"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Monday, 26 November 2012


The Basilica of St Anthony of Padua, where he is buried.

Catholicism before Vatican II appeared to be Christianity interpreted by lawyers.   The mystery of the Cross was reduced to being the paying of a legal debt to the Father by Christ on our behalf;, sins were neatly labelled "mortal" and "venial, and missing Mass on Sundays was mortal"; the Church was held together by jurisdiction that flowed from Rome.  Everything could be controlled by those with the authority to do so, because almost everything was measurable.   Merits were transferable, and indulgences could be measured in days and years, not to say complete remission of punishment due to sin: for yes, people went to hell or purgatory by legal sentencing.

The lawyers made Christian life so simple.   People knew exactly where they were and what they had to do.   The problem was that this legalist version of Catholicism begged so many questions, the least of which being how faithful to the Gospel was all this.

Then came Vatican II where the legalistic version of Christianity simply ceased to lack credibility.  The mystery of the cross is the passage of Christ through loving and humble obedience unto death to the life of the Resurrection, and we and all creation pass through Christ's life, death and resurrection into sharing in the very life of God (theosis); the Church receives its basic unity, a unity of identity, from the absolute identity of each celebration of the Eucharist throughout time and space, just as each consecrated host is Christ, and all together, wherever they are, are Christ.

   The unity of all with the Pope is a consequence of this Eucharistic identity, so that all local churches are identical with the local church of Rome, and Rome can be a model for all without imposing itself on the local churches, and union with the Pope can enable all the churches and their members throughout the world to act as one single Church.   The universal canonical system is built on the eucharistic communion and the ecclesial love that comes from it and not the other way round.    The holiness of each belongs to all, and we are only holy in so far as we can include all in our love which reflects and is an instrument of the love of God in Christ.   Indulgences have Christian meaning in so far as they reflect this mutual co-responsibility in love which binds the Church in heaven and earth as one in Christ.

This sudden withdrawal of a legalistic interpretation has bad consequences in the in-between time, where the faithful have left it behind but have not yet adopted what is to replace it, or, at least, have not yet appropriated for themselves the Vatican II insight into the nature of salvation.   For Vatican II, our  relationship with God consists of our participation in the Mystery of Christ's death, resurrection and ascension,which is celebrated eternally in heaven; and our own lives are taken up into this Mystery by our participation in the Church's liturgy on earth.   It is through the Church in its liturgical celebration of the Christian Mystery that the whole of humanity, and, indeed, the whole of creation obtain their supernatural vocation.

  Priests used to be told that they have a grave obligation, under mortal sin, to say the Office; but the distinction between mortal and venial sin has become blurred, and Christianity is not about legalism: so many gave up praying the Office.   Laity used to be told that they were bound under mortal sin to go to Mass on Sunday; but now they do not pay the same attention to rules, and many, like the pilgrim below, have stopped going to Mass in a regular way.   The priest does not realize that he cannot normally function as a priest without participating in the Prayer of the Church, because it is only out of obedience to the Church that he can love in harmony with the Spirit and thus love the people with Christ's own Love.  The same can be said for members of the laity and their obligation to go to Sunday Mass: it is in Sunday Mass that our lives become united with Christ's Life and we become points of contact between heaven and earth, both for our own benefit and for others.   I cannot help thinking that the child-abuse scandal has reached such proportions because priests have abandoned the idea that all sexual sins are mortal sins, but have not yet truly participated in the life of Christ available in the Eucharist.  There are many transitional problems, in morals, in liturgy, in the relationship between the Vatican and the rest of the Church, because the Vatican II project at all levels has not yet finished.   People, from pope to pleb, need time to change gear, and it is going to take generations before the Church becomes what Vatican II held out to it as a goal.

At the end of this this post there is a video on the "Vatican Implosion", a lecture given by Robert Mickens of the "Tablet".   I agree with his facts, though I also believe that there are many positive trends as well.   I also believe that the Vatican is a bit out of touch.   Anyone who thinks that by forbidding the discussion of women priests the problem will go away must be out of touch.  The same can be said about celibacy.  Also, by not encouraging open discussion of the subjects that concern people, the formation of maverick groups to discuss them is inevitable; and it is they, not the Vatican, that will receive the attention of the media.  This will give the impression to the world that the Vatican uses authority because it refuses to admit the obvious.

