SPARE ME THE LITURGICAL GEOMETRY LESSON


People have been trying to impress upon me and others too, that the “new” form of the mass is horizontal whereas the traditional Latin mass is vertical.  I’ve given this a great deal of thought.  From the perspective of language (not Latin, but words) the traditional Latin mass orients the person’s focus toward the transcendent.  There is no mistake about this.

But there is another mistake, which is to say that the current form of the mass fails to orient us toward the transcendent.

There are two ways to “touch” the transcendent.  One can reach up, or that which is transcendent can reach down to man.  Whether man reaches up or God reaches down, the vertical dimension of worship and Catholic spirituality has never been abrogated.  Rather, the action can be uplifting or incarnational.

I think that it would be fair to say that today’s form of the mass, if and when it’s celebrated as per the General Instructions for the Roman Missal (GIRM), has a very dynamic vertical dimension, because it places the focus on God breaking into human history:  the Incarnation.

Everything begins with man reaching out to God asking for forgiveness, during the penitential rite.  This rite is found in both extraordinary and ordinary forms of the Roman rite.  Next, we move to sacred Scripture.  In the ordinary form of the mass, the scriptures are proclaimed in the language of the people.  In the TLM, Latin is usual.  For those who understand Latin or have a missal with the translation, following the proclamation of the scriptures is not a hardship.

Here is where the weakness of both those who love the extraordinary form and those who love the ordinary form of the mass is most visible.  Unfortunately, catechesis in  the Latin Church has been very weak in the area of Sacred Scripture.  To say that many of the religious education books published in the United States could have just as well been produced by Disney Enterprises would not be much of an overstatement.  They fail to convey  the fact that God speaks and we must listen and then respond.

For many Catholics, traditionalists and other, the proclamation of the Sacred Scripture is like story time in elementary school.  Our priests and deacons add to the reduction of the proclamation, because they often fail to mention that what we are about to hear and what we have heard is God’s voice, not the lector’s or the clergyman’s.  Those people are conduits through which God wants to speak to His people.  The vertical quality of the Word of God is obscured by a lack of appreciation on the part of the congregation, poor delivery from those who read it, and very often sermons or homilies that sound more like motivational talks than Divine messages from God to man.

Those who see and hear the voice of God in the proclamation of the Scriptures are definitely praying, because prayer is simply lifting one’s mind and heart to God.  We don’t have to do more.  God does the rest.  During the proclamation of the Scriptures and the homily God calls out to man, as he called out to Adam in the garden, to Abraham, Samuel, and Moses, and to the apostles.  He communicates His love for man and repeats His promise to be save us.

But God also communicates the conditions necessary for salvation.  He reveals to man the moral law that we must observe to be saved.  He offers the means to reconcile, if we violate that law.  He also reveals the consequences for those who violate the moral law and do not repent.

It is during this message that says, “I AM your God and you are my people,” that the soul is intimately tuned in to the voice of God.  But the soul must have a springboard to make the leap from here, into the Word of God.   The springboard for the soul is not an object, but awareness.  We must be aware that it is God who is speaking and that we are commanded to listen carefully.  This is not story time, history class, catechism class or motivational speech to improve your fortune and acquire a younger and better looking wife.  This is the literal voice of God that becomes Incarnate in the Word.  This Word will be offered to the Father in an unbloody sacrifice under the appearance of bread and wine.  Then again, God responds by offering us the Word as spiritual nourishment in Holy Communion.

The horizontal dimension of faith plays an important part in the ordinary form of the mass.  We come to God as a people to fulfill the two Commandments that God gives us, “Love God above all things and love your neighbor as yourself.”   To understand that we relate to each other, not by how we interact at mass, but because of who we ARE, the People of God, and to convert our manners so that everything we do and say reflects God rather than us, adds the horizontal dimension necessary to complete the cross.  This is called ecclesial consciousness.

The ordinary form of the mass provides us with the means to touch and be touched by the Transcendent who speaks directly to us through the Scriptures.  The Word that is proclaimed in the Scripture points our attention to the sacrifice on the altar, which is the life of the Word Himself laid down for our Redemption.  But the Word does not remain in the grave.  It rises and reveals himself to us, glorious and triumphant at every elevation of the sacred host.  He invites us to eat and drink His body and blood under the appearance of bread and wine.  Such great wonder and mystery becomes visible to those who are familiar with the Sacred Scripture, who have an ecclesial consciousness and who attend mass  to present themselves to God, not to fulfill an obligation or to experience the warmth and friendliness of parish life.  Parish life that nurtures the soul is that life which begins with the acknowledgement that the Word has become flesh and is speaking to us.  This is not a replay or a reading of some historical event.  This is reality, more real than the pains of a woman in labor.

