Throw off the works of darkness by Tim McGee (reblogged)

Throw off the works of darkness

by Tim McGee

Readings for December 1, 2019

Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122:1-9
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:37-44

The First Sunday of Advent

www.usccb.org/bible/readings/

In the depths of the Minnesota winter, we might see 9 hours of sunlight each day. Assuming I can get 6-7 hours of sleep each night, that still leaves me as much as 9 hours of “darkness” in my day, or about half of my waking hours. But even in the metaphorical winters of my life, Paul exhorts me to wake up, “throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” And neither the pleasures of a warm shower nor a piquant cup of coffee will be enough to abjure darkness and bring out the light. Only prayer can do that.

So I prayerfully greet the season of Advent in anticipation of the world receiving the Light of Christ. After all, adventus is Latin for coming, or arrival. And this liturgical season celebrates both the arrival of Jesus at Christmas as well as the anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ (CCC524).

Jesus is the light of the world. We take this time in Advent to prepare for his coming. Our God dwelt among us more than 2,000 years ago and he will return. Joyfully, then, we toss aside our darkness and prepare for him by putting on his light through prayer.

Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

Did Fulton Sheen Prophesy About These Times? “The only way out of this crisis is spiritual… The time is nearer than you think.” Joseph Pronechen

Did Fulton Sheen Prophesy About These Times?

“The only way out of this crisis is spiritual… The time is nearer than you think.”

Joseph Pronechen

Did Archbishop Fulton Sheen prophesy about these times?

In a talk 72 years ago, Bishop Fulton Sheen appeared as visionary as prophets of old.

“We are at the end of Christendom.” Archbishop Fulton Sheen said during a talk in 1947. Making clear he didn’t mean Christianity or the Church, he said, “Christendom is economic, political, social life as inspired by Christian principles. That is ending — we’ve seen it die. Look at the symptoms: the breakup of the family, divorce, abortion, immorality, general dishonesty.”

Prophetic then, he was already a visionary and forewarning in the Jan. 26, 1947, radio broadcast.

“Why is it that so few realize the seriousness of our present crisis?” he asked 72 years ago. Then gave the answer: “Partly because men do not want to believe their own times are wicked, partly because it involves too much self-accusation, and principally because they have no standards outside of themselves by which to measure their times… Only those who live by faith really know what is happening in the world. The great masses without faith are unconscious of the destructive processes going on.”

Certainly seems a snapshot of the usual suspects — the headlines and stories of today. To highlight his point, Sheen emphasized that the “very day Sodom was destroyed, Scripture describes the sun as bright; Balthasar’s realm came to an end in darkness; people saw Noah preparing for the flood 120 years before it came, but men would not believe. In the midst of seeming prosperity, world-unity, the decree to the angels goes forth but the masses go on their sordid routines. As our Lord said: For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, even till that day in which Noah entered into the ark, and they knew not till the flood came, and took them all away; so also shall the coming of the Son of man be.” (Matthew 24:38-39)

Sheen wondered if we’re even aware of the signs of the times because “basic dogmas of the modern world [were] dissolving before our very eyes.” Replacing them were the assumptions man has (1) “no other function in life than to produce and acquire wealth,” (2) the idea man is naturally good and “has no need of a God to give Him rights, or a Redeemer to salvage him from guilt, because progress is automatic thanks to science-education and evolution, which will one day make man a kind of a god,” and (3) the idea reason isn’t for discovering “the meaning and goal of life, namely the salvation of the soul, but merely to devise new technical advances to make on this earth a city of man to displace the city of God.”

Isn’t technology, advancing at a dizzying rate, demanding the obedience of so much of the population?

Sheen pointed out the signs of the times reveal we’re “definitely at the end of a non-religious era of civilization, which regarded religion as an addendum to life, a pious extra, a morale-builder for the individual but of no social relevance, an ambulance that took care of the wrecks of the social order until science reached a point where there would be no more wrecks;  which called on God only as a defender of national ideals, or as a silent partner… but who had nothing to say about how the business should be run.”

Then the great bishop said something that at first seems shocking as we look at today: “The new era into which we are entering is what might be called the religious phase of human history.”

But he quickly said this didn’t mean men will “turn to God.” Rather, they’ll turn from indifference to having a passion for “an absolute.” The struggle will be “for the souls of men… The conflict of the future is between the absolute who is the God-man and the absolute which is the man god; the God Who became man and the man who makes himself God; brothers in Christ and comrades in anti-Christ.”

