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Veritatis Splendor

"Keep your eyes fixed upon Jesus, who inspires and perfects our faith" --Hebrews 12:2

Pope Benedict XVI before our Lord

And only where God is seen does life truly begin. Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution.
Each of us is the result of a thought of God.
Each of us is willed,
each of us is loved,
each of us is necessary.
There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him.
~Pope Benedict XVI, Homily April 24th, 2005

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Slice of Heaven in Central Wisconsin

Merry Christmas everyone!

I dropped off the planet for a time as I traveled home to central WI for Christmas with my family. It was a wonderful time, but one of the highlights of my trip home was actually... not with my family.

I took an opportunity on Tuesday morning to make my own pilgrimage, to a church I'd been meaning to go to for awhile now up in Wausau, WI (about 42 miles from my sister's place), the restored church that is now an oratory in the care of the Institute of Christ the King, Soverign Priest.

The ICK is an order approved by the Holy Father that remains faithful to the Traditional Latin Rite, the "Pian" rite. I do not tend to frequent the indult Traditional community here in the Twin Cities, but I do respect and appreciate the beauty of the Traditional Latin Mass and enjoy the opportunity to assist at that Rite when I can. Here at St. Mary's, the TLM is offered daily, and I had heard about the Oratory off and on ever since it was consecrated by Bishop (now Archbishop) Burke in 2003. The opportunity of both going to a TLM Low Mass (the quietest and most prayerful Mass you can ever find, in my humble opinion) and finally seeing "what they've done with the place", without interfering with spending time with my family, was one I unhesitatingly jumped at - even though it required my getting up at 5:30 in the morning to get there!

Instead of posting all my photos directly to the blog, I'm now using the new Google Photo Web Albums - just click the image below to be taken to my album of shots from this beautiful Bavarian-inspired church!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Liturgical ritual... or lack thereof

Great address now online - Liturgy & Ritual, by James Hitchcock

Some fascinating excerpts:

Sacred ritual always presents itself as divinely ordained,15 but the speed with which liturgical changes were introduced, the confusing and often contradictory things said about them, the way in which they were decreed by committees and bureaucratic offices, the continuing debates, the replacement of sacred liturgical books by discardable leaflets, the wholesale destruction of so much that was venerable, and the endless tinkering all had the cumulative effect of making the liturgy seem an all-too-human activity, not a divine action in which humans were privileged to participate but something that they themselves created.

...For a while, in accordance with the traditional understanding of sacramental validity, liturgical changes, even of a fairly radical kind, were said not to affect the underlying truth of the Mass itself, so that virtually nothing a priest might do could affect the sacramental reality, so long as he correctly pronounced the words of institution. But it soon became obvious that it is not possible to separate liturgical issues from doctrine. The principle “Lex orandi est lex credendi” recognizes that changes in the mode of worship can affect belief, and it is obvious that Catholics no longer all share the same theology of the Eucharist. Contrary to the facile explanations sometimes offered, radical liturgical change is not, and cannot be, merely a matter of the same beliefs expressed in new ways. The aversion that some Catholics have toward traditional liturgy, and their embrace of increasingly experimental forms, arise precisely from religious doubt, from a desire to reduce religion merely to some kind of spiritual searching.

...Virtually from the beginning, the Catholic Church, like some other great religions, tolerated and even encouraged a folk piety alongside its official worship, a piety that sustained the faithful in their personal lives. While the Mass itself was celebrated quite formally, in accordance with the often-praised spirit of Roman restraint, personal and subjective piety was expressed through private devotions.

But by suppressing those devotions, and attempting, at least for a time, to make the Eucharist virtually the only legitimate form of Catholic piety, the innovators created an emotional hunger that they then inappropriately tried to satisfy through the liturgy itself. The supreme irony of the Liturgical Movement was that it struggled for decades to make Catholics appreciate the Eucharist as the center of their lives but, once it had achieved its stated goals, participation in the Eucharist fell off sharply in almost all communities, one of the principal causes being the war on popular piety waged in the name of the liturgy. Popular devotions had sustained many Catholics in their faith in a personal way, so that, as they were pruned away to allow the Eucharist to stand out in all its glory, regard for the Mass itself declined.