 

Br. Jay

The Quiet Amidst the Storm – Part 2


In our previous article on Hurricane Matthew, we closed discussing the attitude of anxiety that can contaminate others during such events, and we mentioned that our Holy Father St. Francis taught us instead to always go through the world filled with the Lord’s peace and joy.

In this article we wish to share a bit more alongside some practical “hints” on how to achieve and maintain inner peace during difficult times.

Transitus at St. Maximilian Kolbe parish

Transitus at St. Maximilian Kolbe parish

On his deathbed, afflicted by physical suffering and by the struggles of the newborn Franciscan family, St. Francis was able to compose his beautiful Canticle, of which we quote only some strophes:

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures…

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather …

 Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water…

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire…

Praised be You, my Lord,
through those who give pardon for Your love,
and bear infirmity and tribulation…

Blessed are those who endure in peace…

Praised be You, my Lord,
through our Sister Bodily Death…

Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Blessed are those whom death will
find in Your most holy willl…

This is the commitment that the brothers take upon themselves when they profess to follow the life of St. Francis, when they commit to become mirrors of perfection.

Such was the inspiration that our Father gave us, that he would inspire other great saints to imitate this model. St. Teresa of Avila would write: “Let nothing disturb you”. St. Ignatius of Loyola would speak of “holy indifference” as “not preferring health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to humiliation, long life to a short one[; instead] wish only for those conditions that will aid our pursuit of the goal for which we have been created”.(Spiritual Exercises) There are many other examples, but  ultimately, they all refer back to the ultimate source of Peace and Joy, the good Lord who once said: “Do not worry about your lives…do not worry about tomorrow!” (Mt 6:25,34).

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Furthermore, as Franciscans of Life, we bear the additional commitment of witnessing to the power and majesty of Life, eternal and all-powerful. “I have come that you may have life, and have it fully” (Jn 10:10). Church Father St. Irenaeus once commented:

“The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God. If the revelation of God through creation already brings life to all living beings on the earth, how much more will the manifestation of the Father by the Word bring life to those who see God.”

In a practical way, we know that “nobody has seen the Father except the one He sent” and that “he who has seen the Son has seen the Father”, as our Lord reminds us of this and St Francis wishes us to imitate this. Therefore the Franciscan of Life, when seeking to proclaim the Gospel of Life, looks at the person of our Lord within his earthly life, particularly at times when He was surrounded by great agitation and nervousness. How did He act? What did He say?

Thus walking unhurriedly amidst a hurried crowd, being polite at a tired stored employee, smiling at an upset customer, helping a frustrated stranger who is looking for batteries, all of these take a different meaning as they proclaim the Light that shines in the darkness.

A friend of our community mentioned to us during a recent conversation that she felt “ashamed” as she, too, was guilty of having rushed through several stores and having been glued before the TV screen following the alert updates. We do not wish you to misunderstand us… as we said, we too went through the necessary preparations, as prudence is a great virtue. There are, however, certain elements that everyone – even those who have not been through years of formation in Franciscan spirituality – can apply in their daily life to find more of that interior silence that helps us maintain the quiet through the storm.

For example, we avoid following the secular news – including weather updates. The Superior, a man who has mastered interior silence, is tasked with following the development of the event – whatever the event may be – and sharing what he considers necessary for the brothers to know.

To build on a metaphor by Thomas Merton, it seems that the media in this day and age has sadly become a sort of “digital acupuncture” designed to stimulate every possible nerve in the human body, to keep us “on the edge”. “Fortunately”, though, our first-world stores come to the rescue with every sort of product that will reinforce our sense of safety by reinforcing our sense of “having” – even when we purchase those items on credit cards and therefore we are increasing our degree of “not having” (that is, if we assume for the sake of the argument that money is something one can “have”, that is, if we assume that money “is” something).

To make things worse, the media – even those with the best intentions – often miss the elephants in the room. Mother Teresa, recently canonized to the great joy of us all and of so many around the world, reminds us that we need not look far in order to find our neighbor in need. Even before we look at Haiti and the Caribbean, we ought to ask ourselves what we can do to help the homeless men and women on the streets of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and many other cities of Miami-Dade and Broward who may not even know that there is a deadly hurricane coming their way. Some of them may not have the means to reach a shelter, others may lack an ID that will allow them access into a shelter. Could we find it in our heart to welcome them into our homes for the length of the emergency?

To turn off the “excitement” of the media and to turn from “self” towards the “other” – here are two very useful ways to maintain inner silence, peace, and joy.

