Friday, January 29, 2010

YEAR OF THE PRIEST - Meditation 10 - The Role of Asceticism

The word 'asceticism' conjures ugly images of skinny hermits, starving monks, bald nuns and dirty saints. Asceticism is none of the just mentioned. It is an activity of the soul and, therefore, invisible to the senses. It is an invisible spiritual activity of the soul. Only the ascetic and God can know anything about its on goings.

Most, if not all, seminarians were baptized, most come from Catholic families and some had studied in prestigious Catholic schools. Why would the Holy Father as Cardinal spoke about a crisis of Faith in the Church?

It is like this. Most Catholics were baptized as babies. With baptism they received sanctifying grace that made them children of God. And Catholic education is supposed to help them maintain and develop into maturity that state of grace. That is the life of Faith, Hope and Charity that merits for us eternal life.

The reason for baptism is to give the baby (still without actual sin) who naturally knows and loves God the grace necessary to maintain and rise up to a supernatural knowledge and love of God. The sacrament with its sacramental grace helps the child to grow into the maturity of Faith, Hope and Charity. With the baby in this innocent state and filled with the grace of baptism, we have a creature that is geared for great holiness.

But sadly, almost immediately after baptism, the baby learns evil, commits sin and losses his sanctifying grace. Unless he recovers he is in danger of going to hell.

Imagine this child struggling to recover the grace and innocence or in short 'trying to be a child again' or trying to be born again. Imagine his goal of reaching Faith and becoming a child of God again ....and the thousand other hurdles blocking his road to faith. How can you expect him to pass through that narrow road that is like going through the eye of a needle that leads to salvation?

The seminarian has to remove those obstacles and hurdles. Everybody has to do this. These obstacles are vices that prevent us from obtaining Faith, Hope and Charity. These are removed by means of asceticism or acts of repentance. Asceticism are acts by which we receive the moral virtues that will facilitate the reception of the theological virtue of Faith, the beginning of the contemplative life.

Essentially, asceticism is what Christ did while He was subject to Joseph and Mary. He did that to instruct us. His being subject were physical acts mainly consisting in acts of physical obedience. While contemplation is when Christ was spiritually subject to His Father in heaven, the message He gave us when He was lost in the temple at 12. The former subjection is called Asceticism. The latter subjection is called Faith or contemplation. When we first enter a monastery or religious house it is to live a life of physical obedience or an ascetic life.

Obedience is both physical and spiritual. The physical aspect is asceticism. The spiritual aspect makes up the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity....or contemplation.

As Pope Benedict exhorts priest to be contemplatives he is in fact telling them to finish their life of repentance before doing anything else. Pope Benedict is well acquainted with repentance because of his exposure to the Benedictines in Bavaria. The Benedictine monastic spirituality is a life of repentance like all religious life. It is a life of asceticism where obedience to the superiors is similar to the life of Christ when He was obedient to Joseph and Mary. These way of life is a preparation for the life of Faith. People enter monasteries and convents to repent and then enter the Church through the door of Faith. And this is commonly referred to as the ascetic life which is necessary for the forgiveness of sins. It is sometimes referred to as the virtue of penance (different from the Sacrament of Penance) and is a preparation to receive the virtue of Faith (Hope and Charity).

A very common defect is to jump into Charity without passing through Faith; or jumping into Faith without passing the ascetic life or repentance. Note how common this mistake is in most lectures, retreats, spiritual talks and writings causing much frustration when a soul finds out he cannot reach Charity because he neglected the life of repentance, Faith and Hope.

Monday, January 25, 2010

YEAR OF THE PRIEST - Meditation 9 - "Curiositas" vs "Studiositas"

Holy Mother the Church teaches her children the way of salvation through the Liturgy. The Liturgical calendar is the vehicle wherein the Catholic truths are spread out in the right order and in its completeness during the Sunday Masses. It is amazing to see the beauty of the arrangement of the truths and how the truths gradually developed from the first Sunday of Advent up to the feast of Christ the King. It is enough to study one cycle 'to believe.'

On the third and fourth Sundays in ordinary time (cycle C) we begun the Gospel of St. Luke. Prior to these Sundays was Advent and Christmas season where we were taught how to live the life of Repentance according to the Old Testament. On the third and fourth Sundays in ordinary time we are given a preview on how to live the life of Repentance according to the New Testament. This is in preparation for the season of Lent where the Liturgy completes the teaching on Repentance (which Our Lady complained in Fatima that the world was no doing.) From Holy Week to Easter Holy Mother the Church begins teaching us how to live the life of Faith and Hope. And on Pentecost she describes to us the virtue of Charity. Faith, Hope and Charity make up the spirituality of the New Testament

I just mentioned the third Sunday in ordinary time because it is on this Sunday that before we seriously study Repentance in the New Testament we are taught how to study the Gospel messages of the next following Sundays leading to Lent. Studying how to live a life of Faith, Hope and Charity is no easy task and is very much different from studying nuclear physics. The Gospel is on how to study.

