Friday, October 30, 2015

Coming to "Greater Perfection"

Last weekend, I was able to attend Sunday Liturgy at the local Ruthenian Catholic Church. As they are of the Byzantine Rite, the Ruthenians are very, very similar to the Ukrainian-Greek Catholic Church. I love going to this parish when I can, and I consider myself lucky for living within 15 minutes of such a vibrant, reverent parish.

In the homily, the priest began by reminding everyone of how the previous week he had talked about the tour of St. Maria Goretti's relics had come through the state. He then told us the story of another young female saint, a Ruthenian Catholic saint who had just been beatified by Pope Francis on October 4, 2014. This was the first time I had ever heard of Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich, and what a lovely example she has given us Catholics in the Church Militant.

Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich

Blessed Miriam was born and raised in the United States, specifically New Jersey, so she remains one of the few American saints in the Church's history. While her life was short, as she died at the age of 26 from an infection, she produced many great writings and was an example of sanctity in the Sisters of Charity convent where she lived after graduating from college. In addition to her great writings, she also had mystical experiences in her life, one of those being a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary while praying the Rosary.

The pastor mentioned in his homily that there was a priest by the name of Rev. Benedict Bradley, who often gave talks to the novices at the convent where Blessed Miriam lived every week. He wasn't that great of a writer, so Blessed Miriam would write the catechesis. He later said of her, " “I believed that she enjoyed extraordinary lights, and I knew that she was living an exemplary life…I thought that one day she would be ranked among the saints of God..." This fact wasn't revealed to the convent at large until after her death; and how surprised they were when they found out the erudite and wise words that came from the priest's mouth... were actually from the hand of a 20-something girl from Jersey! Just look at what she had to say on how we can all become saints:
“The saints did one thing: the will of God, but they did it with all their might. We have only to do the same thing; and according to the degree of intensity with which we labor shall our sanctification progress. We shall attain that height of glory in heaven that corresponds to the depths of humility we have sounded on earth. The harder you hit a ball on the ground, the higher it rebounds. The perfection of humility is the annihilation of our will — its absolute submission to the divine in every last detail.”
She really reminds me of St. Ignatius of Loyola, my confirmation saint. He saw what the saints did by reading about their lives, and he saw how they ended up; in heaven, that is. Blessed Miriam saw this too, and she speaks very eloquently on the subject. It's been a while since I've been very intrigued to read more on the life of a specific saint and their writings. Perhaps it's because Blessed Miriam is about the same age as me, and from these United States. Perhaps it's because of how she reminds me of St. Ignatius in how she encourages us to be saints by her witness. I'm hoping to read more about her soon, it seems like this would be a good place to start, a collection of the conferences she wrote for Rev. Bradley titled "Greater Perfection". I'm sure there are many more great insights on life such as this in her book:
 "Union with God, then, is the spiritual height God calls everyone to achieve – any one, not only religious but any one, who chooses, who wills to seek this pearl of great price, who specializes in the traffic of eternal good, who says 'yes' constantly to God…The imitation of Christ in the lives of saints is always possible and compatible with every state of life."

Her feast day is May 8th. Blessed Miriam Teresa, pray for us!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Intra Arcana and Pope Clement VII: Did the Church "OK" Forced Conversions of Native Americans?

Recently, I posted a discussion I had regarding the canonization of St. Junipero Serra. During the conversation, the topic arose on how the Catholic Church has treated Native Americans dating back to the age of exploration. I had presented Sublimis Deus, a papal bull by Pope Paul III in which the Pope condemned harsh treatment of Native Americans, giving the Native Americans the dignity they deserved as human persons. To quote Paul III, Native Americans were “by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ; and that they may and should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property; nor should they be in any way enslaved.” Later in the discussion, the person I was talking with presented me with another, earlier papal bull entitled Intra Arcana written by Pope Clement VII five years before Paul III’s pontificate began in 1534. I was given a quote from this document (and we will see in this essay, that it is the only quote from this bull that had been translated into English) that said the following:
“We trust that, as long as you are on earth, you will compel and with all zeal cause the barbarian nations to come to the knowledge of God, the maker and founder of all things, not only by edicts and admonitions, but also by force and arms, if needful, in order that their souls may partake of the heavenly kingdom.”
Needless to say, this sounds very harsh; indeed, it seems on the surface that the Pope is giving the “OK” on using force to convert and bring the Native Americans to God. This was the first time I had ever heard of Intra Arcana. How are we as Catholic Christians to respond to the charge that, right here, is proof that the Church believes it’s permissible to forcefully convert people? How does one respond to the claim that Paul III contradicts his predecessor Clement VII?  The answer is multi-faceted. Once we determine how much authority the Pope was pronouncing, explore the context of the document, understand what the content of the papal bull in its entirety contains (instead of just one quote), and delve into what the Church truly teaches on religious freedom, it will become apparent that the Church’s teaching on how to bring people to the knowledge of God, and how to bring them into His Church, has remained consistent and maintained respect of a person’s free will for two millennia.

Pope Clement VII

Friday, October 9, 2015

On the Canonization of St. Junipero Serra

There were many things in the news last month when Pope Francis visited Cuba and America for the first time, and it was pretty tiresome keeping up with all the stories across secular and Catholic media alike. One story that was of interest was the canonization of the founder of several missions in North America, Junipero Serra. This marked the first time that an American saint would be canonized on American soil. However, there was some controversy surrounding Serra's canonization. Many people were asking the Pope not to go through with it, on account of Serra supposedly being responsible for the deaths of many Native Americans. There was an article that was making the rounds across social media, found HERE, detailing the reasons why Pope Francis should not move forward with the canonization. 

