Ephemera XV: Church Crisis Edition 2

Rod Dreher supports the Eastern Orthodox Church’s late-model practice of communing adulterers, that is, those who have divorced and remarried while their first spouse is still alive. In a blog post over at The American Conservative where Dreher discusses the ongoing turmoil in the Catholic Church over the dubia concerning Amoris Laetitia submitted by four cardinals to Pope Francis, he states that “what Pope Francis wishes to teach on communion and remarriage is closer to the Orthodox view of things, which I believe is true” (emphasis added). Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by this, though there are still Orthodox out there who still believe in the indissolubility of marriage. Given Dreher’s time in the Catholic Church, I thought he may have been inoculated against some of Orthodoxy’s more questionable and incoherent practices, but so it goes. I should note, however, that it’s not entirely clear that Francis wishes to follow the Orthodox sensu stricto. He has not, after all, come out in support of dissolving the sacramental bond of marriage, nor has he suggested that abandonment, adultery, or apostasy during any point in the course of a marriage would be grounds for sacramental dissolution (which is now the common view among most Orthodox jurisdictions). On the other hand, between the Pope’s decision last year to loosen the canons government annulments coupled with the ambiguous passages found throughout Amoris Laetitia, it is certainly arguable that the Catholic Church, in practice, takes a far looser view of the marital bond than the Orthodox do. Unsettling times these be.

Oh, in the same piece where Dreher discusses Francis and the cardinals, he calls attention to a recent article by neo-Catholic extraordinaire John Zmirak in which the latter hyperventilates over what the Pope’s recent words and deeds mean for every teaching of the Church since 1054 A.D. (I’m serious). Buying into the contestable view that a pope can never be declared a heretic and deposed, Zmirak goes a step further by claiming that if Francis is indeed teaching errors, then not only is he a heretic but the doctrine of Papal Infallibility is rubbish. For Zmirak (and so many other Catholics intoxicated by papalotry), infallibility is a meta-surety over early everything a pope does while in office. Of course, the First Vatican Council taught no such thing, but don’t tell Zmirak that. It appears that his faith rises and falls with the papacy. Pray for him. Not only is the man caught in a delusion, but his writings are likely to lead other Catholics to believe that Francis’s sorrowful pontificate marks the end of Catholicism as we know it. I have to wonder at this point if Zmirak isn’t setting himself up for a trip on the Bosphorus where he and his package of liberal ideology will become Orthodoxy’s problem.

None of this is to say that there isn’t a real crisis in the Church — one that is extremely difficult to understand. Whenever I find myself losing heart, I return to Bishop Bernard Fellay’s sermon, given during the 2012 Angelus Press conference on the Papacy, in which he compares the mystery of the ongoing crisis of the Church to the mystery of our Lord’s Passion. Just as the Apostles could not initially comprehend how Christ, who is truly God, could suffer and die, many faithful Catholics today cannot fathom how to reconcile the Church’s indefectibility with the confusion being sown by so many of her shepherds, including the Pope. It is a painful mystery — one which the Church, in due time, will grasp and clarify just as the Church was called upon throughout the first millennium to to answer Christ’s question, “Who do you say I am?,” that is, to affirm over-and-against numerous heretical opinions what it means to say that Christ is fully God and fully man. Above all else, Catholics must not give in to fear; we must not despair. For what Christ promised 2,000 years ago, that the gates of hell will not prevail, has not ceased to be true. And for that we should give thanks to God.

Ephemera XIV: Dead Dictator Edition

Alright, despite the title, I really have very little to say about the passing of Fidel Castro except good riddance. While I will not speculate on the final destiny of his immortal soul, the idea that Catholics of any stripe should praise such a man is noxious. Of course, seeing Catholics intoxicated with Americanism celebrating the aged dictator’s demise is also disappointing. Castro, to be clear, was not a bad man because he opposed liberalism and capitalism; he was bad because he was a tyrant who used the understandable rage of his people for his own personal gain. Whatever good he did in Cuba and around the world (and, yes, he did do some good) does not erase the many crimes he carried out. Castro, like so many political leaders of the modern age, was a public sinner who never followed through on his obligation to repent publicly. Even if God, in His infinite mercy, gave this deplorable man the extraordinary grace to make a perfect act of repentance in his final moments on earth, it’s something we’ll never know for sure until we go to our own final reward. Finally, let’s not forget that despite rubbing elbows with three popes (John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis), Fidel Castro was excommunicated from the Church by John XXIII in 1962. To the best of my knowledge, that excommunication has never been lifted.

