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Amidst the joy that I and so many people have felt at the election of Pope Francis, I have also encountered worry, alarm, even anger from some Catholics who are afraid that the Holy Father has been hostile toward the extraordinary form of the Mass and will reverse all of the liturgical decisions of Pope-emeritus Benedict. You can read more at any number of other blogs.
I am a bit baffled by the whole thing. I admit that it’s not entirely clear to me what the Holy Father’s stance is on the EF. I’ve read that the attempt to implement it in Buenos Aires crashed and burned. I don’t know if that can be blamed on the Holy Father. Here are some things that do seem clear to me and give me reason not to be too concerned:
1. He loves and respects Pope Emeritus Benedict. At the very least, I can’t imagine him tossing Summorum Pontificum into the garbage. I can’t imagine him disparaging or discouraging its implementation. Its implementation may not be a priority for him. He may not say Mass ad orientem or repeat everything that Benedict did. That’s a far cry from destroying the liturgy.
2. Something I have not seen yet in the discussions about liturgy is the fact that he served as bishop to Eastern Rite Catholics in Buenos Aires, as well as Latin Rite Catholics. And apparently he is well-liked and respected by the Ukrainian Catholic Patriarch, who says, among other things:
I would first like to say that the newly elected Pope Francis was mentored by one of our priests, Stepan Chmil who is now buried in the basilica of St. Sophia in Rome. Today’s Pope, during his time as a student of the Salesian school, awoke many hours before his classmates to concelebrate at our Divine Liturgy with Fr. Stepan. He knows our Tradition very well, as well as our Liturgy.
If Pope Francis has a love and understanding of Eastern Divine Liturgy, surely he can’t be all that antagonistic toward the traditional Latin Rite liturgy. It seems to me that anybody who hated the EF would not touch the Divine Liturgy with a ten-foot pole (nor would anybody want them to!). Am I wrong? Has anybody read or heard anything else about his relationship with the Eastern Catholics?
3. The Holy Father seems pretty traditional to me overall. He preaches about the devil, for crying out loud. And that’s a good thing! That’s something that the modern Church needs more than anything.
Mostly, I just think that we need to give him a chance to show us who he is… to not make any hasty judgments… and to not compare him with Pope Emeritus Benedict at every turn. We have to know and respect him on his own terms. To know him based on what we see him do and hear him say.
The name Francis likely reveals what will be the main themes of this papacy. I’ve heard confirmations that the Holy Father chose the name Francis in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, as opposed to St. Francis Xavier or St. Francis de Sales. However, all three of these great saints have important things in common: all three of them were great evangelizers, and all three pursued a mission of building, or re-building, the Church in very difficult times.
The image of St. Francis of Assisi has often been softened in modern times into some kind of medieval hippie. But the truth is that he–like my father, St. Dominic–lived in a time when the Church was on crusade abroad, while falling to heresy and internal weakness and corruption at home. It is said that Christ Himself charged St. Francis to re-build His Church, which was falling into ruin, while Pope Innocent III had a dream in which he saw Francis physically holding up the Basilica of St. John Lateran. St. Francis also ventured into the camp of the Sultan of Egypt near Damietta with the intent of either converting him or dying in the attempt. He kissed a leper and bore the wounds of crucifixion in his own body. He had a boldness and toughness that he often doesn’t get credit for today.
St. Francis Xavier, one of the first Jesuits who studied with St. Ignatius of Loyola, was a fervent and fearless missionary to distant lands such as India and Japan–lands in which Christianity was pretty much unknown. He is said to have converted more people to the faith than anybody since St. Paul. He died just within reach of mainland China, which had been his ultimate goal.
St. Francis de Sales had close ties and working relationships with both the Jesuits and the Franciscans. As the bishop of Geneva, he strove to re-convert and re-evangelize those around him who had left the Church for Calvinism. His gentleness and intellect won many of them back. He also served as a spiritual director to many, many Catholics from all walks of life to strengthen, reassure, and instruct them. We are blessed that many of his letters and writings have survived; they are just as relevant as ever. (In fact, I give St. Francis de Sales credit for helping me to come back to the Church.)
