Monday, December 13, 2010

The Sacred Ministry of Preaching

At a time when there is widespread criticism of the quality of many modern day homilies, Pope Benedict XVI has asked the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments to prepare practical publications such as a Directory on the Homily, in which preachers can find useful assistance in preparing to exercise their ministry (cf. Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, 60). More than 9 decades ago, his predecessor, Benedict XV dedicated a whole encyclical to this important ministry of preaching. An Excerpt:

On Preaching the Word of God

by Pope Benedict XV

The purpose which sacred orators should keep before their mind in performing their duty may be understood from the fact that they may and ought to say of themselves, as did St. Paul "For Christ therefore we are ambassadors." [II Cor. v:20] If then they are ambassadors of Christ they ought to have the same purpose in discharging their office that Christ had in conferring it on them, nay, the very one that Christ Himself had while living upon earth. For neither the Apostles, nor the preachers who followed the Apostles had a different mission from Christ's: "As the Father hath sent me, I also send you." (John xx:21] Now we know why Christ descended from heaven, for He says expressly: "For this came I into the world; that I should give testimony to the truth." (John xviii:37] "I am come that they may have life." (John x:10]

Both these purposes therefore must be carried out by the men who devote themselves to the sacred ministry of preaching. They must diffuse the light of truth made known by God, and in those who hear them they must quicken and nourish the supernatural life. In a word, by seeking the salvation of souls they are to promote the glory of God.

As it would, therefore, be wrong to call anyone a doctor who does not practice medicine, or to style anyone a professor of some art who does not teach that art, he who in his preaching neglects to lead men to a fuller knowledge of God and on the way of eternal salvation may be called an idle declaimer, but not a preacher of the Gospel. And would there were no such declaimers! What motive is it that sways them mostly.

Some are moved by the desire of vain-glory and to satisfy it: "They ponder how they can express high rather than practical thoughts, causing weak minds to admire them, instead of working out the salvation of their hearers. They are ashamed of what is simple and plain, lest they be thought to know nothing else. They are ashamed to give milk to the little ones. [Gillebertus Abb. In Cant. Canticor. Serm xxvii, 2.] Whereas Jesus Christ proved by the lowliness of his hearers that He was the One whom men were awaiting: "The poor have the Gospel preached to them." [Matt. xi:5]

What efforts do such men make to acquire reputation by their sermons from the size and wealth of the cities and splendor of the great churches in which they preach? But since among the truths revealed by God there are some which frighten the weakness of our corrupt nature, and which therefore are not calculated to attract the multitude, they carefully avoid them, and treat themes, in which, the place accepted, there is nothing sacred.

Not seldom it happens that in the very midst of a discourse upon the things of eternity, they turn to politics, particularly if any questions of this kind just then deeply engross the minds of their hearers. They seem to have only one aim, to please their hearers and curry favor with those whom St. Paul describes as "having itching ears." [II Tim. vi:3]

Hence that unrestrained and undignified gesture such as may be seen on the stage or on the hustings, that effeminate lowering of the voice or those tragic outbursts; that diction peculiar to journalism; those frequent allusions to profane and non-Catholic literature, but not to the Sacred Scriptures or the Holy Fathers; finally that volubility of utterance often affected by them, wherewith they strike the ears and gain their hearers' admiration, but give them no lesson to carry home. How sadly are those preachers deceived!

Granted that they receive the applause of the uneducated, which they seek with such great favor, and not without sacrilege, is it really worth while when we consider that they are condemned by every prudent man, and, what is worse, have reason to fear the stern judgment of Christ?

--Taken from Pope Benedict XV, Encyclical Humani generis redemptionem On Preaching the Word of God, 15 June 1917, nn 9-10.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The Pains of Purgatory - St Catherine of Genoa

Something to reflect on All Souls' day (November 2), as we commemorate all the faithful departed.

The Pains of Purgatory

by St Catherine of Genoa

When I look at God, I see no gate to Paradise, and yet because God is all mercy he who wills enters there. God stands before us with open arms to receive us into His glory. But well I see the divine essence to be of such purity, greater far than can be imagined, that the soul in which there is even the least note of imperfection would rather cast itself into a thousand Hells than find itself thus stained in the presence of the Divine Majesty. Therefore the soul, understanding that Purgatory has been ordained to take away those stains, casts itself therein, and seems to itself to have found great mercy in that it can rid itself there of the impediment which is the stain of sin.

