22 August 2008

Catalyst

The following reflection was written by I-Wen Connick, a member of the ICRSP's St. Margaret Mary apostolate in Oakland, CA, about their outgoing (and St. Francis de Sales Oratory's incoming) Rector, Fr. Michael Wiener. In the photo above, Fr. Wiener is at right, with current St. Francis de Sales Rector Fr. Karl Lenhardt, both men serving as Deacons of Honor to then-Cardinal Ratzinger at a Traditional Latin Mass in Germany.

God bless you, dear Fr. Wiener!

For this special time, I’d like to ask your indulgence in a personal expression of gratitude to our dear departing priest. (I know that each of us has a personal story to tell, and I would be happy to give you all equal space if you care to send me yours.)

The very first time I met Fr. Wiener was not at church, but at my house, when he came to hear the children’s choir rehearse. Father had arrived from Europe only a week before, and didn’t even have a car to drive, but he was interested in the children’s choir, so he came to my house to meet the choir. I don’t remember what we were rehearsing, but Father patiently worked through the Latin pronunciation with the children, listened to their singing, and encouraged them.

It was something having a traditional priest, an imposing figure at that, all dressed in a cassock, visit us at our house. When the conversation turned to the liturgy, I told him very nicely (and I hope politely!) that I didn’t care at all for the Traditional Latin Mass, and some other silliness along those lines. He was nice too: he didn’t argue; he didn’t try to convince me, but simply invited my family to attend Mass one Sunday. A few weeks later, when the children’s choir sang at St. Margaret Mary, my family attended for the first time the Traditional Mass that Father celebrated. It was an eye-opener - quite different from any Mass I had experienced. Thus, with that Sunday Mass in early 2005, my continuing education as a Catholic began.

I have learned many things from Fr. Wiener since then, though it is always the first lessons which left the strongest impression. Our first encounter was at the choir rehearsal, and I learned in very short order that it is music which serves the liturgy, and not that liturgy provides the backdrop for a musical performance. Imagine telling a group of kids that what they do is not mere adornment and decoration for worship, but is integral to the liturgy itself. And since the Holy Mass is the highest form of worship, there was no need to convince the kids that what they did was important, not for applause, but for God. This was the beginning of my learning from Father an important corollary concept: that the liturgy of the Church is a divine gift of God to us, and not mere theatre in which we participate.

In so many other ways – teaching and preaching and catechizing - Father again and again conveyed to the children the importance of living and staying in the faith; he taught them (and us) by word and example to do this through understanding the teachings of the Church and practicing of virtues. Especially for the spiritual and moral supports he continuously gave to us parents, I am deeply grateful.

When I look back in my life and how the deep chasm between me and God was eventually bridged, I can see how God used certain individuals at key points to help me get closer to Him; it seemed to me that without these individuals, it would be likely that I’d be floundering now, away from God. I often think of the role of a catalyst. In chemical reactions, a catalyst is a substance which enables a reaction to occur more easily, but which is not consumed in the reaction itself. For example, it may take a huge amount of energy to get substance A to form a compound with substance B; but, if catalyst C is present, C might facilitate the synthesis of the compound by forming an intermediate step, which leads to an easier formation of the desired compound.

In love God creates us and desires us to participate in His life. But human beings are not at all like molecules whose behaviour is entirely governed by physical laws. Our free will makes it possible for us to accept the graces and connect with God, and also possible for us to reject these graces and maintain our distance from God. I am all too conscious of my own stubbornness and pseudo-intellectual independence which prevent me from accepting everything that God offers through His Church. Then God, in His infinite mercy and love, sends along a catalyst to make all that easier.

In my forming a stronger bond to God, Fr. Wiener has been an important catalyst. In these last three and a half years, my love for God has deepened through the classical divine liturgy of the Church that Father Wiener patiently and tirelessly taught us to see, appreciate and accept as a means of our sanctification. And I know that this experience is shared by many among the readers of this newsletter. I am also painfully aware that, while priests play an important catalytic role in our salvation, they are not molecules either, but human beings. By their own free will they serve God, and follow the Eternal Sovereign Priest Jesus Christ in leading a sacrificial life. It is personally very difficult for my husband and me to part, geographically, with this dear priest. I am certain Fr. Wiener will keep us and this apostolate in his prayers. Let us do the same for him.

Immaculate Heart of Mary, please keep this dear priest close to your Son’s Sacred Heart! The following prayer is from a sermon in July, when Father quoted a passage from Dietrich von Hildebrand’s book Transformation in Christ:

I will forget everything that was, and is to come; nor think of what lies ahead of me. Whatever I am wont to carry and to hold in my arms I will let fall before Jesus. It will not fall into the void: standing before Jesus, I deliver all up to Him. Everything belongs to Him: all burdening worries and all great concerns, both mine and those of the souls I love. I am not abandoning them as I would abandon them in seeking diversion: I know that in Jesus they are truly in a safe harbor. When at His call I relinquish and abandon all things, I am not casting them away; on the contrary, I am assigning everything to its proper place.

1 comment:

Michael said...

I have only been attending the Traditional Mass in Oakland for about six weeks, but in that time Father Weiner has made an indelible impression on my spiritual life. He will serve you well in St. Louis. We will misss him very much.