Reflection by Fr. Ed Ondrako, OFM Conv.

Pentecost (1615-1620) Oil on canvas, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, by Juan Bautista Mayno

The Scattering of Stars: From Francis of Assisi
to Newman, Kolbe, and the Church of Vatican II

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,
… heirs of God and heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him
so that we may be glorified with him.(Rom 8:17)

Secular modernity as dis-aster is the emergent mentality which finds baffling the aggregate of Christian beliefs and its practices arcane. On Pentecost, the birth of the Church, the metaphor of the scattering of stars as dis-aster[1] is remindful of the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit. In the etymological sense of stars (aster) scattering and going from one alignment to another, ponder the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God. …Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast….”[2]
In pre-modernity, Francis of Assisi refers to the Mother of God as “Spouse of the Holy Spirit.” The nature of the collaboration between Mary and the Holy Spirit is in the subtle logic of Bl. John Duns Scotus. In modernity, a constant prayer of John Henry Newman was: come Holy Spirit! Maximilian Kolbe’s theology of the Holy Spirit[3] is part of a treatise on the Trinity and study of mariology. At Vatican II, the Blessed Virgin was predestined from eternity to be the Mother of God and our mother in the order of grace.[4]  Vatican II “paused” to take time to be introspective in the crucial definition of Church as mystery. Together with Gaudium et Spes, the Church engages the World in dialogue and encounters everyone.
St. Paul’s full sense of theology of the heart or charity of Jesus which surpasses all understanding (Eph 3:19) inspires the contemplative theology of the saints from the less academic as Francis of Assisi to the more academic as John Henry Newman. Paul’s spiritualia spiritualibus comparantes (1 Cor 2:12,13), “we impart this [not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God] in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit,” play a crucial role in the development of doctrine from antiquity, theology in the fullest sense of the word. Newman’s masterful historical study is a crowning tribute to the Holy Spirit.
Since Pentecost 2021, my golden jubilee year of Franciscan priesthood, I have “paused” to reflect on a lived theology of the heart that is the gift of grace of “the Spirit who comes to the aid of our weakness … and who searches hearts” (Rom. 8). Secular modernity as dis-aster, stars (aster) scattering and going from one alignment to another, describes accurately: the immoral invasion of Ukraine; the wanton slaughter of innocent civilians; the charged division and ignorance about the sacredness of life; and, most sadly, the meaning of awe and respect due for worthy reception of the Eucharist. Prophets of lamentation offer more than a critique of the past, and prophets of jubilation offer more than a ray predicting the future.
Newman as a prophet of lamentation and jubilation aligns with Fr. Kolbe as a prophet of lamentation in the death camp to prophet of jubilation who altered the bitter sufferings of prisoners in a death camp to hope by his love. The writings of the Franciscan ‘martyr of charity,’ Kolbe, reveal that theologians have barely begun to probe the mystery of the Immaculate Conception and the Holy Spirit.[5] An example is Kolbe’s conference just before his final arrest:[6]
The third Person of the Most Holy Trinity did not become incarnate. Yet the expression: “Spouse of the Holy Spirit” is far profounder than this title bears in earthly affairs. We may also affirm the Immaculate in a certain way [“quasi”] is the incarnation of the Holy Spirit [as the personification]. In her we love the Holy Spirit, through her we love the Son. How little the Holy Spirit is known!
Another is a prisoner’s notes on Kolbe’s final sermon in the Auschwitz concentration camp, inspired by the Marian antiphon of Francis of Assisi:[7] “Holy Virgin Mary, among women, there is no one like you born into the world: you are the daughter and the servant of the most high and supreme King, and Father of heaven, you are the Mother of the most holy Lord Jesus Christ, you are the Spouse of the Holy Spirit.” Kolbe’s pulpit, the prisoner recalled, was a pile of stones; his alb and stole, a prisoner’s uniform full of lice; his words a sword opening the prisoners’ hearts about the Immaculate in relation to the three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity.
In reply to the commandant: who are you? “I am a Catholic priest,” is prophetic and apocalyptic. In 47 years Fr. Kolbe remade himself in the image of God without lifting up his heart to himself rather than to God in sacrifice for others. To Augustine, mercy is the true worship of God. Compare to Adam, whose heart had already begun to be evil even before accepting the fruit from Eve. Adam is a self-pleaser, lacks imagination, is careless, complacent and proud. He could have sacrificed himself to save Eve from the lie of the devil and her own pride. He sacrificed their companionship due to his own pride.[8] In contrast, Kolbe’s  prophetic and apocalyptic emphasis is guided by Christian faith and principles, not measurement for utility.
On Pentecost, Newman’s all-abiding concern and defense against liberal or rational religion in his pre-conversion period was the defining feature of his work. Kierkegaard, a Lutheran contemporary, confronted the break in Lutheran continuity in Denmark about engaging the current worldly state of human beings, their rebellion and alienation from God. Catholics and Lutherans overlap on sin and sinfulness, which is prophetic in substance and in tone.
On Pentecost, let us pray with Fr. Kolbe and his lodestar, Francis of Assisi: “Mother of God, Mother of our Advocate before the Father, and Spouse of the ‘other Paraclete’ or Advocate sent to the Church on Pentecost, pray for us!”

