Friday, 28 August 2009

Stephanus vocabitur ...

What lovely news to hear that on the vigil of the Feast of Saint Augustine, Alexander Morrison, our old boy, took the cloth as a Norbertine novice. He now has the name Brother Stephen. Brother Stephen was a founder pupil at Chavagnes from 2002 to 2005 and then went on to read French at Oriel College, Oxford, where he graduated this summer.
Please keep Brother in your prayers!

Friday, 14 August 2009

Single and faithful ... a role for lay apostles?

Is it possible for a layman to be called to serve God in the single state, in the midst of the world?

The Church is divided into Laity, Deacons, Priests and Bishops. This is its hierarchical structure, ordained by Christ himself. (cf Lumen Gentium)

The evangelical counsels (or counsels of perfection) are an invitation made by Christ to clergy and laity alike. Hence this invitation comes directly from Christ, and we are all urged to accept it in some way or another.

Since the beginning of the Church, some people accepted the counsels of perfection in a more external way than others (not marrying, not owning property, submitting themselves to obedience. Forms of life sprang up, after the apostolic period, that promoted the public profession (often, especially later, under life-long vows).

There is no ontological difference between a professed religious and a layman. There is an ontological difference between an ordained man and a layman. Hence the nature of a vocation to the priesthood and a vocation to the religious life is completely different. Secular priests, for example, do not live the evangelical counsels in a special way (although they are usually celibate and obedient to a bishop), but they are certainly called to the priesthood. They also tend to respond to the invitation to the evangelical counsels in a generous way, according to circumstances and custom.

Marriage is also a state which is – it seems to me – profoundly ontological: the two people become one flesh, and this can never be undone, except by death. Although they are free to marry again if one partner dies, it is likely that marriage has some kind of effect on the soul, which is, after all, inextricably bound up with the flesh. This question has always been a mysterious one.

Vocations to the ordained ministry and to marriage depend on sacraments instituted by Christ himself. Also, marriage – in some sense - is part of the original blueprint of creation. Priesthood is an accident of history (even if a happy one) which would not have come to pass but for Adam’s sin, for without Adam’s sin, no great sacrifice was called for.

What about the religious life? How does it differ from the fruitful virginity of someone who simply responds to the evangelical counsels as best he can in the circumstances of his lay apostolate (one thinks of Florence Nightingale, Joan of Arc, Edel Quinn, Frank Duff (Founder of the Legion of Mary), Bl. Frederic Ozanam (Founder of the Society of St Vincent de Paul), and many thousands of nurses, doctors and teachers over the centuries.) These people often choose the celibate state because it is bound up with the apostolate that they are devoted to. In the past, and well into the 20th century, for example, many university posts and teaching positions carried the obligation of celibacy.

Sometimes the choice of the celibate state is a dawning realisation which grows in intensity as an apostolic career progresses. It is also true that God can have a series of different states envisaged for a person’s life, as is the case with saints such as St Elizabeth of Hungary or Blessed Edmund Rice.

The only difference between the consecrated religious life and the fruitful virginity of someone who is not married, is that the Church has especially blessed the first of these two states. It would seem then that consecrated virginity, because more definitive and public, is a higher vocation. Both states however, respond to the same invitations of Christ and St Paul. Both are only meritorious in as much as they are fruitful, because the command ‘Go forth and mutliply’ was made to all men of every age.

This way of looking at the practice of the evangelical counsels, as something to which we are all called in some way, was common in the early church, the middle ages and the renaissance. All over Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries various layfolk, married or single, tramped around in habits, loosely associated with religious orders, carrying out their own lives in the world, but bearing witness to some extra degree of apostolic work or prayer. St Catherine of Siena was such a person. She never made any public vow of virginity, although she had made a private childhood promise to Jesus at the age of seven. She, like many single and married people of the day, moved by the example of the religious life, had become a tertiary of the Dominicans at age 16, but lived at home with her family. She later went on to care for the sick, and then – a most original apostolate for a woman - to enter into spiritual correspondence with many people from all walks of life. Her life in the world made her accessible to people in a way that religious life would have hindered.

Similarly the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller, celibate men, but not classed as religious, consecrated themselves to warfare, politics and trade, areas that would be scandalous for true religious. But they did this work for the sake of the liberty of the Church and the furtherance of Christendom.

