Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Father Justin Wylie and Holy Innocents

Father Justin Wylie
Father Justin Wylie is a priest from South Africa who is an Attaché of the Holy See to the United Nations. I have personally met him and attended Masses in which he has been the celebrant and listened to several of his talks. He is a good, holy priest, and tremendously loyal to the Catholic Church. He is also a great devotee of the Traditional Latin Mass, and celebrates it beautifully.

Father Wylie recently celebrated Mass and gave a sermon at Holy Innocents Church in Manhattan. Holy Innocents, along with dozens of other churches in the Archdiocese, is facing potential closure in the next couple of months. This is a very traumatic time for Catholics in this area, and emotions are running high. Many at Holy Innocents feel that church is being targeted because there is a very strong Traditional Latin Mass group there with the only daily Latin Mass in the entire tri-state area. Judging by his sermon, Father Wylie is among those who feel that Holy Innocents is threatened with closure because of the Latin Mass. His sermon has gotten a lot of play on Traditional Catholic blogs and websites, all of which applaud his remarks.  Father Z wrote about it and entitled his post, "MUST READ: Fr. Wylie’s hard-hitting sermon at Holy Innoncents [sic] (Manhattan, NYC) – How traditionalists are treated by priests and bishops."

Holy Innocents, Manhattan
(For the record, I have been attending Holy Innocents for many years, first going there to hear Father Benedict Groeschel, and then to attend the TLM.  I don't go as often as I once did, but I try never to miss the monthly all-night prayer vigils.  The potential closure of Holy Innocents is a very emotional issue with me as with many others.)

Father Wylie spoke about the potential closure of Holy Innocents and what it means to the Traditional Catholic community there.  Anyone who reads my blog knows I never seem to agree with the majority of my fellow Catholic bloggers, and this is no exception.  As much as I like and admire Father Wylie, I don't agree with the general assessment of his sermon.  [If you would like to read the entire sermon, it can be found on the Facebook page of "Forward Boldly", run by a Michael Voris accolyte, Christine Le Niles, HERE.]  

Father Wylie started his sermon urging his listeners to stay true to the Church:
Dear friends – and mark well that I speak to you now from the prophetic heart of my sacerdotal paternity – Dom Prosper Gueranger has something important to say also about threes. Hear it well:
“[T]he sacraments, being visible signs, are an additional bond of unity between the members of the Church: we say additional, because these members have the two other strong links of union – submission to Peter and to the pastors sent by him and profession of the same faith. The Holy Ghost tells us, in the sacred Volume, that a threefold chord is not easily broken [Eccles. Iv 12]. Now we have such a one, and it keeps us in the glorious unity of the Church: hierarchy, dogma, and sacraments, all contribute to make us one Body. Everywhere, from north to south, and from east to west, the sacraments testify to the fraternity that exists amongst us; by them we know each other, no matter in what part of the globe we may be, and by the same we are known by heretics and infidels. These divine sacraments are the same in every country, how much soever the liturgical formulae of their administration may differ; they are the same in the graces they produce, they are the same in the signs whereby grace is produced – in a word, they are the same in all the essentials” (pp. 228-9).
Dom Gueranger writes these words for us under his entry for precisely this Fourth Sunday after Easter, when in this parish, as I understand, you will meet to discuss a path forward for the precarious existence of your own worshipping community. Will this be the path Christ charts or will we make of ourselves instruments of the evil one for division and derision? The test of this, as in all things, is charity. Deus caritas est; et ubi caritas est vera, Deus ibi est. Where there is a breakdown of charity, there also is the spirit of the antichrist. I urge you, therefore, to be obedient and to be charitable with your legitimate superiors in all this, as well as with each other. Be firm and clear, also, and just; however, let charity always be the litmus test of whom it is you serve.
This, of course, is excellent advice from Father Wylie. Strong negative emotions are never the work of the Holy Spirit. Whenever we start acting out of a feeling of victimization, we are not under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. No matter what persecution we may face, no matter how dire the circumstances may appear, we must remember that we are already victors because Christ has won the battle for us. This was the message of St. Paul in Romans 8:
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us,who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
Unfortunately, Father Wylie's sermon then began to deviate from this positive message.  He talked about his experience when he first came to New York and how freely the Latin Mass was celebrated here.  However, he has since changed his opinion:
As I said: during the dark days of prohibition, New York seemed to be a happy place to be for you because of the indult-masses at places like St. Agnes, but in the fresh juridical freedom Summorum Pontificum brings, New York has become, in my view, a less felicitous place for traditional Catholics: because nothing is structured, nothing acknowledged. Who takes responsibility for you pastorally?
Father Wylie then took swipes at the Administration of the New York Archdiocese:
Pastores dabo vobis, the Lord promises Jeremiah: I will give you shepherds! Fundamentally – and this is something about which I urge you to think well and pray much about – as a priest, I have to say: I worry about the situation of traditional Catholics in the Archdiocese. Yes, the archdiocese 'permits' a traditional mass here or there -- but responsibility for the matter continues to rest upon the initiative and resourcefulness of the laity, who with enormous difficulty have to source priests hither and thither as though we were seemingly still living in Reformation England or Cromwellian Ireland. Isn't it high time for the Church to take pastoral responsibility also for these sheep? Do they not deserve a shepherd? a parish? or at least some sense of juridical security? What happens to you when the parish you are harbouring in closes its doors?
As you can see, Father Wylie is comparing the situation of traditional Catholics in New York City to those in "Reformation England" when the Catholic Church was outlawed and priests had to be literally smuggled into the country. Father Wylie is, in effect, accusing the Archdiocese of waging war on traditional Catholics, and I know many who are in complete agreement with that. And it probably is true to one extent or another. But would our Lord want us to, in turn, do battle with those in Church hierarchy? 

