Sunday, August 07, 2016

Jesus Turns the Tables on the Legalist Lawyer: When the Bad Guy Samaritan Loved a Jew

The Good Samaritan, William Hogarth
(from the original in St. Bartholomew's Hospital. Wellcome Images.)
Today's Gospel from the traditional lectionary is the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus told the story to answer a question from a lawyer who was an expert on the requirements of the Mosaic law. He was sort of like a Canon lawyer of his day. The lawyer was trying to test Jesus by asking, "Who is my neighbor?" when Jesus oh so subtly turned the orientation of the question around.

Some background you may already know : The Jews and the Samaritans were enemies with a long history of estrangement, ever since the Kingdom of Israel was split in two after Solomon's death. The Samaritans worshiped God in the "wrong way," on Mt. Gerizim in Samaria instead of in Jerusalem. In the context of the Scriptural account, the full question the lawyer was asking Jesus was, "Who is my neighbor who the law says I should love as myself?" And instead of simply replying, "you should love everyone--including the Samaritans--as your neighbors," Jesus told this story in which a Samaritan loved a Jew!

After the presumably Jewish man in the story was robbed, two of his fellow countrymen and co-religionists passed him by. To touch the man, who might be dying, would have made them ceremonially unclean. The fact that one of the despised Samaritans went way out of his way and spent a lot of time and money to help an injured Jew is highly significant. Because they were enemies, anyone of that era would think that Jews and Samaritans owed nothing to each other. The Samaritan ignored the prejudices of his compatriots and helped the Jew.

So way it turned out, that the Samaritan was the good one while the two Jews who passed by were not, must have struck the Jews who were listening, and it would have been an inspiration for those followers of Jesus who might have been self-righteous about their status as the chosen people. Jesus was telling them that one of the despised Samaritans was the only one who did God's will, and it might have made them ashamed and gave them the resolution to be good themselves, like the Samaritan.

It should be an inspiration for us.

And here's another thought, there are several significant mentions in the Gospels of how Jesus seemed to go out of His way over and over during His short time of public ministry to put in a good word on behalf of those who are mistaken in how they worship God but who are pleasing to God anyway. When Jesus healed the twelve lepers, only one, the Samaritan, came back to thank Him. And Jesus shocked his disciples when they found him conversing with the Samaritan woman at the well, but through her He reached the people in her town when they saw how talking with Him had transformed her.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

When a Royal Physician Killed a King to Get His Death into the Morning News--Euthanasia Story #1

Almost thirty years ago, news broke on November 27, 1986 that Queen Elizabeth II's grandfather had been involuntarily euthanized fifty years earlier, on January 20, 1936, when she was nine years old and he was seventy. The deed had been done by the Lord Dawson of Penn, the king's physician.

King George V had called her Lilibet. She had called him Grandpa England. The king had been so fond of his oldest granddaughter, Princess Elizabeth, that the Bishop of London, Arthur Foley Winnington-Ingram, was astonished one day when he arrived for an audience to find the king crawling about with the little princess on all fours.
“P'incess is three,” a Time magazine article on April 1929 about "Princess Lilybet"  reported, “No one else except the Queen rides out so often with the King ....”
May 16, 1935: nine-year-old Princess Elizabeth waved from the Buckingham Palace balcony during her Grandpa England’s Silver Jubilee celebration, eight months before his death
In 1986 when the truth came out about the circumstances leading to the death of her grandfather King George VI, reporters were not able to reach the Queen to find out her reaction. A Buckingham Palace spokesman replied to those who called, “It happened a long time ago, and all those concerned are now dead."

A Murder of Convenience

Most of the world only came to know about the involuntary euthanasia of the King of England in 1936 because the notes of Lord Dawson, the royal physician who killed the king, were finally revealed by his biographer in 1986. His biographer had discovered those notes when he was writing his life of Lord Dawson in 1950, but he and Lord Dawson’s widow decided not to include the king’s euthanasia in the biography.

King George V’s final words had been publicized as, "How is the Empire?” and his reported words were often repeated with reverence and sorrow for how touching it was that the king was concerned for the health of the realm as he lay dying. But, according to Lord Dawson’s notes, the king’s final words actually had been, "G-d damn you!" and they were addressed to his nurse, while she was injecting him under the supervision of Lord Dawson with a non-fatal dose of morphine to put him to sleep. 

I wonder, did he curse at his nurse because he suspected what they were going to do? After that first shot of morphine that evening, he never regained consciousness again.

The "mercy" killing took place later that evening. At 9:30, Lord Dawson wrote a medical bulletin that declared, ''The King's life is moving peacefully toward its close.”

After the king was unconscious, Cosmo Lang, the Archbishop of Canterbury, came and prayed by the king's bedside. After the Archbishop left, Lord Dawson prepared two fatal injections. The king’s nurse refused to cooperate, so Dawson administered the injections, the first containing three-quarters of a gram of morphine and the second containing one gram of cocaine.

According to his notes, Dawson coolly arranged the king’s death to occur before midnight, in order for the announcement to appear first in the morning edition of The Times and not in some lesser publication later in the day. To make doubly sure the story got into the Times morning edition the next day, Dawson phoned his wife in London during the evening to tell her to alert the Times to hold the press.
"At about 11 o'clock it was evident that the last stage might endure for many hours, unknown to the patient but little comporting with the dignity and serenity which he so richly merited and which demanded a brief final scene. Hours of waiting just for the mechanical end when all that is really life has departed only exhausts the onlookers and keeps them so strained that they cannot avail themselves of the solace of thought, communion or prayer. I therefore decided to determine the end and injected (myself) morphia gr. 3/4 and shortly afterwards cocaine gr. 1 into the distended jugular vein [...]"—Lord Dawson’s physician’s notes
Lord Dawson's notes also stated that he had been told by Queen Mary and the Prince of Wales, who was to become Edward VIII, that they did not want the King's life needlessly prolonged if his illness was clearly fatal. 

If I could have been there, I would have pointed out to Lord Dawson that it hardly needs saying that there is a vast moral divide between "needlessly" prolonging a life and matter-of-factly ending a life on time to get the death notice placed in the morning edition of the times. 

The Times headline the next morning read “A Peaceful Ending at Midnight.”

The story “Death of the King” in the middle-brow Daily Express provided lots of details, some of which may have been fanciful. The story reported that the queen and the prince were at the king's bedside when he died. “Three doctors and three nurses, at his bedside almost constantly since the illness began, did all that they could do. [Sic] In vain. The King became unconscious; passed from unconsciousness to death.”

The Year of Three Kings

The Daily Express on the day after King George V’s death also noted that Princess Elizabeth was now second in line for the throne, after her father Albert, the Duke of York, but that if her uncle Edward, the new King Edward VIII, married and had children those children would take precedence. As it turned out, there were no worries needed in that department.

It’s a bit eerie how in 1935, King George VI had accurately predicted the fall of his son Edward: "After I am dead, the boy will ruin himself within 12 months.” And he said this about his second son Albert and his beloved granddaughter Elizabeth: "I pray to God my eldest son will never marry and have children, and that nothing will come between Bertie and Lilibet and the throne."

King Edward VIII threw over his throne to marry the twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson before the end of 1936. They never had children, but any children would not have been in line for the throne after his abdication. When Edward VIII abdicated before the end of 1936, Princess Elizabeth’s father, Albert (Bertie), became King George VI.

And that's how 1936 came to be referred to as The Year of Three Kings.

After Princess Elizabeth’s father King George VI, died in 1953, Elizabeth was crowned Queen of England.

During this year of Our Lord, 2016, which is the same year that marked the 80th anniversary of King George V's death on January 20, Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her 90th birthday on April 21 to great fanfare. In December of 2007, she had passed her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, to become the longest-lived British monarch, and she became the longest-reigning British monarch in September of 2015. She is the longest-reigning queen regnant in the world, and the world's oldest reigning monarch. Not just for her endurance, but also for her decorous personal life and her high standards of service, her Grandpa England would have been quite pleased.

The Catholic Response

Some observers characterize the ongoing campaign for euthanasia as a laudable part of the attempt to free our society of all Christian moral principles and to replace what they say are irrational Christian principles with strict adherence to modern day rational opinions of what things are right and wrong. 

