Sunday, June 20, 2021

The Way of the Penitent

 


12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

at St. Mary’s in Salem

19-20 June 2021

Jb 38:1.8-11

2 Cor 5:14-17

Mk 4:35-41

 

        Every place in the world where I have lived has celebrated both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. I would say that in most countries Mother’s Day falls on about the same Sunday in May, but Father’s Day varies quite a bit from country to country. For instance, in Italy Father’s Day is always observed on the Feast of St. Joseph, on March 19, which is very Catholic and very appropriate.      So, first off today, I would like to extend best wishes to all dads on this their day and with June bind it and them to Christ in His Sacred Heart.

Talking with the plumber who came to install my water heater in Sioux Falls the other day, he was quite insistent on how desperately American society needs integral families with both a mother and a father. He put the accent on the importance of fathers in raising children and I will do it too. May God bless our fathers those living and those who have preceded us in death. Know of your value, dads, after the example of St. Joseph, to found and protect the family! O St. Joseph, we entrust our fathers to your powerful intercession. Through these men, strengthen our families and prosper the life of your Church!

Praised be Jesus Christ!

        “Who shut within doors the sea…? When I set limits for it and fastened the bar of its door, and said: This far shall you come but no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stilled!”

        In the Old Testament Book of Job, God Almighty challenges the holy man Job, demanding that he back down on his complaining about being unjustly punished in this life. The Lord required of Job that he acknowledge God for Who He is, the Almighty, the only one who keeps the rolling and roaring floods under lock and key. Man cannot hold God to account for the misfortune we experience in life, even when it seems unjust, as it certainly did in the case of Job. The Lord commands the wind and the waves, besides having brought into being all that there is.

This first reading for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time gives us the proper context to understand then what happens in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus calms the storm on the lake and the men in the boat are confronted with a reality far beyond their life’s experience. All of a sudden, they realize that they can see God. The Lord Jesus calms the storm by a simple command, and He teaches them something that up until that moment they had not reckoned with in terms of their teacher.

        “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”

        It is a rhetorical question since the reality is right there staring them in the face. They do not need anybody to answer it for them. “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?” Beyond a shadow of a doubt Jesus cannot be anyone other than God Himself.

        The Book of Job presented God’s People in the Old Testament with a monstrous challenge. For just about everyone back then it challenged the common assumption that God punishes evil and rewards good already in this life. Thanks to the scandal of Job’s terrible suffering, believers could no longer ignore or explain away the problem of evil but had to face the age-old question. Holy Scripture deprived them of their supposed common wisdom, that the one who suffers must have some hidden fault or crime? No, that is not how life works! Here in the Bible, we have the question posed in the extreme case of the good and righteous man, seemingly confirmed as such by God Who has so blessed Job up until this point in his life. How is it that all of a sudden then God permits the just man, the truly holy man to suffer, taking everything away from him: great wealth, even basic property, his family, his physical health and even his personal dignity or self-respect?

        The expression “It is not fair!” sort of sums up the mentality back then and even now. Most of us may have met someone or may even have a family member who is at odds with God because they are convinced that God is to blame for the suffering which they do not deserve. “It is not fair!” they cry and sometimes turn their back on God, maybe even in anger. The point is, that they make too little of the consequences of the sin of our first parents, of Adam and Eve. They ignore the reality of original sin which ushered suffering and death into our world. Beyond that they claim reward for good behavior and favor or protection from God for innocence. The Book of Job says no, you cannot; God is not obliged to reward the righteous with health, wealth, and prosperity. What to do? How are we then to live in this world?

Certainly not by challenging God or denying His justice and love! “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?” Two points, then, are worth holding to firmly. One: Jesus is God, and His word is law. And two: None of us has Job’s credentials and as such we have much less reason than he to complain about misfortune in this life, this side of heaven.

I make these two points because of the danger in society today, even among Catholics, to deny or ignore Christ’s sovereignty. There is something heartrending about the conservative commentators who have nothing more to offer than the founding fathers, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. They treat the United States as exceptional and claim favor in this life without reference to Jesus, the only God, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The liberal commentators are even worse off, those truly tragic figures, who ignore Christ and claim as progress complete moral relativism, as if God were no longer in charge of His universe. Godlessness is not an option. It cannot be. All through the history of the Church we can find examples of saints who witnessed to God’s sovereignty and our beholding to Him.

        One of the most mind-boggling things I think I have ever read is the “Treatise on Purgatory” by Saint Catherine of Genoa. She was born in the year 1447. She describes great happiness and relief at being caught up into the terrible sufferings of Purgatory! Why? Simply because she is not lost and at some point or another heaven and not hell awaits her.

        St. John Climacus, born around 579 A.D. in his classic work, “The Ladder of Divine Ascent”, has a chapter entitled, “On Painful and Genuine Repentance, Which is the Life of Godly Convicts, and Concerning the Prison”, in which he describes the horrible punishments taken on by monks in the Sinai desert, who took on prison sometimes voluntarily for dread of losing heaven for failing to sufficiently repent of their sins.

“Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”

        Maybe St. Catherine of Genoa and St. John Climacus are a bit much to take on, especially if prayer and penance have been neglected up until this point in your life. Even so, I would be remiss, if I did not urge you to examine your conscience and seek to stir up in your heart the love of God in Christ Who offered Himself up on the Cross for our salvation. Penance should mark our lives not just in Lent but all year long.

        Praised be Jesus Christ!

PROPERANTES ADVENTUM DIEI DEI


Monday, June 14, 2021

Following the Scent

 


A few years back a group of priests invited me to come to the Marian Shrine at Knock in Ireland to speak to them about the reverent celebration of the Eucharist. At the time, I can remember being genuinely edified by these brothers in the priesthood. My one challenge, as I saw it, was to confirm them in the conviction that reverence at Eucharist was the crown jewel in a full spectrum approach to Catholic life, enabling the Sacrifice of the Mass to be what it is intended to be, namely the source and summit of Christian existence. The Council Fathers understood and taught that the Mass is not a stand alone. Our daily lives (prayer, penance, study, works of charity, uprightness, etc.) lead us toward the summit which is Holy Mass. The Sacrifice of the Mass in turn is the source of all we need by the grace of God to live as we ought that life in the world.

Some people will try to interpret that understanding as somehow rendering a family's choice of which form they attend, ordinary or extraordinary, of the Roman Rite (to use the language of Summorum Pontificum) to be a neutral choice. Obviously they are excluding such aberrations as clown masses, puppet masses, and dancing in church by the celebrant, but little else. Would that it were that simple a choice for the Catholic family! Sadly, it is not.

Sadly, because over decades of use and abuse the missal of Pope St. Paul VI has been thoroughly compromised and not just by dancers and puppets. The option provision, for example, which may have been intended to be limited in its scope, ends up being applied even to the specific formula for the valid celebration of a given sacrament. As a consequence, we have experienced the devastation and insecurity of invalid baptisms, demanding the repeat of all sacraments for young men who thought they were priests when in point of fact they had not even been baptized as infants in the faith of the Church, thanks to "these or similar words".

