advent 2019

In 2019, I moved my website to a new platform that runs on a different coding technology (PHP instead of Active Server Pages). So it means I have to re-tool the online Advent calendar I’ve posted each year since 2008.

So I will be a bit delayed in posting this year’s calendar. But, in the meantime, here’s a link to last year’s calendar, with all 24 doors accessible.

And here is the video for the first Sunday of Advent:

Also, a question for visitors: what kind of content would you like to see in this year’s online Advent calendar? Just looking for ideas; please feel free to leave them in the comments section.

false alternatives

Trojan Horse in the City of God by Dietrich von HildebrandGiven the theological puberty crisis we are currently living through in the Church, I highly recommend the following book for study and meditation:  Dietrich von Hildebrand’s Trojan Horse in the City of God, written in 1967, but as relevant today as then. Below is the first chapter of the book:

WHEN  ONE READS  the luminous encyclical Ecclesiam Suam of Pope Paul VI or the magnificent “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church” (Lumen Gentium)  of the Fathers of the Council, one cannot but realize the greatness of the Second Vatican Council.

False interpretations of the Second Vatican Council

But when one turns to so many contemporary writings – some by very famous theologians, some by minor ones, some by laymen offering us their dilettante theological concoctions – one  can only be deeply saddened and even filled with grave apprehension. For it would be difficult to conceive a greater contrast than that between the official documents of Vatican II and the superficial, insipid pronouncements of various theologians and laymen that have broken out everywhere like an infectious disease.

On the one side, we find the true spirit of Christ, the authentic voice of the Church; we find texts that both in form and content breathe a glorious supernatural atmosphere. On the other side, we find a depressing secularization, a complete loss of the sensus supernaturalis, a morass of confusion.

The distortion of the authentic nature of the Council produced by this epidemic of theological dilettantism expresses itself chiefly in the false alternatives between which we are all commanded to choose: either to accept the secularization of Christianity or to deny the authority of the Council.

The true meanings of conservative and progressive

These drastic alternatives are frequently labeled the progressive and conservative responses. These terms, facilely applied to many natural realms, can be extremely misleading when applied to the Church. It is of the very nature of Catholic Christian faith to adhere to an unchanging divine revelation, to acknowledge that there is something in the Church that is above the ups and downs of cultures and the rhythm of history. Divine revelation and the Mystical Body of Christ differ completely from all natural entities. To be conservative, to be a traditionalist, is in this case an essential element of the response due to the unique phenomenon of the Church. Even a man in no way conservative in temperament and in many other respects progressive must be conservative in his relation to the infallible magisterium of the Church, if he is to remain an orthodox Catholic. One can be progressive and simultaneously a Catholic, but one cannot be a progressive in one’s Catholic faith. The idea of a “progressive Catholic” in this sense is an oxymoron, a contradictio in adjecto. Unfortunately, there are many today who no longer understand this contradiction and proudly proclaim themselves to be “progressive Catholics.”

Conservative and progressive are false alternatives

With the labels conservative and progressive they are in fact requiring the faithful to choose between opposition to any renewal, opposition even to the elimination of things that  have crept into the Church because of human frailty (e.g., legalism, abstractionism, external pressure in questions of conscience, grave abuses of authority in monasteries) and a change, a “progress” in the Catholic faith which can only mean its abandonment.

These are false alternatives. For there is a third choice, which welcomes the official decisions of the Vatican Council but at the same time emphatically rejects the secularizing interpretations given them by many so-called progressive theologians and laymen.

True renewal calls us to transformation in Christ

This third choice is based on unshakable faith in Christ and in the infallible magisterium of His Holy Church. It takes it for granted that there is no room for change in the divinely revealed doctrine of the Church. It admits no possibility of change except that development of which Cardinal Newman speaks: the explicit formulation of what was implicit in the faith of the Apostles or of what necessarily follows from it.