The last suggestion I would like to make comes from the spiritual director of St. Teresa of the Andes, a young Carmelite mystic to whom the Lord revealed that she would die within the month. Upon mentioning this to her spiritual director and asking how to go about the remainder of the month, she was told: “Live as usual, as if you were not going to die“. For, in the words of St. Francis, “blessed are those whom the Lord will find doing His holy will“. Then even dreadful, ugly, scary Death becomes no longer our enemy, but our sister.

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The Surpassing Invisible Beauty of Truth


When we observe works of art, in particular sacred art, we are necessarily brought out of ourselves into a new perspective.

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Yet we often hear the claim that modern art is disconnected from beauty and, by extension, is unable to communicate the beauty of holiness. Pope Benedict XVI explained this as follows:

“We are experiencing not just a crisis of sacred art, but a crisis of art in general of unprecedented proportions. It is a symptom of the crisis of man’s very existence. The immense growth in man’s mastery of the material world has left him blind to the question of life’s meaning that transcend the material world.”

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Modern man defies the transcendent

Unfortunately, many have ran with similar statements too quickly and too far, arriving to claim that modern art is “ugly” and that modern sacred art is nothing but “secular (profane) artworks embedded in sacred spaces”.

Consequences of iconoclastic mindset

The iconoclastic mindset

Others, connecting many more dots than what prudence dictates, have claimed that modern art is ugly because modern souls belong to a global society falling into apostasy. At the extreme end of the spectrum we find the histrionic-schismatic mindset of those who claim that “the ugly images found in Novus Ordo churches are the final offense of the devil, an outrage that sums up all lesser offenses because it represents his goal of obliterating the image of the holy ones in the Church”.

Sadly, the proponents of these and similar statements are indeed upholding a tradition, but not the tradition of Catholic sacred art. They are, in a sense, the modern version of the ones who raised up their scandalized voices to the work of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. Their claim? Michelangelo’s work was too modern.

Paul Barolsky, a  specialist in Italian Renaissance art, explains that contemporary critics of “the first modern artist” accused the Last Judgment of being disconnected from the norms of classical form and violating religious decorum.

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However, “The images are not photographs…their whole point is to lead us beyond what can be apprehended at the merely material level to awaken new senses in us, and to teach us a new kind of seeing, which perceives the Invisible in the visible. The sacredness of the image consists precisely in the fact that it comes from an interior vision and thus leads us to such an interior vision. It must be a fruit of contemplation. Art is always a gift. Inspiration is not something one can choose for oneself. It has to be received. Before all things, it requires the gift of a new kind of seeing”.

Many modern art forms, even within sacred art, accomplish this wonderfully even though they may depart from more traditional artistic styles. They are not “modernist”, nor do they belong to that school that religious illustrator Matthew Alderman has called “the Other Modern”.

The Franciscans of Life are patronizing the work of a local artist whom we believe is a representative of the above, and we will feature his artwork for sale on a dedicated section of our website http://www.franciscansoflife.org The proceeds will go towards the education of our student brothers. This young artist specializes in concept illustration, book covers, and fictional fantasy. He has displayed remarkable talent in the production of sacred art using traditional and digital mediums.

Artwork in the community room at our mother house.

Artwork in the community room at our mother house.

St. John Paul II reminds us that modern artists are, just like artists of all ages, men passionately dedicated to the search for new “epiphanies” of beauty, admiring the work of their inspiration, sensing in it some echo of the mystery of creation. While acknowledging that in the modern era a new kind of humanism marked by the absence of and opposition to God has gradually asserted itself, the Church has not ceased to nurture great appreciation for the value of art, even beyond its typical religious expressions…for even when they explore the darkest depths of the soul or the most unsettling aspects of evil, artists give voice to the universal desire for redemption.

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Pentecost

The pontiff reaffirms that just as the Church needs art to make perceptible and attractive the world of the invisible without emptying the message itself of its transcendent value and its aura of mystery, art also needs the Church for the great source of inspiration offered by the religious theme. This partnership has been a source of mutual spiritual enrichment and has led to a greater understanding of man, and to an opening of the human soul to the sense of the eternal.

Pope Francis, in his encyclical Laudato Si, reminds us that we must be able to look even beyond the traditional means of the craft:

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Corpus Christi

“Technoscience, when well directed, can also produce art and enable men…to leap into the world of beauty. Valuable works of art no make use of new technologies. So, in the beauty intended by the one who uses new technical instruments and in the contemplation of such beauty, a quantum leap occurs, resulting in a fulfillment which is uniquely human.”

It is therefore our hope that we will look at all expressions of modern art, and particularly at sacred art, with a renewed understanding of man’s quest for the beyond. There is much to be appreciated, as long as we are capable of casting aside prejudices and overly zealous attitudes.

