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Are There Any Bishops Among My Readers?

Saint Anselm's pastoral qualities as a bishop surely originated in his experience as abbot of Bec. On 21 April we read the second part of Saint Benedict's Chapter LXIV, The Appointment of the Abbot. It occurred to me that bishops would do well to meditate Saint Benedict's wisdom, particularly with regard to their relations with the priests and deacons of their dioceses. Listen to Saint Benedict. I took the liberty of adapting the text to the situation of bishops and their diocesan clergy!

Let the bishop when he is appointed
consider always what an office he has undertaken
and to whom he must render an account of his stewardship;
and let him know that it is his duty rather to profit his clergy than to lord it over them.

It behoves him, therefore, to be learned in the divine law,
so that he may have a treasure of knowledge
whence he may bring forth things new and old;
and to be chaste, sober, and merciful.

Let him always set mercy above judgment (Jas 2, 13),
so that he himself may obtain mercy.
Let him hate ill-doing but love the clergy.
In administering correction, let him act with prudent moderation,
lest being too zealous in removing the rust he break the vessel.
Let him always distrust his own fraility
and remember that the bruised reed is not to be broken.
By this we do not mean that he should allow evils to grow,
but that, as we have said above,
he should eradicate them prudently and with charity,
in the way which may seem best in each case.

And let him study rather to be loved than feared.
Let him not be turbulent or anxious,
overbearing or obstinate,
jealous or too suspicious,
for otherwise he will never be at rest.

Let him be prudent and considerate in all his commands;
and whether the work he enjoins concerns God or the world,
let him always be discreet and moderate,
bearing in mind the discretion of holy Jacob, who said:
If I cause my flocks to be overdriven,
they will all perish in one day
(Gen 33, 13).

So, imitating these and other examples of discretion,
the mother of all virtues,
let him so temper all things that the strong may still have something to long after,
and the weak may not draw back in alarm.
And, especially, let him keep this present rule in all things;
so that having ministered faithfully
he may hear from the Lord what the good servant heard
who gave his fellow-servants wheat in due season:
Amen, I say unto you, he will set him over all his goods (Mt 24, 47).

Praying Against the Heathen

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This morning I offered the Votive Mass Against the Heathen, also known as the Mass for the Defense of the Church. The lovely image depicts la Madonna delle Vittorie, Our Lady of Victories.

Introit

The Introit is the same one sung on Sexagesima Sunday. The text of the antiphon is Psalm 43:23-26, a prayer that is, at once, anguished and full of confidence. It must be offered in the light of what Saint Paul affirms in Romans 8:18: "I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that shall be revealed in us." And, again, in the same chapter the Apostle says, "Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation? Or distress? Or famine? Or nakedness? Or danger? Or persecution? Or the sword? (As it is written: For your sake, we are put to death all the day long. We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.) But in all these things we overcome, because of him that has loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

Arise, why sleepest Thou, O Lord?
Arise and cast us not off to the end.
Why turnest Thou Thy face away,
and forgettest our trouble?
Our belly hath cleaved to the earth:
arise, O Lord, help us and deliver us.
Ps. We have heard, O God, with our ears:
our fathers have declared to us.
V. Glory be to the Father.

Collect

Almighty, everlasting God
in whose hand are the power and the government of every nation,
look to the help of the Christian people,
that the heathen nations, who trust in their own fierceness,
may be crushed by the power of Thy right arm.

The beauty of this prayer is that, in the end, it leaves us in an attitude of abandonment to the will of God and in humble submission to the inscrutable designs of His providence. We ask God to crush, by the power of His right arm, the heathen nations, who trust in their own fierceness. How Almighty God will go about answering this prayer should not concern us. It is enough to have prayed boldly and with faith. His manner of "crushing the enemy" will not, in all likelihood, be ours. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts: nor your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are exalted above the earth, so are my ways exalted above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Epistle

The lesson is taken from the Book of Esther. It gives us the prayer of Mardochai, the same model of supplication set before us on Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent: Esther 13: 8-11, 15-17.

O Lord, Lord, almighty king, for all things are in your power, and there is none that can resist your will, if you determine to save Israel. You have made heaven and earth and all things that are under the cope of heaven. You are Lord of all, and there is none that can resist your majesty. And now, O Lord, O king, O God of Abraham, have mercy on your people, because our enemies resolve to destroy us, and extinguish your inheritance. Despise not your portion, which you have redeemed for yourself out of Egypt. Hear my supplication, and be merciful to your lot and inheritance, and turn our mourning into joy, that we may live and praise your name, O Lord, and shut not the mouths of them that sing to you.

Gradual and Alleluia

Let the Gentiles know that the Lord is your name: you alone are the most High over all the earth. V. O my God, make them like a wheel; and as stubble before the wind. (Psalm 82: 19, 14).

In begging God to manifest His Name to the nations, and to reveal His sovereign lordship over all the earth, one is, in effect, saying, "Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

Alleluia, alleluia.
V. Stir up Thy might, O Lord, and come:
that Thou mayest save us.
Alleluia.

This Alleluia is taken from the Mass of the Third Sunday of Advent where it is graced with a splendid 4th Mode melody and a lengthy melism over the key word, veni, come. The single word, veni, can become the articulated expression of the "unspeakable groanings" (Romans 8:26) with which the Holy Ghost prays in the heart of the Church and in the heart of every Christian.

Gospel

Luke 11:5-13
And he said to them: Which of you shall have a friend and shall go to him at midnight and shall say to him: Friend, lend me three loaves, because a friend of mine has come off his journey to me and I have not what to set before him. And he from within should answer and say: Trouble me not; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot rise and give you. Yet if he shall continue knocking, I say to you, although he will not rise and give him because he is his friend; yet, because of his importunity, he will rise and give him as many as he needs. And I say to you: Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you. For every one that asks receives: and he that seeks finds: and to him that knocks it shall be opened: And which of you, if he ask his father bread, will he give him a stone? Or a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he reach him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father from heaven give the good Spirit to them that ask him?

Our Lord invites us to perseverance in prayer. If at first it seems that our request is denied, He would have us ask, seek, and knock, boldly and with determination. No petition, made with a filial and humble heart, is ever refused. The Father is not indifferent to the requests presented by His children. His paternal Heart is moved by every expression of filial confidence. It is not enough, however, merely to make our requests. We have, also, to pray the Holy Ghost to enlighten us, so that we may able to recognize the Father's response to our prayer, and discern the hour of His intervention. Often we are so focused on the response we have determined, in advance and with our limited vision, that we should receive, that we fail to discern the divine response, the perfect one, the manifestation of the Father's wisdom and love.

Offertory Antiphon

Thou wilt save the humble people, O Lord,
and wilt bring down the eyes of the proud:
for who is God, but Thee, O Lord? (Psalm 17:28, 32)

The Offertory Antiphon finds its perfect complement in the canticle that rose from the Immaculate Heart of Mary on the occasion of her visit to Elizabeth: "He has showed might in his arm: he has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He has put down the mighty from their seat and has exalted the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things: and the rich he has sent empty away. He has received Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy (Luke 1:52-54). The last line of the antiphon is an expression of adoration and wonder: "For is God, but Thee, O Lord?"

Secret

Look, O Lord, upon the sacrifice we offer:
that Thou wouldst deliver Thy champions from all wickedness of the heathen,
and keep them safe under Thy protection.

In our weakness, we are the champions of the Lord. Is this not the teaching of the Apostle in 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10?

And he said to me: My grace is sufficient for you: for power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. For which cause I please myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ. For when I am weak, then am I powerful.

Communion Antiphon

My soul in Thy salvation,
and in Thy word have I hoped:
when wilt Thou execute judgment on them that persecute me?
Help me, O Lord, my God (Ps 118: 81, 84, 86).

Nothing is more pleasing to Our Lord than the humble confession of our hope in Him, and in Him alone. How fitting it is to approach the adorable and life-giving mysteries of His Body and Blood, saying, "Help me, O Lord, my God."

Postcommunion

Look upon us, O Lord, our protector,
and defend Thy champions from peril of the heathen,
so that by the removal of all disturbance,
they may serve Thee with free minds.

We pray that, even as we engage in spiritual combat, the promise sung by Zachary, the father of Saint John the Baptist,might be fulfilled in our own generation: "That being delivered from the hand of our enemies, we may serve him without fear" (Luke 1:74).


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The Holy Father's homily for Vespers on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord is, as are all his homilies, a model of liturgical preaching. At the core of the Holy Father's message is the mystery of Christ, the Eternal High Priest. Consecrated men and women, be they hidden in the cloister, or engaged in the Church's mission to the world, are associated to the priestly mediatorship of the Lord Jesus and called, at every moment, to remain close to Him, at "the throne of grace."

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is a celebration of a mystery of the life of Christ, linked to the precept of the Mosaic law that prescribed for parents, 40 days after the birth of their first-born, to go to the Temple of Jerusalem to offer their son to the Lord and for the ritual purification of the mother (cf Exodus 13:1-2.11-16; Leviticus 12:1-8).

The Only-Begotten Son Presented to Men

Mary and Joseph also fulfilled this rite, offering -- according to the law -- a couple of turtle doves or pigeons. Reading things in greater depth, we understand that at that moment it was God himself who presented his Only-begotten Son to men, through the words of the elderly Simeon and the prophetess Anna. Simeon, in fact, proclaimed Jesus as "salvation" of humanity, as "light" of all nations and "sign of contradiction," because he would reveal the thoughts of hearts (cf Luke 2:29-35).

The Feast of Meeting

In the East this feast was called Hypapante, feast of meeting: In fact, Simeon and Anna, who met Jesus in the Temple and recognized in him the Messiah so awaited, represent humanity that meets its Lord in the Church. Subsequently, this feast spread also to the West, developing above all the symbol of light, and the procession with candles, which gave origin to the term "Candlemas." With this visible sign one wishes to signify that the Church meets in faith him who is "the light of men" and receives him with all the impulse of her faith to take this "light" to the world.

