Circular Letter: Summer 2019
Bearing Witness to God in the World
As Our Lord was about to ascend into heaven, He promised the disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:6). After Pentecost up until the great feast of Christ the King, the Church enters into Ordinary Time, the time in which we follow the Apostles in their great missionary work. Having been commissioned by Christ, it is the time of mission for all of Christ’s disciples, also for us. And more than perhaps at any other time in the history of our country, America has become “mission territory”.
In the 70’s and 80’s, one hardly ever met a “none” – someone with no religious affiliation – now they are everywhere. There were plenty of “fallen away” Catholics, or others who were “Christian” but no lon.5ger going to Church, some non-practicing Jews, but those who had no religion at all was not common 40 years ago. In the 70’s, only 5% had no religion. In the 90’s it creeped up to 6%. But now, 25% of all Americans are not associated with any religion! And it is particularly a trend of “millennials”, such that some studies show a huge 30% of people under the age of 30 have no religious affiliation! (cf. Bishop Robert Barron, Letter to a Suffering Church, p.15) Something has gone seriously wrong with our society.
Sexual Freedom and Moral Relativism
Christianity at large and Catholicism is also suffering in the cultural and moral convulsions which rock society. In an effort to explain the scandal of pedophilia both within and without of the Church in a recently published article, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, with his usual clarity (even at his advanced age!), outlines different parallel, yet independent sources of the problem. First, the general cultural decline since the sexual revolution of the 1960’s, where for some time pedophilia itself was allowed and considered even appropriate. “At the same time, independently of this development, Catholic moral theology suffered a collapse that rendered the Church defenseless against these changes in society” (Pope Em. Benedict XVI, notes on the abuse scandal, Vatican, Apr 10, 2019), such that many theologians and even Bishops denied the existence of moral absolutes: nothing could be called intrinsically evil at all times and in all circumstances. “While the old phrase ‘the end justifies the means’ was not confirmed in this crude form, its way of thinking” became the norm (ibid.). Pope St. John Paul II reacted to this trend by publishing the encyclical, Veritatis splendor, in March 1995. His general intent, according to Benedict, was to show that:
…there are goods that are never subject to trade-offs. There are values which must never be abandoned for a greater value, and even surpass the preservation of physical life. There is martyrdom. God is about more than mere physical survival. A life that would be bought by the denial of God, a life that is based on a final lie, is a non-life. Martyrdom is a basic category of Christian existence. The fact that martyrdom is no longer morally necessary in the theory advocated by…many [modern theologians] shows that the very essence of Christianity is at stake here. (ibid.)
In other words, there are truths for which we, as Catholics, should be willing to die for. Our Faith is not something we can profess in one moment and deny in the next. To deny this truth, is to deny the truth of the Faith; it is to invalidate the witness of the Martyrs over the centuries, beginning with the first “martyr”, Jesus Christ Himself. Yet it is precisely this, Benedict says, many theologians and even Bishops have advocated over the last 50 years.
Corruption of Seminaries and the Attack on the Faith
Further, the quality of priestly formation has declined greatly in this general cultural climate. “As regards the problem of preparation for priestly ministry in seminaries, there is in fact a far-reaching breakdown of the previous form of this formation. In various seminaries homosexual cliques were established, which acted more or less openly and significantly changed the climate in the seminaries” (ibid.). Further, there was a far- reaching abandonment of the traditions and teachings of the Church in the so-called, but false “spirit” of Vatican II:
Indeed, in many parts of the Church, conciliar attitudes were understood to mean having a critical or negative attitude towards the hitherto existing tradition, which was now to be replaced by a new, radically open relationship with the world. One bishop, who had previously been seminary rector, had arranged for the seminarians to be shown pornographic films, allegedly with the intention of thus making them resistant to behavior contrary to the Faith. There were — not only in the United States of America — individual bishops who rejected the Catholic tradition as a whole and sought to bring about a kind of new, modern ‘Catholicity’ in their dioceses. (ibid.)
What is at stake is not just the scandals, but the Faith itself is under attack. “In fact, it is important to see that such misconduct by clerics ultimately damages the Faith. Only where faith no longer determines the actions of man are such offenses possible” (ibid.). For this reason, it is not surprising that because of the recent crisis, many are tempted or have already left the Church.
What can we do?
