Saturday, August 21, 2010

Whoever Exalts Himself Will Be Humbled; But Whoever Humbles Himself Will Be Exalted.

Memorial of Pius X, pope
Reading 1
Ezekiel 43:1-7ab
The angel led me to the gate which faces the east,
and there I saw the glory of the God of Israel
coming from the east.
I heard a sound like the roaring of many waters,
and the earth shone with his glory.
The vision was like that which I had seen
when he came to destroy the city,
and like that which I had seen by the river Chebar.
I fell prone as the glory of the LORD entered the temple
by way of the gate which faces the east,
but spirit lifted me up and brought me to the inner court.
And I saw that the temple
was filled with the glory of the Lord.
Then I heard someone speaking to me from the temple,
while the man stood beside me.
The voice said to me:
Son of man, this is where my throne shall be,
this is where I will set the soles of my feet;
here I will dwell among the children of Israel forever.
This is our last reading from Ezekiel and also brings to an end our series of readings from the prophets which we have been following since Week 13. On Monday of Week 21 we will return to reading the New Testament.

The message is filled with hope as it describes how God comes back to his Temple after the Exile. It represents the high point of this whole section of Ezekiel. It was a moment for which the Temple had been prepared.

The glory of God is seen approaching from the east. It was from this direction that the prophet had seen God leave his city. In the book of Ezekiel God’s glory is always active. The experience was both heard (”like the roar of rushing waters”) and seen (”the land was radiant with his glory”). God’s visible glory is always described as being very bright. We remember the brightness surround the birth of Jesus in Luke as the angels sang “Glory to God in the highest!”

It reminds Ezekiel, too, of the vision he had seen when Yahweh came to destroy the city (under the agency of Nebuchadnezzar).

As God in his glory enters the city from the east, Ezekiel is lifted up by the Spirit and brought to the inner court of the Temple. With God being nearer, the function of the guiding angel is taken over by the Spirit of God. Ezekiel is transported into the inner court but not into the temple.

And now the Temple is filled with the glory of the Lord as it was when consecrated by Solomon (1 Kings 8:11). Then “Someone” is heard speaking to Ezekiel from the Temple. This “Someone” is Yahweh but out of reverence not named here, preserving an air of awe and mystery.

Yahweh addresses his prophet: “This is the dais of my throne, the step on which I rest my feet. I shall live here among the sons of Israel for ever.” Once again, the covenant promise is renewed. But it is never God who breaks it. His compassion and love are indicated by his readiness to renew it again and again. The final renewal will be the New Covenant made through God’s own Son, pouring out his blood in sacrifice for love of us all.

The glory of the Lord is always ready to enter our lives and make our hearts the temple of his presence. Is he there now? Is he palpably present in our community? Or have we driven him away? But we know that, no matter how often we fall, he still stands at the door and knocks. Will I welcome him in - not just for now but for always?*
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Psalm 85
The glory of the Lord will dwell in our land.
I will hear what God proclaims;
the LORD –for he proclaims peace.
Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him,
glory dwelling in our land.
The glory of the Lord will dwell in our land.
Kindness and truth shall meet;
justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
and justice shall look down from heaven.
The glory of the Lord will dwell in our land.
The LORD himself will give his benefits;
our land shall yield its increase.
Justice shall walk before him,
and salvation, along the way of his steps.
The glory of the Lord will dwell in our land.
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Matthew 23:1-12
Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying,
“The scribes and the Pharisees
have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.
Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you,
but do not follow their example.
For they preach but they do not practice.
They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders,
but they will not lift a finger to move them.
All their works are performed to be seen.
They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.
They love places of honor at banquets,
 seats of honor in synagogues,
greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’
As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’
You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.
Call no one on earth your father;
you have but one Father in heaven.
Do not be called ‘Master’;
you have but one master, the Christ.
The greatest among you must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
We begin today chapter 23 of Matthew which consists of a severe indictment of the Pharisees and Scribes by Jesus. This is not to be taken as a blanket condemnation of every individual Pharisee and Scribe, because we know that many of them were good people. One outstanding example is Gamaliel who appears in the Acts of the Apostles as a man of justice and integrity. Nicodemus, who came to Jesus by night and was involved in Jesus’ burial, was also a Pharisee.

The passage certainly reflects some of the conflicts which arose between the early Christians (especially those who were Jews themselves) and those Jews who were opposed to the Christian Way, who saw it as a heresy and who often subjected the Christians to verbal and even physical attacks and harassment.

