Monday, November 28, 2011

The Savannah Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

The Savannah Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
By. Matthew J. Bellisario 2011

    I once again had the opportunity to visit the lovely city of Savannah Georgia. I spent the past weekend in the historic district and I was able to attend the Latin Mass on Sunday in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. I spent many hours walking around the scenic historical district and I could not help but ponder the many men and women who walked these very streets over the past 280 years or so before me. Savannah began as a settlement in 1733 by General Olglethorpe. In 1751 when Georgia became an actual colony of the Crown, Savannah was designated as the capital. There is a lot of history to be taken in when visiting the alluring town. If you are a book lover, there are several charming bookstores in the historic district which offer many books on Savannah’s rich history. My primary interest of course was the history of the Catholic Church, and how this splendid Cathedral arose from the hanging moss of a predominately Protestant town in the Southeast U.S.

    The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist seems to me to have been a miracle of sorts. Although the town was formally founded by English Protestants, Catholics were the first to actually arrive in the area under the Spanish monarchy. As early as the mid 1500s Spain had explored and set up missions in Florida, and Georgia, and into the 1700s there were at least 20 missions set up along the Georgia coast. There were many native converts, and there were Catholic martyrs as well. For example, five Franciscan missionaries lost their lives to an enraged native convert to Christianity who refused to accept the Church’s teaching on monogamy. The French Catholics in the late 1700s started the actual first Catholic recognized congregation of Savannah called St. John the Baptist. It was a long and hard road for Catholics to survive in the city. Many people often forget the harsh discrimination and persecution that Catholics faced in the early years of our country by the hands of the Protestants. It is a fact, in Savannah it was illegal to be a Catholic and reside in the city up until 1782, when the British finally departed the city after the revolution.

    Savannah originally fell under the Diocese of Baltimore. The first small wooden church of St. John was constructed between Liberty, Montgomery and State streets was built in 1800. It was later replaced by a brick church in 1839. In 1820 Savannah was moved under the Diocese of Charleston, and finally in 1850 Pope Pius IX granted Savannah her own Diocese under her first bishop, the Right Reverend Francis X. Gartland. Bishop Gartland used the brick church as his first Cathedral. He died in 1859 to the yellow fever while caring for the city's sick and dying. It was in 1873 with Savannah’s fifth bishop, the Right Reverend William H. Gross who laid the cornerstone for what was to become the new Cathedral of Savannah. In 1876 the Cathedral was dedicated and opened its doors for its first Mass.

    In 1896 the two spires were completed but tragedy struck in February of 1898 when the Cathedral caught fire and much of it was destroyed. Miraculously the Cathedral was rebuilt in under two years and in October of 1899 it reopened, however lacking in much of its interior decor. As the years went by the interior of the Cathedral began to take shape. In 1912 the Cathedral was finished with its murals, which were shipped from a New York studio. They are truly a sight to behold. In the 50’s and 60’s more murals were added as well as other structural improvements such as heating and air. In the mid 80s it was discovered that the building’s foundation was deteriorated and had to be repaired. Finally between 1998 and 2000 there were repairs made to the stained glass and the roof and the pillars of the nave received a gold leaf and marbleization. This is the building that we see today. There are few Catholic churches in the southern US that can compete with this Cathedral in size or beauty.

    As I walked down Abercorn street gazing through the Spanish moss, I could see her spires towering above the trees and houses from several blocks away. I imagined how it must have been in the early 1900s when families traveled by foot and carriage along the dirt and cobblestone streets to attend Mass on Sundays. They must have come from the far corners of the city to hear those wonderful words, “In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.” Those were the very words I would hear as well since the Diocese offers the Latin Mass at the Cathedral every Sunday at 1PM. I arrived a little early and watched as the faithful emptied out of the Cathedral from the 11:30 Mass. I saw Bishop Hartmayer come down the steps to greet the people after Mass. I had the opportunity to stop over and kiss his ring and thank him for keeping the Extraordinary Form of the Mass available here at his Cathedral. It seems that the Latin Mass was begun at the Cathedral in 2007 under Bishop Boland. Is there a more fitting place to have it celebrated? It was truly an amazing experience to have gone to the Latin Mass in such a historically rich setting. As I kneeled on the floor during Mass I contemplated that I was truly a part of the history of this marvelous Cathedral. Although I was not physically there in the late 1800s or the early 1900s, I was there in spirit. As we all know, the Mass is not something that exists in time alone, it is eternal. And so I was there with all of those Catholics who came before me who sat under the same roof, gazed upon the same stained glass windows and heard the same Mass in Latin that I did. Unless you are able to go to Europe and experience the Latin Mass in one of those age old churches, this is truly a gem of the Southern United States for Catholics.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