A Life of Oblation

In concomitance with this liturgical feast, Venerable John Paul II, beginning in 1997, wished that the whole Church should celebrate a special Day of Consecrated Life. In fact, the oblation of the Son of God -- symbolized by his presentation in the Temple -- is the model for every man and woman that consecrates all his or her life to the Lord.

The purpose of this day is threefold: first of all to praise and thank the Lord for the gift of consecrated life; in the second place, to promote the knowledge and appreciation by all the People of God; finally, to invite all those who have fully dedicated their life to the cause of the Gospel to celebrate the marvels that the Lord has operated in them.

In thanking you for having gathered in such numbers, on this day dedicated particularly to you, I wish to greet each one of you with great affection: men and women religious and consecrated persons, expressing to you my cordial closeness and heartfelt appreciation for the good you do in the service of the People of God.

Christ the High Priest

The brief reading, which was just proclaimed, treats of the Letter to the Hebrews, which brings together well the motives that were at the origin of this significant and beautiful event and offers us some ideas for reflection. This text -- which has two verses, but very charged with significance -- opens the second part of the Letter to the Hebrews, introducing the central theme of Christ the high priest.

The Priestly Mediatorship of Christ

One should really consider as well the immediately preceding verse, which says: "Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession" (Hebrews 4:14). This verse shows Jesus who ascends to the Father; while the subsequent one presents him descending toward men. Christ is presented as the Mediator: He is true God and true man -- that is why he really belongs to the divine and to the human world.

In reality, it is properly and only from this faith, from this profession of faith in Jesus Christ, the only and definitive Mediator, that consecrated life has meaning in the Church, a life consecrated to God through Christ. It has meaning only if he is truly Mediator between God and us, otherwise it would only be a form of sublimation or evasion.

The Consecrated Person: A Bridge

If Christ was not truly God, and was not, at the same time, fully man, the foundation of Christian life as such would come to naught, and in an altogether particular way, the foundation of every Christian consecration of man and woman would come to naught. Consecrated life, in fact, witnesses and expresses in a "powerful" way the reciprocal seeking of God and man, the love that attracts them to one another. The consecrated person, by the very fact of his or her being, represents something like a "bridge" to God for all those he or she meets -- a call, a return. And all this by virtue of the mediation of Jesus Christ, the Father's Consecrated One. He is the foundation! He who shared our frailty so that we could participate in his divine nature.

Our text insists on more than on faith, but rather on "trust" with which we can approach the "throne of grace," from the moment that our high priest was himself "put to the test in everything like us." We can approach to "receive mercy," "find grace," and "to be helped in the opportune moment." It seems to me that these words contain a great truth and also a great comfort for us who have received the gift and commitment of a special consecration in the Church.

A Love So Great and Beautiful

I am thinking in particular of you, dear sisters and brothers. You approached with full trust the "throne of grace" that is Christ, his Cross, his Heart, to his divine presence in the Eucharist. Each one of you has approached him as the source of pure and faithful love, a love so great and beautiful as to merit all, in fact, more than our all, because a whole life is not enough to return what Christ is and what he has done for us. But you approached him, and every day you approach him, also to be helped in the opportune moment and in the hour of trial.

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I am inserting at this point the image of an heroic French woman, religious, and mystic: Mother Yvonne-Aimée de Jésus (1901-1951). Yesterday, February 3rd, was, in fact, the anniversary of her death, her dies natalis. Like Saint Faustina in Poland, Mother Yvonne-Aimée was an extraordinary witnesse to the mercy of the Lord in the Church of the last century. She is, for all consecrated men and women, a model of burning love for Christ, humility in moments of misunderstanding and persecution, and greathearted hospitality. Among her many charisms -- almost too many to be catalogued -- Mother Yvonne-Aimée exercised a spiritual motherhood in favour of the souls of priests. This aspect of her rich life is abundantly documented in a book by her spiritual son, Father Paul Labutte, Yvonne-Aimée, ma mère selon l'Esprit. Personally, I have received many graces through the intercession and supernatural friendship of Mother Yvonne-Aimée. Her "little invocation," O Jesus, King of Love, I put my trust in Thy merciful goodness, has been for countless souls a means of inner healing and growth in holiness.

Witnesses of the Mercy of the Lord

Consecrated persons are called in a particular way to be witnesses of this mercy of the Lord, in which man finds his salvation. They have the vivid experience of God's forgiveness, because they have the awareness of being saved persons, of being great when they recognize themselves to be small, of feeling renewed and enveloped by the holiness of God when they recognize their own sin. Because of this, also for the man of today, consecrated life remains a privileged school of "compunction of heart," of the humble recognition of one's misery but, likewise, it remains a school of trust in the mercy of God, in his love that never abandons. In reality, the closer we come to God, and the closer one is to him, the more useful one is to others. Consecrated persons experience the grace, mercy and forgiveness of God not only for themselves, but also for their brothers, being called to carry in their heart and prayer the anxieties and expectations of men, especially of those who are far from God.

The Cloister and the Cross

In particular, communities that live in cloister, with their specific commitment of fidelity in "being with the Lord," in "being under the cross," often carry out this vicarious role, united to Christ of the Passion, taking on themselves the sufferings and trials of others and offering everything with joy for the salvation of the world.

At the Throne of Grace

Finally, dear friends, we wish to raise to the Lord a hymn of thanksgiving and praise for consecrated life itself. If it did not exist, how much poorer the world would be! Beyond the superficial valuations of functionality, consecrated life is important precisely for its being a sign of gratuitousness and of love, and this all the more so in a society that risks being suffocated in the vortex of the ephemeral and the useful (cf Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation. Consecrated Life, 105). Consecrated life, instead, witnesses to the superabundance of the Lord's love, who first "lost" his life for us. At this moment I am thinking of the consecrated persons who feel the weight of the daily effort lacking in human gratification, I am thinking of elderly men and women religious, the sick, of all those who feel difficulties in their apostolate. Not one of these is futile, because the Lord associates them to the "throne of grace." Instead, they are a precious gift for the Church and the world, thirsty for God and his Word.

The Year for Priests

Full of trust and gratitude, let us then also renew the gesture of the total offering of ourselves, presenting ourselves in the Temple. May the Year for Priests be a further occasion, for priests religious to intensify the journey of sanctification, and for all consecrated men and women, a stimulus to support and sustain their ministry with fervent prayer.

This year of grace will have a culminating moment in Rome, next June, in the international meeting of priests, to which I invite all those who exercise the Sacred Ministry. We approach the thrice Holy to offer our life and our mission, personal and community, of men and women consecrated to the Kingdom of God.

In the School of Mary

Let us carry out this interior gesture in profound spiritual communion with the Virgin Mary: while contemplating her in the act of presenting the Child Jesus in the Temple, we venerate her as the first and perfect consecrated one, carried by that God she carries in her arms; Virgin, poor and obedient, totally dedicated to us because totally of God. In her school, and with her maternal help, we renew our "here I am" and our "fiat." Amen.

Mio Dio, la tua gloria!

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Ut Unum Sint

Although the Roman Martyrology notes the day of her death on April 23, 1939, the Cistercian and Trappist calendars commemorate Blessed Maria Gabriella, a nun of Grottaferrata in Italy, on April 22. Pope John Paul II beatified Blessed Maria Gabriella dell'Unità in 1983 and in his Encyclical on Christian unity, Ut Unum Sint, presented her again to the whole Church as a model of "the total and unconditional offering of one's life to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit." Her monastic life was brief: three and a half years. She died after fifteen months of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-five.

The Dilated Heart

Blessed Maria Gabriella is, in many ways, a woman to whom anyone touched by suffering and disability can relate, and for many reasons. The physical limitations that reduced her "doing" expanded her "being" until, at length, the Holy Ghost dilated her heart to the dimensions of the Heart of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. How can I not think here of my esteemed friend Vincent Uher at Tonus Peregrinus?

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Silence Turned to Praise

Blessed Maria-Gabriella is one of those who, having heard the Word, held it in silence: in the silence of wonderment, in the silence that confesses God present, in the silence that allows the Word to sink into the deep and secret places of the soul. For Maria-Gabriella, this silence turned to praise: a sublime praise uttered by Christ the Eternal High Priest in the seventeenth chapter of Saint John's Gospel. At the end of life, she confided: "I cannot say but these words, 'My God, your Glory.'"

Pages Become Transparent

Maria Sagghedù, leaving her native Sardinia for Grottaferrata, entered a monastery that was economically and culturally poor, although governed by Mother Maria Pia Gulini, an abbess who believed in keeping a window open onto the wider Church. Maria Gabriella lived a hidden life circumscribed by the cloister, by silence and by obedience. Her monastic life was short; she crossed the threshold of the Abbey of Grottaferrata in 1935 and died in 1939, a mere three and a half years later. It was Good Shepherd Sunday at the hour of Vespers, the Church's evening sacrifice of praise. The Gospel that day had been from Saint John: "There will be one fold, and one shepherd" (Jn 10:16). After Maria Gabriella's death, her sisters found that her little pocket edition of the New Testament, worn from use, opened by itself to the seventeenth chapter of Saint John's Gospel. Those few pages of Jesus' Priestly Prayer, so often touched by Mother Maria Gabriella's feverish hands, had become almost transparent.

The Unity of the Mystical Body

Blessed Maria Gabriella's offering for Christian unity witnesses to the fundamental thrust of every monastic life, both in its canonical form within the enclosure walls, or in its interior expression, without cloister or habit, in the world. Monastic conversion is a movement from the divided, fragmented self to the whole self, healed and unified in the love of Christ. The restoration of unity is the great monastic work; it is the end and fruit of every Eucharistic Sacrifice. Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches the end proper to the Sacrament of the Eucharist is the unity of the Mystical Body. Let us then go to the altar, letting go of things that fragment that unity, and ready to receive the gifts by which unity is repaired.

