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Monday 30 June 2014

Christian Unity in light of the Vatican's new working document on the pastoral challenges facing the family

SOLEMNITY OF ST. PETER AND ST. PAUL                           STM 2014-06-29

“You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”

In the presence of the Ecumenical Patriarch, His Holiness Bartholomaios II with vivid and moving memories of their recent meetings during their common pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Pope Francis had this to say, yesterday, about the journey to Christian unity: “That prophetic gesture [the pilgrimage made together] gave decisive impulse to a journey which, thank God, has never ceased. I consider it a special gift from the Lord that we were able to venerate the holy places together and to pray at each other’s side at the place of Christ’s burial, where we can actually touch the foundation of our hope.”

The joy of that meeting was then renewed when they concluded, in a way, their joint pilgrimage at the tomb of the Apostle Peter, the rock on which Jesus has built his Church, then joining in prayer, together with the Presidents of Israel and Palestine, for the gift of peace in the Holy Land.

Speaking of Christian Unity the Holy Father continued:
“We know very well that this unity is a gift of God, a gift that even now the Most High grants us the grace to attain whenever, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we choose to look at one another with the eyes of faith and to see ourselves as we truly are in God’s plan, according to the designs of his eternal will, and not what we have become as a result of the historical consequences of our sins. If all of us can learn, prompted by the Spirit, to look at one another in God, our path will be even straighter and our cooperation all the more easy in the many areas of daily life which already happily unite us.

“This way of ‘looking at one another in God’ is nourished by faith, hope and love; it gives rise to an authentic theological reflection which is truly scientia Dei (the science of God), a participation in that vision which God has of himself and of us.”

The Joint International Commission is working to explore the way to fuller unity by 2025 (the 1700th anniversary of the 1st Ecumenical Council of Nicaea from which we have the Nicene Creed which we will profess in a few moments). Pope Francis discussed the work of reflection upon the will of God:

“It is a reflection which can only bring us closer to one another on the path of unity, despite our differing starting points. I hope and I pray, then, that the work of the Joint International Commission can be a sign of this profound understanding, this theology “on its knees”.

In this way, the Commission’s reflections on the concepts of primacy and synodality, communion in the universal Church and the ministry of the Bishop of Rome will not be an academic exercise or a mere debate about irreconcilable positions. All of us need, with courage and confidence, to be open to the working of the Holy Spirit. We need to let ourselves be caught up in Christ’s loving gaze upon the Church, his Bride, in our journey of spiritual ecumenism.
It is a journey upheld by the martyrdom of so many of our brothers and sisters who, by their witness to Jesus Christ the Lord, have brought about an ecumenism of blood.”

This work toward unity is being done in light of the upcoming Synod on the Family which seeks the unity in Christ of the human family which is so much under attack today in our Western secular world of individualism. We see the dubious claims to individual rights over against the teaching of the Church and the good of the nuclear family of mother, father and children which has sustained humanity since before the dawn of history.

To quote from the preparatory document, an Instrumentum Laboris or working document published this week under the title: THE PASTORAL CHALLENGES

“Through procreation, man and woman collaborate with God in accepting and transmitting life: ‘By transmitting human life to their descendants, man and woman as spouses and parents co-operate in a unique way in the Creator's work.’ (CCC, 372). Their responsibility also involves the stewardship of creation and the propagation of the human family. In biblical tradition, the beauty of human love as mirroring divine love is developed mainly in the Song of Songs and the prophets.”

The document goes on to summarize the teaching of the Church regarding family life in the Second Vatican Council, in Humanae Vitae the encyclical on human life by Pope Paul VI. Pope Benedict’s in Encyclical Deus Caritas Est took up the topic of the truth of the love between man and woman as fully understood only in light of the love of Christ Crucified.
Benedict emphasized that “marriage based on an exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa. God's way of loving becomes the measure of human love.” Expanding this in his Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Benedict goes on to emphasize the importance of love as the principle of life in society as a whole, the place where a person learns to experience the common good.
The Instrumentum Laboris offers and insightful if disturbing critique of modern secular influences. The following comment is made about responses to the question of Christain family formation:
". . . a vast majority of responses highlight the growing conflict between the values on marriage and the family as proposed by the Church and the globally diversified social and cultural situations. The responses are also in agreement on the underlying reasons for the difficulty in accepting Church teaching, namely, the pervasive and invasive new technologies; the influence of the mass media; the hedonistic culture; relativism; materialism; individualism; the growing secularism; the prevalence of ideas that lead to an excessive, selfish liberalization of morals; the fragility of interpersonal relationships; a culture which rejects making permanent choices, because it is conditioned by uncertainty and transiency, a veritable “liquid society” and one with a “throw away” mentality and one seeking “immediate gratification”; and, finally, values reinforced by the so-called “culture of waste” and a “culture of the moment,” as frequently noted by Pope Francis."

