Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Posts Tagged ‘Reflection’

The Universal Christian Vocation: Edify

October 13th, 2013, Promulgated by Gen

          St. Paul instructs us in his Epistle to the Ephesians to work constantly for the building up of the Church, for the nurturing of Her members. In St. Jerome’s translation of the Scriptures, the exact passage I should like to focus on is as such: ad consummationem sanctorum in opus ministerii, in ædificationem corporis Christi. Literally translated, it means: …to the consummation of the holy ones (i.e. “saints,” believers) in the work of the ministers, in the edification of the Body of Christ (that is, the Church). Verse 12 of Ephesians 4 uses a word that appears only a handful of times in the entirety of the Holy Bible – ædificationem, edification. Indeed, it is used only five times: twice in Corinthians, twice in Ephesians, and once in I Thessalonians. And in each of those times, it used the same way. It refers to the edification of the Church and the faithful.

I had to check my concordances to make sure I had not miscounted the use of this word. Maybe I overlooked its use in the Old Testament. It seems to be the sort of word that would be associated with the Temple in Jerusalem. After all, the Temple figures prominently throughout the historical books of the Old Testament, which chronicle its commissioning, its building, its desecration, its re-consecration, etc. It is mentioned throughout the psalms, many of which were written as “psalms of ascent” that pilgrims would chant as they ascended to the Temple Mount to worship God in His sanctuary. The prophets are seen, major and minor alike, admonishing their contemporaries, instructing them on the ways of God, directing them to realize the significance of the Temple in their midst. And yet, the word “edification” appears nowhere in relation to the worship of the Old Testament.

So why, then, does St. Paul use it to explain the mission of the faithful, instructing them either to edify each other or to edify the Church? The word has overtones of a sacred nature. You wouldn’t say in response to a neighbor’s “hey, how are you,” “I’m feeling edified, and you?” No. Edification is a higher state than being content, satisfied, or even joyful. Edification comes from a contemplation of God and the right, a contemplation of His Creation and how we interact with it. Indeed, the original Latin verb ædificare means “to build up, especially in a spiritual sense.” Were not the Old Testament prophets doing just this, though? Were they not building up the people of God in a truly spiritual sense?

            They were, to the greatest extent possible at that time. God dwelt with His people in the Holy of Holies, in the sanctuary of the Temple, wherein priests would offer sacrifice on behalf of the people. The Temple was the link between the Chosen People and their Lord, the place where Heaven and Earth met, where man and God walked together in harmony. However, when God became man, and was no longer hidden behind the veil in the Temple, no longer needing mediators such as priests and prophets, the world became the dwelling place of God, just as each person is a “temple of the Holy Spirit.” Christ came boldly into His Earthly reign, and did so for the edification of the people. The old ways yielded to the new, and we were given a new commandment, a new Sacrament, a new Church.

The fact that God left the Temple, that He chose to live and interact with His people, giving them the Incarnate Word, should speak to the need of the people, in every age, to be edified. For edification comes from many sources, but primarily, the spoken word. And what word is more sacred, more edifying, than the Word made Flesh? Christ is the source of grace which enables us to act in the way St. Paul desires. We would be unable to edify each other in the Church if we were not moved by the grace of God to do so. This grace rouses in us holy zeal and allows us in turn to diffuse that edification through His Church. And there is no surer method to edify the faithful than to share with them the Word Incarnate in a worthy manner.

Temple worship was a very particular thing, and no doubt edifying. I say without hesitation that I would undoubtedly have been edified in going to the Temple, in making that venerable pilgrimage to Jerusalem. However, the change in terminology belies a change in presence. Whereas God was spiritually present to the Israelites, He is physically present to His Church in the Blessed Sacrament. The Divine Teacher comes into our midst to instruct us, to lead us, to edify us. And it is our duty similarly to lead all Christians to a sense of edification, especially in our churches, where God now walks with us in perfect harmony.

Belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist makes this task of edification a simple one. If we see the small, white host raised in Benediction over us, do we not feel a sense of wonder and awe that God should dwell so near, yet so veiled? The contemplation of the host alone leads us to consideration of He Who is Goodness, Beauty, and Truth Himself. We gaze upon His Presence with humility in order to allow this lesson, this Divine edification, to take root in our souls. Just as the priest raises Our Eucharistic King above us in silent Benediction, so too does Christ raise our hearts and minds to consider the greater things.

It is this raising of ourselves, the heightening of our intellect, of our charity, of our devotion and reverence, which serves to edify our neighbors. If we bear witness to our Faith in a tangible, dignified way, those around us, within and without the Church, are obligated to take notice and pay attention. They realize that our efforts, our focus on Truth, are not trivial things. Anyone has the ability to edified, just as anyone who has a profound and reverent love of Christ has the ability through his or her actions to edify. And none have a more perfect opportunity to live the command of St. Paul than does the priest.

         The priest stands at the altar charged with the singular task to bring Christ to His flock. He is charged with this duty by his congregation and by Christ Himself, Who called him by name to minister to Him in the sanctuary, to “go unto the altar of God, Who gives joy to my youth.” By his ordination, the priest finds himself to be, not his own person, but God’s and His Church’s. But this is absolutely necessary for the priest, for he surrenders his own aspirations, his own desires and agendas, for the sake of the edification of the faithful, the building up of the City of God.

For this reason, the priest must offer a Mass that is edifying. It must challenge the faithful to raise their hearts and minds to God. It must reach out to them as brothers and sisters in Christ. It must present them right teaching, and do so in a dignified way. For Truth demands reverence. If we attempt to convey the Sacred Mysteries without reverence, through a Mass stripped of genuflections and a sense of the beautiful, the Mass becomes a farce, a cross between the unbloody reenactment of Calvary and a Broadway musical. And this does not edify. It entertains. And nowhere in the Old Testament or the New did the prophets, evangelists, or St. Paul tell us “entertain the faithful in the Body of Christ.” No. We are told to edify and be edified in the transforming presence of Christ.

Therefore, each Mass must be offered with an eye to respecting the integrity of the ritual, a ritual which was designed to bring God to His people and His people to Him. Our own ideas on inclusivity or approachability are shown to be incredibly hollow and ineffective when presented with the immutable beauty of a liturgy whose priest sets out with the goal of edifying his congregation, not entertaining it. The eastward-orientation of the priest at Mass, with congregation and priest facing God in prayer together, prevented priests from turning the Mass into a show. While a priest could very easily offer an irreverent Mass facing the tabernacle or the people, when his face is turned towards God, the people assume that His thoughts are with God. When his face is towards the congregation, countless distractions might arise which, then, hinder the edification of the people.
The rubrics are not there to overcomplicate the Mass, to take it away from the people. Rather, the rubrics are there to bring the Mass to the people in the most authentic way possible. They ensure that the faithful are edified by holding the Mass as something sacred, something that belongs to the people, yet belongs to God, too. For, just as the Temple belonged to the people, the sanctuary was God’s. There has always been a designation, in the Old Testament and the New, between what is sacred and what is profane, “profane” literally meaning “outside of the shrine.” While God deigned to leave His dwelling in the Temple, this did not mean that the separation from the sacred and profane ceased to be.

This need for a reminder of what is sacred and what is not led to the advent of the communion rail, the rood screen, the iconostasis. Each of these liturgical delineations serve, not to separate the sacrifice of the Eucharist from the people, but to bring the people to the altar of God in a worthy, reverent way. The communion rail, for example, is actually considered an extension of the altar. And so, when communicants kneel at the altar rail to receive Our Lord, they are kneeling at the very table of God. When we have the Blessed Sacrament brought to us by designated members of the lay faithful, a sense of dependency on man is created. Whereas the communion rail invites us to come to God to receive Him at the very doorstep of mercy, we must now come to a fellow pilgrim to receive Our Lord.

          I do not say this to demean our Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. In many parishes, they serve a necessary function. However, in many other parishes, they lead the faithful away from edification. When a young child sees a crowd of lay people distributing the Blessed Sacrament like so many overworked pharmacists dispensing medication, the unique role of the priest is diminished. Indeed, it is demeaned. And what is even worse, compounding this, is that the faithful fail in our mission to edify each other. If we fail to see the priest as a representative of Christ, if we fail to grasp the Real Presence because of the feigned enthusiasm of “Eucharistic Ministers,” we fail to edify each other, to impart right teaching to the faithful.

It has been said that there is no more eloquent sermon a priest can offer than a well-said Mass. A well-said Mass edifies the faithful. How many times have you left Mass in the past month feeling edified? How many times have you left Mass in the past month feeling frustrated? The countless distractions introduced inorganically to the Mass over the past several decades, the many feminizations and simplifications embraced to “make Mass more accessible,” have led the faithful away from the instruction of St. Paul, away from being aware of God’s awesome presence in our midst. Tabernacles are crossed without due reverence. Our Lord’s Body is ground underfoot by less-than-vigilant communicants. Sanctuary lamps burn out, leaving only memory to make the faithful recall the presence of Christ in our churches. This is not edification. This is, rather, evidence of a liturgical self-absorption.

This pride is what alienates the faithful, what makes them leave Mass still hungering for the Sacred. For while Christ has come to them sacramentally, they have not been edified. They have been, as I said, entertained. More accurately, I think it should be said that they have been “entertained at.” We recycle the same trite pop songs because “people like them.” Certainly people like them, for they are steeped in a sentimentality that has no real place in the liturgy. To focus on our feelings, on our own musical entertainment is to focus on ourselves, on our tastes, on what “sounds nice.” But what “sounds nice” and what “is sacred” are two separate questions. I would contend that what is genuinely sacred will always “sound nice,” for if music is authentically sacred, is artful, dignified, and universal, it will perfectly compliment the liturgical action in such a way as to rouse the faithful to contemplation of God.

And nothing rouses this contemplation in our hearts and minds as does the beautiful. Sacred art, architecture, and music appeal to our sensual natures. And in our age, which is obsessed with the senses, it seems as if we as a Church are afraid to meet this challenge. Sight, sound, touch, smell, taste all come together in the sacred liturgy, and the proper meeting of these senses is the surest way, combined with the priest’s humility and reverence, to edify the faithful. There is no shame in admitting to ourselves that we like nice things. Beauty appeals to us because it is an innate desire placed in us by the Creator in order to discover His presence in the world. It is a simple way to let God speak to us, by surrounding ourselves with holy reminders.

This age is, perhaps, the most sensual (sense-based) age in recent centuries. Our youth are constantly bombarded with music and images of a decidedly profane nature. What would happen, do you think, if sacred art and music found their worthy home, not on museum walls and in concert halls, but in our churches? The hunger in our souls to be edified would be met. We would encounter God in so many ways, all of which pointing us undeniably to His Real Presence, a presence so often ignored or forgotten even by those who profess a belief in it. This unfortunate reality can only be rectified by the humble and loving persistence of those of us who understand the integral nature of traditional liturgy and aesthetics. It is up to us, in our limited capacities, to lead our brothers and sisters to Christ in this unique way. Not everyone is called to do so, but some of us are. And we must be obedient to God, to His prophets, to His evangelists and saints, and strive constantly and in everything to work towards “the consummation of the holy ones in the work of the ministers, in the edification of the Body of Christ.”

