Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Rebuilt from without

Franciscan Hermitage, Spencer, WV

Edit: I was encouraged to post the entire thing, so here it is.

The lifting of the excommunications against the four schismatic SSPX bishops has given me the opportunity to think, and now write, about a topic that I have been considering for some time. As most are aware, the SSPX is not simply a group of clergy who say Mass for their followers, but it is a kind of "mini-church," with bishops, priests, and religious. One order in the SSPX stands out to me because it is the "equivalent" of the order of which I am a member.

The "Traditional Third Order of St. Francis" (TOSF) bills itself as the true Third Order Franciscan order, and they claim that they restore the order and its spirituality that was "ravaged by the errors spread during and after the Second Vatican Council." They further claim to "adhere to the Rule of Popes Leo XIII and Nicholas IV."

I have not set out to disparage any people of good will. All that I seek to do with this piece is to let you know precisely what they say, in their own words, and respond accordingly. This is the sort of conversation that many people within the Church and within the SSPX will have to have now that this last chance offer has been extended by our Holy Father. Difficult? Absolutely. But the SSPX was not built in one day.

A very good place to begin with anything is the beginning, so let us begin there. The TOSF in Canada has a list of five requirements that must be met by anyone wishing to pursue a vocation in their order. These five conditions are:
1. The candidate (male or female) must be at least 14 years of age (for the Novitiate). 2. The candidate must live in Canada. 3. The candidate must develop a relationship with an SSPX priest so that the priest can be confident of giving us a letter of recommendation for entrance. 4. The candidate must sign a form indicating that he will never again assist at a Novus Ordo Mass. 5. The candidate must sign a form indicating that he accepts Pope Benedict XVI as the true pope.
Condition #1 is reasonable, even lenient, because the SFO has a required age of 18 for Profession (though there is a youth organization- YOUFRA- but no Profession.) Condition #2 is also very reasonable, as this is their order in Canada! Condition #3 is good in that it requires discernment with a priest, but you will notice that they specify a "SSPX priest." I will assume nothing with this, but I note it suspiciously. Condition #5 is quite good. I suppose they wish to distinguish themselves from the SSPV and other sedevacantists, which is a wise move. The problem with these conditions lies in #4. As every Roman Catholic knows, the normative Mass of the Church is the Ordinary Form of the Mass, what they refer to as the "Novus Ordo." Mass according to the Missal of 1962 is allowed, and even encouraged sometimes, but it is not the normative Mass.

Where I really wish to focus our attention is a circular letter issued by the Fraternity of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (TOSF) in Toronto, Canada. It is their September issue, and it focuses exclusively on the differences between "them" and "us." It is titled, "The Problem with the SFO." (Not a great beginning, is it?)

