Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Woodward: St. Anne Line

After yesterday's Regnans in Excelsis post, I don't really mean to dwell on the cruel, persecutorial reign of Elizabeth I. There have, after all, been cruel and persecutorial Catholic monarchs too. But by coincidence, tomorrow marks the anniversary of the martyrdom (and original feast day) of a very brave and interesting woman -- Anne Line. Hanged in 1601 for harboring a Catholic priest in her house -- a capital offense at that time -- she was beatified in 1929 and canonized in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. Their feast day is now observed on October 25.

You can read about St. Anne Line here.

And here is a moving detail from the account of her execution, which makes mention also of Bl. Mark Barkworth, a Catholic priest who was martyred on the same day.

At the scaffold she repeated what she had said at her trial, declaring loudly to the bystanders:

"I am sentenced to die for harbouring a Catholic priest, and so far am I from repenting for having so done, that I wish, with all my soul, that where I have entertained one, I could have entertained a thousand."
Fr. Barkworth kissed her hand, while her body was still hanging, saying:
"Oh blessed Mrs. Line, who has now happily received thy reward, thou art gone before us, but we shall quickly follow thee to bliss, if it please the Almighty."
It has been suggested that Shakespeare's poem "The Phoenix and the Turtle," whose obscure allegorical imagery has long been a topic of dispute among scholars, is in fact an elegy to St. Anne Line and her husband Roger, who died in exile. (This interpretation depends on the underlying assumption, itself disputed, that Shakespeare entertained secret Catholic sympathies.) For one argument in favor of this interpretation, read the downloadable pamphlet available here (link at bottom of page). If this interpretation is not true, it should be.

Almighty God, who hast given to thy servants grace and power to stand firm for conscience' sake even unto death: Grant that we may always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us, and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

St. Anne, friend of priests, pray for us.

Woodward: Fundamentalism

Have you noticed the magic verbal formula with which secularists now believe they can attack religion without appearing to be...well, you know...anti-religion?

It's this: Simply label the people whose beliefs you find offensive or inconvenient fundamentalists. Nobody likes fundamentalists. They're those people who fly planes into skyscrapers, who won't let black and white college students date each other, who believe that the earth was created in October 4004 B.C., who go off into the jungle and drink the Kool-Aid. You know -- people like that.

Oh, and Catholics too, of course.

In the United Kingdom, a committee of Parliament has undertaken "to investigate evidence that the Roman Catholic Church is pursuing a more fundamentalist approach toward religion in its schools." Which, naturally, would be a Bad Thing warranting Governmental Action.

And what, you may ask, is the evidence of this creepy resurgence of Catholic fundamentalism? Are these Catholic schools hosting Marian apparitions? Reclaiming the Papal States? Teaching students that there hasn't been a legitimate pope since Cardinal Siri was deprived of the Triple Tiara by Masons and communists at the 1958 conclave?

No. Catholic fundamentalism in England, according to Parliament, consists of (1) refusing to teach "safe sex," (2) discouraging financial support to advocates of abortion, and -- you may want to stop reading here if you have a weak stomach -- (3) placing crucifixes in classrooms. Catholic fundamentalism is, in short...Catholicism.

Whether these brave public servants will be able to act in time to stop another Gunpowder Plot is not yet clear. But rest assured that they are on the job, rooting out fundamentalism wherever it raises its ugly papist head.

* * * * *

Woodward's Law #277: When your government forms a "Children, Schools and Families Committee," watch out for your children, schools, and families.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Woodward: Baseball!

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blest:

The soul, uneasy and confin'd from home,

Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

First spring training game: February 27 vs. Kansas City
Home Opener: April 8 vs. Baltimore

Woodward: Regnans in Excelsis

Four hundred thirty-eight years ago today -- February 25, 1570 -- Pope St. Pius V acknowledged the loss of England to Protestantism by excommunicating Queen Elizabeth I. The religious identity of the English nation had been unsettled for some time, as first a Protestant (Edward VI), then a Catholic (Mary I), then another Protestant (Elizabeth I) -- all children of Henry VIII -- succeeded to the throne.

Edward was a sickly little boy who was king for six years and then died at the age of fifteen in 1553. His half-sister Mary, who had been raised Catholic by her mother Queen Catherine of Aragon, restored England to the Catholic faith but died childless after five years as queen, in 1558. Mary's half-sister Elizabeth then became queen and reestablished Henry's Protestant Church of England as the official religion of the kingdom in 1559.

When he excommunicated Elizabeth in 1570, Pius V almost certainly hoped that his action would foment opposition to Elizabeth's reign and perhaps bring a Catholic monarch to the English throne. He was wrong. Elizabeth was long-lived, and she was lucky in her enemies. By the time she died in 1603, England was securely Protestant, and she was beloved by the people, to whom she had become "Good Queen Bess" and the "Virgin Queen" (both adjectives highly debatable).

