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Jeannette: A Review

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Jeannette (2018) is a musical from the French director and screenwriter Bruno Dumont. I previously posted about the release of the film, and the prose poem it is based on.  It had a short run in theaters, and is now available on Amazon Prime for free. It is an adaptation of Charles Peguy’s  prose poem The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc and a much earlier play Peguy wrote about Joan before his conversion. It is in French with English subtitles.

I am not familiar with Dumont’s work, but I gather he is well-known for creating experimental or avant-garde cinema. His films apparently provoke strong reaction, both negative and positive, but he seems to be generally acknowledged for having technical skill and ingenuity.

He continues his approach in this film. He relies on relatively unknown or untrained actors, including several children, to deliver Peguy’s poetry. The most significant choice was to adapt Peguy’s work into a musical format. The characters sing many of the lines, and engage in free-form dance. The singing is accompanied by contemporary music, often electronica or metal.

Mr. Dumont appears to take the material seriously, not ironically, and Peguy’s poetry is spoken  with conviction.  This is not Mr. Dumont’s first film about religious themes, as he has previously adapted the life of a medieval Christian mystic into the film Hadewijch.

The film is organized into two acts. In the first, we are introduced to a very young Jeannette, about age 10. She is experiencing a spiritual crisis as a result of the 100 Years War, offers her life and suffering to God in atonement for the souls of the damned, and receives a mystical vision.  In the second act, we see Jeanette at about age 16. She has delayed carrying out her mission out of uncertainty, and fear of leaving her family, and must make a decision about obeying the will of God in her life.

The shots of the French countryside and the characters are very pleasing to the eye. But I have to admit, reluctantly, that I was sometimes bored and relatively unmoved by the singing and dancing. It just did not work for me. Mysticism and contemplation, as best I have read and experienced, is usually an event of quiet, calm and stillness. I found the combination of Peguy’s poetry with song and dance too distracting. This may simply reflect my personal limitations in processing too many different forms of stimulation. By way of contrast, Roger Ebert gave the film high marks.  I might have more enjoyed a Terrence Malick style adaptation of the material, with voiceover narration by Joan, long shots of nature, etc.

Mr. Dumont and his studio were happy enough with Jeannette that a sequel has been approved, and begun filming.  It will focus on her period as a soldier and perhaps include her martyrdom. It looks like he will use the child actress from the first act to play Joan again. I will be interested to learn what he bases it on. Peguy did write a sequel play/poem to The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc, but it was unpublished at the time of his death, and has never been translated into English.

If you have Amazon Prime, and are a believer, it’s probably worth watching the opening few minutes to see if the film captures your imagination. Peguy’s work is important theologically, as he was a big influence on Von Balthasar, Adrienne von Speyr and other Catholics I write about at this blog. Pope Francis apparently reads him as well.

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Adrienne Von Speyr: Servant of God

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This post is primarily for other lay people who read the religious writings of the Catholic Adrienne von Speyr (1902-1967). Adrienne was a Swiss citizen, a medical doctor by profession, and an adult convert to the Roman Catholic Church. I have read just about everything she wrote that is available in English.

I recently learned that the Church had opened an investigation into Adrienne’s cause for canonization in March of this year.  Specifically, it was opened at the local level in Switzerland, on account of a life of heroic virtue.

There was almost nothing in the media about this, which is why I stumbled across it only by noticing the update to her Wikipedia page. And there was no commentary from religious scholars or theologians in the English-speaking world that I could find.

The title “Servant of God” is applied to someone at the earliest stage of the canonization process. My understanding is that the matter now goes to Rome for a review by the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.  If the Church makes a finding of “nihil obstat“, which is Latin for meaning that there is nothing objectionable about the candidate, the process will proceed through formal review by the whole Church.   If the Church finds that the candidate is worthy of recognition for their virtue and worthy of further review, they will be declared “Venerable.”  After that they need to have at least two miracles attributed to their intercession for the cause to advance:the first results in a declaration of “Blessed,” and the second, “Saint.”

