Saturday, July 24, 2010

Finally, we get to the Jesuits!

Letter to B. Racrasy, continued.

"Jesuits! When will you get to the Jesuits?"

First let us review. First you have the diocesan hierarchy; bishop, priest, deacon, laity. You have the diocesan hierarchy of the diocese of Rome; popes, cardinals and so forth, but still essentially bishop, priest, deacon. Then you have the monastic orders. Men and/or women who live in cloisters and take solemn vows.

Now, we need to explain canons and canons regular. Canons are priests or clergy who live a communal life in order make sure the liturgy of the hours (also called the breviary or the divine office) is prayed properly. They form a sort of middle ground between the cloistered monastic orders and the diocesan or secular clergy (secular here means living in the present age ”saeculum” in Latin) they don’t take solemn vows or live in a cloister. They exercise their ministry in the wider church but live communally. Some follow the rule of life that is almost monastic proposed by St. Augustine in the fourth century, which includes poverty. These are called Canons Regular. Regular comes form the Latin word “regulum’ or “rule.” They live by a rule of life, hence they are regular or regulated. It does not imply that they are “regular” or “normal.” Heaven forfend. They became popular in the 700's and have been around since.
The next group to deal with are the mendicant orders. These are orders who live by the charity of others and usually preach and teach such as the Franciscans, Dominicans, Servites, Carmelites and Augustinians, all founded in the 1200's at a time when the Church was struggling with its identity as a religious/political body. They were founded with an eye to restoring the Church to holiness by the witness of a holy and simple life. They are not usually priests, though some of their number are ordained as needed for the life and the work of the order. We diocesan priests don’t have much time for actual holiness because we have to make sure the hall is locked and that there is toilet paper in the ladies’ room. They take vows of poverty and the men in the orders are called friars, derived from the Latin word “frater” or “brother.” Women mendicants are usually called sister.

Add to these, the religious congregations which are communities of men or women who live according to a rule of life, take simple vows and are pretty much indistinguishable from the mendicant orders. The important thing about them is that they are oriented around a particular work, such as teaching, or hospital work or the missions. To these, add the third orders, which are usually lay men and women who are trying to live holy lives by association with the spirituality and rule of one of the religious orders.

So there you have it. Monastic orders that live cloistered lives of prayer and work and the Religious Orders. Count with these the mendicant order and religious congregations that live a more public life in a specific work for the good of the church.

The Jesuits! You didn’t mention the Jesuits!

I’m getting to that. The Jesuits, more precisely the Society of Jesus, are a religious order of priests and brothers who work in education and missionary evangelism. They were founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola in 1534. St Ignatius was wounded in the battle of Pamplona in Spain and, while convalescing, he experienced a religious conversion. Ignatius gathered six young men with whom he vowed poverty, chastity, and obedience to the pope. They arrived at a pivotal moment in Christian history when much of the Catholic world had broken apart after Luther’s revolt. The Jesuits won much of Europe back to Catholic Christianity by their dedication to education, holiness of life and the obedience to the papacy.

So that’s it! 1)The diocesan structure of Bishop, Priest and Deacon 2) the Cloistered Monks and Nuns and 3) the Religious Congregations of Brothers (also called Friars) and Sisters. All the different flavors of Monks, Nuns, Friars, Sisters, Bishops, Popes, Priests, Deacons, Third Order Members, protonotaries apostolic, monsignors and Associations of the Faithful fit into one of these three categories. Simple, in a complicated sort of way.

Rev. Know-it-all       
PS There is no truth to the irreverent old joke “How many Jesuits does it take to screw in a light bulb?” Answer: “It takes two. One to call the electrician and one to make the martinis.” This is patently false. It depends entirely on the quantity of martinis to be made.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Monks and nuns...

