Monday, November 16, 2015

The Pope and That Communion Issue

Some coverage is being given to the Pope's response to a Lutheran lady who asked him if she could receive Holy Communion with her Catholic husband. Here is an extract from a Catholic Herald article which sums up what happened:
The Pope was asked whether a Lutheran and Catholic married couple might “finally participate together in Communion”. The questioner referred to “the hurt we’ve felt together due to [our] difference of faith”.
Francis said it was “not my competence” to give permission to do this, and admitted: “I ask myself and don’t know how to respond – what you’re asking me, I ask myself the [same] question.”
The Pope then stressed the role of personal discernment rather than repeating Church teaching that Protestant spouses can only receive Holy Communion if they do not “have recourse for the sacrament” at their own church.
He said: “There are questions that only if one is sincere with oneself and the little theological light one has, must be responded to on one’s own.”
When I read this first I immediately thought of President Barack Obama's response to a question on the abortion issue regarding the status of the unborn child and its rights: it's "above my pay grade".

Now we have to note that the Pope is correct when he says he does not have the competence to give permission to allow her to receive. He is right, as a servant of the Church he cannot change Church teaching on this issue, and the teaching is clear: inter-communion is not permitted. There is a provision for a very rare occasion when a non-Catholic can receive the Eucharist for a special event - a wedding perhaps when a non-Catholic marries a Catholic in a Catholic ceremony, but there are strict conditions which must be fulfilled, including an explicit belief in the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist. This provision was and is not envisioned to be utilized on a regular basis.

However, the Pope's response to the lady has created confusion. He should have told her that she could not receive the Eucharist while sharing her pain at the divisions which exist and prevent Lutherans from being in full communion with the Church. The Pope not only has the competence to do this, he has the duty, but on this occasion the Pope has created confusion among the faithful, and indeed may well have misled many on this issue. This is not a matter of conscience, it is a matter of objective reality, a reality that exists because of serious divisions that exist between the Catholic Church and Protestant communities. 

However the damage has been done and now the media have jumped on what he said and are running with the line that Lutherans can discern for themselves whether they can come forward for the Catholic Eucharist, relativising the whole issue. Was this intentional on the Pope's part? I cannot say, I cannot read his mind I can only observe what he says and does and drawing on what I observe I know he is no fool, he knows what he is doing and he knows what he is saying. 

I think we need a Paul to have a talk with Peter on this issue, and on a number of others.

Here is Edward Pentin's article on what happenedFr Z has an interesting take on all this.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A Saint For The Family

I was given a beautiful gift today from a friend who is a monk. He has just returned from a pilgrimage to Rome and Italy and in his kindness he brought back a precious relic for me: a first class relic (ex ossibus) of Blessed Elisabetta Renzi, the foundress of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows (the Addolorata Sisters). What a wonderful gift: thank you Dom Benedict!

Blessed Elisabetta is one of our more recent Beati, raised to the altars by St John Paul II in 1989. Her life was truly extraordinary, one with many challenges for her, challenges that provided an opportunity for her to grow in holiness. You can find a brief biography here at her sisters's website, but take note of her attempts to enter religious life. Her first attempt was thwarted by the rise of secularism and the assault of Napoleon on the Church. Sent home she spent years living with the disappointment, driven by a deep desire to live the consecrated life but held back by the intrusion of temporal governments into the internal life of the Church. But God saw the suffering of his servant and he was preparing a great mission for her.

I know people struggling with a vocation, some are looking for somewhere to go, but do not know which direction to take. Others are terrified to take a step and so try to stave off the "remorseful day" by what seems to be an endless process of "discernment". Some are being prevented by parents or family members who do not want to lose a son or daughter to the Church. And then there are those with genuine vocations who are being rejected from seminaries, Orders and congregations because their theological outlook is not in keeping with prevailing fashions - they are not progressive enough. I think Blessed Elisabetta is for all of those struggling with a vocation. I think she says to those putting off the moment to just get up and go; and to those rejected by seminaries or orders to go elsewhere - there are plenty of other congregations and other dioceses more open to orthodox Catholics.

