Saturday, November 24, 2018

¡Viva Cristo Rey! - British Style

Tomorrow is the Solemnity of Christ the King, instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925.  Coming on the final Sunday of the liturgical year, it is a reminder that, at the end of time, Christ will return to judge the living and the dead.  It's a nice segue into Advent, when we will reflect on both Jesus's first coming as a baby and His second coming in glory.

The feast also reminds us that Jesus Christ is sovereign over all things.  All people and nations, all rulers and governments are ultimately under His authority.

This solemnity was instituted partly in reaction to contemporary events in Mexico, where an anti-Catholic government had come to power in the Mexican Revolution.  When a new set of anti-Catholic laws were passed in 1926, Catholics - known as Cristeros - took up arms against the government, adopting as their battle cry the phrase, "¡Viva Cristo Rey!": Long live Christ the King.

Our family's favorite hymn, "Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending," is one appropriate for Advent or for tomorrow's solemnity.  The text, which comes in a few variations, is by Charles Wesley:
Lo! He comes, with clouds descending,
once for our salvation slain;
thousand thousand saints attending
swell the triumph of His train.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Christ the Lord returns to reign!
Ev'ry eye shall now behold Him,
robed in dreadful majesty;
those who set at naught and sold Him,
pierced, and nailed Him to the tree,
deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
shall the true Messiah see. 
Those dear tokens of His passion
still His dazzling body bears;
cause of endless exultation
to His ransomed worshippers;
with what rapture, with what rapture, with what rapture
waze we on those glorious scars! 
Yea, amen! Let all adore Thee,
high on Thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the pow'r and glory,
claim the kingdom for Thine own:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou shalt reign and thou alone.
Here it is sung by the choristers of Lichfield Cathedral in the North-West Midlands of England:



Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

"And miles to go before I sleep" - it is one of those lines we all know, but from where? Many Americans will recognize that it is a snatch of poetry from Robert Frost. Fewer will be able to name that poem: "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." Perhaps we had to read it in school at some point, but it is a poem - simple, elegant, thoughtful - which bears repeating.
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Euphemism & Bureaucracy: A Recipe for Scandal in the Church

Quanta malignatus est inimicus in sancto!

Any American Catholic with a pulse and a passing interest in Church news has become aware in the last couple months that the Church in the U.S. is facing a new round of accusations that it has systematically covered up rampant sex abuse by the clergy. This summer's revelations--the public disgrace of Cardinal McCarrick, the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, and Archbishop Viagno's affidavit--are even more shocking than those of 2002, which were serious enough to bring about the downfall of Cardinal Law of Boston. In 2002, the general public found out that many American bishops had for decades been systematically covering up for the sexual abuse of minors by their priests. But the summer of 2018 has shown that our bishops were covering up for themselves and an extensive homosexual network. Cardinal McCarrick was a pederast who treated seminaries as brothels where he could lust after and molest those handsome young males who tickled his fancy. Cardinal Wuerl, McCarrick's protege and successor in Washington, D.C., protested that he knew nothing of his predecessor's predations and that he had an outstanding record for dealing strictly with any allegation of sexual impropriety among the clergy--but then the attorney general of Pennsylvania published a special grand jury's report, which featured evidence that, while serving as Bishop of Pittsburgh, Wuerl failed to adequately punish a priest (George Zirwas) who repeatedly fondled boys and was later found to be a leader of a child pornography made up of fellow priests; Wuerl simply placed Zirwas on personal leave and allowed him to move to Florida and then to Cuba, where he died in 2001.

And then came the affidavit of Archbishop Vigano! The former nuncio to the U.S. accused Pope Francis of being complicit in McCarrick's rehabilitation and called on him to resign. If American Catholics had been trying to ignore the bad news coming out in the media, it was no longer possible. Even ordinary parish priests were joining Vigano in calling for the pope to resign. (I was surprised to hear just such a sermon from a mild-mannered priest while visiting a small town in Michigan the day after the affidavit was published.)

However, it is important to note that before both of the American Church's recent anni horribiles, the most important facts leading to the widespread scandal were already widely known among the clergy and, in many cases, among the laity as well. The Church was full of open secrets. After McCarrick was disciplined by the Vatican, commentators came out of the woodwork to announce that "everybody knew," inter alia, about the now infamous beach house on the Jersey Shore. These facts, then, were not, strictly speaking, news. What was new was the public outrage.

So, how could it be that we are living these scandals all over again? What went wrong?

There are obviously many factors, and the reader could do far worse than to consult Fr. Paul Mankowski's summary of the causes (from 2003!). But, I would like to focus on two factors that work hand in hand: euphemism and bureaucracy.

