Tuesday, November 22, 2005
To enter heaven all men must be religious...in the right way. He must religiously find out God's will, religiously do God's will and religiously deny himself.
1. In this sense all Religious orders are identical. The religious way of life is based on Scriptures. It reflects the Evangelical Life containing the Will of God as expressed in the complete teachings of Christ. Their Ecclesiastical approval attest to this.
2. The purpose of Religious life is to fulfill the Apostolic Commission by obeying all the commands of Christ (which contains the "Will of God") and How to observe them (in accordance to God's will). Plus to create an ideal atmosphere in the performance of this task. But isn't this the purpose of Christian life? Knowing the above, a home, a forest, a mountain top or a cave, is as good a place to be a saint.
3. Why, then, are there many seemingly different Religious orders? Man tend to forget the teachings of Christ. So God, through the centuries, would raise Saints to remind men of the doctrine that is forgotten, misinterpreted or distorted. The Saints embodies both the forgotten doctrine and how it must be practiced. Then, they gather disciples around them to exemplify the forgotten doctrine.... thus new Religious orders are born.
Their effectiveness, however, is only during their lifetime (for God gives this task to Saints of their era). When they die their disciples become forgetful, too, unless, there follows a line of holy leaders as in the case of Cluny, where four holy abbots, Odilo, Odo, Maiolo and Hugo brought the Abbey to great spiritual heights. Needless to say the Saints in heaven, the Church Triumphant, continue to help the Church Militant here on earth. But here we are discussing how things work out in the history of the Church Militant.
At the death of a Saint, God raises another Saint, to remind the Church of another forgotten doctrine, and the Saint starts another Religious order. This explains the birth of many seemingly different Orders. The Evangelical message is the same. The forgotten doctrine is different in different eras and taught by different Saints. One gets the impression that those Orders are of different spiritualities.
It’s like a diamond, the spirituality of the Catholic Church: it is beautiful from any angle one might look at it.
4. For example, in the 12th century, the Catholic Church, in general, forgot the importance of the practice of Poverty. So God raised St. Francis and taught him the importance of Poverty. Then Francis founded his Order to demonstrate what he had learned…. how that Poverty should be practiced. Francis alone was God’s instrument of instruction. The Order was Francis' attempt to demonstrate it to the whole Church. He was successful in demonstrating poverty in his person and in his teaching: he was successful with himself and his handful of original followers.
But as we have seen through the centuries, the Orders began to lose the spirit of their Founders as they relaxed and watered down their rules. When the men of the Church forgot the importance of discipline, God raised St. Ignatius. When they forgot how to prepare people for death, God raised St. Alphonsus Liguori.
5. Sometimes, God has to remind the Church of one or two important doctrines necessary for salvation, which the men of the Church have forgotten or misinterpreted. Sometimes God sees that He has to remind the Church of the entire doctrine of the faith, as in the era of John Cardinal Newman and St. Therese. The two saints obviously reminded the Church of the entire doctrine of the Catholic Church at a time the whole world was forgetting it. Though this doctrine is kept in the Magisterium, these two saints, by their writings and way of life, showed it as a light to the world, instead of merely being (documents) buried in the Vatican Library.
6. The way to heaven for Lay people and Religious, for priests and bishops, is one and the same way. The difference is accidental, in that the life of the Religious is canonically recognized and surrounded by constitutions and statutes while the life of Laymen is not. Though such be the case, we see in our own time that the Roadmap, sadly, has been watered down and rendered ineffective for the salvation of souls.
7. The history of the Church shows that sometimes the Lay were more religious than the Religious, as we see in the example of the Beguines and the Brethren of the Common life (whose manual of life is the famous "Imitation of Christ," by Thomas a Kempis). This phenomenon is seen in the rise of secular institutes lately. It’s sudden rise was noted by Pope Pius XII: lay communities living the fullness of the Gospel, which should be the life of the Religious.
8. Pope Benedict XVI, in an address to the Austrian bishops on their Ad Limina visit, lamented the fact that the men of the Church have watered down the doctrines that Christ had entrusted to them. The spiritual deterioration of the Church begins always with the deterioration of the Religious orders ....and contaminates all. The deterioration happens on both fronts: they are unable to teach the way to holiness in its completeness and as a consequence they are unable to create the ideal atmosphere in the quest for holiness. Both the lay and those who enter Religious life are unable to find “the face of Christ,” as Pope Benedict XVI describes it.