What Can An Icon Tell Us?

What Can An Icon Tell Us?
Matthew J Bellisario 2011

    The world today is largely iconoclastic. The image of God and all that is His is despised by the secular culture. Sadly, even those who proclaim to be Christians often scoff at sacred imagery, not realizing that when they oppose it, they actually oppose Christ and His incarnation. Iconography is one constant affirmation of the incarnation by every ancient apostolic Church world wide. The Catholic, Orthodox and Oriental Churches share the praxis of using the sacred image in worship, while Protestantism largely rejects it. Why did the Church fight so hard to retain the use of sacred imagery against the heretics who sought to destroy it?

    The Church has always affirmed that the confrontation over sacred imagery was doctrinal to the core. Christ’s incarnation was at the center of the contest, but it goes even deeper. What good is sacred imagery aside from underpinning a core doctrine of the Church? It can be said that what was preached by the apostles, and then later written down in the Scriptures, is certainly amplified by sacred imagery. Not only do our ears hear, but the eyes see as well. We are taken in by the life of Christ in all of His glory when we embrace the gospel. As we participate in the Church’s liturgical worship, we realize that we as Christians are immersed in the life of Christ. It can be said that unless one has proper liturgical worship, then one cannot have a proper private prayer life or devotion to Christ.

    Christ in the liturgy, made present in the Eucharistic sacrifice, is the central focus of Christian worship. From that central point everything else revolves. Those who do not share in Christ’s liturgical sacrifice are seriously deficient in their worship of almighty God. The entire liturgical year engages the Christian in the very life of Christ. The sacred image illustrates this important fact quite well. Just how much can one sacred image tell us? I will look to one icon from The Holy Mother Of God Church in Conyers, Georgia to answer this important question. I will use the icon of the crucifixion to illustrate the depth of the sacred image. As we will see, the icon is much more that just
 an artistic Biblical snapshot of particular point in time. The sacred image transcends time. It brings to life the past, the present, the future, and ultimately eternity.

    When we engage this particular icon of the Crucifixion, we immediately see Christ, God made man, as the central figure of the image. Almighty God is the center, the Alpha and the Omega, the God-man repairing the breach between God the Father and the fallen human race. We see Christ above the tomb, conquering death. As the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom proclaims in the East, “By death He trampled death!” We do not have merely a past event remembered as a historical event, but we see here an eternal transcendence of Christ conquering death. Around the Saviour is the halo with the traditional symbols which appear to be an ‘O’ ‘W’ ‘N’. The symbols actually stand for “I Am Who I Am.” There is no question as to Who it is being depicted in the central figure of this particular icon. We then observe the head piece above Christ in which the Greek symbols etched into it abbreviate, (Iésous o Nazóraios o Basileus tón Ioudaión) or “"Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews."

    As we move out from the center of the image, side to side, we then observe the contrast of good and evil in mankind; those who will receive eternal life, and those who will receive eternal damnation. It is a contrast of life and death, light and darkness, man’s yes to God, and man’s no to God. To the right we see light and life, and to the left we observe darkness and death. If we observe closely, this reality is largely depicted by the good thief and the unrepentant thief on each side of Christ on the cross. We see on the right of Christ, the good thief’s soul being carried away to heaven by the angel, while on the left side of Christ we see the demon pulling the soul of the unrepentant thief down into the abyss of hell. Likewise we see the sun over the good thief and the moon over the unrepentant. One soul is bright and full of life, the other darkened.