We Are in the Middle of a Love Story – Latin and its Place in the Roman Church

September 8th, 2013, Promulgated by Gen

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that the Mass is the “source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, states similarly that, “every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others” (SC I.1.7). Throughout the entire history of the Church, this sentiment has ennobled our sacrifice of praise, directing us to offer to God the best that we possibly can. The goal in doing so is not to render each Mass a performance, or to “show off” our abilities. Rather, the sole purpose to offering Mass is the salvation of souls. Indeed, this is why it is the “source and summit,” for it gives us Christ to bring us to Christ. The Mass is the total offering of the Son by the Father for the remission of our sins, a commemoration of the Paschal Mystery wherein Christ ransomed us back to Himself.

tlmAnd so it is not entirely surprising that our Masses are often termed “celebrations.” The common question in sacristies around the world is, “who’s celebrating Mass today?” And celebrate we must, for the Mass is the setting in which God comes to us under the guise of bread and wine. He comes into our midst, into our very bodies, at the request of His servants, his clergy. “O admirabile commercium!” Our joy at such a reality ought to be brimming over, unbounded and uncontainable. The energy, the adrenaline, are surely there for the faithful whenever the priest holds aloft the host and the chalice saying, “Behold the Lamb of God.” The Scriptures are filled with accounts of uncontainable joy and enthusiasm. The psalms often highlight the praise of God “with timbrel and harp,” exhorting us to “clap our hands” and “be glad!”

So, glad we must be. Glad we are. Blessed are we who are called to the supper of the Lamb. Christ summons us personally to His altar to receive Him worthily, and this invitation ought not to be turned down. He gave Himself wholly for us; all that remains is for us to give ourselves wholly back to Him. And that is where the nature of sacrifice enters into our Earthly liturgies. If this encounter between God and man is the “source and summit” of our lives as Christians, does it not follow that we should actually make it seem as such? Are we not called to channel our joy and Eucharistic zeal in such a way as to lift up our souls just as the priest lifts up the Blessed Sacrament?

This is one of our universal calls as Christians. Every person has an invitation from God to serve Him in some way unique to the individual. Some are to be spouses, others monks and nuns, still others priests. There are an infinite number of vocations God gives to His people, but the one that links us all is a call to do Him homage in the most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. The Church recognizes this universal call, and does so even so clearly as to recognize it in Her very name: the Catholic Church. This call, this catholic, universal, borderless summons of the Almighty, binds us one to another as brothers and sisters in Christ. We all approach the same God; we all approach the same altar.

This is why unity in worship is integral to the Christian life, and infinitely beneficial to the Christian soul. We are all individuals celebrating Christ’s selfless gift on Calvary, but when we come together in prayer as a community, we must direct our enthusiasm in a single, refined direction. Just as a prism takes light and sends forth the colors of the rainbow, so must our worship function in reverse. The various colors of our worship must be fused, blended, refined, so as to produce one single ray of light, one beam, one unified vision. If we focus on the individual colors in our lives, if we define ourselves by “my parish” and “your parish,” we automatically shrink the scope of the Faith to a local thing, not a catholic experience of God.

    This is why the beauty of a Latin liturgy is just that: undeniably beautiful. It takes the thousands of tongues of praise with which God has gifted us, and unifies them, binding them in one so as to create a harmony of perfect sacrifice. For in this liturgical, linguistic union, we lose ourselves in the immensity of Christ and His Church, focusing not on our own limited capabilities or cultural experiences. The value of Latin in the liturgical life of the Church is that it strips us of our pride, minimizes our ego, makes the Mass entirely sacrificial and Christ-centered. Our Masses far too often seem to canonize the community, or worse yet, to worship it. Latin makes this impossible, due mostly to the fact that it is a foreign tongue. It makes us all equals in the eyes of the Church.

Latin is not meant to stifle our joy. Nor is it meant to appeal to a small circle of erudite priests and seminarians. It is the universal, the catholic language of the Church, and serves, as I have said, to gather our many disparate voices into one. The ancient people of the Old Testament attempted to build a tower to reach the Heavens, and were punished for their arrogance by a multiplicity of tongues. The Mass reverses that, and rewards our humility with a unification of tongues.

And not just “tongues,” but hearts and minds, as well. Latin is, by its very nature, perfectly suited to liturgical worship. A primary attribute is that it compels us to raise our hearts and minds precisely because it is foreign. It challenges us to be attentive, to think, to offer praise to God with our whole being and not sit back in our pews with a spirit of complacency. When we praise God exclusively in our own language, our praise runs the risk of becoming too casual, too “familiar” with God. While God gave Christ to be our friend and brother, He gave Christ, too, to be our King and Savior. Latin stirs in us this royal sentiment, addressing our sovereign and savior in a language which sounds fitting for such an instance.

Latin, also, is a beautiful, poetic, passionate language. While many languages are similarly beautiful, Latin eclipses them with its antiquity and its nobility. It has a clear ability to transcend the present and appeal to those things which are eternal. Latin is outside of our present-day existence on the street, and this is why it continues to be set apart for use in our liturgies. Just as our Jewish brothers and sisters have their own sacred language reserved for liturgy, so, too, do we. It is a language of poetic beauty, and therefore makes the Mass seem “entirely other.” Many of our brothers and sisters dislike Latin for just this reason, explaining how it makes them feel alienated. However, their focus remains on their own personal tastes and experiences, and fails to look up and take into consideration all the members of the Church. We must be an inclusive Church, and the boundaries of our inclusivity don’t end at the parish parking lot.

Latin is lofty, fitting for kings. Latin is beautiful, fitting for God’s creation. Latin is ethereal, fitting for the Mass. Latin is inclusive, fitting for use by the entire Church of God. To claim that Latin does not meet the needs of the Church, that it keeps the laity at arm’s length, is to have a regrettably narrow focus. If we feel intimidated by the use of Latin, the looming prevalence of chant and polyphony, the absence of vernacular hymnody, we should ask ourselves “why?”

The answer will invariably be along the lines of, “it makes me feel little.” We might feel lost, confused, isolated. We might feel wholly unwelcome at, even uninvited to participate in the Sacred Mysteries. But what we must realize is that we will only feel that way if we are unwilling to surrender totally to Christ. If we feel this way, we are placing ourselves, our own insular and limited perception, above that of Christ’s Church. Latin only makes us feel overwhelmed if we fight it out of a sense of entitlement. We must always approach the altar with a spirit of absolute humility. Rejoice, yes, but temper your rejoicing with the realization of who you are.  We are, each of us, sinners. We trust in God’s mercy. And we approach the Mass with a sense of great joy, but simultaneously, with some measure of hesitation. After all, we should be in awe when we attend Mass.

The depth of the Mass is unfathomable (hence “awe”). At the words of a mere man, Christ descends to our altars, in our very presence, and makes Himself wholly present in the Blessed Sacrament. Do we really feel that the merits of community singing outweigh the reverence and solemnity demanded of such an awesome gift? Do we really place more of an emphasis on our own desire to belong, on our own insecurities, than we do on approaching God with humility? Latin ensures just such an approach, and does so through its timelessness, through its beauty, through its foreign nature.

This is its allure to this current generation. For so long, our youth have been coddled, their Masses emasculated and robbed of their depth. On a subconscious level especially, they are rebelling against this vernacular status quo (given the opportunity, of course). Present any child, teenager, or young adult with Gregorian chant, and it will bring about a change in them. They may or may not be able to explain the nature of this change. It may not even be visible to our eyes. But what is of tantamount importance is that there is in his heart no animosity, no hostility, no resentment. There is an openness to Latin, to chant, to Tradition. And that is the main difference between our youth and the generations of the 60’s and 70’s.

  And so all that is left for us to do is reintroduce Latin, to expose our young people to the unquestionable beauty of the Faith, so richly embodied in her use of that venerable language to convey Truth. There is no reason to be shy in defending the use of Latin in the Church’s liturgical life. Bl. John XXIII, the Roman Pontiff who oversaw the first portion of the Second Vatican Council, stated in no uncertain terms that, “The Catholic Church has a dignity far surpassing that of every merely human society, for it was founded by Christ the Lord. It is altogether fitting, therefore, that the language it uses should be noble, majestic, and non-vernacular” (Veterum Sapientia). Champions of so-called “reform” attempt to point to him and his successor Paul VI as defenders of vernacular liturgy. However, this is far from the truth of the matter.

Indeed, the Second Vatican Council reconfirmed again and again that Latin is the universal language of the Church. It is the universal language of Christian prayer. After all, Gregorian chant has “principal place” in Catholic liturgy. Paul VI himself expressed this sentiment when he wrote, “The Latin language is assuredly worthy of being defended with great care, instead of being scorned; for the Latin Church it is the most abundant source of Christian civilization and the richest treasury of piety. We must not hold in low esteem these traditions of your fathers which were your glory for centuries” (Sacrificium Laudis). The two Conciliar pontiffs uphold the use of Latin, and direct us to defend its use.

Unfortunately, we have seen no such realization of the Second Vatican Council. We have, however, seen its documents subverted for political agendas which run entirely contrary to the heart of the Church. Those who profess to serve “the Spirit of Vatican II” have, in most circumstances, never even read the documents it produced. Rather, they allow erroneous teaching to take up a home in their hearts. And why? It would seem counterintuitive to reject something so timeless as the “traditions of your fathers” for something so new and innovative.

The simplest explanation is that those who were entrusted with implementing the reforms of the Second Vatican Council had, many of them, long since ceased to realize their love affair with Truth. Saving souls took an auxiliary role in the Church’s mission. Community-building took primary place. No one who authentically loves the Church, the Mystical Spouse of Christ, would so zealously rob Her of Her majesty, and so dreadfully undercut Her sacred liturgies. Ven. Pope Pius XII reminds us that Latin “affords at once an imposing sign of unity and an effective safeguard against the corruption of true doctrine.” By placing the most sacred words ever pronounced in our own language, in making them seem suddenly so deceptively mundane, we lost that safeguard. And does a lover strip his love of dignity, of security, of beauty? Does a lover seek to diminish the complexity of his partner in order to appreciate her? No. If he loves her truly, he will strive to learn her ways, to contemplate them, to interact with them in such a way as to keep the flame of their love ever burning.

When priests and bishops stripped our liturgies of their natural language, of their chant, of their vestments, of their altars and sacramentals, they stripped the Bride of Christ of her wedding garments, and forced Her to stand there, mirroring Christ, unprotected and derided by the centurions. We force on Her brow the crown of thorns of feigned inclusivity. We place in Her hand the sceptre of castrated authority. This is not the act of a lover. This is the act of those whose love has run cold, if it has ever run at all.

The absence of Latin betrays a premature end to the love story of the Mass. When we cease to offer the best we are able to offer, when complacency rules our liturgical sensibilities, we must pause and ask ourselves why our affections have run cold. Why do we turn so ashamedly from our noble and rich heritage? Why do we shirk Tradition?

We do so because we do not know how to love. Latin is the Church’s language of universal love. It is, by its very nature, a language of poetic beauty, and therefore perfectly suited to communicate Christ’s love for us through His Church. It demonstrates, too, the victory of that love, for what was once a pagan tongue uttered by Romans over two millennia ago is now the pure language of the Church which rose up and choked out that culture of fear and lust. The Roman Empire fell, and was swiftly replaced by the Roman Church, which maintained the imagery and symbolism of the Empire in order to convey the absolute power and love of Christ, Who is Priest, Prophet, and King.

Indeed, in the Council document Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Church states, “Rightly, then, the liturgy is considered as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. In the liturgy the sanctification of the man is signified by signs perceptible to the senses, and is effected in a way which corresponds with each of these signs” (SC I.1.7). Latin is the bridge between worlds, in which this “perceptible sign” directs us towards a deeper understanding of the Sacred Mysteries. Through its veil of mysticism, we enter into a direct contemplation of the immensity and wonder of God.

And this is no mistake. Over 2,000 years, new vernaculars have come and gone, but the original vernacular of Latin has remained. It was that language that Pilate used to pronounce his sentence. It was that language that graced the sign above Christ’s head. It was that language that the martyrs breathed in their last moments. It is this language that transmits to us, unbroken, the entirety of our Tradition. And it is this Tradition that demonstrates to the faithful that we truly are “in the middle of a love story, and each of us is a link in this chain of love. And if we do not understand this, we have understood nothing of what the Church is.”

