Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A question for Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller

Q: This brings up the relationship between the sacrament of the Eucharist and the sacrament of marriage. How can the relationship between the two sacraments be understood?

A: Eucharistic communion is an expression of a personal and communal relationship with Jesus Christ. Unlike our Protestant brothers and in line with the tradition of the Church, for Catholics this expresses the perfect union between Christology and ecclesiology. So I cannot have a personal relationship with Christ and with his true Body present in the sacrament of the altar and at the same time contradict the same Christ and his mystical Body present in the Church and in the ecclesial communion. Therefore, we can affirm without error that if anyone finds himself in a situation of mortal sin, he cannot and must not receive communion.

This applies not only to the case of the divorced and remarried, but rather to all cases in which there is an objective rupture with what God wants for us. It is by definition the bond that is established among the various sacraments. Because of this we must be on our guard against an immanentist conception of the sacrament of the Eucharist, an understanding founded on an extreme individualism that would make the reception of the sacraments or participation in ecclesial communion dependent upon the individual's needs or tastes.

For some the key to the problem is the desire to communicate sacramentally, as if the mere desire were a right. For many others, communion is simply a way of expressing membership in a community. Of course, the sacrament of the Eucharist cannot be conceived of in a reductive manner as the expression of a right or a communal identity: the Eucharist cannot be a "social feeling"!

It is often suggested that the decision to receive Eucharistic communion should be left to the personal conscience of the divorced and remarried. This argument also expresses a problematic concept of “conscience,” already rejected by the congregation for the doctrine of the Faith in 1994. Before approaching to receive communion, the faithful know they must examine their conscience, something that also obliges them to form it continually and therefore to be impassioned seekers of the truth.

In this unique dynamic, obedience to the magisterium of the Church is not a burden, but rather an aid in discovering the greatly desired truth about the good for oneself and for others.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Tolkien on Romantic Love in a Fallen World: From a letter to Michael Tolkien 6-8 March 1941

A man's dealings with women can be purely physical (they cannot really, of course: but I mean he can refuse to take other things into account, to the great damage of his soul (and body) and theirs); or 'friendly'; or he can be a 'lover' (engaging and blending all his affections and powers of mind and body in a complex emotion powerfully coloured and energized by 'sex'). This is a fallen world. The dislocation of sex-instinct is one of the chief symptoms of the Fall. The world has been 'going to the bad' all down the ages. The various social forms shift, and each new mode has its special dangers: but the 'hard spirit of concupiscence' has walked down every street, and sat leering in every house, since Adam fell. We will leave aside the 'immoral' results. These you desire not to be dragged into. To renunciation you have no call. 'Friendship' then? In this fallen world the 'friendship' that should be possible between all human beings, is virtually impossible between man and woman. The devil is endlessly ingenious, and sex is his favourite subject. He is as good every bit at catching you through generous romantic or tender motives, as through baser or more animal ones. This 'friendship' has often been tried: one side or the other nearly always fails. Later in life when sex cools down, it may be possible. It may happen between saints. To ordinary folk it can only rarely occur: two minds that have really a primarily mental and spiritual affinity may by accident reside in a male and a female body, and yet may desire and achieve a 'friendship' quite independent of sex. But no one can count on it. The other partner will let him (or her) down, almost certainly, by 'falling in love'. But a young man does not really (as a rule) want 'friendship', even if he says he does. There are plenty of young men (as a rule). He wants love: innocent, and yet irresponsible perhaps. Allas! Allas! that ever love was sinne! as Chaucer says. Then if he is a Christian and is aware that there is such a thing as sin, he wants to know what to do about it.

There is in our Western culture the romantic chivalric tradition still strong, though as a product of Christendom (yet by no means the same as Christian ethics) the times are inimical to it. It idealizes 'love' — and as far as it goes can be very good, since it takes in far more than physical pleasure, and enjoins if not purity, at least fidelity, and so self-denial, 'service', courtesy, honour, and courage. Its weakness is, of course, that it began as an artificial courtly game, a way of enjoying love for its own sake without reference to (and indeed contrary to) matrimony. Its centre was not God, but imaginary Deities, Love and the Lady. It still tends to make the Lady a kind of guiding star or divinity – of the old-fashioned 'his divinity' = the woman he loves – the object or reason of noble conduct. This is, of course, false and at best make-believe. The woman is another fallen human-being with a soul in peril. But combined and harmonized with religion (as long ago it was, producing much of that beautiful devotion to Our Lady that has been God's way of refining so much our gross manly natures and emotions, and also of warming and colouring our hard, bitter, religion) it can be very noble. Then it produces what I suppose is still felt, among those who retain even vestigiary Christianity, to be the highest ideal of love between man and woman. Yet I still think it has dangers. It is not wholly true, and it is not perfectly 'theocentric'. It takes, or at any rate has in the past taken, the young man's eye off women as they are, as companions in shipwreck not guiding stars. (One result is for observation of the actual to make the young man turn cynical.) To forget their desires, needs and temptations. It inculcates exaggerated notions of 'true love', as a fire from without, a permanent exaltation, unrelated to age, childbearing, and plain life, and unrelated to will and purpose. (One result of that is to make young folk look for a 'love' that will keep them always nice and warm in a cold world, without any effort of theirs; and the incurably romantic go on looking even in the squalor of the divorce courts).

Women really have not much part in all this, though they may use the language of romantic love, since it is so entwined in all our idioms. The sexual impulse makes women (naturally when unspoiled more unselfish) very sympathetic and understanding, or specially desirous of being so (or seeming so), and very ready to enter into all the interests, as far as they can, from ties to religion, of the young man they are attracted to. No intent necessarily to deceive: sheer instinct: the servient, helpmeet instinct, generously warmed by desire and young blood. Under this impulse they can in fact often achieve very remarkable insight and understanding, even of things otherwise outside their natural range: for it is their gift to be receptive, stimulated, fertilized (in many other matters than the physical) by the male. Every teacher knows that. How quickly an intelligent woman can be taught, grasp his ideas, see his point – and how (with rare exceptions) they can go no further, when they leave his hand, or when they cease to take a personal interest in him. But this is their natural avenue to love. Before the young woman knows where she is (and while the romantic young man, when he exists, is still sighing) she may actually 'fall in love'. Which for her, an unspoiled natural young woman, means that she wants to become the mother of the young man's children, even if that desire is by no means clear to her or explicit. And then things are going to happen: and they may be very painful and harmful, if things go wrong. Particularly if the young man only wanted a temporary guiding star and divinity (until he hitches his waggon to a brighter one), and was merely enjoying the flattery of sympathy nicely seasoned with a titillation of sex – all quite innocent, of course, and worlds away from 'seduction'.

You may meet in life (as in literature1) women who are flighty, or even plain wanton — I don't refer to mere flirtatiousness, the sparring practice for the real combat, but to women who are too silly to take even love seriously, or are actually so depraved as to enjoy 'conquests', or even enjoy the giving of pain – but these are abnormalities, even though false teaching, bad upbringing, and corrupt fashions may encourage them. Much though modern conditions have changed feminine circumstances, and the detail of what is considered propriety, they have not changed natural instinct. A man has a life-work, a career, (and male friends), all of which could (and do where he has any guts) survive the shipwreck of 'love'. A young woman, even one 'economically independent', as they say now (it usually really means economic subservience to male commercial employers instead of to a father or a family), begins to think of the 'bottom drawer' and dream of a home, almost at once. If she really falls in love, the shipwreck may really end on the rocks. Anyway women are in general much less romantic and more practical. Don't be misled by the fact that they are more 'sentimental' in words – freer with 'darling', and all that. They do not want a guiding star. They may idealize a plain young man into a hero; but they don't really need any such glamour either to fall in love or to remain in it. If they have any delusion it is that they can 'reform' men. They will take a rotter open-eyed, and even when the delusion of reforming him fails, go on loving him. They are, of course, much more realistic about the sexual relation. Unless perverted by bad contemporary fashions they do not as a rule talk 'bawdy'; not because they are purer than men (they are not) but because they don't find it funny. I have known those who pretended to, but it is a pretence. It may be intriguing, interesting, absorbing (even a great deal too absorbing) to them: but it is just plumb natural, a serious, obvious interest; where is the joke?