Sheen goes on to describe the anti-Christ, which we’ll leave for another time, other than now to say “his religion will be brotherhood without the fatherhood of God, he will deceive even the elect.” The saintly bishop brings in Communism, too, which has its place in what’s going on at the time and beyond, as we still see. Remember what Our Lady of Fatima said about Russia spreading its errors (Communism) if the world didn’t heed Our Lady’s directives.

 

Continuing With Our Times

The farsighted Sheen reminded, “God will not allow unrighteousness to become eternal.  Revolution, disintegration, chaos, must be reminders that our thinking has been wrong, our dreams have been unholy.  Moral truth is vindicated by the ruin that follows when it has been repudiated.  The chaos of our times is the strongest negative argument that could ever be advanced for Christianity… The disintegration following an abandonment of God thus becomes a triumph of meaning, a reaffirmation of purpose…Adversity is the expression of God’s condemnation of evil, the registering of Divine Judgement… Catastrophe reveals that evil is self-defeating; we cannot turn from God without hurting ourselves.”

Sheen gave another reason why a crisis must come — “to prevent a false identification of the Church and the world.” Our Lord wanted his followers to be different from those who were not: I have taken you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  (John 15:19)

Even in those 1947 days Sheen saw “Mediocrity and compromise characterize the lives of many Christians.  Many read the same novels as modern pagans, educate their children in the same godless way, listen to the same commentators who have no other standard than judging today by yesterday, and tomorrow by today, allow pagan practices such as divorce and remarriage to creep into the family; there are not wanting, so-called Catholic labor leaders recommending Communists for Congress, or Catholic writers who accept presidencies in Communist front organizations to instill totalitarian ideas in movies. There is no longer the conflict and opposition which is supposed to characterize us.  We are influencing the world less than the world influences us.  There is no apartness.”

He quoted St. Paul on this very idea telling Corinthians “what has innocence to do with lawlessness?  What is there in common between light and darkness?  What harmony between Christ and Belial?”

Sheen perfectly mirrored 2018-19 headlines when it comes to people who stand up for the faith, for pro-life, for marriage. “Evil must come to reject us, to despise us, to hate us, to persecute us, and then shall we define our loyalties, affirm our fidelities and state on whose side we stand.  How shall the strong and weak trees be manifested unless the wind blows?  Our quantity indeed will decrease, but our quality will increase. Then shall be verified the words of Our Master: whoever does not gather with me, scatters.” (Matthew 12:30)

 

Looking on the Horizon

Already in 1947 Sheen saw “the coming of the Day of the Beast, when there will be no buying or selling unless men have been signed with the sign of the Beast who would devour the child of the Mother of Mothers.”

The good bishop noted — remember this was 1947 — “With the family disintegrating with one divorce for every two marriages in 35 major cities in the United States, with five divorces for every six marriages in Los Angeles — there is no denying that something has snapped… Anyone who has had anything to do with God is hated today, whether his vocation was to announce His Divine Son, Jesus Christ, as did the Jew, or to follow Him as the Christian.”

What would Sheen tell us today as we’ve deteriorated far beyond what he already saw as he added:

Every now and then in history the devil is given a long rope, for we must never forget that Our Lord said to Judas and his band:  This is your hour.  God has His day, but evil has its hour when the shepherd shall be struck and the sheep dispersed.”

Yet Sheen is not fearful for the Church but for the world in speaking of the “emergence of the anti-Christ against Christ.”

“We tremble not that God may be dethroned, but that barbarism may reign; it is not Transubstantiation that may perish, but the home; not the sacraments that may fade away, but the moral law. The Church can have no different words for the weeping woman than those of Christ on the way to Calvary: Weep not over me; but weep for yourselves and for your children.” (Luke 23:28)

Over the centuries the Church has had its Good Fridays, he reminds us, but there’s always Easter Sundays “because Jesus promised the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And Behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.’ (Matthew 28:20)

As bleak as things may be, never has “there been such a strong argument for the need of Christianity, for men are now discovering that their misery and their woes, their wars and their revolutions increase in direct ratio and proportion to the neglect of Christianity.  Evil is self-defeating; good alone is self-preserving.”

 

Prophetic Recommendations

Like prophets of old, Sheen stood firm in hope, giving practical recommendations as true today as in 1947.

First, Christians “must realize that a moment of crisis is not a time of despair, but of opportunity.  The more we can anticipate the doom, the more we can avoid it. Once we recognize we are under Divine Wrath, we become eligible for Divine Mercy.  It was because of famine the prodigal said: ‘I will arise, and will go to my father.’ The very disciplines of God create hope.  The thief on the right came to God by a crucifixion. The Christian finds a basis for optimism in the most thorough-going pessimism, for his Easter is within three days of Good Friday.”