The silence is probably quite deliberate. Because I am a layperson with no position in the Church or academia, I am free to write about this (which may be foolish).  Adrienne wrote and had published a large volume of scriptural commentaries and spiritual reflections. Perhaps more than any other non-academic Catholic layperson in the 20th century (I don’t include self-help or advice books in this, no slight intended).  So the Church will have quite a lot to review and consider before providing a Nihil Obstat.  Much of her work remains unpublished, and much remains unavailable in English. I think the delay in publication is because those who could publish have been waiting for this process to commence.

It is no coincidence that an initial review was also opened in March into the Cause of Canonization of her spiritual director and friend, Catholic theologian and Cardinal-Elect Hans Urs Von Balthasar. Von Balthasar personally edited and arranged for the publishing of many of her books, and said on multiple occasions that he drew heavily on her in developing his theological insights, and that his work should not be separated from hers.

There have been some events that, in retrospect, may have pointed to the opening of her cause. There were several conferences about Adrienne’s life and work in the last few years, and Ignatius Press published second editions of a number of her better known works.

This blog would not exist without Adrienne, as I like to think she personally interceded for me three years ago so I could go back to confession after a long hiatus. I have attended mass and receive the sacraments quite regularly since then, and am active in parish ministry.  My poor efforts to take advantage of the gift I have given may not reflect well on my belief of her help, but I usually ask her to help me make a good confession when I go. I am still going regularly, even though I continue to fail quite frequently.

There are certain things in her and Von Balthasar’s writings that some scholars and theologians find to be seriously objectionable, so this may be a very long review process. I will write more about that in a future post.  If she is canonized, I think it will be very consequential for the Church.

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The Furrow

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He drags the wood along the ground,

Carving a furrow in the soil,

A valley. Dark at the bottom.

We must follow the path

He has made for us.

 

If you do not follow the path,

You will not see the furrow.

Unless a grain falls in, nothing will grow.

We lose bit by bit if we follow ….

If we choose to follow.

The earth is wet with his blood and water.

Ready for us, waiting to give birth.

 

We do not climb a mountain in life.

We descend into a valley,

Which is really nothing,

(Not the chasm he leapt into)

To join the dust.

Give away every crumb

to this hungry earth.

For the bread is a gift.

We did not make it.

Take it in,

and let it go.

 

The furrow climbs up at the end, to him.

He will reach down and raise us up,

Grasping our empty hands.

 

 

 

 

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Seeds of Renewal: The Fairfield Carmelites

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From the Fairfield Carmelite website

In follow up to last week’s post, this post highlights the other new Carmelite community in the Diocese of Harrisburg.

In 2007, a group of Discalced Carmelites moved into a vacated monastery in Elysburg, Pennsylvania. Its formal name is the Carmel Of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Due to a significant increase in vocations, the Carmel requested permission to branch out, which was granted by Bishop Gainer. Land was purchased in Fairfield, Pennsylvania, which is located in Adams County near Gettysburg.

The community is constructing a new monastery using traditional methods that relies on heavy stones and wood timbers.  It is intended to be self-sustaining community  that will last many years.

They broke ground earlier this summer, and Bishop Gainer presided over a special mass and ceremony of enclosure in July.  Nine nuns are on site now, living in trailers. It has been a very hot and rainy summer in these parts, so I am sure it has not been very comfortable.  The Hermits referenced in my prior post are located nearby and offer Mass for the nuns and hear their confessions, I believe.

Like the Hermits in the prior post, this community embraces the traditional rule and charism of the Carmelites. The nuns are enclosed, wear the habit, pray and fast regularly, and perform manual labor. They do not run any profit-making business, and are dependent on donations.

They have a very nice website here, and there are opportunities to donate time, money or skilled or (unskilled) labor.

Here is a link to another website where you can donate your time or supplies to help the nuns or the hermits.

 

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First walls going up. From the Fairfield Carmelite website.

 

 

 

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Seeds of Renewal: The Hermits of Our Lady Of Mt Carmel

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From the gofundme site of The Hermits

Pennsylvania is now at the center of the scandal of clerical child abuse in the Catholic Church. A grand jury recently released a report on credible abuse allegations going back as far as 1947.  More information has also come to light about abuse in other regions, including the sexual abuse of seminarians, and the unchaste behavior of bishops and cardinals.

