TEMPUS PER ANNUM | Year A | Gospel of St. Matthew | Cycle II


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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Awkward Transitions — A Brief Rant on Inappropriate Additions to the Mass

We've all heard some kind of awkward improvisation at the beginning of Mass. A well intentioned priest makes an attempt to be jocular or "relevant" at a moment we are supposed to be simmering down after the procession into a sober reflection on our sinful behaviour. By improvising a mini-homily rather than keeping to a brief comment on the identity of the Liturgy of the day, which is permitted by the rubrics but is probably one of the most abused permissions in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), the priest then searches for a phrase to pivot to the following words of the Mass:
Brethren [brothers and sisters], let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.
A word of advise to priests: let the Mass speak for itself. If the Introit and other propers (Offertory and Communion chants) are sung—and there are now excellent vernacular settings which fit the bill, e.g., the Simple English Propers, for one—the identity of a particular Mass will be made known to the people so they can enter into the character of that Mass. The Proper chants and proper prayers prescribed by Holy Mother Church are the necessary biographical attributes of Christ in His Liturgy. It is His Liturgy after all, not ours to invent or impose ourselves upon.

Another all too common awkward moment comes at the very beginning of the Liturgy. A priest eager to set people at ease, for example, adds to the greeting of the Mass (Sign of the Cross; The Lord be with you.) some version of 'good morning' that reduces an encounter with Christ in the Penitential Act to a trite greeting at a local coffee shop among patrons deprived of or jacked up on caffeine and sugary doughnuts. If "sugar" is what people crave, then they should wait until "fellowship time" in the parish hall after Mass. Usually there's plenty of syrup to go around during the after-mass.

Get the lead out.

Dear priests and bishops, just give us the Mass, no less, no more. Not all of you are gifted orators, but you can be faithful without all the flash. Jesus speaks through the humblest of words of His priests. Even if you are a Bishop Sheen or Father Robert Barron, less is often more. Learn from the Extraordinary Form. Resist drawing attention to yourselves. Resist the temptation to be relevant or topical by tossing lather and blather over the beautiful prayers of the Mass. Avoid the temptation to trivialize the silence in the Mass by filling it with needless pulp that only serves to hinder the accelerando and crescendo toward the Consecration and Holy Communion. A well celebrated Liturgy is like a virtuosic performance of a symphonic work. The conductor of the symphony knows that his gestures must be precise if the music is to be realized in a way that is faithful to the musical score and intent of the composer. (Thankfully, even when a conductor's gesturing is less than artful, the glory of a great work can still shine through. More than a few orchestral performers I have known, myself included, have ignored the bizarre gesticulations of an inept "frontman" in order to faithfully serve the music.) The Mass, which is a symphony of contrition, divine teaching and encounter with the Risen Lord, needs no embellishment, especially if the embellishment amounts to covering over the gold of the Divine Liturgy with the lead of trivial banter.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

University Students' Society issues statement re attack on campus Pro-life group

A statement condemning the theft and violence perpetrated against pro-life students has been issued by the University of Victoria Students' Society president Kayleigh Erickson regarding two recent attacks on the Youth Protecting Youth pro-life group.

The statement reads in part:
On September 10th, it was reported that two students vandalized the information booth of the UVSS Youth Protecting Youth club and stole three models that were part of the club’s display. The same conduct was reported again on September 11th. A police report has been made and the University has been advised.
While noting that a police report has been filed, Erickson fails to mention that two females attacked pro-life students at the YPY Clubs Days booth and, in addition to the first theft of property that was recovered the same day, the female attackers tossed used cat litter at the YPY students. Erickson's letter also fails to mention that a second attack occurred and that
the vandals had broken into the closed clubs room and that more filthy litter had been dumped on the table and the fetal models - valued at several hundred dollars - had been stolen.—YPY Media Release.
Read the UVSS statement below.

Convers-ations are where convers-ions begin.