Sheen offered this great, hope-filled encouragement too: “One of the surprises of heaven will be to see how many saints were made in the midst of chaos, and war and revolution.” He points out the great multitude standing before the throne of God and identified as “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:14)

There’s more to spur us on, firm in hope. Sheen strongly reminds that after “Our Divine Lord had pictured the catastrophes that would fall upon a morally disordered civilization…he did not say ‘Fear,’ but when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” (Luke 21:28)

Sheen told all Catholics, Jews, and Protestants “that the world is serving your souls with an awful summons — the summons to heroic efforts at spiritualization.  Catholics ought to stir up their faith, hang a crucifix in their homes to remind them that we too have to carry a cross, gather the family together every night to recite the Rosary that through corporate prayer there might be intercession for the world; go to daily Mass that the spirit of love and sacrifice might be sprinkled in our business, our social life and our duties.  More heroic souls might undertake the Holy Hour daily, particularly in parishes conscious of the needs of prayers of reparation as well as petition, conducting such devotions in their churches.”

Sheen urged all to pray. “The forces of evil are united; the forces of good are divided.  We may not be able to meet in the same pew — would to God we did — but we can meet on our knees.”

 

More Necessities

Sheen added orders for our spiritual and eternal good. “Those who have the faith had better keep in the state of grace and those who have neither had better find out what they mean, for in the coming age there will be only one way to stop your trembling knees, and that will be to get down on them and pray.  The most important problem in the world today is your soul, for that is what the struggle is about.”

There is only one path out of the chaotic conditions, the concerned bishop revealed. “The only way out of this crisis is spiritual, because the trouble is not in the way we keep our books, but in the way we keep our souls. The time is nearer than you think.”

He advised us to turn to St. Michael in prayer. We once did with the St. Michael prayer after every single Mass until the 1960s. Today, some dioceses are restoring the practice. Would they all did.

We’re to turn especially to Our Lady, Sheen counseled, then prayed, “As Thou didst form the Word made flesh in Thy womb, form Him in our hearts.  Be in our midst as tongues of fire descend upon our cold hearts and if this be night, then come, O Lady of the Blue of Heaven, show us once again the Light of the World in the heart of a day.”

And she will. As at Fatima she said, In the end, My Immaculate Heart will triumph.

This article originally appeared Feb. 4, 2019, at the Register.

Is the Church Asking the Right Questions About Women? BY Father NICHOLAS SHEEHY, LC

Is the Church Asking the Right Questions About Women?

NICHOLAS SHEEHY, LC

The recent Pan-Amazon synod sparked interest about the role of women in the Church. It is a familiar topic, especially since the 1995 Beijing World Conference on Women. This was not the first such conference, but did have a special global relevance, due perhaps to the presence of very contrasting figures of womanhood. Both First Lady Hillary Clinton and Mother Teresa of Calcutta spoke at the conference, proposing very different visions of women.

The agenda for the 1995 Beijing Conference prompted a direct response from the Vatican, worried as it was about the stance taken on abortion. Pope John Paul II outlined his thoughts about the Conference to the Secretary General of the Conference in a letter dated 26 May 1995.

Not satisfied with a response to one of the most important meetings of modern times regarding the rights of women, which Pope John Paul II vociferously defended, he wrote his famous Letter to Women, outlining his own thoughts on the subjects being proposed at the Beijing Conference. Here, he was able to reference his own Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem, from 1988, on the dignity and vocation of women.

In recent years, much has been spoken about the role of women in the Church. Much debate has been about giving women a sacramental or a hierarchical role. In 2016, Pope Francis commissioned a group of six men and six women to study the history of women deacons within the Church. It seems like the term in the early Church was quite a bit different than what somebody in modern times might imagine. Thus, while the document clarified the historical meaning of the term, it gave little reason to expect a change in Church teaching on the subject of women ordination.

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The working document of the Synod suggests looking at official roles of women within the Church, citing the important role many women play in evangelization especially in remote areas, as is the case of the territory discussed by the synod. This is certainly an important topic. But somehow, the discussion on women often veers off into a discussion on celibacy or gender ideology. In the latest synod, there was even some noise about wanting to have some of the women participate in voting. This all seems rather curious. What is really going on?

It all seems rather limited in scope. One thing that is important to consider the role of women in the Church is that the institution is supposed to respond to a divine mandate, not a popularity contest. The Church does not necessarily have to respond to a market study, as the idea is not to customize a product to potential buyers, but to bring people into a personal, sacramental relationship with Christ. Ordained priesthood cannot be the only way to recognize the value of an individual in the Church, because then all laity would be excluded, not only women.

A much more important question has gone missing. What could and should the feminine genius contribute to the Church today?

