Saturday, August 19, 2006
Girolamo Savonarola (Born at Ferrara in 1452 – Died at Florence, 1498.) An Italian Dominican priest and, briefly, ruler of Florence. Known for his religious reformation, anti-Renaissance preaching, book burning, and destruction of art. He was not at all fond of fashion, and held great "bonfires of the vanities."
He was burned at the stake for heresy. Although his so-called heresy has been disputed and many believe he ought to be canonized a saint. My friend Pier Giorgio Frassati took his name for himself in the Third Order of St. Dominic.
Some priests have met with great obstacles in their efforts towards reform.
Friday, August 18, 2006
Fr. Robert Altier
He's in the buzz around town again. (Go to "Stella Borealis" for Ray's report.) Supposedly the people in Hastings do not like his liturgies, which are always fully in accord with the current rubrics, and they are petitioning his removal. This poor guy has experienced this type of treatment all through his seminary training until now in his priesthood.
He helps out with week-end Masses at St. Augustine in South St. Paul these days. A friend who attends there told me that since he has been celebrating the Tridentine rite there, it has more or less doubled the attendance. My friend is pleased with that more for the sake of the rite, believing many who are unfamiliar with it will come to love the traditional Mass, thus increasing the chances of a traditional parish being designated in the Archdiocese. Fr. Altier would be the ideal pastor of such a parish.
His "followers" may likely create more attention for the priest than he would desire however. It will not sit well with some of Father's peers, I am certain of that. Fr. Altier, rather than disappearing into oblivion, is still attracting faithful thirsting for holiness. He is an excellent confessor, and a master of the spiritual life. Like many of the saints, he is misunderstood and "not accepted among his own". We will just have to watch and see if he is removed once again.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Pictured; Galileo before the Holy Office.
It's been years since I've read "The Brothers Karamozov," Dostoevsky's classic. I was reminded of it yesterday when a co-worker was attempting to question me as to why another woman was upset that I would delete her comments off my blogs. I guess because "I can" wasn't good enough for him. I could tell he wanted to probe more deeply into my orthodoxy, asking me exactly what I wrote. He is a "traditionalist" of sorts, yet is in communion with Rome, and he is pretty balanced. (However he will attend the Novus Ordo Mass when the Tridentine rite is unavailable or circumstances warrant it.) He calls me a liberal, which is meant as a sort of slur upon my Catholicism.
I hate these nominative designations some traditionalists love to employ, such as; neo-con, liberal, neo-cath, neo-trad, JPII idolaters, among other less honorable appellations towards Catholics who support Vatican II and have a deep respect for the Novus Ordo Mass as well as other post-Councilar reforms. (However "trads" or "traditionalists" refer to themselves using this nomenclature, I did not invent it.) Everyone knows that many abuses arose in the 40 years since the Council, yet there have been many who have implemented the reforms in the correct manner and form, while remaining faithful to the Magisterium. With John Paul II and now Pope Benedict XVI we have seen, and will continue to see much needed "reform of the reform." Obviously it is not fast enough for the traditionalists who seem to want to call into question every word and action of the Supreme Pontiff and the legitimate Magisterium. As Mark Shea once commented, "For traditionalists, it seems no one is Catholic enough." (Those may not be his exact words, but they are close enough.)
Essentially, in "The Grand Inquisitor" the Cardinal questioning Jesus accused him of causing such great suffering in the world because he permitted people freedom to accept or reject him. He feared he would upset the good order of society by allowing this once again. (Keep in mind this was a literary device of Dostoesvky to convey an idea - it is fiction.) I am not going to write an entire review of "The Grand Inquisitor", either read the book, or go here to read a synopsis.
"The Inquisitor frames his denunciation of Jesus around the three questions Satan asked Jesus during his temptation in the desert. These three are the temptation to turn stones into bread, the temptation to cast Himself from the Temple and be saved by the angels, and the temptation to rule over all the kingdoms of the world. The Inquisitor states that Jesus rejected these three temptations in favor of freedom. The Inquisitor thinks that Jesus has misjudged human nature, though. He does not believe that the vast majority of humanity can handle the freedom which Jesus has given them. Thus, he implies that Jesus, in giving humans freedom to choose, has excluded the majority of humanity from redemption and doomed humanity to suffer." -Wikipedia (For convenience.)
