Argentinian ceremonies, Christopher Columbus, religious liberty

November 5, 1992

Dear Friends and Benefactors,

Enclosed is a Verbum dated from last spring when we published the Columbus Verbum instead. That was to tell some of the truth about Christopher Columbus in advance of much untruth that might be told about him around October 12, the day itself of the Discovery of America 500 years ago.

In the Superior General's letter #43, also enclosed, there is a brief description of the Society's Commemorative Congress held in the Argentine from October 9 to 12. This Congress was a great success. On the Friday afternoon and all day Saturday a series of conferences was given in a hall in central Buenos Aires before an audience of a few hundred people including visitors from all countries of South America except Ecuador and Venezuela. The conferences ranged over a variety of aspects of the Discovery of America, and were well received. Your servant's conference on "Columbus and the Millennia" should be appearing in the December "Angelus". It surveys the providential role of Columban Christendom over the last quarter of Christianity's 2,000 years.

On Sunday October 11 a large number of participants in the Congress traveled out of Buenos Aires the 30 odd miles to the, Society's Seminary in La Reja, where in the morning there was a ceremony of receiving the cassock Tonsure and Minor Orders for younger seminarians. This was followed by the traditional Argentinian "asado", or roast, chunks of beef roasted on an open fire from an animal or animals slaughtered for the occasion. At La Reja as at Winona, not all guests for lunch could be brought inside, but in the afternoon everyone was outside for the Argentinian sports, a small-scale rodeo and soccer.

Sunday evening, coming close to 2 a.m. Monday which was the very hour of Columbus' ships sighting land 500 years ago, the seminarians and their professors put on stage scenes from a French play on Columbus from the beginning of this century by Paul Claudel. The seminarians acquitted themselves well, but the star of the evening was no doubt the Rector, Fr. Dominique Lagneau, who displayed remarkable talent as a kind of combined Impresario, Commentator and Master of Ceremonies.

The Seminary had few materials and can have had little time to put together a theatrical production, but if one has a real story to tell and conviction with which to tell it, it is astonishing how any material deficiencies drop out of view. When Marshall McLuhan said in the 1960's, "The medium is the message", surely he meant that in today's world the message is so non-existent that the medium has to try to replace it, hence today's obsession with the means or paraphernalia of communication. However, put back a real message, like the epic of Columbus, and believe in it, and all problems of the means of communicating resolve themselves. "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you" (Mt. VI, 33).

On the day of the 12th itself, the Quincentennial celebrations ended with a pilgrimage on foot from the Seminary in the morning to arrive at the famous Argentinian shrine of Our Lady of Lujan in the evening. Hundreds of footsore but happy pilgrims, mostly youngsters, covered the 20 miles in time for a Solemn Mass celebrated not of course in the Basilica but under pine-trees in the nearby garden of a friend. The Superior General gave the sermon, and after Mass the District Superior, Fr. Xavier Beauvais, said a few words of encouragement to the pilgrims before leading them on-a brief-incursion into the Basilica, where the "Lefebvrites" were not welcome, but where Fr. Beauvais nevertheless managed to make the intended Consecration of the Society's South American District to the Mother of God. Then the pilgrims dispersed.

"If thou knewest the gift of God..." The Society had commemorated God's immense gift to souls and to the Church, of the Catholic Discovery of America. Two more thoughts, from before and after the Discovery –

Before, Christopher Columbus had no extraordinary feats to his credit, and had he not persevered in crossing the Atlantic, or had he not succeeded in returning, surely he would have remained unknown to history. For the great part of his life, he had quietly done his professional and religious duties, making himself a devout Catholic and a highly competent sailor. To that devotion and competence, the subsequent fame was like accidental, indeed he died abandoned and disregarded. Moral of the story: to imitate Columbus, we cannot do better than our daily duty. The rest is in God's hands. He may well be arranging heroic fame for a number of souls today quietly pursuing devotion and competence, but the fame is not the point.

Notice similarly after the Discovery that it would have been nothing if after Columbus himself there had not been a host of soldiers, priests, administrators to follow in his wake and construct a Catholic empire for the salvation of millions of souls. The overwhelming majority of these soldiers, priests and administrators are unknown to history, their perseverance, achievements and sufferings are unsung, yet without them Columbus would merely have made an interesting sight-seeing trip... Like a series of zeroes which are nothing in themselves but put behind the figure one of a Columbus, make ten or a hundred or a thousand million, the one without the zeroes is insignificant, the zeroes without the one even more so. Moral of the story? The substance of the Discovery lay in countless unknown Catholics quietly doing the daily task laid by Providence before them.

