Tony Flannery can wear the Holy Office-imposed Silentium badge with pride
Tertullian, in or about the year 200, tackled the imperial magisterium of his fellow Roman African, Septimius Severus, with all the zeal of the newly converted but with the pungent wit of one who wasn’t going to put up with any silencing or persecution from those who thought his newly espoused sect of Christians, or his own Montanist denomination of choice, should offer sacrifice (even if with a mental reservation) to some recently deified dead emperor in distant Rome.
Where the hell would you be without us? he went on in his definitely unapologetic ‘Apologeticum’. Who do you think has been keeping a bit of moral backbone in all your offices of state in your far-flung outposts, since all we’ve left you are your silly temples? We are and wish to remain at the very heart of the Empire – but if you do martyr us remember: “semen est sanguis Christianorum”.
The blood of martyrs certainly seems to have given the ACP a spurt of Easter growth over the past few days, if we are to judge from the 200+ comments over half a dozen threads on this site and a scatter of letters in the Dublin papers. Let’s hope this new growth doesn’t all melt away like snow off a ditch when the story moves on. I guess Fr Flannery’s witness, and that of his colleagues both in ‘Reality’ and the ACP, would count as what used be called ‘white martyrdom’. Those of us who were reared on Redemptorist parish missions of the 1940s/’50s variety will appreciate the journey Fr Tony and (many of) his confreres have travelled over the decades to supply us with new wine in reassuringly old redemptorist bottles. Rome’s Holy Office-imposed Silentium is a badge he can wear with pride. Congar and many others were here before him. Shouldn’t it be up to all those who have benefited from his missions, retreats, conferences, books, Reality columns and ACP website posts and moderation over decades to persuade Levada’s lot to face reality?
I have just spent most of Holy and Easter Weeks in another old imperial city, Vienna, which happily has bequeathed most of its imperial sense of entitlement and hangups, secular and ecclesiastical, to its wonderful museums, palaces, art galleries and cathedral. Stephansdom is the heart of Vienna and was certainly the heart of our holiday. If you’re into martyrdom, you might as well start with the Archmartyr himself whose feastday at least the Irish haven’t turned into boxing day. It was a rare privilege to be part of a packed congregation accompanying Christoph Scho(e)nbron through Holy Week: from the Gregorian Lauds of Tuesday morning; through Thursday’s Fusswaschung (I thought he might have washed Fr Helmut Schu(e)ller’s feet as a token of the new ‘radicalism of obedience’ wafting north from Rome!); through Friday’s St John’s Passion with full St Stephan’s Choir for the crowd scenes; through a rich three-hour Easter Vigil with Schonbron developing the Exsultet message and processing through his cathedral’s every nook and cranny to make sure we’d all got the message and his blessing; through his Easter Sunday Pontifical High Mass (Beethoven Messe C-Dur mit Handels Halleluja) with ne’er an inch or centimetre of watered silk cappa magna to be seen; and finally a Mozart Vespers on Sunday evening to put the cap on all the incidental bits of Bruckner, Haydn, Handel and all the local lads. No, Seán Ó Riada isn’t quite in the same league.
I can only think how blest the Austrian Priests’ Initiative (PI) are to have Christoph Schonborn as their shepherd and fuhrer (=guide), questioner and reiner-in, and go-between when push comes to shove. Of course his address to his priests at his own Chrisammesse a few days before Benedict lobbed in his ‘radical obedience’ grenade in the general direction of “a group of priests from a European country” was pure Schonbornese towards asking PI to drop the “disobedience” word on three key issues. If only the ACP had a similarly well endowed dialogue partner among the Irish bishops! If only our shepherds weren’t such sheep. But then you wouldn’t catch Schonborn, or any German-speaking bishop, leading off the Creed with “Ich glaube an den einen Gott” rather than “Wir glauben …”, or going on with “konsubstantialischer mit dem Vater” instead of “eines Wesens mit …”.
But it is Schonborn’s triple repetition in his Easter homily of the ancient phrase “Apostel der Apostel” (Apostle to the Apostles) that stuck in my mind. I must by now have sat through about 65 Easter homilies touching on Christ’s commissioning of Mary of Magdala to “go and find the brothers” (wherever they’re hiding) “and tell them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” But after all those homilies in Crossmaglen, Armagh, Maynooth, Sierra Leone and Westminster, I had to go to Vienna and stretch my few words of German to breaking point to hear Mary of Magdala described as “Apostle to the Apostles”, not just once but three times. Do you think, if the Austrian Priests’ Initiative could just give Schonborn a bit of a break, he might still be elected at the next conclave, Rome might stop airbrushing more than half its membership from history and ministry, and the Magdalene cardinals might be a substantial, or even consubstantial, voting bloc at the next conclave but one. Anyway, Paddy Power is still offering attractive odds on an Austrian for Pope, so my few quid will be resting impatiently on Christoph.