Saturday, December 25, 2010

A short history of the Hootenanny Mass & other absurdities... part 7

Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont. part 7


Henry VIII (1491-1547), King of England from 1509. Remember Luther? He tacked up his 95 Theses and started the whole ball rolling around 1517. Henry was staunchly Catholic, but un-staunched as the Reformation unfolded. (Staunch: firm and steadfast; true. One often hears of staunch Republicans, though I have never heard of a staunch Democrat but there must be some. Where was I? Oh yes... the Reformation) He was so staunch that he wrote a book in 1521 called “The Defense of the Seven Sacraments” for which Pope Leo X (not very staunch) rewarded Henry the title “Defender of the Faith.”

Henry’s life was charmed. He was young, handsome, both scholarly and athletic. His father Henry VII, had been so tight that he squeaked and thus left Henry with a full treasury. He had a lovely Spanish wife, the aunt of Emperor Charles V, the most powerful man on earth, (very, very staunch). She adored him. He was the very model of the Renaissance prince and was loved by all, except for the people whose heads he lopped off, beginning early in his reign with his miserly father’s finance ministers. Having taken care of the treasury department, he promptly started to spend all that money on his two favorite hobbies: building palaces and invading France.

Did I mention he was loved by all? Especially the Boleyn girls. There was a rumor that young prince Henry had been a very close friend of Lady Elizabeth Boleyn. Just scurrilous court gossip probably, but he was definitely a special friend of her daughter, Mary Boleyn by whom he may have had one or perhaps two children, and her little sister, Ann. All three of the Boleyn girls, mother and both daughters were ladies in waiting at the Tudor court. One wonders just what they were waiting for. Well, with Ann it became pretty clear. She was waiting for a wedding ring and the crown of England. Meanwhile, Henry’s Spanish wife had managed to produce one measly daughter and Henry wanted a son and heir a Henry IX, if you will.

He decided that he had sinned by marrying Queen Catherine who had been his brother’s wife. His brother had died and the king, Henry VII, (the miser), had not wanted to return Catherine’s dowry to her Spanish relatives, so he asked the pope for permission to marry his second son off to the first son’s widow. No problem. It seems that Prince Arthur and Princess Catherine had never managed to complete the nuptials (remember this is a family column), so what was the issue? A dead prince who had never really been a husband?

Well, much later, Henry decided that he was living in sin with a Spanish princess who had been his brother’s true wife. His conscience was sore grieved. It wasn’t sore grieved by the fact that he was catting about with any lady in waiting who didn’t have the good sense to wait somewhere else, including a couple of sisters who were young enough to have been his daughters, one of whom may well have been, (though modern scholars dispute this. I still can’t help mentioning it. It makes for fun reading.) Ann had more sense than most of them. She refused the king which drove him wild with etc., etc. So he decide to dump his Spanish wife, who had let herself go a little bit anyway, and petitioned the pope for an annulment.

The pope had problems with the annulment. Queen Catherine’s nephew, (remember him? the most powerful man in the world who had an army that had just sacked Rome). There was the little matter that the woman Henry wanted to marry was the sister of Henry’s former girlfriend and he was probably the father of two children to whom he would soon be uncle by marriage and heaven knows what else, and had a legitimate daughter, Mary, by his first wife, who was supposed to inherit the crown. All this would make birthdays and Christmas a little confusing, to say the least. What to do, being a staunch Catholic and all? Ann was a clever girl and gave the king a book called “The Obedience of the Christian Man” which essentially said that there are kings in the Bible, but no popes, and that the king should run the Church in his own country. Wycliff had said as much a long time ago. So to get on with the story.

Henry declared himself head of the Church in England, gave himself an annulment, married Ann, crowned her queen and then chopped her head off. Really. She was only queen for three years, but oh, what eventful years they were! She convinced Henry to appoint one of her family friends, Thomas Cranmer, as the Archbishop of Canterbury, who in turn sponsored Thomas Cromwell for the job of Chancellor. They were both convinced Protestants and helped Ann bring the Calvinist version of the Reformation to England. Cranmer was useful theologically and Cromwell politically. All those palaces and invasions of France were expensive, so Cromwell got the idea that if they closed down the monasteries, and confiscated their lands and the incomes, all would be well. Slight problem: the monasteries maintained the schools, orphanages, hospitals, soup kitchens, homes for poor and aged and rented the land at low rates to the rural poor.

Suddenly all the monks and nuns and the people they had served were homeless and wandered the countryside begging. Toward the end of Henry’s life, Cromwell tried to solve the problem by declaring vagrancy a crime punishable by enslavement and worse. That must have helped. The estimates vary, but usually hover around 70,000 dead in Henry’s reform of the Church in England.

As I mentioned, Ann got her crown but didn’t long have a head on which to wear it. She was accused of incest, adultery and a host of other things, having also produced one measly girl, Elizabeth. More about her later. Henry managed to carry on somehow. He managed to carry on with another lady in waiting. One day after Anne's execution, Henry got engaged to Jane Seymour, with whom he had recently been keeping company. They were married 10 days later.

She died in 1537 from complications of childbirth, but she had produced a male heir, Edward (more later). Henry went on to wed Anne of Cleves, a German Protestant princess whose Teutonic charms did not appeal to Henry. He annulled the marriage and moved on to Catherine Howard, you guessed it, another lady in waiting whom he eventually beheaded, and finally Catherine Parr, who managed to out-live the old goat. And so Henry died in 1547, he started out a young, athletic Catholic with a happy marriage. He died obese, crippled, and heretical, the husband of six wives and numerous mistresses. England was in turmoil and tens of thousands dead and many more homeless, but Henry did manage to produce three children and the Church of England.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

A short history of the Hootenanny Mass & other absurdities... part 6

Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont. part 6

“JEAN CAUVIN et SON AMI FLAMBEE“ (That’s French for John Calvin and his toasted friend.)

Luther lost control of “his” reformation and pretty much everybody in Europe lost control of everything. The peasants of Germany decided to celebrate their new found Christian freedom by slaughtering the landowners to whom they had owed a feudal obligation. They figured if the priests no longer needed popes and bishops who needed landlords? So in 1525, the peasants rose up to throw off their shackles and establish the kingdom of God on Earth. This was not what Fr. Luther had in mind, so he wrote a tract to the German nobility asking for their help. It has the charming title “Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants” which urged the nobility to treat the rebels like mad dogs. Allow me to quote : “Therefore let everyone who can, smite, slay, and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel... For baptism does not make men free in body and property, but in soul;” Thus Luther.

The German nobility were only to happy to help out. They slaughtered about 100,000 peasants and thus began a century of war in Europe that, when it ended in 1652, had taken between 8 and 10 million lives. This figure counts the English Civil Wars (Why do they call wars “civil”?) in which the followers of Calvin tried to stamp out the last vestiges of Catholicism in the British Isles. That meant 200,000 dead in Scotland and England, and 618,000 in Ireland or about 40% of that island’s population, The total population of Europe in 1600 was 78 million, so “reformation” was accomplished by the death of one out ten people. The death toll in Germany was more like 1 out of every 3. They certainly took Luther seriously when he told them “smite, slay and stab.” (Oddly enough Spain was the safest place to be at the time. The Spanish Inquisition hadn’t let the lunacy get a foothold and not one person died in religious wars in Spain.)

Between his failure to control the reformation and his cooperation with Phillip of Hesse’s odd marital situation, Luther lost the initiative. Father Ulrcih Zwingli (1484-1531) was the pastor of the parish church in Einsiedeln, Switzerland. He thought Luther hadn’t gone far enough. There should be no mass, no saints, no bishops no vestments, not no how. Eventually he died with sword in hand at the battle of Kappel in 1531, aged only 47. The mantle of reform was taken up by a recent immigrant to Switzerland, a Frenchman named Jean Cauvin, or as we call him John Calvin (1509-1564). Like Luther, Calvin was trained as a lawyer. He broke from the Catholic Church around 1530. (To put things in perspective In 1530 Luther was 47 years old, Calvin a lad of 21, and the reformation had been rolling along for ten years and the death toll was only up to 100,000. After a violent reaction against Protestants in France, Calvin fled to Basel, Switzerland. There he was recruited by William Farel to help reform the Church in Geneva. Calvin created new forms of Church government and liturgy, and wrote his masterwork, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. He taught five central points that can be remembered by the acronym T-U-L-I-P:

Total depravity (Good name for a punk rock band)
Unlimited election (Sounds like Chicago politics)
Limited atonement (Sounds like the fine print in a car warranty)
Irresistible Grace (Sounds like something from a beauty pageant)
Perseverance of the Saints (Sounds like a New Orleans football game)

Perhaps I should define a little more precisely.
Total depravity: there is nothing left of the divine image in humanity.
Unconditional election: God created us to go to heaven in order to show His mercy and created you to go to hell to show his justice. (Us and You in the equation depends on whose Church we’re talking about.) In other words some people were designed for eternal suffering. The whole concept makes Hitler look like a Campfire Girl.
Limited atonement: Jesus only died for the saved.
Irresistible grace: You have no free will. God’s grace is so great that if he chooses to save you, you are powerless to resist.
Perseverance of the saints: Once saved, always saved. (Wouldn’t that be nice?)

In addition to his T-U-L-I-P, Calvin taught that each congregation was a Church in itself and needed no pope or bishop and that each individual inspired by the Holy Spirit was sufficient to interpret the Scriptures. In other words, each church its own denomination and everyone his own pope. And so 500 years after the reformation we have 30 or 40 thousand different kinds of Christianity. Thank you, Monsieur Calvin.

Don’t think for a moment that Calvin, believed that everyone was entitled to his opinion. You were only entitled to Calvin’s opinion. If you disagreed with Calvin you were exiled from Geneva or worse. Once a man said publicly that he didn’t care what Calvin taught, he was sure that he himself had free will, he was quickly tried and sentenced to exile. He promised he would believe what Calvin taught, but please don’t send him away from wife, children and home. Calvin magnanimously allowed him to stay if he did public penance by walking through the streets of Geneva in his undershirt carrying a lighted candle, begging Calvin’s forgiveness.

