Monday, October 31, 2011

Saint Peter's and the Complex of Personalities

    I had hoped to post this yesterday but then we had an internet issue and I didn't have access to the blog site.  I have a lot of material on the building of Saint Peter's--and that is one of the most Popular topics that I have been posting on--so I hope to make sure that I can do a posting each day this week, 
     As I mentioned yesterday, as the center of the Renaissance moved from Florence to Rome in the papacy of Julius II Rome was alive with artists and architects and musicians.  Among the painters, Pinturicchio, Signorelli, Giovanni Antonio Bazzi—known as Il Sodoma—Lorenzo Lotto, Johannes Ruysch, Perugino all were in Rome looking for patronage. 
     Of all these the competition for leadership of the pack was between Michelangelo and Donato Bramante.  In retrospect, there was no real competition—Michelangelo stood alone—but papal patronage was a fickle thing and when it came to the arts, Julius was no monogamist.  Michelangelo was entrusted with Julius’ greatest personal project—his tomb.  And Bramante was entrusted with Julius greatest public project—the building of a new Basilica to hold that tomb.  Think Julius might have been a “4” on the enneagram?  It was, at least in his mind, all about him.  In any event, the competition for papal recognition was bitter between the two artists and for Michelangelo, at least, it was all a matter of pride.  Michelangelo was an artist for the sake of the art he needed in his inner drive to create.  He was indifferent to the financial and career aspects of art.  He also was impossible to work with, temperamental and insecure.  He worked alone.  In fact, very few people ever broke through Michelangelo’s shell and he went through life, for the most part, a loner.  Michelangelo’s homosexuality is well established historically though it seems that it also caused him considerable personal turmoil and inner conflict.  Whether Michelangelo in fact ever let the deep love he felt (and wrote about) for a succession of younger men manifest itself in sexual intimacy is debated among Michelangelo scholars.  It may have been this conflicted sexuality that made the artist so eccentric and melancholic.  In any event, his personality worked against him for Bramante, though much less talented than Michelangelo (and much more talented than the other 99.999% of the human race) had a charming and extroverted personality that gave him an advantage over the high strung and moody Florentine. Some have suggested that it was Bramante that put Pope Julius up to withdrawing Michelangelo from the tomb project and forced him—against his will—to fresco the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, knowing that Michenangelo—a sculptor, not a painter—would fail miserably.  The Sistine project was very high on Julius’s priorities, the chapel having been built by Julius’ uncle and patron, Sixtus IV della Rovere.  Of course Michelangelo pulled the rabbit out of the hat and produced what well might be his greatest work, the Sistine ceiling.  But Bramante had more than one trick up his sleeve.  Ok, Michelangelo could paint.  But Bramante found a rival for him in this field too and brough Rafaello Sanzio, today generally known as Raphael, to Julius’ attention.  While Michelangelo was sulking on his scaffold in the Sistine and now allowing anyone to see his work, Bramante’s protégé Raphael, was cheerily painting the new papal apartments.  In fact Julius was so taken Raphael’s talents that he had the recently completed works by Piero della Francesca and Signorelli destroyed so that Raphael could point over them.  Like Bramante, Raphael was charming and extroverted.   And he did work alone but had an entourage of assistants whom he had trained to fulfill a host of minor functions. Raphael would prepare the cartoons of his painting but his team would apply the fresh plaster, mix the paints, even paint in the figures from Raphael’s cartoons and sketches and then the Master would come through and do the detail work and fine points.      
      Bramante for his part was so different than Michelangelo.   Whereas Michelangelo was obsessed with detail and would never entrust his work, as did Raphael, to others, Bramante was a “big-picture” man.  Brash and outspoken, he got along better with Julius—himself an out-of-control extrovert—than Michelangelo.  But Bramante’s flaw was his lack of attention to detail.  A great basilica requires an architect of wide vision but the revolutionary size of the projected building also required an engineer of meticulous detail.  That Bramante was not.  In many ways Bramante was more suited to design for the illusions of the stage than for the physics of architecture.  To cut costs he also cut quality of building materials.  Marble and stone was replaced by tufa (a material found in the region near Rome which is like soft earth when cut from the ground but which hardens like stone after being exposed to the atmosphere), brick, and cement.  He began building the four piers that would support the projected central dome over the tomb of the apostle, but had no idea how to actually raise a dome over the open spaces left by the supporting arches that would rise from those piers.  Domes were tricky things.  While the ancient Romans had known how to construct them, the art had been lost until Brunelleschi had built the dome of the Cathedral in Florence only some sixty or seventy years before.  The Vatican dome was to be much larger and in retrospect it seems reckless, indeed stupid, to have built the foundations without having a plan for the dome itself.  But that was Bramante—he went step by step, trial and error, flying by the seat of his pants as we say—as he built his basilica.  In the end, it would not be he who solved the problem or built the dome. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Word of the Lord

I will do a historical posting on the building of Saint Peter's a bit later, but i was struck by the first reading at Mass this morning,   whew, it sounds like it was written today

the day is coming when you will worship God neither
on this mountain nor in Jerusalem..but a time is coming
and indeed is already here when true worshipers will
worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth.   
Mal 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10
A great King am I, says the LORD of hosts,
and my name will be feared among the nations.
And now, O priests, this commandment is for you:
If you do not listen,
if you do not lay it to heart,
to give glory to my name, says the LORD of hosts,
I will send a curse upon you
and of your blessing I will make a curse.
You have turned aside from the way,
and have caused many to falter by your instruction;
you have made void the covenant of Levi,
says the LORD of hosts.
I, therefore, have made you contemptible
and base before all the people,
since you do not keep my ways,
but show partiality in your decisions.
Have we not all the one father?
Has not the one God created us?
Why then do we break faith with one another,
violating the covenant of our fathers?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Financing the Basilica