It seems undeniable that in general, women have a special spiritual sensitivity. We see this in the public and private devotion and the fact that so much catechetical instruction is given through women. Nevertheless, this work is often somewhat ignored, and these people are often not cared for in a way that fosters further personal growth. The very persons who are helping to build up a Christian society do so in a poorly informed society, without depth from tradition but without a formal foundation. It almost seems to be a crime to abandon such an important field of evangelization. We wonder why the spiritual sensitivity of the masses has decreased, but we have not asked ourselves what we have done to care for he motors of the spiritual sensitivity of the masses, who have largely been our mothers and grandmothers, that is, women.

Religion becomes marginalized in modern society and young people look elsewhere for the answers to life’s questions. But these other places where they look for answers never respond to the soul-body union which is essential to the human condition.

If much of the primary education in the faith was taken on by mothers, grandmothers and aunts, where does that leave us if many women have had to modify their own roles within the household due to new responsibilities at a professional level? It is something crucial to today’s Church to see how to continue religious education in a drastically changed environment.

A reflection on the role of women in the Church must begin with the foundational reality that they are daughters of God. Any other approach runs the risk of alienating women and reducing them to means used to achieve other ends. It is this identity as daughters of God that establishes their fundamental worth and dignity.

The very radical changes in women’s role in society in the last decades have led to much confusion about women’s identity. Much more than pushing for a sacramental ordination or forced entry into hierarchical structures, the Church should be offering women the chance to shed Gospel light on the reality of women in the 21st century. A vote in a synod seems to be too small. Women should be encouraged to teach all of us

Why doctrine matters when it comes to evangelization By Russell Shaw

Why doctrine matters when it comes to evangelization

By Russell Shaw

The importance of the doctrinal truth at the heart of the Christian message runs throughout the New Testament.

Detail from “St. Peter Preaching” by Masolino da Panicale (c. 1383 – c. 1447) in Brancacci Chapel [commons.wikimedia.org]

Catholicism has always been an intellectual religion. This is not to say that–heaven forbid–it’s a religion only or especially for intellectuals but only that the Church has been intensely concerned from the start to hold, preserve, and share what it believes to be revealed truth about God and the meaning of life.

No doubt there have been times when this intellectuality has caused Catholicism to be–or anyway seem to be–too much a religion of the head and too little a religion of the heart. On the whole, however, insistence on clear thinking and careful formulations has served the Catholic Church well and helped make it attractive to many people.

I thought of these things when I heard that Pope Francis in his reorganization of the Roman Curia was assigning pride of place to evangelization rather than to doctrine. According to advance accounts, the plan calls for the merger of two existing evangelization dicasteries (“dicastery” is Vaticanese for “department”) into a new super dicastery spearheading efforts in this area.

It hardly needs saying that the Pope can reorganize the curia as he thinks best, just as popes before him have done. Moreover, there’s a good case for placing evangelization at the top of the new organization chart.

What bothers me is the rationale offered by some Vatican insiders who claim the shift signals a downgrading not only of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith but of doctrine itself. The controversy over changes in leadership and program of Rome’s John Paul Institute for marriage and family studies in order to give it a more “pastoral” character seems to raise similar issues.

According to papal biographer Austen Ivereigh, writing in Commonweal, the curia plan involves “relegating” CDF. Relegating to what? Ivereigh doesn’t say, but presumably he means the move places doctrine in a subordinate position. And why? Because, he says, citing a draft, the Church’s “primary task” isn’t teaching doctrine but “offering the kerygma, or the Good News of Jesus Christ’s saving love.”

This is confused. If I may expand a bit on Ivereigh’s version, the Good News lies in the fact that in and through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, crucified and risen–and only in and through him–we are redeemed. That is the “Good News of Jesus Christ’s saving love.” And it is immeasurably rich in doctrinal content.

The importance of the doctrinal truth at the heart of the Christian message runs throughout the New Testament. For instance: the letter to the Ephesians urges Christians not to be like children “tossed back and forth and carried about with every wind of doctrine“ (Eph. 4:13-15); the letter to the Hebrews tells readers, “Do not be led away by various and strange doctrines” (Heb 13:9). Texts could be multiplied, but the point is clear: orthodox doctrine matters.

In that Magna Carta of contemporary Catholic evangelization Evangelii Nuntiandi, published in 1975, Pope St. Paul VI conceded that evangelization “does not consist only of the preaching and teaching of a doctrine.” But he also insisted that “catechetical instruction” is a tool of evangelization that “must not be neglected.”

“The intelligence…needs to learn through systematic religious instruction the fundamental teachings, the living content of the truth which God has wished to convey to us and which the Church has sought to express in an ever richer fashion during the course of her long history,” he wrote.

