26 June 2012
Posted by catholicsensibility under Music
, Scripture 1 Comment
Are you familiar with the compositions of Tobias Picker? Have a listen to his tone poem, ”Old and Lost Rivers” and tell me what you think. Opera seems to be his real gift–have any readers experienced his works in that genre?
Getting back to the musical link above, this piece has struck me as akin to the slow movements in Aaron Copland’s ballet suites, but perhaps with a bit more staying power. Copland never seemed to dwell on the open prairie too long or spend too much time at the Corral Nocturne. It’s likely just my taste, but I don’t mind spending considerable time taking things slowly.
I was talking with my wife last night about the cardinal virtues. We were sharing our struggles with the quality of hope. Faith and love, it seems to me, are much easier to practice. Or as they say in AA, to fake it until we make it.
Hope is something I find in “Old and Lost Rivers.” There’s that open harmony suggestive of the longing within the human spirit, the awareness that there’s something beyond us, something better, something we can wait for. Instead of grasping for the immediate moment and the crass pleasures, I think, why not put it off? Why not linger on the sometimes delicious self-denial? Psalm 31:22-24:
I had said in my alarm,
“I am driven far from your sight.”
But you heard my supplications
when I cried out to you for help.
Love the Lord, all you his saints.
The Lord preserves the faithful,
but abundantly repays the one who acts haughtily.
Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
all you who wait for the Lord.
All you who wait …
26 June 2012
The US Bishops continue their Fortnight for Freedom. We continue here with worthy women.
Anne-Thérèse Guérin was only thirteen years younger than yesterday’s featured worthy woman, but also French. After caring for her widowed mother and younger siblings, she entered religious life in her mid-twenties. Sister St Théodore was an award-winning teacher who also visited the poor and the ill. A new call presented itself to her when the first bishop of Vincennes (in Indiana) sent a recruiter to his homeland.
Impressed with the abilities of Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton and her Sisters of Charity in his early years of ministry in Maryland, Bishop Bruté was enthusiastic for the possibilities of committed women religious in pioneer America. The Sisters of Providence were approached, and their superior general suggested Sister St Théodore lead a small band of women religious to Indiana. After some initial reluctance, she reflected later that a line from her congregation’s rule inspired her to respond to the call: “The Congregation being obliged to work with zeal for the sanctification of souls, the sisters will be disposed to go to whatsoever part of the world obedience calls them.” And that part was in the forests of the American Midwest.
Bishop Bruté died before the women arrived in the States. The replacement bishop seemed to have a different approach from the collaborative nature of his predecessor. Bishop de la Hailandière got along well with Mother Guérin at first. She praised his “compassionate” heart. When she returned from a fundraising voyage to France, however, she found that her new bishop had, in her absence, admitted novices to the community, opened and closed schools, and called for a community election to replace her. Further, he accused her of stolen money.
The sisters of St Mary of the Woods, however, unanimously reelected their leader.
Mother Guérin was conciliatory, and offered to resign outright. From a letter to the bishop:
My conscience is my witness that I have done all that I could to avoid this misfortune, for I love Indiana with my whole soul. To do good there, to see our Congregation solidly established there before I die, was my whole ambition; the good god her permitted that you did not wish it; may his will be done.
It was not enough for the bishop. In a subsequent meeting, he locked her in his house, until she consented to his rewriting the rules of the sisters. When her sisters came in search of her, he declared Mother Guérin released from her vows, and exiled her from Vincennes. When the community made plans to follow their superior to another diocese, Bishop de la Hailandière threatened to excommunicate all of them.
Before the conflict escalated further, a rather curious thing happened. A pro forma letter of resignation to the new pope, Pius IX, was accepted, and Bishop de la Hailandière (though the same age as Mother Guérin) found himself heading back to France for retirement. Upheaval between the Sisters of Providence of St Mary of the Woods and their diocese vanished, and Mother Guérin’s community thrived in the state of Indiana. This worthy woman was declared a saint in 2006.
More histories are written about saints than their persecutors. Even so, Bishop de la Hailandière comes across as somewhat unbalanced. The insistence of a bishop to rewrite the rules of a Catholic women’s community remains with us, if the reasons and motivations behind it are somewhat cloaked and not quite so clumsy.
Mother Guérin’s legacy is more than being the target of a bishop’s power struggle. Though we can appreciate her tart assessment of the hierarchy: “I have the greatest aversion to this kind of administration. It seems to me it would keep our sisters in a species of slavery.” We can also appreciate the 5200 daughters who have called St Mary of the Woods their motherhouse. And the works by which they have served the Church and their Indiana neighbors. Worthy women, all.
26 June 2012
Mass is not limited to the setting of the Church, but for the regular celebration of the Eucharist, a permanent altar is traditional:
4. The Church’s children have the power to celebrate the memorial of Christ and take their place at the Lord’s table anywhere that circumstances might require. But it is in keeping with the eucharistic mystery that the Christian people erect a permanent altar for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper and they have done so from the earliest times.
