September 2013

Next month, the Athenaeum of Ohio Lay Pastoral Ministry Program and The Worship Office of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati are hosting a conference entitled “The New Evangelization and Revitalizing the Parish through the Liturgy.” I’m unfamiliar with most of the featured speakers listed on the promotional flyer, including Christopher J. Coyne, Auxiliary Bishop of Indianapolis, but the fact that locals Tony Stieritz and Karen Kane are batting cleanup tells me this won’t have much to do with the reform of the reform. (It’s worth noting that Stieritz is an active member at Bellarmine Chapel, a shrine to 70’s style liturgical abuse, to say nothing of the rank heresy routinely preached from its lectern.) If anyone has more information on the speakers or the conference, feel free to chime in via the combox.

Right after some gleeful commentary from the strutting, scandal-plagued president of Xavier University, your host was quoted in an article today in the Cincinnati Enquirer on Pope Francis’s doctrine-shelving, 12,000-word essay on the Church’s pastoral concerns:

Rich Leonardi, a local businessman and a practicing Catholic, is afraid people might take that out of context. Leonardi is certain the church will be better off staying true to existing doctrine.

“Some of his words, and I do not think this was his intention, will be misinterpreted by those who oppose the church’s teachings,” Leonardi said. “Getting loose with doctrine leads to smaller communities. Churches that are growing demand more.”

And as if on cue, in a related post, Ron Kozar shares a local anecdotal scenario no doubt taking place throughout the Church in America this week and in coming months:

[A]t a certain Catholic high school attended by the children of a certain commenter on this blog, a young religion teacher ebulliently told her students today, after the bell had barely finished ringing for the start of class, that a welcome new era has just dawned in the Church, and that, with the Pope’s comments yesterday, the old, fuddy-duddy teachings about contraception, homosexuality, and all that were now officially going into that cupboard above the fridge, where we put the things that we don’t really use anymore.

Lastly, here’s Jlo at Rochester’s Cleansing Fire, sharing her concerns:

Thank you Rich Leonardi and Richard Thomas for assuring me that I am not alone in thinking this is a nightmare. Pope Francis keeps making statements in a new papal language: double-speak, which is confusing for everyone…. at best!

Just saw Fr. Morris on FOX and he was gushing about how this Holy Father is merely puting the mercy of Jesus first. Then Fr. Morris read a letter from his sister who married her girlfriend (he said he did not approve) and she is so moved and happy at this Holy Father’s understanding of the love of Jesus for her in her life. Fr. Morris was thrilled! Said Pope Francis reached her with this message when all this time Fr. Morris could not. HUH??? She’s still “married”!

Pope Francis in just six months has the entire world confused about Catholic teaching as he gives the MSM and the enemies of Holy Mother Church all the fodder they need to blast the true church. And I can’t believe he doesn’t recognize why the Church is losing followers, that the reasons are exactly opposite of what he told media!

I hope and pray that Pope Francis will start to sit (kneel) quietly, preferably in Adoration, and back off his constant public statements and become a thoughtful, deliberative shepherd. Personally, that’s what I look for in my popes, not scurrying and currying and doublespeak. He says the Church has never been in better shape? Oh my. Enough from me. I, too, need to read everything, digest it, and pray, pray, pray, because at first blush, I find all this terrifying. +JMJ

For the past forty years, an interesting experiment has taken place within the Catholic Church and in Protestant communities. The bulk of the dioceses and mainline Protestant sects have de-emphasized if not shed doctrines in favor of being more welcoming and relevant. I’m thinking here of dioceses like Cincinnati and Rochester and communities like the Episcopalians and Methodists. By any objective measure, the results have been disastrous. Indicators like vocations, weekly Mass or worship attendance, sacramental participation, or just raw numbers of members dropped sharply.

Serving as a counter-experiment, a smaller but significant number of dioceses and Christian communities have bucked the overall trend and emphasized doctrine without seeing it as repellent to the faithful. Here we think of dioceses like Denver, Charleston, and Lincoln, and communities like the evangelicals and Missouri Synod Lutherans. And by any objective measure the results have been favorable; the same indicators have held steady or trended upwards. It’s also at work on a local level; witness the success of parishes like St. Cecilia of Cincinnati’s Oakley neighborhood and Our Lady of Victory in Rochester, despite the character of their respective dioceses.