No tongue can tell nor explain, no mind understand, the grievousness of Purgatory. But I, though I see that there is in Purgatory as much pain as in Hell, yet see the soul which has the least stain of imperfection accepting Purgatory, as I have said, as though it were a mercy, and holding its pains of no account as compared with the least stain which hinders a soul in its love. I seem to see that the pain which souls in Purgatory endure because of whatever in them displeases God, that is what they have wilfully done against His so great goodness, is greater than any other pain they feel in Purgatory. And this is because, being in grace, they see the truth and the grievousness of the hindrance which stays them from drawing near to God. [...]

To see God when full satisfaction had not yet been made Him, even if the time of purgation lacked but the twinkling of an eye, would be unbearable to that soul. It would sooner go to a thousand hells, to rid itself of the little rust still clinging to it, than stand in the divine presence when it was not yet wholly cleansed.

And so that blessed soul, seeing the aforesaid things by the divine light, said: "I would fain send up a cry so loud that it would put fear in all men on the earth. I would say to them: 'Wretches, why do you let yourselves be thus blinded by the world, you whose need is so great and grievous, as you will know at the moment of death, and who make no provision for it whatsoever?'

"You have all taken shelter beneath hope in God's mercy, which is, you say, very great, but you see not that this great goodness of God will judge you for having gone against the will of so good a Lord. His goodness should constrain you to do all His will, not give you hope in ill-doing, for His justice cannot fail but in one way or another must needs be fully satisfied.

"Cease to hug yourselves, saying: 'I will confess my sins and then receive plenary indulgence, and at that moment I shall be purged of all my sins and thus shall be saved.' Think of the confession and the contrition needed for that plenary indulgence, so hardly come by that, if you knew, you would tremble in great fear, more sure you would never win it than that you ever could."

--Taken from St Catherine of Genoa's "Treatise on Purgatory", 8, 14-15.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Vespers Making a Comeback in Mangalore

Milagres Church, Mangalore
After Vespers
The tradition of Solemn Vespers seems to be making a comeback in the city of Mangalore. 

Parishes in more rural areas of the South Indian diocese of Mangalore have faithfully preserved their tradition of celebrating their annual Parish Feast. The Parish Feast is celebrated on a Wednesday and is preceeded by a Solemn Vespers the previous (i.e., Tuesday) evening, and a Confraternity Sunday celebration, the immediate Sunday before. 

Vespers at
Milagres Church
The format of the Vespers however, was not always fully identifiable with the Vespers of the Church. Nevertheless it was a liturgical service, resembling more or less a Liturgy of the Word with its hymns, scripture reading, homily, in some places also an offertory, and finally a benediction.  

Mother Teresa Band
at Milagres Church on the
Eve of the Parish Feast
More recently efforts have been made to remedy these liturgies by modelling them more closely on the Evening Prayer of the Church, chiefly by the introduction of the Psalmody, the Magnificat and the Lord's Prayer. The homily, not always brief as the Church's public celebration of the Vespers requires it to be, is an important part of these services.

Following the Vespers, it is the fair, the brass band, the various stalls and the display of fireworks that captures one attention. Families inviting relatives to their homes for the parish feast love to discuss them on their way home.

Fireworks after
the Vespers
at Milagres Church 
This tradition of celebrating the annual Vespers and Parish Feast was long lost in our city parishes. However, at the 75 year celebration in May this year, of the St Vincent Ferrer Church at Valencia (not in Spain but) in Mangalore, the idea was re-introduced in the city. Now, this week, the beautiful Church of our Lady of Milagres (Portuguese: 'Miracles') went ahead and celebrated it's Vespers after a lapse of 40 years!

Recovering a lost tradition is far harder than preserving an existing one. It is certainly laudable that churches in the city are aiming hard at bringing back the tradition of the Vespers, which I would say, should also extend slowly to the Church's other principal feasts. But with this enterprise comes also the all important task of liturgical catechesis. A lot will depend on it if faith and worship are to survive the festivities which sometimes drown them.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Faith and Doubt - John Henry Newman

On the occasion of the first Feast Day (9 October 2010) of the newly beatified Cardinal John Henry Newman, here's a reading for reflection taken from one of his works.

Faith and Doubt

by Blessed John Henry Newman (1801-1890)

Those who are drawn by curiosity or a better motive to inquire into the Catholic Religion, sometimes put to us a strange question,—whether, if they took up the profession of it, they would be at liberty, when they felt inclined, to reconsider the question of its Divine authority; meaning, by "reconsideration," an inquiry springing from doubt of it, and possibly ending in a denial. 

