The Use of Talking

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Francis Makes All Things New

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Last week Fr. John Hunwicke posted the first three parts (here, here, and here) of a series titled “Is the Pope a heretic?” His answer, by the way, is no, although for a very interesting reason. But what struck me the most  wasn’t the answer to his question, but rather Father’s analysis of the pope’s sermon at last month’s Easter Vigil.

After his usual attacks on rigid legalists yesterday and today, the pope goes on to say,

When the High Priest and the religious leaders, in collusion with the Romans, believed that they could calculate everything, that the final word had been spoken and that it was up to them to apply it*, God suddenly breaks in, upsets all the rules and offers new possibilities. #God once more comes to meet us, to create and consolidate a new age, the age of mercy. This is the promise present from the beginning. This is God’s surprise for his faithful people. … if we cannot let the Spirit lead us on this road, then we are not Christians. Let us go, then. Let us allow ourselves to be surprised by this new dawn and by the newness that Christ alone can give.

Fr. Hunwicke comments,

The Holy Father begins this passage by telling us Gospel truth. He is right to assert that the Priestly Jewish establishment did believe the final word had been spoken  and that it was up to them to apply it. Because they knew only the Old Law and the Old Word. They were wrong, because the Man on trial was himself the Law and the Divine Word, who had come to fulfill what was old. As the Church has incessantly taught, Newness put the Old to flight. The Old Testament ended and the New was begun when That Blood was shed.

But notice what happens at the point where I have inserted a *. The following words do accurately describe what happened in the Passion of the Messiah. God did suddenly break in, did upset all the rules, did offer new possibilities [although I think the anodyne flabbiness of that modern ‘management’ phrase about ‘offering new possibilities’ radically and infinitely fails to do justice to the cosmos-shattering wonder of both the Incarnation and the Atonement].

What we need to notice is how Bergoglio deftly changes tenses. He has begun in the past: The High Priest … believed …. Past tense … we were being told about the first century, circa 33 Anni Salutis. But after *, the tenses become present (breaks …upsets … offers). We hardly notice the transition … it slips past our guard … because there is an accepted convention that one can use a ‘Historic Present’ to render  more vivid a narrative of past events. But as the next sentence gets under way at the spot marked#, the careful listener will notice that we are no longer in a first century A D. We are now in the present tense; we are being told about the year 2017.

Fr. Hunwicke’s analysis opens up a stark view of the real agenda of this pontificate. Just as Christ replaced the Law with the Gospel (in the pope’s Lutheran reading), so now the age of the Gospel is being superseded by the age of Mercy. To anyone familiar with Eric Voegelin, all this sounds very familiar: The dispensation of the Father is succeeded by that of the Son, which is in turn succeeded by the reign of the Holy Spirit. Here is the gnosis of Joachim of Fiore, the eschatological doctrine of the Spiritual Franciscans, being proclaimed in St. Peter’s by a pope who has named himself Francis. The guidance of the Spirit, our “discernment,” will lead us beyond the literal sense of the words of Christ (after all, as Fr. Sosa has reminded us, the evangelists didn’t have tape recorders) to places we may never have thought we would go. As Archbishop Scicluna of Malta tells us, “Whoever wishes to discover what Jesus wants from him, he must ask the Pope, this Pope, not the one who came before him, or the one who came before that. This present Pope.” What Francis says is all the guidance we need. The Spirit is here, now, and Jorge Bergoglio is his oracle. Montanus sits on the throne of Peter.


Nota bene: Fr. Hunwicke is in no way responsible for my conclusions.

Illustration: The three ages according to Joachim of Fiore from Dante’s Library,

Oh, dear, got to do something about that blogroll!



Written by hans castorp

May 21, 2017 at 10:20 pm

The Rex Mottram Memorial Quiz

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The living [pope] is more important to us than a dead [pope].

The [pope] will never lead the church astray.

The [pope] is not limited by men’s reasoning.

The two groups who have the greatest difficulty in following the [pope] are the proud who are learned and the proud who are rich.

The [pope] . . . follow [him] and be blessed—reject [him] and suffer.

