So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Beauty Calls

In an age when banality still clings to theology, liturgy and architecture as tarnish clings to a silver chalice, a quiet revolution given momentum by now Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI is still gaining ground. Some might challenge that proposition, citing attacks on traditionalists under the new management of Papa Francis. Some are so caught up in the moment that they conclude that the Reform of the Reform is dead in the water. Hardly. To imagine that Benedict's legacy has come to an end is to succumb to modern man's amnesia, his seven second attention span cultivated by Hollywood and fully exploited in modern media and by politicians eager to have people forget their (broken) campaign promises.

The intellectual power unleashed by Benedict is yet to be fully realized. Benedict, master of continuity, built on the intellectual himalayas that Pope St. John Paul II (PSJP2) fashioned. Benedict understood the power of ideas. He witnessed the claim of Naziism over men's souls as much as PSJP2 witnessed the strangle hold of communism and as much as Francis witnessed and suffered the struggle between both communism and fascism in his native Argentina. Benedict clarified the fundamental struggle of our age and restored our attention to the struggle to topple the dictatorship of relativism. Benedict used his vast intellectual gifts and sensitivity to the ars celebrandi to reorient believers to the true, the good and the beautiful. Benedict proposed the Liturgy, undefiled by abuse and celebrated with dignity, to entice people to Christ. Why the Liturgy? Christ is the Liturgy. If the Liturgy is true, people will find Christ. If the Liturgy is beautiful, then people will adore Christ.

There is a perception that Pope Francis is liturgically illiterate compared to Pope-Emeritus Benedict. That assumption is inaccurate and therefore unfair and undeserved. The Holy Father is not the same kind of artist as Pope-Emeritus Benedict—true. Pope Francis does not sing. Francis' agenda of simplicity taken up by the mainstream media tends to overshadow the reverence for Christ in the Holy Eucharist as well as the truth of the Gospel that both men share. Both men are, compared to their gigantic predecessor Pope St. John Paul (the Great), rather soft spoken. They both, however, pack a wallop. Both speak softly and carry a big ferula. How many times have we witnessed Papa Francis mention the devil? Papa Francis has taken on the mafia. In Argentina, he stood against a brutal dictatorship and rejected the communist ideology of many of his Jesuit brethren. Benedict's homilies and lectures impacted like a velvet hammer, exposing willful ignorance and crushing heresy. Francis' conversational manner disarms his opponents before they even realize he's taken their weapons. Both men are innocent as doves and wise as serpents.

Francis is undermining relativism by modelling his approach on Christ's approach to sinners. He does so by giving the world an embrace of Christ and calling all to conversion. Where Benedict used the medicine of Christ's truth to cleanse the mind of attachment to lesser gods, Francis offers Christ's mercy to purify the heart. A mind purified by the Word of the Lord is a mind ready to share the saving Truth of Christ. A heart restored and purified "sees" God. A heart thus purified participates in Christ's mission to save souls.

In terms of continuity between papacies, Francis retained the liturgical architecture of Benedict. One name: Marini. Guido Marini is that liturgical continuity. The Papal Master of Ceremonies serves the Servant of the Servants of God, as does another 'sign' of continuity, Georg Gänswein, Prefect of the Papal Household and the personal secretary of the Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Where Benedict enticed hearts and minds with the intellectual and aesthetic precision and depth one would expect from a German theologian, a theologian practically unrivalled by any other in the 20th Century, Pope Francis uses a warm embrace to win hearts and minds to Christ. If 'noble simplicity' is the ideal character of the Liturgy and a papacy, Benedict might represent 'the noble' and Francis 'the simplicity'. Cardinal Ratzinger had gigantic shoes to fill when elected to the Office of Peter. Jorge Bergolio had big shoes to fill when elected. What did Papa Bergoglio do to "fit in" to those shoes? He changed the shoes. Benedict's red shoes—the red shoes of white martyrdom, one might add—became Francis' black shoes.

Another comparison comes to mind. This is the day the Universal Church celebrates two pillar saints of Christendom, Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Peter, a fisherman, a simple man, and Saint Paul, learned, fully trained in the Torah. Peter—Francis? Paul—Benedict XVI?

Pope St. John Paul II (the Great!) set the stage for both Benedict and Francis and, unless you believe the false prophecies attributed to Malachy, probably many popes to come. Benedict's influence has inspired a generation of men and women to join the ranks of the ordained and religious who are, in turn, inspiring a reorientation within the Church to rediscover the vast intellectual and cultural treasures ready to be fuel for the engine of the New Evangelization. Francis is appealing to people in a way complementary to that of Benedict. Where Benedict sought the head and heart in that order, Francis is preparing the heart then the head. Given the diverse ways that believers and non-believers alike come to approaching and understanding the Gospel, both approaches are needed.

Who will join the harvest?

Benedict prepared a vast storehouse of seeds, gathering the best of the Catholic intellectual and cultural tradition. He planted much during his papacy. He also did more than his fair share of weeding, uprooting heresy from the Lord's garden. Francis is tilling the earth. Benedict was "a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord" preparing the vines and grapes for harvest. Francis is planting wheat for bread, kneading the dough and stoking the fire in the oven to bake it. The fermentation process is ongoing as is the grinding and preparation of the wheat.

Beauty Calls

Benedict's revolution is firmly planted in the hearts and minds of Catholics. The fruit of that legacy of restoration and of continuity is yet to be fully realized. The young men I have met in seminary formation are very much "Benedictines". They love the detail and depth of the Catholic story. They draw close to Christ because they can see Him clearly when the Mass is celebrated with depth, reverence, dignity and beauty. The Beautiful Jesus is manifest when the Mass is celebrated beautifully without interference and abuse. Benedict's beauty, then, is to point to the truth and beauty of Christ. Francis' beauty is the mercy of Christ. Both men seek to draw people to Christ. Both men do so in distinct yet complementary ways.

Time will tell whether or not Papa Francis' appeal to the masses will draw people back to the pews. If the masses fill the Masses, so-to-speak, and those folk are exposed to true and beautiful liturgies, might we expect a boost to the boost in vocations inspired by Benedict?

On this important day, let us also remember our Brother Andrew, the Patriarch of Constantinople. Let us pray that, as the representatives of the eastern churches have attended liturgies in Saint Peter's, and conversations between Romans and Greeks surely are taking place in the receptions afterwards, that the Sees of Peter and Andrew may be drawn ever closer toward full communion.

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"A multitude of wise men is the salvation of the world(.)—Wisdom 6:24. Readers are welcome to make rational and responsible comments. Any comment that 1) offends human dignity and/or 2) which constitutes an irrational attack on the Catholic Faith will not go unchallenged. If deemed completely stupid, such a comment will most assuredly not see the light of day. Them's the rules. Don't like 'em? Move on.

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