Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Spiritual Pelagianism

"There is nothing new under the sun", Ecclesiastes 1:9 tells us, and indeed the heresy of Pelagianism has not only recurred in various forms throughout Christian history, but can be a chronic problem in one's spiritual life as well.

An insightful priest gently recently reminded me of this during Confession: "You must remember", he said, "we can only love God, others, and even ourselves, because God has first loved us." And as he spoke, I had an abrupt realization: I had fallen into the Pelagian trap once again!

To explain what I mean by this reference, a brief excursus may be helpful:

Pelagius was a 5th century monk whose writings denied the doctrine of original sin, and instead spoke of Adam's sin as a "bad example". For Pelagius, Christ's work, his teaching and model of the moral life, countered Adam's bad example. He argued that man, through the exercise of his will and sheer human effort, could be completely virtuous. The missing and absolutely essential element here is grace: Pelagius argued that it was not necessary for the individual to attain eternal life. The Council of Carthage, held in 418, therefore declared Pelagianism to be a heresy, and affirmed the absolute necessity of grace for the salvation of man: without the grace of Christ, man cannot perform the good works He commands.

(Incidentally, it is primarily due to his writings against Pelagius and Pelagianism that St. Augustine is known as the "Doctor of Grace". Paragraph 406 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church contains a mention of Pelagianism, and for more information on this subject, see the article "Pelagius and Pelagianism" in the Catholic Encyclopedia.)

Father's insight caused me to pause and reflect upon my attitudes and actions. Though I am convinced of the priority of grace, the Catholic doctrine that it is only through the Redemption that man may merit a share in the eternal glory of the Trinity, I find it only too easy to slip into a daily default attitude that focuses more on "me". Perhaps it is part of human nature, this independent and assertive tendency exhibited from childhood: "I want to do it myself!". Perhaps it is ingrained in the American psyche, this "pull yourself up by the bootstraps mentality", which affirms that if one just has enough desire and works hard, man can achieve anything. Perhaps it is a symptom of any one of a number of invasive post-Enlightenment philosophies, such as secular humanism, with its pontification that a universally just morality may be gained through reason alone.

Whatever the cultural, historical, philosophical or psychological source, I frequently, and most often unconsciously, concentrate on "what I do" to work towards salvation. The danger in this attitude, if untempered, for me has a two-fold manifestation. If I feel I am doing well in my spiritual life, accomplishing many good works, I can develop a pride that forgets "I do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13). On the other hand, my recognition of my many failures can be accompanied by a sense of despondency, which is forgetful of hope in Christ. Either attitude can extend to broader activities as well: in catechesis or evangelization, I sometimes forget, that though I may contribute, moments of conversion, healing or inspiration are ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit, and not my own.

The counter, or antidote, to this "tendency to spiritual Pelagianism", as I see it, is multi-faceted.

The Catholic faith is, as one of my professors once explained, "both/and", never "either/or". Thus, the Church teaches the necessity of both grace and works, the value of both fasting and feasting, the need for both faith and reason…one could go on and on.

Avoiding "spiritual Pelagianism", it would seem, therefore requires an active recognition of the dynamic relationship between the action of God and the cooperation of man in individual sanctification. God's grace is always prior, but through Christ's Redemption and the grace given through the supernatural virtues of faith, hope and charity, man is given the ability to love as God loves (St. Thomas provides an excellent explanation of this relationship in the Secunda Secundae, Question 23, Article 2 "Whether charity is something created in the soul?" of the Summa).

It is not always easy to translate this principle into daily life: living the virtue of charity while simultaneously acknowledging that one's acts of charity are not one's own, but ultimately from God. It requires a constant balance; over-emphasis upon God's action in the spiritual life would make man a mere "puppet" of the Holy Spirit, and would reject or ignore the great dignity God has given man in the gift of human free will. Over-emphasis upon human action, however, can lead to this "spiritual Pelagianism", a neglect of God's essential role in sanctification.

