Monday, May 23, 2016

Year II Eighth Monday in Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Peter 1:3-9; Ps 111:1-2.9.10c; Mark 10:17-27

Wealth, the pursuit of riches, having your whole life taken up by the never-ending cycle of earning, spending, and consuming is something that quickly keeps us from God. The rich man in today’s Gospel loved his riches more than he loved God. Lest I exaggerate, let me note that the rich man was not a “bad” person. He endeavored to keep all the commandments and claimed to have kept them all from his youth. Now, we do not know what this man ultimately did. Perhaps he later repented. What we do know is that he walked away from this encounter with Jesus sad at the prospect of selling his riches, giving to the poor, and following Jesus.

After the man went away, Jesus explained to his disciples that riches are one of the biggest barriers to entering the Kingdom of God. He made this point very emphatically when he said, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25). Very often, when commenting on this passage of Scripture, preachers and teachers try to reduce its impact. One way they do this is by attempting to explain that “the eye of the needle” to which Jesus referred was a gate into a walled ancient Middle Eastern city. But Jesus was talking about a hand-held needle and stuffing an entire camel through its eye, which is not just difficult, but impossible.

The impossibility of a camel passing through the eye of a needle is what prompted his disciples to ask, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus assured them by saying, “All things are possible for God,” even saving someone who is rich. After all, that is just what Jesus tried to do for the rich man, who St. Mark tells us the Lord loved: save him. But God does not save anyone against his will.

Jesus does not merely tell the rich man just to give up his riches. He tells him to sell his possessions and “give to the poor.” The Lord assured the man that by selling what he owned and giving to the poor he would have treasure in heaven. My friends, if our lives are dedicated to seeking treasure, then our reward will be the earthly treasure we accumulate. But, as our first reading reminds us, the goal of our faith is the salvation of our souls.

Yesterday my family and I watched the movie Tomorrowland. While there was a lot I did not like about the film, at root it was about how every day we hear about all the bad things happening in the world, about how things are getting worse minute-by-minute. Being inundated through mass media with bad things and dire predictions all day, every day paralyzes us, causing us to ask, “Where do I start?” Paralysis keeps us from doing simple things like consuming less and giving more, not just of our money, but our time and energy, in order to make a positive impact for the Kingdom of God.

Moreover, the movie focused on the importance of hope, the utter necessity of acting on the belief that all is not lost, that we can make the world a better place by doing what the slogan with which we’re all familiar tells us: “Think globally, act locally.”

In the opening passage of his message for Lent this year, Pope Francis wrote:
Usually, when we are healthy and comfortable, we forget about others (something God the Father never does): we are unconcerned with their problems, their sufferings and the injustices they endure … Our heart grows cold. As long as I am relatively healthy and comfortable, I don’t think about those less well off. Today, this selfish attitude of indifference has taken on global proportions, to the extent that we can speak of a globalization of indifference. It is a problem which we, as Christians, need to confront
In terms of the population of the world right now, every one of us here is rich, wealthy beyond the imagination of most people. What the Holy Father is saying is that it is easy for those of us in the developed world to become so narrowly focused on our own lives, to be caught up in the rat race, that we simply don’t care, or have the time to care, what else is happening in the world, how our lifestyle impacts our fellow human beings and the health of the planet.

Not wanting to leave us without hope, the Holy Father, in the same message, noted: “When the people of God are converted to [God’s] love, they find answers to the questions that history continually raises.” How the love of God confronts the problems of every era, including our own, is by raising up saints. Perhaps the best known of God’s answers to the problem of growing indifference is Bl. Teresa of Calcutta, who will be raised to the altar as a saint later this year. Even beyond her death, the Missionaries of Charity remain committed to the globalization of caring. Another shining answer is Servant of God Dorothy Day, whose cause for canonization is now underway.