The Chapel of Nicholas V in the Vatican
Let’s go back to the saga of building Saint Peter’s.  We had discussed in earlier blogs  (April 16, 2011)  that by the fifteenth century Constantine’s basilica was falling down—the north wall was totally out of plumb and in danger of collapse.  There had been plans to expand the old basilica and enlarge it under Nicholas V in the middle of the fifteenth century and the papal architect, Bernardo de Matteo Rossellino had actually begun building a new apse, but with the Nicholas’ death in 1455 the project came to nothing.  (One thing that does last to Nicholas’ everlasting credit—at least measured in earthly values, if not heavenly—is the exquisite chapel in the Vatican frescoed by Dominican friars, Fra Angelico. To my mind it is the most beautiful of all the churches and chapels in the Vatican—more than the Sistine Chapel or Saint Peter’s itself.  It is quite small—smaller than most bedrooms in a modest suburban American home—but exquisite for the sublime frescoes of Saints Laurence and Stephen.   O well, back to the Basilica (which I have always thought to be rather garish). 
Fra Angelico fresco of Saint Laurence
distributing alms
     Anyway, it was Julius II della Rovere who decided to tear down the old Basilica and construct a new one—a radical decision. (Imagine of Benedict decided to tear down the current Basilica and build a new one “in the modern style;” don’t you think that infallible or not his ass would be in a sling with all the neo-cons?  Well Julius had it no easier.  People were horrified.  Julius was called all sorts of things even by the Cardinals.  (I bet the biggest critics of any pope are from among the Cardinals though they keep their deprecations among their closest friends.)  Originally Julius’ motivation was he wanted the space to hold this new tomb that he had Michelangelo carving over 40 larger-than-life figures to adorn.  But Julius was a man with many irons in the fire.  Michelangelo was working on the tomb, Bramante on the basilica.  But the pope wanted to expand his palace.  First he didn’t want to live in the apartments of his predecessor, Alexander VI Borgia, whom he hated.  Alexander was an evil man, but that wasn’t what stopped Julius from liking him.  Julius understood weaknesses of the flesh as well as anyone.  It was just that the Borgias and the Della Roveres were the Hatfields and McCoys of fifteenth century Rome.   Each family had held the papacy at different times and tried to shut out the other family from power and influence in their turn.   So Julius had new apartments built and commissioned Raphael to fresco them. But that was only part of the remodeling project.  Innocent VIII had built a villa on a hill just north of the Vatican palace to which he could retire in the heat of Roman summers—the hill commanding refreshing breezes that missed the palace lying on lower ground.  The villa was named the Belvedere—“beautiful to see” or “beautiful views” because it gave lovely views of the meadows and orchards at the time lying between the Vatican and the Castle Sant’Angelo. Julius decided to connect the palace and the villa with two long narrow buildings, creating a massive courtyard between.  When one visits the Vatican Museum today you spend a lot of time in these wings that are wonderfully frescoed and which for years held the treasures of the Vatican Library.   Not only was Julius building basilicas and palaces and tombs, but everyone who was anyone in Rome was into building—palaces, churches, monuments.  With Julius, Rome had displaced Florence and become the center of the Renaissance.  Rome was swarming with artists, sculptors, architects, musicians, littérateurs, gold and silversmiths, all seeking patronage.  And the Church officials were only too happy to patronize them.  An essential part of the career path in the Church was liberality in patronizing the arts.  Prelates became known for the churches they were building or furnishing and for the opulent palaces in which they lived and the lavishness with which they entertained.  I make fun, as you know, of the clerical coxcombs who parade around in trains of scarlet silk and furred capes today—but it fit the espirit of the times. (Whether it fit the Gospel any better then than now is another question, but then I am sure Jesus has shed more tears over his Church than he ever did over Jerusalem of old.) This created huge employment—stone masons and carpenters, cooks, stewards, servants, mixers of paints, cutters of stone, hewers of trees, pages, vinters, brewers, bakers, chandlers, glass blowers, weavers,  tailors, grocers, stable hands, milliners, construction workers, brickmakers : Renaissances are not cheap.  As I mentioned in earlier blogs money was being drained from all over Europe to pay for the extravagance but at the same time—as Democrats know and Republicans fear—spending 
Ordination of Laurence as Deacon
creates jobs and Rome was abustle with work and employment means money and money means more jobs.  But how could it be kept being fueled?  Pope Julius had an excellent banker—we would refer to him today as a Finance Minister or Secretary of the Treasury, he didn’t stand behind a window counting out twenties.  His name was Agostino Chigi and he had an idea. “ Why not,” he asked Julius, “why not sell indulgences?”  indeed, why not?

Friday, October 28, 2011

What Makes "Real (?) Catholic T.V." Real Catholic?

And then there’s Michael Voris and “Real Catholic T.V.”  Michael Voris might be a real Catholic but “Real Catholic T.V.” is not really Catholic—at least in any sense that the Catholic Church recognizes.  Let me explain.  What Sister Never Knew and Father Never Told You is not a Catholic Blog.  O sure, it’s author is a Catholic in good standing, very good standing.  But the blog itself: it is neither endorsed nor sponsored by the Catholic Church.  I have no authorization from the Holy See or the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), or a local bishop to produce this blog.  Of course, I wouldn’t want one—nor do I need one.  This blog is about history—not faith or morals.  I make no pretense of doctrinal authenticity in matters of faith and/or morals.  I wouldn’t deliberately lead people astray regarding the Magisterium but even when dealing with matters of faith and/or morals, I will only present them from a historical point of view.  And history falls outside the authority of the Magisterium—which is one reason, by the way, that I went into history and not theology.  But Mr. Voris works very hard to give the (false) impression that he speaks for the Church when in fact he speaks only for himself.  There is no guarantor that he is, in fact, “orthodox” or that he accurately represents the position of the Holy See or the teachings of the Church.  In fact, he is often at odds with the Church in some of the claims that he makes especially on the “flash points” of ecumenism, inter-religious dialogue, sacred worship, canon law, Church authority, and several other topics. No one, at any level of Church authority, has granted Mr. Voris recognition as being an authentic channel of Catholic doctrine.  Mr. Voris, like others such as Father Maciel of the Legionnaires of Christ, Father Fessio, Mother Angelica, the former Father Corappi, and various others, has discovered that a neo-traditionalist message brings considerable financial advantages.  I believe however that unlike Father Fessio and Mother Angelica, Mr. Voris is not acting in (mistaken) good faith but simply establishing himself in a niche in the neo-con market for his own financial and career purposes.  The primary aim of the vortex is to suck money out of the pockets of those who mistakenly believe their support of Mr. Voris is a support of an “authentic” Catholicism.     