Fr. Edward J. Ondrako, OFM Conv., Remembering Forward # 10  eondrako@alumni.nd.edu

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[1] C. O’Regan defines dis-aster as the scattering of stars (aster) from one alignment to another.
[2] Gerard Manley Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur.”
[3] P. D. Fehlner, Kolbe, Pneumatologist, His Theology of the Holy Spirit (New Bedford, MA: 2004).
[4] Lumen Gentium no. 61, repeats Ineffabilis Deus, 1854.
[5] Maximilian M. Kolbe, Writings in English (Rome, Lugano: Nerbini Int’l, 2016), KW 647, 1305, 1306.9,
[6] Kolbe Conference, 5 Feb. 1941; KW 1318 and Conference, 26 November 1938.
[7] Marian Antiphon in St. Francis Office of the Passion.
[8] Augustine, City of God, Bk 10:4-6. See J.C.Cavadini, Visioning Augustine (Oxford: Wiley, 2019), ch 10.

 

Fr. Edward J. Ondrako, OFM Conventual
Research Fellow Pontifical Faculty of St. Bonaventure, Rome
Visiting Scholar, McGrath Institute for Church Life
University of Notre Dame
June 5, 2022

JPIC – Farm Focus

In the last month alone, Little Portion Farm planted nearly 3,000 plants by hand, not including the many beds directly sown with seeds. This total includes many warm-weather crops like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, sweet potatoes, as well as 1500 native wildflower plants put in the ground earlier this week

Cérémonie Chapelle de Cauquigny ~ June 2nd

A Franciscan Friar Conventual priest of our province who served as a US military Paratroopers’ Chaplain, +Capt. Father Ignatius Maternowski, OFM Convwas killed during the Invasion of Normandy, France, on D-Day, June 6, 1944. (Order’s Website 11-16-2021 article)

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One June 2, 2022, a ceremony took please in the Chapel of Cauquigny (Normandy) in honor of +Friar Ignatius. In attendance were three of our province friars: Fr. James McCurry, OFM Conv. (former Minister Provincial), Fr. Martin Kobos, OFM Conv. (Pastor of Mother Cabrini Catholic Church, Shamokin, PA) and Br. Michael Duffy, OFM Conv. (Principal of St. Francis High School, Athol Springs, NY)

The stained glass window in the chapelle des Parachutés (aka La Petite Chapelle de Cauquigny ~ Église Saint-Ferréol), in honor of +Fr. Ignatius Maternowski, OFM Conv. was dedicated on November 12, 2021, during a Mass celebrated by the (now former Minister Provincial of our province, Fr. James McCurry, OFM Conv. (link to 11-12-2021 article)

Ceremonial Unveiling of the +Fr. Ignatius vitrail (stained glass window), in La Petite Chapelle de Cauquigny, on June 2, 2022. Friar Martin and Friar James are pictured below the window. One hour prior to the ceremony, the parachute, on loan from Bertrand de la petite musette [Bertrand of the Little Seagull], was hung for the unveiling during the June 2, 2022 ceremony.

June 2, 2022: Friar Martin and Friar Michael greeting those in attendance.

Remarks by Friar James

Friar James gifts an artist rendering of the +Fr. Ignatius vitrail to the Parish Priest of Picauville and Sainte-Mère-Église, le père Marie Bernard Seigneur.