...Amidst the post-conciliar changes few mantras were intoned with as much reverence as “community”, the achievement of which was said to be the chief purpose of change and the absence of which one of the chief failures of the pre-conciliar Church. But a living tradition is a vital part of every authentic community, so that the abandonment of so much tradition undermined the very goal that reformers ostensibly sought to achieve. The more the ideal of community was extolled, the more elusive it remained, to the point where for some people the local parish itself could no longer function as a community and they gathered for worship only with people of like mind, their refusal to participate in the ordinary rituals of the Church, their desire to find specialized celebrations (in either “liberal” or “conservative” versions), becoming a continuing symbol of the fragmentation of community.

Wow. Basically, all of my thoughts, ponderings, and fruits of contemplation over the meaning of liturgy are neatly summed up in this keynote address by Mr. Hitchcock. I thank him profusely for setting down in such a readable format my own considerations regarding liturgy's role in Christian worship! :)

And Hitchcock even cites someone the progressives usually try to claim for themselves:

Secular personalism is a kind of craze for individuality, a rage for self-manifestation in which the highest value is the recognition of one’s own uniqueness…. On the contrary, Christian personalism does not require that the inmost secrets of our being be made manifest or public at all … what is manifested, proclaimed, celebrated and consummated in the liturgy is not my personality or yours but the personality of Christ the Lord…. We sing alike, we pray alike, we adopt the same attitudes. Yet oddly this “sameness” does not wound our individuality.
~Thomas Merton (Liturgy and Spiritual Personalism, "Worship", XXXIV, 9 (October 1960), 503-5)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Memed again!

Hey look, I got an early Christmas present - courtesy of the So Many Devotions blog.

Looks like (for once) I'm on the beginning end of a meme tag. Weird. Anyway, here you go, it's the

Catholic Devotions Meme!

1. Favorite devotion or prayer to Jesus? Adoration, natch. As for prayer to Jesus in particular, I like the Jesus Prayer a whole lot - "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

2. Favorite Marian devotion or prayer? Angelus. In Latin. Sung. Like the Pope does it (with the three Gloria Patri's at the end for the Trinity).

3. Do you wear a scapular or medal? Uh. Both! :) And my other medal that I wear (of St. Josemaria) has the image from the OD chapel in Rome on the back, Santa Maria della Pace (Our Lady of Peace).

4. Do you have holy water in your home? Yup. I used to have a little font by the door, but somewhere during my move to Italy for a year it seems to have vanished from my possession. So little bottles all over it is.

5. Do you 'offer up' your sufferings? Yes, well, I try to. If I remember. Somewhere back there I read this phrase in one of St. Josemaria's books - "Christ. Christ on the Cross!" Without really thinking about it at the time, it seems to have stuck in my head. So frequently whenever I'm going through something that phrase pops into my head and helps me to remember to offer things up. Must be my guardian angel. Or St. Josemaria.

6. Do you observe First Fridays and First Saturdays? No, not so much. I am continually surprised when I go to daily Mass on First Fridays - "why's there so many people today? Ohhhhhhhhh." And First Saturdays? Not even an "Ohhhhhhh." Too bad.

7. Do you go to Eucharistic Adoration? How frequently? Yes. Well, I'm committed to an hour a week at my local parish's perpetual chapel. I typically go to another weekly Holy Hour at another parish across town. And the rest of the week I pop in and out for varying amounts of time, but at least some time each day - I mean, come on, I have NO EXCUSE, I work at my local parish with the Perpetual Adoration chapel down the hall from my office!! It's a travesty that I don't utilize it MORE often! I've started trying to go in every day at noon to pray the Angelus (see #2), and that's been nice. But I can't sing in there - there's other people present trying to pray!

8. Are you a Saturday evening Mass person or Sunday morning Mass person? Uh, "C. - Sunday evening Mass person" :) Honestly, I prefer Mass on Sunday morning. But since I work at the local parish as a DRE, I typically have to be around there working in the mornings on Sunday. At the same time, I am still an active member (by choice - personal parish I guess) at the Cathedral way across town in St. Paul - which has a very nice 5pm Mass on Sunday. So I've worked it all out that way; I'm usually at the local parish for the morning Masses, though not personally attending them usually, and then after the youth group meets at noon I head off to St. Paul to my own parish's Mass and gather with my friends afterwards doing a Theology of the Body study group. How's that for more info than you needed to know? :)

9. Do you say prayers at mealtime? Absolutely. And it doesn't matter who I'm with either. It's nothing special though, just the old standby "Bless us O Lord..." with public Sign of the Cross (none of that quick "under the tablecloth" signage going on here!). Sometimes if I'm really feeling devotional I'll even pray the AFTER dinner prayer!

