Saturday, April 24, 2010
When the media is on feeding frenzy, they often pick up pieces of scurrilous information that has been lying dormant, albeit public, for years. Such was a letter written, and publicly posted on the internet, by Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos in 2001. Everyone who watches these things is now familiar with infamous line written by Hoyos in regards to the protection of a homosexual statutory rapist by Bishop Pierre Pican of Bayeux-Lisieux, who was sentenced to jail time (though suspended) for failing to renounce Fr. René Bissey, who was convicted of sexually abusing minor boys for nearly a decade. Hoyos wrote:
“I rejoice to have a colleague in the episcopate that, in the eyes of history and all the other bishops of the world, preferred prison rather than denouncing one of his sons and priests.”
History, indeed, will remember the reign of terror of sadistic homosexual priests like Bissey and bishops like Pican who utterly failed to care for the flock entrusted to them. Unfortunately, history will also remember Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos as the Vatican cheerleader for the likes of Bissey and Pican. However, he could have averted history’s judgment but for his current denial that he was mistaken in writing what he did in 2001.
When the story broke this week, instead of denouncing his former position, Hoyos instead attempted to justify what he wrote by falling back on the same flawed logic that caused the scandal in the first place. The argument put forward by Hoyos this week is that a bishop is a spiritual father to his priests, and for a bishop to report an abusive priest to the civil authority would disrupt this spiritually paternal bond. Just as a son should be able to confide in his father without fear, so a priest should be able to confide in his bishop without fear of reprisal. As Hoyos put it, mandatory reporting of abusive priests would be like asking a father to testify against his own son. Why should the Church be put in this position?
The simple answer to Hoyos’ question is that a truly loving parent will always do what is best for his children, not just one of his children, not just the most promising or most ambition or most apt, but for all his children. If a parent were to learn that one his children were raping another younger child, then what would one think if they ignored the problem and allowed the rape to continue? What kind of parent would that be? As a parent, I will do what is best for each of my children, even if it means testifying against and removing from my home a child who harms the others. It is painful, but it is a cross that must be carried by a truly loving parent.
Hoyos’ logic demonstrates an ignorance of what loving paternity is, it also contradicts the law of charity. Charity, paternal or otherwise, means to will what is good for the other person. This kind of love does not preclude willing punishment for someone who has committed crimes. In fact, charity demands that those who deserve punishment should receive punishment precisely because deservéd punishment is good for the offender. Likewise, sometimes it is best that offenders be removed from society. It is not necessarily “good” or charitable to make excuses for evildoers. Pecan was not acting charitably toward Bissay when he refused to denounce him. Neither was Hoyos being charitable to Pecan for lauding his most uncharitable position in regards to Bissay.
The “theology”, as John Allen described it, behind Hoyos’ excuses is completely flawed, and has already, in the wake of the continuing revelations of the priest homosexual sex and child abuse scandal, proven to be wholly inadequate. This “theology” of cronyism and clericalism has devastated the modern Church. The real problem isn’t that Hoyos espoused this “theology” back in 2001. No, the real problem is that he continues to espouse it now when it is glaringly obvious that this “theology” has cost the Church dearly and, most importantly, wrecked the salvation of souls for thousands if not millions when we take into consideration the damage this scandal has done to the Church’s missionary efforts. Why, then, would someone as traditionalist as Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, someone of obvious intelligence, continue to espouse this flawed ideology?
This brings us to the “traditionalist” connection. This is such a good story for the media because Hoyos’ work with the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei and his continuing promotion of the Traditional Latin Mass makes him particularly detested by the liberal media. First, is Hoyos a traditionalist? This depends on how we define a traditionalist, but per my own working definition, i.e. someone who loves the Traditional Latin Mass and its commensurate spirituality, Hoyos definitely is. As a consequence, other traditional Catholics are loath to criticize him. If he were a liberal, more than a few traditional Catholics would be quick to pounce, pointing fingers and saying “I told you so.” But because Hoyos is a traditionalists, or, at least, considered a friend of the Traditional Latin Mass, there’s an unhealthy silence from traditionalists. There’s even a FaceBook group entitled “We Support Cardinal Hoyos”. How can anyone support Hoyos by tacitly agreeing with his flawed ideology?
In this manner, traditionalists risk being seen as hypocrites, and it is critically important we call it as it is; otherwise we do no service to Tradition or Holy Mother Church. Hoyos’ continued espousal of this flawed and uncharitable ideology is not just a mistake, but demonstrates that he currently is acting in such a way that lacks good judgment. His behavior and his excuses this week are, to put it bluntly, moronic.
It is also important to realize that even traditionalists and others who are friends of the Traditional Latin Mass have been influenced by the emergence of a pernicious clericalism that arose in consequence of the 20th Century Liturgical Movement. Hoyos’ attitude toward the laity as affording less in the realm of basic human rights is akin to the attitude of the Liturgical Movement that succeeded in defining the dignity of the laity as the degree to which the laity resemble the ministers at the altar. The priest became the model for the laity, in worship and in the attitudes of the prelates that came to power, first in the Liturgical Movement, and then in the Vatican and chancelleries around the world. Understanding the root cause of, not just Hoyos’ ideology, but the whole unholy edifice constructed by the architects of the 20th Century Liturgical Movement is essential to recovering an authentic Catholic identity. In doing so we may find opposition from persons who we always thought were friends.
Friday, April 23, 2010
*Vilifying the Church is the first step in every persecution.
*Court upholds hate crime ruling against Bishop Williamson of the SSPX, fine reduced to 10,000 euros.
*Abuser skates by without jail time. And the Catholic Church is too easy on child-abusers?? This only demonstrates the utter hypocrisy of the media. They are crucifying the pope, but when civil authorities allow a homosexual child rapists to get off with just probation and a minuscule fine, the media doesn't raise nary a protest.
*Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, a psychiatrist with experience treating sexually abusive priests, told CNA that the Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone’s statement is accurate: there's a link between homosexuality and priest sex abuse. Meanwhile, Bishop Peter Moran of Aberdeen, Scotland lends credence to already existing suspicions of both his agenda and inclinations by characterizing as "stupid" the good common sense of both Dr. Fitzgibbons and Cardinal Bertone. The battle lines are clearly being drawn, and it is becoming easier to discern who is against real reform.
*Dr. John Haas (my old moral theology professor at the Josh) and Peggy Noonan in a war of words over reforms in light of the fabricated media circus over the priest sex abuse scandal. Peggy Noonan advocated more of a "woman's touch", seeming to indicate a leftist agenda for reform. Question is, how will this be received by EWTN, of which Noonan is a favorite? Will Raymond Arroyo continue to have her on World Over Live?
*Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos steps aside from offering historic Traditional Latin Mass at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in D.C. due to his connection to sex abuse cover up.
Friday, April 16, 2010
*American Thinker: "The majority of these obituaries concern the past decade of scandals about sexually abusive priests and the failure of their bishops to detect and defrock them. This is admittedly scandalous, but is not a result of orthodox Catholicism -- rather, part of the fallout from a half-century of insidious sabotage of the Church by ultraliberal revisionists."
*It comes from being used to covering stuff up. It's hard to break old habits.
*Cardinal Bertone: Homosexuality, not celibacy, is the problem.
*Cardinal Bagnasco vows to pursue those responsible for the abuse of children and those mishandled the scandal.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
[Msgr. Gherardini:] In my opinion, there is only one argument to discuss: and John Paul II suggested it when, during the famous excommunication in 1988, he reproached the Fraternity of St. Pius X for having “an incomplete and contradictory view of the Tradition”. Personally, I am of a quite different view, but it is just for this reason that I see in Tradition the only subject to be discussed in depth. If one would succeed in clarifying the concept of Tradition, without taking refuge in the subterfuge of the living Tradition, but also without closing one’s eyes to the internal movement of the apostolic-ecclesial tradition “eodem tamen sensu, eademque sentential” [even with the same sense, and with the same reasoning], the problem would cease to exist.
Allow me to direct your attention to an excerpt from Gherardini's book, Ecumenical Vatican II Council: A Much Needed Discussion, for an clearer view of his criticism of the term living Tradition. The excerpt is from DICI, here.