Caring is the opposite of indifference. Genuine care, which is not limited to meeting a person’s material needs- though it seeks to meet those for sure- is borne of love. I firmly believe that by inviting the rich man to sell his possessions, give to the poor, and follow him, Jesus tried to draw the man out of himself, away from being absorbed only in his own life, to give up the pursuit of holiness as an individual effort consisting primarily of scrupulous observance of the law. In short, the Lord called him to be truly liberated. It’s a radical call.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Remembering the Venerable Matt Talbot on Trinity Sunday

Being Trinity Sunday today, I am thinking a lot about my heavenly friend, the Venerable Matt Talbot. Matt died while on walking to Mass on Granby Lane in Dublin on Trinity Sunday in 1925. He was buried the following Sunday, which was Corpus Christi, which is wholly fitting for someone who loved the Blessed Sacrament as much as Matt did.

Reading about Matt the other day I came across this: "Decades later [after Matt's death], a visiting Italian priest went privately to pray at the grave of the Dublin worker he had heard so much about. In 1975, and after the due process had been completed, that same cleric, now Pope Paul VI, bestowed a new title upon that Irish workman: Venerable Matt Talbot."

Prayer for the Canonization of Matt Talbot:
Lord, in your servant, Matt Talbot you
have given us a wonderful example of
triumph over addiction, of devotion to
duty, and of lifelong reverence for the
Holy Sacrament. May his life of
prayer and penance give us courage
to take up our crosses and follow in the
footsteps of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Father, if it be your will that your
beloved servant should be glorified by
your Church, make known by your
heavenly favours the power he enjoys in
your sight. We ask this through the
same Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen
Please join me in praying that Papa Begoglio, who will visit Ireland in 2018, in his paternal tenderness, will make Matt Blessed. His intercession works miracles all the time.

Venerable Matt, pray for us.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

"God in three persons, blessed Trinity"

Many people believe that the picture below accurately captures what it means to accept the most fundamental dogma of the Christian faith, the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Believing that our faith is built on a gross arithmetical error, something that is contrary to reason, is utterly unacceptable, not just theologically but even in purely human terms. I understand that the meme is meant to be humorous and, yes, I chuckled when I first saw it. But as I chuckled, I thought, "This is what a lot of people, including many Christians, believe it means to figure out the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity."

Even as I realize the imprudence of attempting to describe how humor works (it just does!), I'll note that sometimes what makes something funny is that it pithily captures something that is true in an honest, if obtuse, way. Of course, there is no such thing as Catholic math, or Christian math, or Jewish math, etc. Math is math. As one of the "Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy," which used to be a regular feature on Saturday Night Live, put it- "Instead of having 'answers' on a math test, they should just call them 'impressions,' and if you got a different 'impression,' so what, can't we all be brothers?" All of this is just a way of saying that if you understand 1 and you understand 3, then you grasp that they differ by 2 every time. This remains as true for the Most Holy Trinity as it does for the number of beans on the table.

If what is shown in the picture were what was proposed for your belief and you accepted it, you'd be stupid. It's that simple. Fortunately, that is not what is proposed.

While there is a distinction to be made between beliefs of reason and beliefs of faith, it is important to note that what we believe on faith is not unreasonable. The fundamental problem with the "Catholic math" depicted in the humorous meme is that it makes a category error. The error results from the attempt to turn a belief of faith, something that is a matter of revelation, into a belief of reason, something a person is able to figure out all on his own. This goes on all the time in more seemingly sophisticated ways and is an error made repeatedly by the so-called New Atheists and others. All of this amounts to an attempt to reduce God, the ultimate mystery, to our own measure. It seeks to make God, the ultimate reality, somehow measurable and, if not in some way measurable, then not real. If you're deadset on sticking with math, I urge you to go with multiplication: 1 x 1 x 1 = 1.

The nature of the divine expressed as one God in three divine persons is a mystery. Employed theologically, the term mystery is not something unknown, but something known only because God has revealed it. While Catholics believe dogmatically that it is possible to know that there is a God by light of human reason unaided by divine revelation, it is not possible to know that God is triune except by divine revelation. The fullness of God's revelation is Jesus Christ.