But Elisabetta has something else to say to us today, and this what resonated with me today as I was venerating her relic. She founded a congregation to minister to young women, in her own work she believed that if girls and women became good, holy women, then their families, inspired by the mother, would become good and holy families. Authentically holy parents have the best chance of producing holy children, well adjusted children, as we see in the example of Sts Louis and Zelie Martin. This is not an old hat idea, it is a teaching that is at the heart of the Second Vatican Council which saw the family as the "domestic church" where children are born and reared, formed in Christian and human virtues, and prepared, not only for good and successful lives in the world, but also for heaven. 

Blessed Elisabetta, then, is one of the great Saints of the family, and I think in these times we could turn to her to help troubled families, and to guide the Church as she seeks to reach out to them. So perhaps you might all say a prayer to her after you read this: pray for our families, particularly those are are facing difficulties; for the Church; for the Pope, our Bishops and priests; for our laity working in the area of family support. The Sisters of her congregation are now looking for a miracle which will lead to her canonisation,so you might say a little prayer for that too.

What Is Authentic Christian Reform?

Cardinal Avery Dulles with Pope St John Paul II

What is authentic Christian reform? In the last few centuries that word, "reform", has bandied about willy-nilly and has become the catch-call of a certain type of revolutionary. It goes without saying that reform is a necessary part of life and most essential in the life of the Church. At the moment in the Church we are hearing a lot about reform and that the Holy Father has been sent to us to spearhead, at last, an authentic reform in the Church, one which will bring the institution into the modern world, make it more compassionate, pastoral and real.

To make the Church of Jesus Christ modern, compassionate, pastoral and real.....?