Artist renderings of the +Fr. Ignatius vitrail were distributed by our friars to many of the dignitaries present.

Adapted from the June 3, 2022 post on the St. Francis High School Facebook Page:
Three of our the recent graduates from our Athol Springs, NY high school ministry ~ St. Francis High School (SFHS) – pictured below, joined our friars in Normandy to present the American Flag, which flew over our school all year, at the gravesite of +Friar Ignatius, who was a member of the SFHS Class of 1931. +Friar Ignatius was the only US chaplain to be killed on D-Day at the age of 32. He was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart and his name is commemorated on many memorials around the world, including one in Athol Springs. Our friars, as well as the staff & families of SFHS are proud of these graduates for making this journey. We all continue to pray for +Friar Maternowski, all the heroes of D-Day, and for those who faithfully serve our country.

More information, videos and photos
can be found on the
Association U.S. Normandie , mémoire et gratitude
and the
St. Francis High School
Facebook pages.

A June 8, 2022 Message from Fr. James:

This morning the President of the “US-Normandy Association: Remembrance and Gratitude,” Mr. Eric Labourdette, send me this great article (above) from a French newspaper with a thorough report about the dedication ceremony for the new stained-glass window of Fr. Ignatius Maternowski in the Cauquigny Chapel, Normandy, which took place on the 2nd of June.  Take note that in the article, there are five references which I suggest be given special attention: 1) the title identifies Fr. Maternowski as “the first priest to be killed in the Battle of Normandy.”  2) The chaplain from Fort Bragg, Rev. Michael Krog, described the name of Fr. Maternowski as a “name forged in the legacy of the 82nd Airborne Division – forged by the fire of D-Day.  3) The parish priest of Sainte-Mere-Eglise, Pere Seigneur, said that “In France we know two churches, Notre Dame and Sainte-Mere-Eglise; now it is necessary to add the Cauquigny Chapel!” 4) The article notes the presence of artist who created the window, Joe Beyer of Philadelphia, who assisted in its unveiling during the ceremony.   5) At the end, the article describes the three Franciscan friars and the students from the same school as Fr. Maternowski attended in New York laying a wreath at the exact spot where he died.  The rest of the article quotes from the text of my speech, including my acknowledging the presence of the artist Joseph Beyer.  The article also references the exquisite and inspiring hymn sung by the Fort Bragg choir, “Requiem for a Soldier.”

Normandy – Cauquigny Reflection by Fr. James McCurry

Normandy – Gueutteville Reflection by Fr. James McCurry

Normandy Parachute Team, comprised of French civilians, which has adopted our +Fr. Ignatius Maternowski as their patron. Eric Labourdette jumped with this flag (drapeau) of “Pere Maternowski.”

READ MORE

Ordinary Provincial Chapter 2022 – Part I

Representing the over 170 friars of Our Lady of the Angels Province, sixty Ordinary Provincial Chapter Friar Delegates joined our the 120th Minister General of The Order of Friars Minor Conventual [OFM Conv], the Most Reverend Fr. Carlos Trovarelli, OFM Conv., the Assistant General of the CFF [Conventual Franciscan Federation] ~ Fr. Jude Winkler, OFM Conv., our Minister Provincial Emeritus ~ the Very Rev. Fr. James McCurry, OFM Conv., Our Lady of the Angels Province Minister Provincial ~ Fr. Michael Heine, OFM Conv., Custos of our Immaculate Conception Custody (Brazil) ~ Frei Ronaldo Gomes da Silva, OFM Conv., Custos of our Blessed Agnellus of Pisa Custody (Great Britain/Ireland) ~ Friar Ciprian Budău, OFM Conv., and the friars of the outgoing 2018-2022 Province Definitory.

The 120th Minister General of The Order of Friars Minor Conventual [OFM Conv], the Most Reverend Fr. Carlos Trovarelli, OFM Conv. and the Assistant General of the CFF [Conventual Franciscan Federation] ~ Fr. Jude Winkler, OFM Conv. have been traveling from their home friary in Rome to visit Franciscan Friars Conventual around the world. They came to the USA, these past few months, to facilitate the 2022 Chapters of the four North American Provinces. From May 23-27, 2022 they joined our friars of Our Lady of the Angels Province for our Ordinary Provincial Chapter 2022. Friar Carlos and Friar Jude said it was a productive week filled with peace, cooperation and fraternal joy. MORE ON THE GENERAL CURIA SITE

 

The Evening Prayer after the Wednesday, May 25th Session included the Installation of our new Minister Provincial ~ Fr. Michael Heine, OFM Conv., at the hands of the Minister General.

