention benefits the Traditional Mass had for me in particular. The New Mass, especially the earlier translation, was very close to the Episcopalian eucharistic service I was used to before becoming Catholic. The two had evidently been designed to be as similar as possible. That was a problem for me.
What the intentional similarity suggested to me was that the New Mass didn’t give nearly so distinctively Catholic a view of things. I won’t claim that view was fair or that I knew more about the needs of the Church than Bl. Paul VI did, but that was what I saw. The New Mass looked to me like it had been produced less by saints and the sensus fidei fidelium than by an interdenominational committee of credentialed experts and then modified in accordance with the demands of particular communions. For that reason I found it hard to trust unreservedly. It seemed to have been produced in cooperation with people I had good reason not to trust and wanted very much to escape from.
Mr. Kalb feels that the "Novus Ordo" Mass and the Episcopalian service he attended were intentionally made similar, and therefore he has a deep distrust of the "Novus Ordo" Mass.  That is a common criticism of traditionalists against the Ordinary Form of the Mass:  it is too "Protestant".  It just does not have a Catholic feel to it.

Traditionalists would tell you that the Mass pictured above is a true Catholic Mass. As Mr. Kalb writes, this Mass shows the real presence of God. However, there is a problem. The Mass pictured above is a high Anglican Mass celebrated at Holy Rosary Church, Portland, Oregon. You can watch the video HERE. Except for the use of Latin, all of the elements of the TLM which Mr. Kalb and other traditionalists feel are so important are found in the Anglican High Mass. People even kneel at the communion rail and receive on the tongue with the use of a paten. If you watch the video, you will hear beautiful Gregorian chant. The Mass is celebrated ad orientem, which Father Z says is so essential. It is very difficult to tell this Mass apart from a TLM.

My point in showing the pictures of the Anglican Mass is to prove that rubrics alone mean nothing. Just because something feels sacred and reverent, that doesn't automatically mean it is. The Anglicans in the Mass pictured above did everything exactly right. But they were still doing nothing more than worshiping ordinary bread and wine. Our Lord was not present at this Mass.

Mr. Kalb states that he cannot trust the Novus Ordo Mass because it is too similar to the Episcopalian service. As I have shown, the High Anglican Mass is also very similar to the TLM which he claims to love. That obviously doesn't bother him. Can he explain this?

Mr. Kalb ends his article by writing:
To summarize a somewhat rambling and personal account, it seems to me that the Traditional Latin Mass helps believers and the Church, because it helps believers see what the Mass and Church are all about. It helps people see the Mass as more than an ordinary assembly and the Church as more than a collection of individuals with varying tendencies and idiosyncrasies. So it helps the Church reach people with what she has to offer. It also helps the Church see herself as One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, and so helps focus her on her nature and mission. What could be better, or more Catholic, than all that?
I use to be of the exact same opinion as Mr. Kalb. In fact, he and I once discussed this very subject in which he expressed these same ideas, and we were in total agreement.

So what really sets the Mass apart? What really makes the Catholic Church different? Does the priest have to face ad orientem? Do people have to receive kneeling and on the tongue? Is Gregorian music essential? Does the salvation of the Church and the World depend upon the use of male only altar servers and no women in the sanctuary? Is it using only the organ and no other instruments? Father Z, Mr. Kalb, and most other traditionalists feel that the rubrics of the Mass set it apart from protestant prayer services. If the Mass looks and feels more sacred, then it. Yet I am sure that they would be the first to agree that an Anglican Mass, no matter how much it may resemble the TLM, can never be sacred. Why? For the simple reason that Christ is not present.

It is the presence of Christ that makes something holy. We surely have learned that lesson from this past Christmas season. Christ was born in a lowly manger, surrounded by dirty animals, laid on a bed of probably not very clean straw and wrapped in rags. Yet, this was the holiest place on earth at that time because Our Lord was there.

Our Lord was crucified in a garbage dump among other criminals. The people surrounding Our Lord were jeering loudly and blaspheming. From all outward appearances, Satan had won the day. Yet, this was again the most sacred place on earth because Jesus Christ was there, and He was winning salvation for the whole world.

As I have shown, the one essential element in determining sacredness is the presence of God. The Pharisees in Jesus's time looked very good on the outside. They did everything exactly right. Yet, Our Lord called them "whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean." (Matt. 23:27) One of the primary lessons we should learn as Christians is that we can never judge a book by its cover. We can never trust our physical senses to differentiate between right and wrong. "There is a way that seems right to a man but the ends thereof are the ways of death.  (Prov. 14:12).

In II Samuel 6, we are given the story of King David bringing the Ark of God back to Jerusalem. As the Ark entered Jerusalem, "Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets." (Versus 14-15).

King David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant
Michel, David's wife, watched out of the window. Verse 16 says "when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart."  When she was alone with King David, she sarcastically said, "How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!" (Verse 20)  David replied to her, "It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor."  (Verse 21).

Michel's attitude towards David encapsulates the view of the traditionalists towards those whom they call "Novus Ordo Catholics." They find the Ordinary Form of the Mass to be vulgar and irreverent. They think the OF is destroying the Catholic Church. As James Kalb wrote, he cannot trust the Novus Ordo Mass because it is too similar to the prayer service he had attended as a Protestant. And as Father Z wrote "the shift from ad orientem worship to versus populum was the single most damaging change made in the name of the Second Vatican Council."