They have, of course, still to be more careful in sexual relations, for all the contraceptives. Mistakes are damaging physically and socially (and matrimonially). But they are instinctively, when uncorrupt, monogamous. Men are not. .... No good pretending. Men just ain't, not by their animal nature. Monogamy (although it has long been fundamental to our inherited ideas) is for us men a piece of 'revealed' ethic, according to faith and not to the flesh. Each of us could healthily beget, in our 30 odd years of full manhood, a few hundred children, and enjoy the process. Brigham Young (I believe) was a healthy and happy man. It is a fallen world, and there is no consonance between our bodies, minds, and souls.

However, the essence of a fallen world is that the best cannot be attained by free enjoyment, or by what is called 'self-realization' (usually a nice name for self-indulgence, wholly inimical to the realization of other selves); but by denial, by suffering. Faithfulness in Christian marriage entails that: great mortification. For a Christian man there is no escape. Marriage may help to sanctify & direct to its proper object his sexual desires; its grace may help him in the struggle; but the struggle remains. It will not satisfy him – as hunger may be kept off by regular meals. It will offer as many difficulties to the purity proper to that state, as it provides easements. No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial. Too few are told that — even those brought up 'in the Church'. Those outside seem seldom to have heard it. When the glamour wears off, or merely works a bit thin, they think they have made a mistake, and that the real soul-mate is still to find. The real soul-mate too often proves to be the next sexually attractive person that comes along. Someone whom they might indeed very profitably have married, if only —. Hence divorce, to provide the 'if only'. And of course they are as a rule quite right: they did make a mistake. Only a very wise man at the end of his life could make a sound judgement concerning whom, amongst the total possible chances, he ought most profitably to have married! Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates. But the 'real soul-mate' is the one you are actually married to. You really do very little choosing: life and circumstance do most of it (though if there is a God these must be His instruments, or His appearances). It is notorious that in fact happy marriages are more common where the 'choosing' by the young persons is even more limited, by parental or family authority, as long as there is a social ethic of plain unromantic responsibility and conjugal fidelity. But even in countries where the romantic tradition has so far affected social arrangements as to make people believe that the choosing of a mate is solely the concern of the young, only the rarest good fortune brings together the man and woman who are really as it were 'destined' for one another, and capable of a very great and splendid love. The idea still dazzles us, catches us by the throat: poems and stories in multitudes have been written on the theme, more, probably, than the total of such loves in real life (yet the greatest of these tales do not tell of the happy marriage of such great lovers, but of their tragic separation; as if even in this sphere the truly great and splendid in this fallen world is more nearly achieved by 'failure' and suffering). In such great inevitable love, often love at first sight, we catch a vision, I suppose, of marriage as it should have been in an unfallen world. In this fallen world we have as our only guides, prudence, wisdom (rare in youth, too late in age), a clean, heart, and fidelity of will.....

My own history is so exceptional, so wrong and imprudent in nearly every point that it makes it difficult to counsel prudence. Yet hard cases make bad law; and exceptional cases are not always good guides for others. For what it is worth here is some autobiography – mainly on this occasion directed towards the points of age, and finance.

I fell in love with your mother at the approximate age of 18. Quite genuinely, as has been shown – though of course defects of character and temperament have caused me often to fall below the ideal with which I started. Your mother was older than I, and not a Catholic. Altogether unfortunate, as viewed by a guardian. And it was in a sense very unfortunate; and in a way very bad for me. These things are absorbing and nervously exhausting. I was a clever boy in the throes of work for (a very necessary) Oxford scholarship. The combined tensions nearly produced a bad breakdown. I muffed my exams and though (as years afterwards my H[ead] M[aster] told me) I ought to have got a good scholarship, I only landed by the skin of my teeth an exhibition of £60 at Exeter: just enough with a school leaving scholarship] of the same amount to come up on (assisted by my dear old guardian). Of course there was a credit side, not so easily seen by the guardian. I was clever, but not industrious or single-minded; a large pan of my failure was due simply to not working (at least not at classics) not because I was in love, but because I was studying something else: Gothic and what not. Having the romantic upbringing I made a boy-and-girl affair serious, and made it the source of effort. Naturally rather a physical coward, I passed from a despised rabbit on a house second-team to school colours in two seasons. All that sort of thing. However, trouble arose: and I had to choose between disobeying and grieving (or deceiving) a guardian who had been a father to me, more than most real fathers, but without any obligation, and 'dropping' the love-affair until I was 21. I don't regret my decision, though it was very hard on my lover. But that was not my fault. She was perfectly free and under no vow to me, and I should have had no just complaint (except according to the unreal romantic code) if she had got married to someone else. For very nearly three years I did not see or write to my lover. It was extremely hard, painful and bitter, especially at first. The effects were not wholly good: I fell back into folly and slackness and misspent a good deal of my first year at College. But I don't think anything else would have justified marriage on the basis of a boy's affair; and probably nothing else would have hardened the will enough to give such an affair (however genuine a case of true love) permanence. On the night of my 21st birthday I wrote again to your mother – Jan. 3, 1913. On Jan. 8th I went back to her, and became engaged, and informed an astonished family. I picked up my socks and did a spot of work (too late to save Hon. Mods. from disaster) – and then war broke out the next year, while I still had a year to go at college. In those days chaps joined up, or were scorned publicly. It was a nasty cleft to be in, especially for a young man with too much imagination and little physical courage. No degree: no money: fiancée. I endured the obloquy, and hints becoming outspoken from relatives, stayed up, and produced a First in Finals in 1915. Bolted into the army: July 1915. I found the situation intolerable and married on March 22, 1916. May found me crossing the Channel (I still have the verse I wrote on the occasion!) for the carnage of the Somme.

Think of your mother! Yet I do not now for a moment feel that she was doing more than she should have been asked to do – not that that detracts from the credit of it. I was a young fellow, with a moderate degree, and apt to write verse, a few dwindling pounds p. a. (£20 – 40), and no prospects, a Second Lieut. on 7/6 a day in the infantry where the chances of survival were against you heavily (as a subaltern). She married me in 1916 and John was born in 1917 (conceived and carried during the starvation-year of 1917 and the great U-Boat campaign) round about the battle of Cambrai, when the end of the war seemed as far-off as it does now. I sold out, and spent to pay the nursing-home, the last of my few South African shares, 'my patrimony'.

Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. .... There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth, and more than that: Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste (or foretaste) of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man's heart desires.

Richard J. Clark writes:

The Celebration of the Liturgy is the most important act of evangelization.”

OFFREDO BOSELLI’S NEW BOOK, The Spiritual Meaning of the Liturgy: School of Prayer, Source of Life (Liturgical Press) due out in September, is likely to take on the essence of living the liturgy and therefore, evangelization. We know a bit about the book as Chapter Ten, “Liturgy and the Transmission of Faith” was originally published in 2008 as Liturgia e transmissione della fede oggi, Testi di meditazione 143 (Bose: Qiqajon) It is written for a post-modern people of the twenty-first century, especially those in an increasingly secularized Western Europe, to say nothing of the United States.

The first paragraph of this chapter states extraordinarily simple, yet profound truth with regard to evangelization:
“One result of the liturgy’s vital relationship with the Sacred Scriptures is that the liturgy is a primary source of the Christian faith; it contains and expresses the most constitutive elements of that faith. If the church believes what it prays, then every liturgy is a profession of faith. In particular, every Eucharistic celebration is the highest profession of faith. The faith of a Christian is expressed in a fundamental way in the Eucharistic prayer. There is, then, an indissoluble link between the liturgy and the transmission of faith. We can say, in fact, that the celebration of the liturgy is the most important act of evangelization.” (pg. 209, The Spiritual Meaning of the Liturgy)
In citing the “vital relationship” between the scriptures and the liturgy, we gain a greater understanding of the role of sacred music. As the mass is a sung prayer, and scripture the foundation of the liturgy, then it is the scripture that we primarily sing. This is simple, profound, and revolutionary.

In any parish setting, it is incontrovertibly the liturgy that is the front-line of engagement and drawing in the faithful. One generally becomes more involved in a parish after being drawn in by the liturgy. It is a sort of “ministry of first impressions” that matter. This is why preparation is essential which the faithful deserve.