The first reaction of the Church, and as members of Opus Angelorum, is not to abandon ship! St. Boniface writes in the troubled times of the 7th century, “In her voyage across the ocean of this world, the Church is like a great ship being pounded by the waves of life’s different stresses. Our duty is not to abandon ship, but to keep her on her course” (Office of Readings, June 5). The first characteristic of the Holy Angels is fidelity. As co-workers with the Holy Angels, therefore, we want to remain faithful, to God and to the Church He established on earth as our Mother and way to salvation.
Fidelity to and Living out the Faith
Pope Benedict ironically references the Protestant revolution saying, “Perhaps we should create another Church for things to work out? Well, that experiment has already been undertaken and has failed.” Only the way of obedience and love for Jesus Christ can be the right way. Therefore, Pope Benedict enters more seriously into the discussion of our role in the battle against evil in the Church and society in these times. It is a question ultimately of keeping and witnessing to the Faith through coming into real and personal union with GOD and His love:
First, I would suggest the following: If we really wanted to summarize very briefly the content of the Faith as laid down in the Bible, we might do so by saying that the Lord has initiated a narrative of love with us and wants to subsume all creation in it. The counterforce against evil, which threatens us and the whole world, can ultimately only consist in our entering into this love. It is the real counterforce against evil. The power of evil arises from our refusal to love God. He who entrusts himself to the love of God is redeemed. (ibid)
The first tenet of Faith must always be: God is, God exists. Only God can give meaning to the life of man and the world about him. “A world without God can only be a world without meaning. For where, then, does everything that is come from? In any case, it has no spiritual purpose. It is somehow simply there and has neither any goal nor any sense. Then there are no standards of good or evil. Then only what is stronger than the other can assert itself. Power is then the only principle. Truth does not count… Only if things have a spiritual reason, are intended and conceived — only if there is a Creator God who is good and wants the good — can the life of man also have meaning” (ibid). In other words, if we were not created by Someone for a certain purpose and to a certain end, then we would be hard put to find meaning to our existence.
Witnessing to the God Who is Love
If we know that God is, that He created us and willed us, that He speaks with us in revelation, and even went so far as to become one of us, then we rejoice because we know God loves us, that God is love and has created us to enter into this love. This is the God we are called to bear witness to in the world today. “When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, He will testify to Me. And you also will testify, because you have been with Me from the beginning” (Jn 15:26-27). The joy of being known and loved by God—which we experience through prayer and intimate contact with GOD—should fill our hearts and radiate from us, so that those who have “none”, no purpose, no God, no meaning or solution to life’s deepest questions, may see our joy and seek it for themselves.
Pope Benedict says that living out our union with God is therefore a “paramount task” for us today, in order to heal a degenerate society. For without God, society has no final goal by which and to which it is oriented, no moral compass, no reason for saying this is right and this is wrong.
When God does die in a society, it becomes free, we were assured. In reality, the death of God in a society also means the end of freedom, …because the compass disappears that points us in the right direction by teaching us to distinguish good from evil. Western society is a society in which God is absent in the public sphere and has nothing left to offer it. And that is why it is a society in which the measure of humanity is increasingly lost. At individual points [the rise of pedophilia, abortion and infanticide, assisted suicide, gay marriage, to give just some examples!], it becomes suddenly apparent that what is evil and destroys man has become a matter of course.
That is the case with pedophilia. It was theorized only a short time ago as quite legitimate, but it has spread further and further. And now we realize with shock that things are happening to our children and young people that threaten to destroy them. The fact that this could also spread in the Church and among priests ought to disturb us in particular. (ibid.)
That is to say, because our society has first rejected God and His moral authority, it therefore finds itself committing crimes that would never have been imagined 50 years ago.
Although the problem may lie with “them”, the solution and healing of society depends upon us, on me! We are responsible for bringing God back into society. “Why did pedophilia reach such proportions? Ultimately, the reason is the absence of God. We Christians and priests also prefer not to talk about God, because this speech does not seem to be practical.” When was the last time we said, “God bless you” to the cashier in the supermarket, or signed ourselves with the Cross when passing a Church where Jesus lives abandoned in the Blessed Sacrament? Have we had the courage to say something against dishonesty or a moral disorder in the workplace? Do we let human respect keep us from mentioning God? In these ways also, we can bear witness to a God who is here with us, who loves us and wants to be known and loved by all men. Let us bring Him back into this world, before the world destroys itself (even more). How shall we do this?