This attitude holds that the Christian morality of holiness, the morality revealed in the Sacred Humanity of Christ and His commandments and exemplified in all the saints, remains forever the same. It holds that being transformed in Christ, becoming a new creature in Him, is the goal of our existence. In the words of St. Paul, “This is the will of God, your sanctification.” (1 Thess. 4:3)

This position maintains that there is a radical difference between the kingdom of Christ and the saeculum (world); it takes into account the struggle between the spirit of Christ and the spirit of Satan through all the centuries past and to come, until the end of the world. It believes that Christ’s words are as valid today as in any former time: “Had you been of the world, the world would love its own; but as you are not of the world, as I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you” (John 15:19).

This is simply the Catholic position, without further qualification. It rejoices in any renewal that enlarges the establishment of all things in Christ – the instaurare omnia in Christo – and that brings the light of Christ to added domains of life. This is in fact a specific encouragement to Catholics to confront all things with the Spirit and Truth of Christ – in season and out of season – regardless of the spirit of the present age or any past age. Such a renewal follows the admonition of St. Paul: “Test all things; hold to what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). It appreciates reverently those great gifts of previous Christian centuries which reflect the sacred atmosphere of the Church (for example, Gregorian Chant and the admirable hymns of the Latin Liturgy).

The Catholic position maintains that these gifts should never cease to play a great role in our Liturgy and that they have today as in the past a great apostolic mission. It believes that the Confessions of St. Augustine, the writings of St. Francis of Assisi, and the mystical works of St. Teresa of Avila contain a vital message for all periods in history. It represents an attitude of deep filial devotion to the Holy Father and reverent love for the Church in all its aspects, the true sentire cum ecclesia.

It should be clear that this third response to the contemporary crisis in the Church is not timidly compromising, but consistent and forthright. It is not retrospective, nor does it anticipate a mere earthly future, but it is focused on eternity. It is thus able to live fully in the present, because real presence is fully experienced only when we succeed in freeing ourselves from the tension of past and future, only when we are no longer imprisoned in a frantic propulsion toward the next moment. In the light of eternity every moment in life – whether of an individual or a community – receives its full significance. We can do justice to the present age, therefore, only by regarding it in the light of man’s eternal destiny – in the light of Christ.

The response that we have been describing involves grave concern and apprehension over the present invasion of the life of the Church by secularism. It considers the present crisis the most serious one in the entire history of the Church. Yet it is full of hope that the Church will triumph, because our Lord Himself has said: “The gates of Hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).

letter to a suffering church

Letter-Cover-3Dstack-p-800Bishop Robert Barron has written a short and incisive letter in response to the sexual abuse crisis that has roiled the Catholic Church in recent decades.

The first letter of Archbishop Vigano, released a year ago (August 22, 2018), rocked the Church like an earthquake, with (then Cardinal) Theodore McCarrick as its epicenter. The aftershocks have reverberated daily, as scandal after scandal has been unveiled in dioceses around the globe.

The response by the institutional church over the past year has been—at best—lethargic. At worst, the response has been defensive, regressive, and surrounded by a culture of silence all the way up to the Pope:

“I read the statement this morning.  I read it and sincerely I must tell you, and all those who are interested: read it yourselves carefully and make your own judgment.  I will not say a single word on this.  I believe the memo speaks for itself, and you are capable enough as journalists to draw your own conclusions.  This is an act of trust: when some time has passed and you have drawn conclusions, perhaps I will speak.  But I ask that you use your professional maturity in doing this: it will do you good, really.”

Pope Francis, on the papal flight back to Rome from the World Meeting of Families, Sunday, 26 August 2018

It is within this context that Bishop Barron has written a Letter to a Suffering Church. It is divided into five short chapters:

Chapter One: The Devil’s Masterpiece

Chapter Two: Light from Scripture

Chapter Three: We Have Been Here Before

Chapter Four: Why Should We Stay?

Chapter Five: The Way Forward

I would love to see more pastoral letters from bishops written with such clarity, insight and economy of language.

I especially appreciated chapter two, as I found the discussion based on the Old Testament passages to be very apropos and insightful. And I was deeply moved and motivated by this passage in the last chapter, The Way Forward:

…Something new must come forth, something specifically fitted to our time and designed to respond to the particular corruption that currently besets us. Above all, we need saints, marked by holiness of course, but also by intelligence, an understanding of the culture, and the willingness to try something fresh. Somewhere in the Church right now is a new Benedict, a new Francis, a new Ignatius, a new Teresa of Kolkata, a new Dorothy Day. This is your time!

