Healing Medicine for Strident Times – A Reflection on a Teaching on the Liturgy from Joseph Ratzinger

8.30.15 blog postOne of the most concise and cogent descriptions of these often strident times came from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in 1986. It is contained in, of all places, his treatise on the theology of sacred music in a book called The Feast of Faith (Ignatius Press, 1986). His comments have recently been republished in a larger compendium of his works: Collected Works: Theology of the Liturgy (Ignatius Press, 2014, Vol 11).

It hard to describe our times as anything but contentious. Loud, strident protests often predominate over reasoned discourse and thoughtful argumentation.

To be sure, every era has had, and needed, protest and public opposition to injustices that are too often hidden. There is a time and place for loud protest and the use of memorable sound bites.

But it is the predominance of loud protest and civil disobedience that stands out. Sound bites, slogans, and simplistic “war cries” have to a large extent replaced thoughtful, reasoned discourse. Volume, power, and visually flashy techniques are prized and used more and more. Such approaches too frequently produce more heat than light.

Consider, then, this remarkable analysis by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, written back before the Internet and social media had turned up the volume even more. He paraphrases an insight by Gandhi, applies it to his analysis of our times, and then proposes a healing remedy to restore balance:

I would like to note a beautiful saying of Mahatma Gandhi … Gandhi refers to the three habitats of the cosmos and how each of these provides its own mode of being. The fish live in the sea, and they are silent. The animals of the earth scream and shout; but the birds, whose habitat is the heavens, sing. Silence is proper to the sea, shouting to the earth and singing to the heavens. Man has a share in all three of them. He carries the depths of the sea, the burden of the earth, and the heights of the heavens in himself. And for this reason, all three properties also belong to him: silence, shouting, and singing.

Today—I would like to add—we see only the shouting is left for the man without transcendence, since he only wants to be of the earth. …

The right liturgy, the liturgy of the Communion of the Saints, restores totality to him. It teaches him silence and singing again by opening him to the depths of the sea and teaching him to fly, the angels’ mode of being. It brings the song buried in him to sound once more by lifting up his heart. …

Right liturgy … liberates us from ordinary, everyday activity and returns to us once more the depths and the heights, silence and song … Right liturgy … sings with the angels … is silent with the expectant depths of the universe, and that is how it redeems the earth (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger Collected Works, Vol 11, Theology of the Liturgy, Ignatius Press, p. 460).

This is a remarkable analysis and application of liturgy and cosmology to the issues and imbalances of our day! It is in the vein of “Save the Liturgy, save the world.” For indeed, only in the worship of God do we find our true selves. Only in the liturgy is our true personality formed. The human person in his glory unites the material and spiritual orders. We are capable of pregnant, expectant silence; of the joyful shout of praise and the Gospel going forth; and of the song of Heaven.

But as Ratzinger points out, we are too often reduced to a preoccupation with and a valuing of only one aspect: the shouting of the earthbound creatures of this world.
But the liturgy—good and proper liturgy—trains us in all three and accomplishes the balance that is often lost today. The liturgy is a training ground, not only for our heavenly destination, but also in what it means to be truly human.

Read the good Cardinal’s reflection; consider carefully what the Pope Emeritus teaches. It will bless your soul. I know it has blessed mine.
Here is a song of the heavens:

A Powerful Parable Against the Premises of Unbelief

blog 062115There are many reasons for the unbelief rampant in our times. Among them is the claim by some that because they do not see or hear evidence of God or an afterlife, our belief in these is just wishful thinking on our part so as to avoid the conclusion that everything ends with our death, that this world is all there is.

A parable currently circulating on the Internet addresses this sort of unbelief. A Facebook friend (Vicki) called it to my attention. I have adapted a bit and will present it to you here. Some sites indicate that the original author is Útmutató a Léleknek, while other sites are silent as to the source. I am only adapting it here because I have seen various forms of it and am not sure of the original. Nevertheless it is an effective parable in its essence.

Prior to having you read it please recall the nature of an analogy or a parable. An analogy presents a thing or a scenario that is “like” another one, but not exactly the same. The word parable comes from the Greek word para (alongside) + bole (to throw). Thus a parable is something that is expressed in terms of something else. It is “thrown alongside” in the sense that it is not exactly the same, but similar to what is described. The comparison discloses both the strengths and weakness of what is compared.

Many today misunderstand this and so when an analogy or parable is presented, dismiss it since it is not an exact fit. But as we’ve seen, an analogy or parable is not intended to be a perfect fit; it is intended to compare things that are merely similar.  In the story that follows, we who live in the world are compared to two babies in the womb of their mother. The babies debate whether there really is anything or anyone outside the womb.