To bolster their argument, traditionalists often point to the fact that a massive decline in church attendance started at the time the Novus Ordo Mass was introduced. Those who make this argument seem to live in a bubble. ALL religions in the western world have lost members. Our western culture has become a culture of materialism and hedonism. God is no longer a part of our society. It isn't just the Catholic Church that is suffering. The entire culture has rejected God and, as a result, is dying.

But look towards Africa, South America and Asia. The Church is growing dramatically in these areas. And what is the predominant Mass by far? The vulgar and irreverent Ordinary Form, the "Novus Ordo."

Catholic Mass in Zambia looking like David dancing in front of the Ark
Credit:  www.southworld.net
From a USA Today article dated March 12, 2013 [HERE]:
As the number of regular churchgoers drops in Europe and the United States, the number of faithful in Africa has risen dramatically, greater here than anywhere else in 50 years. In Africa, between 1978 and 2007, the number of Catholics grew from 55 million to 146 million, according to the Vatican. A recent study by Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life show the continent's Catholic population at more than 175 million.
"(Previous popes have) seen a church that is incredibly vivacious and lively and exciting which is what I think some popes have certainly lamented about the decline of the church in Europe and the rise of secularism," said Mark Faulkner, a senior teaching fellow at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies. "They see the opposite in Africa where they do see a very vibrant Christian community.
This doesn't do much to support Father Z's argument that the "Reform of the Mass" is the key to the new evangelization.

I was once in lockstep with the traditionalist mindset.  I often complained about the OF, saying that it was impossible to pray at this Mass.  Then I decided that it wasn't up to me to decide upon the form of the Mass.  I stopped fighting the Ordinary Form and actually started praying with it.  That has made all the difference.  I find the OF to be just as reverent - and in some ways more reverent - than the TLM ever was.  However, my feelings mean nothing.  The fact is Jesus Christ is present in the OF, and that makes it sacred. That is the only essential factor.  

Herein lies the danger of traditionalism. Traditionalists pride themselves on the fact that they are very learned. Many of them know Latin. They can explain the Mass to you backwards and forwards. They can tell you the meaning of the different postures and gestures of the priest in the Mass. They know their stuff. But the fact remains, they make their judgments based on what they can see, feel, taste, hear and smell.  And their judgments are superficial and small minded.  They are not listening to the judgments of the Mystical Body of Christ. They are Michel calling David vulgar.

Traditionalists say the Church is dying in the West because the Mass was changed. I counter that with the argument that the Church is growing in the "third world" because the Mass was changed. The European influence of the Mass was removed and it was opened up to the rest of the world so that they could worship God in their own way and in their own language. That was the work of the Holy Spirit, and it has resulted in dramatic Church growth.

Christ and His Church are always at least one step ahead of the rest of the world.  The Holy Spirit saw a dying Europe and He directed the Church to other parts of the world who would accept the saving message of the Gospel.  Don't believe those who say the Church is dying.  It isn't the Church that is dying but our western culture.  

And it isn't the "renewal of the Mass" that will fuel the New Evangelization.  It is the renewal of our minds and hearts that will spread the saving Gospel.  It is our submission to and acceptance of the Will of God.

I think the following Youtube video says it all:


Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Why I Read So Few Catholic Blogs

Credit:  www.pinterest.com
I had an interesting run in with a Catholic blogger recently. The blogger is Paul Anthony Melanson and he has a blog entitled, "La Salette Journey." He wrote a post criticizing Pope Francis for his "Urbi et Orbi" message. His post is entitled, "Does Pope Francis offer an authentic Gospel or the 'Social Gospel?' " [HERE].  His answer is that Pope Francis is preaching only a social gospel, and not telling the world about spiritual salvation. Therefore, Pope Francis is preaching a false gospel. Melanson quotes extensively from Dietrich von Hildebrand to show just how wrong Pope Francis is.

It is interesting that Melanson gives no direct quotes from Pope Francis' Urbi et Orbi message. He does link to another Catholic blogger, "The Radical Catholic", who is also harshly critical of Pope Francis and - surprise, surprise! - "The Radical Catholic" also does not give any direct quotes from Pope Francis. Neither of these two Catholic bloggers even give any links so that we can read for ourselves the message from the Holy Father.  These bloggers offer only harsh criticism and condemnation.

Since these two self-proclaimed models of Catholicism refuse to play by any rules of fairness, I will make up for their deficiencies. You can go HERE to read the full Urbi et Orbi message from Pope Francis.

ISIS in Iraq
Credit:  rt.com
In his message, Pope Francis said, "Jesus is the salvation for every person and for every people" and then went on to list several hot-spots in the world such as Iraq and Syria "who for too long now have suffered the effects of ongoing conflict, and who, together with those belonging to other ethnic and religious groups, are suffering a brutal persecution." The Holy Father prayed for "all who suffer in Ukraine, and grant that their beloved land may overcome tensions, conquer hatred and violence, and set out on a new journey of fraternity and reconciliation."