So what is authentic reform? Well I am indebted to the folks over at Catholicus Nua for a post directing me to the teaching of Cardinal Avery Dulles, one of the greatest modern theologians who, drawing on the work of another great theologian, Yves Congar OP, offers a number of principals which need to be assessed to see if the current programme being proposed by some in the Church is actually authentic Christian reform, or just another attempt to undermine the teaching of the Church, teaching that is grounded in revelation. You can read the Catholicus Nua post here, or you can read Cardinal Dulles's original article in First Things here. But I have copied and pasted, for your convenience, some of the main points:
1) According to Congar, “the great law of a Catholic reformism will be to begin with a return to the principles of Catholicism.” Vatican II, echoing his words, taught that “every renewal of the Church essentially consists in an increase of fidelity to her own calling” (UR 6).
Catholicism derives its principles from God by way of revelation. The most authoritative guidance comes from Holy Scripture understood in the light of apostolic tradition, inasmuch as this is the normative channel whereby revelation is transmitted. In his reform of the liturgy, Pius X issued a call to return to the sources (Revertimini ad fontes). Pius XII declared that speculation becomes sterile if it neglects to return continually to the sacred sources of Scripture and tradition, which contain inexhaustible treasures of truth.
2) Any reform conducted in the Catholic spirit will respect the Church’s styles of worship and pastoral life. It will be content to operate within the Church’s spiritual and devotional heritage, with due regard for her Marian piety, her devotion to the saints, her high regard for the monastic life and the vows of religion, her penitential practices, and her eucharistic worship. A truly Catholic reform will not fanatically insist on the sheer logic of an intellectual system but will take account of concrete possibilities of the situation, seeking to work within the framework of the given.
3) A genuinely Catholic reform will adhere to the fullness of Catholic doctrine, including not only the dogmatic definitions of popes and councils, but doctrines constantly and universally held as matters pertaining to the faith. In this connection cognizance will be taken of the distinction made by Vatican II between the deposit of faith and the formulations of doctrine. Because human thought and language are inevitably affected by cultural and historical factors, it may be necessary from time to time to adjust the language in which the faith has been proclaimed. Repeated in a new situation, the old formulations can often be misleading, as instanced by the examples of Baius and Jansenius in the seventeenth century. These scholars quoted Augustine to the letter but did not take account of the changed meaning of his words.
4) True reform will respect the divinely given structures of the Church, including the differences of states of life and vocations. Not all are equipped by training and office to pronounce on the compatibility of new theories and opinions with the Church’s faith. This function is, in fact, reserved to the hierarchical magisterium, though the advice of theologians and others will normally be sought.
5) A reform that is Catholic in spirit will seek to maintain communion with the whole body of the Church, and will avoid anything savoring of schism or factionalism. St. Paul speaks of anger, dissension, and party spirit as contrary to the Spirit of God (Galatians 5:20). To be Catholic is precisely to see oneself as part of a larger whole, to be inserted in the Church universal.
6) Reformers will have to exercise the virtue of patience, often accepting delays. Congar finds Luther especially lacking in this virtue. But even Luther, stubborn and unyielding though he often was, cautioned his disciple Andreas Karlstadt on the importance of proceeding slowly, so as not to offend simple believers who were unprepared for changes that were objectively warranted. Prudent reformers will recognize that they themselves stand under correction, and that their proposals, even if valid, may be premature. As Newman reminded his readers, there is such a thing as a good idea whose time has not yet come. Depending on the circumstances, Church authorities may wisely delay its acceptance until people’s imaginations become accustomed to the innovation.
7) As a negative criterion, I would suggest that a valid reform must not yield to the tendencies of our fallen nature, but must rather resist them. Under color of reform, we are sometimes tempted to promote what flatters our pride and feeds our self-interest, even though the gospel counsels humility and renunciation. Persons who have prestige, influence, and power usually want to retain and increase these; those who lack them want to acquire them. Both groups must undergo conversion.
8) For similar reasons we must be on guard against purported reforms that are aligned with the prevailing tendencies in secular society. One thinks in this connection of the enormous harm done in early modern times by nationalism in religion, a major factor contributing to the divisions of the Reformation era and to the enfeeblement of the Catholic Church during the Enlightenment. The liturgical and organizational reforms of Joseph II in Austria, the Civil Constitution on the Clergy enacted in France in 1790, the extreme liberalism of Félicité de Lamennais early in the nineteenth century, and the evolutionary religion of the Modernists at the dawn of the twentieth century ” all these movements afford examples of initiatives perfectly attuned to the spirit of their times but antithetical to the true character of Catholic Christianity.
In our day the prevailing climate of agnosticism, relativism, and subjectivism is frequently taken as having the kind of normative value that belongs by right to the word of God. We must energetically oppose reformers who contend that the Church must abandon her claims to absolute truth, must allow dissent from her own doctrines, and must be governed according to the principles of liberal democracy.
False reforms, I conclude, are those that fail to respect the imperatives of the gospel and the divinely given traditions and structures of the Church, or which impair ecclesial communion and tend rather toward schism. Would-be reformers often proclaim themselves to be prophets, but show their true colors by their lack of humility, their impatience, and their disregard for the Sacred Scripture and tradition.
So, can we see any of these in what is being proposed? Can we see any of them in the manner in which certain things are being proposed?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Priests For Life Cleared

You may remember that he and the organisation were in some strive recently and Fr Pavone's bishop and even the Archbishop of New York were none too pleased with him. Accusations of financial mismanagement were being hurled about and demands for independent audits were being made. Fr Pavone rejected the first accusation and answered the second by insisting that independent audits of the association's accounts were made every year and all this information was available. Fr Pavone mused on whether this was an issue of control rather than irregularities in his organisation. He was suspended by his bishop and sent to live with a contemplative community in what many saw as an exile. That exile was suddenly lifted and he was restored to ministry but no light as been shed as to why the decision was reversed.