Now it is true that this world is “like” a womb, but not identical to it. Further, God is not a mother gestating us in her womb. He is Father and Creator, raising His children. But the story you are about to read is not about the nature of God per se, but about the argument that God and life after death do not exist merely because we cannot see them or because no one has verifiably claimed to have returned from Heaven to tell us all about it. So the analogy is about the argument over the existence of God and the afterlife, not about the nature of God.

So please consider this before commenting (in the comment box) that God is Father, not mother. Whether the original author meant this or not, I do not mean it in presenting the story.

With all that in mind, I present the story. The paragraphs are numbered for reference.

  1. In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other, “Do you believe in life after delivery?”
  2. The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. It seems we are obviously here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later and that we have capacities that are meant for something greater than here.”
  3. “Nonsense!” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What makes you think there is?”
  4. The second said, “Well, I am going to suppose that since we have eyes and legs and mouths that there is a world outside that has more light than here so that we can see, and where will walk about with our legs, and eat with our mouths. I mean, why would we have legs if we weren’t ever going to walk, or eyes if we weren’t ever going to have light and see?  Maybe there will be many other things that we can’t understand now.”
  5. The first replied, “That is absurd. Your are just engaging in wishful thinking and hoping that things will get better. This is all there is. Who needs to walk? And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. And since the umbilical cord is so short, life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”
  6. The second insisted, “Well I think there is something more than this, outside and beyond this womb. Some sort of longing is in my heart to see and walk freely and to eat and enjoy things. I mean, why would we have these legs and eyes and mouth and hands? And where did we get the longing to use them if we weren’t meant for something more? Indeed, maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”
  7. The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover if there is life, then why has no one has ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”
  8. “No,” said the second, “Surely we will meet our mother and she will take care of us.”
  9. The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in a mother? That’s laughable. If a mother exists then where is she now?”
  10. The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are from her and it is in her that we now live. Without her this world we are in now would not exist.”
  11. Said the first, “Well I don’t see her, so it is only logical that she doesn’t exist.”
  12. To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when I am in silence and I focus and really listen, I can perceive her presence, and hear her loving voice, calling down from above.”

Not a bad analogy in parable form (remember, no analogy is perfect)! Here are a few thoughts on how to apply it more specifically to our situation.

In sentence #2 the believing infant says, It seems we are obviously here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later and that we have capacities that are meant for something greater than here. This translates to the fact that, as Scripture says, God has put the timeless in our heart (Eccles 3:10). In other words, we can universally imagine concepts outside of the physical word and our experience, such as the timeless, and the concept of perfection is an indication that we are called to know, see, experience, and “walk” in these one day. The infants in the womb have eyes that are made for the light, but they cannot see while in the womb. But their eyes point to the purpose for which eyes are made. Their legs are made to walk, and thought they cannot walk now, their legs point to the reality for which they are made. That our desire is infinite points to the fact that there is some One who exists to fill that desire. This logic of a capacity pointing to a fulfilment of its object is taken up in sentences #4 and #6 as well.

Sentence #5 addresses the “wishful thinking” charge. The fact is that so-called “wishful thinking” imposes demands that move beyond merely trying to please myself with wishful thoughts. Thus, if I have legs and can one day walk, I must develop that skill and then take the risk of walking. If I can see, then I must accept the responsibility of one who sees and make changes in my life based upon it. Thus the Christian vision of eternal life and a higher call are not just wishful thoughts; they are demanding thoughts. They impose on us a requirement to prepare for and strive for higher things.

Sentences #9 and #11 take up the argument that if I can’t see something with my physical eyes or weigh it on a scale then it doesn’t exist. But of course many things exist that cannot be seen. I cannot see my thoughts per se. Neither can I see justice with my eyes. I can see their effects, but I cannot see them. It is like this with God. His effects are everywhere evident in what He has made, as is the intelligence and reason with which He made them. That things work predictably and in an orderly way is the basis of the scientific method. Some intelligence ordered all this with logic and suffused it with an intelligence that is intelligible. So I do not see God, but I see His effects, just as I do not see my intelligence or thoughts but do see their effects.

Sentence #10 reminds us of the fundamental question that most materialists and atheists refuse to answer: Why is there anything at all? We argue that things exist as coming from the One who is Existence Itself. But how does an atheist argue the effect of existence? Whence its cause?

Sentence #12 reminds every believer that he must be able to render an account for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15). Indeed, I will testify that when I still my soul, I do hear God’s heartbeat. I see Him in what He has made. And when I pray, I am heard. He is changing my life and I cannot account for the new man I am except that God lives and is changing me, molding and fashioning me into the man He has made me to be. I have tested His word and found it to be true. He lives and so I live!

How say you?