Prayer of St. Francis – Part I

May 15th, 2013, Promulgated by Gen

Often times, the simplest prayers of our Faith go unappreciated, due to trite use of them at Mass, manipulation to serve a particular agenda, or perhaps  even over-use of them in para-liturgical contexts. This is a shame, because it relegates beautiful, heartfelt prayer to some sort of desacralized statement of one’s cultural Catholicism. It goes no deeper in men’s hearts because it’s only about the emotion associated with the prayer, and our understanding stops there. It “feels right,” so we run through these prayers quickly, without consideration of their real worth or value.

While the “Prayer of St. Francis” is usually attributed to St. Francis, it was actually most likely written in Italy around the turn of the 20th Century. It was brought to the United States by Cardinal Spellman, who renamed it “The Prayer of St. Francis.”

I’ve often felt that this is the case with the prayer of St. Francis. Growing up hearing the song “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace” made me shy away from actually prayerful utterance of this classic text. The oozing sentimentality made me feel uncomfortable, because the music made me feel strong emotions. The text came second in achieving that.

Just the other day, though, I was in a bit of a disagreement with some associates regarding the limits of charity and Christian love. “You’re doing too much. You’re being used.” Well, perhaps. But then I heard the words of this prayer in my mind. More accurately, I should say I felt them in my heart, but I’ve just been complaining about “oozing sentimentality,” haven’t I? This prayer asks God that we might have the grace “not so much seek to be consoled as to console: To be understood as to understand; To be loved as to love.” And I realized, quite simply, that this is the heart of the Christian life. We must give freely of ourselves in order to find genuine and lasting contentment and joy.

This is why I’ve decided to look at this prayer, line by line, and pray it over with you. I hope you don’t find this to be the overly-emotional, trite usage we often see and hear with this prayer. Rather, I’d like to look at it as it really is.

The prayer begins thus:

LORD, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon,
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.

Our immediate interaction with the Divine is a command, which is something quite bold when you think about it. There is no language of, “would that Thou might look with favor on Thy lowly servant.” There is no explicit supplication. This first sentence is uttered in the same spirit as the words of the woman with the hemorrhage, who reached out and seized Our Lord’s garments. There is a presumption here on our part, on her part, and we take it upon ourselves to take a great liberty with God. “God, do this.” No please. No other softener of the blow. But this audacity is mitigated by the Faith which prompts it in the first place. After all, if there were no faith in our hearts as we make this prayer, if there were no faith in the heart of the woman who reached out to Our Lord, our prayer and her reach would either be stripped of any real value, or cease to be a possibility at all. It just wouldn’t happen.

Our faith leads us to make this bold demand. “Make me an instrument of Thy peace.” But it is a bold demand with a higher purpose, that we might both reflect and extend the Kingdom of God. “Let not my will, but Thine be done.” For our will, so often runs contrary to the litany of “wheres and lets” which follows. We withhold our love, because hatred feels so intensely gratifying. We withhold pardon, to compound the injury of an offending party. Our intentions undermine God’s, and it is this realization that makes the recitation of this prayer happen. We see ourselves as we are, and in our fear and desperation, in our desire to please only God, we cry out, “Lord, make us instruments of Thy peace!”

We then proceed to undergo a sort of examination of conscience. Where there is hatred, Lord, give me the grace to spread Your love. How often do we shy away from being truly loving, wholly giving of ourselves, because of how others might perceive that? What is more scandalous, friends, to sow love, or keep it hidden and ungerminated? Should we shirk the pain and burden of the Cross, because resting in its shade is so much more comfortable? Love was God’s gift to us. Love was nailed to the Cross. That was God’s sowing; what shall be ours? We must run towards those who shame and humiliate, those who challenge and defy, and show them love. Charity is active, not passive, and so, in order to be charitable, we must go into the world and sow the seeds of love.

And love begets pardoning. Did not Love pardon the malefactors and crucifiers on Calvary? “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” From love comes all the strength necessary to realize the attainability of the fruits of this litany. St. Paul explains this most eloquently in his first letter to the Corinthians.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Love is then, quite clearly, the source of pardon, faith, light, hope, and joy. And Christ is the source of our love for one another. If our love has not Christ as its center, if our cry to be a “channel of peace” is motivated, not by love of Christ, but by selfish motives, then it falls short. It is a hollow love, and can achieve nothing. True love gives till there is nothing more to give. Love doesn’t heed the shallow objections of nay-sayers. Love that is true, that is “pure and faultless, is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” This is why we cry out the way we do in this prayer’s opening words. This is why we proceed to list all those ways in which we might fall short, and why we pray that where there is doubt, we might bring faith.

To reach out to those in need, those who are in darkness, those who live in doubt and confusion, are those who need our love, our charity (caritas) most. This does not mean that our showing of love will be easy. It doesn’t mean it will be unopposed or wholly understood for the pure and genuinely-motivated thing it is. That is no excuse to ignore the needs of others, even if it is convenient to ignore them. It is no excuse to withhold light when we see people dwelling in darkness. If you want to be channel of His peace, you need to give wholly of yourself, and not count the cost. But that’s another post for another day.

RIP Fr. Dominic Mockevicius

May 10th, 2013, Promulgated by Dr. K

A good and holy priest passed away this week. Fr. Dominic Mockevicius, most recently administering St. George Lithuanian parish, has gone to his eternal reward at age 90 after serving the Diocese of Rochester for 65 years. Father was a kind man and a faithful shepherd.


Please say a prayer for him.

A McQuaid Alumnus Responds to Fr. Salmon

April 14th, 2013, Promulgated by Dr. K

A McQuaid alumnus, rightly upset with Fr. Salmon’s indefensible decision to permit an openly gay couple to attend the junior prom at this Jesuit Catholic high school, has penned the following letter which he has permitted to be shared at Cleansing Fire.

My friends, if you too are offended by the McQuaid decision, don’t hesitate to make your voice heard! Contact our Apostolic Administrator, contact Fr. Salmon’s superiors in the Jesuits, and of course contact Fr. Salmon himself in the hope that he will experience a change of heart.

Related posts: here and here.

Father Salmon:

I recently learned of your decision to allow two male students to attend the Junior Prom as a couple. I do not normally consider it my place to correct ministers of the Church. You have an authority which I do not and it is incumbent upon you, within reason, to understand the nature and duties of your ministry with regard to the moral law. However, it would be a sin of omission on my part, as an alumnus, a practicing catholic, and a father, to remain silent in the presence of so clear and public an act which undermines the faith of the Church and thereby endangers the souls of her children entrusted to your care.

You have said that you are neither condoning nor encouraging sinful acts. Make no mistake, by your decision you do encourage and you do condone sin, both in those two men who glory in their shame and in all those who are witnesses of your decision. A prom is a courtship ritual for the young overseen by adults to help them mature toward the possible vocation of marriage. It is guided discernment. If permitting two men to attend is about mere friendship, as you imply, then let them attend singly and enjoy one another’s company in that capacity. No one opposes or disputes the wholesomeness of friendship at a social event. But, the symbolism of attending as a “couple” is lost on no one. By permitting this act you are encouraging grave sin. If you permit one in your care to walk out into busy traffic, or you declare how “welcome” he is to do so, you are encouraging his death. Except in this case your act is far worse because, more than the death of the body, you encourage the death of the immortal soul.

You appeal to love and compassion as reasons for your decision. Indeed, the true guide of every good and just act is the ordo amoris, the order of love. Ordained to this end, the mission of the Church which you represent is the salvation of souls, that they may be eternally sustained in the love of God. This is why the moral law is preached by her ministers: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” All true and enduring compassion is founded in seeking the divine life for ourselves and others. Yet where is the love and compassion in encouraging a man to damn his soul? This is not love of neighbor but hatred of God. You speak of hope. All true and enduring hope is founded in expectancy of the vision of God. Yet where is the hope that fails to announce the glory which awaits those who struggle to imitate the uncompromised purity of Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Mother? To console a student in a public display of acquiescence to sinful inclinations is not hope but despair of the fruits promised to those who fight the good fight for their souls. Our Lord ate with tax collectors, sinners, and prostitutes to call them to repentance not to console them in their sinful lives. “Your sins are forgiven you, go forth and sin no more.” Compassion is not permissiveness.

You speak of dispelling fear. As followers of Christ we are commanded not to be afraid of the dangers that surround us, but to stand in fear of the Living God who can cast both body and soul into hell. But where is the fear of God when darkness is called light, when good is called evil and evil is called good?

You speak of discrimination. While it is not our place to condemn men, it is the duty of priests above all to condemn sin and encourage goodness. We are indistinguishable in that every one of us suffers from the inclination to sin. Yet our Lord comes with His offer of salvation to clearly divide those will accept Him in repentance from those who will reject Him in obstinacy. “For now the axe is laid to root of the trees. Every tree therefore that doth not yield good fruit will be cut down and cast into the fire.” “Whose winnowing fan is in His hand. And He will thoroughly cleanse His floor and gather His wheat into the barn. But the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.”

You are a priest of the New Covenant whose duty it is to preach, teach, and sanctify in God’s Holy Name. But in your letter you refer to the Pope, the Bishops, and the Bible in defense of your decision to encourage sin. In this you blaspheme our Lord’s institution of the Papacy, you blaspheme the College of the Apostles, and you blaspheme the Holy Scriptures. I beg you to consider that you are given the charge to lead souls to God. Of the authority given to each of us in this life an account will be demanded of us from the Lord. Bishops’ conferences, parish committees, and school boards will not be held to account on the terrible Day of Judgment, but each bishop as the shepherd of souls in his diocese, each pastor as the shepherd of souls in his parish, and each catholic high school president as the shepherd of young impressionable students and onlookers.

Do not dismiss my message as a diatribe written out of anger and unjust judgment. I do not harbor anger against you nor do I seek to discern the state of your soul. I am a poor sinner who has no place to judge another. My intention is to denounce manifest sin for what it is. As for my tone, when a shepherd is leading his flock to a precipice, is it more fitting for an onlooker such as myself to whisper or to shout at the impending danger? Woe to me should I remain silent while you are surrounded by those in this wicked and perverse generation who applaud evil acts. Will they applaud on the Day of Judgment when the souls in your care are lost?

You are not only a priest, but a son of St. Ignatius. Of those admitted to his Society he said the following: “As to intention that they be studious of all virtue and spiritual calm, steadfast, strenuous in what they undertake in God’s service, burning with zeal for the salvation of souls, therefore attached to our Institute which directly tends to dispose the souls of men to the attainment of that end from the hand of God our Creator and Lord” (Constitutions: Part I, Ch. 2, #8). He repeats numerous times the clear goal for his Society of God’s glory and eternal life: “…The object of the Society and its studies is to assist their neighbors in the knowledge and love of God and the salvation of their own souls” (Constitutions: Part IV, Ch. 12, #1). The purpose of a Jesuit, your purpose, is to lead souls to salvation.

St. Ignatius is clear in how the Society’s purpose is to be carried out in an educational setting. He asserts that the task entrusted to leaders such as yourself is moral as well as intellectual: “The whole care or superintendence and government of the University shall be in the Rector…endowed with such gifts of God of which mention has been made that he may satisfy the whole University in the fulfillment of the duty committed to him in learning and morals” (Constitutions: Part IV, Ch. 17, #1). Specifically, his vision for those served by his Jesuits in this capacity is learning inseparably united with the spiritual life: “Let diligence be used that they who come to the Universities of the Society to study literature acquire also good morals worthy of Christians to which it will greatly assist if all go to the Sacrament of Confession at least once a month and hear Mass every day and a sermon every holy day when one is preached. And each of the preceptors will take care that this be done by his pupils” (Constitutions: Part IV Ch. 16, #1). In exhortations given by and to students he instructs the following: “Inciting them to increase in all purity and virtue that thus their style may not only be exercised but their morals improved.” (Constitutions: Part IV, Ch. 16, #3). In leading souls to salvation, you are to encourage morality not immorality. Yet St. Ignatius is not alone in defining your mission with such powerful clarity.

