Monday, September 18, 2017

“Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.” —St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

A Continuing Mystery

The central issue in theological terms always remains Christ himself.

“But what about you?” Jesus asked. “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)

Our faith tells us he was the son of God and savior of the world, is the son and savior today, and will be the son and savior forever.

This is why being “Christo-centric,” centered on and rooted in Christ, is the definitive “gravity” of our own being and life, and of the being and life of the entire universe, of all time and space.

The central issue in ontological terms remains holiness, which I take to be a category of being.

That is, I take holiness to be in fact true being.

In this sense, I take space and time and matter and energy to be relative phenomena, contingent phenomena, created realities.

I take the holy to be the only truly real.

The only uncreated, unchanging, incorruptible (by definition) reality.

The intersection of these two words, these two realities, the intersection of “Christ, the Anointed One,” and “holiness, the ontologically real,” is the place where the two are encountered and celebrated.

And because that place is pre-eminently in the liturgy — though it can also be in every moment and every place, for “the Lord is with us” — the liturgy must be one of our central concerns.

The first document promulgated by the Second Vatican Council was the Sacred Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium (December 4, 1963).

That text states, in Paragraph 10: “The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows. For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord’s supper.”

“The font from which all her power flows…”

So, a matter of central, supreme importance.

In the center of our liturgy, we proclaim the “thrice-holy” nature of God, saying “Holy, holy, holy.”

In this proclamation, we are praising the nature and being of God with the single word that, despite our profound limitations in comprehension and understanding, more completely and perfectly than any other describes Him in his essence, in His nature and being.

In the liturgy, we say: “Make the pure light of Your Divine knowledge shine in our hearts, O loving Master. Open the eyes of our minds that we may understand the message of Your gospel.” (from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, used in the Orthodox and Eastern-rite Catholic Churches)

In the liturgy, we say: “We have seen the true light. We have received the heavenly Spirit. We have found the true faith. We worship the undivided Trinity for having saved us.” (from the same Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom)

And in the liturgy, we say: “May our mouths be filled with your praise, O Lord, that we may sing of Your glory. For You made us worthy to partake of Your holy, divine, immortal and life-giving Mysteries. Preserve us in Your holiness that we may meditate all the day upon Your justice. Alleluia, Alleluia, alleluia.” (from the same Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom)

For these reasons, it remains true that a central ecclesial problem we face, and perhaps it would be more correct to say the central ecclesial problem we face, is the liturgical problem: how to keep our worship, our adoration, our prayer, our liturgy, worthy of the holiness of God.

And it is for this reason that for many weeks now, as I said in June, I have been studying and preparing a commentary on Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s The Spirit of the Liturgy, which in coming weeks I will begin to send out, chapter by chapter, in these letters.

In this way, I hope to make my own small contribution to the continuing effort all of us must make to “run the race so as to win… an imperishable crown.”

At the same time, I will of necessity be commenting on the other matters that emerge from day to day, interweaving my letters on the liturgy with reports on news and events in Rome.

And one of those matters is the astonishing news out of Rome, made public yesterday, that there is a document of five pages, made public yesterday, from the late 1990s (20 years ago) which sets forth a list of expenses (allegedly) paid by the Vatican in the case of a 15-year old girl named Emanuela Orlandi who disappeared into thin air, unexpectedly and without any explanation, in the summer of 1983 — about a year before I myself came to Rome for the first time.

An Italian journalist, named Emiliano Fittipaldi, has just published the 5-page document, and everyone in Rome is wondering whether it is a fake, or true. (link)

In either case, it is an astonishing document.

John Paul II had been shot on May 13, 1981, by the Turkish gunman Ali Agca.

The Pope was wounded, but not killed.

Agca was arrested, and was reportedly on the verge of talking about who had hired him to do the job.

It was at that point that Emanuela, who lived with her family in Vatican City — her father was a life-long Vatican employee — disappeared.

It was said at the time that her disappearance was a kidnapping to “send a message” to Ali Agca — the convicted 1981 shooter of John Paul II — not to talk about who had hired him to kill the Pope.

If it turns out that the Vatican was spending large sums of money to move and care for Emanuela, then we have one sort of mystery, and one sort of scandal.

But if the document is a fake, then we have another sort of mystery, because then we would, evidently, have an attempt by an unknown group to cast a shadow on the men working in the entourage of St. John Paul II, and by extension, on Pope John Paul II himself.

More on this soon.

(to be continued)

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