Saturday, June 25, 2016

Francis Is Telling The Truth on Today's Marriages

Aidan’s mother is Presbyterian but has consistently attended Saturday evening Mass with her husband, Pat, in the thirty-two years of their marriage.  In fact she directed the children’s choir in their parish while Aidan and his sister, Aile were in their middle-and high-school years.  Aidan and Aile each were altar servers in their seventh and eighth grade years and graduated, after Confirmation, into being lectors.  Aidan went to the local Jesuit prep-school; Aile to the “Madames” of the Sacred Heart Day School.  During his college years at the University of Delaware, however, Aidan drifted away from regular Mass attendance.  He also met Katie, like him from the D.C. suburbs, and they began dating.
Katie was also from a devout Catholic home.  She is an only child.  Her parents belong to the Cathedral parish of Saint Matthew in Washington where her mother is an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist.  Katie graduated from Georgetown Visitation before going to the University of Delaware.  When she began dating Aidan she got him back to Sunday Mass.  They dated in Sophomore and Junior year, but Aidan broke it off over the summer between Junior and Senior year.  He was concerned that Katie was overly dependent on her mother, Frances.  Frances would drive two hours every Tuesday to have lunch with Katie at the University and insisted that Katie come home every weekend. 
During their senior year Aidan and Katie slowly rebuilt their relationship and when Aidan decided to go to Law School in Boston, Katie followed to do her Masters in Math at Boston College.  Katie became very involved at the Paulist Center in Boston where she and Aidan regularly attended Mass every Sunday.  Katie was also on the RCIA team and Aidan became involved in fundraising for the center.  In Aidan’s final year of Law School they became engaged to be married.  They moved in together after they were engaged.  Frances flew up to Boston every-other-weekend.   Pat and Joan (Aidan’s mother) were concerned about Frances’ “apron-strings” but Aidan assured them that he could handle it.   They were also concerned that Aidan seemed unable to make up his own mind with determination and worried that the reconciliation between them in their senior year was little more than Aidan’s tendency to “be a nice guy.”  But in the end they felt they had to respect Aidan’s choices. 
Aidan graduated and passed the Bar for Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia.  Pat and Joan hoped “the kids” would move back to Fairfax but Katie had found a job teaching Math and Physics in a Boston High School and didn’t want to move back.  Aidan, on the other hand, was having trouble finding a position with a Law Firm in Boston though through family connections there were a number of positions available in the D.C. area.
They were married that July after graduation in the Cathedral of Saint Matthew in Washington.  Aidan’s uncle, a religious order priest teaching at Catholic U, said the Mass and presided over the marriage.  A reception for 150 followed at the Washington Country Club.  The two families split the cost of the reception based on the proportion of guests each had invited.  By September Aidan and Katie were back in Boston with Katie teaching and Aidan continuing to do interviews for a position in a law firm.  Meanwhile, Aidan took a position in a foreign currency exchange upstart company.  All seemed to be well though when they came back to the DC area at Christmas Aidan spent most nights at his parents in Fairfax, Katie with her family in Chevy-Chase.  They both spent Christmas Eve with Katie’s family and Christmas Day with Aidan’s. 
It was only in April that Aidan told his parents that Katie had left him in January and moved in with Maggie, the girls’ gym teacher in her Boston High School.   Maggie is gay and the exact nature of her relationship with Katie was never clearly defined.  Aidan felt, however, that Maggie had undermined their marriage from when she and Katie had first met and had told Katie that she (Katie) could move in with her if she ever left Aidan.   Katie stayed with Maggie for six months before moving out and getting an apartment of her own.  She told Aidan she wanted a divorce.
Aidan had been seeing a counselor since the breakup and he repeatedly asked Katie to see a marriage counselor with him but she refused.  He went to Katie’s parents to enlist their help—they too told their daughter to get counseling, but Katie refused.  The marriage was over and there was no room, according to Katie, to negotiate.  Pat and Joan were concerned that Aidan may have done something wrong.  Was their any violence?  Was he dealing with any issues?  Substance abuse?  Pornography addiction?  Aile put out what feelers she could among various friends and acquaintances she shared with Katie but could find no reason for Katie leaving Aidan other than “he wasn’t on the career track that would take them where she thought they should go.”  Aidan’s friends all assured his family that he never was abusive in any way and Katie has never alleged that he was.    
Pat and Joan told Aidan that since the marriage had lasted such a short time, wedding gifts should be returned and this led to an interesting revelation.  Aidan agreed; Katie refused.  But it turned out that Aidan had kept the gifts from his family and friends and Katie had kept hers.  They never established joint finances but each had their own bank accounts.  It turned out that Katie’s parents always had separate finances as well and Katie had refused the idea of joint accounts.  The divorce became final eighteen months after the breakup.
This is a true story.  Some particulars—names and places—have been changed but it is a story from within my own family.  I tell it because I believe Pope Francis is dead on when he says that the idea of permanent commitment escapes the understanding of many—if not most—people today.  Key to this is that I have not exaggerated the Catholicity of either family or the Catholic backgrounds of Katie and Aidan or Katie’s commitment to the Church through her College and Boston years, but note that it was Aidan who fought to keep the marriage.   If these happen when the wood is green, what will happen to the dry? 

