Friday, May 3, 2019
“Simply put, this idea of prayer is the process of slowly infusing of the soul with the mind of God as He has revealed Himself to us…” —Hilary White, a Catholic writer who lives in Italy, in an essay on sanctity and prayer that she published yesterday on the OnePeterFive website (link)
“It’s a somewhat alarming truth of the Faith that we are all — every one of us in every station and condition of life — required to attempt the great heights. And we are all given exactly the same means to make the attempt. Every spiritual writer from the earliest centuries to our own time has said the same thing: the means is prayer. Without this key ingredient — the striving of the soul for union with God — even the power of the sacraments is muted. It is only and exclusively through prayer that a soul is made capable of receiving the sacramental grace dispensed by God through the Church. Prayer is the rain that softens the hard earth of our souls to receive the seed of the Divine Sower, the grace of the Holy Ghost.” —Hilary White, in the same article
“There is a happiness beyond that which comes from the enjoyment of visible things; no good less than God will satisfy us, neither will any happiness lessthan fulfillment of God’s promise to pour His own eternal joy into our souls.” —The great Benedictine Abbess, Cecile Bruyère, (1845-1909), cited by White at the end of the same essay. Bruyère was a student of the 19th-century Benedictine reformer and reviver Dom Prosper Guéranger (see below for more details). The passage cited is from Bruyère’s book “The Spiritual Life and Prayer According to Holy Scripture and Monastic Tradition.” White tells us that Bruyère’s book is “aprecious and almost forgotten modern manual of sanctification based on ancient sources, that can now be bought in translation from Wipf and Stock publishers, Eugene Oregon.”
From the News of the Day to the Desire for Eternal Union with God
#1: Papal trip to Bulgaria and Macedonia
In Rome, Pope Francis is preparing to make a four-day trip to Bulgaria and Macedonia with implications for Catbolic-Orthodox dialogue.
He will start the trip on Sunday. One thing may be said: Francis at 82 is keeping a punishing schedule, with meetings, homilies, addresses and decisions to take every single day.
Here is a summary preview of the upcoming trip from Philip Pullella of Reuters:
Pope on sensitive trip to Orthodox Bulgaria and North Macedonia
By Philip Pullella, Angel Krasimirov
VATICAN CITY/RAKOVSKI, BULGARIA (Reuters), May 3 — Pope Francis starts a trip on Sunday to Bulgaria and North Macedonia where he will have to tread carefully because of sensitive relations with the dominant Eastern Orthodox Church in the two Balkan countries where Catholics are a tiny minority.
Bulgaria, a country of 7.1 million people, is home to just 58,000 Catholics, while North Macedonia, with a population of 2 million, has just 15,000 Catholics, less than some single neighborhood parishes in Rome.
One purpose of the three-day trip is to improve relations with the Orthodox churches as part of the Vatican’s push for eventual unity between the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity that split in 1054.
But that task is delicate because Orthodox churches in both countries are caught up in their own internal conflicts, which have spilled over into official relations with Catholics.
Bulgarian Orthodox leaders have ordered clergy not to take part in prayers or services with the pope, saying its laws do not permit it. But the pope will meet Orthodox Patriarch Neophyte and visit an Orthodox cathedral in Sofia…
A statement from the Bulgarian Orthodox Church last month explaining its position emphasized that the invitation for the pope’s visit was made by state authorities, suggesting it had been given only a secondary role in the planning.
Bulgaria’s Orthodox community is one of the most hardline in relations with the Catholic Church.
It is the only Orthodox community that has boycotted the most recent meetings of the official Orthodox-Catholic dialogue and also boycotted the 2016 Pan-Orthodox Council, citing differences on preparatory texts.
The Orthodox world considers North Macedonia’s Church to be in a state of schism since it declared itself autocephalous, or independent, from the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Apparently in an effort not to upset other Orthodox Churches, the pope will not be meeting privately with North Macedonian Orthodox Primate Stephen.