Art indeed “goes beyond the search of the necessities of life…it expresses practical wisdom, uniting knowledge and skill, to give form to the truth of reality in a language accessible to sight, [and] sacred art is true and beautiful when it evokes and glorifies ….the surpassing invisible beauty of truth and love”.

These words come from a relatively recent book, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but reflect a wisdom that is timeless. We find it echoed by the same Michelangelo, who affirmed that “every beauty which is seen here by persons resembles more than anything else that celestial source from which we all are come”.

Julian_St_Joseph_and_Christ

St Joseph and Christ in the Workshop

 

70 x 7 = ?


During the last few months we have been bombarded with all kinds of news about people’s personal sins, much of which is none of our business.  We have also seen an increase of attacks on the Holy Father, mostly by Catholics, to our shame.  He is attacked becafingerpointinguse he was not clear on “this” or because he does not say “that”, which we believe, he should say.  Some people have gone as far as to declare that his soul is lost and needs to be saved by “us”.  We make all kinds of statements about the sins of others.  Rarely do we blog or post about our own sins.

Where am I going with this?  It’s very simple.  When we are baptized our parents and sponsors are asked to respond on our behalf, “Do you believe what the Catholic Church teaches?”  We renew this profession several times during the year during different liturgical celebrations

As I was growing up, one of the beliefs that I was taught was very Catholic was God’s forgiveness and mercy.  God forgives and once he absolves, he does not hold on to the memory of our sins.

“Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord; do not remember our sins forever,” (Is 64:9).  The prophet reminds us that God DOES NOT remember our sins forever.  In plain English, He doesn’t hold a grudge against sinners.

This begs the question, why can’t Catholics “Be perfect, therefore, as [our] heavenly Father is perfect,” (Matt 5:48).

How many times do we whine, complain and criticize another person for being a sinner, before we realize that it’s time to drop it and move on?  Maybe we need a clicker to help us remember the number of times that we must forgive those who trespass as we want to be forgiven when we trespass the Law of God.

“Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’  Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy times seven.” (Matt 18: 21-22)

PopeFrancisConfession

Published in: on April 23, 2016 at 5:57 PM  Leave a Comment  

Celibacy: a Jewel of Great Price


The question has often been raised by parents and friends. “Why would a ‘normal’ healtFrancis_and_Pietro_Bernardonehy man choose celibacy and chastity over a woman?” Another popular question, “How can you live without a woman?”
There are people who believe that such men do harm to themselves and eventually to others by engaging in gay sex or pedophilia. Nothing can be farther from the truth. There are married men who engage in both behaviors. Neither promiscuity nor marriage are “cures” for gay sex or pedophilia. In fact, these two behaviors do not belong in the same sentence, because they are not related.

To understand celibate chastity one has to understand love, marriage, and covenant. The man who chooses a celibate chaste life is not running away from marriage, love, and commitment. He is turning to something that he has found, that being the jewel of great price. He is overwhelmed by the love of God.

HeFrancis_leper can love another person and be intimate. However, when he experiences the love of God, he is filled with peace, interior silence, joy, and courage that he has never experienced. His life is different and he wants more. He cannot turn back to the love and intimacy of human romance, not because human romance is bad, but because he has found something even better than good. He has found Him who is the perfect lover: God.

When he compares his current state with his previous life, he discovers new things about himself. The first thing he discovers is that he has a courage that he never knew he had. He can stand up to those who try to control him. He is no longer afraid of bullies. And he makes choices and takes risks that he never took before.
Secondly, he finds that those romantic feelings he once had were truly beautiful and profound shadows of what consecrated life would later offer. Those experiences foreshadowed his romance with God.

Francis_blessingHow does he know this? He no longer question himself or his relationship. He is truly loved by God and he freely returns that love. He no longer wonders whether his beloved will change his mind. His relationship is no longer about liking what he feels or what the other feels for him.

His relationship with God is dynamic, because it is about surprises. God surprises him by filling his time, so that time seems to stand still God also surprises him when he looks back on his life and sees how much he has grown and how far he has moved from where he was.

Former relationships are now the old school where he learned the joys and sorrows of love. Now he feels ready and willing to live with the joys and tears that are part of loving God and being intimately loved by Him. Those old relationships were a training ground for what was to come.

One does not choose chastity and celibacy because he failed at romance, though it may have felt that way in the past. In hindsight, we realize that the past taught us that we could experience the joys and tears of love and continue loving and giving ourselves by the grace of the Beloved with whom we finally settle down.

contemplation

Experiencing the Proximity of God


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All too often we go looking for God only to experience frustration at not finding Him. Hence the temptation to think that “God has more important concerns than me” begins to grab hold of us. We begin to believe that the habitual sins that torture us will always be our masters, because “God does not care. God is angry at me or I’m a lost cause”.

