09 November 2015

Dominican Jubilee in Rome

Very Rev. Bruno Cadore, Master of the Order of Preachers, preaches at the Jubilee Mass in Rome.

This year, the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) celebrate the 800th year of our founding.  For a brief history of the Order, the Dominican friars of the Province of England have an excellent summary.  The Jubilee will be celebrated mostly at the local level, as a thanksgiving to God for the Order and a supplication for the grace necessary to continue our mission.  For the events in the Province of St. Joseph, you can see our Provincial Jubilee website.  For events around the world, see the Jubilee Website of the Order.

You can follow us on social media on Twitter at @Dominican_Order or on Facebook at OrdoPraedicatorum.

Here in Rome, the Jubilee began with Mass at Santa Sabina on the Feast of All Saints of the Order of Preachers (Nov 7 in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite).  Santa Sabina is the priory where, by long tradition, the Master of the Order lives.  The Basilica was originally given to St. Dominic in 1220.  Mass was celebrated by the Master of the Order, Fr. Bruno Cadore, OP.  Present were friars from all over the world, as well as Dominican sisters and nuns, and members of the Third Order.

Here is a slideshow of pictures from the Mass.

18 June 2015

Some thoughts on the new Encyclical

Below are some initial reactions to the Pope’s newEncyclical.  They’re perhaps a bit disjointed, and certainly do not cover everything.  But they are some of my initial impressions on reading the document, and a few points I took away as most important.  I do encourage everyone to read it.  It is a fairly simple style to read, and easily comprehensible.  It is also the best way to steer clear of the overly-ideological spin that the members of the media seem determined to give to it.

Climate Change

Before getting to the actual encyclical, I want to mention some of the reporting.  Reading the press accounts, many have discussed the encyclical as if it were the Climate Change Encyclical.  To just take one typical example, a New York Times’s headline puts it, somewhat predictably, this way: “Pope Francis in Sweeping Encyclical Calls for Swift Action on Climate Change”.  As is typical for the religion reporting at that newspaper, it reflects more the ideological hopes of the author and editors than it does what the Pope actually said. In fact, the notion of Climate Change makes up a rather small part of the Encyclical.  It is certainly addressed, and the Pope sees it as important, but to identify it as the main thrust of this Encyclical, as the New York Times and others do, is very misleading.

Also, the Pope is very clear that the reality of Climate Change is not something on which he speaks with magisterial authority.  He speaks in terms of  “scientific consensus”, and defers to the scientific community.  He says, quite bluntly: “I would state once more that the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics.”

In other words, the Encyclical is much broader than just an affirmation of the scientific consensus on climate change.  Any news outlet you read or hear that pitches it that way is being deceptive—don’t listen to them.  Rather, this Encyclical is a far-reaching reflection on creation itself, and especially man’s place within it.  Moreover, it is meant to reflect specifically on the modern world, and specifically role and place of modern technology in the life of man and with respect to the environment.

Laudato si’

As most people have commended, the title is taken from the first words of the Encyclical.  Usually this is in Latin, but this time Pope Francis chose to use the 13th century Umbrian Italian of St. Francis of Assisi.  Those Italian words are “Laudato si’, mi’ Signore” (or, in modern Italian: “Laudato sii, mio Signore”).  Most media outlets are reporting only the first two words, which are the title: “Praised be to you”.  But it is important to understand all of St. Francis’s words: “Praised be to you, my Lord.”  For St. Francis especially, everything is directed to God.  St. Francis did not talk about himself, he talked about God. 

In many ways, this is the key to understanding the whole Encyclical.  The Pope wants to reject two extremes.  On the one hand, he wants to reject a distorted anthropomorphism that exaggerates man’s role in the world.  On the other hand, he wants to reject a neo-pantheism that would worship creation and make man utterly subject to it. 