While there is a real distinction between the divine persons (i.e., the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, neither the Father nor the Son is the Holy Spirit and vice-versa), there is a mysterious unity of these three persons that make them one God and not three gods. What is this unity? Okay, that is not a question that is completely answerable, I suggest that one of the best descriptions of divine unity can be found in the fourth chapter of 1 John, where twice in eight verses (8-16) we read "God is love." This is not reversible because "love is God" and "God is love" don't mean the same thing.

It has been noted a number of times throughout the history of the Church that the Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son personified. This is why the family- father, mother, and child- is often seen as an icon of the Most Holy Trinity. At a minimum, love requires a lover and beloved.

Being profuse (i.e., exuberantly plentiful; abundant, lavish; extravagant) love that is truly love moves outward- this is why the Church teaches that, in addition to the good of the spouses, marriage is ordered by its very nature to having and educating children (see Canon 1055 §1). Despite the justified historical/canonical objections as to how the filoque (i.e., "and the Son") was inserted into the Creed, I am a fairly unabashed proponent of the double-procession of the Holy Spirit (i.e., the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son" [filoque], not the Father alone).

While the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity can be apprehended, it cannot be fully comprehended. God qua God remains ineffable. God is at once immanent and transcendent, that is, closer to us than we are to ourselves and completely other at one and the same time. God fills the cosmos, but is not bounded by it. Once some of the more common confusions, like trying to wrap your mind around the foolishness of somehow figuring out how in the world 3=1, are cleared up and we come to grasp what the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is not, our comprehension of God largely becomes a matter of experience, or relationship with the mystery that generates reality. I think the best definition of grace remains God sharing divine life us.

Jesus speaks to this immersion in his great high priestly prayer in John chapter seventeen:
I pray not only for them [his disciples], but also for those who will believe in me through their word [you and I], so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me (John 17:20-23)
The Father in the Son and the Son in us. How does this happen? By the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit's masterworks are the sacraments. At the heart of the sacraments, at the heart of the Church, at the heart of reality, is the Eucharist. If our (hopefully) ever-increasing comprehension of God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- is an experience, then the Eucharist, the sacramentum caritatis (i.e., the sacrament of love), is the premier of those experiences that enable us to better understand and live the mystery of love.

I am grateful to one of my Jesuit friends, Fr. Peter Nguyen, for this lovely reflection by a former Superior General of the Society of Jesus, the late Fr. Pedro Arrupe:
This mystery of love is the mystery of the life of the Trinity, a life of communion and communication. Love, says, St. Ignatius (of Loyola), is a communication of what one has and what one is (Spiritual Exercises, 231). This is what the Holy Trinity does. The Father begets the Son, fully communicating with Him throughout all eternity the completeness of His divine Being and the Son replies, also throughout eternity, by returning to Himself in full to the Father with all the impetus of His love (John 1:1; John 1:7). Here is the mystery of divine love, in which, as they are perfect Beings in themselves, they communicate fully by giving their own selves. Each one of the three has no separate existence. Their Being is defined by each giving of Himself to the Other Two at the same time and at all times. Each is a point of reference between the Other Two. Their whole Being is a complete, “issuing forth” of themselves (an ecstasy), a yearning towards Others, an irruption towards the Others as the Greek Fathers would say

The diaconate is a sacramental office

One of the issues the recent excitement about women and the diaconate, or women in the diaconate, brings to the fore is the sacramental nature of the diaconate. As it made its way to being restored as a permanent order of ministry in and for the Church, there was a legitimate question as to whether or not the diaconate was sacramental in nature. Believe it or not, there was a similar question pertaining to the episcopate, whether a priest became a bishop by way of ordination or institution.

The matter of the sacramental nature of the diaconate was resolved in 1947 by Bl. Pope Pius XII in his Apostolic Constitution Sacramentum ordinis. In this encyclical, the Supreme Pontiff clarified that the diaconate is conferred by ordination, the form being the laying on of hands and the matter being the consecratory prayer. Hence, it is by being ordained a deacon that a man is constituted a cleric.