It will be only the second visit by a pope to Bulgaria — Pope John Paul II visited in 2002…
(end Reuters article)
#2: The bombings in Sri Lanka and the pastoral care of Cardinal Ranjith
Also in the news: Catholics in Sri Lanka continue to mourn the horrific bombings of their churches on Easter Sunday, April 21, which took the lives of hundreds.
This has focused a spotlight on the archbishop of Colombo, the capital city, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith (an old friend since his days in the liturgy dicastery in Rome more than 10 years ago), who took the decision to close the city’s churches for the moment, as a precautionary measure.
Some, like Catholic writer Charles Collins writing today in Crux, have even taken the opportunity to ask whether Ranjith’s spirit, character and outlook make him “papabile” — someone who might be considered a strong candidate to become the next Pope.
Here are a few lines from his article (link).
Sri Lanka bombings put Ranjith in the spotlight
By Charles Collins, Managing Editor, Crux
May 3, 2019
This Sunday, Catholics in Sri Lanka will miss Sunday Mass for the second week in a row.
It is a bold and drastic decision made by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo, and leader of the country’s Catholic Church.
Strange for a former papal diplomat — Ranjith served as the papal nuncio to Indonesia for a short time in the mid-2000s — the Sri Lankan cardinal has been unusually blunt in the aftermath of the Easter bombings which hit two Catholic churches on the South Asian island, as well as an Evangelical church and three hotels.
Ranjith has complained about the government’s response to the attack, and closing the churches to Sunday worship drives the point home that he doesn’t think the security forces are up to the task of protecting the country’s Christian minority.
At the same time, he has supported an emergency law preventing Muslim women from veiling their faces, a move which could cause tension in interfaith relations on the island.
Such outspokenness is not extraordinary for the cardinal: His time as a papal diplomat was bookended by two periods of service in the Roman Curia. Ranjith first served in the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples as the adjunct secretary in charge of the Pontifical Mission Societies under St. John Paul II. Later, under Benedict XVI, he served as secretary at the Congregation for Divine Worship.
He was known for giving frank interviews and was probably a bit too forthright for a long career in Rome. Ranjith became Archbishop of Colombo in 2009, but Benedict showed his estimation of the Sri Lankan by naming him a cardinal the next year.
Although a known figure in his homeland, Ranjith has kept a pretty low profile on the international ecclesiastical scene for the past decade (aside from hosting Pope Francis for three days in 2015.)
But now events have put the 71-year-old cardinal on the front pages of the world’s newspapers, and his star is beginning to shine. Whenever that happens, Church watchers always ask, if only in a whisper: Is he papabile?
Ranjith ticks several boxes many cardinals will be looking for in the next conclave: He comes from the global south, speaks several languages, has experience in the Roman Curia, and has served as the head of a diocese — both before and after his time in Rome.
The Sri Lankan cardinal is seen as a conservative, and his support for Benedict’s liberalization of the celebration of the traditional Latin Mass created many enemies in Rome…
Still, he has mostly avoided being painted as an opponent of the pope’s agenda, such as several Rome-based conservatives, including German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, American Cardinal Raymond Burke, and Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah. For example, Ranjith didn’t join in on the fight surrounding Amoris Laetitia, the papal document on marriage and the family.
In fact, aside from his conservative theological stance and more traditional liturgical tastes, Ranjith can almost be seen as a “Francis bishop.” He is a promoter of interfaith dialogue, advocates missionary activity, and is not the sort of “airport bishop” that spends most of his time outside of his archdiocese. In the aftermath of the Easter bombings, he has often been seen with people of his archdiocese, gaining “the smell of the sheep.”
However, the differences are apparent, and they might appeal not only to the more conservative cardinals, but to other cardinals from the global south…
(end Crux article)
#3: Archbishop Pezzi in Moscow, Russia, on a possible papal trip to Russia
In another news note, Archbishop Paolo Pezzi, bishop of the Mother of God at Moscow diocese, in a recent interview, said that a papal trip to Russia in the fairly near future “may be possible.” (link)
He said there have been “timid attempts,” especially since 2016 and the meeting between Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francisin Havana, Cuba (February 12, 2016), for Catholic and Orthodox in Russia “to bear witness together to the Gospel of Christ.”
Since, as Sister Lucy wrote and persistently maintained, the coming religious conversion of Russia is part of the “secret” of Fatima, it seems important to follow and, when possible, assist these developments.
(Note: This is the work of our Urbi et Orbi Foundation, and Archbishop Pezzi has been a kind host to our delegations in recent years on all of our recent pilgrimages to Russia, Ukraine, other places in the East, and Rome.
Our 6th annual pilgrimage will be in July, and we will once again visit the sites where Christians were executed in the last century, and where Christians today are living out their faith. If any reader would like to join with us this summer — the middle weeks of July — you may reach out to me by replying to this email. Such emails comes directly to me.)
(end report from Moscow)
#4: Sanctity and Prayer
I could not end this letter without drawing attention to a profound and moving essay by another friend, Hilary White. She is a Canadian convert to Catholicism who now lives, writes and tends her garden in central Italy, and her essays and reflections on our current ecclesial and societal predicament are powerful and fearless.
Yesterday she published a piece on OnePeterFive which goes deeply into the question of sanctity and prayer. (link)
White draws extensively of the writings of the Mère Cécile Bruyère (12 October 1845-8 March 1909), first abbess of St. Cecilia’s Abbey, Solesmes (Abbaye Sainte-Cécile de Solesmes) and a follower of Dom Prosper Guéranger in the revival of Benedictine spirituality in 19th century France.
(Note: for the following biographical information, I draw from Wikipedia, link.)
She was born as Jeanne-Henriette Bruyère (and went by Jenny), the granddaughter of the architect and engineer Louis Bruyère and the architect Jacques-Marie Huvé. Her family lived at Sablé-sur-Sarthe.
She was sent to Dom Guéranger, founder of Solesmes Abbey and the reviver of the French Benedictine tradition, to be prepared for her first communion, and became his spiritual daughter.
In 1866, with Dom Guéranger’s support, she founded the first women’s house within his French Benedictine Congregation (now the Solesmes Congregation). The new nunnery was dedicated to Saint Cecilia (Sainte Cécile) because of Dom Guéranger’s devotion to her. Jenny Bruyère herself as a child had always desired to be called by that name, after her maternal grandmother. She took the name Cécile as her confirmation name in 1858, and kept the same name in religious life.
Although St. Cecilia’s was still only a priory, Cécile Bruyère was named abbess of the new foundation at the age of 24 by Pope Pius IX on 20 June 1870.
This may have been a gesture of thanks towards Dom Guéranger for his great support to the Pope at the First Vatican Council in favour of the recently proclaimed dogma of Papal infallibility.
Mother Cécile, with the support of Dom Guéranger, wrote the nunnery’s constitutions, which were influential beyond her own nunnery. Of especial note are the re-establishment of the office of abbess with its symbols (the ring, the pectoral cross and the crozier), and of the long-forgotten rite of the consecration of virgins.
Her nuns, in accordance with the thought of Dom Guéranger and the Congregation he established, learned Latin and Gregorian chant, which was altogether exceptional at that time. This remains the practice of the abbey and of the Solesmes Congregation.
The French anti-religious laws of the early 20th century forced the whole community into exile in England, to the forerunner of the present St. Cecilia’s Abbey, Ryde, on the Isle of Wight, where on 18 March 1909 Mother Cécile died.
When the community was at last able to return to Solesmes, in 1921, her body was also transported and re-buried there.
Mother Cécile’s spiritual thought and teaching, entirely inherited from Dom Guéranger but presented with the benefit of many years’ experience in Benedictine life and meditation, is well summarised in her book La vie spirituelle et l’oraison, d’après la Sainte Ecriture et la tradition monastique, reprinted many times and translated into several languages. In this she explains the primary importance of the liturgy in the religious life in developing the specific grace arising from the sacrament of baptism.
Here are excerpts from Hilary White’s essay:
A reflection on the path to sanctity: “the means is prayer”
By Hilary White
May 2, 2019, OnePeterFive
(…) Here’s the great secret of the saints: prayer isn’t just “talking to God” the way you chat with the neighbours.
The kind of prayer St. Paul and all the other saints are talking about is what is called the “interior life,” the ability to turn one’s attention to God throughout every waking moment of the day, in the midst of all of life’s activities.
If it sounds easy, try it for half an hour without getting distracted.
Abbess Cecile, and the ancient sources she quotes, means not “talking” — vocal prayer — still less the empty recitation of memorised prayers — but “mental prayer,” the full engagement of the mind and imagination and of all the soul’s faculties, that starts with meditation on Scripture.
This is why the Divine Office is so firmly based in the Psalms. Eight times a day, a monk of the Benedictine Rule turns his whole attention to God, singing back to the Source all that he reads.
Simply put, this idea of prayer is the process of slowly infusing of the soul with the mind of God as He has revealed Himself to us in Scripture, to come finally to acquire, insofar as possible in this life, the mind of God as one’s own.
The Benedictine way of individual prayer, called “Lectio divina,” or divine reading, is more practically oriented and less concerned with theory and terminology — “mansions” and stages and all that — which I personally find confusing and distracting.
It involves four steps: “Lectio,” “Meditatio,” “Oratio,” and “Contemplatio.”
A Benedictine priest I asked once just said, “Well, I read a little bit, then I think about it.”
The Rule is terse on the subject, too.
Lectio is the first stage and is simply the “slow meditative reading of Scripture or the saints.” A single, short passage of Scripture is read and re-read and mulled over, held in the mind as though the Lord is speaking directly to the person’s soul through His word.
“Meditatio” is the mind’s digestion of the verse, allowing it to sink in.
“Oratio,” or “speaking,” naturally follows and is the person’s response to the word of the Lord spoken through the text.
The fourth part is “contemplatio” and is the most mysterious stage, since it is mostly out of the control of the person praying. This is where the Lord “speaks” back to the soul, lifting up to heights it could not reach on its own.
As a method, its simplicity belies its greatness.
The St. Benedict’s Rule exhorts monks to have the mind follow what the voice is saying. Even the choral recitation of the Psalms that makes up most of the Divine Office — that great “work of God” that takes up to 4 or 5 hours of a monk’s day — is meant to be delved into by the monk doing the reciting.
At no time is a monk expected merely to “say” his prayers without the full engagement of his mind.
If his mind wanders from the text, as soon as he realises, he is to correct himself and guide his attention gently back to the content of what he is chanting.
This ancient tradition of Scripture-based mental prayer is deceptively simple.
The spiritual writers say it can be as little as 15 or 20 minutes a day, for a busy layman.
The time it takes to say a few decades of the Rosary with attention to the mysteries.
The time it takes to get oneself going in the morning over a cup of coffee.
For a person in the world, any spare moment can be filled with this method, and of course, every smartphone in the world can provide access to the biblical source material.
There’s no other secret method to becoming a saint, and sanctity is not the reserve of the specially gifted.
There is no gene for sanctification.
Abbess Cecile reminds us only that the content of what we read must be reliable.
Scripture and the commentary of the saints is the normal material for meditation.
She recommends the study of dogmatic, not moral, theology, since it is the teaching of the Church on the nature of God that illumines the meaning of Scripture. “The study of dogma raises the soul to higher regions and shows it the divine Exemplar of the true, the good and the beautiful.”
And she puts before us a single compelling motivation: “There is a happiness beyond that which comes from the enjoyment of visible things; no good less than God will satisfy us, neither will any happiness less than fulfillment of God’s promise to pour His own eternal joy into our souls.”
(end, Hilary White on sanctity and prayer)