Read more about Blessed Maria Gabriella dell'Unità here and here.

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Father Garrigou-Lagrange, professor of Dogmatic and Mystical Theology at the Angelicum in Rome from 1909 to 1960, wrote this in 1952:

The modern spirit of unbridled pleasure leads inevitably to destruction, as is only too evident from the past two wars. No genuine peace has resulted, precisely because men have refused to see the meaning of divine chastisements and to return to a life which is both naturally upright and Christian. And so the Holy Ghost has implanted in many souls the seeds of genuine and fruitful reparation.
In view of this widespread sterility in human endeavour many would-be reformers are asserting that what is needed is a new approach to the priestly and religious life, in order to adapt them to the needs of the modern era. So far as the religious life is concerned, they are of the opinion that its austerity ought to be mitigated since it is now out of date: time devoted to prayer should be cut down to leave more time for external activities. They would also adapt the priestly life to the spirit of the times: to them it seems no longer suitable for priests to wear a special dress or the tonsure or any outward sign of their priesthood, or even to recite the breviary--perhaps even celibacy has become outmoded--and so on.
But what is required is a careful study of the actions and ambitions of the saints, whether they were founders of Orders or excellent secular priests; and this study must be undertaken not in any mere historical or theoretical frame of mind but from a practical point of view. Neither must we neglect the perennial teaching of the Church and the Popes about the religious life and the priestly life. . . . We will then discover the real changes that have to be made, in a spirit of faith, trust in God, and self-diffusive charity.

The Very Reverend Father R. Garrigou-Langrange, O.P.
(1877-1964)
The Priest in Union with Christ, pp. 67-69
The Newman Press, 1952

Four Years

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Thursday, April 2, 2009 will be the fourth anniversary of the death of the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II. In preparation for this anniversary, Dr. Alex Roman, Oblate of Saint Benedict, has graciously authorized me to share with the readers of Vultus Christi the Akathist he composed for private recitation in honour of the Servant of God.

Akathist
To our Father among the Saints, John Paul the Great, Pope of Rome


Kontakion 1

To you, our great Pastor, Pontiff and Successor of the Chief Apostles, Peter and Paul,
entrusted for many years with the guidance and welfare of Christ's Holy Church, we
sinful ones gather to sing a triumphant hymn of praise in your honour, thanking the Lord
Jesus Who chose you and consecrated you according to the order of Melchisedek to
confirm us in our faith and, now, to be our speedy intercessor in the mansions of His
Father's House, and we incessantly sing :

Rejoice, O Holy Father, John Paul, Pope of Rome, great Servant of Christ and our
unfailing heavenly Protector!

Ikos 1

"Feed my sheep, tend to my lambs that are not of this flock," the Lord Jesus commanded
Peter before His Ascension to the Right Hand of the Father. "And I will be with you and
the Church unto the consummation of the ages!" Heeding our Lord's call in your heart,
you took upon your own shoulders the shepherd's pallium as a new fisher of men in the
footsteps of him who was called "the Rock" by our Lord, and we sing:

Rejoice, Successor to St Peter the Apostle!
Rejoice, Inheritor of his commission!
Rejoice, Rock of faith that was revealed to you by the Heavenly Father!
Rejoice, Preacher of Christ and Him Crucified!
Rejoice, Father of Peace!
Rejoice, Defender of the poor and oppressed throughout the world!
Rejoice, Man of prayer, lost in adoration of the Most Holy Trinity!
Rejoice, fervent in prayer to the Lord Jesus in the Holy Eucharist!
Rejoice, devoted son of the Most Holy Virgin Mother of God!
Rejoice, Teacher of the ways of the Lord!
Rejoice, Defender of the Apostolic preaching!
Rejoice, Example of piety, drawing all to new Life in Christ!
Rejoice, O Holy Father, John Paul, Pope of Rome, great Servant of Christ and our
unfailing heavenly Protector!

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A Tale of Two Cardinals

Before writing about Saint Peter Damian whose feast we are keeping today, I want to acknowledge the birthday of the Venerable John Henry Newman, born in London on February 21st in 1801. I picture the two cardinals in Paradise; the one quintessentially British, given to careful reflection and sober understatement; the other, Italian, blazing like lightning and hurling thunderbolts in his zeal for reform.

When Grace Perfects Nature

Although both men received the cardinal's red hat, their tastes and temperaments could not have been more different. In art, the fierce and passionate Peter Damian -- a man rather given to extremes -- is often depicted brandishing a discipline or knotted scourge. I see the gentle Newman, on the other hand, seated in his study with a comfortable cup of tea near at hand. It's all splendidly Catholic.

Love of Christ and of the Church

Today's Collect expresses the two guiding principles of Saint Peter Damian's life:

Grant us, we beseech Thee, almighty God,
to follow the counsel and example of the blessed bishop Peter,
that by preferring nothing whatever to Christ
and always set upon the service of Thy Church,
we may come, at length, to the joys of eternal light.

The Monk

The first principle comes directly from the fourth chapter of the Rule of Saint Benedict: "To set nothing before the love of Christ" (RB 4:21). Before being or doing anything else, Peter Damian was a monk, a son of Holy Father Benedict. He belonged to the white-habited Camaldolese who, down through history, have given so many holy monks and solitaries to the Church.

The Bishop

The second principle of Peter Damian's life -- being ready always to serve the Church -- is inseparable from the first. "To set nothing before the love of Christ" translated, for Peter Damian, into a passionate devotion to the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, the Church.

The Reformer

The Church that Peter Damian loved and served was beset with troubles and scandals of all sorts: sacred offices being bought and sold, a clergy addicted to gambling, wine, concubinage, and other vices best left unmentioned, and the widespread collapse of monastic discipline. He wrote a book on the sexual immorality of the clergy that is shocking -- even by today's troubling standards.

The Affairs of the Church Are the Affairs of Christ

For all of that, Saint Peter Damian also had time to write a little book for cave-dwelling hermits who wondered if, in their celebration of the Divine Office, they should say or omit the Dominus vobiscum. For Peter Damian, the affairs of the Church were the affairs of Christ. "The love of Christ put before all else" made him a man of the Church, an apostle and a prophet.

Reform Begins in Silence

In every age of the Church there are conditions that, while they demand reform, also stir up a lot of talking. True reform comes not from much talking, but from much silence. Holy Father Benedict says that "if you talk a lot you will not escape falling into sin" (RB 6:4).

A tongue obedient to the Holy Spirit can do immense good; a tongue that wags this way and that is, as Saint James says, "a restless evil, full of deadly poison" (Jas 3:8). Authentic prophecy begins in silence; true reform begins with holding one's own tongue.

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The Work of Redeeming Love

There comes a moment when even the conversation of the saints and prophets must return to the silence whence it springs. In that silence, redeeming Love carries out the work of making whole all that is fragmented, of healing the weak and wounded members of Christ's Mystical Body.

Ye, Who Would Weed the Vineyard's Soil

Cardinal Newman has a little poem that addresses the tension between zeal and meekness, speaking and silence. I wonder if in paradise he has recited it for Saint Peter Damian.

CHRIST bade His followers take the sword;
    And yet He chid the deed,
When Peter seized upon His word,
    And made a foe to bleed.

The gospel Creed, a sword of strife,
    Meek hands alone may rear;
And ever Zeal begins its life
    In silent thought and fear.

Ye, who would weed the Vineyard's soil,
    Treasure the lesson given;
Lest in the judgment-books ye toil
    For Satan, not for heaven.

Off Sardinia.
June 20, 1833

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Good Friday 2005: A Prayer by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Lord, your Church often seems like a boat about to sink, a boat taking in water on every side. In your field we see more weeds than wheat. The soiled garments and face of your Church throw us into confusion. Yet it is we ourselves who have soiled them! It is we who betray you time and time again, after all our lofty words and grand gestures. Have mercy on your Church; within her too, Adam continues to fall. When we fall, we drag you down to earth, and Satan laughs, for he hopes that you will not be able to rise from that fall; he hopes that being dragged down in the fall of your Church, you will remain prostrate and overpowered. But you will rise again. You stood up, you arose and you can also raise us up. Save and sanctify your Church. Save and sanctify us all.

When I chanted the Canticle from the Book of Daniel (3:3, 4, 6, 11-18) at Lauds this morning, it became, by the grace of the Holy Ghost, a prayer for the Church, a supplication for her purification and healing. This happens so often in the Divine Office. In the prayer of the Church, nothing is stale, nothing old, nothing removed from the Passion of Christ prolonged in His members until the end of time.

Blessed art thou, O Lord, the God of our fathers,
and thy name is worthy of praise, and glorious for ever:

For thou art just in all that thou hast done to us,
and all thy works are true, and thy ways right, and all thy judgments true.

For thou hast executed true judgments
in all the things that thou hast brought upon us,
and upon Jerusalem the holy city of our fathers:

for according to truth and judgment,
thou hast brought all these things upon us for our sins.

For we have sinned, and committed iniquity, departing from thee:
and we have trespassed in all things:

And we have not hearkened to thy commandments,
nor have we observed nor done as thou hadst commanded us,
that it might go well with us.

And now we cannot open our mouths:
we are become a shame and reproach to thy servants,
and to them that worship thee.

Deliver us not up for ever, we beseech thee, for thy name's sake,
and abolish not thy covenant.

And take not away thy mercy from us
for the sake of Abraham thy beloved, and Isaac thy servant, and Israel thy holy one:

For we, O Lord, are diminished more than any nation,
and are brought low in all the earth this day for our sins.

Neither is there at this time prince, or leader, or prophet,
or holocaust, or sacrifice, or oblation, or incense,
or place of firstfruits before thee, that we may find thy mercy:

nevertheless in a contrite heart and humble spirit let us be accepted.
So let our sacrifice be made in thy sight this day, that it may please thee:
for there is no confusion to them that trust in thee.

