Saturday, August 31, 2013

Foundations of the Anglican Church XXXVI

Wittenberg Castle Church where Martin Luther
posted his 95 Theses
Before we look at why Henry didn’t get his annulment, we need to look for a moment at the broader picture of Europe in the first quarter of the sixteenth century. 
In 1517 a Saxon friar of the Augustinian Order, one Martin Luther, a professor of Sacred Scripture at the newly founded University of Wittenberg, posted 97 theses for debate on the door of Wittenberg Castle Church.  There was nothing unusual about this in an university town.  It was not an act of rebellion.  There was a long established tradition in university towns of professors or students posting subjects for debate.  Debate, particularly theological debate, was a major form of entertainment in university life.  Participation in such public debate was part of the requirements for one to be given the Doctorate.  Luther was a young hot-shot professor at a new university and both he and his university were trying to establish their respective reputations.  But this list of topics was to set off a chain reaction that shattered the Catholic world.
Luther had been born in 1483.  His parents were upwardly mobile but not particularly wealthy Germans of peasant stock but who had acquired some property and means.   His father was in the copper business, leasing mines and operating smelting works.  His mother was industrious and added to the family income through various domestic industries.  While the family was sufficiently devout, his father, Hans, wanted to see his eldest son, Martin, become a lawyer and was not enthused about Martin’s religious vocation when it emerged.  Martin had been given a very sound education by the Brothers of the Common Life.
Luther had a spiritual restlessness and Law was not meeting his psychological needs.  He seems from an early age to have been preoccupied with the question of his eternal salvation.  Law is a profession for cynics not searchers and Luther soon abandoned it.  There is a story—and it seems to be rooted in fact—that the young Luther was frightened during an electrical storm in which he was caught in a woods and vowed to Saint Anne that he would become a monk should he be delivered. 
Luther entered a very strict order, technically not of monks but of friars, the Augustinian observants.  (The various orders of the day mostly had observant branches which were reform movements within the orders and followed very strict rules regarding fasting, prayer, and separation from the world.  It is significant that Martin had joined an observant order, and one of the strictest, as that tells us about this religious enthusiasm.)     Luther had an excellent spiritual director in his superior, Johan van Staupitz, but seemed unable to break through scrupulosity that verged on a serious neurosis. Luther was ordained a priest and sent on for studies, receiving the Doctorate in 1512. Two years before he had made a fateful trip to Rome where he was thoroughly disillusioned by the scandalous conditions and cynical “faith” of so many involved in the governance of the Church.   (For information about Martin Luther’s trip to Rome, check out blog entries for September 13th and 15th 2011).   Rome can still be a scandal to the faithful.  Saint Francis had admonished his friars that for the good of their souls they should avoid going to Rome.  
Luther joined the faculty at Wittenberg in 1512 and a professor of Bible.  In 1514 the Dutch scholar, Desiderius Erasmus, published the first critical edition of the New Testament in Greek enabling biblical scholars to look at the text in the original language.  It was a huge breakthrough for scripture scholars and the young professor from Wittenberg threw himself into the task of studying the scripture in Greek.  He came to be thoroughly familiar with the Epistles of Saint Paul and was captured by Paul’s insistence that we are saved not by our righteous works but by faith in Jesus Christ.  Here Luther found a balm for his scruple troubled soul and as began to take St Paul to heart he became more and more uncomfortable with many contemporary Catholic practices.  This led to the publication of the 95 thesis.

More to follow. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Foundations of the Anglican Church XXXV

Canterbury Cathedral, the center
of the Anglican Communion

So here is where left this story.  The year 1527.  Henry is 36 years old.  Katherine is 42.  It has been nine years since she has become pregnant and further offspring are most unlikely.  There is one legitimate child to succeed Henry on the throne, but that child is a daughter, the Princess Mary.  The one time previous that a woman ruled England was a disaster—a time of civil war as male relatives contested the throne.  England has just gone through a long dynastic struggle and there are male claimants to the throne that Henry has been able to hold in check, but would Mary be able to do so?  What can Henry do to guarantee the stability of the Tudor dynasty? 
Henry knows that he is capable of producing a male heir.  Katherine has borne three sons, but they all died in infancy?  Is God punishing Henry for something?  Is there something wrong about his marriage to Katherine for which he is being punished?
Moreover Henry has an illegitimate son who is alive and healthy—Henry FitzRoy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, the son of Bessie Blount, the one mistress whom Henry had publically acknowledged as royal mistress.  Could he succeed to the throne despite his illegitimacy?
Henry seriously considered naming his illegitimate son to be his heir but Katherine would have none of it.  Katherine’s proud Spanish blood would not tolerate the idea that a Princess, granddaughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic Kings and greatest European monarchs of their day, would be supplanted by a bastard, even a King’s bastard.  Moreover, it is unlikely that the nobility of England would have accepted the boy.  In the end, the matter would have been mute.  Henry FitzRoy died before his father, reaching only 17 years of age.  But in 1527 Henry, of course, did not know that. 
But was God punishing Henry for something?  Katherine had been married to Henry’s brother, Arthur, but had been widowed after five months.  Katherine, and her chaperone, had claimed that the marriage was never consummated.  That may or may not have been the case.  Deuteronomy, chapter 25, commands that if a man should die childless, his brother must marry the widow and raise up children to his brother’s memory.  On the other hand, the Book of Leviticus prohibits such a marriage.  There is a dilemma here.  Catholic Canon Law prohibited the marriage of siblings-in-law but would give a dispensation when petitioned for it, particularly when the first marriage had not been consummated.  The Canon Lawyers claimed that when the marriage had not been consummated such a marriage was precisely what Deuteronomy required in terms of raising up children to the deceased brother’s memory.  Henry had always believed that Katherine’s marriage to Arthur had not been consummated, but now he was having doubts.  Maybe God was punishing him for a forbidden marriage by depriving him of male heirs.  After all, three young princes had died in infancy. 
Henry began to see a way out of his dilemma.  Maybe his marriage to Katherine could be annulled and he could  still produce an heir with a new wife.   