The real problem is that we go looking for that which is right next to us.lighthouses-lighthouse-looking-wide-open-sea-horizon-cloud

Imagine the man who tells you that he has lost his mind. Have you ever considered how ridiculous this expression sounds if it’s taken literally? In order to make such a statement as “I’ve lost my mind” one must make use of the very thing that he believes has been lost.

The proximity of God is very similar.

Man cannot look for that of which he has no idea what it is and no experience. If we are looking for God, it’s because we have a sense of His existence. We can’t have a sense of His existence without knowledge. Finding God is not about feeling His presence. Sensual perceptions of God are gifts for a select few who can handle them. Finding God is about knowledge. Only the man who knows that God is closer to him than his own mind can find God, because he knows that God never lost sight of him.

cartujo

Published in: on February 23, 2016 at 12:06 PM  Leave a Comment  

Atonement or chocolate?


Lent is about to begin and many of us are thinking about what we want to give up. Here is the irony of it all. Some people give up chocolate. In fact, chocolate is the most common Lenten sacrifice, followed by dessert.
chocolate2

Let’s take this in baby steps. The whole idea of Lent is that it is a time of atonement. Now let’s get this straight. We sin against purity, honesty, loyalty, charity, faith, justice, detachment and many other things and virtues. Then we try to atone for all of this by giving up Hershey’s Kisses or ice-cream and apple pie? Sometimes we have to ask ourselves whether our Lenten sacrifices are somewhat presumptuous. We hope to atone for a multitude of sins with a few candy bars and some dessert; if we remember, we abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent.

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“My merit is God’s mercy.” -St. Bernard

Fortunately for us, God’s mercy far exceeds our foolishness. We often forget that Lent is a time of penance. Penance means atonement and conversion of manners.

We can never atone for our sins on our own. For this reason Lent culminates in Passion week, when Christ enters Jerusalem to be executed for our sins. Only the perfect man can offer the perfect act of atonement.

Our Lenten sacrifices must be offered with the ultimate sacrifice that Christ offered. During Lent we must be able to answer several questions with honesty.

1. Whether I am giving up chocolate or something else that I like, am I aware that I must also give up a specific sin? The external sacrifice is only a reminder of what we have to change. It does little good to give up a goody that we like while continuing to fall into the same sin.

2. If I add extra prayer or an extra mass to my weekly schedule do I take the time to meditate on the sin that I am trying to atone? Or do I offer the mass and prayers without much thought to what I have to change? The purpose of the extra mass and prayers is to bring us closer to God and draw us farther away from sin.

3. Finally, do I remember that Lent is to the Church what novitiate is to religious formation? During Lent I take a closer look at what needs improvement in my life and I work toward a conversion of manners. That is, a change in how I live my life with God and neighbor.

One cannot enter Lent with heart and soul without acknowledging one’s sins and the Passion of Christ, which restored to man the necessary graces to change and become like Adam before the Fall. If we ignore sin and the fact that we are sinners, Lent becomes just another tradition that leads nowhere. If we recognize sin, the Cross, and our need for a conversion of manners, Lent becomes a season of extraordinary grace.

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The Perfect Joy of Saint Francis

Moral Reasoning Through the Complexity of Homosexuality


This is a very complex issue. It’s not as simple as people on both sides of the aisle want to make it. There are some basic principles that do help us understand what is right and wrong. Many people are not educated in these principles.

First: God reveals himself. He discloses himself to man through Sacred Scripture, also through sacred tradition, the baseball_throwingMagisterium of the Church, natural law, and logic.

We can’t just throw a bible verse at something and pretend we have it all figured out. All of these pieces must work together. They are all good, because they all come from the same divine origin.

Second: Faith enlightens reason. We must reason through these questions and let our faith inform us whether or not our reasoning is consistent with what God has revealed about his nature and the nature of man.

Third: People have to distinguish between the action and the person. They are not the same. When a five-year old kills his little brother with his father’s gun during a game of “cops and comicrobbers,” the action is contrary to the commandment, “Thou shall not kill.” However, the five-year old is not a murderer, because he neither intended to actually kill his sibling, nor is he knowledgeable of the commandment. The action remains evil; but the child is not culpable. We can condemn behaviors, but we have to be very careful not to judge people. That would be playing God.

Fourth: Juangel_appears_to_st_josephdging another person involves walking through his or her mind and conscience. One’s thoughts on any issue and one’s moral conscience are part of what is known as the “internal forum”. This is an area of human existence that no human being may trespass or attempt to read without an invitation from the individual who is the lawful guardian of his mind and conscience. We can explain why a certain action or behavior is wrong, but we may not pass judgment on the individual’s moral reasoning unless that person invites us to examine it with him, thus inviting us into the internal forum.