As a small aside, between the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series and nature doing to Castro what the Central Intelligence Agency could never do, is it wrong to think that perhaps God is tying up some loose ends before the centenary of Our Lady’s apparitions at Fatima? And before anybody jumps down my throat, please rest assured that I take Our Lord Jesus’s words from Matthew 24:36 quite seriously. However, it is hard to shake the idea that something . . . is . . . happening. Were I a better Christian I might resist all temptation to idle speculation and take a thorough spiritual inventory of my own soul. If the events of 2016 (as opposed to all of the events that transpired during my previous 35 years of life) inspire me to do just that, it’ll have been a tremendous year.

A friend of mine who spent many years being schooled by the Jesuits once summarized Ignatian spirituality as “sitting around and imagining Scripture.” I responded by asking, “Is that why Jesuits sit around and imagine doctrine, too?” In all seriousness, I will be honest and admit right now that I have never been particularly fond of Ignatian spirituality or the Jesuit approach to prayer in general. Although he no doubt meant well, St. Ignatius of Loyola’s decision to dispense his order from reciting the Divine Office in choir had mighty ripple effects still felt to this day. Even among traditional Latin Catholics, the liturgical hours of prayer are something for priests to read while they listen to scrupulous confessions. (“How many times did you pick your nose at Mass, my son?”) Today, most Latin Catholic spirituality is private, internalized, and self-focused. Instead of looking upwards and outwards to give praise and thanksgiving to God, interiority reigns supreme. Granted, all Christians should partake in daily self-examination and build-up a robust devotional life outside of the Sunday liturgy, but not at the expense of the Church’s official prayer — or so I believe. However, I am sure there is an argument to be made that I don’t pray the Rosary enough . . .

Blessed Nativity Fast

To all of my Eastern Catholic and Orthodox readers following the Julian Calendar (and, of course, to my dear Latin Catholic readers, albeit one day late), I wish all of you a blessed Nativity Fast. Although the official fasting prescriptions for Catholics following the Byzantine Rite have been reduced in recent decades, according to Fr. Raymond Janin’s Es Eglises Orientales et Les Rites Orientaux (1922), the Nativity Fast consists of abstention from all food cooked with or containing meat, eggs, and dairy products. Unlike the more severe Lenten Fast, oil and fish are allowed throughout Advent except on Wednesdays and Fridays. Moreover, though not “official,” the partaking of alcoholic beverages is typically limited during Advent, though like with so many things Eastern, local custom reigns supreme.

I make mention of this not to dictate how you ought to observe Advent, but to highlight that this is a season of sober anticipation for the greatest event in human history, the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is not a time for revelry or worldliness. It is not a period which should be drowned by consumerism. God is coming in the flesh to raise the image of man. May we all find the way to prepare accordingly.

Advent

Today, Advent begins for the Latin Church; tomorrow it will commence for Eastern Catholics and Orthodox following the Julian Calendar. I know I have reposted this before, but for some reason it remains one of the most popular pieces I’ve ever written. So here it is, one more time.

My Seventh Shameless Professional Wrestling Post In Years: Best Matches 2016 (WWE) Edition

Although 2016 is not quite over, I present — to the 5 or 6 of you dear readers who care — my top 10 matches of 2016 which aired through one of World Wrestling Entertainment’s numerous outlets, including the mainline RAW and Smackdown brands, NXT, and the Cruiserweight Classic (CWC) that aired on the WWE Network this summer. I have opted to forego star rankings for the matches and, to diversify the list a tad, I have not included multiple matches from the same competitors. In other words, even though every meet-up between the teams DIY and The Revival in NXT are is pure gold, I have only included what I believe is their best bout. Also, I have intentionally left women’s wrestling off of the list.

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If He Is Not Your King…

Over the course of the past few months I have been going in chronological order through the archived sermons of Fr. Patrick Reardon over at Ancient Faith Radio (AFR). The archive, which dates back over a decade, may be the most impressive audio collection of Eastern Orthodox homilies in existence. For though some have not always seen eye-to-eye with Reardon on certain subjects (e.g. the nature of Orthodox theology, liturgics, the role of the Old Testament in the life of the Church, sexual ethics, etc.), no serious person can deny that Reardon is one of the most learned Orthodox churchmen in the West and maybe the most Scripturally sound Eastern cleric in the world.