St. Luke, in fact, begins his Gospel by teaching us how to study, showing us how the Israelites in the synagogue had wrongly studied Scriptures and so ended up rejecting Christ. While Scriptures narrate several incidences wherein after an encounter with Christ they followed Him.

There are two ways of acquiring knowledge. One is when we study with the end of merely acquiring that knowledge, like studying astronomy. We just want to know what is going up there. The other kind of knowledge is when we learn something in order to be able to do a good work like when we study medicine. We study not just to know about medicine but to be able to do good by curing others. The latter is the way we study Scriptures.

In studying Theology, going on a retreat, listening to a Homily, reading a book or attending Congresses on the Year of the Priest - we don't just want to get information but to be able to do some good like the salvation of our soul or the souls of other people which we often times think we are doing but closer examination shows we are not.

The first kind of knowledge is commonly referred to as "curiositas" and the second is called "studiositas."

"Curiositas" is listed by Tomas a Kempis as the 'forbidden knowledge' that is an obstacle to the attainment of Faith and holiness. And it falls under the category of 'vices.' And vices are such that the longer you stay with it the faster you deteriorate in the spiritual life. If the seminarian studies his theology with 'curiositas' he deteriorates spiritually everyday. How bad can he deteriorate in a six year course staggers the mind.

On the other hand "studiositas" is a virtue and the longer you resort to it, not only do you develop knowledge, understanding and wisdom of Catholic truths, but you develop great self-control over the passions, emotions and concupiscence.

In "curiositas" the seminarian studies things unnecessary for salvation; like studying how to socialize or improve the economic condition of people, how to start a new business, holding retreats in beaches, psychological techniques, learning things from television, surfing the internet, wanting to pass the final exam, to learn the arts and to become a bishop or cardinal. To make these the end of one's study is "curiositas."

"Studiositas" is everything of the above plus a great emphasis on nature and how to find the God of nature (the way Bl. Louis Martin taught St. Therese to find God in a beach or sunset) and with greater emphasis on God and the things of God. The seminarian must ponder intellectually over all earthly things with the goal of knowing God whose image is reflected in all these things. This exercise will aid him in contemplating God and the things of God thus increasing his knowledge of Divine Love and increasing his ability to Love God. And this love for God will, in turn, increase his desire to know more about God, the inexhaustible source of knowledge.

This contemplation of divine truths helps develop the moral virtues leading to the possession of the Theological virtues. Life in the seminary becomes an active life wherein the seminarian becomes active in developing the moral virtues. This way of life helps him quell his passions making it conducive for him to live a contemplative life. Only in this way can we put into practice what Pope Benedict XVI said in his document on the Year of the Priest " to contemplate the Heart of Jesus" when he declared the Year of the Priest on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Friday, January 22, 2010

YEAR OF THE PRIEST - Meditation 8 - The Theology of Grace

In inspiring priests to be faithful to their mission the Holy Father mentions the basis for this quest: all is grace. And he mentions St. Paul, St. Augustine a saint close to his heart and he mentions St.Thomas of Aquinas a saint he was a little aloft before.

For the candidate to the priesthood to love God and neighbor, which is "Caritas" he needs grace. For him to have the virtue of Hope as explained in "Spes Salvi," he needs grace. And for the seminarian to have Faith, the virtue that brings him inside the Catholic Church he needs grace with the accompanying "Veritate" enlightened by "Caritas."

For the future candidate to the priesthood to have the Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity he must have the proper disposition in mind and free will to receive these Virtues from God. This proper disposition is also a work of grace from God. Yes, all is grace.

We live in a world that is ignorant of the theology of grace. First: our whole environment, a product of the blossoming of the philosophy of the French Revolution that is entirely Pelagian and Semi-pelagian has indoctrinated the minds of men to reject the concept of grace as unscientific and an obstacle to the progress of men. The candidates for the priesthood are children of three generations of parents who were bombarded with this spirit of secularism and materialism. We have candidates to the seminaries who have no concept whatsoever of what is Catholic Doctrine, Cardinal Baum once mentioned in a Vocation address. And this ignorance is on the theology of grace. This makes the seminarians ignorant of the role grace plays in the studying of Catholic truths. And as Cardinal Ratzinger mentioned in his "New Evengelization" this defect is found both in the content and method in teaching and studying theology.

