Thursday 11 February 2016

Three Years Later

On this day, in 2013, Pope Benedict XVI stunned the Church and the World by resigning the active ministry of the Petrine Office, while remaining "in the service of prayer, so to speak, in the enclosure of St Peter".

Three years later, it has become abundantly clear that the man who assumed the vacant Chair left by Benedict XVI was and remains, an unswerving ideological opponent of the Pope Emeritus.

For those who think that such a description of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio - who became who we now know as Pope Francis - to be unfair or unjust, or misleading, a relatively brief assessment of these three years which have quickly passed may be helpful.

Whatever history says of the still controversial resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, history itself is not the ultimate judge of a man. The judge of every man is Our Lord Jesus Christ, Whose Vicar on Earth, Benedict XVI was. I say 'was' because, like the vast majority of Catholics, I assume that this title now belongs to his Successor, Pope Francis.

The Church: Macro and Micro-Scale Impacts of the Francis Revolution

On a macro-scale, the Catholic Church has been thrown into a crisis of perhaps hitherto unprecedented proportions. So much has changed, most notably, in the public image of the Pope and the Church. The man who Austen Ivereigh dubs, 'The Great Reformer', Pope Francis, has expended huge amounts of energy in cultivating an image of the Catholic Church which is astonishingly human, so human that it is not an exaggeration to argue that under the reforming Pope of our current times, the Catholic Church is experiencing, on a general scale, a cultural revolution of secularisation effected through an engineered collapse of the Church's fundamental tenets of belief. Quite simply, Pope Francis is, in terms of the message going out to the city and the world, for the Catholic Church, our 9/11. Whatever is knocked down can, however, be rebuilt.

And while ity cannot be exaggerated just how very damaging this cultural revolution - effected from above, mostly, though not exclusively, through public relations - is, precisely because it comes from the summit of the Church, what Bishop Athanasius Schneider and Cardinal Raymond Burke have called a 'crisis' is, in my opinion, like Lent and Passiontide, only a prelude to, a preparation for, the birth-pangs of, something else entirely. For what we look forward to in Lent is not simply an ecclesiastical event but the Resurrection of Christ our Lord and ultimately, the Resurrection of the Dead, the Resurrection of the Church, the Bride of Christ.

The Church is Universal, but the Catholic Church is experienced locally

Yet there are real signs of hope. This is because on a micro-scale, the Catholic Church is organised into living cells of those who believe in the Teachings of and the Person of Jesus Christ. If they don't, they usually don't come to Mass. All will never be lost. In the papacy of Pope Francis and whatever changes it effects within the Church, it must be said that there are parish priests, religious communities, some bishops, bodies of laity, Catholic institutions, collections of Catholics who work within the media and new media, who are far more attracted to the vision of Pope Benedict XVI - a vision which included and promoted continuity with the Sacred Tradition of the Church, than the far less easy to define, more popularist, secular and incoherent vision of Pope Francis and his fellow reformers.

On a micro-scale, we might see that there remains a vocations crisis and that Catholic parishes are being merged in the West. We might discern that the 'Francis Effect', however lasting that may or may not be, has done little to ease this crisis, but there are serious and credible reasons for hope for both the present and the future of the Church's mission. This is because on that micro-scale, for quite a number of Catholics, while the person at the top of the Church has changed, they themselves remain themselves. They still love Jesus Christ and His Church - love Her as She is in Her essence, rather than as progressive reformers wish to see Her. They love Her teachings, her doctrines, they love her very walls. Parish life continues. If you are in a parish with a priest who has a traditionally Catholic outlook, you may very well still see in 2016 what you saw in 2012: the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass in your region. Younger clergy are, I believe, and anecdotally there is evidence for this - far more impressed by the traditional liturgy that communicates the Cross and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, His Eucharistic Presence, the Church's timeless Teachings, and by Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself than they are by His Vicar on Earth and whatever program of reform he may or may not wish to enact.

The real holiness of Benedict XVI did then - and it still does today - make itself known by his ability to draw people to God in pointing away from himself to Jesus Christ. Faithful priests strive to do the same. The real deficit of the present incumbent of the Chair of Peter, is his ability to draw people to himself by pointing to himself and not pointing to Jesus Christ, something illustrated by his now notorious videos on ecumenism and ecology in which God does not even get a passing mention.

Where Benedict XVI successfully detoxified the 'traditionalist community' to the horror of the modern impulse for all things new, Pope Francis has found success in detoxifying the Church's image - even on child abuse - by maintaining a stubborn insistence that 'all things new' are to be embraced. This is a new flavour the World can consume happily, but it will not convince everyone. For the traditional Catholic, the 'newness' is embarrassing because, for once, the Church and the World do not seem to be completed opposed when, in reality, they are implacably so. Unfortunately, the deficit in this position is that more and more people are discovering, with their own unhappy, unfulfilling experiences (for which I can attest) that all things 'new' that the world offers are not all life-giving. Quite simply, in the marketplace of spirituality, religion and morality, everybody is offering something 'new', up-to-date and modern and now this Pope is offering...more of the same.