The Catholic Mary and the Protestant Elizabeth each punished dissenters from their established churches. Mary burned Protestants at the stake. Elizabeth condemned Catholics to a variety of capital punishments. Both alike offend the genteel and tolerant sensibilities of our own time. One difference between the two sisters, though, is perhaps worth considering. Mary imposed religious truth on her countrymen out of a conviction that it was true. Elizabeth, with no particular conviction at all, imposed religious error on those same countrymen simply as a political calculation.

Regnans in Excelsis is the papal document by which Pius V decreed Elizabeth's excommunication. In it, he referred to her as flagitiorum serva -- a slave to shameful acts. Sounds about right.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Woodward: The Honesty of Deepak Chopra

He gets off to a good start, at any rate. In his most recent contribution to the "On Faith" page of the Washington Post (free registration required), Deepak Chopra says that "in almost every respect the hunt for the real Jesus is misguided." Especially as it concerns the search for the "historical Jesus," which Dr. Chopra rightly characterizes as having been "a growth industry and obsession for several decades now," the diagnosis of misguidedness is entirely correct. Take a good hard look at the conclusions of the Jesus Seminar and you will be forced to agree with Luke Timothy Johnson: Once you've succeeded in finding the "historical Jesus," exactly what have you got? An object of intellectually respectable scholarly interest? Hardly. An object of faith? Absolutely not. No one believes in -- let alone is saved by -- the "historical Jesus."

Dr. Chopra recognizes only one existing alternative (up until now) to the denatured Jesus of the historical questers. That alternative is someone I suppose we should call (using conventional terminology) the "Christ of faith." But this alternative figure, bound up as He is with the dogmas of orthodox Christianity, also leaves Dr. Chopra cold. This Jesus was "created by organized religion." He is the "unwitting origin" of "20,000 sects." He can be approached only by "bushwhacking through the thickets of theology." What the world needs, according to Dr. Chopra, and what the good doctor himself claims to have found, is a "new Jesus." Not that "ever ancient, ever new" Jesus that Augustine found. Forget the ancient part; Chopra's Jesus is brand-new.

This is where the honesty referred to in my title comes in. Presenting us with his version of Jesus, Chopra doesn't ask us to examine any new archaeological discoveries. Nor does he ask us to consider any new exegetical insights into the Gospels (although he does offer one embarrassing misinterpretation of John 10:34-36). His discovery of a new Jesus is not dependent for evidence on either science or pseudoscience. In that respect, Chopra is more intellectually honest than many recent "real-Jesus" peddlers who claim to have found something that everyone else has overlooked for the last 2000 years.

No, Deepak Chopra has simply made up a Jesus of his own. (Many of the "real-Jesus" peddlers have done that too, of course -- both the historical-Jesus biblical scholars and the gospel-of-wealth televangelists -- but they don't admit it as openly as Chopra does.) Turns out that Jesus exemplifies something called "God-consciousness." Jesus happens to be a better example of it than most people, but not uniquely better, and with some work we can all exemplify it too in just the same way.

God-consciousness is, in fact, an amorphous yet immensely useful (useful because amorphous?) buzzword that has been tossed around for many years in a wide variety of mystical, gnostic, and New-Age movements. (To see just how wide a variety, google god-consciousness and start scrolling.) Deepak Chopra has been expounding on his version of the concept since at least 2001, when his book How To Know God became a bestseller. In a 2004 interview, he explained briefly how God-consciousness fits into his larger understanding of human cognition and awareness. It is the sixth of seven steps toward enlightenment, a state in which "you see the whole world as an expression of yourself."

I have news for Dr. Chopra -- he can stop working so hard trying to lead everyone to this "enlightenment." About three fourths of the people I meet every day already "see the whole world as an expression of themselves." That's the problem. That's the world the real Jesus came to redeem.

It's been clear for a long time that the best way to "deal with" the Christian Gospel -- to neutralize the scandal of the Cross and turn Jesus into a "useful God" (to enlist another of Deepak Chopra's unsettling phrases) -- is simply to treat the person of Jesus Christ as a mirror into which we look in order to see our own faces. A "new" Jesus is always going to be a Jesus ready-made to somebody's purpose. Dr. Chopra's new Jesus is really not very new at all.

The real real Jesus, of course, is both easy to find and, in some ways at least, hard to accept. He is not the romantically scruffy political activist of the Jesus Seminar. He is not the higher-consciousness guru of Deepak Chopra. He is not the golden goose of the televangelists. Here are the words of someone who actually does know who Jesus is and where to find him:

We do not seek a Christ whom we have invented, for only in the real communion of the Church do we encounter the real Christ. And once again the depth and seriousness of one's relation to the Lord himself is revealed in the ready willingness to love the Church, to live together with her and to serve Christ in her.

