Cardinal Differences

While these two men are unquestionably Catholic, they have very different visions for the life of the Church

While these two men have very different visions for the life of the Church, they are unquestionably Catholic

It was quite a remarkable week at the Catholic University of America. In what we were told was “completely coincidental,” two different (and I mean different) Cardinals found their way onto campus to give lectures about the Church. On Monday, Gerhard Cardinal Müller, the prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), gave a lecture to the public, and on Tuesday prayed evening prayer and gave a lecture before a private audience of seminarians. On Thursday, Walter Cardinal Kasper received a medal for “Excellence in Scholarship and Leadership in Religious Studies” from the Catholic University of America and gave a lecture entitled, “Theological Background of the Ecclesiological Ecumenical Vision of Pope Francis.”

For those not up on the latest gossip–I mean news–within the Vatican regarding the Synod on the Family, this is quite a coupling of Cardinals to have speak in one week. Both men have been the center of attention of media personnel, and many have caricatured these men against one another as theological and political enemies, one being the progressive in favor of doctrinal change, the other the conservative defending the faith against heresy. While there is some truth to this, as they appear to have taken different stances on a couple of key issues, it seems to me to be a gross oversimplification of the issues and an attempt to create schism where no schism exists. These men hold different points of view regarding the life of the Church, sure, but they are also very Catholic in doing so.

Of the two, Müller’s was certainly the drier of the lectures. Being the prefect of the CDF, one did not expect him to present anything revolutionary or controversial. Added to that, language was definitely a barrier, meaning that his entire lecture and even much of the question-and-answer session, was read from prewritten statements. As far as presentation goes, I have to admit, I struggled to stay awake.

At the same time, though, it was a really worthwhile experience. Attended by and geared toward seminarians alone, the whole evening was a pretty inspiring event. While the Franciscans (OFM) and the Dominicans appeared to be the only religious in attendance (ahem… Carmelites, Capuchins, TORs, Conventuals, Paulists…), there were hundreds of seminarians in attendance, all students at CUA. That was pretty amazing to see. Vocations to religious life and the priesthood are by no means where they need to be, but it’s clear that there has been a small resurgence in numbers over the past five to ten years. Müller took notice of this, but seemed to indicate that quality is more important than quantity. Encouraging us to embrace the process of growth and conversion, he told us that seminary and formation were not simply, “I believe ze English term is ‘hoops to jump troo.'” We must always ground ourselves in faith, and recognize our journey in the life of the Eucharistic celebration. With the mass as our foundation, seminary and formation is not the step before we get to where we’re going, but rather the experience of Christ right now on our journey of faith.

As an added “bonus” to the night, Cardinal Müller shook each of our hands, took a group picture, and invited us to tour the Saint John Paul II exhibit recently opened. (More about this experience at the end.)

But as worthwhile as our evening with Cardinal Müller was, it pales in comparison to Cardinal Kasper’s lecture. Let’s just say that the man was candid, casual, and full of joy with the current pope. Francis, he said, is Jesuit to the core (not a Franciscan in disguise.) Unlike his predecessor who exercised faith from the standpoint of his intellect and theory, Francis’ faith is rooted in experience and defined by practical measures. Distinctly South American, he exemplifies a method of theology found in the liberation theologians: see, judge, act. Unlike the liberation theologians, however, the Gospel is not primarily a message of liberation, but rather joy, and joy cannot be contained. It is God’s mercy that defines the Gospel, not law. As such, social justice is not some far off ideal we seek, but rather “the minimum amount of mercy” required by all. The Gospel requires more than just the minimum, more than just “what is due.” It requires mercy.

Through this lens, he described, Francis’ understanding of the Church is straight out of the Second Vatican Council, even if he never mentions it. “He doesn’t mention Vatican II a lot. The reason for this is not that he doesn’t agree with it, it’s that that he has embodied it so completely in himself.” For Francis, the Church should not be like a business in which the CEO dictates the mission and the heads of each department work towards pleasing the boss, guided by strict laws and protocols; the Church is not a top-down institution with the pope as the sole source and authority of truth, dictating doctrine for everyone to follow. The Church is the people of God, the messianic people, the sensus fidei, and he wants full participation from everyone, particularly the laity. Just as the outwardly written “doctrines” are secondary to the inward gifts of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, the Magisterium is there, not to impose burdens on the people, but to listen to and serve the people of God. When the Church becomes self-centered, failing to move to the peripheries of society and Church out of fear, the joy of the Gospel does not get communicated. (I’ve intended to write a post about Francis, and maybe I’ll get there, but can I just go on record to say that I love this guy?)