Letter to B. Racrasy, continued
Well, what about things like Franciscans and nuns and third order Carmelites? Also simple. These groups aren’t part of the hierarchical structure of the Church. They began as popular movements. It seems that from the earliest days of the Church, women would sometimes live communally, especially widows and young unmarried women who had decided to forego marriage for the sake of the Gospel.
In the 200's, men started getting into the act. There were already Jewish desert communities in Egypt. Even before the time of Christ, the Judean desert had been home to Jewish groups that fled what they saw as the corruption of the temple in Jerusalem. The first notable Christian hermit in Egypt was St. Paul of Thebes (228-341). He fled the Roman persecution of Christians in the Nile Valley and took up life alone in the desert.
Believe it or not, this sort of thing caught on. People started going out to the desert to live the simple life in union with God. They were called “monachoi,” a Greek word that meant “loner’ or “solitary person,” hence “monk.” The next big name in desert lonerness, monasticism that is, was St. Anthony the Abbot. (a quick definition: abbot means “papa” or “dad” from the Aramaic word “abba”) An abbot is the leader of a monastery, not to be confused with the Swedish pop-rock group of the seventies that some people love and some do not love so much.
Where was I? Oh, yes. Anthony the Abbot (251-356). When he was just a lad of 18, his parents died and left him their fortune and the care of his little sister. He was in church one sunny Egyptian day and heard the words of the Gospel “Sell what you have and give to the poor” so he did, stuck his sister in one of the women’s communities already mentioned and ran off to the desert. There he lived in an old tomb and then in an abandoned Roman fort, did battle with the devil and acquired a great reputation for holiness. People flocked to hear his teaching, making it a little difficult to be solitary.
At one point, he went to Alexandria hoping to be martyred by the Roman government, but they were full up with martyrs at the time and turned him down. He went back to the desert and organized the other monks into communities with a more defined way of life because, frankly, all the solitude in the Egyptian desert can make one a little wacky. St Athanasius, (293-373) bishop of Alexandria wrote a life of St. Anthony (still in print). It sold like hotcakes in the west and soon monasticism became all the rage, people renouncing the comforts and indoor plumbing of Roman life to go off and live in desserts, swamps and mountaintops in an attempt to be martyrs after the Roman government had stopped martyring people. In fact, the Roman government had become mostly Catholic by that time.
Monasticism was pretty disorganized. Wandering holy men could be rather strange, and sometimes less than holy. There were some interesting ascetic practices among early monks. My favorite were the “stylites” (Greek for pole-sitters.) They would spend years living on small platforms on top of high poles in an attempt to get away from it all and, quite literally, draw closer to heaven. The crowds would come to admire their holiness and the pillar sitters, in turn would harangue the multitudes for their worldliness and a good time was had by all.
The next two big names in monasticism were St. Basil of Caesarea in Turkey (335-379) and St. Benedict of Nursia in Italy (480-547). They did something about the wackiness of monasticism by writing rules of life for monks, Basil for the east, and Benedict for the west. No more wandering around, sitting on poles, taking up collections and going to dinner parties. They lived secluded lives of prayer, work and study in monasteries. These are the origins of Benedictine and Basilian monks, and most subsequent forms of monasticism. Monks still tried to live far from corrupt society, and in the process they drained swamps, cleared forests, cultivated land, preserved the learning of the Greek and Roman world, maintained hospices for the poor, hospitals for the sick, schools for the young and in general created Western Civilization. You remember Western Civilization, don’t you? It flourished until people like Freud, Darwin, Ted Turner, Madonna and Elvis trashed it.
Now you understand monasticism. All orders of monks are variations on the theme. There are men and women monks. The women monks are usually called nuns. They live in monasteries, sometimes called convents. The are cloistered, a Latin word meaning “enclosed.” Thus, a cloister is an enclosure. They have limited contact with outsiders and even with one another. In traditional monastic life there are sometimes long periods of silence during the day or even for extended periods of time.
They are not ordained as bishops or priests except for specific purposes. A monastery will ask a local bishop to ordain some men for the need of community, and sometimes bishops are chosen from among monks, but the monk is essentially a lay man or woman who has taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and lives in a monastic community. Regular diocesan priests don’t take vows. We make promises of celibacy and obedience, but they are not part of our primary calling.
The penitential life is the monastic calling. The priestly and diaconal calling is devotion to the public prayer of the Church, sustained by a life of personal prayer and holiness. Our calling is to assist the bishop in offering of the Liturgy and the Sacraments. Celibacy is useful in the west, though not necessary in all forms of ordained ministry. Deacons are commonly married and in certain cases, especially in Eastern Catholicism, priests are married. Obedience to the bishop is certainly necessary and implied by the very nature of the priests and the deacon. If our job is to assist the bishop, how can we help him without obeying him? However, obedience is not the same for ordained diocesan clergy as it is for monks. Monks are supposed to live a life of self denial. Poverty, chastity and obedience are the very heart of their prayer and penance.
For diocesan clergy, celibacy and obedience are part of our service. We do not take vows of poverty. I have to buy my own car, pay for my own retirement, clothes etc. though I am provided room and board as long as I am working in an assignment. My money, or the lack thereof, is my own. If a monk needs new shoes, he asks the abbot for money to buy them. As a diocesan priest, I ask the credit card company. A monk is not supposed to have money or property of his own. He asks his superior. He forgoes financial decisions as part of his penitential life. There is an old proverb that monastic orders take a vow of poverty. Diocesan priests live it. But of course, that is just an old proverb.
You promised to explain Jesuits. What about Jesuits? That, dear reader, will have to wait for next week.
Rev. Know-it-all   