In these times of trial it is worth remembering that there are healthy, growing branches of the Church. And they need our help. In the Diocese of Harrisburg, we are blessed to have two relatively new Carmelite communities near Gettysburg, Pa. Carmelites, in brief, are members of a religious order who live apart from the world and devote their lives to prayer.  It is a very simple life.  No luxuries, no idleness. They wear the habit, fast regularly, and take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

This post spotlights The Hermits of Our Lady of Mt Carmel, which was recognized by the local Bishop earlier this year. This is a community of men who apparently observe the original Carmelite tradition, which is usually referred to as The Ancient Order of Mt. Carmel. They follow the Rule of St. Albert, which means a heavily structured day of prayer, worship, fasting and manual labor. Unlike some monasteries, they do not run any businesses, and are dependent on alms or donations. They will be praying and fasting in reparation for the many sins of the clergy.

Their website is here. You can donate there.

The order is young and growing, and has also started a gofund me campaign for the seminary studies of its new members at this link.

Thanks for any help you can give them.

 

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Cluny Media: Recovering the Catholic Tradition

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If you have read or follow this blog, you have noted that I tend to post a lot about Catholic poets, novelists or theologians, many of whose work has been out of print of late. And I have complained about this more than once.

Well, thankfully, I learned in the last year of a publisher that is bringing many of these titles back into the light.

Cluny Media is a publishing house that, in their words, is “dedicated to promoting the Catholic intellectual and cultural tradition and enhancing Catholic education by publishing quality editions of scholarly and popular works of theology, philosophy, literature, history, and science.”

They have reissued many (formerly?) well-known works from the 19th and through mid-20th century in the areas of fiction, poetry, philosophy, and theology.  I have saved myself a fair amount of money already by buying their very affordable and solidly printed editions, as opposed to paying $100 for a used and battered copy.

You will find names such as Bernanos, Bloy, Mauriac, Benson, Maritain, Peguy, etc. among their catalog. I am looking forward to reading several Sigrid Undset novels that are long out of print in America, but apparently will be reissued soon.

You will also find other, respected non-Catholic authors like P.G. Wodehouse or George MacDonald in their catalog.  Apparently the adoption of “print on demand” technology now allows small publishing houses to make long out of print books available for a reasonable price. They are adding new titles at a fairly rapid rate and I am not aware of any similar effort right now in the publishing community.

Their books are available at Amazon too, but it probably helps them if you order directly from their website. I will try to remember to do that too.

http://www.clunymedia.com

 

 

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The Mystery of the Holy Innocents: Reissued

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Its been a good year if you enjoy the poetry of Charles Péguy. In a recent post, I noted how The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc had been adapted into a feature film.  I also just learned that an abridged English translation of the third book in Péguy’s great trilogy, The Mystery of the Holy Innocents, has been reissued for the first time since 1956, by the Wipf and Stock Company. I purchased my copy through Amazon.

The poem was translated by Lady Pansy Lamb, an English noblewoman who released it under her maiden name of Pansy Pakenham.  For whatever reason, she chose not to translate about a third of the poem, so we have yet to see a complete translation in English. Alexander Dru, who translated some of Péguy’s other works, provides a lengthy Introduction.  Lady Lamb also includes translation of four of Péguy’s shorter poems, as well as three excerpts from Péguy’s Eve, which may be the longest poem in the French language.

The Mystery of the Holy Innocents is very similar to The Portal of the Mystery of Hope, the second book in the trilogy. It is a long, free verse poem in which Madame Gervaise, who we meet in the first book, delivers a monologue to Joan of Arc in the voice of the Father.  A wide range of subjects are covered: the virtues, the Cross, prayer, justice, mercy,  the French people, etc. It concludes with a lengthy meditation on the Massacre of the Holy Innocents.

It begins:

I am, God says, Master of the Three Virtues.

 

Faith is a loyal wife.

Charity is a fervent mother.

But hope is a very little girl.

 

I am, God says, the Master of the Virtues.

