Form time to time we hear about things done, or not done, by priests or bishops which provoke reactions along a spectrum of head scratching to downright anger.
The situation in Calgary right now strikes me as closer to one end of the spectrum than the other.
Briefly, even though there are clear documents from the Holy See about the right of the faithful to receive Communion directly on the tongue, the local bishop has forbidden Communion in that manner because of fear of the spread of H1N1. The local parish staffed by the FSSP, rather than complying with the letter of the bishop’s probably improper restriction tried to instruct the faithful about a way of receiving which would have effectively eliminated any claimed risk of contagion. That move was not acceptable to the bishop and Masses in the older form have been suspended in the diocese of Calgary. Lots of people are now really mad and really sad. Rome will get involved. Unless charity prevails with commonsense in a meeting of minds, this dust up will harm everyone involved.
I suspect that Bishop Henry did this not because he hates the old Mass or traditionalists or Communion on the tongue, but rather because of the H1N1 thing. Whether or not that was an adequate reason is beside the point… now. Now people are hardening in their positions and their hearts.
Indeed lots of people of the traditional stripe far and wide are pretty mad at Bishop Henry. Having learned that he receives and even responds to e-mail, they are writing to him. Some of them are expressing themselves in terms that are neither charitable nor even in the least smart.
For example, one person sent me this copy of an e-mail he fired off at Bishop Henry:
I’m not going to get into a long rant about how you’re a liberal bishop, how evil you are, how you’re treating true Catholics worse than Protestants, etc. But I will say this:
One day, and I hope for your sake it’s far from today, you will stand before Our Lord. And you will have to answer for your actions, especially regarding your treatment and hostility towards the true Mass.
Are you ready to answer those questions with your eternal soul on the line, Your Excellency?
I want my readers to know that I abhor this sort of e-mail. I reproduce it here as a perfect example of several things.
1) How not to write to anyone.
2) How not to write to a bishop.
3) How not to write to someone whose mind you would like to change.
There are so many things wrong with that e-mail it is hard to know where to start.
So let me continue with an little morality play I personally experienced.
Once upon a time I had an experience similar to what I think is happening here while I was working for the Pont. Comm. Ecclesia Dei in Rome.
We were having a terrible exchange with an American bishop. Volley of letters letters went back and forth across the Atlantic. People wanted the old Mass, and he refused absolutely. They petitioned. He rejected. They sent us the copies of the petitions. He would deny there was any interest. He would say he never got petitions. We would mail back copies of his acknowledgment of the petitions. He wrote stern letters telling us to mind our own business. We wrote back saying that this was our business. It became uglier and uglier.
One day a letter came from him that was so nasty it simply couldn’t be borne.
I wrote a draft of a response entirely proportioned to the tone and content of that bishop’s letter. My draft was intended to end the debate.
When the Cardinal came that afternoon, this was the great Augustine Card. Mayer, first President of Ecclesia Dei, he called me in to go over the various drafts that had to be finalized and then sent. At last we came to my draft to that bishop.
Card. Mayer, nearly 80 at the time, had been a monk, an expert at the Council, an abbot, professor, curial Secretary, Prefect. He is perhaps the holiest man I know. He has a practically perfect grasp of English. He would normally make subtle changes in the language of all the letters he would sign. There was no question but that he could: he was the Cardinal and all the letters I wrote became his letters. He was ready to hear a reason for or against a change, but he was usually right with each "suggestion".
So there was no surprise at all when my tough-minded letter came to the fore that he said,
"Here you write X. Do you suppose instead we could say Y?"
We went on to the next word in that manner… and the next… and the next, until – both of us chuckling a bit – there was nothing at all left of what I had written. The page was filled with corrections and cobwebs of lines and marks.
At last, I said "Clearly Your Eminence wants something else. It’s my job to make your job easier. Give me some direction."
He paused and looked at the large Murillo painting of the Blessed Mother on the wall of the office for a while and then said:
"At a certain point we must stop arguing and try to open their hearts."
With that I went back to my desk, pondered this for a while, and then rapidly wrote a short letter to that American bishop.
I took it in to the Cardinal, who make a minor change here and there, and off it went.
A few weeks later we received news from people in that bishop’s diocese that, not only had the bishop permitted the older form of Mass, he came to celebrate it himself for them.
"But Father! But Father!", you are no doubt saying. "What did you write? What saved the day?"
After the usual clink of incense at the beginning, common to all curial letters, I merely wrote that we regretted greatly the way our correspondence had gone. We hoped that it might improve. But given the earnest desire of the people in his diocese, …
"Would Your Excellency please not open your heart to these people and help them?"
That seems to have been the real problem, after all.
At a certain point you have to realize that arguing isn’t going to achieve the result you desire.
At last you must strive to open hearts.
That said, I urge anyone who reads this blog to do a few things.
1) Pray and fast for Bp. Henry. He is a bishop and he needs it even when there isn’t a conflict. I will do this today.
2) If you have written a nasty note to Bp. Henry, write again and say you are sorry, even while you tell him you will offer some mortification and prayer.
3) If you feel compelled to write a first note to him, you might instead consider just butting out.
4) If anyone in the bishop’s office in Calgary is reading this, please consider that there are surely good alternatives available to resolve this. Why make something so important to these traditionally minded folks the point of force? Is there not some other solution? Consider the pain this is causing. Is this really worth it? It is pretty easy to be the peace-maker here.