Solemn High Mass in Norcia

I was recently in Norcia, Italy, at the Monastery of St. Benedict, and had the opportunity to assist as deacon of a Solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Form for the first time. (I wrote a post two years ago when they received the apostolate from the Ecclesia Dei commission to celebrate the Holy Mass in both the ordinary and the extraordinary form. Their conventual Mass is now regularly celebrated in the extraordinary form.) Here are couple of photos from a Mass where I and two of my brothers were the ministers.

For those of my readers who are not subscribed to the feed, but come to this website itself, I wish to note that I will be unlikely to make any new posts until the end of August.

Just before the Gloria

Receiving the blessing from the priest before the Gospel

Make me responsible and trustworthy, but not yet…

The "Budget Control Act of 2011" (PDF of the bill; see also the Congressional Budget Office's Analysis of the Bill) passed by the house yesterday and by the senate today reminds me of Augustine's plea: "Make me chaste, but not yet". The plan makes conditions that entail a reduction of 2.1 trillion in the overall deficit of the next ten years — assuming that income from taxes remains as calculated, and that the interest rate for the US public debt does not rise. However, virtually none (merely 1%) of this reduction has to occur before 2013. Essentially, the plan is a promise to do something about the problem, but not yet… only after the next election. It is an attempt to satisfy voters with the promise to rectify the out-of-control debt of the USA, while avoiding the dissatisfaction that might follow upon the hardships possibly entailed in correcting the problem.

In addition, even with its future promise the plan offers far too little. It allows for an increase in the public debt limit of at least 1.5 Trillion in the next two years, while requiring a reduction of 1.9 trillion in the overall deficit of the next ten years. The current annual deficit is more than one trillion, and the expected deficit over the next ten years well over ten trillion, making this "deficit reduction" nearly meaningless. Obama basically suggested that the people of the united states, who were, according to the polls, against any increase in the debt limit, are just ignorant of economics. [Press Conference]

The real situation is more like this: picture someone with $200,000 debt, paying 10% interest on it, and whose spending otherwise matches his income; he has to borrow an additional $20,000 this year to make the payments on his long-term debts, and is thus getting ever deeper and deeper into debt; next year he will have to borrow $21,000 to make the payments (assume half of his debt payments go to interest and half to principal), and over the next ten years will have to borrow $300,000 and be $150,000 deeper in debt. He decides he will take out a mortgage on his house to cover the payments for the next ten years, and will reduce his spending by $50,000 over the next 10 years. Now, instead of borrowing a total of $300,000 over the next 10 years, and getting $150,000 deeper into debt, he only has to borrow $250,000, and get only $100,000 deeper into debt. This is only slightly putting off the time when he can no longer make the payments on his debts, and is bankrupt.

Despite the near uselessness of the budgeting of the Budget Control Act, there is a condition in it of potentially more real value, namely that the House of Representatives and Senate should vote before the year's end on a resolution proposing a "balanced budget amendment" to the Constitution of the United States. If such a meaningful amendment were to be made, it would be of far greater value than stop-gap measures like the budgeting of the Budget Control Act of 2011.

"Call to Disobedience" and Schönborn's Response

The leaders of the "pastors' initiative" of Vienna pubished a public "call to disobedience" on Trinity Sunday. Cardinal Schönborn this week in the summer edition of the staff magazine of the Archdiocese of Vienna made a response to this "call to disobedience" of the "pastors' initiative", which, if not formally schismatic, is close to it. I translate both of them here.

If anything, the Cardinal's response could perhaps have been even stronger. Is one justified in going out of one's way not to lose those who in many ways do not share the mind of the Church, if this results in detriment to the visible christian identity, unity, and witness of the Church–and thus the loss of many who would otherwise be attracted to and find Christ in the Church? It does not seem so to me.


"Call to disobedience"

 Rome's refusal to make a long needed reform of the Church and the inactivity of the bishops not only allow us, but force us to follow our conscience and to ourselves take action:

 We priests in the time to come want to point the way ahead:

1. WE WILL in the future speak an intercession for reform of the Church. We take seriously the scriptural saying: Ask, and you shall receive. Before God there is freedom of speech.

2. WE WILL absolutely not refuse the Eucharist to believers of good will. This applies particularly to the divorced and remarried, to members of other christian churches, and in individual cases also those who have left the Church.

 3. WE WILL as far as possible avoid celebrating multiple times on Sundays and feastdays, or employing travelling priests who are unknown to the local community. A Liturgy of the Word that is done by the community itself is better than liturgical on tour.

 4. WE WILL in the future consider a Liturgy of the Word with Holy Communion as a "priesterless celebration of the Eucharist", and will also name it such. Thus we fulfill our Sunday obligation in a time of few priests.

5. WE WILL disregard the prohibition of preaching for competently educated lay persons and teachers of religion. Precisely in a difficult time it is necessary to proclaim God's word.

 6. WE WILL do what we can to see to it that every parish has its own director: man or woman, married or unmarried, full-time or part-time. This is to be accomplished not by merging parishes, but by a new image of the priest.

7. WE WILL therefore use every opportunity to speak out publicly for the admission of women and married men to the priestly office. We see in them welcome colleagues in the office of pastoral care.

Finally we see ourselves in solidarity with those colleagues who are no longer permitted to exercise their office on account of a marriage, but also with those who, despite having a (sexual) partner, continue to fulfill their service as priests. Both groups with their decision follow their conscience – as we also do with our protest. We see in them just as much as in the pope and the bishops "our brothers". What a "fellow brother" is supposed to be over and above that, we do not know. One alone is our master – while we are all brothers. "And sisters" – as it however should be said among christians. For this we desire to stand up, for this we desire to intervene, for this we desire to pray. Amen.


Christoph Cardinal Schönborn's response

Dear fellow workers!
Dear brothers and sisters!
And this time especially: dear fellow brothers in the priestly service!

The leaders of the "pastors' initiative" published a "call to disobedience" ( on Trinity Sunday (June 19). I did not want to reacted immediately, lest I answer in the anger and sorrow that this call aroused in me. At the priestly ordination on June 24 I made indirect reference to it in my homily. The public call to disobedience shakes me deeply. How would it be for the families in our country, if disobedience were raised to a virtue? Many employees ask themselves how it is possible to propagate and practice disobedience in the Church, when they know that they would have long ago lost their jobs if they there made a call to disobedience. 

We priests at our ordination freely, forced by no one, put our hands in the bishop's to show "reverence and obedience" and before the whole community said loudly and clearly, "Yes, I do promise it." Do you stand by this? Can I, can the communities have confidence in this? As a bishop I also promised faithful communion with and obedience to the pope. I shall stand by this, even if there have been moments wenn that was not easy.

Christian obedience is a school of freedom. It is a matter of the concrete expression in life of what we pray in every Our Father, when we pray to the Father that his will be done in heaven and on earth. This prayer receives its meaning and its power through the interior readiness of the one who prays to accept God's will also in those cases where it differs from what he would imagine for himself. This readiness also becomes concrete in ecclesial obedience to the pope and bishop. What this readiness demands can sometimes be painful.

In the "master plan" for our diocese, in the process "Acts of the Apostles" 2010 and in our plan of development for the diocese it is also a matter of God's will. What is God's will for us, for the archdiocese today, in a situation of great change? In prayer and the celebration of the Eucharist together, in contemplation of the Scriptures, in our looking at the development of our society, we strive to recognize God's will. The "master plan" should indeed be the plan of the Master, of the Lord.

Precisely here the "call to disobedience" takes up its position – but crosswise to the "master plan". Since the reforms demanded by the initiators of the "pastors' initiative" have still not occurred, and since they bishops, as they see it, are inactive, they see themselves forced, "to follow their conscience and themselves take action."