One of the greatest legacies of Vatican II was the liberty of spirit that it generated - however many people may object to that statement. While many vocations seemed lost, many others flourished. New religious orders blossomed, (not just Mother Teresa's either) as well as many new lay movements. Of course there has been much confusion and many abuses, that has happened after every Church Council. Granted, traditional Catholics were marginalized and ostracized, yet things are coming around. The question may be asked, are traditionalists coming around?
Nevertheless, the defensive, reactionary elements still malign the Popes, criticizing many things they do not understand, mistrusting every decision and pronouncement. John XXIII, now proclaimed Blessed by the Church was extremely hopeful for the Council. Later, the Servant of God, Paul VI recognized that the "smoke of satan" had entered into the Church and was wreaking havoc, yet these two popes take the blame for much of what happened. Later, John Paul II is roundly denounced by some traditionalists for his peace keeping efforts, as well as his 'permissive' attitude in implementing the Council reforms - ask a real liberal about that- liberals never thought for a minute that he was permissive. His kissing of the Koran is often cited as reason enough not to trust him. I don't know his thoughts or purpose in that action, nor do they.
Many times encyclicals of earlier Popes are brought up in contention of the Church's efforts to bring about dialogue between religious communities. The Jewish question is very much on the mind of one of my critics in particular. The Catechism and pronouncements of the current Holy Father seem not to satisfy however.
Take as an example how some insist that JPII's extension of the Rosary to 20 mysteries was wrong, that he had no right to do so. For one thing, he did not change the rosary, he did not pronounce that these mysteries were obligatory, he was suggesting them as an aid for our times. One may pray any mystery of the Lord's life they wish when they pray the rosary, it is called private devotion. Holy Father John Paul II announced the Mysteries of Light as public devotion, while never disturbing the integrity of the rosary in the least. Yet "Me thinks the woman protests too much."
Oftentimes I think a few traditionalists spend far too much time meddling in other's spiritual lives while neglecting their own. They feel impelled to tell people they are going to hell when many times they are totally unaware of their own shortcomings and the scandal their hostility generates. Teresa of Avila once protested to the Lord, "No wonder you have such few friends when you treat them like this." (I think her wagon collapsed in a river while she had been on an arduous journey.) I might accommodate her chide with, "No wonder people are turned away from the Church, when your so-called friends are so rude.")
I've been back in the Church since 1972, thirty four years. My faith is fixed upon Jesus, in the Eucharist and the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. I'm an unabashed papist as well. I grew up with the Tridentine rite and still love it, I have accepted the Novus Ordo rite and attend a Church where it is celebrated well. I adhere to the tradition of the Church, as well Her authentic teaching Magisterium. Over these years I have ignored much of the scandals, the abuses, and the firebrands on both sides, especially the ultra-traditionalist faction. (I've endured criticism from the extremist element in both camps. Sadly, in my experience, the ultra-traditionalist have been decidedly more venomous.)
One cannot argue with the self-righteous. When I write "I've ignored" these things and people, I have not. I've been disturbed by them. Yet I do not answer them. Like Jesus before the townsfolk who wanted to throw him over the hill, or before Pilate, or even St. Gerard Majella who never answered his accusers. Silence. Like the Christ before the Inquisitor, who simply replied by silently kissing the old man upon "his bloodless, ninety year old lips" and walked away into the streets of Seville, there is no reply to suit them except charity.
Arguing and name-calling, inquisitions and interdicts, or excommunications will not save the world. Contemplation and mysticism will. For in prayer and contemplation one is caught up in charity and love and peace, immersed in truth. In common mystic prayer before the silent, loving Jesus in the Eucharist, one becomes imbued with charity.
Unlike the silent Christ in Dostoevsky's tale, Our Lord did say in the Gospel, "It is mercy I desire, not sacrifice. Go and learn the meaning of the word mercy." Perhaps rather difficult for an angry traditionalist. People can argue dogma and polemic until they are blue in the face - they are so wasting their time on me - and making an ass of themselves in the process.
Sunday, August 13, 2006
Veritas et momento mori...
The other night, "seized with mortal anguish", (Oh - that was Queen Esther!) I did a post I felt was far too self-indulgent; immediately the next morning I deleted it. That day someone remarked that it was one of the better posts she had read by me, insisting it wasn't self-indulgent at all, that others would be able to identify with it - I'm not sure about that. Perhaps I can retrieve something of its essence on this rainy Sunday afternoon...