In a brief 2005 homily, simply entitled “Melchizedek,” Fr. Patrick makes the point that just as Melchizedek’s kingship cannot be separated from his priesthood, neither can Christ’s. And if we, as Christians, will not have the Lord Jesus as our king, neither can we have him as our priest. This is an unsettling lesson for modern man, being that we are so accustomed to rejecting both the need for a mediator and authority. Today, even those of us (Orthodox and Catholic) who are willing to accept the idea of a mediator tend to do so on our own terms; that is, in a largely private and circumscribed manner. Is it any wonder then that we see this play out as well with regard to Christ’s kingship? In the privacy of our homes and the silence of the pew, we may pay private homage to Christ the King, but not in public. In public we live as the world expects. Perhaps we try to be “nicer” than others, or take the Lord’s name in vain a tad bit less, but that is not enough. God does not call men to love and worship Him on their own terms; He calls us to total obedience, even unto death. How quickly we forget that.

If we live our lives as Christians, that is, in obedience to God, we will be rejected by the world. We will not “get along,” either in the workplace or at school or even among friends. This is a a truth that Reardon stresses — a truth most of us would rather not be reminded of. Look today at how Christians, specifically Catholics, are so eager to adopt the garments of capitalism or communism in order to win worldly approval and benefits while paying no mind to the divine teachings entrusted to the Church. See how Catholics chase after secular political leaders to be their kings or queens without paying any mind to Christ. We reject His Kingship and still believe we are entitled to his priesthood. We want His Grace, but not His Law. In the end, we love to be in the world and long to be of it.

Ephemera XIII: Church Crisis Edition

Cardinal Raymond Burke is drawing a line in the sand over Amoris Laetitia. After news broke that Burke and three other cardinals had submitted five dubia in September to Pope Francis seeking clarification on some of the more controversial points of the papal document, Burke is stating that it may be necessary for at least some of the Church’s hierarchy to correct the Pope. I must admit that it is a bit surprising to see so many conservative and traditional Catholics supporting this course of action during a period when so many still hold to an absolutist model of the papacy. For instance, when the Eastern Orthodox suggest that it may be necessary at times for the Church’s patriarchs to correct an errant pope, Latins intoxicated with a high-octane conception of papal power will scoff. The Pope is the absolute head of the Church, they say, and the bishops are his highly honored (but practically powerless) helpmates. (These are the same Catholics who, for decades, have fought against the idea of any collegiality in the Church.) For my part, I see no problem with what Cardinal Burke is proposing; I just hope is that he can gather a strong band of hierarchical supporters before taking any official action. Of course, let’s not forget that Cardinal Burke is not the first bishop of the Church called to correct papal errors in modern times. Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the saintly founder of the Society of St. Pius X, stood firm for the Church’s timeless teachings against the confusion sown during the pontificates of Paul VI and John Paul II. Indeed, Archbishop Lefebvre went so far as to submit his own dubia regarding Dignitatis Humanae in 1986 — dubia which were also not properly answered by either the Pope or the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

According to news reported by 1 Peter 5, dear Pope Francis has said that “it is the communists who think like Christians.” John, who runs the Eastern Orthodox blog Ad Orientem, went understandable apoplectic over the statement. Allow me to quote him in full.

I’m done with restraint in expressing my views of this heretic. Communism occupies the exact same spot on the moral plane as Nazism. This Pope just spit on the graves of millions of martyrs.

Forget the Orthodox. How about the Catholics of Spain, Poland, Hungary, what used to be Czechoslovakia and Ukraine, especially the Greek Rite Catholics? “Scandalous” does not even begin to describe this pontificate. Where are the bishops and cardinals? Is there no one with courage in the Roman Church to call this man out? Is there no one who is willing to confront this man and demand for the good of their church his immediate abdication?

While it’s not entirely rare to find Orthodox Christians calling the Pope (any pope) a heretic, John’s indignation is spot on. Millions upon millions of Christians — Catholic and Orthodox — perished under the communist regimes Eastern Europe during the 20th Century and millions today still face persecution in China. What a shame to see Francis the Merciful once again speaking with so little tact or concern for his flock. No doubt these very foolish, indeed reckless, words will give comfort to certain Catholics who seem to think that Marxism, not the magisterium, provides the way ahead for “re-Christianizing” society.