As yet another reorganization of the Roman Curia approaches, there should be no downgrading of that.

About Russell Shaw 

Russell Shaw was secretary for public affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference from 1969 to 1987. He is the author of 20 books, including Nothing to Hide and the highly acclaimed American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America.

What’s Behind Cardinal Sarah’s Ad Orientem Call? By Christopher Carstens

What’s Behind Cardinal Sarah’s Ad Orientem Call?

By Christopher Carstens

Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, gave a recent interview to the French Catholic magazine Famille Chretienne. For many commentators and readers, the subject of the interview was his encouragement (again) for priest and people to face east, toward the orient—ad orientem in Latin—at certain parts of the Mass.

Whatever opinion you may have on the direction of liturgical prayer, this repeated call from Pope Francis’ Prefect is undeniably attention grabbing. But there’s a more central message to the interview that risks being overshadowed in light of the ad orientem discussion: our cooperation in the work of God.

To Famille Chretienne’s credit, its headline put it perfectly: “How to put God Back at the Center of the Liturgy.” Here, ultimately, lies the foundation and context of Cardinal Sarah’s remarks and the Church’s longstanding practice of ad orientem liturgical prayer.

The liturgy is about God. Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, to which the Cardinal makes constant reference in the interview, calls it “an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ” (n.7). Liturgically speaking, Jesus is the principal actor, the “prime minister.” The work done in any liturgical celebration (the Greek ergon, meaning “work,” is the root of “liturgy”) is his; we participants are his co-workers, co-operators, and co-laborers (collaborators).

But Jesus is both fully God and man. Does it not stand to reason that his work is also divine and human? Indeed, it is. In his interview, Cardinal Sarah voices concern that the human element of the liturgy may eclipse the divine dimension.

An imbalanced understanding between the divinity and humanity of Christ is not new. Fifth century Nestorians emphasized the humanity of Jesus to the detriment of his divinity, while at the same time Monophysites championed the divinity of Christ such that he lost his humanity.

The spirit of Nestorius and of the Monophysites still lives today. For his part, Cardinal Sarah sees today’s liturgy as particularly susceptible to the Nestorian influence of the mundane, rendering celebrations that are all too human: “The liturgy is the door to our union with God. If the Eucharistic celebrations are transformed into human self-celebrations, the peril is immense, because God disappears. One must begin by replacing God at the center of the liturgy. If man is at the center, the Church becomes a purely human society, a simple non-profit, like Pope Francis has said. If, on the contrary, God is at the heart of the liturgy, then the Church recovers its vigor and sap!” Similarly, he critiques in the interview (as he has done elsewhere) liturgies as entertainment, friendly meals, or fraternal moments.

The liturgy is the great reordering principle—of the cosmos, of history, and of us. Its content is the sacrificial work of Christ the Priest who factually and definitively returns—literally, re-turns—all things to the Father. This second Adam’s “Not my will, but thine be done” from the tree reverses the “Not thy will, but mine be done” of the first Adam at that first tree. He is the pontifex maximus—the “greatest bridge builder”—between exit (exitus) and return (reditus), bridging the gap between heaven and earth. To understand anything besides this fact is to miss the heart of the liturgy.

And here we come to a second main point of Cardinal Sarah’s interview. This great act of divine and human turning, of metanoia, of conversion, is so important because we the faithful are called to participate in it. Active participation, that “aim to be considered before all else” in the restoration and promotion of the liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium 14), is participation in the reorienting action of Christ. “The orientation of the assembly toward the Lord” says Cardinal Sarah, “is a simple and concrete means to encourage a true participation for all at the liturgy. …It is to allow Christ to take us and associate us with his sacrifice…. The Eucharist makes us enter in the prayer of Jesus and in his sacrifice, because he alone knows how to adore in spirit and in truth.”

Cardinal Ratzinger explained the essence of active participation in The Spirit of the Liturgy: “If we want to discover the kind of doing that active participation involves, we need, first of all, to determine what this central actio is in which all the members of the community are supposed to participate” (Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2001), 171). The action, as discussed above, is Christ’s divine and human work of reorientation, of moving from self-centeredness to God-centeredness. The people in the pews give themselves, united to Christ the Head, as offerings to the Father precisely so that they, too, may experience the fruit of Christ’s self-offering: resurrection and glorification.

Now we can return (so to speak) to where we started and to what, for many, is the most noteworthy takeaway of the Cardinal’s interview. If the liturgy’s real substance is Jesus’ definitive return to the Father, and if the baptized are called (“commanded” might be the better word here) to join this saving work, then how might this internal and unseen reality be expressed and fostered externally? “To convert,” says Cardinal Sarah, that is, “to turn towards God” both spiritually and physically.