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Everything is For Sale in Rome

The Dome of Saint Peter's from the
Vatican Gardens
Saturday evening I was with a group of friends and one friend passed to another Michael Rose’s book Good Bye Good Men (Regency Publishing, 2002).  They saw the questioning look on my face and the one fellow, the one giving the book, asked me what I thought of it.  I had to admit that I don’t think very much of it.  I think Rose had some points but his reliance on anecdote—and anecdotes from anonymous sources—leaves it void of credibility.  One simply cannot check his “facts” and consequently the book is useless except as a piece of polemic and polemic these days in the Church is as common as “cow pies” in a pasture and worth about as much. 
     This is not to say that he is wrong.  It is clear that there is a gay subculture in the Catholic clergy today.  One only has to see the effeminate approach to worship that many of the younger priests embrace to know that there is a critical absence of male role models in clergy formation programs.  (I don’t mean to equate effeminacy with homosexuality, but in the context of the younger clergy and the way they behave on the altar, I mean “camp.”) Where is the strong, loving, and wise male to lead us in public prayer?  I increasingly see brussles lace clad wraiths with manicured fingers delicately holding tulip shaped chalices as they whisper magic words like a sorceress conjuring her magic.  Don’t misunderstand me, this isn’t a liberal swipe at the conservative younger clergy.  The Legionaries of Christ, a most conservative group and one despised by liberals, for whatever other faults they may have present very good masculine men.  That doesn’t guarantee their sexual orientation, of course, but the Legionaries demonstrate that one doesn’t have to be a pansy to be “orthodox.”  And I don’t believe that a gay priest who is committed to celibacy has, by virtue of his sexual orientation, anything less to offer God and the Church than a heterosexual priest who is committed to celibacy.  In fact, if there is one thing I admire about the Legionaries is that they are committed to something other than themselves. I don’t think their commitment is admirable—it is to the Legion, not to the Church or the Gospel, but at least it isn’t the narcissistic ”it’s all about me” pseudo-priesthood that I see today when I hear priests talk about “at my Mass”  or “in my parish.”  It is Christ’s Priesthood; the Church’s Mass, and the people’s parish. 
     I am currently reading Jason Berry’s Render Unto Rome.  It is more interesting and certainly more credible than Good Bye Good Men, but like Rose’s work, flawed.  I am somewhat disappointed in that.  It is much better researched and carefully footnoted which is one advantage Berry has over Rose, but like Rose he starts with his conclusions and then tries to find the “evidence” to support it.  While I suspect Rose’s evidence is mostly made up—being anecdotal and anonymous and fitting just a bit too perfectly to this thesis, Berry’s evidence is far better footnoted, but still the methodology is flawed.   He has an axe to grind and yet I think he is missing some of the real issues.  He talks about the Legionnaires founder, Father Maciel, and his influence pedaling in Rome—throwing around tens of thousands of dollars at a time to buy the favor of high placed prelates but Berry seems to think that Maciel is unique in this.  How much money did Mother Angelica throw around among the key Curial officials?   How much money did it take for some of our red hats to find a head to sit on?  How much money does Christendom College pay out when it invites various Curial officials to come and give a “lecture?”  What sort of a “stipend” does someone like Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos get when he comes to sing a Pontifical High Mass in the “Extraordinary Form” for the Latin Mass Society—I bet it’s more than the ten dollars I give to have a Mass said for my mother.  And those canons at Gricigliano—you can bet that Cardinal Burke isn’t showing up there in return for just a good lunch.   It was true in Luther’s day and it is true today: “everything is for sale in Rome.”  I think Rose is a man without a conscience who exaggerated to the point of libel to prove his point and I think Berry is a man without imagination who naively undershot the fiscal corruption in the Church.  But I haven’t finished his book yet so let’s see.         

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Rings and Things and Buttons and Bows

Cardinal Burke during a visit to Gricigliano.  The
Cardinal's train is twice the length of that of the Queen
Mother at the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1952.  Note
the page with the saturno at the extreme right.  Nice
Yesterday I wrote about the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest, a society of secular priests based in Gricigliano, Italy—just outside Florence.  The society was founded in 1990 by Gilles Wach and Philippe Mora.  Monsignor Wach is the “Prior General” of the Institute and Canon Mora is the Rector of their seminary.  The society has about 50 priests and some seventy seminarians—a very healthy ratio that bodes well for future growth.  The Priests of the institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest celebrate the “Extraordinary Form” of the Roman Rite, that is the Tridentine Mass as it was celebrated just before the Council with the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal issued under Pope John XXIII.  The Mass is celebrated in Latin and normally versus absidem—that is, facing the rear wall of the Church with the presider’s back to the congregation.  I say normally because there are churches, notably in Italy, where the principal altar is designed—and has been so for centuries—in such a way that the presider is required to face the congregation.  The four main basilicas in Rome are all such churches, with a confessio, a large open well, immediately in front of the altar that gives access to the crypt below and in the case of both Saint Peter’s and Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls, to the tomb of the Saint beneath the altar.   About eight years ago when the first Tridentine Mass since the Liturgical Reforms of 1970 was celebrated in a papal basilica, the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, many attendees complained that it was celebrated versus populum—facing the people. This struck arch-traditionalists as inauthentic but in fact at that altar, as at the other papal altars in the four archbasilicas, the Mass had always—even before the Council—been celebrated facing the congregation.  Indeed it was when the bishops were at the Second Vatican Council and saw Popes John XXIII and Paul VI celebrating facing the congregation at Saint Peter’s that the bishops came home to their various dioceses and began turning the altars to face the people.  Of course now some bishops want to turn them back.  Why are some so anxious to return to the old Liturgy?  I think the Canons of Gricigliano can give us a good clue what the drive is to reverse the liturgical renewal of the last five decades. 
      The rochets and mantelettas and buckled shoes of Gricigliano speak of a different age—an age when Church and State were wed—where Monarchy was King and Church was Queen.  It was an age where prelates were princes and the clergy had privilege.  One sees the revival of this in the protocols followed by the Gricigliano priests.  Canopies are slung above the thrones of visiting prelates.  Pages in knee breeches and buckled shoes—they do like those buckles—hold the prelates saturno (the domed and tasseled clergy hat).  Knees are bent to kiss pontifical rings.  Banners are hung with coats of arms.  It is a Disneyesque fantasy land where the sons of butchers and bakers can pretend they are princes and princesses.  And this is my objection to it—it is a fantasyland and our faith is not a matter of fantasy.  What culturally may have had an authenticity in the days of the Bourbons and the Habsburgs in our modern age trivializes the Gospel we proclaim.  Avery Dulles wrote that the function of papal primacy was seen in the first millennium to be about witness, in the second to be about power, and in the third millennium will be about service.  (Avery Dulles, S.J., The Catholicity of the Church, Oxford:Clarendon Press, 1985.  p. 136.)       As a historian I believe Dulles was spot on, but I don’t believe his insight is limited to the papacy.  I believe it is true of the Church itself.  And as Church we have just finished a thousand year reign of power.  We have finished an era in which the Church had great power in and over society.  We have finished an era in which the Church (or since the Reformation, the Churches) sat in the councils of Kings and Emperors, where the Church could dictate laws, where the Church stood above the law of the land in which she dwelt.  That power has been eroding since the French Revolution and now it is all but gone.  The inability of the Church to protect the unborn has frightened to madness those who simply cannot understand the sociological shift that has left the Church politically hollow.   Now the Church is being humiliated again as it finds itself ineffectual to stop same-sex marriage and the advance of gay rights.  Its doomed-to-failure battles only leaves it more exposed as a vacant shell of a once powerful Institution.  In these circumstances, the panicked strategy is “bring back the trappings of the power we once held.”  Bring back the long trains of scarlet silk and furred and hooded capes of prelates.  Bring back the silver buckles and watered silk.  Bring back the canopies and the pages.  They think that these talismans will restore the power the Church once had but instead it only makes the Church look ever more ridiculous, like a senile matron who in her dotage thinks she is the sought after debutante of the year.  Mother Theresa in her cotton sari had credibility even among the Hilary Clintons who disagreed passionately with her, but mincing priests in buckled shoes and pom-pomed hats are the very nemesis of  an authentic evangelization so needed today.   I am the first one to appreciate comedy and farce, but Gricigliano and its fairy-land Catholicism leave me appalled not amused. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Let's Play Dressup--The Canons of Gricigliano