'The new' does not satisfy

There's a downfall to all of this. In offering 'newness' and prompting expectation of 'change' what Pope Francis appears to be offering to the World is something that appears to be artificial, something 'created', his creation indeed, rather than the Creator Himself. New things, after all are created, or even invented. They are not timeless. They also usually have a 'sell by' date.

This is seen most strikingly of all in his dedication to the environment in which we are asked to preserve and conserve with enthusiasm the created, natural world. Benedict XVI respected stewardship of the environment, but what Benedict XVI prioritised and offered to the world was the Creator of the natural, created world. Like all before us, our obsession with the 'new' does nothing to restore our spiritual happiness. The newest Iphone, the newest fashion, the newest film, the newest belief and innovation. These do nothing for man's Soul. To achieve peace in our souls and friendship with our Creator may involve advice from Saints from long ago and most certainly the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. It is not something or somebody 'new' Who can take away man's sin and reconcile him to God. It is Somebody Else Entirely, the Lord Who ascended Calvary 2,000 years ago, Who can do that.

What the Catholic Church brings to man, so bombarded by advertisements and enticements towards something 'new' is, in one sense, always wonderfully new, but in another sense, not at all, precisely because God does not fit these kind of 'brand categories'. He is that Something Else Entirely that man truly seeks. With the wonder of the Incarnation, the Resurrection and the Ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ we can truly say, 'And now, for something completely different'.

What Holy Tradition offers to modern man is its ability to communicate He Who is Completely Different. It offers to modern man the encounter with the Completely Other, yet the God Who was made flesh and dwelt among us.

After three years, we can measure Pope Francis's success in communicating his personal vision of the Church of the 21st century and it can be summed up in his homiletic theme of the Church embracing that which is 'new' in contrast to that which is 'old'. We have encounter, dialogue, ecumenism, ecology, but where, oh where, is Jesus Christ?

In terms of Popes, we can see that Pope Francis himself is something new, perhaps that he is even completely different to his predecessors, but the themes of the pontificate: poverty, ecology, human trafficking, perhaps with the exception of the theme of 'mercy', are not greatly different to the philanthropic and charitable endeavours of various UN agencies.

It may very well be that from 13 March 2013 to whenever this pontificate ends, history will record that the Catholic Church was turned upside down in two senses. Firstly, in the sense that from the top of the Church came radical or even revolutionary ideas that inflicted damage on the Church, but, secondly, that the bottom of the Church resisted them and faithfully clung to Jesus Christ and His Teachings.

People are still searching for meaning...

The pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, in which he made it so known that he would do what he could within his power to hold back 'wolves' encircling his active ministry, should such a resistance to perverse distortions of the Catholic Faith that threaten to ensnare the souls of God's children be forthcoming, will have done an immeasurable amount to aiding that defense of the One True Faith. Summorum Pontificum permitted to Priests that which was hidden from the Faithful for over 50 years. What was taken away with the use of authority in the highest place in the Church was restored. This Mass, the Mass of Ages, communicates the sheer enormity of the love that the Almighty bears for His creatures and the enormity of love and worship which is owed to Him.

The success of Summorum Pontificum shows that what satisfied and fed our ancestors, in defiance of those who would suggest satisfaction can be found in modern teachings and new principles that owe more to the secular than to the sacred, still satisfies men and women today. We have not changed and we are delighted when we see that God has not changed either because if God changed, nothing and nobody could be trusted. 

So when the Church and the World seem more and more to become one, and when that union is advertised as something 'new', men and women will still seek that which is entirely Other, because men and women were not created for anything new, but for Everlasting Life and for Union with the Lord Who alone can grant it. The whole Church can be reformed in the image in the mind of any particular Pope, at any particular time, but God Himself cannot be reformed, neither can man's yearning for his Creator be reformed. It can be misled, deceived, perverted, but not entirely destroyed. Our desire for Truth, for the True God, even if we flee Him, is in our very DNA. Benedict XVI knew this and spoke of things Eternal, as well as encouraging us in facing the real challenges in the modern world.