Some of those in the environmental movement have criticized the Judeo-Christian tradition as one of the sources of the problem of economic degradation.  The Biblical language asserting man’s Dominion of the world, some argue, has become the excuse by which man ravages the land for his own use.  Moreover, the extend that criticism to the medieval philosophers and the hierarchy of being, which places man at the top of the material world, and the rest of the created order—animals, plants, the earth itself—underneath him. 

Pope Francis wisely corrects this false view.  It is true that the Christian understanding of creation posits in man a greater dignity, for human beings are the only ones in the material world created in God’s image and likeness.  And God’s words to Adam after he’s been expelled from the Garden are to till the land – but he also tells him to “keep it”, in the sense of protect and preserve it.  It is true that man is given governance over creation, but even that remains subject to the Providence of God.  Man’s governance of creation is itself subject to God’s plan, in which all things find their end in God.  So, far from man having absolute dominion over the earth, the Christian tradition sees man as its caretaker, its steward.  This sums it up well: “Our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God. Otherwise, it would be nothing more than romantic individualism dressed up in ecological garb, locking us into a stifling immanence.” (LS 119)  And this notion of stewardship means especially recognizing that we protect the world for future generations.  In what will likely become one of the more quoted lines of the Encyclical: “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” (LS 160)

At the same time, we must avoid the temptation to equate the value of man and the rest of the created order.  Pope Francis is very clear on this.  He says: “There can be no ecology without an adequate anthropology. When the human person is considered as simply one being among others, the product of chance or physical determinism, then ‘our overall sense of responsibility wanes’.” (LS 118)  He emphasizes this hierarchy especially in an example about water.  As the Pope explains, access to fresh water is a vital natural resource because it is an absolute necessity for human life.  So, when assessing the environmental effects of given projects, we need to take into account the effects on access to water: “For example, we know that water is a scarce and indispensable resource and a fundamental right which conditions the exercise of other human rights. This indisputable fact overrides any other assessment of environmental impact on a region.” (LS 185)  This means not only the manufacturer whose product despoils the water table, but the subspecies of fish who that may have to be sacrificed to permit access to water in a drought.  The environment is not to be preserved in some sort of permanent stasis, like a scene in a snow globe.  It is not some idol of the present, to be worshipped in itself. 

An Integral Ecology

The primary focus of the Pope’s Encyclical is to prompt a change in attitude regarding man’s place in the environment.  He deliberately speaks in terms of an “ecological conversion” (LS 5) rather than a merely environmental one.  The reason for this is to emphasize the interdependence of the created world.  An ecology is more than just a few plants and some animals thrown together.  An ecology is a system – a system of interdependence between the various elements of the environment, which sustains them and allows them to continue.  So, too, man is not cut off from the environment around him.  Rather, he must be aware that he is a part of the ecological system – a system he needs and that he in turn effect.  Moreover, there is an ecology to human society as well – that the social dimensions of human life are related to the way in which we approach creation around us.  Therefore, Pope Francis prompts us to an “integral ecology” which recognizes the “interrelation between ecosystems and between the various spheres of social interaction”.  (LS 141)  In other words, we need to broaden our view to better recognize how our life, in all its dimensions, is part of our natural environment. 

Conversion of Life

More than anything, the Pope calls us to a conversion of life.  Man lives in a world marred by sin, and this disorder within us effects our relationship with creation, too.  “The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations.”  Man’s selfishness looks to his own gratification first, regardless of the consequences.  The Pope calls us to live a simpler life, casting aside the modern temptations of consumerism and individualism, to live in a more harmonious relationship with God’s creation.  This is more than international agreements, political campaigns, or green technology.  It is first and foremost a recognition that our encounter with Jesus Christ must also be manifest in our relationship with the world around us.  As the Pope emphasizes: “a healthy relationship with creation is one dimension of overall personal conversion, which entails the recognition of our errors, sins, faults and failures, and leads to heartfelt repentance and desire to change.”  This call to conversion is addressed to all levels of society – the individual family, neighborhoods and communities, local and national governments, leaders of business and industry, and multinational organizations. 

