Pray Brethren

Pray Brethren

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Weeds Among Wheat

When the Israelites rejected the true worship of God by replacing Him with the Golden Calf, Exodus 32 tells us how the Levitical priesthood was inaugurated:

[Moses] stood at the gate of the camp and cried, "Whoever is for the LORD, let him come to me!" All the Levites then rallied to him, and he told them, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Put your sword on your hip, every one of you! Now go up and down the camp, from gate to gate, and slay your own kinsmen, your friends and neighbors!" The Levites carried out the command of Moses, and that day there fell about three thousand of the people. Then Moses said, "Today you have been dedicated to the LORD, for you were against your own sons and kinsmen, to bring a blessing upon yourselves this day." (Exodus 32:26-29)
From this day on, the Tribe of Levi was set aside. When the Israelites made their final preparation to enter the Promised Land, the men of fighting age were gathered and counted – except for the male descendants of Levi. The Levites were set aside for a sacred duty, the duty of the priesthood. They would tend to the sacrifices of the Law and they alone would carry the Ark of the Covenant. The Levites were not pacifists – they gave up one sword for another.

The slaying of the three thousand kinsmen, friends, and neighbors was also a kind of exorcism. Exorcism was first carried out by the angels when they cast out Satan and his demons from Heaven. It happened again when God flooded the world. The Levites themselves would undergo a kind of priestly exorcism with the rebellious priest Korah, and the Apostles – the priests of the New Covenant – would experience a priestly exorcism when Jesus exorcized Judas from their communion at the foot-washing on Holy Thursday.

In Matthew 13, Jesus tells the parable of the weeds among wheat. He describes how the two grow together and then says: “…at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, ‘First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.’” To prepare the Apostles and their successors for their mission as His harvesters, Jesus expels Judas and on Pentecost sends them the Holy Spirit. And in an apparent reversal of Exodus 32, Peter’s preaching on Pentecost drew three-thousand people into the life of the Apostolic Church (see Acts 2:38, 41). What a harvest indeed!

But we must not forget the weeds.

The Apostles and their successors (through the Sacrament of Holy Orders) fulfill and perfect the Levitical priesthood by being sacramentally configured to the Christ the High Priest and ordered for contest with the Evil One who prowls about seeking the ruin of souls. Jesus told the Apostles that they would sit on twelve thrones to judge (Matthew 19:28). And if the Levites went through the Israelite camp, slaying three-thousand kinsmen, friends, and neighbors, it should not surprise us that the priests and harvesters of the New Covenant will be just as responsible for casting the weeds into the fire as they are responsible for gathering and bringing the wheat into the barn.

Every priest must prepare himself for this two-fold eschatological act: (1) to gather those saved into the marriage supper of the Lamb and (2) to finish what the angels begun, completing the final expulsion of the Evil One and his minions into the fires of Hell.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

South Korea, the Asian Tiger of the Church

Chiesa has a wonderful article on growth of the Church in South Korea. The growth rate is such that adult baptisms are not merely celebrated at Easter (as is done in North America) but also on Pentecost and Christmas. Only Vietnam and the Phillipines have a higher proportion of Catholics - but South Korea is rapidly catching up. The Catholic population of South Korea is around 10%-12% but they are now in the middle of an ambitious evangelization program called Evangelization Twenty Twenty. The goal is to bring the Catholic population up to 20% of South Korea by the year 2020. It is interesting to note that while the Catholic population is a little over half-way to the 2020 goal, the Catholic presence in the South Korean military jumped to 18% by 2007.

With atheist North Korea on the boarder, the South Koreans know that Catholicism isn’t just a religion for the aged, the women, and the young.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Two Chrism Masses, Two Homilies

Papal Chrism Mass - Holy Thursday, 2012
At every Chrism Mass, the priests of a diocese gather with their bishop as he consecrates the oils which will be used in the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, anointing of the sick, and holy orders. Traditionally celebrated on Holy Thursday, the Chrism Mass offers each bishop an opportunity to speak to his priests as Christ spoke to his Apostles at the Last Supper. Just as the Sacrament of Confirmation deepens the laity’s bond to the mission of the Church and connects them concretely to their bishop, the Chrism Mass orders the priests to the mission of their bishop.

While the bishop usually speaks to his own priests, Pope Benedict seemed to direct his Chrism Mass homily in the direction of Vienna.

