Sunday, March 31, 2013

"... a Paschal miracle occurs in our hearts ..."

Though I have already offered my usual annual post for the Feast of the Resurrection, this year I'm offering a second one. This photo was taken last night during the singing of the Exsultet at the Easter Vigil at Toronto's Holy Family Church, where I attended the liturgies of the Paschal Triduum this year. As I've done annually for most of the past several years, I also spent part of the last three days rereading Alexander Schmemann's O Death, Where Is Thy Sting?, a series of concise yet rich meditations on the Christian understanding of death and resurrection. One of the book's chapters is dedicated to the memory of Schmemann's teacher Sergei Bulgakov and includes the following long quotation from Bulgakov himself, reflecting upon the experience of Easter night:
When the doors are opened, and we enter the temple shining with gleaming lights, during the singing of that exalted Paschal Canon, our hearts are filled with an abundant joy, for Christ has risen from the dead. At that moment a Paschal miracle occurs in our hearts. For we behold Christ's resurrection; we look at the radiant Christ and approach him, the Bridegroom, coming from the grave. We then lose awareness of our surroundings, we seem to come out of ourselves; in the silence of arrested time and the glow of the pure whiteness of Pascha all earthly colors fade, and our soul is smitten solely with the ineffable light of the resurrection. "Now all is filled with light, heaven and earth, and the regions below." In the Paschal night mankind is offered a foretaste of the age to come, the possibility of entering the kingdom of glory, the kingdom of God. The language of our world has no words to express this revelation of the Paschal night, its perfect joy. Pascha is life eternal, consisting in being led by God and communion with him. It is truth, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. This was the first word with which the resurrected Lord greeted the women disciples: "rejoice" (Mt 28:19); and greeting him, the first words heard by the apostles were: "Peace be with you" (Lk 24:36).
Peace to all. AMDG.

Christos Voskrese!

As I do each year, I would like to mark the Feast of the Resurrection on this blog by sharing the Paschal Sermon of St. John Chrysostom:

Are there any who are devout and love God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward.

If any have come after the third hour,
let them with gratitude join in the Feast!

And those who arrived after the sixth hour,
let them not doubt; for they too shall sustain no loss.

And if any have delayed until the ninth hour,
let them not hesitate; but let them come too.

And those who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let them not be afraid by reason of their delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to those who came at the eleventh hour,
as well as to those who toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward.

Rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

Feast royally, for the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry.

Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed death by enduring it.

He destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.

It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.

It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.

It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ, having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

Christ is Risen! AMDG.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Es ist vollbracht.

This Good Friday post is becoming something of an annual tradition, but (as I've said before) some things are worth sharing more than once. As an aid to reflection on the passion and death of Jesus Christ on the cross, here's the aria "Es ist vollbracht" ("It is finished" or "It is accomplished") from Johann Sebastian Bach's Johannes-Passion, BWV 245. This video comes from a 1985 performance by Concentus Musicus Wien and the Tölzer Knabenchor, directed by Nikolaus Harnoncourt; the soloists are Panito Iconomou (alto) and Christophe Coin (playing the viola da gamba, a Baroque instrument).

In the Johannes-Passion, this aria comes immediately after Jesus' final words on the cross - "Es ist vollbracht" in the German text - and right before the Evangelist announces Jesus' death. Given below in the original German and in an English translation from the Bach Cantatas Website, the words of the aria move from mournful lament to sure yet somber faith in Christ's final victory:

Es ist vollbracht!
O Trost vor die gekränkten Seelen!
Die Trauernacht
Läßt nun die letzte Stunde zählen.
Der Held aus Juda siegt mit Macht
Und schließt den Kampf.
Es ist vollbracht!


It is accomplished!
What comfort for all suffering souls!
The night of sorrow
now reaches its final hours.
The hero from Judah triumphs in his might
and brings the strife to an end.
It is accomplished!

Prayers for those who are celebrating the Paschal Triduum, and good wishes to all. AMDG.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

St. Ignatius, Pope Francis, and the Devil.

For the past week, I have been meaning to produce another post on the new pope. This is not that post, which will have to wait until the demands of the academic and liturgical calendars subside enough to give me time to synthesize my thoughts in a form that I'd be willing to share on the Internet. For now, I'd like to share what I believe is the best item that I have yet read on the influence of Ignatian spirituality upon Pope Francis.

A Cistercian monk of Heiligenkreuz Abbey, Father Edmund Waldstein blogs at Sancrucensis; his thoughts on Newman's Apologia as a spiritual Aeneid were featured in this space a number of years ago. In some reflections posted earlier today, Father Edmund notices something that I've also picked up on but perhaps took too much for granted to consider commenting upon, namely, the classically Jesuit structure of the Pope's 'three-point' homilies. More significantly, Father Edmund also discusses the impact of the Spiritual Exercises on the substance of Francis' preaching; noting that "[s]ome persons have been surprised by the Holy Father’s repeated mention of the devil in his sermons," Father Edmund suggests that such an emphasis "ought not to be surprising at all in one formed in the order of St Ignatius of Loyola." Why should this be so? Consider what Father Edmund says here:
Bishop Juan Antonio Martínez Camino, S.J., once said, in a retreat he gave in Heiligenkreuz, that one can summarize the famous Principle and Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises with the simple question Do I really believe in God? If I really believe in God, that He exists, and holds me in existence, that He has redeemed me by the blood of His Son, and wills to give me a share in His own infinite goodness – then it makes sense to be perfectly indifferent to all other things. As long as I hold on to my "own" I am a slave of sin. In John 8, after the Judeans protest at this teaching, our Lord tells them that they are children of the devil. There is, our Lord seems to be saying, no alternative, if one does not serve God then one does not serve oneself, but becomes a slave of the Father of Lies. He who wishes to preserve his life will lose it. To turn away from the living God is not to become free, but to become enslaved– to one’s own passions, to the objects of those passions, to the things of this world, and finally to the most powerful of those things "the ruler of this world" (John 12:31).

In the second week St Ignatius presents this alternative in the famous Meditation on the Two Standards. He has the exercitant imagine a huge war in which the devil on the one hand enslaves souls through pride, and our Lord on the other hand frees them through humility. This is the meditation that I thought of when I heard Pope Francis’s first sermon: "When one does not profess Jesus Christ, one professes the worldliness of the devil." To profess Christ is to humble oneself, give up one’s own will, and embrace the Cross as "the only glory." To profess "the worldliness of the devil" is to find one’s riches not in God, but in something else, to receive one’s glory not from the Cross but from men...
For more, click here. As I wrote at the start of this post, I may share more of my own reactions to this pontificate once I've been freed of other burdens. In the meantime, I hope that you will appreciate my endorsement of a Cistercian's thoughts on a Jesuit pope. Prayers for all in these days of Lent, Passiontide, and Holy Week. AMDG.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Sic transit gloria mundi.

Yesterday afternoon, as I watched and waited for a newly-elected pope to make his first public appearance, the following phrase became fixed in my mind: sic transit gloria mundi - "thus passes the glory of the world." For many centuries, this phrase was repeated at every papal coronation. As the new pope was carried through St. Peter's Basilica in the sedia gestatoria, the procession would pause three times; each time, the papal master of ceremonies would kneel before the Supreme Pontiff with a taper of burning flax in his hand and proclaim, Pater Sancte, sic transit gloria mundi! - "Holy Father, thus passes the glory of the world!" This phrase was traditionally taken as a reminder that all earthly honors are fleeting - a salutary admonition to any new pontiff in the centuries when secular and ecclesiastical authority were deeply intertwined. The words may have a different ring today, yet they are no less relevant - and no less terrifying - than they were in ages past.

Sic transit gloria mundi. These words could serve as a warning to all of us, for in different ways we all cling to earthly glory, even if we may not be accustomed to thinking in those terms. We all tend to claim some part of creation for ourselves, not merely in terms of physical space - my house, my room, my books, and so on - but also, and perhaps more profoundly, in terms of psychological space; we maintain this space by attending to our personal relationships, by guarding our reputation, and, often, by jealously maintaining our established routines. To put it another way, I think that for many of us "the glory of the world" consists in the sense of personal autonomy that we seek to protect as much as possible.

As I waited yesterday for the new pope to appear on the loggia, I wondered how the latest Successor of St. Peter would take the loss of personal freedom that comes with his office. A couple of days ago, the man who is now Pope Francis could have walked the streets of Rome alone and in complete anonymity; back in his native Argentina, he was accustomed to preparing his own meals and getting around by public transportation. As pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio will never be able to do any of these things again. For a man who appears to be very stubbornly independent, the loss of autonomy that comes with the papal office will surely be a very painful cross to bear.

It has been on my mind in the last twenty-four hours that one of the great burdens of the papacy is the total and irrecoverable self-offering that the office demands. The formula for first vows in the Society of Jesus likens the Jesuit's commitment of self to a wholly-burnt offering - a 'holocaust' in the traditional sense of the word. Having been called to the Chair of St. Peter, Jorge Mario Bergoglio has now been called upon to sacrifice himself in a more complete way than he ever could have imagined when he entered the Society of Jesus fifty-five years ago.

The photograph that illustrates this post shows Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio walking through St. Peter's Square in the days before the conclave that would elect him as pope. Though he surely could not have known it at the time, this image captures Cardinal Bergoglio on one of his last mornings as a free man - in a sense, one of his last mornings as himself. This image makes me tremble, for it makes me realize in a deeper way the gravity of the choice that I made when I professed vows in the Society of Jesus. This photograph offers me a new and fresh reminder that even those who have sought to give everything to God may be called upon to give even more than they ever expected. Sic transit gloria mundi.

La fumata bianca.

This is the first of an anticipated two posts on the election of the new Supreme Pontiff, the second of which will hopefully come later today. The appearance of the white smoke yesterday evening (here in Toronto, it was midafternoon) did not surprise me, despite all of the speculation I'd been hearing recently about the possibility of a longer conclave. For the last several days, I had felt a sort of intuitive certainty that the new pope would be chosen at the final scrutiny on Wednesday; that premonition led me to organize my day in such a way that I would be home in the afternoon and able to watch live as the white smoke billowed forth from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel.

When smoke failed to appear promptly at seven o' clock (or two o' clock, Toronto time), I felt even more certain that my intuition was correct. It suddenly dawned on me: of course the white smoke will be delayed. I'm not a chemist, but I'm sure that the mixture of chemicals needed to produce white smoke is different from what is needed to produce black smoke. It probably would not have taken much time to get the black smoke going again, since the people in charge of producing it had already done so four times in the preceding twenty-four hours; by contrast, it probably took a bit longer to produce white smoke given that it was being done for the first (and only) time during the conclave. Such were the thoughts that were going through my head as I waited, for about five minutes as it turned out, for the smoke to issue forth from the chimney - at first an ambiguous grey, but then very definitely white.

The hour that followed reminded me very much of my experience eight years ago. I again experienced the odd feeling of knowing that a new pope had been elected but not knowing who he was. As I had at the time of the election of Pope Benedict XVI, I also wondered what the man who had been elected was thinking and feeling in those heady minutes as he prepared to face the world for the first time as pontiff. Then all gave way to great surprise when I heard Cardinal Tauran pronounce the name Georgium Marium Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Cardinalem Bergoglio, a surprise that still hasn't worn off. AMDG.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Extra omnes.

Late this afternoon, Monsignor Guido Marini closed the doors to the Sistine Chapel and gave the 115 cardinal-electors the privacy and reflective quiet needed to begin the conclave that will choose the next pope. After weeks of intense media scrutiny, I'm sure that many of the electors were relieved to find themselves in a place where communication with the outside world has been rendered impossible both by the rules governing papal elections and by technology used to block wireless signals from entering the hallowed chapel.

After some very strange days, it somehow seems even stranger to think that we will likely have a new pope sometime in the next twenty-four to seventy-two hours. Though I do have a personal favorite among the various papabili, I humbly pray that the deliberations of the Sacred College will be guided by the Holy Spirit and that they will choose the very best man to lead the Catholic Church in these trying times. I hope that some who read these lines will join me in praying for this intention. AMDG.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Mais la vraie vie était sur la patinoire.

Yesterday's post was intended to point, even if indirectly, to a specific cardinal who is currently papabile. Canada's own Cardinal Marc Ouellet was not the cardinal I had in mind, but I must acknowledge that the possibility that le p'tit gars de La Motte could ascend to the Throne of St. Peter has sparked a great deal of discussion in the country where I live. One element of Cardinal Ouellet's vocation story has always reminded me of the conversion of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and I'm glad that reporter Andy Blatchford chose to highlight that detail in a story published yesterday on Ouellet the hockey player:
Canadians have long considered hockey sacred — and soon they might actually get a holy hockey site.

In a life-changing event, a Canadian cardinal now viewed as a contender for the papacy once broke his leg on an outdoor hockey rink in the northwestern Quebec village of Cadillac.

Marc Cardinal Ouellet was a talented 17-year-old forward when his skate blade got caught in a deep crevice during a game. While nursing his aching leg over the following weeks, Ouellet made up his mind to pursue the priesthood.

. . .

Roch Ouellet told The Canadian Press he was peering over the rink’s boards watching the game when his older brother went down.

"There was a crack in the ice, and his skate got caught in the crack and the force was too strong — he broke his leg," said Roch Ouellet, who was 11 or 12 years old at the time.

Marc Ouellet was taken to a woman who was known as the local bone-setter — or ramancheuse — despite her lack of formal medical training.

She set his leg in rudimentary fashion and braced it with homemade wooden splints.

"I lost my season," the cardinal recalled in a 2005 interview with The Canadian Press.

"I started to pray and to read a little more spiritual things because I was unable to play. It was decisive for my vocation."
To read the rest of Blatchford's story, click here. I doubt that the 17-year-old Marc Ouellet was "given to the vanities of the world" in quite the way that Ignatius was before his conversion, but the teenaged hockey player's convalescence nonetheless led him to an equally fateful change in direction. Sometimes, as Marc Ouellet learned a long time ago, God speaks through cracks in the ice. AMDG.