Pope Francis’ comments on the instability of modern marriage—and its impact on the validity of the sacrament—stirred up a hornet’s nest among the krazies on the blogosphere, but it is totally consistent with what most of my priest-friends have been saying for years.  Some priests in my acquaintance even say that the Church “should get out of the marrying business.”  I think that would be a sad mistake but there is no doubt that we have a culture problem that is probably beyond the Church’s ability to fix.  I am not sure what the answer is but denial is not part of the solution.  Perhaps the Pope needs to speak out in more detail on this issue so that it is not as easy to retreat into denial.  It certainly explains why he is trying to chart a different course for the pastoral care of the divorced and remarried as the implicit nullity of so many contemporary marriages severely complicates the issue.  

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Another Roman Church Worth Searching Out

 I have had any number of comments from readers about my posting on the ancient Church of San Stefano Rotondo in Rome—a site easily overlooked by most visitors to the Holy City but one that is well worth the visit.  And so let me do another posting about an even more overlooked—and equally interesting—ancient Church not far from San Stefano, SS Quatro Coronati.  The title of the Church, translated into English, means: the Four Crowned Saints and refers to four unnamed martyr-saints.  Pope Miltiades in the early fourth century ascribed the names Claudius, Nicostratus, Simpronianus and Castorius to these four saints, but he had somehow amalgamated them to four of the five Pannonian stonemasons martyred during the persecution of Diocletian. (The fifth is Simplicius.)  To confuse the issue even further, in the crypt of the church of the SS Quatro Coronati are the bodies of the martyr Saints Secundus, Severianus, Carpoforus, and Victorinus, martyrs from the suburbican See of Rome, Albano, who were put to death at an unspecified time and about whom nothing other than their names are known.  So we have quite a collection of saints associated with this ancient church on the Caelian hill.

I have always liked this church because while it stands in the middle of the city of Rome, as you approach it you would swear you were walking down a country lane.  Tall grasses and wildflowers block out any view beyond the Caelian itself, birds sing and at the end of the alley you see what looks more like a ruined gatehouse than a basilica.  Passing through the gatehouse you enter the first of two external courtyards.  It was typical of the ancient Roman Churches to have a courtyard separating it from the street beyond—Santa Praessede in Rome is an excellent surviving example of this—but the second courtyard is, I believe unique.  Actually, the second courtyard was originally part of the nave of the basilica of SS Quatro Coronati, but when the church was rebuilt by Paschal II after having been burned by the Norman troops of Robert Guiscard during the 1084 sack of Rome.  The resultant basilica is quite small and compact.  The choir and presbyterium are screened off by a grille marking the cloister of the Augustinian nuns whose conventual church this has been since the mid sixteenth century.  Standing in the courtyards you could easily be in the 12th century, totally removed from the modern world and surrounded by a complex of patinaed medieval structures that exude peace and tranquility.  Inside the basilica there are some 16th century frescoes of no particular interest, but if you explore a bit you can find a lovely cloister in the cosmatesque style of the high Middle Ages.  And if you are really lucky you might hit the church while the nuns are singing the noonday office.  All in all it is a wonderful wormhole into medieval Rome. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Let the Holy Spirit Shed Her Wisdom

