Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A few good spiritual reads and audio for Lent

The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross
that belongs to the president of my Carmelite community
at Assumption Grotto shows years of reading

Lent is a good time to at least reduce our online presence so we can spend more time in prayer, doing spiritual reading, and charitable works.  There's a difference between spiritual reading, knowledge reading or entertainment reading.

We might read  the Catechism of the Catholic Church, for example to build our knowledge of the Church.  We should be reading Scripture at least 15 minutes daily.  There is a difference between reading for the sake of knowledge, and reading for the sake of spiritual development.  That's where it helps to read the saints and the great spiritual writers.  Some novels can help us if they apply the virtues.  This post will focus on great spiritual reads, mostly of a classic nature.

Here are a few things to consider reading during Lent.  Some of these you can find in their entirety online.

The president of my secular Carmelite community at Assumption Grotto, who served as formation director for many years, wrote a book a couple called, St. Teresa of Jesus and St. John of the Cross on the Beatitudes.  This book by Thomas Reid, OCDS would be an excellent Lenten resource and it will introduce you to the main works of both saints.  That link takes you to a review I did of the book some time ago.

During Lent we should be prepared for Sacramental Confession.  This is a sacrament which has waned in recent decades.  The late Archabbot, Benedict Baur, O.S.B., wrote the book Frequent Confession: Its Place in the Spiritual Life. This helps us to probe our own consciences more deeply and encourages frequent use of Confession.  He laments, back in 1922 when it was originally written in Germany, that the practice of confessing venial sins was under attack.  Anyone who knows how frequently Pope John Paul II used the Sacrament of Penance may have wondered what he could have done that would prompt this. Real spiritual growth comes when we can reconcile even the imperfections and weaknesses we have, when we act on them (temptation should not be confessed; rather, acting on temptation should).  Everyone has imperfections but the pursuit of holiness should have us continually striving, with God's grace, to chip away at them.  Dom Benedict gives us practical advice.

St. Teresa of Avila The Way of Perfection: Study Edition is a great introduction not just to Carmelite spirituality, but to the spiritual life in general.

If you have already read the above work, try moving on to the Interior Castle by St. Teresa

St. Francis de Sales' Introduction to the Devout Life is another great introductory work for developing a more profound spiritual life.

Not long ago, I was introduced to Spiritual Combat: How to Win Your Spiritual Battles and Attain Peace by Lorenzo Scupoli - a book that St. Francis de Sales carried for 18 years. There is a newer book called Spiritual Combat Revisited which might help with today's challenges.

When reading a classic like this, or the ones above, it is good to keep in mind that living a good moral life alone is not the same as living a good spiritual life.  You need a good moral life to progress spiritually towards greater union with God.  This is where the pursuit of holiness blossoms - when we look to advance past mere moral compliance with the Commandments.  We must also keep in mind that many of these books were written for those in religious or priestly life.  But, much of it can be applied as long as we don't allow them to affect our state in life.  Hiding into seclusion when the needs of spouse and children require attention is not a good idea.

Another interesting book is one written by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.  The Treasury of Catholic Wisdom. Fr. Hardon takes you through many classic works and writings of the Church Fathers.  Use Amazon's "Look Inside" option at the table of contents and scroll through to see the real Catholic treasures this book goes through.

Lent is a time to learn more about silence and stillness. It is there that we can finally hear the voice of God above everything else.  What is the "everything else?"  That is what Fr. Basil Nortz, ORC explains in his talk, "On Holy Silence."  Of all the talks I've heard, this one remains one of my favorites and is on my list again this Lent. There are sources of noise haven't even considered.  There are many good talks on the spiritual life at Opus Angelorum. They all heavily reference Church teaching and the saints.  You can find that under the section on Spiritual Life at their website. Find talks in many other areas in the left hand sidebar.

I once got a free trial period to use Audible.com.   It's connected to Amazon and allows you to buy the streaming audio books. See if there are any free trial periods now, but look at fine print if you begin downloading. Once you buy them, they remain in your audible library indefinitely.  Even when you unsubscribe, as I had to do, you can still access your purchases.  One of my favorite audio books, which is available in text and probably found online for free or low cost, is the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. This book has an odd way of getting you to probe your conscience.  I heartily recommend it.  You don't have to limit yourself to audio, but I wanted to point out things you can find.  Visit the wikipedia page for the Screwtape Letters to read an explanation and background on this great work.  It's very appropriate for Lent.

At Audible, I was able to find many other good Catholic titles, including the Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux.  Reading her life leads us to ponder how we respond to the ordinary things of life.  Look through some titles here using a search of "Catholic."  You have to use some discretion (and can actually find anti-Catholic or dissenting material), but you can find classics and solid audio books.  Key in an author or title to see what options they have.

For interesting news items I don't have time to blog on, check out my Twitter Feed: @TeDeumBlog

Te Deum Laudamus! Home

The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church;
it is the disobedient who are held captive by the world!

- Diane M. Korzeniewski

Note: The recommended links below are automatically generated by the tool, so they are not necessarily related content.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Fr. Perrone: "The key to understanding the atypical acts of Pope Francis…"

My Introduction

[Note: You will find Fr. Perrone's words below the line]

When Pope Francis was first elected, and watching how some were responding, it was confusing. There continues to be a generalized "shoot first - ask questions later" approach to everything he is reported to have said or has done in some circles.  Despite some apprehensions caused by these things, I've had an interior sense of calm with a very warm assurance that suggests I suspend these concerns and put them on a shelf for the time being. The point of this is to simply observe and see what God might be trying to say.

I was very heartened to witness the priests at Assumption Grotto warmly receiving the Holy Father  with a similar attitude and gleaning from the Pope other lessons God might want us to learn at this time.  Moreover, while the priests at the parish might have raised an occasional eyebrow when surprised by something, I have seen them interpret the words and actions of Pope Francis in the most favorable way (CCC 2478).  Their calm and measured responses, even when initially caught off guard, has mirrored my own interior reaction to these things, and has helped me to navigate these sometimes difficult waters.

One of the oldest tricks in Satan's book is to pre-occupy us with the real or perceived faults and imperfections of others. Surely there was a chapter on this in the Screwtape Letters. We take our eye off the ball, which is our own spiritual growth, and our own faults and imperfections every time we spend time analyzing those of others (Mt 7:3-5).  That is the heart of Fr. Perrone's message below in which he briefly mentions the problem with criticism of Pope Francis.

Below the line is Fr. Perrone' column for this week in the Grotto News (see Feb 23 here).  Be forewarned that anyone linking to that alone, will find the link dead in a matter of weeks.  That is why I provide full text here so there is a permanent record.

Fr. Perrone

A Pastor’s Descant

February 23, 2014

Trying to understand these troubled and troubling times is a formidable task. People wonder how things ever got to be as they now are, with no clear indication that betterment is on the way. I wrote last week–in a subdued manner, I think–about the marriage debate (something about which in any other sane age, there would be no discussion). One seeks to find causes, to know reasons why we are slipping morally, culturally, even economically, while the call for various forms of social action–I do not say charity–to redress perceived injustices is unrelenting.

As often happens, morning reading material spurred my thoughts. I found this sagacious remark tucked in a biographical article on a famed writer: “Public virtue may be linked to private vice.” Translated in different terms it says that people sometimes get involved in social causes in order to distract others, or themselves, from their personal sins. What’s behind this is the fact that guilt seeks, nay, craves, relief. A right and normal response to the guilt which remains in one’s conscience after committing a sin is to be rid of the guilt through Confession; the alternative response is to attempt to cover up guilt’s disturbing feelings by other means. One may, for example, plunge onself in alcohol or drugs (attempting self-oblivion–suicide being its ultimate expression), or drown out his thoughts in the cacophony of loud and perverted music, or numb his mind through excessive TV or Internet watching–often further guilt-inducing–or through rigorous physical exertion in sports or through the quieting of conscience by meditation exercises (Yoga, for example), or adopt compulsive behaviors (as in nervous habits such as fastidiousness about cleanliness, bodily health or healthy foods) or–and here it is–through energetic involvement in causes of social justice.

