Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Personal Ordinariates and Catholic identity.

A week ago, the Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, William Cardinal Levada, announced Pope Benedict XVI's decision to allow the establishment of new juridical structures that would allow Anglicans to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church while maintaining a distinctive corporate identity retaining aspects of the Anglican liturgical and spiritual heritage. Though the Holy See already provides special procedures for the reception of Anglican clergy and laypeople under the auspices of the Pastoral Provision established in 1980 by Pope John Paul II, the present Holy Father aims to establish Personal Ordinariates embracing those who wish to "preserve the worthy Anglican liturgical and spiritual patrimony" in communion with Rome. In effect, the Personal Ordinariates would be quasi-dioceses giving former Anglicans in the Catholic Church a more coherent sense of corporate identity and practical unity than they have been able to achieve under the Pastoral Provision. The Pope's openness to the fostering of such an identity within the Church is what interests me most about this proposal, as I will explain later in this post.

Unsurprisingly, the secular and religious news media and certain sectors of the blogosphere have shown a great deal of interest in the Pope's response to Anglicans seeking communion with Rome. Many have speculated about what this will mean for the Roman Catholic Church, for the Anglican Communion, and for ecumenical relations between Catholics and Anglicans. I'll refrain from comment on the more widely-discussed (and perforce more neuralgic) aspects of this issue. I will, however, direct interested readers to a Zenit interview with Monsignor William Stetson, an administrator of the Pastoral Provision in the United States. Monsignor Stetson speaks very clearly about some of the practical concerns that will likely be involved in setting up the Personal Ordinariates. For example, here is his answer to a question on "the possibility of marriage for . . . Anglican seminarians" who seek ordination as Catholic priests:
The specifics have not yet been made known on this question. At the very least I should assume that the seminarians would have to be both married and studying in an Anglican seminary at the time they sought to enter into full communion, and then continue studying for the priesthood in a Catholic seminary. They would have to be dispensed from the norm of celibacy on a case-by-case basis by the Holy See. Future seminarians would have to be celibate.
In other words, Monsignor Stetson seems to say, one shouldn't interpret this initiative as a step toward a broader change in the Latin Church's discipline regarding priestly celibacy. Whatever views you may hold on this precise question, you may find it helpful to read a somewhat "official" statement on an aspect of the Personal Ordinariate issue that has inspired a lot of speculation. In a more general sense, the Stetson interview should prove quite illuminating to anyone seeking a straightforward, "just the facts" account of what's going on.

As I wrote above, what interests me most about the Pope's pastoral initiative is its possible implications for conceptions of Catholic identity. The establishment of Personal Ordinariates would not mean the creation of an 'Anglican Rite' or an autonomous 'Anglican Church in Communion with Rome' on a par with the Eastern Catholic Churches. Given the Latin heritage of the Church of England, the Holy See emphatically regards "the Anglican patrimony" as not simply Catholic but Roman Catholic. Nevertheless, as Monsignor Stetson points out, Roman Catholics in the Anglican tradition are inheritors of a "rich tradition of liturgical expression (language, music, vestments, space, etc.) in English, dating back to the 16th century" as well as "a great tradition of the use of sacred Scripture in preaching, love for the Fathers of the Church and theological expression beyond Roman Catholic scholasticism." In a basic way, then, "the Anglican patrimony" constitutes a distinctive expression of the Catholic faith.

The Holy See's recognition of the distinctiveness of Anglicanism is reflected in the juridical structures currently under consideration. The fact that communities of former Anglicans who have become Roman Catholic will henceforth be removed from the jurisdiction of local Latin ordinaries and placed under the care of Personal Ordinaries places them in a different situation than, say, Hungarian or Italian or Polish or Portuguese Roman Catholics who have often retained a distinctive sense of identity in 'national' or 'personal' parishes subject to local Latin bishops. Many bishops have tended to see personal parishes as a temporary expedient that should fade away as immigrants assimilate to the broader culture; I find this perspective wrongheaded in many respects, but that's an argument for another day. For now, I'd simply like to note that the establishment of the Personal Ordinariates means that former Anglicans who seek corporate union with the Catholic Church will not have to depend on the good will of territorial Latin bishops as personal parishes have had to do (and as the handful of Anglican Use parishes have also had to do until now). Instead, they will enjoy their own unique (and apparently permanent) place in the hierarchical structure of the Church.

By sanctioning the establishment of Personal Ordinariates and by recognizing the value of a distinctive "Anglican patrimony," the Holy See may be seen as making a positive statement about the value of distinctive national traditions and heritages within the Latin West. The significance of this statement should be recognized, even if it has received relatively little attention compared with other questions about the theological and practical implications of this move and its timing. I'm curious about what this will mean in practice, but I also wonder whether it will lead to more explicit recognition and appreciation for other liturgical and spiritual traditions in the Western Church. I suppose that time will tell. AMDG.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Notes on the Feast of the North American Martyrs.

In Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States, today is the Feast of the North American Martyrs. This liturgical commemoration of the seventeenth-century French Jesuits Jean de Brébeuf, Isaac Jogues, Noël Chabanel, Antoine Daniel, Charles Garnier and Gabriel Lalemant and their lay assistants (donnés) René Goupil and Jean de la Lande honors the heroic sacrifice of missionaries who died while spreading the Gospel among the Huron (Wendat) and Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) peoples in present-day Ontario, Québec and upstate New York. Admired among their brother Jesuits for their zealous commitment to the Huron Mission and for their willingness to lay down their lives in the service of Christ, the North American Martyrs gradually attracted the devotion of the larger Church and were finally canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1930.

The martyrdom of the eight saints remembered today occurred in the context of wider conflicts - both between the Huron and Iroquois and between the French and the English, who backed opposing tribes as part of an effort to further their own political and economic interests in North America. These conflicts ultimately brought about the near-destruction of the Huron nation and led to the death and dispersion of many native Christians. While the cause for which they gave their lives may appear to have failed, the North American Martyrs did not give their lives in vain. Another member of the Huron Mission, Italian Jesuit Francesco Giuseppe Bressani, expressed this point very eloquently in a letter to his Superior General, Father Vincenzo Carafa:
Do not imagine that the rage of the Iroquois and the loss of many Christians, and of many catechumens can bring to naught the mystery of the cross of Christ and the efficacy of his blood. We shall die, we shall be captured, burned, butchered. Be it so. Those who die in their beds do not always die the best deaths....
As a contemporary Jesuit who lives and works in relative comfort and security, I can't help but find something of an indictment in Father Bressani's words: Those who die in their beds do not always die the best deaths. And yet, the Society of Jesus still produces its fair share of Christian martyrs - over 300 Jesuits died for their faith over the course of the 20th century, and several more have done so in the last decade. Of course, the number of Jesuits who have lost their lives by martyrdom is relatively small; the reality has been - and likely will continue to be - that most Jesuits die in their beds.

Most of us are not called to martyrdom, it seems, but that is not to say that we cannot take inspiration from the example of Saints Jean de Brébeuf, Isaac Jogues, and their companions. On the contrary, I believe that their witness can be a source of strength and inspiration for contemporary Jesuits in all of our varied ministries. Thus, I can say that my own humble efforts in the classroom at SJU are my way of taking part in the same great mission that energized the North American Martyrs. The idea that my mission coincides somehow with that Jean de Brébeuf and Isaac Jogues can be quite sobering, but it has also given me courage and hope on difficult days. The Jesuit kinship I share with the North American Martyrs has given me a deeper sense of the reality of the communion of saints - in a very real way, those whom I call upon as holy intercessors are also my brothers in this least Society.

Aside from the connection that I share with the North American Martyrs as a member of the same Society of Jesus, I should note the role that they played in my own vocation story. Just as Georgetown University gave me my introduction to the Society, it also gave me an introduction to the Martyrs. The Hilltop's Dahlgren Chapel includes a stained glass window of St. Isaac Jogues, which you can see in the photo at the start of this post. If you'll look closely, you'll notice the damage to the saint's hands: in an attempt to prevent Jogues from being able to offer the Eucharist, the priest's Iroquois captors chewed off both of his thumbs and forefingers. (It was all for naught, of course, as Jogues later received a papal indult that allowed him to continue saying Mass despite the loss of the canonical digits.)

When I first saw this window in Dahlgren Chapel, I had no idea who Isaac Jogues was. When I learned more about him, I found myself deeply moved by his story and the stories of his fellow martyrs. I came to feel a deeper association with Isaac Jogues and his companions when I lived in Copley Hall, a student residence that includes a chapel named for the North American Martyrs. Somewhere along the way, I remember being told (though I don't remember by whom or on what authority) that St. Isaac Jogues was the patron of Georgetown University. At the time of my First Vows, I took Isaac Jogues as my vow name partly as a way of honoring the saint's link with the place where I first encountered the Society of Jesus and began to feel the stirrings of a Jesuit vocation. On his feast day, I pray in thanksgiving for the gift of my vocation and for the bonds that unites all Jesuits, past, present and future. AMDG.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Product placement?

When retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu turned 78 yesterday, he celebrated in a Saint Joseph's University sweatshirt. A veteran of the struggle against apartheid, a Nobel laureate, and the chairman of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Tutu spoke at SJU in April of 2008; the Archbishop's SJU sweatshirt is presumably a souvenir of that visit. I'm sure that the admissions and public relations offices at the university are pleased to see a figure of Tutu's public stature and gravitas sporting SJU apparel. For my part, I'm impressed that the Archbishop chose to celebrate his birthday by remembering his visit to Hawk Hill (even if he only remembered it in passing as he put on his sweatshirt).