Is this the latest from Archbishop Scicluna of Malta? From Fr. Antonio Sparafucile, SJ? From Archbishop Bessame Tucho? First correct answer receives the coveted Brass Figlagee with Bronze Oak Leaf Palms. No googling, please.

Written by hans castorp

February 12, 2017 at 2:48 pm

What the hell is going on?

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You know, I’ve been trying (really) to be a good boy about Pope Francis, but this last week is more than I can take without spewing a little bile.

The Synod on the Family has been a joke. Held in secret so the boys can “engage in honest dialogue,” with the bishops’ “interventions” turned in in advance to prevent surprises and kept in pectore by Cardinal Baldisseri. Comes down to time for the interim Relatio to be written, the Holy Father decides the official Relator, Cardinal Erdo, can’t be trusted to stick to the script, so he kindly  appoints six liberals, not all of them bishops, to “assist” him in the drafting. Never mind that there’s no precedent for that (or for the secrecy, either); it’s a new day, and besides, the pope can do whatever he wants. The result is a dog’s breakfast of ecclesiastical hand-waving that is subject to more interpretations than Finnegans Wake. Even Cardinal Erdo is unable to explain some of it, and must refer questions on the section about homosexuality to Archbishop Bruno Forte, who actually wrote it. Nobody seems to know exactly what it means by “gradualism,” what path to the sacraments by the second-married it would result in, what it really means to do about “unconventional” families, whether it means to say that there is value in a sexual orientation the Catechism teaches is intrinsically disordered. It seems to wink at its audience in the media and the Catholic left while quickly crossing itself from time to time to mollify the more traditionally inclined. What the right hand giveth, the left hand taketh away.

Moderately conservative Catholic commentators—see this blog, for example—are twisting themselves into more knots than there are in the Boy Scout Handbook trying to make the Relatio come out more or less orthodox, while blaming all the fuss on the wicked media. The media, of course, can be expected to botch any news story involving the Catholic Church, but there’s more truth than poetry to some of their rejoicing today. Then there’s the pious reflection that all synods, like all papal elections, are guided by the Holy Spirit. Anyone who seriously thinks this doesn’t know any church history. Or maybe the Holy Spirit just has a sarcastic sense of humor. I know, I know, we are to interpret things as charitably as we can. But that doesn’t mean we have to deny our consciences or our common sense.

Truth be told, things are going just about as the pope has planned them all along. It now remains to be seen if the Holy Spirit revs up the bishops to rip the guts out of the Relatio in Week 2. Even if they do, I’m sure the Holy Father and his six friends will find a way to save it.

Oh, right, the real action will be in next year’s Ordinary Synod. Maybe they’ll do a 180. Yes, but who gets to write the final document, the Apostolic Exhortation that sums up the synod’s work? That would be Pope Francis.

I know, he’s Mr. Popularity with everyone and his Aunt Sally. He was touted for the Nobel Peace Prize, for goodness sake (no doubt for not-being-Ratzinger, just as Obama got his for-not-being-Dubya). But to me, there’s always been something a little off-key about him. He establishes his humility with gestures that call attention to himself. He talks a lot about collegiality, but so far we haven’t seen much, certainly not in the last week. In fact, he seems to have accelerated the reduction of the church to the papacy that’s been going on for a long time. Oh, I know, that’s the media’s fault. But you don’t get on the front page and the six o’clock news unless you get in front of the cameras, and Francis is certainly adept at that. Alongside his morning homilies there are the deniable-but-never-really-denied off-the-cuff comments, interviews, and phone calls that call forth even more contortions by his conservative apologists. I don’t doubt that he loves Christ many, many times more than I do, and thinks he is doing what the Lord wants done for his church. But the same was true of the soon-to-be-beatified Paul VI, and the church suffered during his reign. Nota bene: I think he would be worthy to be called Blessed on the strength of Humanae Vitae alone. He paid for it, though, alas, he did little to see that it was taught in the churches. Perhaps the conservatives are right, and Francis will have his Montini moment. And maybe not. 

The toothpaste has been out of the tube since the Council; St. JP II and Benedict XVI’s attempted to get at least some of it back in; now it seems the tube is being given another squeeze by their smiling successor. One time through the ’seventies is enough.