And now we follow thee with all our heart,
and we fear thee, and seek thy face.


Holocaust Remembrance Day

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Today, January 27th, is observed as Holocaust Remembrance Day. Radio Vaticana has two feature broadcasts marking this observance. You can listen to them here and here.

Associated Press notes the feature programs with the following release:

Vatican Highlights Pope's Holocaust Condemnations


VATICAN CITY (AP) -- The Vatican is highlighting Pope Benedict XVI's record of condemning the Holocaust and anti-Semitism amid an outcry that he rehabilitated a bishop who claims that no Jews were gassed during World War II. Vatican Radio aired a lengthy program Tuesday to mark Holocaust remembrance day. It recalled Benedict's 2006 visit to Auschwitz, his 2005 visit to the main synagogue in Cologne, Germany, and other remarks over the years in which he has denounced the "insane, racist ideology" that produced the Holocaust. The Vatican has been intensifying its defense of Benedict after Jewish groups voiced outrage that he lifted the excommunication of a traditionalist bishop, Richard Williamson, who has denied that 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust.

Update:

Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X, has forbidden Bishop Williamson to speak on political or historical matters. Go to Rorate Caeli for the text of Bishop Fellay's communiqué.

Avery Cardinal Dulles (1918-2008)

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Cardinal Dulles died this morning, on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The following lines written in 1946, and already marked by profound humility and wisdom, are taken from the Cardinal's account of his conversion to the Catholic faith, "A Testimonial to Grace."

Humble Love and Confidence

Brethren outside the Church, do not be scandalized by the frailty and ineptitude of Catholics. Our human faults, the whole burden of fallen nature, remain with us as much as with you. Your conduct is often more praiseworthy than ours. The sufficiency of which we seem to boast so much lies not in ourselves, but in Christ. There is no sin so hideous that He refuses to pay the debt for it, provided that we go to Him with sorrow, humble love, and confidence.

Sin Conspicuous and Hidden

The acquisition of virtuous tendencies is a slow and difficult process, in which many of us will never greatly succeed. By the power of our own will we can to some extent avoid the more conspicuous acts of sin. But the evil, thus repressed, continues to live underground, and, unless grace be present, will exhibit itself in other ways such as the stiff-necked complacency of the Pharisees. The world will never condemn secret pride as bitterly as it condemns the shameful sins. But Christ condemned it more severely because it is more incompatible with love.

The Crowning Virtue of Simplicity

True progress can be made through love alone. By forgetting ourselves and living entirely for the glory of Almighty God we can unite ourselves efficaciously with Jesus Christ, Who offered His Sacred Humanity to the Father without stint or hesitation. When one lives completely in the presence of God and for His sake, commendable actions become easier and more fruitful. The saints are able to conform their actions fully with their faith, exercising the necessary tact and delicacy, because they possess the crowning virtue of simplicity. Their whole body is filled with light because their eye is single. They have acquired the spirit of prayer.

Spiritual Childhood: To Cast All Our Care on Him

To advance in the life of grace is to become more childlike, more conscious of one's own littleness and ineffectiveness and of the bigness and strength of God. Gradually, and after many falls, we learn how to cast all our care on Him Who has a fatherly care for us, to trust Him completely because He is all-wise, all-loving, and all-powerful. As one loses oneself in Him one learns what it is to wrestle against principalities and powers. At the same time, however, one learns the meaning of that peace which was the parting gift of Christ to His children in the world.

A Struggle Not Without Rich Rewards

Through a gradual growth in humble Christian hope and faith and love one rises on the ladder of perfection. The ascent is difficult because the spiritual life is a continual struggle. The field to be subdued is as broad as the eye can see, and as one rises the horizons widen. Yet the struggle is not without rich rewards, even at the bottom rungs of the ladder.

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"We institute the Feast of the Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ to be observed yearly throughout the whole world. . . . We further ordain that the dedication of mankind to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which Our predecessor of saintly memory, Pope Pius X, commanded to be renewed yearly, be made annually on that day."
Quas Primas, Encyclical of Pope Pius XI, December 11, 1925.

The mandate of Pope Pius XI to recite publicly the Act of Consecration of the Human Race to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has never been rescinded. It was customary in the past to renew the Act of Consecration at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament on the afternoon or evening of the feast of Christ the King. Failing that, could it not be presented in the homily, and then recited at the end of Mass? In how many cathedrals and parish churches will the Act of Consecration be recited publicly today? Read it attentively. It is extraordinarily relevant to the current and coming situation of the Church in the United States.

Act of Consecration of the Human Race to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Most Sweet Jesus, Redeemer of the human race, look down upon us humbly prostrate before thy altar.  We are Thine, and Thine we wish to be; but to be more surely united to Thee, behold each one of us freely consecrates himself / today to Thy Most Sacred Heart. Many indeed have never known Thee; Many too, despising Thy precepts, have rejected Thee.  Have mercy on them all, most merciful Jesus, and draw them to Thy Sacred Heart.
Be Thou King, O Lord, not only of the faithful children / who have never forsaken Thee, but also of the prodigal children / who have abandoned Thee; Grant that they may quickly return / to their Father's house / lest they die of wretchedness and hunger.
Be Thou King of those / who are deceived by the erroneous opinions / of whom discord keeps aloof, and call them back to the harbor of truth / and unity of faith, so that soon there may be / but one flock and one shepherd.
Grant, O Lord, to Thy Church assurance of freedom and immunity from harm; give peace and order to all nations, and make the earth resound / from pole to pole with one cry; praise to the divine Heart that wrought our salvation; To it be glory and honor forever.  R. Amen.

Prophetic Words of Pope Pius XI

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Pope Pius XI promulgated this text on December 11, 1925, in the Encyclical Quas Primas, instituting the feast of Christ the King. Read it, if you will, in the light of the recent elections in the United States. My own comments are in italics.

A Remedy for the Plague Which Now Infects Society

If We ordain that the whole Catholic world shall revere Christ as King, We shall minister to the need of the present day, and at the same time provide an excellent remedy for the plague which now infects society. We refer to the plague of anti-clericalism, its errors and impious activities. This evil spirit, as you are well aware, Venerable Brethren, has not come into being in one day; it has long lurked beneath the surface.

Anti-clericalism here refers, among other things, to a systematic opposition to the right and duty of bishops and priests to address issues of faith and morals in public life. Anti-clericalism would silence the prophetic voice of the Church; its goal is to erase the Church from society insofar as she represents a "sign of contradiction" and a threat to the implementation of the societal agenda shaped by the powers of this world.

The Religion of Christ Under the Power of the State

The empire of Christ over all nations was rejected. The right which the Church has from Christ himself, to teach mankind, to make laws, to govern peoples in all that pertains to their eternal salvation, that right was denied. Then gradually the religion of Christ came to be likened to false religions and to be placed ignominiously on the same level with them. It was then put under the power of the state and tolerated more or less at the whim of princes and rulers.

One can only wonder if Catholics in the United States will soon experience what Catholics of other times and places have so often experienced in the past.

Secular Humanism and Aggressive Atheism

Some men went even further, and wished to set up in the place of God's religion a natural religion consisting in some instinctive affection of the heart. There were even some nations who thought they could dispense with God, and that their religion should consist in impiety and the neglect of God.

Look around. Both trends are alive and active today, especially in Europe, the United States, and Canada.

Insatiable Greed and Immoderate Selfishness

The rebellion of individuals and states against the authority of Christ has produced deplorable consequences. We lamented these in the Encyclical Ubi arcano; we lament them today: the seeds of discord sown far and wide; those bitter enmities and rivalries between nations, which still hinder so much the cause of peace; that insatiable greed which is so often hidden under a pretense of public spirit and patriotism, and gives rise to so many private quarrels; a blind and immoderate selfishness, making men seek nothing but their own comfort and advantage, and measure everything by these; no peace in the home, because men have forgotten or neglect their duty; the unity and stability of the family undermined; society in a word, shaken to its foundations and on the way to ruin.

The economic crisis is the result of greed, selfishness, the frenzied drive to secure one's own comfort and advantage, and the undermining of the family.

Slowness and Timidity in Good People

We firmly hope, however, that the feast of the Kingship of Christ, which in future will be yearly observed, may hasten the return of society to our loving Savior. It would be the duty of Catholics to do all they can to bring about this happy result. Many of these, however, have neither the station in society nor the authority which should belong to those who bear the torch of truth. This state of things may perhaps be attributed to a certain slowness and timidity in good people, who are reluctant to engage in conflict or oppose but a weak resistance; thus the enemies of the Church become bolder in their attacks. But if the faithful were generally to understand that it behooves them ever to fight courageously under the banner of Christ their King, then, fired with apostolic zeal, they would strive to win over to their Lord those hearts that are bitter and estranged from Him, and would valiantly defend His rights.

Catholic leaders reluctant to engage in conflict or opposing but a weak resistance? Sound familiar? Those fighting under the banner of Christ the King have a twofold mission: 1) to win over to their Lord those hearts that are bitter and estranged from Him; and 2) to valiantly defend His rights. His rights are, of course, the rights of those who cannot speak for themselves or defend themselves, beginning with the child in the womb.

Suppression of the Name of Our Redeemer

Moreover, the annual and universal celebration of the feast of the Kingship of Christ will draw attention to the evils which anticlericalism has brought upon society in drawing men away from Christ, and will also do much to remedy them. While nations insult the beloved name of our Redeemer by suppressing all mention of it in their conferences and parliaments, we must all the more loudly proclaim his kingly dignity and power, all the more universally affirm his rights.

I am thinking of the European Constitution and the refusal of entire nations to even acknowledge the Christian roots of their cultural patrimony. The principle is this: change words, that is, change the public discourse and, in the end, one will succeed in changing the face of society.

