Saturday 20 April 2013

A Parishioner's Reflection on Life, Death & Faith

A member of my home parish wrote a this simple poem for the memorial Booklet after my mother’s death in January of this year. Having had a birthday this week I looked over the poem over again and asked if I could share it on the blog.

~ Life, Faith, and Grace ~

Saints and angels watch o’er thee to keep thee in God’s peace;
that He, who loves both thee and me, will heal our souls with grace.
Thank Him for the times we had, the happiness we knew,
praise Him for the joys we shared, and love that’s ever true.
Know while in the pain of loss that death is not the end;
our souls live on in God above, Our Saviour, Lord and friend.
Have hope I rest within the hand of Him who made the world;
who came to die and rise again that souls may rise above.
For God said “Let there be” and then, in one great sudden “Bang”,
the cosmos and the world we know,  suddenly began.
The planets follow charted ways and ‘round the sun revolve,
while birds and fish and animals may by His will evolve.
God, the mind behind the math that underpins the world,
is the living force of life on earth and heaven above.
The ever-living God on high, our life, our hope, our love,
is Himself our final end and calls us home above.
For when in Adam mankind fell to sorrow, death and pain
God came as man at Christmastime to break hell’s binding chain.
Good Friday He destroyed our death, at Easter re-stored life;
that those who follow in His ways may see eternal light.
He gave us Holy Mother Church to hold us in His grace,
to fill us with His life Divine, and keep us on His Way:
At birth He doth Baptise the soul; Confirms with Holy Ghost;
and day by day He feeds us with His Body and His Blood.
And should we sin He will Absolve by hand of His own Priest;
and then with holy oil Anoint when death doth show its face.
Beloved one, when life is through, have trust that God will say
Come home to heav’n O child of mine, and see Me face to face.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Fruits of the Council and the Reform of the Reform

I am not exactly one of those who would like to excise Vatican II from the history books, but I long to see it properly implemented. Since the vast majority of the Bishops at Vatican II signed the Council documents we can take it for granted that they saw them as faithful to and continuous with the Deposit of Faith guarded over the centuries. As such, dissent from traditional doctrines such as ‘no’ to artificial contraception and ‘yes’ to the male-only priesthood and to the Catholic Church as the one means of salvation etc, is nothing to do with Vatican II. The only alternatives to the Bishops signing the documents if they saw them as discontinuous with the received Faith are that the Fathers were either too afraid to challenge them, too wicked to correct them, or too dim to understand them. We surely cannot hold to such alternatives.

Yet something has gone badly wrong since the Council. Its true fruits have not yet surfaced. Rather, dissent (which divides) is widespread, and dissenters include Bishops and priests as well as laity. Lapsation has gone from around 20% prior to the Council to around 75% since the Council; convents are closing and seminaries shutting down by the handful while Catholic marriages and families are becoming fewer. Only a fool or a renegade could see this erosion of Mass attendance, vocations and family life as good and healthy.

I thus wonder...In our necessary concern for those in need, have we clergy become more like social workers than doctors of souls? Have we become entertainers in the sacred liturgy by eradicating Latin and Gregorian Chant (in direct disobedience to Vatican II) while allowing the adoption of dances, dramas, puppets and comedic homilies in order to keep the people engaged? Have our laity come to see their mission to the world (wonderfully undertaken by the Legion of Mary, SVP, SPUC and ACN.) as inferior to being on committees and standing on the sanctuary, so that only work in the office, the lecture room or standing in the sanctuary are seen as ‘empowerment’? Have bishops and priests, by holding the same idea of empowerment, thus allowed the authentic lay vocation of being leaven in the world seem like disempowerment -or worse, as subservience? Perhaps. At any rate, the remedy is to recover the true reform; to bring ourselves back onto the road proposed by Vatican II. This is not about turning back, but about recovering our right direction. Surely only a fool, a stubborn man or a proud man would be unwilling to admit that a wrong turn has been made somewhere? And no one of sound mind or good heart could look at the condition of the Church today and see it as good and healthy, so it seems highly likely that we have taken a wrong road after the Council. Without doubt the Church has its healthy attributes: people are dedicated to charity and do want to take some responsibility for the life of the Church and her worship, but if a physician focuses on how wonderfully well one’s digestive tract is operating while allowing a failing heart to saturate the lungs with fluid, he is positively unhelpful to the person as a whole. Similarly, ignoring the wounds within certain aspects of the Church’s life is unhelpful to the Church as a whole. I pray that the reform of the reform to keep us in continuity with our past continues...

Saturday 6 April 2013

"Well, its not against the law Father"

“It’s not against the law” is one of the responses frequently given when challenging people to recognise that sex before marriage, contraception, abortion, self-abuse and homosexual acts, are contrary to the Gospel and endanger a person’s salvation when he or she knowingly, deliberately and freely engages in such acts. While folk readily accept that political oppression, unfair distribution of wealth, violence etc., are sins, they are not so ready to accept that the above are sins “because they’re part of a loving, committed relationship” and “not against the law”. These responses are common among not only among the younger generation (whose Catholic formation is thereby shown to be woefully -even dangerously- inadequate) but also among some older Catholics who are unable to accept that their adult children are living spiritually dangerous lives.