The other evening I caught a piece on PBS by the man who wrote "Status Anxiety" - Alain de Botton and it resonated with me. I had been somewhat concerned with the week's news of new terrorist threats, the usual war stories, the economy and fuel prices, oh, and news about my health, which hasn't been the greatest. Thus I was a little anxious, enough to get a prescription for, in addition to new anti-hypertensive drugs and things. Naturally I had been disappointed the Dr. did not prescribe any valium for me either. So it was in that context that I watched this PBS program on status anxiety - perhaps the plaque of American culture.
It was illustrated, as I assume the book is as well, with "momento mori" paintings. A popular genre of art from the 17th and 18th centuries. (A contemporary example is shown above.) Nobility and the wealthy decorated their homes with such images included in their collections to remind themselves of their own mortality, in keeping with the Biblical exhortation to keep death always before one's eyes, as it were. This has long been a Christian tradition as evidenced in the paintings of the saints who are often shown contemplating a skull in some fashion, signifying the contemplation of death and the need to prepare oneself for it. Easily done today, as I pointed out, regarding the threats all around us and a physician's diagnosis. (No, I am not dying yet - dang it!)
Status anxiety however is a very real thing. Look at the new MacMansions springing up along the hillsides - squeezing up I should say. Check out the Lexus' and Hummers and SUV's on the road. The Louis Vitton bags and oodles of designer clothes people have. "What school did you graduate from?" "Who cuts your hair?" "Where do you live?" "He makes how much?" "Oh, so you are vice-president now!" "And you own how many homes?" "What does my son do? Oh excuse me, I have to talk to..."
We are really into it. De Botton showed service people in fast food places, contrasted with the well to do. One can see all sorts of contrasts in status when one looks. It's even evident at Church. The priest rarely runs up to talk to the trucker's family in the back. He is most likely to be found talking with the major contributors. The VP I once worked for would refuse to deal with anyone in a company other than the "principal person" - either another VP or the owner of the company. That's pretty de rigueur however for persons in position of power.
Is status real or imagined? Well, it's obviously real - it works. Although in many respects its imaginary since it is elusive and transitory - especially considering we all use the toilet and will eventually die. My old VP is dead now, nearly forgotten, except he has an industry award named for him, so he'll live on for awhile. Which brings up another topic in this regard, awards.
Awards and rewards and commendations. I've gotten a few. It doesn't help though. They're fleeting. They are encouraging at the time, yet other's opinions and assessments of me, my work, isn't a source of bliss for me. Neither are possessions, much less status. There is no real status in being a manager all of one's life. I learned that when my older brother died, followed a year later by my father's death.
Their deaths were a critical turning point for me in my life. I encountered an extreme emptiness, even though I was not that close to either of them. I came to realize that my principle motivation in life had been to prove myself to them, to seek their approval and appreciation. That was something they never expressed. Nevertheless I recognized I did everything to gain it - even though I was somewhat estranged from them. Then suddenly, they were gone, I realized I had no one to prove myself to any longer. I stopped painting, pretty much retreated from friends and family and started watching "Friends" a lot. (I would have been Chandler - although my dad wasn't a drag queen.)
I eventually snapped out of it of course, thanks to lots of time spent before the Blessed Sacrament and writing stories that could probably have become episodes for "The Simpsons" - cathartic memoirs of a crummy childhood. It pretty much matured me. I got back into the swing of things eventually. I was convinced I no longer cared about what people thought of me or my accomplishments - I was doing my art and my job to please myself - I was working for me, not others.
In the workplace however, you soon realize you really do work for others. (Especially when health problems come up.) One may imagine that one "lives to work" but in the end one "works to live". You have to please the employer, you have to play by their rules. They are there to reinforce the "status anxiety" syndrome, after all, it's their "kingdom". It's just the way it is. It's always going to be like that. They need you until you are no longer useful. That's life. What kind of status is that, Mr. Vice-President? You too can be replaced. (One of my friends was recently promoted to vice-president - congratulations JB!)
"Vanitas et momento mori." (Maybe I should become an alcoholic...it's a joke!)
[Added note: Coincidently, "The Simpsons" dealt with the subject of status tonight.]