My Name is Thomas Aquinas

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An Amazing Story

Madrid, Nov 12, 2008 / 09:21 pm (CNA).- The Spanish daily "La Razon" has published an article on the pro-life conversion of a former "champion of abortion." Stojan Adasevic, who performed 48,000 abortions, sometimes up to 35 per day, is now the most important pro-life leader in Serbia, after 26 years as the most renowned abortion doctor in the country.

"The medical textbooks of the Communist regime said abortion was simply the removal of a blob of tissue," the newspaper reported. "Ultrasounds allowing the fetus to be seen did not arrive until the 80s, but they did not change his opinion. Nevertheless, he began to have nightmares."

In describing his conversion, Adasevic "dreamed about a beautiful field full of children and young people who were playing and laughing, from 4 to 24 years of age, but who ran away from him in fear. A man dressed in a black and white habit stared at him in silence. The dream was repeated each night and he would wake up in a cold sweat. One night he asked the man in black and white who he was. 'My name is Thomas Aquinas,' the man in his dream responded. Adasevic, educated in communist schools, had never heard of the Dominican genius saint. He didn't recognize the name"

"Why don't you ask me who these children are?" St. Thomas asked Adasevic in his dream.

"They are the ones you killed with your abortions,' St. Thomas told him.

"Adasevic awoke in amazement and decided not to perform any more abortions," the article stated.

"That same day a cousin came to the hospital with his four months-pregnant girlfriend, who wanted to get her ninth abortion--something quite frequent in the countries of the Soviet bloc. The doctor agreed. Instead of removing the fetus piece by piece, he decided to chop it up and remove it as a mass. However, the baby's heart came out still beating. Adasevic realized then that he had killed a human being,"

After this experience, Adasevic "told the hospital he would no longer perform abortions. Never before had a doctor in Communist Yugoslavia refused to do so. They cut his salary in half, fired his daughter from her job, and did not allow his son to enter the university."

After years of pressure and on the verge of giving up, he had another dream about St. Thomas.

"You are my good friend, keep going,' the man in black and white told him. Adasevic became involved in the pro-life movement and was able to get Yugoslav television to air the film 'The Silent Scream,' by Doctor Bernard Nathanson, two times."

Adasevic has told his story in magazines and newspapers throughout Eastern Europe. He has returned to the Orthodox faith of his childhood and has studied the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas.

"Influenced by Aristotle, Thomas wrote that human life begins forty days after fertilization," Adasevic wrote in one article. La Razon commented that Adasevic "suggests that perhaps the saint wanted to make amends for that error." Today the Serbian doctor continues to fight for the lives of the unborn.

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There have been more than 40 million abortions in the United States since 1973.

HEART OF JESUS,
formed by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary,
have mercy on the nations soaked in the blood of the innocent.

May that vast army of infants slaughtered mercilessly in their mothers' wombs
raise their voices and plead before Thy throne in glory
for an end to the crime of abortion
that has so rightly merited Thy Father's wrath
and caused the nations to become an abomination in His sight.

Do what Thou must, O merciful Heart of Jesus,
to reveal to all the horror of this sin
and to bring us to repentance.

Immaculate Virgin Mary,
thou who didst bear Thy Son for nine months
in the inviolate sanctuary of Thy womb,
intercede for all who, confident in thy maternal protection,
seek to defend the life of unborn children.
Amen.

Aliis agricolis

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Today at the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, Pope Benedict XVI opened the Synod Assembly by preaching on the Gospel of the 27th Sunday of the Year A, Matthew 21, 33-43.

When God Resorts to Punishment

"This page of the Gospel applies to our own way of thinking and acting; it applies especially to those peoples who have received the proclamation of the Gospel. If we look at history, we are forced to recognize that it is not rare for inconsistent Christians to be cold and rebellious. As a result of this, although God never fails his promise of salvation, he has often had to resort to punishment.

Nations Once Rich in Faith and Vocations

It is spontaneous to think, in this context, of the first proclamation of the Gospel, which gave rise to Christian communities that at first were flourishing, but later disappeared and are now remembered only in the history books. Could not the same thing happen in our time? Nations that at one time were rich in faith and vocations are now losing their identity, under the harmful and destructive influence of a certain modern culture.

Man Without God: Unhappy and Alone

There are those who, having decided that 'God is dead', declare themselves 'gods', believing themselves the sole creators of their own destiny and the absolute owners of the world. In casting off God and not awaiting salvation from him, man believes that he can do whatever he likes and set himself up as the sole measure of himself and his action. But when man eliminates God from his horizon, is he truly more happy? Does he truly become more free? When men proclaim themselves the absolute owners of themselves, and the sole masters of creation, can they truly build a society in which freedom, justice, and peace reign? Does it not instead happen - as daily events abundantly demonstrate - that there is the expansion of arbitrary power, egoistic interest, injustice and exploitation, violence in all of its expressions? The result, in the end, is that man finds himself more alone, and society is more divided and confused."

There Will Be Other Peoples Ready to Accept the Faith

But "there is a promise in the words of Jesus: the vineyard will not be destroyed. Although he leaves the unfaithful keepers of the vineyard to their fate, the owner does not abandon his vineyard, and he entrusts it to other servants, who are faithful. This indicates that, if in some regions faith becomes weak to the point of disappearing, there will always be other peoples ready to accept it."

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From the Lineamenta. Read the entire document here.

Mary: Every Believer's Model for Receiving the Word

25. Salvation history has great examples of hearers and evangelizers of the Word of God: Abraham, Moses, the prophets, Sts. Peter and Paul, the other Apostles and the evangelists. In faithfully hearing the Lord's Word and communicating it to others, these people created a space for the Kingdom of God.

From this vantage point, the Virgin Mary assumes a central role as one who lived, in singular fashion, the encounter with the Word of God, who is Jesus himself. She is then a model of every aspect of hearing and proclaiming. Already possessing a familiarity with the Word of God in her intense experience of the Scriptures of the Chosen People, Mary of Nazareth, from the moment of the Annunciation to her presence at the foot of the Cross, and even to her participation at Pentecost, receives the Word in faith, meditates upon it, interiorizes it and intensely lives it (cf. Lk 1:38; 2:19, 51, Acts 17:11)). Because of her uninterrupted response of "yes" to the Word of God, she knows how to take into account what is happening around her and live the necessities of daily life, fully aware that what she receives as a gift from the Son is a gift meant for everyone: in the service of Elizabeth, at Cana and at the foot of the cross (cf. Lk 1:39; Jn 2:1-12; 19: 25-27). Therefore, the words, uttered by Jesus in her presence, are appropriately applied to her as well, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it" (Lk 8:21). "Since Mary is completely imbued with the Word of God, she is able to become the Mother of the Word Incarnate" (32).

Maria, Virgo Audiens

Mary's way of hearing the Word of God deserves special consideration. The Gospel text, "Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Lk 2:19), means that she heard and knew the Scriptures, meditated upon them in her heart in an interior process of maturation, where the mind is not separated from the heart. Mary sought the spiritual sense of the Scriptures and found it, associating it (symallousa) with the written words, the life of Jesus and the moments of discovery in her personal history. Mary is our model not only for receiving the faith which is the Word, but also for studying it. It is not enough for her to receive it. She reflects on it. She not only possesses it, but values it. She not only gives it her assent, but also develops it. In doing so, Mary becomes an example of faith for all of us, from the most simple soul to the most scholarly of the Doctors of the Church, who seek, consider and set forth how to bear witness to the Gospel.

Maria, Virgo Obediens

In receiving the Good News, Mary is the ideal model of the obedience of faith, becoming a living icon of the Church in service to the Word. Isaac of Stella states: "In the inspired Scriptures, what is said in a universal sense of the virgin mother, the Church, is understood in an individual sense of the Virgin Mary.... The Lord's inheritance is, in a general sense, the Church; in a special sense, Mary; and in an individual sense, the Christian. Christ dwelt for nine months in the tabernacle of Mary's womb, he dwells until the end of the ages in the tabernacle of the Church's faith. He will dwell for ever in the knowledge and love of each faithful soul (33)". She teaches us not to stand by as idle spectators before the Word of Life, but to become participants, making our own the "here I am" of the prophet (cf. Is 6:8) and allowing ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit, who abides in us. She "magnifies" the Lord, discovering in her life the mercy of God, who makes her "blessed," because "she believed that there would be a fulfilment of what had been spoken to her from the Lord" (Lk 1:45). St. Ambrose says that every Christian believer conceives and begets the Word of God. According to the flesh, Christ has only one mother; but, according to the faith, everyone gives him birth (34).

The Persecution Continues

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AsiaNews is, without a doubt, the best source of information about the cruel sufferings of Christians being persecuted for their faith in the state of Orissa, India.

An Offering of Psalmody

Psalm 73, 1-7

O God, hast thou altogether abandoned us? Sheep of thy own pasturing, must we feel the fires of thy vengeance?

Bethink thee of the company thou hast gathered, long ago; of the tribe thou hast chosen to be thy own domain; of mount Sion, where thou hast thy dwelling-place.

Hither turn thy steps, where all is ruin irretrievable; see what havoc thy enemies have wrought in the holy place, how their malice has raged in thy very precincts, setting up its emblems for a trophy of conquest.

Blow after blow, like woodmen in the forest, they have plied their axes, brought it down, with pick and mallet, to the ground. They have set fire to thy sanctuary, sullied the dwelling-place of thy glory in the dust.

I have been moved to offer the long and often tortuous psalms of Matins for these men, women, and children in every way equal to the martyrs of ancient times. The cries of the psalmist become their prayer rising to the Father from all over the globe with the voice of the suffering Christ. Readers of Vultus Christi may want to join me in making a daily offering of psalmody for the Christians of Orissa.

