This is “Priesthood Sunday,” aimed toward raising awareness and respect for the priesthood. Many aren’t big fan of these Sundays, as if the liturgical themes and biblical readings weren’t enough… but anyway…
In this video, Fr. Basil Cole, O.P. pithily considers whom God calls to the priesthood and how. In addition to being a highly regarded mission and retreat preacher, and the current prior of St. Gertrude in Cincinnati, OH (which houses our currently bustling novitiate), Fr. Cole is the author of The Hidden Enemies of the Priesthood, which Archbishop (Cardinal elect) Raymond Burke loved so much that he bought a copy for all his then seminarians of St. Louis.
In, “Further Adrift: The American Church’s Crisis of Attrition” (Commonweal, 22 October 2010), Peter Steinfels is inspired by a bona fide personal commitment to the life of “the church” (sic) and “Catholicism.” Due to this very commitment, the established author is gravely concerned about the insufficiently recognized crisis of depopulation afflicting the American Church. Ultimately, he would like to “galvanize and multiply the initiatives” of those who have the most power in the Church but have not acknowledged the disaster upon us–the episcopal hierarchy.
Steinfels accurately points out that our awareness of the crisis as such has been obscured by “sampling error,” which, for example, tends to present the hordes at World Youth Days as representative of young Catholics. (Personally, I think they can be taken as iconic even if not representative.) He also laments episcopal oversight (in both senses), which is insufficiently attuned to the problem as well as engendering of it. The Latino question and America’s highly politicized terms of conversation are also duly addressed.
But one of the problems with culture is that its researcher is necessarily part of that which he is claiming to study. (This vanishing point is part of the reason that the modern critique of perspectives bleeds into the postmodern exhaustion with truth.)
Steinfels nowhere considers that it could be precisely his brand of understanding of what constitutes the life of faith that has also contributed to the loss of religious significance for Catholics. That is, nowhere does he consider the possibility that he is not only a material but somehow formal participant in the corruption, (aside from making a general remark about parental “shortcomings”).
This sense of self-conviction, I believe, must be an essential element of the “new evangelization” (a phrase that is conspicuously absent from the article). Each of us must acknowledge that “I too am part of the de-Christianized phenomenon. I have—however unwittingly—drunk the Kool Aid. And I need supernatural rejuvenation… because we do.” After all, Steinfels would certainly (and rightly) welcome this admonition’s direction to those who reduce their understanding of Christian orthodoxy to affiliation with the GOP or Tea Party movements; But what about those, who, more abstractly, reduce the truth of Christian identity to the establishment of social consensus?
The problem with the otherwise informative and provocative article is that Steinfels reduces the whole problem to a social one. Of course, Steinfels is not a theologian; and he has only authored a four page article about a problem that he has recently addressed in a full-length book. But even so, he could have acknowledged that there are other major factors that have contributed to the crisis and that escape the very possibilities of sociological survey. And so, even though he avers that his data are “not just numbers,” the very terms with which he considers “our siblings, our cousins, nieces and nephews, our friends, neighbors, classmates, and students, our children and grandchildren, even in some cases our parents”—the very terms with which he considers them are numerical percentages and group trends. Hence, he pleads, “while our own firsthand impressions and diligent perusal of news sources are irreplaceable, we badly need surveys based on representative samples.”
To be fair, Steinfels does have rather concrete suggestions, but they too seem caught up with a vision of the Church as simply a social corporation, what theologians call a moral instead of a mystical union, since it is reduced to the programs to which we commit ourselves. He believes that because bishops “direct resources… oversee personnel… grant approval and signal change,” they possess the fundamental authority from which change can and must spring. But is this what the apostolic “authority” is reducible to? Perhaps so for The New York Times (and at best); but not for the person of faith. The theological significance of episcopal authority must be involved in any Christian discussion of their preeminent role in revitalizing the faith. And the very content of the faith and the way that it has been transmitted to the parents whose children are becoming “nones” and drifters with alarming insouciance and at a distressing rate must be considered.
For example, (and the sociologist will excuse my unrepresentative anecdote): I am an adult convert to the faith. At 21 years of age, I enrolled myself in an RCIA program in upstate NY. What did my class consist of, which was taught by a woman of roughly Steinfels’ age? Scripture sharing: discussing our reflections on biblical passages, (with virtually no reference to morality). In other words, a rather diverse assemblage of converts and reverts to the Catholic faith were trained that membership in the Church is essentially what one makes of the community’s privileged text.
Well, if a Church that teaches papal allegiance, the uniqueness of Christ’s mediating work of salvation, the evil of contraception and in vitro fertilization, and whose members have committed some abominably disgusting crimes is ultimately all for the making, why not remake it or make it elsewhere?