Fun was pretty much outlawed in the New and Reformed Geneva, drinking frowned on, singing and dancing and the like. Calvin banned plays and tried to introduce religious pamphlets and psalm singing into Geneva's taverns. At one point Calvin closed the taverns and replaced them with “evangelical refreshment places” where moderate drinking was allowed, but only when accompanied with Bible reading. There were laws against certain clothes and work or pleasure on Sunday. Those found guilty of wild dancing were severely punished. Those condemned for “bawdy singing” had their tongues pierced. (I wonder what Calvin would have made of the tongue piercing craze of our times. Would he have become a body piercing enthusiast? He seems to have liked piercing but disapproved of jewelry.)

Calvin rediscovered the Old Testament which clearly calls for strict punishments. Jesus’ dialogue with the woman caught in adultery, “Has no one condemned you? Neither, then, do I” does not seem to cross Calvin’s mind or heart. Idolatry, as Calvin defined it, rosaries, religious images and the like, was punished with death, as was blasphemy. As in the Law of Moses, to curse or strike a parent, should be punished with death and so Calvin once had a child executed for striking his parent. The penalty for adultery is, of course, death. Calvin had his own stepdaughter, among others, burned at the stake for adultery as well as her husband, his son-in-law, in a separate incident.

But the icing on the Calvinist cake is the death of Michael Servetus. Servetus was a Unitarian. He did not believe in the Trinity and so fled the Inquisition in his native Spain. Calvin was an old acquaintance, and Servetus assumed he would be safe in Geneva’s anti-Papist republic. Calvin and Servetus had written about thirty letters to each other, debating doctrine until Calvin got angry and stopped corresponding. The greatest offense was that Servetus had sent Calvin a copy of Calvin’s own Institutes of the Christian Religion with corrections in the margins pointing out Calvin’s errors. Servetus decided to visit Geneva with Calvin’s permission in 1547. Calvin, however wrote a letter to Farel, his aforementioned collaborator, saying that if Servetus came to Geneva there would be trouble, “for if he came, as far as my authority goes, I would not let him leave alive.” On his way to Italy, Servetus was dumb enough to pass through Geneva where he attended one of Calvin's sermons. Calvin had him arrested. After a long trial designed by Calvin’s opponents to irritate him, the town council, at Calvin’s bidding, condemned Servetus to death as a heretic. Calvin had a moment of pity and asked that Servetus be beheaded instead of burnt. No Luck. Servetus was burnt on a pyre of his own books.

Calvin was the consummate work-aholic. He wrote night and day corresponding with his followers from Poland in the east to England in the west. One of his most important correspondents was the Duke of Somerset, the regent of England for the boy king, Edward Tudor, son of Henry VIII. In 1546 in a letter to Somerset, he expounded on his theory about the right of punishment taught in the Law of Moses, which threatened stiff-necked people with death, just what of England wanted to hear.

Somerset raised his nephew, King Edward, as a strict Calvinist and thus set the stage for the English civil wars. When Edward died at age 15, his very Catholic sister, Mary, decided to bring England back to the Catholic church. Like rats from a sinking ship, Protestant leaders fled England. Calvin was more than happy to shelter English exiles in Geneva starting in 1555 Eventually, they formed their own reformed churches under the tutelage of John Knox and William Whittingham and so carried Calvin's ideas back to England and Scotland, and thence to the whole English speaking world. Before we can move on to the Pilgrims and their progress, we need to take a side trip to figure out just how Calvin took the Merry out of Merry Olde England.


Friday, December 10, 2010

A short history of the Hootenanny Mass & other absurdities... part 5

Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont. part 4


After the Parliament at Worms, Luther spent the next ten months hiding out. Duke Frederick III, Elector of Saxony “kidnapped” him on his way back home to Wittenberg and took him to the Wartburg Castle at Eisenach in a kind of protective custody, thus saving him from the emperor who was loyal to the traditional Church. There he had nothing to do but translate the scriptures, hunt wild boar and write vitriolic pamphlets against the papacy and the faith.

Many people are under the assumption that Luther first translated the Bible into a common tongue. Not so! There were fourteen perfectly good translations of the Bible in the German language. Luther produced a New Testament while he was in hiding. It was not the first of its kind, but was significant for its de-emphasis of certain books, notably the epistle of James which Luther called “an epistle of straw,” in which he found “little that pointed to Christ and His saving work.” Neither was he very fond of the book of Revelation, in which he could “in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it.” Luther took a dim view of Esther, Hebrews, and Jude as well, and denied the canonical nature of seven Old Testament books that were held as Scripture by all Christians from the most ancient times. These are the books of Tobit, Judith, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach, and Baruch, and some of Esther and Daniel. The whole hatchet job on God’s written Word began in 1522 and was finished in 1534.

As important as what he took out of the Bible was what he put in. Luther added the word “alone” to Romans 3:28 so that it reads, “man is justified without the works of the law but through faith ALONE.” The word "alone" does not appear in the original Greek text. In fact, the only place where the phrase “faith alone” appears in the New Testament is in James 2:24 “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” Remember? Luther wanted to dump the Letter of St. James. It didn’t agree with his theology.

In Germany, the main meal is still at noon. (Ah, I think fondly of the old country and Aunt Lisa’s pot roast.....) Anyway, Luther would dig into the sauerkraut and spaetzle, wash it down with a beer and get to talking. (Allow me to quote Luther regarding beer “Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters Heaven! Thus, let us drink beer!” And again “The Word is the principal part of baptism. If in an emergency there’s no water at hand, it doesn’t matter whether water or beer is used.” I include these two quotes just to irritate Baptists.) Thus refreshed, Dr. Luther would begin to hold forth while his students furiously took notes, and Luther would say the darndest things. For instance during his lunchtime pontifications, Luther, claimed that his idea that people need to commit real and honest sins had originated in a conversation with the Devil!

At one of these lunches Luther was apparently questioned by one of his students regarding his addition of the word “ALONE” to Romans 3:28. The student said that all of Christendom wondered why Luther had added the word “alone” to the text. Luther responded, “ Tell them that.....Luther will have it so, and he is a doctor above all the doctors in Popedom.” (Amic. Discussion, 1, 127,'The Facts About Luther,' O'Hare, TAN Books, 1987, p. 201. and John Lawson Stoddard. Rebuilding a Lost Faith. 1922, pp 101-102. I am having a little trouble with this footnote. I cannot find out what Amic. Discussion is. If anyone knows, I would be grateful for the information. I like to have primary sources whenever possible.) Apparently Luther denied papal infallibility, but not his own.

Luther also denied the right of the pope to give dispensations, but Luther himself seemed to have given a real whopper of a dispensation. One of Luther’s great protectors was the Duke of Hesse, Phillip II. But Phillip had a problem. In 1526 he had married Christine of Saxony, who was reputedly ugly, sick, and drunk most of the time. He fell in love with a 17-year-old, named Margarethe von der Saale. He couldn’t divorce Christine, but didn’t want to make Margarethe his mistress. After all, that would be adultery. In the end, he got permission from Martin Luther, who decided that bigamy was less sinful than divorce.

The bigamous wedding took place in 1540 witnessed by Martin Bucer and Philip Melanchthon, two of Luther’s followers. Luther, claiming that he had given this advice in the confessional, refused to admit his role in the marriage! I mention this sordid affair not merely to snipe at heretics, though that is certainly fun. I do it because Father Luther’s modern day disciples in the Catholic Church often do the same thing. I have heard of priests in the confessional passing out “annulments” and giving permission to use artificial birth control or not to worry about some sin or the other. Like Luther, they have a power to dispense from the very law of God that the Catholic Church has never claimed even for the pope in Rome. “Father knows better than the Pope!” It was Luther’s motto, and it’s the motto of quite a few of his present day descendants.

Back to the Wartburg! Luther was very upset that people back at Wittenberg were going too fast and that they had not asked his permission for the things they were initiating, such as destroying religious images, and changing the liturgy. It was HIS reform and they should not proceed without HIS direction. But it was too late. The genie was out of the bottle and every man was his own pope, just like Luther. It was while Luther was at the Wartburg that he came up with the idea that is most important for our discussion of the roots of the Hootenanny Mass. It was in the Wartburg he decided that the Mass was not a sacrifice but that it existed for the consolation and the instruction of the faithful. Thus did much of the Christian world stop worshiping God. The liturgy was no longer the fitting sacrifice of the Blood shed on Calvary, but had become the exercise in narcissism that passes for worship in most mega-churches and now infects Catholicism wherever she is not persecuted.

Luther left the Wartburg with his program in order and Europe in chaos. Bible alone, faith alone and Luther alone would make everything better. He returned to the university, dumped his religious attire and married a former nun, Katherine von Bora in 1525. They went on to have six children. He blathered while Europe bled. He held forth at lunch, in the lecture hall, and the pulpit, wrote diatribes and attended the occasional meeting, and became increasingly irrelevant to the revolution he had started. His last sermon was delivered at Eisleben on February 15, 1546, three days before his death. It was about the “...obdurate Jews, whom it was a matter of great urgency to expel from all German territory.” It ended by urging the congregation “to drive the Jews bag and baggage from their midst, unless they desisted from their calumny and their usury and became Christians.”

“We want to practice Christian love toward them and pray that they convert... but also that they are our public enemies ... and if they could kill us all, they would gladly do so. And so often they do.” He died on February 18, 1546. It would be almost 400 years before an unemployed Austrian painter fulfilled Luther’s dying admonition.