We are again living in very difficult times. Traditionally Catholic and Christian nations are falling to radical secularism and so-called liberalism which is anything but liberal-minded. The Church is imploding due to internal weakness, divisions, corruption, and scandal. Generations of Catholics have been poorly formed and catechized and have all too easily drifted into the secular world or into other Christian communities or other religions. Meanwhile, new generations of Catholics in places like Africa and Asia, as well as very ancient communities in the Middle East, are striving amid enormous adversities, often striving for their very lives and yet nonetheless thirsting for the Gospel and the Church, and longing for the love, support, guidance, and reassurance of their brethren and the Holy Father.
In short, traditionally Catholic and Christian lands are in dire need of re-evangelization and re-conversion, the Church is in need of re-building and re-forming from within, and Catholic communities both old and new in other parts of the world are in need of building up and support. These processes have been begun by previous popes. They have laid the framework and the kindling. I believe our current pope, true to his namesake(s), is going to light it all on fire!
For myself, I can say that Pope Francis has already inspired me to greater humility, greater prayer and spirituality, and above all, greater simplicity and poverty of spirit. All the good intentions I had for this Lent, all the disciplines, all the penances, have just been kicked up to the next level. And believe it or not, this Jesuit with the name and heart of the great Saint Francises, has inspired me to live out more fully my Dominican spirituality. Of course, Dominicans always have, and always will, play an important part in any form of evangelization and building up of the Church. Dominicans, like Franciscans, are a mendicant order. I think we may get back to those roots under the influence of Pope Francis. And when the Dominicans get back to their roots–not only the spirit of poverty, but the very important roots of prayer, study, and preaching–great things are bound to happen!
As my sister St. Catherine of Siena said, “When you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire!” I think Pope Francis is going to help all Catholics everywhere to be what we should be–disciples of Christ! May it be so–amen.
White smoke drifting into the night sky:
The world watches…
The crowd goes wild:
A moment of prayer:
The cardinals take in the crowd’s jubilation, and no doubt look forward to resting more easily:
Habemus Papam! Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires is now Pope Francis!
What a wonderful gift God and our cardinals have given to the Church today! Our new Holy Father seems like such a humble and gracious man. I will never forget when he bowed and asked the people to pray for God’s blessing upon him, and the entire crowd fell silent and prayed, joined by the millions around the world who were watching via the media. A beautiful, edifying, unifying moment.
I so look forward to getting to know our new Papa better and seeing and hearing more from him. I feel we are in very good hands, and that he is going to move the Barque of St. Peter forward and reach out to the world. A good leader for this age of the New Evangelization and the Year of Faith.
With humility he came to the papacy, and with humility he left. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI bade farewell to the public world today. I’m still taking it in. The Church is pope-less for a time. Sedes vacans. While I was watching videos of his departure from Vatican City, I felt awe at the fact that I was witnessing such an historical moment. I also felt a touch of sadness. But I know Papa Benedict will be a great prayer-warrior for the Church and the world, and I am grateful for that. I hope and pray that this gentle scholar–that is how I will always remember him most–will enjoy serenity and some refreshment for the rest of his days. I hope he will continue to bless us with his writing as well.
At the same time, let us pray very hard for the cardinals who will be in the upcoming conclave. As Papa Benedict himself said in his farewell address to them, the future pope is among them. We must pray for their discernment, for their careful attention to the voice and motion of the Holy Spirit. In addition to praying for the college of cardinals as a whole, perhaps you might want to adopt a cardinal and pray for him in particular. I am praying for my adopted cardinal, Cardinal Peter Erdo of Hungary.
What a way to start a Monday morning.
Like many people, I could hardly believe my eyes when I read that Pope Benedict XVI had decided to resign from the papacy. Also like many, I felt a storm of conflicting emotions: gratitude to God for having given us so good a shepherd… sadness that his papacy had to be cut short… admiration of his humility and steadfastness… worry about his health and about who would succeed him as our holy father… but above all gratitude and love!