Once one ‘gets’ the principle involved, a lot of things begin to make sense. Parents, for example, will understand why their college kids living away on campus succumbing to immoral pressures which are the inevitable constituent of campus life, come back home so critical of their religion, of their parents and of their family life, while they at the same time advocate leftist political causes or immerse themselves in weird religions or social works–all in the name of procuring greater ‘justice.’ What’s happening here is the twin effect of an ideological education coupled with the guilt due to immoral behaviors. This principle also helps explain why many in political office who are professed ‘liberals’ relentlessly crusade for the homeless, the poor, for social medicine, for the rights of gays and ‘women,’ for racial justice, for the repeal of immigration laws, etc. The hidden factor, which often comes to public light only later, is the reprehensible ‘lifestyle’ of these social enthusiasts. Guilt is seeking relief. In contrast to this, works of real charity, according to the Church, should be personal, which is to say, something heart to heart. Institutional justice is not charity.

Here I believe is a key to understanding the atypical papal acts of Pope Francis. He’s trying to teach the Church that charity has to be a truly human and Christian response to neighbor and not mere good talk or the writing of a check. God who is Love became man in Christ doing the works of love; so must a Christian act, in love. When people criticize the Pope for this or that odd thing he may do, failing to comprehend the example and lessons of charity he’s offering, one wonders about such a person’s spiritual life. Attacking another’s real or perceived faults can be but one other effective way to divert attention away from one’s own personal defects.

I write of these things to get you “in the mood” for Lent. Self-examination, Confession, personal reform, the cultivation of charity and kindness, going on a retreat, these are part of the Lenten program. Whatever the particular practices you may be planning to do, it’s the inner renewal, what the scriptures call Righteousness, that should be one’s goal in undergoing the holy exercises of Lent.

Fr. Perrone

Fish Fry/Lenten Talks

As an aside, lest I forget to mention it, Fr. Perrone will be talking on "some" Friday's in Lent at 6:00 PM at the fish fry.  I asked if other priests might fill in on the other Fridays, but we will have to wait and see.  I also got clarification that he is not speaking on Ash Wednesday, and I will be asking for an update to the parish website.  Currently prices are set at $8, but I'm not sure if there is something for families or children.  I'll try to find out.

For interesting news items I don't have time to blog on, check out my Twitter Feed: @TeDeumBlog

Te Deum Laudamus! Home

The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church;
it is the disobedient who are held captive by the world!

- Diane M. Korzeniewski

Note: The recommended links below are automatically generated by the tool, so they are not necessarily related content.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Ann Arbor is interesting...

I've not tried blogging from the iPhone before, but I'm doing so now.

I have a test tomorrow morning at U of M Hospital in Ann Arbor. Not quite feeling myself and with chronic abdominal pain and nausea from something yet not diagnosed I'm in no mood for rush hour traffic, fog that freezes on early morning freeways, and idiots who don't have enough sense to slow down and keep some distance.

So, as I did some weeks ago, I packed an overnight bag, set the house alarm, and came to Ann Arbor one day early. I left in the afternoon, with low traffic, and am enjoying the change in view. I love my neighbors, but I'm tired of seeing their condos every day. 

It was 40 degrees when I got here around 3:00. Wanting some fresh air I went for a stroll in the sun. I couldn't walk far, but I'm just over a mile away from the hospital and in the heart of the university district. I could have paid less and been further away, but I wanted to be able to walk where there is life. 

Winter life in a college town must be interesting. They store their bikes in snow. One looks like it has been there a few decades.

You see that all over town. When I came up last week, I saw some bike racks in front of school halls and businesses, filled with over a dozen bikes like this. I guess a big snow fell a little too fast, then never melted for them to get their bikes out. More than likely, even if they got it out, it would not be practical to get home.

It might be hard to read what is up top, but I found it interesting. I can't see what it says myself on this tiny screen - something like, "Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary for the good of mankind and happiness..." 

There is something about the architecture in Ann Arbor that is warm and endearing. These weren't just buildings to be in, they were works of art and craftsmanship. 

I've decided Ann Arbor will make a good, future get away for a photographer like me. There are both urban and natural scenes. I'd like to come up next winter and catch that early morning frost on tree tops in one of the parks. This iPhone pic I took on my way to last week's test, doesn't do it justice. But, I'm just not up to lugging around a 5 pound camera and lens right now. 

Hopefully, the good doctors here at U of M will get it figured out soon and get me back to working and doing all that I love. 

Tomorrow, I get to have radioactive eggs for breakfast. Who knows what they will see. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Retiring bishops, priests and all those empty rectory rooms...

An article in the Newark Star Ledger (h-t Deacon Kandra) has people talking about what is considered modest living for a bishop heading into retirement.  I don't know the circumstances surrounding this, or if it is going to be a retirement home for a number of clerics, but it is raising a lot of questions.  The article starts out...

The 4,500-square-foot home sits on 8.2 wooded acres in the hills of Hunterdon County. With five bedrooms, three full bathrooms, a three-car garage and a big outdoor pool, it’s valued at nearly $800,000, records show. 
But it’s not quite roomy enough for Newark Archbishop John J. Myers. 
Myers, who has used the Franklin Township house as a weekend residence since the archdiocese purchased it in 2002, is building a three-story, 3,000-square-foot addition in anticipation of his retirement in two years, The Star-Ledger found. He will then move in full-time, a spokesman for the archbishop said. 
The new wing, now just a wood frame, will include an indoor exercise pool, a hot tub, three fireplaces, a library and an elevator, among other amenities, according to blueprints and permits filed with the Franklin Township building department. 
The price tag, the records show, will be a minimum of a half million dollars, a figure that does not include architectural costs, furnishings and landscaping.

Who pays?

So that it is known, unlike most religious order priests, diocesan priests do not take a vow of poverty.  However, there is prudential judgment and being the best possible witness for the Gospel.  If it looks rich, and sounds rich, what kind of perception does it yield in a reasonable person?  And, from where does this money come?

Myers’ spokesman, Jim Goodness, said the addition will have no impact on archdiocese finances, saying the cost will be largely borne by the sale of other church-owned properties. Donors also have contributed to the project, Goodness said. 
He declined to identify the properties to be sold or provide the amount of the private donations.
"There are not expected to be any expenses that can not be met by other real estate transactions, and it will remain an asset of the archdiocese," Goodness said. "It is not a personal asset."

Properties sold?  That's a pretty sensitive expression these days with parishes closing.

Now, this is interesting...

According to guidelines issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, all dioceses must provide a residence for retired bishops. The guidelines don’t specify, however, what kind of residence is required.

There should be some kind of guidelines, no?  I don't think a diocese should pay for anything beyond a modest residence in a modest part of town, no disrespect intended. Maybe after all of the facts come out in this case, the Myers retirement residence will prove to be modest.  I hope so.

Rectories as Retirement Havens?

Much beloved Fr. Val before he died,
with the visiting Bishop Athansius Schneider,
at Ss Cyril & Methodius in Sterling Heights
a few  years back.
Here's a novel idea and a great way to save both clerics and dioceses money.