This is what Jesus told the people of his time regard to their religious leaders (Matthew 23:1-3):
Then Jesus spoke to the people and to his followers. Jesus said, "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees have the authority (power) to tell you what the law of Moses says. So you should obey the things they say. You should do all the things they tell you to do. But their lives are not good examples for you to follow. They tell you to do things, but they don't do those things themselves."
St. Padre Pio
We have a wonderful example of this in St. Padre Pio.  St Padre Pio was the victim of persecution early in his ministry when the stigmata started, and he was basically stripped of almost all his priestly duties, including hearing confessions and public celebration of the Mass.  His response:
"God's will be done,"...then he covered his eyes with his hands, lowered his head, and murmured, "The will of the authorities is the will of God."
Notice what he said: "The will of the authorities is the will of God."  Do we believe that?  It certainly wouldn't seem so from a reading of many Catholic blogs and websites.

Our Lord will often, and in fact usually does, allow great persecution and hardship into the lives of His followers.  We see this beginning in the Old Testament.  In the Book of Genesis, the patriarch Joseph was sold as a slave by his own brothers to the Egyptians.  Then he was falsely accused of rape by Pharaoh's wife when he rejected her advances, and he spent many years in prison.   He calmly accepted his circumstances and waited for God to work things out.

Later in the book of Exodus, God comes to the children of Israel and says he will free them from slavery to the Egyptians.  But first things are made much harder for them, with even more persecution from the Egyptians.  When they are finally freed, God leads them right to the Red Sea with Pharaoh's army behind them, a sure death trap.  This, of course, was done to show them that God will always fight their battles for them, as Moses told them, "Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord."

We see the example of King David, who was anointed King of Israel, and then spent the next many years being hunted down like an animal by King Saul.

The prophet Daniel refused to bow down to false gods and as a result, was thrown into the lion's den.

And of course, there is the great example of the father of faith, Abraham, who waited years for God to make good on His promise to give Abraham a son. When Abraham is finally given a son, God tells him to sacrifice Isaac. Does that make any sense? Isaac was the one through whom the promises would be given. Everything depended on Isaac, and yet here was God telling Abraham to slit his son's throat. But because Abraham was willing to do it, he became the father of the faithful, the living definition of faith.

What all of these examples have in common is that none of these great biblical figures tried to work things out their own way. They let God fight their battles for them.

Am I saying that those at Holy Innocents should do nothing? Absolutely not. The Church has a process whereby they can challenge the closing of the Church, and they should follow this. But they should be very careful not to get into a spirit of victimization and resentment towards those in authority. Those attitudes are never from the Holy Spirit, and will only lead to bad consequences.

Unfortunately, the next statements of Father Wylie do not support patiently waiting on God:
What will become of the priestly vocations aplenty I see in these numerous young men of such quality as we have in abundance serving here at Holy Innocents, St. Agnes and elsewhere – remaining as they do at the mercy (and sometimes, caprice) of 'landlords' who, for one reason or another, 'permit' their presence in their parishes? Doors everywere seem closing to them. Our Saviour has closed its doors to them. St. Agnes, for its part, guards its doors vigilantly to make sure they don't enter the building 5 minutes too early or don't overstay their welcome by 5 minutes more. Now, it seems, the doors of Holy Innocents will be closed to them, too.
Taken together, this is, in my view, a clear instance of exclusion: an injustice which you should bring to the attention of your shepherd, I think. You are fully-fledged members of the baptised Faithful, for heaven's sake: why are you scurrying about like ecclesiastical scavengers, hoping for a scrap or two to fall from the table for your very existence? The precariousness of your community cannot hinge on a church building being available to you as though you were a mere sodality or guild. The days of renting space in hotels and the like must surely be over. You are not schismatics! Are you schismatics?
I am not challenging the veracity of Father Wylie's statements. But he is presenting these facts in such a way as to agitate those who are listening almost to rebellion. He is telling the people to rise up in self-righteous anger against those in authority. This is not the example we see in the Bible or the saints.