 

It is Faith who holds fast through century upon century.

 

It is Charity who gives herself through centuries of centuries,

But it is my little hope

Who gets up every morning.

Lady Lamb states in a translator’s note that she cannot understand why Faith and Charity are capitalized, but hope is in lower case … My dear Lady, its because she is a little girl.  For Peguy, people could not help having Faith given the magnificence of creation, and Charity given our natural affections for one another. Having hope was the real surprise, and the greatest sign of something supernatural, given all the failure and misery in the world.  Why do the poor and oppressed have hope, given what they experience day in and day out? It is a sign of grace.

Now we just need for The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc to be reissued, and all three books will be available to the general public. I would watch the Cluny Media website. They seem to be publishing a lot of out of print works of fiction and non-fiction by Catholic authors.

 

 

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Jeannette: Péguy goes to the movies

 

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Well, I never expected this.

Apparently the French director Bruno Dumont has adapted Charles Péguy’s The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc into a feature film. It was released in France last fall, and has popped up at a few American film festivals.  Unless you live in a big city, you will probably have to get the DVD or stream it to see it.

 

… And he turned it into a musical with a rock score. Wow.  From viewing the trailer, I can tell that he is using the names of the characters and I do recognize a few lines of dialog from Péguy’s prose poem/play.

The Village Voice describes the film as “pious,” so it sounds like the director intends a faithful adaptation.  They do criticize the method, though acknowledging that Dumont has a “streak of madman genius about him.” So you may very well hate or love the film.

The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc was the first piece in Péguy’s great trilogy of book length poems (followed by The Portal of the Mystery of Hope, and The Mystery of the Holy Innocents), published shortly before World War One.

If you are not familiar with the book, this will not be like other filmed versions of Joan’s life. It will not focus on the later military campaigns or her martyrdom. It is about the origin of Joan’s mission.

Péguy is a very important artist for some Catholic theologians, and Pope Francis has quoted from his works a few times.  If you were surprised by the Pope’s alleged comments about Hell a few weeks ago, Péguy may be relevant.  The concept of solidarity was very important to Péguy, and he wondered aloud whether solidarity extended to those in Hell. The ultimate fate of those souls who go to Hell was an element in some of Adrienne Von Speyr’s spiritual commentaries, which were edited and published by the Catholic theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar.

I think that Hell exists, and that a soul can go to Hell by refusing God’s mercy at the end of their life and the particular judgment. One of many questions raised by Péguy in The Mystery,  and by Adrienne in some of her writings, involves the scope of Christ’s “descent into hell” after his crucifixion. Does Christ’s solidarity extend to those in Hell in any way, and if it does, what are the implications of that? Can the damned change their mind through some extraordinary grace? I suspect that the Italian atheist the Pope spoke to may have been attempting, in a very poor way, to recapture Francis’ speculation on similar questions. I acknowledge such speculation is very controversial, and would appear to conflict with Church tradition as expressed in the Catechism that Christ did not descend to save those who had already damned themselves by refusing God’s mercy. The issue is discussed with much greater detail in Balthasar’s book Dare we hope that all may be saved? and the many responses to it.

I blogged about Péguy’s book last year. I will probably do a movie review after I have seen it.

 

 

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Song of Sorrow: A new hymn for Holy Week

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Ecce Homo by Mateo Cerezo

 

This post is especially for those who may be involved with music or divine worship at their church.

A few weeks ago, I heard a new hymn sung during the offertory at the Palm Sunday mass I attended. I am not sure I got chills, but it was close.  As I was listening to the organ I could tell that the arrangement was based on the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.  I tracked down the director of our music program and he told me the hymn was called “Song of Sorrow.”

I learned that it was composed by the American Patrick Liebergen, and apparently published in 2011. The sheet music can be obtained at:

https://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/song-of-sorrow-sheet-music/19701678

It can be described as a dirge, and our director said its only appropriate for use during Holy Week, which I would agree with.  I found a few videos on Youtube I thought I would share.

I am not a musician or artist but, in all vanity, I think I have very good aesthetic judgment.  I think this is a great hymn to be added for Holy Week services, probably either for a Palm Sunday or Good Friday service.