One Critique

As much good as there is in this Encyclical, there are some problems. The biggest problem, to put it quite bluntly, is the Pope’s insufficient understanding of economics.  The Pope constantly sees economic growth in merely static terms.  For him, it seems, the economic life is like a big pie, and if one person takes a piece, then he is denying it to someone else.  But the reality of market-based systems is that they can grow the pie.  When resources are given to those who use them most efficiently for the greatest good, everyone benefits.  And it is precisely the mechanism of price that allows those goods to transfer most efficiently.  Is a market-based system perfect?  Of course not, society needs political mechanisms to provide for justice – something markets do not do very well.  But it is undeniable that private property and free and open markets are the two greatest forces for eliminating material poverty that the world has ever known.

05 May 2015

The Feast of St. Catherine of Siena in Siena

The Italian friars at the Catherinian Basilica of St. Dominic in Siena kindly invited another friar and me for the feast of St. Catherine.  The feast usually celebrated by the city on the weekend near her feast day, with several events spread through the weekend.  This year, the Pope's representative was Beniamino Cardinal Stella, the Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, who celebrated the solemn Mass.  The Archbishop of Siena, the aptly named Antonino Buoncristiani (which would translate as Tony Goodchristians), also attended all of the events.

It is interesting, especially as an American, to see the mixture of civil and religious in events like this.  For the Italians, the civic, the cultural, and the religious are mixed (and assumed) in a way that we simply do not normally do in the U.S.  St. Catherine is both a figure of religious holiness and of civic pride for the Sienese, and remains a very important figure.

The first event we attended was the laying of flowers at the statute of St. Catherine near the Basilica.  This generally involved groups of women--religious, lay groups, and civil organizations--who came with bouquets of flowers to be set at the statue.  In attendance were also the mayor of Siena and other civil officials.  As at most of the events, the local neighborhoods (contrade) had representatives in period costume with flags and drums.

That same evening was a concert in honor of St. Catherine at the Duomo (Cathedral), with the Archbishop in attendance.  Siena has a well-regarded school of music, the Istituto Superiore di Studi Musicali "Rinaldo Franci" da Siena.  They chose a selection of music from Gustav Faure, and especially music from his Requiem Mass.  I find the Pie Jesu from Faure's Requiem Mass to be one of the most beautiful pieces of music.  (Here's a YouTube version of the Pie Jesu sung by the great Kathleen Battle.)

The next day began with another religious/civic event at the house of St. Catherine.  With the Cardinal, the Archbishop of Siena, the Mayor of Siena, and various military figures in attendance, gifts were offered to the sanctuary there, including candles and oil for the lamps.

Following that was the solemn Mass presided by Cardinal Stella at the Basilica San Domenico.

Finally, on Sunday afternoon, was the procession with the relic of St. Catherine.  The relic was solemnly carried from San Domenico, accompanied by the local neighborhood (contrada) where the Basilica is located (the contrado Drago (dragon)), with flags and drums.  We then came to the Church of St. Christopher near the town center, where we were joined by the sisters from the shrine of St. Catherine, as well as representatives from the other neighborhoods (contrade) in period costume.  The drums escorted us to the campo, where there is a permanent outdoor shrine and altar, where the relic rested as various speeches were made by civil officials.  The event ended with a prayer of blessing from the Archbishop of Siena.

Here is a slideshow with more pictures:

And here is some video from Siena:

29 April 2015

Even the Pope gets Canon Law wrong sometimes!

Once in a while I post something on canon law, usually to correct some major error I see.  It is odd now to write a post to correct a rather major error from the Holy See on Canon Law, and even from the Pope himself.