Patriarch Bartholomew of
It was only three and a half years after the 1959 announcement of the Second Vatican Council that 2500 Bishops, Abbots, and General Superiors of Religious Congregations gathered for the Council’s first session in the nave of the Patriarchal Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican to begin deliberations that would radically alter the face of Catholicism throughout the world.  On the other hand, it has taken the Orthodox Churches fifty-five years to prepare for the first Holy and Great Council, the first such gathering of the Orthodox in 1139 years and the first since the Great Schism which divided the Orthodox and Catholic worlds.  (This refers to the Fourth Council of Constantinople, regarded by some, but not by all as “Ecumenical,” which healed the Photian Schism and was actually held not in 887 but 879-80.)
The rules are different for this Holy and Great Council than for an authentically Ecumenical Council.  In an Ecumenical Council—and here I am referring to the first seven Councils which are accepted by both Churches of the East and West—all bishops are invited to participate and the vote of each bishop counts.  There is also free (and often free-for-all) discussion of the agenda with decision by majority and not by universal consensus.
The rules set forth for the upcoming Holy and Great Council to be held the end of this week in Crete call for each self-governing Orthodox Church to send 24 Bishop-delegates and each Church will have but a single vote in the final deliberations.   Moreover, the documents of the Council have been pre-agreed on (with some exception regarding the proposed legislation on marriage) and not subject to editing upon the discussion and voting.  It is then quite rigidly structured.
And now, at the last minute, the Holy and Great Synod appears to be imploding as several of the constituent Churches—including the most powerful, the Russian Orthodox Church—withdraws.  Orthodoxy is not a single Church, nor even like Catholicism, a communion of Churches but rather a family of Churches in communion with one another.  Let me explain.  The Roman Catholic Church is a single Church comprised of local Churches (dioceses) who have irrevocably submitted their autonomy to the Patriarchal Church of the West, the Bishopric of Rome, the papacy.  The Catholic Church (as distinguished from the Roman Catholic Church) is a communion of Churches, the largest and most influential of which is the Roman Catholic Church, in Eucharistic Fellowship with the Bishop of Rome.  Some of these Churches in Communion are the Melkite Patriarchate and its constituent local Churches (eparchies or dioceses), The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Major Archbishopric (some would say Patriarchate) and its constituent Churches, The Maronite Patriarchate of Antioch and its constituent Churches, The Syro-Malabar Major Archbishopric and its constituent Churches, and others.  While there is, and certainly more so after Vatican II, a certain amount of autonomy exercised by these Churches in communion with Rome, it does not compare with the total independence of each of the fourteen Churches that comprise Orthodoxy.  The authority exercised by the Patriarch of Constantinople over the other Churches is purely titular and without any means of enforcement.  Thus the Patriarch is unable to prevent the Holy and Great Synod from dissolving before it even assembles.
There are factions within Orthodoxy that have long militated against the assembly of a Holy and Great Council.  One motivation is political.  While the primacy belongs to Constantinople, the power has long belonged to the Moscow Patriarchate which holds—by far—the allegiance of the largest number of believers.   Moscow has long been jealous of the influence of Constantinople and anxious to take over, as the “Third Rome” the universal primacy.  But even among the smaller Churches there has been a certain amount of jostling over precedence as might be expected in a religious culture so sensitive to the details of ceremonial as in Orthodoxy.
Even more serious, however, is that there is a significant number of Orthodox who fear that any assembly of bishops will bring the Church into encounter with modern heresies.  Many Orthodox oppose ecumenism for fear that it will introduce into Orthodoxy the “modernist heresies” that have infected the West.   Indeed Ecumenism is seen by many, particularly in Russia and Greece, as the arch-heresy.  The lack of a contemporary theological education on the part of many clergy and bishops in the more remote corners of the Orthodox world has confused theological substance with human traditions—a situation with which we Catholics are not unfamiliar on the part of our Katholik Krazies.  Changes in the liturgical calendar, for example, are often treated with the same apprehension as would be the controversy over the Procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father.  I am not saying that the krazies in the Orthodox world are irrational to fear a Council.  Assemble a Church and should the Holy Spirit decide to process from the Father (and the Son) onto that assembly, who knows what will happen?  Vatican II is pudding-proof of that.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Responsibility For Orlando; Responsibility For The Future