It’s been six years since 250 priests of the Archdiocese of Vienna created the “Call to Disobedience” – a group dissenting from Church teaching on priestly celibacy, homosexuality, feminism, and liturgy. Led by Vienna’s former vicar general, it has since grown and no steps have been taken to discipline the dissenters. Indeed, the recent decision of Austria’s archbishop, Cardinal Schönborn, to interfere with the legitimate authority of a Vienna priest thus allowing a homosexual in a domestic partnership sit on a parish council only reinforces the views of the dissenting priests and deacons.

With hundreds of priests gathered – 20% of whom are in open rebellion against Church teaching and natural law – Cardinal Schönborn said this in his homily:

The good shepherd holds fast to both [of] these things: [1] to the conviction that God’s master plan is right, that it is good for human beings and makes them happy, and [2] to the loving, patient path along which Jesus draws us into his friendship. Here it is often the little signs of lived love, of patient, mutual support, even in "irregular" situations, which are the signs of a growing friendship with Jesus. We shepherds should take note of these signs, promote them, encourage them. All this is not "the solution" for all of life’s problems, but it is the path of a growing friendship with Jesus.
If living in grave sin is redefined as only an “‘irregular’ situation” in which there are “signs of a growing friendship with Jesus” and we must “promote them, encourage them,” then why couldn’t the heretical teachings of the dissenting clergy just as well be redefined as “‘irregular’ teachings” which could also be signs of a growing friendship with Jesus, also to be promoted and encouraged. In this homily and in his decision “not to intervene in the already completed [parish council] election,” Cardinal Schönborn shows his inability to act with authority regarding these successors of Korah and his priests.

Pope Benedict, however, does not mince words.

While it has been six years since the “Call to Disobedience” began, the recent parish council scandal undoubtedly provided Pope Benedict the impetus to address the crisis in Austria in his own Chrism Mass homily:

“Recently a group of priests from a European country issued a summons to disobedience, and at the same time gave concrete examples of the forms this disobedience might take, even to the point of disregarding definitive decisions of the Church’s Magisterium… Is disobedience a path of renewal for the Church?”
Pope Benedict teaches us the meaning of obedience, authority, and the Father’s will:

"Nor must we forget: [Jesus] was the Son, possessed of singular authority and responsibility to reveal the authentic will of God, so as to open up the path for God’s word to the world of the nations. And finally: he lived out his task with obedience and humility all the way to the Cross, and so gave credibility to his mission. Not my will, but thine be done: these words reveal to us the Son, in his humility and his divinity, and they show us the true path.”
And at the Chrism Mass with his priests gathered, Pope Benedict reminds us of the “great throng of holy priests”:

“…it is clear that configuration to Christ is the precondition and the basis for all renewal… Saint Paul did not hesitate to say to his communities: Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ… We priests can call to mind a great throng of holy priests who have gone before us and shown us the way: from Polycarp of Smyrna and Ignatius of Antioch, from the great pastors Ambrose, Augustine and Gregory the Great, through to Ignatius of Loyola, Charles Borromeo, John Mary Vianney and the priest-martyrs of the 20th century, and finally Pope John Paul II, who gave us an example, through his activity and his suffering, of configuration to Christ as ‘gift and mystery’”.
As we recall the foot-washing of Holy Thursday, Pope Benedict reminds us that the Church must not compromise its mission, placing “pastoral needs” above the will of God. “…God is not concerned so much with great numbers,” Benedict says, “…but [he] achieves his victories under the humble sign of the mustard seed.”

And with that, let the foot-washing begin.

The Etymology of Communion ordered to Contest

Community is a very popular word these days. A Latin word sounding very similar to community is also very popular among Catholic theologians – this word is communio. Both words trace their roots to the Latin word communis, a word which literally means a shared duty (cum meaning ‘with/together’ and munus meaning ‘duty’). While we tend to think of community or communio in terms of peace and prosperity, we must remember our public duties which shape both community and communio.

We are in a communion ordered and directed to contest and conflict.

Indeed, contest and conflict are what Christians are celebrating right now in the Easter season. We sometimes think Christ’s agony in the garden was simply Jesus’ nerves bothering him before his torture and death – but we should remember that ‘agony’ comes from the Greek word agon, which means ‘a contest’. Jesus’ death did not mark his triumphant entry into Heaven – no, it marked his descent into Hell where he engaged in a battle with the Evil One, struck Satan a mortal blow, and then freed the righteous from his death grip.