The hierarchy of the Church has also been eminently clear as to the purpose of the Society of Jesus in education. When Pope Pius VII reestablished the Society, he pronounced a distinct objective for the institutions under its care: “We declare besides, and grant power that they may freely and lawfully apply to the education of youth in the principles of the Catholic faith, to form them to good morals, and to direct colleges and seminaries…” (Sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum, #130). The Church has entrusted you with a grave duty to disseminate the very morality which your decision contradicts.

For the glory of God and the eternal good of the souls made in His image and likeness entrusted to your care, please reconsider your decision.

May God Bless You. May He set alight the true fire of charity within our souls and may He have mercy on us who is coming to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire.

In the Love of Christ Jesus,

Mass for Vocations – Friday, April 26, 7:00 PM at St. Anne

April 9th, 2013, Promulgated by Gen

228770_10150197073126842_5645585_nWe have received word that Knights of Columbus St. Damien of Moloka’i Council #11411 will be sponsoring another vocations-awareness event, this time a Mass for Vocations to be offered on Friday, April 26, at 7:00 PM at St. Anne Church. Mark your calendars, and do your best to attend!

On a related note, I recently found this poem which seems particularly suited for a young person’s desire to found his or her vocation in life:


“Where Peter, There the Church”

March 13th, 2013, Promulgated by Gen

Today, March 13th, 2013, our brothers in faith, the Princes of the Church, have elected a simple, humble man to the throne of St. Peter. His Holiness Pope Francis, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, has presented himself already as a man burning with love for every member of the Church. I think it is safe to say that very few people expected the election of this Holy Father. He is the Church’s first Jesuit pope, the first “American” pope, and the first pope to adopt the name of St. Francis. (It is currently speculated that this is in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, whose simple piety and dignified, reverent prayer life have endeared him to many.) Naturally, there are some quarters in the Church expressing confusion, maybe even disappointment. Some of us wanted a liturgical pit-bull, a near-reincarnation of Ven. Pope Pius XII. Pope Francis does not appear to be this sort of man. But to witness growth in the Church, one must have fertile soil. Bl. Pope John Paul II tilled the soil. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI planted the seeds. Now Pope Francis must water and fertilize this heritage, as I’m certain he will. We must, as always, pray for our Holy Father in Rome. He is the Successor of St. Peter, the visible head of the Church on Earth, a Church that thrust down pagan Rome and every subsequent threat to the Gospel of Christ. When His Holiness bowed his head after asking for the silent prayers of all those in St. Peter’s Square, I knew that this man had the heart of Christ beating within him. We see, in his election, the turning of a new page in the history of the Church. The Vatican II generation is done. The botched implementation, the misapplied theologies, the butchered liturgies are things of the past, and will only continue to wane in the sight of humble, loving, devoted men. The youth have seen two excellent examples of Christian zeal in the past two pontificates; they will, now mature, grow in the grace to come from this third. John Paul II made the Church proud again, lifted Her chin from its crestfallen position, and bade Her look ahead to the glories to come. Benedict XVI whispered gently in Her ear the scholarly insights of a masterful theologian, giving Her the resolve and purpose to go boldly ahead. Francis  shall now take Her tenderly by the hand and take the first steps on a path of simple joy, of genuine charity. The Church is bigger than one man. The Church is bigger than us. We are privileged to live in a time where we must constantly defend our faith. I say “privileged” because what greater honor is there than to defend and know the Truth of Christ, the Truth now embodied in this servus servorum Dei? The Holy Spirit has guided us this far. He will not lead astray now.

“Well done, good and faithful servant”

February 28th, 2013, Promulgated by Dr. K


As of 2 PM Eastern (8 PM Rome), His Holiness Pope Benedict will now be called the “Pope Emeritus” of the Roman Catholic Church. I think it’s appropriate that we take a moment to recall the many fruits of Pope Benedict’s eight years as our spiritual leader.

The Traditional Pope

Pope Benedict XVI has been the much needed traditional pope in an era of liturgical experimentation, disobedience, and [often willful] ignorance of our rich Catholic heritage. Evidence of this can be seen in his revival of the six candle altar arrangement with crucifix nicknamed the “Benedictine arrangement”, the restoration of kneeling for Communion at papal Masses, and the use of papal attire that was abandoned several papacies ago. Our Holy Father frequently made reference to the “hermeneutic of continuity” vs. the “hermeneutic of rupture,” or false Spirit of Vatican II. The significance of this can’t be under-emphasized, as we’re now asked to look at the Second Vatican Council in light of Catholic tradition, rather than apart from it as many bishops and priests tried to do in the wake of the Council. One of Pope Benedict’s most important acts as pope was the publication of his moto proprio, Summorum Pontificum, and its accompanying letter. As a result, priests everywhere are free to offer Mass according to the 1962 Missal, called the “Extraordinary Form” by our Holy Father. No longer does a priest require the permission of his diocesan bishop to offer the traditional Latin Mass.

The Ecumenical Pope

Bringing back lost sheep to the Catholic Church has been a priority of Pope Benedict’s papacy. In 2009, Pope Benedict issued an apostolic constitution entitled Anglicanorum coetibus in an effort to welcome back to the Church disaffected Anglicans, many of whom were associated with the Traditional Anglican Communion. As a result of this effort, the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter was established wherein Anglican converts can celebrate the sacred liturgy in familiar traditions and language. We are witnessing the fruit of this right here in the Diocese of Rochester where the Fellowship of St. Alban was established and now worships at the former Good Shepherd church in Henrietta.

The return of the Society of St. Pius X to good standing in the Catholic Church has been a high priority for Pope Benedict. Ecclesiae Unitatem details some of the pope’s efforts to bring these sheep back into the fold, including the revocation of excommunications and establishment of doctrinal talks with the Society. Though the society has not been regularized, their reunion seems more probable going forward. The expulsion of controversial Bp. Williamson from the SSPX may assist in future conversations with the Holy See.

Pope Benedict has also walked carefully with the Neocatechumenal Way to ensure they remain in the fold.

The Reformer Pope

Pope Benedict XVI has made several important reforms to the Catholic Church. First, the Holy Father has appointed orthodox men to lead dioceses and archdioceses as bishops. Take a look at the bishops in the United States today and compare it to 20 or 30 years ago to see the difference. Hopefully these faithful bishops will better defend the Catholic faith in a world where secularism and cafeteria Catholicism is on the rise. On a local level, Pope Benedict swiftly accepted the resignation of Bishop Matthew Clark, thus limiting the bishop’s impact to do further spiritual harm before a successor is named.

The gradual transformation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious has been an important, if often controversial focus in the pope’s effort to bring about reform. It’s uncertain how fruitful this will be considering these sisters are up there in age and hardened in their dissenting positions. A copy of the doctrinal assessment of the LCWR is available online.

The Holy Father has made several efforts to stamp out sexual dissent in the clergy. This was seen early in his reign when the Vatican declared that those with deep-seated homosexual tendencies should not be ordained to the priesthood. If one believes recent news stories that there is a secret dossier concerning homosexual clergy working in the Vatican, then this document becomes all the more important going forward. Another matter of sexual dissent that Pope Benedict has addressed is clergy sexual abuse. In 2010, the Vatican issued a document outlining the Church’s procedures for dealing with abusive priests. After revelations of sexual abuse in the Irish Church, the Holy Father ordered an investigation and removed at least three bishops alleged to have protected abusive priests. He also issued a pastoral letter for the people of Ireland to aid in the healing. Just this past week, the Holy Father accepted the early resignation of a Scottish cardinal alleged to have had sexual encounters with seminarians.

The Teaching Pope

If there’s one way to best describe Pope Benedict (Card. Ratzinger) is that he’s an excellent teacher of the faith. The Holy Father has published three encyclicals during his pontificate: Deus Caritas Est (begun by Pope John Paul II), Spe Salvi, and Caritas in veritate. The pope was working on an encyclical for the Year of Faith before announcing that he would step down. It’s possible that Pope Benedict XVI’s successor will continue to work on this document and publish it under his own name.  In addition to these three encyclicals, there have been countless apostolic letters, apostolic exhortations, homilies, and writings by the Holy Father available on the Vatican website.

Pope Benedict has spent considerable time on his three volume masterpiece about the life and teachings of Christ entitled Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, and Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. All three are available on Amazon and can be found in your local bookstore.

The Holy Father, both as Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Ratzinger, has published numerous books worthy of attention. Be sure to read The Spirit of the Liturgy if you haven’t already done so.

Though he may not have many friends in the liberal media or secular politics (for example, Cokie Roberts thrice criticized the pope for not allowing the ordination of women priestesses on ABC’s news coverage today), he is beloved by millions of Catholics throughout the earth.

We will miss you, Pope Benedict. God bless you in your remaining years!

“How Quickly the Glories of This World Pass Away”

February 28th, 2013, Promulgated by Gen

As I sat and watched Pope Benedict walk, cane in hand, to the car waiting to take him to the helicopter which would then take him to Castel Gondolfo, I think I can assume I was not the only one so moved and pained by the loss of a wonderful father figure. He guided us gently, lovingly for eight years. He asked at his election that we pray for him, lest he “flee, for fear of the wolves.” His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI met these wolves, who came in heinous form and number, and defeated each one through such spiritual erudition as has seldom been seen in this world. He accepted the yoke Our Lord deigned him to carry, and pushed on despite its weight, and has reached the end of his mission as Successor of St. Peter.

File photo of Pope Benedict XVI leaving at the end of his weekly audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican

The helicopter, flying past the Vatican, over the crumbling Roman Forum and the Coliseum, carried its venerable passenger with sublime dignity, not only to Castel Gondolfo, but into the pages of history and the hearts of all who will comprise Christendom through the coming centuries. We see a frail, old, tired man being borne through the sky, like Elijah on his flaming chariot, being taken from our sight at a time we all feel to be far too soon. But his departure from the Vatican reminds us that Christ is ever-victorious, and that His Church has “cast down the mighty from their thrones,” Christianizing the Roman Empire, safeguarding Truth in the Dark Ages, turning back evil in its course, denying Napoleon and Hitler, defying Stalin and his minions. The monuments erected in the glory-filled days of Caesar’s Rome, of Hitler’s Berlin, of Stalin’s Moscow all lie crumbling at the feet of a man who embodies all that is True, all that is Good, all that is Beautiful.

The powers and princedoms of this world rise and fall around us as the presence of one man in the Vatican assures us that all is well, that the battle is already won. The beasts of erroneous opinion bray and call out in their frantic, desperate ways, contesting reality, but only in vain. They raise their disfigured heads, and are met only with the authority of Christ, an authority made manifest in the man wearing the shoes of the fisherman. “I considered the horns, and behold, another little horn sprung out of the midst of them: and three of the first horns were plucked up at the presence thereof: and behold, eyes like the eyes of a man were in this horn, and a mouth speaking great things.”

Pope Benedict has reminded us in this last, great act of humility, that the things of Earth are fleeting. Glories come and go, but God, who is Glory itself, endures forever. We mourn, but do so as selfish children, who know that an ease of our pain is imminent, but who in our grief, cannot accept that. We weep, not recognizing the victory at hand, when Tradition raises Her hand once again, and reestablishes order, reignites the flame in our heart, the zeal in our souls. Pray for Pope Benedict XVI, and pray for his successor. We have nothing to fear, for God is with us and with him.

