Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Institutionalized Rejection of the Augustana

I recently had the pleasure of arguing for several hours straight with a travel companion over the issue of the Missouri Synod's Specific Ministry Pastor (SMP) program, which kicks off this year. I am not sarcastic when I say it was a pleasure. Theologians actually enjoy engaging in arguments over theological matters. It is what they do. The only time it gets burdensome to me is when the subject matter is less than theological, and when those involved argue in a childish or effeminate manner. My interlocutor in this case was truly, as I say, a travel companion, in more than one way, for we are fellow travellers as theological thinkers and servants of the church. So I am grateful to have had part in such stimulating discussion as we rolled through the "exciting" interstate scenery of Iowa, Nebraska, and Wyoming, even if it was with someone from another seminary. Truth be told, for the record, I am not affiliated with any seminary, and indeed, my position on the matter is shared by no seminary of the Missouri Synod.

I have been meaning to blog about the SMP deal ever since then, for there are good people in the Church who have become convinced that there is something good, something redeemable, about this program. To my dear fellow Lutherans especially, whether pastor, seminarian, bureaucrat, or faithful supporter of the Church, I urge you to mark carefully and well what the Church is getting involved in with this. Many of you have read some of the articles in synod and seminary publications, in which SMP has been sold to you, and you have read them through gracious, Lutheran, Eighth Commandment eyes. Caveat lector. Read them again, and with care.

For the message we are supposed to buy, and then sell to others, is that SMP is a remedy for what is wrong with DELTO, that SMP is a significant, yet pastoral, step toward eventually undoing the Witchita Amendment to the Augustana (that is, the decision of the LC-MS at its 1989 Witchita convention to license laymen to engage in the sacramental ministries of the ordained priesthood, without ordination, contrary to all Catholic tradition, including the Augsburg Confession). Yet how can the Church remedy the violation of the Augsburg Confession with a program which itself violates the Augsburg Confession?

First, SMP is a program which recruits men who are already in the ongoing work of violating the Augsburg Confession. Those are at least some of the very men being recruited for the program. It used to be that the Church looked for men who resembled the way of life described in the third chapter of St. Paul's first Epistle to St. Timothy. To that list of what the Church looks for in a man we can now add a track record of violating the Augsburg Confession. But they do it because they are "needed," and because they care about the lost.

Second, though we are told that ordination is given to SMP students "early" in the program, in fact a review of the literature reveals that ordination is administered half way through the program. SMP is very much a dumbed down retarded descendant of traditional seminary formation. Yet one thing it shares is the average duration, ie., four years. And at the two year mark the student is ordained. So not only will the SMP man often be a man who is "needed" in an illicit ministry of the Word, but in fact, he is kept in that situation for two years in an official program of the Synod.

I myself am unconvinced by the arguments for SMP which appeal to the man who ministers to people in the outer reaches of the Yukon. One reason is that I am not sure he exists. Another is that if he does, surely the mighty Missouri Synod could get him to seminary, and surely a Synod which today has sem graduates languishing without placements, can send one of those men to replace the Yukon guy to take care of those people while he is in seminary. As long as we can name men who today are ordained and qualified for ministry, but are not placed in the Church, and I for one can name some, then what is the need for this new program which rejects the tradition of the Church, and which, as synod literature boasts, might have eighty students this year? As Tom Hanks once said in the film Big, "I don't get it."

The Church of our time has largely grown lazy, and incurious. But the Holy Ghost can and will wake us up from our slumber. This is my prayer. And He will do so partly by the courageous work of churchmen who are speaking eloquently, reasonably, and insistently, on the issue, such as Father Larry Beane. He has much to lose, from an earthly perspective, but speaks up anyway. For a well written take on this same topic, please read his blog.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Nice Article on B16 & Youth

While I'm falling behind in my list of items on which I need to blog, let me just alert you this morning to an article I found recently over at the New Liturgical Movement blog. Jeffrey Tucker posted this article on how Pope Benedict XVI is turning away from the pathetic youth ministry culture which has been in force for a generation.

Of course much of the same nonsense one finds at parish or high school "youth masses" or at World Youth Day can also be found within the beloved bounds of the Missouri Synod's homey back yard. One need only think of the Synod's own cute little version of World Youth Day, the Synod Youth Gathering, or the "seeker" worship services put on by some of our most "courageous churches," ablaze with the spirit of innovation for the sake of the gospel.

