Letter #70: Signs

October 15, 2018, Monday

“You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and sky. Why don’t you know how to interpret the present time?” —Jesus, Gospel of Luke 12:56

“O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?” —Jesus, Gospel of Matthew, 16:3

“And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains.” —Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew 24:12-16, drawing on Daniel 9:27)

“Besides the, shall we say, ‘geographical’ meaning of the words of Christ (in reference to Jerusalem, of course, but also Rome, Constantinople, Moscow, Kiev and many other cities), there is also a second, spiritual meaning well explained by St. Maximos the Confessor: “From the passions embedded in the soul the demons take their starting base to stir up passionate thought in us. Then, by making war on the mind through them, they force it to go along and consent to sin. When it is overcome they lead it on to a sin of thought, and when this is accomplished they finally bring it as a prisoner to the deed. After this, at length, the demons who have devastated the soul through thoughts withdraw with them. In the mind there remains only the idol of sin of which the Lord says, ‘When you see the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place, let him who reads understand.’ Man’s mind is a holy place and a temple of God in which the demons have laid waste the soul through passionate thoughts and set up the idol of sin. That these things have already happened in history no one who has read Josephus can, I think, doubt, though some say that these things will also happen when the Antichrist comes.” —St. Maximos the Confessor, 2nd Century on Love, #31, cited in “The Abomination of Desolation Standing in the Holy Place,” Vineyard of the Saker, September 28, 2018 (link)

 

Signs

Many signs this evening, in the middle of October, 2018.

Signs in Rome, at the Synod, where considerable confusion reigns (even over how the delegates will finally vote on the propositions; the procedure is not yet clear; see this link for an article that helps explain what is going on at the Synod; the article has been tweeted and much re-tweeted by journalists, so many have read it, and it seems to be being used to bring pressure on the Synod organizers).

The sign is confusion. The article asks Pope Francis to bring clarity.

Signs in St. Peter’s Square, at the canonizations yesterday by Pope Francis of several new saints.

They included St. Pope Paul VI (1897-1978), whose canonization was unpopular with and opposed by many traditional Catholics (link) — especially since Pope Pius XII continues to be passed by (link) — because Paul’s canonization was seen as “canonizing” less the man than the doctrinal productions, including the new Mass, of the (declaredly pastoral) Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) that Paul presided over from 1963 to 1965 (but there is something important also to be said in defense of Paul VI, see my next letter).

The sign is division regarding the judgment of sanctity, of holiness, and again, confusion.

And the new canonizations yesterday included the canonization of St. Oscar Romero of El Salvador (born in 1917, assassinated while celebrating Mass on March 24, 1980).

His canonization was opposed by some — but not by Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, who re-launched Romero’s cause in 2012 — because Romero’s terrible death was thought less due to his Christian faith than to his political positions. “Almost immediately following his death, declarations of sainthood rang out throughout the world, yet ongoing debates over whether his death was politically or religiously motivated and deep suspicions within the Vatican of liberation theology [which Romero seemed to support], bogged down the formal track to sainthood.” (Crux, October 13, 2018).

Again, the sign here is again division over the nature, source and final end of sanctity (is it timeless sacramental action, oriented toward eternity, or political action for the poor and oppressed here and now, for temporal ends? or some combination of the two? if so, what combination?), and so again, confusion.

Signs in Ukraine, and Constantinople, and Moscow.

Moscow has just today officially broken off relations with Constantinople (see my friend Peter Anderson’s very comprehensive report here; it is well worth pouring over, including the links. I recommend reading it).

World Orthodoxy is now on the verge, perhaps past the verge, of a tragic schism between the “Second Rome” (Constantinople) and the “Third Rome” (Moscow) over Ukrainian autocephaly.

That is, a split between Slavic Orthodox Christianity, represented for the moment by the Russians and the Serbs, and Greek Orthodox Christianity, represented by the Patriarchate of Constantinople and allied national Churches.

The”sign” here is that secular authorities have entered into the heart of Christian Church’s life (in this case, into the heart of the Orthodox Church’s life), influencing the libertas Ecclesiae (“the freedom of the Church”): the right of a Christian Church to determine her life, her procedures, her canons, her laws, from within, and not from without, not under the influence of secular governments.

It is a sign of the loss of Church freedom and the rise of secular control over the Church, and thus over what the Church bears as a treasure, which is… the Good News (Gospel) of eternal salvation.

The clerical sexual abuse scandal, so dramatically denounced as a “culture of coverup” by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano now almost two months ago (Testimony), also seems destined to unfold in such a way that this increased secular control will occur also in the United States and in many other Western countries. It is the eclipse of the traditional, free Christian Church. (Of course, this has also occurred often in the past.)

Perhaps the same thing will happen in china, if Cardinal Joseph Zen’s fears are right, following the new Vatican accord with the Chinese government which grants the government some control over the selection of bishops.

It is the rise of the temporal worldview, the decline of the eternal worldview. (This too, of course, has often occurred.)

In this process both the vision, and the reality, of the thing of greatest value is lost: the eternal human soul, which because of its eternity, bear within itself the possibility of the “theosis” of the person, of the divinization of the person, that is, the healing of man’s fall.

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of the Moscow Patriarchate was interviewed on October 13 on the Russian television program Church and the World. He stated that, in addition to Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko (a politician who has openly lobbied for the granting of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine for nationalist reasons), America is also behind the efforts to establish an autocephalous Church as it “is interested in weakening the Russian Orthodox Church and splitting it.”

So the allegation here is that these Orthodox Churches are the puppets, the playthings, of powerful secular governments.

This, if it is true, has a profound spiritual consequence.

The traditional Christian doctrine holds that the Kingdom of Christ — in some mysterious sense made present in the world by His Church — is “not of this world” but is “superior” to this world, “transcends” this world, in every way, above all in its reality.