Oath of Office as Vicar Provincial ~ Fr. Gary Johnson, OFM Conv.: Witnessed by the Minister General and Assistant General, at the hands of our Minister Provincial ~ Fr. Michael Heine, OFM Conv.

Newly Elected 2022-2026 Province Definitory: Fr. Emanuel Vasconcelos, OFM Conv. (Definitor & Vocation Director), Fr. John Koziol, OFM Conv. (Definitor), Fr. Christopher Dudek, OFM Conv. (Definitor), Fr. Michael Heine, OFM Conv. (Minister Provincial), Fr. Gary Johnson, OFM Conv. (Vicar Provincial), Br. Tom Purcell, OFM Conv. (Definitor), Fr. Jude DeAngelo, OFM Conv. (Definitor), Br. Nick Romeo, OFM Conv. (Province Secretary & Vocation Director)

Br. Jim Moore, OFM Conv. with Friar Carlos. Friar Jim and Br. Michael Duffy, OFM Conv. were elected as the new Our Lady of the Angels Province Delegates to the General Chapter.

One of the many moments of fraternal joy, as the outgoing Minister Provincial ~ Friar James greets the new Minister Provincial ~ Friar Michael.

[Photo Credit: Fr. Tom Lavin, OFM Conv.]

Reflection by Fr. Ed Ondrako, OFM Conv.

From Newman as a Critic of Modernity
To Vatican II as Newman’s Council

 I have nothing of that high perfection, which belongs to the writings of saints,
…I trust that I may claim …[in] what I have written,  … an honest intention, absence of private ends, temper of obedience, willingness to be corrected, dread of error,
desire to serve Holy Church, and, through Divine Mercy, a fair measure of success.[1]

Since 1969,[2] I’ve been privileged to study John Henry Newman.[3] Imagine my joy on Sunday morning, 19 October 2019, at St. Peter’s, Rome, when Pope Francis canonized Newman. I cannot emphasize enough why Newman was prophetic in his denunciation of modern rationalist forms of Christianity which, in his view, has capitulated to secular reason fully established in the 19th century as both the default intellectual position as well as the[4] new social imaginary. Using Newman’s Idea of a University as a standard, I intend to hand on why Newman as prophet of lamentation and as prophet of jubilation helps to “Rebuild the Church.”

To plumb deeper into lamentation and jubilation as Newman’s critique of secular forms of Christianity he regarded as counterfeit, is to shout out Newman’s prophetic voice in defense of the picture of God as totally Other. To appropriate human response rests on religious fear and awe. It is an honest view of human beings as sinners that are capable through grace of becoming saints (jubilation) or scoundrels (lamentation). It means conviction that faith has prerogatives over instrumental or moral reason, that what matters is making judgments about behavior that pertain to one’s salvation. It means recognizing Newman’s prudent resistance to and refutation of highly processed forms of Christianity in modernity. It means recognizing how secular Christianity disguises itself as genuine and immunizes itself. A more recent and pernicious phenomenon is “weaponized incomprehensibility”[5] that is besieging our values.

As a standard, was Newman’s Idea of a University a success or failure? A dismal failure for it never became a reality. The Idea of a University was based on the Oxford model with its roots in Aristotle’s system of broad cultural education, paideia, and linked to the origin of the modern university as founded by the Catholic Church in the 13th century at Paris, Padua, Bologna, and Oxford. A university is not a seminary, and that misunderstanding with the Irish Bishops was not bridged. Yet Newman wrote a classic, a coherent and powerful vision of the concept of university that has a signified, adequate, expressed, enormous influence as synthesis with all its details to this day. Shortly before he died, Fr. Hesburgh, C.S.C said to me: Newman’s Idea of a University was just that, a powerful synthesis whose principles helped him to lead the University of Notre Dame for thirty-five years as its president.