Prophets Aren’t Perfect. They’re Prophets. A response to Critics of an American Prophet and a Defense of a Brother Blogger

012113Help me and another brother out here. I am getting concerned again. One of the best Catholic Bloggers, and a great promoter of Catholic presence on the Web, Brandon Vogt, is being lectured to by his “disappointed” his readers since he spoke of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a “hero and prophet.”(His post is here: Martin Luther King – Hero and Prophet)

Wowza, his combox really lit up with lecturers and various levels of excoriators who hastened to remind him of King’s foibles, and of his political leanings that were not comfortable enough to them.

Truth be told, no true prophet really fits in, whether it be Dr. King or Brandon. Yes, we are dealing with stuff that is actually pretty much the norm for prophets. I am particularly mindful of Jeremiah, who was cast into prison for being “unpatriotic” (cf Jer 37-38), for he had prophesied that the Babylonians would conquer, if Israel did not repent.

Prophets just don’t fit in. They break through political distinctions, and tend to offend just about everyone, even as they also affirm across political boundaries.

Jesus was crucified “outside the gate” to symbolize that he fit nowhere in Israel’s little systems and categories. He was hated by all the political parties of his day: The Herodians, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the Zealots. They agreed on nothing, except this one thing: “Jesus has to go.” The Book of Hebrews admonishes, Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore (Heb 13:13). Here is a true disciple, a true Catholic, a true follower of Jesus, one who does not fit into the little parties of his day but thinks and acts beyond such restrictions.

I am not sure if Dr. King were alive today if he would be Republican or Democrat. I am not even sure if he would be pro-life.  I think he would, and perhaps he could have saved the Democratic Party from signing on to its, pro-death platform. His niece Alfreda seems to think he would have been prolife. I don’t personally know. But you know, it is a sad truth that we did not afford him the possibility to speak for himself.

Yes, we like our ancestors, tend to kill prophets, especially those who do not fit in to our little categories. Jesus had little patience for our categories, parties, factions and other little nicities:

Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your forefathers who killed them. So you testify that you approve of what your forefathers did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’ Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all. (Luke 11:48-52).

Yes, we abort our babies and kill the prophets, and while we like to make nice little distinctions, in the end, dead still means dead. And Dr. King is no less dead in his imperfection than our babies are in their innocence.

We kill many who God sends to us. And instead of chirping about whether they belonged to the right party or were 100% virtuous, we ought to repent for what we have done as a nation. God’s martyrs don’t fall so nicely into our little worldly categories.

And as for those who will bring forth the “womanizer/adulterer charges against Dr. King, let us further reflect that prophets are not perfect. Moses was a murderer, so was David, and an adulterer besides. Isaiah went about preaching naked, Jonah was reluctant and an ultra-nationalist, St Paul had a bad temper, Jacob was a shyster, Peter was inconsistent and a denier, the Samaritan woman was adulteress, Mary Madelene had demons, seven of them, St Augustine was a fornicator, Jerome had an anger management issue. etc.

St. Paul, (did I mention that he had conspired to murder Christians, and had a bad temper?) spoke of us as carrying our treasure “in earthen vessels” (2 Cor 4:7).

If you have read this blog for any length of time, you know that I do not make light of sin. But if we are going to start insisting that priests and prophets be sinless and without struggles, then every blog must go dark, every pulpit go silent, every ministry and apostolate go inactive.

I do not know Dr. King’s sins. I have heard the rumors. But that is what they are, rumors. You will tell me you read it on the Internet and that the FBI “has a file.” Great, show me proof in writing, and make sure it is not fabricated. Until then, beware that gossip and the ruination of reputations is a very serious matter, and we need to be certain before to spread rumors.

And to the degree that Dr. King may have sinned and sinned seriously, what of the others listed above. But they repented you say. Yes I pray they did. But are you sure Dr. King did not? Are you certain that as he lay dying he did not call on God’s mercy?

We need to be very careful. For the measure that we measure to others will be measured back to us (Mat 7:2). Only the merciful will obtain mercy (Mat 5:7), and if we have not forgiven others neither will we be forgiven by the Father (James 2:13, Matt 6).

In the end no one can deny that Dr. Martin Luther King helped bring forth greater justice in this land. And he did so in a way that was profoundly in keeping with Jesus’ way, the way of love and non-violence. If God used an imperfect man to do this, that is God’s business not mine.

And as for Brandon Vogt, he is a fine Catholic and superb blogger who deserved better than to be treated as he was by many in his combox. I have noted many times before, (and paid dearly for it) that far too many Catholics are political before they are Catholic or biblical . Catholicism and Biblical Christianity do not fit into anyone nice little worldly category or political philosophy. Good prophets love God’s people and are just as likely to afflict the comfortable as comfort the afflicted. (We are all in both categories). True Catholicism does not fit perfectly into any political party. Catholic needs to trump party at every turn. Sadly it does not always do so.