I wonder if this bit of free advertising will have an impact (even if only a slight one) on applications for admission to SJU, particularly from South African students who may wonder about the striking logo on Tutu's sweatshirt and turn to the Internet for more information. At the very least, it's delightful to think that some future denizens of Hawk Hill may be able to say that they were introduced to Saint Joseph's University by a Nobel laureate. AMDG.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Time in a bottle.

Reading the online edition of the Boston Globe yesterday I came across this unconventional yet poignant human interest story:
Each year on her birthday, Ann Hernandez and her boyfriend, Alan Tomaska, would settle on the rocky shore of Thacher Island and uncork a bottle of champagne in a toast to the day. When the bottle was empty and the tide going out, Hernandez would tuck a handwritten message inside and Tomaska would hurl the bottle over the rocks and into the crashing surf.

Tomaska considered the ritual a lark.

But for Hernandez, the messages in the bottle were a kind of personal driftwood - a piece of her joining the sea and traveling with its currents to hoped-for far-flung locales.

"When we got back to our humdrum lives, we didn't talk about the bottle," said Tomaska, a home remodeler. "But whenever we were on the island, she would say, 'One of these days, someone is going to find one of those bottles.'"

It would take six years, but someone did. Defying nautical laws and odds, one of Hernandez's bottles last month bobbed along the coast of France to a quaint village, where a French couple, Michel and Daniele Onesime, scooped it out of the water and read with wonder the note inside.

. . .

The message read: "Ann Hernandez is a lighthouse keeper on Thacher Island - Cape Ann Light Station and had a birthday there Oct 10 2003. Drop her a card at home." The message included her year-round Illinois address. The Onesimes quickly jotted off a postcard and sent it off.

But the connection was not to be.
For what the late Paul Harvey used to call "the rest of the story," click here. This bittersweet tale of a lighthouse keeper sending messages out to sea year after year in hopes of a reply made me think of other stories of connections forged between individuals who never meet in person. One example could be Helene Hanff's 84, Charing Cross Road, though the facts of that story are quite unlike those of the tale in yesterday's Globe. In a certain way, I suppose that blogs and online journals can help establish these kind of connections in a contemporary context.

A better example of this kind of far-off connection may come in the experience of reading the letters or journals of someone who died a long time ago and realizing that the author had thoughts or feelings much like one's own. This has happened to me on a number of occasions while reading the personal writings of long-dead Jesuits, whose joys and struggles bore a surprising degree of similarity to the consolations and challenges that many of us in the Society of Jesus experience today. Once in a while, it is good to be reminded that the bonds of personal and spiritual communion that unite us are not restricted by time or geography. The story of the Cape Ann lighthouse keeper offers us such a reminder; my hope and prayer for today is that the people involved in the story recognize the gift that they have been given. AMDG.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Notes on the Feast of the Protection of the Theotokos.

In the Byzantine tradition, October 1st is the date of the Feast of the Protection of the Theotokos. Celebrated with particular devotion among Byzantine Slavs, this feast commemorates a Marian apparition that reportedly occurred at the Church of St. Mary of Blachernae in Constantinople sometime in the 10th century. In a more general way, today's feast celebrates the protection and intercession which countless Christian believers have sought from Mary, the Mother of God. The name of this feast is sometimes translated into English as "Protecting Veil of the Theotokos," evoking the image of Mary as a loving mother protecting her children within the folds of her cloak.

Today's feast day has become a particular favorite of mine, though I'm not sure that I could easily explain my attachment to it. Some readers may consider this something of a copout - especially given my similar comments about the Exaltation of the Cross a couple of weeks ago - but I've been tending more and more to the view that the affective quality of devotional life cannot be easily subjected to rational analysis. For more detailed thoughts on this feast day, I suggest that you read these words by Orthodox priest and blogger Father Stephen Freeman, who serves a small parish in Tennessee:
I reflected this morning on the "Veil of Protection" which we enjoy many times in the course of our life. Protection is more than the active warding off of enemies - it is sometimes a gracious hiding. My short trek to church this morning was through one of the fogs that blanket the Tennessee Valley this time of year. Many things are hidden.

Much of my life remains hidden even from myself. Who is there that knows all of his sins or all of the goodness of God? I think that these things remain hidden from us by the mercies of God. Who could bear the full knowledge of his own sins or even the full knowledge of the goodness of God? The depths of such things are hidden and revealed to us by a merciful God as and when they are good for our salvation.

The prayers of the saints, including those of the Mother of God, [are] a great mystery - they are part of the greater reality of life as communion with God. . . .
To read the rest, click here. AMDG.