The Christian altar is by its very nature properly the table of sacrifice and of the paschal banquet. It is:
- a unique altar on which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated in mystery throughout the ages until Christ comes;
- a table at which the Church’s children gather to give thanks to God and receive the body and blood of Christ.
In every church, then, the altar ‘is the center of the thanksgiving that the eucharist accomplishes’ (GIRM 259) and around which the Church’s other rites are, in a certain manner, arrayed. (Mediator Dei)
At the altar the memorial of the Lord is celebrated and his body and blood given to the people. Therefore the Church’s writers have seen in the altar a sign of Christ himself. This is the basis for the saying: ‘The altar is Christ.’
Both meal and sacrifice: this is also the Church’s long, traditional teaching. The rite is careful to emphasize the association of Christ himself with the altar, but note it is not the same as it is for the Eucharistic elements. Nevertheless, being a “sign” of Christ is very important, apart from our observation of and reverence for the Real Presence. Comments?
25 June 2012
Posted by catholicsensibility under Church News
, Ministry 1 Comment
I notice over at the NCReg that Pope Benedict met with departments heads and cardinal over the recent leaks. Spokesperson Federico Lombardi mentioned that the Holy Father wishes “to “speed up” the conclusion of the “Vatileaks” scandal and to “restore serenity and trust” in the Curia.
At the risk of overdoing the snark, good luck on both.
I think there are two ways to end a scandal. One is absolute truth-telling. I suspect Pope Benedict himself isn’t completely in the know regarding what passes for the truth in the Curia these days. Maybe this meeting was a tongue-lashing for them to get their house in order. If so, we won’t ever hear about it. Unless the leaker is one of the dicastery heads or one of the cardinals mentioned. NCReg blogger Edward Pentin name-dropped for us:
Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, Vicar General Emeritus for the Diocese of Rome, and Slovak Cardinal Jozef Tomko, former prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of the Peoples who also co-heads the commission of investigation.
That other way to end scandal? Someone goes to prison. Someone responsible, and I don’t think it’s the butler. And usually when something goes to trial, it’s not a speedy end. Nor is it an economical one.
Alessandro Speciale at the RNS sums up a good bit of the leaky situation here. What do we really know? Two big things, really:
(T)he allegation of widespread “corruption” by the Vatican City State’s No. 2 official, who is now the pope’s ambassador to the United States; and details of a behind-the-scenes wrangling over new Vatican financial transparency norms, part of an effort to align the Holy See to international standards.
Mr Tedeschi, ousted head of the Vatican Bank, seemed to have been on the right track toward transparency and goodness. And yet …
(H)e was at odds with (Cardinal) Bertone over norms that should ensure that the Vatican is accepted into a European list of financially transparent countries. A leaked memo by one of the bank’s board members — American Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus — contains a veiled accusation against Gotti Tedeschi as a possible source of the leaks.
I don’t like this kind of public stuff. Don’t like the secular echo from Wall Street, that, if true, the regular Joe gets arrested and the banker goes free. That rankled in 2008-09 and it still bothers today.
Pope Benedict strikes me as the sort of guy who does well sitting at his desk and reviewing notes of meetings. I hope he’s less influenced by second-hand testimony of others. Though from his days at the CDF, I tend to doubt it. I think a pronouncement will come, well-worded and scholarly, and then the people directly involved will comply or not, as they see they can get away with something.
It does make you wonder what sort of leader will be selected as the next Bishop of Rome. When all the ecclesiastical muckety-mucks descend on Rome for Friday’s feast, I’d sure like to be a fly on the wall around the discussions on who the next pope should be. Has Vatileaks altered the thinking of the College of Cardinals in any way, do you think?
Meanwhile, from 20th century 12-step spirituality:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
Amen to that.
I had a dream last night I was browsing in the library through the Aurelio Zen books authored by the British mystery writer Michael Dibdin. Maybe I can absorb something of Italian-style politics through those. What do you think of that?
25 June 2012
Worthy women are everywhere to be found. But as I research them, it seems as if France has a great share. Continuing a parallel observance to the Fortnight for Freedom, let’s look at a bit of the persecutions endured by the founder of the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny.
The French Revolution provided a background of persecution in the young life of Anne-Marie Javouhey, known as Nanette to family and friends. It did not deter her from teaching neighborhood children in her youth. When convents were eventually restored, Nanette joined the Sisters of Charity. Before final vows, she experienced a vision of children of different races and cultures. “These are the children God gives you,” she was told.
Other women were attracted to Nanette’s vision and apostolate. Her new congregation, based in an abandoned monastery in Cluny, opened schools for the poor. And not just in France, but across the world from the Caribbean to French possessions near Madagascar.