Sadly, this experiment hasn’t come to the attention of the Holy Father, for in a rambling 12,000-word article, it appears Pope Francis believes we haven’t de-emphasized doctrine enough:

“The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently,” Francis said. “We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

Rather, he said, the Catholic Church must be like a “field hospital after battle,” healing the wounds of its faithful and going out to find those who have been hurt, excluded or have fallen away.

“It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars!” Francis said. “You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else.”

“The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules,” he lamented. “The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all.”

The admonition is likely to have sharp reverberations in the United States, where some bishops have already publicly voiced dismay that Francis hasn’t hammered home church teaching on abortion, contraception and homosexuality — areas of the culture wars where U.S. bishops often put themselves on the front lines.

Allen expected a mostly positive response from the world’s more than one billion Catholics to the pope’s call for a more welcoming church.

“It’s going to be seen in most quarters as an inspirational, kind of breath-of-fresh-air statement from a pope,” Allen told CBS Radio News.

Allen also said there would be some division of opinion within church hierarchy in reaction to the pope’s comments.

“I think there are going to be many Catholics who find this kind of language from a pope refreshing and encouraging, what they’ve been waiting for for a long time,” said Allen. “Others probably will be upset by it.”

U.S. bishops were also behind Benedict’s crackdown on American nuns, who were accused of letting doctrine take a backseat to their social justice work caring for the poor — precisely the priority that Francis is endorsing.

Just last week, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, said in an interview with his diocesan newspaper that he was “a little bit disappointed” that Francis hadn’t addressed abortion since being elected.

Francis acknowledged that he had been “reprimanded” for not speaking out on such issues. But he said he didn’t need to.

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible,” he said. “The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

The Dominicans have been getting a lot of new vocations lately!

They’re even sending out a poster, showing their young men in the novitiate in Cincinnati at St. Gertrude Priory and in DC at the Dominican House of Studies. And they ask for our prayers and donations, of course, to keep the good work going!

70 friars in formation. Even assuming some natural attrition along the way, that’s a lot.

God is good.

Last year in an editorial that ran on, Vincent Miller, the Gudorf Chair in Catholic Theology and Culture at the University of Dayton, rebuked the bishops for being so vocal about “preserving” religious freedom during the recent presidential election.

Prior to that he protested on national television John Boehner’s address to Catholic University of America, claiming the House speaker was at odds with Church teaching despite his sterling record on the right to life and the defense of marriage — two of the three “not negotiable” principles Pope Benedict exhorts Catholics to defend in the public square.

He has also claimed that the Vatican stands with the violent, barely coherent radicals in the Occupy Wall Street movement.

All of which makes him the ideal candidate to deliver a keynote address for a workshop sponsored by the Catholic Social Action office for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati:

Dr. Vincent Miller, the Gudorf Chair in Catholic Theology and Culture at the University of Dayton, will be the keynote speaker illustrating the theme of Being Catholic in 2013 at the All Parish Meeting Saturday, September 14, at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, 6245 Wilmington Pike, Centerville. The morning workshop, hosted by the Weavers of Justice and the Catholic Social Action Office, will include Dr. Miller’s talk, The Catholicity of the Church – Gift and Challenge for Discipleship, and also presentations by Mary Anne Boyd, Respect Life Coordinator for the Archdiocesan Family and Respect Life Office, and Fr. Mike Pucke, pastor of St. Julie Billiart Parish, on the Consistent Ethic of Life in Support of All Life; Dave Scharfenberger, Justice for Immigrants Coordinator for the CSA; Sr. Maria Stacey, SND, Director of the Archdiocesan Hispanic Ministry regional office in Dayton, on immigration; and Dr. Mark Ensalaco,* Director of the Human Rights Studies Program at the University of Dayton, on human trafficking. The halfday morning workshop, which is free, begins with registration and light breakfast at 8:15 a.m. For more information, please call the Catholic Social Action regional office in Dayton, 937.224.3026. The workshop is designed to help parishioners gain a Catholic perspective on many issues that face our society.

* Ensalaco was featured in David Horowitz’s book The Professors: the 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America for his defenses of Latin American communists and his apologies for Islamic terrorism.

More on Miller from Catholic Buckeye here and from your host here.

And you may send a respectful letter of concern to His Excellency Dennis M. Schnurr here.