Monday, August 26, 2013

Foundations of the Anglican Church XXXIV

York Minster, Wolsey's Cathedral
as Archbishop of York  
 Let’s go back to Henry VIII and the saga of his breaking the communion between the English Church and the Roman Church.   Again, remember that there had long been an Anglican Church—the ecclesia Anglicana,  with its roots in the Roman occupation of Britain as early as the closing decades of the 1st century of the Christian era.  This English Church, while in communion with the Roman Church, had its own customs and rites and until the time of Augustine’s mission in the final decade of the 6th century stood quite independent from Rome.   Even after Augustine it did not surrender its unique customs and it maintained its distinct rites—principally those of Sarum, York, Lincoln, and Hereford until after the death of Henry—a good decade after the final break with Rome. 
And let us remember too that Henry was far more complex a character than a lust driven maniac who abandoned his wife in favor of a woman who seduced him in order to make herself queen.  Henry was in a genuine dilemma.  England had been torn by dynastic struggles and had only enjoyed peace under the Tudors for about forty years.  With no son to succeed him, the wars could break out again.  There were several scions of the Plantagenet house who had far stronger and more legitimate claims to the throne than he.  His father, Henry VII, had been King only because he defeated the usurper Richard III (who himself had seized the throne by murdering his nephews, the “Princes in the Tower) who held rightful claim.  Lean and hungry Plantagenets were just waiting for some sign of Tudor weakness—and a woman, Henry’s daughter Mary, inheriting the throne was just such a sign—to plunge England back into civil war.
Henry had been a good king.  He built on his father’s successes (and thrift) to fashion a modern nation-state out of the quagmire of feudal holdings that had been medieval England.  Granted England was not as strong—yet—as France or Portugal, much less Spain, the greatest world power of the day, but Henry was the laying the foundation of an Empire that would two centuries later become the greatest empire of its day.   Henry built up the navy his father had begun.  He summoned Parliament and sought its counsel, making both the nobility and the commons feel that they held a stake in this new nation.  He built up a strong central government, ennobling capable men with land, titles, and income to serve as a governmental bureaucracy that extended royal control over every aspect of English life.  He used his judiciary to make sure that justice reached down to the lowest in the land as well as upwards to the greatest.  All were under the King’s protection and all were under his law.  The one aspect of English life that Henry could not seem to get beneath his control was the Church.  It wasn’t fair.  Ferdinand and Isabella ruled the Church in Spain.  In France, the king had the Church firmly within his grasp.  But Henry felt that he had no way to make the English Church subject to his will.  When the Church refused him his demands that it annul his marriage to Queen Katherine—it only proved his point that there were two sovereigns in England: himself and the Pope.  And Henry, devout Catholic as he was, would have no one share his power. 
Now among Henry’s faults was, as I had pointed out in an earlier posting, his tendency to leave the day-to-day ruling of his realm to very capable administrators, to his Lord Chancellors.  The greatest of the Lord Chancellors was Thomas Wolsey, Cardinal Archbishop of York.  Wolsey was a powerful man.  He not only was the King’s chief minister, he was papal legate in England.  That is to say that he held sufficient power in England to rule the Church in the Pope’s name.  As long as Wolsey was his chief minister, Henry could get what he wanted out of the Church.   But when Henry wanted an annulment of his marriage to Queen Katherine—well, that was beyond Wolsey’s jurisdiction and he could not get that for the king.  In the crunch, when he really needed control over the Church, Henry could not grasp it.  He was not King in England—the Pope held all the cards.  And Henry was not one to let that situation last.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Liars, Damned Liars, and The American Life League