Fifth: There is a big difference between homosexual acts and homosexuality. A person with same sex attraction does not wake up one morning and decide to be gay. As he develops and goes through different life experiences, he becomes aware of his feelings in this area. On the other hand, people freely choose to engage in sexual behavior with a person of the same sex. Choosing to be attracted to the same sex is very rare. That which man does not choose can be neither a sin nor a virtue.

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Sixth: Homosexual acts, like heterosexual acts, are freely chosen by the parties involved (except in cases of violent force). The person(s) must use reason to determine whether an act is right or wrong. If the person is a man or woman of faith, that faith should confirm the correctness of his conclusion or point to its moral error.

right and wrongSeventh: Acting on faith and basing our actions on what God has disclosed to us about him, about us and about the relationship between the divine and the human is not the same as playing God. It is using that which makes us in the image and likeness of God to make right choices, that being knowledge of right and wrong.

Eighth: Standing in judgment of an action does not constitute godliness. It’s part of human reason and part of living in society. On the other hand, standing in judgment of the person involved in the action that we reject, IS playing God. No one has the right to judge the conscience of another human being, unless the other person opens up his heart and shares what is on his conscience.

[How to Help]

St. Pius X – our “Brother Giuseppe”


We are celebrating today the feast of a Franciscan saint, Pope Pius X. Born Giuseppe Sarto, he entered seminary at 15, was ordained at 23 and became pastor of Salzano (province of Venice) at age 32, where he remained for the following eight years.

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It is during his residence in Salzano where he became a professed member of the “Ordo Franciscanum Saecularis”. Originally known as the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, this was the third order founded by St. Francis after that of the Friars Minor (the Franciscans) and of the Poor Ladies (the Poor Clares). It welcomed those who wished to follow the life of the Gospel but could not join the “regular” orders – this included married men and women, diocesan clergy, and also those who were single but discerning the call to marriage.

“Brother Giuseppe” was known for his kindness to the poor. He restored the Church of Salzano, enlarged the hospital, and was known during his years as bishop of Mantua to give copies of texts of dogmatic and moral theology to poor seminarians.

Upon election as bishop of Rome, with the name of Pius X, he followed his spiritual father St. Francis in promoting devotion to the Holy Eucharist, even when this meant breaking with long-established customs in the Latin Church.

He encouraged the faithful to receive Holy Communion daily in a time in which frequent communion was far from being the customary practice. He also dispensed the sick from the pre-communion fast, which at the time was due from midnight of the previous day. Furthermore, he strongly promoted giving First Communion to children as soon as they manifested sufficient discretion, lowering the “age of reason” from 12 to 7 years old. Finally, he urged the frequent reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in order to worthily receive Holy Communion.

Intending to “restore everything in Christ”, he began a series of extensive reforms of the liturgy.

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The Porziuncula, a simple church where the first Franciscans praised and glorified God

The first step he took in this direction was to affirm the primacy of Gregorian chant in the Latin churches, but not for the reasons that some today wish to attribute it… He did so because it represented a much simpler musical style than the theatrical style that was predominant at the time, namely Classical and Baroque compositions. His intent was all-encompassing: by restoring the chanting by the people, he wished to restore the active participation of the faithful in the liturgy. In this he would be echoed by his successor to the Chair of Peter, who insisted that chant had to be restored to the use of the people since “it is very necessary that the faithful attend the sacred ceremonies not as if they were outsiders or mute onlookers“.

Insisting in the importance of the participation of the lay faithful in the life of the Church, St. Pius mandated that catechism classes be established in every parish in the world, and redacted a Catechism known for its “simplicity of exposition and depth of content”, which found its worthy successor in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, not StPiusXatDeskaimed to the use of the clergy but to the entire People of God.
His most encompassing reforms were of the Code of Canon Law and of the Divine Office. The former received a universal structure. The latter was a major revision: he abolished and forbade the Breviary established by St. Pius V, promulgating a revision that rearranged the psalms, dividing them when too long, and significantly reducing the individual Hours. The changes also made necessary a reform of the Roman Missal, which was completed in the 1920 typical edition by his successor to the Apostolic See. This was the fourth revision of the so-called “Tridentine Mass” since the day that St. Pius V established it as the norm for most diocesan clergy of the Latin Rite.

