Monday, September 22, 2014

Miserere Mei Deus

I've posted a version of this before, but this video is so amazing I had to do it again - besides, the first time had only six page views.  On that earlier occasion I commented thusly:

Allegri's Miserere had been jealously guarded by the Vatican, which did not allow the score to be published for a century and a half, until the fourteen year old Mozart heard it once, and promptly went back to his room to write down the musical notation from memory (http://www.classicfm.com/composers/mozart/guides/mozart-allegri-miserere/).  Vertitas alienior quam Fictio est.




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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival (21 September 2014)

     Happy Sunday, and welcome to Sunday Snippets, a papist post exchange wherein various bloggers of a Romish disposition swap links to their postings for the week past.  You can find the main convocation here at This That and the Other Thing, home of Chief Snippeteer RAnn.
     
September beach-wear in Maine
It was one of those weeks here at Principium et Finis wherein bloggery took a back seat to other concerns, although there were a few posts (more on that below).  But first, I wanted to talk about a little jaunt we made last weekend, a late-summer (nearly fall) visit to the beach.  The high temperatures for the day didn’t get above the mid 60’s, so we wore jackets and kept our shoes on, and just walked and enjoyed the views (no selfies of my feet in the surf this time).  Most other beach-goers were dressed for the weather as we were, but a few defiant souls were there in swimsuits, either stretched out on the beach or even, in the case of the most intrepid souls, wading a little into the water.  One of my sons remarked that there were two factions at the beach that day: those who were in denial and those who were not.
     Among the deniers there was one young girl dressed in a swimsuit, maybe twelve years old, who was venturing into the surf . . . holding a smart phone in her hand.  It was a most incongruous image.  Twenty minutes later I saw her again, a little further down the beach, still clutching her little electronic gadget.  I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised: I’ve seen the videos of people walking into walls, fountains, etc., in public places with their eyes glued to little screens, I’ve seen with my own eyes my fellow motorists going down the highway at 70 miles per hour with their eyes down and their thumbs bouncing off their devices, and I’ve heard about the often fatal accidents caused by such people. 
     I couldn't help but think of that poor techno-crazed girl when I read this article [here] in Catholic World Report about "Casualities of the Device Age".  The author, Thomas Doran, explains that, while the little gadgets have many useful aspects, the widespread addiction to them contributes "to a decline in the ability to reason, contemplation, and self-discipline."  Having taught high school students for twenty-eight years, I can testify to the truth of Doran's observations.  I would also add that enslavement to these little electronic tyrants, because they try to fill the void in our heart that only God can fill (as do all addictions), draws us away from the Lord.  A few months ago I posted a meditation [here] in which I discussed the vastness of the sea as an image of God's infinite love. How very sad that the girl at the beach  couldn't leave behind the instrument of her spiritual servitude even for the infinite embrace of the ocean; what a sobering image of our modern predicament.

     Hmmm, perhaps you are saying, did he do anything last week but visit the seashore?  Well, a few things.  For instance:


Monday - The curious relationship between joy and suffering: "Our Lady of Sorrows & the Mystery of Suffering" [here]

Tuesday - Another mystery, the Mystery of Beauty, as experienced through "Palestrina's 'Stabat Mater' and Michelangelo's Florentine Pieta" [here]

Thursday - In a Throwback from March I muse upon the pitfalls and dangers one finds in trying to apply an ancient Christian maxim, as seen in the Curious Case of Michael Coren: "Easier Said Than Done: Hating The Sin, LovingThe Sinner" [here]
    


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Easier Said Than Done: Hating The Sin, Loving The Sinner

(This Throwback first appeared on March 7th of this year under the title "Here we go again . . . ")