HOWEVER, LET US NOT MISTAKE THE MASS for something that we do or create. It is the Eucharist that unites, not something we do. It is God who lives and acts in us—God who is engaging us—God who is drawing us ever towards Him. We do not draw people into the Church. We can only open the door—a vital thing to do. Therefore, our preparation of the liturgy should point towards God instead of a form of marketing our individual parish. (Yet in doing the former, we may very well happily accomplish the latter as a byproduct.)

Yet to focus on the goal—pointing to God—Boselli warns against gathering in the name of ourselves or sentimentality and “human affections,” He emphatically reminds us that we are people “God, and no one else, has called to himself.”
“It is to your parish assembly to which God calls you…Why? Because that concrete assembly, where you encounter people whom you have not chosen, teaches you what the church is. The church is not a club made up of friends who enjoy spending time together, and the liturgy is not a musical concert (although singing and music of high quality is important). In the assembly of the Church we do not gather in the name of human affections and friendships; rather, we gather ‘in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’” (pg. 218-219, ibid)
But what about those who insist upon “realism”? That it is not possible to evangelize, to engage people (especially young people—the most sought-after demographic) into the liturgy by focusing on God and reverence? Yet there is an interesting paradox that Boselli cites, something we see all around us:
”There is a paradox here: those young people who embrace masses and spectacular liturgies are in fact in search of a greater interiorization of their relationship with God through a more meditative and contemplative liturgy….Presbyters and educators must therefore confront and manage a new form of devotio—no longer moderna but (pg.227 ibid)
Boselli further warns of giving into sensationalism for the sake of transient emotional sentiment.
“…we must be vigilant that an exaltation of the feelings and emotionalism does not come at the expense of rational thought, interiorization, spiritual understanding, and personal appropriation of the contents and the meaning of the liturgy. The Christian liturgy, though not solely a matter of rationality, is a loghiké lattreía, a ‘worship in word’ and ‘according to reason, (see Rom 12:1) Easy feelings and superficial affections do not, in the long run nourish the life of the believer; we need solid food of the word of God and the Eucharist, which have been from the beginning the only solid and substantial nourishment of the Christian.” (pg. 229, ibid)
If the liturgy is a “worship in word” the emphasis of sacred music, therefore, must be on the word and not sentiment. Again, this does not preclude beauty. In fact, it demands beauty, as the only thing worthy of the Word of God. This beauty therefore must point to God, not towards our personal feelings, sentiments or a self-congratulatory celebration of community.
*     *     *

HERE IS A DECISION we must make in light of evangelization: Do we focus on ourselves, reaching a mile wide but a centimeter deep, or do we engage fellow Christians one at a time, as we unite in the Word and in the Eucharist? Ironically, if we do the latter, our faith communities will be stronger than ever. Remember, it is God alone who calls us to Himself.

Friday, July 25, 2014

James Kalb writes:

In his speech closing the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI noted that “the trend of modern culture” is “centered on humanity, … the modern mind” is “accustomed to assess everything in terms of usefulness,” “the fundamental act of the human person … tends to pronounce in favor of his own absolute autonomy, … [and] “secularism seems the legitimate consequence of modern thought and the highest wisdom in the temporal ordering of society.”

The Council proposed to deal with that situation, according to the Holy Father, by working with it as much as possible in hopes of eventually getting beyond it. In its deliberations, therefore, “the modern world’s values were not only respected but honored,” so much so that the Church “felt the need … almost to run after [the society in which she lives] in its rapid and continuous change.” The outcome of the discussions was “a simple, new and solemn teaching to love man in order to love God … to love man … not as a means but as the first step toward the final and transcendent goal which is the basis and cause of every love.”

So the ultimate goal did not change: “the effort to look on [God], and to center our heart in Him which we call contemplation, is the highest, the most perfect act of the spirit, the act which even today can and must be at the apex of all human activity.” Nonetheless, the Holy Father seemed to say, the Church must meet and value people where they are, and lead them to God by developing the implications of what they already know, want, and do. Just as all roads lead to Rome, one might say, all human interests and efforts, pursued honestly, consistently, and fully, should lead to God.

Such was the hope, a hope that indeed has much to be said for it. Nonetheless, the process turned out more difficult than expected. As the same pope noted not many years later, the period after the Council saw “the arrival of a day of clouds, of tempest, of darkness, of research, of uncertainty.” The problems were severe enough to make him worry that the “smoke of Satan” had somehow entered the Church.

The problems can certainly be understood, as the pope suggested, as the result of “an intervention of an adverse power.” Like God, though, Satan acts through secondary causes, so more concrete readings of the situation are also possible. His Holiness observed that the Council in its “real and deep intentions” proposed honoring the goals of this human world as part of bringing that world to God. That’s a tricky business, though, and very few of us combine great intellectual breadth and acuity with steady sanctity of purpose. For many Catholics it’s been difficult, in the midst of the confusions, ambiguities, and temptations of life, to keep ultimate intentions vividly in mind when it’s easier to fall in line and run after the present world and honor its goals simply as they understand themselves.

The influence exerted by the secular world is very strong, and it’s difficult to harness to higher purposes. That world is not simply waiting to hear our message, because it already has a message of its own based on its own sense of what’s real. It has nothing it calls a religion, but it has something that functions as such, because it has a way of understanding the world that it believes to be true and morally obligatory.

We are all, faithful Catholics and secular humanists alike, members of the faith-based as well as the reality-based community. God is the Most Real Being, the Ens Realissimum, so whatever is most real to us acts as the center of something that serves as our religion. Because our sense of what’s real lies behind everything we think and do, it’s not something we can isolate and decide at will one way or another. Instead, it grows on us from a thousand sources—upbringing, education, personal experience, what those around us and those we take as our authorities treat as a serious matter.

Those sources are largely social because man is social. If people don’t agree on what’s real they have a hard time cooperating, so a common understanding of reality is basic to every society. That principle applies to modern Western society as well, and therein lies a problem. The public discussion that orders today’s society rejects transcendent realities in favor of a stripped-down understanding of the world. In that understanding what’s real is defined by what we can see and measure, together with our feelings, thoughts, and experiences. Those things are treated as self-contained, so that they don’t point to anything beyond themselves.

On such an understanding the human world generates its own meanings, and becomes the source and criterion of what is good, beautiful, and true. The result is that it takes the place of the divine: human society becomes the Most Real Being. That is why we now face, as the pope also noted in his address concluding the Council, a “religion (for such it is) of man who makes himself God.”

The philosopher Hegel already noticed the situation two hundred years ago when he observed that “reading the morning newspaper is the realist’s morning prayer.” It’s how a faithful reader of The New York Times reaffirms his place and orientation in the world. Such people can indeed be led from secular concerns to something higher. However, that can happen only if they are willing to be led, and when successful in life they are likely to want to stay where they are. So the self-centeredness of the modern world is not just the result of confusion or ignorance that can be dissolved by appropriately-framed explanations regarding the transcendent implications of realities already visible to everyone. It’s also the result of intentional rejection of those implications by social leaders. The “smoke of Satan” is not only in the Church.

To make matters worse, that refusal to be led beyond this-worldly concerns has come to be publicly identified with all that is good. The highest values publicly recognized today are autonomy, man determining his course and even his nature by his own choice, and equality, the equal standing of all choices that are consistent with equal treatment for the choices of others. Those principles are considered requirements of reason and viewed as the only possible basis of a civilization of peace, progress, and human dignity.

To reject those principles as highest standards, it is thought, is to choose hatred and oppression, so to speak of love is to sign on to them. Expressions like “human rights” and “social justice” are interpreted accordingly, and explaining why the Church means something different requires arguments that not many can present clearly and very few secular people understand or pay much attention to. The result is that the true goals of the Church are confused with those of secular progressivism, and when they seem to differ as a clear practical matter, as with what are dismissively referred to as “pelvic issues,” people feel entitled to assume that the differences are hangovers from the past that will someday change and in the mean time can be dismissed as secondary in importance.