Fading Boundary

In a recent encounter in a small speciality bookstore, a sixties-something woman purchasing a book of Pope Francis' statements made a comment that begged clarification. She remarked: "I like this new pope. He's so different than the others. I like the way he thinks." She then looked at me, so I asked: "Oh, and how does he think?" By the grace of God, that question presented itself instead of the verbal cricket bat I was tempted to swing. She replied, "He's so accepting of gay people; he's not like the others (Other popes, that is). He doesn't judge anyone." She made the follow up remark that she liked Pope Francis because he says gays are welcome in Church. Fine, ok; everyone is welcome. However, she should have stopped before she made known her thought that homosexual acts (of a sexual kind) are perfectly acceptable.

(sputter...) Huh?!

You might be thinking what I thought to myself. Where on earth did she get the idea that Pope Francis approves of homosexual acts? So, I asked her that very question. Caught off guard by my inquiry, she stammered for a bit then let loose a meandering diary of experiences concerning her upbringing, convicting her parents and others with the charge of providing her a bad attitude toward homosexuals. A charge, one might add, that her parents were not present to defend themselves against. In her zeal to reject her upbringing, she glossed over the distinction between loving people with same sex attractions, people whom we should love and forgive no less than anyone else, and the right judgement and rejection of sinful behaviour.

Never tear down a person to build up another, especially to build up yourself.

"Well then, perhaps you ought to let go of that tired old baggage you might have learned and grew up with as a child and practice as an adult what the Church actually teaches," said I. She looked perplexed. "Are you familiar with the Catechism?", I asked without intending condescension. "Oh, yes, I did that when I was a young kid." I thought to myself—'Ok, so she thinks she knows what the Church teaches.' Additional investigation was necessary. "I mean... the Catechism of the Catholic Church or the Compendium of the Catechism. Are you familiar with the official teaching of the Church...?" "I did catechism when I was a kid. Now I study all kinds of religions... buddhism, hinduism, the Koran. All the religions are pretty much the same," she replied in a slightly dismissive tone. Right, ok then. Pondering the price being paid by Iraqi Christians and Christians throughout Africa and the Middle East because Christianity and Islam are so much the same, and weary at the common ignorance that tends to blend all religions into a grey mass of interchangeable niceness, I responded with "Perhaps you should give Sura 9 of the Koran a good slow read to determine whether or not your assumption is accurate."

Long story short, the woman in question had bought into a caricature of Pope Francis (and other popes, for that matter) that clearly pitted the current Holy Father against his predecessors in a not so flattering way. Unflattering for the other popes, that is. After the exchange, which was polite and calm, I couldn't help but acknowledge, at least to myself, that she was barely catechized in the Faith. She certainly hadn't done her part to investigate and access the vast treasury of thought and prayer found in Catholicism. Her curiosity had led her outside the Church. Her casual remarks about other religions being the same as (and therefore equal to, in her mind) the Catholic Faith could have come from the lips of any number of lay men or women these days who, thinking themselves sufficiently Catholic, are free to remake popes and Catholicism in whatever image the New York Times, CNN, Time or any of the mainstream muddlers media types broadcast into their highly suggestible minds. It is a constant source of frustration that far too many Catholics are ready and willing to embrace what amounts to hearsay (heresy?) from media sources that are typically illiterate when it comes to matters of religion, particularly when it comes to distinguishing between judging persons on the one hand, and on the other judging behaviour and attitudes of the mind—the first being unacceptable, the latter being completely necessary for the welfare of the soul and the body. The popular media are, therefore, not a reliable source of information for the faithful nor the lapsed.

Encounters similar to the one described above can be opportunities to engage in conversation and point people in the right direction. When seeking to engage another in a constructive dialogue, it helps to plant seeds rather than risk pulling up good things along with pulling up the weeds, to plant a seed that grows in a person's mind that might allow her to root out some of those weeds she has allowed to grow in her soul. A good gardner might say 'What? You are talking nonsense! You pull out the weeds first before planting, otherwise the good seed immediately gets choked out.' In this instant, the good seed that is planted is more like a herbicide employed by the gardener to target destructive beliefs. Or, think of the good seed as a vaccine that targets harmful viruses. It helps, too, to remind oneself that the true gardener and true physician of souls is the Lord, the Holy Spirit. The Church proposes the Faith; God disposes the soul to faith, to supernatural belief in God, and disposes man to accept the True Faith that is God's gift for the salvation of souls.
How many times have you been in a conversation and afterwards you came away thinking there might have been a better way to express a thought about the Faith or a moral question or a better way to correct a misconception about the Church?