     Michael Coren, the conservative Canadian Catholic commentator has taken on a noble, but extremely treacherous, task: he is trying to follow the age-old Christian wisdom, “Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner” [link]. This is never easy to do well, but in choosing to apply the maxim in the currently controverted area of homosexuality and law, he is treading on dangerously unstable ground.  While I admire his moral courage (he is receiving some intense and, often, rather un-Christian backlash from the Christian side of the question), and while I admit that his heart is in the right place, I’m not sure that he isn’t doing more harm than good.
     First, where Coren is right.  Catholic Christians have an undeniable obligation to treat homosexual persons with love and dignity [here].  That rules out name-calling, not to mention more severe forms of persecution.  So yes, we should publicly denounce “gay bashing”, both literal and figurative, and laws such as those in Uganda that mete out harsh punishments to homosexuals. That’s the “Love the Sinner” side of the equation.


     On the other side . . . well . . .  here’s where things get complicated.  It’s always very hard for us to separate the sinner from the sin, and it’s even harder in this case because the “sinners” have made the sin their primary locus of self-identification: “If you hate my sexual preferences, you hate me.”  But it’s even worse than that, because, when it comes to the public controversy over these issues, homosexuals themselves are not really the problem: after all, they make up no more than 3% of the population, far too small a proportion to cause all the ruckus we’ve been experiencing in recent years.  No, the problem is that professional “activists” have seized upon homosexuality as a battering ram to topple the various institutions (most notably, Church and Family) that stand in the way of their project of remaking society according to their designs.  For this reason homosexuals’ rights, whether real (the right to be treated decently) or imagined (the right to have public approbation of their sexual relationships), are only of interest to them insofar as they can be used as a weapon against their targets of choice.  The Leftists who are running the gay rights juggernaut are not interested in coming to a mutually agreeable solution, they want only to steamroll their opposition.
     I spoke in another recent post how the forces of “social change” have set a trap for those of us looking for an honest discussion about gay marriage [here].  So it is in this case, as well: they are perfectly willing to use any conciliatory gestures we make out of compassion for the humanity and the suffering (which can be very real) of people with same sex attraction to undermine our moral position on the acts themselves.  Notice how even the Pope’s statements, which are fairly innocuous on their face, are wrenched out of context and used against Catholic moral teaching.
     I am most emphatically not saying that we should refrain from defending the dignity  and legitimate rights of homosexuals, even when they are public advocates of the gay lifestyle, gay marriage and the rest.  We do need to be very clear, however, that we’re doing so from the perspective of the Gospel, according to Catholic teaching, and in such a way that we do not appear to endorse, even indirectly, the political and social agenda of the gay rights movement.  This is where Coren gets himself into real trouble.   In a recent tweet, for instance, he says: “This is a group resisting the new wave of anti-gay laws in Uganda, Russia, etc. Vital that we all support it”.  With all due respect, no, it’s not vital that we support it.  The group to whom he links is an activist group pushing the entire gay rights agenda.  I’m all for opposing the laws he mentions, which are cruel and abhorrent (or should be) to any Christian’s conscience, but supporting this particular group, or others like it, is the wrong way.  Laws can be repealed, but once you’ve taken apart the institution of the family and denigrated the moral authority of the Gospel, how do you fix that?  How do you restore the damaged lives and wounded souls?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Palestrina's "Stabat Mater" and Michelangelo's Florentine Pieta