A Note on “Unia” and Latinizations and Myths

It seems to me that it seems to be a commonplace tale around the (online?) Eastern Catholic water cooler which goes something like this. Up until the late 16th Century, Eastern Orthodox living in the area of what is now Ukraine and Belarus were living fine and happy with their perfect Byzantine liturgy, apophatic theology, and mystical spirituality before the big, bad Jesuits stormed in; duped bishops and laity alike; and inaugurated one of the greatest ecclesiastical heists in history, the Union of Brest (followed 50 years later by the Union of Uzhhorod). The inevitable fruits of the “Unia” — so the story goes — was a loss of the “pure Byzantine tradition” coupled with the onset of forced Latinizations. Without getting into the messy history surrounding Brest (which, I should add, was not orchestrated by the Jesuits nor aimed at destroying the Byzantine Rite), I wish so many of these contemporary naysayers of the “Unia” who love to spend their free-time disparaging Latin devotions which they seem to know very little about would spend a few minutes with Fr. Peter Galadza’s excellent study, “Seventeenth-Century Liturgicons of the Kievan Metropolia and Several Lessons for Today,” 56 St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 73 (2012).

In an earlier post, “The Ways of Greek Catholicism in the West – Liturgy,” I discussed Fr. Galadza’s article in some detail, highlighting in particular the messy business of trying to restore certain Eastern liturgical practices after they had fallen out of memory. Another important lesson from this study — one which I didn’t focus on previously — is the fact that it took nearly a century after Brest for what some might call “liturgical deformation” to set in — a deformation inspired in no small part by the limited educational opportunities available to Eastern Catholic clergy coupled with the rise of the Basilian Order which, at the outset at least, was comprised of a significant number of Polish clergy whose knowledge of Church Slavonic was sorely lacking. There then followed some regrettable centuries where the “Uniates” were treated as second-class Catholics by their Latin brethren and subjected to forced conversion at the hands of the Russian Empire (a practice that would be repeated under the Soviets in 1946). By the 19th and 20th centuries, however, the “Uniates” (now properly referred to as Greek Catholics) began a process of self-renewal in Galicia (western Ukraine), including reforming their liturgical practices in order to better reflect the form of the Byzantine Rite their forebears were familiar with. Was this a smooth and steady process? No. Political concerns during the time prompted certain suspicions towards those clergy who favored celebrating “like the Orthodox.” Moreover, many Greek Catholics had, by that point, grown accustomed to their “Latinized” rite; they weren’t interested in liturgical revisions which would make them feel less Catholic.

It is terribly easy to sit back today and scoff at such attitudes, as if the vast majority of Christians who have ever lived had ready-at-hand access to books, articles, and websites detailing the complexities of history and the numerous accidents that have occurred in the life of the Church (including her liturgical development). What is despicable about some of these ongoing discussions over a period of time which few today have any recollection of is their failure to account for the popular piety of the people who spent their whole lives immersed in an environment shaped (albeit haphazardly) by Western and Eastern ecclesiastical sensibilities. All of this has sadly given birth to a triumphalist myth whereby certain Eastern Catholics (or, really, Latin Catholics who stumbled onto Eastern Catholicism) proclaim their obvious superiority over those who have gone before simply because a century ago Greek Catholics prayed the Rosary rather than chased “uncreated light” with prayer ropes purchased off Mt. Athos. Distressingly little attention is paid to the reality that when Brest was consummated, the liturgical ethos of these reunified Catholics well reflected that of their estranged Orthodox brethren and that there is something admirable, indeed beautiful, about the fact that despite numerous obstacles, persecutions, and other hardships, these Eastern Christians found the road to Salvation. Even if we are now at a time when “Latinizations” are no longer taken a sign of Catholicity and our historical horizon has broadened far enough to recognize the Greek no less than the Latin tradition as part of the universal Church’s patrimony, there is no virtue in promoting the myth of a backwards and detestable past for the “Unia.” How much better we would all be if instead of sitting in judgment of past missteps, we find inspiration from the perseverance of our Greek-Catholic ancestors and the spirit of unity they fought so hard to preserve.