Jesus tailored His approach to each person with whom He spoke. He, of course, understands each one of us better than we can possibly know ourselves. Jesus always appeals to our dignity as children of God, as men and women created in the image and likeness of God. He knows that we suffer from the effects of Original Sin. He alone can rescue us from sin and help us overcome our sinful inclinations. He rescues us by purifying us of fear. Jesus is Love incarnate; His word purifies all who truly hear Him. He purifies us of the fundamental fear, the fear of everlasting death, annihilation. He destroys death by His death.

We share in Jesus' saving mission when we keep His commandments. His commandments are words of love that restore man to friendship with God. We might offer to others certain questions which direct the mind and heart to God. An honest question can be an invitation to another person, a form of proposal that eases around the obstacles like water flows around rocks in a river, gently eroding opposition to grace. We would be wise to start by removing the rocks we, ourselves, place in the way of God's voice being heard by sinners desperate for love and mercy.

A well timed question, I've found, is the preferred strategy for engagement. Not a full blown interrogation but an honest question that seeks, in educababble or academese, to assess a person's prior knowledge in order to construct a response that:
1) appeals to a person's dignity; 
2) uses accessible language tailored to a person's experience and understanding; 
3) engages the imagination and encourages honest questions; and 
4) leaves room for the Holy Spirit to act. We must be willing to let God "finish" the conversation.
Most of the work of evangelization requires listening first, and then if circumstances permit, a timely intervention in the form of a proposal—e.g., a sharing of one's own beliefs—and/or a question seeking to know exactly how someone came to believe what her or she believes. However poorly founded a person's opinion might be, we may not force another person to surrender what might be a very personal and painful reason for their opinion. If we are offered any kind of a justification by the person with whom we are sharing a conversation, knowing the source of confusion or misunderstanding, or just the simple reason for a person's question or position on a subject, we may then use the opportunity to share in a dispassionate manner the necessary factual information that corrects error or doubt, and at the same time a consoling voice that reassures someone they are loved by God. We may simply offer our own "take" on a given subject. For example, "My experience of the Church has been very good. The people who help out at the soup kitchen serving the poor are an inspiration to me. We who serve learn so much, too, from those whom we serve." Or, "I was once really searching for understanding and forgiveness. I am thankful to God for bringing me home to the Church through people of genuine faith, people who truly love God and His Church."
A few days ago a fellow in a neighbouring apartment shared that he is entering the RCIA process at a nearby Catholic parish. What was his reason for seeking Christ in His Church? He said very simply, "I'm drawn by the joy and love Catholics have, their genuineness and gentleness. I have been invited to various protestant communities (he himself having been raised a Baptist), but I find their emphasis is always on money, money, money with no mention of where the money is actually going. I find that off-putting. Catholics occasionally ask for money, but the money is being spent on support services for the poor and understandable parish upkeep. The Catholic parish focusses on what makes you a better person, a more compassionate and loving person, and faith in God, of course. The priest is joy-filled, too."
Sometimes the pain one carries around is enough to block out the present. It may be that one's partner in conversation is not ready to go the whole way and lay down their pain in that moment. He will likely require time to undo the knot of a grudge twisted together over years to form a crown of thorns. In that moment, we must remind ourselves that one's partner in conversation is free to accept or reject what has been shared. If God respects our free will, then we, too, must be willing with genuine charity to accept someone's rejection of a proposition. It might help to remind oneself not to take such a rejection personally. Sometimes—most times, really—the hurt and opposition we encounter is much bigger than we should attempt to deal with. The mountain of another person's pain (anger, disappointment, sense of betrayal...) is too big to confine within our need to help them in any one moment. That "mountain", however, can be embraced by a loving heart that is ready to listen.