Just a final thought. I once visited the Wartburg with Jacob von der Suppe Kueche, a dear friend and convert to Catholicism. He was shaking his head as he returned from freshening up. In the washroom of this reformation shrine, there was a machine for dispensing (family column; euphemism to follow) intimate male protection/birth control devices. He said “I’ve been all over Europe and have never seen such a machine in a Catholic shrine." All his arguments with his Protestant relatives were over. He had seen the inevitable absurdity of Fr. Luther’s reformation. “Blessed the womb that never bore, the breast that never nursed.” (Luke 11:27)


Saturday, December 4, 2010

A short history of the Hootenanny Mass & other absurdities... part 4

Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont. part 4
I hope by now I’ve convinced you that things were a mess in Christendom by around 1500. People knew that reform and renewal were necessary if Europe and Christianity were going to continue, but what form would the renewal of the Church take? 

Would it be inspired by people like Saint Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) a Spanish knight from a Basque noble family, hermit, priest, and founder of the Jesuits and Saint Peter of Alcántara (1499 -1562) a Spanish Franciscan and the woman he inspired, Saint Teresa of Ávila, ( 1515- 1582) Carmelite nun and reformer of convents, and her friend Saint John of the Cross (1542-1591), Spanish mystic and Carmelite friar and priest? They taught that only a renewal of the soul, particularly among the clergy and religious could untie the knot. Not everyone thought this way. As the 1500's dawned, the world stood at the brink of a whole new world, Columbus had returned to Spain after finding a whole new world. The Spanish speaking world exploded with growth in a way that had never happened before, and with the Spanish language and culture, the reforms of St. Teresa and St. Ignatius and the others traveled around the world.
But in the cold north, there was another kind of reform brewing. The great minds of France and England and the German speaking lands thought that perhaps a council should be called to govern the Church. Where the ideas of Huss and Wycliff had taken root, a council seemed the only possible solution. Enough of popes. Let a council elected by the rulers of Europe run things. Change was inevitable. But there was a fuse that lit the fire that soon burned out of control in all the lands north of the Alps and Pyrenees. That fuse was Father Martin Luther, an unhappy Catholic priest.
Martin Luther was born November 10, 1483 (he died February 18, 1546). He was the son of a man who was on his way up from being a miner. Hans Luther had started his own mining company in order to better the position of the family. He wanted the best for son Martin,  and the best was law school as far as Hans was concerned. In 1501, at the age of nineteen, Martin entered the University of Erfurt to study law. Eventually he left law school and entered religious life. On July 2, 1505, he was returning to school after a visit home. There was a terrible thunderstorm and a lightning bolt struck near him. Terrified, he cried out “Help! Saint Anna, I will become a monk!”

Being a German and a law student he believed he had made a vow and would not break it. He left law school, sold his books, and entered an Augustinian friary (something like a monastery) in Erfurt on July 17,1505. Luther was depressed by his own decision. He said to his friends at a farewell party, “This day you see me, and then, not ever again.” Luther was depressed, but his father was furious over the waste of an expensive education. To make the long story short, Luther tried his best, but never liked the religious life. Luther said this period of his life was one of spiritual despair. He said, “I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of Him the jailor and hangman of my poor soul.” Eventually he became a teacher. In 1512, he joined the faculty of the University of Wittenberg and spent the rest of his life as a theology professor there.
I’ve already told you about Tetzel and the 95 Theses. Remember I told you about the German princes who were sick and tired of having popes tell them not to oppress their peasants, and the crowd that was in Rome at the time seemed for the most part like money crazed frat boys. The German emperor summoned Fr. Luther to explain himself at the annual parliament, called the Diet, held that year in the town of Worms (pronounced “voorms”). How many school children have learned not that Luther was summoned to the parliament at the German town of “Voorms, but rather that Luther forced by the pope to eat a diet of worms? But as I always say the German language of my ancestors is in fact the language of romance.

Where was I? Oh yes the Diet of Worms. Luther was not merely opposed to the abuse of power on the part of some churchmen. He questioned the whole theological structure of the faith. During his years of teaching theology and hating his own religious life, he had drunk deeply of the ideas then current in central Germany. The pope’s authority was inferior to that of a council, one is saved by faith alone, good works are unimportant, man is not free. God’s grace is so sovereign that man had no free will, we are predestined to heaven or hell and there is nothing we can do about it. He once wrote: “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your faith in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where righteousness can exist….No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery a thousand times each day” He believed that if we were among the chosen, our sinning could not keep us from heaven. Faith alone, grace alone Bible alone!
At the Diet of Worms Luther was presented with copies of his writings laid out on a table and asked if he had written them and stood by them. Luther said they were his, but asked for a night to think over the second part of the question. The next day he said “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything.” 

It is said that the Emperor at one point asked him if after 1500 years of Christian faith, he, Martin Luther, was the first one to get it right. Luther essentially said yes. He did not trust popes nor councils, but he asked Europe to trust him and his interpretations. He left the Diet unharmed, having been given a safe conduct, but on his way home, he was kidnapped by one of the German princes who hid Luther in his castle, the Wartburg, (another unfortunate name). Luther grew a beard, donned civilian clothes and spent his time in protective custody in the castle writing anti Catholic tracts translating the Bible in a way that agreed with him and hunting wild boars. Meanwhile, outside the castle the dying started. Untold hundreds of thousands and even millions died over the next century and in fact, that is when Europe began to die.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A short history of the Hootenanny Mass & other absurdities... part 3

Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont. part 3

Well, by 1500 things in Christendom were in quite a pickle. Constantinople, the capital of the Roman Empire, and the greatest of Christian cities fell to the Muslim Turks in 1453, and the Turks seemed destined to swallow up the rest of Europe, and Christendom with it. The Popes had returned to Rome and the Western Schism had ended by 1417, but Rome was a mess. Old St. Peter’s Basilica, built by the first Christian emperor, Constantine in 330 AD, was about to collapse. It was after all, over a thousand years old and while everyone was arguing about who was the real pope, no one had worried about the tuck pointing or cleaned the gutters.

Pope Nicholas V (1447–55) wanted to clean up Rome and was the first to consider tearing down the venerable old church and putting up a new one. He never quite got around to it, but one of his successors, Pope Julius II, decided to go ahead with the demolition and replace it with something more suitable. After all, he planned on being buried there. So around 1505, the old church was torn down.

(There is a story here that I can’t resist telling. Julius planned his tomb right in the middle of the new St. Peter’s, smack dab on top of the apostle’s grave. It was to be a sort of stepped pyramid, covered with Michelangelo statues. The whole thing took longer than Julius imagined; 120 years to be exact. They didn’t quite finish on time and Julius didn’t get the glorious tomb he had planned in the new basilica. They put Julius elsewhere for the time being and the few statues finished by Michelangelo at the time of Julius’ demise were scattered around Rome Finally, the remains of Pope Julius were interred in St. Peter’s many years later. If you visit St. Peter’s today, walk toward the great altar and over on the right side you will see a large wooden console that I believe holds organ pipes. Around behind it they stack folding chairs for special events. Under the folding chairs you will find the grave of Julius II. The wonder of it all.)

Eventually, serious work was begun on the rebuilding of the heap of ruins that St. Peter’s had become. Giovanni d' Medici, was born in 1475. He was raised as a Medici prince, fun-loving, cultured, a patron of the arts and without the sense that God gave geese. He was elected pope in 1513 (died 1521), an eight-year disaster. He was the last non-priest to be elected Pope. He was quickly ordained and crowned as Leo X. He is reported to have said to his brother Giuliano d’ Medici, “Since God has seen fit to give us the papacy, let us enjoy it." And boy, did he. He paraded through Rome at the head of a lavish parade featuring panthers, jesters, and Hanno, his pet white elephant. Leo could go through money like a drunken sailor in a disreputable port. It is not cheap being a Renaissance pope, what with Italian wars, feeding white elephants, hiring relatives and all, and then there were all the rebuilding projects, and don’t forget St. Peter’s.

One method for raising funds was the granting of indulgences in return for contributions. Remember, bingo had not yet been invented. Enter Albrecht, Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg. Albrecht wanted to be the Archbishop of Mainz, because the Archbishop of Mainz was one of seven people who voted for the Holy Roman Emperor. He was, however, only about 27 or 28 years old, too young to be an archbishop. But Pope Leo was happy to overlook this difficulty for a slight monetary consideration (Remember Hanno, the hungry elephant.) Albrecht had borrowed 21,000 ducats (I have no idea how much a ducat is worth. Though I imagine quite a bit.) from Jacob Fugger, and then got permission from Leo to conduct a sale of indulgences in order to repay the loan, provided half the proceeds went to Leo. Albrecht hired the Dominican priest, Fr. John Tetzel, to preach the indulgence and thus light the fuse that started the reformation.

Fr. Martin Luther (1483-1546) was a German priest and professor of theology at Wittenberg University in the diocese of Mainz. He, like many of us Germans, could always be counted on to have an opinion. When he saw the ad for Tetzel’s revival and fire sale of indulgences he challenged all comers to a debate with his famous 95 Theses, which he both sent to Albert and nailed to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg. Among a number of ideas, mostly gathered from our friends Huss and Wycliffe, was the idea that indulgences were a bunch of hooey, starving elephants notwithstanding.

Albrecht forwarded Luther’s letter to Rome, and the fertilizer hit the ventilator, theologically speaking. One at first sides with Luther, and perhaps he did have a point. The case can be made that the whole Church was being run by a bunch of crooks.
Fr. Luther might have done great good for the church, had he insisted on the renewal of the Church and the papacy. He started out that way, but he soon came to believe that the pope was not infallible, but that he, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther was, and Dr. Luther had some very strange ideas indeed. In normal times, Fr. Luther would have been in hot water, or at least the guest of honor at a medieval barbecue, but these were not normal times.

The papacy was in the hands of a bunch of self-indulgent idiots and the German princes (just as self-indulgent) were intrigued by the idea that they might not have to send all that money to Italy in order to marry their cousins or buy a get out of hell free card. And remember Gutenberg and his printing press? Martin was the first person in history with the means to tell all of his friends just what kind of loons were in charge and just what he thought of them.