French Guiana became a testing ground for Mother Javouhey. Up to the time of her efforts there, praise for her and her fledgling community was universal. Her efforts with children in a French colony were on matter. Wholly another were her congregation’s efforts with freed slaves. White farmers seethed over the success of her efforts to help Blacks build a fruitful community. They complained to the bishop, who also steamed over the sisters’ independence. So he excommunicated her.
Mother Javouhey did not fare much better in her homeland. Bishop Bénigne-Urbain-Jean-Marie du Trousset d’Héricourt, of the see of Autun, insisted on his right to depose her and become the order’s superior general, thus being able to control finances, rules, mission efforts, and travel of members of the congregation. Unsuccessful, Bishop d’Héricourt attempted to dissolve the order.
The Archbishop of Paris offered a respite, inviting the sisters to relocate to his diocese, and offering his full support.
Years later, Mother Javouhey had these words for her adversary:
We ought to think of (him) as one of our benefactors. God made use of him to try us when as a rule we were hearing around us nothing but praise. That was necessary, for since our congregation was succeeding so well we might have thought we were something if we hadn’t had these pains and contradictions.
Opposition to goodness, even if a saint herself counts it as an opportunity for holiness, remains a grave sin. These worthy women show us that the path of saintliness lies in a believer being able to labor mightily on behalf of others, especially in relieving their sufferings and injustices. And yet, we cannot stand idly by and watch persecutors have their way with the oppressed.
25 June 2012
Sacrifice or meal: what’s Church teaching?
3. By instituting in the form of a sacrificial meal the memorial of the sacrifice he was about to offer the Father on the altar of the cross, Christ made holy the table where the community would come to celebrate their Passover. Therefore the altar is the table for a sacrifice and for a banquet. At this table the priest, representing Christ the Lord, accomplishes what the Lord himself did and what he handed on to his disciples to do in his memory. The Apostle clearly intimates this: ‘The blessing cup that we bless is a communion with the blood of Christ and the bread that we break is a communion with the body of Christ. The fact that there is only one loaf means that though there are many of us, we form a single Body because we an have a share in this one loaf.’(cf. See 1 Cor 10:16-17)
In a way, the usual practice of multiple individual hosts might reinforce the notion of a common meal a bit more than the symbolism of a single Body, or a sacrifice. I’ve often thought the way the priest prepares the gifts says a lot. Is it a place setting in front of him, or a sacrifice at the center of the altar?
24 June 2012
Continuing our alternative to the USCCB Fortnight for Freedom, I’d like to offer a story outline of Mother St Andrew Feltin, a 19th century missioner in the American West. Professor Anne M. Butler profiled her courage in the NYT last month.
One recurring theme in the petty persecution of religious women is that they spend inadequate amounts of time in the cloister. When it suited them, 19th century American bishops had no such qualms. They recruited and sent women religious into the mission territories of the West. These women attracted postulants and they seeded the West with small Catholic schools.
Louise Feltin was born in Alsace in 1830. At nineteen, she became a postulant for the Sisters of Divine Providence, and realized her apostolate as a teacher in Lorraine for many years afterward.
Countryman Claude Marie Dubuis was inspired with the missionary appeal of Texas. The priest recruited heavily from his native France. Nicholas Feltin was one of his protégés. Father Feltin in turn, inspired his sister, who arrived in Texas with one companion. Within several years, she attracted women to join her, and together, they founded schools across the state.
By the mid-1880′s, a new bishop sat in the cathedra in San Antonio. John Néraz was inclined to listen to the complaints of his clergy who insisted he remove Mother Feltin. Bishop Néraz had already met with resistance when he insisted the Texas Sisters of Providence cut ties with the motherhouse in Lorraine. The bishop went into action, removing Mother Feltin as superior, warning her sisters he could disband their community. It wasn’t enough to be rid of Mother Feltin; he excommunicated her. He blackballed her attempts to join other congregations. Even California was too near to suffer Sister Feltin. Louise had no options remaining in religious life. For several years, she cared for a widowed brother’s children, setting aside religious habit and living in the world.
In 1900, Mother Feltin’s earthly story came to a happy end. Professor Butler’s observations:
Six years after Bishop Néraz died, Mother St. Andrew petitioned her congregation for readmission. Donning her habit, she renewed her vows amid a warm welcome from sisters who understood too well what she had suffered.
Then as now, not all priests and bishops treated sisters badly, though the priests who reached out to nuns in a spirit of appreciation, friendship and equality could not alter the church’s institutional commitment to gender discrimination. And, as now, some bishops, dismissive of the laity, underestimated the loyalty secular Catholics felt for their nuns.
In the case of Mother St. Andrew, tenacity and spirituality triumphed over arrogance and misogyny. The Vatican would do well to bear this history in mind as it thinks through the consequences of its unjust attack on American sisters.