9. Before St. Therese entered Carmel, she already knew the way to holiness, probably from her parents at home and from the Benedictine nuns who were her first teachers outside the home. Neither did St. Thomas of Aquinas learn it from the Dominicans but most probably from the Benedictines at MonteCassino. Both knew how to be a saint before they entered . Both learned how to be holy before entering religious life. St. Bruno, also, learned how to be holy from the Benedictines and the Eastern Fathers and became holy outside the established orders with his group at Carthusia.
10. Solution. Since it will be difficult to learn the way to holiness in most Religious houses today, one should try to learn this already even before joining any congregation: practising the virtue of humility, with humilty study the writings of the Fathers and the Doctors of the Church. Then with the "Ora et Labora" of St.Benedict and the Rule of St. Basil, these should amply equip a soul beginning her quest for God!
11. If only there was such a place where one could learn the way to holiness, so that those who wish to enter Religious orders that had watered down the teachings of Christ could still become a saint! Why then did St. Therese leave her home to enter Carmel? There was greater opportunity for holiness: there were more crosses for her to bear there...! (Painting is by Pier Francesco Mola, "The Vision of Saint Bruno," 1660.)
Friday, November 18, 2005
1. THE WEIGHING SCALE.
It is a Benedictine tradition that whenever a new monastery is to be found, the most important instrument that the monks take along with them is not a design for the monastery, nor for the chapel; not a crucifix nor even a bible, not dough for the host nor grapes for the wine. Definitely not a book on management or accounting, not even capital to start a community. My list can go on and on. What is most needed, St. Benedict says, is a weighing scale for food and the Holy Rule.
These two items represent the two important elements of the Apostolic Commission, given by Christ to His apostles for the work they were to begin up to the end of the world. In those two items can be found the whole theology of evangelization. Let us briefly review the four items in the Apostolic Commission, which contains the work of the Church, the work of every bishop, priest, nun and laymen worthy of the name Christian.
2. THE RULE OF ST. BENEDICT and the WEIGHING SCALE. (Summary of the Apostolic Commission.)
In the Apostolic Commission, Christ commanded His apostles to do four things, namely, to preach the Good News, to baptize, to teach all the commands of Christ and to teach how those commands must be observed. The first two, preaching the Good News and baptizing, have been sufficiently accomplished, but insufficient for salvation because many of those who have heard the Good News and were baptized have probably returned to a state of sin. The last two, teaching all My commands and how to observe them, is what makes us saints.
The Rule of St. Benedict summarizes the commands of Christ and teaches us how those commands must be observed. And the weighing scale helps us observe the commands of Christ. The Holy Rule and the weighing scale can make us saints.
If Pope Benedict is encouraging a return to St. Benedict’s monasticism, he is not giving a purely pietistic suggestion. He is encouraging a return to what is fundamental to Evangelical life. The last portion of the Apostolic Commission is a return to ascesis: “What must we do to have eternal life..?”
3. SIGNIFICANCE OF THE RULE OF ST. BENEDICT.
The Method of learning the Catholic Religion is unlike the method of acquiring human knowledge. Human science is made by man and can be taught by man and learned by men. But the Catholic Religion is not made by man. It is made by God and as such cannot be taught by man nor learned by man. It can be acquired only if given by God. This knowledge is infused. And God gives it freely, as the Book of Wisdom keeps on insisting, to the humble.
This is the reason why the first lesson Christ gave us in Scriptures is to learn how to be “meek and humble” and to learn humility and everything else from Him. And this is also why the first Beatitude, without which no one can advance, states: “Blessed are the poor in spirit...” which is humility. Without humility we cannot learn the things of God.
The Holy Rule of St. Benedict teaches us how to be humble so we may deserve to receive this knowledge of the Catholic Truths. Did you notice how St. Therese of the Child Jesus knew so much, that she was declared a doctor of the Church? Where did she get all her knowledge? And where did the first apostle, who were mere fishermen, get all their knowledge which is unsurpassed today? This is infused knowledge that is given freely, as all graces are, to the deservingly humble. This knowledge, that leads to union with God and the salvation of our souls, is withheld from the proud.