It is only after Trent that a huge divide springs up between professional church people and the laity. St Alphonsus Liguori, a Doctor of the Church, and yet as much lawyer as theologian, may well have said that single lay people were neither one thing nor another; that was the legal tendency of the Church of his day. He also enjoined (in The Dignity and Duties of the Priest) all sorts of behaviour for priests which few of them would follow today. He lived in a clericalist age, and Christians reasoned in a clerical way. The eighteenth century was a time when the participation of the laity in the Church’s mission was at an all-time low.

After the French Revolution, the Church discovered that in order to respond to the ever-changing needs of the world, the way needed to be opened up to the laity to participate in the apostolate of the Church as they had done so freely in the middle ages and in the renaissance. New congregations sprang up with annually renewable vows (and they still exist); many heroic single lay people founded lasting lay movements. For example, Pauline Jaricot founded the Association for the Propagation of the Faith, and the Living Rosary, as well as working for the improvement of the conditions of working men. Her beatification is currently being sought.
This new era of spiritual fruitfulness of the laity has continued over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. One thinks particularly of the Legion of Mary and of the Society of St Vincent de Paul, both founded by celibate laymen.

At Vatican II these currents, apparent in the early Church and at various times throughout the Church’s history, are particularly evident. Religious life is to be renewed in order to be a greater sign, and the full diversity of different apostolates and vocations in the Church is to be revivified. Teaching, especially, is confirmed as a vocation of great importance, to which non-consecrated laity are also called. Vatican II also addresses single people as an important consitutent part of the Church (see the final address of the Fathers to the women of the world, where single women are told that the world needs them because of their ability to come to the aid of families.)

So, in the twentieth century the evangelical conception of the ministry of the Church is restored, with a variety of callings, but the same Spirit to animate them all. (cf. Corinthians 12)

Thus, while the single state may be a transitional one, it is not necessarily so. In the context of a real vocation to a kind of diakonia in the Church or the world (such as teaching or nursing, for example) it can be where God wants someone to be for a whole lifetime.

This is because the Church needs such people in the midst of the world: “the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God.” It was this freedom, within the world, that enabled Pauline Jaricot, Joan of Arc and Catherine of Siena to immerse themselves in politics, for the good of all, as well as in a life of prayer.

It was this freedom, in our own age, that allowed Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary, to minister to the prostitutes of Dublin, and to cut though the political red tape that stood in the way of helping them to improve their lot.

The choice, then, of this evangelical freedom, for the reasons which St Paul explained in his first letter to the Corinthians, is a radical option that is still valid today; one which remains open to single people seeking to do God’s will in the world. As such, it is a witness to perfect charity, inasmuch as it is ordered to the giving of self in the lay apostolate.

In the modern Church, as at different times in the past, various associations and secular institutes, approved by the Church, assist single lay people to persevere in their way of life. These organisations, such as the Third Orders, Opus Dei, and various other groups, are useful to such people and can make their apostolic efforts more fruitful.

Personally, I would recommend to single lay people who devote themselves to apostolic work, to adopt a kind of rule of life: it could be knighthood, membership of a third order, membership of the Legion of Mary, or similar. Or it could simply be a form of private consecration such as the Consecration to our Lady proposed by St Louis de Montfort.

The Fathers at Vatican II encouraged the laity to make the prayer of the Divine Office their own, so this could also form the basis of a rule of life for single lay apostles. In fact, there are many possibilities, all with the same aim: to ensure that the apostolic effort is ordered within the context of personal sanctification and ready to bear fruit in the light of the Holy Spirit.

In response to a letter accusing the Pope of heresy on the Four Last Things ...

Dear Jennifer,

Thanks for the letter and enclosure you sent me a while back. In them you suggested a dialogue about the popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. You also implied that perhaps they were not popes at all.

Your main problem was that they emphasised universal salvation and thereby effectively denied all the Church’s doctrine about sin and the need for redemption from it.

You took issue with the idea that “hell is not God’s initiative”; that souls send themselves to Hell.
My response is not going to be sophisticated, I’m afraid. I think that if you want to find texts to hang the popes with, you can find them. I have plenty of texts that people have sent me that do this, if you ignore all the other evidence. Taken in context, and in a spirit of docility, they are not for me a source of impossible dilemmas.