We have met the enemy and he is
I am stunned over the events in Orlando.  Ironically at the very moment the calamity was unfolding, I had been sitting at my computer writing the previous posting in which I wrote that I need to see that Islam—like the other religions, great and small of our world—produces people of wide vision, great tolerance, peace builders and reconcilers and not fall into the trap that only Christian trees bear good fruit.  And now, of course, the blogosphere is replete, once again, with anti-Muslim slogans that would indiscriminately slap the brush of hatred and violence over the hundreds of millions who find in their religion the roots of compassion, reconciliation, and human betterment. 
“Christians” in Nigeria or Uganda can attack and burn a hall where gay men and women gather to socialize and Pope Francis or the Archbishop of Canterbury, much less you or me, aren’t given the burden of blame for the violence.  Indeed some of the same blogs that are now targeting Islam as the ideological tinder that was behind the Orlando violence themselves are filled with hate speech for LGBT persons, claiming that they only have reaped what they have sown.  If all Muslims are to be blamed for the violence of the Orlando attack, then we Christians, in fact, share in the responsibility as well for the judgments we make about those whom we judge to be sinners.  But the problem is much wider than religion gone toxic. 
We need to stand back and see how responsibility for the violence in our world lies as our own doorsteps.  We live in a culture saturated in violence.   Whether it is Game of Thrones or Independence Day: Resurgence or even Bluebloods we lace our entertainment with violence and death.  No one dare take on the NRA and its political agenda funded by the gun industry to prevent at all costs a rational system of legislation to keep automatic and semi-automatic weapons out of the hands of those who lack the responsibility to protect a peaceful citizenry.  Of course we are a society that condones babies being ripped from the bellies of their mothers by the abortion industry—it is all part of a wild and savage cultural imagination in which black lives do not matter, blue lives do not matter, and in fact no life really matters.  The Pope tells us that Capital Punishment is State-sanctioned murder but we close our ears.  Kids are taken to gun ranges rather than golf driving ranges.  We are drunk with violence and while we may profess to be Christian and sing our Sunday hymns, our real religion is blood.  This is not the kingdom that Jesus of Nazareth came to reveal to us.  This is not the Divine ratio for the Incarnation.  This is a fraudulent and inauthentic Christianity and we will be fraudulent and inauthentic Christians until we reject the language, vocabulary, syntax and culture of Death that runs through our society.  Before we dare demonize others we need to take a long hard look at the demons in our own hearts.  Like the first Christians who thoroughly rejected the violence of the Graeco-Roman world with its lion and gladiator shows, with its State-sponsored cruelty, with its contempt for the lives of others and indeed for its own citizens, we must turn our back on this culture of death and construct an alternative world. 
One of the etymologies often given for the word “Devil” is that it is derived from the Greek διαβολος via the Latin diabolus and the French diable.  διαβολος itself is constructed of two words, to force and apart.  The devil is the one who divides us.  Divides us from God; divides us from one another.  We need to see that whatever divides us, in our imagination, from others: Muslim, Gay, Immigrant, whatever—is the work of the evil One.  In the Mind of God every human person is his son or his daughter and his plan is to bring us together—in Christ, we Christians believe—into a conscious sharing of his Divine Nature.  This culture of unification must be our alternative to the Culture of violence and death which is eating out our world from within like the most vicious cancer. 
Earlier today, in looking up an article on Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, I found a reference to the Chemin Neuf Community.  It was founded by Jesuit Father Laurent Fabre in 1973—at the very end of the Paul VI/Vatican II papacy of hope before so much of our Catholic Church descended into the retreat from Vatican II in the protection of the more recent tragically ambiguous papacies of his successors but one.  The Chemin Neuf (Literally New Road) is an authentically Catholic (i.e. canonically recognized) movement.  It was give official recognition by Cardinal Alexandre Renard, archbishop of Lyon, in 1984 and later given the canonical status as a Public Association of the Faithful by Cardinal Albert Decourtray, Archbishop of the same See and Primate of France.  While canonically Catholic, it welcomes and includes members of a wide variety of Christian churches from the Evangelical and Charismatic to the Orthodox Churches of the East who wish to work together, hand in hand, to spread the Gospel.  To spread the Gospel: not to provide apologetics as to why we are right and everyone else is wrong, but to announce the Εωαγγελιον, The Good News of Jesus Christ, a message that calls our human family to reconciliation, peace, and unity.  The community, which follows Ignatian Spirituality, has an extensive outreach to families, including those who have been divorced and remarried.  It has provided a welcome experience of Christian community to many who have found that sense of community in Christ, to be lacking in more traditional Church structures. 