Well the Holy See has found that Priests for Life are completely above board on the financial issues, they have found that there are no substance to the allegations and that Fr Pavone is directing a work which is of great benefit to the pro-life cause and the Church: a ringing endorsement. Here is the text of the letter from the Holy See:
Dear Father Pavone,
In response to your recent update about your many activities, I wish to encourage you and your team to continue the fruitful work that Priests for Life is doing.
You have every reason to proceed with confidence, because you have welcomed the assistance of the Church to strengthen your ministry as it continues to grow around the world. At the inception of Priests for Life in 1991, when it was given recognition as a Catholic Association of the Faithful, it was a relatively small apostolate focused within the United States on assisting priests to proclaim the Gospel of Life.
Since then it has grown and diversified into an entire family of ministries, and an international apostolate. While continuing to be faithful to your original vision of assisting and training the clergy, you have sought to follow the Spirit’s lead and respond to the needs of the pro-life movement, and therefore have integrated into your ministry the work of Rachel’s Vineyard, Silent No More, the Youth Outreach of Stand True, outreach to Hispanic and African-American communities, and much more.
Of particular note, you have integrated into your family of ministries the international work of Marie Smith and the Parliamentary Network for Critical Issues, assisting lawmakers in many other countries to defend the most vulnerable human lives. You have also become an NGO at the United Nations and continue to assist the Holy See Mission.
As you do all of this, the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy has encouraged you to update your statuses so that they reflect this tremendous growth and development. As the Congregation has indicated, if you eventually want to apply to the Vatican for recognition as an international Association of the Faithful, then those revised statutes can be presented to the competent authority.
In the meantime, however, the value of your apostolate continues to be recognized. As the Visitation Report from the Congregation for the Clergy states:
PFL is present in more than 50 nations, and its work benefits the Church both in the United States and beyond … Without doubt, PFL has offered to the Church a great service in the Pro-Life movement. By all indications, Father Pavone is a truly charismatic leader who has led PFL to significant heights … [The work and finances of PFL are in order … The Association has been well administered financially … [The administrative costs of PFL are in keeping with other groups receiving similar funding in the United States.” (Visitation Report, Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, November 2013).
Moreover, as the Congregation has indicated in a subsequent letter, “there is nothing to prevent ‘Priests for Life, Inc’, together with its numerous affiliated agencies, from continuing to labor on behalf of the pro-life movement,”  with “the many excellent works which Priests for Life continues to do in promoting respect  for the sanctity of human life.” (Letter of His Eminence, Cardinal Beniamino Stella, Prefect, Sacred Congregation for the Clergy to Fr. Pavone , February 6, 2015, Prot. N. 20150367). Please know, then, of my continued support as an ecclesiastical advisor and friend. I encourage all the supporters of Priests for Life to increase that support and work harder than ever to build on the progress you have already made in bringing about a Culture of Life.
Renato R. Card. Martino
Sadly the whole fiasco did a lot of damage to Priests for Life and to the pro-life cause. As to why the accusations were made against Fr Pavone and the organisation is unclear, and I imagine it will remain so. We will see if his bishop or the Archbishop of New York make any statement to clarify things, and perhaps offer an explanation as to why they were so insistent in their accusations and why New York cut off all contact with the organisation. 

Remembering The Fallen

A friend of mine was at a debate recently and among those present was a Church of Ireland minister who was with her in defending Christian schools. She noticed that he was wearing, as expected at this time of year, a small poppy badge, but also the precious feet (pro-life symbol) and, believe it or not, a Pioneer pin (Catholic temperance organisation). We were impressed.

Thinking about this later I had to admire the Vicar, in his badges he harmonised in a Christian way different movements and I wondered would we, in Ireland, have the courage to do the same? The Pioneer pin and the lifestyle which it symbolizes are often mocked today - in a country that cherishes alcohol, and as a result has serious problems with it, abstinence is seen as counter-cultural, judgmental and mean-spirited. Not so in reality, but it is perceived as a negative thing today. The precious feet are like a red rag to a bull in modern Ireland where the establishment is gung ho in its support for abortion and working hard to make Ireland like everywhere else in its embracing the culture of death. 

That said, both of these symbols are, for now, somewhat tolerated even if dismissed by "the great and the good". It is the poppy which is the most controversial of all. An Anglican minister will get away with it in Ireland, but woe betide anyone of the Catholic persuasion, that is taboo, forbidden. Why? Because in the eyes of many Irish it is the symbol of British Imperialism, for a Irish person to wear a poppy is to offend the Republic and the struggle for independence.