Egregious as these instances may truly be, my worry is not so much for the matter of validity as it is for the matter of reverence. Be assured also that just plain irreverent behavior is not what I have set my sights on, although it should be exposed and rooted out. No, rather what worries me is an atmosphere in church, marked by an all-pervading awkward sort of ignorance or unconsciousness. People do not seem to know how to behave in church. So many of them are not unlike the young man who has never been taught to take off his hat upon entering a home or for that matter on entering a church. Few people today could remember being taught as a child, as I was to tip your hat or make the Sign of the Cross simply walking, riding or driving by the front of a church for respect for the Lord Who dwells therein. Perhaps most adults have suffered sports injuries which keep them from genuflecting or kneeling before God, but I worry about all the young people and children either so oblivious or sadly hesitant when it comes to bending the knee.

How did we get to this point of being so dull really and unteachable. Faithlessness is that of which we are ailing. We are hemmed in and blocked in our attempts to express devotion. I am thoroughly convinced that it is, yes, for lack of an adequate liturgical vehicle to inspire a culture which in turn animates liturgy. We need to point to a home life which no longer teaches children to pray, which fails to inspire the next generation to thoughts about the God Who loves us and calls us each by name. But there has to be a summit of expression to which this love tends without hectic, a beautiful, silent place which confirms and further enobles the homely convictions of the smallest child and the frailest adult in advanced age. The way the missal of Pope St. Paul VI has played out has robbed us of the sublime, leaving us at best with theater, but rarely.

People ask me if I worry about what might happen to Summorum Pontificum and I respond no. I tell them our own bishops and priests worry me more, men who cannot bring themselves to admit that the Novus Ordo is up a creek without a paddle. I worry more about the consequences for the whole Church of things like the Dijon intervention, which either do not understand or deny how the Roman Church has been about the business of nurturing the faith in our people since apostolic times.

No doubt I would have better spent my time asking St. Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church to put in a good word for us before the Throne.

PROPERANTES ADVENTUM DIEI DEI
 

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Buyer Beware! Caveat Emptor!

 


11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

at St. Mary’s in Salem

12-13 June 2021

Ez 17:22-24

2 Cor 5:6-10

Mk 4:26-35

 

Praised be Jesus Christ!

        “…we walk by faith and not by sight.”

        The Church’s liturgy for this Sunday presents us with two rather suggestive images: one, the parable of the mustard seed spoken by Jesus in today’s Gospel, and the other, the prophecy of the small tender shoot plucked from the top of the Lebanon cedar in the Old Testament Book of Ezekiel. Both of these images from Holy Scripture are all about our hope for glory, rooted in the power of God to bring us, no matter how small or insignificant we may see ourselves, to flourish and thereby really to conquer in this life and for eternity. 

        “With many such parables he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it. Without parables he did not speak to them, but to his own disciples he explained everything in private.”

        As a freshman in college in first semester, I had a required course in English Composition to take. Truth to be told, the teacher was not all that bad, even if for some reason he did not like me… But that is another story! One of the things I learned in that class had to do with journalism and news coverage, which back then as now was determined by the dominant press narrative. Let me explain!

My college days were back during the Viet Nam war, and in class we would take articles on the same war events from Time, Newsweek, US News and World Report and compare them, especially for content. The magazine news articles should have all read about the same because they depended on the same AP News Service or its equivalent back then for the basic story. None of the magazines had its own reporters on the ground to form an independent opinion of what was happening in a given battle or skirmish of that war. Notwithstanding they reported the facts differently, with each magazine putting its own spin on those events. You wondered what was actually happening and why editorial commentary could not be labeled as such. With events so reported, it was anybody’s guess as to what was really happening there in Viet Nam on any given day. Today, we would probably be more cynical and aggressive, crying about fake news, and wondering out loud about what was actually happening.

        I bring this up because of those couple sentences from Mark’s Gospel, explaining how Jesus taught his disciples. Obviously, this has nothing to do with news reporting but rather with teaching the true faith.

        “With many such parables he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it. Without parables he did not speak to them, but to his own disciples he explained everything in private.”

        My question to myself would be whether Mother Church is doing as well with the faithful today as Jesus did back then with His disciples. Are Catholics generally enabled by the preaching and teaching we receive to know and begin to comprehend the faith which comes to us from God alone or are we left to every wind of doctrine which comes along? I am worried about basic Church teaching both of a doctrinal nature and with regard to morality. What are we being taught or not taught? Maybe more importantly, I am concerned about the Gospel message being so proclaimed as Jesus did for the sake of the truth which comes from God alone and in order to give people hope.

Understanding the parable of the mustard seed, as it applies to the Kingdom of God, let us say as it applies to the Church in the world ushering in Christ’s rule, has to be one of the key Bible passages in this regard for our understanding the Christian life and its importance for us and for our world. We the Church are that tender shoot from the top of the tree, destined to grow into a mighty Lebanon cedar. We the Church are that dinky mustard seed small as it is, like the ones we may have seen in the Dijon mustard we put on our hamburger or hotdog. It is that tiny seed which, when planted, can grow into a bush big enough to be called a tree with place for birds to nest or find refuge.

“…we walk by faith and not by sight.”

The whole COVID crisis can help illustrate this distinction between being guided by Christ’s teaching or being left to our own designs. At least in the United States now, concerning COVID many more people are beginning to see that much of the early information we were fed was not necessarily true. It may have been intended to condition or control us. I know people who were so frightened by news reports that they stayed away from Holy Mass and Communion for over a year. To the extent that the Church leaders bought into these scare tactics and bowed to short-sighted government bureaucrats, they as well were in some cases guilty of having blindly sacrificed the faith and its truth about the meaning and destiny of human life to what self-appointed guides were promoting with the slogan “Follow the Science”. In some states, everything was locked down, but nobody was really caring for the most vulnerable, namely the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. We have numbers for those who died, but not for those who because of the lock-downs or arbitrary mask mandates fell into despair and perhaps committed suicide or otherwise ruined their lives and the lives of their families.

“…we walk by faith and not by sight.”

What does it mean to live in God-given hope? What does it mean to truly have faith in God in Jesus Christ? In a lot of ways, such questions should in the first place be posed to Church leadership who in this time of crisis abdicated their responsibility to shepherd the flock entrusted to their care. Simply because none of us is knowledgeable enough to sort out everything, we need to hold to absolutes and put into perspective today’s equivalent of the supposedly all-knowing news magazines of my youth.

If we read the lives of the saints, we will note the number of them who died young serving the sick during plagues or pandemic. They did not recklessly throw their lives away but served Christ in the sick and those in need. They served a truth far beyond self-preservation. Their conviction, their truth was rooted in the second great commandment of love of neighbor. Very simply, we need to let ourselves be taught by God and keep the government bureaucrats outside the sanctuary and away from our loved ones.

        Both the parable of the mustard seed and the Lebanon cedar in the prophecy of Ezekiel are all about our hope for glory, rooted in the power of God to bring us, no matter how small or insignificant we may see ourselves, to flourish and thereby really to conquer in this life and for eternity.  The grass withers and the flower fades, but the love of the Lord endures forever.