Let us review:
1) After a century of exile and schism, the Church, the papacy and the Holy City of Rome were in a shambles.
2)The aristocratic families of Italy thought the papacy existed for their enrichment and amusement.
3) The Muslims were in the process of swallowing up the Christian world, and
4) the German nobility met a German monk with a bad temper and some strange ideas about Christianity, who, they thought could help them say “Take ye a hike, thou varlets!” to those thieves in Italy.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

A short history of the Hootenanny Mass & other absurdities... part 2

Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont.

There is no denying that in the 1400's there were problems in the Church in Europe. The concept of the nation-state was developing as well as the concept of the divine right of kings. These are important ideas.

In the middle ages, there were no “countries” as such, in Europe. There was CHRISTENDOM. The German barbarians (my ancestors) had swept into the Western Roman Empire around 400AD. At that time the Romans had been Christian for almost two centuries. Rome thought of itself as the Christian Empire. Admittedly, the emperors had moved their capital to the town of Byzantium, around 340AD. They called it New Rome, but everybody called it Constantinople, “Constantine’s town.” Sadly, today you can’t go back to Constantinople because now it’s Istanbul. So the Emperors moved east, but the bishop of Rome, acknowledged by ALL Christians as the head Bishop of the Universal Church, stayed in Rome and maintained his political independence from the Roman state. Thus in the years from 400 to1400 there were two forces to be reckoned with : Pope and Emperor. The popes gradually took over the civil administration of central Italy and bishops everywhere took on more and more functions of the state, such as the maintenance of public safety and the care of the poor.

Then came my people, the barbarians. The barbarians didn’t want to destroy the Roman empire. They wanted to join it. What wasn’t to like? The Romans had indoor plumbing. They bathed. They weren’t covered with fleas and they drank wine! And who doesn’t like Italian food? The invading barbarians just wanted peace: a piece of the Roman Empire. And to get it they were happy to swear allegiance to the Emperor in Constantinople, and just go on pretending that they were a new kind of Roman, though they still mostly drank beer.

There were problems however. The barbarians governed themselves differently. They had a system by which soldiers swore allegiance to a military leader or tribal chief and that leader in turn swore allegiance to a king. Romans had a long history of written laws with a combination of elected and appointed rulers. This presented no real problem. The barbarian kings just swore allegiance to the emperor in Constantinople and then did as they pleased.

Another, perhaps larger problem was that the Romans were Catholics who believed that Jesus was God and man and that God was a unity of love called the Trinity. The barbarians were Arians, who believed that Jesus was not really divine. God was a lone ranger who sort of adopted Jesus. The Roman Bishops defended their Catholic congregations from these new overlords, and eventually the barbarian overlords became Catholic and settled in for the next 1,000 years to rule their Roman and Catholic subjects.

Thus was born the Middle ages, a collection of dukedoms and squires and knights and feudal oaths all loosely held together by kings and all swearing allegiance to an emperor, first the one in Byzantium and then one in Aachen Germany called Charlemagne. His descendants quibbled ever after as to who would be elected the Holy Roman Emperor. (WAKE UP!!! THIS PART’S IMPORTANT. I MEAN THE BIT ABOUT ELECTING THE EMPEROR.)

It was hard to tell where the Church left off and the State began, because it was all a big banquet called CHRISTENDOM. The task was to fight off the Mongols and the Muslims who wanted to destroy Christendom. The Muslims eventually did destroy the Christian heartland around North Africa, Spain, Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and the Holy Land. By 1400, the Eastern Roman Empire held on by a thread in Greece and Western Turkey and only Western Europe was Christian and of the ancient Christian lands of the Mediterranean only Northern Italy, Greece and France remained Christian. Christianity looked like it was finished. Only the northern barbarians were Christian, and the Russians and the other Slavic countries, but Russia and Eastern Europe had been overrun by the Golden Horde, who were Muslims.

In Europe, things went from bad to worse. The papacy, as I’ve mentioned was a wreck which no one took seriously, the clergy had been decimated by the plague, as had society in general and there weren’t enough peasants to work the land. The cost of labor skyrocketed, and the old feudal system that had kept Europe fairly stable for a almost a thousand years collapsed. Wycliffe and Hus went around condemning clerical corruption, and unfortunately they had a point. Wycliffe’s followers were called the Lollards and they did a whole lot more than just point out the corruption of the post-black death clergy. They and Wycliffe denied the papacy, monasticism and the sacrificial nature of the Mass. They taught predestination and an early form of “Bible Only” (Sola Scriptura.) In short, they were Lutherans a hundred years before Luther. Their idea ideas spread in particular in Bohemia, which was at that time part of central Germany.

“How does one get from England to Bohemia? ” I am sure you are asking. Simple: Anne of Bohemia who came to England at the end of January 1381 to become the wife of Richard II (1367-1400). Anne was instrumental in spreading Wycliffe's teachings because the Bohemians who came with her to England introduced his writings to Jan Hus who spread them in Bohemia and the adjacent areas of Germany. Just to demonstrate the mess, it is interesting to note that Anne's brother, King Wenceslaus got involved in the squabble between the Roman pope and the Avignon anti-pope. All this is bad enough, but there was one more thing that put the frosting on the cake.

Wycliffe wanted the state to take over Church properties in England. Well, that sounds reasonable. Remember the clergy were corrupt! (Some certainly were, many more weren’t. It was the monks with their land holdings and incomes who maintained the schools, the hospitals, the soup kitchens, the shelters for the poor, the orphanages, and rented land to poor peasants at a minimal fee saving them from aristocratic vultures who treated them as slaves.) Wycliffe attacked the clergy and taught that the king is above the pope, in temporal matters and that the collection of annates (a type of fee paid to the pope) and indulgences were simony. He also taught that good government required that the Church be without political influence. (Sounds like the ACLU, no?) Wycliffe would have been in big trouble, had he not found a protector in John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, 1340 – 1399 who was acting as ruler at this time. Duke John ran England and really liked some of Wycliffe’s ideas. The king should run things, not the bishops. After all, kings and dukes and generalissimos and Chicago aldermen and mayors really have the people’s best interest at heart.

Remember that the old feudal system had collapsed, and kings and nations were emerging. Instead of Christendom, the emperors and the popes, you now had France and England and Aragon and Castile. The little duchies and squires that made up Europe were about to become nations with divinely appointed kings who wanted no pope or bishop to tell them what to do. Without a pope to excommunicate them or depose them, they would go to war with each other for the next 500 years, until Europe exhausted herself and her Christian culture in that holocaust of the 1st and 2nd world wars in which at least One Hundred Million people died, all told, and in which it seems that Europe herself has died. The final ingredients in this witch’s brew: Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press (about 1450) and that irrepressible German monk, Father Martin Luther (1483 –1546). To be continued....


Saturday, November 13, 2010

A short history of the Hootenanny Mass & other absurdities... part 1

Dear Rev. Know it all,

Can you explain why all of a sudden we stopped singing Gregorian chant and started singing Kumbaya at Mass and now we have stopped singing Kumbaya and now we are singing dreary Gregorian chant again. I miss those old, traditional hymns with stirring music and lyrics that we could all sing and understand, words like “eat His body, drink His blood, and we’ll sing a song of love, halelu, halelu, halelu-u-yah” written by the immortal Ray Repp. I am so confused.

Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson

Dear “Hoot” and Annie,

Of course I can, but it will be very long and very boring and you will have to pay attention. The problem begins in 1300 AD, more or less with Philip the Fair, king of France and Edward I “Longshanks" of England (who disemboweled Mel Gibson in the movie “Braveheart”). They were at war over the province of Gascony and to finance the war they both wanted to tax the clergy and the Church. Pope Boniface VIII said “Over my dead body!” and King Philip of France said, “That could be arranged.”

So, Philip tried to kidnap the Pope, but merely managed to have him beat up by thugs on September 7, 1303. He died a month later. The cardinals elected an Italian, Benedict XI, who managed to survive eight months, so the cardinals thought they should elect somebody who could get along with the king of France. They chose a fellow named Raymond Bertrand de Got who was not at the election. He wasn’t even a cardinal, nor was he in Rome at the time. He was in France. This was reasonable because he was, in fact, French.

The cardinals thought he would be neutral and make nice with the king. He was crowned pope in a grand ceremony attended by the King in Lyons, France. He never quite made it to Rome, the city of which he was now bishop. He got as far as Avignon, now part of France, then owned by the king of Sicily. And there they stayed until, seven popes later, Pope Gregory XI was elected in 1370. He was pope until 1378, and was the last of the Avignon Popes. His return to Rome on January 17, 1377 was inspired by the prophecies of St. Catherine of Siena.

Problem solved? Hardly! This is where things get really bad. After the death of Pope Gregory XI, an Italian, Urban VI was elected. He had some odd ideas about cardinals, like avoiding gratuities and gifts, and accepting salaries from kings and noblemen and limiting luxuries and retinues, and the multiple benefices (clerical sources of revenue). And he refused to move back to Avignon, which irritated King Charles V of France. The cardinals were deeply insulted and five months after Urban’s election, the French cardinals met at Anagni, to declare his election invalid because they had been intimidated by the Roman mob (which can, in fact, be intimidating) into electing an Italian pope. So, they elected Robert of Geneva who was commander of the papal troops. He became the anti-pope Clement VII, and thus began the Western Schism which divided Catholic Christendom until 1417.

Nobody knew who was on first, authority wise. You had two popes, one in Avignon and one in Rome. France, Spain, Naples, and Scotland recognized the Avignon pope. Denmark, England, Flanders, Germany, Hungary, northern Italy, Ireland, Norway, Poland, and Sweden recognized the Roman pope. At one point there were three popes. Finally, the Council of Constance met in 1414, authorized by the legitimate successor of Urban VI, (remember him? The true pope in Rome?) The Council of Constance elected the new pope, whom (almost) everybody recognized. Finally, problem solved. Not on your life!!! Now it gets really, really bad.