Pogroms and Threats

New Delhi (AsiaNews) - There is no end to the tension in Orissa, where for two weeks a pogrom has been underway against Christians. Many of the faithful who have taken shelter in the refugee camps after their homes were destroyed and burned have found themselves threatened in the camps as well, where they should be protected by the police. The threats come from the Hindu radicals of the VHP (Viswa Hindu Parishad) and of the RSS (Rastriya Swyamsevak Sangh), who force the tribals to convert back to Hinduism, or suffer new violence. Some of the priests and their relatives have also been threatened, and as a sign of their "reconversion", they are shaved bald like sadhus (Hindu ascetics).


According to accounts sent to AsiaNews from Bhubaneshwar, the fundamentalist groups are also spreading through the villages and forcing the Christians to sign papers saying that they are "freely" returning to Hinduism. Those who refuse are beaten, and their homes are burned.

Sometimes - sources tell AsiaNews - as a sign of their "new life", they are forced to burn the churches and homes of other Christians.

And the destruction itself is becoming more "intelligent". Sometimes, instead of burning homes, the fundamentalists content themselves with taking all of the furniture and objects out of it, and destroying them. In this way, they say, they make the families poor and exclude them from reimbursement by the government, which has promised money for those who have had their homes burned. This method is also useful in case the fundamentalists are arrested by the police: arson is punishable with years in prison, but the distruction of objects with only a few months.

In the area of Kandhamal, a list has been drawn up of Catholic priests and pastors accused of being the killers of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, the radical Hindu leader killed last August 23 by Maoist guerrillas, whose death the Hindus continue to blame on the Christians.


Quaerere Deum

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Pope Benedict XVI
Collège des Bernardins, Paris
12 September 2008

The Holy Father's discourse today at the Collège des Bernardins (a familiar way of referring to monks of the Order of Cîteaux) in Paris, must be read in relationship to the equally masterful discourse he gave on September 9, 2007 at the Cistercian Abbey of Heiligenkreuz in Austria. The Holy Father's presentation of the monastic culture of The Word, and of the role it played in the development of letters and of learning in Europe, is simply brilliant. I was particularly taken by His Holiness' treatment of the birth of Christian liturgical chant: a music whose worthiness of God resounds in purity.

Built by the Sons of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

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Dear friends, we are gathered in a historic place, built by the spiritual sons of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, and which the late Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger desired to be a centre of dialogue between Christian Wisdom and the cultural, intellectual, and artistic currents of contemporary society. In particular, I greet the Minister of Culture, who is here representing the Government, together with Mr Giscard d'Estaing and Mr Jacques Chirac. I likewise greet all the Ministers present, the Representatives of UNESCO, the Mayor of Paris, and all other Authorities in attendance. I do not want to forget my colleagues from the French Institute, who are well aware of my regard for them. I thank the Prince of Broglie for his cordial words. We shall see each other again tomorrow morning. I thank the delegates of the French Islamic community for having accepted the invitation to participate in this meeting: I convey to them by best wishes for the holy season of Ramadan already underway. Of course, I extend warm greetings to the entire, multifaceted world of culture, which you, dear guests, so worthily represent.

The Culture of Monasticism

I would like to speak with you this evening of the origins of western theology and the roots of European culture. I began by recalling that the place in which we are gathered is in a certain way emblematic. It is in fact a placed tied to monastic culture, insofar as young monks came to live here in order to learn to understand their vocation more deeply and to be more faithful to their mission. We are in a place that is associated with the culture of monasticism. Does this still have something to say to us today, or are we merely encountering the world of the past? In order to answer this question, we must consider for a moment the nature of Western monasticism itself. What was it about? From the perspective of monasticism's historical influence, we could say that, amid the great cultural upheaval resulting from migrations of peoples and the emerging new political configurations, the monasteries were the places where the treasures of ancient culture survived, and where at the same time a new culture slowly took shape out of the old. But how did it happen? What motivated men to come together to these places? What did they want? How did they live?

Searching for God

First and foremost, it must be frankly admitted straight away that it was not their intention to create a culture nor even to preserve a culture from the past. Their motivation was much more basic. Their goal was: "quaerere Deum". Amid the confusion of the times, in which nothing seemed permanent, they wanted to do the essential - to make an effort to find what was perennially valid and lasting, life itself. They were searching for God. They wanted to go from the inessential to the essential, to the only truly important and reliable thing there is. It is sometimes said that they were "eschatologically" oriented. But this is not to be understood in a temporal sense, as if they were looking ahead to the end of the world or to their own death, but in an existential sense: they were seeking the definitive behind the provisional.

The Culture of the Word

"Quaerere Deum": because they were Christians, this was not an expedition into a trackless wilderness, a search leading them into total darkness. God himself had provided signposts, indeed he had marked out a path which was theirs to find and to follow. This path was his word, which had been disclosed to men in the books of the sacred Scriptures. Thus, by inner necessity, the search for God demands a culture of the word or - as Jean Leclercq put it: eschatology and grammar are intimately connected with one another in Western monasticism (cf. "L'amour des lettres et le désir de Dieu"). The longing for God, the "désir de Dieu," includes "amour des lettres," love of the word, exploration of all its dimensions. Because in the biblical word God comes towards us and we towards him, we must learn to penetrate the secret of language, to understand it in its construction and in the manner of its expression. Thus it is through the search for God that the secular sciences take on their importance, sciences which show us the path towards language. Because the search for God required the culture of the word, it was appropriate that the monastery should have a library, pointing out pathways to the word. It was also appropriate to have a school, in which these pathways could be opened up. Benedict calls the monastery a "dominici servitii schola." The monastery serves "eruditio," the formation and education of man - a formation whose ultimate aim is that man should learn how to serve God. But it also includes the formation of reason - education - through which man learns to perceive, in the midst of words, the Word itself.

Compunction

Yet in order to have a full vision of the culture of the word, which essentially pertains to the search for God, we must take a further step. The Word which opens the path of that search, and is to be identified with this path, is a shared word. True, it pierces every individual to the heart (cf. Acts 2:37). Gregory the Great describes this a sharp stabbing pain, which tears open our sleeping soul and awakens us, making us attentive to God (cf. Leclercq, p. 35). But in the process, it also makes us attentive to one another. The word does not lead to a purely individual path of mystical immersion, but to the pilgrim fellowship of faith. And so this word must not only be pondered, but also correctly read. As in the rabbinic schools, so too with the monks, reading by the individual is at the same time a corporate activity. "But if "legere" and "lectio" are used without an explanatory note, then they designate for the most part an activity which, like singing and writing, engages the whole body and the whole spirit", says Jean Leclercq on the subject (ibid., 21).

At the Origin of Liturgical Chant

And once again, a further step is needed. We ourselves are brought into conversation with God by the word of God. The God who speaks in the Bible teaches us how to speak with him ourselves. Particularly in the book of Psalms, he gives us the words with which we can address him, with which we can bring our life, with all its highpoints and lowpoints, into conversation with him, so that life itself thereby becomes a movement towards him. The psalms also contain frequent instructions about how they should be sung and accompanied by instruments. For prayer that issues from the word of God, speech is not enough: music is required. Two chants from the Christian liturgy come from biblical texts in which they are placed on the lips of angels: the "Gloria", which is sung by the angels at the birth of Jesus, and the "Sanctus", which according to Isaiah 6 is the cry of the seraphim who stand directly before God. Christian worship is therefore an invitation to sing with the angels, and thus to lead the word to its highest destination. Once again, Jean Leclercq says on this subject: "The monks had to find melodies which translate into music the acceptance by redeemed man of the mysteries that he celebrates. The few surviving capitula from Cluny thus show the Christological symbols of the individual modes" (cf. ibid. p. 229).

Music Whose Worthiness Resounds in Purity

For Benedict, the words of the Psalm: "coram angelis psallam Tibi, Domine" - in the presence of the angels, I will sing your praise (cf. 138:1) - are the decisive rule governing the prayer and chant of the monks. What this expresses is the awareness that in communal prayer one is singing in the presence of the entire heavenly court, and is thereby measured according to the very highest standards: that one is praying and singing in such a way as to harmonize with the music of the noble spirits who were considered the originators of the harmony of the cosmos, the music of the spheres. From this perspective one can understand the seriousness of a remark by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who used an expression from the Platonic tradition handed down by Augustine, to pass judgement on the poor singing of monks, which for him was evidently very far from being a mishap of only minor importance. He describes the confusion resulting from a poorly executed chant as a falling into the "zone of dissimilarity" - the "regio dissimilitudinis". Augustine had borrowed this phrase from Platonic philosophy, in order to designate his condition prior to conversion (cf. Confessions, VII, 10.16): man, who is created in God's likeness, falls in his godforsakenness into the "zone of dissimilarity" - into a remoteness from God, in which he no longer reflects him, and so has become dissimilar not only to God, but to himself, to what being human truly is. Bernard is certainly putting it strongly when he uses this phrase, which indicates man's falling away from himself, to describe bad singing by monks. But it shows how seriously he viewed the matter.

The Culture of Singing is the Culture of Being

It shows that the culture of singing is also the culture of being, and that the monks have to pray and sing in a manner commensurate with the grandeur of the word handed down to them, with its claim on true beauty. This intrinsic requirement of speaking with God and singing of him with words he himself has given, is what gave rise to the great tradition of Western music. It was not a form of private "creativity", in which the individual leaves a memorial to himself and makes self-representation his essential criterion. Rather it is about vigilantly recognizing with the "ears of the heart" the inner laws of the music of creation, the archetypes of music that the Creator built into his world and into men, and thus discovering music that is worthy of God, and at the same time truly worthy of man, music whose worthiness resounds in purity.