The Roman Church has a liturgist who is slowly but clearly guiding it back to liturgical sanity, from the top down. For this I thank God; and I pray for such a shepherd among us.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Society of Saint Polycarp Blog

The Society of Saint Polycarp (SSP) is a Lutheran brotherhood of men committed to the Confessional, liturgical, and spiritual tradition of our Church. These men have each agreed to submit their lives to a common rule. Yet what really is the Society of St. Polycarp all about? I have seen more than one writer online paint a false caricature of the SSP, and too many people buy into such caricatures.

I encourage and invite you to check out our blog. You will find information, and discussion about the Society and its Rule. In the end, you might even discover that the SSP is for you. Either way, please visit our blog, and come back often.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Father Ronald Stephens

Zion Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, a historic parish church of the Missouri Synod, is served very ably by its pastor, the Rev. Douglas Punke. I have witnessed, and been served by, excellent pastoral leadership, by a great variety of men at Zion since I moved to Ft. Wayne ten years ago. And Fr. Punke, in particular, has done an outstanding job in many ways, some obvious, and some a little more unsung, since he became pastor here in November of 2003. I shall write more on him down the road. The topic on which I'd like to comment today, however, is the newest member of Zion's pastoral staff, Fr. Ronald Stephens, Headmaster of the Zion Academy, and Associate Pastor.

On 15 June, Fr. Stephens was ordained at Zion, in a beautiful, relatively traditional, Ordination Mass. The Ordination reminded me in many ways of the last one I saw at Zion, that of Fr. Larry Beane, the inimitable pastor of Salem Lutheran Church, in Gretna, Louisiana, who was ordained in July of 2004. On this occasion, Fr. David Petersen, pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Ft. Wayne, gave the homily. Below my remarks here you will find Fr. Petersen's sermon. I encourage you to read and meditate upon it.

Since his ordination, Fr. Stephens has plunged himself into the sort of work for which the seminary quite simply does not prepare a man, that is, running a school. He has also been preaching the Gospel, teaching the faith, and saying Mass. Fr. Stephens is a pastor who is faithful to the liturgical heritage of the Church, and committed to the Confessions; I was blessed to know him when he was a seminarian, and I am blessed to know him in his vocation as pastor. He might be flattered by these remarks, if indeed he reads this blog, but I wanted to express my appreciation. The perspective of the laymen, that is, the Hearers, is very important, and this layman is thankful for the ministry of Christ in the life and vocation of Fr. Ron Stephens.

Here is Fr. Petersen's sermon:

The Ordination of Rev. Ronald Stephens, Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne

2 Corinthians 3:4-11June 15, 2008 A+D

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Pastor Stephens has not been trained for the job you have called him to do. He will have to learn how to do it on-site. Even if he succeeds, it will be a painful process, because there is no easy way to learn this job. Even a degree in school administration is only theory and more than one incompetent professional looks good on paper and is loaded up on credentials only to fail in reality.

What may surprise you is that none of his classmates have been adequately trained for the jobs to which they've been called either. Even those who walk into what we think of as a stereotypical Lutheran congregation to be the sole pastor don't really know what they're doing. They haven't been adequately trained for it, and all of them have to figure it out on-site.

That is because you can't really train a man for this work. You can teach him some stuff. You can develop an attitude and aptitude. You can familiarize him with the tools and resources. But there are no experts on the Bible or pastoral care. There is always more to learn.We don't adequately prepare men for the Ministry anymore than the United States Army adequately prepares men for combat. Training helps. It increases the survival rate. But some things can only be learned in the actual experience. And the chaos of war has a way of taking out even the best-trained soldiers and teachers' pets and of making heroes out of losers.

So we've trained him as best we could, and we have tested him. Because we can determine, to some degree, if men are fit for the work. Testing exposes those who are puffed up with the spirit and excited at the possibility of serving in the Church, but do not want to pick up their family and move to Ft. Wayne or St. Louis. They want to keep their connections, their income, their family, and suppose that their current work is so important that they can't follow the Lord around in the expectation that He will take care of it while they are gone. If men will not endure hardship for the Ministry, if they are not willing to go where called, and to pay a cost for it, they may not be fit. It is the first test. And sometimes the Ministers have to leave the sure thing for the thing to which the Lord beckons them. There is a risk. Because the Lord calls some men to places only to have them shaking off the dust. The apostles knew failure in the Ministry. So that willingness to follow, to risk, to put one's hand to the plow, is essential to the character of the men we ordain into this Office. Pastor Stephens has passed this test.

