Monday, July 28, 2014

"The suicide of civilized Europe"

Priest saying Mass for French troops near Champagne, 1915 AD

In commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War, the Telegraph has been publishing many never before seen photographs like the one above.

Benedict XV, whose papacy started just after the War began, called it "the suicide of civilized Europe."  Certainly, the photographs depict a world which has not only disappeared but is almost unrecognizable to us.   Some photos, like this one, seem surreal.

Field Marshal Kitchener (2nd left), commander of English forces, 
meeting French General Albert Baratier (on horseback) 
as General Joffre, commander of French forces looks on, 1915 AD

Benedict called for a Christmas truce in 1914 but was ignored.  Benedict attempted to mediate peace in 1916 and again in 1917, but Germany rejected these efforts as "insulting," while Clemenceau called them anti-French.

By the time the Armistice took effect at 11:11 on November 11, 1918, 37 million civilians and soldiers had been killed or wounded.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Missionary and the Olympian

David Rudisha

When Kenyan David Rudisha won the gold medal for the 800 meter run at the 2012 London Olympics, he led from wire to wire in a world record setting display of speed which established Rudisha as perhaps the greatest 800 meter runner of all time.   From the time he first took up running in his teens, Rudisha has had only one coach: an Irish missionary brother named Colm O'Connell.  Rudisha and O'Connell's remarkable story is told in the BBC documentary above called "100 Seconds to Beat the World."

Ever since St. Paul, the Church has proposed athletes as models to those seeking to advance in the spiritual life.  From Rudisha's story, it's easy to see why.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Hail, Nabor and Felix

Reliquary of Saints Nabor and Felix
Frederick Barbarossa kept these relics as a souvenir when he captured Milan in 1158 AD

Beloved yet uncanonized Nabors and Felix

According to the pre-1969 calendar (a topic I belabored here), July 12 is the feast of Saints Nabor and Felix.  Nabor and Felix were Moorish soldiers in the Roman Army who converted and were martyred in Milan during the persecution of Diocletian in 303 AD.  

The rules still permit a commemorative Mass to be celebrated for the feast unless an obligatory celebration takes precedence.  Next year I think I'll request this in my parish.  I expect the look I get in response will be somewhere between the bug-eyed Felix and the slack-jawed Nabors.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Where can you read about "Brown Scapular Porter"?

 Anchor Brewhouse, San Francisco
Whose picture is on the far wall, and why?  Find out here.

 At Catholic Beer Drinkers.  They have lots of other interesting information about beer and Catholicism, too.   It's where I got the photo above.

Feasts, wine (or beer), and monks

Beatus festum, fratres!
Ecce quam bonum et quam iucúndum habitáre fratres in unum

"The memory of a saint is like music at a feast with wine, or beer if you prefer.”  That's the loose translation of Sirach 49:2 which Father Benedict Nivakoff, O.S.B used to begin a homily for the feast of St. Benedict at the Basilica of St. Benedict in Norsia last week.   I added the "or beer if you prefer" part.  It happens that the Benedictine monks of Norsia brew beer, and I'll bet it's very good.

 On the subject of feasts,  Fr. Nivakoff notes;

[T]he idea to have a feast day belongs to a deep level of Catholicism.  It means to put aside the rhythms of daily life to celebrate, without any sense of necessity or usefulness. But it is the very fact that a feast is not necessary or indispensable or useful from the vantage point of productivity that gives it its character of joy and makes it a true feast.

.... All oriented to God!  The life of the monk is like a life of a continuous festival, because while he eats, while he sleeps, while he works in the fields, while he makes beer, or while he is doing whatever else he does, he is working for a purpose, an end, that is not immediate and evident, but to honor and adore a God who seems to be always hidden!

A life of continuous festival sounds pretty good.  That may be one reason the monks need so much beer.

Fr. Nivakoff's full homily here.

h/t Rorate Caeli

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

If we have to start all over again,shouldn't we use the best possible music?

"The Miracle of the Mass"  Chapel of St. Martin, Assisi
Transcendental Affirmation par excellence

The English philosopher Roger Scruton (b 1944 AD) has noted that modern totalitarian societies are founded on "transcendental negation."  Marxists practice dialectical materialism, so they specifically exclude the transcendent, but all modern societies, (including our own)  are marked to some degree by this same affliction.   Its bleak materiality is one reason for the deep dissatisfactions of modern society, and explains why modern society contains so much ugliness.  The modern church, too, practices its own type of transcendental negation, as evidenced by, among other things, the "wreckovations" carried out in so many parishes since the 1960s, and the growing blight of concrete cube churches.  Few things say "transcendental negation" louder and clearer than a concrete cube church.

 Church of St. Paul the Apostle, Foligno Italy
A concrete lover's Taj Mahal

Augustinian Church, Wurzburg, built in 1266 AD
(freshly wreckovated, at a cost of 1.7 million euros)

And yet we are not driven to despair, since, as Scruton points out, the way to renew modern societies is very simple.  All we need to do is live the religious life, which involves seeking for the living God.   I suspect many of you are already doing this.   However, Scruton suggests that this work involves in addition the preservation of our memory of the spiritual way of life, and of the things which contain this memory.  The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum (1965 AD) said much the same thing  when it declared "...what was handed on by the Apostles includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the peoples of God; and so the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes " (emphasis mine)  Among such containers of spiritual memory are the sacred music from the old Mass.  That is why the suppression and concealment of that music (and that sublime ceremony), which the Church ought instead to be perpetuating and handing on, is so tragic.

Here is the the full quotation from Scruton:

I agree with you that the high [European] culture in which I have always put my trust has been effectively destroyed by its own appointed guardians, and that without the religious core it persists only as a fragile shell. . . .  But this [renewal] means, as you say, rejecting the premise of modern life, that God is dead, and starting all over again, seeking for the living God, and hoping to be visited by his grace.  If people are prepared to live the religious life, then their example will once again make this course available to the mass of mankind, and there will be hope.  At the same time, we must constantly fight those who are trying to destroy the memory of the spiritual way of life, and assailing all those things in which that memory is contained.  In particular we should exercise our aesthetic choices in art devoted to the ideals of beauty and order, and refrain from the kind of desecration that has become the norm in modern art schools.  (Dominicana 55.2 [Winter 2012], 65

h/t New Liturgical Movement

RELATED:  Even Time Magazine right of center newsmagazines agree. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Hail, St. Benedict, founder of Western Monasticism

"Surrounded by his disciples Benedict in prayer passes from earth to heaven,"  
11th century miniature, Monte Cassino

St. Benedict (c. 480 AD - 543 AD), from an aristocratic family in Umbria, went to Rome as a young man to study, but soon fled that corrupt and licentious city to seek God in deserted places.   Many people quit school for one reason or another, but St. Benedict's decision to drop out had unusually far-reaching effects.   For the rest of his life, St. Benedict lived in communities of men also seeking holiness, and out of this experience Benedict formulated his great Rule, which has provided the framework for most monastic communities in the Catholic church for 15 centuries.  Since the influence of monasticism upon the Church and Western culture has been immense, St. Benedict can be considered one of the chief architects of Christendom, that great civilization which flowered in Europe for many centuries, and eventually spread its influence across the globe.  In recognition of this, St. John Paul II declared Benedict co-patron of Europe (along with Saints Cyril and Methodius, which makes them the co-co-patrons of Europe) in 1980.

Chapter XX of Benedict's Rule - Of Reverence at Prayer:

If we do not venture to approach men who are in power, except with humility and reverence, when we wish to ask a favor, how much must we beseech the Lord God of all things with all humility and purity of devotion? And let us be assured that it is not in many words, but in the purity of heart and tears of compunction that we are heard. For this reason prayer ought to be short and pure, unless, perhaps it is lengthened by the inspiration of divine grace. At the community exercises, however, let the prayer always be short. . . .

St. Benedict's patronage is very extensive, and includes the following :
-Against poison
-Against witchcraft
-Agricultural workers
-Civil engineers
-Dying people
-Gall stones
-Heerdt (Germany)
-Heraldry and Officers of arms
-the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest
-Inflammatory diseases
-Italian architects
-Kidney disease
-Nettle rash
-Norcia, (Italy)
-People in religious orders
-Servants who have broken their master's belongings

RELATED:  Benedictines v. Jesuits.   I'm with the Benedictines on this one.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

"Some fell along the path . . . . other seed fell on good soil"

"St. Francis Xavier in Japan", Utsumi

In August, Pope Francis will be travelling to South Korea, where Catholics make up more than 10% of the population.  Catholicism arrived in Korea fairly recently, having been carried there by laymen at the end of the 19th century.   In 1960, there were only about 100,000 Korean Catholics; today there are 5.3 million, and their numbers are increasing rapidly.   Meanwhile, in nearby Japan, despite almost five centuries of effort by many missionaries (including some very famous ones), Catholics make up only .35% of the population.   Why the dramatic difference in receptiveness to Catholicism between the two neighboring countries?  Fr. Piero Gheddo, dean of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions in Milan, is an expert on the subject, and presents his thoughts here.  Fr. Gheddo's answer also helps explain why Japan is dying, while South Korea is thriving.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

“Beware of discouragement; it is the death of the soul.”

Frederic Ozanam

That's a quotation from Frederic Ozanam (1813 AD - 1853 AD), the founder of the St. Vincent de Paul Society.  I'd thought that the SVP only collected used clothing, but they do a lot more (at least in Britain) as Damian Thompson notes here.   Thompson calls the SVP the Church's "best kept secret", and he may be right.

While studying law at the Sorbonne, Ozanam found that many of his professors mocked Catholic teaching, so he started a discussion club where Catholic teaching could be debated and defended.   At one of these debates Ozanam's opponent stung him deeply with this accusation: "Let us be frank, Mr. Ozanam; let us also be very particular. What do you do besides talk to prove the faith you claim is in you?"

Ozanam agreed that his words needed to be backed up by actions, and he began visiting the poor of Paris to offer assistance.  Others joined in Ozanam's efforts, and Ozanam and his friends placed themselves under the patronage of St. Vincent de Paul.   Thus was the the St. Vincent de Paul Society born.

Ozanam suffered from poor health, and he died quite young.   In his sermon at Ozanam's funeral, Fr. Jean-Baptiste Henri-Dominique Lacordaire, the greatest preacher in France, described Ozanam as "one of those privileged creatures who came direct from the hand of God in whom God joins tenderness to genius in order to enkindle the world."

Ozanam was beatified in 1997.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Hail, St. Thomas the Apostle

 "Incredulity of Thomas", Duccio,The Maesta Altarpiece (1308-11 AD)

There are very few apostles, and only a handful of these receive any speaking lines in the Gospels, but St. Thomas the Apostle, today's saint, has two of the best.   When Jesus announces that he intends to return to Judea, St. Thomas says to his fellow disciples "Let us also go, that we may die with him" (John 11:16).   And after the resurrection, when Jesus appears to St. Thomas, and places Thomas' fingers in his wounds,  St. Thomas answers "Thou art my Lord and my God" John 20:28.

Thomas's confession of faith and his brave proclamation of discipleship (even if he didn't quite live up to it at that time) would be legacy enough, but St. Thomas seems to have enjoyed an especially high degree of prestige in the early Church for other reasons.  Two very ancient documents The Acts of St. Thomas, and the Gospel of Thomas are named for him.  Although they are both of gnostic origin, and contain extravagantly fanciful elements (including, for example, dragons), that they are named for Thomas shows he was a widely admired figure, otherwise the gnostics would not have considered St. Thomas' endorsement to be helpful in obtaining acceptance for their heretical views.  This same principle is true today, and explains why Tim Howard is more likely to appear on a box of Wheaties than Osama bin Laden.  Of course, there is no evidence that St. Thomas did indeed endorse gnosticism, (the Acts appear to have been written by an astrologer/convert named Bardesanes more than a hundred years after St. Thomas' martyrdom).

Though the Acts and the Gospel of Thomas are largely fables, they do contain certain historical details which can be confirmed as factual, or at least probable.  For instance, according to the Acts, St. Thomas preached in India, and was martyred there.  Although this can't definitely be established as true, a bishop from India was present at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, and even today on the Malabar coast of India a community of Christians use a form of Syriac for their liturgical language.  In addition, Bardesanes himself was from Edessa, where St. Thomas' relics were venerated, having, according to tradition, been carried there from the East.

St. Thomas the Apostle, who probably preached the Gospel as far away as India, pray for us.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

For the NYT, when it comes to beating the Catholic church, any club will do

"Crucifixion," (recently restored) Constantino Brumidi
Holy Innocents Church
Brumidi also executed many frescoes in the US Capitol Building, 
including "Apotheosis of George Washington" on the Rotunda

New York Times takes the side of Holy Innocents Church against the NY Archdiocese.  Holy Innocents, the only parish in the Archdiocese where the Latin Mass is offered daily, is about to be closed by the Archdiocese, and no provision has been made for continuing the daily Latin Mass.   Fr. Justin Wylie, a South African priest who served as a visitor at Holy Innocents, recently urged the parishioners of Holy Innocents to stand up to the Archdiocese rather than be "turned out like squatters."   The Archdiocese saw to it that Fr. Wylie was dismissed from his position at the Vatican's Mission to the UN, and he was sent packing within days.   "[W]e need priests who don’t criticize . . .  the local diocese,"  explained a spokesman for the Archdiocese.  No references to saints, tradition or scripture were supplied in support of that view.

Holy Innocents is the oldest building on a non-residential block on the fringe of the garment district, and the parish was in steep decline until they began to offer the Latin Mass.  Since then, Sunday Mass attendance has tripled, and the parish runs a surplus.   No reason to close it, except for an inexplicable (to me) animus against the Latin Mass.