Christ’s Kingdom is more real than all the material world of sense and sensation, and all the nations, which are as dust — though to say this is, of course, folly to worldly men.

And yet it is true.

God’s kingdom is more real than man’s.

Heaven is more real — in the sense set forth by C.S. Lewis in his book The Great Divorce — than this seemingly real material world.

This has always been believed by Christians, “everywhere, always and by all” — to use the phrase of St. Vincent of Lerins (400s) to define what it means to be a “Christian” believer.

St. Athanasius of Alexandria (300s) says that the Christian faith is the faith “which the Lord gave, was preached by the Apostles, and was preserved by the Fathers. On this was the Church founded; and if anyone departs from this, he neither is nor any longer ought to be called a Christian.”

“By the definitions of St. Vincent of Lerins and St. Athanasius, ‘Christianity’ is an objective category, not a ‘free for all.’ The key words affirming this are ‘if anyone departs from this, he neither is nor any longer ought to be called a Christian.’ These ancient definitions preclude not only any form of dogmatic innovation, they also imply that words can be used either in a truly Christian sense or not. There is no middle-ground here. This belief, which was shared by all the Church Fathers and all the members of the ancient, original, Christian Church, has tremendous implications, especially for what is called ‘ecclesiology.’”(link)

“The term ‘ecclesiology’ refers to the Christian theology concerning the Church. In other words, the teachings of Christianity about what is, or what is not, the Church (and what is, or is not, within the confines of the Church) is an objective corpus of beliefs, of key tenets, of dogmas.” (link)

So, the common thread in all these “signs” is a confusion about and often a rejection of the traditional teaching of the nature of holiness, which is in fact the “nature” of God Himself, and itself constitutes the “reality” of the Divine Nature.

So holiness is what is truly real, and all else tends in various degrees toward unreality.

Any disciple of Christ who, following His commandments, would truly “love himself,” and “his neighbor as himself,” would love to lead both himself and others toward that fountain of holiness which springs up to everlasting life — everlasting experience of divine reality.

This is the source of the missionary dynamism of the Church.

Yet the traditional teachings about holiness, and its nature, and meaning, are increasingly being rejected, and almost always with very smooth and seemingly persuasive arguments — sometimes by eloquent, well-educated priests, including some Jesuits, who are pledged to defend the deposit of the faith, which is essentially this teaching on holiness.

This gives us the final sign of our times: that the good is made to seem evil, and the evil, good, the holy unholy, and the unholy holy.

The sign of signs.

All of this is expressed in the most beautiful way by a brief but passionate essay penned recently in Italy on the occasion of the Youth Synod now underway. Her name is Sara Mansarda (link to the original Italian).

Sara writes (October 15, 2018):

“Dear Bishops, do not be fooled …

“At the outset of the Synod, the whispers of the media also began and, looking at what the newspapers report, this Synod on Young People will speak above all of migrants, LGBT and of course premarital sex, because chastity is said to be the main reason young people move away from the Church.

“But we young people deserve much more.

“We are no longer content to hear homilies full of politics, of the common good, of current events, of ecology.

“And above all we are not attracted by shortcuts on premarital chastity: there is already a whole world that gives us permission to live our sexuality in any way.

“We in the Church expect credible and persuasive reasons to understand and choose a different sexuality, which knows how to wait, how to choose, how to bear fruit.

“We do not distance ourselves from the Church because it prevents us from having sex before marriage…

“We move away because in the Church we find nothing different from what they tell us outside, nothing more exciting, nothing worth living and dying for.

“Instead, we re-approach the Church when someone explains to us why he chose chastity (and it is never ‘because the Church says so’).

“We draw closer when someone makes us open our eyes on our lives, when someone tells us words that burn like salt on the wounds, but that are words alive, true, strong.

“We draw closer when someone gives us a testimony of lived and true faith.

“We draw closer when someone shows that he loves us and wants our good, helping us grow as people from every point of view, even showing us the burden that makes us sad and dissatisfied.

“We draw closer when we see courageous people, who make extreme choices, who know what they want, who experience sexuality as a gift and a responsibility.

“We draw closer when someone tells us that making love is an experience of paradise, and it should be done well.

“Not to possess someone else, not to make the other happy, not for fun, not for habit.

“And precisely for this reason, he choose to become one flesh with the only person who he has really chosen once and for all, for eternity.

“Because young people know that love is forever, otherwise it is not love, it is something similar, a beautiful friendship, or a surrogate.

“Dear bishops, do not be fooled by the headlines.

“Do not be conditioned by what the world would want from you, but dare.

“Dare to be fathers.

“Have the courage to be careful and merciful guides, have the courage to say great things, that challenge us, that reveal the mystery to us, that speak to us about the infinite.

“Dare to ask us, young married couples, young engaged couples, young priests, young consecrated persons, young people in search.

“Have the courage and the patience to ask us the reason for our choices, to ask us the “for Whom” we live, and then, to the young people who come to you, tell us that it is possible to be happy, live fully, make great choices, go against the current.

“Have the courage to form future priests and future spouses aware of what they choose, in love with Christ and the Gospel, ready to give testimony to those distant young people, wary, undecided.

“Who will not approach a Church in line with the world.

“They will approach a beautiful and holy Church, which lives what it believes and has the courage to show it.”

(to be continued)

Have you ever wished to visit St. Peter’s Basilica in the early morning, when the doves are beginning to glide across a nearly empty St. Peter’s square? Have you ever wished to visit Assisi, and pray at the tomb of St. Francis in the crypt of his 13th-century basilica, or at the tomb of St. Clare in her basilica, built of alternating pink and white stones?

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By |2018-10-27T19:12:17+00:00Oct 19th, 2018|Categories: The Moynihan Letters|