The Canons of Gricgliano process through their
property in Tuscany  
 The Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest is an Institute of Pontifical Right based in Gricigliano (Italy)  that was founded by Monsignor Gilles Wach and Canon Philippe Mora in 1990.  Monsignor Wach and Father Mora were both trained under the late Cardinal Giuseppe Siri, onetime Archbishop of Genoa and foe of all things Vatican II.  Some Catholic conspiratorialists believe that Siri was elected Pope in 1958 but forced by a cabal within the Sacred College to step aside for the “radical” John XXIII, an alleged Freemason, whose plot to destroy the Church bore fruit on the Second Vatican Council.  Cardinal Siri may have been a traditionalist but he was not a nut-case and neither is Monsignor Wach nor Father Mora.  Well, that actually is a matter of perspective.  The institute is a bit bizarre. 
     The Institute is technically an association of secular priests.  Its members are not religious—that is to say they do not have the vows of religion: poverty, chastity, or obedience.  They are of course, as are all priests, chaste.  (ok, as all priests are called to be and the [sexual] moral integrity of the priests of the Institute has never been called into question.)  They are, I presume, obedient as authority is a huge deal with them.  Poverty?   Well, frankly, they are not about poverty.  Nor must they be any more than is any other secular priest, or, for that matter, any disciple of Jesus Christ.  Anyone who is a disciple of Jesus is bound to set their heart on the Kingdom of God and not on those earthy treasures which “moths devour and rust destroys and thieves break in and steal” (Matt 6:19).  Supposedly their “rule of life” is based on that of secular canons.  I have never seen the “Regula” (rule) for the pious priests of Gricigliano but I am not sure how it is based on the “Rule” for secular canons as secular canons have never had a “Rule.”  (Religious canons usually follow the Rule of Saint Augustine.)  Secular canons are prelates, named by the local bishop, to officiate at his cathedral or a collegiate church within his diocese.  We don’t have secular canons here in the United States but they are standard in Europe where they have functioned in cathedrals and various major churches since the early Middle Ages.  Three  of the four archbasilias of Rome—Saint John Lateran,  Saint Peter’s, Saint Mary Major’s all have secular canons; the fourth—Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls, has an abbey of Benedictine Monks that functions in the same way.  (Actually, there is something in the back of my mind that says that Saint Paul’s may have canons as well, though this is most unusual arrangement.)  In any event, unless one joins the Institute of Christ, Sovereign Priest, one cannot just become a canon on one’s own initiative.  As it is a prelacy, one has to be named to it by either the Holy See or the bishop who has the right of nomination to the particular chapter to which the canons belong.   Joining an “order” of canons is somewhat like naming yourself a Monsignor.  I have known priests who have done that, by the way.  And these boys are into a lot of the same stuff as monsignors vis a vis dress up.  Like monsignors of old, they “neither toil nor spin, but not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these” (Matt 6:29). The “habit” of the Institute is based on the monsignoral Domestic Prelate costume before the reforms of Paul VI. They wear a choir cassock and rochet over which is worn a manteletta faced in blue.  Over the manteletta is worn a mozetta—black for the priests, blue for the superiors.  A black biretta with a blue pom-pom tops the costume.  The black cassock, manteletta, and mozetta are piped in blue.  A small silver pectoral cross is worn suspended from a blue and white ribbon around the neck.  Shoes are black and silver-buckled and I understand from the tailor shop behind Santa Maria Sopra Minerva where their supplies are bought in Rome, the stockings are blue.  It is a striking outfit.  Their ministry in the Church is restoring the splendor of pre-Vatican II Catholicism.  They celebrate Mass in the old Roman Rite and, to their credit, with all the pomp that was normally lacking in most parishes.  While I am no fan of the old liturgy, I will admit without reservation that when it was done correctly and well—which it rarely was—it was a thing of beauty much as Swan Lake or Semiramide  are things of beauty.  I saw Semiramide once, at the Lyric in Chicago.  Joan Sutherland and Marilyn Horne sang the leads.  Bless my soul, were I not a religious person, I might say that it was the most beautiful thing this side of heaven!!!   But I take the Liturgy too seriously to make it a theatre piece or even to swoon at it aesthetics though it should be marked by reverence and beauty.  The Mass presents us, brings us face to face, with the Saving Death and Glorious Resurrection of Christ and it is a profound confrontation with the challenge to reorient our lives once again to our baptismal commitment to enter into death with Christ, to be crucified with Christ, so that it is no longer we who live but Christ Jesus who lives in us.  Such Mystery can never be reduced to ritual, no matter how elegant, much less can we let it become theatre.  The confusion of pomp for reverence or gilded lilies for beauty detracts from the austere solemnity of the Mysterium Fidei even as arcane language makes a mockery of genuine prayer.  But that was the glory of the old liturgy, when done well it gently wafted us along on the breezes of pious tunes and aesthetic smells and left us untroubled in our souls about the Christ who is crucified still in the family that lost their home, in the alien who fears deportation, in the child trapped in the urban public school, in the Krone’s patient without insurance, and in countless others of the least of His brothers and sisters.  But you know, those blue-faced mantelletas look really sharp; I only hope that no moth devours them nor rust destroys the shoe buckles.    