“It Spoke To My Soul…I Don’t Know How”

January 24th, 2013, Promulgated by Gen

As Roman Catholics, a large part of our mission to “spread the Good News” takes the form of liturgical celebration. It could be said that the liturgy of the Church is the vessel of Her teachings; it carries and communicates them with the dual function of forming the intellect and nourishing the soul. And this is not accidental. Indeed, this is why liturgy exists. We don’t devote time and effort in discussing, living, and defending it for our own gratification. Rather, we do so devote ourselves to it because to forsake it is to abandon part of the Christian ethos. Christian worship serves to elevate us (at least, it ought to). It lifts up our voices, our hearts, our souls, and brings them all to a higher plane, to a place where, for an hour on Sunday, Heaven and Earth seem to meet upon our altars.

In discussing liturgy, there is always the risk (or perhaps “certainty”?) of having an errant commenter spreading the Gospel of Misinformation, crying aloud “You worship the rubrics, not God!” Well, naturally, we could say this person is worshipping weak arguments, deifying his lack of critical thought, but that’s beside the point. What is important, though, is that we demonstrate that care for the liturgy is, in fact, care for God. We adorn our altars with fine linens just as we would dress our Lord in choicest fabrics. We sweep our aisles and vestibules just as Mary and Martha doubtless scoured their house before Our Lord visited them. Since we have Christ among us sacramentally, we must take the same care that those who had Him in the flesh took. It is the very least that we can do.

But, building upon this “very least we can do,” we must realize, each of us, that we can do so much more. Put your sentiments into action: join the choir, volunteer to wash altar linens, sign up for the night-watch at perpetual adoration! All of these things, in their own ways, build up the Church. And notice, they each have a liturgical dimension to them. When you join the choir, you actively beautify the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. When you wash altar linens, you facilitate the proper treatment of Christ’s Body and Blood. When you kneel in silent prayer at St. John’s or St. Thomas the Apostle into the late hours of the night, you are guarding Our Lord like an ever-vigilant angel.

We must take care to engage in these ministries well and often. For just think what a disservice it would be to encounter lackluster devotion in any of these areas. A first-time adorer comes into the Adoration Chapel and sees you sleeping, just as Our Lord saw His dearest Apostles sleeping in Gethsemane. The altar linens are wrinkled, sullied, and yet still must be used to purify the sacred vessels. You join the choir, and prefer to sing music to your liking, not the repertoire given us by the Church. Just because we say we are offering our time and talent as a sacrifice, it does not mean that it necessarily is a sacrifice. Would one really feel like his soul is being linked to the Holy Mass when singing in the choir is more like a social-hour or Bible Camp sing-along? No, there is no sense of sacrifice there, and sacrifice is what makes our liturgies holy. The Mass is called the “Holy Sacrifice” because Christ poured out His Blood for us; He did not take the easy way out, so to speak. He gave wholly of himself, in absolute humility.

And it is this humility that must be reflected in our interaction with the sacred, especially through the Church’s liturgies. Recently, I encountered a gentleman who was comparing two Christmastime liturgical functions. They were both “Lessons and Carols,” one offered at Sacred Heart Cathedral, and the other at St. Thomas the Apostle. Naturally, these are not on the same level of solemnity as a Mass, as reciting the Divine Office, etc. However, they both should serve, as we first said, as vessels which convey the Truth of our Faith. The man said to me:

“The one at Sacred Heart was not…holy. It was fun, yeah…but it wasn’t in keeping with the setting. You’re in the cathedral, but you don’t act like it. That’s a shame. The music seemed to reflect the tastes of the people in charge, and didn’t really make me feel ‘Christmasy.’ Okay, we’re talking about Creation and Baby Jesus, and Mary. Great. But then what? I’m sorry, but there was no sense of dignity at all. But the St. Thomas one…it was subdued, but so much more joyful! It conveyed a sense of the mystery of Christmas. ‘Why did He choose this?’ I may not have known what the Latin chant meant, but I didn’t need to know the exact words. It spoke to my soul…I don’t know how. But it did.”

This man is about as “non-partisan” as one can be. He is unbiased in every sense, and is a good Catholic. Not knowing anything about the “Liturgy Wars” that rage about us, in our sanctuaries and in our comment boxes, he summarized the difference between Progressive and Traditional liturgy. The former talks down to you, presuming you can’t understanding the deep Truths of our Faith. It spoon-feeds you mashed-up doctrine, making airplane noises so as to get you to open your mouth, er, “hanger.” Traditional liturgy treats you as an adult, as someone capable of thought. It brings you to a place that stands outside of time. Try snapping your fingers to a piece of chant – it won’t work. That’s because it’s not supposed to. Songs like “Gather Us In” are fun, sure, and appeal to people of all ages. That’s because they’re fun…not because they’re sacred. They blur the lines between what is sacred and profane, and lead people to think that because something is fun, because something feels good, makes us happy, it must, then, be okay for church use.

Traditional liturgy hinged on humility, on realizing the sacred. There is nothing humble about what we see at most Masses. Through the demeanor of those in the sanctuary, the tone of the music, the sentiments of the congregation, it’s as if the Mass becomes solely about us. It is not. It is about Him, and His sacrifice for us. But this isn’t the fault of any of those people. Liturgy has been watered-down for two or three generations, and these are the fruits. We are brought to church, to Calvary, by the joy and liberation of the empty tomb. But this does not mitigate the solemnity which must be observed when we remember Christ’s unbloody immolation. If we simply do what the Church asks of us, and leave our personal tastes out of it, a pure offering will be made, one not stained by partisan bickering, by personality, by ability or lack thereof. The rubrics are there, not to be worshipped, but to be followed for the edification of the faithful. If you are a priest, the words given to you by the Church in the Roman Missal are not there because it made someone happy to translate “pro multis” as “for many.” Happiness has nothing to do with what is right. (St. Thomas More can doubtless explain that better than I.) Things come to us, not as the work of self-motivated individuals, but rather, as the cultural and religious condensation of centuries of prayer, of refinement, of a striving towards perfection.

Personal opinions undoubtedly exist. We all have doubts, problems, pet-peeves. But the Mass, the liturgical life of the Church, is not the venue to share them with others, to inflict and enforce them on the body of Christ’s believers. I personally enjoy many things that have no place at Mass. They are not sacred, and doing, hearing them at Mass does not make them so. Rather, that would diminish the sacredness of the celebration for those who do not share my individual tastes. The fact that I do enjoy traditional worship is just as irrelevant and ancillary to the nature of sacrifice as is one’s enjoyment of bongo drums and electric guitars. One’s tastes are for oneself. The Mass is for all. Therefore, to let it be tainted by this cult of individuality is to reduce by a great degree the sacred nature of the universal Sacrifice. Let the authentic nature of Roman liturgy speak to your soul. Listen. Breathe it in. Let it wash over you, and transport you from this transient world into an eternal one.

We Are the Church

January 15th, 2013, Promulgated by Gen

We hear this phrase tossed around in Catholic circles often enough. “We are Church.” An otherwise beautiful statement, through cloudy interpretation, has come to be one of the ensigns of the “progressive” camp. What was once supposed to convey the unity of Christendom in firmness of belief now, trough this misinterpretation, betrays it, relegating the sentence to nothing more than a slogan of religious relativism. Naturally, the majority of people who march under this banner, who employ these phrases, are not purposely prolonging unnecessary debates. Indeed, they are wonderful Christians, brothers and sisters in faith, whose efforts have been bumped a little, nudged off target by the errant teachings of wayward “catechists.” Was it the German corporal’s fault for throwing Europe into war, or was it the Kaiser’s?

This is why what we strive to do is so difficult, and so often met with virulent opposition. When one professes to be Catholic, and believes in his heart to be so, it is painful to be told “No, that’s not quite right.” The vast majority of Catholics who have gone astray (in deed, not in profession of faith) have done so because they believe they are actually upholding the Faith. They consider themselves to be the pillars they truly can and ought to be, but they don’t realize that they aren’t bearing the same load as some of us. They’re rather like little boys who, desiring to help at a funeral, are made pall-bearers, but who serve more to get in the way, trip the adults up, than actually to help carry the casket. But do we slap them, throw them down in derision because of their inability? No, I should hope not.

But what, then? Am I saying we should excuse the vast majority of people many in our circle might call “heretics”? No, we should not excuse them. To excuse means to pardon, to absolve, to mitigate the culpability.What we must do, like the parents of the little-boy-pall-bearers, is to help them grow. We must be firm, yet still kind. We must be clear, yet not harsh. Soon enough, little boys grow up “and put aside childish ways.” So too, with unerring guidance, will our fellow Catholics come to appreciate the true sentiments behind “We are Church.”

What, then, does this make us? Sometimes we can feel like crypt-keepers of antiquity. Some of us rather look the part, too. Other times, we feel like Crusading knights, defending all that is right and chivalrous. But those of these images are flawed. The former is often inaccurate, for true Christian foot-soldiers must be joyful in their duties, and not guard the empty tomb; it needs no guard. The latter is often too gallant and noble for what we do. We might consider ourselves great defenders of Truth, donning mantillas, wielding our missals, and chanting our war cries of “Christus Vincit!” Our duty, though, is simpler than this. It consists of bearing, at all times and in all places, a gentle demeanor of prayerfulness. Respect for the liturgy, devotion to Our Lady, reverence throughout life, not just in the pew on the the internet or on the sidewalk before an abortion clinic. We must remember that “we are Church.” We are the guardians of the Guardian of Truth, we are servants of the Servant. And it is through our orthodoxy, our “traditionalism,” our “conservatism,” our…Catholicism…that we make a whole and complete offering of ourselves.

Just as the priests prays that his offering at Mass might be wholly “acceptable to You, an offering in spirit and in truth,” so too must we pray that our daily witness to Truth be acceptable to God. As richly and ornately as our Masses ought to be adorned, and beautifully as they ought to be offered, we must offer ourselves daily with equal consideration for the higher things. It is through the beauty of the Faith, the beauty which we so devotedly uphold, that we show ourselves truly right in saying “we are Church.” We stand in communion with the saints, with the popes through 2,000 years, with every faithful follower of Christ, with every individual who stayed true to God rather than bend the knee to passing trends and fashions. The Church transcends all this temporal nonsense of Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, progressive or traditionalist. Truth is Truth. It needs no modifier.

I think, then, to clarify what we are in our own eyes, it is safe to say, yes, “we are Church,” but we are something unique under that venerable umbrella. We who have seen the heinous abuses within our local Church, the willful and absolute contempt for authority beyond our own chancery’s, the profanation of our sanctuaries time and time again…we are now seeing the reversal of all this. In the spirit of Shakespeare, I think it’s safe to say that the winter of our discontent has been made glorious summer, that “the clouds that lowered upon our house” are buried deep now in our memories, “our stern alarums changed to merry meetings.” Friends, we are the Church Resurgent. We are the ones who are blessed with the privilege to see the new spring in our Diocese rise from the thawing ground, dotted with ruins of what was, plotted with plans of what will be. What need have we of gloom, of doubt, of despair? We are Church. The gates of Hell will not prevail.

Christmas Message From Bp. Cunningham

December 14th, 2012, Promulgated by Dr. K

From our Apostolic Administrator:

“Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ in the Diocese of Rochester,

Through the centuries painters and sculptors have given us numerous depictions of the Nativity scene. The stable is pictured with Mary, Joseph and the Christ Child as the central figures. Angels, shepherds, kings and usually animals complete the scene. The stable is open! We can look inside and see the child. Seeing, we marvel at what God has done for us.