Since the correct way of studying Theology leads the student towards happiness and the development of virtue, ignorance of the correct way of studying leads to unhappiness and vices. It is this unhappiness in the service of God (which is unthinkable) and the plunging into a life of vices, that had haunted the priesthood, is the natural consequence of this grave error.

This situation had been described by Cardinal Ratzinger in his "Ratzinger Report." He said that the problem of the priesthood is 'restlessness.' Let us sit down and analyze that statement. Ascetical Theology enumerates 7 vices. Vices prevent us from reaching Faith, Hope and Charity. In short, vices prevent us from being Catholics.

The vices are the sources of sins. From one vice can come numerous sins. When a soul has the first vice, namely gluttony, it becomes easy for him to slide down to the second vice..... lust, etc. etc...If a soul has the fifth vice it means that he has all the other four previous vices. With 5 vices we cannot imagine how many sins can come from these sources. Let's say 50 different sins could come out of those five vices.

'Restlessness' is enumerated among the last vice; 6th or 7th. That means some priest have all the vices and it is difficult to imagine how many sins he is exposed to or is committing already. This easily explains the problem of the priesthood that is even more recently exposed in Ireland. And sadly, the solution is easy. It is difficult to understand why the Church could not easily solve it. It seems the men of the Church are ignorant both of the reason for the crisis and the solution.

But when we say ignorance we simply mean that the mind or intellect does not know what it could easily learn. Everything could be learned from the Theology of Grace, the very foundation of Catholic Theology.

Ignorance of the Theology of grace and therefore the lack of these necessary graces placed the seminarian in the absurd situation where he finds himself in a graceless natural state and trying to learn divine supernatural truths which were too much over and above the capabilities of his natural mind.

But these seminarians frequent the Sacraments! Ignorance of the theology of grace would make them receive the sacraments sacrilegiously. How many times have Pope Benedict reminded us on how to receive Holy Communion worthily. That word "worthily" demands a knowledge of the workings of grace. How many times have the Holy Father mentioned the strange phenomenon of many receiving Holy Communion and few going to confession. This shows ignorance of the importance of grace.

Indeed, if we can restore the way seminarians are trained as they used to train them during the times of the Fathers of the Church we would not need a Year of the Priest.

Monday, January 18, 2010

YEAR OF THE PRIEST - Meditation 7 - The Modern Seminary

The modern seminary is an awesome sight.....compared to my monastic seminary 60 years ago. One would get the impression that these seminaries are producing top of the line priests. The buildings are beautiful, surrounded by well-trimmed gardens of varied flowering plants. The refectories are veritable banquet halls. The libraries would put the library of Alexandria to shame. The classrooms are air-conditioned. The private rooms are spacious and equipped with radios and the line-up of their professors are impressive. What else can we ask? Well, we can ask where are the good priests?

Some seminaries seem to have everything except.....signs of the presence of Grace, the Theological virtues, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and lots of humility... where every human act is motivated by the glory of God? That is if we based our musings on the chapters on Vices and Virtues according to the Summa of St. Thomas.

The Holy Father, Pope John Paul II once came to a bishop's conference in Asia and exhorted them to improve the formation program in their seminaries. (This was after the post Vatican Bishop's Synod held in Rome that framed a general outline of formation for all sectors.) The Bishop in-charge of the Commission on Seminaries (made up of three bishops) organized 'practicums' made up of seminary heads to make a program of formation for seminaries. They gave themselves 10 years to make one. A week before the dead line, there was still no proposal. So inquiries were made from other seminaries around the world and from the Congregation for Catholic Education and for the clergy. And the surprising response from a Cardinal was: 'We are still making one."

So what program was the Catholic Church using all these 2000 years? We certainly had a good program seeing the countless holy priests the Church had. St. Philip Neri, St. Vincent the Paul and the seminary of St. Sulpice (that has influenced St. John Vianney) had very good programs. What happened? We cannot blame Vatican II because this malaise had happened much earlier. Maybe around the beginnings of the 14th century and more noticeably in the 18oo. Heresy!!! Heresy entered into the curriculum of the seminaries.