If it becomes a question of conscience, to be disobedient to the pope and bishop, then a new level is reached that urges a clear decision. For the conscience is always to be followed when it is a formed conscience that has examined itself critically. Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, in a solitary decision of his conscience, refused military service in Hitler's army, at the cost of his life. Blessed John Henry Newman came after many years of intense struggle to the certainty of conscience that the Anglican Church had deviated from the truth and that the Church of Jesus Christ lives on in the Catholic Church. Therefore one who in his examined conscience comes to the conviction that "Rome" is on a wrong track that gravely contradicts God's will, would in the ultimate case have to draw the conclusion, to no longer continue on the way with the Roman-Catholic Church. But I believe and hope that this ultimate case does not occur here.

I do not have to give interior assent to every decision of the Church, especially not in regard to disciplinary decisions, and I may honestly wish that the leadership of the Church would decide otherwise. But when the pope again and again – as in the case of the priestly ministry – gives clear guidelines and recalls the standing teaching, then the exhortation to disobedience in fact calls the ecclesial community into question. Ultimately every priest, and we ourselves must all decide whether or not we want to go the way with the pope, the bishop, and the universal Church. It is always difficulty to see one's own vision curtailed. But he who gives up the principle of obedience, dissolves unity.

In my pastoral letter I invited all to a common way together. I suggested a very concrete way: that we put mission in the first place, and direct everything to it, putting before all else the effort to become new and better disciples of Jesus. By this "the world" will recognize whether following Jesus is worth it, whether being the Church of Jesus Christ really brings something salvific. All efforts at structural reform have to be seen from this perspective.

I do not consider the "call to disobedience" to be a helpful step. I will at the next opportunity talk with the representatives of the "pastors' initiative". I will particularly point out some inconsistencies in their "program of disobedience", such as the formulation "priestless celebration of the Eucharist" or the disparaging remarks about the help of outside priests as "liturgical tours". Only a style that is marked by mutual esteem helps us further along, as we had the happiness of experiencing in the three diocese assemblies.

In not long I will have been a bishop for 20 years. The bishop is at the service of unity, for his own diocese and with the pope and the universal Church. I perform this service with joy. I experience much that is beautiful, but also some painful wounds to unity. The "call to disobedience" is among these wounds. I call to unity, for which Jesus prayed to the Father (cf. John 17:21) and for which he give his life. May he help me in my service of preserving the bond of unity in love and true.

I wish you all a blessed summer time.


+ Christoph Cardinal Schönborn

Interpreting Religious Statistics

Check out this post by James Chastek on interpreting religious statistics. He makes three points: (1) An evaluation of religious statistics that looks only to the last 50 years is short-sighted in comparison with the long-term nature of movements in religious convictions; (2) people leaving the Church is an ambiguous statistic; it could be a sign of a spiritual good, namely a greater appreciation that belonging to the Church and church attendence should be connected with the truth–having previously accepted the Church not as true, but simply as a part of culture; (3) the statistics often rely on non-objective methods to determine the numbers of members of the Church; e.g., simply asking them whether they are "Catholic".

I have often made the second point in response to what I sometimes see as an exaggerated concern with statistics of church membership, expressed on the occasion of hearing the numbers of persons leaving the Church. While it is better to be a Catholic and live as one than not, it is also better to be honestly not a Catholic than to be dishonestly a Catholic.

One must admit, however, that while cultural christianity never saved anyone, it can be an occasion for a real encounter with Christ, who is the Savior of all men.

Why is Consecrated Virginity Not a Sacrament

Marriage and religious life are two fundamental ways to fulfill the fundamental vocation of every human being to love. Why is marriage a sacrament and consecrated virginity or celibacy is not?

Since Christ certainly could have made consecrated virginity a sacrament, any answer can only be based on arguments of appropriateness. Both marriage and virginity are signs of the union between Christ and the Church. Is there a difference in the way in which they are signs of this union, such that marriage is fittingly a sacrament, and consecrated virginity is not?

Marriage signifies the union of Christ and the Church inasmuch as the very union of the two humans spouses derives from, participates in, and is a likeness of the perfect union of Christ with the Church. Nevertheless this union of the spouses remains distinct from this spousal union of Christ and the Church. The spouses do not give themselves directly to Christ, but to each other.

Consecrated virginity signifies the union of Christ and the Church inasmuch as the virgin is devoted, by her own will and by the Church, to the very union that constitutes the Church, to the fulfillment of the union with Christ begun in baptism. Thus it bears less the character of a sign, and more that of the reality itself.

We might tentatively say, then, that it would be less fitting for consecrated virginity or religious life to be a sacrament, a sacred sign that confers grace, because it is above all reality, a deepening of the baptismal grace, the spousal union with Christ the Bridegroom. It is a sign of the future kingdom, but it is a sign of it inasmuch as it already anticipates it in this life.

Another, complementary way to explain this looks at the different ways marriage and religious life relate to time and history. Marriage pertains above all to the working out of God's plan for man in time. Those who rise from the dead "neither marry nor are given in marriage"; human marriage ceases with death, even though some aspects of marriage, e.g., the love between the spouses, endures beyond death. The virgin's spousal union with Christ, however, does not cease with her death, but is consummated—she becomes even more perfectly that which she began to be on earth through baptism and through her vows: the bride of Christ. Since all of the sacraments pertain to the dispensation of God's grace in time and history, it is thus more fitting for marriage to be a sacrament than for consecrated virginity to be one.

Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Easter (Year A)

"I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do" (John 17:4). Had Christ, has Christ really accomplished his work? Was he not only just beginning it? After nearly 2000 years Christians are still practically beginners in the recognition and realization of his message of the kingdom of God, his message of love, forgiveness, salvation… not to mention the many persons who reject this message as foolishness.

Wouldn't it have been smarter for Christ to have remained on earth after his resurrection? Then we wouldn't have the problems in the Church that arise from human weaknesses and failings. The Church wouldn't have to be led by bishops and popes who also make mistakes. There wouldn't be as many people who follow erroneous paths. If Christ had remained, had continued to work wonders, thus clearly demonstrating his divinity, there wouldn't be problems with disbelief and lack of orientation. Christ could have accomplished everything so much better, if he had only remained with us… so we could think to ourselves. So did Christ's disciples perhaps think. "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6)

But would it really have been so? What would the Church and the world really look like, if Christ had remained visibly with us? The place where one could meet Christ would be a pilgrimage site like none other, like Jerusalem, Rome, and Mecca packed into one. Every Christian would dream of meeting Christ, of being privileged to speak with him, to make a confession to him, to ask him what is God like, ask him about his vocation, etc…. But there would not be enough time for this. Even if each person only had a single second with Christ, it wouldn't be possible for every person to get a chance once in his life. Only privileged persons, who could afford the journey, would be able to meet him. Or it would be organized so the poorest persons, or the greatest criminals, or something of the kind, could meet. But at any rate, not everyone would be able to.

Christ disperses all such visions, such ways of imagining God's presence among us! His glory is not here or there. It is a glory that surpasses time and place, a glory he had with God "before the world was made" (Joh 17:5). When we are united with a person by love, and have to depart from him, this means a separation. Our thoughts remain with the beloved, but we ourselves are distant from him. With Christ it is different. He entered the glory of the Father, a love that is pure reality. For "God is love" (1 Joh 4:16) as John never tires of repeating. His departure into glory in fact means that he is really, continuously with us.

Christ ventures still another step, that we would never have thought up ourselves. In his prayer he asks the Father, and declares, that he is glorified in us! In seeking the presence, the glory of God we must not only not look to a particular place such as Jerusalem or Rome, we must also not look merely to the beyond, e.g., heaven. The eternal life that Christ gives us is not somewhere over there. It is here! It is now! Certainly it is very important, and a comfort to believe that there is a life after death, a life that has no end. But just any kind of life that were to go on without end would probably become at some point boring, tiring, even unbearable. The essential point is this: Christ gives us a life that is totally worth living, without ifs or buts.

