instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Things have changed

In his speech last Friday at the University of Dallas Ministry Conference, Cardinal Maradiaga spoke boldly, and frequently, of change in the Church [emphasis added]:
The Vatican II Council officially acknowledged that things had changed, and captured the need for such a change in its Documents....

This change in the concept of priesthood is a fundamental one: “In Christ the priesthood is changed” (Hebrews 7: 12).

Nowadays, the Church finds herself facing a demanding change, the most profound change in her history since primeval times.

...the temptation of Europeanizing and Italianizing the Church has always been one tied to pretenses to power. Fortunately, things have changed.

To change the system, it would be necessary to destroy the power of the new feudal lords.

If Jesus calls the poor ‘blessed’ is because he is assuring them that their situation is going to change, and consequently it is necessary to create a movement that can bring about such a thing, restoring dignity and hope to them.
Note that he's not talking about a change from the days of Pope Benedict XVI. He's talking about a change that dates from Vatican II.

People who are uneasy with the changes at and following Vatican II are -- well, I won't say "right to feel uneasy," but they are consistent in feeling uneasy with Pope Francis and his counselor, Cardinal Maradiaga. At any rate, the grounds for discomfort are largely the same.

This is why I doubt it will do any good to take up a direct defense of Cardinal Maradiaga's remarkable claim about modernism -- a term which, to those who are uneasy with Vatican II, means nothing else than "the synthesis of all heresies":
The Second Vatican Council was the main event in the Church in the 20th Century. In principle, it meant an end to the hostilities between the Church and modernism, which was condemned in the First Vatican Council... Modernism was, most of the time, a reaction against injustices and abuses that disparaged the dignity and the rights of the person.
Whether and how the cardinal's statement can be reconciled with Pascendi Dominici Gregis is just this week's microargument over whether and how Vatican II can be reconciled with the pre-Conciliar Church. Taking up the microarguments is like drilling holes in a tree; if you really want to bring it down, you have to strike at the root. We have to find and address the fundamental disagreement, which we can only do by starting with a point of agreement.

Still, those who are objecting to the Cardinal's speech seem to be right in this: He is saying things about the Church that were not being said by cardinals in the 1950s. Insist on a hermeneutic of continuity all you want, Cardinal Maradiaga -- not to mention Pope Francis -- is calling for a change in how Catholics think and act. People who oppose such a change are at least correct in seeing that it's being called for.

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Negative aspects of witness which should be avoided

As recently as yesterday, I saw comments from people who are still -- well, from puzzled to beyond scandalized by Pope Francis's [paraphrased but not repudiated] statement that, "Proselytism is solemn nonsense." After all, "to proselytize" means "to try to persuade people to join a religion, cause, or group," and isn't that what the Church is supposed to do?

A search for "proselytism" on the Vatican website is instructive. It turns up, for example, a 1988 report on Baptist-Catholic International Conversations, which goes into great detail on the question [bolding added]:
32. A historical overview shows that the understanding of “proselytism” has changed considerably. In the Bible it was devoid of negative connotations. A “proselyte” was someone who, by belief in Yahweh and acceptance of the law, became a member of the Jewish community. Christianity took over this meaning to describe a person who converted from paganism. Mission work and proselytism were considered equivalent concepts until recent times.

33. More recently the term “proselytism” in its pejorative sense has come to be applied by some to the attempts of various Christian confessions to win members from each other. This raises the delicate question regarding the difference between evangelism/evangelization and proselytism.

34. As Baptists and Catholics we agree that evangelization is a primary task of the church and that every Christian has the right and obligation to share and spread the faith. We also agree that faith is the free response by which people, empowered by the grace of God, commit themselves to the Gospel of Christ. It is contrary to the message of Christ, to the ways of God’s grace, and to the personal character of faith that any means be used which would reduce or impede the freedom of a person to make a basic Christian commitment.

35. We believe that there are certain marks which should characterize the witness we bear in the world. We affirm:
—  that witness must be given in a spirit of love and humility,
—  that it leaves the addressee full freedom to make a personal decision,
—  that it does not prevent either individuals or communities from bearing witness to their own convictions, including religious ones.

36. We also admit that there are negative aspects of witness which should be avoided and we acknowledge in a spirit of repentance that both of us have been guilty of proselytism in its negative sense. We affirm that the following things should be avoided:
—  every kind of physical violence, moral compulsion and psychological pressure (For example, we noted the use of certain advertising techniques in mass media which might bring undue pressure on readers/viewers);
—  explicit or implicit offers of temporal or material advantages such as prizes for changing one’s religious allegiance;
—  improper use of situations of distress, weakness or lack of education to bring about conversion;
—  using political, social and economic pressure as a means of obtaining conversion or hindering others, especially minorities, in the exercise of their religious freedom;
—  casting unjust and uncharitable suspicion on other denominations;
—  comparing the strengths and ideals of one community with the weaknesses and practices of another community.
This isn't, of course, official Church teaching, but it's a better source than Merriam-Webster for understanding the distinction between "proselytism" and "evangelism" that has made in the Church for more than twenty-five years.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Here comes everybody!

I was talking with a woman who had attended Sunday Mass in my parish more often than not for a long time before she finally filled in the parish census form and officially joined. "If I hadn't joined," she told me, "I'm sure I could have come here for the rest of my life and died without anyone knowing who I was."

"Yeah," I replied. "Isn't it wonderful!"
On a related note, November 15 is National Spicy Hermit Cookie Day.
Enjoy some by yourself!

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Monday, October 28, 2013

What more delightful, than to meditate and pray with the Angels?

As often as, in reciting the Rosary, we meditate upon the mysteries of our Redemption, so often do we in a manner emulate the sacred duties once committed to the Angelic hosts. The Angels revealed each of these mysteries in its due time; they played a great part in them; they were constantly present at them, with countenances indicative now of joy, now of sorrow, now of triumphant exultation.

Gabriel was sent to announce the Incarnation of the Eternal Word to the Virgin. In the cave of Bethlehem, Angels sang the glory of the new-born Saviour. The Angel gave Joseph command to fly with the Child into Egypt. An Angel consoled, with his loving words, Jesus in His bloody sweat in the garden. Angels announced His resurrection, after He had triumphed over death, to the women. Angels carried Him up into Heaven; and foretold His second coming, surrounded by Angelic hosts, unto whom He will associate the souls of the elect, and carry them aloft with Him to the heavenly choirs, "above whom the Holy Mother of God is exalted."

To those, therefore, who make use of the pious prayers of the Rosary in this Sodality, may be well applied the words with which St. Paul addressed the new Christians: "You are come to Mount Sion, and to the city of the living God, the Heavenly Jerusalem, and to the company of many thousands of Angels" (Heb. xii., 22). What more divine, what more delightful, than to meditate and pray with the Angels? With what confidence may we not hope that those who on earth have united with the Angels in this ministry will one day enjoy their blessed company in Heaven?
-- Pope Leo XIII, Augustissimae Virginis Mariae

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Look in my eyes, what do you see?

Dale Price is writing a series of posts that I think is tremendously valuable in explaining -- with passion, but not hysteria -- the reservations a good many Catholics of good will have toward Pope Francis -- and, as importantly, toward their treatment by many other Catholics of good will who aren't so reserved.

I may return to this after he writes his fourth and final post in the series. Here, I just want to take up the concluding point of the third post:
This brings me to my final, and most painful, observation: conservative Catholicism in America is a papal personality cult. Full stop.

I know this, because I was a member in good standing, too. And that was the root cause of my crisis, when I took a clear look at it with the timely assistance of the Holy Spirit. My faith was too-papalcentric, to coin an adjective. So when the Pope began to sound weird and set off alarm bells, I couldn't process it. Seeing all my brothers and sisters in arms eating it all up made it worse. Crisis bad.
Seven months ago, I described much the same thing as a positive development:
One of the dynamics I think I've seen over the last couple of weeks is this: Catholics who were used to liking everything the Pope did found themselves not liking some of the things the Pope did, and that made them "concerned."

For my part, I think that's a good development. To be deep in history is to cease thinking that liking everything the Pope does is normal, and if the only way to get people deep in history is to have them life through it, so be it.
If I may wander off into Untestable Hypothesis-land for a few paragraphs:

There is in the Catholic Church two distinct but related phenomena: A cult of the papal office, which assigns the words and actions of the current Pope greater importance than the Church herself does; and cults of personality around the popes as individuals. Adherents of the cult of the papal office get along just fine, on balance, with adherents of the cult of personality around the current Pope.