That narrative, however, is rather blinkered. I doubt if the French, Belgians, Dutch and other countries involved in the two World Wars who incorporate the poppy into their commemoration wreaths are pawns of British Imperialism. Rather, that little flower, which grew in abundance on fields that were torn apart by insane war, has become the symbol of those who now lie in those fields, resting beneath canopies of that floral tribute. Among those dead are many Irishmen, Catholics and Protestant, laymen and the priests who served them, who lost in their lives in conflict. Where the poppy is worn the aspiration that accompanies it is "We shall remember them". Is it a coincidence, I wonder, that this remembrance occurs during a month dedicated to the Holy Souls?

I am inclined to think that the example this Vicar shows is very much a Catholic one: Catholic temperance and reparation, Catholic defence of the unborn and vulnerable, and in his poppy the very Catholic tradition of praying for and remembering the dead, particularly those who died in conflict and tragic circumstances, perhaps not even prepared for death. So while we in Ireland associate Remembrance and poppies with British Protestants, I dare say it is actually much more Catholic than we think. Given the many thousands of Irish who died in the World Wars, who are now finally being acknowledged by the Irish State, will we see a day when wearing the poppy will be accepted, indeed become the norm, in this Republic, in memory of our dead? 

Prudence, Anyone?

I thought this Pope was elected to sort out the Curia and financial mismanagement? Running up to the Conclave the talk was about electing a strong Pontiff to deal with the corruption and murky practices that were going on in the shadowy corridors of power in the Vatican. Personally I was not in favour of electing a Pope merely to carry out an administrative reorganisation of head office, I tend to think we need to elect a Universal Pastor. 

Anyway, it seems things are as bad as before, perhaps even worse, and what is most disturbing is that the two people Francis appointed to help in the overhaul of the shop have now been arrested and are being investigated themselves. I remember when they were appointed Francis had been warned from various sources, Sandro Magister among them, that this was not a very good idea, but those warnings were ignored. So, here we are now with another mess. Thank God, at least Francis put a good man in a key position when he appointed Cardinal Pell to the new office of financial affairs.

As for the latest interview with Scalfari, at this stage "the lady doth protest too much, methinks". If I were Lombardi I'd quit.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Ireland's "Pope"

St Malachy today. If ever there was an Irish prelate who would have made an excellent pope, it would, in my humble opinion, have been Malachy. He would have been a reforming pope in the style, I think, of Pope St Gregory VII. Certainly in Ireland in the three dioceses he governed he proved himself to be an able and committed reformer, a man who understood the nature of true reform and how to achieve it.  He was a man of intense personal sanctity, of humble and kind charity towards others, of prudent and innovative zeal and he had a heart capable of the deepest loving relationships, as we see in his friendship with St Bernard. 

Malachy was born in what is now the city of Armagh, the son of a schoolteacher. In his youth he became a disciple of Eimar a hermit. Ordained a priest of Armagh his bishop, St Celsus, recognised the young man's potential, appointing him his Vicar General Celsus he initiated the young man into his hopes and efforts at reform of the Church in Ireland. Celsus is one of our great reformers, a man of great sanctity himself, and he apprenticed Malachy in his virtues and ideas. After continuing studies under St Malchus of Lismore, when the Abbot of Bangor died Malachy was appointed to succeed him, and as in Ireland Abbots often headed dioceses, Malachy was appointed and consecrated Bishop of Connor. In the providence of God it was an important step to prepare him to succeed Celsus as Archishop of Armagh and Primate. As Bishop of Connor he was effective in carrying out various reforms. 

On his deathbed, in 1129, Celsus named Malachy as his successor. However, as Malachy was not of the same clan as Celsus, and the seat of Armagh had been in the hands of the Clann Sinaig for some time, there was a dispute. The clan imposed Murtagh, Celsus's cousin, as Archbishop, an illegal action, and so legally the see remained vacant until Malachy was able to claim it. He was enthroned in 1132 but could only enter the see in 1134 when Murtagh died, though there was conflict as he tried to take possession of the cathedral. Indeed one of Murtagh's relations, Niall, St Celsus's brother, fled with the relics, books and St Patrick's crozier in an attempt to invalidate Malachy's taking office. Though some acknowledged Niall as Archbishop because these symbols of the office were in his possession, Malachy took control and eventually regained possession of the symbols and won the hearts of the people.