Pope Francis, for all his positive effects in terms of detoxifying the Church's 'brand', speaks of things temporal, transient and passing but does not successfully communicate Eternal truths, the truths concerning God Who, like our souls, is Eternal. The truth is that we receive the temporal, the transient and the passing every day. We find it everywhere and we don't need to go to Church to receive it.  We yearn, however, for the Eternal, the Absolute, the Lord, for Absolute Love, Absolute Truth, for holiness. God loves mankind and mankind still seeks God because man seeks his ultimate meaning and destiny. Let us all seek Him, while He is still to be found.Yes, we will return to dust, unless the Lord returns before, but even our dust will come to praise Him, when He comes again and transforms these lowly bodies into incorruptible bodies after the pattern of His own.

Wednesday 10 February 2016

What to Make of Ash Wednesday Marking

Ash Wednesday is the second most attended Mass in the Catholic calendar, even though it is not officially a holy day of obligation.

One of the features of the Ash Wednesday liturgy is the application of ashes on the faithfuls' foreheads to mark the start of Lent to represent our consciousness of our own sin and need for repentance. These sacramentals are not uniformly applied in the same manner, hence the waggish graphic of Ash Art.

Some non-liturgical Protestants question whether Christians should advertise their faith by walking around wearing schmutz on their forehead. They would question why we are not adhering to Matthew's admonition not to trumpet their faithfulness in public.

However, walking around with Ashes on their forehead is not exactly a boast of one's virtue.  In fact it is the opposite.  And unless Fr. Hollywood applies "The Hitchcock" or "Harry Potter" ashes, the mark is a variation of the Cross.  In the ancient world, the cross was a sign of shame, as it was the cruel way the Romans enforced their authority against "criminals".  In Christendom, it is a reminder of the Via Dolorosa which each of us are invited to take in our walk of faith.

Lest anyone think that Ash Wednesday Ash art is just a benign symbol, consider the case of Stuart Varney.  In 2001, the host of CNN's Moneyline, quit after CNN head honcho Ted Turner mocked those with ashen crosses on their foreheads as "Jesus Freaks".  

Friday 5 February 2016

Conclusion: The Synod on the Family - the Final Documents [4]

A Shambles?

Having worked through the final Relatio Synodi (RS) and compared it with the Instrumentum Laboris (IL) it is obvious to me that the IL was almost totally rewritten and anything heretical has been removed. The RS followed the same plan as the IL with similar headings but towards the end large parts have been re-ordered as well as rewritten.

The question arises as to how this came about. We have the description from Professor Roberto Mattei that on the evening of Thursday 22nd October a draft of the RS was presented to the Synod but only in Italian and the delegates were sworn to secrecy. Professor Mattei wrote:

'The text did not take into any account the 1355 amendments proposed over the course of the preceding three weeks, and substantially reproposed the implantation of Instrumentum laboris, including the paragraphs that had roused the strongest criticism in the Hall: the one on homosexuality and the other on the divorced and remarried.'

He goes on to tell us that the draft was rejected and the next morning, Friday 23rd October, it was arranged that it should be rewritten and presented for voting on the Saturday 24th October. To what extent the Thursday draft followed the IL is impossible to know. It seems incredible that it was little changed from the IL and that it was entirely rewritten taking account of the 1355 amendments by the Saturday morning.

Another account is that by Mark Coleridge, Archbishop of Brisbane, someone regarded as being in the liberal camp. He kept a diary which is on the Archdiocesan website where he says that Thursday 22nd October was a free day for the delegates whilst the drafting commission prepared the Thursday draft. He wrote:

'But a few others – myself among them – were also tied up, trying to finish our assessment of the 520 proposed amendments to Part III of the working document. My little group resumed work at 9am, with Cardinal Lacunza saying he couldn’t stay beyond 10.30. So we agreed that we would finish by then. As it turned out, we finished by 10.25.'

So at same time as the drafting commission were preparing the Thursday draft in Italian to be distributed that evening Archbishop Coleridge and others were considering the 522 proposed amendments to Part III. Are we to suppose that the results of their deliberations were then handed to the drafting commission who incorporated them, suitably translated into Italian, into the Thursday draft that evening? It seems unlikely. Perhaps they were just ignored? Archbishop Coleridge's account is less dramatic than that of Professor Mattei in recounting the presentation of the Thursday draft on the Thursday evening:

"The Secretary General then told us that it was our solemn duty to read the text carefully so that we could present proposed amendments the following morning. This was OK for those who know Italian. But the fact is that many of the bishops (and even some of the cardinals!) don’t know Italian or don’t know it well enough to read and respond to a complex document like this one. Bishop Hurley is one of those, so I had to sit down with him last night and go swiftly through the text so that he knew what he was responding to. The fun and games started again when Cardinal Baldisseri told us that the draft document was so sensitive and super-secret that we couldn’t even take it home. At this, there were serious rumblings in the Hall. Boos were looming. Sensing mutiny, the Secretary General changed his mind: we could take it home but was strictly for our eyes only. Not a whisper to anyone else. They weren’t even to know we had the document."