     “At one time it was understood that liturgical music should lift us up from this world and direct our hearts and minds toward The Lord.  Is that asking too much?”  I made the following comment last week in reference to a beautiful and, yes, uplifting “Sanctus” by the English composer William Byrd.  Beautiful music and beautiful art has a power to move us emotionally, and beauty has a way of moving us toward God that the unbeautiful, alas, cannot match.  I am fortunate to attend a church that has a good chorus, led over the fifteen years I’ve been here by a series of talented and faithful music directors.  Several times a year, at least, I have the opportunity to hear Sacred Polyphony as part of the Mass: what a blessed experience!  Most of the other music is very good, and appropriate for the Liturgy as well (with a few clunkers thrown in, but why dwell on the negative?).
      It was with all this in mind that I recently found myself, as I was listening to one of these beautiful pieces, thinking to myself “How did they ever abandon this for all that Happy Time nonsense?”  Well, it seems to go with the mundane language of  “dynamic equivalence” translations (see here), ugly, chaotic church buildings (see here for more on that), and the rejection of traditional devotions for innovations that tend to direct our attention to the here and now (and US), rather to the above, beyond and HIM.
     This is all a lead-in to the clip below, an overflow from yesterday’s feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.  The video’s creator beautifully combined the incomparable Giovanni Pierluigi Palestrina’s setting for the Marian Hymn “Stabat Mater” with visuals of Michelangelo’s Florentine Pieta (also known as the Deposition).  This sculpture has a interesting history (see here), which along with its atypical (for Michelangelo) style and composition make it a fruitful object for a meditation on the suffering of Mary, and suffering in general. So here we have beautiful visual art working with beautiful sacred music to lift up our prayer. What could be better?



Monday, September 15, 2014

Our Lady of Sorrows & the Mystery of Suffering


     Today is the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.  How fitting that today some of my ninth grade religion students want to talk about suffering, as in “If God is good, why does he allow suffering?”
     This is a tough question, but not because it is intellectually difficult.  It is easy to demonstrate that suffering often leads to a greater good: why else would so many people willingly undergo the sometimes severe discomfort of chemotherapy in order to treat their cancer?  It is also pretty clear that we may not know the good that comes of it, such as a small child who doesn’t understand why he’s being punished for running out into the road, or a sick pet that couldn’t possibly comprehend why she’s being stuck with a hypodermic needle.   It’s simply hard to accept, emotionally, that a loving God would allow such horrific suffering as some people experience, particularly suffering at the hands of evil and sadistic fellow men (I suspect that some of my students have been disturbed by events in the news lately).
     Herein lies the Mystery of Suffering: even when it makes sense, it feels so wrong. The key lies in that word “mystery”, from the Greek μυστήριον, which is not something unknowable, but rather something known only through experience. So it is with suffering: it makes sense when we experience it, and experience it in the light of faith.  As it happens, I heard Gary Zimak talking about this same topic on the radio this morning, and picked up this great quote: “God doesn’t give us the Grace to handle imaginary problems.” He does offer us the Grace to handle problems we are actually experiencing, as St. Paul tells us (1 Corinthian 10:13), as long as we turn to him in faith.  
     The Christian answer, then is that God is not indifferent to suffering, but his concern is not expressed by giving us a world without suffering, which could well be a world without the possibility of real love, but by suffering with us: that’s why our preeminent image is Christ on the Cross.  And not only does he suffer for and with us, but we can join our suffering to his: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, on behalf of his body, which is the Church” (Colossians 1:24).  So, not only does Christ console us in our suffering, but we can use our own suffering to help others.
     Which brings us to Our Lady of Sorrows.  It struck me just today how some of the joyful mysteries of the Rosary are tied in to Mary’s Seven Sorrows: the Presentation, the Fourth Joyful Mystery, is also the occasion of the First of Mary’s Seven Sorrows, when Simeon prophecies that a sword shall pierce Mary’s heart; the Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple (the Third Sorrow) leads to the Finding of Jesus (the Fifth Joyful Mystery).  How interesting that we have devotions centered on the suffering of the Woman whom all generations will call Blessed.  She is, after all, the First Disciple and our Model in the Faith.  Certainly, if her sorrows and suffering can help bring about the eternal Joy of the Resurrection, ours will not be in vain.