But why is it said to be living? The Council does not say, or at least not with the requisite clarity. Probably because of the unity — at least substantial (hence the continuity) – between the first stage of Tradition which is apostolic, and the following stages beginning with that which was immediately post-apostolic, down to the others, concerned with the great historic periods of the Church, and eventually all the way to the present stage.
This is probably what is meant. But silence about this continuity also implies, and unfortunately so, the absence of any certitude on this issue. “Living” might certainly indicate a link between the various stages and avoid more or less serious ruptures, thus ensuring the living and vital continuity of Tradition. But the text remains silent on the subject. It merely states that Tradition is living.
Now it does not suffice to declare it to be living for it to be really so. The vital communication between its various phases must not only be proclaimed, it must first and foremost be proved, and in such a way that the proof coincides with the continuity – at least substantial – of its contents with that of the preceding phases.
Tradition is living not when it becomes integrated into some novelty, but when we discover in, or deduce from it some new aspect, which, had before escaped notice; or when some new understanding of its original contents enriches the present life of the Church.
This life does not progress by leaps and bounds unconnected with each other, but along the main line of the “quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus creditum est,” which Vatican I, following in the footsteps of Trent, expressed by referring to the meaning “quem tenuit ac tenet sancta Mater Ecclesia” (DS 1507 and 3007).
The “always”, the “everywhere” and the “by all” are not concerned with an identity of words and hence of the statement as a whole, but really with the meaning that the Church, by means of her solemn and ordinary Magisterium, has always upheld, and still upholds now in her theological and dogmatic assertions.
The principle of the “living Tradition” was not the subject of any discussions. Yet, it is prone to pave the way to a falsification of the sacred deposit of the truths contained in Tradition.
In an atmosphere such as that prevalent during and after Vatican II, when only what was new appeared to be true, and when novelty was coming under the guise of the immanentist and fundamentally atheistic culture of our time, the doctrine of all times was but a vast graveyard.
Tradition has remained mortally wounded and is still agonizing today (unless it be already dead) because of stands taken which were radically irreconcilable with its past. So, it is not sufficient to define it as living, if there is not longer anything alive in it.
The truth is (and this is serious) that we speak of living Tradition only to rubber stamp any innovation presented as the natural development of truths officially handed down and received, even if the innovation has nothing in common with the said truths and is something far removed from a new shoot out of the old trunk.As a matter of fact, Tradition is living only inasmuch as it is and continues to be the same apostolic Tradition, which presents itself anew – unaltered –, in and through the ecclesiastic Tradition.
The former carries in itself a rather passive meaning: it is what is handed down, equal to itself, included in its transmission, because the deposit must be kept unaltered.
The latter, on the contrary, displays a more active meaning as the official organ which ensures the faithful transmission of the deposit and finds, in this its end, the justification of the adjective “living.”
Hence, a data which would not have its roots in the contents handed down would not be a data of the living Tradition, even in the case — in itself and per se — absurd, that this data would be officially proposed.
A blatant example: it will never be possible for the transcendental theology of Rahner to be declared an element of the living Tradition, because it is in fact its tomb.
Something in the Council, and many things in the post-Council era have contributed to dig this grave.
The legitimacy of the adjective “living” with regard to the progress in the knowledge we may have of Tradition is unquestionable as we have already said. In this case, it belongs to the field of “dogmatic progress.”
As a matter of fact, the duty of the Church’s Magisterium is not only to present anew the apostolic Tradition, but also to study it thoroughly, to analyze and to explain it.
The living character of Tradition is then manifested not by measuring the apostolic contents in comparison with the level and the contents of the culture of such or such a historical period but by the fact that it initiates a transition from an implicit to an explicit statement of the contents.
In any case, the present call to living Tradition can be summed up as a genuine danger for the faith of each Christian and of the Christian community as a whole.
The changes already mentioned and those, which will be studied further down, will fully prove this.
Gherardini's criticism of the term "living Tradition" goes a long way in delving perhaps the primary time bomb implanted in the Vatican II documents. Discussing possible flaws in the documents, themselves, has always been the field of traditional Catholics, and such a project is all but anathematized by liberals, progressives, and especially neo-conservatives (such as George Weigel or Jeff Mirus). However, Msgr. Gherardini is the canon of St. Peter's Basilica, not some "fringe" traditionalist.
What strikes me as particularly valuable is the realization that Gherardini's criticism has always been the position of the SSPX. Indeed, if one did not realize that the source was the canon of St. Peter's Basilica, one would suspect the author of having been a priest of the SSPX. One could, I imagine, remain ambivalent, explaining away Gherardini as an old dinosaur lurking in the shadows of the Vatican. However, this excuse is a flimsy counter when one considers that it was Gherardini's generation, the generation of Pope Benedict XVI, that brought about the Council and its aftermath. His work indicates that the intelligence of his generation (read: Benedict XVI) is returning to Tradition, and as it does, it more and more reflects the positions espoused by the SSPX and traditional Catholics in general. In its twilight, Gherardini's and Benedict's generation is refusing to pass from this world outside the embrace of, not just Tradition, but Catholicism.
Is Rome returning to Tradition? If the generation of Rahner and Küng is, then it would appear a miracle is in the offing.
Friday, April 9, 2010
*A very good choice for L.A.
*This is the reason. Poor leadership... poor leadership that went all the way to the top. It's time stop giving JPII a free pass.
*Holy Shroud Exposition to begin on April 10.
*JPII coddles the guy, but the media attacks the pope who gave the pervert the boot. Just goes to show this is more about ideology than the safety of children.
*Judas Stupak will keep the 30 pieces of silver, and run. Thanks for nothing.
*Another seminary closes. Springtime of Vatican II at work yet again.
*Wait! Did Damian Thompson just agree with Rowan Williams?? Well, it probably still won't make them friends.
*Mark Levin: "Obama, the closest thing to a dictator we have ever had in my life time."
*Labor unions are becoming more brazen. Just words today, but tomorrow...
*I thought this kind of thing wasn't supposed to happen now that we have entered the Obama era?
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
The Knights of Columbus have announced a novena for the Holy Father, beginning on Low Sunday (Divine Mercy Sunday), April 11th, and concluding on April 19th, the fifth anniversary of Benedict XVI's election.
Traditional Catholics ought to unite their prayers with those of the Knights of Columbus and their friends at this time when the Holy Father is being unjustly attacked by the powers of darkness. Therefore, I urge you and your family to take up the challenge of defending and supporting the Holy Father in the most effective way possible, by uniting your prayers with the prayers of millions throughout the whole world.
Please offer your family rosaries for the intentions of this novena, and conclude with the novena prayer. By placing this intention in Our Lady's hands, we can be sure that the Holy Father will not be left unaided.
The novena prayer can be found here, and a sheet of 6 novena cards can be downloaded here.
Lord, source of eternal life and truth,
give to your shepherd, Benedict, a spirit
of courage and right judgment, a spirit
of knowledge and love. By governing
with fidelity those entrusted to his care,
may he, as successor to the Apostle
Peter and Vicar of Christ, build your
Church into a sacrament of unity, love
and peace for all the world. Amen.
V/ Let us pray for Benedict, the pope.
R/ May the Lord preserve him,
give him a long life,
make him blessed upon the earth,
and not hand him over
to the power of his enemies.
V/ May your hand
be upon your holy servant.
R/ And upon your son,
whom you have anointed.
Our Father… Hail Mary… Glory Be…
From the New York Times to the London Times to the Sydney Herald, it’s open season on the Catholic Church. And even traditional Catholics—historic defenders of the papacy—find themselves between a rock and hard place. Clearly, a witch hunt is under way in which Pope Benedict is the target, but it’s not as if the disastrous policies of the last forty years aren’t responsible for all of this: the dismal formation of priests, watered down moral theology, the pooh-poohing of sin and hell, face-to-face confession (“let’s just chat”), relocating predator priests, encouraging homosexuality in the priesthood, and establishing an utterly emasculated liturgy. Faux media outrage aside, we know that the Church is reaping the whirlwind—exactly as traditional Catholics predicted she would forty years ago.