Pope Benedict XVI, Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Woodward: What Do You Do...

...if a spider falls in the chalice at Mass?

Father Z knows. (Scroll toward the bottom.)

Woodward: Evangelization and Re-evangelization

Vehige and I are currently supposed to blogging on Fr. John McCloskey's Good News, Bad News, a recent book about the responsibility of all Catholics to evangelize a non-Christian (post-Christian) world. Somehow, Lent hasn't seemed to me the most propitious time to be discussing evangelization. Spreading the Gospel, after all, is a very outward-directed spiritual enterprise, while the penitential exercises of Lent are rather more inward-directed. It's never a bad idea to get one's own house in order before thinking about helping other people with theirs.

So I'm holding off on the McCloskey book until after Easter. When Vehige and I do take up the subject again, I may want to include in the conversation another book on the same general topic -- The Realm: An Unfashionable Essay on the Conversion of England. The author, Fr. Aidan Nichols, is an English Dominican priest -- a genuine "Blackfriar" -- a theologian, and a scholar (especially of the work of Hans Urs von Balthasar). He is at present the John Paul II Memorial Visiting Lecturer at Oxford University.

In his book, Fr. Nichols advances a program for reconverting England to the Catholic faith. (Set your sights high, I always say.) The basic components of the program are these:

1. Teach and preach firmer doctrine
2. "Re-enchant" the liturgy
3. Recover the insights of metaphysics
4. Renew Christian political thought
5. Revive family life
6. Resacralize art and architecture
7. Put a new emphasis on monastic life
8. Strengthen pro-life rhetoric
9. Recover a Catholic reading of the Bible

Easier said than done, one might say. But somebody has to say it before anybody can do it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Woodward: Fasting

This passage from Pope Benedict's Journey Towards Easter has had me thinking ever since I read it night before last.

The truly central actions of human biological life are eating and reproduction, sensuality. Therefore virginity and fasting have been from the beginning of the Christian tradition two indispensable expressions of the primacy of God, of faith in the reality of God. Without being given corporal expression also, the primacy of God with difficulty remains of decisive moment in a human life. It is true: fasting is not all there is to Lent, but it is something indispensable for which there is no substitute. Freedom in the actual application of fasting is good and corresponds to the different situations in which we find ourselves. But a communal and public act of the Church seems to me to be no less necessary today than in past times, as a public testimony to the primacy of God and of spiritual values, as much as solidarity with all those who are starving. Without fasting we shall in no way cast out the demon of our time.

How many of us, during the only period of the year in which the Church specifically enjoins on us an obligation to fast, manage to think of fasting not just as a rule we must observe but as a spiritual exercise for our benefit and the benefit of others?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Woodward: Hymns

I'm not going to write a post about how crummy contemporary church music is. Those posts write themselves anyway:

"On Eagles' Wings...yada yada...Marty Haugen...yada yada...Sing a New Church...yada yada...St. Louis Jesuits...yada yada...Here I Am Lord...yada yada."

There. Just fill in the blanks.

Instead, I'm going to write a post about a contemporary hymn I think is really good -- I Want To Walk as a Child of the Light, by Kathleen Thomerson. (Don't be put off by the New Age-y sounding title.)

The tune is a straightforward, dignified chorale -- not a three-chord campfire song or sitcom jingle. The words are likewise simple, but theologically rich. And they're not about how wonderful we are. They're about how wonderful Jesus is.

The hymn is included in both the Gather and the Adoremus hymnals, proof that it can transcend the Catholic culture war. We sang it last night at Mass and I noticed for the first time just how good it is. I guess I'll have to stop saying that no one has written a decent hymn in the last 50 years. Darn it.

Woodward: The Descent of Man

It's Evolution Sunday! Today marks the third such observance, commemorated on the closest Sunday to Charles Darwin's birthday (February 12). If you'd like to join in the worship, you can find a participating church, synagogue, or spirituality center here.

After only three years, Evolution Sunday has actually evolved into Evolution Weekend -- one of those random and purposeless mutations Darwin told us about.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Woodward: USCCB and the 1962 Missal

I am roughly neutral on the whole Summorum Pontificum issue. Unlike some Catholics I know, I am as comfortable with all 2000 years of Catholicism as I am with developments since 1965. In some ways, I consider the Mass of Paul VI an improvement over the Mass of Bl. John XXIII. On the other hand, there are features of the new Mass (and more particularly the English translation of it) that cannot become obscure footnotes in liturgical history soon enough for me. And if I had my preference, the entire Western Church would celebrate a single form of the liturgy together. (Liturgical uniformity, after all, was Pope St. Pius V's reason for promulgating the Tridentine missal in the first place, whether traditionalists who now clamor for diversity are comfortable with that fact or not.)