There is no Gospel that is not a Social Gospel
I am sorry for the most recent hiatus.  I was giving a retreat this past week and found myself without internet connections at the center.  I hope to have a strong week with several postings but then the whole month of September could be up in the air as I will be overseas at a series of meetings and don’t know what to expect.
I want to make some progress on the Church of England postings as we are just at the most interesting part of the of the story and how the separation came about between the Church of England and the Catholic Church in communion with the See of Rome.  But there are so many other things to comment on as well.
I see that in the blogs the complaints about the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, Catholic Charities USA, and Catholic Relief services is heating up.  Voices of the pseudo-magisterium—Michal Voris, Judie Brown and Michael Hitcborn and their American Life League, LifeSiteNews, and dozens and dozens of minor blogs are banging the drum against the those programs by which the official magisterium of the Catholic Church in the United States conducts its outreach to the poor, the sick, and the emarginated both here at  home and around the world.  The real issue is a battle for the “soul of the Church” and the battle ground is the Church’s commitment to striving for greater justice in our society and in other societies and cultures. 
Several years ago ex-Catholic and self-appointed theological expert Glen Beck declared that “Social Justice is a perversion of the Gospel.”  It is—for many both in the Catholic Church and beyond who espouse a new Gnosticism that wants to spiritualize the teachings of Jesus so that they have no bearing on the social order.  Ignoring the entire tradition of the prophets—most notably Amos, Isaiah, and Ezekiel—they claim that God has no interest in seeing a world in which each of his children has a sufficient share in the world’s goods to live in a dignity befitting the children of God.  They speak of a religion that is about “souls” with no regard to the bodily hunger, thirst, nakedness, illness, imprisonment and homelessness of which Jesus spoke in admonishing us as to the criteria by which we would be admitted to eternal life. 
This false Christianity promoted by Voris, Brown, et al beneath the guise of an empty piety and an alleged concern for human life is closely tied to—and indeed is no more than a front for—the most abject right-wing politics that seeks to turn our society into a revival of the ancien regime in which a small wealthy minority held absolute sway over the liberty-deprived and economically enslaved masses.  I wish I could believe that they were sincere in their devotion to human life as an absolute value but the selectivity about which they defend human life and freedom fails to cloak their real agenda of advancing an American theocracy, and an American theocracy that enshrines a religion of the most narrow prejudices and the self-interest of those who wish to protect their own ascendency over those whom they deem to be less worthy in both this world and the next than themselves.  They have drunk the dregs and now pass around to others the Kool-Aid Karl Rove so successfully used in the Bush campaigns to blind Christians to their political responsibilities to work for a more just world.    And this, in a democracy such as ours, is their right to do but  their sin is attempting to market this poison as some sort of authentically Catholic drink when its very recipe is so devoid of basic Catholic moral principles about the role of the Christian in the modern world.    Their campaign of misinformation and deceit has taken on an urgency with the election of Pope Francis and  his prioritizing the Church’s mission to the poor has made them beat their drums all the louder in an attempt to drown out the Church’s authentic voice calling for greater economic and social justice.  CRS, CCHD and Catholic Charities represent the Church’s concern for justice and unable to take the Pope on directly they are determined to undermine his efforts by attacking with lies and disinformation, Karl Rove style, the agencies by which the Church reaches out to remedy the injustices in the world in which we live.    
When the Internet first became a forum for public information, there was a Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to devise a branding system by which sites could be guaranteed for their Catholic content.  Now personally, I don’t claim to be a Catholic Site or to speak for any sort of authentic Catholicism.  I speak only for myself and this site is about the history of the Church—past and present—and not about its doctrines.  Unfortunately the short-sightedness of our bishops failed to appreciate the importance of establishing some sort of Catholic “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” for Catholic websites.   We need that because Michael Voris and Judie Brown and the American Life League speak for no one other than themselves and their followers.  They do not represent the voice of the Church and they are not reliable sources of Catholic teaching.  And the same goes for the swarms of blogs and web-pages by self-appointed Catholic spokespersons.  

Monday, August 19, 2013

Making Church a "Safe Place"

E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post recently wrote a very interesting column with considerable impact, I believe, for the Church.  It wasn’t about the Church—though it was about religion and politics.  Dionne claims that the Republican party has a bleak future because the “Millennial Generation”  (those born after 1980)  do not buy into the social conservatism of the Middle Aged and older and are not inclined to espouse the social agenda that energizes the Republican base.  Dionne points out that the Millennial Generation also tends to be non-religious and estimates that it is for the same reason.  Organized religion is identified with social conservatism.  This can, I believe, be quite unfair.  The mainline Protestant Churches, dying as they are, have espoused a liberal social theology.  Women are fully empowered in the mainline Protestant Churches and Same-Sex relationships are not only accepted, but for the greater part, blessed.   And yet the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church—these groups annually see a notable decline in membership.  But my concern is for the Catholic Church.  I see in parish after parish that the 30 somethings are missing.  You simply don’t see people under 45 or 50 in Church.  Twenty years ago we expected the 20-somethings to be doing something else on Sunday morning but we assured ourselves that “they will be here when they have children of their own to raise.”   And twenty years ago that prophecy generally proved true, but no longer.  Of course many of the Millennials don’t have children.  Or if they have children they are not in the traditional two-parent mixed-sex relationship to which we once restricted the term “marriage.”  And not being in that traditional relationship, they don’t feel welcome in the Church—or at least in the Catholic Church.
One of my big themes when I go around speaking is that today everyone knows what the Catholic Church is against, but no one knows what it is for.  We don’t have to be ready to bless same-sex marriages in order to make same-sex couples feel welcome in Church.  And of course the issue isn’t making same-sex couples welcome in Church, the issue is making people, regardless of lifestyle choices, welcome in Church.  (And I do not mean to imply here that same-sex orientation is a “choice.”  Only pre-Neanderthals still spout that nonsense.  Sexual orientation is not a choice but the styles of life which we choose for ourselves—Middle Class suburban, Yuppie, mid-town sophisticates, rural greenies, etc—while dictated by economic limitations, are choices.)   And it is not that becoming gender blind or orientation-blind will fill our pews, but stopping the ugly judgmental face we put to the outside world will go a long way in making the Gospel of Jesus Christ look like something positive for the world rather than looking like some sort of fatwa that calls for death to anyone who diverges from Christian sharia. 
I think this is the message Francis has been trying to get out with his remarks on the plane back from Rio and WYD.  We don’t have to change our basic moral convictions but we do need to change our moral attitude.  And I think we need to change our basic conception of the Church from the Community of the Righteous to the Community of God’s Beloved, remembering that we are beloved of God not for our personal virtue but for God’s own mercy on our broken lives.  When we realize that we are all beggars at the feast of Grace that God has laid out we will stop judging the person in the pews next to us and when people feel that it is safe once again to go into church without being judged, we might find our churches filling up. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Legacy of Saint Francis