It seems, then, that to retrieve and carry forward the goal of the Council, bringing modern man to God, we need more than ever to emphasize what’s excluded from the secular concerns that are increasingly treated as complete in themselves. We need to insist on opening the windows of the modern world. At the Council the Church emphasized an irenic conception of the Faith that would accept secular concerns, build on them, and complete them. The Apostle Paul, who “became all things to all men, that [he] might save all,” knew how to be irenic in that way. He also knew that he sometimes had to preach the word out of season, and insist on points that were a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. Recent experience shows the importance of following him on that point as well. We are nothing unless (to recycle a political slogan) we provide a choice and not an echo.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ecclesiastical Narcissists

Few of you read my old blog, which I wrote daily from early 2007 until late January, 2009. That blog was highly political, as I was writing about the growing Marxist agenda in American politics, the problem with Black Liberation Theology, and the exposure of narcissism in American culture.

Dr. Sanity taught me so much about the narcissism imbedded in American politics that year, and she was so disturbed after the last election, she stopped writing.

She warned us for years of the impeding destruction of America because of the number of Gen Xers who had fallen into or been raised to be narcissists. Of course, there are many societal reasons for this, including contraception and the lack of religion. Nurture rather than nature seems to create narcissists.

Dr. Sanity was the first to use this term with regard to the present political personalities, including those who now run Washington.

However, she did not write about narcissism in the Church. Too many Catholics look to politics and see the narcissists at the helm, but ignore the fact that the same cultural evils which created political narcissists has created ecclesiastical ones.

I first met people like this in positions of authority in chancery offices and in Catholic schools, in administration.

The narcissist may be defined as a person who not only thinks he or she is better than everyone else, but one who honestly expects the world to revolve around his or her needs and desires.

The person who is a narcissist lives in an emotional turmoil of feeling hurt and desiring constant attention.

The true narcissist cannot understand the feelings of others and lacks empathy, except towards himself or herself.

Now, one of the obvious signs of narcissism is that the person only wants the best-the best clothes, the best food, the best car, the best vacation and so on. Such a person is never satisfied with second best.

But, the emotions cause the person to see things only from his or her point of view and not others.

A Catholic narcissist, and many are running the Church, refuses to be obedient in large or small things, as he or she only sees the personal point of view as valid.

Sometimes, these persons cannot approach a healthy relationship with God or with others in the community of faith because they simply cannot understand others and the needs of others. One way is which narcissism is very different from healthy self-esteem is found in the emotions. Emotional satisfaction rules the narcissist, and the rational runs a weak second. With regard to healthy self-esteem, there is a true recognition of sin and the need for repentance in that happy, mature state.

Those who decry the usual Novus Ordo Mass as full of false emotion and a playing to the emotions in music and in gestures may be sensing the emotional needs of the many narcissists who go to Mass. not to praise God but for their own emotional fix.

Chancery offices are full to the brim with those who have ruined Catholic school systems and even parish structures because of the overwhelming need, as they see it, for control. Those priests involved in wreckovatons may suffer from this emotional need to have their ideas hold sway over the guidelines and sanity of tradition.

The trouble is that one cannot talk with a narcissist, as all the meaning in his or her life rests in the emotions. How they feel is of the uppermost importance.

They judge only by the need for admiration and a sense of acceptance. Hence, liturgists who consistently ignore Rome's guidelines and rules for what they see as important may be working out of complete self-absorption. The many "we songs" play to the narcissistic tendencies of exaggerated self-importance and emotional satisfaction not only in those who wrote the songs, but those who sing these.

We have created another generation of narcissists by feeding them with songs about me, we, the people, instead of praising God and teaching the real lowliness of the place of the creature, the son, the daughter.

But, sadly, Catholic narcissists can be found among the effete who attend the TLM. Those who have to have the best choir, the best sermons, the best architecture may not be seeking the true spirituality of the TLM, but only the emotional fix. Like a man who only wants a trophy wife, some seek out the TLM as the trophy Mass, which feeds their sense of superiority.

Those who deny the validity of the NO have not only removed themselves from the Teaching Magisterium, but fall into a small group of those determining the entire Catholic religion from their own point of view-a classic narcissist tendency.

How is it that our society has produced so many narcissists in the past fifty years or so? Is it not a sign of the decadence of an entire culture that the narcissists are running the show both in government and in church?

Where egos run liturgies, where egos run interpretations of tradition which never existed, a parish has a huge problem.

Sadly, only the seeking of humility and the constant awareness of sinfulness can combat the rule of those who only love themselves.

Where there is emotional chaos in a parish, look for the narcissist.

I also think that narcissism can cause same-sex attraction, as one is only loving the same and not the different, the other, the other gender. How hard it is to love one who is completely different, such as a woman loving a man and a man loving a woman? But, such is God's plan. And, such is a topic for another post.

 Here is the anti-narcissist prayer.

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved...
From the desire of being extolled ...
From the desire of being honored ...
From the desire of being praised ...
From the desire of being preferred to others...
From the desire of being consulted ...
From the desire of being approved ...
From the fear of being humiliated ...
From the fear of being despised...
From the fear of suffering rebukes ...
From the fear of being calumniated ...
From the fear of being forgotten ...
From the fear of being ridiculed ...
From the fear of being wronged ...
From the fear of being suspected ...
That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I ...
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease ...
That others may be chosen and I set aside ...
That others may be praised and I unnoticed ...
That others may be preferred to me in everything...
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…


Friday, July 11, 2014

Damian John Gauci writes:

"The true contemplative is not less interested than others in normal life, not less concerned with what goes on in the world, but more interested, more concerned. The fact that he or she is a contemplative makes them capable of a greater interest and a deeper concern. The contemplative has the inestimable gift of appreciating at their real worth values that are permanent, authentically deep, human. truly spiritual and even divine. Their mission is to be a complete and whole person, with an instinctive and generous need to further the same wholeness in others, and in all humanity. They arrive at this, however, not by superior gifts and talents, but by the simplicity and poverty which are essential to their state because these alone keep one traveling in the way that is spiritual, divine and beyond understanding.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Importance of the Contemplatives of Saint Joseph within Life of the Church

Why we are committed to our lives of deep prayer and contemplation and expressed in our active apostolate and to the Life of the Church is stated beautifully and profoundly by Pope Paul VI:

“The work of contemplation overflows, benefiting the entire Church.  The Church needs this work of contemplation that it may protect its life and increase its growth.  The Church is in dire need of those who excel in the interior life and are intent upon recollecting themselves in God and be aflame, to their innermost being, with love for heavenly things.  If such persons are lacking, if their lives are withered and weak, it necessarily follows that the strength of the whole Mystical Body of Christ is diminished. Consequently, serious damage would be inflicted on the knowledge of divine realities, theology, sacred preaching, the apostolate, and all the Christian life of the faithful”[Pope Paul VI, to the Cistercians, December 8, 1968].

We believe the contemplative life of a member of the COSJ belongs not to himself alone, but to the Life and Holiness of the whole Church.  The Church's life becomes fuller because the COSJ join themselves by the gift of their whole lives to Christ in prayer and in firmly following the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Prepare Your Heart to Pray by DOM AUGUSTIN GUILLERAND

Prayer is, as it were, being alone with God. A soul prays only when it is turned toward God, and for so long as it remains so. As soon as it turns away, it stops praying. The preparation for prayer is thus the movement of turning to God and away from all that is not God. That is why we are so right when we define prayer as this movement. Prayer is essentially a “raising up,” an elevation. We begin to pray when we detach ourselves from created objects and raise ourselves up to the Creator.

Now, this detachment is born when we clearly realize our nothingness. That is the real meaning of our Lord’s words: “He that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” His whole life was a continual abasement, always more and more profound. St. Bernard does not hesitate to say that such an abasement brings us face-to-face with God. Hence the peace of souls that have fallen, when, raised up by God, they find themselves in His presence. And it is precisely in their abasement, once they have recognized and admitted it, that they find Him, because it is there that He reveals Himself. The only thing that prevents Him from doing so is our “self.” When we own to our nothingness, this “self” is broken down, and once that happens, the mirror is pure, and God can produce own image in the soul, which then faithfully reproduces His features that are revealed in all their harmony and perfect beauty.