While no one was paying attention, a few things happened. The Church had become enmeshed in the politics of Europe, there were good and godly clergy and there were some not quite so good and godly, just like now, and then there was the black death. Over a period of 2-4 years, beginning in 1348 the Bubonic plague wiped out as much as half of the population of Europe. The death rate among clergy was much higher, perhaps two thirds. Parish priests and monks who were doing their jobs caught the plague and died.

In Avignon, Pope Clement VI's physicians told him to surround himself with torches to hide from the plague. But he remained at his post in Avignon supervising pastoral care of the sick and burials. He never caught disease. He wasn’t a man noted for his holiness, but in this case he did his job. I would probably have hidden under my bed, whimpering and trying not to inhale.

So the good priests died, there was chaos in the leadership of the Church for about a century and the aristocracy tried to take over the Church. In this chaotic climate, there arose people who thought they knew what to do. The first of these was a priest named John Wycliffe in England, (1324-1384) who was in effect the father of the Protestant Reformation a full century before Luther.

(To be continued......)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A reflection on Liturgy celebrated "ad orientem"

Instead of the usual “Rev. Know it all” this week, I would like to share some reflections on a recent experience. At the end of a conference on the Church Fathers, I said the ordinary form of the Mass, the so called Novus Ordo, in the English language. It was no different from any other Novus Ordo Mass, with one exception.

For the Offertory, Canon and Our Father I faced the altar, not the congregation. I said the opening prayers from the presider’s chair, where I remained for the readings. I wore a microphone as usual. I then read the Creed and the prayers of the faithful, went down to receive the offerings of bread and wine, and then went to the altar directly, not going around behind it. The deacon and I turned to the congregation at the prayer “Pray brethren..” I next turned to the congregation at the sign of peace and then again at the “Lord, I am not worthy...” After the distribution of Holy Communion I returned to the presider’s chair and finished the Mass as usual. The music was very simple, very little organ, mostly plain chant in English, some Latin used in the ordinary parts of the Mass, all prayers and readings in English. I had warned the congregation that I would do this one time only as part of the conference that we were having at the parish. I faced away from the congregation for about 14 of 55 minutes, all told.

I did it as an experiment. I suspect that the Council Fathers of Vatican II never envisioned Mass facing the people. I wanted to know what the Mass of Vatican II would really be like, some English, some Latin, Gregorian chant, unaccompanied singing and a balance of facing toward people when addressing them and facing the altar with them when addressing the Father. I think this is what is called in the rubrics of the Missal when it indicates that the priest should face the people six times during the Mass:
1)When giving the opening greeting (GIRM 124).
2)When giving the invitation to pray at the end of the offertory, "Pray brethren" (GIRM 146).
3)When giving the greeting of peace (GIRM 154).
4) When displaying the Host and Chalice before Communion and saying: "Behold the Lamb of God" (GIRM 157).
5) When inviting the people to pray before the post communion prayer (GIRM 165).
6)When giving the final blessing (Ordo Missae 141).

The fact that these rubrics exist, seems to assume that the priest is facing away from the people at some time during the liturgy.

After Mass, comments were varied. Some people loved it, most didn’t like it, some were infuriated. In particular I got angry fingers in the face, from someone who said that “the Pope had sent a letter to all priests telling them that they had to face the people.” How do you prove something that never happened? Rome has never said anything about having to face the people during Mass. One must do so only six times. It is one of the great mysteries of our times why, overnight, most of the altars in Catholic Churches were turned around.

There had been some experimentation in the 1950's by people like Balthasar Fischer based on the assumption that the first Christians had celebrated Mass with the celebrant facing the congregation. According to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, the custom of facing away from the people originated among the Frankish clergy in around 700 or 800 AD. I would like to know why they write this.

For two reasons, I doubt that the Mass was ever said completely facing the congregation. Facing east, which usually means facing away from the people is the usual posture in liturgical prayer of the Byzantine, Syriac, Armenian, Coptic and Ethiopian traditions. It is still the custom in most of the Eastern rites, at least during the Eucharistic prayer. They have done this from time immemorial and still do. They wouldn’t have changed it just to accommodate the Frankish barbarians of the west, 700 years after Christ. This custom of congregation and clergy facing the same direction in prayer was universal until about 1967. The first Christians were Jews for a century after Pentecost, at least according to sociologist Rodney Stark. Facing a sacred direction and not a congregation was normal in the synagogue services from which the Mass developed. Orthodox Jews still face east, or more precisely toward Jerusalem, away from the congregation for much of the service. It is a natural gesture.

I, however, wish I had not said Mass facing away from the congregation, and not because of the anger directed at me. I am a Catholic priest. I am used to people being angry with me. I wish I had not said Mass in what I believe to be the posture assumed by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, because it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my priestly life. You cannot imagine what it was like to say words like “we” and “our Father” and “us” while standing at the head of a congregation that was turned together in a physical expression of unity. No matter how one might argue to the contrary, it is impossible to say “we” while looking at 500 people and not be speaking to them.

The Mass is a prayer addressed to the Father, and despite our best intentions, we clergy address it to the congregation at whom we are looking. You cannot help it. The human face is a powerful thing. Last Saturday night I realized for the first time that I was part of a family of faith directed toward the same heavenly Father. I felt as if I was part of a church at prayer. It was not my job. It was my church. I never realized how very lonely it is to say Mass facing the people. I am up there looking at you. I am not part of you. For 13 or 14 minutes. You weren’t looking at me. We were looking at God.

I love the Tridentine Mass, or as we are supposed to be calling it now, the “extraordinary form.” I think that the Holy Father has been very wise in allowing its revival for those to whom it is meaningful. Its sense of solemnity is very beautiful and enshrines an essential dimension of the mystery of worship. I taught Latin for about 25 years, I understand the complex rituals of the old Mass. They mean a lot to me. Still, I don’t think that we should return to the exclusive use of Latin. I think the Council Fathers were right to simplify the mass.

The Holy Spirit anticipated the difficulties of our times. The simplification of the complex and beautiful gestures of the Tridentine Mass are entirely appropriate for the times we live in. In the same sense, there should be a pastoral balance between the common language and a “sacred language.” People pray best in their own first language. Remember that Latin was the vernacular when the Mass was in Greek. Latin itself was a concession to the popular mind. This being said, we the clergy should admit that we enshrined the liturgical abuses that were at the heart of the rebellion against tradition. We have become stuck in the 1960's and are unable to look without prejudice at the hemorrhaging of our congregations. We have failed to inspire them with a sense of the sacred and sublime and generations have been lost to the Lord and the Gospel.

I know that most people in my congregation would be offended if I started to face the altar regularly, because they are unaccustomed to it. I would be accused of factionalism or some such crime, so I don’t think that the market will bear it, but from now on every time I say Mass staring at the congregation and they hear Mass staring at my ugly mug, I will remember what could, what should have been. I fear I am as much a performer as a priest. I want to be a priest, but the show must go on.

The Rev. Know it all

Saturday, October 30, 2010

And now for Heaven....

Letter to Fleming N. Ferneau continued: Heaven

Yes, dear Fleming, we still believe in Heaven. May I direct you to the catechism of the Catholic Church? Paragraphs 1023 and 1024 “Those who die in God's grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ. They are like God for ever, for they "see Him as He is," face to face.” This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity - this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed - is called "heaven." Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.

Still, we have a very strange concept of heaven that we probably get from a very poor understanding of certain biblical passages. In John 14:2-3 we read, "In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." So that means we each get a mansion. Revelation 21:18 “And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass.” Somehow this is taken to mean that our mansion is on a street of gold. And then there are those @#$%^ harps.... Revelation 14:2. “And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps.” So that’s heaven: Mansions on streets of gold, while we sit on clouds playing harps. To this, Catholicism adds something called the beatific vision: we sit around staring at God, who must be terribly fond of harp music. At least it’s not bagpipes.

First of all, the word in the text isn’t mansion. It is dwelling places, and can just as well mean rooms, which makes more sense. In My Father’s house there are many rooms.” In other words, we are going to move in with God. Second, the bit about gold is obviously poetic. Gold like glass? As I always remind you some of us have the souls of poets, others have the souls of appliance repairmen. Third, we have the harps and all that staring at God. It all sounds very boring. No wonder Hollywood makes hell seem so much more interesting.

What the Bible really says is that you can’t even begin to imagine how wonderful heaven will be, but you can begin to experience it a little if you get to know Christ. “However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him, but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.”
(1 Cor. 2, 9-10)

The amazing thing is that there is more than heaven when we die! Remember that God’s plan is not simply to reward us, but to adopt us. That’s why He wants us to move in with Him. We are His children and he want us to move back home! We have a room at Dad’s house, and when we grow up we will be just like Him. He will be part of us and we will be part of Him, just as Jesus already is. At least that’s what St. John seemed to think:
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure."(1John 3:1-3)

The beatific vision, staring at God for an eternity, is not quite as boring as it might first appear. Have you ever fallen in love? A young man marries a young woman and she wakes in the middle of the night to find him staring at her in the moonlight. It’s kind of creepy. She asks him “What are you doing?” and he says, “Oh nothing. I was just looking at you. You’re so beautiful.” A parent might sneak into the nursery late at night and just watch a newborn child asleep. There is nothing as beautiful, as wonderful as the simple joy of seeing someone you love. Heaven is to behold the beloved perfectly and forever. If you have ever fallen in love, You’ve experienced a pale shadow of the wonder of heaven. To be perfectly in love forever with someone who is really worthy of all our devotion. That is worship. That is heaven. We will see Him as He is, and He will see us as we shall become.