I was able to engage in a discussion with someone via Facebook regarding the subject. A good exchange ensued, which is posted below, as I argued in favor of Serra's conversation. Reading the article above, and the article my opponent posts in his first comment will help frame our discussion and put what we're saying into contexts. Another note, as you'll see towards the end of the discussion, a little known papal document by Pope Clement VII is mentioned regarding the conversion of the Native Americans. Look for a post on this subject to be up on the blog in the very near future, going into much more detail than I do here. As for the discussion, my words will be in blue, and the other person's in red:

Well, the author of this article had at least one thing right in his diatribe: Pope Francis is assuredly not the "radical pope" that the popular media would have us believe, as the Pope himself has stated he is "a son of the Church."

The title of the article itself is misleading, implying that Junipero Serra actually murdered and enslaved Native Americans, effectively putting him on the same level of the bloodthirsty conquistadors, or other Native Americans such as the Aztecs who massacred and enslaved neighboring tribes as part of their tributary empire before the visitors of the New World arrived on their shores. The author also seems to be ignorant of what the purpose of the missions were, as well as of when and how the population of the indigenous peoples plummeted.

On the contrary, the missions were established to protect the indigenous people of California from enslavement by conquistadors, Spanish soldiers, and ranchers who would dominate and oppress them. The goal of the missions were twofold: to convert the Native Americans to the Catholic faith and protect them from the groups I listed above. Also, many of the indigenous peoples, such as the Chumash, were mainly hunter-gatherers. The Franciscans that founded the missions alongside Serra taught these people to grow crops and raise livestock.

The missions came under control of the Mexican government, following the events of the Mexican War of Independence. The Native American population of California was somewhere around 225,000 before the colonists came. While the population was reduced a third during Spanish and Mexican rule (and that was due to primarily disease and not murder) it doesn’t even compare to what happened once America admitted California to the Union. Once the 21 missions that had been established were effectively in ruins, and the California gold rush happened, the remaining Native American population received a huge blow when 80% of them were killed in through 1870, leaving only 30,000 people left. The rub is that this wasn’t due mainly to disease has it had been under Spanish rule, but nearly half were murdered.

St. Junipero Serra

Monday, October 5, 2015

AXIOS! Two More Men Are Ordained into the Priesthood of Christ

This past weekend, I had the honor of attending my cousin's ordination to the priesthood. Having never been to an ordination before, I have to say, the entire liturgy was VERY beautiful, and I was glad I could make the trip with my family to see it. I should preface this with saying that although I am Roman Catholic, many on my maternal grandmother's side of the family is Ukrainian-Greek Catholic of the Byzantine Rite. My cousin was ordained a deacon in the Ukrainian-Greek Catholic Church a few years ago, and finally, after a lot of discerning between he and his wife, he was ordained to the priesthood this past Thursday in the Eparchy of Parma at St. Josaphat's Cathedral.

St. Josaphat Ukrainian-Greek Catholic cathedral, Parma, OH
As I said, the liturgy was beautiful. The choir was magnificent, there were scores of priests present, including four bishops from the Ukrainian, Romanian and Roman Catholic Churches. Hearing the cries of "AXIOS!" (he is worthy!) ring throughout the church after both priests were ordained was truly a sight to behold. Below are some pictures from this awesome Divine Liturgy.

The following Sunday, my family as well as the newly ordained Father Alexander traveled to Pittsburgh where we would see our new priest say his first liturgy, This was yet another beautiful experience, as my cousin's father, who is also a priest, helped father Alexander con-celebrate his first Divine Liturgy. Father Alexander had also been known as a great preacher while he was a deacon; here are some excerpts from his fine homily during the liturgy:
“I want to leave you with three things you can do that will help your hearts flourish.
“…Number two: Go to Confession! Do not sacrifice or let [one put] aside the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Go to Confession, I would say, at least once a month. The Church’s minimum asking us to go once a year before Easter is a minimum requirement. But if you know anything about St. John Paul the Great, he confessed daily. If the Pope needs to confess daily, then my brothers and sisters, we should avail ourselves of the Sacrament of Reconciliation much more than just once a year. In our [missals], we have a wonderful examination of conscience, and in the Western Church, you have wonderful examinations of conscience. Reflect on those maybe just once a month before Confession. That’s in a sense pulling out the weeds of sin in your heart. Trust me, if you read those and meditate on them you will find something you need to confess, because we’re not angels.
“And finally… if you pray daily, and you go to Confession once a month, always, always, ALWAYS receive the Eucharist every single day. Because our Lord God and Savior will find in you, a suitable dwelling place where he can reside in your heart and he can work… He can work. He can give you the grace you need to do the things that you need to do; to be filled with the virtues of faith, hope and love. Courage, kindness, generosity, patience and sacrifice…”
How wonderful that this new priest says things that I rarely hear in my own parish (save my former parish with a very orthodox and traditional priest)! He also added that:
“this is a joyous time… but I was in tears [earlier in the liturgy], and it’s good, I like facing the other way (East towards the altar) because you can’t see me! And I was just trying to hold them back.
“…But this, in many ways, is Palm Sunday. Every day after, I have to put this Cross on my neck. The Church doesn’t give me a birthday cake; they’re hanging this on my neck. It’s given me a cross, and I need to climb that Cross, because if I’m to be THIS image to the faithful, and I can’t climb my cross, how will you ever have the courage to carry yours? And so I ask you to pray for me.”
This was the first time I was able to hear my cousin preach after years of seeing him serve as deacon, and I think he spoke very well. I ask you all to please pray for my cousin as he embarks on this journey. For the parishioners of the two parishes he’s been entrusted to. And I ask you to also pray for his wife and three young children, as he will be sacrificing more of his time now to the service of God and others. Please pray that he will always serve God well. St. John Vianney, pray for us!