Newman’s quote upon acceptance of the cardinalate encapsulates his debt to the ancient classical system proximate to his Oxford classical studies. He embraces his limits as a creature and sinner with freedom and self-transcendence. His understanding and commitment to Church AND World reflect an inheritor of that line from the great saints as Francis of Assisi, and a precursor of Vatican II’s emphasis on reform, renewal, and updating. Understanding Aristotle’s paideia, the Medieval universities, the Oxford model as a youth, contributed to the university curriculum he created for Dublin. Negotiation between Church AND World is constitutive of the Roman Catholic Church.[6] Fr. Hesburgh saw his work at Notre Dame as a progression of Newman, with philosophy as a synthetic state of mind providing integration.

Pope St. John XXIII’s call for Aggiornamento did not equate with thinking that updating for the whole Church meant only when the Church was fully egalitarian. Second, there was never a break with the past at Vatican II, for it would not be the Catholic way. The Church negotiates because it is “in” AND “for” the World, but the Church is not the World. The Church has a supernatural end. The Documents of Vatican II give expression to the balance of two lines of interpretation which are ongoing. Lumen Gentium, on the mystery of the Church, and Gaudium et Spes, on the Church AND World, are a balance between the two lines of interpretation. The dominant interpretation after Vatican II, which is the wrong interpretive strategy to Pope Benedict XVI, is the lens of social justice as the only interpretation of the purpose of the Catholic Church.[7]

In The Idea of a University, Newman avoids being clever or appearing to win. To be clever gets old and, ironically, never grows. To be clever is to be permanently frozen. The beauty of argument is towards development of a bridge between views. Second level order of reflection on the data of Christian faith in history and interpreting the development of the Church’s institutions assists theology as a form of knowledge that is public, one that is able to draw conclusions that verify its intuitions, and enable a person to intervene in public space.

Newman’s gentleman[8] in The Idea of a University describes a “gentleman” not of Christianity, but of civilization, a good citizen. St. Paul’s Christian character in its most graceful form and with its most beautiful hues depends on lifelong formation and cultivation of virtue that is more than ornamental. The Idea of a University lists the Church’s duties: to cure and keep its members from sin by teaching justice and chastity, the judgment to come, faith, hope, devotion and honesty, with elements of charity that puts souls on the way of salvation, aspiring to be heroic, attaining to various degrees of what is beautiful.[9] In the 21st century information explosion we gasp for air trying to answer what constitutes a university education. I read Newman’s Idea of a University as a serene text that is more and more relevant today.

Fr. Edward J. Ondrako, OFM Conv., Univ. of Notre Dame, Easter Reflection 4 eondrako@alumni.nd.edu

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[1] J. H. Newman, Biglietto Speech, 12 May 1879. Given upon acceptance of the cardinalate.
[2] P. D. Fehlner, OFM Conv. was the first to teach Newman a Franciscan systematic approach.
[3] A. J. Boekraad, MHM in 1973-1974; John Ford, C.S.C at CUA in 2006; Oxford Conf. with I. Ker et. al, @ Nat Inst of Newman Studies; SJHNA Conferences; C. O’Regan at Notre Dame since 2010; Dissert. at Syracuse University on Newman and Gladstone,1994; Ed., Newman Scotus Reader, 2015, rpt canoniz. issue, 2019; Dissert. at Notre Dame, Rebuild My Church, 2021.
[4]The  Documents of Vatican II with Notes and Index (Vatican Trans: 2009, rpt. 2020).
[5] Weaponized incomprehensibility implies: “if I do not understand something, you are the fool.”
[6] The difficulty was compounded by the refusal of the Catholic Church to negotiate with modernity.
[7] Responsible complaints from the faithful most often are in this register, i.e., too social justice oriented.
[8] Idea, 208-210.
[9] Idea, 203.

Fr. Edward J. Ondrako, OFM Conventual
Research Fellow Pontifical Faculty of St. Bonaventure, Rome
Visiting Scholar, McGrath Institute for Church Life
University of Notre Dame
May 30, 2022

Graduations at our High School Ministries

There are many more to come over this next month or so,
and we will update this post as each school celebrates.

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Photos and excerpt adapted from the
St. Francis High School Facebook Page 05-18-2022 post:

The SFHS Valedictorian ~ Thomas Kashino receiving one of his many academic awards, presented by Br. Michael Duffy, OFM Conv. and Fr. Michael Sajda, OFM Conv.