The Resurrection is the celebration of Christ’s victory over death. In a conflict and contest, there is a winner and a loser – and Christ is the winner!

The word agon also means ‘an assembly for contest’ – and it is altogether fitting that the word church comes from the Greek word ekklesia which means ‘the assembly’. Ekklesia itself is derived from ek-kaleo, “which was used for the summons to the army to assemble… and denotes in the usage of antiquity the popular assembly of the competent full citizens of the polis, city” (New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology). The assembly thus comes in two forms – the city, state, nation and the Church. There are those men assembled to protect the borders of temporal entities and another drawn from the nations elevated to protect us from the power of the Evil One himself.

Christ is Risen! Alleluia! But let us not forget that the Devil still prowls about seeking the ruin of souls. Let us form up as men and ready ourselves for contest.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Puritans and Christian Mission

The Puritans that came to the New World very much saw themselves as the new Israelites coming to a new Promised Land. They were quite fond of, and familiar with, the Old Testament. The Atlantic was like a new Red Sea and crossing through it meant freedom from the Egypt-like England. Like the Israelites they came not to forward religious liberty but rather to worship God in the way they were commanded.

But the Puritans were also influenced by the Christian notion of mission.

When entering the Promised Land, the Israelites would act like the floodwaters in the days of Noah. They practiced herem warfare, killing all in their way. Long before this, God told Abraham that “the wickedness of the Amorites [who lived in the Promised Land] is not yet complete” (Genesis 15:16). It would be the duty of the Israelites to eradicate the pagan population and their abominations lest the Israelites fall into their pagan practices. Just as the waters of the great flood washed away sin – and sinners – from the world, so would the Israelites created a public space where God alone is God.

The Puritans, however, did not practice herem warfare on the Native Americans.

Of course Thanksgiving images of Pilgrims and Indians come to mind from our days in elementary school, but Puritan preachers like John Eliot preached to the Native Americans in order to bring them Christianity. The Puritans considered their polity as a “City on a Hill” or an uncovered light for all to see. The glory of the Christian mission is the ability to create large, wide-radius forms of association. This sense of mission is not found in the Israelites of the Old Testament. For this one needs the body of Christ.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Washing Feet: Not Merely “Servant Leadership”

From a wonderful article in the National Catholic Register, Tim Drake writes that we tend to understand, “the foot-washing passage [of Jesus and the Apostles] as if through a pair of glasses with one lens missing. The modern interpretation views the event only as an act of service… It is certainly this, but oh, so much more.”

If the foot-washing is not just about service to others, what exactly is it also about? Well let’s take a look at how John opens his passage on the washing of the feet: “The devil had already induced Judas… to hand [Jesus] over. So… [Jesus] rose from supper and… he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet” (John 13:1-2,4-5). Notice the word “so” in the passage. John is leading us to connect the Devil and Judas to the act of foot-washing. Because the Devil has induced Judas to betray Jesus, Jesus washes the feet of the Apostles. But does Jesus’ action make sense? What connection could there possibly be between water and evil?

It makes perfect sense.

Just recall what water does in the Bible. It’s the floodwaters in Noah’s day that purifies the world of sin. The waters of the Red Sea drowned Pharaoh’s army and set the Israelites free to worship as God has instructed them. For us it is water in baptism that frees us from Original Sin and enables us to worship as the sons of God. And don’t forget that there is always a minor exorcism with every baptism. Jesus, before instituting Holy Orders and the Eucharist first performs a kind of communal baptism and exorcism of the Apostles. He exorcises Judas from among the Apostolic ranks and he washes their feet, preparing them for their mission: to carry by foot the proclamation of the Gospel and the spread of Christ’s Kingdom, drawing all men to Him through them (see John 17).

When Peter resists the foot-washing, Jesus says to him: “…you are clean, but not all.” (John 13:10, 11). Just as the Israelites fought as one man, the unity of the Apostles must be retained. They, too, shall fight as one man in a battle against Satan. Jesus knew there would be future Judas’ among his men – and he established this foot-washing example among them in order that they should be vigilant among themselves, casting out evil from their ranks so that the mission is not jeopardized and the bride of Christ is protected. Jesus says, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (John 13:15). For centuries the bishops followed this model by washing the feet of their priests at the Chrism Mass on the morning of Holy Thursday.