In contrast, the Catholic Church continues to point to what the Ten Commandments say, "Thou shalt not kill," repeats that our lives and deaths are in the hands of God, and teaches the unpopular and difficult truth that our sufferings can be joined with the sufferings of Christ to help redeem the world. 

To the modern ear it sounds like lunacy when we hear how many saints have told us that if we knew how good sufferings are for us spiritually and how much good that our suffering can do for the salvation of others, we would willingly seek them out.  

Following for example, is a long quote about the last days of Mother Mary Angelica, founder of EWTN, who was almost unique in our times in her teaching about the value of suffering that is united with the sufferings of Jesus.

.... Mother Angelica gave instructions to her caregivers to administer no pain relievers or drugs — despite her increasing suffering — that might unintentionally shorten her life because, as he said, she wanted to consciously suffer and offer her suffering to God.

“Most of us would not think that way. We would think, 'Get me out of here...' What's taken out of that picture is the love of God,” said [Father Joseph Mary] Wolfe as reported by

"Catholics believe that every human life, young or old, healthy or sickly, carefree or suffering, has intrinsic value, meaning, and purpose in the eyes of God. Following St. Paul, who powerfully teaches that Christians actually partner with Christ in his redemptive action by offering their sufferings to God, Catholics see suffering not only as something to be patiently endured, but something that, when lovingly united to Christ, helps to redeem the world. 

"It was on Good Friday…Mother began to cry out early in the morning from the pain that she was having. She had a fracture in her bones because of the length of time she had been bedridden. They said you could hear it down the hallways, that she was crying out on Good Friday from what she was going through.

"These two people said to me she has excruciating pain. Well, do you know where that word excruciating comes from? Ex, from, cruce, from the cross. Excruciating pain,” he said.

Fr. Wolfe said that Mother Angelica saw suffering as an opportunity to make an act of love to God. 'She saw something that most of us don't see ... that she could say, you don't know the value of one new offering, one new act of love of God, one suffering that is united to Christ and offered to him. You don't know the value of that,' he said."--"Mother Angelica’s passion: How the EWTN foundress embraced suffering in her final days as a gift to God"

Outrage in 1986 and Beyond

Euthanasia may seem like a recently trending topic. However, as the killing of the king in 1936  proves, support for euthanasia in one form or another had currency at least among the English upper classes for a lot longer than we might realize. Support for euthanasia ebbs and flows.

By recording what he had done in his notes, Lord Dawson seems to have assumed that history would praise him as having been far-sighted in what he must have thought was his superior wisdom in ending the life of the King for the convenience of everyone around. But in 1986, the public reaction against Dawson’s murder of the King in the name of mercy killing was outrage. 

What had changed? At the end of the 1930s and the start of the 1940s dawned, many in the United Kingdom and the United States thought that euthanasia would become the norm. But when news of Nazi atrocities against mental patients, handicapped children, and many others who the Nazis thought of as undesirable, including, priests, Poles, and Jews, came out in the late 1940s, the euthanasia movement fell out of favor. Euthanasia proponents found it difficult for some decades afterwards to convince people that the form of euthanasia they supported was not the same as Nazi murder of the unfit, the inconvenient, and the undesired. The topic went underground pretty much for decades.

The kind of euthanasia Dawson practiced and advocated when he spoke against a bill legalizing euthanasia in the House of Lords (as will be described in more detail in my next post on this topic) was involuntary euthanasia, which was the putting to death of a patient by his doctor without the patient's knowledge and consent. In the late 20th and the start of the 21st century, public support has grown for another form of euthanasia, in which a doctor provides the means for the patient to end his or her own life, which is more correctly called assisted suicide. 

Public opinion also gradually became more accepting of allowing the doctor to take a patient's life, upon the request of the patient, which is voluntary euthanasia

Today most people are still opposed to the idea of involuntary euthanasia, as Lord Dawson practiced it, in principle, but first-person stories I've heard and experienced about how some hospices and hospitals routinely misuse morphine to induce death seem to indicate that involuntary euthanasia in the name of pain management is quite common and routinely accepted, without being talked about much.

The Truth Was Known, At Least By Some

Bizarrely enough, it came out that while Dawson was still alive, there had already been some scuttlebutt about the actual truth behind the so-called peaceful and presumably natural death of the King. In 1986, when the news came out in The Daily Telegraph of what the long-dead physician's notes revealed, a reader wrote in recalling a doggerel verse that had been in circulation during Dawson's life:
“Lord Dawson of Penn
Killed many men.
That's why we sing
'God Save the King.'”

Time Magazine’s cover story of Lord Dawson six years before King George V’s death, on Monday, Sept. 01, 1930, praised his services as the royal physician
Time Magazine’s cover story of Lord Dawson that appeared six years before King George V’s death, on
Monday, Sept. 01, 1930, and praised his services as the royal physician.

Stay tuned for more about Lord Dawson and the acceptance of euthanasia among the British upper classes in Euthanasia Story #2, coming soon.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Dante, Rod Dreher, and Medusa

Medusa by Bernini (1630s or 1640s), Capitoline Museums, Rome
Homiletic and Pastoral Review published a shorter version of this article on May 14, 2016, under the title "Sometimes It’s Best to Cover Your Eyes."

How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life Changing Wisdom of the World’s Greatest Poem, by Rod Dreher. Simon and Schuster. April 14, 2015.

Rod Dreher is a best-selling author and blogger at The American Conservative and a well-known convert to Catholicism. After Dreher converted again from Catholicism to Orthodoxy, he published many articles in both Catholic and secular publications about why he was leaving the Catholic Church. In his latest book, How Dante Can Save Your Life, Dreher repeated essentially the same reasons for leaving the Catholic Church that he has written about extensively elsewhere.

Some pertinent thoughts that Father Richard John Neuhaus, First Things founder, wrote about Dreher’s conversion to Orthodoxy just before Father Neuhaus died, combined with Dreher’s own insights in How Dante Can Save Your Life, highlight some obvious contradictions and weaknesses in Dreher’s stated reasons for leaving the Catholic Church that are well worth examining.

Anyone who thinks of leaving the Catholic Church, perhaps for similar reasons to the ones that drove Rod Dreher away, should give this essay a read to the end, because, as the example of many great saints has shown us, there is another, better way to respond to evils in the Church than jumping ship from the barque of Peter.

Because Rod Dreher has been so public about his reasons for rejecting the Catholic Church, I don’t believe it is out of line for me to critique what he has publicly written in this public forum, not by trying to analyze him from afar, but by quoting from what he himself has written.

Among Dreher’s reasons for dismay about his experiences in the Catholic Church are what he and many others see as the lack of reverence in many liturgies, the uglification (my word, not his) of many churches, the destruction of sacred art, the watering down of doctrine, and the paucity of moral guidance, at least on the parish level. But Dreher was especially horrified by the truly appalling facts he unearthed as a journalist delving into the scandal of sex abuse by some Catholic clergy and the subsequent cover-ups by some members of the Church hierarchy.

After Dreher found a traditional Latin Mass parish where Catholicism was practiced in a more-reverent way than what he’d found at other parishes, he was shocked again when a charming priest in that parish turned out to be a con man. The priest had told everyone that he had been excluded from ministry in another diocese because he was too traditional. Then it came out that the priest had actually been removed from parish work because he was accused of being yet another abuser. The pastor had decided on his own that the claims against the priest were false, and had let the accused priest participate freely in the work of that parish.

Dreher has written that his family then began to attend liturgies at a little Orthodox mission because they felt they had no place else to go, not because they were convinced by the intellectual claims of Orthodoxy. They stayed because the community and its good priest gave them the spiritual goods he felt that he and his family needed, and they converted because it was the only way they could receive Communion there. Dreher donated a lot of the income from his New York Times best-selling book about his sister’s death called The Little Way of Ruthie Leming to build up the Orthodox mission where he and his family now worship.

In a blog post in which Dreher first announced his conversion to Orthodoxy, he frankly admitted that much his loss of faith was due to his inability to control his rage.