Euphemism in this context simply means the refusal to call a spade a spade. It is a problem that affects the Church in many areas. When it comes to sexual crimes, as the Pennsylvania grand jury reported, it leads bishops to describe rape as "inappropriate contact" or "boundary issues." But, it applies in other areas of the Church's life. For example, here in the Archdiocese of Chicago, Cardinal Cupich (who, incidentally, dismissed public outrage over widespread sexual crimes among the clergy as a "rabbit hole") has initiated a program he calls "Renew My Church" but which is essentially a new process for closing failing parishes. In the presentation given at my parish about Renew My Church, the phrase that cropped up over and over in the archdiocese's talking points was that we were dealing with the consequences of "demographic change." True, certain neighborhoods are no longer heavily Catholic like they used to be since their inhabitants moved to the suburbs back in the 1970's. But, white flight only explains so much. What we are dealing with is not some anodyne shift in the population, but mass apostasy! The reason why so few Catholics bother attending Mass every Sunday is that they do not believe in basic Catholic doctrines such as the Real Presence and the propitiatory nature of the Mass. Only around 25% of American Catholics attend Sunday Mass every week, compared to around 75% before Vatican II. If Catholics were anywhere near as faithful as they were sixty years ago, demographic changes would explain why we might have to close a few small parishes in the inner city but found a dozen new ones in the suburbs. But instead of confronting the staggering loss of faith since Vatican II, we talk about "demographic" trends.

The chief moral danger of the euphemistic style employed by our bishops is that it turns concrete wrongs for which bishops must take responsibility into vague, impersonal processes that they "manage" as best they can. A bishop who writes in this euphemistic style sees himself not as a moral agent who by the very nature of his office is called by God to avenge wrongdoing and to do justice, but as a passive spectator who only feels the limits of his power in the face of a challenge. These bad bishops are not consumed by zeal for the house of the Lord but instead busy themselves with their dioceses' quotidian affairs and their personal comforts while events overtake them. Euphemism makes many bishops into feckless bureaucrats.

Bureaucracy here means managing the Church like a secular institution for the sake of the administrators, not as God's "universal sacrament of salvation." It entails the loss of any sense of a mission; instead, the administrators simply try to do just enough to ensure that the institution continues so that the next generation of administrators can take over. When bishops lose this essential sense of mission, they look to provide for the comfort of themselves and their close companions. Cliques form in competition for bishops' favor, in the hope that their members will receive preferment in the form of easy jobs in the chancery office downtown or be named pastors of wealthy suburban parishes with several associates to do the real work. Bureaucracy enervates.

When euphemism and bureaucracy combine, then, we have a recipe for scandal in the Church. Euphemism allows bishops to avoid examining a problem closely; the fancy-sounding name they give to a problem becomes a veil they toss before their own eyes. The bishops then only see vague shapes in front of them, not flesh-and-blood people who demand justice. The spirit of bureaucracy saps them of their moral vigor and the demands of justice become petty administrative hassles, an unpleasant part of their day jobs. Soon enough, the bishops go from avoiding problems to believing their own self-deception. At that point, they are no longer capable of reforming themselves. Any reform will require divine intervention--often in the form of a hostile (quite possibly godless) prosecutor or an aggrieved mother who refuses to be silent about the abuse of her son.

God has chosen to rebuke His Church, but it is up to us to accept this punishment in the right spirit. Let us pray, then, for the Church! Let us pray, above all, for our bishops to repent and to become real men who do not seek after pleasure but will allow themselves to be consumed by zeal for the house of the Lord!

Exsurge, Deus, judica causam tuam!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Dante, Fortune, and the Universal Destination of Goods

In Canto 7 of Dante's Inferno, the narrator and his guide, Virgil, descend deeper into Hell, encountering the avaricious and profligate. Here Virgil tells Dante, "Bad giving and bad keeping has deprived them of the lovely world and set them to this scuffling.... Now you can see, my son, the brief mockery of the goods that are committed to Fortune, for which the human race so squabbles" (7:58-59, 61-62, Durling trans.). These sinners have erred by keeping too much, or too little, as if they were somehow able to avoid the allocations of Fortune.

Dante, seeking to better understand asks, "This Fortune that you touch on here, what is it, that has the good of the world so in its clutches?" (7:67-69) Virgil replies:
He whose wisdom transcends all things fashioned the heavens, and he gave them governors who see that every part shines to every other part, distributing the light equally. Similarly, for worldly splendors he ordained a general minister and leader who would transfer from time to time the empty good from one people to another, from one family to another, beyond any human wisdom's power to prevent.... This is she who is so crucified even by those who should give her praise, wrongly blaming and speaking ill of her; but she is blessed in herself and does not listen: with the other first creatures, she gladly turns her sphere and rejoices in her blessedness. (7:73-81, 91-96)
Just as the celestial bodies have "governors" - imagine here some kind of angels that enforce the laws of physics and keep the stars and planets on their courses - so too earthly goods have a governor, Fortune. Like the angels who oversee the heavenly bodies, she is "blessed" and does not care what praise or blame is given by men.

But why would God create Fortune at all? Why must the sphere of worldly goods turn in the way that the celestial bodies turn? There are probably many potential answers, though one that strikes me involves what we have come to know as the "universal destination of goods." As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains,
In the beginning God entrusted the earth and its resources to the common stewardship of mankind to take care of them, master them by labor, and enjoy their fruits. The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race. However, the earth is divided up among men to assure the security of their lives, endangered by poverty and threatened by violence. The appropriation of property is legitimate for guaranteeing the freedom and dignity of persons and for helping each of them to meet his basic needs and the needs of those in his charge. It should allow for a natural solidarity to develop between men.