It’s here, I guess, that the reflective piece of this post begins, and the true purpose of writing comes out. Having listened to two Cardinals with very different tones this week, and having spent a lot of time in conversation about the differences between the papacies of John Paul II and Francis, (not to mention the fact that there were two people protesting outside of one of the lectures!) I cannot help but recognize that each of these men is truly Catholic in his theology and understanding of Church, even if I prefer one over another. I think Cardinal Kasper’s very candid opening line of his lecture expresses what I want to say: “For some of you, the papacy of Francis is a spring of new life, a great warmth after a winter that has lasted for many years; for others of you, it is an unwelcome cold spell that has caused you to grab your coat and pray for a short winter.” This is not a new phenomenon, nor does it indicate that we are headed towards schism. To have a different perspective on Church, and thus, to be disappointed with the Church’s leadership at a given time, does not make someone a good or bad Catholic. As I walked around the John Paul II exhibit, I couldn’t help but be inspired by the many wonderful things he did and the great man of prayer that he always was; at the same time, I couldn’t help but remember that his understanding of Church and style of leadership were far from my own, and that he did a lot to undo the reforms put in place by the Second Vatican Council that really define my own theology. And that’s okay.

You see, we live in a pluralistic world, and like it or not, worship in a pluralistic Church. Having now taken classes in Church history, history of theology, history of the sacraments, foundations of moral theology, and social ethics, it’s clear to me that there has never been time in which everyone in the Church believed and acted the same way, even among the greatest of theologians. (Look at Saint Bonaventure and Saint Thomas Aquinas: contemporaries and doctors of the Church, they represent a Church moving in opposing directions. Look at East and West: truly faithful people that agree on every important dogmatic statement (minus one word that we added later…), both drawing their lineage all the way back to Jesus, and yet are very different in thought and practice.) While the experience of God’s revelation in Christ is unchanging, the way we understand that revelation and live it out develops over time. Just because we may have different opinions about theology and Church organization does not mean that one is right and one is wrong, it simply means, as Kasper said, “The totality of God cannot fit into one human perspective.” Instead of calling for Schism or name-calling among the people of faith, instead of a theology of arrogance that claims to know all that there is about the infinite, let us treat one another with humility of heart and joy for the Gospel, and do as St. Paul tells us: “Test everything; retain what is good.”

Finding Solitude

I may have experienced solitude here, but a spirit of solitude comes from within.

Back we are in Wilmington, and away we go! Today I found myself enjoying the bright sunny day with a little reading, cleaning, and laundry, taking in the time to relax  before heading out again. No complaints here, though: t’s was a great week at the Graymoor Spiritual Life Center, and I’m looking forward to our retreat coming up!

The week started on Tuesday with a 4 day workshop on Franciscan prayer led by the renowned André Cirino, OFM. Centering the material around Francis’ radical approach to constant prayer, we spent a good portion of our time focused on his The Office of the Passion (translated and published by Fr. André as The Geste of the Great King), and A Rule for Hermitages (also known as The Prayer of Solitudea less common but arguably more accurate name).

Of all the little bits of wisdom I received from Francis and Fr. André alike, one thing really struck me: solitude is less of a place than it is a state of mind.

This is a great challenge for me. When I’m in between activities with only fifteen minutes to pray or am outside of traditionally “sacred” places where it can be busy or loud, I find it difficult to get into a prayerful mindset, and believe that less-than-ideal environment makes my prayer less meaningful, and to some extent, less effective than a more formalized, “ideal” prayer. The problem that I’ve realized is that I am looking for solitude outside of myself, as if it can be found in a particular place or situation. In reality, one finds solitude from within, not from without.

My attempt to process this new concept could not have had more appropriate, yet ironic, timing: starting tomorrow, we’ll be starting a six-day hermitage retreat. Talk about external solitude! Not only will we be on retreat from the busyness of the world, prohibited from using cellphones and the like, we will also be living in our own private cabin. Whereas we were discouraged from talking outside of communal prayers on our trip to Mt. Savior Monastery back in December (“Living In The Moment“), we will even be discouraged this week from seeing one another but once a day for mass, dinner, and vespers.

Though I do find it a little ironic as well that I’ll be entering into physical solitude while arguing that inner solitude is independent from location, I think that this will be an excellent first step, and a challenge for sure. Just because one can remove all external distractions doesn’t meant that there will not be distractions to prayer! On the contrary, the lack of external distractions simply leaves an individual unable to hide from their internal distractions. These are definitely the hardest to overcome and the true impediments to prayerful solitude.

And with that, I’m off to find some solitude, hidden deep within myself! I thank you once again for your prayers and support, and will be praying for each of you this week!

Once Upon A Time…

Though Franciscan history may not be as neat and tidy as a fairy tale, it is an incredible story!

… there was a man from Assisi that renounced his wealth and status, trading all he had for poverty and started a brotherhood. The small band of brothers merrily traveled from town to town, joyfully singing to the animals and preaching of God’s greatness. When new, intelligent and healthy young men wanted to join their way of life, they were given the formal training necessary and were sent on their way to spread the clearly understood teachings of their founder, who lived happily ever after. Today, there are still many followers of this man that live out the same rule he ordered from the very beginning. The end.

Like all fairy tales, this one starts with a bit of truth but ultimately provides little to no historical value. In reality, the Order of Friars Minor has been one of the most splintered, dynamic religious communities in the history of the Catholic Church, complete with reforms, schisms, papal impositions, and problems with civil governments. There has been so much change that Francis himself longed for the earlier days of the order before he died. Does this mean that from the time of Francis things have only gotten worse? No. It just means that the history of the Franciscans is very rich in its developments and has not resisted adaptation when it was necessary.

Because of this, we needed some help understanding the complex history of the order. Fr. Dominic Monti, OFM, the Vicar Provincial of Holy Name Province and widely known Franciscan historian, was more than willing to help. Besides giving us a fairly thorough background of the order to better understand the historical context of our own province, Dominic helped us to better grasp the inner struggles that have defined and shaped our order for 800 years. Rather than attempt to summarize all of Franciscan history, I’d like to share what he posed as the fundamental catalyst to Franciscan reform throughout history.

Unlike most other religious orders in the church, Franciscans are not defined by a specific apostolate. Though they can educate, preach, evangelize, and care for the sick, none of these things are fundamental to its identity; drop any one of them and replace it with another and the Franciscan identity is unaffected. Francis is thus, best defined by how he approached God and community, not what he did. In this way, friars have isolated three fundamental characteristics to Franciscan identity: 1) prayer, 2) being “lesser”, and 3) brotherhood. From a well-informed sense of these principles, the mission of the friars is defined.

Problems have arisen throughout history when this process has been reversed: out of a strong sense for a specific mission, friars made concessions to maintain a specific ministry, ultimately reshaping the order. Sometimes it was a lessening of prayers so as to work more; a downsize of community as to evangelize in a greater number of places; an acceptance of power and education as to become greater scholars. Of all these concessions, however, none was more divisive than the issue of money. Driven by a desire to run parishes, and pressured by outside forces, some communities of friars began owning property and collecting money, two things expressly condemned by Francis. By 1517, concessions such as these had worked enough changes into the order that the pope saw the differences in prayer, poverty and brotherhood to be irreconcilable, and split the order into two autonomous entities.

Like many “once upon a time” stories, the Franciscan story is filled with triumph and failure, success and struggles, growth and decline, all while seeking to grasp its identity. Some have sought to “recapture” the past by living their lives as if they were in the 13th century, literally following every word of Francis; others have sought to extrapolate the spirit of Francis into the modern world, updating the Rule for the modern ages.

For me, I think it’s important to remember Francis’ famous words: “I have done what is mine to do. May Christ teach you what is yours to do.” His intention was never to create an order of homogenous men carrying out a strict order to the letter; he wanted men that shared his love for Christ and a charism of penitence who would ultimately live a life that was authentic to them, individually and communally. When we take this quote to heart, it’s a wonder if “Franciscan uniformity” is a bit of an oxymoron, and things such as reforms and divisions are simply part of the charism. That’s not to say that the fluidity of this rich tradition in any way calls into question its authenticity or truthfulness; it simply means that the holy spirit is working very hard, and that people are inspired in different ways. As I grow within the order, I will have to remind myself and my brothers to be constantly discerning Christ’s call, and to adjust our vision likewise.

For a more detailed history of the Franciscans, the Catholic Encyclopedia is a great resource.

A Friendly Reminder

Found on a New York street between Rockefeller Center and St. Patrick's Cathedral, this statue of Francis is a microcosm of his life: remind those with great wealth and power to be humble before their God through simplicity and radical obedience.

One day, a migrant worker was traveling through a town when a Rabbi spotted him and started a conversation. “Who do you work for,” the Rabbi asked. The man replied, “I do not work for anyone. I just travel from town to town and try to make a living. What about you? Who do you work for?” Surprised, the Rabbi thought to himself, I’m clearly a Rabbi. I am in charge of the Temple, the law, and all of my people. How does he not know this? As he thought, he realized that none of these were sufficient answers to the question: Who do I work for? He realized at that point that he had been working for himself the whole time, and that he should have been working for God. He said to the man, “How would you like to work for me? All you have to do if follow me around when I’m in the Temple, enforcing the law, and leading my people, and remind me for whom I work in case I forget again.”

In the first session of our workshop entitled “The Future of Religious Life,” Seán Salmon, FMS, posed this story to us with a surprising message: as women and men religious, we must always play the role of the migrant worker, not the Rabbi. Through our radical expressions of poverty, chastity, and obedience, we must always remind the Church for whom it works, unafraid to upset the status quo of the hierarchy. He reminded us of the many reforms in the Church, and how it is often religious orders that bring the Church back down to earth; bring sinners back to an uninviting institution; and push the Church ahead when it is stuck in stagnation. The day that we become unable or unwilling to remind the Church of this detail, trading counter-culture for comfort, the Gospel for an institution, the spirit of the law for the letter of the law, is the day that the Church begins to forget.

For an introduction to a workshop, I can’t think of too many more motivating messages than that! The whole time I was thinking about Francis’ message to the very corrupt Church at the time, and the example he lived each day as a reminder. He didn’t call for a violent upheaval of the Church leaders or choose to leave it to start his own: he lived what he believed to be the truest expression of the Gospel, not caring whether or not it matched the lives of the holy men and women around him. This act of “Preaching the Gospel at all times, using words when necessary” (a quote that he did not actually say), inspired thousands of people, both clergy and lay, to give up their previous lives and live a life of great reform in the Church. It is this sort of life that each and every one of us hopes to exemplify, sending a friendly reminder to those who lead that the Church does not work for itself: it works for God. Let us never allow it forget that.