I mentioned in an earlier posting that I had always—with one exception—found the Franciscans of whatever stripe given to charity.  The observant Greyfriars of Greenwich whom I had mentioned in some postings on Henry VIII were most notable in this regard.  When  Henry VIII sent his visitators to close the friary and disperse the friars, the visitators reported that the friars were bonded together so closely as brothers that no one could come between them.  Fraternal charity is characteristic of Franciscans but, as I had pointed out, there is one notable exception of which I am aware and it occurred within the Capuchin branch of the Franciscan family. 
Giotto's portray of Francis' soul being
taken to heaven
In 1987 a small group of Capuchin friars located in the Bronx (New York) led by Father Benedict Groeschel and with the encouragement of Cardinal John O’Connor, then Archbishop of New York, separated themselves from the Capuchin Order and established themselves as the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.  The Capuchins themselves had been a reform movement with the observant Franciscans in the early sixteenth century.  Father Groeschel and his disciples claimed that they were simply trying to return to a more authentically Capuchin way of life but the particulars of how they separated themselves from the Capuchins involve a certain about of duplicity and deceit that left their Capuchin brothers deeply hurt.  Moreover, they represented themselves, or allowed themselves to be represented to benefactors and vocation prospects, as the authentic heirs of the Capuchin heritage so as to imply that the Capuchins had lost their charism.  Though Groeschel and the others should have known better than to allow this to happen, the villain, if there be a villain, in this process was Cardinal O’Connor who despite having no idea of what religious life is about—he himself was a diocesan priest, not a religious—interfered with a number of religious communities, often sowing seeds of dissent. 
Benedict Groeschel is, in addition to being a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal and a priest, a psychologist.  Some of his fellow priests are skeptical of him as a confessor or a spiritual director claiming that he is, or was in the days of his active ministry, “controlling” of penitents and spiritual directees, forbidding them from seeing other priests or counselors for advice and otherwise establishing his monopoly over their consciences. He certainly has taken very unnuanced stances in regard to a variety of issues and especially those involving human sexuality and his approach could be considered to verge on the sort of control one finds in some cults. 
Certainly the separation of various “reform” movements within religious orders is always a difficult process and often involves pain on both sides.  The difference in the Vatican II era is that most groups have tried to stress not “reform” which carries certain judgment values but “renewal” which is a less onerous term and doesn’t reek of the sort of spiritual pride to which many “reformers” are given.  Of course Groeschel’s group are known as Friars of the Renewal, but as in another community which Cardinal O’Connor set up, the Sisters of Life, there is also a certain smarminess in their attitude to those religious communities who see their role in the Church, and indeed who see the Church itself, in a different light. 
When Francis of Assisi established his Friars Minor in 1210 (the year of their approval by Pope Innocent III—the original brotherhood had gathered around Francis in the year or two immediately prior—he maintained a critical distance from the hierarchical Church.  Francis was by no means disloyal but neither was he complicit.  He saw that the hierarchical Church had drifted far from the evangelical ideals of the Gospel.  Humility and service had been abandoned for pomp and power.  Francis established his brotherhood to be a witness to the Gospel in a Church that had so compromised itself with the world of its day that the Gospel was all but forgotten.  Francis had a deep personal friendship with Pope Innocent III as well as with many of the prelates of his day—those who wanted to see reform in the Church, but he and his friars refused to compromise their vision of a Gospel Life to accommodate the power and the pomp of prelates.  Habits and cords, or even austere poverty, don’t of themselves make one a disciple of Francis, or of Jesus Christ.  The spirit of Francis today is found more among the “nuns on the bus” than some of those who claim to be his sons or daughters but have lost that critical distance from the institutional Church. Even further from Francis and his ideals is the failure of fraternal charity and the triumph of spiritual pride. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Franciscans of the Immaculate--Saint Francis 3