Religious freedom is indeed an important issue. We Catholics would do well to attend to it, guard it, and stand up for others who find themselves oppressed and persecuted for the faith. To be an honest endeavor, it must be less a selfish desire to live according to our own standards while ignoring others. We Catholics and our bishops can keep in mind the story of worthy women such as Louise Feltin. At her funeral, it was noted that she endured “hardships, trials, and humiliations . . . known to Him alone for whose sake they were borne so generously.” We can only be as generous in the needs for liberty expressed by our sisters and brothers in need.
24 June 2012
Modern prelates complain about too much regard for the laity, but their argument is with the Church fathers:
Since Christ, Head and Teacher, is the true altar, his members and disciples are also spiritual altars on which the sacrifice of a holy life is offered to God. The Fathers seem to have this in mind. St. Ignatius of Antioch asks the Romans quite plainly: ‘Grant me only this favour: let my blood be spilled in sacrifice to God, while there is still an altar ready.’(Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Romanos 2:2: Funk PA 1:255) St. Polycarp exhorts widows to lead a life of holiness, for ‘they are God’s altar.’(Polycarp, Ad Philippenses 4:3: Funk PA 1:301) Among others, St. Gregory the Great echoes these words when he says: ‘What is God’s altar if not the souls of those who lead good lives?… Rightly, then, the heart of the just is said to be the altar of God.’(Gregory the Great, Homiliarum in Ezechielem 10, 19: PL 76, 1069)
In another image frequently used by the writers of the Church, Christians who give themselves to prayer, offer petitions to God, and present sacrifices of supplication, are the living stones out of which the Lord Jesus builds the Church’s altar.(cf. Origen, In librum Iesu Nave, Homilia 9, 1: SC 71, 244 and 246)
23 June 2012
Posted by catholicsensibility under Church News
, sex abuse Leave a Comment
Ralph Cipriano reports on his blog of the legal resolution in Philadelphia. One convicted enabler goes to jail. One accused abuser is free.
Msgr William Lynn couldn’t hide:
The monsignor had his back to courtroom spectators, but everybody could see the back of his neck and his ears turning bright red.
Moments later, family members wept silently as the monsignor was led away by sheriff’s deputies. “Oh God,” one young woman sobbed. His shame was now complete. Lynn would spend the night as the newest inmate at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, known as CFCF, at 7901 State Road in Northeast Philadelphia.
I feel for the man. I know what it is like to have one’s capillaries tell the world what one’s words don’t or won’t say.
Msgr Lynn and his defense team said that the archbishop was calling the shots. And the chancery bureaucrat was just following orders. The jury found the man not guilty of conspiracy, but did find him culpable for returning a predator to parish ministry–where the perpetrator abused again.
Obedience is overblown as a virtue. Perhaps that’s easy for me, as a dissenter, to say. I think obedience is part of a package deal for the believer. It’s not just about our response to authority. It’s not about making life easier on our supervisors, bosses, pastors, bishops, and popes. It’s not about toughening our egos and setting aside narcissism. I’m convinced that obedience is better placed in the context of a greater responsibility to our community.
As a parent I have difficult, distasteful, and anti-ego responsibilities to my daughter. I do things not because she commands, but because they are needful. I muster an obedient response to the duties I have as a father. Other people, too, for the relationships I have: my wife, my pastor, my parishioners, my extended family, my friends, my neighborhood, and so forth. And I bring an appropriate attitude with each of these. I pay taxes obediently because I respect the government I have elected to do their duty to me and to my sister and brother citizens. I am free to complain, protest, and lobby for change. That doesn’t make me less obedient, only more responsible.
Suppose my daughter is having a difficult day, and I take over her chores to make sure the pets get fed. I perform that duty with as much joy as I can muster. But when the test is complete, things are restored. Or if she has sassed me during this time, we will address the matter when it is likely to be effective.
This is what servant leadership is about. This is what John 13 is about. This is why saints got down on their knees and served. This is why people who sat on thrones and sycophants surrounding them are not invoked at baptism.
Getting back to Msgr Lynn, he was disobedient in keeping counsel to himself on the predator priest in question. He may well have been smoothing over his relationship with his bishop. But he was being disobedient as a citizen, disobedient as a priest, disobedient to Christ, and disobedient to the hundreds of thousands of lay people in his diocese. He took the easy way out. He said little. He did not protest. Today he is on the receiving end of a brutal punishment. Either he is a liar, or his bishops should be serving prison time in his stead for their criminal, sinful, and antigospel policies. Either way, this is a very sad day for the Church and for the presbyterate. It should be a gravely sad day for bishops, but I don’t think they quite get it yet.
People in Msgr Lynn’s situation who stand up to authority as obedient Christians, have an opportunity for sainthood. Who ever remembers the wicked on the lists of the Church’s martyrology?