“After two years of having little to no formal celebrations of the graduating classes due to the pandemic, we want to acknowledge this monumental return back to tradition and being together once more. Our current seniors were only freshmen the last time we were able to celebrate the Baccalaureate Liturgy.
Thank you to our school leaders, Assistant Principal Dr. Mary Lou Stahl, Dean of Students Mr. Joseph Krug, School Principal Br. Michael Duffy, OFM Conv. and President Fr. Michael Sadja, OFM Conv., who helped organize the receiving of the academic awards.”

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Photo, video and excerpt adapted from the
St. Anne-Pacelli Catholic High School Facebook Page 05-14-2022 post:

Fr. Robert Schlageter, OFM Conv. (pastor), Fr. Manny Vasconcelos, OFM Conv. (parochial vicar), and Fr. Paul Pantiru, OFM Conv. (parochial vicar) serve the students of St. Anne-Pacelli Catholic High School, in pastoral leadership at St. Anne Catholic Church. Friar Robert and Friar Manny concelebrated the Baccalaureate Mass and High School Graduation.

In Fr. Robert’s final address to the Class of 2022 he expressed, “It is never too late to come Home to Christ. You are more than your worst moments or your worst choices. You are precious in our eyes and you are precious in God’s eyes. We are proud of you! … We are filled with so much hope for you.”

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Photos and excerpt adapted from the
Archbishop Curley High School Facebook Page 05-26-2022 post:

The Baccalaureate Mass for the Class of 2022 took place on Wednesday, May 25, 2022 at the Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore, MD. As is the custom, the graduates filed past the tomb of Michael J. Curley, the 10th Archbishop of Baltimore (right). Our Lady of the Angels Province friar ~ Fr. Donald Grzymski, OFM Conv. ’70, president of Curley, was the main celebrant and homilist (pictured below presenting one of the students with one of the many awards earned by the Class of 2022 members).

Fr. Chris Dudek, OFM Conv. takes a quick photo with some of his students outside of Baltimore’s Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, in celebration of their May 27th Graduation.

The 58th Commencement Exercises of Archbishop Curley High School took place on May 27, 2022, at Cathedral of Mary Our Queen for the class of 2022.

Mr. William J. McCarthy, Jr., Executive Director, Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Baltimore, was the Commencement Speaker.

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Photos and excerpt adapted from the
Our Lady of Good Counsel High School Facebook Page 05-26-2022 post:

Graduation Mass for the Class of 2022 of Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, in Olney, MD was presided over by Fr. Tom Lavin, OFM Conv. (at right), who serves the school as Chaplain, since August 2015. The 10:00 a.m. Graduation Ceremonies were livestreamed from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, in Washington DC. During his Homily, Friar Tom reminded the Graduates to, “always allow your Faith to be a foundation of your future.”

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Video adapted from the
Bishop McNamara High School Facebook Page 05-26-2022 post:

Our Lady of the Angels Province friar, Br. Dan Lutolf, OFM Conv. serves as a Theology Instructor at Bishop McNamara High School.
Here is the video from the school’s Facebook page, of the “Bishop McNamara Baccalaureate 2022.”

Reflection by Fr. Ed Ondrako, OFM Conv.

Ascension by Pavlo Syrokvasha (Bila Tserkva, kiev, Ukraine) 1996

Truth re the Russia-Ukraine War and the Greco-Catholic Church

 It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set
by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit
has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses
…to the ends of the earth (Acts 1: 7-8)

 

At Ascension time, our minds cannot get around; our hearts break; our eyes cannot believe what we see in Ukraine since 24 February, the “dark” almost diabolical nature of Putin’s war. As a child I remember the strength and faith of my Ukrainian neighbors, I never doubted the Ukrainians would fight for their homeland, truth, and freedom. Poverty, newfound freedom after World War II, and living Greco-Catholic faith with devotion to Mary imbued them. In time, as artisans, they built a landmark replica[1] of the wooden Churches of the Greco-Catholic Church. With the drift towards secular modernity, Sacred Heart Church is a witness of faith.