This is what our Lord meant in that vital passage in the Ser­mon on the Mount, and what all human considerations on prayer repeat endlessly but without arriving at its full splendor: “But thou, when thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber and, having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret.”95 Enter this sacred chamber of your soul and there, having closed the door, speak to your Father, who sees you in these secret depths, and say to Him, “Our Father, who art in Heaven. . . .” This intimate presence; your faith in Him who is the secret depth of it and gives Himself there; the silence toward all that is not God in order to be all to Him — here is the preparation for prayer.

It is obvious that we do not reach such a state of soul without being prepared for it by quite a combination of circumstances. And this is just what we do not know sufficiently in practice. The way to prepare for prayer is by leading a divine life, and prayer, af­ter all, is that divine life. Everything that reproduces God’s image in us; everything that raises us beyond and above created things; every sacrifice that detaches us from them; every aspect of faith that reveals the Creator to us in creatures; every movement of true and disinterested love making us in unison with the Three in One — all this is prayer and prepares us for a still more intimate prayer. All this makes real the divine word of the Sermon on the Mount and the dual movement it recommends: shut the door and pray to thy Father. When He spoke thus, the divine Word showed that He knew our being and its laws. He revealed Himself as our Creator and made Himself our Redeemer. He showed that He made us and that He alone can remake us.

We do not suffice to ourselves; we have not in us that which can complete us; we need to be completed. I know I am putting it badly when I say that this complementing thing is not in us. Actually, it is in within us, but it is in a part of us that is, as it were, outside of us. In us, as in God, there are “many mansions.” God is within us in the depths of our soul, but by sin we no longer occupy those depths. When Eve looked at the forbidden fruit and stretched out her hand to take it and eat it, she went out of those secret depths in her soul. It was these depths that were the real terrestrial paradise, where God visited our first parents and spoke to them. Since the Fall, God is in us, but we are not!

The preparation for prayer consists in returning to those depths. Renunciation, detachment, recollection — whatever word we use, the reality is the same, and that reality is the true secret of prayer. Close the door and enter. . . . It needs only these two phrases to ex­plain this, but in reality they are only one thing. They represent a movement, for all that unites us to God is movement. The words are related to two “terms,” or ends. If we speak of the terminus a quo (that is, from), they say (and they do what they say): Close. If we think of the terminus ad quem (that is, to), they say: Enter. We have to close the door on all that is not, and enter into HIM WHO IS. There you have the secret of all prayer.

Enter your “inner chamber”
God is a brazier of love. Prayer brings us near to Him, and in coming near to Him, we are caught by His fire. The soul is raised by the action of this fire, which is a kind of spiritual breath that spiritualizes it and carries it away. The soul frees itself from all that weighs it down, keeping it attached to this wearisome earth. The psalmist compares this breath to incense. Now, incense is a symbol universally known and exceptionally rich. But from all the substances that fire penetrates under the form of flame or heat, there follows a movement by which it spreads, causing it to increase by communicating itself to all that surrounds it.

The movement of the soul that prays has something special about it. It goes out from itself and yet remains in itself. It passes from its natural state to its supernatural state; from itself in itself to itself in God. At first glance, these expressions may seem strange. The mystery is not in the realities but in our understanding of them. Our mind is not used to these realities; we have to become accustomed to them.

Our soul is a dwelling with many apartments. In the first, it is there with the body; that is to say, with all the body’s sensitiveness.

It sees when the eye sees, hears when the ear hears. It moves with the muscles; it remembers, imagines, and appreciates distances, when we take part in all the activities that are the common ground of its action with the body. In the second, the soul is alone and acts alone. The body is there — it is always there — but it no longer acts; it has no part in the soul’s action. The soul alone thinks and loves. The body with its senses prepares the matter and elements, the conditions of this spiritual activity, but it has no part in producing it. That room is closed; the soul is there alone and dwells there alone.

In that spiritual dwelling there is a part still more remote. It is the dwelling-place of being, who communicates Himself and makes us to “be.” We are so accustomed to live turned outward (and ob­jects of sense keep us so turned), we hardly ever open the door of that chamber, and scarcely give it a glance; many die without ever suspecting its existence. Men ask, “Where is God?” God is there — in the depths of their being — and He is there communicating being to them. They are not HIM WHO IS and who gives being to all other things. They receive being; they receive a part of being that does not depend upon themselves. They receive it for a certain time and under certain forms. And from His “beyond” God gives them existence. They exist only by His power and are only what He enables them to be. He is at the source of all they do and, no matter how much they may desire to continue those activities, they cannot do so if He is not there. To understand this, we have to think a great deal, and reflection — perhaps the highest form human act can take — has given place to exterior action and to local movement, both of which are common to animals and matter.

The soul that prays enters into this upper room. It places itself in the presence of that Being who gives Himself, and it enters into communication with Him. To communicate means to have some­thing in common and, by this common element, to be made one. We touch, we speak, we open out to one another. Without this “something,” we remain at a distance; we do not “communicate.” God is love. We enter into communication with Him when we love, and in the measure of our love. The soul that loves and that has been introduced by Love into that dwelling-place where Love abides can speak to Him. Prayer is that colloquy. God will not re­sist that love which asks. He has promised to do the will of those who do His will.

It is to love that is due these divine communications which have drawn from those happy recipients the most amazing excla­mations. “Lord, stay, I beg you, the torrent of your love. I can bear no more.” The soul, submerged and ravished, has fainted under the weight of these great waters and has asked to be allowed to take breath for an instant, in order the better to renew its wel­come. The anchorite in the desert, when he prayed, had to forbear extending his arms, so as not to be rapt in his prayer. St. Mary the Egyptian, St. Francis of Assisi, were raised up from the ground and remained upheld by a power greater than the weight of their body.

This article has been excerpted from The Prayer of the Presence God, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Asceticism of the Desert Fathers and the Unconscious: the projection of the enemy within and the cleansing of the heart.

“The ascesis of the desert is a vast psychoanalysis followed by a psychosynthesis of the universal human soul.  Origen, the brilliant commentator, compares the desert to Plato’s cave.  The desert with all its arsenal of phantasmagoria was a theater of shadows, a spectacle for men and angels; only the shadows did not reflect the reality outside the cave.  They were the projection of the world inside man.

The Gospel speaks of the possessed, of disturbing elements and of the perversity of the human heart.  The abysses we discover are haunted; there are secret places where evil powers are crouching and they rule us if we are ignorant or heedless.  Ascesis cultivates our attention and begins by an experimental phenomenology of our human interior.  It was necessary to materialize and personalize the perverted elements of a being, the hateful ego with its self-love, the doubter and demoniacal counterpart.  Above all, it was necessary to extirpate them, to vomit them, and to objectify them, in order to look them in the face as detached and exteriorized.  This objectification creates a distance, permits the projection of all interior elements as on a screen (Plato’s cave of shadows) under the form of monsters, wild beast and demons.  This operation requires a very precise conviction of the reality of the enemy, in order to cut every bond and communion with him.

The Fathers of the desert have carried out this operation once for all and in the place of all.  ‘He who has seen himself such as he is and has seen his sin is greater than he who raises the dead.’  They have shown man naked, and they have put a face and name on every obscure element of evil.  The hidden play, both human and demoniacal, is demonstrated and brought to light.  After this demonstration, the man going to confession knows what he has to do and what is going to happen.  Each time he reproduces the experience of the desert Fathers.  He can look within himself, but now without being troubled by the unknown.  In order not to remain in a stifling tete-a-tete with his sins and with himself, he can discern their elements and exteriorize them by confession.  Here only Christ, the absolute innocent and the absolute victim, can bring about the unique living transference, ‘by canceling the decree against us.’

. . . humanity was different before the incarnation from what it is now.  One can say also that human consciousness was different before the ascesis of the desert from what it was after.  Just like the event of pentecost, this ascesis has modified the dominant energies of the psyche and has renewed the human spirit.

