January 2015


An especially troubling column appeared over the weekend in the Cincinnati Enquirer from a board member at the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati.  In the Moslem equivalent of a sermon, Dr. Ashraf Travoulsi offers his congregation a reflection on the terrorist attacks in Paris earlier this month that is by turns self-pitying and delusional.  His main concern isn’t for the victims of these attacks but for their “extremely negative impact on Islam and Muslims all over the world.”  He also fears that “Islamic terrorism” is “becoming an acceptable term to use in mainstream media outlets,” not because of an unrelenting stream of terrorist attacks by Moslem jihadis, but because of bigotry and fear-mongering.  Likewise, he claims, “Islamophobia is becoming rampant and Islamophobes are having a field day.”

(I’m not making this up — go and read it for yourself.)

It’s worth noting the murky origins of the center, which include a $6 million check from the House of Saud in 1995 during its infancy.  As has been widely reported, Saudi petrodollars have been used to fund institutions around the globe devoted to Wahhabism, an anti-Western form of Islam that developed in the Arabian peninsula and that was the focus of considerable scrutiny in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

It’s also worth noting that until recently the Islamic Center was a “go to” partner for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Social Action office.  Their collaboration seems to have stopped in the aftermath of several embarrassing episodes in inter-religious dialogue that readers of my old site may recall grimacingly.  This column demonstrates that circumspection about the center is warranted.

I guess I’m in a New York State state of mind.  Bernie at the Rochester-focused Cleansing Fire blog has a brilliant comment on church architecture and the Catholic understanding of beauty on the occasion of fire damage to my family’s parish during my high school years, St. Pius X.  It is — or was — breathtakingly ugly: an octagonal design devoid of sacred art and sacrality with the tabernacle shoved off to the side so it won’t serve as a distraction from and for the community.  That said, its most recent pastor appears to be trying to bring about a reform of the reform, and one can hope that he will take restoration advice from the likes of Bernie rather than the Voskoites who plague the Diocese of Rochester.  Here’s his conclusion:

We look to the faith and teachings of the Church in her sacred tradition to find what a Catholic church is meant to be. We can find variety there but generally it is meant to support the Eucharistic liturgy as a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy. A Catholic church that looks like a warehouse and a mere place to gather together to share a meal is not what a Catholic church should “be”. The liturgy celebrated there may be valid but the architecture is not acting as a sacramental. Even worse the architecture may be conveying the idea of the liturgical action as merely a human event, limited in time. Such a building “is” something else (a fundamentalist auditorium, for example), but it is not a Catholic church except in name.

If we settle for felt banners crudely designed then we embrace the banal and ugly. The Church tells us that works of liturgical art should be noble: of quality material and nobly fashioned to the extent possible in any given economic or social situation.

When I proclaim that Beauty is objectively true in relation to liturgical art I am saying that the work is beautiful if it is true to what a Catholic church, liturgical sculpture, vestment is meant “to be” (I am not just considering functionality). A liturgical work that I deem objectively ugly may be quite beautiful in other ways but it is ugly as Catholic liturgical art.

If Saint Pius X comes to having to renovate the church proper I hope they will consider more than just mere functionality and look to the tradition and teaching of the church for guidance on how to create a church building that is truly Catholic, a true sacramental –a building that is deeply rooted in the faith and not just a reflection of another liturgical fad.

If we say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder then we might as well say that objective truth does not exist. We might as well say that virtue is in the eye of the beholder; that sin is in the eye of the beholder. In light of the teaching of the Catholic Church we know that that cannot be.

To mark today’s feast of St. John Neumann, here is an excerpt from the late Fr. Robert F. McNamara’s book The Diocese of Rochester in America: 1868-1993, a copy of which arrived with today’s mail:

[N]ew parishioners were served for a week (in 1936) by a young Austro-Hungarian priest who was just beginning a uniquely notable career.  A native of Bohemia, John Nepomucene Neumann (1811-1860) had recently crossed the Atlantic to enter the service of the Diocese of New York.  Bishop Dubois ordained him to the priesthood on June 25, 1836, and assigned him forthwith to the German farming community at Williamsville near Buffalo.  He likewise told him to stop over in Rochester on a missionary visit.  The next day, June 26th, Father Neumann celebrated his first Mass in New York and set out for his first post: “mit Sack und Pack,” as he said.  When his canal boat, “the Indiana,” approached Rochester on July 4th, he was welcomed by the sound of cannons saluting Independence Day.  He spent from the 4th to the 11th in Rochester.  Here he performed the first pastoral functions of his priestly life.  On July 7th at St. Patrick’s Church, he baptized the infant Caroline Koch.  On Sunday, the 10th, he delivered his first sermon at two Masses.  He went on to Buffalo the next day.  Father Neumann subsequently became a member, and later on the viceregent of American Redemptorists.  From 1852 to 1860, he was bishop of Philadelphia.  During his lifetime he was regarded as a living saint, and the Church eventually confirmed that belief.

On a return trip to Rochester 1847, he led a parish mission at the city’s legendary St. Joseph Church, which burned in the early 1970s.  Only the church’s hulking facade could be saved, and “Old St. Joe’s” community merged with Our Lady of Victory parish around the corner.  Our Lady of Victory/St. Joseph parish, a bastion of orthodoxy, remains to this day.

Fr. Z nominates His Eminence Raymond Cardinal Burke as 2014’s Catholic Man of the Year and lists his compelling reasons.  Here’s my annotation in the comment box:

I’ll … 34th that nomination, for all the reasons you cite, Father. His Eminence’s support for the canonization of the late great Fr. John Hardon, SJ, comes as a very pleasant surprise. For the uninitiated, Fr. Hardon was a master catechist and his Catholic Catechism, Q&A Catechism,[Which I was given by Msgr. Richard Schuler in my instruction to enter the Church. Outstanding.] and The Faith form a holy trilogy of orthodox, compelling, and very well-written catechisms. The Q&A Catechism comes with a forward by Cardinal Ottaviani (santo subito!) on the benefits of traditional catechesis, written at a time when the elites running our dioceses and parishes couldn’t abandon those methods fast enough. All three books have been recently released in affordable Kindle versions:

HERE

HERE

HERE

One of my regrets from our wonderful trip home to Rochester earlier this week is that we were unable to assist at Mass at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in my mother’s (and sisters’) Irondequoit neighborhood due to its current Sunday-only worship schedule.  You may recall that the former bishop, one of the last surviving Bernardin-Jadot appointees, effectively and vindictively closed the parish during the waning days of his episcopate when he pursued a scorched-earth policy against Rochester’s few remaining centers of orthodoxy.  Among his first acts as the new ordinary, Bishop Salvatore Matano last year restored the parish as the new home of the Latin Mass community, and it now celebrates Masses in the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms every Sunday.  (Can I get a Te Deum!?)  Hopefully, by my next trip home, weekday Masses will be added.  St. Thomas was the home of the late and holy priest-historian Fr. Robert Francis McNamara, and many of his works have been painstakingly preserved online by parishioners.  They are wonderful.  Aside from his terrific lives of the saints, Saints Alive!, there are his rich, historically detailed reflections on the Sunday lectionary, conveniently indexed to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  If more family catechesis is on your list of New Year’s resolutions, you now have another great resource. Here is Fr. McNamara’s reflection on this Sunday’s Feast of the Epiphany:

Kings shall pay him homage

Christian tradition has made three Kings out of the three Wise Men. Whether they were royal is not important; but it would certainly have been appropriate for the first Gentiles who were invited to greet the infant King of Kings, to have been of kingly state.

King St. Louis IX of France became a sort of fourth Wise Man when he devoutly visited the shrines of the Holy Land around the year 1250. Those were the days of the crusades – armed Christian expeditions against the Moslems of Palestine who had seized Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and the other places of pilgrimage made holy by Christ’s presence. As a young king, Louis followed the crusade movement with great devotion. In 1239, he accepted as a most precious gift the crown of thorns of Christ, given to him by the French crusader, Emperor Baldwin II of Constantinople. To house this crown of thorns King Louis built a beautiful little church that still stands in Paris, “La Sainte Chappelle.”