A further clarification: we do not go about studying Morals, Dogma, Ecclesiology, Mariology, Canon Law or whatever. We study the humility of Christ, the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph and the saints and then practice it. That’s the third element, the theoretical aspect, of the Apostolic Commission.
HOW TO AVOID EVIL
4. Now putting into practice the fourth element of the Apostolic Commission is symbolized by the weighing scale. The command of God may be summarized into “Do good and avoid evil.” The good we must do is found in the Holy Rule, especially in the Chapter on the Instruments of Good Works. The way to avoid evil is symbolized by the weighing scale.
The desert Fathers were acquainted with the vices commonly known as Capital sins. They may be divided into two groups, the first are natural tendencies gone berserk while the other are unnatural. The natural tendencies are a.) the natural tendency to eat and drink. Uncontrolled it becomes gluttony. b.) The natural attraction to marry. Uncontrolled it becomes lust. c.) Anger which is the natural reaction to evil when uncontrolled becomes wrath. d.) The natural tendency to accumulate merits when it deteriorates becomes avarice for wealth. And e.) sadness that should be the natural reaction to sin when misplaced becomes loneliness.
Now this is how it works. If we do not discipline our eating and drinking, our eating develops into gluttony. Gluttony in itself is not a sin. But it becomes the source of sin, hence the description Capital sin. If gluttony is not remedied, our natural inclination to marry turns into lust. And lust becomes the root of countless sins in the soul. If lust is not remedied our natural angry reaction towards evil turns into wrath towards anything that displeases us. And so on.
Now comes Ascesis. If the natural desire for food and drink is disciplined then this desire does not deteriorate into gluttony and the subsequent vices. And because there is no gluttony, then the offshoots, namely, lust, avarice, anger, listlessness and loneliness do not develop. And since these Capital sins are the sources of sins, then we are able to avoid sin.
Some other evils come, however, from pride and vainglory. How do we overcome these evils? the Holy Rule states: through humility. Humility will cure the sinful tendencies of pride and vainglory.
HOW TO DO GOOD.
We have seen how we can avoid evil. But avoiding evil merely prevents us from going to hell. To go to heaven, we must do good. Therefore we must learn how to do Good. Doing good consists in doing things that will make us holy. And the way to holiness is through the development of virtues. To do good is to acquire virtues. And the first fundamental virtue is humility, which is considered the mother of all virtues because from her will be born all the other virtues including the theological virtues, faith, hope and charity: virtues that unite us to God.
So we have the weighing scale that help us avoid evil. And the Holy Rule that teaches our minds and wills to do good.
To be Holy, to save our souls, to be united with God: all we need is a pamphlet of the Holy Rule and a weighing scale for food and drink.
5. Evangelization of Europe.
When St. Gregory the Great begun the Evangelization of Europe, he started by sending St. Augustine to England with two potent weapon for the job: the Holy Rule of St. Benedict and a weighing scale. When St. Boniface evangelized Germany he brought a community of monks armed with the Holy Rule of St. Benedict and a weighing scale. St. Willibrod did the same in Frisia. St. Maurus, who became a monk as a child, patron of cripples and those who suffer rheumatism, is pictured with a scale and the Holy Rule which he brought to France.
Our era is ruled by the dictatorship of relativism, wherein we can eat whatever we want and as a consequence deteriorate into doing whatever we want. The weighing scale stops the deterioration. The Holy Rule propels us towards the perfection of the Love of God.
Pope Benedict XVI wants Europe to be re-evangelized in exactly the same way, in the tradition of St. Benedict whose most potent weapons were a small-size pamphlet called Holy Rule that contains the summary of the commandments of Christ as found in the New Testament and it also contains a summary of the interpretation of these commandments given by the Holy Spirit and written down by the Tradition of the Fathers of the Church....and a weighing scale for food and drink. That’s a light back- pack burden to carry on our way to eternal life. (Painting shows St. Benedict with Sts. Maurus and Placid who were offered to God in the monastery as children. St. Maurus is pictured in popular art as carrying the Rule and the Weighing scale to France. The painting is from Sacro Speco, Subiaco.)
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
The recent reports about Pope Benedict XVI express their inability to spell him out. “Full of surprises,” “neither conservative nor liberal,” they say.