The same question, in the form of an objection, is often asked by those who have no thoughts at all of becoming Catholics, and who enlarge upon it, as something terrible, that whoever once enters the pale of the Church, on him the door of egress is shut for ever; that, once a Catholic, he never, never can doubt again. ... 

It is, then, perfectly true, that the Church does not allow her children to entertain any doubt of her teaching; and that, first of all, simply for this reason, because they are Catholics only while they have faith, and faith is incompatible with doubt. No one can be a Catholic without a simple faith, that what the Church declares in God's name, is God's word, and therefore true. 

A man must simply believe that the Church is the oracle of God; he must be as certain of her mission, as he is of the mission of the Apostles. 

Now, would any one ever call him certain that the Apostles came from God, if after professing his certainty, he added, that perhaps he might have reason to doubt one day about their mission? Such an anticipation would be a real, though latent, doubt, betraying that he was not certain of it at present. 

A person who says, "I believe just at this moment, but perhaps I am excited without knowing it, and I cannot answer for myself, that I shall believe tomorrow," does not believe now. 

A man who says, "Perhaps I am in a kind of delusion, which will one day pass away from me, and leave me as I was before"; or "I believe as far as I can tell, but there may be arguments in the background which will change my view," such a man has not faith at all. 

When, then, Protestants quarrel with us for saying that those who join us must give up all ideas of ever doubting the Church in time to come, they do nothing else but quarrel with us for insisting on the necessity of faith in her. Let them speak plainly; our offence is that of demanding faith in the Holy Catholic Church; it is this, and nothing else. 

I must insist upon this: faith implies a confidence in a man's mind, that the thing believed is really true; but, if it is once true, it never can be false. If it is true that God became man, what is the meaning of my anticipating a time when perhaps I shall not believe that God became man? this is nothing short of anticipating a time when I shall disbelieve a truth. And if I bargain to be allowed in time to come not to believe, or to doubt, that God became man, I am but asking to be allowed to doubt or disbelieve what I hold to be an eternal truth. I do not see the privilege of such a permission at all, or the meaning of wishing to secure it:—

if at present I have no doubt whatever about it, then I am but asking leave to fall into error; if at present I have doubts about it, then I do not believe it at present, that is, I have not faith. But I cannot both really believe it now, and yet look forward to a time when perhaps I shall not believe it; to make provision for future doubt, is to doubt at present. It proves I am not in a fit state to become a Catholic now. I may love by halves, I may obey by halves; I cannot believe by halves: either I have faith, or I have it not.

And so again, when a man has become a Catholic, were he to set about following a doubt which has occurred to him, he has already disbelieved. I have not to warn him against losing his faith, he is not merely in danger of losing it, he has lost it; from the nature of the case he has already lost it; he fell from grace at the moment when he deliberately entertained and pursued his doubt. 

No one can determine to doubt what he is already sure of; but if he is not sure that the Church is from God, he does not believe it. It is not I who forbid him to doubt; he has taken the matter into his own hands when he determined on asking for leave; he has begun, not ended, in unbelief; his very wish, his purpose, is his sin. I do not make it so, it is such from the very state of the case. 

You sometimes hear, for example, of Catholics falling away, who will tell you it arose from reading the Scriptures, which opened their eyes to the "unscripturalness," so they speak, of the Church of the Living God.  

No; Scripture did not make them disbelieve (impossible!); they disbelieved when they opened the Bible; they opened it in an unbelieving spirit, and for an unbelieving purpose; they would not have opened it, had they not anticipated—I might say, hoped—that they should find things there inconsistent with Catholic teaching. They begin in self-will and disobedience, and they end in apostasy. 

This, then, is the direct and obvious reason why the Church cannot allow her children the liberty of doubting the truth of her word. He who really believes in it now, cannot imagine the future discovery of reasons to shake his faith; if he imagines it, he has not faith; and that so many Protestants think it a sort of tyranny in the Church to forbid any children of hers to doubt about her teaching, only shows they do not know what faith is—which is the case; it is a strange idea to them. 

Let a man cease to inquire, or cease to call himself her child.

[Source: John Henry Newman, Discourses to Mixed Congregations: Faith and Doubt.]

Friday, October 08, 2010

Back After a Break

It's been a long time, 5 years almost, since I posted anything here. But I hope to make a post every once in a while from now on. I can predict that they're going to be very irregular in their appearance but I do hope I'll be able to carry forward my blogging tradition.