Nevertheless, I disagree with his over all interpretation.   It is not all collapse and retreat.   Vocations to the priesthood and sisterhoods are getting less and less, but certain vocations are flourishing, ones that look as though they offer a real alternative to secular life.  Those religious congregations that have adapted their appearance to go unnoticed in the world around them are dying out.   For many congregations, giving up the habit and living "ordinary" lives has become an ecclesiastical form of harakiri.   It is a question of marketing.  The English Dominicans are an interesting example.  After the Council they went around in jeans, banned the bomb and revelled in the New Left.   They also lost vocations.  There is a joke about a phrase written by a Dominican student on a notice that listed those during the year who had left the order and gave information on what they were doing.   The student wrote, "The last one to leave, please turn off the lighta."   Since then, they have reverted to the habit, have put great emphasis on the worthy celebration of the liturgy - something they were not noted for before Vatican II - and stress the monastic side to their vocation.  They are probably the most successful order for vocations in England.   In most countries, there are flourishing examples of Benedictine monasteries and of others that are not doing too badly, considering the "implosion".   Then there are the new communities that have been founded since Vatican II, especially in France, but in Belgium, Spain and Germany as well - I don't know about the United States.   Then there are the movements like the charismatic renewal, the Focolare and many others; and I don't suppose there has been any century that has so many lay people so dedicated - as dedicated as any priest or nun - to work in the Church "full time".   However, there is one thing I have noticed: it is not, on the whole, the "liberal" types that are entering convents, seminaries and monasteries, nor do the most successful movements belong to the liberal wing.   For one and a half years I was assistant priest in a "liberation theology" parish in Cajamarca, Peru.   I noticed that the only people with the spiritual energy enough to participate in the social projects organized  by the parish when their own self-interest was not involved were the Confraternity of the Passion that traditionally organized the Good Friday celebrations and the Confraternity of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.   As far as the laity were concerned, the backbone of the parish was the people with the most traditional piety.   No, if anyone is imploding, it is the liberals.

That the Catholic Church is in crisis is obvious.   We did not foresee it as Vatican II came to a close.  Robert Mickens interprets it as an implosion and seems to believe that the Vatican has had its day.  In contrast, I believe it is a crisis in which the Church re-adjusts to a new position in society in which it can, eventually, be more true to itself.   I agree with the Pope that general councils normally produce chaos, bitterness and division; but that, at the end of the process, the Church comes out better than when it went in; but it takes time.   We are in a time of inevitable change and can only guess at the outcome.   The picture given us in Vatican II of the Church has not yet been realized.   The liturgy is only partially expressing all that Vatican II hoped for.   There is a sense in which the liturgy is bigger than we are, and its formation involves the Holy Spirit as well as liturgists, ecclesiastical authorities and celebrants.  I believe there are more changes to come, in God's good time.  

 The move towards Collegiality has been slow and timid, with two paces forward and one pace back, and there it has stayed.   I am sure that, one day, the model of absolute power with the Pope behaving like an ecclesiastical Louis XIVth will be replaced by a model based on ecclesial communion; but, for that to happen, everyone has to change, not just the Pope and the Vatican.   Using modern methods of communication, it is becoming possible to become one, single communion in Christ to a degree that has never been known before.  However, I think we cannot do it without the help of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches who share with us the Apostolic Tradition.    Also, I don't believe that women priests can be fairly tackled until we can reach a conclusion together with these churches.  The problem is that the Catholic Church is not a political society with powers inherent in itself.   It is the most imperfect of societies because its most important powers, essential for its existence, exist outside it because they are the powers of God, working in the Church.   They are not under the Church's control.   A lonely hermit can be nearer to a solution than a vote in synod.

 I am not troubled that the young priests and religious are more conservative than we are.   This is natural.  That is how societies, including the Church, advance.   I am certain of two things about this: firstly, that young priests grow old and, quite often, mellow and mature with age, but not always; and, secondly, the young priests when the present ones are old will have very different ideas and will be advocating a very different liturgy from the one their elders are accustomed to celebrate.   Anyway, that birettas, pom-poms and lace have anything to do with the worthy celebration of the Mass is a ludicrous idea than can only have a very short life.   On the other hand, if people are well centred in their approach to the liturgy, they can wear birettas, pom-poms and lace if they want to.   I am sure that we oldies who rejoiced at the introduction of the Misa Normativa are making our contribution, and that the modern young conservatives will help us recuperate what, perhaps, in our haste for change, we threw over.  However, further change is called for, and it may take a couple of generations yet to fulfil the task that Vatican II started and to give to the Misa Normativa its final shape.