It is easy to spell him out. He is just like the other great Popes… though with a slight difference.
Pope Gregory the Great: He lived during the fall of the Roman civilization, dated officially around 476. Barbarians ruled Rome. The German Odoacer ruled in Ravenna. Then there was another barbarian Theodoric, the Ostrogoth. St. Gregory was born when Rome was recaptured by Emperor Justinian. Then Totila the Goth followed.
Hilaire Belloc and Roger Coleridge, S. J. believed that we have returned to the age of barbaric paganism. Newspaper headlines are more than enough proof. Three Christian girls were beheaded on their way to school. Their heads were found one mile away from their bodies, reports the news. This is just a sample of daily fare in the newspapers.
Pope Gregory was elected Pope against his will. He begged the Emperor not to ratify his election (those were times when Emperors meddled on Church affairs). The Cardinals did not convey his message but reported to the Emperor that everyone had approved his election. As Pope, he applied himself with vigor to his duties. Those holy great bishops of old often would have declined being made bishops or Popes.
Does that sound familiar? Pope Benedict was hesitant to be Pope. But chosen, he applied himself to the task.
For Pope St. Gregory the Great, the Liturgy was of utmost importance and he singled out the homily and its importance in the Mass. Likewise, Pope Benedict’s interest is, also, the Liturgy. And he seems to like concentrating on his catechesis, which is the homily.
St. Gregory protected the Jews. He returned a synagogue, confiscated by some Christians, to the Jews, ordering the reverend removal of the cross and image of the Blessed Virgin already installed. The same advances of Pope Benedict towards the Jews are noted, perhaps in anticipation of the prophesy regarding the recognition of Jesus as the Messiah by the Jews.
Pope Gregory’s “Pastoral Rule,” a manual on how Bishops should handle souls, was so popular and well received in Greece and Spain. Charlemagne ordered all the bishops in his realm to study it. We should'nt be surprised if Pope Benedict hands a copy of this great book to all Bishops, together with his Compendium of the Catechism.
To convert England, Pope Gregory used the classical way of missionary activity: to send a community of monks (40 in fact, with a few slave Angles, aged 17-18) to Christianize England. The monks preached in accordance to the Apostolic Commission and at the same time showed what they were preaching by their way of life.
Pope Benedict knows what and how the truth must be taught.. But he is looking for a community similar to those 40 monks from the many emerging communities, like the comunity Communion and Liberation. I hope he soon finds that community so he, too, can start the re-evangelization of Europe the classical way as he desired.
Pope Gregory loved and popularized St. Augustine; Pope Benedict, too, loves St. Augustine.
Pope Gregory was a Benedictine monk. Pope Benedict is very much endowed with the spirit of St. Benedict. As Pope Gregory might be aptly described as a Benedictine monk under a Tiara. Austen Ivereigh had rightly described Pope Benedict XVI as a “Monk under a Miter.” Lastly, just as Pope Gregory first used the title “Servus Servorum Dei” to describe himself, Pope Benedict, too, had described himself, upon his election, as the "humble servant in the vineyard of the Lord"
Pope Benedict is not holding back any surprises! He is exactly like those holy and great Popes of old, sensitive to the slightest movement of the Holy Spirit, and as a result, full of surprises.
(Painting is by Michael Pacher, "St. Gregory the Great," 1480, with the Holy Spirit dictating at his ears.)
Sunday, November 13, 2005
12. St. Paul received his first call on the way to Damascus. His second call was for him to go to Ananias where he was to undergo instruction towards perfection. This call is ‘to be in the world but not of the world.” Then he would receive the third call to be a priest.
13. THE APOSTLES answered the first call made by John the Baptist. They answered the second call made by Christ. While with Christ, they work towards the perfection of Charity until they received the Holy Spirit. It was while they were with Christ that they were called to the priesthood.
THE SECOND CALL IS DIFFICULT. It is a call to the life of faith, not knowing where they were going.
14. The Rich Young Man had answered the call of the Old Testament for conversion having obeyed all the 10 commandments. But when Christ seeing and loving him made the second call to perfection, he refused. Christ was saddened for He waits for no one.
This is common among those who refuse. Another young man was called but delayed in order to bury his father, and another delayed to bid farewell to his loved ones. These were rebuked for want of promptness in their obedience. If we do not seize the moment, it is lost. “…he is not fit for the kingdom of heaven.”