“I have talked about how the Church itself failed me in all this. Let me confess how I failed myself.” He continued, “The pursuit of justice is a wonderful and necessary thing, even a holy act. But I became so tormented over what had happened to those children at the hands of the Catholic clergy and hierarchy that I could see nothing else but pursuing justice. And my own pursuit of justice allowed me to turn wrath into an idol. I didn't know I was doing this at the time. I came to believe that if I didn't stop, or if I let up, that I would in some sense be failing the victims, that I would be helping the perpetrators get away with it. Again and again, I kept thinking What if this had happened to our family? And over time, the anger, and my inability to master it and put it in its place, corroded the bonds that linked me to Catholicism.”

Notice the “What if” in the next to the last sentence above. I know from my own experience that the devil loves to lead us into sin by dangling “What ifs?” in front of us. For one example, I once got just as scared and upset when my four-year-old daughter impulsively dashed off the curb into an empty street as if there really had been a car coming, and she had been hurt. “What if a car had been coming?” “What if she had been hurt?” The “What ifs” that flooded my mind during that and many other incidens led me first to fear, and then to anger. So I think I recognize how Dreher fed his own corrosive anger with the “what ifs” that haunted him.

A Self-Help Book with Dante as a Guide

How Dante Can Save Your Life is, quirkily enough, a self-help book in which Dreher writes about how he used Dante’s Commedia, with its wholeheartedly Catholic world view, as a guide to healing and peace. I have been dipping into the Commedia off and on ever since my freshman Humanities class at Brandeis University, and I currently have three translations on my bookshelf. So I enjoyed having Dreher to read along with this time through, even though I disagree with many of Dreher’s conclusions.

One odd point I noted is that while Dreher followed Dante through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, he had to do some doctrinal calisthenics to adapt some of the Catholic teachings in the Commedia with his now-Orthodox set of beliefs.

For one example, the doctrine of Purgatory is not held by Orthodoxy, so when Dreher writes about the many things he learned from reading Dante’s Purgatorio, he doesn’t give a satisfying answer to the question of how the imperfections that remain with a person at the time of death can be purged, since he no longer believes in a place of purgation after death.

While Dante had Virgil and then Beatrice as his guides, Dreher also had a Baptist minister-cum-psychologist in blue jeans and his bearded Orthodox priest as his guides. Dreher’s journey out of his own dark wood started because he was sick from Epstein Barr virus and sleeping all day most days. A doctor told him to get counseling, or he would likely die.

** Spoiler alert **: By the time he finished reading and writing about the Commedia and sharing his insights with his psychologist and his priest, Dreher’s health was remarkably improved; he was no longer sleeping most of his days away, and his life was no longer in danger from the poisonous brew of rage, disappointment, and resentment that had sickened him.

As he tells the story in the book, Dreher got relief from his symptoms because he learned that his resentment was sinful, and that he needed to forgive his father (more about this fraught relationship later). Unfortunately, it seems that Dreher has not yet learned to forgive the evildoers in the Catholic Church.

It’s striking to me that halfway through his book Dreher writes admiringly about how Dante dealt with his own outrage against clerical abuses of his day in a chapter titled “The Sins of the Fathers.” Dreher notes that in many places in Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso, Dante lashed out against the corruption of popes and bishops. Abashedly and with admiration, Dreher ruefully admits that Dante didn’t let the dismaying evils he saw in the Church of his own day destroy his faith.

Reading Dante showed him that “it was possible to be clear-eyed and outspoken about the wickedness of the men who run the Church, yet iron-willed in one’s commitment to the God within the Church.” And Dante, Dreher said, is his hero because Dante stared down the evil and still affirmed the Church. Dreher admits, “I had failed at this.”

Perceptive Thoughts from Father Neuhaus

I believe it is more correct to say that Dante didn’t stare down the evil so much as recognize it, and deplore it, and then raise his sights up to higher things. As Richard John Neuhaus noted in a “While We’re At It” piece at First Things published in January 2009, the month of his death—it would have been better for Dreher to have looked away instead of going away.

Father Neuhaus agreed that Dreher was rightly sickened by the scandals, but that “many Catholics feel the same way and, for sound reasons, believe Orthodoxy is not a place to go.” At the time Father Neuhaus was writing that, Dreher had recently admitted that there is also corruption within Orthodoxy, but that he didn’t want to know about it. Neuhaus’s comment was, “As with Dreher and Orthodoxy, there are things these Catholics really don’t want to know about their Church.”

Neuhaus supposed that Dreher might still be Catholic if he hadn’t tried to win journalistic kudos for delving into the terrible things that were done by some Catholic churchmen. Indeed, it does seem likely that Dreher might still be a practicing Catholic if he had heeded a priest who warned him at the start of his investigations that he was going “to find places darker than I realized existed,” and if he had resolved to turn away his gaze.

Medusa Warning: The Better Part of Valor

The hardening of Dreher’s heart against Catholicism is reminiscent of what happened to people in the Greek myth when they looked at the head of Medusa. Medusa was the Gorgon who had snakes for hair; men were turned to stone just by looking at her. Petra, the Latin word for stone, is the origin of the English word petrified, which can mean being turned into stone in either a literal or metaphorical sense.

In Canto IX of the Inferno, Virgil saved Dante from being literally petrified when the Medusa came towards him.

“’Turn your back.’ said the Master, and he himself turned me round. ‘Keep your eyes closed, since there will be no return upwards, if she were to show herself, and you were to see her.’ Not leaving it to me, he covered them, also, with his own hands.”

Meaning of Medusa

“O you, who have clear minds, take note of the meaning that conceals itself under the veil of clouded verse!”

Several commentaries on this passage of the Inferno say that the petrifying effect of looking at Medusa symbolizes the formation of a heart of stone that prevents sinners from humbling themselves to ask for grace. In a word, Medusa stands for the sin of obduracy. One commentator writes, “The veiled meaning of the clouded verse is simply that obduracy hardens the heart against God, and stifles the conscience, delaying repentance. It is a facet of spiritual anger and pride. ”

Still another commentator calls obduracy the sin of despair, which prevents us from confessing our own sins. Medusa can therefore be understood as a symbol of what happens when we persist in brooding over the outrageous sins of others, turn our gaze away from God, and find ourselves using our anger and pride to justify not repenting from our own sins.

Things could have turned out very differently if Dreher had a Virgil at his side to turn him around, and cover his eyes with with his hands.

Honor Your Father

Dreher wrote many pages in How Dante Can Save Your Life, and extensively elsewhere, about his life-long hurt about his father. He was disappointed with his strong, but tender and loving, Southern father, because his father was not able to accept him as he was—a bookish, sensitive sort of boy and man. Then part of Dreher’s extreme reaction against the Catholic Church came from disappointment because many of the men he had once idolized as replacement spiritual fathers did many objectively evil things.

The Fourth Commandment doesn’t say, “Honor your father and your mother if they haven’t disappointed or hurt you.” St. Paul reminded the Church at Ephesus of the fourth commandment in these words, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is just. Honour thy father and thy mother, which is the first commandment with a promise: That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest be long lived upon earth.” Ephesians 6:1-3, Douay Rheims Bible.

Dreher was deeply hurt at the betrayal of Church leaders and priests, and angry at seeing his idols toppled. His pride was also hurt for his not having been right when he thought he had, by his intelligence, found the perfect spiritual home he craved.

Metaphorically speaking, it seems that by looking deeply into the face of the sex abuse scandal, and by brooding over his own disappointment with his father, Dreher may have unwittingly allowed his own heart to be turned to stone. According to his own words, Dreher’s resentment and anger in violation against the fourth commandment was probably what was killing him. He finally confessed his sin and asked his father for forgiveness, but he has not reconciled, yet, with the Catholic Church.

Note that he inappropriately turned his rage against the Church as a whole. Here is one example of how he writes as if every Church leader is wicked, from a passage I quoted earlier, “It was possible to be clear-eyed and outspoken about the wickedness of the men who run the Church, yet iron-willed in one’s commitment to the God within the Church.” Note that he writes “the wickedness of the men,” with no qualifications. Not the wickedness of some of the men …

Like any other Catholic with a conscience, I too have been horrified about some of the things I’ve seen and learned about. I am not proposing an ostrich approach of sticking one’s head in the sand. Part of how I have been able to keep my faith in spite of great disappointments and scandals is to accept that evil permeates everything and everyone in this world, including some people in the Church.