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Titles in the Church (part 3)

( Letter to B. Racrasy, continued)
Well then, what are auxiliary bishops? Just what the name implies: They help the ordinary bishop in large dioceses. They obey him, because they are not they ordinary bishop of the diocese but they are fully ordained bishops in that they can ordain other clergy. They would only do this at the request of the main or “ordinary bishop.”
What, pray tell are cardinals? That will take a little more history.
The bishop of Rome, better known as the pope, used to be elected by a consensus of the clergy and people of the diocese of Rome. The Church in Rome went through a very dark period from 867 to 1049 during which the powerful aristocratic political families of Rome treated the papacy as their own private football. They made sure that the people would vote the way they were told. In addition, the Holy Roman Emperor did his best to influence the papal election. Finally, Leo the Ninth was elected in 1049 and he begin a comprehensive reform of the Church. A few years later, in 1059, Pope Nicholas the Second and a synod of bishops decided that the election of popes would be limited to the clergy of the dioceses of Rome in order to keep the papacy independent of both Roman civil politics and imperial politics. Most people think of popular elections as a good thing, but most people don’t live in Chicago. (City Mottos: “Vote early, vote often,” and “Ubi est meum”) From that time on, the auxiliary bishops, priests and deacons of the major (or cardinal) churches would elect the pope in a conclave, (conclave is the Latin word for “lock-down.”)
You may have noticed the word “cardinal” snuck into our discussion. The word “cardo” is the Latin word for “hinge.” For instance, the main north-south street in a Roman city was called the “cardo.” The ancient and most important churches of the diocese of Rome were called the cardinal, or “hinge” churches. Their priests and deacons were called cardinal priests and deacons, and the bishops of neighboring (suburbicarian) dioceses were called cardinal bishops. These cardinals of the diocese of Rome elect the pope, the bishop of Rome. They also serve as advisers to the pope.
As things developed, the international mission of the Church was recognized by naming important bishops from other countries, and some priests, and even laymen, as honorary members of the clergy of Rome. For instance, Cardinal George of Chicago is the official (or “titular”) pastor of San Bartolomeo all'Isola, a beautiful old church on a little island in the Tiber river in the heart of Rome. He is the Archbishop of Chicago, but he is also has the honorary title of a pastor of a church in Rome, and has the right to participate in the election of the pope. There are cardinal bishops, cardinal priests and cardinal deacons, who are known as cardinals and have different functions and different rank, but their principal tasks are the election and assisting of the pope. They are almost always bishops, but they derive their titles as cardinal from the diocese of Rome.
You just mentioned “archbishop.” What’s an archbishop? The prefix “arch” is a Greek word that means principal, or beginning. An archbishop is the ranking bishop in a province or area. He is responsible to report any abuses or critical situations to the pope and may then be requested by the pope to look into the situation. He doesn’t have direct control over other bishops, but does have a pastoral oversight for his whole district. He is often called a metropolitan. Metropolis is more than home to Superman. It is a Greek word, of course, meaning the area around the big city. For instance, Chicago and its suburbs is a Metropolis. The bishop of the largest or most important city in a district is usually an archbishop. The pope gives an Archbishop a stole called the pallium as a symbol of his office.
What then are monsignors? That’s easy. Monsignor is just an honorific title, like “Sir.” The word literally means “M’ Lord.” A monsignor is an official member of the papal household (we would probably say “staff” at present) and is named by the pope at the request of a local bishop. The title is conferred to honor a priest who has rendered exceptional service, or who has a significant responsibility in the Church.
So it’s pretty simple: Pope, bishop (some of whom are archbishops and/or cardinals) and priests (some of whom are monsignors) deacons, and the faithful. It’s still the basic structure of bishop, priest and deacon.
Rev. Know-it-all    