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Father Rodriguez, Bishop Ochoa, and Priests in Politics

Father Ernesto Cardenal, the poet-
priest of Nicaragua who defied the
order of Pope John Paul to resign his
post as Minister of Culture in 1983.
So what about this Father Rodriguez and his bishop, Armando Ochoa?  I see that it has Michael Voris and his "real" Catholic T.V. in another tizzy.  Should Father be encouraged to be politically active or to withdraw from politics and devote his energy to the spiritual and moral formation of the laity so that they can be politically active? There is an interesting context for this given the history of political activism of the clergy in the United States and other countries since the 1980 demand of the late Pope John Paul II that clergy and religious not be directly involved in politics. 
     Sister Agnes Mary Mansour, RSM, was appointed the director of the Michigan Department of Social Services in 1982. As her job entailed administering funds for abortions, the Holy See determined, not unreasonably, that it was not appropriate for a religious to hold this post and she was given an ultimatum to either secularize or give up her post.  Sister Mansour reluctantly asked for a dispensation from her vows. She was able to remain an affiliate of the Sisters of Mercy and continued to live with the Sisters and for all practical purposes to live as a Sister for the remainder of her life.  She died in the Mercy Sisters’ infirmary and was buried in their plot at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery, Southfield MI.
     Father Robert Drinan, SJ, was elected to Congress as a Democrat on an anti-Vietnam War platform in 1970.  Drinan had been admitted to the Bar in Massachusetts in 1956 and had served as Dean of the Law School of Boston College from that time until his election to Congress.  In Congress he earned a reputation for espousing liberal causes, most of which were soundly rooted in the Magisterial teaching of the Catholic Church as found in papal encyclicals and the Documents of the Second Vatican Council.  An unfortunate exception was his support of abortion “rights” where he tried to separate personal opposition (he called it ‘virtual infanticide’) from public policy.  It was and remains a dubious distinction.  In 1980 when Pope John Paul demanded that all clergy and religious withdraw from public office, Drinan obediently complied though he remained a powerful commentator on American political and public life to the annoyance of not a few bishops and many conservative Catholics.  Contrary to what many think, Father Drinan was not the only priest toserve in Congress.  Father Robert Cornell, a Norbertine Canon from Saint Norbert’s Abbey in DePere had served from 1975-1979 representing his district in Wisconsin.  In the first quarter of the nineteenth century, Father Gabriel Richard, a French immigrant,  had served as a non-voting delegate from the Michigan Territory.
     While Fathers Cornell, Drinan, and Richard had all done credible service in their political careers—short though they were—not all priests have been witnesses to the compassion of Christ in their political involvement.  Monsignor Josef Tiso (1887-1947) was the President of Slovakia from 1939-1945) during which time he was a collaborator with Slovakia’s Nazi overlords.  Far from using his admittedly limited power to shield Jews, Gypsies and other peoples marked for destruction, Tiso embraced the anti-Semitic policies of the Reich.  He was hanged as a war criminal in 1947.
     A far more morally credible example of a priest in politics is the noted Nicaraguan poet, Ernesto Cardenal.  Cardenal comes from a wealthy Central American family and he studied in the United States.  He had spent time in the Trappist Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemane in Kentucky where Thomas Merton had been his Novice Master.  Cardenal did not profess final vows but instead went to Cuernavaca in Mexico where he studied for the priesthood. At Solentiname in Nicaragua Cardenal established a semi-monastic community of peasants from which developed a famous artist colony.  A supporter of the peasants in their struggles with the plutocratic families that had long dominated Nicaragua (with American assistance) politically and economically, Cardenal was appointed Minister of Culture when the Sandinistas overthrew the Somoza regime.  He ignored Pope John Paul’s demands to resign from the Government and was rebuked by the Pope during the papal visit to Nicaragua in 1983.  That visit was a public relations disaster for the papacy as it was made to appear that the Church favored the wealthy families who had long ruled Nicaragua and opposed the popular Sandinista regime.  At several points the crowds booed the pope when he spoke against the government.  John Paul’s personal experiences with Socialism in Poland left him with a very unnuanced appreciation of the situation in Central America.  On the other hand, Ortega and others were initially blind to the authoritarian and undemocratic aspects of the Ortega regime.  Cardenal eventually broke with Ortega claiming that Ortega’s party was a “false revolution” that had betrayed the people of Nicaragua.  Five years ago Cardenal was nominated for the Nobel Prize for literature in recognition of his status as one of the great poets of our time.     
     I think priests and religious often have much to bring to the political arena.  They are often highly perceptive of human nature; they are usually more compassionate for the needs of the poor.  At least in the past the clergy and the women religious have been not only better educated than the average Catholic, they have often been of notably above average intellect.  I think they usually have a moral anchor and the skills to articulate that.  With the socio-economic advances of the Catholic population over the last half century I think today the laity are often better educated though not necessarily more intelligent. (I am reluctant to trust my impressions on a matter than needs objectification.)  It does seem however that clergy and religious have a proper role in the moral education of the faithful but that the direct political action belongs not to the clergy but to the laity.  So I think Father Rodriguez is fine in the pulpit and even in the newspapers, but not at the city council meeting.  I also think  he is wrong about Catholics having to oppose partner “benefits”  regardless of marital status and indeed even about the legalization of same-sex marriages.  But we can save that for another day. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Same-Sex Marriage and The Bully Pulpit of El Paso