I was helped a lot in accepting this reality when I came across a homily titled, "Answering Scandal with Personal Holiness," which Catholicity called “Perhaps the single best commentary on the matter.” The homily was given by Father Roger J. Landry on 2/12/2002, when he was pastor at a church in Fall River, MA. Father Landry is a Harvard graduate, a Rome-trained priest who now works for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations. Father Landry gave the homily on the Sunday after news had broken that perhaps seventy priests from the Boston Archdiocese had “abused young people whom they were consecrated to serve.”

One of the important things Father Landry pointed out is that, even out of the twelve apostles handpicked by Christ, one, Judas, was so evil that he sold his Master for thirty pieces of silver. That’s one out of twelve.

In light of this homily and Dante’s own response to clerical corruption, it is easy to see there are other, better ways Dreher could have chosen to think about the scandal. One thing would be to realize that not every priest is evil just because some are.

"You don't judge something by those who don't live it, but by those who do." —Rev. Roger Landry

Father Landry said, “We can focus on those who betrayed the Lord, those who abused rather than loved those whom they were called to serve, or we can focus, like the early Church did, on the others, on those who have remained faithful, those priests who are still offering their lives to serve Christ and to serve you out of love. “

Don’t Commit Spiritual Suicide 

Father Landry pointed out that St. Francis de Sales warned his listeners this way, "While those who give scandal are guilty of the spiritual equivalent of murder, those who take scandal, who allow scandals to destroy their faith are guilty of spiritual suicide.”

Father Landry also spoke about St. Francis of Assisi's example. During his time, when abuses were rampant in the Church and some bishops lived like secular princes, St. Francis of Assisi lived his life simply, according to the teachings and example of Christ.

This holy St. Francis did not condemn, or point fingers, or try to bring down the current Church hierarchy, or leave brokenhearted to seek out another religion or to start a new religion himself. He set himself to love God with his whole heart. He also set himself to humbly live the authentic teachings of the Church, which he knew is Christ’s Body on earth. As a result, his example inspired millions to holiness.

Towards the end of his homily, Father Landry said this, “This scandal can be something that can lead you down to the path of spiritual suicide, or it can be something that can inspire you to say, finally, ‘I want to become a saint, so that I and the Church can give your name the glory it deserves, so that others might find in you the love and the salvation that I have found.’”

Far Better To Think on These Things

When Virgil protected Dante by covering Dante’s eyes and turning him around, Virgil was essentially teaching Dante the virtue of custody of the eyes. Everyone must be purified from the sinful vices of pride, anger, self-aggrandizement, lust, and covetousness, and to do so, we all must practice acts of self-denial, which include being very careful what we look at, and what we harbor in our thoughts.

St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians what we Christians should look at and ponder:

“For the rest, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely, whatsoever of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline: think on these things.” [Phillippians 4:8].

Not incidentally, in Philippians 13, in his famous passage on love, St. Paul included the admonition that “Love does not brood over injury.”

Holiness is the Real Face of the Church

When priests are immoral or false to their calling in any way, it is a great evil and a great shame. Christ is grieved and angered that little ones have been molested or misled by priests who are supposed to be acting in His name. There is something much worse than a millstone around the neck waiting for priests like that, unless they repent and make amends by living humble penitential lives.

In the face of grievous evils, we have the obligation to continue to work faithfully on our own personal holiness, so that others will be able to see in us the love and glorious grace of God. We should not dwell on the evil things that have occurred, or brood over injuries to ourselves or others. Instead we should think of the things of God.

“The only adequate response to this terrible scandal, the only fully Catholic response to this scandal as St. Francis of Assisi recognized in the 1200s, as St. Francis de Sales recognized in the 1600s, and as countless other saints have recognized in every century is HOLINESS! Every crisis that the Church faces, every crisis that the world faces, is a crisis of saints. Holiness is crucial, because it is the real face of the Church.” —Rev. Roger Landry

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Ever Hear of the Agatha Christie Indult? It's a Fascinating Story

Agatha Christi in her 80s, in the early 1970s, around when the so-called indult was nicknamed after her

At some point in my browsing around about Roman Catholic liturgy and sacred music, I came across a surprising exception to the almost-total ban on the traditional Latin Mass--which had been in force almost everywhere after a new Mass was introduced in 1969. Even more to my surprise, I found that exception is called the "Agatha Christie indult."

I think the name of this particular exception is amusing, because Agatha Christie wasn't even a Catholic. If we can trust Wikipedia in this, Christie was "the best-selling novelist of all time. Her novels have sold roughly two billion copies, and her estate claims that her works come third in the rankings of the world's most-widely published books, behind only Shakespeare's works and the Bible." Her writings were translated into at least one hundred and three languages, and they are so popular that even Pope Paul VI knew about her writings, and he may have actually read some, as we shall see.

And I found out that calling the exception an indult is inaccurate. An indult is a permission given to allow something that is otherwise forbidden by the Church. Because of how the ban on the traditional Mass was presented and because of the punitive measures that were taken to ensure that priests did not say the traditional Latin Mass after the new Mass was introduced, almost everyone was led to believe the Mass was legally suppressed. But it never actually had been, as you shall also see (if you don't already know) if you keep on reading this.

First Some Terminology

Pope Benedict XVI first introduced the terms "ordinary form" and "extraordinary form" in his 2007 document on the liturgy, Summorum Pontificum, to differentiate between:

  • The Mass of Pope Paul VI according the Missal of 1969 (which Pope Benedict XVI called the ordinary form, but which is also often called the Novus Ordo Mass or just the New Mass) and
  • The Mass of Pope Saint John XXIII according to the Missal of 1962 (which Pope Benedict XVI called the extraordinary form, but which is  often called the Latin Mass, the Traditional Latin Mass, the TLM, the Tridentine Mass, the usus antiquor, or the old Mass).

Note that the term Latin Mass is often applied to the extraordinary form of the Mass, but that's not quite accurate. For example,  Latin Mass Magazine and The Latin Mass Society of England and Wales use "Latin Mass" in their titles when they mean the traditional Latin Mass, but that usage is not strictly correct. The ordinary form of the Mass can also be and often is celebrated in Latin. So an ordinary form Mass celebrated in Latin may also be referred to as a Latin Mass. For example, at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Palo Alto, California, a Latin Mass in the ordinary form is celebrated on every Sunday and feast day, with Gregorian chant and polyphony sung by the St. Ann choir. The Mass follows the Missal of 1969, but it is truly a Latin Mass.

Also note that, strictly speaking, the Mass of 1962 is not the "Tridentine Mass."  Tridentine is derived from the Latin Tridentinus, "related to the city of Tridentum" (Trent, Italy), and the Tridentine Mass was based on a new missal that Pope Pius V promulgated in 1570 after a decision made at the Council of Trent. New missals were issued in 1604 , 1634, 1884, 1920, before the Missal of John XXIII was issued in 1962. Still another Missal was issued in 1965 and amended in 1967.

Following is some background before we go on to more details about how the indult came to be nicknamed after Agatha Christi, and to what makes it obvious that the word indult is inaccurately applied.

Why Permission Was Requested to Allow the Old Mass to be Celebrated

After the revised Mass of Pope Paul VI was introduced and became the ordinary form of the Mass on the first Sunday of Advent in 1969 (in most countries), the revised liturgy was the only form of the Mass that was allowed to be celebrated by priests of the Roman Catholic Church. Old or retired priests could apply to their own bishop for permission to use the previous form of the Mass, but for private use only.

Okay Now, Here is How the Agatha Indult Came About 

The one notable exception to the virtual worldwide ban on the traditional Latin Mass was called the "English indult," which was also nicknamed the "Agatha Christie indult."

As documented in "The 1971 'English' Indult - a Recollection, by Alfred Marnau, The Latin Mass Society of England and Wales had been formed in 1964, even before the council had ended. They saw that "the form of the Mass seemed to be changing by the month, and no sooner had one novelty been introduced then it was replaced very quickly by something else. A number of priests took the opportunity to introduce their own whims and fancies, which only exacerbated the problem."