So what is the mistake.  A bit back, Pope Francis announced an extraordinary jubilee to begin this year.  He has called this a Year of Mercy.  As is typical, he has issued a Bull of Indiction, Misericordiae Vultus (the Face of Mercy), listing the spiritual benefits to accrue to the faithful in this Jubilee Year.  In that document he makes the following statement in paragraph 18:

During Lent of this Holy Year, I intend to send out Missionaries of Mercy. They will be a sign of the Church’s maternal solicitude for the People of God, enabling them to enter the profound richness of this mystery so fundamental to the faith. There will be priests to whom I will grant the authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See, so that the breadth of their mandate as confessors will be even clearer. 

A bit of background here.  Most Catholics are under the impression that any priest may hear a confession at any time.  This is not true.  While the sacrament of Order (i.e., just being a priest) gives the priest sacramental power. that is not sufficient for him to absolve sins during confession.  He also needs something called jurisdictional power, or the executive power of governance.  The Code usually calls this faculties.  Basically, he needs to be given permission by his local Bishop to hear confessions.  (Although pastors of parishes and some others have the power by the law itself.)  Without that granting of authority, he has no power to absolve sins.

The point in question here is about the "authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See".  That refers to sins that the Pope has reserved to himself (or one of the Apostolic Penitentiaries) alone to absolve -- no other priest or bishop would have the power to absolve those sins.

So what's the problem?  In the Latin Church, the law has eliminated all of these reserved sins since 1983 -- more than 30 years.  In other words, there are no sins reserved to the Holy See in the Latin Church.  So, it's not clear at all what these "Missionaries of Mercy" will be doing.

The law does reserve the removal of certain penalties to the Holy See.  There are certain penalties that priests can lift in the confessional. For example, in the Latin Church, a Catholic who procures an abortion automatically (latae sententiae) receives an undeclared penalty of excommunication.  Under certain circumstances (see can. 1357), a priest can lift that penalty of excommunication.  But there are penalties for certain offense (the canonical word is "delicts") that only the Holy See can lift.  These include penalties for, e.g., using physical force on the Pope, violating the seal of confession, attempting to ordain a woman, desecrating the eucharist, and clerical sexual abuse.  Perhaps the Pope means to assign these "Missionaries of Mercy" to these reserved penalties.  If so, it does not seem to me that there are all that many of these, or why the usual process through the Holy See would not suffice.

I should note that this is not true of the Eastern Catholic Churches (e.g., Byzantine Catholics, Maronite Catholics, etc.).  There are "reserved sins" in those Churches.  So, I suppose this could mean that these "Missionaries of Mercy" will only be sent to the Eastern Churches.  Although, if that were the case, you'd think it would be specified that way.

Either way, it shows that even the Pope can get canon law wrong, and why he always needs some good canonists to give him counsel.

4/29/15 UPDATE:  I added a sentence to clarify a canonical term.

12/6/15 UPDATE:  The Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, who have the duty to authentically interpret the law, have weighed in on the issue.  You can see the letter (in Italian) from the President of the Council here.  The letter references a Sept. 1st letter from Pope Francis to the President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization to grant during the Jubilee Year to all priests (tutti i sacerdoti) the faculty to absolve from the sin of abortion (assolvere dal peccato di aborto).  Since all priests with the faculty to hear confession generally already have this faculty, some explanation was needed.  The letter indicates that without doubt (indubbio, non c'รจ alcun dubbio), despite the words used, what was intended was to grant the faculty to lift the censure of a non declared latae sententiae excommunication for those who have procured an abortion.  This seems to be limited only to the latae sententiae penalty for procuring abortion.  Therefore, the Missionaries of Mercy will still have a broader faculty, as it seems they will have the authority to lift any undeclared latae sententiae excommunication.

11/21/16 UPDATE:  The Pope today issued an Apostolic Letter coinciding with the closing of the Jubilee year of mercy.  The letter purports to "grant to all priests, in virtue of their ministry, the faculty to absolve those who have committed the sin of procured abortion."  In other words, the letter continues the same error that was contained in Misericordiae Vultus from last year.  However, given the intervening authoritative interpretation in November 2015, we can say that we know what the Pope means to do, even if the words do not precisely correspond.  It is important to stress that there is no sin that a priest may not forgive (so long as he has the faculty to hear confessions), at least in the Latin Church.  I do worry that there are people who will not go to confession because they (falsely) believe they 'have one of those sins that the priest can't forgive' or that there are people who doubt that a confessed sin was truly absolved because it was not absolved by a bishop. I also note that the Holy Father also extended to priests of the Society of St. Pius X the continued faculty of absolving sins.