Saint Pedro de Jesús Maldonado was
a priest ordained in the Cathedral of
El Paso in 1918 and martyred for the
faith during the Mexican Persecutions
in 1937
Well, another tempest in the ecclesiastical teapot.  Father Michael Rodriguez has been reassigned to a parish outside the city of El Paso Texas by his Diocesan bishop, Armando Xavier Ochoa because Father Rodriguez had become somewhat of a political activist in city politics in regard to the issue of same-sex marriage.  Critics of the bishop claim that the reassignment is to protect the Church from losing its tax-exempt status—not for profits being required by federal law not to be directly involved in political action.  From what I have read, this seems to be an accurate surmise on why the bishop transferred Father Rodriguez from a parish within the city where the debate is raging to a parish outside the city where he can devote himself to the spiritual concerns of the people entrusted to his care.  To Father Rodriguez’s credit, he explicitly recognized in his statement to the press that trying to be a good priest he would obey his bishop and he departed to take up his new assignment.  It does raise the question of what is the role of the clergy in political debate. 

     The next several Sundays parking lots in many Catholic churches will be leafleted with partisan literature advocating one candidate or another because this candidate is pro-life and anti-same-sex marriage or because this candidate’s opponent is pro-abortion or pro-same-sex marriage.  Some pastors will try to stop the leafleting  squads, others will invite them into the rectory for coffee and rolls.  Many people don’t see the issue with the Church endorsing a particular political candidate.  Unfortunately the United States tax code does.   What is the role of the Church when it comes to politics? 
      There are serious moral issues and the Church must struggle to maintain its right to speak on moral issues even when those moral issues have political repercussions.  There is much debate about the role of Pope Pius XII and the Nazi Holocaust.  Some claim that the Pope “did what he could.”  Others claim that he did nothing.  From the viewpoint of history, even if Pius did “all he could” he did not do enough.  I am not a foe of Pius; in fact I would rank him as one of the greatest popes of the 20th century, perhaps even the greatest.  He was not indifferent to the suffering of the victims of the Nazi regime.  He took particular interest in saving the Jews of Rome and was proactive in that cause.  The Italian Jews in general and the Roman Jews in particular suffered fewer deportations and subsequent murders than Jews in the rest of Axis and occupied Europe.  This was due to a number of factors but not least of these factors was the role of the Catholic Church and of the Pope.  Nevertheless, Pope Pius XII  still failed to meet the moral challenge. He was very unwise not to speak more clearly both in condemning the racial policies of National Socialism and in warning the peoples of Europe of the exact nature of the Nazi Holocaust. 
      There were courageous churchmen who did speak out against the Nazis.  Konrad von Preysing was the Bishop of Berlin from 1935 until his death in 1950.  He was an outspoken opponent of the Nazi Regime and both its policy of eugenics and extermination of the Jews.  Bernhard Lichtenberg, provost of von Preysing’s Cathedral in Berlin, was arrested and sent to Dachau for his public prayers for the Jews. He died on his way to the camp.  Clemens Augustus Graf (Count) von Galen, bishop of Münster was another vehement oppose of the Nazi Regime.  He had openly supported the Protestant candidate, Paul von Hindenburg, for the Reichs presidency  in 1925 in the hopes of preserving the Weimar Republic and he actively opposed the Nazi party in the 1933 elections.  During the Nazi regime he regularly preached against its policies.  There are times when regardless of the restrictions of civil law, those entrusted with preaching the gospel must speak up and speak out.
     Nevertheless, I am not sure that Father Rodriguez falls into the same league as the Cardinals von Preysing and von Galen or even Canon Lichtenberg.  No one can legitimately  complain about a sermon upholding the traditional view of the sacred nature of marriage between one man and one woman any more than we could fault a sermon on the sanctity of human life.  In the same way priests and deacons need to speak up not only against abortion but against the death penalty, against wars that the Catholic Church has declared acts of unjust aggression, against funding the training of assassins in our military installations,  against torture, and other attacks on human life and dignity.  I defend priests and religious demonstrating at the gates of Fort Benning where the notorious Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (formerly known as “The School of the Americas”) and so I need to defend priests and religious marching or praying in front of abortion mills.  I think Catholics were far too slow to get into the Civil Rights movement and the anti-war movement of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s and so I need to applaud those Catholics who come out in defense of life every January.  Churchmen—and Churchwomen—don’t lose their rights to voice their political views as individuals even if the tax-exempt organization to which they belong must abstain from overt political activity.  It is a fine line.  But I do not think that the clergy or religious should go to public gatherings and give political opinions.  I don’t believe that a priest or religious belongs addressing a city council meeting or other governmental body unless they are called as an expert witness to give testimony—in which case they are not there as a member of the clergy but as a sociologist, psychologist, lawyer, or whatever their field of expertise is.  Catholic doctrine qua Catholic doctrine does not belong in the political forum any more than does the doctrinal teachings of any other religion.  If the clergy are doing their job of informing their laity, educating their laity in the teachings of the Church, it is the role of the laity not the clergy to participate in political life.  I believe—and I am speaking only as an individual—but I believe that it is the work of the clergy to change hearts and it is the apostolate of those changed hearts to change the laws.  So I think Bishop Ochoa is right.  Keep Father Rodriguez in a pulpit, but get him out of City Council Meetings.  Oh, and by the way, remind him that according to the norms of the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore, the cassock is proper to church property, not to public appearances whether of duty or recreation. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

OK , So Is Mitt a Christian?

The Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of 
Later Day Saints in Salt Lake City
Is Mitt Romney a Christian?  This question seems to capture the attention of a lot of people right now.  First, let me say that as a Catholic who remembers John Kennedy’s presidential campaign when his Catholic faith was an issue, I support the United State’s Constitution that provides there shall be no religious test for office.  I am interested in a person’s values—very interested—but not their formal religious affiliation.  But that isn’t the point I want to deal with in today’s posting.  I want to look at the question of whether the Mormon faith is a genuine Christian denomination or not.  
     First of all the problem is the word “Christian.”  We use it in very ambiguous ways.  “She is such a Christian” generally means “She is such a good person.”  It particularly refers to people who are kind and generous, as if one had to be a disciple of Jesus to be kind and generous.  I wish all of Jesus’ disciples measured up to this standard.  I know more than a few, and even some who wear those funny black and white “dog collars” around their necks, that would fail the “Christian” litmus test if Christian genuinely meant nice and kind.  In fact, sometimes the more religious a person is the less Christian he or she seems to be.  As one old priest from Poland who is a friend of mine confided to me, his frequent prayer is “From the daily communicant, libera nos, Domine!”    
      A second sense in which one can use the word “Christian”—and this one with some legitimacy—is a person who embraces the ethical teachings of Jesus as outlined in the Gospels.  One may accept Jesus as a great moral teacher without espousing his Divinity or even the uniqueness of the Revelation he imparts to humankind in his teachings as the New Testament records them.  By this standard, Thomas Jefferson and many of our Founding Fathers (and I suppose Mothers) would qualify as Christian as would Quakers, most Unitarians, and many good souls who have no formal religious affiliation with a particular denomination that claims to be “Christian.”  Few of our the founders of our nation were Christians in the stricter use of the term.  Charles Carroll, the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence, was one of the few leaders of the new nation who actually was a practicing Christian. 
     A third sense of the word “Christian” would be a person who does have formal membership in a religious group that claims for itself to be a “Christian” Church or denomination.  Now claiming to be Christian doesn’t make a person or collective group of people Christian anymore than claiming that bag you’re selling on a street corner for 25 dollars is a genuine Versace makes that knockoff a genuine Versace.  But there is a social convention by which we generally don’t call each other out in public about such claims.  Nevertheless, while we may be polite and choose not to challenge the authentic Christian beliefs of one another, that doesn’t mean that we accept the authenticity of Christian faith in each other.   A particular point is the issue of valid baptism.  Some groups that claim to be Christian, groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, baptize “in the name of Jesus” as opposed to baptizing “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  The Catholic Church insists that the Trinitarian formula is necessary for valid baptism according to Matthew 28:19.  (There are scripture passages which would seem to validate baptism in the “Name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 2:38; 10:48;19:5, but the Catholic Church and most other Christian denominations reject this formula as insufficient based on historical usage and the centrality of the Doctrine of the Trinity to Christian Orthodoxy.)   While we might say that a particular Jehovah’s Witness is “such a fine Christian” in the sense that he or she is a very nice person, or we might even see how their reading the Gospels has endowed them with a set of good Christian values, we would not consider Jehovah Witnesses to be Christian in the sense of belonging to a community of baptized disciples. 
     A fourth sense of the word “Christian,” very close to the last mentioned definition but still different from it, is public affiliation to one of the Churches or religious communities that stands by Christian Faith and Doctrine  as taught by the Apostles and historically defined by the first seven Councils of an undivided Christian Church.  This faith is generally seen as that proclaimed in the three historic creeds: the Apostle’s Creed, the Creed of the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople I, and the Athanasian Creed or Quicumque Vult.  A Christian in this sense accepts the doctrine that there is one God in three Divine Persons, each Person possessing the fullness of the Divine Nature yet being not three Divine Beings but only One.  Such a person, to be a Christian also must accept that Jesus Christ is truly God as is the Father (and the Holy Spirit) and is truly human as are we.  In the one Person of Jesus Christ there are two natures, one Divine and one Human, the natures are joined but not mixed and while each nature is and remains distinct, what can be attributed to each nature can also be said of the other.  All this sounds very complicated but that is because we always try to explain that which transcends our experience and thus is inexplicable.  Sometimes I think we should simply let Mystery be Mystery and not try to unpack Grace.  
      How do Mormons fit into this scheme?  Mormons use the Trinitarian formula for baptism (and until I had done research for this posting, I had thought they baptized in the Name of the Lord Jesus), but most “mainline” Christian theologians and denominations—Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Methodist—have looked at Mormon theology and decided that while Mormons talk about the Trinity they have a very different understanding of the Divine Nature, that is of “God,” than historic Christianity.  In other words, while they use the same words (God, Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) they mean something quite different by those words.  That would mean not only that their faith is substantially different from Christian faith but that their baptism, while using the same words and outward signs (immersion in water), means something very different than as understood by historic Christianity.  For this reason the Catholic Church as well as most other Christian denominations require that Mormons be baptized when joining the Church.  A Presbyterian or a Lutheran, for example, would be “received” into the Catholic Church without repeating baptism.  Baptism in the Catholic theology is an unrepeatable act.  If validly baptized once, you are never baptized again.  But a Mormon becoming a Catholic would have to be baptized as his Mormon “baptism” would be regarded as invalid as the “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” in which he or she had been baptized as a Mormon is not the “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” of our historic Christian faith which is shared by the Orthodox Churches of the East and the majority of Anglican and Protestant Churches (or ecclesial communities) of the West.   Also, because the Mormon understanding of the Divine Nature is, or at least appears to us to be, so radically different than that espoused by historic orthodox Christianity, their understanding of Jesus Christ—in whom the Divine and Human natures are united (though not mixed)—is radically different from that proclaimed historically by the Christian faith.  Thus Catholics would not recognize Mormons doctrinally as Christians. 
      So it all seems to boil down to Are Mormons Christians?  Yes, in the sense that as many (indeed most) Mormons are really fine people many (indeed most) Mormons  are Christians in that broad colloquial sense.  Yes, also, in the sense that most Mormons lead lives shaped by the moral teachings of Jesus.  In this they are as Christian as Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin or most of our Founding Fathers who thought Jesus was this really wise and ethical teacher.  Actually even more so for while they understand the Divinity of Christ, and indeed divinity, differently than historic Christianity, Mormons do believe that in their sense of being Divine, Jesus fit the bill.  They do not think of him merely as some enlightened human teacher.  But No, from the Catholic understanding of Christian Faith and Sacraments, Mormons are not Christians in the sense of professing authentic Christian doctrine and no they are not Christian in the sense of being in the community of the baptized.  Frankly, when it comes to being President of the United States, I won’t hold anyone to a test of religious beliefs, but the only sense in which I would prefer a Christian over a non-Christian is that second sense—a man or woman whose life and values are shaped by the teachings of Jesus in the Gospel.  When it comes to Christians in public life, I am much more interested in orthopraxis than orthodoxis.   And in that sense, Mitt is the only fellow (or fellowette) currently  in the Republican field that I would vote for.   