The Holy Father prayed: 
May Christ the Savior give peace to Nigeria, where (even in these hours) more blood is being shed and too many people are unjustly deprived of their possessions, held as hostages or killed. I invoke peace also on the other parts of the African continent, thinking especially of Libya, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and various regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I beseech all who have political responsibility to commit themselves through dialogue to overcoming differences and to building a lasting, fraternal coexistence.
Victims of terrorism in Nigeria
Credit:  www.thecuttingedgenews.com
Pope Francis mentioned the suffering of millions of children in the world:
The Child Jesus. My thoughts turn to all those children today who are killed and ill-treated, be they infants killed in the womb, deprived of that generous love of their parents and then buried in the egoism of a culture that does not love life; be they children displaced due to war and persecution, abused and taken advantage of before our very eyes and our complicit silence.
Further:
I think also of those infants massacred in bomb attacks, also those where the Son of God was born. Even today, their impotent silence cries out under the sword of so many Herods. On their blood stands the shadow of contemporary Herods.
Truly there are so many tears this Christmas, together with the tears of the Infant Jesus.
Credit:  womennet.am
Pope Francis concludes his message by saying:
Dear brothers and sisters, may the Holy Spirit today enlighten our hearts, that we may recognize in the Infant Jesus, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, the salvation given by God to each one of us, to each man and woman and to all the peoples of the earth.
May the power of Christ, which brings freedom and service, be felt in so many hearts afflicted by war, persecution and slavery. May this divine power, by its meekness, take away the hardness of heart of so many men and women immersed in worldliness and indifference, the globalization of indifference. May his redeeming strength transform arms into plowshares, destruction into creativity, hatred into love and tenderness.

Then we will be able to cry out with joy: "Our eyes have seen your salvation"
Both Melanson and "The Radical Catholic" are very upset that Pope Francis would equate "salvation" with being concerned and praying for an end to the the physical suffering of so many millions around the world. From the Radical Catholic:
While I wish to distract neither from the horrible plight of so many suffering around the world today nor from the genuineness of the Holy Father's sentiments, I find myself wondering: Did Christ come to save us from these things? Did He come to save us from poverty, famine, persecution and suffering? Did He come in the glory of His power to establish a kingdom in which there is no want, no calumny, no corruption? Is this the reason for His appearance two millennia ago? Is this the meaning of His Advent?
I can only wonder:  are these two bloggers for real?  Did they never read Matthew 25 - "whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren, you do to me?"  Christ talks about clothing the naked, feeding the starving, caring for the poor.  He said that those who don't do these things will not be in the Kingdom of God.  A Christian never separates concern for the spiritual state of persons from concern for their physical state.  It is just as wrong to not care for people physically as it is to neglect them spiritually.  

I wrote a comment to Melanson's blog in which I said, "I guess Dr. Hildebrand wouldn't like Pope Benedict XVI either. What up with these popes trying to give comfort to the world?! That is something Jesus would never do."  

I then linked to the 2012 "Urbi et Orbi" message from Pope Benedict XVI [HERE].  In this message, Pope Benedict mentions the tremendous suffering of people in various countries, such as Syria and "the Land where the Redeemer was born", North Africa, "the vast continent of Asia", Mali, Nigeria, the "Democratic Republic of Congo" and Kenya.  Pope Benedict ended his message with:
Dear brothers and sisters! Kindness and truth, justice and peace have met; they have become incarnate in the child born of Mary in Bethlehem. That child is the Son of God; he is God appearing in history. His birth is a flowering of new life for all humanity. May every land become a good earth which receives and brings forth kindness and truth, justice and peace.
Eerie how similar these messages are, and yet Melanson has the audacity to say in his comment to me:
Actually, Dr. Hildebrand would have no problem with Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Benedict never advanced a Social Gospel. Read your own link, if you are capable. Nowhere does Benedict hold Christ as the Savior from poverty and all the ills of society.
Oh really?  What do you call this:
May peace spring up on the vast continent of Asia. May the Child Jesus look graciously on the many peoples who dwell in those lands and, in a special way, upon all those who believe in him. May the King of Peace turn his gaze to the new leaders of the People’s Republic of China for the high task which awaits them. I express my hope that, in fulfilling this task, they will esteem the contribution of the religions, in respect for each, in such a way that they can help to build a fraternal society for the benefit of that noble People and of the whole world.

May the Birth of Christ favour the return of peace in Mali and that of concord in Nigeria, where savage acts of terrorism continue to reap victims, particularly among Christians. May the Redeemer bring help and comfort to the refugees from the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and grant peace to Kenya, where brutal attacks have struck the civilian population and places of worship.
May the Child Jesus bless the great numbers of the faithful who celebrate him in Latin America. May he increase their human and Christian virtues, sustain all those forced to leave behind their families and their land, and confirm government leaders in their commitment to development and fighting crime.
It is obvious that these bloggers hear only what they want to hear and read only what they want to read.  They certainly don't let reality intrude.

I wrote back to Melanson quoting from James 2:16:
If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?
I cannot remember my entire comment because Melanson refused to post it.  Instead, he alluded to it by writing this:
Since "Catholic in Brooklyn" doesn't care to engage in honest dialogue, I won't be publishing her comments.
She left another comment asserting that men are primarily interested in the food for the body. She misses the point.
Lucifer was the first preacher of the Social Gospel. He said to Jesus, "Turn these stones into bread."

And how did Jesus respond? With the most succinct rebuttal of the Social Gospel: That man does not live by bread alone but by the Word of God.
I guess Melanson's idea of dialogue is that he talks and unless you agree with him - shut up.