Malachy's great reforming work continued in earnest. Now as Primate he had the ability to extend his plans for reform all over Ireland. Armagh was at peace, but much of Ireland was in a disastrous state. The Church in Ireland had grown lax in faith, in the observance of the liturgy, in morals and all because certain individuals sought to empower themselves in the Church. A large part of the blame lay with lay-abbots in the ancient monasteries. These lay men had obtained these offices and used them and their revenue to boost their lifestyles and prestige. In reality the Church in Ireland had become nothing more than an institution to bolster these lay people in lives quite contrary to the Gospel. The clergy had acquiesced in this and their own lax morals and slothful practice of the faith was at the very least bordering on scandalous. And this regime had its defenders, not quite a medieval version of the ACP, not too far off it in resistance to authentic reform. 

Malachy struggled to sort out the mess, and he had a great deal of opposition to deal with. The Irish have great virtues, but also great vices, and like the Sicilians we can harbour resentment and nurture revenge for generations, And some of those Malachy tried to reform responded in like manner to his efforts. But he laboured on and his work bore fruit: he restored discipline, encouraged a return to Christian morality - even among clergy, he had the Roman Liturgy adopted, he regularised and promoted marriages, restored the practice of confession (in their laxity the Irish thought they had no need of the sacrament, like today!) and he confirmed thousands who had never received that sacrament. On top of all this, indeed assisting him in his endeavours, he was a miracle worker, a lover of the poor and needy. According to one tradition he planted apple trees all over his diocese to provide food in times of famine.

This is a lifetime's work, but Malachy did it all in three years. Exhausted, he resigned his see in 1137 and retired, taking up the position of Bishop of Down, a smaller and less hectic diocese then. He continued his reforming work there and established religious communities.  In 1138 he traveled to Rome and on the way met St Bernard at Clairvaux and so began one of the most endearing and fruitful friendships in the history of the Church. Malachy was taken with the life at the abbey in Clairvaux and he sought permission to enter, however Pope Innocent II refused it, he had work for Malachy and with this in mind he appointed him Papal Legate in Ireland. Returning to Ireland he consoled himself by bringing Bernard's monks to Ireland, establishing the first Irish Cistercian monastery at Mellifont. He and Bernard corresponded and supported each other in their mutual missions.

In 1148 a synod of bishops in Ireland asked Malachy if he would go to Rome to request the palium for the two metropolitans of Ireland. On the way he stopped off at Clairvaux to spend some time with Bernard, but the time was to be short: while there he fell seriously ill and on the 2nd November he passed away in the arms of his friend. Grief-struck, Bernard still rose to the occasion (as he always did) and preached at the Requiem Mass which was celebrated in Clairvaux, in the sermon he declared that Malachy was a Saint. Rather than send the body home, a difficult proposition then, Bernard buried his friend in the abbey chapel, right in front of the high altar. Less than five years later Bernard himself died and, at his request, he was buried with Malachy.

In any age Malachy would be an extraordinary prelate; we could do with him now. In a way Ireland today is not much different from Ireland in his time, certainly many of the problems he had to face are still with us. He had the courage to face them and thanks to this genius and holiness he dealt with them. There was no compromising the Gospel with him, and he saw sin and laxity for what they were: corrupting forces within the Church and within humanity. He had a huge heart, a gentle demeanor and obvious love for his people, but this true Christian spirit did not lead him to the delusion that the Gospel can be sacrificed as a pastoral strategy to solve pastoral problems or keep people content. He was a Christian realist and understood, as Christ himself did, that the way to true happiness and peace was the way of fidelity to the Gospel even if it required heroic effort at times, an effort that would be enabled and crowned by God's grace. In essence Malachy was a believer and he lived by his belief, by his faith and trust in God.