10. Favorite Saint(s)? Ooooo boy. Pretty much impossible for me... But I'll try. How about, in no particular order: St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Maria Goretti, St. Athanasius, St. Dominic, St. Josemaria Escriva, St. Tarcisius, Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, St. Faustina, St. Catherine of Siena, Bl. Fra Angelico, St. Stephen... and on and on and on.

11. Can you recite the Apostles Creed by heart? Yes, I can!! That's because for whatever reason I'm always the one asked to lead the Rosary. However, I can still be led astray by OTHERS goofing it up - but I'm not alone in that, as the 3000 kids and adults at this year's Children's Rosary Gathering will attest too after being led in the (oops) Nicene Creed with three attempts to switch us back before giving up! LOL!

12. Do you usually say short prayers (aspirations) during the course of the day? Yes. See #1 & #5 for starters. I also will sometimes spout off random Bible phrases, often from the Psalms or from the canticles from the Liturgy of the Hours (not that I pray that as often as I'd like either...).

13. Bonus Question: When you pass by a automobile accident or other serious mishap, do you say a quick prayer for the folks involved? Yes and no. Yes, if I actually SEE the accident I do. No, if I just see an ambulance or fire truck responding I don't usually think of it (this is likely because of my former life experience as an EMT... nothing brings out the cynic in you like realizing that 95% of the "emergency" calls you get are not at all as advertised).

Why is this a Bonus Question anyway? It's #13, does that have something to do with it? One more than the Apostles? One more than the tribes of Israel? The "unlucky" number? And just what do we win anyway, that makes it a "bonus" - what are the other questions worth? What's the prize? Did I get it?

Ok, I'll stop now. :) Guess it's time to tag some other people - let's see if we can get this meme out into the big leagues! I tag Amy, Zadok, Mark, and Jeff. Merry Christmas guys!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Another revert tells her tale!

While in Rome, I got to know quite a few wonderful people. One of which is Shannon Berry, she and her boyfriend moved to Rome when I did in fall of 2005 - BK goes to the Angelicum, where I was, while Shannon teaches English. I even roomed with Shannon for a time, towards the end of my year in Rome, when I was in need of somewhere to stay for a week (the fact that she, at the time, roomed with four other Italian 20-somethings made it all the more interesting...).

I've just discovered that Shannon has a very beautiful essay up on the latest "Dapple Things" online journal for young adults, in which she recounts in a simple, yet dramatic fashion, her reversion back to the Catholic faith and reception of Confirmation as an adult.

Shannon is a great person, a good friend, and I highly recommend you read her account - click here for it!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Abbey of Saint-Joseph de Clairval in Flavigny

Here's something for everyone - the Abbey of Saint-Joseph de Clairval in Flavigny (France) mails out a wonderful "spiritual letter" each month, to anyone anywhere in the world, for FREE. I've been getting it for a few years now, thanks to a tip from a good priest friend of mine, and have meant to mention it on the blog for awhile... I just got this month's in the mail today, and since I opened my mail while I was sitting at my computer desk, here I am blogging about it at last.

Each monthly mailing uses the life story of a saint or devout Catholic to begin a spiritual letter that speaks to all of us on the issues of our time and daily life. It is well written (they must have a very good English translator in the Abbey!) You can read a sample of what they send out each month here (from Christmas 2005).

Check it out, and put your name on the list today to get yours each month! (They don't advertise or do anything with the addresses on their list, other than send the monthly mailing - no worries, I've never gotten any additional mail, religious or otherwise, from being on their list.)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Flannery O'Connor's got nothing...

...on Mel. Yes, I just saw Apocalypto... Sensitive souls (and stomachs) need not apply. That being said, if you can stand it, it is, I think, well worth seeing. Once.

Believe it or not (and many may not...the same way many don't get Flannery O'Connor), at the heart of this movie is a very Catholic interpretation of what a Christ-less society (as opposed to one preparing for Him or following Him) is by its nature - both in its good aspects and in its bad, and the reality that mere civilization cannot save itself, because it is nothing itself but a gathering together of families, who are composed of persons, each of whom need someone else to save them. This movie is about the "hole" that we each have in our hearts that the world cannot fill - only salvation can. Grace.