When the Pope changes, however, adherents of the personality cult of the previous Pope who are not also adherents of the personality cult of the current Pope are baffled at the way their erstwhile mates in the cult of the papal office are bowing and scraping before this new fellow, despite his many evident shortcomings. Adherents of the cult of the papal office, meanwhile, are scandalized at the things coming out of the mouths of their erstwhile mates, who out of nowhere are sounding almost... Protestant.

Since Bl. John Paul II was Pope for so long, and since his was such an outsized personality, the distinctions between the cults became even harder to discern than usual, and a lot of Catholics came of age never realizing there were distinctions to be made. A lot of these "JPII Catholics" became adherents of the cult of the papal office without noticing they were overemphasizing the office -- in part while countering the Pope John XXIII Catholics who valued what a dead Pope might have said more than what the current Pope was saying.

Since Pope Benedict XVI was so closely associated with Bl. John Paul, there was not much of a rift between the two cults on his succession. The chatter I saw from the cultists of Benedict -- about how now things would get done, all right, you just see -- drew a far louder response from the anit-Benedictine JXXIII Catholics than from the JPII Catholics.

The change from Pope Benedict XVI to Pope Francis can't be glossed over (as hard as some have tried). The cultists of the papal office who are anti- (or at least contra-)Francis are caught off what they thought was a sure and certain balance, by the dissonance of their own perspective as well as the responses of their erstwhile mates. Their erstwhile mates, meanwhile, have only ever seen this sort of behavior among the anti-Vatican II hyper-traditionalists.

What we need to understand, I suspect, is that, from the historical perspective of papal apprehension, 2013 is at least as normal as the preceding 8, or 35, years.

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Who can compare with the august Mother of God in obtaining grace?

From the fact that this warfare of prayer is "enrolled under the name of the Mother of God," fresh efficacy and fresh honour are thereby added to it. Hence the frequent repetition in the Rosary of the "Hail Mary" after each "Our Father."

So far from this derogating in any way from the honour due to God, as though it indicated that we placed greater confidence in Mary's patronage than in God's power, it is rather this which especially moves God, and wins His mercy for us. We are taught by the Catholic faith that we may pray not only to God himself, but also to the Blessed in heaven (Conc. Trill. Sess. xxv.), though in different manner; because we ask from God as from the Source of all good, but from the Saints as from intercessors.

"Prayer," says St. Thomas, "

is offered to a person in two ways-one as though to be granted by himself; another, as to be obtained through him. In the first way we pray to God alone, because all our prayers ought to be directed to obtaining grace and glory, which God alone gives, according to those words of Psalm lxxxiii., 12, "The Lord will give grace and glory."

But in the second way we pray to holy angels and men, not that God may learn our petition through them, but that by their prayers and merits our prayers may be efficacious. Wherefore, it is said in the Apocalypse (viii., 4): "The smoke of the incense of the prayers of the Saints ascended up before God from the hand of the angel" (Summa Theol. 2a tae, q. lxxxiii. a. iv.).
Now, of all the blessed in heaven, who can compare with the august Mother of God in obtaining grace? Who seeth more clearly in the Eternal Word what troubles oppress us, what are our needs? Who is allowed more power in moving God? Who can compare with her in maternal affection?
We do not pray to the Blessed in the same way as to God; for we ask the Holy Trinity to have mercy on us, but we ask all the Saints to pray for us (Ibid.).
Yet our manner of praying to the Blessed Virgin has something in common with our worship of God, so that the Church even addresses to her the words with which we pray to God: "Have mercy on sinners."

The members of the Rosary Sodality, therefore, do exceedingly well in weaving together, as in a crown, so many salutations and prayers to Mary. For, so great is her dignity, so great her favour before God, that whosoever in his need will not have recourse to her is trying to fly without wings.
-- Pope Loe XIII, Augstissimae Virginis Mariae

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Prayer public, constant, and universal

Everyone knows how necessary prayer is for all men; not that God's decrees can be changed, but, as St. Gregory says, "that men by asking may merit to receive what Almighty God bath decreed from eternity to grant them" (Dialog., lib. i., c. 8). And St. Augustine says, "He who knoweth how to pray aright, knoweth how to live aright" (In Ps. cxviii).

But prayers acquire their greatest efficacy in obtaining God's assistance when offered publicly, by large numbers, constantly, and unanimously, so as to form as it were a single chorus of supplication; as those words of the Acts of the Apostles clearly declare wherein the disciples of Christ, awaiting the coming of the Holy Ghost, are said to have been "persevering with one mind in prayer" (Acts i., 14). Those who practice this manner of prayer will never fail to obtain certain fruit

Such is certainly the case with members of the Rosary Sodality. Just as by the recitation of the Divine Office, priests offer a public, constant, and most efficacious supplication; so the supplication offered by the members of this Sodality in the recitation of the Rosary, or "Psalter of Our Lady," as it has been styled by some of the Popes, is also in a way public, constant, and universal.

Since, as We have said, public prayers are much more excellent and more efficacious than private ones, so ecclesiastical writers have given to the Rosary Sodality the title of "the army of prayer, enrolled by St. Dominic, under the banner of the Mother of God," - of her, whom sacred literature and the history of the Church salute as the conqueror of the Evil One and of all errors. The Rosary unites together all who join the Sodality in a common bond of paternal or military comradeship; so that a mighty host is thereby formed, duly marshalled and arrayed, to repel the assaults of the enemy, both from within and without. Wherefore may the members of this pious society take to themselves the words of St. Cyprian: "Our prayer is public and in common; and when we pray, we pray not for one, but for the whole people, for we, the entire people, are one" (De Orat. Domin.).
-- Pope Leo XIII, Augustissimae Virginis Mariae

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Don't eat spiders

"Alternate Universe" is one of my favorite xkcd.com panels:


Its composition is ideal, the punchline comes out of nowhere yet the spider-for-lobster substitution makes perfect sense, and the spiders themselves are drawn with just the right amount of understated grotesqueness.

But it also gives form to what I'd guess is a common, if not universal, experience, of seeing people around you do things every day as a matter of course that are weird, or wrong, or bad, and of being completely unable to convince them they shouldn't do those things.


There's an awful lot of spiders crawling around in our culture these days. Not only are there people invested (for reasons of money, or power, or getting back at their father) in getting others to eat those spiders, once you eat a spider yourself, you become invested in seeing spider-eating as normal, right, and good, for reasons of self-justification. (And who knows, maybe the way they tickle on the way down is sort of fun.)

I don't really have a thesis here -- you know, other than don't eat spiders. And, I suppose, if you want to get those around you to stop eating spiders, but nothing you say is getting you anywhere, you might try fasting (and prayer).

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Friday, October 25, 2013

Today's catechism

Is this the Catholic Faith?


No, it is not the Catholic Faith.

Are these the Catholic Faith?


No, these are not the Catholic Faith.

This is the Catholic Faith:



Two photographs that show the same thing.

More profoundly, if more obscurely, this is the Catholic Faith:

Don't let people leave your company thinking the Catholic Faith is found in a book, instead of in hearts inflamed with the love of the Holy Spirit.

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Why two months dedicated to Mary?

To this Divine Mother we have offered the flowers of the month of May; to her we would have also fruit-bearing October dedicated with especial tenderness of devotion. It is fitting that both parts of the year should be consecrated to her who said: "My flowers are the fruit of honour and riches" (Ecclus. xxiv., 23).
-- Pope Leo XIII, Augustissimae Virginis Mariae

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

A pledge of the restoration of peace and salvation

Whoever considers the height of dignity and glory to which God has raised the Most August Virgin Mary, will easily perceive how important it is, both for public and for private benefit, that devotion to her should be assiduously practiced, and daily promoted more and more.

God predestined her from all eternity to be the Mother of the Incarnate Word, and for that reason so highly distinguished her among all His most beautiful works in the triple order of nature, grace and glory, that the Church justly applies to her these words: "I came out of the mouth of the Most High, the first-born before all creatures" (Ecclus. xxiv., 5). And when, in the first ages, the parents of mankind fell into sin, involving their posterity in the same ruin, she was set up as a pledge of the restoration of peace and salvation.