The underlying reality is that people have moved from allegiance to God to allegiance to the world by exchanging God’s Law for man’s law, though man’s law is simply legislating to make the deadly sin of lust acceptable. Indeed, it appears to legislates against those who hold to God’s law, for example, those who refuse to register same-sex marriages or to supervise junior midwives taking part in abortion. A major cause of this change of allegiance is adherence to the person-centred approach of “whatever is right for you”, even though this is a dressing up of the essence of original sin: “I will not serve”. Sadly, the person-centred approach has influenced many preachers too, who thereby turn the people from the worship of God to the idolisation of the self. Such preachers, whether of diaconal, presbyteral or episcopal rank may see themselves as enlightened, but in reality they are walking in the dark, hoodwinked by the father of lies, and they are leading others into the dark with them. They may well believe they are making the Church ‘welcoming’ so that a person does not feel judged in their lifestyle choice, but they are a danger to souls; unwitting wolves rather than good shepherds. God forbid that a Doctor should fail to judge smoking and alcohol abuse as dangerous so that the patient does not feel judged in their lifestyle choice...

We who preach and teach must correct the work of the deceiver; we must speak what is true and pastorally hold out hope in the mercy of God to folk when they fail, without making that failure into an acceptable option. We should, as Saint Alphonsus said, be like lions in the pulpit and lambs in the confessional. Unfortunately we have become lambs in the pulpit; the proverbial dumb sheep who does not open its mouth (Isaiah 53v7). What can we do to fight back against the deceiver?

Clear preaching and teaching is, I think, essential. It is the light of Truth that sets us free, not the subjectivism of “whatever is right for you”. Also essential is God-centred worship. Too often our liturgy also falls prey to person-centred ideologies by seeking to make it entertaining, emotionally moving or ‘relevant’. I suspect that the preachers and teachers who are person-centred in their pastoral care are also those who provide emotive, affective liturgy. After all, we pray as we believe.

I know preaching against contraception, homosexual acts etc, can be offensive to those who have chosen such lifestyles and to their families, but are we not to bring the light of Christ into the darkness of such lives? I know too that celebrating the liturgy without ‘originality’ is regarded as rule-bound and ‘dead’ by some, but I am acutely aware that the purpose of the liturgy is to adore, propitiate and thank God, not to ‘move’ the people. If we aim for the latter we place self and the people front and centre, not God.

As society continues to follow the person-centred ideology and legislate for the deadly sin of lust, only the people of God can bring the light of the Risen Lord into society and save His beloved children from the hands of the enemy. This is true whether we are preachers and teachers, or at work in factory, field, hospital or media. 

Wednesday 3 April 2013

Pope Francis: A Different Kind of Pope?

I share the concern of Pope Francis for those who are poor and oppressed, as does the rest of our parish and of course, Father Dickson. We are not a rich parish; in fact we are a former ‘Pit Village’ (mining village) parish whose industry was lost in the 1980’s, so the needs of the poor and oppressed are close to the hearts of us all. As such, we not only pray for the deprived every weekend in the General Intercessions but, under the initiative of Father Dickson establishing charitable coffee mornings after Sunday Mass, try to support them practically too. For from these coffee mornings we send a few hundred pounds each year to our favourite charities (Aid to The Church In Need, Water Aid and the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child). We also collect and donate clothing to the Knights of Saint Columba, the SVP and to our Diocesan 5p Bus Scheme, in which a bus travels to the impoverished areas of the Diocese to sell clothing at 5p an item. Our Prize Bingo has raised funds for several non-Catholic good causes within our village, and our Red Mission Boxes are always well-filled. I mention this to show that we are a parish in which those in need are remembered both spiritually and corporally, although we celebrate both the ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Mass with as much dignity, reverence and beauty as possible. Sometimes, this is the only beauty the poor have in their lives. We are then, I think, a parish of the same heart and will as Pope Francis. In fact, I don’t believe a Catholic parish exists that does not have a heart and a will for the needy and oppressed.

All that said, I think that the picture we are getting of Pope Francis at present is problematic. Like Father Dickson, I have no doubt that Pope Francis’ concern for and identification with the poor is genuine. However, I worry that by divesting himself of certain papal attire and ignoring the rubrics of the Missal he is allowing the so-called ‘socially aware’ (liberal, left-field catholic) to use him as a stick with which to beat down the reputation of Benedict XVI and all previous popes who retained the fullness of papal attire and remained faithful to doctrine and to the rubrics of the Missal. The presentation we are getting of Francis is that for the first time we have “a pope who is genuinely concerned for the poor”, as though other popes were not; “a pope who is humble”, as though other popes were not; “a pope who reaches out”, as though others did not; “a pope who does not hide behind bullet-proof glass”, as though others always did. Personally, I think abandoning the fullness of papal attire does not help us to see the papacy, but the man who holds the papal office, and I think it should be the opposite way round: that he should be less seen for who he is than for the office he holds. I do however, think the liberal left will find Francis less to their taste and less their ‘blue-eyed boy’ when he publicly upholds the Church’s established doctrine on contraception, abortion, homosexual acts etc., as I fully expect him to do given his reported reputation in Buenos Aires. Indeed, I think the liberal left are heralding a ‘new Church’ too soon; I think they expect Francis to be as free and easy with our doctrine as he was with the liturgical rubrics on Maundy Thursday. I think –I certainly hope- that he will prove the liberal left wrong, and I hope he does so quickly so that he does not become their puppet. I think he will surprise us all...