The Seven Sorrows of Mary
1.      The Prophecy of Simeon
2.      The Flight into Egypt
3.      The loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple
4.      Mary meets Jesus on the way to Calvary
5.      Jesus dies on the Cross
6.      Mary receives the Body of Jesus

7.      The burial of Jesus

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sunday Snippets (Exaltation of the Holy Cross 2014)

Christ and the Cross, from Santa Maria Sopra Minerva
     Welcome to “Sunday Snippets – A Catholic Carnival”, a weekly swapfest for faithful Catholic bloggers of every sort, shape, and size (metaphorically speaking).  This is only my little corner of the party: the main gathering place is here at This That and the Other Thing, home of our Grand Marshall RAnn.
     I can’t fail to mention that today is the Feast of The Exaltation of the Holy Cross, a celebration centered on what is perhaps the most puzzling (apparent) contradiction in Christianity, and something that lies at the very heart of the Faith: our Salvation is only through the suffering and death of Christ on the Cross (and, by extension, through our embrace of the suffering in our own lives). This, St. Paul assures us, is “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23).
     One of the most striking artistic representations of this Mystery is Michelangelo’s Christ from the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva (depicted above), in which Jesus is literally embracing the Cross.  A beautiful statue modeled on this one surmounts the baptismal font in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception here in Portland where, as it happens, we attended the vigil Mass for today’s feast last evening.  The Mass was celebrated by our Bishop, and attended by members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jersalem [more info here], in full regalia, which consisted of long capes (white for the knights, black for the ladies) decorated with the Jersalem cross, along with black lace veils for the women. The Order is the only lay institution of the Vatican State charged with the task of providing for the needs of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and for all the activities and initiatives which are necessary to support the Christian presence in the Holy Land.



     The presence of the Equestrians was quite appropriate for the occasion, as Bishop Deeley pointed out in his homily. He started by observing that “we see the Cross in the whole life and mission of Christ”; we see a precursor in bronze serpent in the first reading, where what had at first brought sickness now brings healing, but Jesus on the cross not only “returns us to health, but to life, eternal life.”  We also hear “the very heart of Jesus’ message” in the hymn St. Paul quotes to the Phillipians: that “Jesus emptied himself” for our sake.  The Cross leads us to Humility and Service.  That’s where the Equestrians come in: the Bishop pointed out the Jerusalem Cross over their hearts, a large blood-red cross in the center surrounded by four smaller crosses which represents the wounds of Christ.  Through their support of the Patriarch of Jerusalem they are both a sign and a tangible means of our support, our service, on behalf of the Christians of the Middle East who are sharing so deeply in the suffering of Christ right now.  This is a mission in which we all have a part, and, as Bishop Deeley said in closing: “Jesus never leaves us alone: if he gives us a mission, he also gives us the Grace to do it.”

     There.  Now on to the snippets themselves:

Monday – At one time it was understood that liturgical music should lift us up from this world and direct our hearts and minds toward The Lord.  Is that asking too much? “William Byrd – Sanctus (Mass for 4 Voices) [here]


Wednesday – Even minor Saints can teach us Major Lessons: “Resist Him, Steadfast In Faith” [here]


Thursday – If we worked harder at building good character, we wouldn’t have to worry as much about the law: “Hidden Law, Society, And The Church (Throwback)” [here]


Friday – A reflection on John Sobieski’s rescue of Vienna in 1683, and the fate of Christian civilization today: “We came, we saw, God conquered” [here]


Saturday – Shutting out Christian groups on campus may not be mass murder, but does it really have to be in order to provoke a response? “It Doesn’t Need To Be As Bad As Iran To Be Bad Enough” [here]



                                                                

Saturday, September 13, 2014

It Doesn't Need To Be As Bad As Iran To Be Bad Enough

      For a long time now elite opinion on college campuses has been trying to shut down speech that doesn’t stick to their script, especially religious speech.  Specifically, Christian speech.  The clampdown has now become a little more overt: the California State University system has “derecognized” the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF), an Evangelical group, on all 23 of its campuses, as explained in this article [here] by Ed Stetzer in Christianity Today.  The reason for the derecognition (if such a word exists) is that the ICVF refuses to change its rules requiring leaders in the group to be believing Christians.  The state of California has said, in other words, that Christian groups will not be recognized as official groups on campus unless they open up their leadership to people who don’t share, and may even be hostile to, their very reason for existing in the first place.