The Only-begotten Son of God ever paid to His Most Holy Mother indubitable marks of honour. During His private life on earth He associated her with Himself in each of His first two miracles: the miracle of grace, when, at the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in the womb of Elizabeth; the miracle of nature, when He turned water into wine at the marriage - feast of Cana. And, at the supreme moment of His public life, when sealing the New Testament in His precious Blood, He committed her to his beloved Apostle in those sweet words, "Behold, thy Mother!" (John xix., 27).
-- Pope Leo XIII, Augustissimae Virginis Mariae

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Second Ecumenical Council of Elrond


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The presence of Mary united with them in prayer

For that earnest desire, which We have learnt from the Divine Heart of Jesus, of fostering the work of reconciliation among those who are separated from Us daily urges Us more pressingly to action; and we are convinced that this most excellent Re-union cannot be better prepared and strengthened than by the power of prayer. The example of Christ is before us, for in order that His disciples might be one in faith and charity, he poured forth prayer and supplication to His Father.

And concerning the efficacious prayer of His most holy Mother for the same end, there is a striking testimony in the Acts of the Apostles. Therein is described the first assembly of the Disciples, expecting with earnest hope and prayer the promised fullness of the Holy Spirit. And the presence of Mary united with them in prayer is specially indicated: All these were persevering with one mind in prayer with Mary the Mother of Jesus (Acts i., 14).

Wherefore as the nascent church rightly joined itself in prayer with her as the patroness and most excellent custodian of Unity, so in these times is it most opportune to do the same all over the Catholic World, particularly during the whole month of October, which we have long ago decreed to be dedicated and consecrated, by the solemn devotion of the Rosary, to the Divine Mother, in order to implore her for the afflicted Church.

Let then the zeal for this prayer everywhere be re-kindled, particularly for the end of Holy Unity. Nothing will be more agreeable and acceptable to Mary; for, as she is most closely united with Christ, she especially wishes and desires that they who have received the same Baptism with Him may be united with Him and with one another in the same faith and perfect charity. So may the sublime mysteries of this same faith by means of the Rosary devotion be more deeply impressed in men's minds, with the happy result that "we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise."
-- Pope Leo XIII, Fidentem piumque animum

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The intimate companion and faithful protector of life

To those therefore who are striving after supreme happiness this means of the Rosary has been most providentially offered, and it is one unsurpassed for facility and convenience.

For any person even moderately instructed in his religion can make use of it with fruit, and the time it occupies cannot delay any man's business. Sacred history abounds with striking and evident examples. It is well known that there have been many persons occupied in most weighty functions or absorbed in laborious cares who have never omitted for a single day this pious practice.

Combined with this advantage is that inward sentiment of devotion which attracts minds to the Rosary, so that they love it as the intimate companion and faithful protector of life; and in their last agony they embrace and hold fast to it as the dear pledge of the unfading Crown of glory.
-- Pope Leo XIII, Fidentem piumque animum

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Monday, October 21, 2013

She offered to mankind, hastening to eternal ruin, a Savior

And who could think or say that the confidence so strongly felt in the patronage and protection of the Blessed Virgin is excessive?

Undoubtedly the name and attributes of the absolute Mediator belong to no other than to Christ, for being one person, and yet both man and God, He restored the human race to the favour of the Heavenly Father: One Mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a redemption for all (1 Tim. ii. 5, 6).

And yet, as the Angelic Doctor teaches, there is no reason why certain others should not be called in a certain way mediators between God and man, that is to say, in so far as they co-operate by predisposing and ministering in the union of man with God (Summa, p. III, q. xxvi., articles 1, 2). Such are the angels and saints, the prophets and priests of both Testaments; but especially has the Blessed Virgin a claim to the glory of this title.

For no single individual can even be imagined who has ever contributed or ever will contribute so much towards reconciling man with God. She offered to mankind, hastening to eternal ruin, a Savior, at that moment when she received the announcement of the mystery of peace brought to this earth by the Angel, with that admirable act of consent in the name of the whole human race (Summa. p. III, q. xxx., art. 1). She it is from whom is born Jesus; she is therefore truly His mother, and for this reason a worthy and acceptable "Mediatrix to the Mediator."

As the various mysteries present themselves one after the other in the formula of the Rosary for the meditation and contemplation of men's minds, they also elucidate what we owe to Mary for our reconciliation and salvation. No one can fail to be sweetly affected when considering her who appeared in the house of Elizabeth as the minister of the divine gifts, and who presented her Son to the Shepherds, to the kings, and to Simeon.

Moreover, one must remember that the Blood of Christ shed for our sake and those members in which He offers to His Father the wounds He received, the price of our liberty, are no other than the flesh and blood of the virgin, since the flesh of Jesus is the flesh of Mary, and however much it was exalted in the glory of His resurrection, nevertheless the nature of His flesh derived from Mary remained and still remains the same (de Assumpt. B. V. M., c.v., among the Opera S. Aug).
 -- Pope Leo XIII, Fidentem piumque animum

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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Dawn Eden speaking in Silver Spring

Cool! Dawn Eden's coming to give a talk at my parish -- St. Andrew Apostle, in Silver Spring, MD -- on October 30 at 8 pm. She'll be discussing the topic of her latest book, My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints.

A Votive Mass of the Sacred Heart will be offered at 7 pm for the healing of spiritual wounds.

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

The blessings of domestic peace, the foretaste of the peace of heaven

The form of prayer We refer to has obtained the special name of "Rosary," as though it represented by its arrangement the sweetness of roses and the charm of a garland. This is most fitting for a method of venerating the Virgin, who is rightly styled the Mystical Rose of Paradise, and who, as Queen of the universe, shines therein with a crown of stars. So that by its very name it appears to foreshadow and be an augury of the joys and garlands of Heaven offered by her to those who are devoted to her. This appears Clearly if we consider the nature of the Rosary of Our Lady.

There is no duty which Christ and His Apostles more emphatically urged by both precept and example than that of prayer and supplication to Almighty God. The Fathers and Doctors in subsequent times have taught that this is a matter of such grave necessity, that if men neglect it they hope in vain for eternal salvation. Every one who prays finds the door open to impetration, both from the very nature of prayer and from the promises of Christ.

And we all know that prayer derives its chief efficacy from two principal circumstances: perseverance, and the union of many for one end. The former is signified in those invitations of Christ so full of goodness: ask, seek, knock (Matt. vii., 7), just as a kind father desires to indulge the wishes of his children, but who also requires to be continually asked by them and as it were wearied by their prayers, in order to attach their hearts more closely to himself.

The second condition Our Lord has born witness to more than once: If two of you shall consent upon earth concerning anything whatsoever they shall ask, it shall be done to them by My Father who is in heaven. For where there are two or three gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them (Matt. xviii. 19, 20). Hence that pregnant saying of Tertullian: Let us gather into an assembly and congregation that we may, as it were, make up a band and solicit God (Apologet. c. xxxix): such violence is pleasing to God; and the memorable words of Aquinas: It is impossible that the prayers of many should not be heard, if one prayer is made up as it were out of many supplications. (In Evang. Matt. c. xvii).

Both of these qualities are conspicuous in the Rosary. For, to be brief, by repeating the same prayers we strenuously implore from Our Heavenly Father the Kingdom of His grace and glory; we again and again beseech the Virgin Mother to aid us sinners by her prayers, both during our whole life and especially at that last moment which is the stepping-stone to eternity. The formula of the Rosary, too, is excellently adapted to prayer in common, so that it has been styled, not without reason, "The Psalter of Mary."

And that old custom of our forefathers ought to be preserved or else restored, according to which Christian families, whether in town or country, were religiously wont at close of day, when their labours were at an end, to assemble before a figure of Our Lady and alternately recite the Rosary. She, delighted at this faithful and unanimous homage, was ever near them like a loving mother surrounded by her children, distributing to them the blessings of domestic peace, the foretaste of the peace of heaven.

-- Pope Leo XIII, Fidentem piumque animum

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Things learnt and engraven in the heart from infancy

[The mysteries of the Rosary] are, in fact, the most important and the most admirable of Christianity, the things through which the world was renewed and filled with the fruits of truth, justice, and peace.

And it is remarkable how well adapted to every kind of mind, however unskilled, is the manner in which these things are proposed to us in the Rosary. They are proposed less as truths or doctrines to be speculated upon than as present facts to be seen and perceived. Thus presented, with the circumstances of place, time, and persons, these Mysteries produce the most living effect; and this without the slightest effort of imagination; for they are treated as things learnt and engraven in the heart from infancy. Thus, hardly is a Mystery named but the pious soul goes through it with ease of thought and quickness of feeling, and gathers therefrom, by the gift of Mary, abundance of the food of Heaven.

And yet another title of joy and of acceptation in her eyes do our crowns of prayer acquire. For every time that we look once more with devotional remembrance upon these Mysteries we give her a sign of the gratitude of our hearts; we prove to her that we cannot often enough call to mind the blessings of her unwearied charity in the work of our salvation. At such recollections, practiced by us with the frequency of love in her presence, who may express, who may even conceive, what ever-new joys overflow her ever-blessed soul, and what tender affections arise therein, of mercy and of a mother's love!

