Pussy Riot: free speech or scandal?

In certain circles, many people have spoken out against the conviction of Russian punk group Pussy Riot, who staged a protest against that country’s President Putin in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral. They are punished, many on the left side of the political spectrum say, for speaking out against Putin, and therefore their conviction is an example political violence, of curbing free speech.

But, just like the group’s protest was far more than a political protest, the consequences are also. Father Ray Blake, for example, considers the site of the protest and its importance for the Russian nation. He writes (emphasis mine):

“For Russian believers this Cathedral symbolises the very heart of Christian Russia, reborn after the murder of countless of believers and the wholesale destruction of religion in Russia[…]. The demonstration against Putin was one thing but the blasphemy and mockery of religion in the Cathedral was a reminder for believers of the type of thing organised by the persecutors within living memory, it was spitting in the face of the holy Russia.
Can the fatuous western “supporters” of Pussy Riot understand the nature of their demonstration?

And the location, as well as the despicable language and behaviour displayed by the group make a difference. This was not merely a matter of political commentary. It was a blasphemous desecration, an insult to many believers and a spitting in the face to all of Russia. Pussy Riot, as many from whom free speech is a holy grail, consider their own perceived rights an opinions to trump the feelings, rights and opinions of everyone else. In fact, it’s individualism gone crazy.

Is two years in prison harsh? Perhaps (the Russian Orthodox Church seems to think so, as it has appealed for mercy and freedom for the group). Was some form of punishment in order? Most certainly. Pussy Riot are not the victims here.

Photo credit: AP/Sergey Ponomarev

Good priest? Tell Rome about it!

Father Ray Blake has a good suggestion on what to do when we are faced with a vacant diocese. Apart from praying or a good and holy new bishop, he says, we should write “in praise of good and faithful priests”. The powers that be in Rome rely also on the opinions and thoughts of the faithful when faced with the choice of a new bishop, and I somehow think that they don’t hear a whole lot from the Dutch faithful.

In the Netherlands, we are of course still awaiting a new bishop in the Diocese of Breda, but after that appointment there will not be much change in the current lineup of ordinaries and auxiliaries. The oldest of the currently active bishops, Msgr. Frans Wiertz (right) of Roermond, won’t turn 75 until 2017, closely followed by Bishop Hurkmans of ‘s Hertogenbosch in 2019 and Bishop Punt of Haarlem-Amsterdam in 2021. Only an appointment abroad, illness or, God forbid, an untimely death would change the playing field until then.

That’s at least 6 years in which we can notice and share the actions and words of good priests, and write to the appropriate authorities, who need and want to hear from the faithful here (and something else than complaints alone, please).

In the Netherlands, you can write to:

Z.E. Monseigneur François Bacqué
Apostolische Nuntiatuur
Carnegielaan 5
2517 KH ‘S-Gravenhage

Or directly to the Congregation for Bishops:

Cardinal Marc Ouellet
Palazzo delle Congregazioni
Piazza Pio XII
10-00193 Roma

In Germany, things are a bit different, since there four bishops are already over 75 and still in function. They are Cardinal Lehmann of Mainz, Cardinal Meisner of Cologne, Bishop Reinelt of Dresden-Meiβen and Bishop Schraml of Passau. In addition, two auxiliaries are approaching the age of 75: Bishop  Siebler in München und Freising, and Bishop Vorath in Essen.

But of course, the above reasoning works for German readers as well, except that they should direct their writings to another Nuncio, pictured below:

S.E. Jean-Claude Périsset
Apostolische Nuntiatur
Lilienhalstrasse 3A
10965 Berlin
Postfach 610218
10923 Berlin

Photo credit: [1] Bisdom Roermond, [2] Kirchensite.de

A family connection?

Among the blogs I regularly read are Standing on my Head by Fr. Dwight Longenecker and Fr. Ray Blake’s Saint Mary Magdalen blog (both recommended reads, by the way). The former has a picture of St. John Bosco in the left side bar, (scroll down a bit) while the latter features an image of the author in a similar location (if on the other side), and I have to wonder: is there a well-hidden family connection there somewhere, between the Italian saint and Father Blake?

You be the judge:

Saint John Bosco

Fr. Ray Blake

One wonders…

12 Reasons for ad orientem worship, courtesy of Fr. Blake

Father Ray Blake gives 12 reasons in favour of ad orientem celebration of the Mass (and a pile of kittens), some of which may be useful to priests (the reasons, not the kittens). Should the spiritual reasons not be good enough for their congregations, that is.

I am not facing you because I have come to realise I am amazingly ugly and will frighten small children therefore ….
A dear little pussycat has moved in behind the altar to give birth to her kittens so I’m staying this side to avoid disturbing her, therefore….
We have dry rot the other side of the altar, it is not safe therefore…
I have become claustrophobic therefore…

Read the other reasons in Fr. Blake’s blog.

“There is no reason to be discouraged as a priest”

On 29 May, ten men will be ordained to the priesthood in the Netherlands. One of these is 34-year-old Patrick Lipsch, who will be ordained for the Diocese of Roermond. The official magazine of that diocese features a profile of the future priest, from which I take the passage below.

Lipsch discusses the attitude with which a young priest enters into his life in the Church in this day and age.

“People sometimes say, as ‘encouragement’: “don’t you mind that you are part of a shrinking Church?” See, I am of a generation that does not know anything else! For the people from the time when Catholic life was flourishing this may be troubling because they are used to something so different. But we don’t have to unlearn anything! I have never known the time that the Church played a prevailing role – also socially – in the parishes. We don’t know any better than that the Church plays a marginal role in modern life. What’s more: we are surprised when a church is full! That is why you don’t check who isn’t there, but who is: the people who have a need for priests who give them hope through their pastoral work. There are plenty of moments like that still, so there is no reason to be discouraged as a priest. The trust you have have in God leading the Church also plays a part. Certainly, His personnel can make mistakes and we’re hearing plenty about that these days, but despite our disloyalty He will also be loyal and He will not abandon us. That is why you must do your best, be happy with the little things and be there for the people who need you. That is our job. No more, but certainly no less.”

I am reminded of a quote by Venerable John Henry Newman: “Learn to do thy part and leave the rest to Heaven.”

Lipsch raises an interesting point. The new Catholic generations, born well after Vatican II and the changes that followed, have a very clean slate. This has both its positive and negative sides, as Fr. Ray Blake points out. One of the positive effects, I would say, is that the ‘little things’ are no longer hidden by social expectations of ‘what should be’ or  ‘what’s normal’, provided that our own expectations are reasonable and founded in a proper sense of our place and function in the greater Church.