How many empty rectory rooms are there in each diocese?  And, how many retired priests in a given diocese would be willing to live in those rooms for a very low cost? By that, I mean a reasonable cost for added utility use, food, services, etc.

I have seen a few elderly priests living at two different parishes in recent years and it was a grand arrangement.  These priests could celebrate Mass privately, or publicly (as they felt up to it); they heard confessions likewise and offered spiritual direction.  In fact, these priests seemed to love the kind of freedom pastors do not have because of administration and other duties.

These priests are, or were, beloved fixtures in their communities.  I've known of other retired priests who lived in rectories who were not engaged with the parish community.  Maybe they were involved with other things, or burned out like others who enter retirement and need a change. They should be free to participate in parish life as they wish and are able, or not at all.

I know some bishops have retired to rectories. Is this not a good use of diocesan money, to give a parish a modest sum of money to take in a retired bishop?

Once again, I understand that diocesan priests and bishops do not take a vow of poverty, but rectory living in most parishes is hardly poverty. The key word is freedom - freedom to participate or not.  However, I think rectory living could be encouraged by the USCCB in their guidelines.  What is the cost of putting Archbishop Myers in a rectory room within the diocese, or even in another diocese that is willing to take him in?  He wouldn't get a jacuzzi, but he would have a bath tub like the rest of us.

I do know that some retired priests are living in poverty. Maybe Archbishop Myers is planning on taking some of them into this big place he is building.  I digress. Could we ease the suffering of retired priests living in poverty by giving them one of those empty rooms in a big rectory with lots of empty rooms, for a lower cost than what they pay now? It would be good for the faithful to witness Holy Church doing everything possible in this regard, to aid her retired priests.  Charity starts at home.

Consider that if a priest wants to move from one state to another in retirement, how many places he could choose from to live, if he could find a pastor willing to open the door. Maybe a cleric wants to be near an elderly sibling or other family members who cannot accommodate him; or, perhaps he simply cannot afford to be there because of living costs.

I know some will talk about ideological and even theological differences between priests, and we know that some are very orthodox while others are quite heterodox.  No one says there shouldn't be some kind of compatibility, and freedom on the part of a pastor to approve or disapprove.  When we aren't talking heterodoxy being involved, it's good to keep in mind that pearls are created in friction.  I'm willing to bet that a pastor like Fr. Ben at Ss Cyril & Methodius benefited from his relationship with Fr. Val, and vice versa. We can get set in our ways living alone and being around others brings opportunities to practice mortification - a word most never hear about anymore.  We become one another's hair shirts.

I suspect God would bless priests, parishes, and dioceses for such arrangements.  I know many whose lives were forever altered by Fr. Val Rykowski, and other elderly priests like him who, despite their age and frailty, serve as spiritual fathers to many in retirement.

As an aside, I understand that March 1st is the anniversary of Fr Val's death.  It is an act of mercy to pray for the dead and not avoid doing so on the presumption they area already in heaven.  Fr. Val would be the first to tell people to pray for him.


I've had my say, what say you?  I'd be interested to hear from priests whether this could work and what the perceived obstacles would be.


For interesting news items I don't have time to blog on, check out my Twitter Feed: @TeDeumBlog

Te Deum Laudamus! Home

The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church;
it is the disobedient who are held captive by the world!

- Diane M. Korzeniewski

Note: The recommended links below are automatically generated by the tool, so they are not necessarily related content.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Pope Francis on "adagio-complainers," and lambs who act like wolves

We all know that dissenting Catholics, especially those in prominent positions with big platforms like universities, especially clerics, are the typical image we have of a wolf.  But, Pope Francis draws our attention to another kind of wolf - the lamb who acts like a wolf.

Here are the main points from the homily of Pope Francis yesterday. There are three points:

Commenting on the day’s first reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, Pope Francis reflected on the nature of Christian identity, noting that a Christian is first of all someone who is “sent”: the Lord sends his disciples out into the world to proclaim the Gospel, so a Christian is a disciple “who walks, who always moves forward”. A Christian who stands still “is sick”, the Pope said, because the first marker of Christian identity is the capacity “to walk even where there are difficulties, to go beyond those difficulties”.

Okay, so he is hitting one of his main points, that the laity must start to pull their weight on the evangelization front.

He continues:

A second feature of Christian identity, the Pope continued, is that a Christian “is a lamb, and must retain this identity”: the Lord sends us out “as lambs among wolves”. Some would suggest using strength against those wolves, the Pope continued, but we must remember David when he fought the Philistine: “they wanted to dress him up in all of Saul’s armour and he couldn’t move, he wasn’t himself, he wasn’t humble”, so in the end he took his catapult and he won the battle. Sometimes temptation leads us to think: “This is difficult, these wolves are smart and I’ll be smarter than them”. But as long as you’re a lamb, the Lord will defend you, while if you’re a wolf, He won’t defend you, He will leave you alone. 

This reminds me of a point I have raised often, that we cannot defend Jesus Christ with the sword.  Jesus rebuked Peter for that (John 18:1-11).  As I pointed out in a post some months ago, we should see the sword as a tool that cuts out sin and imperfections from ours own lives, not something by which we forcefully bring others into compliance.  God doesn't force us to go against our free will so we should not use this method with others.

We can lose sight of the fact that there is nothing happening around us that God doesn't already know about. Just as he could have sent a legion of angels to free Jesus from the Cross, the same could be done for us.  Yet, it is with meekness and gentleness that we must proceed, mindful that the best evangelization efforts are those where virtue leads the way, and we remain blameless in every regard.  Of course, this means learning about virtue and the way of perfection. Knowledge of the faith is not enough and if we neglect that other side, we can evangelize with a nasty streak that can push others away, rather than draw them.

Consider how we see people discussing the need to increase reverence for the Eucharist. Some will promote distribution of Holy Communion on the tongue and kneeling with a bitter sarcasm that sometimes even mocks others who receive in the hand while standing - a valid and popular method of reception.  Because it is popular and valid does not mean we ought not talk about changes. I myself am an advocate of returning to Communion being distributed on the tongue while kneeling.  However, I am also an advocate of the method used by Bishop Athanasius Schneider, ORC.  He proposes and invites people by appealing to their intellect and hearts.  This shepherd talks to lambs like a lamb and the end result is that they do not scatter when he speaks.  It is a mode of delivery that is pure and because it is pure, it allows the Holy Spirit to do the real work.  I've known people who cannot bring themselves to agree with Bishop Schneider, yet they say they will think about what he says.  Bishop Schneider's approach is one that respects the free will of others. He is mindful that he cannot force others to accept what he is teaching.  People who use caustic methods to advance a cause do harm to the very thing they are promoting.

The Holy Father talks about the last kind of identity:

A third feature of Christian identity, Pope Francis went on, is the “Christian style”, which is joy. Christians, he said, “are people who exult because they know the Lord and they bring the Lord”. It is not possible, the Pope said, to walk as Christians without joy, to walk as lambs without joy. Even in the face of challenges, in the face of difficulties, in the face of our own mistakes and sins, “there is the joy of Jesus, which always forgives and helps”. Those Christians whose “tempo” of life is “adagio-complaining” are not helping the Lord or the Church, the Pope said: that is not the style of the disciple.

Here, I believe he is talking about people who are slow (adagio) to get involved because they allow themselves to be overwhelmed with difficulties, or with their own sinfulness.  They would rather sit around and complain.  This is not only harmful to themselves, but it is harmful to evangelization efforts as this is the face others see.

He finishes with this admonition:

On the feast of the two Christian disciples, Cyrill and Methodius, we must reflect on the nature of Christian identity, Pope Francis concluded: a Christian is a man or a woman who never stands still, who always walks, who walks as a lamb, and walks with joy. Through the intercession of these Saints, Patrons of Europe, may the Lord grant us the grace to live as Christians who walk as lambs, with joy.