The Church, however, is an hierarchically constituted body of members in Christ, without which the person could not be assured of his salvation, nor have access to the fullness of Christ’s personally willed means of working out our salvation. Hence, after the Consecration and Pater Noster, the priest says, “Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your Apostles I leave you peace, my peace I give you, look not on our sins but on the faith of your Church,” he is confessing that one does not have access to the orthodox faith apart from the teaching, sanctifying, and governing offices of the Apostles and their successors.
Above all, the Church is a gift, not a contract. Indeed, we must represent the truths of the faith anew and provide more “effective worship” (as Steinfels ambiguously puts it); we also need to recognize the amazingly immigrant face of the American Church and call on the personal resources of her members. We can certainly affirm that we need “a quantum leap in the quality of Sunday liturgies, including preaching; a massive, all-out mobilization of talent and treasure to catechize the young, bring adolescents into church life, and engage young adults in ongoing faith formation.” Yet, one wonders what more is being suggested in calling for “systematic assessments… [of] theologically more complex and controversial matters like expanding the pool of those eligible for ordination and revisiting some aspects of the church’s teaching on sexuality.”
The Church’s teachings are not in need of “assessment,” whatever that means. (We already know that so many Catholics don’t believe so much of the faith.) What we need is a renewed approach to handing on and experiencing the good of these truths to render them more communicable and appealing to those who have been culturally trained to be disgusted by their pretense.
One of the greatest challenges to the maintenance of Church membership is the rampantly errant belief that the Catholic faith is reducible to one among many options of religious aggregation. If Robert Bellarmine called the Church a societas perfecta, it was to say that God had invested it with His own divine grace and truth: in some irreducible way, the Church already possesses all that she could ever need to be what she is. I think this is one place to start, and it is a genuine continuation of the ecclesial emphasis of Vatican II. We need a renewed preaching on the nature of the Church, its christological necessity for salvation, and the way in which nature and grace are distinct but mutually involved in her institutional structure and mystical pregnancy. (This is behind St. Vincent Ferrer’s lecture series on the Threefold Body of Christ.)
Until the misconception that “Catholicism” is simply another social organization is healed, we will continue to lament that our children are not baptizing their children, and we will think that doctrine and morality are really something like an open conversation guided by majority interests.
I realize some reviews are intended more as digests. But the obstinacy against spiritual insight – which does not require so many more words to express – is upsetting to stomach.
The New Yorker‘s David Denby is usually no slouch, but his latest précis of the films, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger and Never Let Me Go is perfectly lame. I watched Woody Allen’s film the other night and read the book by Kazuo Ishiguro on which the latter is based a couple of years ago. Both are pregnant with great questions and are well crafted. But alluding to the former’s influences in Bergman, Chekov, and Balzac, or mentioning that the latter poses questions about human ensoulment, is simply not sufficient for a review in a magazine of any significance. (There’s a questionable hidden premise in there…)
Allen’s film and Ishiguro’s book – I’ll not comment on the latter’s film version, as I’ve not seen it – are great examples of worthwhile endeavors in modern art… and yes, even and precisely for the Christian to experience. Not because they’re delightful; and certainly not because they’re accordant with our graced sensibilities: But rather because they so artfully present the contrary. Both can be taken as deep meditations on the appearance and interpreted significance of love. As endeavors in what we can grossly call “modern art,” they’re good inasmuch as they pose problems that are existentially and speculatively worth thinking through. “Modern” as they are, their aesthetic value – somewhat by design – rests in how we see beauty.
Although a love comedy, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is ultimately about death, and the delusory and desultory ways in which we go about dealing with it. (Perhaps this needn’t have been acknowledged in a review of a Woody Allen film; but it seems absolutely remote from Denby’s appreciation of this “perverse and fascinating” film.)
The movie’s title is spoken in harrumph by un romancier manqué to his loopy mother-in-law, Helena (perfectly acted by Gemma Jones). At the encouragement of her daughter, Helena has been visiting a fortune teller in order to deal better with the future, having been left by her husband of forty years. Both son-in-law (Josh Brolin) and daughter (Naomi Watts) know the prediction business is a sham. But whereas Sallie thinks it’s therapeutic, the medical student turned novelist thinks it’s absurd. So, when Helena announces the news that she is apparently to meet someone, (apposite the prediction that Roy’s next novel will not be accepted), Roy unwittingly utters in exasperation the movie’s only sure prediction, “Yeah, Yeah, You will meet a tall dark stranger…”
Death flirts about the entire film. Helena miscarried her only son. One of Roy’s friends suffers a fatal accident. A man experienced in the occult and its séances enters into things. And Sallie refuses, (in a remarkable if serendipitous connection to this theme of death on the part of Allen), to continue contracepting her lovemaking with Roy.
For Woody Allen, we’re all frustrated about death; not simply afraid but repressively neurotic about it. Now, anyone can be more or less Freudian in his diagnoses of anxiety and impetuousity. The question is, how to deal with it?