If we do not seize the moment it is gone. Christ walks without stopping for anyone. Follow me. I will bury my father, let me first go bid them farewell. These are not fit for the kingdom of God.
When God calls He waits for no one. Time stays for no one. When the word of call is spoken, it is gone. Christ passed by, He passed forth. He does not stop; we must follow immediately.
When Elisha was called he tarried. So he had to run after Elijah. Most of us were called long ago. Now we have to catch up. Do we know that? Are we trying to catch up?
The second call of the apostles.
The apostles had their first call through John the Baptist. They had their second call through Christ: “Follow Me:” and they left all, rose up and followed Him. Like Abraham, giving up all things and not knowing whither they were going. In the religious life, we must leave behind all things not knowing what is next.
These Divine Calls are what the early monks were responding to. First call, is a call to leave the world and enter the monastery. The second call is to seek perfection. And it is within this second call that one may be considered for ordination to serve the spiritual needs of the community. It is only at this point when a soul can have some certainty that he is being called to the priesthood.
15. The third Divine Call. Who are called to the priesthood?
Only after we have obeyed the second call and have lived as a community that God will call one to be a priest to serve the community in celebrating the Liturgy which consist in witnessing sacramentally to their way of life. The priest must be one among those seeking perfection. He must be the most exemplary among them. Not the less exemplary. An example is St. Ambrose, during a crisis in Milan between 2 Catholic groups, was chosen to be their priest, and made bishop a week later.
Today, we do not hear Divine Calls like Samuel or St. Paul. The vocation can be discerned by purely intellectual means inspired by grace. God gives an unbeliever the grace of conversion and his intellect sees that his present state is wrong and the Catholic Church is right. Then, God gives him the grace of further conversion wherein he sees that it is not enough to change sect. You must also grow in perfection….in the perfection of charity. While growing in the perfection of Charity, one might see the need to witness to the life of the community in the Sacrifice of the Mass; and the need to have a priest.
THE CASE OF CONVERTS.
The first call - the convert is called from being a non-Catholic to Catholicism. It is the same with born Catholics. The call is from a lukewarm person to a fervent Catholic. The second call is a call to perfection. This desire to be perfect can be seen in the convert’s efforts to refute their former beliefs, in spreading and defending their new beliefs. There will be attempts at proselytizing….whatever they do will be attempts to be perfect “as the heavenly Father is perfect”. Of course, the shortest and easiest way to perfection is through monasticism, the way it was practiced in the beginning of Christendom. Some converts, like Thomas Merton found the short way and went directly to monasticism.
What am I driving at? Like the ancient Fathers of the Church, I would like to emphasize that monasticism is the second call for all who had been called the first time and had responded generously. So the early monasteries had both converts, single and married people and all other kinds of people living in one community better known with the term Basiliades, seeking the perfection of Charity. ("The Beheading of St. Paul," by Giuseppe Petrini, 1710.)
Saturday, November 12, 2005
1. There are many who think of becoming priests or entering the religious life.
This is encouraging news. Wishing to help them make a right decision, I would like to offer the little knowledge I have gathered on this phenomena.
When young people tell me they want to become a priest I tell them what the Cure of Ars said: “unless you be a holy priest forget it.” I guess that’s a good advice for nuns as well: “As long as you can be as holy as St. Therese of Lisieux, OK. If not, forget it.” Well, maybe not exactly like St. Therese. You could, at least, be like Catherine of Siena, Catherine Laboure, Bernadette Soubirous, Therese of the Andes. But not less.
2. A little confusion on the States of Life or vocations.
Spiritual writers describe the states of life as the single state, the married state, and the religious state and priestly state. These are sometimes confused with vocations. I don’t know of anyone who remained single because they heard a call from God. Perhaps they were just left behind. I never heard of anyone called to the married state. Many of my friends had to marry for many varied reasons. And I, myself, never heard a call to the religious life (as a Benedictine monk) or a call to the priesthood (I have been a priest for 41 years – if I recall my day of ordination right.) The canonical description of a vocation is when the bishop calls you for ordination. That would be ten years after seminary training. Should not the call be before and not after the studies in the seminary? Should you not enter the seminary because you were called? Though in an extraordinary case, a soul may be divinely called to such a state. This is not common.