So also we can see how a man responds to the strange hierarchical character of the seminary with professors and staff and different grades of students, or even an idiot of field ed supervisor or vicarage. If a man will not subordinate himself in the classroom, if he refuses to recognize the office apart from the man or to treat it with honor, then he cannot and must not be put into a position where he would have authority in the church. No one can lead who will not follow. If he cannot obey, he cannot give orders. Pastor Stephens has passed vicarage and field work and the seminary.

The academic work and testing is also important. Does the man have the ability to do the work, to understand and articulate the Faith? Will he do things he doesn't want to do? Even things that seem to him useless? Can he meet deadlines? Is he reliable? Does he have the intellectual capability? Can he make judgments and prioritize? Is he diplomatic? Can he discern between adiaphora and ceremonies and things essential? So also has Pastor Stephens passed these tests.

It is not that these tests are only tests, pass or fail. They are part of the training. Mistakes are expected. We are looking for growth, maturity, and humility. More is expected of those nearing the end, than is expected of those who are just beginning. But four years of this can prepare a man if not adequately train him for every possibility. We aren't forming headmasters or chaplains or senior pastors. We are forming character and theologians. If a man shows himself capable of learning, growth, change, and a willingness to follow where the Lord leads, he is fit. If he passes these tests and endures the gauntlet, then the Ministerium presents him to the Church. This process began some time ago for Pastor Stephens, but today is the culmination. The clergy are gathered here to bring him to you and say: "This man is not a neophyte in the faith. He has proven himself trustworthy, reliable, and competent. He is ready. We welcome him as a fellow bondservant of the Lord and commend his instruction, prayers, and service to you as from the Lord."

But is he ready to be a headmaster and associate pastor? Not quite. Not any more than his classmates are ready to be sole pastors, missionaries, hospital chaplains, and the like. He is ready to begin, to start becoming a headmaster and associate pastor, or whatever it is that you need and the Lord provides. It seems to you that you need a headmaster and associate pastor. That may be right. Most likely it is only partially right, and most likely, it wasn't the purest or most pious request you've ever made. For it was probably mixed up with budgets and cash flow and enrollments and standard parish-school-district politics and power struggles. Somebody here
probably thought (or thinks) it was a stupid choice, or you've got the wrong man.

But that doesn't matter now. The Lord has provided. There is no going back. And if after months of planning, Eisenhower didn't know exactly what D-Day would take or bring, why should you know what your school or parish needs? You've brought your wisdom to bear as best you could, within the constraints of budgets and forecasts and personalities, and now it is time to hit the beach and trust in God. It doesn't matter what you lacked or how you failed or what you didn't know then or thought would be better. What matters now is that the Lord has sent this man to you as a Minister of His Gospel. Most of you think what you need is a headmaster and associate pastor. So that is how he will begin and what he will strive to be. But it is quite possible that the Lord has more in store for you than you've dared to ask. He might modify your plans, or Pastor Stephens' plans, along the way. I suspect Pastor Stephens will learn a few things, will grow into the position, and that he will provide in short order exactly the sort of service you are hoping for.

But whether he does or not, the Word of the Lord will not return void. The Lord always provides. He keeps every promise. What we most need, more than schools or health care or cheap gas, is the Lord's Holy Word and Sacraments. And this He has promised to us in the Office of the Holy Ministry. He has instituted this Office in order to deliver Himself to us, to elders and ushers, to the Ladies' Aid and the children sitting at the desks in the school, and even to the teachers and parents and custodial staff and senior pastor. Pastor Stephens will serve, as he has been prepared to serve, in this Holy Office. He'll probably have to wipe some bloody noses and clean up some vomit along the way. He might have to learn to eat sloppy joes or to call cardboard with tomato sauce "pizza" or to always carry kleenex in his pockets and to quit bothering to polish his shoes which children are stepping on or become an expert in copy machine repair. And I don't want to hear him complaining that the seminary didn't prepare him for these things. So what? He will do what needs to be done, as all Ministers of the Gospel do, in direct response to the needs of the children, teachers, staff, and families he will serve. His duties will change as those people change, leave, and new people come. It is no more predictable than combat. But what doesn't change is the essence of the Office. What your children and families cannot live without is the Word of God, the Absolution, Baptism, and the Holy Communion. And that is what the Lord will provide through Pastor Stephens, that is what He has sent him here for, and all the nose wiping and floor mopping serves that. He will do all those other things for the sake of the Gospel.