Monday, April 5, 2010
The current discourse on paedophile priests – considered from a sociological perspective – represents a typical example of "moral panic". The concept was coined in the 1970s to explain how certain problems become the subject of "social hyperconstruction". More precisely, moral panics are defined as socially constructed problems that are characterised by a systematic amplification of the true facts in the media or in political discourse...
To understand how from a tragically real fact one passes to a moral panic we must ask how many priests are paedophiles. The largest body of information has been collected in the United States, where in 2004 the US Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned an independent study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York. This is not a Catholic university and is unanimously recognised as the most authoritative academic institution of criminology in the United States.
This study concluded that from 1950 to 2002 4,392 American priests (of over 109,000) were accused of having sexual relations with minors. Of these, just over 100 were convicted in the courts. The low number of convictions is due to various factors. In some cases the true or alleged victims reported priests who were already dead, or for whom a statute of limitation barred the action. In others, the accusation and even the canonical sentence did not involve any violation of the law: such is the case, for example, in various American states where a priest has sexual relations with a consenting person over the age of 16.
But there have also been many sensational cases of priests who have been falsely accused. Indeed, these cases multiplied in the 1990s, when some legal firms recognised they could reap million dollar returns even on the basis of mere suspicion. Appeals for zero tolerance are justifiable, but there should also be zero tolerance for defaming innocent priests. Nor do the numbers change significantly from 2002 to 2010. The John Jay College study already noted a "significant decline" in cases in the 2000s. New investigations have been rare, and sentences extremely rare, as a result of more rigorous controls introduced by American bishops as well as the Holy See.
So, does the John Jay College study tells us then, as one often reads, that 4 percent of American priests are paedophiles? Not at all. According to the research, 78.2 percent of the accusations involved minors who had advanced beyond puberty. Having sexual relations with a 17-year-old is certainly not a beautiful thing, and much less so for a priest, but it is not paedophilia. Therefore, only 958 American priests were accused of true paedophilia over 52 years, 18 per year. There were only 54 convictions, a little less than one per year...
...Now we come to an unpleasant question – because the simple raising of it appears defensive, and does not console victims – but it is an important one. Is being a Catholic priest a condition which involves a risk of becoming a paedophile and sexually abusing minors which is higher than the rest of the population? As we have seen the two things are not the same since abusing a 16-year-old is not paedophilia. Answering this question is fundamental to discovering the cause of the phenomenon and thus preventing it.
According to studies by Jenkins, if one compares the Catholic Church in the United States to the major Protestant denominations, one discovers that the presence of paedophiles – depending on the denominations – is from two to ten times higher for the major Protestant denominations compared to Catholic priests. The question is important because it demonstrates that the problem is not celibacy. Most of the Protestant pastors are married.
In the same period in which about 100 American priests were convicted for sexually abusing minors, the number of gym teachers and coaches of junior sporting teams – also mainly married – who were convicted of the same crimes in the US reached about 6,000. The examples could continue, not only in the US. And above all, according to regular US government reports, two-thirds of sexual abuse against minors does not come from strangers or educators – including priests and Protestant pastors – but from family members: stepfathers, uncles, cousins, brothers and, unfortunately, even parents. Similar facts exist for numerous other countries.
While it may hardly be politically correct to say so, there is a fact that is much more important: over 80 percent of paedophiles are homosexuals, that is, males who abuse other males. And – again citing Jenkins – over 90 percent of Catholic priests convicted for sexually abusing minors have been homosexual. If a problem has sprung up in the Catholic Church, it is not due to celibacy but to a certain tolerance of homosexuality in seminaries, particularly in the 1970s, when most of the priests later convicted for the abuses were ordained. This is a problem that Benedict XVI is rigorously correcting. More generally, a return to moral principles, to ascetical discipline, to meditating on the true greatness of the priesthood are the antidotes to the real tragedy of paedophilia. The Year of the Priest must also help...
...Why are old and very often well-known cases being exhumed in 2010 on a daily basis, always attacking the Pope? This is paradoxical if one considers the great severity of then Cardinal Ratzinger and of Benedict XVI on this very theme. The moral entrepreneurs who organise the panic have an agenda which is increasingly clear and which is not essentially the protection of children. This is a time when political, juridical and even electoral decisions in Europe and elsewhere are being made about the abortion pill RU-486, euthanasia, the recognition of same sex unions. Only the voice of the Pope and the Church is being raised to defend life and the family. The reading of certain articles in the media shows that very powerful lobby groups are seeking to silence this voice with the worst possible defamation -- and unfortunately an easy one to make -- that of favouring or tolerating paedophilia.
These more or less Masonic lobby groups show the sinister power of technocracy which was raised by Benedict XVI himself in his encyclical Caritas in veritate and in the denunciation of John Paul II, in his Message for the World Day of Peace of 1985. They warned of "hidden aims" – alongside others which are "openly promoted" which are "directed at subjecting all populations to regimes in which God does not count".
This is truly a dark hour. It takes one back to the prediction of a great Italian Catholic thinker of the 19th century, Emiliano Avogadro della Motta (1798-1865). He predicted that after the devastation caused by secular ideologies an authentic "demon worship" would spring up which would attack the family and the true concept of marriage. Reestablishing the sociological truth about moral panics over priests and paedophilia will not of itself resolve the problems and will not stop the lobby groups. But it is a small and proper tribute to the greatness of this Pope and to a Church which is wounded and defamed because they will not be silent on the issues of life and the family.
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
An ancient Jewish legend from the apocryphal book “The life of Adam and Eve” recounts that, in his final illness, Adam sent his son Seth together with Eve into the region of Paradise to fetch the oil of mercy, so that he could be anointed with it and healed. The two of them went in search of the tree of life, and after much praying and weeping on their part, the Archangel Michael appeared to them, and told them they would not obtain the oil of the tree of mercy and that Adam would have to die. Subsequently, Christian readers added a word of consolation to the Archangel’s message, to the effect that after 5,500 years the loving King, Christ, would come, the Son of God who would anoint all those who believe in him with the oil of his mercy. “The oil of mercy from eternity to eternity will be given to those who are reborn of water and the Holy Spirit. Then the Son of God, Christ, abounding in love, will descend into the depths of the earth and will lead your father into Paradise, to the tree of mercy.” This legend lays bare the whole of humanity’s anguish at the destiny of illness, pain and death that has been imposed upon us. Man’s resistance to death becomes evident: somewhere – people have constantly thought – there must be some cure for death. Sooner or later it should be possible to find the remedy not only for this or that illness, but for our ultimate destiny – for death itself. Surely the medicine of immortality must exist. Today too, the search for a source of healing continues. Modern medical science strives, if not exactly to exclude death, at least to eliminate as many as possible of its causes, to postpone it further and further, to prolong life more and more. But let us reflect for a moment: what would it really be like if we were to succeed, perhaps not in excluding death totally, but in postponing it indefinitely, in reaching an age of several hundred years? Would that be a good thing? Humanity would become extraordinarily old, there would be no more room for youth. Capacity for innovation would die, and endless life would be no paradise, if anything a condemnation. The true cure for death must be different. It cannot lead simply to an indefinite prolongation of this current life. It would have to transform our lives from within. It would need to create a new life within us, truly fit for eternity: it would need to transform us in such a way as not to come to an end with death, but only then to begin in fullness. What is new and exciting in the Christian message, in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, was and is that we are told: yes indeed, this cure for death, this true medicine of immortality, does exist. It has been found. It is within our reach. In baptism, this medicine is given to us. A new life begins in us, a life that matures in faith and is not extinguished by the death of the old life, but is only then fully revealed.
To this some, perhaps many, will respond: I certainly hear the message, but I lack faith. And even those who want to believe will ask: but is it really so? How are we to picture it to ourselves? How does this transformation of the old life come about, so as to give birth to the new life that knows no death? Once again, an ancient Jewish text can help us form an idea of the mysterious process that begins in us at baptism. There it is recounted how the patriarch Enoch was taken up to the throne of God. But he was filled with fear in the presence of the glorious angelic powers, and in his human weakness he could not contemplate the face of God. “Then God said to Michael,” to quote from the book of Enoch, “‘Take Enoch and remove his earthly clothing. Anoint him with sweet oil and vest him in the robes of glory!’ And Michael took off my garments, anointed me with sweet oil, and this oil was more than a radiant light … its splendour was like the rays of the sun. When I looked at myself, I saw that I was like one of the glorious beings” (Ph. Rech, Inbild des Kosmos, II 524).
Precisely this – being reclothed in the new garment of God – is what happens in baptism, so the Christian faith tells us. To be sure, this changing of garments is something that continues for the whole of life. What happens in baptism is the beginning of a process that embraces the whole of our life – it makes us fit for eternity, in such a way that, robed in the garment of light of Jesus Christ, we can appear before the face of God and live with him for ever.
In the rite of baptism there are two elements in which this event is expressed and made visible in a way that demands commitment for the rest of our lives. There is first of all the rite of renunciation and the promises. In the early Church, the one to be baptized turned towards the west, the symbol of darkness, sunset, death and hence the dominion of sin. The one to be baptized turned in that direction and pronounced a threefold “no”: to the devil, to his pomp and to sin. The strange word “pomp”, that is to say the devil’s glamour, referred to the splendour of the ancient cult of the gods and of the ancient theatre, in which it was considered entertaining to watch people being torn limb from limb by wild beasts. What was being renounced was a type of culture that ensnared man in the adoration of power, in the world of greed, in lies, in cruelty. It was an act of liberation from the imposition of a form of life that was presented as pleasure and yet hastened the destruction of all that was best in man. This renunciation – albeit in less dramatic form – remains an essential part of baptism today. We remove the “old garments”, which we cannot wear in God’s presence. Or better put: we begin to remove them. This renunciation is actually a promise in which we hold out our hand to Christ, so that he may guide us and reclothe us. What these “garments” are that we take off, what the promise is that we make, becomes clear when we see in the fifth chapter of the Letter to the Galatians what Paul calls “works of the flesh” – a term that refers precisely to the old garments that we remove. Paul designates them thus: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing and the like” (Gal 5:19ff.). These are the garments that we remove: the garments of death.
Then, in the practice of the early Church, the one to be baptized turned towards the east – the symbol of light, the symbol of the newly rising sun of history, the symbol of Christ. The candidate for baptism determines the new direction of his life: faith in the Trinitarian God to whom he entrusts himself. Thus it is God who clothes us in the garment of light, the garment of life. Paul calls these new “garments” “fruits of the spirit”, and he describes them as follows: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22).
In the early Church, the candidate for baptism was then truly stripped of his garments. He descended into the baptismal font and was immersed three times – a symbol of death that expresses all the radicality of this removal and change of garments. His former death-bound life the candidate consigns to death with Christ, and he lets himself be drawn up by and with Christ into the new life that transforms him for eternity. Then, emerging from the waters of baptism the neophytes were clothed in the white garment, the garment of God’s light, and they received the lighted candle as a sign of the new life in the light that God himself had lit within them. They knew that they had received the medicine of immortality, which was fully realized at the moment of receiving holy communion. In this sacrament we receive the body of the risen Lord and we ourselves are drawn into this body, firmly held by the One who has conquered death and who carries us through death.
In the course of the centuries, the symbols were simplified, but the essential content of baptism has remained the same. It is no mere cleansing, still less is it a somewhat complicated initiation into a new association. It is death and resurrection, rebirth to new life.
Indeed, the cure for death does exist. Christ is the tree of life, once more within our reach. If we remain close to him, then we have life. Hence, during this night of resurrection, with all our hearts we shall sing the alleluia, the song of joy that has no need of words. Hence, Paul can say to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil 4:4). Joy cannot be commanded. It can only be given. The risen Lord gives us joy: true life. We are already held for ever in the love of the One to whom all power in heaven and on earth has been given (cf. Mt 28:18). In this way, confident of being heard, we make our own the Church’s Prayer over the Gifts from the liturgy of this night: Accept the prayers and offerings of your people. With your help may this Easter mystery of our redemption bring to perfection the saving work you have begun in us. Amen.
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