Monday 1 April 2013

Lest Liturgical Innovators Forget... Updated

Before Vatican II it mattered little who was elected Pope, for the man who took up the Petrine Office knew he was there to guard what his predecessors handed on. He might develop it, but not alter it or innovate within it. Sadly, liturgical alteration and innovation began when Pope Paul VI established a committee to demolish and rebuild in loose fashion a liturgy that had developed and been secured over centuries of lived Faith. His committee, headed by Annibale Bugnini, developed a liturgy that is impossible to manage because it has an in-built loop-hole for liturgical abuses by virtue of its options. This allows for any presbyter, bishop or pope to stamp his own image on the liturgy; quite the opposite to John the Baptist’s declaration that Christ must increase while he must decrease.

John-Paul II attempted to tie the liturgy down when he issued Dominicae Caene (1980), in which document he made the following –shocking- apology regarding the liturgy:

I would like to ask forgiveness -in my own name and in the name of all of you, venerable and dear brothers in the episcopate- for everything which, for whatever reason, through whatever human weakness, impatience or negligence, and also through the at times partial, one-sided and erroneous application of the directives of the Second Vatican Council, may have caused scandal and disturbance concerning the interpretation of the doctrine and the veneration due to this great sacrament.

The CDWDS followed Dominicae Caene that same year with Ineastimabile Donum, in which Innovations in the liturgy, uncorrected by pastors, were recognised as abuses. In 2004 JP II tried again to correct abuses by calling the CDWDS and the CDF to compile an authentic Liturgical Instruction based on authoritative doctrine. The result was Redemptionis Sacramentum (19/3/2004) which has yet to be obediently implemented in most places.

In the decades following Vatican II liturgical innovation was presented by many as indicating a living liturgy yet innovation is, of its nature, a deviation, no matter who perpetrates or permits such deviation. Popes have exhorted us to by word (JP II) and example (Benedict XVI) to compliance with the norms of the Missal given us by Paul VI, but put no teeth behind their words and actions, and as such innovations/abuses have gobe uncorrected in most places. It is interesting that no Pope since Vatican II –including Benedict XVI- has taken the Papal Oath which begins:

I vow to change nothing of the received Tradition,
and nothing thereof I have found before me guarded by my God-pleasing predecessors
to encroach upon, to alter, or to permit any innovation therein...

The issue of liturgical innovation (correctly called ‘abuse’) is not a minor issue but directly affects the people of God since we pray as we believe and believe as we pray. Sadly the liturgy has become the private property of the celebrant and/or community, who do as they please with the liturgical heritage of the People of God. We should remember that the liturgy belongs to all people of all generations, not only to those living now or to those in any given locale. And if alteration is such that our liturgy is unrecognisable to earlier generations -or worse, appears to them the antithesis of their liturgy- then we have strayed from authentic Catholic worship. This can apply even to Popes, as Cardinal Ratzinger reminded us:

The pope’s authority is bound to the tradition of faith and that also applies to the liturgy.  It is not “manufactured” by the authorities.  Even the pope can only be a humble servant of its lawful development and abiding integrity and identity... the authority of the pope is not unlimited; it is at the service of sacred tradition.  Still less is any kind of general “freedom” of manufacturing, degenerating into spontaneous improvisation, compatible with the essence of faith and liturgy.  The greatness of a liturgy depends- we shall have to repeat this frequently- on its unspontaneity.  (The Spirit of the Liturgy, p166).

All celebrants of the liturgy, from deacons and assistant pastors to popes, must remember that since the Church belongs to Christ, the man belongs to his office, not the office to the man. This is especially true of Popes whose role it is to guard and protect the Deposit of Faith and authentic Catholic worship developed over centuries and secured by custom, but it applies to us all. Deviation from rubrics in a superior is not a green light for deviation by inferiors, since deviations stamp one’s own personality onto a liturgy, which is to be avoided at all costs in order that the People of God receive the liturgy the Church has handed down to them. It also safeguards one’s humility as servant of Divine Worship rather than its master.

Post Script: 
I have just read Fr Cantalamessa's Good Friday words courtesy of Rorate Caeli. I venture to say again that what has been built and secured over the centuries cannot be simply or easily (or rightfully?) knocked down at the whim of anyone. Perhaps Fr Cantalamessa might stop to remind himself that the role of a Pope is to be Guardian of the Church's heritage, and thus refrain from writing an agenda for Pope Francis.