During his pontificate, St Pius X was very close to the people in times of natural disasters – we recall the earthquake of Calabria and the eruption of Mount Vesuvio – and showed his paternal care towards the Secular Franciscan Order by asking the Franciscan friars to take spiritual care of them (see the Latin document here). The Franciscan spirit which permeated his life and pontificate could be summarized by his words concerning the Catholic attitude towards the Holy Father:

“How must the Pope be loved? Not in word, nor in tongue, but in deed, and in truth. When a person is loved, one tries to adhere in everything to his thoughts, to execute his will, to interpret his desires. When we love the Pope, we make no arguments around what he disposes or demands, or about how far obedience must go, and in what things one must obey; we do not say that he has not spoken clearly enough…we do not place his orders in doubt…we do not limit the scope in which he can and should exercise his authority; we do not set above the authority of the Pope that of other people no matter how learned who dissent from the Pope, who may be learned but are not holy, because he who is holy cannot dissent from the Pope.

This is the cry of a hurting heart, that with deep bitterness I express, not for your sake, beloved brothers, but with you in order to deplore the conduct of many priests, who not only dare to debate and criticize the wishes of the Pope, but are not ashamed to reach impudent and shameless disobedience, with much scandal for the good and with so much ruin of souls. (Discorso 18-XI-1912)”

In this he echoes the words of the Seraphic Father who writes:

“Brother Francis, and whoever may be at the head of this religion, promises obedience and reverence to our Lord Pope Innocent and to his successors. And the other brothers shall be bound to obey Brother Francis and his successors. […] Let all the brothers be Catholics, and live and speak in a Catholic manner. Let none of the brothers preach contrary to the form and institution of the holy Roman Church. (Rule)

The Lord gave me and still gives me such faith in priests who live according to the manner of the holy Roman Church because of their order, that if they were to persecute me, I would still have recourse to them. And if I possessed as much wisdom as Solomon had and I came upon pitiful priests of this world, I would not preach contrary to their will in the parishes in which they live. And I desire to fear, love, and honor them and all others as my masters. And I do not wish to consider sin in them because I discern the Son of God in them and they are my masters.”  (Testament)

St Pius was known to have said: “I was born poor, I lived poor, and I wish to die poor.” Falling ill on the feast of the Assumption, also weighed down by the distress of the First World War that he had tried so difficultly to prevent, he expressively prohibited the embalming of his remains and was buried in a simple, unadorned tomb in the crypt of St Peter’s Basilica.

tomb_Pius_X

To him the Lord entrusted the Church at a very difficult time – when the world was transitioning into the Great Wars that would forever change its face and usher a new era for civilization in terms of destruction and reconstruction. We are all indebted to him for the courage and simplicity with which he embraced the task of laying the foundations for a comprehensive renewal of the Church.

For those who wish to read some of his writings, you may visit the page dedicated to him on the website of the Holy See, here.

 

 

“To be held as precious”


Today the Latin Church celebrates the solemnity of Corpus Christi to commemorate the institution of the Eucharist.

JPII W EUCHARIST

Although the Seraphic Father never experienced this feast, he and his brothers certainly had a special devotion to the Holy Eucharist during his lifetime. In fact, St. Francis focused his first Admonition on the Holy Eucharist, professing that

the Sacrament of the Body of Christ which is sanctified by the word of the Lord upon the altar by the hands of the priest in the form of bread and wine […] is really the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

St. Francis emphasized that the Holy Eucharist shows the Lord’s great humility and simplicity, the same that He showed in the Incarnation:

Behold daily He humbles Himself as when from His “royal throne” He came into the womb of the Virgin; daily He Himself comes to us with like humility; daily He descends from the bosom of His Father upon the altar in the hands of the priest.

eucharist in creche

The awe inspired by the great love of the Word made Flesh, united to the awareness that in this world we can see nothing corporally of Christ except the Holy Eucharist (Testament) moves us to revere the Real Presence and, by association to show respect for “the chalices, corporals, ornaments of the altar, and all that pertain to the Sacrifice“. These, Francis reminds, us, must be held as precious (Letter to all the Custodes).

In the Latin Church, such reverence was expressed in ways that were typically European, according to the circumstances. Customary gestures arose, some of which acquired meaning, and others to which meaning began to be attributed.

The latter revealed a weakness: the meaning of reverence appeared from the outside in. One had to ask “Why?” in order to be told “it is a sign of reverence“.

Other customary gestures, however, allowed the action to speak for itself. Consider for instance the elevation after the consecration, a late medieval introduction intended to show the consecrated host to the people. When St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, prior to her conversion from Anglicanism, witnessed this for the first time, she was well aware of what was being done (since it existed in the Anglican rite), but the awe that accompanied it was what she perceived, an awe sparked by the Catholic belief in the Real Presence. This, and not the gesture per se, would eventually lead her to the Eucharist. Reverence, then, can be experienced or defined.