So the Quincentennial has reminded us of a great human achievement, a heroic Catholic exploit, an unparalleled feat of God and man, yet at its heart lies something beyond none of us, but within our daily reach: our daily duty.

Of course that duty alone is set fair to become each day more heroic if the newly elected American President lives up to his campaign promises, for instance to allow (read, to force) homosexuals into the armed forces. Or to allow (read, to force) federally funded clinics to promote abortion as a means of birth control. Poor pro-lifers!

In Maryland on November 3rd, straight abortion, yes or no, was on the ballot, and Marylanders voted 61 % in favour to 39% against! We cannot deceive ourselves any longer: democracy, the ballot box, public opinion, the Constitution, decent Americans, even the Supreme Court after 12 years of conservatives" in control, are not going to get rid of abortion. The people have spoken. The people want abortion. The people want a President who will make the rafters ring with defiance of any supposed limitation upon their liberties, a President who will show the world that man can dodge any drafts. With the election of Bill Clinton, the liberal dream has taken another significant step forward towards the Brave New World "I have a dream" — we have a dream — yes, indeed you have a dream!

And the Lord God? With a divine patience He is not missing one gram of our wickedness but He is respecting our free will, leaving us to our own devices, and relying on events to prove to us how foolish these devices are. Alas, only a minority will let themselves be woken from their dream. And when the Lord God is finally reduced to cleaning out, with fire and brimstone, there will be many shaking their fist at Him and crying out, "You dare do this to ME? You think you have the right to tell ME what to do? Who do you think YOU are? God Almighty?" (Apoc. XVI, 21).

So where did the American dream go wrong? Catholics should be able to grasp the argument, hinted at in the enclosed Verbum, that the trouble with the Puritans' City on the Hill goes back to King Henry VIII in a poor land darkened by heresy almost one century before the shores of North America were a gleam in a Puritan sailor's eye. After all, if the true Faith is important, then heresy contradicting it is important; whereas if heresy is not important because religious liberty is the ideal, then religious liberty and not Catholicism is the real religion.

"Ah, but without religious liberty the nation could never have been unified!" Grand, but the price to be paid was that religious liberty was bound to become the real religion of that land, that is to say, the ideological basis on which the land would be built, more important than any one religion in that land, including Catholicism. But not even the Catholic Church can be built on religious liberty, witness how great sections of the Church have crumbled since Vatican II proclaimed religious liberty through the ecclesiastical land with the Decree "Dignitatis Humanae." It is not possible at one and the same time to cast adrift from rock and to build on rock.

The in-depth study of doctrinal problems, especially religious liberty, will be the substance of two courses to be offered for men at Winona this summer. The Society of St. Pius X now has two fully-fledged Ignatian Retreat Houses, up and running in Connecticut and California, so the Seminary here is going to give fewer Ignatian Retreats. Note the following general dates if you are interested (precise details will follow): June 19, 1993, priestly ordinations; week of June 21, course of Gregorian chant; week of June 28, women's five-day Ignatian Retreat; week of July 12, men's five-day Retreat; week of July 19, men's doctrinal course; week of July 26, women's five-day retreat; week of August 30, men's doctrinal course. And there is a men's retreat, December 26 through 31.

As for Christmas fast approaching, we have some Christmas cards you can order from us to send to your friends or loved ones for them to be included in the Christmas Novena of Masses starting on Christmas night at the Seminary's main altar. May I also gently recommend a tape of 24 Catholic Songs for Children made in the 1950's and being reproduced with permission by friends of the Society, the Catholic Mothers Exchange. The songs form a catechism in music, which is no doubt a good way for children to learn. The content is completely orthodox, prior to Vatican II. The tapes are being sold at $10 each, as a fund-raiser for the Dominican Sisters in Post Falls. Make checks payable to "Catholic Mothers Exchange" and post to 1295 South Oakland Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91106. If I was a distracted mom surrounded with little ones, I am sure it is a present I would like.

As it is, I find myself a distracted Rector surrounded with seminarians due to be sent out as priests upon our "darkening scene," so we ask above all for the present of your prayers, and we continue to promise you ours. God will win, but between now and then, some china is going to be broken!

May He bless you and keep you through this month of the Holy Souls, for whom remember to pray.

Sincerely yours in Christ,