The first clip is from a church that has a fairly large choir. I completely agree with all the comments of the music director, particularly when he described it as “unique” in some ways.

 

The second clip is from a church with a smaller choir. I am including it to show that I think the hymn can be effective whether you have a big or large church.

 

I do think it works better with male and female voices singing different parts, as suggested by the gentleman in the first clip.

I have never posted before on music, but I did for this one. Why? I believe that Beauty is an important element of our worship and adoration. Beauty is one of the three Transcendentals, and points to the other two: Truth and Goodness. I tried to express this in a poem I wrote a while back.

There is evidence, and even data, that beauty, particularly beautiful churches, attract people to explore the faith. If you are in a diocese or other region where your church is considering consolidating churches, maybe you need to think hard about keeping the more beautiful ones.

“Song of Sorrow” is unusual in that I think the lyrics and the power of Beethoven brings home the pathos of the Passion, which is sometimes overlooked in our Joy about the Resurrection.

In the above clips the choir is accompanied by piano. I think it works better with an organ (which is how I heard it at mass).

 

The lyrics, as best I can tell, are as follows:

 

Oh Lord of Sorrow, Jesus Have Mercy,

Holy and Mighty, I pray to thee.

 

(Refrain)

Lord of Creation, Bring Your Salvation,

Oh Lord of Sorrow, You died for Me.

Lord of Creation, Bring Your Salvation,

Oh Lord of Sorrow, You died for Me.

 

Oh Lord at Calvary,

Have mercy hear my plea,

My Savior set me free,

Hear my humble plea.

 

They crowned your head with thorns,

And mocked your name with scorn

(Nailed on the cross …)?

Hear my plea and set me free.

 

Refrain, etc.

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The Memoirs of Louis Bouyer

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Father Louis Bouyer

This is a review of The Memoirs of Louis Bouyer: From Youth to Conversion to Vatican II, the Liturgical Reform, and After.  Father Bouyer was a French Lutheran minister who converted to Catholicism in 1939, and then became respected priest and scholar who served as an advisor to the Second Vatican Council. He prepared these memoirs during his retirement in the 1990s, and died in 2004.   They were not published until 2014.

I have read the ebook version. The work is meticulously endnoted, with hypertext links that allow one to jump back and forth from notes and text with ease.

This book will be most enjoyed by those already familiar with his body of work, who are familiar with the history of Vatican II, and have an interest in the history and reform of Catholic liturgy. I do not fall into any of those categories, but I will share my thoughts for those who may be interested in reading it.

About half of Father Bouyer’s non-fiction bibliography is available in English, though you might have to buy used copies.  He also wrote four novels under pseudonyms. Those books have never been translated into English, and may even be out of print. He developed friendships with a number of other writers, including J.R.R. Tolkien.

Father Bouyer reminds me of another Catholic priest, writer and scholar:  Father Andrew Greeley. Both were scholars who wrote novels, though Greeley much more so. Bouyer’s career was more consumed by teaching duties than Greeley’s was.  Both men seemed to have a lot of energy, were inquisitive, and had a certain cheerfulness (at least in their writing), and had a tendency to speak their minds and thus get into scrapes with their peers in the Church.

The most charming part of the book is the first few chapters, regarding his family, youth and early crushes.  He had a great eye for detail and characterization. and I would have liked to read one of his novels. His mother died when he was 11.

The weakest part (though not bad) of the book is the middle part, covering his career during the 1940s and 1950s. Its a whirlwind of all the characters he knew and met, and the various places he worked and studied. Friends and historians will probably find this more useful.

The last part involves his role at Vatican II, and for a period of time in implementing it. Its good basis for a belief that the fewer the big conferences there are in Rome, probably the better.  He also covers some friendships and favorite places.

Two friends he singled out are a testimony to his generosity of spirit. One was Julian Green, an American, Catholic convert. He was a diarist, novelist and translator who lived most of his life in France. He also struggled with a homosexual orientation, and Bouyer seems to have been a good friend and confidante.  The other was an English writer, Elizabeth Boudge. Though she was not a Catholic, they struck up a deep and persistent correspondence that lasted many years.

Now, the themes:

The Mediocrity of the Church’s Institutions and its Leaders

It is suggested in the introduction that the long delay between the writing of the memoirs and their publication was deliberate, to perhaps protect Father Bouyer in his retirement, and to spare many of the targets of his criticism while they were still alive or holding high positions.

It is difficult, as with Greeley’s memoirs, to read about priests criticizing others under Holy Orders. However, Paul rebuked Peter once, so as long as it is done in Charity, it must be done when there is error or failure.  The Church, in its institutions and members, comes across in these memoirs as a sprawling university system. We meet “tenured” priests (e.g. isn’t Holy Orders the ultimate tenure?) who loaf and don’t do much work, administrators who have been promoted beyond their competence, or aging leaders who should have been retired and can’t keep up anymore. There is envy for other’s accomplishments, an unwillingness to consider new ideas, hiring decisions based on personal favoritism over merit, etc.

Bouyer sometimes names names, sometimes he doesn’t. He is not nasty about it, he offers his assessment, and moves on. I am reminded of an anecdote from Father Benedict Groeschel, where he relates a conversation he had with Mother Teresa. She asked him why God chose him to be a priest, and he replied with a joke. She answered “You were called by the humility of God.” He chooses very frail instruments to work with, so we should not be surprised when they fail.  Fortunately, we have great servants like Groeschel, Greeley or Bouyer to make up for the masses of mediocre Catholics (myself included among them).

Pre-Vatican II Church Dynamics

These memoirs confirm what I have read elsewhere about the pre-Vatican II dynamic.  The controversy and confusion that followed Vatican II didn’t just fall from the sky. It had been building for a few decades among silently warring camps.

On the one hand, we had the confident, established Church. It was orthodox and resistant to any change, perhaps more out of fear of modernity than willful close-mindedness.  And on the other hand, there was a large camp that fully subscribed to the modernist project, and wanted to conform the Church to the world.

In the middle it seems, were perhaps the smallest, least powerful group. Some reformers who wanted moderate change to the liturgy, Church organization, teaching methods, etc. This includes men like the future Pope Benedict, Bouyer, Henri De Lubac, and Hans Urs Von Balthasar.   They thought they had some good ideas for how the Church could respond to the problems of modernity

These reformers were criticized as dangerous radicals before Vatican II, and then criticized as out-of-touch conservatives in the decades after Vatican II. In fact, they never changed their position on anything.

What happened is that there was a rupture, and the modernist camp largely won, and imposed a lot of change very quickly. One of the stranger things I learned reading this was that during the Vatican II conferences there was a strong consensus at one point to abolish Ash Wednesday. It would have been moved to the first Sunday of Lent.  It narrowly survived. And it is one of the few times a lot of Catholics see the inside of a Church other than on weekends.  Many will skip Holy Days of obligation, but will go to Ash Wednesday services. This is an example of the kind of mentality that was at work at Vatican II.

One of the villains in this drama was Annibale Bugnini (may he rest in peace). He was a Catholic priest and important administrator given a position of great authority at Vatican II, and a staunch modernist.  When he ran into obstacles, he would pull out his trump card, “The Pope Wills It!” Bouyer and others later found out he was making it all up, the Pope did not will it. He was later punished by being named the Vatican’s delegate to Iran, where he finished his career.

Bridges between Catholics and Protestants

Though a convert, Bouyer retained his strong belief that Protestants had often outdone Catholics in both their study of scripture and their emphasis on a personal relationship with the Lord. I tend to agree, though I think the Church has made great strides in recent decades, particularly with emphasis on new devotional practices (e.g. the Divine Mercy), and Pope Benedict XVI’s great example in his series on the Gospels.  Bouyer felt these two areas should be ones the Church should focus on in its pursuit, perhaps vain, of reconciliation with our Anglican and Lutheran brethren (which were the focus of his ecumenism).

Based on my reading of his memoirs, I do have an interest in trying at least one of his books.  I am more focused on poetry now, so it may be a while before I read one. I will post a review if I do.

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