One thing is clear: we all know what we need to pray and fast for this Lent! For the peace and much deserved rest for Pope Benedict… and for the cardinals who will be electing his successor, that they listen carefully to the Holy Spirit.
And now, here are some of my favorite photos of dear Papa Benedict!
It’s a little hard to believe, but we are a mere three days from the beginning of Lent! I feel somewhat fortunate that I’ve already begun thinking about it; in previous years, Ash Wednesday has completely caught me off guard.
Each year, I want to observe Lent better than I did before, and this year is no exception. I’ve been thinking about how I wish to observe this season, how I wish to practice sacrifice and discipline, self-denial and self-giving. I don’t want to be lax. I don’t want to approach Easter with the least regret that I could have observed Lent more faithfully and deeply. But each year has been better–this will be might eighth Lent since returning to the Church–and each year I have become more reacclimated to the rigors of this season. I’m no longer quite the fledgling I was. I feel this year will be very edifying.
One simple thing that I have found helpful and motivating is Father Jonathan Morris’s Lent Challenge, “A 46-day plan for spiritual growth in mind, body, and soul.” For each of those three areas, mind, body, and soul, he encourages that we decide on one thing to give up and one thing to do. He will share daily messages of encouragement via Twitter and Facebook.
I also found this quotation from Pope Benedict XIV in 1741:
The observance of Lent is the very badge of Christian warfare. By it we prove ourselves not to be enemies of Christ. By it we avert the scourges of divine justice. By it we gain strength against the princes of darkness, for it shields us with heavenly help. Should men grow remiss in their observance of Lent, it would be a detriment to God’s glory, a disgrace to the Catholic religion, and a danger to Christian souls. Neither can it be doubted that such negligence would become the source of misery to the world, of public calamity, and of private woe.
This quotation speaks powerfully to me; as I’ve mentioned before, I respond to nothing more readily than to a call to arms. I am best motivated to conduct my life well when I am reminded that how I conduct my life affects the world around me–when I remember that it’s not just about me. It’s about what, and Whom, I stand for. More than any other time of year, it is about carrying the Cross and following Christ toward Calvary, trembling in every footstep. Not that we are not always called to do this, but this special season exists for our benefit, to focus us and make us stronger, to amend our lives. It’s a special journey, a special march, a special campaign.
I pray that I might enter into this season with deep devotion and dedication, together with all Catholics. Let us pray for each other!
No matter how many prayers I pray, I always feel like I need to offer God more gratitude than I do. It’s not so much that I am ungrateful (although that might be the case at times, sorry to say), as that He deserves so much gratitude! Infinite gratitude, in fact. And we are finite creatures. Sometimes I even feel frustration at what I can or cannot express with words.
At times like that, the Psalms are a special blessing! Whatever you are feeling, whatever inside you is yearning for expression, there is always a fitting Psalm. Tonight, that Psalm for me was in Evening Prayer, Psalm 138:
The kings of the earth will bring his glory and honor into the holy city (see Revelation 21:24).
I thank you, Lord, with all my heart,
you have heard the words of my mouth.
In the presence of the angels I will bless you.
I will adore before your holy temple.
I thank you for your faithfulness and love
which excel all we ever knew of you.
On the day I called, you answered;
you increased the strength of my soul.
All earth’s kings shall thank you
when they hear the words of your mouth.
They shall sing of the Lord’s ways:
“How great is the glory of the Lord!”
The Lord is high yet he looks on the lowly
and the haughty he knows from afar.
Though I walk in the midst of affliction
you give me life and frustrate my foes.
You stretch out your hand and save me,
your hand will do all things for me.
Your love, O Lord, is eternal,
discard not the work of your hands.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning, is now,
and will be for ever. Amen.
When I began reading this Psalm tonight, my heart became light, as if a weight was literally being lifted from it. I read the Liturgy of the Hours each day (at least Morning and Evening Prayer). It is always instructive. But occasionally, exactly the right Psalm comes up at exactly the right time.
The part that struck me most of all was the second stanza:
I thank you for your faithfulness and love
which excel all we ever knew of you.
On the day I called, you answered;
you increased the strength of my soul.