For the Lord won't use Pastor Stephens simply to tell the children about Himself. Through the pastor, the Lord will give Himself to them. He will give them His crucified and risen Body. He will put Himself into their mouths and they will be joined to Him. He will wash them with the waters from His side and raise them up out of that bloody, drowning death to life. He will loose their sins, speak them clean and holy, and deliver them to heaven. Pastor Stephens will be His mouthpiece, a watchman in Zion, a shepherd and ambassador of heaven. And if you want to call that a headmaster, go ahead. It's as good of a title as any.

In + Jesus' Name. Amen.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Saint Henry's Day

Today is the traditional feast of Saint Henry, who, if I am not mistaken, is the only German monarch ever to be declared a saint. He was born in Bavaria in 972 to Duke Henry II, and succeeded his father as duke in 995. When the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Henry's cousin Otto, died in 1002, Henry was elected to be his successor. On 14 February, 1014, he was coronated Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Benedict VIII. He ruled the empire until his death ten years later.

Henry was a holy and faithful husband, king and emperor. He helped in the reformation and reorganization of the churches in his realm, established several monasteries, and built the cathedral at Bamberg. The picture you see here is of a statue of Henry at the Bamberg Cathedral.
Saint Henry was a ruler who could have used his status and privilege to live like King Herod. Instead, he lived ascetically, and took the penitential seasons seriously. He was an example of Christian piety for the people of Germany, and the empire.
Some of the stories of Henry's sanctity and asceticism are pure legend, and seem exaggerated, such as the story that his marriage was virginal. It is not necessary for us to buy all of these accounts, of course. Nevertheless, he was surely a holy and pious king, a model for Christian rulers of all time. He fell asleep in Christ while at his residence in Gottingen, in 1024.

kneeling in the Mass

Kneeling in the presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, a practice of long "standing" tradition in the West, is a beautiful and rich form of worship. It is one of those expressions which speaks volumes without words. But first let us establish that it is literally a form of worship. To kneel is to worship. The immediate response this sort of observation often elicits is that worship is a disposition of the heart, not what one does with his body. In modern America this, unfortunately, is what people like to tell themselves. A much healthier, and Catholic, way of thinking can be found in the pre-enlightenment age. Classic Anglicanism, for example, unabashedly has the groom vow to the bride, "With my body I thee worship," when he gives to her the wedding ring. The word in this context, let us hasten to add, is not a reference to divine worship, or adoration. It is the classic use of the word when one honors another. The man sacrifices his body, his very life, for the good of his wife, as Christ does so for His Spouse, the Church. A man doesn't merely have good ideas about his wife. He worships her bodily. Likewise, our Lord doesn't merely wish us well. He speaks us well (benediction), and His words are never hollow, but flow from His own self sacrifice. While we are on the topic of bodily sacrifice, let us also recall that Saint Paul tells us in Romans 12 to present our bodies as a living sacrifice. And lest we think there is some disconnect, some contradiction, between this kind of talk on the one hand and the value of reason and the mind on the other, let us point out that Paul goes on to say that this is, in fact, our "reasonable service." Worship has, then, an inherently physical dimension.

Worship is physical. Worship is a turning of our heart to the recipient. Worship is turning our mind, and dedicating our decisions, to the worshipped. It is all of these. If one does not worship God with the heart, he ought not be a hypocrite by worshipping physically. See Luther's treatise on adoration for a beautiful treatment on this. The Christian who worships with bended knees, though, is manifesting, expressing, the worship of his heart. He is worshipping God with his whole self, body, mind, spirit, for all of him is God's. God created, and redeemed, all of him.

