The Use of Talking

There is no end of things in the heart.

Posts Tagged ‘Catholicism

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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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

Tagged with , ,

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

Pro me

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"Martin Luther" by Lucas Cranach

Since I’ve been in a spiritual funk lately, my wife sent me a link to an article on spiritual perfectionism ( It’s a good article, and I’m sure it will be helpful to many. Just not to me.

Most of the scriptures cited are from Paul. I’m not Paul; I’ve never been knocked off a horse by God (in fact, I’ve hardly ever been on a horse, except on a merry-go-round), I haven’t talked to Peter, James, and John. nor have I founded any churches. My spiritual balance sheet is perpetually in the red.

Now, while I think the usual Protestant attacks on Catholicism as a “religion of works” miss the point, ignore the role of grace in Catholic theology and conflate the sacraments, which are the work of God through the ministry of men, with “good works” seen as the meritorious (or not) work of men, there is, on the popular level and in a lot of preaching, a practical Pelagianism (as in most American Christianity, alas). The idea that we can just suck in our guts and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, whether it’s the “just be nice to people and save the earth” pseudo-liberal approach or the “just man up and say the Rosary in Latin while kneeling in a tub of ice water” pseudo-Trad approach, is all too common. I know that’s the way I (or the “natural I”) look at things.

Sure, grace is there for the taking, but I’ve got to “respond” to it. And frankly, I’m not any good at that. This January (the 18th for those who would like to send me a present) I’ll celebrate the 42nd anniversary of my baptism—far from an infant one—and in May (Pentecost, for those etc.), the 30th anniversary of my reception into the Catholic Church. And when I look back over all those years, how much growth do I see? How many sins have I been absolved from (or worse, excused myself for) without true contrition or firm purpose of amendment? How many have I avoided only because of worldly cowardice or lack of opportunity? How many communions have I made thoughtlessly, by routine, or to avoid embarrassing myself?

And no, you don’t have to tell me I’m neurotic. I know that. I know all the things I’m doing wrong—being too concerned with feelings, giving in to sloth and worse, acedia, and on and on.

So Luther can help me to stop worrying about all this stuff, right? All I need is faith—not just assent to the facts (Jesus died on the cross and rose on the third day), but trust, knowing that all those facts were for me. And that’s where I get stuck: Even the days when I can convince myself of the facts, I can’t make it to the for me. For you, dear reader, of course, but for me?

And you don’t have to tell me this is all pride, either. I know that. That’s Hans (or at least hans), always putting himself in the center, terrified that someone else will touch the gramophone. Or better (for worse)  it’s Mynheer Peeperkorn in his Peeperkornocentric world. And you remember what happened to him.

Written by hans castorp

December 7, 2011 at 9:09 pm

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