Words to remember

"Never doubt in the darkness what you believed in the light."

Friday, February 27, 2009

Some Lenten reading

Ever since I first heard of it, I have thought very fondly of this discipline. It really ought to be more widely encouraged than it is. This year's reading is Dom Hubert van Zeller's Spirit of Penance, Path to God , and it's quite a read. He puts a lot of thought into everything in there, and it's a topic that's naturally suited to Lent. That it is brief is also a point in its favor, as there is a significant (okay, really significant) amount of reading for classes that I can't blow off. I also have Fr. Adrian Fortescue's The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy, but I'm afraid I won't be able to give the work the time it deserves, with round about 40 books on the Crusades piled on my desk.

One comment for Lent that was monastic in origin, but really has a much wider application to the Christian life, has really stuck in my head lately. I'll paraphrase: "We have all these rules and restrictions put in place, these things that are seen almost as bars on a window- those bars on that window are the gateway to true freedom." Having the courage to admit that we are all in some way broken and ill, and then taking steps to correct it is necessary. We might not like the medicine, but it will cure the sickness, which is what will make us happier in the long run. And after all, we have a good model to follow- who better than the One who bore the punishment due to everyone and was Himself innocent?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

La Fin du Carnivale

I really do love this painting:

A picture really is worth a thousand words. The fool is still dressed in his Carnival finery, but his head is down, and he's in a bare, unadorned cell. But from the window, high up in the wall, light streams into the darkened room. Simple, but powerful- and profound.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Erinyes, Ordo, et Chaos

An interesting thought crossed my mind today in thinking about the Oresteia, our current reading in my Athenian history course, and Greek art. J.J. Pollitt, in his classic (ha!) Art and Experience in Classical Greece, points out that one of the major themes in Greek art, science, philosophy, and culture, was the attempt to discover order in, or indeed impose it upon, the seeming chaos of nature, "the flux of physical and psychological experience". One of the major problems seen was the incredibly sudden reversal, metastasis, of the human condition, particularly in such a mutable, fallen world. I don't think, of course, that the Greeks ever had the idea of a fall until it was brought to them, but there is a keen awareness within Greek art and literature that the world is, in a real sense, broken- there is something wrong with it, we have lost something important. And the way in which the Greek attempted to respond to this was by seeking out order in nature, or by imposing order upon nature.

In reading the Oresteia, then, the idea suddenly struck me that much the same impulse is at work. The primal force of the Erinyes, the Furies, drives the action of the play. Klytaimnestra murders Agamemnon in retaliation for the sacrifice of Iphigeneia, Orestes murders Klytaimnestra in retaliation for the murder of Agamemnon his father, and is then driven mad and pursued by the Furies, who hound him for matricide.

But after the trial before Athena, the Erinyes, once the drivers of vengeance, who would by their very nature perpetuate the self-destructive murderous miasmos of the Atreidai, became the Eumenides, the guardians of Athenian law and justice. The move from Erinys to Eumenês, from vengeance to civic justice, seems to fit very well into the motivations of Greek art and experience which Pollitt has posited. Interesting stuff.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Boy, do I hate being right all the time....

Well, maybe I was a little off on the exact tally. The two incidents mentioned in my previous post are pretty evidently indications of a foul wind blowing about lately. And now it seems that fellows who are supposed to be on our team are trying to undermine the authority of the captain. Not cool.
So the Austrian bishops are misbehaving, the Spirit of Vatican II crowd are getting bolder and more strident, the Ecumenists At All Costs are becoming outright intolerant, and the Bitter Pill does a hit piece on Fr. Finigan. With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Bad things happen in threes, don't they.....?

So when is the other shoe going to drop? The news about Fr. Maciel and the Legionaries of Christ was a pretty sore blow, and the response from our end hasn't been that great. Which, I suppose, is for entirely valid reasons. Still, we're enduring a drubbing over it, and the issue really does cause grave scandal. The fracas over the lifting of the excommunications is the other big item, but that, in and of itself, is good. The bad part about it was that it quickly fell into the hands of ignorant (not a negative connotation here, but simply meaning "those who do not know") and/or unscrupulous people, who ran with it. It was too good for them to pass up: traditionalist Catholics, Latin Mass-types, and one of their bishops was a Holocaust denier? How could they resist? And how could those who don't know any better be expected to discern what was really at stake, when all the idiot talking heads wanted to do was talk about the Pope un-excommunicating a Holocaust denier as if he approved of the bishop's opinions.

As the dominant mode of thought has become almost exclusively secular (and I still haven't quite been able to date when this occurred, though I think it's fairly defensible that it happened at different times in different places), people's thinking about the Church has become hopelessly muddled. Now naturally that was, to a large extent, always the case with certain Protestant denominations after a few centuries, who didn't know what the Catholic Church teaches and why. But now it looks like the problem has trickled down to Catholics too. We've started to view the Church almost as a club- you pays your money and you gets your salvation. So someone who has been excommunicated has simply been kicked out of the club. It seems to be the tacit assumption that they'll go join on with another religious group, or start their own, and that's that. And more to the point in this case, you can, or should, get kicked out of that club (i.e. excommunicated) if the other members don't like you.