If you are the recipient of another's anger toward Mother Church and/or God, or you, a disciple of Jesus, then recall our Lord's counsel:
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But all this they will do to you on my account, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. It is to fulfil the word that is written in their law, ‘They hated me without a cause.’ But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning.—Holy Gospel according to St. John 15:18-27.
Those encountering Christ for the first time might require a brief counsel. The prospect and process of growing in the right direction usually takes time as one adjusts one's thinking to the Truth forming in that person by the action of the Holy Spirit, the Lord Who perfects His conversation with the soul because the conversation is His to begin with in the first place.

It is a sad fact of our time that many people, having abandoned the Faith due to poor catechesis or having never had the opportunity to encounter Jesus in His Church because of negative propaganda or mere ignorance, are conditioned to certain habits that inhibit the development of a personal, intimate communion with Jesus Christ and His Church. Hence, patience is the appropriate reminder and course of action to avoid all futile attempts to control or rush the action of the Holy Spirit working in the soul of another person.

Grace perfects nature... and conversations.

My parting thoughts that day turned to prayer for my partner in conversation, that God would work through the meagre crumbs I had to offer her.

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.—Ps. 37:5-6

Saturday, September 13, 2014

University of Victoria Pro-Life students attacked by two females. Theft of property; acts of vandalism.

Every September there is at the University of Victoria a week known as Clubs Days when campus student clubs gather at he Student Union Building and set up tables and displays to promote their groups. In 2012, the Catholic Students' Association (CSA) was censured for offering brochures on its table presenting Church teaching on sexuality (Catholic Sacristan article: Click Here). The brochures were placed on the club's table, not handed out. A representative from the UVic Pride club, the LGBTQ lobby on campus, took the pamphlets and initiated a highly biased process which sought to ban all CSA activities on campus. After having CSA privileges removed and after several futile and frustrating attempts over the better part of a year by the CSA to meet with University of Victoria Students' Society (UVSS) board members to address the issues, Catholic students initiated legal action to compel the UVSS to retract its actions to curb CSA speech and activities. The CSA legal action, supported (pro bono) by a prominent Vancouver law firm has been launched to ensure that the UVSS does not take similar actions in the future which impinge upon all students' Charter protected rights to freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and religion. The BC Civil Liberties Association also joined the CSA against the UVSS. That legal action is still in progress.

This past week, two female students attacked the pro-life club at the Clubs Days event. Many Catholic students typically form the core and larger percentage of the membership of the pro-life club. This latest attack and the previous attacks by the UVSS Board, then, are surely a double whammy against Catholic students.

YPY image/Clubs Days/UVic Youth Protecting Youth Pro-Life Club

The following media release was published September 11th.

Victoria, B.C. (September 11, 2014): On September 10th, two women rushed a pro-life club table at the University of Victoria, snatching the fetal models on display and dumping used cat litter all over the table. Youth Protecting Youth (YPY) was participating in the university's Clubs Days event and had a recruitment table to sign up new members and engage with other students on the pro-life issues.

Although the fetal models were recovered, club members arrived back this morning to find that the vandals had broken into the closed clubs room and that more filthy litter had been dumped on the table and the fetal models - valued at several hundred dollars - had been stolen.

"This kind of behaviour calls into question whether UVic is an environment where people can express their opinions and beliefs without such disrespectful opposition," stated Adrian Canagasuriam, co-president of the club. "Other clubs and the student body need to be reminded that this kind of criminal behaviour has no place on a Canadian university campus."

After speaking with campus security, club members made a police report with local authorities.

The club demanded that the University of Victoria Student Society (UVSS) formally condemn the actions of the vandals, and the UVSS has agreed to issue a statement doing so.

"In previous years the UVSS has attempted to ban and censure the club and was sued by the club in 2010," stated Anastasia Pearse, Western Campus Coordinator for National Campus Life Network, a national organization that supports pro-life students. "It's reassuring to see that student society representatives were helpful and apologetic in the wake of this incident and we look forward to a strong statement from the UVSS condemning this theft and vandalism."