But if anything could send me scurrying off to a celebration of the extraordinary form of the liturgy -- just out of contrariness -- it would be the snarky disdain with which some bishops regard Pope Benedict's liturgical reforms and the Catholic faithful those reforms are intended to serve. If you don't know what I'm talking about, just read through Fr. Zuhlsdorf's documentation of various episcopal letters implementing Summorum Pontificum.

And now snarky disdain seems to have reached new heights. Commenting on the revised prayer for the Jews in the 1962 Missal, a spokesman for the U.S. Catholic bishops described those who assist at the extraordinary form of the Mass. They are “a tiny minority of Catholics and they will hear it [i.e., the controversial new prayer] in Latin.”

No question that only a tiny minority of Catholics go to the Tridentine Mass. But what does that "hear it in Latin" mean? Fr. Massa seems to be trying to minimize the importance of the controversy over the prayer, which could be a legitimate goal. And I have tried to come up with an interpretation of what he said that makes it both coherent and charitable, but I haven't yet. He can really only have meant one of two things -- (a) that most Catholics who assist at a Latin Mass don't really understand what is going on themselves, or (b) that the prayer of the Church when offered up by only a few people and in a language that almost nobody understands any more is somehow of diminished significance. Neither of those assertions is remotely true. The fact that Fr. Massa is himself the coordinator for traditional Latin Mass celebrations in the diocese of Brooklyn makes his statement all the more puzzling. And the fact that he speaks on behalf of the national conference of Catholic bishops makes it all the more unsettling.

I predict that we will be seeing a clarification, and that it will be ingenious.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Woodward: Lenten Reading?

In previous years, I have made a practice of reading St. John Fisher's Exposition of the Seven Penitential Psalms. Anne Gardiner's modern-English edition is accessible and inspiring -- especially when read in the light of the author's own life story.

This year, I'm reading Pope Benedict's Journey to Easter, which he wrote when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger. I'm also re-reading Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved, by Hans Urs von Balthasar, which might seem like a strange choice for Lent. Critics of that controversial book would say that its hints of universalism undermine the importance of meditating on the Four Last Things: Why worry about hell if you don't believe anybody is going there? I won't comment here on von Balthasar's soteriology. Maybe another day, when I can get Vehige to help me (or argue with me). But I find the "short discourse on Hell" that ends the book to be very helpful in forming a picture of what eternal life - eternal happiness with God or eternal separation from Him -- really means. As blogging lingo would have it, "I'm just sayin'."

If you'd like, leave a comment about your own Lenten reading. Maybe some of our readers could use a suggestion.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Woodward: Ash Wednesday

The missal offers the priest a choice of two liturgical texts as he distributes the ashes:

Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.


Remember, man, you are dust and to dust you will return.

I kind of hope my priest chooses the second admonition tomorrow. He pretty regularly exhorts us to turn away from sin, but it's good to be reminded, at least once a year, exactly why it's so important to turn away from sin.

Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.

Vehige and I wish you all a spiritually nourishing Lent.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Woodward: Venerable Fulton Sheen?

I commented in an earlier post that St. John Bosco was not above (or beneath) a bit of selfless self-promotion for the sake of spreading the Gospel. The same could be said of another great Catholic priest who happens to be in the news this weekend. In the mid-1950s I was (just barely) old enough to watch then-Bishop Sheen's series Life Is Worth Living. As might be expected of Catholicism's first real tv "star," Bishop Sheen knew the value of showmanship. The flowing cape, the mesmeric eyes, the lilting cadences of the voice, the masterly sense of oratorical proportion that enabled him time after time, week after week, to finish the program right on cue with a flourish of his arms and a climactic "God love you!" -- the whole performance held me spellbound. But the more culturally significant fact is that it held my Presbyterian parents and my Methodist grandparents spellbound as well. Preachers like Fulton J. Sheen don't come along every day.

The diocesan phase of the canonization cause of Archbishop Sheen has ended, and all relevant documents are being sent to Rome. (A couple of miracles have already been reported and are being investigated.) In celebration of this step toward possible canonization, there will be a special Mass (Postrema Sessio) this coming Sunday, February 3, in Peoria, Illinois. If you care to watch, EWTN will carry it live.

Hat tip: Cosmos-Liturgy-Sex

Woodward: Answer to the Trivia Question

What unusual skill did both St. Philip Neri and St. John Bosco possess?

They could both juggle.

Vehige got it. The showoff.