If Dr. King doesn’t fit into our Catholic world perfectly, that should not wholly exclude him, We cannot, and should not canonize him, to do so would be patronizing. But in the end he did something important for this country and paid dearly for it. The Lord Jesus himself gives us a critical norm to follow in assessing others:

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. (Mat 7:17-20)

Maybe that is the best we can do with Dr. King, honor what God was able to accomplish through him, whatever his personal struggles, or hidden faults. The fruits of what he did were necessary even if “our party” or “our Church” was not the main way God chose to work it. It is horrifying and embarrassing to think that we tolerated as a country “Whites Only” signs, and “Colored” areas.

I pray one day we will be just as horrified that we ever tolerated and called a “right” the killing of the unborn. But killing prophets and narrow-casting Catholicism is no way to get there. Until we can demonstrate that we stand above narrow little political distinctions, our credibility and prophetic bona fides are easily assailed by a cynical world. We are not the Democratic Party at prayer, neither are we the Republican Party at prayer. We are Catholics and the Body of Christ at prayer.

Help me out here. I must once again lament the “death by a thousand cuts that we Catholic so easily visit on one another. Are there not enough secular opponents and critics that we must do this to one another? Come on Church, are you prayin’ with me?

Also here is a recent prayer of a Protestant minister and old friend of mine, Rev. Rob Schenck (His Brother Paul is a Catholic priest). Both are pro-life warriors and speak prophetically, praising what can be praised, and laying out what must be repented of.

Internet Pornography and Addiction

When I was first ordained the Internet was not yet a reality. But in these past twenty years it has surely exploded on the scene and it has become a dominant force in many people’s lives. Much of it’s effects have been good. Information flows more freely, and communication worldwide is almost instant. Remarkable “communities” of sorts have set up and ordinary people, showing great creativity can reach a worldwide audience. Remarkable really.

But one of the darker sides to the Internethas been the easy availability of pornography. As a priest I have had to help people who have fallen very deep into a kind of bondage around Internet pornography. There is a kind of addictive effect that sets up for many.

More than merely compulsive, Internet pornography is quite addictive to many. The difference between compulsion and addiction is that compulsiveness is a kind of “steady” bad habit but addiction requires more and more of the thing to satisfy. The many who struggle with addiction to pornography indicate that they cannot stop and that they need more exotic materials as time goes on. Stranger and stranger, deeper and deeper they go. Soon many find themselves drawn even to illegal sites featuring underage subjects and even children. This is usually where the law catches up with them.

Be very careful about your Internet habits. The danger of pornography on the Internet is that it is so easy to find, just a few clicks away. There is also the illusion of privacy. In the old days one had to walk into an “adult bookstore” and interact with people in order to get the products they desired. Today there is an illusion that viewing such materials is completely private. It is not. Do not be fooled. EVERYTHING you do on the Internet is public. Extensive records of your browsing habits are stored not only on your own machine but also out on the Web. New government laws now forbid the erasure of e-mails. There are newer laws coming in to effect each year requiring search engines such as Google and Yahoo to disclose browsing habits of individuals to law enforcement officials under certain circumstances. Those who routinely visit illegal sites are easily known to law enforcement officials who routinely monitor such sites. The main point is THERE IS NOTHING PRIVATE ABOUT THE INTERNET. When we are online we are out in public.

So be very careful about the Internet. Not only is pornography sinful, it is also very addictive to many and leads them down a very slippery slope. It demands more and more of their time. It devolves into stranger and more exotic appetites and often causes people to stray into unnatural and even illegal attractions. Addictions are also very hard to break once they are acquired. Don’t just avoid pornography, flee from it (cf 1 Cor 6:18). Take it from a priest who has had to help people deal with some very sad consequences. Pornography is not a “victimless” crime. It has many, many victims: broken lives, broken hearts, broken marriages, lost jobs, lost freedom, lost innocence.  Share this message with others!

Here is a sobering video that elaborates on the addictive quality of Internet pornography:

Catholic News

 The Pope’s Upcoming trip to the Holy Land

              Media Priest Caught Up In Scandal

              Spain Government Denounces the Pope on Condoms

Gloria TV News

Today’s news.

The USA is not the only nation to struggle over illegal immigrants. England too wrestles with the question of amnesty.

A Bishop needs to clamp down on Women’s Religious Community over flawed notions of ministry to Homosexual Persons

The Latin American Information Agency demonstrates continued hostility to Church Teaching

Italian Bishops scold the Prime Minister