In my experience, this is the beauty of the Catholic faith: it has already provided, or (at the least) points to, three aids to the practice of this "constant balance". First, the sacrament of Confession, a good examination of conscience beforehand, have a way of bringing to light and correcting my over-reliance upon my human abilities, reminding me of my need for God's grace and providing that gratuitous gift. Second, I find that a tendency to "spiritual Pelagianism" most often occurs when I neglect my daily prayer. The silence of prayer, especially the meditation that "is a way of making contact with the heart of God in our mind", as Pope Benedict XVI has observed in his recent catechetical series on prayer, has a way of attuning our hearts and spirits to the priority of God's love, reminding us that "we love him because he first loved us". (1 John 4:19) Finally, the cultivation of that wonderful (if sometimes challenging) virtue of humility, whether it be sought actively through prayer or the result of suffering, enables one to recognize the truth of man's ultimate dependence upon the love and mercy of God.

Father's gentle diagnosis of what I would term "spiritual Pelagianism", was not, I realized, cause for despair. Rather, his correction was an occasion for gratitude, for me to joyfully remember the ineffable love of God, His desire for each individual soul to spend eternity in His glorious presence, and the great magnanimity He shows in enabling each human being to attain this Beatific Vision.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Blessed Emperor Charles of Austria

Charles of Austria was born on the 17th of August 1887 at Persenbeug castle in Lower Austria. His parents were the Archduke Otto of Austria and the Princess Maria Josepha of Saxony, the sister of the last King of Saxony. The Emperor Franz-Joseph I was Charles' Great Uncle.

Charles was brought up consciously as a Catholic, receiving a mainly military but also political training. From his earliest childhood his life was accompanied by a prayer group, after a nun blessed with the marks of the stigmata, had foretold great suffering and personal attacks for Charles in the future. From an early age, Charles developed a great love of Holy Communion and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Throughout his life he sought to resolve all important decisions through prayer.

On the 21st of October 1911, he married Princess Zita of Bourbon, daughter of the Duke of Parma. In ten years of happy and exemplary marriage, they were blessed with eight children.

On the 28th of June 1914, the murder of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo resulted in Charles becoming the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The death of the Emperor Franz-Joseph in the middle of the war was followed by Charles' inthronisation on the 21st of November 1916 as Emperor of Austria. On the 30th of December he was crowned Apostolic King of Hungary.

For Charles the inheritance of crowns was a personal vocation given to him from God's hand. This duty in the service of his peoples was both unrenounceable and sacred. It was to be carried out if necessary in loving submission even at the expense of his own life as a true Follower of Christ. In the universal and faith-serving tradition of his house, he saw the alternative to nationalism and the other fatal currents of the twentieth century whose beginning would encompass the destruction of his empire. Throughout all of this, the Empress was his strongest human support.

Charles' rule expressed Catholic Social Teaching. His highly personal efforts to secure a peace were at the centre of his activities throughout a terrible war. On account of his political ideas, his beatification honoured him as the pioneer and patron of a truly united Europe.

He created a social legal framework which is partly in force even today. Moreover, as practically the only statesman who was himself also a soldier, he had personal experience of the horrors of the front. As Commander-in Chief he made great efforts to humanise military tactics where conditions permitted.

Charles saw himself opposed by a violent propaganda inspired by international forces which actively worked for the destruction of his empire and therefore had a vested interest in discrediting him personally. These forces influenced also large parts of the leading internal military, social and political circles.

His constant sensitive conscience and courageous conduct enabled the transition to a post-war order to occur without a civil war. Nevertheless both he and his wife were deprived of their homeland, birthright and practically all of their possessions.

Loyal to his coronation oath and the express wishes of the Pope who feared Bolshevism was set to engulf central Europe, Charles tried after the war to take up again his ruling responsibilities in Hungary. Two attempts failed owing to the treason and dishonesty of his subordinates. King and Queen were first imprisoned and then exiled to Madeira, together with their children.

There the family lived in impoverished conditions where the already physically weak Emperor contracted a painful illness which finally killed him. Just as he had accepted dutifully the inheritance of crowns, he now accepted with equanimity also from God's own hand the cross of exile, painful illness and death, again as a sacrifice for his peoples.