What Jesus is attacking is not so much a particular people as certain attitudes of mind. And these attitudes can be found just as easily within the Christian community of that time and every period since then. We should listen to Jesus’ words, then, directed not so much to abstract “Pharisees and Scribes” but to ourselves. It is for our benefit and reflection that they have been included in the Gospel. The Gospel is written for us and to us; it is not a historical diatribe against certain people in the past.

Jesus first of all emphasises that as people in authority and experts on the subject, the Scribes and Pharisees should be listened to with respect and they should be obeyed when they teach. But Jesus says that in their behaviour their example should not be followed. “Their words are bold but their deeds are few.”

They have no hesitation in drawing up rules which are difficult for people to carry out but they do absolutely nothing to help in their implementation. The Church has not always been without guilt in this kind of thing, even in our own day. Nor have civil legislators or other people in authority, including parents of families or teachers in schools, been without fault.

This is the double standard, where people set the rules which they themselves do not keep: “Do as I say, not as I do” or “You will do it because I tell you to do it.”

Secondly, the Pharisees are attacked because everything they do is to attract attention to themselves. But it is all on the outside. What we call today ‘image’. Their phylacteries were bigger than others’ and their tassels huge. The phylactery was a small box containing some of the central words of the Law. It was worn on the arm or the forehead, a literal interpretation of the exhortation in Exodus 13:9, “[the Law] shall be as a sign on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead”. There were four tassels, sewn at each corner of one’s cloak.

The message is clear: “We are better, we are holier.” But it is a sham because it is all on the outside. But when it comes to ‘image’ our contemporary world has nothing to learn from the past.

They also expect special attention to be given to them: the first row in the synagogue, places of honour at banquets, special honorific titles. Sad to say, we have seen this not infrequently among church clerics in our own lifetime. We see it daily among our politicians, business leaders, our media personalities. They are not only given these things; they soon expect them as a right. It is the VIP syndrome and often it is pathetic: the private jet, the executive lounge in the airport, the special table in the restaurant, the limousine from the hotel…

Even ordinary people become slaves of the image: the brand label on the clothes they wear, the places where they live, the cars they drive, and all the other consumer baubles with which they surround themselves. None of these things, says Jesus, makes a person great.

The greatest is the one who serves, that is, the person who uses his or her gifts for the benefit of others, whose whole life is dedicated to making this world a better place for others to live in. A person to whom such trappings are totally irrelevant.*
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St Pius X, Pope

The future Pope Pius X was born Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto at Riese, near Venice, on 2 June 1835. He was the second of 10 children in a poor family, his father being the village postman.

On 18 September 1858, Giuseppe Sarto was ordained priest and became curate at Tombolo. While there, the young priest deepened his knowledge of theology while carrying out most of the functions of his parish pastor, who was quite ill. In 1867, he was named Archpriest of Salzano. He became popular with his people when he worked to help the sick during a cholera plague that swept northern Italy in the early 1870s.

In 1875 he was made Chancellor of the Diocese of Treviso. In 1878 Bishop Zanelli died, leaving the bishopric vacant. In 1879 Sarto was elected as Vice-Capitular to take responsibility for the diocese until a new bishop was elected and he held the post until June 1880. After 1880, Sarto taught dogmatic theology and moral theology at the seminary in Treviso. In 1884 he was made Bishop of Mantua.

On 12 June 1893 Pope Leo XIII made him a cardinal in a secret consistory and he was named Cardinal-Priest of Saint Bernardo alle Terme. Three days later, Cardinal Sarto was publicly named Patriarch of Venice. This caused difficulty, however, as the government of the reunified Italy claimed the right to nominate the Patriarch based on a privilege formerly exercised by the Emperor of Austria. Sarto was finally allowed to assume the position of Patriarch in 1894.

As Cardinal and Patriarch, Sarto avoided politics and gave his time to social works and strengthening parish finances. In his first pastoral letter to the Venetians, he argued that in matters pertaining to the Pope, “There should be no questions, no subtleties, no opposing of personal rights to his rights, but only obedience.”

On 20 July 1903, Pope Leo XIII died. During the conclave to elect his successor, Cardinal Rampolla seemed the favourite but his nomination was blocked by the Emperor Franz Joseph and, on the fifth ballot, Giuseppe Sarto was elected the 257th pope on 4 August 1903. He was at first reluctant to accept the post but, after urging from fellow-cardinals and deep prayer, accepted the nomination. He took the name Pius out of respect for his predecessors with this name, especially Pius IX whom he admired. He took as his motto “Instaurare omnia in Christo” (‘To restore all things in Christ’, a quotation from the Letter to the Ephesians, 1:10).