Besides these recollections, moreover, as the sacred Mysteries pass by they cause our prayers to be transformed into impulses of entreaty that have an indescribable power over the heart of Mary. Yes, we fly to thee, we miserable children of Eve, O holy Mother of God. To thee we lift our prayers, for thou art the Mediatrix, powerful at once and pitiful, of our salvation. Oh, by the sweetness of the joys that came to thee from thy Son Jesus, by thy participation in His ineffable sorrows, by the splendours of His glory shining in thee, we instantly beseech thee, listen, be pitiful, hear us, unworthy though we be!

-- Pope Leo XIII, Iucunda semper excpectatione

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The Catholic muddle

I've seen a couple of references to "the Catholic middle" in the last week or so. John Allen wrote of Pope Francis's election as "a breakthrough victory for the Catholic middle."
In broad strokes, these are people generally content with church teaching and tradition, though inclined to a hermeneutic of generosity in applying it... Mostly these are people who regard Catholicism fundamentally as a force for good in the world and who long for moderate, accessible and inspirational leadership who can lift up the whole gamut of Catholic thought and life rather than a selective version of it tailored to advance a specific political or theological agenda.
And Charlie Broadway says much the same thing about the affinity of the Catholic Middle for Pope Francis, though he's harder than Allen ever is on the Left and Right. He describes the Catholic Middle as:
where most Catholics are. They affirm Church teachings on the hot button political issues such as contraception, abortion, and homosexuality. But they also care about the poor and also the Church's theology and devotional life. The Catholic Middle does not scream the loudest but strives to live the Gospel and let their actions do the talking. They like Vatican II, celebrate the Mass in the ordinary form, and tend to be non-partisan in their political viewpoints recognizing that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are in line with all of Church teachings. These people are represented best by someone like Mother Angelica and the folks at EWTN, Father Robert Barron, the National Catholic Register, and the outstanding Cardinal Sean O'Malley.
Personally, I think talk of "the Catholic middle" obscures more than it reveals. Not only do I think Broadway's characterization of "most Catholics" lacks an empirical foundation, he essentially uses "the Catholic Middle" to mean "good Catholics," as distinguished from the "wolves" of the Right and Left who "hate the Church." (If we must have a label for virtuous Catholics, can we at least use "the Catholic Mean"?)

Allen's description of a middle is less judgmental, but it still amounts to defining "probably a majority of the Church" as necessarily situated between two groups that oppose each other.

Why insist that Catholics fall on a one-dimensional spectrum? If we must make such distinctions, why not at least a 2-dimensional plane, with the left-to-right spectrum as one axis and, say, "passion" as the other? Then we don't have a Pope for the Catholic middle, we have a Pope for the Catholic bottom.
Because hypercubes are too hard to draw in PowerPoint.

It's not a particularly good model either, but I suspect it's closer to reality than the left-middle-right model. And it also suggests that the reception of Pope Francis isn't quite the Goldilocks paradigm Allen and Broadway represent it as.

The concept of "the Catholic middle" also perpetuates the model of the Church as a human institution divided by political agendas -- and while it may be accurate to describe the Church as a human institution driven by political agendas, it shouldn't be. That Catholics understand their Church in those terms is a sign of failure.

Let me propose that we start distinguishing Catholics by their willingness to follow Jesus, rather than to follow this or that subset of Church teaching. We can't follow Jesus without following Church teaching, but we can -- and many of us do -- follow a proper subset of Church teaching without following Jesus. I'd certainly score myself higher as a follower of Church precepts than as a follower of Jesus Christ, which maybe makes me a better Catholic than Presbyterian, but so what?

Again, I'm not denying that distinctions among Catholics can be made based on how they relate to different subsets of Catholic teaching, or that distinguishing "Left" and "Right" reflects a truth about Catholics (at least European and American Catholics) today. I'm saying those distinctions are secondary, maybe even accidental, to Catholicism.

For too long Catholicism has been understood -- by Catholics and non-Catholics alike -- in terms of adherence to these or those doctrines. What Catholicism is is adherence to Jesus Christ.

If we start talking that way, we might start acting that way, and who knows what the Holy Spirit might do in the world if a billion people started taking adherence to Jesus Christ seriously.

(Link to Charlie Broadway's blog via Catholic and Enjoying It!)

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

How shall she magnify the Lord!

A soul that shall devoutly repeat these prayers, that shall ponder with faith these mysteries, will, without doubt, be filled with wonder at the Divine purposes in this great Virgin and in the work of the restoration of mankind. Doubtless, this soul, moved by the warmth of love for her and of confidence, will desire to take refuge upon her breast, as was the sweet feeling of St. Bernard: "Remember, O most pious Virgin Mary, that never was it heard that any who fled to thy protection, called upon thy help, and sought thy intercession, was left forsaken."

But the fruits of the Rosary appear likewise, and with equal greatness, in the turning with mercy of the heart of the Mother of God towards us. How sweet a happiness must it be for her to see us all intent upon the task of weaving crowns for her of righteous prayers and lovely praises! And if, indeed, by those prayers we desire to render to God the glory which is His due; if we protest that we seek nothing whatsoever except the fulfillment in us of His holy will; if we magnify His goodness and graciousness; if we call Him Our Father; if we, being most unworthy, yet entreat of Him His best blessings - Oh, how shall Mary in all these things rejoice! How shall she magnify the Lord!

There is no language so fit to lead us to the majesty of God as the language of the Lord's Prayer. Furthermore, to each of these things for which we pray, things that are righteous and are ordered, and are in harmony with Christian faith, hope, and charity, is added a special joy for the Blessed Virgin. With our voices she seems to hear also the voice of her Divine Son, Who with His own mouth taught us this prayer, and by His own authority commanded it, saying: "You shall pray thus." And seeing how we observe that command, saying our Rosary, she will bend towards us with the more loving solicitude; and the mystical crowns we offer her will be to her welcome, and to us fruitful of graces.

And of this generosity of Mary to our supplications we have no slight pledge in the very nature of a practice that has the power to help us in praying well. In many ways, indeed, is man apt, by his frailty, to allow his thoughts to wander from God and to let his purpose go astray. But the Rosary, if rightly considered, will be found to have in itself special virtues, whether for producing and continuing a state of recollection, or for touching the conscience for its healing, or for lifting up the soul. As all men know, it is composed of two parts, distinct but inseparable-the meditation of the Mysteries and the recitation of the prayers. It is thus a kind of prayer that requires not only some raising of the soul to God, but also a particular and explicit attention, so that by reflection upon the things to be contemplated, impulses and resolutions may follow for the reformation and sanctification of life.
-- Pope Leo XIII, Iucunda semper expectatione

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

That law of merciful meditation

The recourse we have to Mary in prayer follows upon the office she continuously fills by the side of the throne of God as Mediatrix of Divine grace; being by worthiness and by merit most acceptable to Him, and, therefore, surpassing in power all the angels and saints in Heaven. Now, this merciful office of hers, perhaps, appears in no other form of prayer so manifestly as it does in the Rosary. For in the Rosary all the part that Mary took as our co-Redemptress comes to us, as it were, set forth, and in such wise as though the facts were even then taking place; and this with much profit to our piety, whether in the contemplation of the succeeding sacred mysteries, or in the prayers which we speak and repeat with the lips...

If in all this series of Mysteries, Venerable Brethren, are developed the counsels of God in regard to us -  "counsels of wisdom and of tenderness" (St. Bernard) - not less apparent is the greatness of the benefits for which we are debtors to the Virgin Mother. No man can meditate upon these without feeling a new awakening in his heart of confidence that he will certainly obtain through Mary the fulness of the mercies of God. And to this end vocal prayer chimes well with the Mysteries. First, as is meet and right, comes the Lord's Prayer, addressed to Our Father in Heaven: and having, with the elect petitions dictated by Our Divine Master, called upon the Father, from the throne of His Majesty we turn our prayerful voices to Mary.

Thus is confirmed that law of merciful meditation of which We have spoken, and which St. Bernardine of Siena thus expresses: "Every grace granted to man has three degrees in order; for by God it is communicated to Christ, from Christ it passes to the Virgin, and from the Virgin it descends to us." And we, by the very form of the Rosary, do linger longest, and, as it were, by preference upon the last and lowest of these steps, repeating by decades the Angelic Salutation, so that with greater confidence we may thence attain to the higher degrees-that is, may rise, by means of Christ, to the Divine Father. For if thus we again and again greet Mary, it is precisely that our failing and defective prayers may be strengthened with the necessary confidence; as though we pledged her to pray for us, and as it were in our name, to God.