For interesting news items I don't have time to blog on, check out my Twitter Feed: @TeDeumBlog

Te Deum Laudamus! Home

The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church;
it is the disobedient who are held captive by the world!

- Diane M. Korzeniewski

Note: The recommended links below are automatically generated by the tool, so they are not necessarily related content.

Father Z is in Detroit and will have the 9:30 AM TLM for Septuagesima Sunday

Father John Zuhlsdorf is in Detroit this weekend leading a Call to Holiness fundraiser at the Detroit Institute of Arts.  I had posted on it previously so people could sign up.  I regret not being able to go myself.   Teresa Tomeo interviewed Father Z a few days ago on her radio program, Catholic Connection, on the impact of Catholicism on art and culture.  Listen to the archive here. 

Fr. Perrone confirmed for me that Father Z will have the 9:30 AM TLM tomorrow at Assumption Grotto.   I don't know what his plans are after the Mass, but in the past, he has wandered over to the school for a brief time.

Septuagesima Sunday

In the old calendar, we have a "pre-lenten" period that begins with Septuagesima.

Vultus Christi - the great blog of the Silverstream Priory has several posts up.


If you don't have a missal and want to see or print out the propers for the next few weeks leading up to Lent, and through Lent, you can find them here at the Tridentine Latin Missal Project site.

Photo Note

The photo at top is from the 2009 Call to Holiness Conference at which Father Z spoke.  You can see my photo post from that event with explanations here.  It was at the National Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak, which provided a unique set of backdrops for the pictures that year.  

For interesting news items I don't have time to blog on, check out my Twitter Feed: @TeDeumBlog

Te Deum Laudamus! Home

The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church;
it is the disobedient who are held captive by the world!

- Diane M. Korzeniewski

Note: The recommended links below are automatically generated by the tool, so they are not necessarily related content.

Friday, February 14, 2014

2) Private Revelations and St. John of the Cross: Faith in Darkness

Caravaggio, Incredulity of St. Thomas

Yesterday, I wrote an introductory post to this series, which should be read first.  Before I begin the heart of this post, I would like to point out that when reading the major books of St. John of the Cross, there is a sequence that is best as follows:

  • The Ascent of Mount Carmel
  • The Dark Night of the Soul
  • Living Flame of Love
  • Spiritual Canticle

All of those are found in The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross and I am quoting from the Kindle version.  What is good about using this book is that some of the helpful minor works are included near the beginning.  The poetry is there to read, but that gets broken down by stanza throughout the respective books. 

Some may find it difficult to follow St. John of the Cross.  I often encourage people who are beginning to read the major Carmelite works to begin with St. Teresa's Way of Perfection, followed by the Interior Castle.  This is not true in every case, but if you find St. John hard to read, try starting with St. Teresa as I suggested.  In this case, I recommend, The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila Vol.2

This post series is beginning in chapter 9 of Book Two (of three) within the Ascent of Mount Carmel.  So, readers won't have the full benefit of what came prior.  If anything, I hope these posts will inspire people to read the main Carmelite works. 

Faith in darkness?

Before we can really begin to talk about things like visions, we need to understand what St. John says about faith. So, briefly, we will begin by looking at Chapter 9 in Book Two of the Ascent:

1. We can gather from what has been said that to be prepared for this divine union the intellect must be cleansed and emptied of everything relating to sense, divested and liberated of everything clearly intelligible, inwardly pacified and silenced, and supported by faith alone, which is the only proximate and proportionate means to union with God. St. John of the Cross (1991-12-14). The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross (Kindle Locations 3298-3300). ICS Publications. Kindle Edition.

A caution about "self-emptying"

We must take care not to fall into error with regards to the word, "emptied." Addressing concerns that New Age and eastern mysticism was cross-contaminating Catholic, contemplative, prayer practices the Holy See released, Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life - A Reflection on the New Age. In it, we read in section 24:

All meditation techniques need to be purged of presumption and pretentiousness. Christian prayer is not an exercise in self-contemplation, stillness and self-emptying, but a dialogue of love, one which “implies an attitude of conversion, a flight from 'self' to the 'You' of God”. It leads to an increasingly complete surrender to God's will, whereby we are invited to a deep, genuine solidarity with our brothers and sisters.

Also, then Cardinal Ratzinger, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in 1989 pointed out the following in Orationis Formas (on some aspects of Christian meditation.) Emphasis is mine in bold.

19. Therefore, one has to interpret correctly the teaching of those masters who recommend "emptying" the spirit of all sensible representations and of every concept, while remaining lovingly attentive to God. In this way, the person praying creates an empty space which can then be filled by the richness of God. However, the emptiness which God requires is that of the renunciation of personal selfishness, not necessarily that of the renunciation of those created things which he has given us and among which he has placed us. There is no doubt that in prayer one should concentrate entirely on God and as far as possible exclude the things of this world which bind us to our selfishness. On this topic St. Augustine is an excellent teacher: if you want to find God, he says, abandon the exterior world and re-enter into yourself. However, he continues, do not remain in yourself, but go beyond yourself because you are not God: He is deeper and greater than you.

It sounds much like Pope Francis, who frequently tells us to build that relationship with Jesus, then  tells us to go out of ourselves. It is difficult to evangelize others without going through a stripping of that selfishness Cardinal Ratzinger speaks, of which we are largely unaware.  It takes the development of a relationship with Jesus Christ and growth in our prayer life in ways we do not necessarily understand.  That is why St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila wrote many of their books, to give us exposure to subtleties so easily overlooked and misunderstood.  In other words, we do not know what we do not know. It takes prayer and spiritual reading to learn, and God's grace will come through these things if we humbly ask for them.

You can read more about this cross-contamination of New Age practices and eastern mysticism with Catholic contemplative prayer in, "A Closer Look at Centering Prayer" by Margaret Feaster, originally published Homiletic and Pastoral Review, in 2004.

Back to St. John of the Cross on Faith

Looking at that first paragraph I quoted at the top, which might be good to re-read before continuing, St. John is talking about being cleansed, emptied, liberated, pacified and silenced. A little later in the same paragraph he says, "…just as God is darkness to our intellect, so faith dazzles and blinds us." He also points out, "The intellect must be blind and dark and abide in faith alone, because it is joined with God under this cloud."

If our belief is based on what we can touch or feel, then our faith is superficial.  Recall how St. Thomas the Apostle had to touch the wounds of Christ to believe it was Him. Jesus permitted him to touch those wounds and admonished him not to be faithless and, calling those who believe without seeing, blessed. (John 20: 24-29). Likewise, if we are unwilling to believe until we have knowledge and understanding, it is not faith because faith seeks understanding, not the other way around.  Pope Benedict, in his address on St. Anselm in the General Audience of September 23, 2009 quoted him thus:

"I do not endeavour, O Lord, to penetrate your sublimity, for in no wise do I compare my understanding with that; but I long to understand in some degree your truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, that unless I believed, I should not understand"

Faith is not something we can achieve through our own effort. It requires God's grace.  Our faith is a response to that grace.  And, we might not know that God is "pinging" us unless we are still. It's in this silence and stillness that God trains and prepares us for the passivity needed to ascend higher in our relationship with Him.

There are so many ways that we can pursue God for selfish reasons, yet be unaware.  If we only pray when we feel like it, or when it feels good (consolations), we are engaging in selfish behavior.  The most pure form of prayer is that which is given solely for God's sake. Sometimes, the prayer God loves the most is that which is given in pure dryness, when we feel nothing.  Contrast this with prayer that comes only with petitions.  It is like a child who only loves a mother or father for what they can give to him or her.  There are many such subtle things we must learn about to advance in the spiritual life.