The Second Vatican Council asks us to give an assent of our intellect and will the frequent and clearly expressed teaching of the Pope. You complain that texts you have seen are doctrinally unclear. Seek clarification from the official doctrinal pronouncements and teachings of these same popes, and especially the Catechism, which John Paul II intended as an authoritative text.
Another key point is that it is the CCC that is in the hands of all the faithful now. I had never before read the extracts you sent me, and I doubt many others have. But I have many times consulted and studied the CCC. It seems to me the most natural place for a Catholic to go to find out what the Church (or its errant leaders, if you prefer) is saying.
I do not find it unclear on these matters.

You say that John Paul II and Benedict XVI give us a religion where man is not free. I say the same of the religion you seem to propose in your letter. You suggest that man is not free because he is forced to go to Heaven whether he likes it or not.

Well, I typed in Hell in a search engine for the Catechism and this is what I got:

1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire." The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

Does God take the intiative on damnation? No, says the Catechism:

1037 God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want "any to perish, but all to come to repentance":
Father, accept this offeringfrom your whole family.Grant us your peace in this life,save us from final damnation,and count us among those you have chosen. (Roman Canon)


What is mortal sin, any way? What does the same book say?

Well, there are all the classic definitions of full knowledge and full consent etc, as well as gravity of matter, but then the Catechism also speaks of our freedom to chose everlasting hell, by our un-repented rejection of God through sin:

1861 Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God's forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ's kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God.


You speak of the drama of sin and repentance, of privation of grace and the return to it, a drama, which according to you, the new popes would take away from us. Yet the Catechism is rich with talk of this, and almost always mentions hell or the death of the soul every time it mentions mortal sin. It also reminds us of the importance of our final moments:

1014 The Church encourages us to prepare ourselves for the hour of our death. In the ancient litany of the saints, for instance, she has us pray: "From a sudden and unforeseen death, deliver us, O Lord"; to ask the Mother of God to intercede for us "at the hour of our death" in the Hail Mary; and to entrust ourselves to St. Joseph, the patron of a happy death.
Every action of yours, every thought, should be those of one who expects to die before the day is out. Death would have no great terrors for you if you had a quiet conscience. . . . Then why not keep clear of sin instead of running away from death? If you aren't fit to face death today, it's very unlikely you will be tomorrow. . . .
Praised are you, my Lord, for our sister bodily Death,from whom no living man can escape. Woe on those who will die in mortal sin! (My italics)Blessed are they who will be found in your most holy will,for the second death will not harm them.

Consider also that in canonising St Pio of Pietrelcina dn St Faustina, the Pope also refers us to their writings. Even a superficial knowledge of their writings confirms one in a holy fear of Hell and its torments. I don’t know why the SSPX has recently taken against Faustina, because she certainly clears up the confusion on Hell:

Sister Faustina's Vision of Hell
"I, Sister Faustina Kowalska, by the order of God, have visited the Abysses of Hell so that I might tell souls about it and testify to its existence...the devils were full of hatred for me, but they had to obey me at the command of God, What I have written is but a pale shadow of the things I saw. But I noticed one thing: That most of the souls there are those who disbelieved that there is a hell. ...
Let the sinner know that he will be tortured throughout all eternity, in those senses which he made use of to sin. I am writing this at the command of God, so that no soul may find an excuse by saying there is no hell, or that nobody has ever been there, and so no one can say what it is like...how terribly souls suffer there! Consequently, I pray even more fervently for the conversion of sinners. I incessantly plead God's mercy upon them. O My Jesus, I would rather be in agony until the end of the world, amidst the greatest sufferings, than offend you by the least sin." (Diary 741)

Padre Pio is said to have told a penitent who said “I don’t believe in Hell,” “You will when you get there.”

Eternal damnation is not an initiative of God. As the Catechism of Trent has it:

And yet most justly shall this very sentence be pronounced by our Lord and Saviour on those sinners who neglected all the works of true mercy, who gave neither food to the hungry, nor drink to the thirsty, who refused shelter to the stranger and clothing to the naked, and who would not visit the sick and the imprisoned.

Our Lord issues damnation as a response, not an initiative. The initiative to sin is man’s, not God’s. The result is the just punishment that awaits the unrepentant sinner.

Cardinal Journet speaks of our eternal destiny like an arrow being fired by God. He aims the arrow at eternal life (cf. La Marche de l’Humanité vers le Père.) The initiative is God’s calling us to eternal life. We can knock God’s arrow off-course if we wish.

The whole concern for true doctrine must be directed to the love that never ends. Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love. This is the sense of Cardinal journet's arrow, and - to my mind - the heart of the teaching of Benedict XVI too.

I am praying for you.

God bless,
Yours ever,
Ferdi