He is invoking in this brief but powerful assertion what many 20th century liturgical movement figures identified as the “sacramental principle.” The sacramental principle is, first of all, a very human principle. Composites of soul and body, men and women express and encounter internal realities via external and bodily signs. Happiness is signified by a smile; peace symbolized by a handshake; love conveyed by roses; forgiveness expressed by the words “I’m sorry.” (Indeed, words are so important that I could never make known my thoughts on Cardinal Sarah’s interview, nor could you ever know them, without my first signifying them in this text.) If they lack outward signs, unseen realities are almost un-real: the sensible expression actualizes (makes actual) insensible things.

Sacraments are a type of “efficacious sign” and, like signs, they express and foster unseen truths. How, for example, do the unseen realities of the Sacrament of Baptism—death to the old self, rebirth to a new life, and cleansing from sin’s impurity (among others)—become real? Through outward signs of water being poured as the Trinity is being invoked. When these outward signs are missing (e.g., baptism using ice or naming the Trinity as “Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier”), so is the inward reality these signs express missing.

When this principle is applied to interpreting Cardinal Sarah’s interview, we understand that our internal conversion is, in part, effected by our bodily conversion: “I am profoundly convinced that our bodies must participate in this conversion. The best way is certainly to celebrate — priests and faithful — turned together in the same direction: Toward the Lord who comes…. It’s to turn together toward the apse, which symbolizes the East, where the Cross of the risen Lord is enthroned. By this manner of celebrating, we experience, even in our bodies, the primacy of God and of adoration. We understand that the liturgy is first our participation at the perfect sacrifice of the Cross.” Specifically, “I [have] proposed that the priests and the faithful turn toward the East at least during the Penitential Rite, during the singing of the Gloria, during the Propers and during the Eucharistic Prayer.”

The liturgy’s reality is the work of a divine person who, in his human and divine natures, has turned creation back to God. His action is carried on today in his Church and is effected in the most powerful way in the liturgy. Liturgical participants, both clergy and lay, signify this return through outward and bodily signs.

Is the ad orientem posture at particular points in liturgical prayer a suitable sign for these spiritual realities?

A particular direction for liturgical prayer will not, in itself, signal greater or lesser participation. Participants at an ad orientem celebration can still be passive spectators, while those at celebrations versus populum can become truly engaged. Still, nearly 2000 years of practice, most of it coming long before Cardinal Sarah’s interview, indicates that a common direction is theologically sound, liturgically “right and just,” and pastorally effective.

For many, ad orientem signals a return to the days prior to Vatican II, good or bad, real or imagined; or a particular political ideology of the Church; or to a proper hermeneutic of reform; or a desired influence between old and new forms; or a rejection of the Council; or a type of Mediator Dei antiquarianism. These sentiments should not be quickly dismissed, for there may be elements of truth in each. Nevertheless, none of them reaches the heart of the matter.

If ad orientem posture, properly understood and prudently implemented, can facilitate our conversion and put God at the center of our lives, then why not return to its use? Such liturgical considerations lie at the heart of Cardinal Sarah’s argument. End of Article

We Live in an Age of Martyrs: By BENEDICT KIELY

We Live in an Age of Martyrs

BENEDICT KIELY

I have an elderly clerical friend who describes himself as a “martyr to his stomach.” Now, there are many reasons why one might become a martyr, but to bear witness to the needs of the colon seems fairly low on the list. He also goes to the pub and orders his beer in half-pint glasses, a worrying sign of moral turpitude.

The term “martyr” is used widely today. In militant Islam, the word is shahid—literally, “witness. It denotes someone who blows himself up while trying to kill as many innocents as possible. In the twelfth chapter of his letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul encourages Christians to persevere and run the race of the Faith precisely because we are surrounded by a “cloud of witnesses”—the holy men and women in the Old Testament and the true martyrs, who gave all for Christ.

Monsignor Ronald Knox once wrote that “a martyr means someone who dies, not merely to bear witness, but to bear witness to the truth.” That distinction is essential for a proper understanding of martyrdom, and it is the reason why Christians should be inspired, encouraged and edified by the martyrs, both those of bygone centuries and those of our own age. The Church has always taught that the purpose of canonization is, apart from honoring the saint and asking for his prayers, to be an exemplar to the faithful and a source of encouragement to live the Christian life fully. The martyr—the man, woman or child who dies because of his or her faith in Christ—is, perhaps, the greatest source of encouragement to “persevere,” as Hebrews says. In modern terminology, the martyrs are the very best of role models.