No matter how greatly I experience God’s faithfulness and love, I am always surprised and bewildered, in a good way. It often leaves me lost in wonder. He excels, and then excels again, and excels once more, and on and on and on! Just when you might think He could not lavish any more upon you, He does. And He has given a great deal of much-needed strength to my soul. And all the gratitude in the world is not enough for Him and His deeds!
Thank God for the Psalms. There is always such depth in them. Sometimes I pray them and may not even realize why I am so strongly affected by them. The words are often very simple. But the Psalms are more than their words. Of course, we hold them to be divinely inspired. I think they are imbued with the Holy Spirit’s own prayers, into which He elevates and transforms our humble and insufficient words and feelings and thoughts.
I say again, thank God for the Psalms!
I think I am something of a rara avis among women. I like war stories. I like hearing about people’s experiences in the military. Not to say that I don’t shudder and shrink at the brutality, the inhumanity, the pain and death and trauma. But I like being amazed and humbled by the realization that people have been willing to put themselves in the way of those things for the sake of country and countrymen, to stand between those horrors and the rest of us. Sometimes I hear people dismiss or disparage soldiers because war is such a tragedy, such a shame, such a burden. They don’t consider that if it weren’t for soldiers, then all of us would be more directly impacted and imperiled by war, and we would all be forced to fend for ourselves. War is never a thing to love or desire or be proud of. But the soldiers and other people who suffer and endure and even sometimes overcome in extraordinary ways… these are people to be respected and admired and grateful for. They are heroes, every one.
I know this probably sounds like a post for Veterans Day or Memorial Day. But these thoughts shouldn’t be reserved for just certain days. I think them often. They inspire me. They motivate me. They instruct me. They drive me. They help me to remember that life is precious and a very dear price to pay. They also encourage me in the spiritual life, the spiritual war, the Good Fight as St. Paul called it.
This is a war that we are all in the midst of–some are officers, some are foot-soldiers, some are pilots, some are special forces, some are spies, some are medics, and some keep the fires of home and camp burning. We too can be heroes. Even if all we can do is stand our ground and declare where our loyalty lies–in this fallen world and even more fallen society, those things alone can be radical and heroic. And like all soldiers, we put ourselves between the enemy and those who cannot or will not defend themselves. We usually do it without any recognition or thanks–nor do we mind such things; we sometimes do it to the derision of those we long to protect. This is what life is like in the Church Militant, the Church on her long march Heavenward.
I sometimes fear that the Church and Christianity (never mind the rest of our society) have become too soft, too self-indulgent, too complacent, too undisciplined, too indolent–and God knows I’ve been my share of it all, much to my shame and regret. We all have chinks in our armor, after all, and the enemy is very subtle and slithery and knows just how to get though to us. But I fear that too many of us have forgotten altogether where we are and what we’re meant to do. We’ve forgotten our duty. We’ve gotten so fixated upon false, watered-down notions of peace and love and tolerance and niceness and upon feeling good at all costs without the least concern for being good. We count our own opinions, emotions, and preferences as far more important than doctrine, reason, and obedience. We give more loyalty to moral relativism than to the natural law inscribed upon every human heart.
We’ve seen the results of this. We’ve seen the Church splinter from within. We’ve seen unspeakable tragedy and scandal shake her down to her very foundation. THE enemy and those who serve him point and say, “You see? I knew you Christians and your Church were rotten to the core. You hypocrites! You oppressors! You can’t even save yourselves much less than the whole world. Give it up! Cast off the shackles. Forget about your so-called sins and your so-called virtues. Be nice to everybody and otherwise just do whatever feels good. Go with the flow and get a life!” They say this as if the Church herself and all of her loyal adherents were the source of all the misery and humiliation. In fact, it is because some people within the Church have persistently and remorselessly done exactly what the enemy would have us do!
What serves the enemy most is serving ourselves. Loyal service, on the other hand, demands that we lay ourselves down, set ourselves aside, and when necessary let ourselves be nailed to the cross! Generosity is at the heart of all loyal service, be it in an earthly military or the Church. Generosity steels our courage and discipline. Generosity ignites faithfulness, obedience, and charity. Generosity enables us to be selfless.