And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.

As I’ve said before, I am a man of little faith. Today especially, I’m hanging on by my fingernails. Pray for me.

Written by hans castorp

October 13, 2014 at 9:10 pm

Posted in Catholicism, Faith

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The Gospel at mass last Sunday was Luke 13:22–30. Here’s the Revised Standard Version translation of it:

He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. And some one said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the householder has risen up and shut the door, you will begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us.’ He will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity!’ There you will weep and gnash your teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves thrust out. And men will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

This is not one of the warm and fuzzy passages in the Gospels. It’s not “inclusive;” it doesn’t “celebrate diversity.” It doesn’t tell us that God is going to save everyone, no matter what. I squirm a bit when I hear this Gospel. Sure, I recite the creed every Sunday, I read the Bible, I pray (not as much as I ought to), I go to confession (ditto). But  where is my heart truly? Where are my treasures? Do l give my life, or at least some appreciable portion of it, to God, to my loved ones, to my neighbors. In my thoughts, words, and deeds, am I as Luther, following Augustine, says, curvatus in se, turned in on my self? The answers to those questions are not comforting. 

I love the 22nd chapter of the Revelation to John. Verse 17 reads (in the Authorized Version):

And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoeverwill, let him take the water of life freely.

Whosoever will.  What do I will? What is it I really want? Under all the selfishness, the self-deception, the sin, who is it I truly love?

LORD, how I am all ague, when I seek
What I have treasur’d in my memorie !
Since, if my soul make even with the week,
Each seventh note by right is due to thee.
I finde there quarries of pil’d vanities,
But shreds of holinesse, that dare not venture
To shew their face, since crosse to thy decrees :
There the circumference earth is, heav’n the centre.
In so much dregs the quintessence is small :
The spirit and good extract of my heart
Comes to about the many hundredth part.
Yet, Lord, restore thine image, heare my call :
And though my hard heart scarce to thee can grone,
Remember that thou once didst write in stone.

George Herbert, “The Sinner”

Written by hans castorp

August 28, 2013 at 5:56 pm

Posted in Faith

Papist Musings

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Coat of arms of Pope FrancisA couple of days ago I wrote a post about Pope Francis that, luckily, I decided not to post. It was a rather curmudgeonly list of the things about the pope that displease me. It was not only curmudgeonly, it was ungenerous and presumptuous. So here’s a replacement for it.

I loved (and love) Benedict XVI. I loved his theological depth, his humility, and his focus on the liturgy. Pope Francis is a different kettle of fish entirely.

But here’s the thing(s): the First World’s loss of faith is snowballing, and among those who believe, in the U.S. at least, the Evangelical churches are filled with cradle Catholics.; even in the former Second World, faith seems to be receding (think Poland), while in Russia Orthodoxy seems to be returning to its traditional function as a department of the state. While Christian faith seems alive and growing, it often isn’t the Catholic faith. Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and sects like the Seventh-Day Adventists are flourishing. Why is that?

I think a good deal of the problem stems from the direction the church has been going in over the last fifty years, the shift away from the nub of faith to at best peripheral things: politics, self-help, a focus on subjectivity. If the First and Second Worlds as a whole are moving toward, those Evangelical ex-Catholics and Third World converts are looking for something more. They’re looking for Christ. But  many—so many—are looking to know that God in Christ loves them and died for them and has the power to transform their lives.

I realize that in the Third World things are more complicated. The poor are looking to escape from their poverty, and the middle-class values of the Evangelicals (not to mention the attempt to make everyone an American by the Mormons) and the prosperity gospel of the Pentecostals seem to offer a way out. And in the latter case, it doesn’t hurt that the spiritual gifts Pentecostal exercise are reminiscent of the possession experiences of sects such as Candomblé and Santeria

In my almost thirty years as a Catholic, I’ve sat through sermons that reduced the gospel to being kind to your neighbors or having dinner with your family or realizing what a wonderful person you are or, what’s worse, demythologizing the gospel and correcting St. Paul. (I have to admit that the situation, at least at my parish, has been steadily improving). It’s always astounded me that such banality (or worse) could be inserted between the
Word of God and the consecration..