God Communicates in Darkness in Sacred Scripture

St. John of the Cross gives us examples of God communicating in darkness in the Old Testament:

3. In Scripture we read figuratively of this that when Solomon had completed the temple, God descended in darkness and filled it so that the children of Israel were unable to see. Solomon then said: The Lord has promised to dwell in darkness [1 Kgs. 8:12]. God was also covered with darkness when he appeared to Moses on the mount [Ex. 24:16]. And as often as God communicated at length with someone, he appeared in darkness. This is evident in the Book of Job, where Scripture asserts that God spoke to Job from the dark air [Jb. 38:1; 40:1]. 
All of this darkness signifies the obscurity of faith with which the divinity is clothed while communicating itself to the soul … When faith reaches its end and is shattered by the ending and breaking of this mortal life, the glory and light of the divinity, the content of faith, will at once appear.
  St. John of the Cross (1991-12-14). The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross (Kindle Locations 3310-3315, and 3319-3320). ICS Publications. Kindle Edition. 

The Dark Night of the Soul

While, "Dark Night of the Soul" is the title of one of the books written by St. John of the Cross, it is also now a common expression in mystical theology.  Since we are talking about darkness, I thought it might be helpful to share with you Fr. Hardon's definition of it in his Modern Catholic Dictionary.

Dark Night of the Soul: General term in mystical theology to identify every form of purification through which God leads persons whom he is calling to a high degree of sanctity. It is called "night" to distinguish a person's normal spiritual condition of seeing, although dimly, by the light of faith; whereas in mystical purification a person is deprived of much of this light. There is a "groping in the night." It is called a "dark" night to emphasize the intensity of withdrawal of God's illuminating grace. The purpose of such purification is to cleanse the soul of every vestige of self-love and unite a person more and more closely with God. As the intellect is thus mortified, the will becomes more firmly attracted to God and more securely attached to his divine will. This purification, however, is only a means to an end, namely, 1. to give greater glory to God, who is thereby loved for himself and not for the benefits he confers; 2. to lead the one thus purified to infused contemplation and even ecstatic union with God; 3. to enable the mystic to be used more effectively by God for the spiritual welfare of others, since the more holy a person is the more meritorious are that person's prayers and sacrifices for the human race.

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The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church;
it is the disobedient who are held captive by the world!

- Diane M. Korzeniewski

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

1) Private Revelations and St. John of the Cross: Introductory Post

There are so many websites and blogs out there focusing on current events and hot-button issues of our day that I like to look at issues of spirituality, especially through the writings of the saints.  If we spend all of our time with a singular focus on select areas of interest, or activism, things can go out of balance.  Charitable works and activism, must be balanced with a continuing study of Catholicism itself, and a deepening of our understanding of the prayer life and spirituality.

As a secular Carmelite, I'm drawn in a particular way to the works of St. John of the Cross (Doctor of Mystical Theology) and St. Teresa of Avila (Doctor of Prayer), along with other Carmelites.

Since I am laid up while undergoing tests and treatment for an abdominal problem, I have been getting in more reading time.  I've found a somewhat comfortable position in which to use my lightweight laptop so I can blog and use social media in between resting.

I hope you will find this topic of interest and enlightening.  I will leave the comment box open, but it is moderated and because I have doctor and testing appointments, there could be delays at times.

New Post Series

I thought I would focus a series of posts on what St. John of the Cross has to say about things like visions and locutions.  I'll give the series it's own label, mindful that blogs work in reverse chronological order.  I will call it Private Revelations and St. John of the Cross.

In an era so filled with alleged apparitions and other claims of mystical phenomena, I thought it would be good to look at it through the lens of the Doctor of Mystical Theology.  He has written extensively on this subject, breaking it down into many pieces spanning a multitude of chapters in the Ascent of Mount Carmel. Once we have a grasp of it, we will see that there are some alternative pastoral issues of a spiritual nature that Holy Mother Church is concerned with when it comes to these kinds of claims.  While many are brought to the door of the Catholic faith, or back to it after a long absence, through claims of apparitions, there are many spiritual dangers that await those who become attached to these - even those which are approved.  What are those dangers? That is something we will look at more closely.

Before getting into the heart of the subject, there is some background that needs to be understood.

Public revelation versus private revelation

It might help if readers of this post series, understand the difference between public and private revelations.  For this, you can read this brief article at EWTN and this page from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  There are no short cuts to learning. There is no sense in me summarizing a summary, which is provided in the links.

The Ascent of Mt. Carmel, Book Two

The Ascent of Mount Carmel is broken up into three books.  It is in Book Two of the Ascent, as I call it in it's abbreviated form, that St. John of the Cross deals extensively with things like visions and locutions.

I use The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross by the Institute of Carmelite Studies, but I don't know enough about the book from other publishers to say if there are differences.  You can find it online. This version at the Catholic Treasury site, has hyperlinks for each of the chapters, which will make it easier to follow.  However, I already see language differences. I just happen to have a bias towards the ICS translation.

Using Kindle

In this post series, I'll be quoting from the Kindle edition, which I have on all of my electronic devices, including this Macbook Pro and my Galaxy Note 10.1, where I do most of my reading.  That's one of the good things about Kindle, is that you can download free apps to your various devices and once you purchase a book, it will be accessible on any of them. You don't need a Kindle to read Kindle books since there are both PC and Mac versions of the reading software.  For IOS and Android devices, just go to your app store and download it for free from there.

A note about appetites

St. John of the Cross talks a lot about appetites and it is good to have a proper understanding about them.  We all know of the appetite for food, but there can be other appetites, such as the appetite to watch TV or be on the internet, among many other countless things.

Appetites need to be ordered to the good, so an appetite for stealing is not something to which we can yield.  Sexual activity, in the context of Sacramental Marriage, is good when unitive and open to life. But, even in marriage, lack of control can lead to lustful or even abusive activity which treats the other spouse as a mere object.

We must eat, but if we don't control our appetite for food, we become obese. If we don't control our appetite to watch TV, play sports, or be on the internet, we neglect other things in our lives including people and responsibilities.  Even one's appetite for work can be immoderate, for example, when the quest for power and money allows someone to have a big house and toys, but no time for Sunday Mass or prayer.

In the spiritual life, there can be appetites for consolations in prayer, or for signs and visions.  The Doctor of Mystical Theology gives us a proper understanding of these things, their role in the spiritual life, and how to moderate what must be moderated.

You can read much more on the appetites in this piece by Fr. Jerome Lantry, OCD: Those Pesky Appetites

In the next post

That is it for this introductory post.  In the next one, we will look at the subject of faith in darkness which is another area we must understand before looking at what St. John says about certain mystical experiences and visions.

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The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church;
it is the disobedient who are held captive by the world!

- Diane M. Korzeniewski

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Monday, February 10, 2014

A beautiful piece of Russian Orthodox sacred music

The video calls this Russian Orthodox music, "chant," but it sounds more like sacred polyphony to me.  This lifted my soul to the heights.  When you combine the sound and the imagery it is understandable why so many find such music and art uplifting.

This is so contrary to what we experience in the secular world.  This contrast between the kind of  sacred music and art in the video, and what is in the world, is what prompts an interior disposition to worship.  So much of the contemporary music in Latin rite parishes, along with artistically sterile environments has hindered some like myself, to worship more fully.  A parish I belonged to in my youth, which had one of the best choirs in the area, was reduced to three folk bands by the 1980's covering three Masses, and an organist covering the fourth weekend Mass early Sunday mornings.  That was years ago when they still had four weekend Masses.  You could drive for miles and not find a parish that had anything but guitar music or contemporary music played on organ and piano.