-- Pope Leo XIII, Iucunda semper expectatione

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

If devoutly used

Just to sum up my posts from Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Laetitiae sanctae, by quoting from that encyclical:
We are convinced that the Rosary, if devoutly used, is bound to benefit not only the individual but society at large.
It benefits society, Pope Leo argues, by making the individual who prays the Rosary into a better person, and societies with better people are (all else being equal) better. The individual is improved by devout use of the Rosary because he is fortified against "three influences which appear to [Pope Leo] to have the chief place in effecting this downgrade movement of society":
  1. The Joyful Mysteries counter "the distaste for a simple and labourious life."
  2. The Sorrowful Mysteries counter "repugnance to suffering of any kind."
  3. The Glorious Mysteries counter "the forgetfulness of the future life."
The encyclical was published in 1893. You can decide for yourself whether those influences are still in play 120 years later.

Another question is what baleful influence the Luminous Mysteries might be said to counter. Without giving it much thought, I'd suggest some variation on loneliness or isolation or lack of purpose or meaning to life.

The Rosary, for Pope Leo XIII, is a devotion that is not merely private.

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How vile grows the earth when I look up to heaven!

The third evil for which a remedy is needed is one which is chiefly characteristic of the times in which we live... [M]en of our day, albeit they have had the advantages of Christian instruction, pursue the false goods of this world in such wise that the thought of their true Fatherland of enduring happiness is not only set aside, but, to their shame be it said, banished and entirely erased from their memory, notwithstanding the warning of St. Paul, "We have not here a lasting city, but we seek one which is to come" (Heb. xiii., 4).

... [T]he use of the goods of the present life, and the righteous enjoyment which they furnish, may serve both to strengthen virtue and to reward it. The splendour and beauty of our earthly habitation, by which human society is ennobled, may mirror the splendour and beauty of our dwelling which is above. Therein we see nothing that is not worthy of the reason of man and of the wisdom of God. For the same God who is the Author of Nature is the Author of Grace, and He willed not that one should collide or conflict with the other, but that they should act in friendly alliance, so that under the leadership of both we may the more easily arrive at that immortal happiness for which we mortal men were created.

But men of carnal mind, who love nothing but themselves, allow their thoughts to grovel upon things of earth until they are unable to lift them to that which is higher. For, far from using the goods of time as a help towards securing those which are eternal, they lose sight altogether of the world which is to come, and sink to the lowest depths of degradation. We may doubt if God could inflict upon man a more terrible punishment than to allow him to waste his whole life in the pursuit of earthly pleasures, and in forgetfulness of the happiness which alone lasts for ever.

It is from this danger that they will be happily rescued, who, in the pious practice of the Rosary, are wont, by frequent and fervent prayer, to keep before their minds the glorious mysteries. These mysteries are the means by which in the soul of a Christian a most clear light is shed upon the good things, hidden to sense, but visible to faith, "which God has prepared for those who love Him." From them we learn that death is not an annihilation which ends all things, but merely a migration and passage from life to life. By them we are taught that the path to Heaven lies open to all men, and as we behold Christ ascending thither, we recall the sweet words of His promise, "I go to prepare a place for you." By them we are reminded that a time will come when "God will wipe away every tear from our eyes," and that "neither mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow, shall be any more," and that "We shall be always with the Lord," and "like to the Lord, for we shall see Him as He is," and "drink of the torrent of His delight," as "fellow-citizens of the saints," in the blessed companionship of our glorious Queen and Mother. Dwelling upon such a prospect, our hearts are kindled with desire, and we exclaim, in the words of a great saint, "How vile grows the earth when I look up to heaven!" Then, too, shall we feel the solace of the assurance "that which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor. iv., 17).

Here alone we discover the true relation between time and eternity, between our life on earth and our life in heaven; and it is thus alone that are formed strong and noble characters. When such characters can be counted in large numbers, the dignity and well-being of society are assured. All that is beautiful, good, and true will flourish in the measure of its conformity to Him who is of all beauty, goodness, and truth the first Principle and the Eternal Source.

-- Pope Leo XIII, Laetitiae sanctae

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Triumph by the patience of suffering

A second evil, one which is specially pernicious, ... is to be found in repugnance to suffering and eagerness to escape whatever is hard or painful to endure. The greater number are thus robbed of that peace and freedom of mind which remains the reward of those who do what is right undismayed by the perils or troubles to be met with in doing so. Rather do they dream of a chimeric civilization in which all that is unpleasant shall be removed, and all that is pleasant shall be supplied. By this passionate and unbridled desire of living a life of pleasure, the minds of men are weakened, and if they do not entirely succumb, they become demoralized and miserably cower and sink under the hardships of the battle of life.

In such a contest example is everything, and a powerful means of renewing our courage will undoubtedly be found in the Holy Rosary, if from our earliest years our minds have been trained to dwell upon the sorrowful mysteries of Our Lord's life, and to drink in their meaning by sweet and silent meditation. In them we shall learn how Christ, "the Author and Finisher of Our faith," began "to do and teach," in order that we might see written in His example all the lessons that He Himself had taught us for the bearing of our burden of labour and sorrow, and mark how the sufferings which were hardest to bear were those which He embraced with the greatest measure of generosity and good will.

We behold Him overwhelmed with sadness, so that drops of blood ooze like sweat from His veins. We see Him bound like a malefactor, subjected to the judgment of the unrighteous, laden with insults, covered with shame, assailed with false accusations, torn with scourges, crowned with thorns, nailed to the cross, accounted unworthy to live, and condemned by the voice of the multitude as deserving of death.

Here, too, we contemplate the grief of the most Holy Mother, whose soul was not merely wounded but "pierced" by the sword of sorrow, so that she might be named and become in truth "the Mother of Sorrows." Witnessing these examples of fortitude, not with sight but by faith, who is there who will not feel his heart grow warm with the desire of imitating them?

Then, be it that the "earth is accursed" and brings forth "thistles and thorns,"- be it that the soul is saddened with grief and the body with sickness; even so, there will be no evil which the envy of man or the rage of devils can invent, nor calamity which can fall upon the individual or the community, over which we shall not triumph by the patience of suffering...

But by this patience, We do not mean that empty stoicism in the enduring of pain which was the ideal of some of the philosophers of old, but rather do We mean that patience which is learned from the example of Him, who "having joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame" (Heb. xvi., 2). It is the patience which is obtained by the help of His grace; which shirks not a trial because it is painful, but which accepts it and esteems it as a gain, however hard it may be to undergo.

The Catholic Church has always had, and happily still has, multitudes of men and women, in every rank and condition of life, who are glorious disciples of this teaching, and who, following faithfully in the path of Christ, suffer injury and hardship for the cause of virtue and religion. They re-echo, not with their lips, but with their life, the words of St. Thomas: "Let us also go, that we may die with him" (John xi., 16).

May such types of admirable constancy be more and more splendidly multiplied in our midst to the weal of society and to the glory and edification of the Church of God!
-- Pope Leo XIII, Laetitiae sanctae

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Sunday, October 13, 2013

How I pray the Rosary

Eleven years ago (!), I wrote a series of blog posts on different ways to pray the Marian Rosary.

Since then, I've settled into using a relatively steady way myself, based on a combination of a couple of ways I'd described and largely derived from a presentation I heard by Fr. Bart de la Torre, OP. It looks complicated -- okay, it is complicated -- but I did build up to it over several years. I'm putting it down here not to say, "Here, do this," but to encourage people to think about how they can make their own devotion to the Rosary more fruitful.

From week to week, I change perspective on the twenty mysteries according to time. The time is relative to the occurrence of each mystery, and is one of the following:
  1. Before the event. This could be just before (e.g., during the preparations for the wedding feast in Cana), or during a type of the mystery found in the Old Testament (e.g., Abraham preparing to sacrifice Isaac), or more generally in the centuries before the Incarnation (e.g., Israel looking forward to the coming of the Messiah).
  2. During the event.
  3. After the event. Again, this could be immediately after (e.g., the prediction of Jesus' passion after the Transfiguration), or decades later as the early Church reflects on it (e.g., St. Paul writing about the Institution of the Eucharist).
  4. Today. Either nowadays generally, or sometimes literally the day I am praying.
I stick with a time for a week, then move on to the next. For no particular reason, I align the times with weeks of the Psalter. So, for example, this being the 28th week in Ordinary Time, it's the 4th week of the Psalter, so I'll be meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary from the perspective of today all week. (A normal person might just count by Sunday of the month; the week of a fifth Sunday, they might pray from the perspective of the Second Coming.)

I also change perspective on the mysteries of the Rosary according to circumstances -- usually keeping the same circumstance for a week or more, but sometimes picking a new one day by day. The seven circumstances of human acts, on which St. Thomas conflates Aristotle and Cicero, are:
  1. Who
  2. What / about what
  3. Where
  4. By what aids
  5. Why
  6. How
  7. When
There's a lot that can be said about this list, most of which I don't know and almost none of which I worry about when praying the Rosary. I tend to go with the simpler ones -- who, when, where -- more frequently than the others, and quite often simply default to the "who" of Mary and/or Jesus.

Finally, I pray each decade according to this pattern:
  • The "Our Father" and the first four "Hail Marys": I meditate on the mystery, from the perspective of the time and circumstances as described above.
  • The fifth "Hail Mary": I meditate on Mary's faith in the context of the mystery.
  • The sixth "Hail Mary": I ask for faith like Mary's.
  • The seventh "Hail Mary": I meditate on Mary's hope in the context of the mystery.
  • The eighth "Hail Mary": I ask for hope like Mary's.
  • The ninth "Hail Mary": I meditate on Mary's love in the context of the mystery.
  • The tenth "Hail Mary": I ask for love like Mary's.
For the "Glory Be," I should offer thanks for the gift of the decade, though in practice I usually just use it as a transition from one mystery to the next.

Most importantly, perhaps, I pray the Rosary with the expectation that I'll pray it most every day until I die. This means that, on any single day, I don't fret about getting distracted, or not feeling I got much out of it, or finding myself at bedtime too tired to focus on a Rosary. I'm not going to be graded on how well I prayed the Rosary, I will be judged on how well I followed Jesus. Praying the Rosary is a way to form myself in His image, with His mother's help. That formation is gradual, but not perceptibly monotonic. I'm not trying to achieve anything discrete or sensible with today's Rosary, I am cultivating the habit of reflecting on Jesus' life, death, and resurrection with the heart of Mary.

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Rather to diminish the number of its wants than to multiply the sources of its wealth

We deplore - and those who judge of all things merely by the light and according to the standard of nature join with Us in deploring that society is threatened with a serious danger in the growing contempt of those homely duties and virtues which make up the beauty of humble life. To this cause we may trace in the home, the readiness of children to withdraw themselves from the natural obligation of obedience to the parents, and their impatience of any form of treatment which is not of the indulgent and effeminate kind. In the workman, it evinces itself in a tendency to desert his trade, to shrink from toil, to become discontented with his lot, to fix his gaze on things that are above him, and to look forward with unthinking hopefulness to some future equalization of property. We may observe the same temper permeating the masses in the eagerness to exchange the life of the rural districts for the excitements and pleasures of the town. Thus the equilibrium between the classes of the community is being destroyed, everything becomes unsettled, men's minds become a prey to jealousy and heart-burnings, rights are openly trampled under foot, and, finally, the people, betrayed in their expectations, attack public order, and place themselves in conflict with those who are charged to maintain it.

For evils such as these let us seek a remedy in the Rosary, which consists in a fixed order of prayer combined with devout meditation on the life of Christ and His Blessed Mother. Here, if the joyful mysteries be but clearly brought home to the minds of the people, an object lesson of the chief virtues is placed before their eyes. Each one will thus be able to see for himself how easy, how abundant, how sweetly attractive are the lessons to be found therein for the leading of an honest life. Let us take our stand in front of that earthly and divine home of holiness, the House of Nazareth. How much we have to learn from the daily life which was led within its walls! What an all-perfect model of domestic society! Here we behold simplicity and purity of conduct, perfect agreement and unbroken harmony, mutual respect and love - not of the false and fleeting kind - but that which finds both its life and its charm in devotedness of service. Here is the patient industry which provides what is required for food and raiment; which does so "in the sweat of the brow," which is contented with little, and which seeks rather to diminish the number of its wants than to multiply the sources of its wealth. Better than all, we find there that supreme peace of mind and gladness of soul which never fail to accompany the possession of a tranquil conscience. These are precious examples of goodness, of modesty, of humility, of hard-working endurance, of kindness to others, of diligence in the small duties of daily life, and of other virtues, and once they have made their influence felt they gradually take root in the soul, and in course of time fail not to bring about a happy change of mind and conduct. Then will each one begin to feel his work to be no longer lowly and irksome, but grateful and lightsome, and clothed with a certain joyousness by his sense of duty in discharging it conscientiously. Then will gentler manners everywhere prevail; home-life will be loved and esteemed, and the relations of man with man will be loved and esteemed, and the relations of man with man will be hallowed by a larger infusion of respect and charity. And if this betterment should go forth from the individual to the family and to the communities, and thence to the people at large so that human life should be lifted up to this standard, no one will fail to feel how great and lasting indeed would be the gain which would be achieved for society.
-- Pope Leo XIII, Laetitiae sanctae

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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Let's talk about the Rosary...

at AboutTheRosary.Com.See in particular the article that answers the question, Is the Hail Mary Biblical?

(Link via Catholic and Enjoying It!)

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Let us not cease to hold out suppliant hands to Mary

In Mary we see how a truly good and provident God has established for us a most suitable example of every virtue. As we look upon her and think about her we are nor cast down as though stricken by the overpowering splendor of God's power; but, on the contrary, attracted by the closeness of the common nature we share with her, we strive with greater confidence to imitate her. If we, with her powerful help, should dedicate ourselves wholly and entirely to this undertaking, we can portray at least an outline of such great virtue and sanctity, and reproducing that perfect conformity of our lives to all God's designs which she possessed in so marvelous a degree, we shall follow her into heaven.

Undaunted and full of courage, let us go on with the pilgrimage we have undertaken even though the way be rough and full of obstacles. Amid the vexation and toil let us not cease to hold out suppliant hands to Mary with the words of the Church: "To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears; turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us... Keep our lives all spotless, make our ways secure, till we find in Jesus joys that will endure."
-- Pope Leo XIII, Magnae Dei Matris

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Sometimes a papacy isn't all about you

Read Rocco Palmo on Pope Francis on the lay faithful on Mary.

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Friday, October 11, 2013

The harmony of the Holy Spirit

At a general audience a few days ago, Pope Francis spoke what I thought was a nice bit about the Church as a "House of Harmony":
The Church is Catholic because it is the “House of harmony” where unity and diversity are able to be combined to be a richness. We think of the image of a symphony, which means accord and harmony, different instruments sound together; each one maintains its unmistakable timbre and its characteristics of sound are in accord with something in common. Then there is the one who leads, the director, and in the symphony that is performed all together have a “harmony,” but the timbre of each instrument, the peculiarity of each isn’t cancelled, rather, it is valued to the utmost!

It is a beautiful image which tells us that the Church is like a great orchestra in which there is variety; there is variety among the components, but there is no conflict, no opposition. It is a variety that lets itself be founded in the harmony of the Holy Spirit; He is the true “Maestro,” He himself is harmony. And here we ask ourselves: do we live harmony in our communities? Do we accept the other, do we accept that there is a just variety or do we tend to make everything uniform? Let us pray to the Holy Spirit to make us ever more “Catholics”!
Here the Pope is stealing from himself -- specifically, from his Pentecost homily:
The Holy Spirit would appear to create disorder in the Church, since he brings the diversity of charisms and gifts; yet all this, by his working, is a great source of wealth, for the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of unity, which does not mean uniformity, but which leads everything back to harmony. In the Church, it is the Holy Spirit who creates harmony. One of Fathers of the Church has an expression which I love: the Holy Spirit himself is harmony – “Ipse harmonia est”. He is indeed harmony. Only the Spirit can awaken diversity, plurality and multiplicity, while at the same time building unity. Here too, when we are the ones who try to create diversity and close ourselves up in what makes us different and other, we bring division. When we are the ones who want to build unity in accordance with our human plans, we end up creating uniformity, standardization. But if instead we let ourselves be guided by the Spirit, richness, variety and diversity never become a source of conflict, because he impels us to experience variety within the communion of the Church. Journeying together in the Church, under the guidance of her pastors who possess a special charism and ministry, is a sign of the working of the Holy Spirit. Having a sense of the Church is something fundamental for every Christian, every community and every movement. It is the Church which brings Christ to me, and me to Christ; parallel journeys are very dangerous! When we venture beyond (proagon) the Church’s teaching and community – the Apostle John tells us in his Second Letter - and do not remain in them, we are not one with the God of Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Jn v. 9). So let us ask ourselves: Am I open to the harmony of the Holy Spirit, overcoming every form of exclusivity? Do I let myself be guided by him, living in the Church and with the Church?

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He will straightway set out in the footsteps of Christ

There is still another and not lesser advantage which the Church earnestly seeks for her children from the Rosary, and that is the faithful regulation of their lives and their conduct in keeping with the rules and precepts of their holy religion. For if, as we all know from Holy Scripture, "faith without works is dead" because faith draws its life from charity and charity flowers forth in a profusion of holy actions-then the Christian will gain nothing for eternal life from his faith unless his life be ordered in accordance with what faith prescribes...

In order therefore that the faith we profess may the better bring forth a harvest of fruits in keeping with its nature, while the mind is dwelling on mysteries of the Rosary the heart is wonderfully enkindled by them to make virtuous resolutions. What an example we have set before us! This shines forth everywhere in our Lord's work of salvation. Almighty God, in the excess of His love for us, takes upon Himself the form of lowly man. He dwells in our midst as one of the multitude, converses with us as a friend, instructs and teaches the way of justice to individuals and to multitudes... For Himself, in return for that light of heavenly wisdom and that stupendous abundance of blessings which only He could merit for mankind, He suffers the hatred of men and their most atrocious insults; and, nailed to the cross, He pours out His blood and yields up His soul, holding it to be the highest glory to beget life in men by His death.

It would be utterly impossible for anyone to meditate on and attentively consider these most precious memorials of our loving Redeemer and not have a heart on fire with gratitude to Him. Such is the power of a faith sincerely practiced that, through the light it brings to man's mind and the vigor with which it moves his heart, he will straightway set out in the footsteps of Christ and follow them through every obstacle, making his own a protestation worthy of a St. Paul: "Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation? or distress? or famine? or nakedness? or danger? or persecution? or the sword?" "I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me."
-- Pope Leo XIII, Magnae Dei Matris

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Marian Day for the Year of Faith

I just went to the Vatican website, and there was an overlay on the Marian Day for the Year of Faith, October 12-13 2013. (A two-day Marian Day? That's how Catholics roll.)

The indications and booklets for Saturday's Marian Prayer and Sunday's Holy Mass on the occasion of the Marian Day are, alas, in Italian, but then, so are the events.

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Re-establishing a central theme of Catholic preaching

Fr. Philip Neri Powell (riffing on Phil Snider) proposes a way out of "the modern homiletical crisis":
The task of Catholic homiletics in the 21st century is to explore ways of returning a sense of the "infinite qualitative distinction" btw Creator and creature to our preaching w/o portraying God as inaccessible. Part of this project then will be to re-establish the event of the Incarnation as a central theme of Catholic preaching.
I completely agree that, if you are not preaching a God Who is both transcendent and immanent, then you are not preaching the God Who Is, and bad things will follow.

I am particularly enthusiastic over the idea of re-establishing the event of the Incarnation as a central theme of Catholic preaching (even as I am sobered by the thought that this theme needs re-establishing in Catholic teaching).

It is in Jesus Christ -- and only in Jesus Christ, true God and true man, that we find the transcendent and the immanent not only balanced but united. We cannot love without keeping the commandments, and we cannot keep the commandments without loving. We cannot do either apart from Jesus. We can't know, and therefore can't love, Jesus apart from His Incarnation.

The Incarnation is not something the Son did in order to be able to reveal the Father to us thirty years later. The Incarnation is itself the revelation of the Father.

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What a correspondence with the frailty of man!

Let me emphasize a point in the passage from Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Octobri mense that I quoted here last week. Pope Leo wrote:
Thus do those whose actions have disturbed their consciences need an intercessor mighty in favour with God, merciful enough not to reject the cause of the desperate, merciful enough to lift up again towards hope in the divine mercy the afflicted and the broken down. Mary is this glorious intermediary....
This is a traditional pastoral teaching. Jesus is an "inexorable Judge" Whom we dread, so we go to Mary instead, because "she is gentle, extreme in tenderness, of a limitless loving-kindness."

I've run into a certain criticism of this aspect of Marian piety, and I think it's fair criticism as far as it goes.

The argument against going to the gentle Mary instead of the inexorable Jesus is that Jesus is, in fact, gentle, extreme in tenderness, of a limitless loving-kindness. The idea that Mary is "merciful enough not to reject the cause of the desperate," and Jesus is not, is simply heretical. I'll go as far as to suggest that it functions as  polytheism in practice, reducing God to a grouchy Zeus and promoting Mary to a solicitous Hera.

But Pope Leo XIII is not saying that Mary is more merciful than Jesus. He is saying that we fear God's justice, we dread Christ's judgment, and in our own fear and dread we do not dare to approach the Throne of God to ask for divine mercy. It is our own subjective, natural, psychological despair that gives rise to the [subjective, natural, psychological] need for an intercessor like Mary.

The Pope goes on to write:
As such God gave her to us.
The provider is greater than the provision. If Mary is gentle, extreme in tenderness, of a limitless loving-kindness, how much more so is the God Who has given her to us as a mother! Given her precisely so we will not fear to ask for His mercy, so we will not hide ourselves when we hear His voice and never encounter the infinite and perfect gentleness, tenderness, and loving-kindness of our Father, and of the Son Who is His image.

And this is exactly what Mary does. She is (as St. Louis de Montfort memorably expounds) like Rebecca in that she helps her children obtain a blessing from their Father, but she is not like Rebecca in having to trick God into blessing them. When we do go to Mary, we find that she always refers us straight to the mercy of God. As I once heard a priest put it, "She says, 'You think I'm gentle and loving? My Son is a creampuff!'"

To invoke Mary as our glorious intermediary takes nothing from the glory of God. If anything, it further glorifies Him, since in His loving-kindness He has given Mary as a glorious intermediary to help the weak and despairing. He loves us and wants to be close to us, close even to those who can only stand in His presence when He is veiled within the heart of Mary.

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The truths which are of first importance and necessity

To this commendation of the Rosary which follows from the very nature of the prayer, We may add that the Rosary offers an easy way to present the chief mysteries of the Christian religion and to impress them upon the mind; and this commendation is one of the most beautiful of all. For it is mainly by faith that a man sets out on the straight and sure path to God and learns to revere in mind and heart His supreme majesty, His sovereignty over the whole of creation, His unsounded power, wisdom, and providence. For he who comes to God must believe that God exists and is a rewarder to those who seek Him. Moreover, because God's eternal Son assumed our humanity and shone before us as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, our faith must include the lofty mysteries of the august Trinity of divine Persons and of the Father's only-begotten Son made Man: "This is eternal life: that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou bast sent."

God gave us a most precious blessing when He gave us faith. By this gift we are not only raised above the level of human things, to contemplate and share in the divine nature, but are also furnished with the means of meriting the rewards of heaven; and therefore the hope is encouraged and strengthened that we shall one day look upon God, not in the shadowy images of His creatures, but in the fullest light, and shall enjoy Him forever as the Supreme Goodness. But the Christian is kept so busy by the various affairs of life and wanders so easily into matters of little importance, that unless he be helped with frequent reminders, the truths which are of first importance and necessity are little by little forgotten; and then faith begins to grow weak and may even perish.
-- Pope Leo XIII, Magnae Dei Matris

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Wednesday, October 09, 2013

So that's settled

Some people are excised about Pope Francis being quoted as saying that "there is no Catholic God."

That issue was resolved on this blog ten years and two popes ago


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Under the protection of the best of mothers

While nature itself made the name of mother the sweetest of all names and has made motherhood the very model of tender and solicitous love, no tongue is eloquent enough to put in words what every devout soul feels, namely how intense is the flame of affectionate and active charity which glows in Mary, in her who is truly our mother not in a human way but through Christ.

Nobody knows and comprehends so well as she everything that concerns us: what helps we need in life; what dangers, public or private, threaten our welfare; what difficulties and evils surround us; above all, how fierce is the fight we wage with ruthless enemies of our salvation. In these and in all other troubles of life her power is most far-reaching. Her desire to use it is most ardent to bring consolation, strength, and help of every kind to children who are dear to her.