The movie itself rests on the premise that it is the "family" that lies at the center of everything human - relationship is what we are made for, it is what drives us; and it is family that is at the heart of a society. A society that attacks the family will destroy itself on the altars of pagan gods, and all of them demand beating hearts, whether it is the sun god or the CEO job. Of course, the movie also manages to veil our view of this premise through much of the time by the use of said beating hearts... But then again, doesn't our culture do the same thing?

I'd go on pondering, but it's late *ahem*, and I don't want to give too much away! There are some amazing messages in this movie for our culture - but I doubt many people will get past the gore to really see them. I guess that's why we need priests to be good homilists!! :)

Let me think about this film some more... like when I'm awake. There's much more to be considered here.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Harry Flynn responds to anti-Catholic editorial in Strib

Wow. In an instant, our (very patient) Archbishop saw that the time for direct response had come - and acted. In today's Star Tribune, the Archibishop has an editorial in which he responds quite strongly to a prior, very anti-Catholic, editorial endorsed by the Strib: get the full text here. (Note how the Strib has chosen to title the editoral, and the byline... a bit sore methinks.)


"Understandably" the editorial states, "Catholics don't find 'The Pope and the Witch' funny at all." With that statement, we most certainly agree. We could hardly find a nightmarish parody of the papacy, a fundamental tenet of our faith that has 2,000 years of history, to be very funny. One doubts that a play viciously satirizing a revered or historic leader of the Jewish or Islamic faiths as a heroin-addicted, bumbling paranoid would characterized by those faith adherents as "funny."

Thank you for telling it like it is, Your Excellency!

Ray over at Stella Borealis has been the one-stop shop for this issue, which should be of interest not just to local Catholics, but to the broader Catholic community. After all - if they can pull this despicable play off here, chances are they can pull it off in your neck of the woods too, using your tax dollars!

Controversy of the Nativity Story

This horrified review of the Nativity Story has been making the rounds online and via e-mail. What follows are my own personal thoughts, which are not infallible... and that's a good thing! :)

I do disagree with this review, primarily because it is a very emotional reaction to privately perceived theological flaws - the reviewers, as I see it, are reading heresy into the movie where it may or may not exist, and they react to their perceptions so strongly and with such "certainty" that we should doubt immediately their authority to do so. Why? Because the movie was MEANT to be ambigious in the areas of controversy between Protestants and Catholics (so as to avoid the very things that this review "saw"). Additionally, like all movies the experience of them is not objective - it is a subjective interpretation, an interpretation by the filmmakers and also an interpretation by the viewers. This review is, in my mind, a clear case of reading too much between the lines. (Only one example - the reviewers claim that the shepherds were not worshipping. What? They may not have looked like a Holy Communion holy card, but simply because one is not down on one knee does not mean that one is not worshipping. I perceived it entirely differently, I saw that they were so in awe of the God in front of them that they could not move, their hearts were worshipping more profoundly than any bodily gesture could convey.)

From my experience of the movie, nothing shown is objectivly a contradiction of Catholic understanding of Mary, her Immaculate Conception, the Virgin Birth or any other dogma and/or doctrine. It does hint at times to seeing Mary as more "normal" than Catholics understand her to be (she is seemingly pouty at times, and frustrated at others - neither of which are inherently sinful, but still). There are some interesting choices of which Scripture to use (ie, the Magnificat) - but it avoids them, it doesn't contradict them. It does show Mary having labor pains, an issue that has been debated for ages in the Church - it has been taught in various ways by various popes, but never fully defined. It is noteworthy to point out that Mary's labor in this movie is decidedly less than Elizabeth's - which does indeed draw attention to Mary's difference, and also points back to Genesis where God said that pains of birth would be *multiplied*. To multiply something means that there must be something there to begin with - because 0 x 0 is 0. So there is reason to hold that Mary could have had labor pains, just to a much lessor degree than other women - we just don't know. We know that the Church teaches she was a virgin before, during and after birth. But, "virginity" has never been defined by the Church either. And since the whole birth of Christ was a miracle to begin with, there is certainly reason to think that Mary could have gave birth either naturally to Jesus or supernaturally without "injuring her maternal virginity." One other intriguing point to remember, Scripture tells us that Jesus man was like us in ALL things but sin - all things would therefore seem to include being born as humans are born... In any case, the point is that the movie does portray the birth of Christ in some ways differently than a traditional Catholic understanding would have it - but, we have to face the reality that the Magisterium has simply not yet told us the play-by-play of the Nativity and there is room for other portrayls insofar as they do not deny the fundamental dogma of Mary's Immaculate Conception and the Virgin Birth. What I find more troubling, honestly, is that they show Jesus born without an umbilical cord!! Movie convenience aside, it would seem that on the natural level in order for Jesus to take flesh from Mary, and born of her, He would have had an umbilical cord! If I were like the reviewers below, I could read into the lack of an umbilical cord to mean that the moviemakers saw Mary in the classic Protestant sense as being a mere "incubator" and not the full Mother of God. However, I won't.