It is a different approach but then it is time for new and different approaches.  Our self-imposed diversities are from the evil One.  They lead only to death and Christ is Lord of Life.  After Orlando I am more convinced than ever that the future requires people of any and all religious beliefs to work together in mutual respect with all people of good will in taking responsibility for making our world better. 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Never Too Old to Learn Some Lessons

It was the flowers that initially 
hooked me
I have to admit that I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about.  The last attention I had paid to the man he was still “Gaseous Cassius” and, not having an interest in boxing, when he converted to Islam I turned my back on all the braggadocio and invested my brain cells other where.  You couldn’t escape him entirely of course, not if you read the newspapers or watched Walter Cronkite, but he was only a name from those part of the headlines that came from worlds which I, for the most part, did not inhabit.  He was enough older than me that during the years he made his mark I still had grades and college admissions to preoccupy me.  And I was slow in coming to my more liberal views—Viet Nam in particular was not a quick conversion for me but a long agonizing interior search for a moral compass that transcended the glib and easy slogans being yelled by crowds outside my college dorm.  And more important yet, my life already was the Church.  It was the heady years immediately after Vatican II, and I was taken up with the Liturgy and Ecumenics and outreach to the poor.  So who gave a second thought to a come-lately Muslim of questionable sharia orthodoxy from Louisville Kentucky?  And that is pretty much where I had left it.  So what was the fuss about?
I had no intention of watching the memorial service but sometimes circumstances conspire to the unplanned.  I had been in hospital for a few days with an infection in my lower intestinal tract and was being discharged.  I was waiting for my ride home.  The television was on.  And to be honest I was captivated by the gorgeous arrangements of hydrangea, tulips, orchids, roses and fern.  I have always had a “thing” for flowers and was struck by the incredible garden that surrounded the speakers. 
The first of the speakers I heard was the Reverend Kevin Cosby, pastor of Saint Stephen’s Baptist Church in Louisville and President of Simmons College.  It was the best of African-American preaching—solid, biblical, and yet pulling on the heart-strings for personal conversion.  And, unlike other Christian speakers, he honored the commission to bring Jesus into the conversation, the Jesus of Matthew 25 who shuffles with the lame and the tired through the hardships of Louisville’s (or Chicago’s, or Los Angeles’ or Nairobi’s West End.  Every city has a West End and like the mythical “liturgical east” it isn’t limited to one point of the compass.)
The second speaker to snap me to attention was Rabbi Michael Lerner.  I wasn’t impressed by his mourning prayer—just a little too post-orthodox for me—but the talk was powerful and, like Reverend Cosby’s—was a call for the personal commitment and conversion of the listener.
I didn’t get to hear all the speakers.  My ride came and there was a stop at the drugstore to drop off prescriptions, but as soon as I was back in my suite of rooms, my television was snapped on. 
I loved Billy Crystal’s talk.  I expected more from President Clinton but he didn’t do badly. He was warm and personal towards Mrs. Ali and the family and I suppose a more low-key approach was fitting for the end of the service to usher us back to the everyday world and the promise of a tomorrow in which I –and  I hope others—would have a different perspective on our mission in the world.  I was somewhat embarrassed by the blandness of Monsignor Kriegel. I am not sure what to make of the Buddhist chant; it seemed incongruous.  The Quranic verses were certainly appropriate to the occasion.  And the flowers were magnificent. 
The entire event confirmed in me my conviction and commitment to the Second Vatican Council’s declaration found in Nostra Aetate  
The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself.
Secondly I learned that I need to pay more attention to those whom I often dismiss as being culturally, socially and historically marginal because I disagree with their foundational religious, intellectual, or cultural principles.  It is not my role to grade others—public figures or private individuals—for importance but rather to see the results they produce in their lives that effect change on either the global or the individual levels. 
Thirdly, I need to see that Islam—like the other religions, great and small of our world—produces people of wide vision, great tolerance, peace builders and reconcilers and not fall into the trap that only Christian trees bear good fruit.  While I have always defended those who faith follows different doctrines than mine, I do have a strong streak of Christian chauvinism that Friday’s service proved needs rethinking.  And I need to acknowledge that there are those for whom religious faith of any sort is not central to, or even part of, their lives but whose contribution to the betterment of our world far surpasses my own. 

And finally I think—I hope—that I have learned that the future requires people of any and all religious beliefs to work together in mutual respect with all people of good will in taking responsibility for making our world better.