Well, if we’d simply realize that we can’t escape it in fact, we might be open to the psychotherapeutic acknowledgment that we can, apparently, do so in the mind. And if we were lighthearted enough to appreciate this, perhaps we wouldn’t be so nutty about our ultimate coping mechanism: romance.
Helena’s former husband, Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) was desperate both to convince himself that he had strong genes ordained for longevity, and for his wife to conceive a son for posterity. But Helena would not let him “delude himself” in either regard, however, so he had to leave… and marry a hooker.
Roy will fall for a young neighbor in a red dress, who is herself otherwise engaged. Alfie and Helena’s daughter, Sallie (Naomi Watts) has a bemusing attraction to her boss at the art gallery, played by Antonio Banderas. There’s a clear connection between Roy’s unfulfilled novel and Alfie’s lack of a son… and the twisted and self-defeating ways each goes about securing it.
With all these tumultuous relationships, the movie is full of all-out argument – overdoing it in this respect. (Allen is not Mamet.) Woody Allen’s point is that the only thing that brings a bit of complacent peace, (and even that, but for a little while), is our romantic affairs. For Allen, all loving endeavors are just that, affairs, happenings… subject to the same law of moral confusion and natural corruption that rules our race; (perhaps something like the logic of leaving your wife to marry your adopted Asian daughter.) Hence, the film is bookended by the narrator in (near) quotation of Shakespeare, that “Life was full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
(At least the director implicitly confesses that the teller of the “tale” is “an idiot.”)
So, life is meaningless; ergo, our lives of love are meaningless. However, when we are “in love,” that’s all that matters, and this is the best kind of spirituality or self-help in preparing for the ultimate breakup between being-here and nothingness.
Our souls’ marriages with our bodies are all eventually cuckolded by death. And yet, when we’re in love… who cares about anything else but being in love?
Helena eventually connects with a perfectly unattractive man who runs an occult bookshop, “pious in a new agey sort of way.” But more important is her own ersatz faith, recently revealed by the clairvoyante: the belief that we live many times, that we are re-incarnated. Allen exploits Helena’s situation to dumbfound his audience doubly. When she becomes romantically renewed, she positively entertains the notion that she is someone else from the past (from Victorian England, or perhaps, for her new lover, even Joan of Arc or Cleopatra).
In other words, the satisfaction of romance is a twofold illusion – about who we are and about where we’re going, about our identity and destiny. All of the breakups and unfaithful attractions are rooted in the characters’ misconceptions about themselves and their purpose. So, romance gives us a cipher for ourselves in terms of some attraction to the other. Secondly, however, this is just the grand projection of an ego’s desire to escape and even outlive death.
Both the self and its loves “signify nothing.”
The movie is genuinely funny, and ought’nt leave the person of faith depressed. But in our post-modern age, which Woody Allen well represents, comedy is not about the triumph of the valiant human spirit, able to conquer death; or about the power of human love to conquer hatreds. Our heritage no longer sings of the battles and marriages of dramatic heroes. Rather, we incessantly conjure up a multitude of vignettes (situational comedies) portraying our mundane, muddled misery.
Once we recognize the irrepressibly fictive dynamic of our loving desires, there is furthermore only one option left to deal with it.
To laugh at it all and go home.
And each in (or on) his own way, the believer and unbeliever can both do just that.
Some of the first segment was clipped in the editing process, but here’s the rest:
From the lecture I delivered last week in our Parish Hall, and a couple of nights ago at St. Mary’s in New Haven, CT. Our pastor, Fr. Walter Wagner, O.P., and St. Mary’s curate, Fr. Jonah Pollock, O.P., are also delivering these lectures on the first Monday of every month (second Monday in CT) on The Threefold Body of Christ.
Toward establishing the new Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, Pope Benedict XVI released yesterday a motu proprio, Ubicumque et semper (Wherever and Always). Below are extracts from the not-yet translated document, which, you might recognize, has an especial relevance for the Order of Preachers:
The Church has the duty to announce the Gospel of Jesus Christ always and everywhere. … Over history this mission has assumed new forms and methods, depending on place, situation and historical moment. In our own time, one of its most singular characteristics has been that of having to measure itself against the phenomenon of abandonment of the faith, which has become progressively more evident in societies and cultures that were, for centuries, impregnated with the Gospel…
The social transformations we have seen over recent decades have complex causes, the roots of which are distant in time and have profoundly modified our perception of the world. … If, on the one hand, humanity has seen undeniable benefits from these transformations and the Church received further stimuli to give reasons for the hope she carries, on the other, we have seen a worrying loss of the sense of the sacred, even going so far as to call into discussion apparently unquestionable foundations, such as faith in the God of creation and providence; the revelation of Jesus Christ our only Savior, the shared understating of man’s fundamental experiences like birth, death and family life, and the reference to natural moral law…
At the root of all evangelization there is no human project of expansion, but the desire to share the priceless gift that God wished to give us, sharing His life with us…
Saint Louis was born in Valencia, Spain on 1 January, 1526. In 1544 he entered the Order of Preachers against the wishes of his parents. Combining an austere life with zeal for spreading the gospel, he asked to be sent to the farthest parts of the Americas and in 1562 was sent to what is now Columbia, gifted with tongues for the sake of preaching to the natives.