And so, one of the most helpful spiritual practices I’ve found recently (via my confessor, who always seems to know me better than most anybody, even though he never sees my face) is this Prayer of Generosity, traditionally attributed to St. Ignatius of Loyola, who knew a thing or two about service and obedience:
Lord God, I want to love You, not that I might gain eternal Heaven nor escape eternal Hell, but simply because You are my God. Teach me to be generous. Grant me to give to You and not count the cost; to fight for You and not mind the wounds; to toil and not to look for rest; to labor and to ask no reward, except the knowledge that I serve my Lord and my God. Amen.
Such simple words to pray. And such difficult words to live by! But pray, and it will be given, often beyond our wildest expectations. I have found this simple prayer to be very powerful. Transformative, really. Exactly what I needed to call forth the heroine in me and keep me from straying from my duty, which is to serve God and my fellow man, and to reach Heaven, my true Patria. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
I just want to say that I am honored to be part of the Church Militant. I am honored that God and Church would entrust such service and duty to me. And I pray I never completely let them down. I pray I can stand firm until the Good Fight is finished.
The annual Dallas Marathon is today. Knowing that the marathon route often presents challenges for Sunday morning Mass-goers, our parish offered an additional vigil Mass last night. At the end of the Mass, our pastor invited all runners to come forward. Invoking the patronage of St. John the Baptist, the Forerunner of the Messiah, and St. Paul, who used the running of a race as a metaphor for the spiritual life, Father gave a blessing to the runners and their endeavors.
Although I was not among those who received the blessing, I was deeply moved by witnessing it, for it is a beautiful reminder of how much the Church honors and celebrates all good human endeavors and recognizes them as gifts from God and a means to sanctify one’s own life and the lives of others. It gave the message that there is no good endeavor that is too insignificant or unimportant to be blessed. Of course, it also reminded me of loved ones and friends who are runners, especially my sister, and how much I admire them and their dedication and discipline as well as physical strength. These are things to be admired!
I have always been moved by the great variety of blessings offered by the Church through her priests, and by the love and care with which they administer these blessings. Every time I receive a new rosary, I ask a priest to bless it. It’s such a simple thing, and yet it transforms the rosary from a string of beads to a powerful sacramental that can bring down even more graces. Even a simple blessing received on days when I am not able to receive Holy Communion often grants a great deal of strength, healing, and spiritual sustenance.
We should never hesitate to ask for blessings from our priests. That is one of the reasons they exist: to bestow God’s blessings upon us who live on earth. Certainly, we can, and should, pray for God’s blessing each day, but there’s something special about having a human hand raised over you, and a human voice speaking the blessing to you. And if that hand and voice belong to an Alter Christus, it’s all the better and more special.
It is also true that we can, and should, bless each other by word and touch. I think it is a beautiful and loving thing when parents bless their children each night. I found great peace and comfort in giving my parents blessings when they were in the hospital, and especially when my beloved father was in his final illness. In those situations, it’s easy to feel completely helpless and completely alone. But saying a simple, heartfelt blessing and gently touching your loved one’s forehead and drawing a little cross there with your finger is a powerful thing. It’s a way of entrusting them to God and His care. It is a special, physical act of faith, hope, and charity.
Finally, we can, and should, bless ourselves, and in fact we may do this without even being mindful of it. Each time we place our fingers in holy water and make the Sign of the Cross, we are blessing ourselves. Do it mindfully! Each time we say grace before a meal, we are blessing ourselves and the food we put into ourselves. Do it mindfully! Each time we pray a morning offering, we are invoking God’s blessing upon our prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of the day. Do it mindfully!
Catholics and our Church are sometimes misconceived as somehow being averse to the physical world, the body, and love of “ordinary” earthly life. But our practice of giving and receiving blessings proves otherwise, does it not? In fact, we believe that earthly and ordinary things and we ourselves can be elevated and infused with divine life. And this divine life makes everything better and richer and more beautiful and enjoyable.