HOSE OF US SERVING as choirmasters want everyone to love sacred music. When someone complains—even someone who has no qualifications—we are crushed. We ask ourselves, “Why can’t everyone appreciate this powerful beauty?” It’s no use pointing out that there will always be a segment of the human race that’s contrarian. It’s pointless to recall that any survey given out will always have a segment of people who select ridiculous answers. We want 100% of people to love our musical choices, and we take criticism personally.
If we were sensible, however, we would not expect approval from the majority of the human race. To be blunt, “what most people do” or “what most people like” is not a sensible way to gauge anything. Think of how many people see nothing wrong with young couples engaging in marital relations outside of marriage. Think of how many embrace disgusting “rock” music—of a very low quality—or take part in vile pursuits such as WWF wrestling. Think of the large number who willingly support dishonest politicians. Think of the millions who are obsessed with Kim Kardashian. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen put it best:
Right is right if nobody’s right.
Wrong is wrong if everybody’s wrong.
I realize some will call me an elitist for such statements, but I truly believe we must avoid striving to be “like everyone else.” I believe holiness and integrity are special, and have become somewhat rare. (I wish that were not the case, but it is my conviction.)
Yet every once in a while we encounter a really special person. Every once in a while we meet someone with integrity. And Fr. Patrick T. Brannan was certainly such a person.
CERTAIN JESUITS recently featured in the news have scandalized us all. These Jesuits publicly contradict church teaching and betray Christ with shocking boldness. But Fr. Brannan had nothing to do with men like that. Fr. Brannan was an “old-fashioned” Jesuit—in the line of St. Isaac Jogues, St. Charles Garnier, St. Robert Southwell, and St. Edmund Campion. (For the record, I’ve encountered Benedictines, Dominicans, and secular priests every bit as rotten as the worst Jesuits; but I digress.)
Fr. Brannan was smart and energetic. He could have been anything in this world; but he chose to become a priest of God. This is heroic.
Fr. Brannan was holy. He was faithful to his vows, and absolutely refused to engage in gossip, detraction, or negative venting. I’m ashamed to admit I sometimes tried to bait him in this regard, but never succeeded.
Fr. Brannan never minimized the current situation in the Church; but he always encouraged people to remain faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ … and to BE AT PEACE.
Since 2006, I communicated with him, exchanging more than 600 emails and occasionally speaking on the telephone. I have no idea why he communicated with a dunce like me! One of the things he often did was help with questions about Lingua Latina. Yes, he was quite skilled in Latin, as so many “old-fashioned” Jesuits were. He once told me that a thorough knowledge of Latin helps the mind think clearly about many subjects—or words to that effect.
Fr. Brannan had a good ear, and encouraged many of the CCWatershed musical projects. He did not gloss over their imperfections, but praised what was good in them. In other words, he was honest in his support. We sometimes conversed about composers (Saint-Saëns, César Franck) but his main interests were plainsong and classical polyphony. I realize that “a certain narrative” claims Irish Jesuits are supposed to be horrible at music and liturgy, but the facts are what they are.
Needless to say, I would never dream of sharing the 600 private emails he sent me. Nevertheless, I wanted to quote several paragraphs to demonstrate what he was like.
In 2006, I sent Fr. Brannan several inaccurate translations by ICEL. Here’s part of his response:
I have fought this issue since the mid-seventies when I was Cardinal Carberry’s “peritus” to critique the translations done in the seventies by ICEL. I supplied him with reams of critical comments and he tried to fight the battle but no one was the least bit interested. I am afraid that despite all his Eminence’s protest he could do little, except the one time he went directly to Rome. He was informed by the ICEL committee: “There is no doubt that Father Brannan knows his Latin and Greek. But does he know English?” [Note: What a horrible thing to say!] I spoke to Cardinal Rigali about three weeks ago about a translation in a recent gospel where the Greek word for fornication or sexual immorality between a man and woman was translated “unlawful marriage.” I have no idea what impression that made.