3. These multiple states of life and vocations are as confusing as the multiple rights people are claiming these days…. which includes, I heard, the inalienable right to be entertained.
When I try to incorporate the states of life and vocations into the rest of theology I get brain dry. So let me try to simplify these concepts. There is a slight difference between States of life and vocations. Marriage and religious life are two different states of life. Though the religious life is superior, both are calls to holiness. I wish to deal with vocations sometimes referred to as Divine Calls.
4. The Divine Calls.
There are three calls from God. John Cardinal Newman has an excellent homily on this but he wrote it when he was an Anglican. So I would rather not refer to it. Suarez, the Jesuit, have a lengthy and complete description on the theory of vocation. But that is too lengthy. Ronald Knox has a comparative short explanation of it.
5. The three Divine Calls.
The first Divine Call or vocation is the call to enter the Church. The second is for those who have entered the Church to seek perfection. And the third call is for a few chosen one among those seeking perfection to serve the community as a priest. The first and second is for everyone. The third is for a select few.
6. Likening these calls to the way God called Abraham, the FIRST call is clear, as when God called Abraham out of Ur. The SECOND call of God to Abraham is not clear: God told Abraham to go to an unknown place. He didn’t tell him where to go.
St. Paul was first called on his way to Damascus. The next call was for him to receive further directions to something or somewhere unknown. Towards the unknown both “departed as the Lord had spoken unto them.”
7. When God calls He requires instant obedience. The second call for perfection is into the darkness of Faith that requires blind obedience and can be compared into a journey into the cloud of unknowing.
Our first call is when we realize we have sinned and have need to repent. Everyone has a need to repent since everyone has sinned, but not everyone realizes the need to repent. Everyone has that first call to repentance, but not everyone hears that call.
8. The first call is from a life of sin to a life of repentance. This is a call to leave the world of sin. Abraham was called out of Ur. The Israelites were called out of Egypt to be a people set apart. The apostles were to live in community apart from the rest of the world. The Holy Family lived the hidden life by themselves. And this setting oneself apart was carried over to the “fuga mundo” of monasticism. The first call is from the world of men into an ekklesia, from the world of men into the Church. The word Ecclesia means “a calling out.” A soul is called out from the world of men into the Catholic Church.
The second call is to a life of perfection. The Israelites, after leaving Egypt were perfected (though unsuccessfully) in the desert. Christ grew in wisdom and grace in a hidden life in obedience to Joseph and Mary. The monastery is a place where a soul works out his obligation “to be perfect.” In general, all men receive the first and second calls. Nuns receive their “vocation” within the second call and live in the religious state. Married couples (are supposed to) receive their vocation within the second call and live in the married state. Both should aim at the perfection of charity.
The third call is only for men, which is the Priesthood. My previous post explains this sufficiently.
These calls find their fulfillment in Christ’s command to ‘FOLLOW ME.’ The calls include a growth in obedience, knowledge, faith and charity.
9. MARRIAGE. It is within the second call, the call to the perfection of charity, that one discovers God’s will; to choose between the two states, either marriage or the religious life. One only needs to reason out if he needs one or the other. Both the single and married state is within the quest for perfection whichever would facilitate the quest for perfection. Within that quest, one finds out God’s will to remain celibate or to marry. This marriage within the context of seeking perfection is marriage, not according to the flesh, but by the will of God.
10. The Three Divine Calls in Samuel.
Samuel answered the first call from childhood. He left his house when he was offered to the Lord and lived in the temple. Then, in due time he was called to the perfection of his service. While seeking perfection, he was called, chosen to be priest and, later on, prophet.
At first, Samuel had to find out Who was speaking when he heard himself called “Samuel, Samuel.” We, too, must find out who is calling us from unbelief to belief, from a life of sin to a life of repentance. As Heli told him who was calling and what his answer should be, so must we know that it is Christ calling us. So as when Samuel heard the voice of God again and answered “Speak Lord, for Thy Servant heareth,” so must we answer God’s call with our “fiat mihi,” as He demands our prompt obedience.
11. Conclusion. The first two calls, the call to conversion and the subsequent call to a life of perfection, are for everybody: they lead to holiness. Religious life and marriage are states in life wherein to live that quest for holiness. (Painting is "The Sacrifice of Isaac," by Jacob Jordaens the Elder, 1593-1678.)