In response to how Latin was being removed from the Mass by individual priests as far back as November 1965, The Latin Mass Society then sent an appeal to Pope Paul VI that stated "the discontinuance of the use of the Latin tongue in parts of the Mass has proved a grave spiritual privation and a source of great anguish of soul." The petition also requested "that, side by side with the continued employment of the mother-tongue, the Mass may frequently and regularly be celebrated wholly in Latin."  They received no reply.

The change from Latin that The Latin Mass Society wrote about was far from the only change that was about to be universally mandated.  The Mass was about to be transformed.

In 1971, The Latin Mass Society of England and Wales circulated another petition among musicians, artists, writers, and intellectuals. Agatha Christi, who was then 80 years old, was only one of several non-Catholics who signed it.  Other signers whose names I recognize out of the total of fifty-seven prominent figures who signed are: Kenneth Clark, Robert Graves, Graham Greene, Nancy Mitford, Malcolm Muggeridge, Iris Murdoch, Sean O'Faolain, and Joan Sutherland. 

Note: I do not know why the appeal was sent in 1971, because I understand that the changeover to the new Mass occurred in most places in 1970.

The appeal compared the planned obliteration of the centuries-old Mass to a senseless decree that would destroy equally venerable basilicas or cathedrals. The appeal deplored the intolerance of modern man for traditions and the modern anxiety to suppress those traditions. It appealed to the pope to allow the Mass' survival in its traditional form, even if side by side with the new form.

The text of the appeal letter read as follows:

"If some senseless decree were to order the total or partial destruction of basilicas or cathedrals, then obviously it would be the educated - whatever their personal beliefs - who would rise up in horror to oppose such a possibility. Now the fact is that basilicas and cathedrals were built so as to celebrate a rite which, until a few months ago, constituted a living tradition. We are referring to the Roman Catholic Mass. Yet, according to the latest information in Rome, there is a plan to obliterate that Mass by the end of the current year. One of the axioms of contemporary publicity, religious as well as secular, is that modern man in general, and intellectuals in particular, have become intolerant of all forms of tradition and are anxious to suppress them and put something else in their place. But, like many other affirmations of our publicity machines, this axiom is false. Today, as in times gone by, educated people are in the vanguard where recognition of the value of tradition in concerned, and are the first to raise the alarm when it is threatened. We are not at this moment considering the religious or spiritual experience of millions of individuals. The rite in question, in its magnificent Latin text, has also inspired a host of priceless achievements in the arts - not only mystical works, but works by poets, philosophers, musicians, architects, painters and sculptors in all countries and epochs. Thus, it belongs to universal culture as well as to churchmen and formal Christians. In the materialistic and technocratic civilisation that is increasingly threatening the life of mind and spirit in its original creative expression - the word - it seems particularly inhuman to deprive man of word-forms in one of their most grandiose manifestations. The signatories of this appeal, which is entirely ecumenical and non-political, have been drawn from every branch of modern culture in Europe and elsewhere. They wish to call to the attention of the Holy See, the appalling responsibility it would incur in the history of the human spirit were it to refuse to allow the Traditional Mass to survive, even though this survival took place side by side with other liturgical reforms."

So why is the permission granted by Pope Paul VI  popularly called the Agatha Christi indult? As the story goes, Pope Paul VI was reading through the list of signatories and then suddenly said, "Ah, Agatha Christie!" and signed his approval.  With that signature, Paul VI gave permission for the traditional form of the Latin Mass to be used on special occasions with the consent of the local Roman Catholic bishop, but only in England and Wales. And only according to the revised Missal of 1965 as amended in 1967.

Well, that solves one mystery, doesn't it?

But Why Was It Called an Indult?

But there is another mystery someone asked me about today. Why was the exception that Pope Pius VI granted England and Wales popularly called an indult?  My impressions is that the term was used because it seemed to everyone that the traditional Mass had been forbidden. It had certainly been suppressed. With rare exceptions, any priest who went on saying it was censured. If the traditional Mass was illegal, it would naturally follow that obtaining permission to celebrate a forbidden form of the Mass would require an indult.

But it really hadn't actually been forbidden. And some people knew it hadn't.

Most Catholics didn't find out that the traditional Latin was never legally "abrogated" until Pope Benedict wrote Summorum Pontificumin  2007, in which the pope stated that "the 1962 Missal ... was never juridically abrogated."

But some did know all along. For example, we know that Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, who was the main architect of the changes to the Mass knew, because the archbishop wrote in his biography that in 1974, he tried to get a ruling that would ensure the traditional Mass would be legally  abrogated.

This account quotes Archbishop Bugnini from his 1990 book The Reform of the Liturgy, in which the archbishop described how he requested an explicit ruling on this matter from the Pontifical Commission charged with interpreting documents from the council. 

“Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, whom Paul VI put in charge of the post-conciliar liturgical reform, wanted to obtain an explicit ruling to the effect that the Novus Ordo Missae of 1970 abrogates the Old Mass, so that the latter would be suppressed de jure. To apply for such a ruling to the Pontifical Commission for the Interpretation of Conciliar Documents, he needed permission from the Cardinal Secretary of State [Jean-Marie Villot]. On 10 June 1974 the Secretary of State refused to give the requested permission on the grounds that such an attempt would be seen as “casting odium on the liturgical tradition” (A. Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-1975, The Liturgical Press, 1990, pp 300-301).--FromWas the Old Rite Abrogated?

1984: The Ban Was Relaxed Somewhat

In 1984, during Pope John Paul II's papacy, the Holy See sent a letter known as Quattuor abhinc annos to the bishops. For the first time since 1969, the ban on the traditional Latin Mass was relaxed somewhat. The document "empowered diocesan bishops to authorize, on certain conditions, celebrations of the Mass according to the Missal of 1962." Note that none of the other versions of the Roman Missal were allowed except the Missal of 1962.

The traditional Latin Mass was treated as if it had been abrogated in that document, because it used the word "indult." Apparently, the commission didn't know that the old Mass had never been legally suppressed.

In the aftermath, few bishops granted the "indult," because many disapproved of the traditional Latin Mass. The idea was still current among many that to allow the old Mass was divisive.

And in 1986, Pope John Paul II Found Out the Truth

In 1986, Pope John Paul II appointed a commission to examine the legal status of the traditional Latin Mass. Eight of nine cardinals on the commission agreed that the Mass of 1969 did not abrogate the traditional Mass. In addition, “The nine cardinals agreed that Pope Paul VI never gave the bishops the authority to forbid priests from celebrating Mass according to the Missal of St Pius V. The commission judged the conditions for the 1984 indult too restrictive and proposed their relaxation. These conclusions served as functional guidelines for the Commission Ecclesia Dei, but they were never promulgated."--From "Was the Old Rite Abrogated?"

1988: Bishops Were Urged to More Widely
Apply the Letter of 1984

The article "Was the Old Rite Abrogated?"also describes what happened in 1988:

"In 1988, the Pope issued another letter known as Ecclesia Dei, which stated that 'respect must everywhere be shown for the feelings of all those who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition.' The Pope urged bishops to give "a wide and generous application" to the provisions of Quattuor abhinc annos, and established the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei to oversee relations between Rome and Traditionalist Catholics. "The Holy See itself granted authorisation to use the Tridentine Mass to a significant number of priests and priestly societies, such as the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, and the Personal Apostolic Administration of Saint John Mary Vianney. Some diocesan bishops, however, declined to authorise celebrations within their dioceses, or did so only to a limited extent. In some cases, the difficulty was that those seeking the permission were hostile to the church authorities. Other refusals of permission were alleged to have stemmed from certain bishops' disapproval in principle of celebrations of the Tridentine liturgy."

It's notable that in 1988 Ecclesia Dei did not use the word indult that was used in 1985, probably because the pope's commission had agreed that the traditional Latin Mass was still legal.

Even after Ecclesia Dei was released, few permissions were granted to diocesan priests, but at least in a few dioceses, priests were allowed to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass. For one example, in Oakland, CA, Father Vladimir Kozina received the single permission for that diocese. On September 10, 1989, Father Kozina was able to begin to celebrate the Mass according to the Missal of 1962 at St. Margaret Mary Church.

So, What Have We Learned?