If real martyrdom involves bearing witness to the truth then, a fortiori, you can be a martyr neither to your stomach nor to militant Islam. Indeed, you can’t be a martyr to any other cause or faith; a shahid cannot, in any sense except the semantic, equate with a Christian understanding of martyrdom. Someone who immolates himself for the sake of raising climate change awareness may have very profound beliefs, but he is not a martyr.

 

“What is truth?” asked Pontius Pilate (that most contemporary of politicians) when the Truth was standing in front of him. Bearing witness to the truth that there is no name under heaven by which we can be saved, except the name of Jesus Christ, and to be willing to die for that truth: that is what makes someone a martyr.

From the very beginning of the Church, the veneration of the martyrs has been an inspiration. That is why those first Christians gathered in the catacombs to celebrate Mass. Today, every altar contains relics of the martyrs, both to sanctify the altar and to connect us with that ancient witness.

The modern martyrs of the Faith—dying in their thousands in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and Pakistan, to name but a few—are bearing witness to the truth, a truth that sets them free. Who can fail to be inspired by the witness to the truth of Asia Bibi, that illiterate Pakistani Christian woman just freed after all those years on death row in Pakistan for “blasphemy”? Similarly, the soon-to-be beatified Fr. Ragheed Ganni was martyred in Mosul in 2007 along with four sub-deacons after celebrating Mass. As his murderers approached, they demanded of Father Ragheed why he had failed to close the Church when they had ordered him to do so. His response is one of the most powerful witnesses in the modern age: “How,” he asked them, “can I close the House of God?”

In describing the martyr’s service to the truth, Knox also reminds contemporary Christians, especially in the West, why the martyr’s witness is so important in a post-truth world. “What the martyrs triumph over is not the fury of the persecutor, it is the spell of the things which persecution takes from them. They triumph over the attractiveness of peace, of ease, of liberty, of comfort, of companionship, of health and finally, the greatest attraction of all, of life itself.”

Solzhenitsyn wrote that the worst thing about the communist system was that it forced everybody to participate in what he called “the general conscious lie.” That participation in the “conscious lie” is becoming ever more present in secular societies, which deny eternal truths. It is the conscious lie of political correctness—the conscious lie of silence in the face of untruth. It is the forced silencing of opposing opinions on college campuses, the shaming of political opponents, and the increased attacks on free speech. What Murray has called “the madness of crowds” is, in reality, the curtailing of the truth. It’s the enforcement of the conscious lie.

The witness of the martyrs is the antidote to the conscious lie. It’s the inoculation that prevents the lie from taking hold and infecting society with a leprous plague of falsehood.

All of us, in moments of self-examination and humility, will admit to a fear of the things Knox lists being taken from us. Perhaps we might be willing to lose our peace or ease for the sake of the truth. But our liberty, or life itself? Surely that’s asking too much.

The one thing necessary that the martyrs give us is the courage both to persevere and to be joyful in the strength of the Holy Spirit. “Lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees,” the author of Hebrews writes. “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

St. Theodore of Tarsus came to Canterbury in Anglo-Saxon England as archbishop in the 7th century; many believe he was Syrian. Between 640 and 740, there were no fewer than six Syrian popes. We sometimes imagine that the modern Church is very open and multicultural, but I wonder if we are not really very parochial and it was the ancient Church that was truly “catholic.” What would happen, for example, if the Pope appointed as the next Cardinal Archbishop of New York a bishop from Damascus or Beirut? I would hazard a guess he would change a few priorities.

The past is with us by the memory and veneration of the martyrs, but the witness of the modern martyrs to the truth—especially those who suffered under the twin evils of Nazism and communism—should provide much-needed encouragement and inspiration for contemporary Christians. Attempts to ingrain the conscious lie into society will only grow in secular cultures, which tolerate everything except the intolerable practice of orthodox Christianity. Speaking the truth in love—Caritas in veritate—is the vocation of every Christian, without exception. Each martyr, each person who “dies, not merely to bear witness, but to bear witness to the truth,” is a beacon of light.

By Fr. Benedict Kiely

 

Fr. Benedict Kiely is a contributing editor to Crisis and the magazine’s Middle-Eastern correspondent. He’s the founder of Nasarean.org, a 501(c)(3) charity dedicated to relieving the persecution of Christians in the Mideast. He is incardinated in the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.

How Christ Relieves Our Sufferings BY Father ROMANO GUARDINI

How Christ Relieves Our Sufferings

ROMANO GUARDINI

Christ heals the sick. On the very first pages of the Gospels, He appears as the healer. He had hardly begun His teaching when the sick started coming. They were brought to Him from every quarter. It was as if the masses of the afflicted were al­ways opening up around and closing in on Him. They came by themselves, they were led, they were carried, and He passed through the suffering multitude of people, and “a power from God was present, and healed.”