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
1. By studying the Theology of the Mass we shall see why we lack priests.
Though God has exhorted us to pray to the Lord of the harvest, He does not delay to provide priests for the service of the Church. It’s one of those prayers He grants even if we forget to ask. And priests are provided for the Church for a specific purpose…. for the Sacrifice of the Mass. In the Mass, the priest, through whom Christ is sacramentally present, offers the Mass in communion with the faithful. Abbot Anscar Vonier, a German Benedictine theologian from Buckfast Abbey, in his “A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist,” prefaced by Peter Kreeft with introduction by Aidan Nichols, O.P. stressed the importance of this liturgical reality- of Christ as the true main celebrant, the faithful in union with Christ and the sacramental instrumentation of the priest.
2. There are three elements in the picture: The mass, the priest and the faithful. The three make up the Mystical Body of Christ.
3. The Sacrifice of the Mass is offered by the Church, i.e. by Christ with the faithful united to Him thus making up the Mystical Body of Christ. The Faithful must be holy. They cannot be less. Thus the Didache states that only the holy can approach the altar.
4. The Faithful must be seeking the perfection of Charity. They could have the theological virtue of Faith but they must be in the process of seeking the perfection of charity to become a branch attached to the vine. Faith enlivened by charity, St. Thomas of Aquinas described it.
If you are not holy, the Didache states, then go and repent first. Without repentance, you cannot be part of the Mystical Body. And how does a Catholic become united with Christ? By seeking holiness, through a life of Faith, Hope and Charity. Or putting it in more detail, by living a life of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience that leads to the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.
5. Now let us come to the third element - the Priest. The man who must stand as priest must be part of this community seeking the perfection of charity. He must have first answered the call to holiness before he can be called to the priesthood. The first call is obligatory for salvation. The second is an extra call not necessary for salvation but for the service of the Church. But of course if one answers this extra call, he is extra more pleasing to God.
6. The priest is called from among the faithful for the service of the faithful. God sanctifies souls. God, also, unites them to Christ (as a branch to the vine) to make up the Church. Then God looks for a soul that will stand as a priest to offer the Mass amidst the Church. That soul must be like those around him, seeking holiness. He cannot be inferior to those around. So the priest must have undergone the steps towards holiness. He cannot do less. Otherwise his vocation is doubtful.
7. Missionaries work on this principle; he seeks personal holiness as a layman, is ordained when about to go to the missions, then goes to a mission field, catechizes the people so they would form a community seeking the perfection of charity. As a new congregation of the faithful he becomes their appointed priest who would, standing in the person of Christ, offer the Sacrifice of the Mass. That is how the first monks evangelized; and this is in some way similar to the “reductiones” of the Jesuits and how missionaries today should evangelize.
8. Illustration from the Rule of St. Benedict.
The monks were laymen living in community seeking holiness. Since the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist is needed to attain this goal, the Abbot chooses one of the monks to be ordained a priest for this service in the community. When he has done his office of priest, he returns to his proper place among the brethren, those seeking holiness.
St. Ignatius of Loyola reminded his religious to observe the Evangelical Counsels before they are ordained so that they are in fact a part of the community before they perform their role as priest at the service of the community
Now comes the question. If the number of communities that are truly faithful, seeking holiness, obedient to the Authority of the Pope, are small as the Holy Father has seen it, is there need then for more laborers when there are few to harvest?.
The priest’s role is to service the faithful who are seeking perfection. He must be one among them.
Faith and trust tells us that God has everything under His Divine Providence. We might think there is a lack of priest. But for God, everything is just right. (Painting is "St. Benedict" from the Abbey of Monte Cassino.)
Friday, November 04, 2005
Three words feared by many Catholics because they connote austere and cloistered life. But when Christ preached these, He meant it for all and not only for religious. Maybe the religious, because of their canonical status, have to take it as vows. But that is only an external requirement. Christ’s command is to observe its spirit. And all Christians are bound to observe it in spirit…without which we cannot be saved.
I have written about the vows in some previous post but will summarize it once more to spare you going through my archives. I have to do this as an introduction to the next two posts on an analysis why there is a dearth in vocations to the priesthood and the concept of vocation. And hopefully, clarify the questions of those who are desirous to enter the religious life.