The translators, like most other people, and here I include some “traditionalists,” are going to do whatever they want to do to have their own way. Until we all learn to respect the Church and to attempt to support and further Her work—rather than criticize and challenge Her—and go after instead the ideologues (both liberal and conservative) who are trying to destroy Her, we will have not peace. That’s what I mean by “pluralism.” Correct the mistakes but love the Church.
I was seriously bothered by Ordinary Form translations that seemed excessively “casual.” Fr. Brannan responded:
One has to distinguish between the liturgical translations and the biblical translations. The former claimed that they were offering “dynamic equivalent” translations and that was sheer balderdash. The biblical people are always trying to be contemporary and novel. When I was in theology, one of my professors was involved in the translation and we laughed the translators’ versions—e.g.: “Who is that chap baptizing across the Jordan?” or “Right you are.” (to name just two)—out of our refectory when we were forced to listen to them during meals. There is, I fear, little that we can do about this situation until those in charge demand a deliberate and careful translation that is to endure for several decades. This changing of the translation every few years is disastrous. I wonder how much of it is done for money. From what I hear, the Bishops own the royalties on the bible in the liturgy.
When asked whether God spoke always in a physical (“audible”) voice to Moses, Fr. Brannan responded:
It would seem to me that the Lord spoke to Moses in a particular way as His lawgiver to the people of Israel. Sometimes it was in the burning bush and on Mt. Sinai, and other times I suspect that it was in the quiet of his heart in deep, spiritual prayer.
Here is the official obituary for Fr. Patrick T. Brannan, SJ:
Rev. Patrick T. Brannan, SJ, was born in Philadelphia, Pa. on July 16, 1932. He graduated from St. Joseph’s Prep and entered the Society of Jesus at the Novitiate of St. Isaac Jogues in Wernersville, Pa. in 1950. He received both his B.A. and Licentiate in Philosophy from Loyola Seminary in Shrub Oak, NY, and his Bachelor and Doctorate of Sacred Theology from Woodstock College in Maryland. He was ordained a priest on June 16, 1963.
As a Jesuit scholastic, Fr. Brannan taught Latin and Greek at Scranton Prep and the University of Scranton. Following ordination, he taught the Classics at Cambridge University for two years before enrolling at Stanford University where he earned his Ph.D. in the Classics. He then taught Classics for another two years at the University of Scranton and spent a year in pastoral ministry at Fordham University. In 1973, Fr. Brannan went to Cardinal Glennon College in St. Louis where he served as a professor of Philosophy, Greek and French for five years and an associate editor of the Catholic Central Union of America for a year. He taught Classical Literature at Gonzaga University for three years and then began an 11-year tenure at the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, first as a professor of Classics and Philosophy, and then as the Chairman of Classics and Modern Languages. While working at the Seminary, he also taught the Classics for a year at Saint Joseph’s University and was the Director of Apostleship of Prayer for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for two years.
In 1993, Fr. Brannan traveled to Rome and served for two years at the Jesuit Curia as assistant interpreter. He returned to the States in 1995, teaching Theology and the Classics at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Elmhurst, Pa., for four years, and then serving two years as a spiritual director and professor of Classical Languages at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit. Fr. Brannan began a series of 1-year assignments in 2001, including parochial vicar at St. Peter’s Church in Beaufort, SC, chaplain at St. Joseph Communications in West Covina, Ca., and professor of Classics at the College of St. Thomas More in Fort Worth, Tx. He then spent four years in pastoral ministry at Loyola Blakefield High School in Baltimore and in 2008 became a pastoral minister at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.
Fr. Brannan died at Manresa Hall Jesuit Community on January 24, 2017 at the age of 84.
I will try my very best to pray for the repose of his soul—which he would have desperately wanted (he always asked for prayers). But I cannot shake the belief that he is with our Lord in Heaven.
Picture courtesy of this blog.