Much earlier in our marriage, when the young miss was much younger, I was confronted with a situation of unfairness and injustice. My wife could have counseled me to keep quiet and not stirred the pot. But she did not. She knew the cost of standing up to authority, and I knew I could not live with myself for allowing a friend to be bullied in a situation that had gotten out of hand. It made for a very rough time with the pastor for the next few months, but it was the right thing to do. Even if it might have possibly cost me my employment.
When I go home at night, my daughter is not aware of the decisions I make daily to live as a Christian adult. But I know that even if the capillaries are not broadcasting heat in my skin, I have an obedient responsibility to my family as a Christian man above my responsibility as a provider. I would rather be pushing a grocery cart through the streets, homeless, than to live in a prison of my own making for not standing up to injustice. Those words might be brave enough, as I’ve not had to deal with a job-or-else situation in many, many years.
And what has been accomplished by keeping quiet in Philadelphia? Whole diocesan ministries dismantled from the top. 117 years of print publishing comes to an end. Dozens of jobs lost by people who likely understood what mandatory reporting looks like. There’s a certain brutality in that, don’t you think? Eleven million for legal defense–imagine if penitents brought that sort of money before the Lord, instead of just uttering a three-fold mea culpa.
23 June 2012
Posted by catholicsensibility under Lectio Divina
, Liturgy 1 Comment
The working document for October’s synod on the New Evangelization is up at the Vatican’s web site. The practice for recent gatherings of the world’s bishops has been to publish the Instrumentum Laboris, or working document, in advance, presumably to facilitate input from bishops and others.
Thanks to the modern function ctrl-F, I can locate multiple mentions of the letters “liturg” and see what the initial thoughts among the bishops might be. In 169 numbered sections, the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops mentions worship often, and it might be good to take a peek at how it sees Catholic worship contributing to the cause of the New Evangelization.
As I excerpt sections, I’ll mention that all numerical references are to section number, not page number.
Chapter II addresses a basic question to the bishops and all the Church: Is it “time for a New Evangelization”? (cf. nos. 41ff) What are the “sectors” into which the tasks can be assigned?
Addressing the religious “sector” of the present situation, many bishops reflected on the “silent apostasy,” Christian believers drifting away from the practice of the faith. Liturgy is singled out as one of several possible contributors:
Some responses complained of the excessively formal character of liturgical celebrations, an almost routine celebration of rituals and the lack of a deep spiritual experience, which turn people away instead of attracting them. (69)
This is a twofold problem, I’d say. An excess of formality I would interpret as distancing the worship experience from the people, a disruption of their participation. Previous generations coped by bringing their devotional life to the Mass. The modern Roman Rite is geared to participation. I don’t think it functions with any sort of quality unless the faith community is engaged by the Scriptures and the other opportunities for encountering Christ. A casual approach by the ministers will also fail to communicate the depth of spiritual experience of which the Roman Rite is capable.
The bishops are spot on with this assessment. People have no lack of spiritual experiences these days, and they range from sexual expression to encounters with nature to the culture of sport and the fine arts, or even twelve-step groups and the experience of psychological therapy. And that doesn’t begin to acknowledge what other religions have to offer in terms of a relationship with God. Some Catholics are loathe to admit that real experiences of God are readily found outside of the Church and its liturgy. This is why people drift away. Not because they are unwilling to engage the demands of God, but simply because the liturgy fails to communicate Christ. Parishes must become places for “propagating and bearing witness to the Christian experience and places for attentively listening to people and ascertaining their needs.” (81)
In Chapter III, Transmitting the Faith, the synod preparers take a fair look at liturgy and the sacraments. Take a look at sections 97-99, “The Church transmits the faith which she herself lives.” Leading off this subheading, the preparers channel Pope Benedict and Vatican II:
The best place to transmit the faith is a community nourished and transformed by the liturgical life and prayer. An intrinsic relationship exists between faith and the liturgy: “lex orandi, lex credendi. “Without the liturgy and the sacraments, the profession of faith would lack efficacy, because it would lack the grace which supports Christian witness.” (Porta Fidei 11) “The liturgy, ‘through which the work of our redemption is accomplished,’ most of all in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, is the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others, the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church.” (SC 2, 6)
Sections 97 and 98 affirm the positive efforts in liturgy over the past few generations. It notes the importance of liturgy in each of the last two synods (Eucharist, the Word of God). It calls out lectio divina not only as a spiritual practice for individuals and groups, but “a natural setting for evangelization.”
Another tidbit, the definition of liturgy as “divine worship, the proclamation of the Gospel and love in action.” Proclamation and love, kerygma and caritas. The bishops have been drinking deep of Avery Dulles, it would seem.
Problems were noted, but not given much space:
(S)ome responses (from bishops) emphasized the complex character between the celebration of the Christian faith and various forms of popular piety. While recognizing some mutual benefits, they also noted the danger of syncretism and a degradation of the faith.