There are the canonical vows on the one hand and the spirit of the evangelical counsels on the other. These are two different concepts. The Evangelical counsels are necessary for salvation and so must be observed by all “in spirit.” The spirit of poverty prevents us from loving the things of this world. The spirit of chastity prevents us from loving the pleasures of the flesh. And the spirit of obedience? It prevents us from doing our will so that we may do God’s. See how the spirit of the Evangelical Counsels is necessary for the salvation of one’s soul!
On the other hand the canonical definition of the Evangelical counsels applies only to Religious. Poverty consist in the prohibition of owning anything. Chastity connotes celibacy. And Obedience includes submission to the Pope, the Bishop, the superiors, the statutes, the constitution, etc. That’s for Religious. The spirit is for all.
Note the Great command: “Love God.” Simply put we must love God in order to go to heaven. But love is defined in these words: “If you love Me keep My commandments.” Obedience to the commands of Christ is the sign of Love of God. So before we can love God, we must learn how to obey. But obedience can only be learned after we have practiced poverty and chastity. That is the purpose of Poverty and Chastity : to lead us to obedience… and from obedience to the Love of God.
Today, the Church is filled with problems of chastity. And the problem has reached the priesthood, whether it is homosexuality or heterosexuality. Both are problems of chastity. Why? Because of lack of poverty. The Church has become rich. Many live as though they do not have the spirit of poverty.
Church History points that the Church was always fervent when she was poor and persecuted. Poverty is a self-imposed suffering; persecution is a God-imposed suffering. Suffering is needed to make a soul obedient to the commands of Christ. Chastity is likewise a self-imposed suffering. Self-imposed suffering is more pleasing to God because it is free willed for the sake of His kingdom. While a God-imposed suffering elicits resignation which is inferior to free willed sufferings.
And so some historians call the Patrimony of Constantine as a curse because it spoiled the Church. No wonder she grew up like a brat. While the Concordat with Mussolini wherein the Church lost her lands and kept the Vatican State only, was looked at as a blessing. For henceforth, the Pope concentrated on the spiritual life of the Church instead of busying himself with keeping the Vatican lands from royal land grabbers.
Our priests are a far cry from St. Francis of Assisi or the Cure of Ars. Most priests, both Diocesan and Religious do not find the necessity of observing the spirit of poverty anymore. The Diocesan are convinced they are not bound by poverty because they are Diocesan, while Religious, because they have grown rich, have lost the spirit of poverty.
Pope Benedict is troubled at the ignorance that prevails in the Church today. Basing it on the Apostolic Commission, though the Good News had been preached to Catholics (which right now I am beginning to doubt) and they had been baptized, they had not been taught what are the commands of Christ and worst had not been taught how to observe those commands.
Most Catholics are stuck with the 10 commandments of God. And this has been reinforced by the fact that the 10 commandments are the ones enumerated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and preached in most homilies. The 10 commandments have been perfected by Christ when He came: “A new commandment I give you…”
The commandments of Christ in the New Testament can be grouped into three categories: how to observe Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. How do you think did St. Francis meet Lady Poverty? From the Gospels. You can neither know what chastity is nor observe chastity unless you first know poverty and have observed poverty. And you can neither know what is obedience and practice obedience unless you know and have practiced chastity. Now, do you see why the biggest problem of the Church today is lack of Chastity and lack of obedience? Because there is no spirit of Poverty.
“Great-souled” poverty, Pope Leo the Great described the poverty of the apostles and the first children of the Church. They, leaving all they had, by a sudden conversion changed their lives, and lived with one heart and one mind. Laying all they had at the Apostles’ feet for their disposal, they began enriching themselves with eternal things. And following the apostles, they began to rejoice in having nothing of this world, and in possessing all things in Christ. Their riches are in their poverty. Impossible? In a previous post I mentioned a community I know who have no visible means of income nor do they solicit donations. There are 200 of them. Among other things they run an orphanage and a hospice for abandoned patients. They lack nothing of what they need to do those works they do. Often asked by frequent dumb-founded visitors: “How do you support yourselves?” “By our poverty.” The Apostles were right after all.
(Painting above is by Giotto, "The Death of St. Francis," 1300)