Many of his achievements as pope were directed towards the fulfilment of this ideal. They included the encouragement of more frequent reception of Holy Communion and the admission of children to the Sacrament from the age of seven (an age at which it was felt children could understand the meaning of the Sacrament).

Pius also worked for the reform of Church music, encouraging the revival of Gregorian chant and, to a lesser degree, of classical polyphony. Classical and Baroque compositions had long been favoured over Gregorian chant in ecclesiastical music. Pius announced a return to earlier musical styles, championed by Don Perosi, director of the Sistine Chapel choir. This led to the adoption of the Solesmes School of Gregorian Chant.

He began the reform of Canon Law, which would be promulgated by his successor Pope Benedict XV, and the reorganisation of the administration of the Vatican. He also gave new life to Catholic Action and pointed it in new directions beyond the merely social and political.

In the area of Christian doctrine he condemned the error of Modernism in the encyclical Pascendi and the decree Lamentabili. Modernism and relativism were trends which wanted to assimilate modern philosophers into theological research in the way Aristotelianism had been used by thinkers like Thomas Aquinas in the past. Modernists claimed that Church beliefs were in a continuous process of evolvement. Following these encyclicals, Pius ordered that all clerics take the Sacrorum antistitum, an oath against Modernism. He also encouraged the formation and efforts of Sodalitium Pianum (or League of Pius V), an anti-Modernist network of informants.

Unfortunately, these condemnations led to the orthodoxy of many outstanding Catholic scholars being questioned for many years afterwards. It took the coming of the Second Vatican Council for a number of outstanding theologians to be re-instated.

In 1908 the papal decree Ne Temere came into effect. Marriages not performed by a Catholic priest were declared legal but religiously invalid, a move which worried many about the status of ‘mixed marriages’ outside a Catholic church. Priests were given discretion to refuse to perform mixed marriages or lay conditions upon them, commonly including a requirement that the children be raised Roman Catholic.

Also in 1908 the Catechism of Christian Doctrine was first issued. In less than 50 pages it deals with questions of faith and morals in simple language, one reason for its continuing popularity. Later Joseph Ratzinger would say that Pius’ characteristics were “simplicity of exposition and depth of content”.

In the area of Church-State relations, Pius sacrificed church property in France for the sake of independence from state control, in the process asking both clergy and faithful to make considerable sacrifices. In France he also condemned what he saw as the extremes of the liberal movement called ‘Sillon’ (Furrow) and the extreme right-wing thinking of Action Francaise. The latter condemnation did not become public until some years after Pius X’s death.

In 1913 Pius suffered a heart attack from which he never fully recovered. In 1914, the Pope fell ill on the Feast of the Assumption (15 August). The outbreak of the First World War only worsened his condition and the 79-year-old pope became deeply depressed. He died on 20 August 1914, just a few hours after the death of the Jesuit superior general, Franz Xavier Wernz.

In his will he wrote: “I was born poor, I have lived poor, and I wish to die poor.” Much of the pomp and ceremony of the Vatican he found profoundly distasteful.

Pius X was buried in a simple tomb in the crypt below St. Peter’s Basilica. He had forbidden the removal of organs for the embalming process, a custom followed by his successors.

He was being acclaimed a saint immediately after his death and the crypt could not hold all those wanting to venerate his tomb. Masses were held near his tomb until 1930.

On 19 August 1939, Pope Pius XII delivered a tribute to Pius X at Castel Gandolfo and on 12 February 1943, he was given the title “Venerable”. In 1944 his coffin was opened and, although he had not been embalmed, his body was found after 30 years to be in an excellent state of conservation. Following the confirmation of two miracles, he was beatified on 3 June 1951.

On 29 May 1954, less than three years after his beatification, he was canonized, following the recognition of two more miracles. Pius X thus became the first pope to be canonised since Pope Pius V in the 17th century.

Pius X’s feast day, initially assigned to 3 September, was moved in 1969 to 21 August, closer to the day of his death.*

The Irish Jesuits

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

'As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.
Call no one on earth your father;
you have but one Father in heaven.
Do not be called ‘Master’;
you have but one master, the Christ.
The greatest among you must be your servant.'

This teaching is often used against the Catholic Church, but hierarchies develop naturally in human societies. I am quite sure that even in the simplest Protestant communities people are tempted to go in for hero worship and the objects of that enthusiasm try to defend their position against potential competitors.

I like the way St Catherine used to bombard the Pope of her day with letters. She was respectful, but not in awe of him. In return, she was respected and even made a Doctor of the Church! Perhaps the relationship between Catherine and the Popes shows how very remote layers of the hierarchy can and should work together.