The thief on the cross asked Jesus if He would remember him when He came into His kingdom. Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise." (Luke 23:43) Paradise is not quite what most people understand as heaven. Paradise is originally a Persian word that means a walled garden. The king was very formal and anything he said was law, but in his private chambers and his walled garden he walked with his friends as equals. That is God’s promise to us. We shall be in love with Him and walk with Him forever.

the Rev. Know it all

PS The harps are optional.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Letter to Fleming N. Ferneau continued: PURGATORY

 “But.” you may say, “in grade school, I was taught that purgatory was like hell, but with a get out of jail free card. And then we got a new nun who wore a polyester pants suit instead of a habit who told us that the Catholic church didn’t believe in purgatory anymore.”

I wonder if you heard either nun clearly. Just consider the impossible task that  these poor young women faced. They tried to instruct 30 or 40 truculent seven-year-olds in the mysteries of eternity.  Most people can’t even handle two or three of the little terrorists. We older folks got the impression as seven-year-olds,  that God was a crabby old man who was just waiting for us to mess up. The dear nuns finally got tired of holding us miniature tigers by the ears and, since terror hadn’t worked that well, they started emphasizing how nice God is, so that people your age think God has the disposition of Captain Kangaroo. So what is the truth? I, of course, shall take a stab at it.  

We do believe that there is such a thing as Purgatory. Let’s take a peak at what the catechism says.
Paragraph 1030: All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. Paragraph 1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire.

But, you may say, why isn’t Purgatory mentioned in the Bible?  Simple: the Bible is written in Greek and Hebrew. The word Purgatory is a Latin word that means “place of cleansing.” The Bible talks about judgment (Hebrew: mishpat) for us judgment is always a bad thing; not so for the ancient Hebrews. It was the dispensing of wisdom, which didn’t always end in punishment.

The Jews, to this day, have a saying, “When the Messiah comes...” Unresolvable disputes about property or inheritance or other thorny issues will just have to wait ‘til the Messiah comes. Judgment is about the decisions of God, the perfect Judge. His verdicts and laws are just. He knows what is best for humanity. If we learn God’s judgments expressed in His commandments and cherish them in our hearts, we avoid a lot of trouble and sorrow. Read Psalm 119. The word judgment is used  twenty-three times and it’s a good thing.

I often talk about people I know who have died and lived to tell about it. They talk about judgment in which they review their lives. I have heard people say they experience all the pain they’ve caused. Youch! That’s gotta hurt.
Here’s what the Bible says (1 John 3:2) “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” In other words God wants to transform us into His own image in order to adopt us as His sons and daughters.  He doesn’t simply want to smite us. 

The Judgment/Purgatory, is about love. It is one of the most beautiful ideas in the Bible. It means that if we die in the Lord, we continue to grow after we die. Those you love who have died don’t love you less, they love you more because as they enter the vision of God, they become like Him.  The fires of Purgatory are the fires of love that burn away our selfishness and smallness until we arrive at the very stature of Christ (...we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:13)

Death does not break the bond between believers . It intensifies it. A fellow who had been there and back told me that not only do our prayers rise to heaven, but that when we pray from our hearts, our spirits stand before God and become like one spirit. In other words, we stand in unity with those we love before the judgment throne of God. It is a good and noble thing to pray for the dead who have died in the Lord, to support them as they begin real life. For most believers, life really begins in purgatory. This sad world is just a very brief beginning. CS Lewis talks about purgatory beautifully in his Screwtape Letters:
“But when he saw them (the angels)  he knew that he had always known them and realized what part each one of them had played at many an hour in his life when he had supposed himself alone, so that now he could say to them, one by one, not "Who are you?" but "So it was you all the time"..... The dim consciousness of friends about him which had haunted his solitudes from infancy was now at last explained;......he saw Him. This animal, this thing begotten in a bed, could look on Him. (The vision of Christ) is now cool light to him, is clarity itself, and wears the form of a Man. .....Pains he may still have to encounter, but they embrace those pains. They would not barter them for any earthly pleasure. All the delights of sense, or heart, or intellect, with which you could once have tempted him, even the delights of virtue itself, now seem to him in comparison but as the half nauseous attractions of a raddled harlot would seem to a man who hears that his true beloved whom he has loved all his life and whom he had believed to be dead is alive and even now at his door. He is caught up into that world where pain and pleasure take on limitless values and all our arithmetic is dismayed.....”

So yes, we believe in Purgatory and I am so glad that we do.

Rev. Know-it-all   

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Didn't we do away with hell?

Dear Rev. Know it all,
The priest in my parish, Fr. Besserwurst, is going into the grade school, terrifying the children by telling them about hell. I think this is entirely inappropriate since the Vatican Council did away with both Hell and Purgatory. Should I call the Bishop and report Fr. Besserwurst?
Fleming N. Ferneau

Dear Fleming,

By all means, call the Bishop. I’m sure he will be amazed that someone is actually teaching what the Church teaches. Contrary to what you read in most religion books, we still believe that there is a heaven and a hell and you are going to end up in one or the other. Even purgatory is still on the books. Read the Catechism. Paragraph 1035
“The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire." The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.”

Doubtless you will ask the great question, if God is so good and loving, how can He possibly send someone to hell? The answer is quite simple. He doesn’t send us there. He finds us there. When Jesus spoke about hell, He described it as the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Actually that sounds more like the cry room in the back of church. But I digress.) Hell is utter isolation. Imagine finding yourself alone in an unending darkness. Welcome to Hell.

Think about it. Human beings enter the world as perfect little narcissists. It doesn’t matter that you may have to be up at 5AM to get to work or that you are unwell. If that little tyrant in the nursery wants a bottle, or a change of clothes, or wants mommy to hold him, he notifies everyone in the house with a cry that can penetrate brick. He lives in a world of one. I’ve known men who are 50, 60, or 70 years old who, unless they have a bottle, a change of clothes and mommy to hold them...... So it is, that many of us never leave the fundament aloneness with which we enter the world. We call that state of narcissism original sin. Every human being is born with it and the challenge of life is to allow God to save us from it, to save us in effect from ourselves.

The world we live in is a nursery for narcissists. Every television commercial, every program, every self help book, every pop psychologist, every politician feeds our preoccupation with the self. “Get the credit you deserve.” “Thinner thighs in thirty days.” “Your wedding day when all eyes will be on you.” “Get more for less.” “Have you been injured in an accident?” Our culture has been reduced to “Life, liberty and the pursuit of ...”self gratification which is how we define happiness. If we live as the word tells us, we will end our life as perfect candidates for an eternity of me, mine and my.

In my line of work. I’ve met a lot of people who’ve died and lived to tell about it. You know, the tunnel, the light and all the rest. Quite a few have told me that the thing that most bothers them is that they know the answers before they hear the questions. I suspect that they are trying to describe timelessness in temporal categories. Remember that we are promised eternal life. “Eternal” simply means timeless. For God there is no time. It is all now, never then. It is all here and never there. I imagine that when we die all that really happens is that time and space cease to be and as God said to Moses about His own nature, “I am who I am.” We will say I am what I am. If we are self absorbed sons of our mothers, that is who we will be forever.

Is there fire in hell? Isn’t that just symbolic? Oh yes, it’s quite symbolic, but the fires of hell are the real fires. The fires of this temporary dimension are just a symbol of the fires of hell. Perhaps the fires of hell are the piercing anguish of eternally knowing what could have been and what now will always be, the bitterness of love rejected, infinitely amplified by eternity.

Why would God ever allow such a thing to happen? He allows it for love’s sake. LOVE?!? How can hell have anything to do with love? Simple: the only thing that love demands is freedom. You can’t be forced to love. God allows us to choose love, or to reject love. On the Cross, He defines love as sacrifice. We define love as self indulgence. If we choose narcissism and call it love, He gives us what we want. If we confess that we don’t know love, and ask Him to teach us love, He will do so.

We are not predestined to either heaven or hell. We are offered love and most of us choose self gratification instead. Voltaire said “God will forgive; it is His job.” It is also said that he died a terrible death. His nurse said: "For all the money in Europe I wouldn’t want to see another unbeliever die! All night long he cried for forgiveness."

Voltaire was right. If we ask, God will forgive. The problem is that we ask with our lips, but not with our hearts, which is not to ask at all. We spend a life indulging ourselves, and then hoping that God will wink and allow us to indulge ourselves eternally. We don’t really ask God to forgive. We ask him to permit. St. Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 15 verse 19, “If only for this life we have hoped in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” In other words, if your eyes are glued to the ground, if you are aiming at this world alone, be afraid, be very afraid. By the way, have a lovely Halloween.

Rev. Know-it-all


Saturday, October 9, 2010

What about women's ordination?

Dear Rev. Know it all,

A neighboring pastor, Fr. Harris C. Nouveau, and six hundred of his parishioners have signed a petition for women’s ordination and for married clergy. My pastor, Fr. Brickman, says it’s heresy. What do you think?


Frieda De Sente

Dear Frieda,

I know both priests quite well. Fr Nouveau is a gentleman, very soft spoken and self possessed.

Fr. Brickman is an ornery old cuss and he is quite correct. Fr. Nouveau has crossed the line into heresy.

Let us define terms. First the word heresy simply means “a choice.” It is to choose to believe some tenets of a religion and to disbelieve other parts. The Catholic Church says that she can’t ordain women because Christ didn’t.  Okay. That’s part of the Church’s belief system. “Well I don’t agree. I want the Church to change.” Let me get this straight. You want a 2000 year old organization of one billion plus people that claims divine inspiration to change what it has always believed because you don’t agree with her. Are you nuts? We live under a limited government, at least for the present. You don’t have to join any organization, unless of course you take jury duty into account. I’m sure there are churches that are as smart, progressive, and forward looking as you are. Why do you want to hang around with a bunch of neanderthals like me? “I’m staying in the church to work for change from the inside.” Oh... so the issue isn’t what you believe -- it’s what I believe. You want me to deny my beliefs and to agree with yours and you won’t be happy until your convictions are forced on me. “On the contrary. Your beliefs have been forced on me and people like me for centuries and they are clearly wrong, Father.” 