The art seen in this video, combined with the music, often found in Orthodox churches, as well as other Catholic rites causes us to ponder the mysteries of the Christian faith.  It speaks to the sacredness of worship.  Listen to this music on your way to an Adoration chapel and see how it helps to put you into a prayerful mode.

I hope you have good speakers.  If not, put on a good set of headphones.

That was sung by the Moscow Sretensky Monastery Choir.  You can read about them here.  And, you can hear more clips of them singing on this page.

I know an increasing number of Catholics who have left the Latin rite and attend Divine Liturgy at a Ukrainian, Melkite, Maronite, Chaldean or other Catholic Church because they were looking for this kind of separation. Others have left the Latin rite trying to escape liturgical abuses they found distracting to their worship.  Some of these other rites are close to what we would find in an Orthodox church.

That we may some day be one

My heart and soul yearns for the day when there is unity between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.   In fact, after beginning this post, my attention was drawn to an article by James Likoudis at Homiletic and Pastoral Review.  He asks: "Where is prayer for Christian unity in our parishes?"

Homiletic and Pastoral Review is a fine source for Catholic articles.  It was a print publication until recently and now it is exclusively online.  In April of 2006, Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ, published a testimonial I wrote about Assumption Grotto called, "Unconditional worship in the God-centered Mass."  Someday, I will have to share that online, but I'm thinking of putting a revised version here, written in the light of much more experience.  Perhaps I'll use the same name, but call it "revisited."

For interesting news items I don't have time to blog on, check out my Twitter Feed: @TeDeumBlog

Te Deum Laudamus! Home

The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church;
it is the disobedient who are held captive by the world!

- Diane M. Korzeniewski

Note: The recommended links below are automatically generated by the tool, so they are not necessarily related content.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Is Andrea Tornielli objective on the subject of Medjugorje?

This posted is aimed at those with an interest in the case of Medjugorje.  I thought about breaking this up into two posts, but have been chipping away at this in draft over the past few days from the comfort of a recliner as I nurse an abdominal problem.  I've decided it's best to keep it all in one post since it pertains to one article by Andrea Tornielli.

How objective is Mr. Tornielli on Medjugorje?

Episcopal Coat of Arms of Bishop Ratko Perić
Motto: Through tribulations
into the kingdom of God
(ref. Acts 14:22)
Andrea Tornielli is an esteemed Italian journalist who reports on Vatican affairs.  In recent years, he has reported on the case of Medjugorje.  However, has his reporting been objective?

For whatever reason, there are omissions in his reports on the phenomena, especially when it comes to anything from the Diocese of Mostar-Duvno.  One doesn't have to agree with the position of a local bishop when the Holy See has the case with the intention of the Pope giving a definitive judgment; but, reporters ought to give diocesan information to readers. The Diocese of Mostar-Duvno has published many things over the years, especially leading up to the announcement of the Commission.  That such information would be in the hands of the Commission, but not Mr. Tornielli's general readership, is most unfortunate, especially given that it is in Italian on the diocesan website.  (See the English reading list here, though not everything has been translated, and some items are on the website, but not in the list).

What further erodes my ability to see Andrea Tornielli as an objective reporter on the matter, is that he participated in spreading calumnious suggestions a few years ago, that Bishop Pavao Žanić, who died in 2000, collaborated with the communists to take down Medjugorje. Any objective reporter would have gone to the diocese for information, and looked for holes in such serious, outrageous, and scandalous, sensationalism.  It is the stuff of tabloids, not respectable Catholic journalism.  Did Mr. Tornielli talk to the diocese?  Apparently not. Bishop Perić, the current Ordinary took the Italian journalist to the proverbial woodshed over his reporting of this in a December 31, 2011 response (see English hereItalian here and Croatian here).  If he is interested in truth, then we would expect an objective journalist to speak with Bishop Perić who speaks Italian quite well.

No journalist, no matter how well esteemed or connected to inside sources; and, no matter how well intentioned, is beyond reproach.  I'll consider him an objective reporter when I see signs he has thoroughly read and understands the diocesan case on Medjugorje.

Nuncio in BiH 2010: "how come there is information in such opposition…"

Gifted journalists search for truth regardless of where it leads.  They share information - both supportive and unsupportive - regardless of their own personal view.

Let's look back on the words of Archbishop Alessandro D'Errico, the former Nuncio to Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) from March of 2010 when the Commission was first formed. After explaining that the Holy Father saw Medjugorje as "a question" for which he felt, "responsible, as Supreme Head of the Church, to pronounce a clear message," the Nuncio explained:

The Holy Father personally knows it very well and he has told me that several times - he is well acquainted with the whole phenomenon. He knows about the great good that is being done in this region by the priests, the Franciscan friars, and the laity. And on the other hand he asks himself how come there is information in such opposition to this phenomenon.

[Sidenote /Edit: See how errant and misleading translations were made on those words by the Nuncio.  The word "pitanje" (question), which was used three times in the preceding paragraph was omitted from one of the Croatian versions found at Medjugorje.hr. That distortion was used in translations to other languages.  Also, in the paragraph quoted above, the last two sentences were combined into one in such a way as to make it sound like the Holy Father could not understand how anyone could be against Medjugorje. These distortions can be found all over pro-Medjugorje websites.  In fact, two versions were found on the website originating out of Medjugorje. This underscores the danger of using information only from pro-Medjugorje sites.  We also have to question why proponents would engage in such manipulation of the Apostolic Nuncio's words.]

Note here, Archbishop D'Errico didn't mention simply fruits, but information, "in such opposition." This is what disappoints me about Andrea Tornielli's reporting: The Diocese of Mostar-Duvno website is filled with information in opposition to the phenomena (in links above). Yet, if he is truly unbiased, why has he not shared any of this with his readers?  If he has, someone please inform me, with links to his articles, so that I may  update my post.

Likewise, Italian Medjugorje researcher, Marco Corvaglia, has put together one of the most detailed websites out there that presents the critical diocesan point of view, with hard documentation that looks in depth at information "in such opposition to this phenomenon."  Here is Marco's homepage with multiple language options at the top.   In a similar way, retired University of Montreal researcher of paranormal psychology, Louis Belanger has also helped shed light on the diocesan point of view in a very detailed set of posts in English and French.  Mr. Tornielli entered the com-box of at least one post there which bears his name in the title (there are several).  See the homepage here and scroll.

Clicking through sites like those, along with the diocesan links I provided, gives readers the chance to understand what kind of information was in the hands of the Commission, that is, "in such opposition to this phenomenon."

The Holy See is the final arbiter of the information in it's possession - the supportive, and the critical. Objective journalists are suppose to report both sides, and since when is it ever prudent to avoid sharing what a diocese publishes?

A prayer for truth, not approval or disapproval

I hold nothing against anyone who wants for the alleged apparitions of Medjugorje to someday be proved authentic. Many innocently do so.  I do have problems with those devotees who use an alleged apparition to attack a bishop, or lower his good name in the eyes of others. That too is a fruit.  It is often what prompts my postings.

Devotees see my defense of the current and past bishop of Mostar as an attack on the Blessed Virgin Mary herself - a ridiculous charge leveled at me many times.  For me, it is a defense of Our Lady's dignity, a defense of the office of bishop, and a defense of the good name of her loyal sons who have acted on their informed consciences in the case of Medjugorje. These are not "liberal" bishops as Americans understand that term. They get this impression from the attacks on the bishops which range from overt to passive-aggresive.  The most disappointing manifestation of this passive-aggression on the part of Catholics is when they refuse to acknowledge the bishops or diocese as credible sources of information. That professional journalists would stoop this low, is all the more unfortunate.