I have a question for Melanson, "The Radical Catholic" and all the other radical traditionalists who see Pope Francis as basically a heretic.  Do they honestly believe that Pope Francis is not preaching the message of salvation to the world? Pope Francis wrote a book-length apostolic exhortation which is entirely concerned with preaching the Gospel to the world.  From that document:
Lastly, we cannot forget that evangelization is first and foremost about preaching the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him. Many of these are quietly seeking God, led by a yearning to see his face, even in countries of ancient Christian tradition. All of them have a right to receive the Gospel. Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but “by attraction”.
John Paul II asked us to recognize that “there must be no lessening of the impetus to preach the Gospel” to those who are far from Christ, “because this is the first task of the Church”. Indeed, “today missionary activity still represents the greatest challenge for the Church” and “the missionary task must remain foremost”. What would happen if we were to take these words seriously? We would realize that missionary outreach is paradigmatic for all the Church’s activity. Along these lines the Latin American bishops stated that we “cannot passively and calmly wait in our church buildings”; we need to move “from a pastoral ministry of mere conservation to a decidedly missionary pastoral ministry”. This task continues to be a source of immense joy for the Church: “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Lk 15:7).” (14-15)
Melason, "The Radical Catholic" and others would do well to read carefully the following statement from Pope Francis:
“I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37).” (49)
Are these the words of a man who is preaching only the "social gospel"?  The purpose of "Urbi et Orbi" is to speak to the world.  Should we just ignore the world's tremendous suffering and instead tell them that they had better repent of their sins or they're going to hell?  Is that how we will reach them?  There is a time and place to preach repentance to people.  But that is not the purpose of "Urbi et Orbi."  To accuse Pope Francis of preaching a false gospel because he shows compassion and empathy for the suffering of the world is truly appalling.

Melanson banned me from his "Catholic" blog because I support the Holy Father.   One of those commenting on Melanson's blog wrote this in response to my comment:
Actually Jesus didn't come to bring comfort to the world. He came to bring peace to individual souls who turn to Him and away from their sins with humility and contriteness of heart in complete surrender. And that can only happen if those individuals openly reject the world.

Oh but hey, don't take my word for it, let Him tell you:

"Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household.’" - Matthew 10:34-36
So what do you think you know that Christ doesn't know?
If this was true Catholicism, I would immediately turn in my card. Is following a Christ a matter of just pointing out the sins of others and telling them to shape up or ship out and disregarding their physical suffering since they brought it on themselves anyway? How can anyone possibly say that because you care about the physical suffering of people, then you obviously don't care about their souls? This is exactly what Melanson and "The Radical Catholic" are saying about Pope Francis. They would do well to heed the words of Our Lord as recorded in Matthew 12:36 - "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,"

For Paul Anthony Melanson and "The Radical Catholic" and so many others whose main occupation seems to be condemning the Holy Father, here are the words of Pope Francis from Evangelii Gaudium:
“One of the more serious temptations which stifles boldness and zeal is a defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, “sourpusses”. Nobody can go off to battle unless he is fully convinced of victory beforehand. If we start without confidence, we have already lost half the battle and we bury our talents. While painfully aware of our own frailties, we have to march on without giving in, keeping in mind what the Lord said to Saint Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). Christian triumph is always a cross, yet a cross which is at the same time a victorious banner borne with aggressive tenderness against the assaults of evil. The evil spirit of defeatism is brother to the temptation to separate, before its time, the wheat from the weeds; it is the fruit of an anxious and self-centred lack of trust.” (85)
UPDATE:  I have invited Paul Anthony Melanson to comment, but he refuses to acknowledge me.  
Credit:  www.pinterest.com

Friday, December 26, 2014

Do I Allow God To Love Me?


The adoration of the shepherds
We are now in the Christmas season in which we celebrate the birth of our Savior.  God is born as a man, like His Creation in every way except sin.  And how did the great Creator choose to come into the world?  He was born in a dirty, vermin-infested manger surrounded by barn animals and greeted by the lowliest members of human society - shepherds, who spent their lives in the fields with their animals apart from everyone else.  These were men with little to no education who rarely even bathed and were shunned by all of "proper" society.  And not only did our Lord choose to announce His coming to these lowliest members of society, He said that He, too, was a shepherd.  Our Lord is the Good Shepherd who will go to any lengths to find His lost sheep and will even lay down His own precious life to save His sheep.

Moses the Shepherd
Credit:  bfmindia.blogspot.com
Anyone who has spent any amount of time studying the Bible and the Life of Christ knows that Our Lord never does anything in a way that we would expect.  As Pope Francis has told us, He is a God of surprises.  In the Old Testament The Lord tests the faith of the father of his people - Abraham - by demanding that Abraham kill his son.  He prepares the patriarch Joseph to save the known civilized world by allowing him to be falsely accused and thrown into prison for several years.  He chooses a slave nation - Israel - to be the ones by which He will make Himself known to the world.  He chooses Moses to lead this slave nation to freedom.  Moses had been driven from society because he had killed a man.  He then become a shepherd (yes, the lowliest member of society) and was prepared by God to lead the nation of Israel by spending 40 years shepherding sheep in the wilderness.  The Lord chose another shepherd - David - to be the great king of Israel.