On the Friday morning amendments were submitted verbally and/or in writing. Archbishop Coleridge commented:

“We’re free this afternoon while the 10-man Commission is hard at work processing all the proposed amendments, spoken and written. I don’t think their task will be monumental; most of the substantial suggestions concerned only a few paragraphs.”

But was he in a position to know what amendments had been suggested in writing?

On the Saturday afternoon they voted on the 94 paragraphs in 90 minutes. They had electronic voting which was not all that reliable. The Archbishop tells us:

'In all the pressing, you hoped to hell that the system worked. This evening it did, though the Archbishop of Sao Paolo had to call for a number of technicians at one point. They either fixed his handset or decided that his vote didn’t really matter.'

With one paragraph only getting the absolute minimum two-thirds majority by one vote?!!! Perhaps the Holy Spirit had a hand?

As to at what stage the very extensive rewriting of the IL into the RS took place the whole procedure sounds pretty shambolic with little time for ensuring that the drafting was properly done or that the delegates even understood what they were voting on.

Doctrinal changes?

As explained the RS was a total rewrite of the IL. The IL itself gave rise to grave concerns and certain clauses in the IL were seriously in contradiction to the teaching of the church:

Clause 98 in the IL suggested that there were positive aspects in irregular situations such as Catholics marrying outside the Church (civilly married) and cohabitation thereby tending to indorse such situations. This was attenuated in clause 70 of the RS but it remains ambiguous and as in the 2014 session there were over 50 delegates voting against it. It should really distinguish between good intentions and sins but fails to do so – intentionally?

Fortunately the earlier clause that there was good in homosexual sexual acts did not even make it to the IL let alone the RS.

Clause 72 still seems to say that cohabitation can almost be accepted as a step towards marriage but the mention of 'seeds of the word' being found in such arrangements, that was culled from the Shadow Synod, has been dropped.

On the question of those in irregular situations whether cohabitation or divorced and remarried the whole of the Art of Accompaniment has been rewritten and the idea of a Way of Penance leading to communion for them has been dropped.

The idea that spiritual communion is available for those who cannot receive eucharistic communion has been dropped.

There is no more any suggestion that Orthodox practice on second marriages should be considered.

Clause 63 on Generative Responsibility mentions both Humanae Vitae and Familiaris Consortio as essential guides. There is no qualification of these two documents and in the absence of such qualification their teaching stands. It is only in that context that individual clauses should be read. The appalling interpolated clause 137 in the IL where uninformed conscience was put on a par with the teaching of the Church has not been repeated.

Pastoral changes?

Whilst it is fair to say there are no doctrinal changes there are pastoral openings which no doubt some will take advantage of. Indissolubility of marriage, Humanae Vitae and Familiaris Consortio are reasserted without any caveats. However the whole document is notable for what is not said. Important teachings are not mentioned and there are some very weak passages on abortion, bio-ethics and IVF. The Art of Accompaniment in respect of cohabitation and other irregular situations is plainly open to abuse. Unfortunately the scope for misinterpretation and the skills of those who do misinterpret are large.

My Final Conclusion

The delegates at the Synod have done a great job in resisting the KasperKampf and effectively rewriting the IL as the RS. However it is still a skeleton produced by the Secretariat; the bones have been cleaned by the Bishops but there is precious little new flesh. From the voting one can see that there were a considerable number of delegates who had reservations about the text particularly in Chapter III where irregular situations were discussed.

Pope Francis now has the task of writing the Apostolic Exhortation. However if he accepts what the Synod has said i.e. that there can be no doctrinal changes but merely some rather vague pastoral suggestions, what is he going to be able to say that has not been already said in Familiaris Consortio and said extremely well? Familiaris Consortio is a document which is as up-to-date and relevant to-day as it was thirty years ago. It has just been largely ignored and its recommendations not implemented.

If this is the case has this whole Synod on the Family achieved anything at all in saying anything that was not already in Familiaris Consortio and ignored a great deal more? Was it needed? Was it a colossal waste of time? What was it? Was it an attempt by the liberals of the KasperKampf to undermine the teachings of the Church on sexual matters which has failed despite every manipulation by the Secretariat?

However if Pope Francis were to ignore this final Relatio Synodi and attempt to redefine doctrine we would be into a completely different ball game.

At present there are just rumours that the Apostolic Exhortation will be published on March 19th the feast of St Joseph - a week before Easter, that somebody in Argentina has drafted it, that there are several drafts in circulation and that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has issued 40 pages of suggestions or critical notes.

We, the laity, have nearly the whole of Lent to pray for a good outcome.
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