In the birth of this child, God has truly become “Immanuel, God with us.” As a child God has drawn so near to us that we can address Him in the intimate language reserved for a vulnerable, tender and beautiful infant. We have direct access to the heart of this child, and we can become his friends.

At this time of year, Christmas memories from our youths are often present. For most of us, Christmas was a time of great joy. Our memories center on Christmas Mass in our parish churches; Christmas dinners at home with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins; favorite recipes lovingly prepared and shared every year. Gifts were exchanged, and the hallowed memories of those who had gone before us into eternal life were shared with reverence and joy. Christmas memories rarely fade away completely. We may put them aside during the busyness of our year, but they emerge at Christmas to remind us of past blessings and to gladden our hearts.

For me personally the visit to the crib in the parish church of my youth continues to be a refreshing visit and a source of unbridled joy. While most of us have depictions of the stable and crib in our own homes, there is something special about entering the door of one’s parish church – the door of faith – and making a visit to the manger scene where the memory of the Christ Child’s birth is celebrated. With the altar nearby, we are reminded that this child will grow to adulthood and freely lay down His life for us. In the mystery of the Eucharist, Christ’s coming is not reserved only to the past. It is celebrated every day.

The Year of Faith, which we are celebrating at the present time. uses the “door of faith” as an image for the journey we are invited to make this year. This door is always open to us, inviting us to cross its threshold and enter into deeper friendship and union with God. It is my hope and prayer this Christmas season will not only strengthen the faith of our Catholic people but will also be the impetus to bring others through this door to closer intimacy with God.

Throughout the Christmas season, I will pray that you and your loved ones will enter the “door of faith” once more and, with memories from the past, see with renewed eyes of faith the Savior who came to free us from our sins and bring peace to our troubled world.

A blessed Christmas to you and all whom you love.

Devotedly yours in Christ,

+ Most Rev. Robert J. Cunningham”


The Election: Part II

November 7th, 2012, Promulgated by Dr. K

2008 v 2012 Popular Vote

Year Obama McCain/Romney
2008 69,456,897 59,934,814
2012 60,023,768 57,353,628
Change  -9,433,129 -2,581,186 

As of this moment, Mitt Romney has received less popular votes than the uninspiring and unpopular John McCain received in 2008. Had conservatives turned out at least as strong as 2008, we might have a different president-elect today.

Conservatives can’t blame anyone but themselves.

Lost In Fantasy Land

September 30th, 2012, Promulgated by Dr. K

From today’s D&C letters to the editor:

Greatly disturbed by Vatican decision

We were greatly disturbed by the announcement that Bishop Matthew Clark was retiring immediately and that Bishop Robert Cunningham of Syracuse would serve as the administrator of the Rochester diocese until a new bishop is named by the pope.

Bishop Clark submitted his resignation to Rome in July when he reached 75, which is standard protocol. We understand that the pope normally accepts these resignations upon the appointment of a successor and the current bishop continues to serve until a replacement is named. Why did this highly unusual action happen here?

We strongly applaud Bishop Clark’s positive stand toward leadership roles of women in the church, his support of gay and lesbian Catholics and his generally progressive theological views. Apparently the conservative leaders in Rome disagree and the early retirement was their response. We do not agree with this action for someone who has served this community so lovingly and faithfully with kindness and integrity for so many years.


So… “Why did this highly unusual action happen here?

This highly unusual action happened because Bishop Clark was an abysmal failure as Bishop of Rochester. Bp. Clark fostered a culture of dissent that contributed to the near collapse of our diocese.

Are Tom and Barbara Clark and all of the Bp. Clark apologists living in fantasy land? Are you blind to the empty pews in your local parish? Maybe they attend Our Lady of Victory’s standing-room only Sunday morning Mass [I doubt it], but most parishes in the diocese have seen attendance drop by 30% or more in the past decade alone.

Let’s step out of fantasy land and enter into reality. The Diocese of Rochester needs a change in leadership.

Bishop Clark Retires : Where are we now and where are we headed?

September 21st, 2012, Promulgated by Dr. K

Bishop Cunningham and Bishop Clark at the press conference

On this day, September 21 in the year 2012, the Holy Father has accepted the resignation of Bishop Matthew Clark. As of today, Bp. Clark is no longer the Bishop of Rochester and he relinquishes any power and privilege that belongs to said position.  The bishop is given the honorary title of “bishop emeritus.” He is still a bishop, just not our shepherd any longer.

At a news conference that took place around 10 AM this morning, it was announced that Bp. Robert J. Cunningham of Syracuse will manage the Diocese of Rochester as Apostolic Administrator until a replacement has been named by Pope Benedict. Sadly, Fr. Joseph Hart will assist Bp. Cunningham in this administration. The diocese is presently sede vacante, meaning that we do not have a diocesan bishop. Our next bishop will be named in the coming months, so stay tuned.

Reflection on how we got here

I have to admit that when I woke up this morning I was shocked to hear that Bp. Clark had been replaced a mere two months after submitting his resignation. It’s a somewhat unprecedented move to have a bishop’s resignation be accepted so quickly, and it’s surely a repudiation of Bp. Clark’s tenure as Bishop of Rochester. Most of us expected a quicker than normal change, just not this quick! So why was the bishop’s resignation accepted after only two months? First of all, the bishop’s fruits have been rotten. Below is a table of figures comparing the state of the Diocese of Rochester when Bp. Clark arrived to when he departed:

Category 1979 2012
Active diocesan priests 341 90
Total priests 584 215
Priest ordinations 4 0
Religious sisters 1,047 443
Parishes 161 105*
Seminaries 2 0
Catholic high schools 9 5
Catholic elementary schools 78 25
Total Catholic school students 76,724 20,603
Infant baptisms 6,742 2,646
Marriages 3,919 1,009

Source: Official Catholic Directory, 1979 and 2012

Second, Bp. Clark has a lengthy and oft-tumultuous history with Pope Benedict; the two have butted heads on numerous occasions. In November of 1986, Cardinal Ratzinger forced Bp. Clark to remove his imprimatur from a sex book written by former Rochester (and now Buffalo) priest, Fr. Matthew Kawiak. The book condoned various immoral activities including masturbation and homosexual acts. Also in 1986, Cardinal Ratzinger banned Diocese of Rochester priest, Fr. Charles Curran, from teaching in Catholic institutions. Bp. Clark famously defended this priest to the bitter end despite Fr. Curran’s repeated dissent on human sexuality. In 1997, Clark received even more scrutiny from Vatican officials concerning his Rainbow Sash Masses for homosexuals at Sacred Heart Cathedral on March 1st and October 5th of that year. Perhaps the pinnacle of the disagreements between these two men came in October of 1998 when Ratzinger ordered the removal of James Callan from administrator of Corpus Christi church. As most readers already know, Corpus Christi had been blessing gay unions, offering non-Catholics and non-Christians Holy Communion, and elevated Pastoral Associate Mary Ramerman to the title of “Associate Pastor” while letting her wear a half-stole at the altar. After Callan’s removal, the parish split and a large number of parishioners formed the schismatic Spiritus Christi church, which now boasts a gaggle of priestesses offering invalid Masses. Mr. Callan commented later about how Bp. Clark held a protective umbrella over the community for many years. The blood of this schism, and the loss of 3,000 souls, rests on Bp. Clark’s hands. The Holy Father certainly recalled these various acts of dissent.

Basically what I’m getting at is, the speed with which this resignation has been accepted is no coincidence. Our cries have been heard, and our next bishop is at hand. Your letters to Rome have made a difference. God is good!

What will happen next

The process of selecting the next Bishop of Rochester is underway. Various priest and bishop candidates will be considered, and three names will be recommended to Pope Benedict to fill this vacancy. The Pope, and the Pope alone, will make the decision. However, the Holy Father will likely receive input from various prominent Catholics such as Card. Dolan, the Nuncio, and the Congregation for Bishops which is led by Card. Burke. It could take several months for our next bishop to be named. After he is selected, the person will be consecrated/ordained (if not already a bishop), and formally installed during an Installation Mass.

Bp. Cunningham will oversee the Diocese of Rochester, in addition to his duties in the Diocese of Syracuse, until our next bishop has been installed. It is highly probable that Cunningham will clear out the Rochester curia so that our new bishop will be able to make his own appointments. I imagine he’d ask for the resignations of all curia members sometime soon. Bp. Cunningham will also tie up any loose ends and prepare a smooth transition for our next bishop.

Remember that Bp. Cunningham is only a temporary administrator. Don’t expect a lot of significant changes in the coming months.


It’s anybody’s guess who will be the next Bishop of Rochester. The process is bound by secrecy, though information tends to get out. After all, the people involved are only human. One rumor which I am sure you have heard is the possibility that Bp. Joseph Perry will be our next bishop. The rumor was that Bp. Clark was offered Perry as a coadjutor early last year, but declined. If this is true, then it is highly probable that Perry will be named our next bishop at some point in the near future. You may be asking, “why not name Perry our bishop now if this is the case?” Good question. My guess is that Perry wasn’t named today because he is needed to assist in the transition in the Archdiocese of Chicago while Cardinal George battles cancer. If Perry is to be our next bishop, he may be appointed shortly after George’s successor is named.

There are a great number of potential bishop candidates. Below is a list I assembled of some of the most likely individuals to be named our next bishop.

Auxiliary bishop candidates:

1. Bishop Joseph Perry, 64, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago

Diocesan bishop candidates:

1. Bp. Alexander Sample, 51, Bishop of Marquette
2. Bp. Michael Jackels, 58, Bishop of Wichita
3. Bp. Robert McManus, 61, Bishop of Worcester
4. Bp. Leonard Blair, 63, Bishop of Toledo

This process isn’t going to be completed in a week or two. There are 15 dioceses in need of a bishop. Some dioceses, such as Tyler, have been vacant for 14 months. Others, such as Las Cruces, have a diocesan bishop serving 12 months past 75. Here are the lists of vacant dioceses and dioceses with bishops serving past 75:

1. Tyler [14]
2. Indianapolis [11]
3. El Paso [9]
4. Bridgeport [6]
5. Portland (Maine) [4]
6. Fargo [4]
7. Oakland [2]
8. Rochester [1]
9. Ft. Worth [1]

Bishops serving past 75
1. Bp. Ramirez, Las Cruces [12]
2. Card. George, Chicago [8]
3. Abp. Vlazny, Portland (Oregon) [7]
4. Bp. Pfeifer, San Angelo [4]
5. Bp. Hurley, Grand Rapids [4]
6. Bp. Kinney, St. Cloud [3]

So, my friends, here we are. We have waited 33 long years for change to come to Rochester and now the day has arrived. Bishop Clark is no longer the Bishop of Rochester, and soon his replacement will be named. Our next bishop will face the unenviable task of resurrecting a diocese in shambles. He will face a strong, ingrained, vocal progesssivism in the local priesthood and most area parish staffs. He will have difficult decisions to make about St. Bernard School of Theology, pastoral appointments, dissent, and a host of other local issues. This man is going to need our support and prayers. Please pray for our next bishop. May he be loving, strong, traditional, and orthodox in faith. Please pray for Bp. Clark. May he have a long, healthy and enjoyable retirement. May the very quick acceptance of his resignation not cause him any hurt or shame.

It’s time to move Forward in Hope. It’s time to Keep the Spirit Alive. Hope and change. Yes we can.

Icon of the Liturgy

June 8th, 2012, Promulgated by Bernie

An interesting post published on the New Liturgical Movement website.