In reality, though, it's much more of a medicinal sanction than a punitive one. It's a shock to the system. The excommunicati are cut off from the life of the Church, in the hopes that this enables them to see the very real consequences of what they have done. That's a bit more difficult with latae sententiae excommunications, I think, but that's also why we have to educate the people in our Church, so they know what's going on, what these things mean. But the intention, and the hope, is always there that the person will come back into the fold, will repent and be reconciled. Sadly, this doesn't always happen, and these days, it seems that some people would rather be wrong about the whole eternal salvation thing than follow rules they don't particularly like or understand.

But the formerly excommunicated Bishop Williamson has committed perhaps the one remaining cardinal secular sin- the denial of the Holocaust. Make no mistake, I think this really is a very serious and extremely scandalous thing to do, and unlike the sophmoric Voltaire-parroting philosophes who sometimes crop up, I feel no compulsion to defend the right of a fool to speak folly without consequence. So what claim do these people have to make about the lifting of the excommunication in order to justify their strenuous objections? Evidently, the lifting of a punishment due to an entirely different offense amounts to an approbation of the particular offense of Holocaust denial that has gotten up the moderns' nose. Well, what else would we have to believe in order for this to make sense? That Pope Benedict, perhaps, shares the same opinion? After all, the press and their drones are all perfectly willing to believe that our Pope was a Nazi, so why not? Of course, there was one Polish fellow who seemed to think Cardinal Ratzinger was all right....
But I imagine most clear-thinking people can see that that's not a very good option. But still there's that lingering idea that the Pope should not have done this. The Pope, they say, has gone too far.

Nonsense. The Pope has done precisely what Christ would have done. The Church is the hospital for sinners, it is precisely where every man, woman, and child needs to be, including Bishop Williamson. He was baptized a Catholic, and though many have forgotten it, this means that he has been blessed with an indelible mark that states that he was claimed by God as His own. He can't be kept out of that hospital for sinners so long as he is willing to obey the laws of that hospital, whatever his views might be. We never seem to be able to keep this in mind, but who did Christ call to Himself? He called Simon Peter, and others like him. The man who told Our Lord that he would never betray Him, only to turn around and deny that he ever knew Him. What would we say to this, from a purely secular mindset? That Peter couldn't be trusted? Quite possibly. That he had betrayed someone to whom he swore loyalty, and therefore was worthy of a right swift kick in the pants? Almost definitely. And what about the people Jesus ate with? Tax collectors (many of whom were probably cheats, though for some reason, I don't think the idea of someone who collects taxes and rips off everybody else gets us as mad as it once might have), adulterers, boors, thieves, the possessed, all sorts of ruffians. And then, of course, there's us. He forgave us, too. Is it really our right to decry the forgiving of one man, when He has already paid the ultimate price and forgiven every one of us for all our sins? It's worth thinking about.

Monday, February 2, 2009

After another long absence....

I'm back again. Yes, you can blame Geneseo's Campus Minister, who reminded me that I do, in fact, have a blog.

The big bit of news lately in ecclesiastical circles has been the lifting of the SSPX excommunications by the Holy Father. That was one of the preconditions Bishop Fellay had laid down for continuing talks with Rome, if I remember correctly, so that was a step forward. In a fit of great timing, though, Bishop Williamson had made some highly ill-advised comments about the Holocaust, which naturally got picked up and disseminated like nobody's business.

With respect to this issue, there seem to be two basic perspectives one could take. One is that of a Catholic or someone well-versed in Church history and protocol to realize that the Church is jam-packed with sinners, and that the lifting of an excommunication does not in any way, shape, or form constitute official approval of one's own bizarre and excessive opinions. (That's my new buzzword for today, 'excessive'). The other perspective, simply, doesn't care. The Pope, they say, has brought a Holocaust and an anti-Semite back into the fold, thereby showing precisely where his loyalties lie. "This is not my Church," will come the tremulous reply, perhaps accompanied by muted strains on the violin. The commitment to ecumenism by that good Pope, the Polish one, is now dead. We are giving in to intolerance. And then the darker mutterings will come out: wasn't this Pope in the Hitler Youth? What if he never repented of the errors of his youth? What if he's just been biding his time, waiting until he's been in control long enough to throw out all attempts at ecumenism, rip up the documents of Vatican II, and bring the Church back into the Middle Ages, when we tortured heretics and beat ourselves over the head with boards?

Color me surprised.

Now, I know it's not the most fair thing that I'm putting words into people's mouths, but c'mon, you know this is exactly the sort of thing we're going to be hearing. It's old, it's tired, it's false, but so's atheism.

What is useful in all of this is that it shows us where the fence is with respect to ecumenism. It's a good movement, and born of noble impulses with important work to do, but along the line we seemed to be losing our depth perception. We can't ultimately "get over" all religious and cultural differences. We shouldn't want to, if by that we mean that we are less than forthright about what we believe or indeed stop believing it. And in some ways, that's the only way to go further with this. We can't just say out of solidarity that we are all Jews, or we are all Protestants, or we are all Muslims like we can say "Ich bin ein Berliner". What is upsetting about this situation, though, is that it's not coming about because we have come to that border, that dividing line, on our own, at the end of a process of study, reflection, prayer, and thought. We're coming to it because the world sucker-punched us.