Heresies are errors that has entered the mind. Since it is only an act of the mind it is easy to erase errors. So why isn't it easily removed? What else is lacking? As St. Paul would answer: 'a preacher sent by God' who will teach the truth and expose the error. But the Pope is always such a preacher. So what else could be wrong? We can pin point what is wrong with the seminarians........they do not listen to all the teachings of the Popes. And if they do, some do not obey. Orthodoxy means our beliefs must conform not only to the writings of the Old and New Testaments and the writings of the Fathers of the Church. It must conform to the Magisterium of which the Holy Father is the spokesman. In the definition of Faith in the Catholic Church the element of Papal authority is essential. Since the Apostles and Fathers of the Church are gone God will only explain the truths to those living today, year 2010, through the Pope. That is why each Pope have to explain the entire teaching of the Church during their reign for the people that exist during their reign. Pope Benedict has already explained the entire teaching of Christ for us today through his three encyclicals. He just have to go into details.

In the Year of the Priest, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI is hinting that we undergo our seminary training again. Maybe in a more humble manner, like studying in the secrecy of a quiet room or better still kneeling down in front of the Blessed Sacrament where we can 'contemplate' the truths rather than just study them in the classroom. He said: 'more prayer'......he did not say 'less lecture' but if you pray more shouldn't there be less lectures? I remember St. Francis of Assisi saying something like : sanctify souls and once in a while give lectures ...or something to that effect.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

YEAR OF THE PRIEST - Meditation 6 - Manner of studying theology

The teachings of the Catholic Church are said to be truths in the supernatural level. It cannot be studied the way Zoology or Physics are studied. Natural things can be studied by man's natural abilities. It is impossible for man's natural ability to study supernatural truths.

The way to study supernatural truths is for the natural man to rise up from the natural sphere to the supernatural sphere. And there the soul will effortless receive the truths of the Catholic Faith. These Catholic truths are given to the soul together with the graces and accompanying theological virtues.

In the seminary we must not teach the truths of the Catholic Faith. We teach seminarians how to rise up from the natural level to the supernatural level where graces with its accompanying theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity are received from God. These supernatural truths are taught by God by infusion and not learned from teachers in the seminary.......though God could use a holy professor as an instrument to infuse these truths. But it will be evident that it was God, and not the professor, who had given the knowledge.

The seminarians had been studying their theology in the wrong way. While remaining in the natural level they try to study a subject that is over and above their heads in the supernatural level. So they learn nothing, understand nothing and end up without wisdom which is needed to fully imbibe the truths.

Ignorance of the theology of grace is the root of this problem. To know the truths of Christ they must first live fully the life of repentance (which unfortunately many do not know how) after which they would receive graces with its accompanying theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity. It is in receiving Faith that they receive the infused knowledge of the teachings of Christ as proposed by the Church.

Many seminarians enter the seminary without knowing that they have lost the grace they have received at Baptism and do not have the capability to know any Catholic Truth. This is the reason Pope Benedict declared the Year of the Priest whose theme is Faithfulness of Christ. He was encouraging Priest to reach at least Faith and not even Hope and Charity. And reminded all that 'the gift of divine grace precedes every possible human response and pastoral accomplishment..' He was saying that you cannot become a priest or even begin your seminary training without knowing and putting into practice the theology of grace. And the problem is that most seminarians do not even know if they are in the state of grace or not when they begin their seminary training.

The Holy Father repeats: You must have "a clear and unmistaken judgment about the absolute primacy of divine grace, recalling what St.Thomas Aquinas wrote..." In short, we cannot learn the simplest Catholic truth without grace. And yet we have no idea if we have grace or not.
Then the Pope reminds us of his "Deus Caritas Est" actually saying if you cannot reach the theological virtue of Charity at least reach Faith. Then he encourages all to help the poor priest 'to reach spiritual perfection'.....that is Charity, i.e. being perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect.

The state of the seminaries is this: we have seminarians who were baptized when they were babies and who during their lives in the world have lost that sacramental grace, probably without realizing it. Then they enter the seminary not knowing they do not have the grace to learn the supernatural truths. Presuming they are in the state of grace they study theology without knowing and understanding anything. The result priestly souls who are total slaves of their fallen nature.

Let us see how they did it in the early times when we could find holy priest in every corner. The seminarians should be taught to use their natural abilities to learn how to rise from the natural to the supernatural level. They must, then, know that entering the supernatural level is a work of grace a completely free act of God. When God raises them up to the supernatural level, God will give them the theological virtue of Faith with a little dosage of Hope and Charity that will enable them to effortless know the teachings of the Catholic Church. They will not need the entire seminary in the process. They only need, as Christ said, to enter their room and lock the door.