The right to private property, acquired or received in a just way, does not do away with the original gift of the earth to the whole of mankind. The universal destination of goods remains primordial, even if the promotion of the common good requires respect for the right to private property and its exercise. (CCC 2402-3)
In other worlds, while particular individuals hold particular goods (i.e., private property) in order to care for themselves, all goods ultimately belong to everyone. Although private property is the day to day norm, the "primordial" reality of the universal destination of goods remains. But what if someone should acquire too many goods, to his neighbor's detriment? Here Fortune turns her wheel: the wealthy are impoverished while the poor are enriched. Or, as Mary puts it, God (acting through Fortune)
has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
And has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty. (Luke 1:52-53)
There is certainly a coherence to Dante's notion of Fortune: she reflects the justice of God, her creator. The sins of avarice and profligacy are rebellion against her God-given authority and, for such rebellion, those who commit such sins are punished. And I think there is merit in the idea of Fortune as the guarantor of the universal destination of goods.

But for anyone who has observed the actions of Fortune, she often seems capricious, even vicious. It is one thing for the man of comfortable means, upon having lost some bit of wealth he did not really need, to curse Fortune as fickle. He is in the wrong, as Virgil contends. But what of children who starve because of natural disaster? Can we look upon them and glibly say, "Fortune gives and Fortune takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord"?

Aquinas argues that there is no discontinuity between chance and the divine order (Summa theologiae, 1a, q. 22, articles 2-3; Summa contra gentiles, 3.94) while Boethius likewise argues that seemingly random events in fact have a divine cause (Consolation of Philosophy, 4.6). I am not well-versed in the works of either Boethius or Aquinas, and I happily admit my intellectual poverty in their company.  (I only have the citations because Robert Durling provided them in his notes on Dante.)  But I can hardly think that the problem of destructive and capricious Fortune is so easily resolved.

Here we must recall that Adam and Eve's fall has ripples that are wide and enduring, not only for human beings but for the entire world around us. Where once rains simply watered the earth and made it bring forth food, now they also produce flooding and devastation. Although the natural world was created good, it too is fallen and can now bring forth evil as well as good. Fortune, like storms or fire, has been damaged by our sins. How exactly this came to be I do not know - perhaps no one does - but it accords with both Dante's understanding of her as akin to the forces of nature and with everyday experience of Fortune's power and vicissitudes.

Today's image is from the medieval Burana Codex.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Happy Feast of St. Boniface!


Long-time readers of the blog will know that St. Boniface is very dear to me.  (He even gets a mention in the acknowledgement's of my book.)  I find this prayer, which he wrote, both elegant and humble:

Eternal God,
the refuge and help of all Your children,
we praise You for all You have given us,
for all You have done for us,
for all that You are to us.
In our weakness, You are strength,
in our darkness, You are light,
in our sorrow, You are comfort and peace.
We cannot number Your blessings,
we cannot declare Your love:
For all Your blessings we bless you.
May we live as in Your presence,
and love the things that You love,
and serve You in our daily lives;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Today's image of St. Boniface, chopping down a tree sacred to Thor in order to build a church dedicated to St. Peter and prove the powerlessness of the pagan gods, comes from Catholic Insight.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Roy Campbell's "Toledo, July 1936"

There is a scene in the film Shadowlands in which Joy Gresham recites to C. S. Lewis a poem she wrote which is narrated from Madrid during the Spanish Civil War.  She asks, rhetorically, the question she assumes Lewis is thinking: when were you in Madrid?  The answer: she wasn't.  The joke, so to speak, is that fighting in Spain was so vogue among the literati of the day that someone like Gresham might affect such an experience just to blend in.

The South African poet Roy Campbell really did fight in Spain, though as Thomas P. McDonnell puts it, "Liberal poets and academicians of the thirties and forties have never forgiven Roy Campbell for his robust participation on what they presumed was the 'wrong side' of the Spanish Civil War."

That having been said, Campbell not only participated, but in the course of events rescued the Carmelite archives of Toledo from destruction, a detail he omits from his poem about the siege there.

Toledo, July 1936 
Toledo, when I saw you die
And heard the roof of Carmel crash,
A spread-winged phoenix from its ash
The Cross remained against the sky!
With horns of flame and haggard eye
The mountain vomited with blood,
A thousand corpses down the flood
Were rolled gesticulating by,
And high above the roaring shells
I heard the silence of your bells
Who've left these broken stones behind
Above the years to make your home,
And burn, with Athens and with Rome,
A sacred city of the mind.

Hat tip to A Literary Blog of Twentieth-Century and Beyond Poetry in English for the transcription of this poem.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Happy Feast of St. Bernadette Soubirous!


Grant us, O merciful God,
that with St. Bernadette, meek and humble,
we may walk in the path of conversion,
serve the poor and the sick,
contemplate the beauty
of the Immaculate Mother of God,
and go in procession
to drink at the Spring of Living Water,
Who lives and reigns forever and ever.
Amen.