The Crucifixo of San Damiano
which spoke to Francis
In looking at Saint Francis and the lay hermit movement out of which his Franciscans developed I think we can identify seven characteristics.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->1.     <!--[endif]-->Centrality of Christ.  The lay hermit movement of the 13th century was Christocentric in its spirituality which is to say that they were focused exclusively on Christ as the organizing program of their spirituality.  The Gospels provided them with a direct encounter with Christ who was the only path to the Father.  There certainly was a tender love for the Blessed Virgin  Mary and an admiration for the saints, especially the apostles,  but it was Chris and Christ alone who was their model. 
<!--[if !supportLists]-->2.     <!--[endif]-->In their love for Christ, they consciously copied the life of Jesus and his apostles and used the example of the early Christian Community as described in Acts 4 as their model for their own communal life. 
<!--[if !supportLists]-->3.     <!--[endif]-->Their identification with Christ was rooted in a deep appreciation of his humanity and in particular with his poverty and his suffering.  Especially for Francs, but certainly for all the lay hermits of the time, the key to imitating Christ was to emulate his poverty.  Poverty was not only the rejection of such luxuries as fine habits and the best of food and drink, but was a rejection of the privileges that came with being identified with the institutional Church.  Francis and others rejected living in monasteries choosing instead only the shabbiest of dwellings.  Clerical titles and honors were rejected in favor of all, even the priests, being called “Brother.”  No distinction was made between the ordained and the non-ordained in their communities or in their ministries to the laity other than in the administration of the sacraments.  In other words, they rejected the hierarchical aspects of the institutional Church and even when they were required to accept the office of bishop or cardinal they maintained the strictest marks of poverty and humility. 
<!--[if !supportLists]-->4.     <!--[endif]-->Their rejection of living in monasteries was also due to their commitment to be like the Son of Man who had nowhere to lay his head—homeless wandering was an essential characteristic of the lay hermit life.  Francis insisted that the hermitages and simple “convents” (as opposed to monasteries) where his “lesser brothers” (Friars Minor) lived be owned by others and only given to their use so that, if others judged them unfaithful to their vocation, they could be expelled.  They were to own nothing, either individually or collectively. 
<!--[if !supportLists]-->5.     <!--[endif]-->Lay hermits imitated Christ in their solitary prayer.  While some lay hermit groups, and Francis’ brotherhood was one of them, prayed the Divine Office together, the heart of their prayer was solitary discourse with God in their cells or other abandoned places during the night.  Jacques de Vitry, a Belgian Bishop met Francis and his hermits at the papal court in Perugia in 1216 and mentioned how they “retreated to their hermitages at night to spend the night in prayer.” 
<!--[if !supportLists]-->6.     <!--[endif]-->Lay hermits were not cloistered as were monastic hermits such as the Carthusians. They rejected most monastic practices because their vocation was quite essentially different than the monastic vocation. Rather they were expected to have a ministry among the sick and especially lepers, as well as widows, orphans, the disabled, and the poor.  They also reached out to sinners and those alienated from the Church. 
<!--[if !supportLists]-->7.     <!--[endif]-->Finally, in imitation of Christ and the Apostles, Francis and other lay hermits preached the Kingdom of God—a life of discipleship, a new way of living out the Gospel in one’s daily life.  The Kingdom of God is not about what happens after we die—and that was never the emphasis of Francis’ preaching—it is about living in this world under the authority of the Gospel.  The Kingdom of God is putting into practice the teachings of Jesus in our daily lives.  Francis understood this. 
The Franciscans of the Immaculate carry on the Franciscan Charism in several respects.  They live simply and without luxury.  They reach out and encounter ordinary people and particularly those on the fringes of our economic structures.  In their fervor as a new community they certainly reject many of the material comforts to which some religious have accommodated themselves.  On the other hand there are significant ways in which they differ from Francis and the Franciscan tradition.  Their approach to Christ is through his Immaculate Mother and their spirituality is more “Marian” than Chistocentric.  In this regard they follow the example of Saint Maximilian Kolbe more than Francis.  They also, while maintaining a fairly austere life, have kept many of the monastic trimmings that had crept into Franciscanism (and other mendicant orders) through the centuries after Trent and especially in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Their prayer is primarily liturgical/ceremonial rather than solitary and contemplative and their liturgies are, despite their general poverty, given to some degree of splendor in ritual and the accouterments.  Their emphasis is more on teaching the Church than preaching the Kingdom and they are considerably more enamored of the institutional model of Church than the kerygmatic model of Francis.   All of this is perfectly acceptable of course but it indicates that they are more disciples of Saint Maximilian Kolbe than Francis of Assisi and their model of religious life is more based in 19th century romanticism than the 13th century evangelicalism of Saint Francis. 
What will happen, as it most usually does in religious life, is that as some of the Franciscans of the Immaculate study the Franciscan charism the group itself will make certain corrections of course to being them more into what we might call “Franciscan Orthodoxy.”  Hopefully in that process they won’t lose the fervor and commitment to simplicity that marks them.  If they can move beyond their attempts at a literal emulation Saint Maximilian to become disciples of Francis, they could be a real leaven for renewal in the Franciscan family.  