Because of his exemplary life and prominent role as Master of Novices, he is the patron of novitiates and of all masters of formation.
Below is a graphic illustration with commentary, both composed by Fr. Antoninus Niemiec, O.P.
On one occasion, a crazed man came up to assassinate him. St. Louis calmly made the sign of the cross over his assailant’s pistol, and its barrel was transformed into a crucifix — revealing the victory of the cross of Christ over evil.
The corpus is a vector rendition after a carving Christ on the Cross (1618-20) by Juan de Mesa (1583-1627), which I think would be about the right timeframe. The hammer of the flintlock mechanism is shown as a snake, that is the devil. He has struck, but the flint is missing from its jaws, recalling that death now has no sting (1 Cor 15:55).
As many of you know, our parish experienced a wonderfully beautiful and encouraging evening this past Wednesday. With singers from the Richard Tucker Foundation, and featuring international star Bryn Terfel and our own St. Vincent Ferrer Chorale, led by Dr. Mark Bani, the opera gala packed the church.
We hope to continue to raise funds toward restoring our windows, beginning with the Great East Window above the glorious reredos, which will cost us close to five hundred thousand dollars.
In the meanwhile, our church continues its tradition of hosting great musical events at no charge — New York City culture without the New York City price.
This Sunday, 10 October at 3 pm, we welcome Lawrence Molinaro to sound the magnificent theological tones of Bach’s genius in our Church of St. Vincent Ferrer. Please come and bring your friends.
As previously announced, we are hosting
Metropolitan Opera star Bryn Terfel
and other operatic talents
in concert with our own St. Vincent Ferrer Chorale, directed by Dr. Mark Bani.
This free concert
not only promises to be a beautiful evening,
proceeds garnered from donations will help toward
the restoration of the church’s great east window.
Doors open at 6 pm.
Raymond delle Vigne was Master of the Order and also the spiritual director of St. Catherine of Siena, O.P. He died in 1399.
From one of his letters to the brethren, one can hear him admonishing us today:
Remember the teaching of the Apostle: “If those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves.” Keep away from the beast of boasting and concern for one’s reputation, for these destroy and weaken every good work. To be perfectly open with you, I fear nothing for you so much as that plague, that wild beast. I do not want you to be deprived of any good work in such a way. You too should have this same fear and ask God to give you a spirit of humility.
Blessed Raymond, pray for us!
Mea culpa! Once again, I did not turn the recorder on for Fr. Keitz’s homily. My apologies.
It’s Respect Life Sunday on Word to Life. Over the phone, Mrs. Melinda Knight joins me. She is the Director of the Office of Pro-Life, Marriage and Family for Youngstown, OH. In the studio, two Sisters of Life from the nearby Visitation Mission join me – Sr. Magdalene, SV and Sr. Mary Aquinas, SV.
Today is the feast day of the Little Flower, Thérèse of Lisieux. Many are the things that could be said about her little way of sanctity. For tragic reasons, one event of her life in particular stands out for me today.
Before entering Carmel, St. Thérèse experienced something of an awakening around Christmas of 1887. Around that time, she had heard of the story of Henri Pranzini, the cold-blooded killer of two ladies and a child. Immediately, St. Thérèse decided to adopt him as her own and pray for conversion. As the newspapers recounted the days leading up to the murderer’s execution, however, he refused the priest on every occasion.
But just before being beheaded, Pranzini seized a crucifix and kissed it three times, which the Little Flower took as her spiritual victory for his repentant soul.
Around January of this year, Dominicans from around the province received word that there had been a parking lot murder in one of our parishes in Ohio. The elderly woman killed, apparently for her pocketbook, was a daily communicant, as she had been for some sixty-plus years. The morning of January 23rd was to be her Viaticum. (I sent in a reflection to the city’s paper, as the parish holds a special place in my heart.)
Just last week, we were told that another couple from that same Church of St. Dominic in Youngstown, OH was shot, this time, while driving home from church.
St. Dominic’s Saturday morning receptionist has survived, but her husband was killed.
The city of Youngstown has been especially besieged by violence and murder in recent years (having been ranked the 15th most dangerous city in the nation).
Let us pray for the restoration of order and justice in Youngstown, and for the safety and healing of our brothers and sisters at St. Dominic’s.
And, inspired by the Little Flower, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, let us also pray for the conversion of killers.