Pardoning and forgiving all, he died on the 1st of April 1922 his gaze fixed on the Blessed Sacrament.

The motto of his life was as he repeated on his death-bed:

"My entire efforts are always in all things to recognise and follow as clearly as possible the will of God even in all its completeness."


O Blessed Emperor Charles, you accepted the difficult duty and burdensome challenges of your life as the commission of God trusting alone in the Holy Trinity for all your thoughts, decisions and actions.

We beseech you to intercede with God on our behalf giving us confidence and courage so that even in the most difficult situations of our earthly lives we may not lose heart, but continue faithfully in the footsteps of Christ.

Ask for us the grace that our hearts may be moulded into the likeness of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Help us to work with compassion and strength for the poor and needy, to fight with courage for peace in our homes and in the world, and in every situation to trustingly place our lives in God's hand, so that like you we may belong to Him through Christ our Lord. Amen.

(source: Archdiocese of Vienna; image from New World Encyclopedia)

(Note: with the recent death of Otto von Habsburg, the greatest and longest lasting Catholic dynasty has come to an end after over a thousand years; and with that passing, all that it stood for. It is truly a sad state of affairs, that a world would joyfully see the destruction of such a beautiful thing, and should give pause for real reflection on the transmission of the Gospel in what is now a truly "post-Christian" era.-CDO)

Blessed Kaiser Karl, pray for us!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Who's the New Arch in Denver?

With today's big event being the installation of His Excellency, Charles Chaput as the new Metropolitan in Philadelphia, I thought it an opportunity to put it out there as to my thoughts as a potential successor for him in Denver.

But first, let's look at what kind of shoes would need to be filled. In the public sphere especially, Archbishop Chaput has been outspoken on the issues of the day, especially giving a strong voice to the pro-life movement.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, he was highly critical of then-candidate Barack Obama, and especially the messiah-complex that he seemed to garner from his supporters.

His book, Render unto Caesar, reiterates this point, encouraging all Catholics to take a more active stance in public life, and for standing up for the truths of the Faith.

He has been especially critical in fighting off the advances of same sex "marriage" advocates, and well articulating the positive position of the Church's teachings in this area, and highlighting the underlying agenda by those who would see that ideology advanced.

As if that weren't enough, he has in the past also publicly disagreed with the prevailing winds of the USCCB-- that is to say, he is not afraid to be his own Bishop.

In addition, ++Chaput is a sincere and personally holy man. I have had the chance to meet him and talk with him briefly, and he is a true pastor.

All of that said, who do I think would be an ideal successor to him in Denver?

My vote:

His Excellency, the Most Reverend Samuel J. Aquila.

Bishop Aquila, currently the Ordinary of the Fargo Diocese, is no stranger to Denver-- in fact, he was first ordained there. He was also the first rector of the Seminary in Denver, after ++Chaput re-opened it.

Naturally, Bishop Aquila has spent a bit of time in Rome. Since his ordination as Bishop, he has absolutely transformed North Dakota during his tenure there. With a specialization in liturgy, and also with great experience in catechesis (he has been on a USCCB committee for both), it is no surprise that Fargo Diocese is doing as well as it is.

In addition, he is a staunch defender of human life, and no stranger to entering into the Public Forum, either.

For all of these reasons, not that my own opinion makes any difference, I think he would be an excellent candidate to fill the void that Archbishop Chaput has left in the Mile High City. Given the raised profile of the Church in Denver, the candidate would have to be someone of the caliber of Bishop Aquila, and also someone of his knowledge of the mid-west and mountain regions.

As for a date for announcing this, just to keep it interesting...I wouldn't be at all surprised if whoever the successor is going to be is announced before Christmas of this year, perhaps even as early as the beginning of October; however, I am sure that the passing of our beloved Nuncio may have slowed down things a bit.

Just a thought... But at least, if I am at all correct, there is a written record.

Some have opined that perhaps +Conley, auxiliary of Denver, might have a chance. I think he would be great, but don't think it likely, as I foresee he has the potential to be heading to Lincoln, NE in the near future...

Any other thoughts as to who it might be, or who would be good for Denver? Leave a comment!

UPDATE: this speculation is fun and all, but seriously, why not take a few seconds and pray for our Bishops, especially our local ordinary, and also for Archbishop Chaput in his new placement, and for the Holy Spirit to guide our Holy Father to the right candidate for Denver.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Novena for Doctrinal Discussions

It seems to me that the coming meeting between Cardinal Levada, the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Bishop Fellay, Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X, on the coming Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14th) has some potentially very broad-reaching importance.

Many would look at the so-called "Traditionalists," and say that this is all about the celebration of the Mass, those folks who want to turn the clock back to the "Tridentine Rite," or what we now should properly call "The Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite," and who dismiss the New Mass, don't recognize the Pope, etc, etc.

However, this is all a propaganda to mask the underlying issue, and that is the fact that this Society is essentially calling for a proper interpretation of the documents that were produced by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council. In point of fact, the members of the Society do recognize the Holy Father, Pope Benedict, and they do recognize the validity of the New Mass.

Now, this is not the place at all to get into the intricacies of the ongoing discussions, as they are complex; however, my purpose for writing today is to highlight the importance of these talks. These areas of discussion-- issues such as religious liberty and ecumenism, evangelization, and the organization of the Church, and yes, also the celebration of the Liturgy, all have very real implications on the person in the pews and their understanding of the nature and mission of the Church.

This is why I say that, potentially, these discussions with the SSPX have some broad-reaching implications for the rest of the Church. If we truly desire as Christ desires, that all might be One, then for the purpose of unity, these talks take on a particular importance (not unlike, I might add, the Holy Father's visit to Germany).

For this reason, I propose that we should engage in a novena to St. Pius X, for the Holy Spirit not to be impeded in these talks, and that, on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, Christ's glory might be made manifest.

If you would like to join in, beginning tomorrow for nine days until the 14th, then here is a prayer (I'd mention, perhaps also it would be good to remember the Ember Days for this intention):

Novena to St. Pius X

Glorious pope of the Eucharist, St. Pius X, you sought “to restore all things in Christ.” Obtain for me a true love of Jesus so that I may live only for Him. Help me to acquire a lively fervor and a sincere will to strive for sanctity of life and that I may avail myself of the riches of the Holy Eucharist, which is sacrifice and sacrament. By your love for Mary, mother and queen, inflame my heart with tender devotion to her.

Blessed model of the priesthood, obtain for us holy, dedicated priests, and increase vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

Dispel confusion, hatred, and anxiety. Incline our hearts to peace so that all nations will place themselves under the reign of Christ.

Most glorious servant of the servants of Christ, in a special way, guide the hearts of those involved in doctrinal discussions between the fraternity named in honor of you, and our Holy Father in Rome, that a spirit of unity, charity, and truth might be made manifest, so that all might be truly one. Amen.

Sáncte Míchael Archángele, defénde nos in proélio, cóntra nequítiam et insídias diáboli ésto præsídium. Ímperet ílli Déus, súpplices deprecámur: tuque, prínceps milítiæ cæléstis, Sátanam aliósque spíritus malígnos, qui ad perditiónem animárum pervagántur in múndo, divína virtúte, in inférnum detrúde. Ámen

Pater noster, qui es in caelis, sanctificetur nomen tuum. Adveniat regnum tuum. Fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo et in terra. Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie. Et dimitte nobis debita nostra, sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris. Et ne nos inducas in tentationem: sed libera nos a malo. Amen.

Ave Maria, gratia plena; Dominus tecum: benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui Jesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.

Glória Patri, et Fílio, et Spirítui Sancto. Sicut erat in princípio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculórum. Amen

St. Pius X, pray for us.

(For a good, concise explanation of the history of the issue, and some of the problems in the discussion, I'd refer you over to Rorate Caeli, where they have a link to an article that very well outlines the importance of the coming meeting: "Do You Wish to Understand the Holy See- SSPX Talks?")