The sacramental nature of the diaconate is rooted in the Church's reception, understanding, and authoritative interpretation of sacred Scripture, the relevant passage being Acts 6:1-7. Despite some exegetical concerns- not serious ones, in my view- at least since the time of St. Ireneaus of Lyons in the second century of the common era, this passage has been understood as the origin, the magna carta, of the diaconate. There is much more that could, and probably needs, to be said with regard to this passage in terms of understanding the diaconate as being divinely instituted. It was instituted by the apostles acting under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They called seven men "filled with the Holy Spirit" to assist them in the community so they could focus on their apostolic ministry. I think it is significant that we know the names of the first seven deacons. Even more significantly for the restored and renewed diaconate, in the Acts of the Apostles we see the organic evolution of the office in the subsequent ministries of Stephen of Philip.

Paragraph 29 of Lumen gentium, the Second Vatican Council's Dogamtic Constitution on the Church, also assumes the sacramental nature of the diaconate: "At a lower level of the hierarchy are deacons, upon whom hands are imposed 'not unto the priesthood, but unto a ministry of service.' For strengthened by sacramental grace, in communion with the bishop and his group of priests they serve in the diaconate of the liturgy, of the word, and of charity to the people of God." Given this, one can see that Pope Benedict XVI's Apostolic Letter, issued motu proprio, Omnium in mentem, which, among other things, amended the Code of Canon Law, specifically Canon 1009 concerning the diaconate's relationship to the episcopate and presbyterate, was not an innovation aimed at sparking a sacramental revolution, but simply a clarification.

The need to write something about the diaconate as a sacramental office conferred by ordination, along with the necessity of the unity of the three offices that together constitute the sacrament of orders, became apparent to me after someone put a link to my post "Arguing for the ordination of women by way of reduction" up on social media. In response to this I was on the receiving end of a rather pointed rebuttal that took me to task for arguing against what the commentor viewed as a given (i.e., that ordaining women deacons was utterly unproblematic in light of a rather simplistic and reductive argument made on the basis of Omnium in mentem) and for not writing clearly enough. As to her second point, I'll reluctantly concede that I could've been clearer. I make no apologies for generally not posting in the form of a legal brief- the person who took exception to what I wrote is an attorney.

So, in order to clarify a bit, I offer the following as food for thought:
1- In light of the unity of the offices that comprise the sacrament of orders, ordaining women, conferring on them the sacrament of orders, is more complex than many suppose or want it to be

1b- In light of the unity of the sacrament of orders, it's difficult to see how once women are ordained, what theological or anthropological reasons could be given for not ordaining women to the other offices- this was the reason I used the example of what happened in the Church of England from 1987, when the church approved the ordination of women to the diaconate, to 1994, when the church approved the ordination of women to the presbyterate, to 2014, when the church approved the ordination of women to the episcopate- this proves that such an argument is not fallacious (i.e., not a slippery-slope argument)

2- The fact that deacons don't act persona Christi captis (i.e., in the person of Christ the head) does not necessarily mean (in my view, does not likely mean) that deacons do not act in persona Christi when exercising our ministry- perhaps the best term for this is persona Christi servii (i.e., in the person of Christ the servant)

2b- If deacons in nowise, or no way, act in the person of Christ in the exercise of our ministry, then what precisely makes the diaconate a sacramental office?

3- As we see with all the confusion we are experiencing concerning marriage and who can use what restroom, theological anthropology is crucially important, lest the Church accept what Pope Francis himself has denounced as "gender ideology"
It seems to me that the Church in recent decades has done a notable job in defining what what a deacon is not, what he cannot do, that is, to define the diaconate negatively. It is worth pointing out that in the Church's history, it was tensions that arose from perceptions that the deacons had grown too powerful that contributed to its decline and, at least in the West, its reduction to a transitional order whose sacramentality was a matter of dispute. It seems to me that much work remains to be done in terms giving the restored and renewed diaconate a clearer sacramental and ecclesial identity. It seems fair to expect that deacons themselves undertake the bulk this labor. There is good news in that this project is already underway. In the United States we have as a foundation the invaluable work of Deacons Owen Cummings, Bill Ditewig, and James Keating. My mention of these notable deacons should in no way be taken as an attempt to attribute the views I have expressed in this post, or my previous posts on the diaconate, to any or all of them.

No matter what the Church does with regard to women vis-à-vis the diaconate, one thing that is clear- ordaining women, being no simple matter, is not something the pope could do motu proprio by simply amending the Code of Canon Law.

And now I think I'll give this topic a rest for awhile.

Friday, May 20, 2016

"I think we never thought about the world and its realities"

Last Sunday I was at the parish early to prepare to preach and accomplish a few administrative tasks. As I did my work, out of nowhere, Styx's song "Living High" popped into my head. With no warning, I found myself singing, "Livin' high, livin' fine, livin' on borrowed time."

Some things stay with you for a lifetime, even good things. You see, in junior high, my friends and I were very heavily into the music of Styx. I doubt kids do this anymore, but we used to get together at somebody's house just to listen to music, entire albums and most of the time more than one. This was something we did pretty regularly during colder months, usually after spending a good deal of time either outside or in the church gym playing basketball. We'd put on the record, then lay on the floor and just listen. Really, everything I know about music and the great love I have for many forms of contemporary music are largely the result of these experiences.

It was much different for me listening to music then than it is now. Back then I looked forward with great excitement and a little fear to the great unknown, the future. Somehow, I found all the music encouraging, reassuring, and, I daresay, inspiring. Now when I listen to music, which I do daily, but in a dedicated way most Friday afternoons, I usually find myself looking back and thinking about the journey from then to now. I still find the music encouraging, reassuring, and, yes, at times inspiring.

While I didn't know this in junior high and likely would not have cared, Dennis DeYoung, the founder and lead singer of Styx, was and remains a devout Roman Catholic. Without a doubt, DeYoung is one of the greatest rock n' roll showmen of all time. It's easy to forget, too, that many rock bands in the '70s and '80s, as "Living High" demonstrates, were deeply suspicious of ideologies of both the political left and right, ambivalent, if you will, towards politics.

Because it also speaks directly to the silliness that increasingly constitutes our politics, as this presidential election year plods slowly towards our national day of reckoning, Styx's "Living High" is our Friday traditio for this first Friday back in Ordinary Time:

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Year C Pentecost

Readings: Acts 2:1-11; Ps 104:1.24.29-31.34; 1 Cor 12:3b-7; John 20:19-23

The word Pentecost, which is Greek in origin, means fifty days. While, for Christians, Pentecost comes fifty days after Easter, on the Jewish calendar Pentecost is fifty days after Passover. The Hebrew word for this Jewish observance is Shavu’ot, or, as it is commonly referred to in English, the Festival of Weeks. During the celebration of Shavu’ot, Jews commemorate God giving the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. Shauv’ot, or Pentecost, was and remains a major annual observance for Jews worlwide. Observing Pentecost in the Temple, which was still standing in the time of the apostles, is the reason that there were Jews from all over the known world in Jerusalem on the occasion of the first Christian Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit’s descent, as recorded in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, came fifty days after the Passover during which Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection occurred. Just as observance of the Law, not descent from Abraham, is what conferred on the Jewish people their identity as God’s chosen people, it is the Holy Spirit who gives the Church her identity as the Bride of Christ. So, just as especially through child-bearing, a man and a woman become flesh of each other’s flesh and bone of each other’s bone, it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that those reborn in baptism make the Church, Christ’s Bride, his very body.