        Praised be Jesus Christ!


PROPERANTES ADVENTUM DIEI DEI


Tuesday, June 8, 2021

My Talk from the Sacred Liturgy Conference in Spokane

 


Christ Incarnate in the Priest

“The Incarnation in the Eucharist”

Spokane, June 2, 2021

 

        I hope not to disappoint anyone with my talk today. For all my ruminating and cogitating, I could not get past my first thoughts on hearing the topic proposed to me. I could not help but personalize the topic and allow free flow to thoughts about me the priest incarnating Christ. However frivolous those thoughts might have been, and yes to a great extent they deserve to be classified as distractions, I could not put those thoughts behind me. I could not put my talk together without leaving in a heavy dose of my early musings on the topic. Though spontaneous and not all that professionally researched, I find them worthwhile and hence I want to share them with you. There is nothing particularly doctrinal or dogmatic about my musings, nevertheless, I find them helpful in illustrating the priest’s identification with our Lord and Savior in and coming forth from the Eucharist.

Why this particular methodology? Why the avoidance of a classic theological approach to the topic? It could be that at the beginning of the process last January I was frightened off from a more scientific approach to the topic by the comments I read online, lodged against a January 11, 2021 reprint on 1P5 of an older article from Homiletic and Pastoral Review, written by Peter Kwasniewski[1] entitled: “Incarnate Realism and the Catholic Priesthood”. In the article he discusses something different from our topic, but the methodological question still pertains. What frightened me in those online comments were the criticisms of abstruseness leveled against the good professor. It was not so much that these readers were in principle death on a Thomistic approach. Regardless of where they stood on the theological and philosophical spectrum, they seemed troubled by the rigor of Dr. Kwasniewski’s thought. Even though my specialization is in Canon Law and not in an exclusively theological discipline, I understood and enjoyed his article at first reading. As I say, though not all that well read in theology and philosophy and different from some folks, I love St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, and all those thinkers whom others today seem to want to cancel. The point being, that if I were writing a book on our topic, my methodology would have been closer to that of the professor. In a long article, treatise, or book, I would be sure and quote the approved authors of the past, but in a talk like this with its time limitations I hope to err on the side of accessibility in expressing my thought without too many references and footnotes.

Very simply then, let it be said that it is clear to me, when speaking of Christ incarnate in the priest, when speaking of the Incarnation in the Eucharist, our point of departure is unmistakable. We start with the priest’s raison d’être, which is to offer sacrifice on behalf of God’s People. You might say that it is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which defines the priest. We pick up the narrative from within the Holy Sacrifice itself. We begin with the words of consecration, Hoc Est Enim Corpus Meum. For this is my body. These words are our principal liturgical font and sufficiently ground our affirmation of the priest’s identification with our Incarnate Lord.

Musings first, then!

When Dr. Lynne Bissonnette-Pitre first contacted me back in January I had just moved into my retirement home in Sioux Falls and had begun to unpack at what I am convinced is my lifetime’s “final destination”. The packing boxes have reached the end of the road. They are all going to have to go or are already gone. No need to save them for another move on my part. By the way, if anyone is interested, I have a pile of suitcases in basement storage that I would be happy to give away. Think about it the next time you are passing through South Dakota!

Back in January, Dr. Bissonnette proposed the theme we eventually agreed upon for me within the general theme of our Sacred Liturgy Conference. I started thinking about what I was going to say come June and obviously I was doing so against the background of my new surroundings, with boxes to unpack and stuff to put in its proper place. One of those places is my chapel, which is coming together quite nicely. For my chapel at my arrival back in January, the Diocese had kindly loaned me the basics (altar, crucifix, etc.). The Crucifix they sent along with the altar was part of a traveling set built for diocesan functions. It is 4 ft. tall and way too big of a Crucifix for my tiny chapel. For almost a month, until they could come back for it, that big Cross was standing there near the altar in my chapel, leaned against the wall.

A little confession! I am sort of a quirky type, and so almost naturally at least for an old man like me, in passing while lighting candles or whatever, I would place my hand on the Head of the Suffering or Dead Christ. I suppose lots of different thoughts would cross my mind, but in thinking of the Conference theme, it was more a question: “This is He, Whom I am supposed to incarnate?” Apart from my intention to embrace all He suffered in obedience to the Will of the Heavenly Father and to make that truth present in my life, what gave me pause, looking at that Crucifix, was the idea of the age discrepancy between us in that moment when the Lord Jesus was lifted up on the Cross, drawing all to Himself. There upon the Cross is this young man, presumably about age 33, and here I am at plus 70 years of age, standing beside Him with my hand placed upon His Head all bloody and crowned with thorns. Humanly speaking, I guess, I could almost be His grandfather! How is Christ incarnate in me the priest, the older priest, the retired archbishop? Musings? The question needs to be faced squarely, when not with a certain rigor. What am I saying, when I declare that in the Eucharist Christ is incarnate in the priest? The prerequisites in the priest himself cannot flow forth from anything other than his priestly ordination. Not country of origin or ethnicity, not age, not height, not hair color or beard quality! The Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, through the office of the Bishop lays hands unto priesthood on a man for Holy Orders. This is one of the seven sacraments instituted by Christ, and thus by the Lord’s sovereign will conforms this chosen man to Himself, to Christ the Priest. The priest’s sacrifice in the Mass is unbloody, but nevertheless, it is the renewal for the sake of the life of the world of Christ’s self-offering once and for all upon the Cross.

        That is one thought line I would like to address but suffer me one more such musing also tied to my chapel at home in Sioux Falls! This one has a longer story line and is tied to my ongoing spiritual journey as a priest over what on 27 June will be 45 years.

Whether for better or for worse, particularly since my episcopal consecration in November of 2004, I have kept up an ongoing reflection on my priestly ministry by thematizing each new assignment I have had as an Apostolic Nuncio.  This has been accomplished in part by opening a new blog with an apt title as I moved from one country to another. In late 2004, in the Caribbean I called my blog “Island Envoy”, in 2011, in Ukraine I really kind of stepped out with “Deo Volente ex Animo”, which I translate “God Willing from the Heart”. Moving on in 2015 after that very intense experience in the heart of Eastern Europe, for Switzerland and Liechtenstein I went with “ad montem myrrhae” subtitled with a scripture quote: "Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, I will hasten to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense." [Song of Solomon 4:6]. In my five years in Bern, Switzerland, even without the Spokane Conference on my horizon, there matured within me an ongoing meditation on the Incarnation and the Eucharist. Seriously, I am not making this up! It began to mature in me not so much in the sense of the first thought to which I alluded with reference to the Crucifix. In this case, it was less about me the priest somehow incarnating the Son of God come among us as the Son of Man. Rather, images and words came to me in those years especially in terms of Christmas and the Lord’s Incarnation, hence in that sense: “et Verbum Caro Factum Est”. You can blame it, if you will, on my previous experience of the boundless Ukrainian enthusiasm for the great feast of Christmas and all their great Christmas carols and customs, but it is much more than Ukrainian folk customs that distracted me. If you have any hesitations about the centrality of the Nativity and hence of the Incarnation to how we live the Eucharist, then visit, even virtually, St. Mary Major in Rome and ponder its confessio enshrining the remnants of the Crib, the wooden Manger from Bethlehem. Eucharist celebrated at the high altar in that Marian Basilica, the first and greatest of the Catholic world, at the papal altar placed over the top of the Crib is very much about the Incarnation in the sense of the Nativity.