The Scriptures and the Journey Toward Christ

In order to understand to some degree the culture of the word, which developed deep within Western monasticism from the search for God, we need to touch at least briefly on the particular character of the book, or rather books, in which the monks encountered this word. The Bible, considered from a purely historical and literary perspective, is not simply one book but a collection of literature, which came into being in the course of more than a thousand years and in which the inner unity of the individual books is not immediately recognizeable. On the contrary, there are visible tensions between them. This is already the case within the Bible of Israel, which we Christians call the Old Testament. It is only rectified when we as Christians link the New Testament writings as, so to speak, a hermeneutical key with the Bible of Israel, and so understand the latter as the journey towards Christ. With good reason, the New Testament generally designates the Bible not as "the Scripture" but as "the Scriptures", which, when taken together, are naturally then regarded as the one word of God to us. But the use of this plural makes it quite clear that God's word only comes to us here through the human word and through human words, that God only speaks to us through the mediation of human agents, their words and their history. This means again that the divine element in the word and in the words is not self-evident. To say this in a modern way: the unity of the biblical books and the divine character of their words cannot be grasped by purely historical methods. The historical element is seen in the multiplicity and the humanity. From this perspective one can understand the formulation of a medieval couplet that at first sight appears rather disconcerting: "littera gesta docet - quid credas allegoria ..." (cf. Augustine of Dacia, "Rotulus pugillaris", I). The letter indicates the facts; what you have to believe is indicated by allegory, that is to say, by Christological and pneumatological exegesis.

A New Challenge to Every Generation

We may put it even more simply: Scripture requires exegesis, and it requires the context of the community in which it came to birth and in which it is lived. This is where its unity is to be found, and here too its unifying meaning is opened up. To put it yet another way: there are dimensions of meaning in the word and in words which only come to light within the living community of this history-generating word. Through the growing realization of the different layers of meaning, the word is not devalued, but in fact appears in its full grandeur and dignity. Therefore the Catechism of the Catholic Church can rightly say that Christianity does not simply represent a religion of the book in the classical sense (cf. par. 108). It perceives in the words the word, the Logos itself, which spreads its mystery through this multiplicity. This particular structure of the Bible issues a constantly new challenge to every generation. It excludes by its nature everything that today is known as fundamentalism. In effect, the word of God can never simply be equated with the letter of the text. To attain to it involves a transcending and a process of understanding, led by the inner movement of the whole and hence it also has to become a process of living. Only within the dynamic unity of the whole are the many books one book. God's word and action in the world are only revealed in the word and history of human beings.

Christ the Lord Shows Us the Way

The whole drama of this topic is illuminated in the writings of Saint Paul. What is meant by the transcending of the letter and understanding it solely from the perspective of the whole, he forcefully expressed as follows: "The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor 3:6). And he continues: "Where the Spirit is ... there is freedom" (cf. 2 Cor 3:17). But one can only understand the greatness and breadth of this vision of the biblical word if one listens closely to Paul and then discovers that this liberating Spirit has a name, and hence that freedom has an inner criterion: "The Lord is the Spirit. Where the Spirit is ... there is freedom" (2 Cor 3:17). The liberating Spirit is not simply the exegete's own idea, the exegete's own vision. The Spirit is Christ, and Christ is the Lord who shows us the way. With the word of Spirit and of freedom, a further horizon opens up, but at the same time a clear limit is placed upon arbitrariness and subjectivity, which unequivocally binds both the individual and the community and brings about a new, higher obligation than that of the letter: namely, the obligation of insight and love. This tension between obligation and freedom, which extends far beyond the literary problem of scriptural exegesis, has also determined the thinking and acting of monasticism and has deeply marked Western culture. It presents itself anew as a task for our generation too, vis-à-vis the poles of subjective arbitrariness and fundamentalist fanaticism. It would be a disaster if today's European culture could only conceive freedom as absence of obligation, which would inevitably play into the hands of fanaticism and arbitrariness. Absence of obligation and arbitrariness do not signify freedom, but its destruction.

Monastic Culture of Work

Thus far in our consideration of the "school of God's service", as Benedict describes monasticism, we have examined only its orientation towards the word - towards the "ora". Indeed, this is the starting point that sets the direction for the entire monastic life. But our consideration would remain incomplete if we did not also at least briefly glance at the second component of monasticism, indicated by the "labora". In the Greek world, manual labour was considered something for slaves. Only the wise man, the one who is truly free, devotes himself to the things of the spirit; he views manual labour as somehow beneath him, and leaves it to people who are not suited to this higher existence in the world of the spirit. The Jewish tradition was quite different: all the great rabbis practised at the same time some form of handcraft. Paul, who as a Rabbi and then as a preacher of the Gospel to the Gentile world was also a tent-maker and earned his living with the work of his own hands, is no exception here, but stands within the common tradition of the rabbinate. Monasticism took up this tradition; manual work is a constitutive element of Christian monasticism. Benedict in his "Rule" does not speak specifically about schools, although in practice, he presupposes teaching and learning, as we have seen. He does, however, speak explicitly about work (cf. Chap. 48). And so does Augustine, who dedicated a book of his own to monastic work. Christians, who thus continued in the tradition previously established by Judaism, must have felt further vindicated by Jesus's saying in Saint John's Gospel, in defence of his activity on the Sabbath: "My Father is working still, and I am working" (5:17). The Graeco-Roman world did not have a creator God; according to its vision, the highest divinity could not, as it were, dirty his hands in the business of creating matter. The "making" of the world was the work of the Demiurge, a lower deity. The Christian God is different: he, the one, real and only God, is also the Creator. God is working; he continues working in and on human history. In Christ, he enters personally into the laborious work of history. "My Father is working still, and I am working." God himself is the Creator of the world, and creation is not yet finished. God is working. Thus human work was now seen as a special form of human resemblance to God, as a way in which man can and may share in God's activity as creator of the world. Monasticism involves not only a culture of the word, but also a culture of work, without which the emergence of Europe, its ethos and its influence on the world would be unthinkable. Naturally, this ethos had to include the idea that human work and shaping of history is understood as sharing in the work of the Creator, and must be evaluated in those terms. Where such evaluation is lacking, where man arrogates to himself the status of god-like creator, his shaping of the world can quickly turn into destruction of the world.

The Monastic Journey

We set out from the premise that the basic attitude of monks in the face of the collapse of the old order and its certainties was "quaerere Deum" - setting out in search of God. We could describe this as the truly philosophical attitude: looking beyond the penultimate, and setting out in search of the ultimate and the true. By becoming a monk, a man set out on a broad and noble path, but he had already found the direction he needed: the word of the Bible, in which he heard God himself speaking. Now he had to try to understand him, so as to be able to approach him. So the monastic journey is indeed a journey into the inner world of the received word, even if an infinite distance is involved. Within the monks' seeking there is already contained, in some respects, a finding. Therefore, if such seeking is to be possible at all, there has to be an initial spur, which not only arouses the will to seek, but also makes it possible to believe that the way is concealed within this word, or rather: that in this word, God himself has set out towards men, and hence men can come to God through it. To put it another way: there must be proclamation, which speaks to man and so creates conviction, which in turn can become life. If a way is to be opened up into the heart of the biblical word as God's word, this word must first of all be proclaimed outwardly. The classic formulation of the Christian faith's intrinsic need to make itself communicable to others, is a phrase from the First Letter of Peter, which in medieval theology was regarded as the biblical basis for the work of theologians: "Always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason (the logos) for the hope that you all have" (Logos must become Apo-logia, word must become answer - 3:15). In fact, Christians of the nascent Church did not regard their missionary proclamation as propaganda, designed to enlarge their particular group, but as an inner necessity, consequent upon the nature of their faith: the God in whom they believed was the God of all people, the one, true God, who had revealed himself in the history of Israel and ultimately in his Son, thereby supplying the answer which was of concern to everyone and for which all people, in their innermost hearts, are waiting. The universality of God, and of reason open towards him, is what gave them the motivation--indeed, the obligation--to proclaim the message. They saw their faith as belonging, not to cultural custom that differs from one people to another, but to the domain of truth, which concerns all people equally.

The Incarnation

The fundamental structure of Christian proclamation "outwards" - towards searching and questioning mankind - is seen in Saint Paul's address at the Areopagus. We should remember that the Areopagus was not a form of academy at which the most illustrious minds would meet for discussion of lofty matters, but a court of justice, which was competent in matters of religion and ought to have opposed the import of foreign religions. This is exactly what Paul is reproached for: "he seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities" (Acts 17:18). To this, Paul responds: I have found an altar of yours with this inscription: 'to an unknown god'. What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you (17:23). Paul is not proclaiming unknown gods. He is proclaiming him whom men do not know and yet do know - the unknown-known; the one they are seeking, whom ultimately they know already, and who yet remains the unknown and unrecognizable. The deepest layer of human thinking and feeling somehow knows that he must exist, that at the beginning of all things, there must be not irrationality, but creative Reason - not blind chance, but freedom. Yet even though all men somehow know this, as Paul expressly says in the Letter to the Romans (1:21), this knowledge remains unreal: a God who is merely imagined and invented is not God at all. If he does not reveal himself, we cannot gain access to him. The novelty of Christian proclamation is that it can now say to all peoples: he has revealed himself. He personally. And now the way to him is open. The novelty of Christian proclamation consists in one fact: he has revealed himself. Yet this is no blind fact, but one that is itself Logos - the presence in our flesh of eternal reason. "Verbum caro factum est" (Jn 1:14): just so, amid what is made (factum) there is now Logos, Logos is among us. Creation (factum) is rational. Naturally, the humility of reason is always needed, in order to accept it: man's humility, which responds to God's humility.

The Search for God and the Readiness to Listen to Him

Our present situation differs in many respects from the one that Paul encountered in Athens, yet despite the difference, the two situations also have much in common. Our cities are no longer filled with altars and with images of multiple deities. God has truly become for many the great unknown. But just as in the past, when behind the many images of God the question concerning the unknown God was hidden and present, so too the present absence of God is silently besieged by the question concerning him. "Quaerere Deum" - to seek God and to let oneself be found by him, that is today no less necessary than in former times. A purely positivistic culture which tried to drive the question concerning God into the subjective realm, as being unscientific, would be the capitulation of reason, the renunciation of its highest possibilities, and hence a disaster for humanity, with very grave consequences. What gave Europe's culture its foundation - the search for God and the readiness to listen to him - remains today the basis of any genuine culture.