Lacking the context of particular submissions, we can’t be totally sure where these comments are based. Is popular piety such a problem for the expression of faith? Is it an obstacle for lassoing back inactive believers?
There’s a bit more in the document, which I’d like to take some time to read in more detail. You may find it of interest, and I’d invite your comments on liturgy or any other sub-topic pertaining to the New Evangelization. I may post one or two more observations on this document in the next few days. But for now, I’ll leave it to you to further the commentary.
23 June 2012
My good friend Fran sent the following essay for Worthy Women.
As I think about worthy women, thoughts just keep coming to me over and over again, fed by a potentially unhealthy, but steady diet of church news. Reading about the frequently criticized work, and position of women in the LCWR, my mind keeps traveling back to the 13th century. Some might imagine as this era as the good old days, when nuns knew their place. I am imagining a saint and mystic of the Middle Ages, one deeply associated with devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in the context of the recent assessment by the CDF of the LCWR.
Saint Gertrude, also known as Gertrude the Great, or Gertrude of Helfta was born in what is now Germany, in 1256.
In a move not unusual for her time, she was brought to a monastery to be raised at the age of 5. It was in that monastery that she grew up, among women, books, music, liturgy, and God. It was in that monastery that she became a mystic and a visionary.
Gertrude was a particularly bright child, with an appetite for learning, and she ardently pursued all manner of studies. In fact, her first studies were more secular in nature, and it was only after a vision, a mystical experience of God, that she began to focus on God alone.
Once we get beyond the fact that she was a woman at a time when women were often little more than property, we can take in other facts. In Gertrude’s era, books were hand-copied parchment and other texts, yet she was well read. That must have been no small feat. Her studies included Scripture, theology and the early church. Gertrude also had interests in music and art, and of course, the liturgy that was so much a part of her life. It was out of this foundation that the saint also became a mystic and a writer. The incubator for her work was a community that was one of women.
Today we can look to Gertrude’s published works, The Herald of Divine Love, and The Exercises. There is some evidence today that she was not the sole author, but that they were authored in community. The Book of Special Grace, which is attributed to Gertrude’s sister and former Beguine, Mechtilde of Magdeburg, may have also been written that way. Devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus are thought to have come out of mystical experiences by Gertrude and Mechtilde, as well.
During Gertrude’s time, monasteries and communities were often isolated and separated, with news and information flowing slowly, if at all, from one place to another. The distance between Rome and these many monastic outposts in this pre-Reformation world had a profound impact on how these communities lived the Gospel. These women were not docile and passive, but they actively pursued knowledge, lived their faith and ultimately expressed so much in writing.
In the Middle Ages many communities of women were likely often without a priest in residence at all – or at least for significant periods of time – including Gertrude’s. What was the knowledge and practice of liturgy in these enclosures? Most importantly, what about the Eucharist? We don’t truly know all that there is to know, and may never will. Having said that, I see a picture emerging of strong women, focused on communal life as lived in Christ. This was true to the Church and teachings in a full and rich sense. It remains so today.
One of the criticisms in the current situation is that many women religious have forgotten their place in the church and the world. The assessment from the CDF says that they do not stand by enough of the moral teachings, and they tend to focus on issues that are in question. I wonder what those critics would say to a woman such as Gertrude? What was her place in that world, or in our own? There is a great tradition of women mystics in the Middle Ages that would challenge the many might find challenging if they scratched the surface.
If one of the concerns against the LCWR is that they are more self-centered than God-centered (which I do not agree with), it makes me wonder how the CDF would treat Gertrude the Great and her companions? These women were strong, bold, bright and extremely focused on God. They fought against all kinds of challenges to make their way in the world, and they prevailed.
We are called to live Eucharistic lives, centered on the great Sacrament. What happens when due to having no priest, the Eucharist is not available? This was a reality in the 13th century and it remains a reality today. What happens then? I am not saying – I am truly not saying – that anything goes. We all know that Catholic moral theology instructs us to know that the ends never justify the means. But what are we to do? How are we to live? Some feast and others starve?
The life of Gertrude the Great, also known as Gertrude of Helfta, gives us a unique look into the rich communal life of women religious. This look offers us great food for thought and prayer about how we live eucharistically and communally today. There is a world of remarkable women, hiding in plain sight in the Church, then as now. Thanks be to God.
23 June 2012
With chapter IV, we take a good look at the rite of dedication of an altar. The introduction covers thirty numbered sections, but with a fair amount of unique material. This will take us almost to the end of the RDCA, which I anticipate we’ll complete by the end of July.
Today, some catechetical material. Most clergy and many liturgists skip over these introductory portions of the rite, but there is considerable material here for homilies and faith formation to prepare a community. Think of it as the GIRM of these rites.