I intimated earlier that kneeling is also a confession. It says a great deal about the kneeler, the One before whom he kneels, and about their relationship. Kneeling during the Eucharist confesses that one recognizes that someone special is in fact present, namely, that Christ Himself, the God-man, is truly present on the altar. It confesses that He is worthy to be worshipped and praised, and to be given complete submission. It confesses that He has something to give us, and so the kneeler disposes himself to that gift. Of course what He gives us is His very self, His life, His own sacred Body, His true life blood. In a dim way we see a reflection of this in the marital union, as corrupt and filled with mixed motives as it is, when a man gives his seed to his beloved spouse, which contains, in seed form, all that he is. What results from this union between our Lord and His Spouse, the Church and the Christian? We receive the forgiveness of sins, we are given strengthened faith, and we receive our very life in Him. When we receive Him into our bodies in faith, we realize in a most profound way that we are found in Him.

By the way, does this kind of sacramental talk have any real relevance in the real world? That is, does it relate at all to our mission in the world? Absolutely! Realizing how empty we are of ourselves, how barren of life we are by own own sinful nature, and indeed, by our own feelings at times, let us consider, in light of the Eucharist, this most beautiful passage in Bernanos' The Diary of a Country Priest:

"O miracle! Thus to be able to give what we ourselves do not possess, sweet miracle of our empty hands! Hope which was shrivelling in my heart flowered again in hers; the spirit of prayer which I thought lost in me forever was given back to her by God."

The context of this passage is the priest looking upon the dead woman he confronted the day before, and had ended up giving her absolution, and peace. Consider these words, though, in terms of what they might express about our effect on others in this world; consider even, for a moment, the feminine pronouns to be a reference to one's own soul.

The effect, on ourselves, on the Church, and on the world, of this new life Christ continually gives us, is immeasurable. There is no way to count it, predict it, measure it. So the neat and tidy scientific minds can never teach the faith adequately. For Christ doesn't work by flow charts and five year plans. He makes all things new.

How then can the Christian, in the face of such a wondrous gift, not worship his Creator and Redeemer with all his heart? When the communicant kneels, he is expressing this worship of the heart with his body. He is rendering eucharistic sacrifice. That is to say, he is giving thanks to God for the gift of this Sacrament. Bended knees, and opened mouth, are the Christian's ultimate "Amen!".

There is also a real Christological dimension to kneeling itself. Eminently quotable in this regard is Joseph Ratzinger, the current Pope Benedict XVI, who wrote the following in his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy:

"In the case of the New Testament, from the fathers onward, Jesus' prayer on the Mount of Olives was especially important. According to St. Matthew and St. Mark, Jesus throws himself to the ground; indeed, he falls to the earth (according to Matthew). However, St. Luke, who in his whole work (both the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles) is in a special way the theologian of kneeling prayer, tells us that Jesus prayed on his knees. This prayer, the prayer by which Jesus enters into his Passion, is an example for us, both as a gesture and in its content. The gesture: Jesus assumes, as it were, the fall of man, lets himself fall into man's fallenness, prays to the Father out of the lowest depths of human dereliction and anguish. He lays his will in the will of the Father's: 'Not my will! but yours be done.' He lays the human will in the divine. He takes up all the hesitation of the human will and endures it. It is this very conforming of the human will to the divine that is the heart of redemption. For the fall of man depends on the contradiction of wills, on the opposition of the human will to the divine, which the tempter leads man to think is the condition of his freedom. Only one's own autonomous will, subject to no other will, is freedom. 'Not my will, but yours.' those are the words of truth, for God's will is not in opposition to our own, but the ground and condition of its possibility. Only when our will rests in the will of God does it become truly will and truly free. The suffering and struggle of Gethsemane is the struggle for this redemptive truth."

Far from conforming to some ancient culture, Ratzinger argues, we are in fact participating in a unique and inherently Christian, even Christic, culture. He has much more to say, but I will let that suffice for the purposes of this little piece.

Kneeling would not be the most appropriate posture for the entire liturgy. Consider that those in the chancel are literally called 'circumstances', that is, those who 'stand around' the altar. In the presence of our Lord Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, however, Catholic tradition wisely gives us the practice of kneeling. In light of the above, I thank God that in my parish the people kneel for the consecration, through the Agnus Dei. Being the extremist that I am, I have decided to also remain kneeling throughout the Communion, except when there is someone sitting right in front of me, for then I would be literally breathing down his neck. So far I don't seem to have caused any great scandal.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Saint Bonaventure's Day

Today is the traditional feast of St. Bonaventure, the great Franciscan theologian of the thirteenth century whom Pope Sixtus V named Doctor Seraphicus. His life coincided with that of another great theologian, the Dominican Thomas Aquinas. Both studied at the University of Paris, and they received the doctoral degree together there on 23 October, 1257.