As retirement neared and my reflection on Eucharist and Nativity proceeded, I happened to see on sale online, from a woodcarving operation in northern Italy, an antiqued copy of a Romanesque bas-relief of the Nativity. I could not tell you where the original might be found, but this image spoke to me. The eyes, the big eyes of everyone in the composition, of Mary, of Joseph, of Baby Jesus, of the ox and ass as well, are all looking at you and engaging you. There is also a great star of Bethlehem in the picture. I was captivated. Without even having a house yet, I bought it and had it shipped to Sioux Falls with plans to mount it on the wall of my chapel in the house I still had not even begun to shop for. “Et Verbum Caro Factum Est” ! Eucharist and Nativity!

So much for my musings! In two points, these thoughts (Call them promptings of the Spirit if you dare!) have suggested to me an outline for my talk on the assigned topic. In our Conference dedicated to reflecting on the various aspects of “The Incarnation in the Eucharist”, let me share some thoughts about “Christ Incarnate in the Priest”! One line of my thought development is looking inward by way of the Cross and one maybe more outward looking, passing by way of the Crib. Per force and at a conference on the Sacred Liturgy, these two lines of reflection call forth consequences inwardly for the life of the priest if he is to body forth our Eucharistic Lord in the Holy Sacrifice. Outwardly as well, let me talk about the priest and the obligations or duties that should mark him off from the rest of men. There is no denying that the priest has duties toward the Eucharist he celebrates and to the priestly lifestyle which should set him apart from his fellows, as one who embodies Christ.

Before I dive into the topic as so outlined, however, one important DISCLAIMER: I am not talking about Christ Incarnate in the Priest first and foremost at the expense of other baptized people, whether of people in the vowed life, of permanent deacons, or of the lay faithful. By reason of Baptism the Christian, every Christian, bodies forth Christ in the world. By reason of my Baptism and holiness of life, I am a child of God bound up in Christ’s Sonship. By reason of sanctifying grace, I body forth Divine Sonship; Christ lives in me for the sake of the life of the world. That is something we all share. That is what is at the very core of the mystery of the Incarnation. How Christ is incarnate in the priest, however, is something quite different.

When in our title we speak of the priest incarnating Christ, we intend something more, which is totally wrapped up in Eucharist. I suppose it cannot be denied that speaking today of the priest as incarnating Christ is a bit unusual. Since the II Vatican Council it is usual to speak of ministerial priesthood, as somehow different from the priesthood of all the baptized. Regardless of how legitimate that distinction, which we also find used in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, on its own it is inadequate for describing this mystery. Qualifying priesthood with the adjective “ministerial” has always struck me as less than rigorous thought. This solution falls short or flat; it fails to inspire. As a stand-alone or primary image, I think it impoverishes our notion of the Eucharist, source and summit of Christian existence. I would be most grateful for anyone who can enlighten me as to why I should not see the present-day popularized notion of the priesthood of the laity vis-à-vis ministerial priesthood as a clear and unfortunate departure from constant Church teaching (cf. Mediator Dei, par. 82-84)[2] To say that the priest is caught up in the only begotten Son, incarnate, the priest bodying forth Christ and offering the Perfect Sacrifice to the Father in the Redeemer’s stead and on behalf of the faithful, is to say more than the adjective ministerial can render. And yes, your suspicions are correct: by this line of discourse, I very much intend to put the priest on a pedestal.  

That is as it should be. It is and why should it not be just fine? We need not apologize for holding the priest up, because in fact he is being lifted up with Christ upon the Cross. Golden crowns and thrones have nothing to do with the type of incarnation we want for the priest and to which he is called by Christ in His Church. O Sacred Head surrounded by Crown of piercing thorn!

NOTA BENE: It follows, when the priest’s whole identity carries him to and from the Eucharist that we are far from somehow espousing an elitist position, setting off one category of people amid a gifted people. Undeniably some of them may be more gifted intellectually or in personality than many an ordained minister. Nonetheless, our approach to the topic is in no way tainted by clericalism. We are not and cannot be talking about personal advantage, aspiration, or ambition. This is vocation and it comes from God. Granted, in practice, in the unfolding of the mystery in the liturgy, I think it is more than fair to say that the Mass of Pope St. Paul VI leaves itself wide open, in the way it is celebrated, to being labeled an instrument of priestly protagonism. What we experience as the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite too often constrains the priest to perform, to seek to engage the folks in church, to do something which is contrary to his priestly calling. What can easily degenerate into showmanship comes about in the Novus Ordo in a way it never did in the Traditional Latin Mass, never did nor can.

On with my two-point outline then!

A.            Looking inward, the priest finds in himself at Eucharist the martyred Body and the sacred Head of the Crucified One.

CAVEAT! How can the priest be one with the Crucified Christ? The priest can only live this identification or empowerment by humbly distancing himself from his incarnate Lord as did St. Peter in the Acts of the Apostles. Time and again, Peter distinguished himself from the God-Man whose vicar he had become by Christ’s will. There are multiple examples of this distancing or clarifying but let Acts 10:25-26 stand for them all!

“When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and, falling at his feet, paid him homage. Peter, however, raised him up, saying, ‘Get up. I myself am also a human being.”

As a Gentile, Cornelius had never seen Peter before that moment. Gentiles and Jews did not travel in the same circles. Evidently the man had been taught by God and he showed proper reverence as only he knew how. Nevertheless, and rightly so, Peter distanced himself from Cornelius’ confession of the identification between Peter and His Lord.  The Roman was going by what had been inwardly revealed to him in prayer; he had not seen a miraculous healing such as the one performed by Paul and Barnabas before the eyes of the Lycaeonians of Lystra and Derbe (Acts 14:8-15). The reaction of Paul and Barnabas to the Lycaeonians’ attempt to offer them sacrifice at the gates of the city was much more dramatic. I suppose it had to be, because the Lycaeonians were farther off the beam than Cornelius’ understanding of who had come into his house. Still, the reaction of Paul and Barnabas was no different than Peter’s gentle but firm protest in reaction to Cornelius’s prostration before him. Paul and Barnabas also protested their mortality and gave the glory to God alone.

The point being, that Christ’s Incarnation, Et Verbum Caro Factum Est, rightly brings us to our knees before the Blessed Sacrament and before the priest. The two “incarnations” are not identical, however. Understanding the significance of the expression Christ incarnate in the priest requires additional sorting out. How and when does the Lord Jesus take on flesh in me the priest? Am I not really talking here about the Church’s constant teaching on the priest offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in persona Christi? The traditional doctrine about the priest at Mass acting in the very person of Christ would be a restrictive or narrow application just for Eucharist of the Church’s teaching on the priest as being another Christ, an alter Christus.