The Scriptural and Patristic basis for using an altar for worship:
1. From meditating on God’s word, the ancient Fathers of the Church did not hesitate to assert that Christ was the victim, priest, and altar of his own sacrifice. (cf. Epiphanius, Panarium 2, 1, Haeresis 55: PG 41, 979. Cyril of Alexandia, De adoratione in spiritu et veritate 9: PG 68, 647) For in the Letter to the Hebrews Christ is presented as the High Priest who is also the living altar of the heavenly temple; (cf. Heb 4:14; 13:10) and in the Book of Revelation our Redeemer appears as the Lamb who has been sacrificed (cf. Rev 5:6) and whose offering is taken by the holy angel to the altar in heaven. (cf. Eucharistic Prayer I)
22 June 2012
Today I’d like to continue my alternative to the US Bishops’ Fortnight of Freedom. For the next thirteen days, I plan to profile a few of the many women who suffered a good bit at the hands of petty churchmen. I hesitate to call this religious persecution as such, just as I hesitate to look upon federal policy, as misguided as that might be, as an explicit attack on organized religion. It’s not nearly as grave as the countless opportunities the institution and individual believers face on a daily basis.
In profiling worthy women, I’m searching for people who made extremely difficult choices and suffered consequences because of their religious convictions. Hopefully we can observe their conduct in the face of freedoms denied and perhaps gain some needed perspective away from the current political tussles.
Crystal suggested Mary Ward this morning, and interestingly enough, she’s in the queue right behind Marguerite Porete.
Mary was a Catholic in Elizabethan England. There is a legend that as an infant the first word she uttered was “Jesus.” She also survived an arson attack on her home at age ten, praying with her sisters untiul her father rescued them.
Turning into the 17th century, Mary’s options for religious life would have been a choice of convents. And none of those options would have been provided in England of her day. So she crossed the Channel and settled with the Poor Clares as a lay sister for a while. Life with cloistered women didn’t fit God’s call for Mary, who was eventually inspired by the example of the Jesuits. Her notion was to assemble an institute of women independent of a bishop, living in non-cloistered community, and performing apostolic ministry in the world.
Her English ties were strong, and she returned to her homeland and recruited a small band of like-minded women until she was found out by the authorities. Her death sentence was commuted in return for exile. Returning to Europe, she was not free of opposition from Catholic clergy. She was mocked as a “Jesuitess” and though some admired her efforts in educating Catholic girls, many in the hierarchy insisted she make her institute look like nuns of the day.
Pope Urban VIII at first seemed open to Mary Ward’s plan. But in 1631, The Institute of the Blessed Virgon Mary was suppressed. Mary was soon thereafter taken into custody as a “heretic, schismatic, and rebel to the Holy Church.” Though released after a brief imprisonment in a convent, Mary’s plans for her age were in ruins. She returned a final time to England and died in 1645, decades before her institute was rehabilitated and enjoyed a worldwide reach, just as the spiritual sons of Ignatius Loyola now enjoy. Today, a pope praises her, and has officially set her on the path to recognized sainthood.
Still today, many Catholics think women and women religious have their place. People shake their heads and wonder about the seeming opposition from clergy, bishops, and Rome. But there’s nothing new here. Good ideas are often stifled before they can blossom into a true apostolate. And the urging of the Holy Spirit in men and women is nothing to be trifled with. In Mary’s case, she was not even recognized as the founder of the Loreto Sisters until 1909. But I am sure her calm persistence in the face of danger from the enemies of the Church and mockery from the lips of brothers in belief contributed to the spirit of this worthy woman, and those others she has inspired. May we all be dedicated to learning and discernment, and honor Mary Ward as a model and inspiration for faith today in a difficult time when challenges to religious freedom present themselves, especially from within the Church itself.
If in need of an optimistic word …
Remember that he (God) be the end of all your actions, therein you will find great satisfaction and think all things easy and possible.
22 June 2012
Chapter III of the RDCA continues with few changes (except as noted in section 2, yesterday):
The simple entrance of the dedication rite is reproduced, almost word for word, sections 3-12 follow II, 43-52.
In the Liturgy of the Word (13-14), readings are taken from among those in the commons, excluding Nehemiah and Psalm 19. No lights or incense is used at the proclamation of the Gospel. Sections 15-16 follow 55-56 in chapter II.
The invitation to prayer (17), litany of the saints (18-20), and depositing relics (21) occurs just as outlined in chapter II, 57-61. The dedication prayer follows (22); then anointing of the altar and walls (23-25), just as in chapter II, 63-65). The altar is incensed (26-28) and lit (29-31) as in the previous chapter (66-71).
The Liturgy of the Eucharist proceeds (32-40), including inaugurating the Blessed Sacrament chapel, as it was described in 72-85.
We’ll move on to chapter IV tomorrow.