Let us read.
What a gift it is to see the fruits of Tradition growing in the vast wasteland of the Post-Conciliar revolution.
This really requires no commentary. It seems to be the standard fare of anything produced by a member of the SSPX.
In 1978 with the approval of Pope Paul VI the Third Order of St. Francis was changed to the Secular Franciscan Order. With the change of the Rule, came a new spirit and a new set of Constitutions. Fr. Eugene relates that: It is no longer necessary for the soul entering the SFO to be exactly faithful to the Catholic Faith. There are no longer any promises to observe the Commandments of God and the precepts of the Church. Banquets, theatres, dancing, luxurious clothing and spectacles of the like are no longer forbidden to the Tertiary. Nothing is said in relation to frugality in meals, and there is no longer a requirement to say prayers before and after meals. It is ignored that fasting and abstinence is necessary and monthly confession is no more a requisite. Prayer is just a suggestion and daily Mass is only recommended. For those of the Order who are sick, it is no longer requisite for a member of the Order to visit and assist them.
At the very start they acknowledge that a new Rule for Third Order Franciscans was promulgated in 1978 by Pope Paul VI, and that the common name by which to address the order is the "Secular Franciscan Order." In spite of this, they go on to spread lies about the nature of the new Rule and Constitutions. Of course it is "necessary for the soul entering the SFO to be exactly faithful to the Catholic Faith." Part of our Profession is obedience! The "Commandments of God and the precepts of the Church" are followed likewise, as is a duty of all Catholic Christians. They are right in saying that there is no longer a "list" of very specific do's and don'ts, but even a cursory reading of the Rule of Pope Paul VI establishes the obligation of Holy Poverty. Prayer is not "just a suggestion," as every Franciscan is bound to pray at least the hinge hours of the Liturgy of the Hours (or if unable, in extraordinary circumstances, another suitable form of liturgical prayer approved by the Church.) Daily Mass is recommended to us as to all. Please note well the descriptor "secular" in the SFO; we do not live in community, and it is not always possible or feasible to attend daily Mass. (I cannot, though it is not for a lack of desire on my part.) It is indeed a duty for us to "visit and assist" those in our fraternities who are ill, as life in fraternity binds us to the well-being of all our brothers and sisters.
Stripped of its efficacy therefore is the Third Order of St. Francis! Contemplate dear Brethren, how it can be possible for a soul in the world to fight the Devil and his Angels of darkness with no weapons at all at their disposal. This SFO has snatched the spiritual weapons of prayer and penance from the souls who thus enter it. If they do not strive to live according to the traditional Rule and spirit, this new SFO leaves them alone in a terrible battle without any weapon. Poor souls!
Yes; poor us! Dare we live as faithful Christians, adhering to the authority of the Franciscan Order and of the Church, in full communion with the Bishop of Rome! Much better to attach to an irregular, illicitly-consecrated British/South American bishop?
The Rule and Constitutions of the SFO contain religious language, but they take the soul who enters into them far from the ideal of the Seraphic Patriarch. Rev. Fr. Eugene explains: The new Rule pushes exterior artificial activism, and forbids the soul to receive supernatural graces. It is a dimunition of Catholic fervor, it makes religion an instrument of freedom and liberation. This is a de-sacrilization of the T.O.S.F. and they want to change not only the T.O.S.F, but want all the organizations to be one movement in the Church. The SFO has the appearance of Franciscanism but this orientation is not Franciscan. These words are crushing and deal a death blow to the Secular Franciscan Order from one who was deeply involved with Franciscan Order prior to Vatican II. They show a new Rule, with a new spirit, for a new religion.
The new Rule does not "push exterior artificial activism." However, it does call all Franciscans to pursue conditions of life worthy of all children of God, and it calls us to address injustices wherever they are found. This seems to be consonant with traditional Franciscanism. (Remember the first Third Order Franciscans? When told to take up arms (which was STRICTLY forbidden) and defend the local city-states they refused, and they came under the protection of the Bishops and the Pope! Also remember Anthony of Padua who became known for his resistance of and his fight against usury which was tearing the lives of the peasants of Padua apart.) As far as the idea of a "new religion," I thought that that was the SSPX. After all, they broke communion with the Roman Pontiff.
Deeper still is the problem of the SFO dear Brothers and Sisters. Where does this new orientation lead? Fr. Eugene explains: that the new Rule of the SFO, is a mix of modernism and progressivism, and is a provider of COMMUNISM. This Rule leads to communism said the Rev. Fr. Eugene Villeurbanne and is a service to man! This good Father, being a true shepherd warns those who think of entering the SFO that they must refuse to enter!
Communism? Really?! I have studied the Rule, extensively, and I incorporate my life into it daily, and I have yet to see an embedded political/economic/social schema which calls for the overthrow of the system by the proletariat! Indeed, I have read the Rule, and I have studied many of the works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and I see no similarities. Feel free to attempt to make the connection if you wish, but there is no basis for it. (I wonder if this is based on the same stellar scholarship which has led Mr. Williamson to believe that there was no Holocaust?)

Lest anyone think that this circular letter is simply the opinion of one man, let it be known that it was composed by the "Minister Prefect" of the fraternity, and approved by one Freddy Mery, a SSPX priest. The entire letter may be found here.

It can be clearly seen by the public pronouncements made by the leaders of the SSPX and the beliefs held and circulated by its religious that there is more to reconciliation with this group than a lifting of excommunications, or, in the words of the great internet priest, "Fr. Z," "clarifying those points on which people of good will may disagree." These are not points on which people of good will may disagree. Further, this group claims to uphold classical Franciscan tradition. Their very existence precludes this if one follows St. Francis as a model for the evangelical life. Francis spent a great deal of his life travelling: travelling to Rome, to seek the approval and blessing of the Pope for all that he did. Indeed, it is characteristic of classical Franciscanism to never be far removed from the heart of the Church, for how shall we "rebuild the Church" from without it?

It is on this point, and others, that this "blessed reunion" becomes personal for me. I will be addressing this topic at greater length in the future, and, as always, I welcome and request your comments and feedback.

Pax et bonum.

1. The blog of the fraternity in question may be found here.

2. Rule of Pope Paul VI, 1978 (the Rule of the Third Order of St. Francis, the Secular Franciscan Order)

3. The General Constitutions of the Secular Franciscan Order