“The Transfiguration as a Symbol of the Liturgy and Our Participation in Christ’s Glory”

By David Clayton

I recently read Jean Corbon’s book The Wellspring of the Worship. In it Fr Corbon describes how an ordered participation in the liturgy opens our hearts in such a way that we accept God’s love and enter into the mystery of the Trinity; in which we worship the Father, through the Son in the Spirit. This renews and transforms us so that we are rendered fruitful for God. The icon of the Transfiguration, he says, reminds us of this. It is an icon of the liturgy.

At one level the icon of the Transfiguration portrays, of course, the events as they happened in the bible…

…The biblical description of the Transfiguration, says Corbon, points not only to Christ’s transfiguration but also to our own through participation in the liturgy. Through the liturgy, he says, the Church becomes…

Read the whole article here

Penn State’s “Long Lent”

November 11th, 2011, Promulgated by Nerina

Football is a big deal in our house.  My 12 year old son loves all-things “sports,” but is particularly enthralled with football (especially of the Green Bay variety), so the story about former Penn State coach arrested and charged this week for several accounts of sexual abuse has been discussed a great deal.  As a Catholic, it has also called to mind the on-going abuse scandal in the Church.  I’ve been looking at the parallels between the situation at Penn State and the Church and there are similarities.  Both reveal an institutional cover up.  Both reveal the exploitation of young people (all boys in the case of Penn State and mostly adolescent boys in the case of the Church).  And both speak to a wider culture that continues to push the boundaries of what is seen as “normal” when it comes to sexuality.

Like the Church, Penn State will likely go through a lengthy self-examination and recovery.  I suspect the institution will find that ridding itself of the cancer of sexual abuse will be painful and get worse before things get better (in fact, there is speculation that this story is about to get much worse).  It will likely find that the institutional “chemotherapies” and “radiation” applied to the problem will slowly address the problem, but not address the environmental cause of the problem – a toxic culture that increasingly sexualizes young children.   How else do we explain a troupe of 7 year-olds doing a provocative dance routine to Beyonce’s “All the Single Ladies?”   Why do we accept companies promoting push up binkinis to young, pre-pubescent girls?  And don’t even get me started on “Toddlers and Tiaras,” the repulsive reality show that focuses on the  toddler pageant industry.

Yet, it seems our culture wants it both ways.  Aggressive, liberal sex-education agendas want to give out more and more information to younger and younger children, espousing the view that children are “sexual beings,” but the same people pushing these agendas refuse to acknowledge the role these programs play in scandals like those seen in our own Church and at Penn State (and let’s not kid ourselves, the sexual abuse of children is rampant in public schools, organizations and even homes).  Thankfully, people continue to be outraged when sex abuse scandals are revealed (and the day that we no longer react to them will be the day our culture dies), but I have to wonder, why?  Why are we outraged?  Why do we recoil?  Why, when we read the grand jury indictment(PDF), does  our stomach churn and our head bend in prayer to a merciful God for forgiveness of our sins?  We have told children that they are sexual objects.  We have deluded ourselves into thinking that sexual freedom is the ultimate good and that restrictions on this behavior is oppressive and antiquated.  Somehow, though, we know, that we are not free.  We are, instead, enslaved to sin and our children are the ultimate victims.

God, have mercy on us.

It’s Just a Building

September 30th, 2011, Promulgated by Gen

“How lovely are your tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! 3 My soul longs and faints for the courts of the Lord. My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God. 4 For the sparrow has found herself a house, and the turtle a nest for herself where she may lay her young ones: Your altars, O Lord of hosts, my king and my God. 5 Blessed are they that dwell in your house, O Lord: they shall praise you for ever and ever. 6 Blessed is the man whose help is from you: in his heart he has disposed to ascend by steps, 7 in the vale of tears, in the place which he has set. 8 For the lawgiver shall give a blessing, they shall go from virtue to virtue: the God of gods shall be seen in Sion. 9 O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer: give ear, O God of Jacob. 10 Behold, O God our protector: and look on the face of your Christ. 11 For better is one day in your courts above thousands. I have chosen to be an abject in the house of my God, rather than to dwell in the tabernacles of sinners. 12 For God loves mercy and truth: the Lord will give grace and glory. 13 He will not deprive of good things them that walk in innocence: O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusts in you.” (Psalm 84)

This is, without a doubt, my favorite of all the psalms. Whenever I read it, whenever it appears in the Mass or the Divine Office, even when it is referenced in passing on the internet or in my other reading, I always feel profoundly touched by it. I can’t help but think, “This is my prayer.”

And then my thoughts expand, and I come to realize that it is the prayer of so many of my friends, my acquaintances, my fellow Catholics in the Diocese of Rochester. Of course, all Catholics, and probably all Orthodox Christians, too, find this psalm particularly beautiful. We have maintained in our worship a sense of the sacrifice of old. When we go to Mass, we see the unbloody re-enactment of Calvary and then receive our risen Lord in Holy Communion. Upon the altar of sacrifice, our King deigns to come down to dwell with us. It is in our churches, be they grand or not, modern or old, beautiful or ugly, we see the sacrifice of that Worthiest of Lambs, and not for His own gain, but for ours.

It is for this reason that churches are sacred, for they become our Calvaries, they become the tomb, they become the tabernacles of the Most High. We spend our Sundays, not in our pew or in our seats, but at the foot of the Cross, keeping vigil with Our Lady. When we return from Communion, we are retracing the steps of St. Mary Magdalene, with the news “He lives!” in our hearts. When we leave the church and head to the parking lot, we become like so many disciples who traveled to the ends of the earth to spread the Gospel, inspired and emboldened by that Miracle of Miracles, the Holy Mass.

Why, then, are we told that when our church closes, when it succumbs to schism and dissent, that we mustn’t worry? “It’s just a building.” Yes, it is “just a building,” and Our Lord is present in the tabernacle down the street, but the church serves a purpose more Godly than merely existing to give shelter to the faith community. When we move, there is a sense of loss, be it great or minor, but it’s there nonetheless. The memories of the old house, the musty apartment, the basement “pad” suddenly seem like a precious commodity, something that is special and cherished, not so much because the recollections are so great, but because they can never be augmented. They are the only things linking us to what we have experienced for the past five, ten, twenty, or forty years.

The same is true of our churches. Rationally, yes, we can start worshiping in another building. It’s the same Mass, the same Lord, the same Faith – just a different building. But there is something more profound about losing a church than, say, moving across the city or relocating to a different state. “It’s just a building,” that beloved phrase of our pastoral planning committees, dismisses the richness of our experiences that we had at our spiritual homes. It is offensive that these people think that summarizing such a complex situation into such a trite phrase might actually heal our wounds. When we experience spiritual pain, when our churches are ripped from us, when our parishes become havens of heresy, the pain we experience is profound. Just as our Lord cried out in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My soul is sorrowful unto death. Is there any pain like unto my pain?” so too do our souls cry out in bitter anguish.

And we are not pierced by sorrow for the loss of a building – we are crushed because our nest has been thrown down and trampled upon, our tabernacles ransacked. “The sparrow has found herself a house,” but we find ourselves exiles. When the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, do you think that the scribes and pharisees said, “It’s just a building”? No – they saw it as sacrilege, that the House of God should be thus treated by vandals and enemies of Faith. They didn’t fall back upon cheap platitudes like, “God’s everywhere, just look around.” No. They wept. They mourned. They were scattered.

For some of us, this might seem overly dramatic. Others, though, will understand. When you give your heart to God, you must know that in doing so, you take your place beside Our Lady, looking upon her suffering Son. And no two of these personal Calvaries are the same. It doesn’t matter where you experience it, for it is certain that at some point, sooner or later, you will. When you love the Church, you must be ready to have your own heart pierced like Our Lady. You must be ready to embrace the cross wherever it is given to you, and to accept every splinter that enters you.   “Blessed is the man whose help is from you: in his heart he has disposed to ascend by steps, in the vale of tears, in the place which he has set.”

Some people who are intimately acquainted with such things are forced to be out of necessity – the church is closed, either legitimately or because of some imagined debt, ecclesial or financial. Other people are given a altogether different experience, wherein the building itself remains, but becomes a den of sacrilege. But like the psalm says, one day in the courts of the Lord is, indeed, better than a thousand elsewhere. I speak only for myself when I say that I cannot endure the willful dissent of people who profess to defend the Church, but whose actions betray a sinister agenda. Administrations come and go, churches are closed and built, but disobedience has always existed and will always exist. And it will exist everywhere, be it in Rochester, New York, Billings, Montana, Miami, Florida, or even Columbia, South Carolina. If one were to leave one city for another, it isn’t to escape the cross, but it ought to be realize that it is in order that he might pursue it. Likewise, when people leave a parish whose building is intact but the administration has changed, they leave because they cannot stand the pain of seeing the lance thrust into Our Lord’s side. They leave because, like Our Lord, their souls are “sorrowful unto death,” wounded through love of Him who loves us so much.

Do not condemn those who flee as cowards. Do not see their departures as abandonments. All they are doing is responding to their call as best as they know how. We are not all called to suffer in this way, but for those who have apparently been called to do so, we must realize that we “have chosen to be abject in the house of my God, rather than to dwell in the tabernacles of sinners.” It isn’t about playing the part of the martyr, or following the easy path. Nor is it about going where things are prettier, or hearing Mass where it looks nicer. What it is about is responding to that constant urging in your heart to follow Him. When Catholics leave a parish, a city, a diocese, they leave their spiritual home. For some, their vocations may have been nurtured on the steps of their parish church, or roused to liveliness in the pews. To leave that home is not an easy thing, nor is it desirable, but it is often necessary in order to answer what God desires, and put the desires of our fellows in their appropriate places.

And so, when we are told that we shouldn’t weep, that we shouldn’t protest, that we shouldn’t complain when things don’t go our way because, “it’s just a building,” know that we are right. We aren’t so stupid as to think that the Faith is restricted to a building or a diocese. We do know that the Faith is restricted to those who observe it. Faith is dead when individuals proceed to alter it for their own satisfaction, and churches die when this mentality reigns. We know it’s not about the building – it’s about Him whom the building exists to serve.

For God loves mercy and truth: the Lord will give grace and glory. He will not deprive of good things them that walk in innocence: O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusts in you.”