(Next week monks, nuns and Jesuits)    

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Titles in the Church (part 2)

(Letter to B. Racrasy on Titles in the Church - continued)
Dear “B”,
As I was telling you last week, the hierarchy has a different meaning for Catholics than it does for most people. Hierarchy is usually taken to mean “chain of command.” Though obedience is at the heart of any Christian life, the manner of, and, motive for obedience in the Church is different than, for instance in the army. The Church is meant to be a family, parents and children, just as pastors and faithful are motivated by mutual concern for one another and for the family.
This is how Catholic hierarchy works: in any diocese, you have a bishop who is assisted by deacons and presbyters (priests) and these are tied to the universal Church by their relationship to the Bishop of Rome, (better known as the pope) who is the universal shepherd. This whole structure exists to guarantee the worship of God and to feed and nurture the faith of the people of God, that is the laity. In the earliest days, most churches were very small and probably had only a few hundred members, maybe a thousand. The Bishop offered Mass and the sacraments and instructed the faithful. He was helped in his work by the deacons. When there was a need for more help in sharing the sacraments, especially in large cities like Rome or Alexandria, the bishop might ordain a man, an elder, who would help him in his sacramental and liturgical work.
It is important to remember that the deacon is not the servant of the priest who is in turn the servant of the bishop. From the earliest days, priest and deacon both assisted the bishop in his work of teaching, governing, and leading worship, but in different ways. The bishop is the head presbyter in his diocese and he is also the head deacon. The bishop’s role is twofold. He is a teacher and a servant. He is priest and deacon. He is elder and table waiter. Every priest is first ordained a deacon and every bishop is first ordained a priest. All three dimensions of the sacrament of Holy Orders are present with the bishop. He is supervisor, elder, and servant. I’m just elder and servant. HOWEVER the bishop is a very busy man, so he can’t make it to St. Dymphna’s here in Frostbite Falls every Sunday, so he sent me as his substitute, which in Latin is “Vicar”. I am the vicar for the bishop in the two and a half square blocks that comprise St. Dymphna’s parish. I am not the vicar for the bishop anywhere else. That means I can order our Deacon Igor around when I am at St. Dymphna’s, but I can’t go over to our neighboring parish, St. Euflimsia’s and order Deacon Lurch around.
In the same way, the Bishop of our neighboring diocese, Minniehaha Estates, can’t come to St. Dymphna’s and order me or Deacon Igor around. I would certainly do my best to respect him, but in Frostbite Falls, Bishop Fenwick is the ordinary bishop and I obey him. If I am visiting Minniehaha Estates, I had darn well better obey that bishop. In the military, a sergeant can order any private around anywhere in the world because he outranks any private. I don’t outrank anybody. I don’t outrank a deacon. I am not more ordained than a deacon. I am responsible for the bishop’s presbyteral duties here at St. Dymphna’s and so have some of the bishop’s authority, and the deacon assists me when and where I substitute for the bishop. Where the parish ends, my authority ends.
The bishop is the real pastor of the parish and of the whole diocese. Thus he is called the “ordinary”. I’m just standing in for him. It is interesting to note that when a bishop visits a parish he is the main celebrant of the Mass, not the pastor. If for some reason a bishop does not want to be the main celebrant of the Mass, he kneels at the side and does not concelebrate the Mass. The bishop is the “ordinary” celebrant of the Mass. As a presbyter, I am only a substitute. When the real pastor is able to be present, I take a back seat.
So it’s pretty simple: Pope, bishop and priest/deacon, and the faithful. That’s the basic structure. Everything else fits into it.
Rev. Know-it-all