21 June 2012
As a response to the US Bishops’ Fortnight of Freedom, I’d like to offer an alternative. My readers here know of my skepticism with the USCCB campaign. It strikes me as politically motivated, possibly. And even if the bishops protest that it’s not, groups such as the NRLC have inserted themseves into the opportunity to make it so.
Starting today, and running for two weeks, I’ll offer up daily reflections on good and holy women. I have a few guest-bloggers coming in, and I’m open to more. And your suggestions–not every slot is filled as of this morning. Hopefully we can observe the conduct of holy women in the face of freedoms denied and perhaps gain some needed perspective in the spiritual life, not just for political purposes. Not all of the featured women were “red” martyrs for the faith. But all suffered, usually cruelly, at the hands of men who seemed concerned less for the freedom of others and more for their own privileges.
Marguerite Porete of 14th century France seems a good place to begin. Speaking of which, Marguerite was a beguine. Beguines first appeared in what are today the low countries, Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg around 1100AD. The first Beguines took no vows, devoted themselves to prayer and apostolic action, and lived alone or sometimes in small communities on the fringes of villages and towns. A woman could choose a temporary or lifelong commitment. There were no rules, official ecclesiastical recognition, or such. Beguines were just lay people who followed the prescriptions of the Gospel: loving God and neighbor.
And so we have free women, outside of a cloister, praying like religious, performing charity, and operating outside of institutional Catholic structures. The movement seems more serious than third degree associations or volunteer corps. Less rigorous than permanent monastic life. It seems reasonable to me that not every Catholic woman fits into one of two slots: household or convent. Clearly Beguines inhabited a well-discerned place apart from these two.
Naturally, some believers were suspicious of them. Various heresies were attributed to some groups. But the lack of organization along the lines of traditional nuns likely meant that “heretical” Beguines were individuals, not the movement as a whole. And indeed, many well-regarded saints favored the Beguines. And it might also have been that like today, “heresy” was more about “stuff we don’t like” than material that was actually counter to the Christian faith.
We know only two things of Marguerite. She wrote a book. And the Church invested considerable resources to try her for heresy, ensure her conviction, and erase her apostolate from influence. This passage from the beginning of her work might sting a bit in some quarters:
You who would read this book,
If you indeed wish to grasp it,
Think about what you say,
For it is very difficult to comprehend;
Humility, who is keeper of the treasury of Knowledge
And the mother of the other Virtues,
Must overtake you.
Theologians and other clerks,
You will not have the intellect for it,
No matter how brilliant your abilities,
If you do not proceed humbly.
And may Love and Faith, together
Cause you to rise above Reason,
Since they are the ladies of this house.
For the early 1300′s, The Mirror of Simple Souls had good things going for it: a huge following among lay Catholics, written in the vernacular, and it was backed up by what looked like a promotional tour. My parish’s library has a copy of Mirror, but it’s been checked out for a while. I haven’t read it, but I’ve seen it described as building on the premise that communion with God and love for neighbor places one on the path to spiritual perfection. It’s an interesting personal confluence, as I’ve been reading Meg Funk’s Thoughts Matter and I’ve been struck there by her suggestions toward the discipline of thoughtless prayer with the aim of achieving a certain spiritual purity before God. From Marguerite:
Thought is no longer of worth to me,
Nor work, nor speech.
Love draws me so high
(Thought is no longer of worth to me)
With her divine gaze,
That I have not intent.
Thought is no longer of worth to me,
nor work, nor speech.
Marguerite came to the attention of the Inquisition because she was a popular traveling preacher, and unattached to a community like other Beguines. And she was not shut up behind a cloister wall. Or shut up by superiors. After her conviction in April 1310, she was handed over to the secular authorities. Less than two months later, she was burned to death.
The parallels with today are obvious. I was thinking about the Archdiocese of St Louis that wanted a secular court to evict the dissenters at St Stanislaus Parish, and complained when the judgment didn’t go their way. In the 14th century, alas, the Church was thick with secular authorities, and could merely turn over people it didn’t like for punishment, or worse.
The Mirror of Simple Souls continued to circulate for centuries, without an author’s byline. It wasn’t until the 1940′s when Catholics rediscovered that it was written by a “heretic.” By that time, the book had received an imprimatur and nihil obstat as an anonymous work of medieval spirituality. Others have noted that Juan de la Cruz covered a lot of Marguerite’s material in a similar way in The Ascent of Mount Carmel. Love, and the love of God, seems irresistible. Death cannot stop it. Fire cannot quench it.
Today there is an international society devoted to the woman and her witness of faith. And I’d like to leave off with a reflection that suggests something of 1 John 4:7ff:
I am God, says Love,
for Love is God and God is Love,
and this Soul is God by the condition of Love.
I am God by divine nature
and this Soul is God by the condition of Love.
Thus this precious beloved of mine
is taught and guided by me,
for she is transformed into me,
and such a perfect one, says Love,
takes my nourishment.
I like Marguerite. Audacious. Simple. Worthy.
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