11/22/16 UPDATEI corrected a few typos and tightened up some language.  Looking it over, perhaps I should stress that there is a difference between the sin of abortion and the crime or delict of abortion, even though they arise from the same act.  The confessional is about the forgiveness of the sin, about putting us back into right relationship with God after we have strayed by our actions.  The crime is a function of the Church's governance.  The Church has always maintained the distinction between the crime of excommunication as sin. They may be related, but there are important differences.  Some people believe that excommunication is about making a determination as to whether someone can "get to heaven".  That is not true.  Excommunication is about protecting the community of the Church from harm by the scandal or behavior of others.  It's perfectly possible for a person to be under the penalty of excommunication and yet still have sanctifying grace. 

07 March 2015

La Galleria Borghese

La Galleria Borghese

The Borghese Gallery is one of the best art museums in Rome.  It began originally as the art collection of Cardinal Cardinal Scipione, who was the son of Hortensia Borghese and the nephew of Pope Paul V.  As the Borghese Gallery website explains:

Cardinal Scipion was drawn to any works of ancient, Renaissance and contemporary art which might re-evoke a new golden age. He was not particularly interested in medieval art, but passionately sought to acquire antique sculpture. But Cardinal Scipione was so ambitious that he promoted the creation of new sculptures and especially marble groups to rival antique works. Cardinal Scipione's collection of paintings was remarkable and was poetically described as early as 1613 by Scipione Francucci.
The museum houses one of the best collections of statutes by the famed sculptor Bernini.  It also houses several paintings by Caravaggio.  The Gallery is situated in the beautiful Borghese park on a hill at the northern end of Rome.  You can go through the museum in under 2 hours.  If you ever go, I strongly recommend going with a written guide or buying an audio guide.  The works of art are not well marked or described.

Here are some pictures of some of the art that can be found in La Galleria Borghese:

06 March 2015


Fiesole is a small town just outside of Florence.  You can get from the Basilica of San Marco just north of the Cathedral to Fiesole in about 10-15 minutes by bus.  In the history of the Dominican Order, it is important as a center for reform of the Order in the 15th century.  St. Antoninus, later Bishop of Florence, was one of the first novices there.  But it is also especially connected to Bl. John of Fiesole, more popularly known as Fra Angelico.  As St. Thomas Aquinas is known as the Doctor Angelicus (the "Angelic Doctor"), John of Fiesole is the Pictor Angelicus (the "Angelic Painter").  He was not only one of the greatest artists the Order has known, but he helped create the Italian Renaissance.  Below is a slideshow of some of the pictures I took from the convent in Fiesole.

29 January 2015

Oxford & Kent

I haven't posted here in way too long, so I decided to post some pics of my trip to England.  Right after Christmas I went to Oxford as well as Canterbury and Dover in Kent.  While in Canterbury, I celebrated a private Mass at the (now Anglican) Cathedral on the feast of St. Thomas Becket.  It was in the Cathedral that he was killed while praying Vespers.  He left the evening prayers to go to the
door where the 4 knights sent by Henry II had come to murder Becket.  As others locked the doors, St. Thomas insisted they be open, as the Church of God should never be barred at times of prayer.  The 4 knights came in and then murdered St. Thomas, his body was then taken to the undercroft where a shrine existed until its destruction in the time of Henry VIII.  In fact, the shrine of St. Thomas Becket was one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in all of Europe until the Protestants demolished it.  The location of his relics remains unknown.  There is now a marker on the stone where St. Thomas was martyred (see picture)

Below are some slideshows of pics from Oxford, Centerbury, and Dover: