Monday, April 17, 2017

The Ratzinger Revolution.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI turned ninety on Easter Sunday, marking his birthday today with a quiet celebration in Rome. Pope Benedict has had a profound impact on my life as a Catholic, as a Jesuit, and as a priest, and I proudly identify as a member of the Benedict Generation even though I came of age and entered the Jesuits before he became pope. Pope Benedict's decision to vacate the Chair of St. Peter was a spiritual trauma from which I have not yet fully recovered, and the efforts that some have undertaken to dismiss or to undermine his legacy have often rubbed salt in the wound.

Given the pain that the abdication of Pope Benedict XVI still provokes, I took some comfort from an article by Tracey Rowland published on Good Friday in the Catholic Herald. Looking at "the brave new world of 21st-century Catholicism," Rowland argues that Ratzinger's theological output "will form a treasury to be mined by future generations trying to piece together elements of a fragmented Christian culture." According to Rowland, Ratzinger's work could serve as a precious resource for young people trying to get their bearings in societies increasingly divorced from their roots:
Today we cannot even presume the existence of the baptismal certificate. Members of the millennial generation find themselves in a situation where they have rarely experienced a fully functional Christian social milieu. To find out about Christianity, especially the Catholic version of it, they watch documentaries and films. They interrogate older Catholics, and google information about the saints, liturgies and cultural practices.

The cultural capital that should follow as a natural endowment upon their baptism has been frittered away, buried and in some cases even suppressed by previous generations. They are like archaeologists. They discover fragments of the faith which they find attractive and then they try to work out where the fragment once fitted into a Catholic mental universe.

When a new generation arises in full rebellion from the social experiments of the contemporary era, craving a human ecology that respects both God and nature, and wanting to be something more than rootless cosmopolitans, Ratzinger’s publications will serve as Harry Potter-style Portkeys, giving creative young rebels access to the missing cultural capital – indeed, access to what Ratzinger calls the memoria Ecclesiae.
Having encountered Ratzinger and some of his interlocutors, from John Henry Newman to Henri de Lubac, Rowland hopes that "a generation tired of the banality of cheap intimacy and nominalism gone mad may rediscover the buried capital of a civilisation built on the belief that the Incarnation really did happen. They may also gradually learn to distinguish a secularised Christianity that hooked itself up to whatever zeitgeist wafted along from the real mysteries celebrated in something called the old Christian calendar." I hope and pray that she is right, and that future generations who did not know the pontificate of Benedict XVI at first hand might come to know and appreciate Joseph Ratzinger through his writings. AMDG.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Christos Voskrese!

Observing another old tradition of this blog, I would like to mark the Feast of the Resurrection 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, April 14, 2017

Es ist vollbracht.

In the latest iteration of the Good Friday tradition of this blog, here is the aria "Es ist vollbracht" ("It is accomplished") from J. S. 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 (RIP); 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.

"What she has done will be told in remembrance of her."

Once again, it is Holy Week. As often happens at this point in the liturgical year, I feel acutely aware of the challenge of finding a contemplative space at a very busy time; this time is busy on account of academic projects that tend to pile up at this point in the calendar, but it's additionally busy for me as a priest called upon to lead services and to hear confessions during the days of Holy Week and the Paschal Triduum. As I observed five years ago, it can be tempting for people in ministry to view the Triduum as "another damn thing," a pile of practical tasks and responsibilities added to an already busy schedule. What I wrote then remains true today: for one who works through the Triduum, praying through the Triduum can seem an elusive goal.

As part of my effort to prepare spiritually for the Triduum, I spent some time earlier this week praying with the various Gospel accounts of the Passion. As I did this, I was newly struck by a detail that the Evangelists Mark and Matthew both record in their accounts of the anointing of Jesus at Bethany (Mk 14:3-9, Mt 26:6-13). After an unnamed woman anoints Jesus with precious spikenard, provoking the ire of some observers who see her gesture as wastefully extravagant, Jesus defends the "beautiful thing" done by the woman and makes this statement: "Truly I tell you, wherever the Gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her" (Mt 26:13, cf. Mk 14:9).

The anointing of Christ is recounted in all four of the Gospels, but the details of the event differ somewhat in each Evangelist's telling. Luke sets himself apart from the other three by setting the event not at Bethany but in "a Pharisee's house" (Lk 7:36) and by describing the woman as a notorious public sinner (Lk 7:37, 47). John is unique in identifying the woman as Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (Jn 12:3), and tradition has often presented her as Mary Magdalene. Absent from Luke and John but found in Matthew and Mark is the insistence of Jesus that "what she has done will be told in remembrance of her."

What is it about the actions of this woman that should be remembered "wherever the Gospel is proclaimed in the whole world"? Part of the answer lies in the sheer lavishness of her devotion; some accounts note that a few witnesses were scandalized at the apparent waste of costly perfume, suggesting that it should have been sold to benefit the poor (Mt 26:9; Mk 14:5; Jn 12:5). One hears an echo of such attitudes today in the voices of some who wrongly argue that concern for beauty in church architecture and sacred liturgy is an affront to the poor. On the contrary, those who are materially poor often have a heightened appreciation for the beauty of the sacred. In this regard, I sometimes think of the Latin inscription chiseled above the entrance of a splendid old church in the city where I was born: Aedificarunt Domino opifices Sancti Antonii, which can be translated, "The workers of Saint Anthony [parish] built [this church] for the Lord." In much the same way that a humble woman felt moved to anoint Jesus with costly perfume, the desire to do something beautiful for God moved a community of poor French Canadian immigrants in a small city in New England to construct a magnificent temple.

In his enyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, St. John Paul II described how the anointing at Bethany can be seen to represent the care which Christians should have for the sacred liturgy. "Like the woman who anointed Jesus in Bethany," he wrote, "the Church has feared no 'extravagance,' devoting the best of her resources to expressing her wonder and adoration before the unsurpassable gift of the Eucharist. No less than the first disciples charged with preparing the 'large upper room,' she has felt the need, down the centuries and in her encounters with different cultures, to celebrate the Eucharist in a setting worthy of so great a mystery." Given this, we can better see "how the faith of the Church in the mystery of the Eucharist has found historical expression not only in the demand for an interior disposition of devotion, but also in outward forms meant to evoke and emphasize the grandeur of the event being celebrated." Whether we associate her with St. Mary Magdalene, with St. Mary of Bethany, or with another person whose name we cannot know, the woman who anointed Jesus at Bethany may be remembered as a patron for all who have exercised special care for the form of divine worship.

In praising the actions of the woman who anointed him, Jesus also presents her as an example to be imitated. Noting the extravagant care that she lavished upon the person of Jesus, we are invited to reflect upon our own care for Christ as he comes to us in the Eucharist and in the liturgical services of the Church. Do we receive him with affection and with reverence, unafraid to show our devotion in ways that others may fail to appreciate? May those of us who take part in the services of the Paschal Triduum find in these sacred rites an opportunity to grow in the love that moved the woman of Bethany to an act of profound adoration. In a special way, may those of us for whom this is a very busy time - particularly the clergy - increase our devotion to the One who has called us to service. AMDG.

The image of the Anointing at Bethany at the start of this post was found here.