The therapeutic effect formed by ‘the desert’ in the profoundest depths of the human spirit is universal.  It represents the collective vomit, the objectification and the projection on the outside of the original and the accumulated impurity.  This is perhaps the meaning of the words of St. Paul, ‘to add to the suffering of Christ’, something that the innocent Christ could not do in the place of man; only the sinner, the man of the desert, could do it in the place of all and with a universal significance.  From a positive point of view, it was the formation of the ascetic archetype of man.  It pre-formed ‘the violent’ in order to fight evil and the evil one inside and outside of man.’ (Paul Evdokimov in his work The Struggle with God; pp. 103-104)

Fr. Seraphim Rose of Platina,, a Russian Orthodox monk, wrote:

” . . . we must go to the Holy Fathers not merely to “learn about them”; if we do no more than this we are in no better state than the idle disputants of the dead academies of this perishing modern civilization, even when these academies are orthodox and the learned theologians in them neatly define and explain all about “sanctity” and “spirituality” . . . but have not the experience needed to speak straight to the heart of thirsting souls and wound them into desiring the path of spiritual struggle . . . .We must go to the Holy Fathers, rather, in order to become their disciples, to receive the teaching of true life, the soul’s salvation, even while knowing that by doing this we shall lose the favor of this world and become outcasts from it. If we do this we shall find the way out of the confused swamp of modern thought, which is based precisely upon abandonment of the sacred teaching of the Fathers. We shall find true guidance from the Fathers, learning humility and distrust of our own vain worldly wisdom, which we have sucked in with the air of these pestilential times, by means of trusting those who have pleased God and not the world. We shall find in them true fathers, so lacking in our own day when the love of many has grown cold (Matt. 24:12)—fathers whose only aim is to lead us their children to God and His Heavenly Kingdom, where we shall walk and converse with these angelic men in unutterable joy forever.”

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Eucharist as the Sacrament of Transformations in the Teaching of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

The Sacrament of Transformations

Recent history has made us all too aware of the overwhelming effects of nuclear fission. The enormous power it can have on nature is inversely proportional to the diminutive particles in which the initial process occurs. What is discreet and hidden, what defies normal sensory perception, turns out to have awesome consequences for good or ill. Nowhere is this paradox more dramatically evident than in the case of the atomic bomb. One survivor of the Nagasaki blast said it was like the sun bursting. A transformation within a tiny particle of matter unleashed a series of massive transformations—of the atmosphere and the landscape, of history and of human lives—that we are still grappling with today.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s use of the image of nuclear fission—but in a positive sense, in order to explain the Eucharistic mystery—is contemporary and striking, and apt to convey the quiet, but immense, power of the Mass. As Christ taught it, his self-offering is “like inducing nuclear fission in the very heart of being—the victory of love over hatred, the victory of love over death. Only this intimate explosion of good conquering evil can then trigger off the series of transformations that little by little will change the world.” 1
Benedict XVI’s papal teaching was eminently Eucharistic. His words on this sacrament, in numerous homilies and discourses, and especially in the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, invite constant meditation. But perhaps this Holy Father’s most profound teaching on the Eucharist was not, in fact, expressed in words. Periods of silent prayer before the monstrance during solemn exposition became a hallmark of his pontificate. One thinks, for example, of the throng at Hyde Park at the prayer vigil on the eve of the Beatification of John Henry Newman being in hushed adoration within the throbbing metropolis of London, or of the storm-drenched multitude of young people kneeling at the Eucharistic Vigil at World Youth Day in Madrid in August 2011.

Such adoration is, in itself, a powerful catechesis. “Powerful,” because the People of God united with the Successor of Peter in worship of the sacred Host, it is an icon of the Church in her deepest essence: Ecclesia de Eucharistia, the Mystical Body which is born from the Eucharistic Body. “Powerful,” because in the apparent silence, “sacred silence,” Christ communicates with each person, uniting each one with him, and with each other, in anticipation of Holy Communion, where all become one in Christ (cf. Rom 12:5). And “powerful,” because, as the Holy Father teaches, “it is precisely, through our gazing in adoration that the Lord draws us towards him, into his mystery, in order to transform us as he transforms the bread and the wine.”

Benedict XVI’s teaching on the Holy Sacrament was in clear continuity with that of his predecessor. Pope John Paul II exclaimed in his first encyclical: “Indeed, the Eucharist is the ineffable Sacrament!” Although we are certainly “incapable of grasping and translating into words what the Eucharist is in all its fullness, what is expressed by it, and what is actuated by it,” 4 it is natural to strive to deepen our understanding and expression of this mystery. The Eucharist as the sacrament of “transformations” might be seen as an example of such an effort. Benedict XVI presented the panorama of a great wave of saving transformations, flowing through souls and history, to draw all things in Christ, by the Holy Spirit, to the Father. This is the great movement of Redemption, sweeping through the world by means of the Church, and culminating in the recapitulation of all things in Christ, “the heir of all things” (Heb 1:2).

“From Christ’s heart, from his ‘Eucharistic prayer’ on the eve of his passion, flows that dynamism which transforms reality in its cosmic, human, and historical dimensions,” taught Benedict. By lovingly embracing his passion, Christ effects the initial and fundamental transformation which turns violence into love, injustice into self-offering, and death into eternal life. This “substantial transformation” initiates a succession of transformations for the good, which reverberate through history, culminating in the definitive triumph of love at the end of time.

The description of the Eucharist as an inexorable tidal movement of goodness, which will come to beach on the shores of “the new heavens and the new earth” (Rv 21:1), serves to highlight the oneness of the mystery of salvation. Incarnation, Redemption, the Church, and the Eucharist are all “telescoped together” in this vision which stretches into the Last Things (Eschatology). “Yes,” the pope preaches, “it is about transformation—of the new man and the new worlds that find their origin in the bread that is consecrated, transformed, transubstantiated.” The notion of the sacrament of transformation thus illumines the eschatological dimension of the Eucharist in a particular way.

This vision, which already figured in the theological writings of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, entered the teaching of the Church in the pope’s preaching, and especially in paragraph of the Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis “on the Eucharist as the source and summit of the Church’s life and mission,” which concludes with these words:

The substantial conversion of bread and wine into his body and blood introduces within creation the principle of a radical change, a sort of “nuclear fission,” to use an image familiar to us today, which penetrates to the heart of all being, a change meant to set off a process which transforms reality, a process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all in all. (cf. 1 Cor 15:28)

The Fundamental Transformation

“Everything begins,” says Benedict XVI, “from the heart of Christ who, at the Last Supper, on the eve of his passion, thanked and praised God, and by so doing, with the power of his love, transformed the meaning of death which he was on his way to encounter.” When the Twelve arrived at the “large upper room furnished and ready” (Mk 14:15), they did not know that they were to assist at the fundamental transformation of the world which is Redemption. In the cenacle, seemingly unperceived by the world, Christ introduces a radical “newness” (novum) into the Jewish paschal supper. He brings all the sacrifices of the Old Testament to fulfillment, and establishes the new and eternal Covenant. He himself becomes the paschal Lamb (cf. Jn 1:29). “Thus, the berakhah, Israel’s prayer of blessing and thanksgiving, has become our Eucharistic celebration in which the Lord blesses our gifts—the bread and wine—to give himself in them.”
“What happened at that moment?” asks Benedict. “When he said: ‘this is my body which is given for you, this is the cup of my blood which is poured out for many,’ what happened? In this gesture Jesus was anticipating the event of Calvary. Out of love he accepted the whole passion, with its anguish and its violence, even to death on the cross. In accepting it in this manner, he changed it into an act of giving. This is the transformation which the world needs most, to redeem it from within, to open it to the dimensions of the Kingdom of Heaven.”

The sacrifice of his life, which Christ anticipates at the Last Supper, is the sacrifice of the Man-God, of the one Mediator (cf. 1 Tm 2:5). Hence, it is the infinite Sacrifice of the supreme and eternal High Priest offered “once for all” (Heb 7:27). It brings to an end all the sacrifices, inadequate palliatives, which had been offered by human beings from time immemorial. The countless inarticulate victims offered by guilt-ridden humanity are now taken up and subsumed in Christ’s deliberate and loving “yes” to the Father (cf. Lk 22:42). Thus, Christ transforms the Evil One’s “I will not serve” (cf. Jer 2:20) into a definitive act of filial love, and Adam’s disobedience, into eternal obedience (cf. Rom 5:19). In the apparent insignificance of the Upper Room, the salvation of the world is made present. In Christ, the human race says a definitive “yes” to God.