    We then observe the traditional depiction of the Blessed Mother of God and Saint John the Evangelist at the foot of the cross, meditating on Christ’s sacrifice. Of course we see the halos around the Theotokos and St. John. Next to the Theotokos we see an inscription of the symbols which look like an MP-OP, which actually stands for ‘The Mother of God’, or ‘God Bearer’. This is yet another core doctrine of the Christian faith, and it is also observed by every ancient, apostolic Christian Church. We then are able to contemplate the words of Christ as He gave the Theotokos to St. John, and in turn to us as well, as a central part of our family. “Jesus saw his own mother, and the disciple standing near whom he loved, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold your son". Then he said to the disciple, "Behold your mother". And from that hour, he took his mother into his family.” Here it is illustrated that we have the communion of Saints in the bosom of the Church. We also witness the sorrowful Mother grieving for her child, and hence we reflect on the 5th sorrow of Our Lady’s Seven Sorrows. On the far left of Christ’s side we also see the soldiers gambling for Christ’s robe, while we see the rest of the figures of those contemplating Our Lord’s crucifixion to His right. This one icon has amply illustrated several core doctrines of Christianity.

    As we can see just from this brief explanation, there is a ton of theology packed into the sacred imagery of one icon. When you have an entire church adorned with many icons, as is common in most traditional Christian churches, you then have the entire gospel of Jesus Christ presented in sacred imagery! The central theological teachings of the Church are all presented in some form from within the sacred image. The icon is the gospel of Jesus Christ presented in a visual form, and that is why sacred imagery is so important to the Church. Those today in the Catholic Church who are iconoclastic, and wish to discard the sacred images from church architecture are tools of the devil, whether they realize it or not. For example, anyone who understands sacred imagery could never purchase an iconoclastic monstrosity like the ‘Crystal Cathedral’, which the Diocese of Orange has recently done. Do they realize that the Saints gave their lives to defend the sacred images? Yet today we still have heretics in the Church who oppose them with an obstinate and perverse attitude. Pray that these wretched tools of the devil may be converted to the true faith, or cast out of the Church. Iconoclasm is a heresy, and it should be opposed with as much vigor and tenacity as any other heresy.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Orange Diocese Buys Monstrosity 'Crystal Cathedral' Monument to Modernism

It seems that the bankruptcy judge has ruled that the Catholic Diocese of Orange will get the monstrosity 'Crystal Cathedral' for a mere 57.7 million dollars! The LA Times gets it right when they write, "the Crystal Cathedral, a monument to modernism in faith and architecture..." And so we see what happens when we let modernism infect the Church, rather than amputating it. It grows and grows, and now 57.7 million dollars given to the Orange Diocese by Catholics will pay for a monument to the modernist heresy that has been ransacking the Church for years now.

An Orange County bankruptcy judge ruled Thursday that the Crystal Cathedral, a monument to modernism in faith and architecture, will be sold for $57.5 million to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, which plans to consecrate it as a Catholic cathedral. (Nov 18th)
Link to entire article here

Saturday, November 19, 2011

My Visit to Conyers Georgia

The statue of the Blessed Mother at the Conyers site.