A Pastoral Letter on Immigration

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Apostle of the Sacred Heart Sister Mary Ellen's thoughtful response to Bishop Slattery's recent letter moved me to invite readers of Vultus Christi to read his Pastoral Letter on Immigration of last November 25th: "The Suffering Faces of the Poor are the Suffering Face of Christ." The text is available in both Spanish and English on the Tulsa Diocesan Website.

Le père humilié

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Saint Thérèse and Her Father

Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, reflecting on Isaiah's prophecy of the Servant, related it to the humiliation of her own father's suffering. When Thérèse was seven years old she had a vision of a man in the garden, dressed like her father, but going about with his head veiled. Only later did she realize that this was a mysterious prophecy of her father's mental illness. Profoundly affected by her father's suffering, Thérèse lived it as an opportunity to deepen her understanding of the humiliation of Christ in His Passion. Thérèse made some profound connections: she related her father in his sufferings to the humiliation of Christ in His Passion, and related the humiliation of Christ in His Passion to the Fatherhood of God.

The Holy Face

The violence against the Face of Christ in His Passion was, at the deepest level, an attempt by the Evil One to disfigure the Fatherhood of God. Our Lord says, "He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me?" (Jn 14:9-10). From the beginning, the Evil One has sought to discredit the Fatherhood of God by sowing suspicion and doubt in the hearts of His children. The cruel disfiguration of the Face of Christ with blows, bruises, spittle, and thorns was the Evil One's mad attempt to vilify the Father.

War on the Family

The Evil One pursues the same agenda today. He seeks by every means to humiliate the father and to disfigure the face of fatherhood in society. John Saward, in his splendid book, The Way of the Lamb, The Spirit of Childhood and the End of the Age, writes: "The modern western world seems to have declared war on the family in all its members. It is destructive of the child, disparaging of the mother, and derisive of the father. Feminism, now complacently installed as the worldly wisdom of the West, tends to regard fathers as oppressive monsters . . . . All that is male, even the masculine pronoun, offends the feminist rulers of this age. Sometimes it seems as if the head of every father is veiled in shame, un père humilié."

The Father Under Attack

Every attack on the father is an attempt from below to undermine the headship of Christ, "the image of the invisible God" (Col 1:15) in Whom, "all things hold together" (Col 1:17). Just as Christ holds all things in the universe together, so too does the father hold all things together in the family. Abandoned by the father, the family disintegrates. Nothing so damages the wholeness of the family as the absence of the father.

Forty Years After Humanae Vitae

While pursuing the disgrace of the father, the Evil One continues to pursue the degradation of the mother. The widespread rejection in 1968 of Pope Paul VI's Encyclical Humanae Vitae drove a wedge between conjugal union and openness to the gift of life. As a result, the bride was no longer seen as a woman honouring within herself that most radiant of gifts: potential motherhood. The image of the mother was separated from that of the faithful spouse. By disfiguring the woman -- an image of the Church in her dignity of virgin, bride, spouse, and mother -- Satan seeks to discredit the Church, the Spouse of Christ and ever-fruitful Mother of the faithful.

Dissent from the teaching of Humanae Vitae paved the way for the widespread acceptance of artificial birth control, casual sexual relations, abortion, and the militant homosexual agenda that, seeking to parody marriage between one man and one woman, replaces conjugal fruitfulness with a self-indulgent sterility. The acceptance of abortion leads, inexorably, to the acceptance of parricide (the killing of parents) and infanticide. The society that kills its children becomes patricidal and matricidal. The society that discredits fatherhood and motherhood becomes sterile and dies.

The Consecrated Life

The poisonous trends of the culture of death have not spared the consecrated life itself. The crisis around Humanae Vitae corresponded exactly to the moment when religious began to speak naïvely of "openness to the world." The spirit of the world, the flesh, and the devil seeped through the cracks in the cloister and, in the most pernicious and subtle ways, infected religious and monastic life with the prejudices of the age against the father, the mother, and the child.

The Abdication of the Fathers

Rejection of the father began to manifest itself in the contestation of all paternal authority, focusing on that of the Pope. This was just another manifestation of what Von Balthasar so aptly calls Der Antirömische Affekt, "The Anti-Roman Complex." The very name of Father, in use from the Apostolic Age and honoured in the monastic deserts of Egypt and Palestine, fell into disaffection. Superiors felt the need to be "a brother among brothers," failing to see that by doing so they were abdicating the very grace of state constitutive of their spiritual authority.

The collapse of the religious or monastic family ensued, just as the collapse of the natural family would follow any father's abdication of his paternal authority. The most extreme manifestation of this disaffection for the Father is the kind of cultural patricide we see in society today. The same patricide holds sway in the religious community bent on eradicating every vestige of fatherhood in the name of liberty, fraternity, and equality.

The Mother Under Suspicion

Rejection of the mother was, if anything, even more vicious. The years immediately following the Second Vatican Council saw a widespread critique of the consecrated woman as sponsa Verbi -- bride of Christ -- and a decline in practices of devotion to the Virgin Mother of God. The anti-motherhood propaganda of radical feminism, based on the lie that motherhood limits a woman's freedom to be herself, combined with the rejection of Humanae Vitae to cast suspicion on every expression of maternal authority and spiritual motherhood.

Virtual Matricide

The failure of a few women religious to live the grace of spiritual motherhood wisely and tenderly became an excuse for the extermination of the mother, setting in motion a matricidal revolution. Immature religious women dealing with unresolved emotional conflicts within themselves found in this trend a justification for the expression of an anti-maternal animosity. Superiors were coerced into abdicating their maternal authority or, deceived by the lies of the age, did so willingly, contributing thereby to the disintegration of the spiritual families entrusted to them and to their inexorable descent into sterility.

The anti-maternal lies perpetrated by the culture of death were received uncritically by many religious. The name of Mother, like that of Father, had to be erased at all costs. Meanwhile, Satan laughed in scorn, knowing full well that the extinction of the mother leads to the extinction of life itself and not just to sterility, but ultimately to death.

The Wasteland of the Fatherless and Motherless

A Church without spiritual fathers and mothers will become like a society without fathers and mothers: a barren wasteland populated by an angry people, strewn with the aborted remains of lives that could have been, and defiled by every manner of abuse and by the triple sin of patricide, matricide, and infanticide.

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I remember well the promulgation of Humanae Vitae on July 25, 1968. Subsequent history has demonstrated that Pope Paul VI spoke "with a special light of the Holy Spirit," and with a certain grace of prophecy. Here are the sections of Humanae Vitae addressed to priests:

To Priests

28. And now, beloved sons, you who are priests, you who in virtue of your sacred office act as counselors and spiritual leaders both of individual men and women and of families--We turn to you filled with great confidence. For it is your principal duty--We are speaking especially to you who teach moral theology--to spell out clearly and completely the Church's teaching on marriage.

Sincere Obedience

In the performance of your ministry you must be the first to give an example of that sincere obedience, inward as well as outward, which is due to the magisterium of the Church. For, as you know, the pastors of the Church enjoy a special light of the Holy Spirit in teaching the truth. (39) And this, rather than the arguments they put forward, is why you are bound to such obedience.

Speak As With One Voice

Nor will it escape you that if men's peace of soul and the unity of the Christian people are to be preserved, then it is of the utmost importance that in moral as well as in dogmatic theology all should obey the magisterium of the Church and should speak as with one voice. Therefore We make Our own the anxious words of the great Apostle Paul and with all Our heart We renew Our appeal to you: "I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment." (40)

Abounding in Mercy Toward Sinners

29. Now it is an outstanding manifestation of charity toward souls to omit nothing from the saving doctrine of Christ; but this must always be joined with tolerance and charity, as Christ Himself showed in His conversations and dealings with men. For when He came, not to judge, but to save the world, (41) was He not bitterly severe toward sin, but patient and abounding in mercy toward sinners?

The Heart and Voice of the Priest

Husbands and wives, therefore, when deeply distressed by reason of the difficulties of their life, must find stamped in the heart and voice of their priest the likeness of the voice and the love of our Redeemer.

Never to Lose Heart Because of Weakness

So speak with full confidence, beloved sons, convinced that while the Holy Spirit of God is present to the magisterium proclaiming sound doctrine, He also illumines from within the hearts of the faithful and invites their assent. Teach married couples the necessary way of prayer and prepare them to approach more often with great faith the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Penance. Let them never lose heart because of their weakness.

Behold, You Are Invited

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Readers of Vultus Christi who are not familiar with the Chaldean Catholic Church may want to look at the website of Saint Peter the Apostle Catholic Diocese for Chaldeans and Assyrians in the United States of America. You will find there, among other things, the magnificent texts, in English translation, of the Chaldean Mass, more properly called "The Rite of the Divine Mysteries of the Church of the East of the Chaldeans and Assyrians."

Chaldean Vespers Hymn for the Sixth Sunday of Lent

“Who is the doctor who can cleanse my hidden wounds?
O, will he be able to heal and to cure [them]?
O who will be able to deliver me from the fire?” [thus] cried the adulteress.
“I will unravel the tangles of sin, and draw near to the Lord and Savior.”
For indeed, he did not cast the tax-collector away from him,
and with his speech, he converted the Samaritan woman.
With his word, he gave life to the Canaanite woman,
and to the hemorrhaging woman he gave healing with the hem of his cloak. With his merciful word, he freed the adulteress from her sins, and invited her to the book of life with the saintly women. Along with them, my soul says at all times: blessed is the Messiah our Savior!


Our Lord has given the medicine of repentance
to the skilled physicians who are the priests of the Church.
So let anyone whom satan has struck with the diseases of wickedness
come and show his wounds to the disciples of the Wise Physician,
and they will heal him with spiritual medicine.

Chaldean Liturgy

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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