Accordingly, let us approach Mary confidently, wholeheartedly beseeching her by the bonds of her motherhood which unite her so closely to Jesus and at the same time to us. Let us with deepest devotion invoke her constant aid in the prayer which she herself has indicated and which is most acceptable to her [i.e., the Rosary]. Then with good reason shall we rest with an easy and joyous mind under the protection of the best of mothers.
-- Pope Leo XIII, Magnae Dei Matris

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Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The divine and everlasting bond

It is impossible to say how pleasing and gratifying to [Mary] it is when we greet her with the Angelic Salutation, "full of grace"; and in repeating it, fashion these words of praise into ritual crowns for her. For every time we say them, we recall the memory of her exalted dignity and of the Redemption of the human race which God began through her. We likewise bring to mind the divine and everlasting bond which links her with the joys and sorrows, the humiliations and triumphs of Christ in directing and helping mankind to eternal life.

It pleased Christ to take upon Himself the Son of Man, and to become thereby our Brother, in order that His mercy to us might be shown most openly; for "it behooved him in all things to be made like unto his brethren that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest before God." Likewise because Mary was chosen to be the Mother of Christ, our Lord and our Brother, the unique prerogative was given her above all other mothers to show her mercy to us and to pour it out upon us. Besides, as we are indebted to Christ for sharing in some way with us the right, which is peculiarly His own, of calling God our Father and possessing Him as such, we are in like manner indebted to Him for His loving generosity in sharing with us the right to call Mary our Mother and to cherish her as such.
-- Pope Leo XIII, Magnae Dei Matris

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Monday, October 07, 2013

Daily examen

Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray Pope Francis silent keeps.
If he should speak before I wake,
Inspectors, please, his measure take.
 
For all the Catholic faith I know,
And what's above, and what's below.
Ah, so much better life would be
If popes would only learn from me.
 

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Eminently fitted to foster the spirit of piety

Inasmuch as the enemies of Christianity are so stubborn in their aims, its defenders must be equally staunch, especially as the heavenly help and the benefits which are bestowed on us by God are the more usually the fruits of our perseverance. It is good to recall to memory the example of that illustrious widow, Judith - a type of the Blessed Virgin - who curbed the ill-judged impatience of the Jews when they attempted to fix, according to their own judgment, the day appointed by God for the deliverance of His city. The example should also be borne in mind of the Apostles, who awaited the supreme gift promised unto them of the Paraclete, and persevered unanimously in prayer with Mary the Mother of Jesus. For it is indeed, an arduous and exceeding weighty matter that is now in hand: it is to humiliate an old and most subtle enemy in the spread-out array of his power; to win back the freedom of the Church and of her Head; to preserve and secure the fortifications within which should rest in peace the safety and weal of human society. Care must be taken, therefore, that, in these times of mourning for the Church, the most holy devotion of the Rosary of Mary be assiduously and piously observed, the more so that this method of prayer being so arranged as to recall in turn all the mysteries of our salvation, is eminently fitted to foster the spirit of piety.
-- Pope Leo XIII, Superiore anno

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Sunday, October 06, 2013

Helper, Consoler, Mighty in war, Victorious, and Peace-giver

It has always been the habit of Catholics in danger and in troublous times to fly for refuge to Mary, and to seek for peace in her maternal goodness; showing that the Catholic Church has always, and with justice, put all her hope and trust in the Mother of God. And truly the Immaculate Virgin, chosen to be the Mother of God and thereby associated with Him in the work of man's salvation, has a favour and power with her Son greater than any human or angelic creature has ever obtained, or ever can gain. And, as it is her greatest pleasure to grant her help and comfort to those who seek her, it cannot be doubted that she would deign, and even be anxious, to receive the aspirations of the universal Church.

This devotion, so great and so confident, to the august Queen of Heaven, has never shone forth with such brilliancy as when the militant Church of God has seemed to be endangered by the violence of heresy spread abroad, or by an intolerable moral corruption, or by the attacks of powerful enemies. Ancient and modern history and the more sacred annals of the Church bear witness to public and private supplications addressed to the Mother of God, to the help she has granted in return, and to the peace and tranquility which she had obtained from God. Hence her illustrious titles of helper, consoler, mighty in war, victorious, and peace-giver. And amongst these is specially to be commemorated that familiar title derived from the Rosary by which the signal benefits she has gained for the whole of Christendom have been solemnly perpetuated...

Since, therefore, it is clearly evident that this form of prayer is particularly pleasing to the Blessed Virgin, and that it is especially suitable as a means of defence for the Church and all Christians, it is in no way wonderful that several others of Our Predecessors have made it their aim to favour and increase its spread by their high recommendations. Thus Urban IV, testified that "every day the Rosary obtained fresh boon for Christianity." Sixtus IV declared that this method of prayer "redounded to the honour of God and the Blessed Virgin, and was well suited to obviate impending dangers;" Leo X that "it was instituted to oppose pernicious heresiarchs and heresies;" while Julius III called it "the glory of the Church." So also St. Pius V., that "with the spread of this devotion the meditations of the faithful have begun to be more inflamed, their prayers more fervent, and they have suddenly become different men; the darkness of heresy has been dissipated, and the light of Catholic faith has broken forth again." Lastly Gregory XIII in his turn pronounced that "the Rosary had been instituted by St. Dominic to appease the anger of God and to implore the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary."
-- Pope Leo XIII, Supremi apostolatus officio

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The scandal of Jesus, as spoken of in Mark

One of the things I did for the RCIA class I led today -- subject: "Jesus" -- was to list and categorize the things said to, about, and finally by Jesus, in St. Mark's Gospel. It wound up looking like this:

What did Jesus’ enemies say?
WORDS OF INDIGNATION
  • Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming. Who but God alone can forgive sins? 
  • Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners? 
  • He is out of his mind. He is possessed by Beelzebul. 
  • Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands? 
  • By what authority are you doing these things? Or who gave you this authority to do them? 
  • Why has there been this waste of perfumed oil? It could have been sold for more than three hundred days’ wages and the money given to the poor. 
WORDS OF TRICKERY
  • Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife? 
  • Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion. You do not regard a person’s status but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or should we not pay?
WORDS OF CONDEMNATION
  • Have you no answer? What are these men testifying against you? 
  • What further need have we of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think? 
  • Are you the king of the Jews? … Have you no answer? See how many things they accuse you of. 
  • Crucify him… Crucify him. 
  • He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.

What did Jesus’ disciples say?
LACK OF FAITH
  • Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? 
  • Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey? 
  • Are we to buy two hundred days’ wages worth of food and give it to them to eat? 
  • Where can anyone get enough bread to satisfy them here in this deserted place? 
  • Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb? 
QUESTIONS FOR THEIR TEACHER
  • Then who can be saved? 
  • Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first? 
  • Tell us, when will this happen, and what sign will there be when all these things are about to come to an end? 
PROTESTATION OF FAITH
  • We have given up everything and followed you. 
  • Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you… Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left. 
  • Surely it is not I? 
  • Even though all should have their faith shaken, mine will not be… Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you. 
PROFESSION OF FAITH
  • You are the Messiah.
What did the people say?
WORDS OF WONDER
  • What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him. 
  • We have never seen anything like this. 
  • Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him?
WORDS OF CURIOSITY
  • John the Baptist has been raised from the dead; that is why mighty powers are at work in him. 
  • He is Elijah. 
  • He is a prophet like any of the prophets.
QUESTIONING
  • Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? 
  • Which is the first of all the commandments?
WORDS OF FAITH
  • If you wish, you can make me clean. 
  • If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured. 
  • But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us. 
  • I do believe, help my unbelief! 
  • Jesus, son of David, have pity on me… Son of David, have pity on me… Master, I want to see.
WORDS OF GLORY
  • Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come! Hosanna in the highest! 
  • Truly this man was the Son of God!
What did the demons say?
WORDS OF CONFESSION AND FEAR
  • What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God! 
  • You are the Son of God. 
  • What have you to do with me Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me!
What did God the Father say?
WORDS OF FATHERHOOD
  • You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased. 
  • This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.
What did Jesus say?
WORDS OF PROPHECY
  • This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel. 
  • Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners. 
WORDS OF CALLING AND ENCOURAGEMENT
  • Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men. 
  • Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come. 
  • Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith? 
  • Do not be afraid; just have faith. 
  • Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while. 
  • Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid! 
WORDS OF HEALING AND FORGIVENESS
  • Child, your sins are forgiven. 
  • I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home. 
  • Little girl, I say to you, arise! 
  • Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction. 
  • But who do you say that I am? 
  • Go your way; your faith has saved you. 
WORDS OF REVELATION
  • The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death he will rise. 
  • For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. 
  • My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 
WORDS OF COMMAND
  • Take it; this is my body. 
  • This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many. 
  •  Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.
Of all the groups I've split the above into, Jesus' own disciples seemed to have the least understanding of who He was. When they did express faith in Him, it was usually by way of praising themselves. There's probably a lesson in that.

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