Right at the beginning, He came up to Peter’s house. Peter’s mother-in-law was ill with a bad fever. He approached the lit­ter, and standing over her, He “rebuked the fever.” It left her, and straightaway she rose and attended to the visitors.

At times, one is prompted to look behind the outward events at the inner working of this sacred power.

A blind man came to Him. Jesus put His hands on the man’s eyes, drew them away, and asked, “What seest thou?” All overcome with excitement, the man answered, “I can see men as if they were trees, but walking!” The healing power reached into the nerves. They were revivified, but they did not yet work properly. So He put His hands on the eyes once again, and the man saw things as they were. Does not this story give one a sense of experiencing the mystery, as it were, from behind the scenes?

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Another time, there was a great crowd about Him. A woman afflicted many years with a hemorrhage, who had sought everywhere in vain for a cure and had spent all her money to find one, said to herself, “If I can even touch His cloak, I shall be healed.” And she came up to Him from be­hind, touched His garment, and noticed in her body that the distress which had been plaguing her for so long was at an end. But He turned around: “Who touched my garments?” The Apostles were dumbfounded: “Canst Thou see the multitude pressing so close about Thee, and yet ask, ‘Who touched me?’” But He knew just what He was saying; immediately He had been “inwardly aware of the power that had proceeded from Him.” And the woman came up to Him trembling, threw herself at His feet, and confessed what had happened. But He forgave her freely and lovingly.

This article is from Fr. Guardini’s Meditations on the Christ.

What an effect that had all around! He seemed charged with healing power, as if He needed no intention. If someone approached Him in an open-hearted, petitioning state of mind, the power simply proceeded from Him to do its work.

What did the act of healing mean to Christ? It has been said that He was the great friend of mankind. Characteristic of our own time is an extremely alert sense of social responsibil­ity and responsiveness to works of mercy. So there has been a corresponding desire to see in Him the towering helper of men, who saw human suffering and, out of His great mercy, hastened to relieve it.

But this is an error. Jesus is not a personification of the big-hearted charitable nature with a great social conscience and an elemental power of helping others, going after human suffering, feeling its pangs in sympathy, understanding it, and conquering it. The social worker and the relief worker are trying to diminish suffering, to dispose of it entirely, if possi­ble. Such a person hopes to have happy, healthy people, well-balanced in body and soul, live on this earth. We have to see this to understand that Jesus had no such thing in mind. It does not run counter to His wishes, but He Himself was not concerned with this. He saw too deeply into suffering. For the meaning of suffering, along with sin and estrangement from God, was to be found at the very roots of being. In the last analysis, suffering for Him represented the open road, the ac­cess back to God — at least the instrument which can serve as access. Suffering is a consequence of guilt, it is true, but at the same time, it is the means of purification and return.

We are much closer to the truth if we say Christ took the sufferings of mankind upon Himself. He did not recoil from them, as man always does. He did not overlook suffering. He did not protect Himself from it. He let it come to Him, took it into His heart. As far as suffering went, He accepted people as they were, in their true condition. He cast Himself in the midst of all the distress of mankind, with its guilt, want, and wretchedness.

This is a tremendous thing, a love of the greatest serious­ness, no enchantments or illusions — and therefore, a love of overwhelming power because it is a “deed of truth in love,” unbinding, shaking things to their roots.

Once again we must see the difference: He did this, not as one carrying on his shoulders the black tragedy of the human condition, but rather as one who was to comprehend it all, from God’s point of view. Therein lies the characteristic dis­tinction.

Christ’s healing derives from God. It reveals God, and leads to God.

With Christ, healing always appears in some connection with faith. He could perform no miracles in Nazareth because there no one believed. His disciples were unable to cure the sick boy because their faith was on too small a scale. When the man crippled with arthritis was brought up to Him, at first Jesus seemed not to see the man’s affliction at all. He saw his faith, and bestowed forgiveness upon him. The blind man heard Him say, “Thy faith has brought thee recovery.” The centurion heard the hearty compliment: “Believe me, I have not found faith like this, even in Israel.”

Healing belongs to faith, even as the Annunciation be­longs with faith. By healing, Jesus revealed Himself in action. Thus He gives concrete expression to the reality of the living God.

To make men penetrate to the reality of the living God — that is why Christ healed.

This article is from a chapter in Fr. Guardini’s Meditations on the Christ, Model of All HolinessIt is available from your favorite bookstore or online at Sophia Institute Press.