In 1244, St. Louis was gravely ill. Blessed with the relic of the sacred crown of Christ, he suddenly recovered. In thanks, he vowed to head a new crusade to the Holy Land, where the Moslems were threatening to recoup their losses. Louis landed in Egypt and set out against the enemy. “Never did any one behold so fine a man,” one of his officers said. “He appeared towering over all his people, head and shoulders taller than they, a gilded helmet on his head, a German sword in his hand.” A truly royal figure!

Actually, Louis’ campaign failed. He was himself captured, then ransomed. But he was nevertheless able to make his way as a pilgrim to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Thus he fulfilled the dream of the psalmist: “Let us go where He is waiting and worship at His footstool” (Ps. 132, 7)…”All kings shall pay Him homage, all nations shall serve Him” (Ps. 72, 11. Today’s responsorial psalm.)

-Father Robert F. McNamara

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Q353: There is a lot of talk about “light” and “glory” and “stars” in today’s readings. Surely there is more going on here than just pious words?

Both the Old and the New Testaments are full of images that speak symbolically of the real presence of God. One image that looms especially large is the image of light. The “pillar of fire” that accompanied the Hebrews during the initial phases of the exodus journey, and the “burning bush” episode with Moses are two great examples from the Old Testament. In the New Testament, John’s gospel is exceptional in its recognition of this ‘light’ imagery as standing for God’s presence, He whose “light shines in the darkness” (John 1).

The nation of Israel had destroyed its relationship with Yahweh by falling away from the truth that there is One God, and that he commands his people to live their lives His way. Their “darkness” – the sins of apostasy, idolatry and lack of a true spirituality – eventually caused them to be led away into exile to Babylonia in 587 B.C. After seventy years during which they could ponder the real reason for their misfortunes, the prophet we refer to as “Third Isaiah” announced that their relationship with Yahweh was being restored: His light once more was being restored to the Israelites (Is 60:1-6). Once again they are called to be His servants, focused on God and not on the worldly allurements or distractions.

The light theme continues into the gospel today (Matt 2:1-12), where we see a “star” shining in Bethlehem over the “true light that shines in the darkness,” the child Jesus. Here we find the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy from Third Isaiah that all nations would be drawn to this light. They will come to do homage and worship and praise the Lord, the One who will shepherd His people.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! On this celebration we call “Epiphany,” we celebrate the adoration of Jesus by those Magi drawn to the “light of the world” and guided to him by the “light of a star” (CCC #528). The long-awaited Messiah of the world has come. In the Holy Spirit, Christ fulfills the Old Testament symbols of light and glory (CCC #697). Are you focused on God first, or on worldly allurements – i.e., does light or darkness govern your life?

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Nations Shall Walk by Your Light

All through their history the Israelites were ever conscious of their covenant relationship with God and of the promises God had made to Abraham, Moses and David. They were vividly aware that these promises had been fulfilled only in part — due to Israel’s infidelities. Isaiah today consoles them with the assurance that God is faithful, even when they are not. He describes in poetic language the future fulfillment of God’s promises. Not only will they be reunited in the land of promise, but all the nations of the earth will see the glorious works of God. Then will be fulfilled the promise to Abraham that all nations will be blessed in his offspring and will come bringing gifts and praise for the wonderful work of god. St. Luke sees all these things coming beginning in the in the birth of Jesus. The Gentile Magi come bearing gifts and worshipping God. By baptism we share in the life of the Child of Bethlehem and so our lives should reflect the light that enables people to see the wonderful works of God.

God our Father, you led the wise men by the light of a star to worship your infant son, guide us by his teachings to a life reflecting to friends and strangers something of your promise fulfilled.

 
Fr. McNamara was also the author of the standard history of my home diocese, The Diocese of Rochester in America: 1868-1993.

Those interested in learning more about Fr. McNamara can consult his cousin Ann Maloney’s new biography, A Priest Forever: The Life and Times of Fr. Robert F. McNamara.

Our Pastor made an interesting observation today in his homily.

The old “Christmas Proclamation” that is part of the morning liturgy of the hours states in Latin, “A nativitate Abrahae, anno bis millesimo quintodecimo.”

Translation: From the birth of Abraham, the year two thousand and fifteen

We are now as far removed, time wise, for Jesus as Abraham was.

He went on to say that it’s probably off by a couple of years.