The movie does show Mary being confused and uncertain, more so than the Catholic understands her to be. In Luke, we hear her proclaim the Magnificat and we believe that she did indeed KNOW. However, it is also true that she was uncertain, she did ask Gabriel how it could be, and she and Joseph, 12 years later, were confused at Jesus' decision to remain at the Temple to "be about His Father's business". The key here is that Mary, in Scripture and in the movie, is portrayed with FAITH. This faith never leaves her, there is nothing to suggest that she does not trust God at all times, even when she is unsure. The big problem I have with Mary in this film is that she is badly cast and acted. But that is the fault of the actress and director, not of the screenwriters.

By reading this review, you as a Catholic will also likely ruin your own viewing of the movie, and deprive yourself of a good Christmas experience - because when you look for heresy in the midst of ambiguity (which this film is, ambigious at points of controversy - think "Mere Christianity"), you will find it. The movie, on its own, does not encourage heretical thinking unless we come to it with presuppositions that are heretical. Protestants, coming at it with their own ideas of Mary and Jesus, will see their view. Catholics who see it, will see it from the Catholic view - unless they are looking for something otherwise. I would also caution against accepting without question the interpretations that the review authors make regarding Church teaching - the quotations that the authors use are taken out of context of the original documents, and out of context of the still ongoing and authentic theological understanding of these aspects of the Faith. Just as it is dangerous to interpret Scripture personally (as the Protestants believe) it can also be dangerous to assume that we as individulas can interpret the papal and Magisterial writings on difficult theological concepts. God may be absolutely Simple, but we are not, and our understanding of things is necessarily not simple but complex because we are complex creatures. It's not as simple as quoting Pius and then saying "see - this contradicts that scene."

I do think that Catholics need to consider their own idea (and ideal) of Mary before going. I think the problem for this couple is that they have such a specific ideal for Our Lady that I do not think any depiction of her on the big screen would have sufficed. All possible screen Marys are too much like us, sinful and sorrowful. We have to realize that Our Lady is the only Mary, and she is not who is in the movies, only mere shadows of her are. If you, as a Catholic, are so much in love and in tune with Our Lady that you cannot tolerate seeing a "Mary" that is not the equal of our belief, that is not the match of the Madonna of the Pieta - then don't see the movie. This Mary is a real girl of our day trying to act as Our Lady might have been, and as such, she is NOT Mary. But I think if you go to it with an open mind and heart, you WILL see Mary here, and you will be drawn closer to our Lord's Nativity. I know many scenes from this movie are now a part of my daily Rosary meditation. The Visitation scene itself is simply amazing for prayerful reflection - I'm going to see the movie again just to see that part.

There is much about this movie to commend it, there is also a lot of technical and story writing flaws that prevent it from being a "great movie". There are many areas of theological ambiguity, and scenes that astute Catholics may not like. It could have been a great family movie, but because of the violent scenes of the Massacre of the Innocents and the very realistic birthing scenes, it is not suitable for very young children - too bad. There are many ways it could have been better, but there are at least as many ways that it could have been dramatically worse! Personally, I see it as a harmless, and perhaps helpful, presentation of the Biblical account of the Nativity, ala C.S. Lewis' "Mere Christianity" (done at the most basic common level of belief). The greatest thing about this movie, as I see it, is that it DOES portray Mary (and Joseph!) so admirably and spiritually - something that I don't think many of us expect from our Protestant brethern. First the Passion and now the Nativity - slowly but surely the way is being prepared for many Protestants to see the beauty of the Catholic understanding and honor for Mary and the saints. And that, surely, is a very good thing.

More discussion about this movie and this topic can be found at Amy's and
at WDTPRS here and here.

Fra Angelico's Annunciation