Time will tell who is right, Robert Mickens or me.   What do you think?

He is young, active, educated. He rarely goes to Mass but admires the saints and believes firmly in the resurrection. This is the profile of the modern devotee of Saint Anthony of Padua
by Sandro Magister (for source click here)

ROME, October 29, 2012 – In Italy "there exists in the Christian people a widespread treasure of humble and everyday heroism, which does not make news but builds history." This was said at the synod by Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the Italian episcopal conference. Adding that however "the people whom we meet in our communities often must rediscover the faith or discover it."

In recent days a sociological survey has been published that says a great deal about this widespread and multiform Christianity that characterizes "the Italian exception," but not only that.

The subject of the survey is the pilgrims who go to one of the most visited shrines in the world: the basilica of Saint Anthony in Padua.

Over the span of a year, there are about four million visitors to this shrine. But the survey took a specific portion of these into examination. It concentrated on those 200,000 pilgrims who filed past of the body of the saint over the six days of February 2010, from Monday the 15th to Saturday the 20th, during a rare public display.

They were cold winter days. But the line at the entrance of the basilica was very long, and the walk lasted for hours. Many more people came with respect to the previous display of the body of the saint, in 1981. Then there were 22,000 a day, this time 33,000.

The socio-religious profile of these pilgrims reveals surprising traits.

The first of these concerns their age. The largest group are not the elderly, but the middle-aged, between 45 and 59, 36.6 percent of the total. But above all there was a strong presence of the younger age group, between 30 and 44, 26.4 percent, and of the young, between 16 and 29, 14.1 percent.

Compared to the practicing Catholics who go to Mass every Sunday in Italy, middle-aged to elderly and two out of three of them women, the pilgrims of St. Anthony therefore appear decisively younger. And without significant differences between the sexes.

The second surprising element is education. The visitors of the saint turn out to be more educated both with respect to the average of the Italian population, and, to an even more pronounced extent, with respect to regular practitioners. One out of four has a university degree, and four out of ten have high school diplomas. Moreover, almost all of them are involved in some work activity.

Third finding. A large portion of the pilgrims, about half, go to Mass sporadically: at Christmas, at Easter, and on other rare occasions.

But at the same time – the fourth finding, and the most striking – they demonstrate that they believe in the central truths of Christianity to a much greater extent than regular practitioners. Fully 83.4 percent believe in the resurrection of Jesus and of all. When instead in the neighboring diocese of Rovigo a similar survey found that only 31.4 percent of the population believe in the resurrection, and only 58.5 percent of Catholics who go to Mass every Sunday.

The fifth significant finding, the pilgrims approach St. Anthony not so much to implore a grace or a miracle, but simply to give thanks, or because they are seeking spiritual protection in him.

The survey is much more extensive. But these five traits are enough to construct a profile of the pilgrim that reflects a very modern condition of belief, that brought to light in the capital work of the Canadian Charles Taylor, "A Secular Age."

It is the condition of the believer in a society in which faith in God is only one possibility among others, and in which this freedom of choice does not diminish the fragility and precariousness of the human.

"In an age in which there is a growing individualization of belief," comments Professor Alessandro Castegnaro, the director of the survey, "it is not surprising that there should develop a form of religion that perhaps is not without Church, but certainly with little Church."

It is a form of religion that is called "popular," but is not a relic of the past. It has new and modern traits. Perhaps little elaborated, but simple and strong, like faith in the resurrection and the seeking of the saint as a beacon on the path of life, more than as a wonderworker.

It is a simple faith, made up of direct contact with the divine, with its epicenter at the shrines, with which the territorial institutions of the Catholic Church, the dioceses, the parishes, have a strained relationship.

But it is a challenge that requires from the whole Church a new capacity of invention, because it is a matter of phenomena to some extent new. Castegnaro concludes his analysis, in the collaborative volume that presents the results of the survey, as follows:

"It is rather likely that these forms of religion, just as they have had a past, will also have a future. But these, because of their anthropological configuration and because Taylor is fundamentally right, in Western countries are destined to be of interest to minorities, albeit substantial and always capable of giving rise to mass phenomena. It would be very difficult for this to be 'the religion of the people,' as Paul VI recommended that popular religion should be called. It will be instead the religion of a part of the people, one of the many shapes taken on by religion within the more general process of the pluralization of the forms of belief."


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