In fact, daily experience bears witness to humanity’s radical longing for the true and definitive transformation which is salvation. Even in highly secularized societies, which profess themselves indifferent to Christianity, the same thirst is constantly expressed. This is surely one of the great contradictions of self-styled “post-Christian” societies.

The same news media, that seem to “airbrush” the Gospel out of social discourse, carry an unending stream of natural disasters and dilemmas, unresolved injustices, incurable diseases. On the one hand, we seem to tacitly agree that “we don’t need salvation.” In the same breath we cry out: “We need salvation! We cannot provide it for ourselves!”

It is precisely in this context that Benedict XVI announces the only true and lasting change. His preaching of the ultimate transformation, wrought by the Eucharist, is a pastoral response to human searching: “In their hearts, people always and everywhere have somehow expected a change, a transformation of the world. Here now is the central act of transformation that alone can truly renew the world: violence is transformed into love, and death into life … All other changes remain superficial, and cannot save. For this reason, we speak of redemption:  what had to happen at the most intimate level has indeed happened, and we can enter into its dynamic. Jesus can distribute his Body, because he truly gives himself.”

The Transformation of Death into Life

By his self-oblation, Christ defeats sin and its consequences. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him, we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). The transformation, whereby the Innocent One takes upon himself to “be wounded for our transgressions,” results in our being healed “by his stripes” (Is 53:5). Thus, sin is conquered, and with it, its effects, the principal one being death  (cf. Rom 5:12-15). “Since this act transmutes death into love, death as such is already conquered from within, the Resurrection is already present in it. Death is, so to speak, mortally wounded, so that it can no longer have the last word,” explained Benedict XVI.

The Eucharist, therefore, makes present the radical subversion of death. The Mass is the sacrament of eternal life, and Eucharistic Communion is the “medicine of immortality” (St. Ignatius of Antioch). The transformation of death to life, effected by the Risen Lord, and made available to all in the Blessed Sacrament, was promised as such in Christ’s discourse in the synagogue of Capernaum: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of the bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh … Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn 6:51.53-54).

Thus, it is that death, the ultimate philosophical question, and the inescapable existential quandary, for every human being, is transformed from within. The Savior, like us in everything except sin (cf. Heb 4:15), has assumed death, since “what God has not assumed, God has not saved” (St. Gregory of Nyssa). In so doing, death has been transformed into a participation in his Resurrection (cf. 1 Cor 15:20). The paradoxical nature of the Cross is apparent here. This is the paradox, full of Eucharistic resonances, solemnly proclaimed by Christ in John 12:24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

In a letter to his son, the writer, J.R.R. Tolkien, seems to express this saving “contradiction” of the Eucharist in existential terms: “Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. … There you will find romance, glory, honor, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that: Death—by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste (or foretaste) of which alone, can, what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy), be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man’s heart desires.”

The Transformation of the Bread and Wine

The “next” transformation is the miracle of transubstantiation: “This first fundamental transformation of violence into love, of death into life, brings other changes in its wake. Bread and wine become his Body and Blood,” says Benedict. As a divine-human action, Christ’s self-offering on the Cross is both an historical event occurring at a particular moment in time (“under Pontius Pilate”), and an event which transcends time. As St. John Paul II expressed it, in his final encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia: “This sacrifice is so decisive for the salvation of the human race, that Jesus Christ offered it, and returned to the Father, only after he had left us a means of sharing in it, as if we had been present there.”

At the consecration, the earthly elements of bread and wine are substantially transformed into the Body and Blood of the Lord, and his saving Oblation is made present. Under the humble appearances (species) of bread and wine, Christ—whole and entire—is truly with us. The transformation, which is the Eucharistic Sacrifice, is the nerve-center of the Church, the secret of her unquenchable vitality, in spite of her “sorrows and challenges from within and from without”. No greater event can take place in the world—any and every day. No cosmic upheaval, no economic or political watershed, is in anyway comparable to what takes place on the humblest Catholic altar. What indeed could compare with the Eucharist, which Benedict XVI acclaims as “the most precious treasure of the Church and of humanity”?

If the God “who is” (cf. Ex 3:14) becomes truly present at each Mass, then at every Eucharistic celebration, we plumb the very depths of Being. The words of Sirach 43:27 come to mind in this context: “Though we speak much, we cannot reach the end, and the sum of all our words is: ‘He is the all.’” At the consecration, we experience, again and again, that his Name and his Nature are truly “Emmanuel, God-with-us” (Is 7:14; Mt 1:23). “Jesus makes himself our travelling companion in the Eucharist, and the Eucharist … induces ‘nuclear fission’ in the heart of being,” said the pope. The Supreme Being does not disdain contingent being. God has, in no way, retreated from his creation. On the contrary, he constantly enters into the world through the transformation of the gifts at the consecration of the Mass. Creation, Incarnation, and Recapitulation together form the one saving plan. The notion of the Eucharist as a series of redemptive transformations, ultimately reuniting all things in Christ (cf. Eph 1:10), mirrors the “exitus reditus” dynamic favored by St. Thomas Aquinas in his presentation of salvation history.

The Transformation of Each of the Faithful

The earthly offerings of bread and wine have been transformed into Christ Jesus. But, “it must not stop there,” taught Benedict, “on the contrary, the process of transformation must now gather momentum. The Body and Blood of Christ are given to us so that we ourselves will be transformed in our turn. We are to become the Body of Christ, his own Flesh and Blood.” In other words, the sacrifice/sacrament is at once a presence/sacrament and a communion/sacrament The Lord, who embraces death so as to annul it (cf. 1 Cor 15:55), makes his life-giving sacrifice present so as to communicate to us its fruits.

“The ultimate purpose of Eucharistic transformation is our own transformation in communion with Christ.” He has not left us desolate, he comes to us, and because he lives, we live also (cf. Jn 14:18-19). “Intimate and persevering sacramental communion with the Body and Blood of Christ brings about a profound transformation of the person. The fruit of this inner process, which involves the whole person, is what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians: ‘Mihi vivere Christus est’ (‘To me, to live is Christ’) (Phil 1:21).”

In receiving Christ in Holy Communion, we are each transformed by grace. The individual Christian’s baptismal assimilation to Christ is renewed and intensified. Holy Communion must be seen in the context of each Catholic’s progressive identification with Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit. Participation in the sacrifice of the Mass, especially with Communion, enables each of the baptized to “appropriate” Christ’s saving transformation, and become “divinized” by grace. This was the panorama sketched by the pope at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in 2008:

Through Jesus’ love the Cross becomes metabasis, a transformation from being human into being a sharer in God’s glory. He involves us all in this transformation, drawing us into the transforming power of his love to the point that, in our being with him, our life becomes a “‘passage,” a transformation. Thus, we receive redemption, becoming sharers in eternal love, a condition for which we strive throughout our life.

The Transformation of Individuals into God’s Church

Our transformation is not purely personal, however. All who communicate with Christ’s Body become one in him. “The Real Presence of Christ makes each of us his ‘house’ and all together we form his Church.” All who communicate with Christ’s Body become one in him. The Eucharist is the sacrament “in which the Lord gives us his Body and transforms us into his Body.” To receive Christ’s Eucharistic Body is to become his Mystical Body. This is the transformation so often explained by St. Paul, and summed up in 1 Corinthians 10:17: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” This expression does not allude to mere table fellowship. Nor is it simply a sociological bond born of everyone doing the same thing.

This dynamic of Eucharistic Communion is explained by Pope Benedict XVI in his 2011 Corpus Christi homily with reference to a sort of vision St. Augustine had “in which Jesus said to him: ‘I am the food of strong men; grow and you shall feed on me; nor shall you change me, like the food of your flesh, into yourself, but you shall be changed into my likeness’ (Confessions, vii, 10, 18).

Therefore, whereas food for the body is assimilated by our organism, and contributes to nourishing it, in the case of the Eucharist it is a different Bread: it is not we who assimilate it, but it assimilates us into itself, so that we become conformed to Jesus Christ, a member of his Body, one with him. This passage is crucial. In fact, precisely because it is Christ who, in Eucharistic communion, changes us into him, our individuality, in this encounter, is opened, liberated from its egocentrism, and inserted into the Person of Jesus who, in his turn, is immersed in Trinitarian communion. The Eucharist, therefore, while it unites us to Christ, also opens us to others, makes us members of one another: we are no longer divided, but one in him. Eucharistic communion not only unites me to the person I have beside me, and with whom I may not even be on good terms, but also to our distant brethren in every part of the world.”