He continues:
Whatever happens to Holy Innocents – and this will be the decision of your chief-shepherd here, who will base his decision on more information than any of us has at his or her disposal – you need to assert that you belong to the Church as fully as any other community. You have found a home here, largely through your own hard work and perseverence: no good shepherd could dispossess you of your home without providing safety and good pasture elsewhere. Parishioners of a Novus ordo parish closure might easily find another 'home' nearby; but what of you?
Where is God in this statement? Father Wylie says: "You have found a home here, largely through your own hard work and perseverence." Father Wylie gives no credit to God for the accomplishments of Holy Innocence, and as a result, he does not turn the people to God to work out the solution. Everything is centered on the people. This is a sure recipe for disaster. Wouldn't it have been much better to say, "The Holy Spirit working through you has created a vibrant community, and no matter what happens, He will not desert you. As we are told, God's ways are not our ways. We need to trust that He will work things out just as He has always done."

From Father Wylie:
You have a right to find the Mass (and not only on Sundays); and not only the Mass, but the other sacraments and rites of the Church. Closing this parish is more akin to closing a linguistic parish or a Oriental rite parish. What becomes of you?
Father Wylie puts the emphasis on the "rights" of the people:  "You have a right to find the Mass (and not only on Sundays); and not only the Mass, but the other sacraments and rites of the Church. Closing this parish is more akin to closing a linguistic parish or a Oriental rite parish. What becomes of you?"  St. Padre Pio had a right to exercise his priestly duties, but when this was taken away from him by Church authorities, he humbly submitted.  And as a result, he became one of the greatest spiritual giants of our time.    

Father Wiley also asks:  "What becomes of you?"  St. Paul gives us the answer:  "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?"  

What becomes of us?  We are in the safe and loving arms of Jesus Christ who promises never to leave us.  Maybe things aren't the way we want them to be.  Maybe we have to give up what we have worked for and suffer through great loss.  But does that mean we are abandoned?  

Father Wylie ends his sermon as follows:
No longer, I say, should you think of yourselves as squatters in the mighty edifice of Holy Church, nor should you find yourselves turned out like squatters. Shepherds must needs make difficult decisions, such as the erection or suppression of parishes – that is their onerous duty and in this they must have our obedience, charity and prayer: but never should they throw open the sheep-fold and allow the uncertain dispersion of their sheep into a world full of wolves. Charity, of course, is a two-way street.
Return Crucifix at Holy Innocents
Charity is a two-way street? Really? Was that the philosophy of Jesus Christ when He said, "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). Was charity a two-way street when Christ was hanging on the cross surrounded by those cheering on his death, and his response was "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do"? A Christian does not say I will love you only if you love me. A Christian loves because that is the great commandment of Jesus Christ. Whatever else Christian love is, it is NOT a two-way street.

I am also deeply disturbed by Fr. Wylie's characterization of the New York Archdiocese throwing traditional Catholics "into a world full of wolves."  Why doesn't Father Wylie remind the people that our Lord has promised never to abandon them?  As the "Imitation of Christ" tells us, quoting from Proverbs 16:9, "Man proposes, God disposes."  God is the one who makes the final decision.  Are we willing to trust Him?  

And is Father Wylie characterizing the rest of the Catholic Church, the "ordinary form" of the Church, as a "world full of wolves"? If the worst does happen and Holy Innocents is closed, the Latin Mass Community will have to assimilate into other CATHOLIC churches (not a "world full of wolves") which may not offer the Latin Mass, but are nonetheless as Catholic as they are.  Does Father Wylie see that as being thrown to the wolves? Is he saying, as I have heard far too many Traditionalists say, that the only true Catholic Church are those who attend the Latin Mass? Traditionalists often complain that they are persecuted in the Church, but it is statements like this that bring on distrust by others.   

It is obvious that the purpose of Father Wylie's sermon was to instill fight into those who were listening to him.  However, no where does he talk about taking this in prayer to God, and humbly and patiently waiting for an answer.  He tells the people that they are victims, that they have rights which are being violated, that no one in the New York Archdiocese really cares about them and they better look out for themselves.  

With all due respect to Father Wylie, whom I greatly respect and admire, this sermon is an example of why so many in the Catholic hierarchy are suspicious of traditional Catholics. This kind of sermon will not help their cause at all. This sermon represents traditionalists as self righteous and rebellious. It hurts me to characterize it in this way because of my great attachment to Holy Innocents Church and respect for Father Wylie. But I feel that Our Lord is giving them an opportunity to prove just how much they love and trust Him in the way they accept this heavy trial they have been given. If this sermon by Father Wylie is any indication, this great opportunity is being squandered.

To quote Father Justin Wylie:
Will this be the path Christ charts or will we make of ourselves instruments of the evil one for division and derision? The test of this, as in all things, is charity. Deus caritas est; et ubi caritas est vera, Deus ibi est. Where there is a breakdown of charity, there also is the spirit of the antichrist. 

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