InterVarsity Students spreading bigotry and intolerance

     You may be wondering what the consequences of derecognition are.  According to Greg Jao, National Field Director & Campus Access Coordinator, there are three main things that IVCF chapters will lose:

1)      Free access to rooms (they will now have to pay, and will be shut out if a “recognized" group wants the room).
2)      Access to student activities programs “including”, he says, “new student fairs where we meet most students.”
3)      “We also lose standing when we engage faculty, students and admimnistrators.”

He doesn’t explain in detail what that last point entails. Tish Warren led a similar IVCF group at the private Vanderbilt University a few years ago that experienced a similar fate.  In a separate Christianity Today article that Stetzer quotes at length she explains:

Because we were no longer allowed to use Vanderbilt's name, we struggled to convey that we were a community of Vanderbilt students who met near campus.

In other words, as close to invisible as they can be short of being banned altogether.
     What’s behind it all?  Stetzer says that “The university system has decided that speech with beliefs that undergird it—and shape how it is organized—has to be derecognized.”  I suppose you could put it that way, but not all “speech with beliefs” is really being targeted.  He allows Warren to be somewhat more specific.  She explains that the banned groups had “crossed a line”, one that

was drawn by two issues: creedal belief and sexual expression. If religious groups required set truths or limited sexual autonomy, they were bad—not just wrong but evil, narrow-minded, and too dangerous to be tolerated on campus.

This states the case more plainly.  Notice that it is the same in the wider world: support (not simply tolerance) of what used to be considered sexual heterodoxy is the standard by which elite opinion decides who enjoys basic rights and who does not.  Warren and Jao are both being rather too generous when they posit a desire for “democracy” as one of the motives for the anti-Christian people.  No, democracy is not a priority; these same people have no problem with federal judges overturning state laws and constitutional amendments voted in by 60-70% of the electorate, and at the university level you will not see them applying to the vegetarians, Muslims, and certainly not the LGBTQ groups the same unreasonable demands they have imposed upon the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.
Don't read that, kids - it might be hate speech
    And that connection to the wider world is what most concerns me. Stetzer starts out his article saying “Now, it’s not persecution”, an admonition he repeats at the end, adding: “I hope they won’t call themselves persecuted, since that lessens the persecution in, for example, Iran.”  If only we could lessen the persecution in Iran so easily!  What he means, of course, is that equating the inconveniences experienced by college students in California to the very real suffering, up to and including torture and death, suffered by Christians in the Middle East tends to diminish our proper sense of horror and outrage at the latter. Fair enough, but on the other hand injustices don’t need to rise to ISIS level, or anywhere near it, to merit condemnation.  And I don’t think he should be in such a hurry to downplay the significance of what has happened in California.
     First of all, what the State of California is doing is a direct assault on the constitutional rights of  Christian students.  The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution starts out as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .

Telling members of a religious group whom they must choose as their leaders is an exceptionally unsubtle trespass on the free exercise of religion – and I know that courts have found all sorts of ingenious ways to make laws and constitutional provisions mean the exact opposite of their clear meaning, but if we’re not willing to fight something this blatant, we might as well run the white flag up the pole and get it over with.  Since the courts have also found that the restrictions the Bill of Rights places upon Congress also apply to all other government organs, including state run schools, this is clearly a constitutional issue (as it is not at a private school like Vanderbilt).
     This potential damage here also extends beyond the walls of the university.  The half-spoken message that California State is sending its students is that Christian belief is bad: “not just wrong but evil, narrow-minded, and too dangerous to be tolerated on campus”, as Tish Warren said of the attitude of the authorities at Vanderbilt.  If such a thing is simply a given in the environment where they are formed for four years, how many students are going to be prepared to be open to and tolerant of Christian belief when they get out . . . especially if the outside environment agrees with what they experienced at the university?
     And, as I have noted in these pages many times, there is a conscious and coordinated campaign underway in the United States and the rest of the Western world to “derecognize” Christianity as a whole.  The mainstreaming of anti-Christian bigotry lays the foundation; simply holding traditional beliefs about morality and marriage makes a person fair game for the foulest and most hateful verbal abuse (see here and here).  Somehow the targets of this vileness, and not the spewers of it, are scorned by elite opinion-makers as “haters” and “bigots”.  And who is going to argue when haters and bigots are defamed, or even threatened with loss of their livelihood (here, here, here) if they oppose the dismantling of traditional morality -  or simply decline to actively participate in its destruction?  This, I submit, is in fact persecution (if not on the level of Iran or Iraq), and sets the stage for worse.
     Finally, I haven’t discussed the fact that our colleges and universities have, in a very short time (and practically unremarked), undergone a radical change: where formerly they acted in loco parentis, a role in which they protected their students and enforced moral standards, now they actively promote promiscuity and licentiousness, and actually punish students for upholding morality.  How can this possibly turn out well?  
     So, to all you Ed Stetzers out there, hold your head up – we have nothing to apologize for. Nobody is confusing California State University with the Islamic Republic of Iran, but what’s happening there is bad enough, and if we allow harassment and injustice to continue, more serious persecution is sure to follow.
      










Friday, September 12, 2014

"We came, we saw, God conquered"

King John Sobieski blessing his army at the Battle of Vienna
          Today is September 12th. On this date in 1683 a Christian army led by Polish King John III Sobieski defeated the Muslim Ottoman Turks in battle, freeing the city of Vienna from a two months long siege and freeing Europe, for a time, from the fear of Islamic conquest. There is a good Catholic perspective on the battle [here] on the Catholic Exchange site.
     The siege of Vienna in 1683 was the final salvo of a period lasting almost a millennium, starting when Charles Martel’s victory at Tours in 732 stemmed the first Muslim incursion into Europe, during which the Christian West was constantly under the threat of subjugation by the followers of Mohammed. Had Charles Martel failed, or Sobieski, or any of the other Christian commanders in between, our world today would be very different. Consider what Tunisia, Libya, or Egypt might be like today – or Syria – if they had remained part of Christendom. Does anyone doubt that things there would be better, probably much better?
     And we need to bear in mind that this was really a struggle not simply of peoples or of nations, but between Christendom and Islam. Sobieski’s force was called The Holy League, the same name borne by that alliance which defeated the Turks in the naval battle of Lepanto in the previous century. Like those earlier Christian soldiers, who prayed the Rosary before going into battle with the Turkish fleet, Sobieski’s army prayed: they attended Mass, after which Sobieski formed up his army and “commended their mission and their souls to the care of the Blessed Virgin.” After victory was achieved he informed the Pope that “we came, we saw, God conquered”, turning Julius Caesar’s proud boast to Roman Senate into a humble acknowledgement of God’s saving Grace.
     There are two points that stand out here. One is that we need to recognize that sometimes it is necessary to fight; our opponents have been at it for almost a millennium and a half, and there’s no indication that they are any more interested in compromise, or anything short of total victory, than they were at any point since Mohammed emerged from his cave with the Koran. Certainly the outlook and behavior we’re seeing from the Taliban or ISIS is nothing new: during the battle for Vienna, the Turks murdered 30,000 defenseless Christian hostages. The second point is that we will fail unless we rely on God: “Unless the LORD builds the house”, says Psalm 127,“those who build it labor in vain.” Our prevailing secular culture has shown it can’t do the job. Today’s Muslims, enabled by the moral decay and post-Christian depopulation of the continent,are gradually achieving by peaceful migration (although it’s becoming less peaceful) the capture of Europe that eluded the strongest armies of their forebears. Our only hope is to return to God and, as did John Sobieski, to make Jesus Christ the general of our armies.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Hidden Law, Society, and the Church (Throwback)