We can never know the Mind of God. We can never assume that we know what He wants or how He will act among us. Yet, we continue to seek God on our own terms and in our own ways. The result is that we delude ourselves into thinking that we are serving God when in reality we are pushing God away and serving nothing more than our own egos. This was the warning that Pope Francis gave us in his Christmas message. The Holy Father told us that seeking God means that we must be open and allow God to find us. (Read the entire message HERE.)
On this holy night, while we contemplate the Infant Jesus just born and placed in the manger, we are invited to reflect. How do we welcome the tenderness of God? Do I allow myself to be taken up by God, to be embraced by him, or do I prevent him from drawing close? "But I am searching for the Lord" - we could respond. Nevertheless, what is most important is not seeking him, but rather allowing him to find me and caress me with tenderness. The question put to us simply by the Infant's presence is: do I allow God to love me?
Credit:  latino.foxnews.com
This very much echoes a statement made by the Venerable Fulton Sheen:
We always make the fatal mistake of thinking that it is what we do that matters, when really what matters is what we let God do to us.  God sent the angel to Mary, not to ask her to do something, but to let something be done. Since God is a better artisan than you, the more you abandon yourself to him, the happier he can make you.
In the great classic, "The Spiritual Combat" by Lorenzo Scupoli (a monk who lived from 1530 to 1610), the author begins his book by stating, "If you wish, beloved in Christ, to reach the height of perfection, and by drawing near to your God to become one spirit with Him (and no aim can be imagined or expressed which is greater, or nobler than this), you must before all else gain a true idea of what constitutes spiritual perfection." Dom Scupoli then gives examples of what does not constitute spiritual perfection. It does not consist of "outward mortification, in hair shirts and disciplines, in long watchings and fastings, and in other bodily sufferings and chastisements." Dom Scupoli warns against those "who think they have reached the climax of perfection when they say many prayers, attend many services and offices, and are regularly at Church and at Communion."

Dom Scupoli warns us that those who trust in external actions "are all deceived.  For although these practices are sometimes means of gaining the spirit of perfection, and sometimes are its fruits, yet in no sense can it ever be said that true spiritual perfection consists in these."  Dom Scupoli most certainly does not condemn these actions in and of themselves, for as he writes, these practices "are means most efficacious for obtaining spirituality, when they are properly and discreetly employed" and that "they are also fruits of the Spirit in truly spiritual persons" who follow these external practices "not for the sake of curiosity and devotional feeling, but that they may gain deeper knowledge of their own corruptness and of God's Mercy and Goodness."

This great author tells us that
"to others, however, who found perfection entirely on external practices, such works may bring greater ruin than open sins; not that these works are bad in themselves, for in themselves they are very good, but in consequence of the mistaken use which is made of them they have this sad result: because those who practice them are so wrapt up in what they do, that they leave their hearts a prey to their own evil inclinations and to the devices of Satan."
In other words, our trust in external practices causes us to start trusting in ourselves and our own goodness, and that makes us easy prey for the devil.

Dom Scupoli says those who vainly trust in outward practices
"may easily be gathered from their lives and conversation. For in everything, whether it be great or small, they seek their own advantage, and like to be preferred before others; they are self-willed and opinionated, blind to their own faults, sharp-sighted for the faults of others, and severely condemn the sayings and doings of other men. But if you touch only with your finger a certain vain reputation in which they hold themselves and are pleased to be held by others; if you bid them discontinue any of their regular and formal devotions, they are at once angry and exceedingly disturbed."
Dom Scupoli writes:
It is therefore quite evident that all such persons are in great danger. For since the inward eye is darkened, by which they see themselves and their outward actions which are good, they attribute to themselves a high degree of perfection, and so, becoming more and more puffed up, they readily pass judgment upon others; yet they themselves need a special miracle of grace to convert them, for nothing short of that would have effect. It is more easy to convert and bring back an open sinner to the path of truth, than the man whose sin is hidden and mantled with the semblance of virtue.
This, sadly, is what I find almost universally in the Catholic blogosphere, most especially among those who call themselves "traditionalists."  These bloggers hold themselves out as the models of Christian perfection, and forcefully condemn anyone who disagrees with them.  No one is excluded from this condemnation, from lay persons up to and including, and sometimes most especially, the Pope.

Dom Scupoli tells us what constitutes true spirituality:
You clearly and distinctly see, then, from what I have said, that the essence of the spiritual life does not lie in any of those things to which I have alluded. It consists in nothing else but the knowledge of the Divine Goodness and Greatness, of our own nothingness, and proneness to all evil; in the love of God and the hatred of self; in entire subjection not only to God Himself, but for the love of Him, to all creatures; in giving up our own will, and in completely resigning ourselves to the Divine Pleasure; moreover, in willing and doing all this with no other wish or aim than the glory and honor of God, the fulfillment of His Will because it is His Will, and because He deserves to be served and loved.
Pope Francis succinctly summarized this when he said, "Do I allow God to love me?"  Whenever we start trusting in ourselves and in our own actions, we are cutting ourselves off from the love of God. That is the danger of fundamentalism.  And that is the danger of both the liberal and traditional Catholic movements.  While liberal and traditional Catholics may seem like opposites, in reality they are two sides of the same coin because they are both trusting in themselves and their own righteousness.