In the West to be “academic” means to use scientific, objective methods, to study complex issues by following sources. Ukrainians are a separate Rite in the Catholic Church:

  1. In 1991, independent Ukraine an “unexpected nation” was born which surprised the West. Theology programs, religious studies and Church history have found that distinguishing between Ukraine and Russia is a problem. Why?
  2. The problem in post-Vatican II inspired ecumenical dialogue is a highly romanticized view of history and theology which carries the day with Western Ecumenists. In the dialogical endeavor, Ukraine disappears. Consequences?
  3. In scholarly works on the gift of Eastern Christianity, Ukraine is almost never mentioned. The Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and its influence on the Tsars and Soviet Union is the image of the “grand narrative.”
  4. The Christianization of Rus is the proper historical and theological terminology. Use Rusian,[2] Rusyan, or Kievan. A proper balance is reached by understanding the Romanov Empire (1613-1917) with its multi- ethnic and multi-religious parts.
  5. There is a Church of Moscow, the Muscovite Church, but it is erroneous to speak of the baptism of Russia. There was no “Russian Christianity” in the medieval period, in the time when the event known as “the Baptism of Rus 988” Ukraine is not part of the Church of Moscow. A superficial study of history fuels misinformation in the Western media.
  6. Worse is the role of the clergy in the Russian Orthodox Church and Patriarch Kirill, who function as Russian propaganda, willingly, as co-inventors of the concept of the so-called “Russian World” or “Russian Space” which they want the West to buy. They deny Ukrainian independence since 1991. They want Ukrainians under the Patriarch of Moscow.
  7. This has everything to do with the toxic “Russian World” ideology with its RACIST undertones and the claims over the neighboring nations like Ukraine and Belarus. A caveat to theologians and Church historians who have to address the aggregate of political and military constructions that only appear “benevolent.”

Eight tips for sounding the alarm:

  1. Overlooking a disciplined academic, scientific and objective study of the range of primary sources. That includes knowing the languages.
  2. Failing to step back enough for reflection on the complex issues.
  3. Lack of critical analysis of the political engagements over centuries.
  4. Being too willing to give a pass to the flawed military engagements.
  5. Insufficiency of moral engagement; to take Ukrainians for what they are.
  6. Deficiency in taking the deep view to history; weak fact checking; short cuts that rely on experts who publish in prestigious places.
  7. Failing to remember the famine, Holodomor in 1932-1933, under Stalin. Millions of Ukrainians died when food was kept from reaching them.
  8. Presupposing that the theology of the Greco-Catholic Church leaves nothing to be discovered, but only mixes Orthodox and Catholic theology.

Vatican II, Orientalium Ecclesiarum,[3] was approved on the same day as the engine driving the Council, Lumen Gentium. The Eastern Churches are held with high esteem for the institutions, liturgical rites, ecclesiatical traditions and their established standards of the Christian life. However, its cursoriness short changes Ukrainians their “union and difference” within the Holy Spirit by the same faith, the same sacraments and the same government.

Ukraine is part of the Greco-Catholic Church. Today, the Catholic University in Lviv counters the Russian state and Russian narrative that dominates the media. Knowledge of the history and languages of the old Soviet Union means knowing many languages other than Russian. Reality has changed! There is a quagmire of colonialism. The Ukrainian war is global. To study, to teach, to reach understanding cannot be solely with a Russian lens or Russian markers as if Russia subsumed the existence of all of the old nations. Western universities need to sound the alarm, not condone, nor fail to identify the gift of difference.

The contemporary Ukrainian religious scene differs from religious life in Russia which is dominated by the Russian Orthodox Church and lacks any democratic character. The gift of the contemporary Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church and its future will be reached by studying Ukrainian Christianity on its own terms, with its democratic character.[4] To have finally arrived at the right question may not be much, but I hope it is not nothing.

Fr. Ed Ondrako, OFM Conv. eondrako@alumni.nd.edu  

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[1] Sacred Heart Church is in Johnson City, New York. I never cease to be moved by remembering history.
[2] Rusian, Rusyan, is the correct spelling. They are used interchangeably with Kievan.
[3] Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, and the Decree on the Churches of the Eastern Rite, 21 Nov. 1964.
[4] Special thanks to Rev. Dr. Yury Avvakumov, Univ. of Notre Dame theologian and historian.

Fr. Edward J. Ondrako, OFM Conventual
Research Fellow Pontifical Faculty of St. Bonaventure, Rome
Visiting Scholar, McGrath Institute for Church Life
University of Notre Dame
Ascension 2022