Bonaventure was known for his holy life, being a man of great humility, and deeply devoted to our Lord's Passion. One story that has come down to us illustrates his down to earth humility. In June of 1273 Pope Gregory X elevated Bonaventure to the rank of cardinal when he named him Cardinal Bishop of Albano, despite the theologian's protests. When the pope's emissaries arrived at Bonaventure's house with the cardinal's hat, they found him outside washing his dishes. Being in no great hurry to take hold of the hat, he told them to hang it on a tree until he could take it.

Bonaventure was also known for his aptitude for teaching the faith, having attained at a young age (1248 at the age of 27) the licentiate. He became a master instructor on Peter Lombard's Four Books, and went on to write many of his own works, including a commentary on Luke's Gospel.

He was also a blessing to the Church, and his order in particular, as an administrator. At the age of 35, he was elevated to the post of minister general of the Friars Minor, which involved navigating the order through the storms of division and controversy with which it was afflicted at the time. One of his literary achievements which no doubt helped unify the Franciscans of his time was the biography of St. Francis, which remains a classic.

In his effort to work for the good of the greater Church he attended the Council of Lyon in 1274. He worked hard at healing the division in the Church between East and West, and had gained much ground in that regard, though ultimately, as we all know, the wound has yet to be healed. That Council did in fact cement the placement of the filioque in the Latin Church's use of the Nicene Creed.

Saint Thomas died on his way to the Council, and Saint Bonaventure died at the Council. The cause of Bonaventure's death has never been established, though some sources argue that he was poisoned. Both of these great men of the Church were honored by the Council.

Let us pray that the Lord will raise up another Bonaventure for us today, a saintly theologian to help Shepherd the Church through the terrible storms of division and controversy by which we are sorely oppressed.

Iustum deduxit Dominus per vias rectas, et ostendit illi regnum Dei.

The Lord led the just man in right paths, and showed him the kingdom of God.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Reverent Reception of the Body of Christ

A few weeks ago I argued, at a Lutheran online community, ie., the Wittenberg Trail, for the reverent handling of the Blessed Sacrament, going so far as to gently advocate, ie., give voice to, traditional rubrics regarding the priest's careful use of his fingers. The immediate reaction was that two Lutheran clergy persons proceeded to deride me, one calling me pharisaical and legalistic, and the other calling me a hyper-ritualist. The longer term reaction is that this little unpleasantness between Lutheran brothers has spawned a vast multi-front debate in the e-world.

I have not had the time to keep up with even reading all of the resulting arguments. I have noticed that one of the arguments put forward by my original interlocutor is that the concern for particles of the consecrated host which might fall to the ground is not Lutheran, and it is not patristic, but rather medieval, that it results directly from the medieval doctrine of transubstantiation. In support of this theory, the argument has even been raised that in the early church the Body of Christ was routinely administered in the hand of the communicant. It is for the purpose of shedding more light on the early church doctrine that accompanied this practice that I would like to comment today.

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, who died in March of 386, composed a series of catechetical lectures. He comments, in a very pointed way, on the Church's liturgy in his 23rd lecture. In the course of that lecture Saint Cyril writes:

"After this ye hear the chanter inviting you with a sacred melody to the Communion of the Holy Mysteries, and saying, O taste and see that the Lord is good. Trust not the judgement to your bodily palate, no, but to faith unfaltering, for they who taste are bidden to taste, not bread and wine, but the anti-typical Body and Blood of Christ.

"In approaching therefore, come not with your wrists extended, or your fingers spread, but make your left hand a throne for the right, as for that which is to receive a king. And having hallowed your palm, receive the Body of Christ, saying over it, Amen. So then, after having carefully hallowed your eyes by the touch of the holy Body, partake of it, giving heed lest you lose any portion thereof. For whatever you lose, is evidently a loss to you as it were from one of your own members. For tell me, if any one gave you grains of gold, would you not hold them with all carefulness, being on your guard against losing any of them, and suffering loss? Will you not then much more carefully keep watch, that not a crumb fall from you of what is more precious than gold and precious stones?" (19th century translation of Edwin Gifford)

I am a fan of neither receiving the Body of Christ in the hand, nor of the practice of saying Amen upon communion. For I see both as practices which are efforts, most directly inspired by the post-Vatican II reforms of the Mass, to renew the liturgy by repristinating ancient customs more at home in a time and place that is not ours, which is to say they overturn the longstanding tradition of the Western Church. You might expect no less of a traditionalist Lutheran. Of course I will condemn no man for saying Amen at the altar rail, or receiving the Body of Christ in his palm. To put it another way, it's not my thing, though as Jerry Seinfeld once said, "not that there's anything wrong with that."