Pope Francis, in his Encyclical Lumen Fidei, treating the connection between the family and faith, writes: “Encountering Christ, letting themselves (young people) be caught up in and guided by [the love of Christ], enlarges the horizons of existence, gives it a firm hope which will not disappoint. Faith is no refuge for the fainthearted, but something which enhances our lives. It makes us aware of a magnificent calling, the vocation of love. It assures us that this love is trustworthy and worth embracing, for it is based on God’s faithfulness which is stronger than our every weakness.” (LF, 53).
With St. Peter we respond with thanksgiving to the source of all faithfulness:

“You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”

Saturday 28 June 2014

Msgr Steenson on his visits to Canada

The last two weekends have been full of wonderful encounters with members of the Deanery of St. John the Baptist in Canada.  Trinity Sunday was spent with the vibrant and growing community of St. John the Evangelist, Calgary, where Fr. Lee Kenyon presented seven young people to receive the sacrament of confirmation.  Thanks to the help of the Bishop of Calgary, we were also able to witness the ordination of Adrian Martens as deacon.  Deacon Adrian will be a much-needed hand at St. John’s. He also serves as the ecumenical officer for the Diocese of Calgary, a work that goes to the heart of our mission.
Msgr Steenson with  Cardina Wuerl of Washington

I was also able to visit our community in Edmonton, which has been gathered together by Dr. David Skelton and is now served by Fr. David McLeod of the Military Ordinariate.  Thanks to the hospitality of the Knights of Columbus, the community has a convenient central location in which to worship.  It has great potential.

On Corpus Christi Sunday I was in Toronto, at the French parish of Sacré-Coeur, where the Ordinariate community of St. Thomas More assembles.  Under the able pastoral leadership of Fr. John Hodgins, the Ordinariate’s mission in Toronto is laying good foundations and is beginning to grow.  The community is blessed already with a truly outstanding musical identity.  We celebrated the Feast of the patron, St. Thomas More, with a glorious mass setting composed in his honor.  Our noble choral patrimony has found a powerful witness in Toronto.

There is so much to be thankful for, eh?  And as a special treat last weekend, Fr. Kenyon took me to visit the set of the television series, “Fargo,” which for some reason is being filmed in Calgary near St. John’s.  We two priests were mistaken for actors.  I bet we could come up with a good screenplay!

Friday 27 June 2014

Photos of Pontifical Solemn Mass - Patronal Festival St Thomas More, Toronto,

"The Mass of St. Thomas More" by Matthew Larkin, sung for the first time at the Patronal Solemn Mass.

Fr. James Tilley, (deacon), Grahame Thompson (subdeacon), Fr. John Hodgins, STM administrator

First Patronal Procession for the Feast of St. Thomas More, June 22, 2014 - Msgr Jeffrey Steenson, (Ordinary),
Intercessions chanted by Fr. Hodgins

Tuesday 24 June 2014

First Patronal Solemn Mass with Msgr Steenson - STM June 22, 2014

Patronal Festival Procession at STM - Msgr Steenson presiding, June 22, 2014


 St. Thomas More, Toronto / June 22, 2014

St. Thomas More: Noble Patron for Our Time

St. Thomas More is “more important at this moment than at any moment since his death … but he is not quite so important as he will be in about a hundred years time” (G.K. Chesterton, A Turning Point in History, 1929).
1.  Four years ago, I had the great privilege of attending the Beatification mass for John Henry Newman in Birmingham.  I remember the remarkable reception of Pope Benedict XVI's address to politicians, diplomats, academics and business leaders at Westminster Hall.  The Holy Father had come to bear witness in the very place where Sir Thomas More was tried and convicted, on July 1, 1535, at the very heart of four centuries of England's identity as a Protestant nation.  

No one can match the cheeky prose of British journalists, and here is how The Guardian reported the associated Evensong at Westminster Abbey:
"The Pope of Rome processes into the Church where Protestant monarchs are crowned, declares unambiguously that he is the successor of Peter with responsibility for the unity of Christendom, and then walks out again --to hearty applause."

Now we stand some 480 years after the Act of Supremacy!

2.  It is deeply moving to watch the video of the Pope’s Westminster Hall address -- it's on the website of the UK Papal Visit operated by the Bishops Conference of England and Wales.  It is something of a deja vu moment: you feel as though you have been there before, and indeed you may have, through the film, A Man for All Seasons (1966).  A similar thing happened to me not so long after.  I had gone to to visit the director for the U.K. Ordinariate's clergy formation program at Allen Hall (the principal Catholic seminary in the south of England).  

I walked a few blocks up Beaufort Street from the Thames in Chelsea, thinking this is so familiar.  And indeed so!  This is where Henry VIII jumped off his boat into the mud and then walked up to the estate of his Chancellor.  It is an incredible experience to see Allen Hall and the few things that remain from Thomas More's day.  But what impresses the most is the simple memorial to some 44 priests who laid down their lives for the Catholic Church.  This is far off the beaten tourists' trail, but well worth the effort to visit if you go to London.

3.  Let us recall the Pope's main point in his Westminster Hall address:  The world of faith and the world of secularity need each other.  Each is needed to keep the other honest and genuinely open to the light of reason, which shines on us from above and is accessible to all.  Faith has a crucial role to play, as a corrective to the distortions of reason manipulated by ideology.  

The Holy Father spoke of the basis of all decision-making, the primordial law, the common law, those objective norms that are accessible to reason, "the true light that enlightens every man."  "If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident."

This, many of us here will recognize, is precisely the reason why we have come to the Catholic Church ... Certainly not to a safe haven, for we have boarded a ship amidst a great battle: the See of Rome, More said, inevitably attracts the hostile attention of all enemies of the Christian faith.

4.  Our bishops have spoken powerfully about the fundamental human right of religious freedom.  How can we not hear in their statements the voice of St. Thomas More?  But there is a kind of disconnect too.  We don't speak the same language as many leaders in public life today.  What we understand by law is not what many of our leaders and fellow citizens understand.  Natural law vs. positive law ... in accord with an ordered society vs. that we get to say how it should be.  We are talking past each other.  Listening to the bishops of two episcopal conferences talking about the very real threat that the modern state poses to religious freedom, I could not help but think of two other lawyers so prominent in the history of the Church, the 2nd century fathers St. Justin Martyr of Rome and Tertullian of Carthage.  

The Apologia Prima and the Apologeticus are perhaps the Church's earliest and greatest texts engaging with a hostile social and political system.  Both Justin and Tertullian argue: We Christians are good citizens of Rome; against your own legal traditions you have violated our fundamental rights.  But the apologists' argument doesn't stop there.  It is a kind of prolegoumena to the main argument.  Christians are called to follow their Lord, even accepting the vocation of martyrdom if necessary.  Truth comes first.  We have the transcript of Justin's trial before Rusticus, the prefect of Rome:

Rusticus encourages: “Having come together, offer sacrifice with one accord to the gods.” Justin replies, “No right-thinking person falls away from piety to impiety.”  From what is true to what is false.

We Christians are loyal citizens of the Empire.  Truth be told, we are probably your best citizens.  And you are violating our rights.  This cannot bode well for the Empire.  But the early Fathers move on, to deal with the great meta-themes, particularly the fundamental metaphysical conflicts played out on the stage of this world.

5.  The vocation of martyrdom – is this not the principal theme?  What does our epistle say?  “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you (I Peter 4:12).  Christians have throughout the ages found tribulations a difficult thing to bear, because they have been told that a prosperous and secure life is promised to those who turn to God.  But St. Peter here reminds us of two important truths – (i) this is what it means to follow Christ and identify with him; (ii) we are experiencing the refiner’s fire and will come out better for it.  [“Fiery ordeal” = in a very short time, Nero will burn Christians on crosses as streetlights, on the way to his circus at the Vatican Hill (Tacitus).]

What does it mean to follow Jesus Christ in the earthly city?  We need to speak to the philosophical and theological foundations of Western civilization – or its embers at least.  But be aware – not many people today are able to speak in the graceful old tongue of Christendom.  The message of the saints is persistently consistent – martyrdom remains the one genuinely creative and transformative witness in the earthly city.  The good cheer of St. Thomas More as he approached his martyrdom is perhaps the most astonishing thing in the whole story: how he encouraged his family, never lost his sense of humor, never was in doubt about the obligations of conscience and virtue.  St. Peter’s words are beautifully expressed in St. Thomas More’s witness: “But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (I Pet. 4:13).

[Thomas More on the Most Blessed Sacrament (written in the Tower of London, 1534): a beautiful meditation that ends by reflecting on the story of Zaccheus, the little man in the Gospel who had to climb a tree to see Jesus (Lk. 19:9).  “Today salvation has come into this house,” Jesus said to him.  He says these words to each one of us, every time we receive the blessed Sacrament.  “With such alacrity, with such quickness of spirit, with such gladness and such spiritual rejoicing, as this man received our Lord into his house, our Lord give us the grace to receive His Blessed Body and Blood.”  And then we go forthwith, like Zaccheus, to do the things that Jesus commanded us: reconciliation, caring for others, living the truth.]