At some point in my academic carrier, I think I must have been proofreading somebody’s doctoral dissertation or license paper, which made a very expansive or extensive application of this title in persona Christi to the priest going far beyond the celebration of the Eucharist. Somebody back then criticized the author’s work as sloppy because the concept in persona Christi seems rather in Catholic teaching to have always been limited to the sacrificial dimension of the Mass itself. It is a legitimate point. How else do you explain in the TLM the priest taking off the maniple to preach when he remains in the sanctuary, and taking off his chasuble as well, if he climbs a pulpit somewhere out in the nave of the church? Lex orandi, Lex credendi?  In the same way, one could ask why the bishop only dons the maniple in the prayers at the foot of the altar, after his Confiteor and after pronouncing the absolution. One school of thought would have the priest (and here specifically the bishop) acting in persona Christi when he is offering, when he has ascended the altar of sacrifice, but not when exercising the ministry of the word through preaching, which is somehow divorced from the rest of the sacred action, that is, from the altar of sacrifice. (To fend off questions about my “last chapter”, retirement title for my blog, it is: ut ad Sancta sanctorum puris mereamur mentibus. It is drawn from the priest’s prayer as he ascends the altar: Aufer a nobis, quǽsumus, Dómine, iniquitátes nostras: ut ad Sancta sanctórum puris mereámur méntibus introíre. Per Christum, Dóminum nostrum. Amen”.)   

I think this discussion is important, because talking about a vocation sealed by a sacrament empowering or enabling a man to act for Christ on behalf of others, while not being synonymous with the title of my talk “Christ incarnate in the priest” may nevertheless be helpful.

Golden crowns and thrones (as opposed to cross and thorns) have nothing to do with the type of incarnation we want for the priest and to which he is called by Christ in His Church. For our priests, truth to be told, we want nothing less than the Cross of Christ. Anything else would be a charade. Hence the clear witness of St. Pietro of Pietralcina, Padre Pio! In his own body he bore the marks of the Lord’s Passion and suffered Christ’s pain upon the Cross. There is a famous passage from the life of Padre Pio recounting his impatience for night to pass so that once again he could ascend the altar of God and celebrate the Holy Sacrifice.

Summing up the fruits of my ongoing reflection on my first musing: Yes, in Eucharist Christ is incarnate in the priest who is offering in His stead that one unique Sacrifice for the life of the world. That is why when consecrating the priest says, this is my Body, this is my Blood. The Crucified One is speaking. Like Mary, like the Evangelist or the Magdalen, we all assist at this unbloody renewal while standing at the foot of the Cross. Christ alone on Calvary offered up Himself, He the Priest, He the Altar, He the Lamb of Sacrifice. The priest offers in just that same way and the faithful actively participate through their prayer, uniting themselves to him and thereby to Christ presenting and acting.

B.            “Et Verbum Caro Factum Est” ! Looking outward from myself as priest toward the Infant Jesus born at Bethlehem and placing myself there alongside Him in the light of that star, shoulder to shoulder with St. Joseph, with the shepherds summoned by the angels and, of course, being there with the magi summoned by that very star.

In terms of the mystery of the Incarnation, the Nativity scene is as much to be found there in Eucharist as is Calvary. In the literature of the approved authors, of the fathers and doctors of the Church, there is no lack of parallels between Jesus nailed to the wood of the Cross as an adult man, and Baby Jesus bound up in swaddling clothes, fixed to the rough wood of that feed trough, that manger we call the Crib. When talking Nativity, we are deprived of the temptation to see the priest as more central to the action than Jesus Himself. This obviously is partly because it is more of a stretch to identify the priest at Mass with the Infant Jesus than it is with the Crucified One. The mystical witness of Padre Pio in that sense is only a partial report. The saint does not totally exhaust in himself as priest what we mean by Incarnation. That newborn Baby stands or lies on a vastly different plain than does the adult priest no matter what his age. You might say that the priest is privileged or constrained not to identify with Baby Jesus but to minister to the tiny Lord of Life, just as are all the other folks summoned to the manger and huddling around in wonder and awe to contemplate the scene. If we contemplate the Eucharist as Nativity/Incarnation, you might say that the priest plays the part of old Simeon in the Temple meeting the young couple, Mary carrying the Baby and Joseph with the cage with the two turtle doves brought for the sacrifice. Simeon takes the Baby in his arms and in ecstasy sings his Nunc dimittis, “Now, O Lord, you may dismiss your servant!”

        In that case, thinking of Padre Pio, the witness of the stigmatic is not and cannot be exhaustive of what we intend in the idea of Christ being incarnate in the priest at the altar. The disciples recognized the Risen Lord because He bore in His glorified Body the marks of the Cross. We could make this distinction between Christ and the priest in the context of Calvary alone. Overlaying or including the profound notion of Incarnation as Nativity, participation in the mystery is still assured while declaring that measure of distance which does not detract in the least from the first-person force or impact of the words of consecration, “Hoc est enim Corpus Meum.”

        Yes, then, in using the language of my musings and holding as much to the Infancy Narrative as we do to the account of Christ’s Passion, I hope you will not be disappointed and accuse me of oversimplification if I say very simply that Christ is incarnate in the priest at Eucharist. He is so at once by identification with Christ’s Sacrifice and also as privileged witness: Ecce Agnus Dei qui tollit peccata mundi! Behold the Lamb!

        Ad Orientem! The classic priestly stance at the altar, facing Christ with the assembly, is as good a hedge against priestly protagonism in liturgy as you are going to find. Sadly, in the Mass of Pope St. Paul VI, we have lost the punctuation of the rite with the regular and repeated turns of the celebrant to the people for the Dominus vobiscum, intended not only to mark each part of the Mass but also to bind the people into the priest’s offering in Christ’s stead.

The Altar of Sacrifice! In the TLM, with all the extra kissing by the priest, the symbolism of the altar is underscored. The words of consecration in the TLM are always pronounced sotto voce by the priest with his elbows or forearms supported by the altar (symbolizing Christ). As I say, Christ predominates both in word and in gesture over the priest. There is no danger here of protagonism!

In closing, if I could make you a recommendation:

In reading around my topic, a “must read” document which came to my attention and would not let me go was: MEDIATOR DEI, an Encyclical of POPE PIUS XII on the Sacred Liturgy. It was promulgated at Castel Gandolfo, near Rome, on the 20th day of November in the year 1947, the 9th of his Pontificate (so before I was born, that is nearly 74 years ago). Why is it a “must read”? Because it is just plain great in every way and as good a place as any to find the ammunition needed to send older folks into shock by challenging them to address their unfortunate preconception that things newer are somehow better. Be assured, friends, that Summorum Pontificum was not just a fluke, but rather an overly cautious first step on the part of Pope Benedict XVI to attempt to redress an historical injustice and move us on the path to new life through the one reset which I favor without reservation, namely a liturgical reset.

The Encyclical “Mediator Dei” is readily accessible in various languages on the Vatican website, to be found under the documents of the venerable servant of God, Pope Pius XII. The English translation offered there is a bit stilted, but if you can look past its stiffness, I hope that in reading it, if you are not familiar with this masterpiece, that you will find it as refreshing and clear-sighted as I do.

Apologia pro vita sua! I find the approach I have taken in my talk today more than sustained by the teaching of Papa Pacelli on the liturgy. Let me quote just one paragraph to illustrate!

17. No sooner, in fact, "is the Word made flesh" than he shows Himself to the world vested with a priestly office, making to the Eternal Father an act of submission which will continue uninterruptedly as long as He lives: "When He cometh into the world he saith. . . 'behold I come . . . to do Thy Will."  This act He was to consummate admirably in the bloody Sacrifice of the Cross: "It is in this will we are sanctified by the oblation of the Body of Jesus Christ once." He plans His active life among men with no other purpose in view. As a child He is presented to the Lord in the Temple. To the Temple He returns as a grown boy, and often afterwards to instruct the people and to pray. He fasts for forty days before beginning His public ministry. His counsel and example summon all to prayer, daily and at night as well. As Teacher of the truth He "enlighteneth every man" to the end that mortals may duly acknowledge the immortal God, "not withdrawing unto perdition, but faithful to the saving of the soul." As Shepherd He watches over His flock, leads it to life-giving pasture, lays down a law that none shall wander from His side, off the straight path He has pointed out, and that all shall lead holy lives imbued with His spirit and moved by His active aid. At the Last Supper He celebrates a new Pasch with solemn rite and ceremonial, and provides for its continuance through the divine institution of the Eucharist. On the morrow, lifted up between heaven and earth, He offers the saving sacrifice of His life, and pours forth, as it were, from His pierced Heart the sacraments destined to impart the treasures of redemption to the souls of men. All this He does with but a single aim: the glory of His Father and man's ever greater sanctification.

Dear priests! If the imitation of Christ is a proper spirituality for one called to incarnate the God-Man, then here in one paragraph is a nice blueprint for your acting at the altar, in your personal and private life, as well as in the public square!

It is not my task to do a review of the encyclical, but I would ask you to take note and go and read paragraph 62[3] and then ask yourself about the legitimacy of much which has gone on over the course of the years since Vatican II. Let me pronounce the word and then let it go: iconoclasm! The post-conciliar “wreckovation” which stripped many of our churches of images and decoration, which burned books and vestments, was nothing short of recourse to tactics attributable to the ancient error of iconoclasm.

Thinking about the Eucharist and Christ incarnate in the priest, I have intentionally limited myself to focusing on the priest at Mass renewing Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross in an unbloody fashion.[4] I think that is what this Conference expected of me. Despite the pitfalls of extending beyond offering sacrifice what we mean by the priest acting in persona Christi, bodying forth Christ cannot be so punctual or circumscribed as to not include the notion of the priest as alter Christus, as another Christ. Venerable custom has us kissing the palms of the hands of a new priest, in gratitude for his first blessing, long after the holy oils have been washed away or evaporated. As there is no comparable rite of kissing a new bishop’s head, we can conclude that the hand kissing focuses on Christ incarnate in the priest, ordained to act in Jesus’ stead at the altar in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Nos cum Prole Pia Benedicat Virgo Maria!

 



[1] https://onepeterfive.com/incarnate-realism-and-the-catholic-priesthood/

[2] 82. The fact, however, that the faithful participate in the eucharistic sacrifice does not mean that they also are endowed with priestly power. It is very necessary that you make this quite clear to your flocks.

83. For there are today, Venerable Brethren, those who, approximating to errors long since condemned[82] teach that in the New Testament by the word "priesthood" is meant only that priesthood which applies to all who have been baptized; and hold that the command by which Christ gave power to His apostles at the Last Supper to do what He Himself had done, applies directly to the entire Christian Church, and that thence, and thence only, arises the hierarchical priesthood. Hence they assert that the people are possessed of a true priestly power, while the priest only acts in virtue of an office committed to him by the community. Wherefore, they look on the eucharistic sacrifice as a "concelebration," in the literal meaning of that term, and consider it more fitting that priests should "concelebrate" with the people present than that they should offer the sacrifice privately when the people are absent.

84. It is superfluous to explain how captious errors of this sort completely contradict the truths which we have just stated above, when treating of the place of the priest in the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. But we deem it necessary to recall that the priest acts for the people only because he represents Jesus Christ, who is Head of all His members and offers Himself in their stead. Hence, he goes to the altar as the minister of Christ, inferior to Christ but superior to the people.[83] The people, on the other hand, since they in no sense represent the divine Redeemer and are not mediator between themselves and God, can in no way possess the sacerdotal power.

 

[3] 62. Assuredly it is a wise and most laudable thing to return in spirit and affection to the sources of the sacred liturgy. For research in this field of study, by tracing it back to its origins, contributes valuable assistance towards a more thorough and careful investigation of the significance of feast-days, and of the meaning of the texts and sacred ceremonies employed on their occasion. But it is neither wise nor laudable to reduce everything to antiquity by every possible device. Thus, to cite some instances, one would be straying from the straight path were he to wish the altar restored to its primitive tableform; were he to want black excluded as a color for the liturgical vestments; were he to forbid the use of sacred images and statues in Churches; were he to order the crucifix so designed that the divine Redeemer's body shows no trace of His cruel sufferings; and lastly were he to disdain and reject polyphonic music or singing in parts, even where it conforms to regulations issued by the Holy See.

 

[4] 68. The august sacrifice of the altar, then, is no mere empty commemoration of the passion and death of Jesus Christ, but a true and proper act of sacrifice, whereby the High Priest by an unbloody immolation offers Himself a most acceptable victim to the Eternal Father, as He did upon the cross. "It is one and the same victim; the same person now offers it by the ministry of His priests, who then offered Himself on the cross, the manner of offering alone being different."[59]

69. The priest is the same, Jesus Christ, whose sacred Person His minister represents. Now the minister, by reason of the sacerdotal consecration which he has received, is made like to the High Priest and possesses the power of performing actions in virtue of Christ's very person.[60] Wherefore in his priestly activity he in a certain manner "lends his tongue, and gives his hand" to Christ.[61]

70. Likewise the victim is the same, namely, our divine Redeemer in His human nature with His true body and blood. The manner, however, in which Christ is offered is different. On the cross He completely offered Himself and all His sufferings to God, and the immolation of the victim was brought about by the bloody death, which He underwent of His free will. But on the altar, by reason of the glorified state of His human nature, "death shall have no more dominion over Him,"[62] and so the shedding of His blood is impossible; still, according to the plan of divine wisdom, the sacrifice of our Redeemer is shown forth in an admirable manner by external signs which are the symbols of His death. For by the "transubstantiation" of bread into the body of Christ and of wine into His blood, His body and blood are both really present: now the eucharistic species under which He is present symbolize the actual separation of His body and blood. Thus the commemorative representation of His death, which actually took place on Calvary, is repeated in every sacrifice of the altar, seeing that Jesus Christ is symbolically shown by separate symbols to be in a state of victimhood.

 

Sunday, June 6, 2021

The Body and Blood of the Lord


 

The Feast of Corpus Christi

at St. Mary’s in Salem

5-6 June 2021

 

Praised be Jesus Christ!