Most importantly, “we ourselves must once again begin to live by God and unto Him. Above all, we ourselves must learn again to recognize God as the foundation of our life… Not somehow leaving Him in the background, but recognizing Him as the center of our thoughts, words and actions” (ibid.). What Pope Emeritus Benedict is proposing is really a renewal of the spiritual life, a renewal and intensifying of our daily “walking with God” through living faith. Only in prayer and the Sacraments will we find our orientation from God. We all pray daily, perhaps we even go to daily Mass. But do we walk in the presence of God, are we aware of Him throughout our day, speak with Him intimately and let Him guide our actions, at work, with friends, in our homes? Do we have regular times of silence and spiritual reading, where we allow God to speak to us?
Accepting the Help of the Holy Angels
The holy Angels are here, waiting to help us. As pure spirits, their nature is more similar to God than man’s, yet they remain closer to us as fellow creatures of God. Having already passed their trial, they are confirmed in grace, partaking of the divine nature in the Beatific Vision. Further Pope St. John Paul II writes: “The pure spirits have a knowledge of God incomparably more perfect than that of man, because of the power of their intellect. Not conditioned nor limited by the mediation of sense knowledge, they see to the depths the greatness of infinite Being, of the first Truth, of the supreme Good. To this sublime capacity of knowledge of the pure spirits God offered the mystery of His divinity, making them thus partakers, through grace, …of the intimate life of Him who…’is Love’ (1 Jn 4:16)” (Audience, July 23, 1986). Having powerful intellects and intimate union with God and His will, the Angels are sent to help man on his way to God (cf. Heb 1:14). If we learn to recognize our littleness and be a child before God and His “embassador”, the Angel, we will be led much more efficaciously by the Angels. Mother Gabriele Bitterlich presents a dialogue between a proud soul and a simple soul, in which the simple soul says:
I know that I am nothing. For this reason, I ask my Angel to carry the light before me. He never stumbles; he never leads astray like every “self-made light” does. His light is called: Faith, Hope, Charity; his light gives strength and confidence. The Angel is like a telescope through which, day and night, I can always see GOD. His word is strict, but true and good, he always points to GOD. He is a brother to me, because he is a creature of GOD, just as I am. He is my guide, because he is already in the Beatific Vision, but I must still fight and struggle. (Readings, Advent 1955)
Not only do the Angels help us to know and love God more, but if we follow their direction, allowing them to lead us, they will form us in such a way so that we become a “doorway” for the Angels to the hearts of others:
The Angels teach us to be childlike before GOD again, so that we become transparent for them – through the clarity and integrity of our character, through simplicity and pure love for GOD – and so that they, through us, can apply their force of radiation more effectively to the battle for the Kingdom of GOD. Just as the Angels are for us like telescopes through which we can see GOD much more closely and clearly, as more absolute and majestic, so are we for the Angels like doors through which they can better approach the interior of souls, in order to enlighten and direct their actions. (Readings, Christmas 1958)
St. Thomas Aquinas writes that while men preach and reach the ears of others, the Angels touch the heart! If we call upon the Angels and ask for their guidance in our lives, therefore, they will work together with us not only towards our own growth in holiness, but also for the salvation of souls.
Witnessing to the Eucharist: Central Mystery of the Faith
One area in particular where Pope Emeritus Benedict sees a decline in the Catholic Faith is in regard to the Holy Eucharist. Vatican II had stressed the importance of seeing in the Eucharist “the source and summit” of the spiritual life of the Church, and in some ways this teaching has borne fruit, especially in the rise of so many Adoration chapels in our country. Nevertheless, there has also arisen many abuses and a great decline in regular attendance at Holy Mass, because many Catholics no longer believe in the Real Presence.
What predominates is not a new reverence for the presence of Christ’s death and resurrection, but a way of dealing with Him that destroys the greatness of the Mystery. The declining participation in the Sunday Eucharistic celebration shows how little we Christians of today still know about appreciating the greatness of the gift that consists in His Real Presence. The Eucharist is devalued into a mere ceremonial gesture when it is taken for granted that “courtesy” requires Him to be offered at family celebrations or on occasions such as weddings and funerals to all those invited [both Catholics and non-Catholics, and to those no longer practicing their faith] for family reasons, and the way people often simply receive the Holy Sacrament in Communion as a matter of course… Therefore, when thinking about what action is required first and foremost, it is…the renewal of the Faith in the Reality of Jesus Christ given to us in the Blessed Sacrament. (ibid.)