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Franciscans of the Immaculate--St Francis 2

Pope Innocent III 
Well, let’s get back to Saint Francis.  As I had mentioned two posts ago, Francis had given up on his party animal life and took on the position of a lay hermit.  Lay hermits were, as I had written, canonically recognized laity who lived in poverty and prayer, not a cloistered life but a life of wandering in the towns and villages talking about the Gospels and the challenges of following Jesus in the very materialistic society of  13th century Europe.  These men—and they were invariably men—dropped out of a society they had come to consider shallow and pointless.  (A similar but not quite equivalent option for women were the beguines.  Beguines were not given to the extremes of poverty that characterized the lay hermits.)  Most of the men drawn to the lay hermit life were from the prosperous bourgeois families, were somewhat educated, able to read and write and usually with a little Latin.  What characterized the spirituality of the movement was an absorbing fascination with the humanity of Christ, especially manifest in his suffering and in his poverty which they sought to imitate. 
In the last decades of the 12th century, the Church had lost many members to new movements arising out of an evangelical zeal for discipleship that had seized the Middle Class.  A wealthy merchant of Lyon (in what is today France but at the time was more culturally tied to Lombardy in northern Italy) by the name of Peter Waldo had been seized with fervor by the gospels and had taken literally the words of Christ to go sell all you possess, give to the poor, and to then come and follow him.  Waldo, who had been immensely wealthy, did precisely that and became a street beggar preaching in the towns and villages around Lyon.  The Archbishop of that city, embarrassed by his wealth in contrast to Waldo’s poverty had ordered him to stop preaching.  Waldo went to the Pope, Alexander III, who commended his dedication to live in the poverty of Christ but, as Waldo was not in Holy Orders, supported the Archbishop’s ban on Waldo’s preaching.  In the end, Waldo and his followers separated from the Church over this ban on lay preaching.  
The Church was facing a steady drain of some of its most zealous members precisely because their evangelical fervor was a threat to the comfort and luxury of the bishops and some priests.  Men like Waldo were considered fanatics and extremists by clergy and hierarchs who wanted to enjoy the privileges their status brought them.  In addition to Waldo and his followers, sometimes called the Poor Men of Lyon, or the Poor Men of Lombardy (to which they had spread from Lyon) there were other groups such as the Umiliati.  Still others were seduced into a form of Gnosticism called Catharism which, unlike Waldo’s followers or the Umiliati, crossed the boundaries into heresy. 
In 1199 one of the greatest—if not the greatest—of men to occupy the Chair of Peter was elected to the papacy.  Lotario, Count of Segni, was elected Pope and took the name Innocent III.  The new pope had studied Theology in Paris, the premier theological faculty of the time known for its liberal thought, and then had studied law in Bologna, the leading faculty for civil and canon law.  Moreover, not only was he highly educated, he was personally holy.  Despite his high office, Innocent led an austere personal life (sound familiar?) wearing the simplest of robes, made of wool rather than silk and expensive fabrics. He ate spartanly and his private apartments were plain.   He upheld the dignity of the papal office by integrity rather than by pomp.  At the same time he was a strong leader who brooked no opposition.  One of his first acts was to distinguish between canonical preaching (doctrine) and giving what we might call today “witness talks.”  Laity could, with the permission of the bishop, inspire others by being given the opportunity even in church to speak of what the Gospels meant to them and how they might better live out the teachings of Jesus.  This role of lay preaching was especially entrusted to these lay hermits.
The Lay hermit movement was especially taken by the sentence attributed to Saint Jerome in his vocation—“naked to follow the naked Christ.”   Lay hermit groups sprung up all over Europe as these men renounced material possessions to voluntarily live in the most abject poverty, to minister to the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters—especially the lepers—and to speak to others of making the Gospels real in one’s life.  This is what Francis sought to do.  He returned to his ruined church of San Damiano where he lived, spending the nights in prayer. By day he ministered to the lepers and other social outcasts, all the time slowly rebuilding the ruined chapel.  His former friends came to see him.  Some brought him help in his projects.  A few joined him, taking the habit of hermits themselves.  They were not, at this point, religious but they did have canonical standing, blessed by the Bishop of Assisi.
In the popular and lovely 1972 Zeffirelli film, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Bishop Guido of Assisi is portrayed as an obese and slothful prelate who doesn’t take Francis seriously.  Nothing could have been further from the truth.  Guido, a friend of the reforming Innocent, was enthused by Francis’ vision and anxious to help him.  He provided the necessary introductions to have Francis meet the Pope.  Now the Pope, while ardent in programs to reform the Church, did not at first see Francis as a serious aid in this project.  For an educated man used to the corridors of power, how could this repentant playboy from a mediocre Umbrian hill-town with no theological training be of any real help in cleaning out the nest of sycophants and parasites into which both the Roman Curia and local hierarchy had, for the most part, degenerated?  (If this sounds familiar, remember that the past gives us insight into the present.)   The story goes that the Pope had a dream in which he saw Francis holding up the crumbling Lateran Basilica.  (The Lateran was, at the time, the papal residence.  The Popes only moved to the Vatican in the 15th century and even then it didn’t become the primary papal residence until the 19th.)  It is a lovely story and there may be some truth to it but it is more likely that in the interview that Innocent gave to Francis, the Pope’s mind was changed and he saw the potential this hermit had to give the Church new spiritual energy.
An important question is why Francis did not choose to enter a traditional religious order of his day.  He certainly had options,  there were monasteries—Benedictine and Cistercian as well as Carthusian—that would have permitted him traditional religious life.  There were also the Canons Regular—religious, mostly clerics, who led a community life while doing pastoral work in parishes and preaching.  We can see by the choices he made why traditional religious life did not attract him.  Religious had security.  Their monasteries provided a roof over their head and food on their table as well as winning them a respected place in society.  As Francis’ brotherhood developed he forbad them to own property, even the houses in which they lived.  They lived in the neighborhoods of the poor, outside the city walls and the protection those walls afforded.  They wore the patched clothing of the poor, not proper religious habits.  They didn’t aim for the respect of the Middle Class—far from it, they went out of their way to identify with the poor who were held in contempt by the merchants and business owners.  In fact, however, their integrity in embracing the poverty of Christ did win them the respect of almost all in society and they drew vocations in great numbers from the very classes whose values and lifestyle they were rejecting. 
Francis started a revolution that reformed the Church.  Thousands of men took up his lifestyle.  Eventually this small band of lay hermits in Umbria grew into an Order of tens of thousands of brothers spread across the known world. Francis’ spiritual sons would go off to Muslim lands and die as martyrs; they would go on expedition to Peking and the court of the great Kahn.  They would accompany Cortes and Pizzaro in the Americas.  A son of Saint Francis would be the first white man to see the great cataracts of Niagara.  Franciscans would sit on the throne of Peter—some as good popes, others as bad.  Most important though was that the work of Francis and his brothers among the poor and working classes probably staved off a Luther or a Calvin for three hundred years.  It was an evangelical renewal of the Church—something we could use today.  

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Judie Brown and If The Truth Be Told . . .

Judie Brown, President of American
Life League
Before we return to Saint Francis and the Franciscan Charism in relationship to the Franciscans of the Immaculate, I want to bring something to your attention that is coming to a roiling boil in the Church’s teapot.  When we say “history” we think of the past—and that is most unfortunate as history is not about the past.  The person interested in the past qua past is not a historian but an antiquarian.  The historian uses the past as a metaphor better to understand  the present or to prepare for the future.  Historians are very interested in current matters as today’s news is tomorrow’s history and also because our past gives us windows into the present. 
The katholic krazies are all abuzz in their blogs about the “scandal” surrounding CRS (Catholic Relief Services) and how CRS is not being faithful to the teachings of the Church in allegedly supporting contraceptive programs and even abortions in the developing world.  We owe this news to one Judie Brown who is president of “The American Life League.” Michael Voris of Church Militant TV has been her Paul Revere but what Voris is not telling you and the krazie blogs probably don’t even know is the long term relationship between Judie and CRS that went sour, triggering these unsubstantiated allegations.
You see Judie Brown is not only the president of American Life League but years ago her family started a printing business that printed the materials for ALL.  That permitted Judie to keep ALL resources “in the family” as it were by using ALL money to make Brown money.  There is nothing wrong with that, of course, except for lack of transparency.  The printing business was very successful and other pro-life organizations turned to them for their printing.  Success builds on success and the Brown family printing business did very well.  And CRS turned to the Brown family printing business to do their printing.  Judie's family do good work and at a reasonable price.   From a financial point of view it was win/win for both the Browns and CRS.  In fact CRS became the Brown’s largest client with the massive CRS mailings that go out soliciting donations for the work of Catholic Relief Services.  Their biggest customers!  Then disaster hit—or at least disaster for the Browns.  Ken Hackett, then Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Relief Services, decided that because of the way that Judie Brown and ALL were undermining the work of the Bishops and sowing division in the Church that it was not appropriate for CRS to give the Brown family their business and the Browns lost their biggest customer.  Well, as they say, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”  When earlier this year President Obama—a particular bête noire to Ms Brown—appointed Hackett as Ambassador to the Vatican, she was livid.  She wrote a column for Renew America, a right-wing blog decrying the appointment, Hackett, and CRS.  One can only image how chagrined she was that the Holy See did not have objections to Hackett’s appointment. 
Her attempts to discredit Hackett’s appointment were not successful and now Brown has turned on CRS itself.  And who would know better than Judie Brown the hidden sins of CRS—her family business had printed all the CRS materials for years.  And all the time that they held the CRS contract, Judie never sounded the tocsin.  Did CRS money coming into family coffers buy her silence?  Or are her allegations simply retaliation for the financial losses caused her by CRS moving their business elsewhere?  Either way, Ms. Brown doesn’t have the moral high ground.
One of the things I like about CRS is that less than 10% of its income is used for administrative purposes.  This compares with over 33% of ALL’s expenses.  In fact almost 10% of donations to ALL goes to Judie and others who “serve” on ALL’s executive team.    Not shabby when you remember they have a flourishing printing business too. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Franciscans of the Immaculate--Saint Francis

In my last post I wrote that I would next write about Saint Francis so that we can look at the Franciscans of the Immaculate and see whether they draw their inspiration more from Saint Maximilian Kolbe or from Saint Francis.  To give the spoiler, while I have great respect for this new Congregation I think we will see that they are not Franciscans at all—at least in spirit—but disciples of the Polish Saint who was a martyr of charity at Auschwitz.  And that is not a bad thing at all, it just doesn’t make them Franciscans.  Let me say too, to be fair, while academically I am somewhat of an expert on Franciscanism—my doctoral studies focused on religious movements in 13th-14th century Italy—I am not a Franciscan and have no right to say that this person or movement “belongs” or doesn’t “belong.”  Nevertheless, I do know something—more than most—about Franciscanism.
Francis was born in 1181 in Assisi, the only child (as far as we know) of Pietro di Bernardone.  He was baptized Giovanni (John) but nicknamed “Francesco” (Frenchy or Frenchman) by his father—some sources saying that his mother was French.  Pietro de Bernardone was a successful cloth merchant.   Now cloth—the import/export for resale of silks from the Levant, the manufacture of wool, the weaving of brocades and velvets—was the of the thirteenth century which is to say it was the expanding and lucrative market in which fortunes were made and lost.  Pietro was very successful and the Bernardones were secure in the upper middle class.  Now “upper middle class” is a tricky term; in those days the term was not only financial or even primarily about wealth.  They were bourgeoisie because while they were rich they were not noble.  Many families of the bourgeoisie were richer than the old nobility.  The old nobility had their wealth tied up in land—the urban merchant class had liquid wealth—money and goods for sale.  It often grated on the wealthy that they were not noble and they affected the external signs of nobility—inventing coats of arms for themselves and giving themselves pretentious titles.  They often gave large donations to churches to build family chapels containing burial vaults as the nobility built funerary chapels in cathedrals and monasteries. 
Francis and his friends liked to affect the practices of the old landed families.  When he was about twenty Francis and his friends joined a military expedition against the neighboring town of Perugia.  Francis and his buddies, all spoiled children of parents with too much money to use it wisely, equipped themselves (or their fathers equipped them) as “knights” with horses and armor and set themselves for the glory of war.  What fools.  For all their fancy stuff, these guys were no more knights than they were Martians.  They were the spoiled brats of pretentious families who, unlike the sons of the nobility who were bred to fight, were clueless about the science of warfare.  It was an ignominious defeat and Francis and some of his friends were taken prisoner.  They were lucky they weren’t killed.  They were held for ransom.
About this time Francis became seriously ill.  Some sources imply it was a result of the conditions in which they were held prisoner, others that it was independent of that and was after Francis returned home.  While the illness had physiological dimensions, it seems to have primarily been a nervous breakdown.  Francis’ personality changed drastically during this illness and a slow recovery.  The former party boy became a loner.  He lost his interest in the fast-track lifestyle of his friends.  Instead he began to haunt an old chapel which had fallen into ruins just outside the city walls of Assisi.  He spent long hours wandering through the meadows and orchards that surround Assisi but he always seemed to end up back in this chapel.  It was there that he heard the crucifix speak to him one day: “Francis, rebuild my church that is falling into ruins.”  Obviously, he thought, the church of which Christ is speaking is this chapel of San Damiano and so slowly he began piling up the fallen stones and mortaring them back into place.  Francis, on his rambles through the countryside came into contact with those people who live on the margins of society.  The beggars and the homeless were not permitted to spend the night within the city walls and they slept in barns and sheds or in the open fields.  Probably some sought shelter in the same ruined chapel he was starting to rebuild.  And then there were the lepers.  They were not permitted in the city walls even in the daytime.  They were total outcasts,  picking through garbage for food or old clothes.  Francis began to tend to the sick.  Lepers repulsed him but he knew that they were very image of the crucified—the least of his brothers and sisters to whom Jesus had referred in the Gospel of Matthew. 
We all know the story of how Francis, when confronted by his father for his having given away not only his possessions but some of his father’s wealth, took off his clothes and laid them at his father’s feet and then, naked, turned to the bishop who quickly had him dressed in an old tunic of patched cloth.  This story has long been misinterpreted however.  Francis was not merely renouncing his patrimony to become a beggar but he was embracing a vocation to a particular form of religious life common in those days called “lay hermits.”   Lay hermits were men—the status was limited to men which is why Clare, when she wanted to embrace the same lifestyle had to go to live in a monastery of nuns—who lived in poverty under the protection of the bishop.  They had to be accepted into this status by the bishop but where then given a habit that identified them as hermits—a tunic, usually of mid-calf length, a belt, and a hooded cape called a capuce.  Once accepted by the bishop they had the “right” to beg alms.  They also could preach—not canonical sermons—but what we would call “witness talks” about what the Gospel and teachings of Jesus meant to them.  Lay hermits were not cloistered but usually lived outside the towns or villages where the migrant people and lepers lived.  They often were given the custody of rural chapels or lived in the ruins of monasteries or old barns.  They dedicated themselves to prayer and to this witnessing to the gospel as well as to the care of the sick.  Lay hermits were very common in the 13th century and not only the Franciscans, but the Carmelites and Augustinians, as well as the Servites, have their origins in the lay hermit movement.  Francis was you quintessential lay hermit.   More on this in the next posting.