        For whatever reason, certain events over the course of my lifetime stand out vividly in my memory. You could say they are visually imbedded in my brain and with little or no effort I can conjure those images up at will. One of those memories is of today’s feast and my experience as a seminarian studying in Rome (way back in the 1970’s) of the Corpus Christi Procession in Orvieto, Italy.

There are many colorful processions on Corpus Christi not only in Italy but around the world. Typically, the streets where the Blessed Sacrament passes are decorated with beautiful carpets of flower petals, but there are other customs as well. Just a couple years back, I presided at the Corpus Christi Procession in the Swiss village of Domat-Ems, where the whole route of the procession through town is lined on both sides with fresh saplings six or more feet tall, cut from nearby forests, and the whole track around town from one outdoor altar to another was strewn with fresh hay. The images in my brain from that day are not so vivid as Orvieto, but I recall that it all looked very pretty and smelled nice too!

The Orvieto procession is more though, in a sense because it marks the historical origins of the feast of Corpus Christi. On the morning of the feast, each year after Mass, the procession departs from the big church in the center of town and makes the rounds of the streets. A group of men carrying on their shoulders the huge monstrance in the shape of the façade of that great shrine, with the lunette containing the Sacred Host in the place where the rose window should be and below it, behind the church facade’s wide-open front doors, all can see the blood-stained corporal and altar-stone, which are relics of the ancient miracle which confounded a doubting German priest’s reservations concerning the doctrine of the Real Presence of Jesus, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Blessed Sacrament.  A set of large tapestries depicting various aspects of the miracle and illustrating our faith in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist are also carried through town as part of this very public display in Orvieto. I am thankful for such vivid memories.

        The history of today’s feast gives me pause to think about the results of recent popular opinion polls, which indicate the high percentage of people claiming to be Catholic, but who do not believe that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist. Orvieto and the Feast of Corpus Christi reminds me that doubting the doctrine of the transubstantiation is not just a thing of our day. It is a recurring drama in the life of the Church and an ongoing challenge to the proclamation of the Faith. As St. John’s Gospel recounts, the Lord Jesus Himself was rejected by many followers because of His teaching and invitation to them to eat of His Flesh and drink of His Blood so as to have life in Him.

        Be assured that I have no illusions about a beautiful liturgy and a great procession being sufficient to settle people’s doubts about this most Catholic of doctrines, which takes us to where God the Father would have us, namely safely within the Sacred Heart of His Beloved Son, Jesus, our Savior and our Lord. Beauty converts, it changes hearts, but not always. Beauty can confirm us in faith, it can help sustain us amidst the vicissitudes of life, but not necessarily and inevitably with absolute success.

        What to do? I suppose there is lots that we can and should do to stir up the faith in our own hearts and within the Catholic community. We do so first and foremost not relying on an annual procession but starting with ourselves and in our own homes. An ongoing thought or meditation of mine this year during our Easter Season just completed had me reflecting on the call for us to love Christ. St. John the Evangelist pushes love of God in Christ Jesus as primary. He teaches it clearly as rooted in obedience to God’s commands. To hear and obey Christ’s word is the only credible evidence of our love for Him. Negatively expressed, snubbing someone is evidence that we do not love that person. So too with God, we are not really bound closely enough to the Lord Jesus if we fail to hold to His Law, that is, if we refuse to obey His commands.

        We were once part of a culture which lauded prompt obedience. That is no longer true. Regardless of the merit of the cause, it is the dissident today who is admired and even venerated above all, I guess, for having the grit to stand up to the establishment. Obedience to God, however, is something greater, as discrete as it might be.

The evangelical counsel of obedience is an attribute linked to that gift of the Holy Spirit, namely, the fear of the Lord. Sadly, woke folks and “snowflakes” have no time for fear, except when they can wield it as a political weapon. I am grateful to have never had any problem making sense out of the Holy Spirit’s gift of the fear of the Lord and seeing it as a terribly positive thing. You see, I learned it from my father in his expression of his deep love for my mother. Dad absolutely feared to do anything which would offend Mom. His fear was not so much anxious but rather chivalrous and therefore all the more felt. It was the underpinning of his love for his bride. So, it is in our relationship to God; my love of the Lord is and must be grounded in a zeal called fear, which can inspire and sustain my unswerving obedience.

On a day like today we should presume reverential fear as the soul of our obedience out of love, just like Christ’s obedience to the will of the Father even unto death, death on a Cross, for the glory of God and the sanctification of man. Presuming the virtues of faith, hope and love, let us allow our own little spectacle here in Salem at Sunday Mass, maybe not as memorable as Orvieto’s or that of Domat-Ems, let us allow it to fill our eyes and hearts and leave us with something to conjure up on dark days so as to confirm us in the faith that Our Loving Lord is here present and active, not just in spirit, but in the flesh!

Praised be Jesus Christ!


PROPERANTES ADVENTUM DIEI DEI


Sunday, May 30, 2021

On Mission for the Blessed Trinity

 


Trinity Sunday

at St. Mary’s in Salem

29-30 May 2021

Dt 4:32-34, 39-40

Rom 8:14-17

Mt 28:16-20

 

Praised be Jesus Christ!

        “…the Lord is God in the heavens above and on earth below…”

        Our first reading for today’s Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, taken from the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy, does a great job of communicating the boundless sense of confidence in God’s power to save, and yes of the pride coming forth from the People of Israel reflecting upon how their God drew them out of slavery in Egypt and led them to freedom under the protection of His Almighty Hand.

        Trinity Sunday is a great time for us to talk about and maybe even brag about our God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. One God in Three Divine Persons, Trinity in Unity.

        Our second reading today from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans goes on to stagger that Old Testament experience by proclaiming that what Deuteronomy is describing was and is brought to completion in us through our Savior Jesus Christ. The coming among us, through His birth at Bethlehem, His saving death upon the Cross and His glorious Resurrection not only brought liberation from this world’s slavery but bestowed upon us the Spirit of adoption, which through Baptism makes us children of God. In Jesus Christ we were not only freed from the slavery to sin and death which bound us, but by His grace we have become heirs of heaven “…joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”

        With the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and our full immersion into the mystery of the Most Blessed Trinity, we have been caught up into the very interior life of the one and only God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

        There was a time when more Catholics than not understood the implications of that truth. While disrespecting no one and loving non-Catholic family and friends no less, back then we understood better what it meant to profess the one true faith. Well, haven’t things changed in the age of ecumenism? No! All you have to do is open your ears to our liturgical prayers. The official prayer of the Church gives evidence that Catholic teaching has not changed. People who try to convince you that something is somehow different, claiming that we are somehow less because of the teaching that the one true Church subsists in the Catholic Church, have not understood, or do not wish to believe that the Church is still the Body of Christ. Through Him, with Him and in Him, we as Church are still caught up into the Mystery of the Godhead.

        We have as much reason as the great missionary saints, like St. Francis Xavier, talking about Spain, four hundred years ago, or like St. John Eudes, a couple generations later in France, to wish to run through the halls of universities or great centers of learning, shouting at young people to wake up and move out of the classrooms and libraries to the four corners of the earth, to win our world for Jesus Christ. This is our duty in Baptism, first and foremost at home, but yes even to the ends of the earth to proclaim the Good News.