"This incident has not prevented us from continuing our outreach," commented Kimberley Van Der Pijl, who witnessed yesterday's attack and serves as co-president of the club. “We’ve had very positive conversations with so many students and many have signed up for the club."

The members of YPY hope that the fetal models will be recovered, and that students who disagree with their message will learn to voice their disagreement in a mature, respectful manner.
YPY has ongoing legal action against the UVSS. Read that story HERE.

One might hope that, in this day and age of smart phones, the perpetrators of the attack on the YPY students at their clubs days table and theft of property were caught on camera and/or witnesses at the crowded event might identify the two females responsible.

Given the many prior examples of abuse of authority by the UVSS Board, its manipulation of the complaints process by repeatedly failing to act in a timely manner and its failure to address complaints in a fair and balanced way, its demonstrated bias against the YPY and CSA students clearly indicates that there is a serious problem at the University of Victoria with regards to the protection (or lack thereof) of Charter rights and the safety and well being of pro-life and Catholic students. If universities are forums for the free exchange of ideas, then the UVSS Board has failed to uphold the rights of its own members to enjoy freedom of speech and freedom of conscience and religion and the free exercise thereof at the University of Victoria.

Two serious legal actions pending against the UVSS should be unnecessary reminders to the UVSS and University that to do little or nothing to oppose harassment and bullying is to collude with those who promote the violent suppression of students' Charter protected rights of freedom of speech and freedom of religious association and expression.

That some students who identify as pro-abortion would resort to theft and violence to suppress others' speech is an indication that their position is weak and that they are threatened by the truth of the pro-life message. They are so threatened, in fact, that they are willing to commit desperate acts to promote their cause at the expense of a loss of civility. The pro-abortion lobby is failing to convince others that abortion is permissible in a society that is reclaiming its value of life from conception to natural death. We can be reasonably certain that more such attacks will occur in our society as the pro-abortion lobby's tenuous grip on power becomes even more tenuous as people wake up to the reality that each and every pregnancy results in a new and distinct human life with his or her own distinct genetic identity, an identity that cannot be dismissed by those whose hedonism and desire to relieve themselves from the responsibility to protect the weak and innocent is hidden behind a masque of concern for a woman's "reproductive health". More and more people simply aren't buying the destruction of a baby by people who cannot behave in a mature and responsible manner, people who impose a death sentence on the weakest members of our society in order to eliminate taking responsibility for their actions. The cost to society is the loss of countless children who, had they been born, could have contributed to the advance of the health sciences or the arts, for starters. Those missing children's contributions we will never known because powerful irresponsible adults took away or failed to protect the possibility of their role in society.

This latest attempt by pro-abortion students to bully pro-life students into submitting to the culture of death should be yet another unnecessary wakeup call to the University Administration that the UVSS needs to do much more to address the issue of respect and civility toward people who hold reasoned opinions different from those who represent the status quo. Unless action is taken to address the issue of the violent suppression of speech and religious expression on campus, any UVSS and Administration inaction or indifference will be seen as contributing to a culture of fear and intimidation. To state that the University Administration has a vested interest in pursuing justice, even for the sake of merely maintaining the appearance of concern that justice is served, is to state the obvious. Failing the obvious, UVic, then, will hardly be the kind of place where students interested in law and justice and civil society might pursue an education.

