Francis/Kirill Meeting – Commentary Roundup

I doubt I will have much time to write on the upcoming meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow until after it happens. Not surprisingly, there is a small flood of commentary out there already. I have linked to some of it here and here. The following links are also worth checking out (all from a Catholic perspective). If anyone knows any solid Orthodox commentary, please feel free to post links in the combox or send them to me on Twitter (@opuspublicum).

Some Casual Remarks on Lent

‘Tis the season for every Catholic writer, blogger, and celebrity cleric to remind the faithful about the “true meaning” of Lent and all of the “spiritual riches” which are sure to accompany any number of “disciplines,” ranging from reading more classic Catholic literature to giving up beer in favor of hard liquor for 40 days. For a handful of Eastern Catholics following the Gregorian Calendar, Lent began Sunday evening; they could not eat the paczki. Those Easterners celebrating according to the Julian Calendar still have a bit of time before Great Lent kicks in. The spread this year between Gregorian Easter and Julian Pascha is pretty significant. (March 27 as opposed to May 1.) Perhaps by the time Julian Pascha rolls around, it will actually look a lot like spring outside. For those living in the Midwest, it’ll be a miracle if the temperature gets above 45 at the end of the March with no snow on the ground. As I type this, the white stuff is once again descending upon Michigan, though in far less significant amounts than have hit the rest of the country this winter. For that I am thankful. After spending nearly a decade in Chicago without a car, I can say honestly that my winter driving chops have never fully recovered. Moreover, living in the land where every other person on the road owns either an SUV or a truck and thus believes themselves to be invincible, having an A+ defensive-driving game is necessary for survival.

If I were to recommend two pieces of modest reading during this (or any) season of Lent, it would surely be Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s classic Great Lent and St. Alphonsus Liguori’s Preparation for Death (the lightly abridged, but easy-to-acquire TAN Books edition). They are two works seemingly far apart in spirit (Schmemann: “bright sorrow”; Alphonsus: “hell is nigh”) and yet capable of converging on a single point which, in my mind, is essential for those desiring to have a good Lent (however defined): the renewal of time. That is to say, the renewal of our remaining time on this earth should be at the forefront of our minds during this penitential season, especially since we have wasted so much of it already. Instead of perceiving longer liturgical services or more intensive personal prayer as “boring” or “monotonous” or “burdensome,” perhaps we should ask, “What else would you be doing right now?” Getting into trouble, no doubt.

That’s just one man’s opinion, of course; people can follow their own way (or not) to the Resurrection of Christ. Needless to say, no one else except your confessor and Guardian Angel need know about it. For some, the hardest Lenten discipline of all will be to refrain from telling everyone on social media how “hard” and “challenging” the fast is (assuming they fast at all). Oh, and how I pray that the pope would bestow a plenary indulgence for any who refrain from posting “ash selfies” on Facebook. The next cringe-worthy moment will come in another month when Orthodox take to Twitter to ask forgiveness of all whom they have offended, as if a pixelated rote messaged carries anything near the weight of a genuine face-to-face encounter (or, absent that, a personal message). Ah, but now I sound ornery and perhaps I am to some extent and so I best stop typing soon.

Let me conclude, though, with two pieces of advice concerning Lent I have quoted before, but feel compelled to repeat again. The first, from an Orthodox priest, was more of an observation and went like this: “The devil never rides you harder than during Great Lent.” True, true. The second, from a Catholic cleric, runs roughly as follows: “If you can find one fault—just one fault—and correct that during the 40 days, then you will have had a good Lent.” Indeed.

My Second Shameless Professional Wrestling Blog Post In Years: Daniel Bryan Edition

Unless it’s one of the more deceptive (and some might say tasteless) works in years, Daniel Bryan (formerly billed under his real name Bryan Danielson) is set to retire from professional wrestling tonight on World Wrestling Entertainment’s (WWE) flagship show Monday Night RAW. Bryan, who started making noise on the indie circuit back in 2001, emerged into one of the most unlikely wrestling superstars in history despite having neither “the look” WWE goes for when pushing main-event players nor their usually narrow definition of charisma. Bryan, who has never been known for his work on the microphone, leveraged his quirky but straightforward personality into becoming something of an “everyman’s champion,” an unassuming guy you’d love to have in your work place but never expect to be saturated with raw athletic ability or pure wrestling talent. To a certain degree, Bryan followed in the footsteps of the late Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit, combining high-risk aerial moves with a more legitimate catch-style approach to mat wrestling punctuated with martial arts-inspired maneuvers and strikes reminiscent of New Japan “Strong Style” wrestling. Though some wrestling purists lamented that Bryan rarely had opponents in WWE who could “go” in the way only Bryan could, he managed to adapt his in-ring approach to gel with a wide spectrum of performers.