(This post first appeared in March of this year)

     I’ve heard it said that once you need to pass a law prohibiting something, it’s too late.  In other words, it is better if less formal, more personal factors like family, religion, custom, etc. prepare people to want to do the right thing beforehand, rather than having the state or some other external authority come in to clean up the mess afterwards.  
     This seems to be the thesis of a discussion by Jonah Goldberg about (among other things) what he refers to as “Hidden Law” [link].   He describes it as the intricate complex of customs, attitudes, prohibitions, licenses, etc., that arise from culture, family, and shared experience that shape, and are shaped by,  the vast majority of our interactions with each other.   It is not imposed (directly, anyway) by any official authority, particularly not the state, and is far more effective than any formal laws or statutes for maintaining an orderly and prosperous society.  Leftists are particularly prone to deny or try to override this law, but such recklessness is by no means limited to the left.  Goldberg is arguing (as I have in other places, here for instance, albeit using different language) that we disregard this Hidden Law at our peril.
    Jonah Goldberg is a secular commentator, and I do not share all his views or concerns.  I take serious issue in particular with a passage he quotes from Jonathan Rauch that uses assisted suicide as an example; I may be naïve, but I’m not convinced that there was a long tradition of doctors “helping people to die”, at least not in the sense he seems to mean.  Also there is a huge (decisive, in fact) difference between letting someone die and causing them to die (and let me add that letting them die by withholding food and water is in fact causing them to die). 
     Having said that, it’s very helpful to understand, in a particular way for Catholics, this idea of the Hidden Law.  It illuminates not only much of Catholic teaching, but also helps us to understand some important ways in which God interacts with His creation.  The concept of the Dignity of the Human Person, for instance, is inseparable from our gift of Free Will, and from our right to exercise it within appropriate bounds, which we see formulated in the importance of Conscience, in the Principle of Subsidiarity, the right to form associations such as labor unions and fraternal groups, and so on [link].  We can see that the Church has long recognized in the working out of all sorts of individual human decisions something very similar to what Goldberg means by Hidden Law (with the important addition, in the Catholic understanding, of God’s Grace).
     One thing that comes through, both in Catholic teaching and the secular understanding of this unwritten law, is an emphasis on human individuals, not on things, institutions, or programs; it relies on people, properly prepared to conduct their own lives and to order their relations with each other.  I see a correspondence in the way God is revealed both in Sacred Scripture and in His Church.  God always seems to act through individual people, doing their human best (in most cases) under His guidance. The Bible is all about people, that is, persons, starting with Adam and Eve, through Noah, Abraham and the other Patriarchs, David and the other kings, Elijah and the prophets up through the God-Man himself, Jesus, with whom we are explicitly called to have a personal relationship.  Jesus (born of a woman, Mary) chooses to act through his Apostles, whose names are all carefully preserved, and whose authority has been personally handed on to their successors, the Bishops.  A constant feature of the formal passing on of authority from the earliest days has been the laying on of hands, one man physically touching another.  Furthermore, a very large part of Catholic practice has always been the Cult of the Saints, whose individual lives are held up for emulation and who are called upon, individually, to intercede for us with the Father.  It amazes me how many people I know personally who have met Saint John Paul II or Blessed Mother Theresa (often both), and this in a church of one billion people.  Isn’t it interesting that the Catholic Church, probably both the largest and oldest existing Institution in the world, depends so much, and focuses so much, on individual human beings?