I hope every Catholic will take the time to read this book and review the related resources over at SufferingChurchBook.com. If possible, why not start a study group to discuss the book? While I recommend ordering the materials from the Word on Fire website, you can also purchase a Kindle version of the book for one dollar on Amazon.

Bishop Barron’s Prayer for a Suffering Church

Lord Jesus Christ, through your Incarnation you accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life. Setting aside the glory of your divinity, you met us face to face in the vulnerability of our humanity.

Though without sin, you accepted sinners, offering forgiveness and placing yourself before even the most unworthy as a servant and a friend. You became small and weak in the estimation of the powerful, so that you might elevate to glory the small and weak of the world.

Your descent into our nature was not without risk, as it exposed you to the assaults of the darkest and most terrifying of humanity’s fallen desires—our cruelty and narrowness, our deceptions and our denials. All this culminated in the cross, where your divine love was met with the full fury of our malice, our violence, and our estrangement from your grace.

You offered yourself to us with innocence and receptivity, and this was met with the abuse of your body, humiliation and mockery, betrayal and isolation, torture and death. All this—even the dereliction of feeling abandoned by God—you accepted. You became a victim, so that all those victimized since the beginning of the world would know you as their advocate. You went into the darkness, so that all those compelled into the dark by human wickedness would discover in you a radiant light.

Grant we pray, O Lord, healing for all victims of sexual abuse. Purify your Church of corruption. Bring justice to those who have been wronged. Grant consolation to all who are afflicted. Cast your light to banish the shadows of deception. Manifest to all your advocacy of those who have been so cruelly hurt, and your judgment upon those who, having perpetrated such crimes, remain unrepentant. Compel those in your Church whom you have entrusted to safeguard the innocent and act on behalf of the victims to be vigilant and zealous in their duties. Restore faith to those from whom it has been stolen, and hope to those who have despaired.

Christ the Victim, we call out to you!

Strengthen your faithful to accept the mission placed before us, a mission of holiness and truth. Inspire us to become advocates of those who have been harmed. Grant us strength to fight for justice. Impart to us courage so that we might forthrightly face the challenges to come. Raise up saints from your Church, and grant us the grace to become the saints you desire us to be. This we ask of you, who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

Amen.

a question of relevance

Pope John Paul II with crucifixToday’s Gospel reading begins:

Jesus said to his disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!”  (Luke 12:49-50)

I think it’s good to remember that renewal of the world begins with interior transformation. No elected official, political party, or legislation — past, present, or future — has the power to save us. Only Jesus Christ has the power to save; He becomes present to us and renews us in the power of the Holy Spirit. In Him, we become instruments of renewal in the world.

If I could recommend only one book about renewal of life and the renewal of the Church through interior transformation, it would be Fire Within by the late Fr. Thomas Dubay, SM. The book changed my prayer life, and continues to do so. It’s a great summary of the teaching of Saint John of the Cross, Saint Teresa of Avila, and the Gospel on prayer.

I’m posting the first three paragraphs here, in the hope that it will be enough to coax at least a few of you to pick up a copy and read it:

The Son, radiant Image of the Father’s glory, proclaimed that He had come to cast a fire upon the earth and that He longed for it to burst into blaze. It was in the form of fiery tongues that the Holy Spirit of Pentecost descended upon a timorous group of men and women. Their minds and hearts having been enkindled with a burning love and ardent zeal, those who received the Spirit sparked the astonishing transformation of an unbelieving and corrupt civilization into a community of faith and love.