By Holy Communion, then, we are not transformed into Christ only as individuals. Communion with God is inseparable from communion with one another. The entire Church, therefore, is present at every Eucharistic Celebration. Indeed, gathered around the altar, “the Church of living stones builds herself up, in truth and love, and is molded interiorly by the Holy Spirit, transforming herself into what she receives, conforming herself ever more to her Lord Jesus Christ.” Through the Eucharist, humanity becomes God’s People. From isolated individuals, we become “fellow citizens with the saints, and members of the household of God” (Eph 2:19). The “local” Mass is then a window into eternity, an intimate communion with the Lord, and with all who are his, of every time and place.

The Transformation of the World

The transformation, which gives rise to the Church, does not produce a self-enclosed communion. On the contrary, as the Holy Father indefatigably taught, all who are truly united to Christ are drawn into his “being for others.” Thus, believers’ communion with Christ—as individuals and as his People—brings about a transformation of the world around them. Better said, Christ transforms the world through his living members. With Christ, the faithful become channels of sanctification in the world (cf. Jn 7:38). As branches grafted onto the vine (cf. Jn 15:1-5), Christians sanctify their daily lives in the middle of the world, in a constant exercise of the common priesthood. Those who receive the Bread of Life become the living leaven of Christ for everyone around them, thereby exercising the universal call to the apostolate which is inseparable from the essentially missionary nature of the Church.

The Eucharistic “essence” of the New Evangelization is thus also conveyed by the nuclear image. From the sacrament of his Passion, the grace to renew humanity and creation can “radiate” throughout every culture and epoch. In so far as the apostolic efforts of the faithful are rooted in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, they will participate in the saving efficacy of the paschal mystery. Indeed, as the pope said at the end of the Year of the Eucharist, “how very significant is the bond between the Church’s mission, and the Eucharist. In fact, missionary and evangelizing action is the apostolic diffusion of love that is, as it were, concentrated in the Most Blessed Sacrament.” This is also why social renewal is inseparable from the Eucharist. “The profound sense of the Church’s social presence derives from the Eucharist, as is testified by the great social saints who were always great Eucharistic souls.”

Through the Eucharist, the faithful become “Christ-bearers” (St. Ignatius of Antioch). By their union with the divine Guest, they transform the world through the sanctification of their daily work and relationships, their love for others, and efforts to improve society. The Eucharist sets in motion a series of saving transformations. “The presence in our midst of the Creator, who gives himself into our hands, and transforms us as he transforms the bread and wine, thus transforms the world.” The Christian’s endeavor to transform society for the good is powered by, and shares in, the fundamental transformation, which is Redemption. In this way, the Eucharist is indeed “mystery of faith, and source of the new evangelization.”

The Ultimate Transformation

These “waves” of transformation all tend towards the mature fruit of Christ’s paschal mystery, namely, the definitive renewal of humanity, and the cosmos at the end of time. The Redeemer’s sacrifice, constantly celebrated “until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26), is the presage and catalyst of the ultimate transformation when “God may be everything to every one” (1 Cor 15:28). Thus, the “eschatological dimension” of the Eucharist regards not only our communion with the heavenly Church in every Eucharistic celebration. Because “the Eucharist is the Sacrament in which the whole work of Redemption is concentrated,” every Mass is a straining towards, and a foretaste of, the ultimate glory of God’s Kingdom.

The Eucharist, then, is the most accurate gauge of the value and meaning of history. To evaluate global or personal events through the prism of the Mass, is to see life in the light of the final victory of Christ’s redeeming love. In other words, the Cross is the hermeneutic key for interpreting reality. In an, as yet, imperfect world, a “Eucharistic perspective” reminds us of the fact that “in everything, God works for good with those who love him” (Rom 8:28). While we are often painfully reminded that, as of now, “the whole creation groans in travail” (Rom 8:22), the Mass constantly immerses us in the final victory which crowns every suffering, which is united to Christ’s self-offering.

Any image is inadequate to express the reality of the Eucharist. That of “nuclear fission” is no exception. While the effects of nuclear fission are limited, Christ’s love is infinite. Nuclear fission can produce negative results; Christ’s sacrifice is the unlimited triumph of goodness. Nonetheless, as has been pointed out, the image of nuclear fission has a special effectiveness today. In an age profoundly influenced by scientific progress, this metaphor is accessible to all. Moreover, this simile brings to mind something entirely real and effective, while remaining invisible to our eyes. The notion of nuclear fission is apt to convey the paradox of the Eucharist: what seems small and insignificant, is really great and overwhelming.

Sometimes the first traces of the New Evangelization can seem tiny and powerless. But if our apostolate is born from the divine Sacrifice, through participation in the Mass and Holy Communion, deepened and prolonged in Eucharistic Adoration, it will certainly bear much fruit for the salvation of the world. The work of evangelization is, after all, the continuation of Christ’s mission, which has at its heart the paradox of the Cross.

The panorama unveiled by Pope Benedict XVI’s teaching on the Eucharist as the sacrament of transformations is that of the recapitulation of all things in Christ (cf. Eph 1:10). The Creator comes back to “recreate” his handiwork from within (cf. Jn 1:11). The world and humanity, which were made in and through Christ (cf. Jn 1:3; Col 1:16), and were subsequently wounded by sin, are now reconciled to the Father, through the Cross of the Son, by the action of the Holy Spirit (cf. 2 Cor 5:19). “For it was fitting that he, for whom, and by whom, all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering” (Heb 2:10). All human endeavour, history, and the cosmos are caught up in the saving action of the Crucified and Risen One, and through him, purified, reach their fulfillment. Through the Holy Eucharist, what the Lord solemnly promised, comes to pass: “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (Jn 12:32).


Pope Benedict XVI on the Eucharist.

What is happening? How can Jesus distribute his Body and his Blood?

By making the bread into his Body and the wine into his Blood, he anticipates his death, he accepts it in his heart, and he transforms it into an action of love. What on the outside is simply brutal violence - the Crucifixion - from within becomes an act of total self-giving love. This is the substantial transformation which was accomplished at the Last Supper and was destined to set in motion a series of transformations leading ultimately to the transformation of the world when God will be all in all (cf. I Cor 15: 28).

In their hearts, people always and everywhere have somehow expected a change, a transformation of the world. Here now is the central act of transformation that alone can truly renew the world:  violence is transformed into love, and death into life.

Since this act transmutes death into love, death as such is already conquered from within, the Resurrection is already present in it. Death is, so to speak, mortally wounded, so that it can no longer have the last word.

To use an image well known to us today, this is like inducing nuclear fission in the very heart of being - the victory of love over hatred, the victory of love over death. Only this intimate explosion of good conquering evil can then trigger off the series of transformations that little by little will change the world.

All other changes remain superficial and cannot save. For this reason we speak of redemption:  what had to happen at the most intimate level has indeed happened, and we can enter into its dynamic. Jesus can distribute his Body, because he truly gives himself.


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Contemplatives of Saint Joseph

The Importance of the Contemplatives of Saint Joseph within Life of the Church

Why we are committed to our lives of deep prayer and contemplation and expressed in our active apostolate and to the Life of the Church is stated beautifully and profoundly by Pope Paul VI:

“The work of contemplation overflows, benefiting the entire Church.  The Church needs this work of contemplation that it may protect its life and increase its growth.  The Church is in dire need of those who excel in the interior life and are intent upon recollecting themselves in God and be aflame, to their innermost being, with love for heavenly things.  If such persons are lacking, if their lives are withered and weak, it necessarily follows that the strength of the whole Mystical Body of Christ is diminished. Consequently, serious damage would be inflicted on the knowledge of divine realities, theology, sacred preaching, the apostolate, and all the Christian life of the faithful”
[Pope Paul VI, to the Cistercians, December 8, 1968].

We believe the contemplative life of a member of the COSJ belongs not to himself alone, but to the Life and Holiness of the whole Church.  The Church's life becomes fuller because the COSJ join themselves by the gift of their whole lives to Christ in prayer and in firmly following the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience.