Fr. Raymond J. de Souza is the pastor of Sacred Heart of Mary parish on Wolfe Island, and chaplain at Newman House at Kingston, Ont.'s Queen's University.

AVE MARIA, FLORIDA - Notre Dame football brings together religion and sports in a particularly pleasing way, and for this football chaplain to be on hand in Miami for the college football national championship — Notre Dame vs. Alabama — was a blessing most pleasing indeed. It was a more conflicted blessing after the opening kickoff, from which point Alabama administered a severe beating to Notre Dame en route to its third national championship in four years.

A special gift on Gaudete Sunday

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Clothes may make the man, but vestments don’t make the priest. The Mass is holy whether the priest is wearing beautiful vestments or something akin to a picnic blanket. That being said, liturgical vesture does matter; it doesn’t make the priest or the Mass, but it can make both the priest and the offering of the Mass more worthy of the right worship of God.

We have emerged from a long period in which the norm in many Canadian parishes ranged from merely adequate to hideous. Happily though, in recent years one rarely sees the detritus of the 1970s, chasubles made out of rough fabrics and felt and apparently decorated by small children with poor motor skills. The same renewed care for the liturgy that resulted in the vastly improved new translation of the Mass is also manifest in priests choosing vestments that are elegant and evocative of Catholic devotions. Vestments ought to inspire the faithful to lift their vision toward divine things, not to avert their eyes altogether. It may even be that a priest more suitably adorned for the Mass might inspire the faithful to dress more elegantly too.

I think about vestments in a particular way on Gaudete Sunday, when the liturgical colour is rose, not the usual Advent violet. I am blessed to have more vestments than priests usually do. Some were made by my own mother, and others were made or purchased abroad, where vestments can be had at a fraction of the prevailing prices in Canada. Many of them have stories — made for my first Mass, for my sister’s religious vows, bought for an anniversary or at a particular holy shrine — but my Gaudete Sunday rose chasuble has the best story of all.

In 2002, I was studying in Rome and Msgr. Charles Elmer, a long-time faculty member and spiritual father at the Pontifical North American College, had his 50th anniversary of priestly ordination that Dec. 20. The College celebration was set for Gaudete Sunday, and I asked Msgr. Elmer, both a friend and mentor, if there was anything he wanted. The old priest, who lived very simply, said he would like to offer his anniversary Mass in the same kind of Roman chasuble that he wore at his ordination in 1952 at St. John Lateran in Rome. The College did not have a rose-coloured Roman chasuble, so to honour a priest greatly beloved and admired, I bought Msgr. Elmer a new one, simple but elegant, from Gammarelli, the Roman ecclesiastical haberdasher. He was touched and happy.

We did not count on the objection of the College’s then liturgical director, a younger priest. Whether he objected to using something the College did not own, or whether he objected to the Roman vestment, or whether he took perverse delight in asserting his authority against a priest more senior than he, I do not know, but he told Msgr. Elmer that because the dozens of concelebrants could not all wear rose, the rose chasuble could not be worn. He was wrong on liturgical grounds, and it was wrong to deny the modest request of a venerable priest. (When a few years later he suffered the acute embarrassment of being dismissed in mid-semester, I thought it well-deserved, though I regretted it was for other behaviour, and not for how he had treated Msgr. Elmer.)

In any case, Msgr. Elmer, a D-Day veteran, handled the situation with humility and grace. He declined to do what I advised, which was to show up in the sacristy clad as he wished and dare anyone to tell him otherwise. Instead, he took me aside, thanked me for the gift and said that he would do that if I insisted, as I had bought him the gift he had desired. But his own preference would be to obey the whims of the liturgical director. I was disappointed for him, and angry too. I was quite eager for a fight. Msgr. Elmer taught me that one goes to Mass not eager for a fight but ready to receive a gift. And so he gave me one.

“Raymond, I am an old man now and not many years are left. You are just newly ordained. I am grateful for your gift, but now do me another kindness and receive this gift back from me to you, from an old priest to a young one,” Msgr. Elmer told me. “You will have many Sundays to wear it, I will have few.”

Msgr. Elmer actually had eight more Gaudete Sundays; he died in September 2011. This year would have been his 60th anniversary. I received back the gift I had given, and every Gaudete Sunday I wear it, remembering a great priest who knew how to rejoice in the Lord always.

St. Joseph, a small but great man of history

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At his Angelus address on Dec. 9, Pope Benedict commented upon the Sunday Gospel, in which St. Luke carefully lists the various rulers, sacred and profane, when St. John the Baptist began his preaching.

Salt+Light is alive!

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And still going strong after 10 years

I have been writing about a lot of anniversaries this year — 1,700 years since Constantine’s victory at the Milvian bridge, 500 years since the completion of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, 50 years since the opening of the Second Vatican Council. In the secular calendar, we have had the diamond jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and the 30th anniversary of the patriation of the constitution, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In the light of all that, 10 years may not seem like very much — though I did write about my own 10th anniversary of priestly ordination this past summer. Another anniversary comes this week. Ten years for Salt + Light Television, and it is an occasion worth celebrating.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, director of World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto, founded Salt + Light TV in the months after WYD, with the generous support of the Gagliano family. The name Salt + Light came from the theme of the WYD itself, taken from the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus tells His disciples that they are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

This week Salt + Light marks 10 years since its establishment, even though it did not begin broadcasting until June 2003. The major celebratory event was the Dec. 5 Christmas concert with The Priests, but we had something of an anticipated celebration in Kingston when Fr. Rosica and Sebastian Gomes visited our archdiocese Dec. 2. They offered two presentations — one in Sebastian’s home parish in Perth, Ont., and the other at our cathedral — on the new evangelization, reporting on their experience at the recent synod on the new evangelization in Rome.

Fr. Rosica served among the synod officials, briefing the English-speaking journalists. Gomes is one of the network’s dynamic young journalists who, along with his colleague Cheridan Sanders, covered the synod. Their report stressed two points. First, that the new evangelization is not to teach people about Jesus, but to help people encounter Jesus. Second, that faithful Catholics themselves have to be converted anew and feel a new enthusiasm for their faith. Without this new enthusiasm, we won’t desire to share our faith with others.

Salt + Light, a powerful initiative for the new evangelization in Canada, is entering its second decade launching a new program that attempts to do just that. Hosted by Gomes and Sanders, The Church Alive takes its title from Pope Benedict XVI’s inaugural homily, wherein he proclaimed that the “Church is young, the Church is alive.” It was not exactly the “be not afraid” of Blessed John Paul II’s inaugural homily, but it speaks of Benedict’s priority for the new evangelization. The Church is alive in Jesus Christ to be sure, but needs to become more lively, precisely in those places where the Church is in critical condition.

The Church Alive is described as “fast-paced,” meaning that its pilot episode covers the year of faith, the Second Vatican Council and Blessed John XXIII in the first four-and-a-half minutes. It’s aimed at making young Catholics excited about their faith and equipping them to share it with their contemporaries. This is not your grandmother’s religious TV. Gomes on the documents of Vatican II: “These are absolutely huge.”

Huge, indeed. Imagine what that would make Ephesus or Trent. Enormous.

Gomes and Sanders are just the latest innovation from Salt + Light in presenting the faith. Gomes reveals something of the Salt + Light secret when he says that the staff at Salt + Light is not permitted to say that something can’t be done, or that we have never done it that way before.

The new evangelization requires, by definition, new methods. And so not having done something that way before is often an advantage. At 10 years, Salt + Light is no longer new, but it is still doing new things and is very much part of the new evangelization in Canada.
Having led the reform of the Newman Centre at the University of Toronto in the 1990s, World Youth Day in 2002 and now Salt + Light for 10 years, Fr. Rosica is becoming — if one might put it this way — a young elder of the new evangelization. The continuing good news about Salt + Light is that there are a great many young evangelists following behind him. Salt + Light — ad multos annos!

Coronation anthems and Christian culture

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As the days grow colder and the nights longer, George Frideric Handel returns to the choir loft and the concert hall, to say nothing of the shopping mall. The naturalized British composer’s Messiah is sung by amateurs and professionals alike in these weeks. All of which is rather curious, for the celebrated “Hallelujah Chorus,” in salute of which both princes and peasants rise to their feet, is part of a vast biblical libretto — stretching from Isaiah to Revelation — and takes its place after the Ascension. So the chorus properly belongs more to Easter than Christmas, but Christmas is where it has stuck in our cultural imagination.

Handel though, especially this year, could be considered a fitting adornment for Christ the King. In 1727, Handel was commissioned by King George II to compose anthems for his coronation. Handel composed four anthems for the occasion. So magnificently did he fulfil this royal patronage that his music is now perpetually associated with the coronation of British monarchs.

Thus it was an inspired decision by the Melos Choir and Chamber Orchestra of Kingston to perform the coronation anthems at St. George’s Anglican Cathedral in celebration of the diamond jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. St. George’s just being a short walk down Johnson Street from our own Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, it was easy enough to attend the Sunday afternoon concert before returning to offer the evening Mass. For good measure, I took along the students who sing at Newman House for an afternoon of Christian culture.

Handel’s coronation anthems are settings of biblical passages which, when employed for coronations, make manifest that kingship in this world is to be patterned on the kingship of Christ. The aspiration of kings should be — literally — the listening heart of Solomon, that he might govern the people wisely.

King Solomon is the focal point of the most famous of Handel’s anthems, “Zadok the Priest.” The text is an adaptation of I Kings 1:38-40: “Zadok the Priest and Nathan the Prophet anointed Solomon King; and all the people rejoiced, rejoiced and said: ‘God save the King! Long live the King! God save the King! May the King live forever. Amen. Alleluia!’ ”

That biblical text has been used in every coronation of English (and later British) monarchs since that of King Edgar in 973 at Bath. Handel’s setting, after its spectacular debut in 1727, has been repeated at every coronation, including that of Queen Elizabeth 60 years ago. Indeed, after King George II died, composer William Boyce was commissioned to produce new settings for the coronation in 1761 of King George III. Boyce accepted, but declined to provide a new setting for “Zadok,” arguing that Handel’s setting could not be improved upon. He was right.

The Melos musicians did a splendid job of performing the anthems, and the setting of the Anglican cathedral was a reminder that these anthems are properly prayers for a gracious and noble sovereign, even as the royal anthem of “God Save the Queen” is a simple prayer.

The coronation anthems — in addition to “Zadok,” they include “My heart is inditing,” “Let Thy hand be strengthened” and “The King shall rejoice” — constitute a corpus of Christian culture. They are liturgy which soars, combining splendid sacred music with the word of God. As music does at its best, they mark something of the majesty of a moment and bring it easily to mind upon hearing just a few bars. As “Adeste fidelis” or “O Holy Night” immediately bring to mind Midnight Mass, the coronation anthems, even if performed at the concert hall instead of a cathedral, bring to mind not only the pomp and pageantry, but also the sacral character of Christian kingship.

As a liturgical genre, the anthem is an Anglican speciality, combining the textual brevity of a Roman antiphon with the power of a great hymn. The coronation anthems are a fine introduction to anthems for Catholics who may be unfamiliar with them.

A final treat from the diamond jubilee sacred music concert was the singing of the royal anthem — and not just the first verse of “God Save the Queen.” Here’s the Canadian verse for our Queen: “Our loved Dominion bless with peace and happiness/ From shore to shore/ Let our Queen’s realms all be united, loyal and free/ True to themselves and thee/ Forevermore.”

Listen to Handel’s Messiah this December to be sure; but even before Advent begins, in this week of Christ the King, listen to the coronation anthems, from the composer of Christian kingship.

Viva the fight for Christian liberty!

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Viva Cristo Rey! Long live Christ the King!

That was the defiant cry of the Cristeros, and the Feast of Christ the King is a fitting time to remember a dark period in history. Never heard of the Cristero rebellion? Most have not, including in Mexico. It is a story we should know.

In the 1920s, the Mexican government of Plutarco Calles waged war on the Catholic Church. Not metaphorically, but literally, with laws that proscribed worship, restricted the conduct of the clergy, interfered in the governance of the Church and trampled upon religious liberty — all of it enforced by the armed power of the state. It was totalitarianism just across the Rio Grande.

The Cristeros were faithful Catholics who rose up — both in armed rebellion and by other means — to defend their faith and their religious freedom. They proudly proclaimed they were fighting for Christ the King and the Virgin of Guadalupe.

The Cristero war lasted from 1926 to 1929. Thousands of Mexicans suffered violent persecution for the faith — priests hanged in their churches, religious shot down by firing squad in the town squares, faithful men and women jailed, tortured and killed in hatred for the faith.

After this shameful period of Mexican history concluded, official Mexico decreed that it would not speak of its shame. Consequently, few people are even aware that a fierce religious persecution took place less than a hundred years ago in North America.

All this is remedied by a film every Catholic must watch, For Greater Glory, which tells the story in a magnificent way, comparable in acting and production to any major Hollywood film. Released in theatres in the United States in the spring, it did not have theatrical release in Canada. The DVD went on sale in the United States on Sept. 11, and will be released in Canada on Dec. 18.

Last week I wrote about the feminine soul and recommended as a Christmas gift a book — My Sisters, The Saints — that gives a compelling account of a distinctly contemporary path of Catholic feminine discipleship. This week, might I suggest this movie, martial in content, which highlights a complementary masculine path to holiness — and all the more compelling for those manly virtues are demonstrated heroically by a 14- year-old boy.

Blessed José Luis Sanchez joins the Cristeros after witnessing the martyrdom of his parish priest. This teenage martyr was beatified in 2005, and the cinematic portrayal of his heroic life is profoundly moving. Even more impressive, the heroism of the boy moves the mercenary general, hired to lead the Cristeros, to genuine conversion.

The general’s story is one of a great military man who no longer has a great cause to give his life to, and who does not share the tradition of faith with his own wife and the Mexican people. The general learns from the boy the heart of manly virtue, which is to embrace with great courage a noble cause, a cause greater than one’s own achievement.

Upon enacting the laws prohibiting worship, President Calles told the French ambassador to Mexico that “without Mass and the sacraments the Mexican people will soon lose their faith.” He was right about the consequences of being denied the sacraments, but he was wrong in thinking that the Mexican people would not fight for their faith, fight for the sacraments and fight for the Mass.

All of this is suitable to bring to mind on the Feast of Christ the King. Aware of the attacks on Jesus and His Church around the world — both the Russian and Mexican revolutions of 1917 turned viciously against religion — Pope Pius XI declared in December 1925 a new feast, the Feast of Christ the King. The Holy Father reminded the world that the kingship of Christ was not subject to the ambitions of tyrants.

“The annual and universal celebration of the feast of the Kingship of Christ will draw attention to the evils which anticlericalism has brought upon society in drawing men away from Christ, and will also do much to remedy them,” wrote Pius XI in his 1925 encyclical, Quas Primas. “While nations insult the beloved name of our Redeemer by suppressing all mention of it in their conferences and parliaments, we must all the more loudly proclaim His kingly dignity and power, all the more universally affirm His rights. The way has been happily and providentially prepared for the celebration of this feast ever since the end of the last century. … The kingship and empire of Christ have been recognized in the pious custom, practised by many families, of dedicating themselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus; not only families have performed this act of dedication, but nations, too, and kingdoms. In fact, the whole of the human race was at the insistence of Pope Leo XIII, in the Holy Year 1900, consecrated to the Divine Heart.”

I saw the film in Michigan on the Feast of the Sacred Heart last June. I cannot recommend highly enough planning to obtain and see this film now, with Christ the King upon us.

Viva Cristo Rey!

The feminine soul brings a distinct beauty to the faith

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The feminine soul, created in love and for love, can be a lovely thing to encounter. One of the joys of my life these past 10 years has been the spiritual direction of young women on campus. The soul of a young woman, searching for her own mission and vocation in life, and for a foundation upon which to build her life, has a certain aptitude for discovering the Lord’s love and offering a response to it.

Working with the young women at Newman House on Queen’s University campus is to come to love the feminine soul, which brings a certain beauty to the life of a Catholic chaplaincy. The world looks upon young women rather superficially, noting the physical attractiveness which accompanies youth, but the feminine soul has a beauty from within that contributes something to the loveliness of the faith.

Colleen Carroll Campbell is a lovely soul who has had something of a difficult road in discovering the love of God and the loveliness of faith. In her case, she is typical of young Catholic women, in their university years and afterward. The ambient culture doubts whether love is truly possible and whether the feminine heart can find an enduring answer to its deepest desires. Campbell’s book My Sisters The Saints tells the story of her soul and does so in a distinctively feminine way. Those who observe the praiseworthy custom of giving books as gifts should buy not one but several copies of Campbell’s book and give them to the Catholic women they know.

Campbell’s spiritual memoir opens with a familiar campus scene. A night of partying has left her surprisingly empty. A Catholic girl not terribly serious about her faith — observant but not fervent — she has discovered that campus life, ranging from the superficial to the debauched, has left her wanting something more. It is the story of St. Augustine told once more — the mind searching for enduring truth, the heart searching for deeper meaning, the soul searching for fulfilment.

“Better to be labelled shallow, stuck-up, drunk or debauched — anything but devout,” writes Campbell about the campus scene in telling words. She became reluctantly devout, which began a surprising adventure in faith.

What follows after graduation is an astonishing series of events in which Campbell confronts almost all of the issues that Catholic women confront. She faces the challenge of reconciling her professional aspirations with the decision to marry; the challenge of caring for a father suffering dementia; the challenge of dealing with infertility in the light of the moral law; and the challenge of combining a deeper prayer life with the demands of successful career as a professional writer, author and television commentator.

Campbell’s memoir stands out because she finds, at various times in her life, profound guidance in great women saints. Teresa of Avila in moving from superficiality to spirituality; Therese of Lisieux on dealing with her father’s descent into second childhood; Faustina on trusting in God when making career and family decisions; Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) on motherhood when suffering from infertility; Mother Teresa on darkness and suffering in the face of her father’s death; and the Blessed Virgin Mary as the model disciple. Sisters in Christ are speaking to each other across the centuries, and Campbell draws inspiration and illumination from the women who went before her. Not only a testament to the power of holy women to draw others close to the Lord Jesus, Campbell’s pilgrimage is one that brings alive the reality of the communion of the saints. It is a Catholic story as ancient as the Gospel and as new as the headlines.

This book will resonate deeply with Catholic women, but men should not be dissuaded from reading it. Men who wish to understand the feminine soul but are not spiritual directors will learn something of how grace works in the lives of their mothers, sisters, wives, daughters and friends. For priests, it will assist them in the care of souls and give them a source of encouragement to offer young women who are seeking to be faithful disciples. Such contemporary testimonies are essential, for the transmission of the faith and the formation of Catholic culture has been from time immemorial something more accomplished by women than men.

One example from Campbell’s book makes that point. She writes of learning the Memorare prayer — Remember O most gracious Virgin Mary — as a school girl and it became her favourite. It too is my favourite, and the one that most often comes to mind spontaneously. It is perhaps the most Catholic of all prayers, turning all matters over to the Mother of God in confidence that no child of Mary is ever left unaided. I love the prayer too because I remember my own mother teaching it to me. Every time I pray the Memorare I am thus inserted in a conversation between my own mother and the Blessed Mother. The whole history of the Church is shaped by the conversation between the mothers of every time and the Mother of God — a distinctively feminine conversation. Campbell’s book allows us to listen into that conversation, and it is lovely to do so.

Take heed of the prophetic, not the political, Chicagoan

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The man from Chicago is, at this writing, in the final hours of a close election campaign. U.S. President Barack Obama is praised as a gifted orator. Yet his words, mellifluous though they can be, do not linger in the mind.

There is another man from Chicago whose words are not mellifluous for the most part, but almost everything he says bears examination and rewards serious engagement. That man is Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago for the past 15 years.

And of all the many things Cardinal George has said and written, the most frequently quoted in recent years was something that no one was absolutely sure that he said. As alarm about the erosion of religious liberty in the United States was on the rise, Chicago’s archbishop reportedly made a prophecy many considered alarmist, namely that one day his successor would be martyred.

There were many sceptics that Cardinal George would have said such a thing. He is nothing if not sober, given more to measured statements than melodrama. But one would hear the prophecy repeated more and more often. Now we know the truth, for in his recent column in his diocesan newspaper, Cardinal George explains.

“The present political campaign has brought to the surface of our public life the anti-religious sentiment, much of it explicitly anti-Catholic, that has been growing in this country for several decades. The secularizing of our culture is a much larger issue than political causes or the outcome of the current electoral campaign, important though that is,” George writes. One expects he had in mind, at least in part, the administration of his fellow Chicagoan.

“Speaking a few years ago to a group of priests, entirely outside of the current political debate, I was trying to express in overly dramatic fashion what the complete secularization of our society could bring,” Cardinal George writes. “I was responding to a question and I never wrote down what I said, but the words were captured on somebody’s smartphone and have now gone viral on Wikipedia and elsewhere in the electronic communications world. I am (correctly) quoted as saying that I expected to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.”

So there it is. The man often praised as the leading intellectual light of the American episcopate did in fact predict that martyrdom would come to Chicago, even if he considers the remarks overly dramatic. Everything Cardinal George says is worth paying attention to, and in the current contested political climate it is sobering that he would return at this time to that dramatic vision of an American future which will betray its past.