As another landmark clerical sex-abuse trial begins in Philadelphia, is it at all surprising that these cases have arisen since we reduced the foot-washing to merely a nice act of “servant leadership” in our parishes? Does it really surprise us that monsters have profaned the Sacrament of Holy Orders since we stopped being vigilant? Is it not time to renew the bishop’s washing of his priest’s feet?

Perhaps our bishops should heed two other words from Christ on Holy Thursday: “…keep watch” (Matthew 26:40).

Monday, April 2, 2012

Non-Confrontational Personalities Wielding Authority

Coming on the heels of Cardinal Wuerl’s removal of a Catholic priest because he refused the Eucharist to practicing Buddhist lesbian, another orthodox cardinal is in the news at odds with a priest over another homosexual.

The cardinal is none other than Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, Austria.

The issue concerns the appointment of a practicing homosexual to a parish council. After winning two-thirds of the parishioners’ votes, Florian Stangl was barred by the parish priest, Fr. Gerhard Swierzek, from taking a seat on the council. The twenty-six year old is currently living with another man in a registered domestic partnership, and is thus not in good standing with the Church.

Enter Cardinal Schönborn.

Overruling one of his parish priests, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna has permitted a homosexual in a registered domestic partnership to serve on a parish council… Cardinal Schönborn said that he had initially intended to uphold the priest’s decision--but then, he said, “I ask myself in these situations: How did Jesus act? He first saw the human being.”
For his part, Stangl had this to say:

“I feel committed to the teachings of the Church. But the demand to live chastely seems kind of unrealistic to me. How many people really live chastely?”
I wonder what Jesus would have said to the woman caught in adultery if that was her response to his command: "Go and sin no more" (John 8:11).

Having lunch with Stangl and his homosexual lover, however, was the tipping point which led Schönborn to make “a decision for human beings,” rather than to support a priest wielding a legitimate authority formed by the teaching of the Church and the moral law.

Schönborn is perhaps best known for leading the work on the newest Catechism of the Catholic Church. Both Schönborn and Wuerl, however, are admired for their adherence to the Catholic faith in teaching. Wuerl recently published a book with Mike Aqulina on the Mass and Schönborn entered the faith and science debate with a book called Chance or Purpose?

Morality is carried by personalities. To wield the crozier – the bishop’s staff – means to wield a sacral authority. To wear a miter, with its two lappets hanging behind representing Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, means to authoritatively speak and defend the Word of God in its two primary sources and lived liturgical expression. The bishop’s ring is a sign of fidelity, a faithful “yes” to God which precludes saying “yes” to the world and its mortally wounded, but nevertheless deadly, master, the Father of Lies.

The people who heard Jesus “were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority” (Mark 1:22). With that in mind, our bishops should recall what Jesus said of them: “Whoever hears you, hears me” (Luke 10:16). The next time the people hear Jesus through the voice of the bishop or cardinal, will they too be astonished at his teaching as one having authority? Or will they hear the words of an erudite scholar shaped by a non-confrontational personality?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Recruits - Spring 2012

Maps are very important. Not only can epic stories can be told by pointing to a map, but sometimes data can be conveyed better through a map than through many, many explanatory paragraphs in a research paper. Maps show us national and civilizational boundaries, where natural resources are can be found, and the location of opposing forces seeking control of those resources.

So getting a group of men together to look at a map and reenact historical events is an excellent tool for learning, thinking, and training.

And at Lee's Summit High School in Lee's Summit, Missouri, Midwesterners gather every six months for a tabletop wargaming convention called Recruits. The proceeds of the convention go to the high school's Organization for Strategic Gaming, an extracurricular club in which students can letter for wargaming history. In addition to funding the OSG, Recruits also helps introduce wargaming to those curious about tabletop wargaming.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to present the game Tide of Iron, a combat simulation of tactical fighting during World War II. Below are some pictures from the event:

In this Tide of Iron scenario, the Germans are trying their best to overrun the Allied defenses and secure their objectives.

World War II is not the only World War to replay. In this image, players better understand the difficulties of assaulting the trenches of World War I.

Some games required a much larger table space. This recreation of Napoleonic battles required a table at least eight feet long and five feet wide.

Of course, wars are going on even today. This recreation introduces players to the much more recent Battle of Fallujah which took place in Iraq.