St_Seton

The Church, rather than rigidly defining reverence, mediates its experience by pointing to the value of that which is sacred. This she does in a twofold manner: expressing dismay when that which is sacred is treated carelessly, and showing forth the different degrees of reverence due to the sacred.

As an example of the former, the Church states that “sacred objects, which are designated for divine worship by dedication or blessing…are not to be employed for profane or inappropriate use” (CIC 1171), and that they be made of materials “truly noble in the common estimation within a given region, [being] reprobated…any practice of using…common vessels…or which are mere containers” (RS 117).

As an example of showing the different degrees of reverence that are due, consider the chalice. The minor clerics handled the empty chalice. The subdeacon handed the filled chalice to the deacon before consecration. The priest handled the consecrated chalice.

When for practical reasons laymen replaced the ministry of the minor orders and subdiaconate, the lay ministers handled the empty chalice, the deacon poured wine into the chalice and handed it to the priest, and the priest consecrated.

When order is restored, confusion disappears and once more reverence becomes visible.

If, however, we do not let reverence speak for itself, but rather focus on rigidly defining it, we risk embracing two imperfect mindsets.

In the first of these, we may apply gestures that express reverence in situations that do not call for it, which leads to an over-generalization or over-use of such gestures, so that eventually they lose their reverent meaning and become “common”.

An example of this is the practice of genuflection. In the Latin Church, genuflection became a common sign of reverence towards the Blessed Sacrament. Eventually, genuflections became common throughout the liturgy even when the Blessed Sacrament is neither present on the altar, nor reserved in the Tabernacle. This begs the question: “Why genuflect?” To which the answer comes: “As a sign of reverence“. This led to confusion, as the distinction between reverence due to the Blessed Sacrament and respect due to a sacred object (namely, the altar) became unclear. This of course can lead to such gestures being eventually discarded because they are no longer associated with the original context and thus  perceived as superfluous repetition.

The second of these mindsets, one may begin to perceive the absence of certain gestures as a “lack of reverence”, or the presence of certain gestures as a “need”, given our sinfulness or even “uncleanliness”.

Consider, for instance, the usage of gloves by altar servers. When the law of the Latin Church reserved, so to speak, the handling of the sacred vessels to the minor clerics, this came neither from divine revelation nor because of an intrinsic spiritual meaning. Certainly it was not the Church’s mindset that the laity was “unworthy because unholy”. It was done for very practical reasons. Furthermore, laymen and religious often functioned as sacristan. At times they handled the vessels with a piece of cloth, because it was fairly easy to transfer grease and dirt from their hands to the vessels.

gloves

Yet by the 19th Century we read that if the sacristan is a layman rather than a minor cleric, “it is at least becoming that a veil be used in handling the chalice and the paten” (Collectio Rerum Liturgicarum). Statements such as these were understood in the negative, as implying that the gesture of a lay man or woman handling the chalice with bare hands is a lack of reverence, because the laity are somewhat “unclean”, hence the need to “restrict” them outside of the sacristy and to grant clerics alone the “privilege”of handling the sacred vessels. This, of course, confuses the way the Church intended to bring order and distorts the meaning of reverence. Even the previous Code of Canon Law stated that the sacred vessels could be handled by either the clerics or those who had their custody, including laity and religious (CIC/1917 1306), where the word “laity” made no distinction between male and female .

St-Therese-sacristan-2

St. Therese of Lisieux as sacristan

As for the honor due to the clergy, the Seraphic Father reminds us that it is “on account of their office and administration of the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which they sacrifice on the altar and receive and administer to others” (Letter to all the Faithful). That is to say: we honor them because they are the ministers of the Eucharist; they are not the ministers of the Eucharist because of their holiness.

In brief: this mindset, which focuses on our sinfulness alone, fails to acknowledge the Incarnation. Yet, it can still be found today, even when minor orders are no longer present in the Latin Church (with a few exceptions) and their functions are performed by the laity.

To avoid the two slippery slopes that we have described, we should bear in mind that the Church does not rigidly define reverence, but rather orders roles and gestures according to the need. Again, when order is restored, confusion disappears and once more reverence becomes visible.

Consequently, the focus shifts from our sinfulness and unworthiness to the Incarnation. At that moment, the Word becomes Flesh and the Second Person of the Holy Trinity assumes our nature, breaking into human history and beginning the journey towards our redemption.

True reverence has its roots in the Incarnation and naturally returns to it. We reverence Our Lord Jesus Christ when we acknowledge Him as true God and true man, hence becoming aware of who He is, our very brother, and of who we are in relationship to Him, children of the Most High.

St_Francis_embrace

 

Br. Bernardo di Carmine

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