        “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.”            

This is Good News, the best news, of which there is none better. Trinity Sunday sometimes frightens preachers, who puzzle over how to explain the mystery of divine life. That is a challenge, but we must not forget unto what end having some understanding the inner workings of the Godhead should move us.

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.”

        The other day I was listening to a podcast, by a truly righteous man, not Catholic and not even Christian. I think he is really worthy to be called a leader in American society. He has dedicated his whole life, from his student days on, to educating people in the values upon which America was founded and which are to be found in the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Somehow, as I listened to him speak with great conviction, it became clear to me that if he were a convinced Catholic, he would be speaking somewhat differently and probably would have figured out why he is somewhat dissatisfied with his life’s work. He would understand why without a vibrant faith in the Holy Trinity all his efforts fall short of being truly Good News. Without Catholic faith, the man has not gotten a handle on what true greatness in us implies. The man has not and cannot grasp that our destiny goes beyond what the founders of the nation held dear, in that we are more, as by God’s grace and favor we are truly at the pinnacle of God’s creation. Moreover, we are more as we have been saved in Jesus Christ and through the grace of the sacraments are filled with His Holy Spirit.

        One of the sad facts about being a missionary today is that if you simply proclaim Catholic truth, without special effects like some tele-evangelist or pop star, you probably will not be a giant success. You will not be the one to take the world by storm. That is probably right and is as it should be, if you look to the example of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. There are great preacher saints, who by force of the holiness of their lives and their preaching converted countless souls. We can pray that the Church and our world would be blessed again in our time by such great messengers. Nevertheless, you will never convince me that the most important and fundamental work is done in the first cell of the Church, the family. People come to know, love, and serve God because of the witness of their parents and grandparents. The first and most fundamental experience of God for the vast majority of folks starts and continues our whole life long at home.

Personally, although great missionary saints are great and we could use some in our day, I would be much happier if more babies and small children learned the Sign of the Cross at home and came to believe, thanks to grown-ups, that they are truly loved by their Heavenly Father.

Lord, on this Trinity Sunday, bless us to the depths of our being with Good News. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Praised be Jesus Christ!


PROPERANTES ADVENTUM DIEI DEI


Sunday, May 23, 2021

Pentecost and the Ministry of the Confessional

 


Pentecost Sunday

at St. Mary’s in Salem

22-23 May 2021

Acts 2:1-11

Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.

1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13

Veni, Sancte Spiritus

Jn 20:19-23

 

Praised be Jesus Christ!

        Some of the big feasts in the Church calendar, which fall on Sundays at this time of year, have a Sequence prayer or hymn before the Alleluia verse. In the old, old days, even if people did not know the Latin, they were familiar with two of them, the Sequence Victimae Paschali Laudes for Easter and for Pentecost Veni, Sancte Spiritus (Come, Holy Spirit). The melodies are lovely, and people could easily identify from the music the mystery being celebrated. Albeit with a different melody, one of the most popular refrains of the Taizé movement has those three words: Veni, Sancte Spiritus (Come, Holy Spirit).

        A central theme to the Pentecost Sequence is the forgiveness of sins by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit. At one point we sing:

        Heal our wounds, our strength renew; On our dryness pour your dew; Wash the stains of guilt away, Bend the stubborn heart and will; Melt the frozen, warm the chill; Guide the steps that go astray.”

        This same theme is also prominent in the readings from Sacred Scripture for Pentecost Sunday. We see this especially in the choice of the passage from the Gospel of St. John which recounts the mission the Risen Lord Jesus entrusted to the Apostles:

        “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Above all else, the Holy Spirit gives life to the Church through the forgiveness of sins.

        Let it be noted that after more than two generations of exposure to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Movement, most people’s first thought associated with Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is probably related to praying in tongues and other kinds of emotional or ecstatic manifestations of the Spirit. For some Catholics this is fine, but others remain skeptical. If you read the account in the Acts of the Apostles attentively, however, it is unmistakable that people came running and remained to listen because Peter and the other Apostles were communicating clearly. “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his native language?” On this point, it is always best to stick to St. Paul, who taught that other gifts, like the gift of teaching or prophecy, were more important than that of speaking in tongues.

        So then, in the first place we should associate Pentecost with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles for the sake of the mission of proclaiming the Gospel: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And secondly, and of no less importance, for the forgiveness of sins: And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” We tie the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood to the Last Supper on Holy Thursday and the institution of the Sacrament of Penance, giving priests the power to bind and loose, to forgive sins in His Name, we tie to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles in that same Upper Room on Pentecost Sunday.

        I guess you could say that priests have much they can learn from the feast of Pentecost in terms of the importance of their ministry in the confessional. The Church which officially came into being on Pentecost has a twofold mission of preaching Jesus and forgiving sins in His Name. This mandate comes from Jesus, the Risen Lord, Himself. If a priest does not make himself available to his people for confession, then he is seriously falling down on the job. It is all about freeing people through forgiveness. Priests should know that because of the reticence of many people, their doubts and sometimes fears of confession, making Christ’s forgiveness accessible might demand of them to go out of their way, to bend over backward, in order to win God’s people over to Christ in His Church through repentance and the forgiveness of sin.

        The role of the faithful in this regard is no less important. You need to go to confession. The basic rule is that if you commit mortal sin, you need to get to confession as quickly as possible. Even if you are such a good person that you cannot accuse yourself of serious or grave sin, by Church precept you are required to go to confession at least once a year. Most people tie that yearly confession to preparing for their Easter Duty, which is to receive Holy Communion worthily during the Easter Season, which extends from Easter Sunday through Trinity Sunday, a week from now.

Heal our wounds, our strength renew; On our dryness pour your dew; Wash the stains of guilt away, Bend the stubborn heart and will; Melt the frozen, warm the chill; Guide the steps that go astray.”

        That is what we are asking of the Holy Spirit and that is what we ask of confession. I do not think that the minimum of confession once a year is sufficient to show that we are truly honest about getting that accomplished. One of the reasons that already back in the first millennium penitential practice with the Irish monks became so popular, that is, private confession without public penance as had been the rule for six hundred years or more, is that it offered people guidance and direction on a regular basis, enabling them to make progress more easily in the spiritual life, not only for conquering mortal sin, but growing in grace and holiness.

        Heal our wounds, our strength renew; On our dryness pour your dew; Wash the stains of guilt away, Bend the stubborn heart and will; Melt the frozen, warm the chill; Guide the steps that go astray.”

        I bet that not many of you would have guessed that I would use Pentecost to make a plug for regular confession even of your venial sins. Resolve to go to confession at least once in each of the four seasons of the year, and preferably once a month the way our parents and grandparents did. Why? Well, what else could be our intent in praying the Pentecost Sequence?

        Wash the stains of guilt away, Bend the stubborn heart and will; Melt the frozen, warm the chill; Guide the steps that go astray.”

        Praised be Jesus Christ!


PROPERANTES ADVENTUM DIEI DEI