How can I even begin to describe the scene we witnessed yesterday in Norcia?
It was like those photographs of bombed-out churches from the Second World War. It reminded me of all those ruined monasteries one sees passing through the English countryside. It was an image of devastation. All the churches in Norcia are on the ground. Every single one. The roofs caved in on all of them; they are no more. What
remains of them are a few corners, a facade, a window with the sun coming through from the wrong side. Inside are “bare ruin’d choirs” as Shakespeare wrote of the destroyed monasteries in his time.
The wonder, the miracle, is that there were no casualties. All the fear and anxiety following the first few earthquakes now seem a providential part of God’s mysterious plan to clear the city of all inhabitants. He spent two months preparing us for the complete destruction of our patron’s church so that when it finally happened we would watch it, in horror but in safety, from atop the town.
Is it over yet? We do not know. These are mysteries which will take years — not days or months — to understand. We watch and pray all together on the mountainside for Norcia and for the world. The priests go into town to visit the sick and the homeless. We are grateful for your prayers, as ever.
This is powerful stuff. Every church in the town is destroyed, but the monks survived because they headed for the hills outside of town when the first earthquake hit back in August. Our poor, brave, faithful monks of Norcia are a sign to the whole church in ways I did not anticipate.
UPDATE: From a sermon Father Richard Cipolla, a close friend of Norcia, gave yesterday, on the Feast of Christ the King. Having heard the news of the latest earthquake, Fr. Cipolla wrote to Fr. Benedict in Norcia yesterday:
So I sent an email to Fr. Benedict, one of my spiritual sons whom I brought to Norcia years ago and watched him being tonsured and went to his ordination where the whole town came out and ate and drank in celebration. “Is there damage? What is going on?” His reply: ”Yes, damage much worse. But we are ok. Much to tell you but just pray. I am well and God continues to purify us and bring very good things.”
From the viewpoint of the traditional Catholic these monks were ideal, did all the right things, the right Mass, restoring the monastery in a beautiful and tasteful way, understanding the role of St Benedict in the Church, making good beer to support what they were doing. All that taken away by what some would call lawyers call “an act of God”. An act of God. What does this have to do with the feast of Christ the King? This feast was instituted by Pius XI to remind the Catholic faithful of the reality and centrality of Jesus Christ in their faith against the secularism and nationalism growing at that time between the two World Wars. It was Pope Paul VI who changed the name and date of the feast. He moved it in the Novus Ordo calendar to the last Sunday of the Year before Advent, to emphasize the relationship with the end of time when all will be all in Christ, and he renamed it Christ the King of the Universe. Both Popes understood this feast as a counterthrust to the strong forces of secularism that threatened to destroy that civilization which we call Western civilization and which was shot through and through with the Christian faith. It was a Christian culture, not perfect by any means, but nevertheless a Christian culture.
The gesture of both Popes, while noble, did not recognize the reality of the situation. The reality of the situation, and this is much more clear today than in 1925 or in 1972: Christian civilization in the West is in fact dead. There are cultural and religious vestiges of this civilization still extant: but the center is dead. Much could be said about the wonderful aspects and content of that past civilization and the darkness of that same civilization. But that is all commentary on the past because that civilization does not exist any longer. The failure of the traditional movement in the Catholic Church for the past half century has been precisely to refuse to acknowledge this death and instead to work to restore certain elements in that culture: faith, morality, liturgy, family and so forth. That is energy badly spent. Those Catholics who love the Tradition of the Church, the truth of the Gospel, must finally abandon the past, must finally reject circling the wagons, and look forward to and participate in the rebirth of Catholic tradition and culture. Someone said to me after a Solemn Traditional Mass I celebrated in New York two evenings ago: “It’s time to circle the wagons”. I said quite quickly and sharply: “Absolutely not. Be open, be joyful in your faith and let the dead bury the dead!”
Traditionally minded Catholics must face the fact that Christianity has nothing to do with the present political situation in this country. In fact, it has had nothing to do with Christianity for a long time, if ever. When one is faced with a presidential election where both candidates are radically post-Christian, to say the least, then one must face the reality of the situation. But Father, but Father, you say, what about the Supreme Court? Can you imagine any of the saints putting their trust in appointments to the Supreme Court of the United States, especially when it was a practicing Catholic who wrote the majority opinion that made abortion legal in this country? The Christian culture in this country is dead, and what we have to do is to figure out not only how to survive in this situation, how to pass on our faith to our children, how to make them as wise as serpents and gentle as doves in the lives that they will lead—but ultimately how to make sense of the feast of Christ the King of the Universe in which the universe itself has been evacuated of ultimate meaning by the all demanding self-centeredness of a culture that makes Jerry Seinfeld look altruistic and thoughtful?
And how can we make sense of Christ the King in a Church whose strength has been sucked out by her own hierarchy and priests who are all too happy to live in a post-Christian world that is unhampered by both truth and personal sacrifice? We here make sense of Christ the King in this celebration of the Mass in the rite whose roots are in the Catholic Tradition, roots in Christ. What we do here together, priest and people is one of the antidotes and answers to the crisis in the Church and the world. And the re-formation of Catholic culture will happen quietly wherever the family says the Rosary not as an act of penance and discipline but as an act of love, wherever Lauds and Vespers are sung in this church not because of a schedule but because of an act of love, whenever men meet before dawn to adore Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, whenever people gather for prayer quietly and hopefully, wherever acts of kindness are truly spontaneous, when Classical education is not a slogan but rather a joyful attempt to restore all things in Christ, wherever the great monuments of art, music and literature of Christian culture are preserved, not as in a museum, but for the love of God– and this parish, Deo volente, will be one of those places. And all of this with no Traddie angst or fear or hardness of heart. At this point you think that I am going to tell you, amidst all of this, how to make sense of the feast of Christ the King today? No. I just once again quote Fr. Benedict’s email. There is more damage, but we are safe. We are being purified.
Read the whole thing. This is a Traditional Catholic priest speaking to a parish of Traditional Catholics. But if you ask me, he is speaking to all of us Christians. So is Father Benedict in Norcia. So is God. Let he who has ears to hear, hear. And do not weep, for the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.