So now I think I understand Pope Francis better. Like his namesake, he points to Christ in the poor and in the sacraments. Jesuit that he is, he proclaims the mercy of God. And he keeps  it simple: three points per sermon, in which Christ is at the center, preached in a way that all can understand.

The church exists to bring us to the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. If Francis helps her to do that, the all my cavils—and my snobbery—belong in the trash.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.

Written by hans castorp

August 17, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Posted in Catholicism, Faith

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Behind the Mask: Confessions of a Viator Vagans 3

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Part 1    Part 2

Long before my conversion, I knew I had to be Catholic—Roman Catholic. The few doctrines that divided Anglos and Romans, papal infallibility and the Marian dogmas, were no problem for me. And I was haunted by the feeling, slowly growing into a conviction, that on the moral matters that A-Cs often took a pass on, mostly the sexual ones, Rome was right and we were wrong.

But, as I tell my therapists, for me at least there’s a gulf between knowing something and doing anything about it. I’m change-averse by nature, and the bigger the change, the more averse I am. And this was a big change. For a while my hesitations centered on externals—polyphony, hymnody, incense, ceremonial, Anglophilia. But these were all secondary. The real rock of stumbling was in my own heart. There’s a whiff of playacting about Anglo-Catholicism; certainly there was about mine. For me the call to Rome was the call to get serious.

So I dithered for a while, disinclined to turn assent into obedience. Then, one after another, changes seemed to force themselves on me. The rector of our parish was fired by the self-perpetuating board of trustees; I seemed to be stuck in a dead end at work; my personal relationships were confused and confusing; and my mother was struggling with cancer and postoperative radiation treatments. One winter evening in a Catholic church I was in the habit of visiting on my way home from work I saw an announcement for a course introducing the faith to non-Catholics. I decided to give it a try.

It was hard to walk into the classroom the first night, and even harder, when the course was over that spring, to ask the old friar who taught it to receive me into the church. But a few weeks later, on Pentecost, I found myself signing the profession of faith and making my confession in the friary, then joining a small group of mostly Anglican friends in the church to be confirmed and receive Holy Communion.

And that’s that, right? Many conversion stories end at the font or the altar, with a few lines tacked on to assure the reader that the convert has reaped the fruits of his or her decision. Not mine. I’ve been a Catholic for thirty years, but I can’t say that I’ve made much progress in holiness. I confess the same old sins over and over, although I have managed to trade in one or two for some others. I go through periods of rebelliousness, indifference, anxiety, and despair, and I even spent a few years back among the Piskies (where, by God’s mysterious grace, I found Mrs. C). But wander where I will, somehow I always come back.

So what, dear reader, if reader there be, is the takeaway from this story? That HC can’t bear to face reality? That he misses his daddy? That he’s a fuming cauldron of resentments and unprocessed guilt and repression and . . . You get the picture; all plausible, after all. But for me, it’s this:

I could (which you cannot)
Find reasons fast enough
To face the sky and roar
In anger and despair
At what is going on,
Demanding that it name
Whoever is to blame:
The sky would only wait
Till all my breath was gone
And then reiterate
As if I wasn’t there
That singular command
I do not understand,
Bless what there is for being,
Which has to be obeyed, for
What else am I made for,
Agreeing or disagreeing?

—W. H. Auden, “Precious Five”


Written by hans castorp

October 23, 2012 at 9:55 am

Behind the Mask: The Confessions of a Viator Vagans 2

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We, who remember, look back to the blossoming May-time
On ghosts of servers and thurifers after Mass,
The slapping of backs, the flapping of cassocks, the play-time,
A game of Grandmother’s Steps on the vicarage grass—
“Father, a little more sherry?—I’ll fill your glass”

                                            —John Betjeman, “Anglo-Catholic Congresses”

I loved being an Anglo-Catholic. I loved the music, the ritual movements, the smoke, the Cranmerian and Jacobean prose, the deep but undemonstrative piety of seventeenth-century saints like George Herbert; I still relish the beautiful story Isaak Walton tells about Herbert:

In another walk to Salisbury, he saw a poor man with a poorer horse, that was fallen under his load: they were both in distress, and needed present help; which Mr. Herbert perceiving, put off his canonical coat, and helped the poor man to unload, and after to load, his horse. The poor man blessed him for it, and he blessed the poor man; and was so like the Good Samaritan, that he gave him money to refresh both himself and his horse; and told him, “That if he loved himself he should be merciful to his beast.” Thus he left the poor man; and at his coming to his musical friends at Salisbury, they began to wonder that Mr. George Herbert, which used to be so trim and clean, came into that company so soiled and discomposed: but he told them the occasion. And when one of the company told him, “He had disparaged himself by so dirty an employment,” his answer was, “That the thought of what he had done would prove music to him at midnight; and that the omission of it would have upbraided and made discord in his conscience, whensoever he should pass by that place: for if I be bound to pray for all that be in distress, I am sure that I am bound, so far as it is in my power, to practice what I pray for. And though I do not wish for the like occasion every day, yet let me tell you, I wou1d not willingly pass one day of my life without comforting a sad soul, or shewing mercy; and I praise God for this occasion. And now let’s tune our instruments.”

And on a less exalted level, I enjoyed the sense of being a member of a party in the church, secretly envying the nineteenth-century vicars persecuted and imprisoned for wearing chasubles and reserving the Sacrament on the altar. There was still back then a feeling of daring, of tweaking the establishment with our Corpus Christi processions and our Solemn Benediction on Sunday evenings. We tittered over the RCs who didn’t realize that ours was an Episcopal parish; we feigned outrage over reports of a low-church bishop who presented his Masonic ring to be kissed by the faithful.

There were less attractive things as well: a rather camp sensibility that sometimes flirted with cynicism., and snobbery, aesthetic, intellectual, and social. People would refer to the Catholic church as “the place where the servants go” and yet take a certain satisfaction in any sign of recognition from the “Romans.” (“Did you hear that so-and-so didn’t have to repeat any sacraments when they received her?”) We thought we could take what we wanted from Rome (and perhaps a bit from the Orthodox), including the beautiful things she was in the process of discarding, and leave what we didn’t like.

And we took a lot: fiddleback chasubles (though we preferred Gothic—ours were silk, theirs were polyester); incense (we mixed our own); Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament; auricular confession; the Rosary; Tenebrae (what a feeling of awe mixed with sensory pleasure when, after what seemed hours of psalms and lessons, all chanted, the last altar candle was extinguished and the choir—ours was professional—sang Allegri’s “Miserere” from the Lady Chapel); St. Blaise’s Blessing (we had the special candle holder and candles); the feasts of the Conception (we dropped the Immaculate, though the choir sang of our Lady, “there is no spot of sin in thee”) and the Assumption; and on and on.

As for what we left . . . “the bishop of Rome and all his enormities.” Many of our parishioners were refugees from those enormities, because they were gay or divorced or had problems with Humanae Vitae or had an unsympathetic confessor or got mad at the pastor or the bishop, or missed the decorum and beauty of the Old Rite. So we left the bishop of Rome’s Jesuitical casuistry, his unreasonable expectations for human conduct, his déclassé clergy, and his (in ICEL English at least) banal liturgy.

I owe many things to my Anglo-Catholic days: a love of the liturgy and its music, a respect for sound learning, a spirituality grounded in the mass and the daily office, a preference for unspectacular piety, and friends who have been and still are very important to me. But along with all that was an undercurrent of disquiet. There was always a buzz, now louder, now softer, about who had “Roman fever” and who was poised to become Orthodox. There is a built-in instability to the Anglo-Catholic position, caught as it has usually been between the real religion of its church body and its own Catholic aspirations. (See, for example, Newman’s Anglican Difficulties.) At the time, before the gender and sexuality wars that have since rent the Episcopal church, with the more Catholic tendency (as I viewed it) of the 1979 Prayer Book and the spread of vestments, candles, and crosses and other Catholic externals throughout the church, that was not as evident as it is now, but it was there. What I did with that disquiet remains to be told.

To be continued.

Written by hans castorp

January 14, 2012 at 8:29 pm

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