I think they are not wrong for a host of reasons. The main one is that we have no evidence that Jesus ordained women, and he definitely ordained. Ordination is a very rabbinic thing to do. It is called “smikha.” Jesus did away with dietary restrictions, He did away with the sacrificial order. He did away with the covenant of circumcision. He publicly associated with women, a thing not done by rabbis.

If Jesus wanted to ordain women, He most certainly would have ordained women. There was a reason that Jesus did not ordain women. And don’t give me that nonsense that the Apostles hid the truth. There is no documentation of any kind to corroborate that. And if the apostles were such scoundrels, why do want ordination to the apostolic succession? Wouldn’t it be beneath you?

I don’t pretend to know why Jesus chose men for ordination as missionaries (which is what the Greek word “apostle” means). I can hazard a guess, however. Women can do one thing that is much more important than anything men can do. They can be mothers. In saying this, I am not saying simply that they can have babies. They can be mothers whether or not they have ever given birth.

I think back on powerful and beautiful women I have known who were spiritual mothers to me. Sr. Mary Lucy who taught me in fourth grade, Sr. Mary Agnes who taught me the Church Fathers and fought for my ordination when it looked doubtful, Mrs. Helen Twomey who never ceased to pray for my vocation, and my own mother Helen Marie Simon. I have never known a human being who mirrored the love and mercy of God more perfectly than she. My father was a strong and moral man. Many men have taught me and encouraged and inspired me, but only a woman can be a mother.

You see, there is a difference between men and women no matter what our androgynous culture wants us to believe. Men can be lawyers. Women can be lawyers. Men can be bricklayers. Women can be bricklayers. Men can be doctors women can be..... and so on. But only a man can be a father and only a woman can be a mother.

Some women are called on to do the job of a father, but they cannot be fathers and in the same way men cannot be mothers.  If the Church is a club or a business or a civic organization, then, fine, ordain women. If the priesthood is a ministry, then, fine, ordain women. If the Church is a family, then let there be fathers and mothers. 

The Church in this country is dying for lack of mothers.  When I was a child the Church was full of mothers. If you had a sick child and needed prayer, you didn’t call the rectory, you called the convent. It was the mothers who taught you to read  and to pray and to know the catechism. It was the mothers who prepared you for you first confession and communion. They taught you the rosary and the stations of the cross and how to know, love and serve God. And then one day someone told them they weren’t really good enough. They had to be more, just as the same serpents whispered into women’s ears, “You mean you’re just a housewife?” I remember a woman who never marked the box for housewife. She scratched it out and wrote “mother.”  Well, the unique gift that is woman is increasingly devalued.

Men are powerful and to be powerful, to be equal, is to do what men do. In the feminist debacle of the second half of the 20th century men have learned none of the virtues of women, but women have learned all the vices of men. Women now die at the same rate as men of heart attacks, lung cancer and the ills of modern society. They populate the offices and the factories and run the rat race just like men while our children are raised by poorly paid strangers. Women are masculinized and men are feminized and children are quite confused and poorly educated.

We now rank 25th in the world as far as the educational levels of our schools. The children are nobody’s business. They can be raised by television and day care, because mom and dad are both busy. It’s worked really well in the world so let’s do it in the Church. There is not a shortage of priests, but there is a shortage of nuns. Now that spiritual motherhood counts for as little as biological motherhood, some people believe that women should be ordained in order to have a ministry in the Church. They forget they had the larger share of ministry at one time. They want to be fathers in an institution that is dying for lack of mothers, because, quite frankly, they really think men are better than women, and that what men do is better than what women do.

I simply can’t understand why women who want to be ordained don’t just go to seminary and get ordained. There are plenty of fine religions that will ordain them. If you like smells and bells and tight plastic collars, the Anglicans will ordain you. If you like good preaching, the Lutherans or Presbyterian will ordain you. No matter what your personal choice or preference there is someone who will ordain you. Just not the Roman Church. I cannot for the life of me understand why you would even want to hang around with them.


Rev. Know-it-all    

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Why do I have to go to Mass on Sunday?

Dear Rev. Know it all, 

Our pastor says it is a serious sin to miss Sunday Mass without a good reason. Is this true? Why is Sunday so important? What’s so special about the number 7? Isn’t it just an arbitrary number made up by human beings? Why can’t I pray just as well at home? God is everywhere, isn’t He? Why should I get up early, fight traffic, spend an hour with crying babies, strange people, (& I do mean strange) and all the cold viruses associated therewith? 
Yours truly, 
Narcissus Weakley

 Dear Mr. Weakley,

Your pastor is correct. First let me quote the catechism, paragraph 2181, “The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.”

So, it is not just a sin, but a grave sin. Your question “Why?” is a good one. First of all seven is not just an arbitrary number invented by men.  In the natural world numbers are real. Have you ever heard of the Fibonacci sequence? If I could add two and two I’d try to explain it to you, but I am mathematically impaired. Still, I know enough to understand that number sequences define and describe reality. God works the numbers too, because numbers are a type of vocabulary.

The Bible is full of numbers and they are usually misinterpreted by those who read the Bible. For instance, when a modern person hears that Jesus was in the tomb three days or Noah was in the ark forty days, they start counting. Numbers are a kind of vocabulary.  Three is the divine number. It means God is involved. Forty is the number that means testing and so on.

Another sense in which numbers are used in the Bible is called “gematria.” In the languages of the Bible there were no numerals. Instead of “1, 2, 3, 4” they counted with “a,b,g,d” (g was in third place, not c,) The letter “A” could represent the sound “ahh..” or the number “1” depending on the context. The most famous example of this the “number of the beast” (Rev. 13: 17-18) Hollywood has had a field day with 666. People are so goofy about it they won’t live in a house at 666 anywhere street or call a phone number with the prefix 666. There are people who have no problem sneaking off to a hotel with another person’s spouse, just so they don’t stay in room 666.  And of course the History Channel has many learned disquisitions about the meaning of 666 which are all a bunch of pseudo-biblical hooey.

The Greek spelling of the words Nero Caesar is "Neron Kaisar". This in turn transliterates into Hebrew as “nrwn qsr”.  Those letters taken as numbers add up to 666.  So Nero was the beast and the book of Revelation isn’t talking about the end of the world, but the end of Jerusalem for which Nero was responsible.  Revelation 11,8 reads  “Their bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.”  The city where their Lord was crucified was not Sodom nor Egypt, but Jerusalem.  In Revelation 18 the great city is called Babylon.  So clearly the city that is destroyed is not Rome as most people assume, or New York, or even Keokuk, Iowa. It was Jerusalem and it was destroyed in 70 AD. 

The book of Revelation is about the New and Heavenly Jerusalem which is the Church, the bride of Christ, as well as the heavenly city, no matter what the geniuses at the History Channel claim. And Ice Road Truckers???? What do they have to do with History? Where was I. Oh yes. Nero. Nero Caesar means 666 if you count the letters as numbers in Aramaic or Hebrew. Numbers in the Bible and in Nature have symbolic meanings and are very important.

So why seven days?  Because seven is a code word. It is closely related to the Hebrew word meaning to swear an oath. That means that whenever you see the word or concept “seven” in the Bible it has to do with God’s covenant. Thus, God made the world in seven days. I have no idea whether or not God made the world in seven periods of twenty-four hours. But most certainly, the Bible is trying to tell us that the very fact of the  existence of the universe is a sign of God’s covenant love for us.
Think about Noah and the Rainbow. Has it ever occurred to you that there are seven colors in the rainbow? Every time you see a rainbow, God is telling you that he loves you eternally and faithfully. So what is a covenant? It is the giving of self for self. A contract says I give to you so that you will give to me. It is the exchange of money goods or services. When the business is over, the contract is over.

There is a certain ancient profession that runs on contracts. A covenant says I give you my self that you might give me your self. It ends with death when there is no more self to give. Marriage is a covenant, or least it is supposed to be. That’s why divorce is so sad. You think you can get free of the old ball and chain (be it man or woman, he said inclusively) but you never really can. There is hurt and bitterness and custody battles and wounds that last for generations.  God is all about covenants. We want Him to be about contracts, “O Lord, gimme. And if you do, I’ll say these prayers, or go to church for a month or shave my head or.... In Jesus’ name, Amen” That’s why Sunday, God asks us not simply to go to church, but to swear a 7, I mean an oath. Psalm 50:5 “Gather my saints together to me; those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”

If you’re Protestant you might go to church on Sunday, that is if you get something out of it, but you can pray at home too. It’s just as good. Isn’t it? That’s not what the Bible says in Hebrews 10:25, “Do not forsake our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhort one another; and so much the more, as you see the day drawing nigh.”

If you’re Catholic you go to the foot of the Cross, which is where Christ offers His Flesh and Blood for the redemption of the world. We call it Mass. You stand on Calvary’s hill with Mary, our blessed Mother. You do it at the beginning of every 7 day cycle because God wants to renew His Covenant, with an Oath written in the Blood of His Son. He wants to tell you that He loves you completely and wants you to swear your love to Him to the degree that a weak human being can. I eat His Flesh and drink His Blood and give Him my flesh and my blood to do with as he pleases. I don’t go to be entertained or even instructed. I go to Calvary to die with Him, and so doing, to live with Him. If you don’t go on Sunday (unless you are truly unable), the day of the Oath, you are simply not a Catholic.  

I could weep when I see what they have done with the rainbow. That sign of God’s covenant love is used by some as a sign that they will do as they please, no matter what the Lord has asked. The unbreakable bond between husband and wife is not just an entertainment or even a relationship. It is a sacrament. In our times there are people who want to make the Mass an entertainment, forgetting that it is the un-bloody re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary. It has been raining a lot recently. I wonder if Heaven is weeping too.

Rev. Know-it-all            

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Doesn't Jesus forbid oaths?