This has been one of the greatest signs against authenticity for me: I have witnessed calumny, lies, deceit, and the pedaling of half-truths, all in the name of the lady of Medjugorje, who has not been deemed worthy of belief at any level of the Church thus far.

Truth cannot co-exist with untruth, not even for the most noble of pastoral reasons.  I have consistently stated that I do not "hope" for approval or disapproval, but for truth to prevail. My prayer has always been, and always will be, that the Holy See is enlightened with the truth on Medjugorje, and conveys that truth to the whole Church in a clear and unambiguous way.  Anything less will yield the fruit of quarreling and discord, and the kind of disharmony that occurs when the truth is known and is set aside to spare people's feelings and sensitivities. The ends do not justify the means (Veritatis Splendor 75).

A look at the beginning of Andrea Tornielli's report

Tornielli opens his report in Vatican Insider telling us that the findings of the International Theological Commission on Medjugorje have been delivered to Pope Francis by Cardinal Ruini, who headed up the effort.  He says, "the top secret dossier is currently being in the hands of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which also holds other material on a phenomenon."  All of this is probably true since we saw the private audience His Eminence had with Pope Francis in the daily bulletin after it was announced that the commission had ended it's work.

The Italian journalist, then makes brief mention of the letter by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), Cardinal-designate Gerhard Müller, sent through U.S. Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Vigano. Taking words from the original it said that, "…clerics and the faithful are not permitted to participate in meetings, conferences or public celebrations during which the credibility of such 'apparitions' would be taken for granted."  

I could pick apart some of what he says next, but I'm going to move on to more important critiques.

A deeper look at "no proof of any tricks or scams"

After the Italian journalist says the commission was sending reports to the CDF.  He then repeats this red-herring:

No proof was found of any tricks or scams but some of the commission’s members are still not fully convinced.

I'm still trying to figure out how a journalist can know what is in a "top secret" dossier if people who are sworn to secrecy aren't betraying that which was entrusted to them. Does it come from a commission member who wanted anonymity?  He doesn't say.  Or, is it speculation of a trusted theologian who is merely doing his best to read the tea-leaves?  He doesn't say.  In any event, I'm wondering why anyone, "in the know," would be feeding a journalist bits of information that could be taken completely out of context, and in a way that causes needless confusion. Is it not better to simply wait for the Holy See?  I digress.

There is a bigger problem with Andrea Tornielli's repeating of this rumor. It is what he does not say that is telling. Perhaps he is unaware or has not thought it out more fully.

Question:  Is the Holy See required to have proof, or evidence, of tricks or scams; or, of medical, natural, diabolical (preternatural) explanations in order to say that an alleged apparition or other private revelation is not supernatural?

Answer:  No.  Why? Because it may not be possible to prove that something is a scam, or diabolical, or the result of medical or natural explanations; yet, it can still be found undoubtedly not supernatural.

Example:  If an alleged apparition says there are four persons in the Trinity, can we say that it is a scam?  No. Can we say that it has diabolical origins? No.  Can we say that it is the result of natural or medical explanation?  No.  Can we say that it is doctrinally false? Yes. And, because truth and untruth cannot co-exist, that alleged apparition could be declared not supernatural without attributing it to any particular cause.

Unfortunately, Mr. Tornielli's repeated emphasis on the "no tricks or scams found" really is a red-herring.  Even if this is true, it does not mean Medjugorje is cleared from the potential for a fully negative judgment. I am NOT saying that we will see a negative judgment, because I do not presume to know what the Holy See will say.  What I am saying is that it builds the illusion in people's minds that if there are no tricks or scams, then the alleged apparitions of Medjugorje could not possibly be declared, "not supernatural."

There are other reasons besides doctrinal conflicts that can result in a wholly negative decision, especially when combined with other signs of inauthenticity.  Some believe the sheer volume of messages, likely into six digits after more than 30 years is enough to debunk the alleged apparitions of Medjugorje.  Add to that just some of the doctrinal challenges given to us by the local bishop (see Italian here); or, the diocesan discussion of the Great Sign (Italian here), among other things.

Not by good fruits alone

Notice that I have not included discussion of fruits here, yet.  Are there good fruits among the devotees of Medjugorje?  Sure. However, we might disagree on whether those come from an alleged apparition, or from the graces which accompany an increase in sacramental and prayer life.  I was inspired to go to Confession at Assumption Grotto on the mere sight of seeing so many people in line at three confessionals before Mass when I first went there.  The Holy Spirit can work through such visuals. My life changed even more as I included the daily Rosary, frequent Adoration, the Divine Office, and daily Mass attendance.  I know people at Assumption Grotto who once worked in abortion mills, were involved with the occult, and others who were away for 30 years or more.  The Prefect-emeritus of the Congregation for Saints, Cardinal Saraiva said, in response to a question about whether conversions prove authenticity of Medjugorje:

“Absolutely not; whether about conversions, or also about healings, it is not a sufficient argument to evaluate the thesis of the authenticity of the apparitions. Just because people convert in this place, it is not given that the Madonna is appearing. Conversion is also possible in a little country parish.”

The Holy See will look at fruits, but the first fruits looked at are those in the alleged visionaries themselves, and in their closest advisors.  Here too, the Holy See is the final arbiter of whether concerns people have raised over conflicts of interest with the visionaries are worthy of consideration in their discernment.

More importantly, before the fruits are considered in anyone, including the devotees, the facts surrounding events themselves are studied and whether they are in harmony with what Holy Church knows about authentic apparitions, and the teachings of the Church.

Let's look at the sequence found in the 1978 Norms for the Discernment of Presumed Apparitions and Revelations which was made public in recent years. Emphasis is mine in bold and we will refer back to points (a), (b), and (c) later.

When Ecclesiastical Authority is informed of a presumed apparition or revelation, it will be its responsibility:

a) first, to judge the fact according to positive and negative criteria (cf. infra, no. I);

b) then, if this examination results in a favorable conclusion, to permit some public manifestation of cult or of devotion, overseeing this with great prudence (equivalent to the formula, “for now, nothing stands in the way”) (pro nunc nihil obstare).

c) finally, in light of time passed and of experience, with special regard to the fecundity of spiritual fruit generated from this new devotion, to express a judgment regarding the authenticity and supernatural character if the case so merits.

So, all the nearly exclusive emphasis on fruits in reports, such as this one by Andrea Tornielli, to the exclusion of any discussion of facts (especially those of a critical nature from the diocese), is an injustice to discerning readers looking to understand what is really happening at the Holy See.  And, is there a complete absence of bad fruits? The utter contempt shown for the apostolic successors of Mostar-Duvno over Medjugorje is among those bad fruits.  I know people whose marriages and families have been broken up over the phenomena.

So, are Mr. Tornielli's readers not being set up for a potential shock, should a fully negative decision come down? How will they cope as attachment is increased with reports filled with half-truths?  While I believe most will humbly submit, the Father of Lies wins with even a few souls rejecting the judgment of the Church, which is his ultimate goal.

On the other hand, if the judgment from Zadar is maintained (the only other possibility, given that the alleged visions are ongoing), nothing is lost if the critical information is true, and not refuted by the Vatican inquiry.  If two successive bishops are proven wrong in their presentation and/or understanding of the facts, then truth should be made known; but, if they were right, people should be informed accordingly. Charity is not served by any untruth.  I am not without hope that Pope Francis, and the CDF understand this.