On Sunday, Pope Francis announced a worldwide day of prayer and fasting on Saturday, September 7, for the intention of peace in Syria and the Middle East.

“….I have decided to proclaim for the whole Church on September 7, the Vigil of the Birth of Mary, Queen of Peace, a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world; and I also invite each person (including our fellow Christians, followers of other religions and all men of good will) to participate in this initiative in whatever way they can. On September 7, here in Saint Peter’s Square from 19:00 until 24:00, we will gather in prayer and in a spirit of penance, invoking God’s great gift of peace upon the beloved nation of Syria and upon each situation of conflict and violence around the world. Humanity needs to see these gestures of peace and to hear words of hope and peace! I ask all the local churches that they gather to pray for this intention in addition to fasting.”

First, it is a traditional custom to pray and fast on the day before pretty much any big Feast. (Which was why people often feasted and ate a lot of festival food on the actual feast day. The fasting and feasting go together.) So that’s not exactly a hardship.

Second, prayer for peace is never a bad thing. And since the Pope is the shepherd given responsibility by Jesus for all souls on earth, it’s nice to see him calling on all the wandering sheep to help out also.

Third, it’s a birthday present for Mary. Can’t go wrong with that.

Fourth, in ancient times Syria was full of Marian devotion, and of course most Catholics and other Christians in Syria still do love her. St. Ephrem was from Syria, and his poems are still used in the Syriac-using rites. In medieval times, many places in Europe had a devotion to Our Lady of Syria on behalf of the Crusaders and pilgrims to the East.

There was a famous Crusader cathedral called Our Lady of Tortosa (aka Our Lady of Syria or Our Lady of the East) in Tartus, Syria (ancient Antaradus, Byzantine Constantia, medieval Tortosa). It was built on the site of a Byzantine pilgrimage church called the Sanctuary of the Virgin Mary. Both that and the Crusader church were built around the remnants of an earlier chapel said certainly to be the first Syrian church dedicated to Mary, and legendarily to have been dedicated by St. Peter soon after Mary’s Dormition and Assumption. The Sanctuary of the Virgin Mary was already around in Emperor Constantine’s time, and he apparently gave it honor. History records that there was an earthquake in AD 487 that destroyed most of the chapel but left its altar intact. Both the Byzantine basilica and the Crusader church also housed an icon portrait of Mary attributed to St. Luke.

Tortosa was the last place in Syria held by the Crusaders before they were driven out. Our Lady of Tortosa survives today as only a museum, sadly, but that’s better than when it was being used as a mosque. (The Orthodox also have a major Marian pilgrimage site, Saidnaya, a monastery church which is said to have a wonderworking icon portrait of Mary painted by St. Luke. Not the same one. There are a fair number of icons painted by St. Luke.)

Cantiga #165 of the medieval Spanish Cantigas de Santa Maria is about one of the miracles of Our Lady of Tortosa. As with the other cantigas, we have the words and the tune. (Click on the number for midi files of the tune; click on the title of the song for the lyrics in the original medieval Spanish.)

A prose English summary from the Cantigas de Santa Maria database.

We now have three children at Cincinnati’s Walnut Hills High School, a storied public school that somehow managed to retain its classical curriculum as Catholic institutions, which invented it, couldn’t run away fast enough from the Latin, great books, and study of the ancients at the curriculum’s core.  While that gives our charges a Catholic cast of mind, it doesn’t provide catechesis.  For that we’ve tried a variety of courses and methods over the years.  This year for the older two (10th and 12th grade), we’re using the YouCat course offered by the Newman Connection, a collaborative project of several successful Newman Centers, including the one serving Nashville’s Vanderbilt University under Fr. John Sims Baker.  Consisting of 26 lessons that combine video lectures, discussion questions, and tests, “Exploring YouCat” takes advantage of its online format in a way missing from other courses (many simply present reading materials on the web).  Students can interact with their peers and earn points for each completed lesson.  In keeping with its virtual approach, we bought a Kindle version of YouCat for them to read on their tablets.  Yes, it is designed for college students, but the course, like YouCat itself, is suitable for reasonably intelligent high schoolers.  So far, so good at the Leonardi home, as both of our enrollees say they like it and are learning new things — our philosophically oriented 10th grader enjoyed the numerous quotes from Pascal in YouCat’s first chapter.  You might check it out.

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