University Administration has an arm's-length association with the UVic Students Society. Given the attendance of the University's lawyer in court on July 18, 2014 regarding various legal actions against the UVSS, the University Adinistration's attitude appears to be slowly changing toward UVSS organizational structures that frequently permit some students to harass and intimidate other student groups and individuals. Students can only hope at this point that the University will exercise increased oversight of the UVSS to ensure the protection and well being of all students on campus.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Disorganized Religion

You've probably heard this comment before: "I'm spiritual... I don't believe in organized religion." Use of the term 'organized religion' is usually code for "I don't like others telling me what to do." Then comes the tagline: "All that matters is that someone is a good person." Those are not arguments, they are the excuses of adolescent-minded adults who have a problem with authority. Those same folk who reject 'organized religion' tend to canonize a dead relative or a Hollywood celebrity whose behaviour has been anything but exemplary. Adulterous behaviour and fornication is overlooked with ease these days. Except, that is, by the spouse who has been cheated on. Apparently, the definition of 'good' and 'nice' applied to cheating spouses and adulterers really means 'as good as' or 'as nice as' me, which  is really an indictment of the person praising another while ignoring the physical, emotional and eternal consequences of serious sin. Those who lack religion also tend to lack a sense of responsibility to pray for the dead who, having lived lives of obstinate sin, surely need our prayers.

Those who practice the Faith with any sort of vim and vigour, i.e., those who love God and the Church and who strive to live the fullness of the Catholic Faith, know full well that the Church is more disorganized than organized, at least in terms of a typical day in any parish. If by 'organized religion' we mean the structure of the Church given by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit—priests, deacons, religious and laity gathered around their bishops who are the successors of the Apostles—then, yes, we belong to an organized religion. The "order" of the Church reflects the order of God's good creation. If by organized one means committed to Jesus Christ and His teachings and trusting that He alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life, then, yes, we belong to an organized religion. We belong to the people of God, a people with a code (of conduct), creed (of divinely revealed content) and cult (of divine worship). We are not drop-in disciples at a local yoga studio.

The Catholic Church is, at once, extraordinarily organized—the family is the domestic church and bedrock of the parish that is in communion with the bishop who leads the diocese in communion with the Bishop of Rome—and messy. We are quite the collection of sinners huddled on the Barque of Peter. God has raised up in this same huddle mass countless saints who have founded hospitals, schools and universities, for starters. The same glorious collection of oddballs, misfits and saints has given the world the greater share of great scientists, poets, artists, musicians, doctors, comedians, etc.

If we look at the Liturgy in our day, we might clearly see the Church's disorganization. We need not rehash the debate concerning the causes of the current pandemonium. Suffice to say, the Liturgy—the Ordinary Form—as celebrated in most parishes, is an unholy mess. Unholy, that is, referring to the character or quality of the celebration, not the action of God in the Liturgy nor any genuine reverence shown toward God. Disorder occurs when musicians ignore the Propers or when priests unlawfully insert foreign elements or remove parts of the Mass. Such callous or indiscriminate actions harm the integrity of the Mass and thus harm the integrity and transmission of the Faith. Disorder ensues when lay people perform functions reserved to the clergy. The disorder enacted in most sanctuaries each Sunday tends to obscure the view to the sacred. Serious liturgical abuse attacks Christ because the Mass is Christ. We can only hope that religion, or at least the Liturgy, could be more organized!

Many, many people still wrongly think order squelches the Holy Spirit. That is, too many people think order and its sister values of reverence and beauty will spoil their misguided attempts to shape the Liturgy in the image of some worldly agenda, some personal agenda alien to the mind of the Church. One would be justified by responding to the agents of liturgical chaos with "Give us the Liturgy, whole and undefiled!" We may not see a complete restoration of order for decades or perhaps a century or more. Nevertheless, we must still call for order and continue to insist that beauty and goodness are essential, not peripheral, to the celebration of the Liturgy.

The Council of Trent strove to order the celebration of the Liturgy during a time of great upheaval. Earlier, Pope St. Gregory The Great organized the Liturgy to provide continuity and clarity in a way which strongly influenced Western civilization for centuries. In our day, the Mass is, with notable exceptions of course, hardly what the Second Vatican Council envisioned. Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI gave great impetus to the restoration of order. His actions were often challenged and frequently ignored. The advent of many reform-of-the-reform movements in the Church and the rise of liturigcally minded younger priests who love Jesus Christ and His Liturgy is evidence that authentic liturgical renewal, i.e., renewal that is faithful to the Council and harmonized with the older Form, is well underway and cannot be stopped.