And between the liberal and ultra-conservative traditionalists, the latter is actually far more spiritually dangerous. It is easy to point out the sin of the liberal because they are so obviously in contradiction to Church teaching. But those who call themselves "traditionalists" are involved in a much more insidious sin. They look very good and spiritual on the outside. But as Dom Scupoli writes, "It is more easy to convert and bring back an open sinner to the path of truth, than the man whose sin is hidden and mantled with the semblance of virtue."

As I have pointed out before, our ultimate role model is Mary, our Blessed Mother. Satan fears her above all other creatures. What is it that made her so dangerous to Satan? It was her complete abandonment of self, and her total and unquestioning reliance on God. "My soul does magnify the Lord, my spirit does rejoice in God my Savior." Mary accepted God's will into her life. She never resisted Him in any way. Therein lies spiritual perfection. How do we get there?

Dom Scupoli tells us this:
Now you see wherein the real perfection of a Christian lies, and that to obtain it you must enter upon a constant and sharp warfare against self.
Our greatest enemy is our own self will, our opinions, our "goodness."  That will cut us off from God faster and more completely than anything or anyone outside of us.  Yes, we are in a spiritual warfare, and the one we must fight more than any other is ourselves.

Dom Scupoli gives us the weapons we must use:
You must provide yourself with four very safe and highly necessary weapons, that you may win the palm, and be finally a conqueror in this spiritual conflict -- these are:
  • Distrust in Self
  • Trust in God
  • Spiritual Exercises
  • Prayer
Jesus Christ - the great Creator of the Universe - came to us as a small, defenseless infant.  He became the Sacrifice for our sins by dying as a condemned criminal on the Cross, again helpless and defenseless.  If we are to be like Christ, we too must become "helpless and defenseless."

In his Christmas homily, Pope Francis said the following:
When the angels announced the birth of the Redeemer to the shepherds, they did so with these words: "This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:12).
The "sign" is the humility of God taken to the extreme; it is the love with which, that night, he assumed our frailty, our suffering, our anxieties, our desires and our limitations. The message that everyone was expecting, that everyone was searching for in the depths of their souls, was none other than the tenderness of God: God who looks upon us with eyes full of love, who accepts our poverty, God who is in love with our smallness.
This statement of Pope Francis echoes that of Our Blessed Mother in her great Magnificat:
He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and has exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent away empty.
Truly, one of the most profound and penetrating questions we can ask ourselves is that posed by our Holy Father, "Do I Allow God To Love Me?"

Credit: iservantmedia.blogspot.com

Monday, December 8, 2014

In Praise of the Immaculate Conception

O Mother, how pure you are, you are untouched by sin;
yours was the privilege to carry God within you.

Divine Office
If you wanted to be a great baseball player, what would you need? First and foremost, you need innate talent. You either got it or your don't. But then you would need someone who could help develop your natural talent. Wouldn't you want to be coached and taught by the best? Certainly it is the dream of every wannabe major league baseball player to take the traits of all the best baseball players in history - Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax, etc. etc. - and roll them all into one person who would be your own personal coach. And to make the pot sweeter, your coach would have access to the Commissioner of Professional Baseball, and just by his connections, your coach would be able to get you onto any team you wished. When you messed up and didn't have such a good day, your coach would be able to smooth it over with all of the powers that be so that they would barely be aware of your weaknesses and failings. In time, all of your failings would actually disappear and you would become that great baseball player you always dreamed of being.

As Christians, we have been given a much loftier and immensely more difficult goal and even higher obstacles to overcome than one aspiring to be a first rate baseball player.

Jesus Christ laid it out as follows: "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48). Our Lord requires each one of us to become perfect and sinless sons of God.  And He demands this even though He knows that not one of us has the innate capability or "talent" to do so.  On our own, it is easier for an ant to become an elephant than for a fallen human being to become spiritually perfect.

Of course, Our Lord has given us many ways in which to achieve holiness and spiritual perfection. First are the sacraments - baptism, confession, the Eucharist, etc. We have the Mass in which we present the bloodless sacrifice of Jesus Christ to the Father in atonement for our sins. We have the written Word of God - the Bible. We have the prayers of the angels and saints. We have the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit. We have the Holy Spirit Himself as our guide and comforter who will never let us down. These are just a few of the many spiritual aids we have been given.

And yet we stumble and fall constantly.  Our sinful nature keeps pulling us down.  It seems like we fail more often than we succeed.

Just as someone aspiring to be a great ball player would want an expertly skilled coach, so we, as Christians, need an expert skilled in following Christ. We need someone to hold our hand, to guide our every step. We need this someone to be compassionate and understanding of our sinful state. And when we do inevitably fall, we need someone who can go to the Lord and ask Him for the grace we are too stupid and ignorant to ask for on our own.

Credit:  www.vismaya-maitreya.pl
And that is exactly what Our Lord gave us as He was dying on the Cross.   This was the meaning behind His words to His Mother and St. John as He was dying on the cross (Matthew 19:26-27):
When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household. 
On this day, December 8, we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of Mary, declared a dogma by the Church in 1854. This states that Mary was conceived without sin and that she remained in that sinless state for the rest of her life. Mary knew the secret to perfection. Mary lived her life in perfect conformity to God, never once wavering. She was able to live her life untainted by sin of any kind.