Let us value this life! Let us live it! And like Christ's disciples after his Ascension, let us pray for the Holy Spirit, that he make this life blossom in us, that our joy in life as Christians become ever more visible, so that we too become radiant witnesses of Christ's resurrection.

Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year A)

Here is a translation of my homily for this Sunday:

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments." (Joh 14, 15) We hear these words in the middle of the great departing speech of Jesus, meant to comfort his disciples before he leaves them. But here we could almost doubt whether this speech is actually a speech of comfort, or rather an exhortation. Christ says "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." (Joh 14, 15) and he will ask for the gift of the spirit, and again he says, "he who loves me will be loved by my Father." (Joh 14, 21) It sounds as though the gift of the spirit, and God's love for us, depends on our love for him, depends on our keeping the commandments. But what about when we make mistakes, if we at some point don't keep Jesus' commandments, if we fail in love? Will we then be no longer loved by the Father? And this is supposed to be a joyful message? What is up with this?

While not entirely off the mark, this would be a misunderstanding of the Gospel message. The Gospel surely presents us here with a call to love, a call that can be, and often is challenging. But above all, it presents us with a gift. In this incredibly complex web of loving and being loved, giving and receiving, a friendship is depicted that actually exceeds all description. Jesus is telling us: God is not a vending machine, in which we throw requests from time to time to get something from him. He is not a fundamental energy of love, that is simply there and radiates blindly, without any interaction. He is a personal lover, and offers us not only his love, but also friendship. This is the great message of the Gospel: we are invited to be friends with God himself! And friendship is always a mutual relationship, which must be accepted and fostered.

Friendship means meeting each other, sharing experiences with each other, spending time together. If I were to never chat with my friends, never do anything with them, never communicate with them, our friendship would gradually dissolve. Here Jesus makes a truly great promise. He promises that this meeting with him and his Father is possible, even after he has gone from us. "He who loves me… I will manifest myself to him." (Cf. Joh 14:21(He will remain with us, and we shall even see him. "

„The world will see me no more, but you will see me." (Joh 14:19).

This meeting with Christ occurs in different ways. We meet him in the daily contact with one another. We will all, everyone of us, be surprised and astonished how truly, how literally Christ meant, "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me." (Mat 25, 40). We meet Christ through faith and in the power of the Holy Spirit, who "remains with us and will be in us" (Cf. Joh 14, 17), as we have heard today in the Gospel. We also meet him in prayer.

In a special way we encounter Christ in the celebration of the Eucharist. There is fulfilled in a special manner Jesus' words of comfort: "You will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you." (Joh 14, 20). In this celebration we anticipate the future, actually unimaginable meeting that "God has prepared for those who love him." (1 Cor 2:9). In this life we will never wholly reach the peace and happiness that we really desire, but when we receive Jesus lovingly in the Eucharist, we already participate in a mysterious fashion in this infinite happiness. We can have an inkling what it means to be embraced by an infinite love that never abandons us and that also unites us most closely to one another. Let us pray for the grace to ever more realize and appreciate this gift of the Eucharist, this veiled encounter with Jesus Christ, and thereby to grow in friendship with him.

Pope Benedict to the Pontifical Biblical Commission

On May 2 Pope Benedict XVI delivered a short message to the Pontifical Biblical Commission on the occasion of its plenary assembly, which meets to discuss the inspiration and truth of Sacred Scripture. (At the time of writing this post, an English translation of the message has not yet been posted on the Vatican's website, so the link is to the original Italian.)

Taking up themes of the Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, the pope affirms the necessity of considering the inspiration of Scripture in order to rightly interpret it: "Inspiration, as God's activity, brings it about that the Word of God is expressed in the human words. Consequently, the theme of inspiration is 'decisive for an adequate approach to the Scriptures and their correct interpretation,' (Verbum Domini, n. 19) Indeed, an interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures that disregards or forgets their inspiration does not take account of their most important and precious characteristic, their coming from God."

The pope further recalls the connection between inspiration and truth: " "The Synod Fathers also stressed the link between the theme of inspiration and that of the truth of the Scriptures. A deeper study of the process of inspiration will doubtless lead to a greater understanding of the truth contained in the sacred books.' (Verbum Domini, n. 19)… Through his Word, God wills to communicate the whole truth about himself and about his plan of salvation for humanity. The commitment to discover more and more the truth of the sacred books is therefore equivalent to seeking to know better God and the mystery of his salvific will."

Finally, the Pope affirms the need to interpret individual passages in the context of the whole of Scripture in order to correctly understand them. ""Finally I would like to just mention that in a good hermeneutics it is not possible to apply the criterion of inspiration in a mechnical manner, as of an absolute truth, extracting a single phrase or expression. The plan in which it is possible to perceive Sacred Scripture as the Word of God is that of the unity of God's history, in a totality in which individual elements recriprocally shed light on its other and mutually open understanding of each other."

When the Pope here speaks against interpreting individual passages as containing a truth that is "absolute", this does not mean that they only contain truth in a qualified sense, but that they contain a truth that is "relative", in the sense of standing in a relation to the whole truth about God, in relation to the whole of the Scriptures.

On An Argument in Favor of The Legality of Abortion

I was asked for my thoughts on the blogpost On a Logical Argument in Favor of Abortion, which aims at analyzing the real logic behind a proposed argument that abortion should be legal, and thus manifesting the flaws in it. The argument as proposed to the author of the blogpost was:

P1: If abortion is not legal, there will be women who would be desperate enough to find a specialist to abort her fetus illegally.
P2: She would be putting herself at risk of an abortion operation from a quack.
P3: She could die along with the fetus.
C: For the life of the woman, abortion should be legal.

The author of the blogpost draws out the hidden premises that he sees as necessary in order to make the conclusion truly sound, specifically that "Abortion is necessary for the life of women" and that "Legal Abortion is not a risk to the life and health of women". Since these hidden premises are false, the conclusion is invalid.

Given that not a speculative argument, but a practical argument is being made, and that a practical argument resolves to some good which is being sought, I would suggest rather the following analysis:

P1. If abortion is illegal, certain women will choose and have an illegal abortion.

This can be derived from the premise: Certain women will, in fact, choose and obtain an abortion whether it is legal or illegal.

P2 and 3. To have an illegal abortion entails a higher risk of having a poorly performed abortion.
To have a poorly performed abortion entails a higher risk of death from the abortion for the woman who has it than having a "correctly" performed abortion does.

The truth of this premise is an empirical matter. As far as I know it is true.Note, however, the qualification "risk of death from the abortion". Theoretically the risk of death through, e.g., suicide might be higher for women who have a legal abortion than for women who have an illegal abortion. But in the absence of particular evidence for this, the point is only a theoretical one.

C1. If abortion is illegal, then the women who will choose and have an abortion whether it is legal or illegal will be subject to a higher risk of death from the abortion than if abortion is legal.

This follows logically from the previous premises.

C2. Abortion should be legal for the protection of (reduction of risk to) the life of the women who will choose and have an abortion whether it is legal or illegal.

This is a valid argument in favor of abortion being legal, and its premises seem to be true. However, it is insufficient for a practical judgment that abortion should be legal, because it is based on a very limited consideration of the goods and evils involved in abortion being legal or illegal. It considers only the women who will have an abortion whether it is legal or illegal, and it considers only their risk of dying. It does NOT consider: (1) the women who will have an abortion if it is legal, but will not have an abortion if it is illegal: the physical and psychological harm done to them, the death of the children aborted, the injustice to those children, etc.; (2) the moral harm done by failing to clearly acknowledge abortion as a moral evil. Since there are many women who will have an abortion if it is legal but will not if it is not legal, and there is a great deal of harm done by abortion whether legal or illegal, and since the moral harm done to persons by the failure to acknowledge abortion as a moral evil is itself a great evil, the judgment that abortion should be legal is unsound.