To summarize all this, the permission known as the "Agatha Christi Indult" was only humorously named after Agatha Christi, because Pope Paul VI recognized her name on the petition, and the use of the word "Indult" for the permission that Pope Paul VI granted was incorrectly applied. An indult can only be given when something is legally suppressed, and since the traditional Mass was never legally suppressed, indult had actually been the wrong word to use. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Bishop Kung Was Tricky That Way

During the night of September 8, 1955, which is the feast of the birth of Mary in the traditional calendar, Ignatius Ping-Mei Kung, Shanghai's first native Chinese bishop, was arrested by Communist authorities. Before the night was over, police arrested more than three hundred Catholic priests, religious, and lay people in seminaries, churches and private homes around the city. Twelve hundred Shanghai Catholics were arrested by the end of that same month.

Bishop Kung was a Shanghai native, and his family had been Catholic for at least five generations. Few westerners are aware of this fact, but the Roman Catholic Church has had deep roots in China since the sixteenth century, and a large concentration of Catholics still live in Shanghai. The government claimed religious freedom was a basic right, so the Catholics were arrested ostensibly because they were said to be counterrevolutionaries. They knew the real reason was because they would not renounce their loyalty to the Pope.

The Communist Party (CP) had established the  (CCPA) as a local version of the Catholic Church that would renounce its ties to Rome. Four days after his arrest, Bishop Kung was brought out to a mass accusation meeting that was held in a former greyhound racing stadium where mass trials and executions were routinely staged.

Fortunately, according to documents discovered by historian Fr. Paul P. Mariani, S.J., author of Church Militant: Bishop Kung and Catholic Resistance in Communist Shanghai, the CP policy was not to kill Catholics, because they didn't want to create martyrs. Fr. Mariani found that the CP had established these goals: "to establish an independent church under the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), to educate Catholics to support this independent church, and to imprison any who stood in its way."

Everyone in Shanghai had heard about or seen the mass arrests, sometimes of thousands at a time, with the arrested ones being driven off in red paddy wagons, and everyone would have known about the ongoing executions at the stadium where thousands of Shanghai residents were brought to witness the proceedings. Bishop Kung probably was not aware of the CP policy of not killing Catholics, and so when he was taken to the stadium he may not have known whether he was was facing death or imprisonment if he did not cooperate. Wearing only Chinese pajamas with his hands tied behind his back, the diminutive, 5 feet tall but audacious Bishop Kung was thrust before a microphone to confess his "errors."

Instead he shouted: "Long live Christ the King! Long live the Pope!"

Many in the crowd responded, "Long live Christ the King! Long live Bishop Kung!"

The guards pointed their guns at the crowd and the cheering stopped. The authorities quickly whisked the Bishop away to solitary confinement and prolonged attempts to wear him down. He had a whole floor to himself, he later told reporters, and everyone was forbidden to make eye contact with him, except when they were trying to indoctrinate him.

Bishop Kung was out of sight, but the world had not forgotten his heroic sacrifice. Two years after Kung's arrest in 1955, Bishop Fulton Sheen wrote in his Mission magazine in 1957: "The West has its Mindszenty, but the East has its Kung."

Five years after his arrest, he was convicted of treason and sentenced to life in prison.

Bishop Kung was imprisoned for a total of thirty years, unable to correspond with anyone, even members of his own family. He was forbidden to say Mass, and he was not permitted to read the Bible. Many other loyal Shanghai Catholics endured the same kinds of long prison sentences and either died in anonymity, or were released after decades as broken men and women.

When Bishop Kung Tricked Them Again

I enjoy imagining the frustration of the Communist officials twenty-nine years after the scene in the stadium, when Bishop Kung tricked them once again.

This event occurred in 1984 during an eleven day trip to China by Cardinal Jaimie Sin from the Philippines, whose father had been Chinese. Cardinal Sin asked the authorities to let him see Bishop Kung during his visit to his ancestral homeland. Probably because of international protests about the imprisonment of Bishop Kung, who was on an Amnesty International list of prisoners of conscience, they concurred.

The Communists set up a show meeting on October 27, 1984. They seated Cardinal Sin and Bishop Kung at opposite ends of a long dining table and surrounded them with Communist leaders and bishops of the CCPA. Cardinal Sin and Bishop Kung were not allowed to talk personally to each other, but they slyly used their wits to get around all the machinations that had been put into place to keep them from communicating.

Cardinal Sin was well known as a great joker–he would tell people he lived in the House of Sin, for example–so his part in what happened that night wouldn't be much of a surprise. Cardinal Sin invited each attendee to sing a song during the dinner, which is a common practice in the Philippines. When Bishop Kung’s turn came, he looked directly at Cardinal Sin and began to sing in Latin the words by which Christ made St. Peter the first Pope. "Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo Ecclesiam meam (You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church).”

After Bishop Kung sang just a few bars, a Bishop of the CCPA told his superiors of Kung's ruse. They ordered Bishop Kung to be silent, but he looked at Cardinal Sin again and finished the song: “Et portæ inferi non prævalebunt (and the gates of hell will not prevail against it).” These word are sung multiple times every year during Latin Masses and the Divine Office for several feasts of the traditional liturgical calendar. Below is the Alleluia for July 29, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

In the Heart of the Pope

Cardinal Sin was soon able to pass onto the Vatican that clear message from Bishop Kung that he had never stopped affirming his loyalty to the Pope as the head of the Roman Catholic Church.

Bishop Kung did not know then that he had been secretly elevated to the College of Cardinals. He found out only after his release–first from prison later in 1985, and then from house arrest in 1988; he moved with his nephew to Stanford, CT, to get medical care in 1988. Cardinal Kung said this in an interview in 1999, "One year after my arrival in the United States, I was well enough to go to Rome where I was warmly received by Pope John Paul II. During that meeting, I was told by the Holy Father that I had been elevated in 1979, in pectore, to the College of Cardinals. I kept this a secret until our Holy Father announced it to the world on May 29, 1991."

In pectore (Latin) means in the heart of the Pope. Elevations in pectore are sometimes done when a pope wants to honor a cleric while not putting him or other Catholics in danger in a situation where the Church is being persecuted.

Cardinal Kung was finally given his red biretta on June 30, 1991 by Pope John Paul II. "When the Pope presented Cardinal Kung with his red hat in June 1991, the 90-year-old raised himself up from his wheelchair, put aside his cane and walked up the steps to kneel at the feet of the Holy Father. Visibly touched, the Pope lifted him up, gave him his cardinal's hat and stood patiently as Cardinal Kung returned to his wheelchair to the sounds of a seven-minute standing ovation from 9,000 guests in the Vatican audience hall."–"A Hero Dies in Exile" by Brian McGuire, National Catholic Register, Sunday, Mar 19, 2000.
For more about the struggles of the Church in China, and for how you can donate to help the underground Church, see the Cardinal Kung Foundation website.

Above: Christ's words to St. Peter are in gigantic letters 2 meters high against a gold background at the base of the drum of Michelangelo's dome in St. Peter's Basilica, illuminated by the light of sixteen windows
Above: "Tu Es Petrus" by Palestrina, sung at the last public Mass of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on Ash Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Christ Handing the Keys of the Kingdom to Peter (1481-1482) by Pietro Perugino, Sistine Chapel

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

I Once Was Lapsed, and Now I'm Relapsed

I was raised Catholic, but started being lured away from the faith when I was about 15. The root cause of my eventual loss of faith was essentially intellectual snobbery, pride, and ambition. Let me tell you a bit about how it happened that I left and came back again.

When I was 15 going on 16, I had back surgery and was hospitalized for a year. I continued my voracious reading habit in the hospital bed, while continuing to do teenager-type things such as painting my toenails blue and having contests with a friend in the next bed about who could fill the nightly bed pan the fullest by drinking huge amounts of water. I can still see the tolerant nurse's aid, with her starched white cap and uniform, struggling to carry away the brimming metal bedpans.

Every week my sophomore English teacher sent me four or five works of fiction by writers from Nathaniel Hawthorne to Mary McCarthy to Simone de Beauvoir. Most of the authors treated religious belief as a crutch for those who are too weak to stand the existential pain of living in a meaningless universe. In 1963, I got a scholarship to Brandeis University, where I did more class readings that cast religious belief in a negative light. I aspired to being a great intellectual, and so by the middle of my freshman year in college, I had left my crutch (my faith) behind and hobbled off alone.