Dear Rev. Know it all,
 I read in your column that we are a society built on the sacredness of oaths. I thought Jesus said we shouldn’t swear oaths. My Aunt Brandeen belongs to the Quaking Separate Brethren and she won’t even take an oath when  they haul her up into court for being rowdy because, she says the Bible the forbids oaths.
Mrs. Tess T. Fye
Dear Mrs. Fye,
I suspect you are referring to Matthew 5, verse 33 and following:
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

Reading this, one would certainly assume that oaths are forbidden. Jesus comments on this more fully further on in the Gospel of Matthew (23:16 and following.)
“Woe to you, blind guides! You say, 'If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.' You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, 'If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.’”

To understand this passage you have to understand a little bit of Talmudic thought. One of the most beautiful passages of music in the world, at least according to my tastes is the Kol Nidre, which is sung on Yom Kippur. I will never forget my shock when I first read the words of this heart wrenching melody. It is a legal disclaimer!
“All vows, obligations, oaths, and anathemas, whether called 'konam,' 'konas,' or by any other name, which we may vow, or swear, or pledge, or whereby we may be bound, from this Day of Atonement until the next (whose happy coming we await), we do repent. May they be deemed absolved, forgiven, annulled, and void, and made of no effect; they shall not bind us nor have power over us. The vows shall not be reckoned vows; the obligations shall not be obligatory; nor the oaths be oaths.”

Many rabbis say that the Kol Nidre applies only to vows an individual makes to himself and God, such as, “So help me God, I swear I will lose 50 pounds this year.” Vows made to others are still binding. The origins of the Kol Nidre are obscure. Some say that this dispensation was made to absolve those who were baptized by force. More probably, it was an absolution for any rash promise made to God. The tendency to swear elaborate and easily broken oaths had become an ethical problem for Jews, and this is the sort of thing that Jesus is talking about.

The idea is that any oath I ask God to witness is absolutely binding. For instance, if I swear, well I am a weak human being. If I ask God to witness my oath, I have involved the majesty of God and thus am bound. So how does one get God to witness an oath? Why was it binding if I swear by the gold of the temple, but not by the temple itself? Simple. The gold had been offered to God, and thus was his particular possession sometimes from an offering in fulfillment of a vow. The temple itself was not part of an offering, nor any part of a vow that God had been called to witness. Thus, it was not swearing by God. It may seem odd to you and me, but it worked for the rabbis at the time of Christ, or so I have been told.
In the Talmud there is a whole section on oaths. Oaths are thought to be binding only as  far as God permits the circumstances for their fulfillment. Some commentators say that Jews can’t be bound by oaths that force them to engage in forbidden activities. It gets complicated. That’s why Jesus said don’t make oaths that can be squirmed out of.  That’s His point, not that you can’t swear to tell the truth in court.  Just say Yes and No and mean it! Jesus was dealing with problem that the Kol Nidre tackles in just about the opposite way.  

In fact a certain kind of oath is central to Christian life, called the covenant oath and it is unbreakable. One more time; sacrament means oath to the death. “Til death do us part.” Jesus swore this kind of oath at the last supper. (Matt 26: v.27-29) “Then He took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is My blood, the blood of covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in My Father's kingdom.’”

Simple, straight forward and fulfilled on the cross when he tasted the sour wine offered Him by the soldiers and said “It is finished.” The cross was His royal throne and His sacrificial death initiated the Kingdom. That’s what we do at Mass. We join our oath to His. Until the Reformation, Christians believed this completely. Oaths were unbreakable and not to be taken lightly.

In his own account of his trial, St. Thomas More wrote that “Unto the oath that there was offered me I could not swear, without the jeopardizing of my soul to perpetual damnation.” In other words, he believed that to swear an oath falsely would send him to hell. He is quoted as saying “When you take an oath, you hold your soul in your hands." His family came to his jail cell to beg him to sign the oath declaring King Henry VIII to be the head of the Church in England. After all, it was just a scrap of paper. What did it matter? To St. Thomas More it was not just a scrap of paper. It was his soul held in his hands.

Nowadays a marriage vow is just a scrap of paper. A baptismal certificate is just a scrap of paper. Communion and confirmation certificates, they’re just scraps of paper.  More was right when he said that to take an oath is to take your soul into you hands, or still worse to take the souls of your children in your hands. Their little souls can run through your fingers like water or blow a way like a morning mist. Be very careful when you swear the oath by baptizing your children or presenting them for first communion or confirmation or when you marry or take religious vows. You are risking your eternal soul and theirs. 

Have a nice day,

Rev. Know-it-all            

Saturday, September 18, 2010

What about the promises of St. Fidgetta?


Dear Rev. Know it all,

Have you heard of the 18 promises of St. Fidgetta? She had a vision in which the Archangel Meshugas revealed amazing things. Among them are that the stock market would spike in June of 2012. This would be followed by eight days of smog after which would come the final judgment. We will only be able to breathe if we have face masks blessed by the Fidgettine Monks of Bugtussle, Arkansas. Can you share any insight on the topic?
Mr. Perry Noid

Dear Perry,
The promise of St. Fidgetta comes under the heading of private revelation. The catechism discusses private revelation in Paragraphs 66 and 67.
The Christian economy (This does not have to do with money. In this sense it means God’s plan for salvation.) therefore, since it is the new and definitive Covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ." Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries.
Throughout the ages, there have been so-called "private" revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ's definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Guided by the Magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium (good sense of the faithful) knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church.
Christian faith cannot accept "revelations" that claim to surpass or correct the Revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment, as is the case in certain non-Christian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such "revelations".

So there is public revelation and private revelation. The treasure of public revelation is to be believed by all who are members of the Church. God speaks to His people through private revelations in order to apply His truth to the present historical situation and to remind us of what He has ALREADY said. There is nothing new or different in an authentic prophetic word given as private revelation. Catholics are not obliged to believe private revelation. In fact, we are encouraged to be a little skeptical. If a revelation encourages prayer, fasting and works of mercy, all well and good. If we are encouraged to buy real estate in the vicinity of Bugtussle, that may be a different matter.
Two Bible passages might help you understand what the catechism is saying: (John 16: 4) “I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you. I did not tell you this at first because I was with you.” The purpose of Christian prophecy is not to foretell the future with precision. Even about His own prophesying Jesus said that the disciples would only understand the prophetic warnings when they happened. The goal of the Christian life is not fortune telling, but trust. The Lord warns of things so that when they happen we will know that He is involved and we can count on Him. Sometimes there are very clear references to the future, but they are only understandable when they happen, or shortly before. The Fatima children were told that before the next and more terrible war, there would be a strange light in the sky. “When you see a night that is lit by a strange and unknown light, you will know it is the sign God gives you that He is about to punish the world with war and with hunger, and by the persecution of the Church and the Holy Father.”
On January 25, 1938 a mysterious light filled the night sky over much of the northern hemisphere. It was an unusual aurora borealis. When Lucia, by then a nun in Portugal, saw it, she realized that it was the light that the Blessed Mother had told them about. Less than two months later, on March12, 1938, Hitler annexed and invaded Austria, and began the devouring of Europe that took untold millions of lives. There was nothing more to be done about it. The Lord had already said that repentance could change history, but who listens to that sort of thing. We want stock market tips. When the light appeared over Europe, it was as if the Lord was saying, “Fasten your seat belts. Here we go.” All you can do at that point is trust God. It’s not as if we weren’t warned then and as if we haven’t been warned now.
Then we have 1 Corinthians, 13: 8-9, “Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease.; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part.”
I am really big on Fatima. It was an amazing event that changed world history. For those of you who have never heard of Fatima or don’t take it seriously, I quote O Século, Portugal's most influential newspaper, which was pro-government in policy and avowedly anti-clerical. (On Oct. 13, 1917) "Before the astonished eyes of the crowd, whose aspect was biblical as they stood bare-headed, eagerly searching the sky, the sun trembled, made sudden incredible movements outside all cosmic laws - the sun 'danced' according to the typical expression of the people." The phenomenon was visible to many throughout Europe, not just in Portugal. I actually knew someone who was in Rome at the time and saw it. I know a woman whose father was a soldier in the trenches of World War I. He said all the soldiers with him saw the sun doing strange things. They thought it was some new German weapon. What happened at Fatima was a miracle comparable to the pillar of fire and cloud in the story of the Exodus. It is among the most amazing things to ever happen. Still, it wasn’t perfect. On that amazing day when the sun seemed to dance and fall from the sky Lucia stood up and said. “It’s the end of the world!!!” She was wrong. You may say “Obviously that means that the whole thing is nonsense.” I would beg to differ.
Fatima is a private revelation. No Catholic is obliged to believe it. You may agree with the cretins who pass for historians who blame the whole event on hysterical children and swamp gas. Lucia may have been mistaken about the end of the world, but about a whole lot of other things she was right on the money. Still it is private revelation. The Catholic Church never requires belief in a private revelation. The most we will say about a revelation is that there is nothing harmful to the faithful in the content of the vision. Fatima urges prayer, fasting and a life of moral integrity. These are good things. As for the rest, well, we’ll wait and see.
There are endless visions that promise if you wear this, if you pray this etc. All these are predicated on sincere repentance, if they are authentic. This is the Gospel message. There is no guarantee given by God and His Church except saving trust in Christ. If someone wears the orange medallion of St. Fidgetta which promises that the wearer will be in the ten items or less line on the day of judgment, and then dedicates his life to bar hopping and tripping little old ladies, he is not guaranteed salvation. If one wears the medallion, or the scapular or whatever as a sincere sign of repentance and a reminder of God’s love, then these things are of great help. Remember what the catechism says about superstition in paragraph 2111,
“Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition.”

We want a sure thing, but the only sure thing is Christ. These private revelations and devotions are meant to draw us to Him. They are wonderful gifts from God, but remember the Scriptures: “God will not be mocked. As a man sows that shall he reap.” (Gal.6:7) If you use these great gifts such as scapulars and devotions as an expression of a sincere desire for God’s grace, God is merciful and faithful. If you use them as substitutes for repentance you are only fooling yourself.
Rev. Know-it-all