     It’s for this reason that I have become increasingly critical of a reliance on programs and structures, and of those who put their faith in those rather than the action of God’s Grace working  through those who love him.  There is certainly a place for such things, but in a supporting role, not a leading one.  Jesus says: "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27).  If it's true that it's an inversion of right order to give a Divine Institution such as the Sabbath precedence over people, how much more so it must be of merely human institutions.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Resist Him, Steadfast In Faith

     The Communion of Saints is one of Christ’s great gifts to the Church; we have more than enough intercessors and models of heroic virtue for any one of us. I like to go to Catholic Online (Catholic.org) and look at the biographies of some of the lesser-known saints, some of whom have led to posts on this blog (here, for instance, and here). There are 59 separate entries for today, September 10th. While many of them are from the same persecution in Japan in 1622, a random sampling finds Saints, mostly martyrs, from throughout the history of the Church; it is interesting how, as they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. For instance:



St. Nemesian, Felix, and Companions
A group of Nicomedian martyrs condemned to labor in the marble quarries of Sigum. They all died in this arduous servitude. The group was comprised of nine bishops from Numidia, along with other clergy and laity. The bishops include Lucius, Litteus, Polyanus, Victor, Jader, Dativus, and a second Felix. St. Cyprian wrote to them from his place of exile. (c. 250?)

We are all familiar with the first three centuries of the Church as a time of persecution. The Romans took particular care to target the leaders of the Christian movement, the bishops.  There are places today (most notably Syria and Iraq) where Christians are persecuted with a ferocity equal to, or even greater than, that under the Romans.

St. Theodard of Maastricht
Bishop and martyr. A disciple of St. Remaclus in the Benedictine abbey of Malniely. Stavelot, Belgium, he succeeded him as abbot in 635, receiving appointment as bishop of Maastricht, Netherlands, in 662. He was murdered by a band of robbers in the forest of Bienwald, near Speyer, Germany, while on his way to defend the rights of the Church against the harsh confiscatory policies of King Childeric II (r. 662-675) of Austrasia. (670)

Imagine needing to “defend the rights of the Church against . . . harsh confiscatory policies”. We can’t think of anywhere today where the state is encroaching on the Church, can we?  In any case, here’s a Saint and who didn’t hesitate to stand up for Christ’s Church in the public square.

St. Cosmas of Aphrodisia
A bishop and martyr, born in Palermo, on Sicily. He was named bishop of Aphrodisia, ordained by Pope Eugene III. When the Saracens captured his see, Cosmas was seized and died as a result of harsh abuse. His cult was approved by Pope Leo XIII. (1160)

Speaking of Syria and Iraq, here we see a Catholic Bishop murdered by the Muslim jihadists of the day. While not always as virulent as it is under ISIS, persecution of Christians is endemic throughout the Islamic world.

St. Joseph of St. Hyacinth
Dominican martyr of Japan. He was born in Villareal, Spain. The provincial vicar of the Dominicans in Japan, he spoke perfect Japanese. Joseph was burned alive at Nagasaki.  He was beatified in 1867. (1622)

Bl. Lucy de Freitas
Martyr of Japan. A native Japanese, she was the widow of Philip de Freitas. Lucy, a Franciscan tertiary, was arrested for sheltering Blessed Richard of St. Anne, a Franciscan priest. Although advanced in age, Lucy defended the faith before the authorities and was burned to death for it at Nagasaki, Japan, on September 10. She was beatified in 1867. (1622)

St. Joseph and Blessed Lucy are just two of a large number of Christians martyred at Nagasaki in 1622; there is no part of the world that has not been baptized with the blood of Christian martyrs.
     Jesus says: “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” (Matthew 5:11) It’s going to happen. Sometimes it’s as ugly and brutal as it was for the Saints above, or as it is for many Christians in the Middle East today; sometimes it’s a much milder variety of uttering “all kinds of evil against you falsely”, as is becoming more common in the United States and other Western countries.  Nonetheless our own sufferings for the name of Christ, even when they don’t rise to the level of serious persecution, are still hardships and injustices. As St. Peter wrote:

Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings. (1Peter 5:8-11)

The example of our brothers and sisters in Christ who have undergone, and are undergoing, much worse than we are shows us that we, too, can stand firm.