Stabat Mater Dolorosa

September 15th, 2011, Promulgated by Gen

Today’s sequence for the Feast of the Seven Sorrows:

STABAT Mater dolorosa
iuxta Crucem lacrimosa,
dum pendebat Filius.
AT, the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to Jesus to the last.
Cuius animam gementem,
contristatam et dolentem
pertransivit gladius.
Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
all His bitter anguish bearing,
now at length the sword has passed.
O quam tristis et afflicta
fuit illa benedicta,
mater Unigeniti!
O how sad and sore distressed
was that Mother, highly blest,
of the sole-begotten One.
Quae maerebat et dolebat,
pia Mater, dum videbat
nati poenas inclyti.
Christ above in torment hangs,
she beneath beholds the pangs
of her dying glorious Son.
Quis est homo qui non fleret,
matrem Christi si videret
in tanto supplicio?
Is there one who would not weep,
whelmed in miseries so deep,
Christ’s dear Mother to behold?
Quis non posset contristari
Christi Matrem contemplari
dolentem cum Filio?
Can the human heart refrain
from partaking in her pain,
in that Mother’s pain untold?
Pro peccatis suae gentis
vidit Iesum in tormentis,
et flagellis subditum.
Bruised, derided, cursed, defiled,
she beheld her tender Child
All with scourges rent:
Vidit suum dulcem Natum
moriendo desolatum,
dum emisit spiritum.
For the sins of His own nation,
saw Him hang in desolation,
Till His spirit forth He sent.
Eia, Mater, fons amoris
me sentire vim doloris
fac, ut tecum lugeam.
O thou Mother! fount of love!
Touch my spirit from above,
make my heart with thine accord:
Fac, ut ardeat cor meum
in amando Christum Deum
ut sibi complaceam.
Make me feel as thou hast felt;
make my soul to glow and melt
with the love of Christ my Lord.
Sancta Mater, istud agas,
crucifixi fige plagas
cordi meo valide.
Holy Mother! pierce me through,
in my heart each wound renew
of my Savior crucified:
Tui Nati vulnerati,
tam dignati pro me pati,
poenas mecum divide.
Let me share with thee His pain,
who for all my sins was slain,
who for me in torments died.
Fac me tecum pie flere,
crucifixo condolere,
donec ego vixero.
Let me mingle tears with thee,
mourning Him who mourned for me,
all the days that I may live:
Iuxta Crucem tecum stare,
et me tibi sociare
in planctu desidero.
By the Cross with thee to stay,
there with thee to weep and pray,
is all I ask of thee to give.
Virgo virginum praeclara,
mihi iam non sis amara,
fac me tecum plangere.
Virgin of all virgins blest!,
Listen to my fond request:
let me share thy grief divine;
Fac, ut portem Christi mortem,
passionis fac consortem,
et plagas recolere.
Let me, to my latest breath,
in my body bear the death
of that dying Son of thine.
Fac me plagis vulnerari,
fac me Cruce inebriari,
et cruore Filii.
Wounded with His every wound,
steep my soul till it hath swooned,
in His very Blood away;
Flammis ne urar succensus,
per te, Virgo, sim defensus
in die iudicii.
Be to me, O Virgin, nigh,
lest in flames I burn and die,
in His awful Judgment Day.
Christe, cum sit hinc exire,
da per Matrem me venire
ad palmam victoriae.
Christ, when Thou shalt call me hence,
by Thy Mother my defense,
by Thy Cross my victory;
Quando corpus morietur,
fac, ut animae donetur
paradisi gloria. Amen.
While my body here decays,
may my soul Thy goodness praise,
safe in paradise with Thee. Amen.

In the mid-1900’s, French Composer Francis Poulenc wrote a new setting of this hymn. It was one of his last major compositions before his death. Poulenc is known for being one of the first openly homosexual composers in history, and is often seized upon by some as a great champion of the LGBT movement. Indeed, he once said “You know that I am as sincere in my faith, without any messianic screamings, as I am in my Parisian sexuality.” However, as he matured, he saw the burdens and pains that come with the homosexual lifestyle, and after the death of a close friend in the 1920’s, he had a conversion. His music turned away from purely secular aims, and began to focus on God and the Church. Even his operas began to reflect a Godly focus (see Dialogues of the Carmelites). He finished the Stabat Mater in 1950, and died in 1963 after having written “Sept Répons des Ténèbres.”

Bishop Clark on His Retirement

September 13th, 2011, Promulgated by Gen

Earlier this month, Bishop Clark wrote an article which appeared in the Catholic Courier in which he spoke at length about the many questions surrounding his inevitable retirement. As a reader pointed out, it seems that the more that the faithful point out errors and demand their correcting, the more His Excellency reflects on his retirement. Some people will probably raise the objection that, “hey, you’re making the poor guy feel burdened and besieged.” Well, is it really so bad to make a Bishop of questionable orthodoxy squirm a little at the consideration that maybe, just maybe, he has made some unexplainable mistakes? When I went through the Catholic school system here, we were taught that we must all accept responsibility for our actions, and not shirk our duties but “carry them through conscientiously.” I can’t help but realize that there is very little accountability (in the here-and-now) for people who cause as much confusion on the part of their faithful, especially when the people in charge hide behind the same canons that they warp and use for their own devious purposes. As a very wise old dead Roman once said, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” “But who then shall guard the guards?”

This all being said, we need to realize that our Church has been developing organically for two thousand years, and has dealt with much bigger problems than our current Bishop. It survived the French Revolution. It aided in the downfall of Communism. It endured the process of Italian Unification. It stood as a silent witness to the fall of pagan Europe, and then humbly helped rebuild a new Europe in the shadowy uncertainty of the Dark Ages. So, no matter how bad we may have things in Rochester for the time being, and no matter how long the recovery takes, the Church goes on and is always victorious. Bishop Clark’s retirement isn’t going to be as dramatic as the beginning of the Renaissance, or as terribly awe-inspiring as the fall of the Roman Empire, but it serves to remind us that, no matter what, the Church as She is (and not as others would make Her) will go on through the ages. We have endured suffering, but nothing like what our brothers and sisters are enduring in places like China and the Middle East. We languish under the current administration, yes, but we know that it will have a definitive end. That is a blessing not all of the faithful can count on when facing their own calamities.

“A diocesan bishop who has completed his 75th year of age is requested to present his resignation from office to the Supreme Pontiff, who will make provisions after he has examined all the circumstances.”

These words from Canon 401 of our church’s Code of Canon Law are particularly meaningful for me, and for all the people of the Diocese of Rochester, as my 75th birthday is July 15, 2012. On that date, I will submit my letter of resignation to the Holy See after 33 years as your bishop.

On the personal side, I will do so with all the emotions you might expect: sadness that the privilege of serving you as bishop of this wonderful diocese must come to an end; hope that Christ will smile on the work we have done together (will He smile on “us” when “we” lost an entire parish to heresy, closed more than half of our schools, several dozen parishes, and sought to bring “new meaning” to His holy sacraments?); wonderment and anticipation about the journey God will take me on in the years to come; and the ways my ministry will continue. Yet I also will willingly submit my resignation and embrace this new phase of my life with a happy spirit. I am comfortable with the church’s wisdom that the bishop’s office is a demanding one in this day and age, that at age 75 our energies are not what they once were, and that more time for rest, prayer and contemplation is a blessing indeed.

I hope I also will be mindful then, as I am now, that this is not just about me by any means. This will be a significant time of transition for our diocese — for all of us. Quite naturally, we will all have questions, curiosity and interest in what the future will bring.

Already, as I travel around the diocese, people are asking me how the process of naming a replacement unfolds and speculating about the changes or adjustments we may be asked to make under new leadership.

Such questions and interests are the most natural thing in the world and emerge in every diocese at times like this. Reactions vary, of course. Some love change, finding it challenging and exciting; others find it onerous.

Then there is the more personal element. For people who have been pleased with my tenure, this time of transition means one thing; for those who will welcome a new approach in pastoral leadership, it means something quite different. (Recently, a parish staff member at a city church said that “we’ll ride this wave as far as we can” when someone pointed out that norms will actually have to be followed under a new Bishop.” Yes, change will mean something “quite different.” It means obedience.)

But no matter our general dispositions or personal opinions, change is coming. How we move through this time of transition as individuals and as a community of faith is, I believe, of great importance. If we approach it with lively and open faith in God and with prayer for all involved in the process, I am sure we will all be richly blessed. I do believe deeply that it will be a time of special grace and renewal for all of us. With that in mind, I thought it might be helpful to offer a few of my own thoughts about this process and touch on some questions people have asked me about it.

First of all, I must tell you that I do not know who our new bishop will be, or precisely when he will be named. As indicated, my letter of resignation begins a process through which a successor is chosen. Recently, that process typically takes 10 months, although it is not unheard of that it can take 15 months or longer. Once the letter of resignation is sent, the process and its timing are solely in the hands of the Holy See, which, I can assure you, works prayerfully and carefully to provide good leadership for a given diocese.

Secondly, I pray that this period of transition will be a time of renewal for our diocese. It will be a privileged time for us to remember our story, to name our blessings, to consider how God calls us to further conversion, and to put in good order any matters that aren’t where they should be or where we’d like to have them.

Thirdly, it can be a time in which we can convert our questions, worries, hopes, longings and fears into constructive thought, prayer and dialogue about important themes of common interest that give rise to the questions: How do we understand the office of bishop? (Answer: a successor to the Apostles.) What can we legitimately expect from him, and he from us? (Answer: Obedience to Rome and to the richness we find in Scripture and Tradition.) What is the bishop’s relationship to his priests? (Answer: Priests? What are these “priests” which His Excellency speaks of? Might he mean “sacramental ministers?”) To parish communities? (Answer: Parish communities tend to function better when not prematurely closed or clustered.) How does he link communities together? (Answer: Not by closing churches and rennovating the cathedral at the same time. Not by replacing an altar with an organ. Not by sending heretics into our churches to run them and ruin them. Not by closing thriving schools and churches. Not by engaging in ecumenical prayer services when your own flock has unmet needs. Not by having a mistress-of-ceremonies whose words have stifled more vocations in this Diocese than we can possibly imagine.) Are there ways in which we can prepare ourselves so that when he arrives the new bishop will come to know a diocese actively engaged and not passively marking time until his arrival? (Answer: Yes. We can actually meet the Holy Father half-way and show him that, contrary to what our Ordinary does, we will follow him.)

Next month I hope to delve into some of these areas in more depth. Let it suffice for the moment to say that I think we will be well-served if we make this a time of peaceful and prayerful examination of ourselves, our parishes and other places of ministry. How are we doing? What ought to change? (98% of what we see in this Diocese ought to change.) What is God asking of us?

To that end I have set some priorities to which I want to devote time and energy in the time remaining:

* To leave our diocese in as stable and positive financial condition as we can manage. Just now I have been quietly raising funds working to strengthen our financial resources for the education of our seminarians and the support of our senior priests.

* To continue to work together daily in our common quest for a deeper spiritual life. One common goal here, I hope, will be our very best effort to receive and celebrate the new Roman Missal this coming Advent.

* To be responsible in meeting the challenges of the day and not leave to my successor difficult problems because they are too hard or too unpopular to take on.

* To keep working at the interfaith and ecumenical work we have undertaken and to encourage others to join us in this work.

* To maintain our tradition of supporting our sisters and brothers in need, through direct human service and advocacy.

* To work toward creating as honest, warm and hospitable an environment as we possibly can manage, as we welcome our new bishop.

A bishop is a successor to the apostles whether retired or not. Under the church’s traditions and laws, leaving office removes from an individual bishop his power and jurisdiction over a diocesan church, but he remains a bishop forever with bonds to the universal church and College of Bishops, and certainly with a special bond to the diocese of which he was shepherd and to those faithful who were once entrusted to his care. It is not retirement in the usual sense of the term.

So, as “bishop emeritus” — the title given bishops after leaving office — I intend to be as helpful as I possibly can to the church of Rochester and to the new bishop, in ways still to be discussed and determined.

I will relinquish the bishop’s quarters at Sacred Heart Cathedral to make it ready for the new bishop when that time comes, but it is my hope and intention to remain in the Greater Rochester area. I have not as yet settled on where that might be. Personally, I am hoping to continue ministering in the Diocese of Rochester visiting parishes, supporting our pastors and sharing in the Eucharist with our people. I would welcome opportunities such as confirming our young people; helping our ministry in our nursing homes and health-care facilities; and offering whatever spiritual counsel I can in retreats and spiritual-growth projects, a role I have come to enjoy every much.

One important task I already know that I can and will fulfill is to pray constantly for the concerns of each of you individually and of this wonderful diocese as a whole. It has been said that one of the most cherished activities of a bishop emeritus is a “ministry of intercession,” that the closest bond and most important responsibility before God that a bishop emeritus has toward those who were once entrusted to him and to whom he has devoted his life is that of prayer. I could not agree more.

I will write more about this theme over the next months as July 2012 approaches, and I will try to keep you as informed as I can about this transition time.

This will be an interesting and unsettling time, but I pray you will remember that we are guided in every journey by the Holy Spirit. As we enter this new journey together, pilgrims on a new venture for Christ, let us be radically open to the Spirit and to each other’s dreams for the future.