Nevertheless, I love this passage in Saint Cyril's catecheses. For it shows, in no uncertain terms, that the early Church believed firmly in the real, true, substantial, presence of our Lord in the Eucharist, and that such a precious gift as His true, awesome, and salutary presence is precisely what has always inspired the Church to teach her children to be most careful and reverent when receiving so noble and precious a Sacrament.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

christ our hope

just a short blog this morning, because I am showing my boss how easy it is to blog.

So let me just mention a book that has just recently been released by Ignatius Press. It is a compilation of the homilies and addresses of Pope Benedict XVI during his pastoral visit to the United States. I had the pleasure of reading these texts when they were published online soon after the visit. Now, they are brought together in a beautiful hard cover volume, with lots of pictures, and commentary on the visit. The book is titled, Christ Our Hope: Pope Benedict XVI's Apostolic Journey to the United States and Visit to the United Nations; it is published, as I say, by Ignatius Press, and the cost is a reasonable $21.95. I recommend it to any who want to learn more about this important pope and theologian, or just want to relive the visit to the U.S.

P.S. This is my first time attempting to make use of the "labels;" not completely certain what its purpose is, or how best to utilize it. But here it goes.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Letters To Gabriel: a late appreciation

Karen Garver Santorum, wife of U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, found out in June of 1996 that she was pregnant with her fourth child. The same day she learned she was pregnant, 25 June, she began something unusual. She started writing letters to her child. Almost two years later she agreed to publish these letters in a volume called Letters To Gabriel.

She did not know when she began this project that her son would eventually be diagnosed with a defect, and would be born premature, and live only two hours after birth. In early October Karen was told, in a most insensitive way, about her child's condition. As she writes on page 34,

"With your sister and brothers present in the room and without the slightest trace of compassion or emotion, the radiologist studied the screen for a moment and said, 'Your baby has a fatal defect and is going to die.'"

Karen enjoyed the strong support, however, of her husband, extended family, friends, and the Church, and she and Rick were determined to do all they could for their little one. They named him Gabriel Michael, after the angels; they prayed; and they held on to all the hope they could find.

On Friday (the day of the week the Church remembers in a special way her Lord's suffering and death) 11 October (the feast of the Motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary), Karen gave birth to her son at 12:45 A.M., knowing that he would not live long on the earth. Gabriel was baptized, held, cherished, loved, and he enjoyed the company of his family until he died, two hours later. His parents could have very easily disposed of him right after birth. But they never once entertained such ideas. Instead, Karen insisted on holding her son until it was time for his burial.

She kept writing letters to Gabriel in the months following his death. The letters collected in Letters To Gabriel take the reader up to Karen's next pregnancy, a beautiful conclusion to such a life affirming story.

One of the remarkable coincidences of Rick and Karen's heart breaking fight for their son was that at the exact same time Rick was fighting for the partial birth abortion ban on the floor of the Senate. Opponents of the ban argued that the right to such late term abortions should be preserved for precisely the sort of situation in which Rick and Karen found themselves. Advocates of abortion rights cannot say that the defenders of life argue from high above any real experience with difficult and painful situations.

God allowed the lives of the Santorums to be permeated with deep, inexplicable, suffering. We cannot presume to know all of God's reasons. We do know that God has used that suffering to ultimately bring much love and joy into their life. God gave the Santorum family a great deal of love through a child, and He gave them a great opportunity to give love to a helpless little child.

Even now Gabriel's short life, and his parents' love for him, touch the lives of any who hear of their story. This is one of the great benefits of writing a book. One never knows where and when it will appear on someone's radar. Letters To Gabriel was published in the spring of 1998, and I only discovered it lately, quite by happy accident. If you want a life affirming experience, find this book, read it, and pass it on.