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Brief Thoughts on the SSPX’s Position Regarding the Francis/Kirill Meeting

The Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) has started to weigh-in on the upcoming meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow (more here). Using excerpts from several sources, including John Allen’s thoughtful editorial at Crux, the Society appears concerned that the meeting will sow confusion in the Catholic Church and intentionally blur the lines about which way is the true path to Salvation. In particular, the SSPX objects to how “[p]ast ecumenical gestures with Orthodox have weakened not only the image of the Pope but his very function as defined by Christ Himself” and the Catholic Church’s de facto policy of not seeking to convert the Orthodox (more on this below). With respect to the first charge, the function of the papacy has been a hot-button issue for decades, not only among those concerned with keeping up good ties with the Orthodox, but among Latin traditionalists as well. Traditional Catholics have loudly condemned the “papalotry” which has emerged during the modern era of the “celebrity pope” and the idea that the pope is unlimited in what he can do with respect to faith, morals, liturgy, and so forth. I don’t think the Orthodox (particularly the Russian Orthodox Church) would disagree with this in the slightest. Where the SSPX and the Orthodox likely disagree is how far the pope can reach into the affairs of other patriarchal churches. In lamenting the Catholic Church’s rejection of two Orthodox bishops which wished to enter into communion with her in 1989, the Society decries this as false ecumenism while saying nothing about the fact that it’s just such an apparent overreach of authority which the Orthodox abhor. Had the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church had its rights as a sui iuris church respected, the two aforementioned Orthodox bishops could have been received without incident. It’s somewhat ironic to think that the SSPX would likely defend the right of the pope to freely make such a flagrant incursion into the affairs of the UGCC even if it leads to very troubling results.

As for the Balamand Declaration—which the SSPX is, understandably, unhappy with—it’s, well, complicated. As Fr. Aidan Nichols discusses in his excellent book Rome and the Eastern Churches, Balamand “was well intentioned but underwent the unfortunate fate of pleasing no one.” The Eastern Catholic churches were not unanimous in celebrating Balamand, and the hardline Orthodox were wrong to think that the outcome of the statement would be the abolition of the so-called “Uniate” (Greek Catholic) churches. Whatever politics Rome has tried to play with the Orthodox East has not gotten in the way of Orthodox faithful converting to the Catholic Church. Both the Code of Canon Law of the Oriental Churches and the particular law of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church contain specific provisions for the reception of non-Catholic Eastern Christians into the Catholic Church. Although some Catholic ecumenists may have hoped that Balamand would result in a “live and let live” approach to relations with the Orthodox, that hasn’t exactly been the case, as evidenced, for instance, by recent events in Ukraine. Moreover, the SSPX may, in its zeal, fail to see that the self-guided mission of the Eastern churches is not to simply “cherry pick” individual Orthodox from their confession, but to serve as a bridge to full ecclesiastical communion between East and West.

Although now is not the place to get into the “dirty details,” it is worth noting that “Uniatism,” as a practical policy, has left behind a mixed legacy which some argue has had more to do with East/West estrangement today than anything else. (Others argue that’s nonsense, but again, I leave that debate to another time and place.) That the Catholic Church has decided to step away from it is not surprising, particularly since very little good will come from Catholics attempting to setup “parallel churches” to those already established in the East. The “game plan” now, for better or worse, is to dialogue with those already established churches with an eye towards full ecclesiastical communion. It is unfair to the hopes and intentions of both John Paul II and Benedict XVI to say that they simply were looking for an “I’m ok, you’re ok” approach to the Christian East; they desired for the wound of schism to be healed. While the SSPX is entitled to its own opinion on how to treat that injury, it would perhaps be best if it wrote with more circumspection on the matter and with a wider understanding of the historical and political problems which have kept Christendom tragically split for centuries.

Two Paragraphs on Frank and Kirill in Cuba

Despite the fact the always-correct and never-hyperbolic traditional Catholic website Rorate Caeli said it would never, ever happen, Pope Francis is set to make history on February 12 when he meets with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow. Two essential pieces of Catholic commentary on the event are Adam DeVille’s article from Our Sunday Visitor, “When Pope Meets Patriarch,” and the statement released by the Metropolitan Andrey Skeptytsky Institute, housed at St. Paul University in Ottawa, Ontario. So far I have not been able to find (in English) any concentrated Orthodox commentary on the upcoming meeting, though a recent press conference held by Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) seems to downplay the ecumenical significance of the event while reminding everyone that Moscow still has a beef with the “Unia” (that is, the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine). No soberminded person—Catholic or Orthodox—should look on the meeting as much more than a small, but significant, step in warming relations between the two largest Christian confessions in the world and, hopefully, opening a pathway to establishing greater cooperation on issues of common interest in the future. The central (advertised) point of the February 12 meeting will be the persecution of Christians in the Middle East with a joint declaration expected to be signed.

Although the apparent aims and intents of Francis and Kirill’s meeting are quite modest, that doesn’t mean there aren’t nervous observers on both sides of the confessional divide. Some Ukrainian Greek Catholics are understandably worried that Francis will throw their interests under the bus in order to appease Kirill, a real (though hopefully unlikely) possibility given the Moscow Patriarchate’s decades-long insistence that the very existence of the UGCC was a barrier to any meeting between pope and patriarch. Francis—the “pope of surprises”—could cut the other way, of course, stating in clear terms that the violence in Ukraine must stop and the freedom of the UGCC be respected. Orthodox observers, particularly those who buy into the Moscow Patriarchate’s “Russian World” ideology, will not be happy if Kirill appears to budge on the (problematic) idea that Ukraine, by right, belongs to Moscow. End of story. At the same time, non-Russian Orthodox may find it disconcerting that the Moscow Patriarchate appears to be drawing closer to Rome (at least strategically) and surmise that it is little more than a power play on the Russian Church’s part. Arguably the best possible outcome—at least at this stage in the game—is for both men to build enough trust in each other that they can move forward on a number of prickly issues in the near future. For now, Catholics and Orthodox should be pleased if the two sides can speak with one voice on the atrocious violence in the Middle East and the fate of the region’s historic Christian populations.