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The "New Translation" of the Mass IV: The Liberal/Conservative Battle

Well if this isn’t an evil plot by Benedict and his cronies to destroy the Second Vatican Council,  how did we get to this new translation? 
Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Archbishop
of Chicago 1982-1996, leader of the
moderates and liberals among the
American Bishops. 
      We Americans like things simple.  Romans like Byzantine intrigue.  We Americans always think people have black hats or white hats, that between good and evil there is a clear divide and that no one can cross from our side (good) to theirs (evil) or from theirs to ours.  Would that human nature was so simple.  It is our Calvinist heritage.  There are those destined to salvation (good, white hats, we love Vatican II) and those destined to damnation (bad, black hats [or maybe, in this case, red] they hate Vatican II).   Romans—long Catholic (not so sure about Christian, but Catholic for sure)—know the reality of the human heart and that the wheat and tares grow together.  Life doesn’t fall into neat patterns.  
      It was actually the “liberals” who were calling for a new missal and a new translation.  we wanted further changes.  We needed more flexibility in the rite.  Maybe every Sunday didn’t need a penitential rite.  Maybe we should be able to use a variety of canticles and not just that same old “Glory to God in the Highest” every week.  The more variety in Eucharistic Prayers the better.  We wanted change to be an ongoing process, so let’s get a new edition of the missal—and as long as we were at, let’s get a more poetic translation of the prayers.  The Anglican Prayer Book has a nice ring to it; the Lutheran Book of Worship flows more smoothly.  Can’t we do better than this bland and boring makeshift sort of translation we had after Vatican II.   
        It was a reasonable suggestion.  The current sacramentary is pretty pedestrian.  We could do better. What we weren’t watching was that the wind had changed.  While we liberals were busy linking arms for the Lord’s Prayer, the Catholic neo-cons were steadily building their case.  (I say neo-cons as such groups as the “Reform of the Reform” are not genuine conservatives or traditionalists—they Church they want to “restore” is the Church of the early twentieth century, not the classic Catholicism of the Patristic era.)  
        Neo-cons are always better organized than liberals.  Liberals are naïve and think that people will instinctively do the “right thing.”  Neo-cons cling to the doctrine of original sin and know that people will act in self-interest.  Liberals think that everything should  be free and are cheap bastards; neo-cons know that the world belongs to those who are committed and they are ready to invest heavily in advancing their agenda.  Consequently those who were appalled by the changes in the liturgy and even more by the effects of those changes, quickly began organizing and cementing their opposition.  Father Fessio organized Adoremus.  Priests in the Diocese of Arlington organized CREDO.  Organizations such as the Latin Mass Society sprang up.  New colleges were founded such as Christendom and Saint Thomas Aquinas.  They invited Cardinals from Rome to come and give talks and to sit on boards.  Mother Angelica’s television network was organized—to give the devil her due, she was in her day one fine businessman—and it broadcast masses that demonstrated Reform of the Reform principles.  There was lots of Latin and never a Eucharistic minister to be seen.  Only men served in liturgical roles and while they did have concelebration, communion in both kinds was restricted to the clergy.  Despite her lack of Episcopal sponsorship for her EWTN network, Mother Angelica created the impression that hers was an official voice of the Church.  Meanwhile letter writing campaigns flooded Roman desks with countless questions: does the priest have to give me communion if I insist on kneeling for it;  Does our pastor have to provide a Tridentine Rite Mass each Sunday if we have fifty people who ask for it; does the priest have to permit girls to be altar servers at his mass.  Letters of complaint went to Rome about earthenware chalices, communion flagons, home-baked bread for the Eucharist.  Priests were accused of celebrating mass dressed as clowns, of permitting women to “concelebrate” Mass with them; of giving communion to non-Catholics.  Bishops would come to Rome for their ad limina visits and be confronted by curial officials with stacks of letters of complaint alleging abuses in their dioceses.  Letters were believed without proof.  Charges were made without substance.  Allegations were accepted on no more than hearsay.  The American Church appeared to be out of control.  
         At the same time there was a leadership vacuum in the American hierarchy that allowed power to devolve on Cardinal Bernard Law, then Archbishop of Boston.  Law has since become legendary for his moral and spiritual bankruptcy, but from the death of Cardinal Krol in 1988 until his resignation in the midst of the sex abuse scandal in 2002 Law was the most powerful bishop in the United States—a “Kingmaker” whose stamp of approval was on every nomination for bishop sent to Rome.  I want to make it clear that His Eminence has never been accused of sexual abuse but his failure to comprehend the seriousness of the problem and his blatant arrogance in defending the indefensible position of most Catholic Bishops, including himself,  in how they handled allegations of abuse have rendered him the reputation as being the single person most responsible for the biggest scandal in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States.  Law, with the assistance of the equally unscrupulous Cardinal Hickey of Washington,  took on the moderately liberal Archbishop of Chicago Joseph Bernardin and broke the liberal camp of American bishops.  Bernardin, dying of pancreatic cancer, had tried to rally the centrist bishops with his “common ground” proposal to build a consensus among American Catholics on important social and theological issues.  In a rare suspension of the protocols that mandate that members of the Sacred College speak only well of each other in public, Cardinal Law savaged Bernadin and his proposals, falling just short of accusing the dying prelate of compromising with heresy.  It was a shameful performance; but not nearly as shamefilled as Law’s fall would be five years later.  Nonetheless, the damage had been done and Law’s years of influence in Rome have assured an intellectual mediocrity in the American episcopate which is distinguished by their lack of perspicacity as they see a vital American Church erode beneath their buskined feet.   It was this lack of backbone that permitted the hierarchy to fall like wheat beneath the wind to the recent wave of liturgical revisions including the new translations.