Cardinal George knows better than most that martyrdom too has its place in the history of salvation. And he is a man of Christian hope. For the martyred bishop in Chicago’s public square is not the end of the prophecy, which the cardinal demurs from calling prophetic:

“What is omitted from the reports is a final phrase I added about the bishop who follows a possibly martyred bishop: ‘His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the Church has done so often in human history.’ What I said is not ‘prophetic’ but a way to force people to think outside of the usual categories that limit and sometimes poison both private and public discourse.”

Cardinal George placed his remarks in the line of anti-Nazi comments made by his predecessor, Cardinal George Mundelein, in the late 1930s. Encouraging Americans to support the struggle against the Nazi regime, Mundelein said:

“There is no guarantee that the battlefront may not stretch some day into our own land. Hodie mihi cras tibi. (Today it’s me; tomorrow, you). If we show no interest in this matter now, if we shrug our shoulders and mutter … it is not our fight, if we don’t back up the Holy Father when we have a chance, well, when our turn comes, we too will be fighting alone.”

We all like to think that it can’t happen here. Persecution and martyrdom is for other places, other peoples, other periods of history. Our default position is that our tradition of liberal democracy makes us safe from such dangers, immune from the principalities and powers arrayed against the Gospel from the beginning. As Americans exercise their democratic rights, it is wise to be wary that no liberty is eternally secure. This election season, it is important to listen to the prophetic, not political, man from Chicago.

Sistine Chapel turns 500, and its beauty is timeless

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A Protestant colleague sent a playful e-mail from Rome a few weeks back, asking, “Don’t you think the Sistine Chapel is a little over the top?”

To which Kara Johnson, a colleague at our magazine, Convivium, gave the perfect response: “Totally over the top. Over the lip of the vault and into… heaven!”

Michelangelo’s vault of the Sistine Chapel is the greatest painted work in history, and contemplating the masterpiece from below, one beholds heaven from Earth, even as Adam gazes into the face of God at the moment of his creation. The ceiling is 500 years old, completed in 1512 after four years of painstaking work, unsurpassed artistic brilliance and a collaborative clash of titanic personalities — Michelangelo on one hand, and Pope Julius II on the other.

Thanks to the 1965 film The Agony and the Ecstasy we have a cinematic portrayal in which we glimpse the enormity of the task. Rex Harrison, playing Julius II, repeatedly demands of Michelangelo: “When will you make an end?”

“When I am finished!” Michelangelo, played by Charlton Heston, replies repeatedly and heatedly.

Michelangelo did eventually finish, and on the vigil of All Saints 1512, Julius II celebrated solemn vespers to bless the new work. Pope Benedict returned on Oct. 31 to mark a half millennium of magnificence.

On the 1,100 square metres of the ceiling, Michelangelo tells the story of creation and, with a boldness born of Christian theology and artistic genius, paints the very face of God. To see the face of God is the desire of every heart, but beyond the capacity of our vision. We therefore need the eyes of faith (theology) or an experience of beauty (art) in order to see past the limitations of the natural world.

The Sistine Chapel is the great synthesis of faith and art. It is a rare instance of perfection in human achievement — as in, for example, Bach’s Mass in B Minor — which is naturally unsurpassable precisely because it is animated by the supernatural. Grace builds on nature, and Michelangelo’s ceiling is a work of grace as well as human genius.

A great work of art is akin to a sacrament. It makes visible and tangible that which is invisible and intangible. One might even say that it renders comprehensible that which lies always beyond our comprehension. Julius II, for whatever other failings he had, knew well that the Christian faith needs art to help man encounter the divine.

“We need you,” said Pope Paul VI in 1964, at a meeting with artists held in the Sistine Chapel. “We need your collaboration in order to carry out our ministry, which consists, as you know, in preaching and rendering accessible and comprehensible to the minds and hearts of our people the things of the spirit, the invisible, the ineffable, the things of God Himself. And in this activity … you are masters. Your task, your mission and your art consist in grasping treasures from the heavenly realm of the spirit and clothing them in words, colours, forms — making them accessible.

“If we were deprived of your assistance our ministry would become faltering and uncertain, and a special effort would be needed, one might say, to make it artistic, even prophetic. In order to scale the heights of lyrical expression of intuitive beauty, priesthood would have to coincide with art,” Pope Paul added.

Pope Benedict XVI, at another meeting of artists in 2009, held again in the Sistine Chapel, called it a “sanctuary of faith and human creativity.” Benedict frequently returns to the importance of beauty for the faith. In a sceptical world no longer sure of the truth, and in a degraded culture reluctant to judge anything good, it is beauty that alone which might raise the horizon to transcendent things.

“An essential function of genuine beauty, as emphasized by Plato, is that it gives man a healthy ‘shock,’ it draws him out of himself, wrenches him away from resignation and from being content with the humdrum — it even makes him suffer, piercing him like a dart, but in so doing it ‘reawakens’ him, opening afresh the eyes of his heart and mind, giving him wings, carrying him aloft,” Benedict said in that Sistine Chapel address.

Tens of thousands pass through the Sistine Chapel each week. The chapel demands that they turn their head upward and strain their eyes to behold the glory of the ceiling, the glory of Michelangelo’s work, the glory indeed of the Lord.

Five-hundred years on and Michelangelo’s ceiling is still at work. When will it end? In heaven.

Phil Fontaine lets politics get in the way of the truth

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Native leader loses track of the facts at St. Kateri’s canonization

The making of saints is a joyous affair, with a gracious spirit abounding toward all, and a determined effort to ignore any discordant notes. I recall, for example, at the beatification Mass for Cardinal John Henry Newman my surprise at seeing Bishop Remi De Roo, the retired bishop of Victoria, sitting not a few paces away from Pope Benedict XVI. Bishop De Roo had been keeping a determinedly low profile since leaving his diocese plagued by financial scandal, so it was a surprise to see him at all.

Yet there he was, ebullient at Newman’s beatification, taking the great cardinal as inspiration for his own theological vision. The Holy Father, for his part, was inspired enough by Newman that he departed from his usual practice and conducted the beatification himself. Between Benedict XVI and Bishop De Roo there is a vast difference as to the proper interpretation of the Second Vatican Council and other theological matters, and the former would be astonished that the latter would claim Newman for his positions. But it was a beatification, the saints belong to the whole Church, and so the gracious thing to do was not to notice the incongruity of it all.

It is inevitable that new saints are used for partisan purposes by various factions in the Church. Sometimes the Holy See attempts to forestall the attempt to use the saints in this fashion, as for example when Pope John XXIII and Pope Pius IX were beatified on the same day, or when Pope John Paul II and Pope Pius XII were declared venerable on the same day.

The canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha on Oct. 21 was characterized — wittingly or not — in such factional terms by Phil Fontaine, former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, who was present in Rome for the canonization. Fontaine had been in Rome in 2009, accompanied by Canadian bishops, to receive an apology for the treatment of native children in residential schools. So he speaks with some authority on relations between native peoples and the Catholic Church. But what he said in Rome cannot go unremarked.

“(The canonization) makes it possible, very much possible, to bring our community — the First Nations — very much closer with the Catholic Church. There was rupture for too long,” he told Catholic News Service.

“The canonization makes it possible to share our daughter with the universal Church,” he continued. “If you link the two events (the 2009 visit and the canonization), it is all about imparting reconciliation. It is an opportunity for us to say, ‘We accept your apology, we forgive, and so now let us begin taking the important steps of healing and reconciliation.’ ”

Healing and reconciliation need to be rooted in truth, and what Fontaine said is not rooted in the truth of Kateri’s life. Kateri’s choice to be baptized and practise her Catholic faith meant that her own people persecuted her, so much so that she left her native village in present-day upstate New York and moved to the Christian mission near Montreal, where she died at age 24.
As to whether she belongs to her native tribe or the universal Church, the answer is that she belongs to both. But if she was forced to choose, it is clear that Kateri would have chosen her faith. In fact, that is what she did at considerable cost.

More objectionable is Fontaine’s treatment of the canonization as a sort of super-apology, as if the Church gave native Canadians a saint to compensate them for their suffering. That would make Kateri an instrument of factional jockeying rather than a model of holiness. Moreover, it neglects the fact that in the complex history of the Church and native peoples, Kateri is an example of native persecution of Christians, not the other way around.