The freshman cafeteria served rare roast beef every Friday, and one Friday I finalized my rebellion against the Church by eating that rare roast beef.

When I became a lapsed Catholic, at least I took with me a good basic grounding in the faith, from nine years of parochial school and from reading I had done on the side, such as the writings of St. Therese of Lisieux.

In 1964, I dropped out of Brandeis, started hanging around with artists and others on the fringes of society. I continued seeking enlightenment, following the trail of whatever the intellectuals and artists of the world had to say about the nature of truth and reality.

Fast forward to 1976, by which date I had been married and divorced. By then I had a 4 year old daughter and a 6 year old son, and I was living on welfare in Minneapolis, without any family or friends to help me. With the aid of the government child care funding and student loans, I was finishing my degree.

I started to notice that people who follow Christian teachings achieved more than the hedonistic, selfish artists that I previously admired. When I think of hedonistic, selfish artists, one fellow art student comes to mind. In an attempt to make original art, he slept and lived in the middle of a huge roll of paper. When he got another art student pregnant, he "supported" her by giving her money for an abortion and comforting her as she grieved afterwards.

It began to dawn on me that God's commandments were protective, rather than being the rules of a Big Meany in the Sky who was trying to steal our joy. For example, it occurred to me that when a person makes a life-long commitment to a single spouse instead of going through a series of "relationships," that person is spared the often-grievous pain of separating from one mate after another and (for that and other reasons) is more free to do good things with his or her life. That observation was a small beginning of growth of my trust in God's benevolent love.

Once I accepted the reality of God and Christ, I tried lots of Protestant churches: Presbyterian, Anglican, Methodist, Evangelical, Charismatic, Full Gospel, even Unitarianism. Eventually none of them satisfied because none provided the Eucharist. The Body and Blood of Christ alone would be powerful reason enough to return to the Catholic Church, but I also became aware of how necessary the Catholic Church's traditions are as guidance in interpreting the Scriptures.

Following are just two examples of where I saw the need for tradition, which I witnessed in a small church associated with a small denomination, the Evangelical Free Church.

In one Saturday Bible class taught by a laywoman, the pastor sat in. The woman interpreted certain passages in St. Paul's 1st letter to the Corinthians [1Cor14:33b-36] according to the historical context. Her point was that in those verses, St. Paul was not forbidding all women to speak, only deploring the disorder being caused by some newly-converted pagan women in the Corinthian Church of that day. Either because the pastor had slept through her class with his eyes open, or because he disagreed, the next day the pastor used the same verses in his Sunday sermon to reiterate that 1st Corinthians forbade women to speak out in Church. Individual interpretation of Scripture led these two individuals to draw totally different conclusions from the same set of Bible verses.

This next example was even more troubling. A Stanford and Yale-trained lawyer who was teaching a Bible class disagreed with the pastor about how the Evangelical Free Church should respond to Christ's "Great Commission" to go out and preach the gospel to the whole creation. That lawyer and his friends broke away and started an even smaller church, called Straitgate! Obviously (to me at least), with only the Scriptures as a guide to faith, the splintering of the Church that started centuries ago is still going on.

This is not to say that I found perfect adherence to the Catholic Church's interpretation of the Scriptures in the Catholic Church on my return. The worst example that I ever witnessed was at a retreat center. First the Franciscan priest stood up and read from the Gospel of the day Christ's words forbidding divorce, and then in his homily the priest said that Christ really wasn't against divorce. When I asked him later how he could contradict the Gospel by saying that Christ wasn't against divorce, the priest said that a theologian said so.

To my mind, that priest and many theologians too could benefit by seeking out what the Church has always taught about Scripture passages before they propose an original insight into the mind of God.

In spite of that priest, and in spite of other venal or misguided or evil priests and Church leaders, I couldn't consider leaving this Church again. The Church is the body of Christ. His Spirit lives in the Church and has guided it since the time of the apostles. The Church has the authority given to St. Peter and the apostles and has the traditions to guide interpretation of the meaning of the Scriptures. As Peter said, "Where else would I go, Lord? You alone have the words of eternal life."

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Thanks for the Memories, Mother Angelica (Part IV: How God-Incidence, Not Co-incidence, Brought Me to Alabama)

Like a bolt from the blue one day, the acquisition of the computer company where I worked in the San Francisco Bay Area by a company in Alabama made it possible for me to see for myself the network and a basilica Mother Angelica had built.

The basilica came into being this way. After the network was thriving, Mother Angelica bought a large amount of property seventy five miles north of EWTN in a much more rural area to build a quieter self-sufficient monastery, and she planned also to build what she called a farm chapel there. Her plans got much bigger when she had a vision of the Child Jesus, and He told her to build Him a temple.

Mother Angelica heard the words that gave her a new mission: to build a shrine honoring the True Presence of Our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Five families gave enormous amounts of money for her to realize that vision, fifty-million odd dollars later, the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament was the result.

One day when I went to work at my technical writing job at Cyclades in Fremont, CA, a sign on the parking lot entrance at Cyclades that morning said to go to a nearby Holiday Inn, where we found that Cyclades had been purchased by Avocent, a company in Alabama.

As I drove home that day, I was shaking my head, thinking, you never know when you wake up in the morning what new directions your life might be heading towards. The Avocent tech writing management flew us writers out to Huntsville a few times for training. Both times I stayed over the weekend before flying back, and I drove down to visit EWTN’s campus near Birmingham and the beautiful temple Mother Angelica built in the Alabama countryside in Hanceville.

While I was in Huntsville during the training, my loquacious Tennesee-born boss talked of many things. One of the things he mentioned one time was this weird Alabama TV station with a nun talking on it. Then he and looked at me and stopped himself. I had told him my plans to go to EWTN that weekend, but he had forgotten.

Before I went to the TV studio and the basilica for the first time, I detoured to a chant workshop led and organized by some of the most active leaders and organizers of the Church Music Association of America, in Auburn, AL. The director of the Gregorian chant and polyphony choir I sang in at the time in Palo Alto, Professor William Mahrt, is president of CMAA; I had attended a couple of the inspiring CMAA Sacred Music Colloquia, and so I was surprised to discover three CMAA bigwigs training local people to sing Gregorian chant and polyphony in an ugly little 50s-built church in that small college town in Alabama. It turns out that two of them are choir leaders at that very church.

On another of the weekends I was there, I attended another EWTN family gathering in a convention center in Birmingham. My letter to Deacon Bill Steltemeir, which I mentioned in Part II, included a photo I took of him taking photos of the audience members who had clustered around the stage at the Birmingham EWTN family gathering. I was later able to work with Deacon Bill to arrange for Professor Mahrt to be interviewed about chant and polyphony on Fr. Mitch Pacwa's EWTN Live show. It took a while to get on the schedule, but Prof. Mahrt appeared on December 12, 2007. As you can well imagine, the church musicians I met at the workshop at that little church in Auburn were there too. (You can listen to an audio file of that show here.)

Deacon Bill Shoots Back at the People Shooting Pictures of Him and Other EWTN Stars on the Birmingham Convention Center Stage

Audience of One at the World Over Live Show

Even though the front entrance to the TV studio in Irondale was shut up tight when I got there and nobody answered my knock, I decided to look around for another way in. I drove around the back of the building, and I caught a woman going in a back door to work on Arroyo's news show, The World Over Live. She agreed to take my card to Raymond. That worked out, so I was happily able to finagle my way in to see his show as an audience of one, a year before Arroyo moved the show to D.C. and started having live audiences.

The Temple in the Alabama Countryside

When I drove to the basilica seventy-five miles north the next day, I began to think that I might be on a roll and that I might be able to get to meet Mother Angelica, even though she was no longer active at the network after a major stroke in 2001. After driving miles and miles on Alabama country roads lined with white split-rail fences, I finally came upon the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament basilica facing a spacious open plaza.

Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament

I ran after Deacon Steltemeir after he served at a Vespers service at the shrine. He recognized me because I'd also sent him the photo of Arroyo charmingly squeezing my hand at the book signing. When I told Deacon Bill of my hopes to see Mother Angelica, he told me she was mostly bed-ridden, and she might appear only occasionally behind the cloister grill at Mass. When I was at Mass, I couldn't make out individual faces behind the grill, so she might have been there.

In any case, the glorious works she had brought about in seeking to serve her Spouse were all there for anyone to see. In that basilica built with nothing but the best, with jasper and other precious marble and stained glass, an ornate bronze altar rail, and row upon row of mahogany pews with kneelers all facing the altar. Other impressive sights in the main church were the gold reredos, and the gold eight-foot high monstrance, the second-biggest monstrance in the world, which is mounted over the altar. The tabernacle looks like a miniature temple itself, gilded with 24 karat gold, and its inside back wall is encrusted with diamonds, where Mother Angelica insisted they be placed, where only Jesus can see them!

"Today there’s a great deal of ferment about how to promote leadership by women in the Church in ways that don’t involve ordination, a conversation Pope Francis himself has promoted. In a way, however, debating that question in the abstract seems silly, because we already have a classic, for-all-time example of female empowerment in Mother Angelica."—John L. Allen Jr. “We won’t look on the likes of Mother Angelica again.” Let's not forget, St. Teresa of Avila, another cloistered nun who established many religious foundations of both men and women and made lasting contributions to her culture. We don't need a committee to promote this phenomena, God raises up saints of both sexes when they are needed to help save the Church, and to help save us all.

Thanks for the Memories, Mother Angelica (Part III: Mother Angelica Becomes a Role Model for Raymond Arroyo, and for Me)

On January 28, 2006, I saw Raymond Arroyo, EWTN News Director, gave a side-splitting talk about his experiences writing his best-selling biography of Mother Angelica, Mother Angelica: The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles. He was one of the speakers at the EWTN 25th Anniversary Family Conference that I attended in San Francisco a few months after my Israel pilgrimage with Fr. Joseph Mary from EWTN. Most viewers are familiar with Raymond Arroyo's more-staid delivery as EWTN news announcer. The San Francisco audience was practically rolling in the aisles listening to his much-more-relaxed comedic delivery at the conference that day.

I found Arroyo after his talk ended in a "Meet the Author" booth signing books. I told him, “People are saying you’re a riot, Raymond.” “Well, I caused a few,” he replied.

When Arroyo signed my copy of the book, he added below his signature, “May you find strength and inspiration herein.”

I actually did find both strength and inspiration therein. Raymond Arroyo’s biography of Mother Angelica is one of those books that can change your life. What was especially exciting to me was that Mother Angelica’s life story was yet another reaffirmation of the truth that if God wants a work to be done, He gives the ones He calls whatever power they need to accomplish His work.

Most of her life Mother Angelica had been plagued with disabilities. She was in pain most of the time. She’d been cured from a serious stomach ailment as a young woman, but she continually had serious asthma. She wore a back brace. Until her legs were miraculously cured on January 29, 1998, she wore braces on both legs and walked with crutches.

She didn’t have much of an education. She would tell people that God asked everyone else to do His work, and they all said no, so she was the bottom of the barrel. She endearingly called herself a dodo.

“God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God” 1 Corinthians 1:27.

Raymond Arroyo's talk about her biography at the EWTN 25th anniversary conference had some serious moments too, when he exhorted all of us to live 1 Corinthians 1:27:

"Pope Benedict XVI recently wrote the first encyclical about the nature of love. . . . It’s the primordial creative power that moves the universe.. . . . Mother Angelica harnessed some of that energy. . . . . Mother Angelica said, ‘I am convinced God is looking for dodoes. He found one: me! There are a lot of smart people out there who know it can’t be done, so they don’t do it. But a dodo doesn’t know it can’t be done. God uses dodoes.’ . . . . Every major thing that God wanted her to do was preceded by suffering. . . . . When she started the network, she was 58 years old. She had diabetes. A twisted spine. . . . . You pay the cost to be the boss. . . . . She was following inspiration and the dictates of her spouse.. . . . The struggle. The cross. That’s her real story. Her life has become a parable. She wanted to reach people.. . . . She did what she did for love of souls, It was never about TV. For God’s sake, be a dodo!"

I was sixty when I heard that, a mere two years older than Mother Angelica had been when she started EWTN. God wasn’t finished with me yet either.

It's One Long Purification

A few months later I interviewed Raymond Arroyo by phone for National Catholic Register, but then the editor sat on the finished interview for so long that I eventually published it at San Francisco Faith newspaper. I can't provide a link to the published article any more, because the archive is no longer available. So I posted the interview as I submitted it before it was edited here. The final title was "It's One Long Purification: What Mother Angelica Taught Raymond Arroyo."

Between mid August and early September of 2005, Raymond Arroyo and his family had endured a dizzying variety of life changing events. First came a blessed event, the birth of the Arroyos’ third child and first daughter, Mariella. And less than two weeks later Arroyo and his family got swept into a disaster of cosmic proportions when Hurricane Katrina hit their home in a New Orleans' suburb.

On Friday night August 26, 2005 Arroyo was rendered sleepless and restless by a premonition, and on Saturday August 27, Arroyo and his wife, Rebecca, grabbed everything they could fit into their car, took their ten day old baby girl, sons Alexander, 6, and Lorenzo, 2, and his mother-in-law, and fled. As he put it, they got out of Dodge. When Katrina hit Louisiana against all predictions and everyone else started evacuating, the Arroyo family was long gone. Everything they had left behind was swept away.

The string of stressers continued. As Arroyo later told the story at the EWTN 25th anniversary family celebration, Doubleday had lined up a string of talk show appearances in New York in conjunction with the release of his biography of Mother Angelica on September 6, but breaking news bumped Arroyo off the shows. The book seemed doomed.

Then Doubleday called at the end of the week to tell him that the book had, somehow, made it to the New York Times Bestseller list even though Arroyo hadn't been able to promote it, and the book stayed on for four weeks. ”Four weeks,” Arroyo exclaimed. “A book about a nun!”

When reporters talked with him in September, Arroyo’s was thanking Mother Angelica, both for taking them into a guest house at her monastery after they lost their home and for life lessons that helped him make it through it all. Here are a few questions and answers from my interview:

Q: You’re having to keep up with your role as the news director and anchor on "The World Over Live,” also traveling to promote the book, while starting your life over from scratch. How are you juggling it all?

A: I’m living in Mother Angelica’s present moment. She had this idea, don’t cling to yesterday. Don’t concern yourself with tomorrow. Just live in the moment that God is calling you to right now.

It’s a cute idea. [He laughs.] But practicing it is difficult . . .. You do learn to do it though. It’s sound advice. I will tell you. It has really gotten me through this whole period. There is so much coming at me between special events in Rome, the weekly live show, a cycle of illness in our home. Rebecca lost a grandmother . . ..

All of this while the book inexplicably went forward. It is still doing what it’s supposed to do. But we’re all paying the price here.

Q: You wrote about how when Deacon Bill Steltemeir first saw Mother Angelica, he started hearing “Until the day you die" every day for a month until he drove down from Tennessee to see her. Was there anything like that with you?

A: Nothing quite like that. I came to do a profile on Mother in 1995. Early in ‘96, she asked me to start a news operation. “It’ll be good for your soul.”

My wife and I were ready. I was covering politics at the time. Politics is a shifting animal, it’s like sand. Yesterday’s hot story is tomorrow’s has been. It’s ephemeral.

Q: You write and speak a lot about Mother Angelica’s life as a parable that shows that God can do great things through you if you cooperate with Him.

A: If you are open to where He’s taking you to. In Mother’s life also you see these great illnesses and sufferings that presaged any major growth for the network. That’s what happens in all our lives. You go through purging experiences, whether they be illness or loss of a loved one or some traumatic event—like the loss of a house.

It prepares you for the next thing He wants of you. It’s a horrible time. Horrific. If you have the faith to cling to the bark like a little baby, if you keep walking, there is this great thing ahead. You have to go through this because you’re not ready for it.

Q: Would you have had those thoughts before you came to EWTN 10 years ago?

A: No. Mother was right. I came down and joined the network, and it was good for me spiritually.

This is Part III of a series. See also, Parts I, II, and Part IV.