Another omission by Andrea Tornielli 

Tornielli then states:

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will hold a plenary meeting in the coming months to examine and discuss the commission’s conclusions. The decision will then be presented to Pope Francis who will give a final judgement.

No disagreement there.  If I may speculate on this, I believe we may hear something by May - the Month of Mary.  I'm glad to see the Vaticanist saying there will be a final judgment since that is how I have always understood it.

The question thus remains open. The fact that the phenomenon is ongoing means it is unlikely a statement will be issued confirming it as supernatural. But those who are hoping for a negative assessment may also be disappointed.

Tornielli omits, once again from his reporting, that while approval cannot come while ongoinga negative judgment can come at any time.  A recent example is the decree by Bishop Lennon on Holy Love Ministries. He was invited by the Holy See to make that judgment, so it is clear that it is the final judgment of the Church (anyone who believes it is still open, is free to ask the CDF if that is true).

Two alleged apparition examples in Argentina

After telling readers that those hoping for a negative assessment may be disappointed, Andrea Tornielli discusses two cases in Argentina.

Alleged Apparitions in San Nicolas

Tornielli explains

The apparitions of San Nicolas started in 1983 and have not stopped since (250 thousand faithful gather to pray on each anniversary); the seer, Gladys Quiroga de Motta, mother, grandmother and a very simple woman, gave herself up completely to the Church authorities and spends most of her day in silent prayer. The current bishop, Héctor Sabatino Cardelli, has celebrated mass and led processions in the place where the apparition was seen, on the banks of the Paraná river. A large shrine marks the spot, where a spring was also discovered. The Church has also approved the white scapular created especially for those who experience physical and spiritual suffering. The seer’s spiritual guide, Fr. Carlos Pérez, says he is convinced the apparition really did take place. More than 1800 messages relating to the apparition have been published in a volume approved by the former Bishop of San Nicolas, Domingo Salvador Castagna, who once stated: “I firmly believe this is an event of the Virgin Mary.”

Okay, what we see here appears to be at stage "b" which I quoted above and said we would refer back to.  It is still under investigation, but enjoys approval of the cultus.

b) then, if this examination results in a favorable conclusionto permit some public manifestation of cult or of devotion, overseeing this with great prudence (equivalent to the formula, “for now, nothing stands in the way”) (pro nunc nihil obstare).

Notice that a definitive judgment does not come until the next stage, at "c" when time has passed with ongoing study. Perhaps the case of San Nicolas has proceeded to "c" but I don't have any proof of this, yet it is clear that it has at least surpassed "a."

Thus far, Medjugorje has not made it to "b."  There has never been a favorable conclusion by any bishop, or any commission (and the fourth is underway), to permit a public manifestation of cult or of devotion.  People have illicitly written hymns, prayers, designated the name "Our Lady of Medjugorje,"  to the alleged apparition, stamped medals, erected a "shrine;" and, established buildings without canonical approval, among other things.  The cart was put before the horse when the local bishops could not get past conflicts with facts surrounding events.  This too, is a fruit, or a sign, which contradicts authenticity as it shows a lack of docility on the part of alleged visionaries and devotees. People are certainly free to visit Medjugorje,"on condition that they are not regarded as an authentification of events still taking place and which still call for an examination by the Church" (last word on pilgrimages from Card. Bertone.)  But, how many visit there without presupposing authenticity?  In fact, statistics are readily exploited online to make a statement in favor of authenticity.

Alleged Apparitions in Salta

I'm copying in everything Mr. Tornielli said about Salta and we will contrast it with what is reported from the diocese.

Another case Jorge Mario Bergoglio dealt with, albeit from a distance, as an Argentine bishop, is that involving the apparitions in Salta, a province located 1,500 km away from Buenos Aires. In this case, the local archbishop, Mario Carniello, was far more sceptical. On his seventh visit there in December 2011, René Laurentin, a French expert on Marian apparitions, said “it’s all looking very positive.” Salta’s seer is Maria Livia de Obeid. The apparitions and prayer sessions take place in the shrine of La Virgen del Cerro, (The Virgin of the Hill). Over a million people a year come here to pray with Maria Livia. Every Saturday, between March and December, 30-40,000 people descend on the shrine that she had built in the year 2000 on the 300 meter high hill (Cerro). In this case too, pilgrims are drawn back to the faith and spiritual life.

In July 2006, after three years of research, the archbishop announced there was “no proof or objective witnesses to support a supernatural explanation of the alleged Marian apparitions.” This basically equated to a non constat de supernaturalitate, the same term Yugoslavian bishops gave to Medjugorje in the famous Zara Declaration of 1991.

Cardinal Bergoglio had invited his priests to handle the case of Salta with caution, to consult with the local clergy and to follow the instructions of the local archbishop. But here too, although ecclesiastical leaders were reluctant to acknowledge the supernatural nature of these apparitions, they did not prohibit pilgrimages to the site and efforts have always been made to ensure pastoral care is given to the pilgrims that visit.

Through the Miracle Hunter page for unapproved apparitions, we have two news items concerning diocesan documents on the case in Salta - one from 2003, and the other pointing to a 2006 Catholic News Agency (CNA) article.

It is true that the decision appears to follow that of the 1991 Zadar Declaration which was a "non constat de supernaturalitate" (it cannot be affirmed as supernatural). While the diocese did not go wholly negative with a judgment of "constat de non supernaturalitate" (it can be affirmed as not supernatural), there is some important language not in Mr. Tornielli's report.  Here is what we learn from CNA (emphasis mine in bold and comments bracketed in red; added emphasis underlined):

The archdiocese issued a statement about the alleged revelations of the Virgin Mary to Maria Livia de Obeid, who has the practice of laying her hands on each person that comes to visit her, invoking the protection of God [we see this often with Vicka of Medjugorje]. She has promoted the construction of a chapel on top of the hill in Salta where the apparitions supposedly took place [in Medjugorje such things have been constructed without any canonical approval].

In a statement entitled, “Declaration regarding the question of the Hill,” [see English translation here of the 2003 document] Archbishop Mario Cargnello said Obeid’s activities represented “a personal initiative in the context of a civil organization, without the recognition of, or the insertion into, the organic and official activity of the Church.”

Archbishop Cargnello said the archdiocese, “cannot endorse the extraordinary events as objectively true,” and he invited the faithful to seek their spiritual growth through the ministries offered by the Church in Salta. [!!!] Obeid’s invitation to come to the hill, and the messages that are given there, are, “outside the [Church’s] pastoral direction,” [!!!] he went on, “and consequently, the Church cannot endorse nor promote participation in them.” [!!!]

Okay, now that is hardly edifying and when we read this, I think reasonable people will walk away with a different understanding of the situation in Salta than what Mr. Tornielli is offering.  He's a professional journalist, so even if he has less information in Italian than we have in English, he has easy access to the archdiocese.

To say that something is outside the pastoral direction of the Church, especially when they are encouraged to, "seek spiritual growth through the ministries offered by the Church in Salta,"  is basically a way of discouraging involvement in the phenomena.  If the archdiocese has put out something else after 2006, I would be interested in seeing it.

In any event, it doe not matter one iota what a theologian may think, including René Laurentin, no matter how esteemed the mariologist may be.  Perhaps Mr. Tornielli, if he is an objective journalist, would like to ask the archdiocese for a comment on what Fr. Laurnetin had to say in 2011 and enlighten us all.

The pursuit of truth means putting blinders on our own feelings, and following information wherever it leads whether supportive or unsupportive.  I hope and pray Mr. Tornielli will begin to take that approach with his reporting on Medjugorje.

A final reflection from St. John of the Cross

This comes from the Ascent of Mt. Carmel, Book Two, Chapter 21.

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