“St. Kateri was persecuted for the faith she held so tenaciously,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in his statement. The prime minister did not mention who persecuted her. Good manners today mean that we don’t mention the aboriginal peoples who made martyrs — sometimes brutally so — of Christians, but an objection must be made when Kateri is advanced as an occasion of “accepting” an apology from the Church. The truth of history is exactly the opposite.

Fontaine was a discordant voice in his remarks to Catholic News Service. Most voices — aboriginal and otherwise — did not see this as the latest installment of an ongoing conflict between natives and the Church, but a blessing for both. It was, and St. Kateri may well obtain from God the gift of reconciliation for the First Nations peoples, but reconciliation requires first that the truth be told.

Oct. 22 vs. Oct. 16

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The days are quite significant in our Church’s history

As the present grows more distant from the past, what actually happened becomes confused with what people think happened. Even pious priests fall victim to the temptation. Take, for example, Fr. C. John McCloskey III. He wrote this recently about the election of Blessed John Paul II:

“In 1978, when I was preparing for the priesthood in Rome, I had the privilege of being present in St. Peter’s Square when the newly chosen Pope John Paul II came out on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica and addressed the crowd by quoting Our Lord’s words ‘Ne Timeas’ (Do not be afraid). I, along with the rest of the throng present, somehow sensed that the world was going to be different under this man who came ‘from a far country,’ as he put it.”

But it seems McCloskey’s memory is playing tricks on him.

First, when Karol Wojtyla appeared on the balcony just after his election on Oct. 16, 1978, he did not speak in Latin. In fact, what was remarkable about the balcony appearance was the new Pope’s decision to speak to the crowd in Italian, rather than restrict himself to the traditional Latin blessing alone. The speech was memorable in part because the pope asked the Romans to correct him if he made a mistake in “your … no, our” Italian language.

Second, John Paul did not say “be not afraid” on the balcony. That was the key line from the homily at the inaugural Mass in St. Peter’s Square several days later.

Third, the late Holy Father never said “ne timeas,” which is Latin. The homily was delivered in Italian. And what he said in Italian was “non abbiate paura” — second person plural — which would be “nolite timere” (second person plural) in Latin, not “ne timeas” (second person singular).

What’s the big deal? Why quibble over details? It’s not really about Fr. McCloskey. He is a well-known commentator, but sadly typical of many people who confuse Oct. 16 and Oct. 22. How many times have you heard that John Paul’s first pontifical words were “be not afraid”? Hardly. After the election of Oct. 16, he addressed the college of cardinals (Oct. 19), the diplomatic corps (Oct. 20) and then held a press conference (Oct. 21). “Be not afraid” was on Oct. 22.

It matters to get that history straight now that John Paul is beatified. The Church has assigned him Oct. 22 as his feast day, not the day of his death. A similar thing was done for Blessed John XXIII, who was assigned Oct. 11, the day of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and his famous address, Gaudet Mater Ecclesia — Mother Church Rejoices! Oct. 22 was chosen for Blessed John Paul precisely because of the “be not afraid” homily delivered that historic Roman day. Moreover, that homily is part of the divine office for the feast, excerpted in the Office of Readings. Get the history confused and the point of the feast day is lost.

It’s especially important in the month of the October, where the Church gives us an embarrassment of riches in terms of feasts. The month begins with two of the most popular saints in all Christian history, Therese of Lisieux (Oct. 1) and Francis of Assisi (Oct. 4), with the Guardian Angels in between (Oct. 2). Our Lady of the Rosary (Oct. 7) follows soon after, with the evangelist Luke (Oct. 18) and the apostles Simon and Jude (Oct. 28) also celebrated.
Then there is the curious case of Teresa of Avila, who died during the night between Oct. 4 and Oct. 15. It was a most unusual night, because in 1582 the calendar was adjusted by Gregory XIII, removing 10 days from it. Her feast day is observed Oct. 15.

With three recent blesseds, the Church departed from her usual practice of assigning the death anniversary as the feast day. Cardinal Newman (Oct. 9) was assigned the day of his conversion to Catholicism, and John XXIII (Oct. 11) and John Paul II (Oct. 22) were given significant days of their pontificates.

The liturgical calendar illustrates how holiness is rooted in history. That’s why it matters to get Oct. 22 right, when those history-shaping and life-changing words rang out:

“Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept His power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ’s power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind. Do not be afraid. Open, I say open wide the doors for Christ. To His saving power open the boundaries of states, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows ‘that which is in man’. He alone knows it.”