Apart from the Holy Trinity, we can find no better teacher and guide than the Blessed Virgin. And that is exactly why Our Lord gave His Most Blessed Mother to us, to be our mother.

St. Louis de Montfort writes ("True Devotion to Mary"):
Poor children of Mary, you are extremely weak and changeable. Your human nature is deeply impaired. It is sadly true that you have been fashioned from the same corrupted nature as the other children of Adam and Eve. But do not let that discourage you. Rejoice and be glad! Here is a secret which I am revealing to you, a secret unknown to most Christians, even the most devout.
St. Louis de Montfort further writes :
As all perfection consists in our being conformed, united and consecrated to Jesus it naturally follows that the most perfect of all devotions is that which conforms, unites, and consecrates us most completely to Jesus. Now of all God's creatures Mary is the most conformed to Jesus. It therefore follows that, of all devotions, devotion to her makes for the most effective consecration and conformity to him. The more one is consecrated to Mary, the more one is consecrated to Jesus.
That is why perfect consecration to Jesus is but a perfect and complete consecration of oneself to the Blessed Virgin, which is the devotion I teach; or in other words, it is the perfect renewal of the vows and promises of holy baptism.
Sinless Virgin, let us follow joyfully in your footsteps;
draw us after you in the fragrance of your holiness.
Divine Office
Mary is our role model. She is what we must all attain to - total spiritual perfection. But she is not only meant to be our role model. Our Lord gave her to us as our own personal coach! Our Lord told St. John to take Mary into his household, and He tells each of us that we must take Mary into our "household" and make her a central part of our lives. As St. Louis de Montfort said, just as Christ came to us through Mary, we must go to Him through her. It is through her that we receive all graces. 

Our Lord said that "among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist."  And how was John the Baptist sanctified?  It was at the moment when the pregnant Mary, carrying the unborn Jesus, came to see her pregnant cousin Elizabeth, who was carrying John the Baptist.  And so Mary has done ever since.  It is her role to bring Jesus Christ to each of us.  As St. Louis de Montfort wrote, Mary "is the safest, easiest, shortest and most perfect way of approaching Jesus."  

The actual tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Credit:  http://holyrosarysite.com/archives/2114
In just a few short days we will be celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  I find this the most amazing of all the Marian apparitions.  At the time of this appearance, the Aztecs ruled the land and were especially barbaric, performing thousands of human sacrifices every year.  The missionaries were despairing of ever converting them, as the Indians seemed to resist every effort made to bring Christ to them.

Our Blessed Mother appeared to St. Juan Diego in Mexico and told him to tell the bishop that she wanted church built on the site where she appeared. The bishop was, of course, skeptical, and asked St. Juan Diego to bring him a sign. The Blessed Mother appeared again and gave Juan Diego roses to put into his tilma. This was miraculous enough as it was winter time and nothing was blooming. When Juan Diego came to the bishop to give him the roses, the bishop fell back in amazement, not at the roses but at what he saw on the tilma. There was a beautiful portrait of Our Lady. Interestingly, Our Lady was pregnant in this portrait just as she was when she sanctified John the Baptist. 
 
The Church was built and the tilma put in a prominent place.  As a result, the largest conversion in history took place.  Nine million of the 10 million Aztec Indians were converted in just a few short years.  And how was this accomplished?  By great preaching?  By beating people over the head and telling them what rotten sinners they were?  No.  Our Blessed Mother physically brought Jesus to the Indians, just as she did to John the Baptist.  This happened in 1519.  The Tilma is still displayed in Mexico City, and it is estimated that 20 million people see it every year.  

You are the glory of Jerusalem, the joy of Israel;
you are the fairest honor of our race.

Divine Office
Mary is the greatest of all of creation because she is the most fully conformed to the Trinity. She is the daughter of the Father, the mother of the Son and the spouse of the Holy Spirit. As St. Louis de Montfort wrote:
Mary is the supreme masterpiece of Almighty God and he has reserved the knowledge and possession of her for himself. She is the glorious Mother of God the Son who chose to humble and conceal her during her lifetime in order to foster her humility. He called her "Woman" as if she were a stranger, although in his heart he esteemed and loved her above all men and angels. Mary is the sealed fountain and the faithful spouse of the Holy Spirit where only he may enter. She is the sanctuary and resting-place of the Blessed Trinity where God dwells in greater and more divine splendour than anywhere else in the universe, not excluding his dwelling above the cherubim and seraphim. No creature, however pure, may enter there without being specially privileged.
The Lord God said to the serpent: I will make you enemies,
you and the woman, your offspring and her offspring;
she will crush your head, alleluia.

Divine Office
Mary is the supreme enemy of the devil.
Thus the most fearful enemy that God has set up against the devil is Mary, his holy Mother. From the time of the earthly paradise, although she existed then only in his mind, he gave her such a hatred for his accursed enemy, such ingenuity in exposing the wickedness of the ancient serpent and such power to defeat, overthrow and crush this proud rebel, that Satan fears her not only more than angels and men but in a certain sense more than God himself. This does not mean that the anger, hatred and power of God are not infinitely greater than the Blessed Virgin's, since her attributes are limited. It simply means that Satan, being so proud, suffers infinitely more in being vanquished and punished by a lowly and humble servant of God, for her humility humiliates him more than the power of God. Moreover, God has given Mary such great power over the evil spirits that, as they have often been forced unwillingly to admit through the lips of possessed persons, they fear one of her pleadings for a soul more than the prayers of all the saints, and one of her threats more than all their other torments.
This "supreme masterpiece", this greatest enemy of the devil, is the one whom Jesus Christ has given to each one of us as our own loving mother and guide to heaven.

Mary never left her Son.  She was there from His conception by the Holy Spirit to the moment He breathed His last breath on the Cross.  She is the most loyal of all His creation.  And she offers that same loyalty to each one of us.  She promises never to let go of us.  We are separated from the Lord when we sin. But just as Mary stayed with the apostles even when they ran away in fear, so she will stay with us when we stumble and fall.  And we can be sure that as long as we stay close to Mary, we are close to the Lord.  

St. Louis de Montfort tells us that unless Mary is our mother, God cannot be our Father:
Since Mary produced the head of the elect, Jesus Christ, she must also produce the members of that head, that is, all true Christians. A mother does not conceive a head without members, nor members without a head. If anyone, then, wishes to become a member of Jesus Christ, and consequently be filled with grace and truth , he must be formed in Mary through the grace of Jesus Christ, which she possesses with a fullness enabling her to communicate it abundantly to true members of Jesus Christ, her true children.
St. Louis de Montfort also tells us that when we take Mary into our lives, she begins immediately to conform our will to Her Son.
Mary is called by St Augustine, and is indeed, the "living mold of God".  In her alone the God-man was formed in his human nature without losing any feature of the Godhead. In her alone, by the grace of Jesus Christ, man is made godlike as far as human nature is capable of it. A sculptor can make a statue or a life-like model in two ways: 
(i) By using his skill, strength, experience and good tools to produce a statue out of hard, shapeless matter; 
(ii) By making a cast of it in a mold. The first way is long and involved and open to all sorts of accidents. It only needs a faulty stroke of the chisel or hammer to ruin the whole work. The second is quick, easy, straightforward, almost effortless and inexpensive, but the mold must be perfect and true to life and the material must be easy to handle and offer no resistance.
No human being has ever been as perfectly conformed to God as was the Blessed Mother.  She is that perfect mold to which all of us need to be conformed.  Just as she was in perfect union with her Son, so we will also be in perfect conformity with Jesus Christ.
Mary is the great mold of God, fashioned by the Holy Spirit to give human nature to a Man who is God by the hypostatic union, and to fashion through grace men who are like to God. No godly feature is missing from this mold. Everyone who casts himself into it and allows himself to be moulded will acquire every feature of Jesus Christ, true God, with little pain or effort, as befits his weak human condition. He will take on a faithful likeness to Jesus with no possibility of distortion, for the devil has never had and never will have any access to Mary, the holy and immaculate Virgin, in whom there is not the least suspicion of a stain of sin.
Mary is truly one of the greatest gifts from Our Lord.  She is the personification of His love and devotion to us.  Nothing in His creation is more precious to Him than His mother, and yet He freely gives her to us.   No saint has ever achieved holiness and perfection apart from her.  As St. Louis de Montfort told us, Our Lord could have chosen another way.  
With the whole Church I acknowledge that Mary, being a mere creature fashioned by the hands of God is, compared to his infinite majesty, less than an atom, or rather is simply nothing, since he alone can say, "I am he who is". Consequently, this great Lord, who is ever independent and self-sufficient, never had and does not now have any absolute need of the Blessed Virgin for the accomplishment of his will and the manifestation of his glory. To do all things he has only to will them.
But the fact remains that Mary is the path given to us by the Trinity, and if we wish to become one with our Creator, she is the path we must choose:
However, I declare that, considering things as they are, because God has decided to begin and accomplish his greatest works through the Blessed Virgin ever since he created her, we can safely believe that he will not change his plan in the time to come, for he is God and therefore does not change in his thoughts or his way of acting.
God the Father gave his only Son to the world only through Mary. Whatever desires the patriarchs may have cherished, whatever entreaties the prophets and saints of the Old Law may have had for 4,000 years to obtain that treasure, it was Mary alone who merited it and found grace before God by the power of her prayers and the perfection of her virtues. "The world being unworthy," said Saint Augustine, "to receive the Son of God directly from the hands of the Father, he gave his Son to Mary for the world to receive him from her."
Do not neglect this greatest of gifts.  Devotion to Mary, this greatest of God's creation, is without doubt the surest way to Jesus Christ.  St. Louis de Montfort said it best:
The saints have said wonderful things of Mary, the holy City of God, and, as they themselves admit, they were never more eloquent and more pleased than when they spoke of her. And yet they maintain that the height of her merits rising up to the throne of the Godhead cannot be perceived; the breadth of her love which is wider than the earth cannot be measured; the greatness of the power which she wields over one who is God cannot be conceived; and the depths of her profound humility and all her virtues and graces cannot be sounded. What incomprehensible height! What indescribable breadth! What immeasurable greatness! What an impenetrable abyss!

You made Mary our mother. Through her intercession grant strength to the weak,
 comfort to the sorrowing, pardon to sinners,

 salvation and peace to all.
Mary, full of grace, intercede for us.

Picture Credit:  proconversioneinfidelium.blogspot.com
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