I am driving up to South Carolina over the weekend to visit my family for Thanksgiving. I decided to stop over at Conyers Ga to visit the Trappist monastery, the Ukrainian Catholic Church as well as the alleged apparition site. My first stop was the Trappist monastery, 'Monastery of the Holy Spirit', which was disappointing, but not unexpected. Their gift shop, which is quite large, carries a huge spectrum of books ranging from garbage like Elizabeth Johnson and Richard Rohr to good stuff like Fr. Faber's books published by TAN. They did have some nice icons and statues, but again, overall it was a disappointment. I did pick up a couple of loaves of fresh blueberry and apple bread. So all was not lost. That was about the extent of that visit. I then went on to the alleged apparition site where the Blessed Mother is said to have appeared. It appears that the bishop is now behind the movement to build a new Church for the site. I prayed for awhile at the site and went inside the house to the apparition rooms. I had no visions or extraordinary experiences, not that I would expect any, but I did have a nice period of quiet prayer and meditation. After spending about an hour there, I then went over to the Ukrainian Catholic Church, 'The Blessed Mother of God', which is around the corner from the site. The two properties are actually adjacent to each other connecting through the woods, or perhaps it is all one piece of property. I was very impressed with the little church, which puts most large multimillion dollar Catholic churches today to shame. The icons are incredible and they draw you into contemplation once you are able to take it all in. The entire gospel is depicted in sacred image, so you are immersed in the life of Christ. I was able to attend the Divine Liturgy at 4PM, and I was in heaven! It is amazing to contemplate what is actually happening when we attend the Divine Liturgy. We are actually stepping into the passion, death and resurrection of Our Lord! The entire liturgy was sung, and nothing was rushed or hurried. This was definitely the highlight of the trip. All in all it was good day, a personal pilgrimage of sorts. Here are some of the pictures that I took on my journey.

 The apparition room in the house.

The Blessed Mother of God Ukrainian Catholic Church, Conyers Ga.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What Happened to the Black Sheep Dog?

After all of the commotion that was made over Fr. Corapi a few months ago, it seems as if he has gone dark. His last post was Sept 30th, and he has yet to launch his weekly newsletter or finish up constructing his new website. He has put together a couple of videos, one being his own documentary, and then he kind of vanished. I just thought it odd that he remain quiet for so long. I was personally quite disappointed that he gave up on fulfilling his vocation to the priesthood, so I have not supported him since his departure. I am however curious enough to stop by his website just to see what he is up to. Either he is busy enjoying life, riding around on his motorcycle, or maybe he is preparing something else for his audience. It would be nice however if he was trying to reconcile with his order and fulfill his priestly vocation. Any thoughts?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Zero Tolerence?

Zero Tolerence?
Matthew J. Belisario 2011

    There is much talk today about the zero tolerance policy regarding accusations of child abuse towards Catholic clergy. Yes, we must have no tolerance for those who are in spiritual authority over their flock, who prey on young children. Many lives have been destroyed by these men. Rightly so, this kind of action should have zero tolerance within the Church. The most effective way to exercise this policy is certainly a matter of debate. There is a question however that we should be asking ourselves, which also pertains to this issue. What can possibly be some of the reasons for such a widespread problem like this among the clergy? I am not talking percentages here, for we could argue that the percentage of abuse cases compared to the clergy numbers are less that the Protestant sects. But it really does no good to boast of such a thing, for if we cannot best the largely secular Protestant groups, then we are in big trouble. Although we now have a zero tolerance policy for those who commit such acts, what about eradicating this problem at the root? In other words, it is all well and good to stop these men once they have been found out, and uncovered, but what of stopping them before they commit these acts? Are there ways to strike at the heart of the matter to effectively limit the types of individuals who would commit such crimes? I believe there is an indicator that can eliminate some of these men. A litmus test for orthodoxy is a most sure way to eliminate a large portion of these criminals. Unfortunately, there seems to be a laxity within the Church for eradicating heresy.

    Certainly I cannot claim that most heretics are abusers, but I would venture to claim that many abusers are certainly heretics. Many of the priests who committed such heinous crimes towards our youth are mostly acting homosexuals, and most do not recognize the Church’s teaching regarding sexual morality, and they even have taught against it. Many of these men openly challenge the exclusivity of marriage between men and women, or that sex outside of this marriage is entirely forbidden. They are the same men who challenge the male priesthood of Christ, the theology of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, etc. This was ushered in because the Church allowed heresy to go unchecked for so long that it took over the seminaries. The great Thomstic scholar Ralph Mcinerny once wrote concerning the scandals, “… the behavior in many seminaries has turned them into Augean stables. It is not enough to turn hitherto sheltered offenders over to the public prosecutor. The bishops have to get to the root of the problem. And the root of the problem is that many of our seminaries have been producing clueless clerics.” As we should all know by now, when heresy goes unchecked among the clergy, the laity will soon follow in large. As the laity became blinded by heresy, they tended to look past some of the abhorrent acts of clergy (liturgical abuse, bad catechesis, immodesty, etc), some even condoned their heretical theology, and embraced it with open arms. Yet, when the consequences of that heresy is felt, they only reacted to the symptom, not the disease.