An important step towards healing the Church is therefore a renewal of the faith, love, reverence and longing for the Holy Eucharist. Bishop Athanasius Schneider, ORC, has written two books inviting the faithful to renew the ancient practice of receiving Holy Communion on the tongue rather than in the hand. We might want to consider taking up this practice, which shows more reverence than currently required by the Church, in a spirit of reparation for all those who either irreverently, thoughtlessly or even unworthily (in the state of sin) receive Our Lord. Or also, we could receive on the tongue in reparation for all the particles of the Hosts, containing the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus, which inadvertently fall to the ground and are trampled upon as a result of hand Communion or failure to use the Communion paten, which is, by the way, still required by Church (see Redemptionis Sacramentum 93, GIRM 118).
Whether we take up this practice or not, at any rate, the Holy Angels want to lead us to greater reverence for Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Seeing more clearly the majesty and holiness of God, they shudder at the lack of respect or even sacrilegious way in which men handle the Holy Eucharist. They therefore want to lead us, especially as members of Opus Angelorum, to a greater love and reverence for Jesus hidden in the Tabernacle and in the Host. The Angel will help us, if we ask him, to see more clearly the reality of the Holy Eucharist. In a meditation, Mother Gabriele writes:
You are kneeling before the Lord in the Tabernacle. Your Angel, adoring his Creator, has placed himself before you and you can see through him by your love and longing to GOD, as through a clear spiritual eye, as through a telescope. The walls of the Tabernacle allow your gaze to penetrate through them to the small, golden throne of GOD in the midst of a cold world. The LORD, HE is really here!
The LORD chose the white form of Bread as a mysterious gift of love, in order to give Himself to us to the greatest extreme. How could we otherwise bear His Divinity? The Sun of Love awaits us here. And just as flames flash forth from the material Sun in heaven, so also here flames flash forth, but flames of Divine love coming out to meet us.
This is not a poetic or fanciful exuberance; it is a reality. But because our nature has been weakened by original sin, we are spiritually dried up and bound more to earth than to heaven; we…work much more towards external structures and being seen and honored exteriorly than wanting to be seeds which contain a strength of growth for eternity. For this reason, the All-merciful GOD has sent us the Angels – just as at the beginning of time – as saving helpers, in order to draw us away from the works of straw, from the tower of Babel, so that we may know GOD again, go out to seek HIM again and find HIM. (Readings, Lent, 1959)
In order to bring healing to the world and the Church, therefore, we want to love Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist doubly for those who do not love Him; be more reverent for those who are irreverent. Then in silent Adoration of Our Lord in the Sacred Host, we will become by God’s grace the seed, sewn hiddenly and silently in the earth, which will renew the faith in the REAL PRESENCE which has been lost by so many, even by priests and Bishops.
Defending the Holy Church
Finally, Pope Benedict in his commentary on the causes for the crisis in the Church today sees a decline of faith in the Church herself. This temptation, he says, comes from the devil, who accuses the Church of being entirely bad, rotten through and through. It is really an attack on God Himself, who established the Church as the means of salvation. Therefore, it is important to see that, despite all the evil we may see in the Church, Benedict insists, there are still many good and holy persons:
Today, the accusation against God is, above all, about characterizing His Church as entirely bad, and thus dissuading us from it. …It is very important to oppose the lies and half-truths of the devil with the whole truth: Yes, there is sin in the Church and evil. But even today there is the Holy Church, which is indestructible. Today there are many people who humbly believe, suffer and love, in whom the real God, the loving God, shows Himself to us. Today God also has His witnesses (martyrs) in the world. We just have to be vigilant in order to see and hear them.
(Benedict XVI, Article on Crisis in Church)
We ourselves are called to be those faithful, sacrificial loving souls who bear witness to God in the Church. Through prayer, the faithful reception of the Sacraments and by bravely bearing the Cross God wills for us, we will grow more and more into compelling witnesses for God in the world. The Angels are at our side, leading and helping us, and defending us against all the tricks and seductions of the evil one.
Brothers and Sisters, it is really time to rise from sleep. The stronger a community we form with the holy Angels and among one another in praying and sacrificing, expiating, suffering and fighting, the more consistently we live, as an example for our neighbor, the love for our LORD in the Tabernacle and for the Cross, so much better a weapon will we be in the hand of our Mother, the Holy Church, so many more souls we can wrest from the jaws of the evil one. (Mother Gabriele, Introduction to the Readings, 1955).
Let us therefore not be dejected by the state of the Church and the world right now, but be joyful in hope! Let us profess ever more firmly our Faith in God, in His Church and the holy Sacraments, in the help of the Angels and the protective mantle of Mary, our Mother and Mother of the Church. Above all, let us pray much and love God with all the fervor of our hearts, offering ourselves to Him again and again, in the name of and for the holy Church and her priests. And God will send His blessing on us, on the Church and our country.
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