In our day the divine fire has not been extinguished. The consuming conflagration has not been contained. The proven incapacity of committees and clubs, speeches and surveys, electronics and entertainment profoundly and permanently to change vast numbers of people for the better has to be conceded. As the experience of the centuries attests, true transformations in the world and in the Church continue to come about only through the interventions of men and women on fire — that is, through saints. The evidence is overwhelming. It is also widely ignored, for it contains an otherworldly wisdom that this world does not welcome. For some, taking the evidence seriously presents a snag, since it implies striving for this same kind of transformation within oneself as a starting point for improving the world. Indeed, at this very moment, deep and lasting changes in the Church are being brought about by a faithful few who are burning interiorly as a consequence of the deep prayer given by the Holy Spirit, who renews the face of the earth in ways other than our own. These quiet, humble, unassuming individuals seldom write position papers, and they are not likely to appear on controversial television talk shows or to attract front-page headlines. They are not identified with any “ism,” and they care nothing for a life of luxury or notoriety. They do not achieve popular acclaim by opposing ecclesial leadership and rejecting received doctrine. Rather, they are like the saints have always been. The burning ones are the unflickering light of the world, the savory salt of the earth, the lively leaven in the mass.

Thus, contemplative husbands and wives are examples of holiness to their children not unlike a Hedwig or a Thomas More. Prayerful clergy serve to inspire parishioners through soul-stirring homilies, sound guidance in the confessional and comforting concern in times of need. Teachers who are aflame ignite their students by their contagious enthusiasm as well as by the attractiveness of the truth they proclaim. Nurses close to God have a healing influence on both soul and body. In the home, in the marketplace, in the cloister, the love steadily radiating from these simple ones permeates and invigorates the world around us. It is unmistakable evidence of God living in and among us, a clear manifestation to our world that the Incarnation has taken place. Common folk instinctively grasp this, while it easily escapes the more sophisticated, who often fail to comprehend what transcends the tangible order of meetings and strategies and publicity campaigns.

In the words of the Saint Pope John Paul II, our responsibility is simply to “become saints, and do so quickly.”

requesting prayers for a writing project

This summer, I am at long last drafting a novel that I have been brooding over for seventeen years, since I completed the 2002 Act One writing program in Chicago. Once I have the story in novel form, I hope to adapt it into a screenplay.

The screenplay is set in an arena I know intimately – namely, an American Catholic seminary in the 1990s. Given recent developments in the scandals in the Church, the story seems especially timely. This is not a documentary, or a scandal script, per se, but really intended as a theological thriller in the vein of Charles Williams’s novel Descent Into Hell.

As you might imagine, this is rather highly charged material, that has to stare squarely into the face of some very uncomfortable realities. As Flannery O’Connor once wrote in an essay entitled The Church and the Fiction Writer:

A belief in fixed dogma cannot fix what goes on in life or blind the believer to it…. If the Catholic writer hopes to reveal mysteries, he will have to do it by describing truthfully what he sees from where he is. An affirmative vision cannot be demanded of him without limiting his freedom to observe what man has done with the things of God….

It is when the individual’s faith is weak, not when it is strong, that he will be afraid of an honest fictional representation of life; and when there is a tendency to compartmentalize the spiritual and make it resident in a certain type of life only, the supernatural is apt gradually to be lost. Fiction, made according to its own laws, is an antidote to such a tendency, for it renews our knowledge that we live in the mystery from which we draw our abstractions. The Catholic fiction writer, as fiction writer, will look for the will of God first in the laws and limitations of his art and will hope that if he obeys these, other blessings will be added to his work. The happiest of these, and the one he may at present least expect, will be the satisfied Catholic reader.

I’ve hesitated for a long time to move forward with the project. Only recently have I felt ready (personally) to address this subject in a way that I hope will be redemptive for the audience. At least I know that the story, as it is unfolding, has been redemptive for me.

I plan to first draft the project as a novel, and then work on its adaptation for the screen. (I understand that Graham Greene took this approach with The Third Man).

I’d be grateful if you’d consider keeping this in your prayers. The operative title for the project is Saint Judas.

Pre-work reading includes:

The Third Man – Graham Greene
Goodbye, Good Men – Michael Rose
Ungodly Rage – Donna Steichen
Trojan Horse in the City of God – Dietrich von Hildebrand
Descent into Hell – Charles Williams
The Chocolate War – Robert Cormier
The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene
Story – Robert McKee