    What we see in the modern media is also certainly worthy of condemnation. The modern Luciferian media loves to promote Catholic clergy who openly support heresy, yet when that heresy takes it logical course, which in part leads to the problems such as sexual abuse, they then cry foul, as if no one had any idea something like this was coming. This is like someone championing drinking themselves into serious excess, enjoying the high they get from the drink and the apparent fun that comes with it, and then complaining of the terrible hangover they have the next morning. This is how the world thinks, and people act this way everyday. This is to be expected for the average secularist, but unfortunately for us, many in the Church follow this same line of muddled, confused, and I might add, foolish thinking. They champion the sweet taste of heresy, the apparent freedom it brings with it, and yet loath the hangover of the abuse crisis that came the morning after. Of course, homosexuality and sexual abuse are not the only byproducts of heretical minds, but they are surely a byproduct. People act according to how they believe. We could write an entire thesis pertaining to the damage that heresy causes to those who are duped by it, but that is not within the scope of this brief article.

    If there is anything that deserves zero tolerance in the Church today, it is heresy. When a person in authority within the Church chooses to ignore or teach against certain doctrines of the Church, by their own will, such as is the state of many clergy today, what will keep them from choosing to act rightly towards their fellow man? If they choose to ignore God, what of men? Many today would probably be scandalized by the words of the great Saint Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologia, Secunda Secundae, Question 11, which concerns heresy. I cannot improve on his thought, so why try? In article three St. Thomas warns of the severity of heresy, and why it should never be tolerated. In fact, he compares the heretic to counterfeiters. “On their own side there is the sin, whereby they deserve not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication, but also to be severed from the world by death. For it is a much graver matter to corrupt the faith which quickens the soul, than to forge money, which supports temporal life. Wherefore if forgers of money and other evil-doers are forthwith condemned to death by the secular authority, much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death. On the part of the Church, however, there is mercy which looks to the conversion of the wanderer, wherefore she condemns not at once, but "after the first and second admonition," as the Apostle directs: after that, if he is yet stubborn, the Church no longer hoping for his conversion, looks to the salvation of others, by excommunicating him and separating him from the Church, and furthermore delivers him to the secular tribunal to be exterminated thereby from the world by death.”

    These words of the great Saint may seem to be a bit outdated by many in the Church today. Many may claim that we have all advanced beyond the simple way of Aquinas and his medieval mentality. Has not modernity brought us beyond simple truths, and beyond the simple yes and no that Jesus himself spoke to his apostles? “But let your speech be yea, yea: no, no: and that which is over and above these, is of evil.” (Matthew 5:37) Or, could it possibly be that the modern mind has regressed compared to that of the medieval mind? I think that we must conclude that the later is the case concerning heresy. Modernity has brought to us all of the errors of the past in a highly compact and potent form. We could call it “heresy concentrate”, and when consumed, even in small quantities, it kills the souls of those whom consume it. Why then do many of those who are in the care of souls in the Church tolerate heresy? We see some of the horrific ramifications in the abuse crisis, which is loathed world wide, by both Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Many souls have left the Church or refuse to convert to Catholicism because of the crisis. What is more important than the salvation of souls? Is heresy not the natural enemy of salvation? Is it not also a breeder of scandal, and moral decay? Is the heretic not a carrier of a killer disease to the soul, which is passed on from person to person like so many physical diseases? Yet, so few are bold enough to speak out against these enemies of the faith, and it seems that fewer are wise enough to recognize what havoc such tolerance for it has brought upon us. Let us pray that our bishops and priests will oppose heresy in every form with zeal. Not only for the well being of our fellow man in the physical sense, but for that of his eternal salvation.