It is by Christ’s pouring out the Holy Spirit on the first Christian Pentecost that God opened the one covenant to everyone and anyone who says “Jesus is Lord” by the power of the Spirit. In his Second Letter to the Corinthians St. Paul made the distinction between the spirit and the letter of the law (2 Cor 3:6). Christ showed us that the law was not given as an end in itself, but as a means to the end of being perfected in love. While what we do, or don’t do, certainly matters, why we do what we do and why we avoid what we should not do matters just as much. As Spirit-filled followers of Christ our reason for doing or not doing is the same: love of God and neighbor.

After Easter, Pentecost is the most important celebration on the Church’s liturgical calendar. It is sometimes referred to as the birthday of the Church. Given the milieu in which we live, I think understanding that the Church began at Pentecost and has continued by the power of the same Spirit ever since is vitally important. It is equally important to grasp that the Church, which has existed from before the foundation of the world, will never cease to exist. Heaven is the Church, the city of God come down from heaven, as we read in the twenty-first chapter of Revelation (Rev 21:2-3). You see, in the end the Church will only be comprised of saints, which is why French Catholic writer Leon Bloy’s observation- “There is only one tragedy in the end, not to have been a saint” – gets right to heart of the matter. In other words, Christ did not send the Holy Spirit merely to put on a good show for the Jews gathered in Jerusalem more than 2,000 years ago any more than he does so now. Christ sends the Holy Spirit to renew the face of the earth beginning with you and me.

The Solemnity of Pentecost is often seen as the rectification of the confusion of languages that resulted from the attempt, which echoed the original sin, to build a tower that reached to heaven- the Tower of Babel. Building on seeing the first Christian Pentecost as the event marking the opening of God’s one covenant with humanity to anyone who comes to faith in Christ, which is only possible by the Holy Spirit, it can also be viewed as the beginning of God’s restoring communion among a sin-fractured humanity. As the apostles spoke their fellow Jews, gathered in Jerusalem from all over the world, just as Catholics from all over the world, speaking many languages, often gather in St. Peter’s Square, heard the proclamation of the Gospel in his/her own language.

Pentecost, Wells Cathedral, England

It is fitting that during this Jubilee of Mercy our Gospel for Pentecost Sunday is an excerpt of our Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter, which is the feast of Divine Mercy. One of the criteria for something to be a sacrament is that Christ himself instituted it as such. Our Gospel reading today is the primary passage to which the Church points when considering the Sacrament of Penance, more commonly referred to as confession. It is notable that the Sacrament of Penance was the first gift given to the Church by the Lord after his resurrection.

Through the waters of baptism, we are restored to that state of original grace in which God created human beings to live. This state of original grace may be more succinctly referred to as the state of communion: communion between humanity and God, communion between people, and communion between people and nature. But so persistent is our fallen state that even after we are baptized we are still prone to sin. This is what makes going to confession, which is an extension of baptism, so vitally important for your spiritual life and health.

Just as in the Eucharist the bread and wine become for us Christ’s body and blood by the power of the Holy Spirit, it is by the Spirit’s power given us through the Sacrament of Penance that our sins are forgiven and the eternal punishment due to us is mercifully taken away. Rather than wait for God’s judgment at the end of your life, going to confession regularly gives you the opportunity to judge yourself, acknowledge your sins, express your sorrow, do penance, and receive the grace you need to live an increasingly Spirit-filled life until you are perfected in love.

The Holy Spirit is the way that Jesus Christ remains present in us and among us until he returns again in glory. The sacraments are the Holy Spirit's masterworks. Perhaps the best definition of a sacrament is a visible and tangible sign of Christ’s presence in and for the world. One of the four ways that Christ is really and truly present in this Eucharist and every Eucharist is in our gathering, as the baptized, to be immersed in the great Paschal mystery. Our assembling here today is not just a visible and tangible sign of Christ’s presence in and for the world, but is the sign of Christ's presence in southern Davis County, Utah. By virtue of your baptism and confirmation, in which God called you by name, you are called be a sacrament, that is, an active, dynamic sign of Christ’s presence in and for the world. At the end of this Mass you will be sent to “proclaim the Gospel of the Lord,” just as the apostles were sent at Pentecost after receiving the Holy Spirit.

My dear friends in Christ, in a very real sense, every Sunday is Pentecost; we are filled with the Holy Spirit and sent forth to proclaim the Good News- “Jesus is Lord!”

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Arguing for the ordination of women by way of reduction

I readily admit to losing the thread on what Pope Francis did or did not say during his meeting in Rome with an organization of superior generals for women's religious orders concerning women and the diaconate, or women in the diaconate. Once again, all this demonstrates is the unreliability of the media, including the highly reactive Catholic media. As I mentioned in my previous post on the latest papally-induced media uproar, the question of admitting women to orders is not a simple one, but is rather dense and complex. I will also reiterate my insistence that most of what one reads in reaction to the Holy Father's real or imagined comments seeks to reduce the issue to one aspect and then, leaping all of the other substantial issues, proceeds to ask, often with an air of indigence, if not defiance, "Why not, in the name of equality?" It's always a danger to import secular categories into ecclesial discourse.

One of the attempts to reduce the scope and complexity of the question in order to arrive at a pre-determined answer asserts that Pope Benedict XVI laid the groundwork for women deacons with his Apostolic Letter, issued motu proprio on 26 October 2009, Omnium in mentem. This motu proprio made several changes to the Church's Code of Canon Law on several matters. One of those matters concerned two canons on the sacrament of orders, one of which sought to clarify the relationship to and distinctiveness of the diaconate vis-à-vis the orders of the episcopate and the prebyterate. Specifically, Canon 1009 was amended to state: "Those who are constituted in the order of the episcopate or the presbyterate receive the mission and capacity to act in the person of Christ the Head, whereas deacons are empowered to serve the People of God in the ministries of the liturgy, the word and charity." The reductive argument, as I understand it, is that since a deacon cannot act persona Christi captis, there is no barrier to ordaining women as deacons, thereby admitting them to the sacrament of orders. If the matter were that simple, it would be a compelling argument.

While I do not labor under the delusion that this blog post will solve even this issue definitively, it is helpful to point out something then-Father Professor Gerhard Müller, who served as a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's International Theological Commission (ITC), said in a 2002 interview given in the wake of the release of the ITC's comprehensive study on the diaconate, From the Diakonia of Christ to the Diakonia of the Apostles, concerning the unity of the sacrament of orders. In answer to the question "Is it possible to separate the diaconate of women from the priesthood of women?," the then future and now current cardinal prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said:
No — because of the unity of the sacrament of orders, which has been underlined in the deliberations of the Theological Commission; it cannot be measured with a different yardstick. Then it would be a real discrimination of woman if she is considered as apt for the diaconate, but not for the presbyterate or episcopacy.

The unity of the sacrament would be torn at its root if, the diaconate as ministry of service, was opposed to the presbyterate as ministry of government, and from this would be deduced that woman, as opposed to man, has a greater affinity to serve and because of this would be apt for the diaconate but not for the presbyterate.

However, the apostolic ministry all together is a service in the three degrees in which it is exercised.

The Church does not ordain women, not because they are lacking some spiritual gift or natural talent, but because — as in the sacrament of marriage — the sexual difference and of the relation between man and woman contains in itself a symbolism that presents and represents in itself a prior condition to express the salvific dimension of the relation of Christ and the Church.

If the deacon, with the bishop and presbyter, starting from the radical unity of the three degrees of the orders, acts from Christ, head and Spouse of the Church, in favor of the Church, it is obvious that only a man can represent this relation of Christ with the Church.

And in reverse, it is equally obvious that God could only take his human nature from a woman and, because of this, womankind has in the order of grace — because of the internal reference of nature and grace — an unmistakable, fundamental, and in no way merely accidental importance

The issues Müller hit on in this answer drew my attention to the recent decision, made in 2014, by the Church of England (CofE) to ordain women bishops. This argument loomed large in the CofE's deliberations concerning ordaining women to the priesthood in the early 1990s. At the time the assertion that by ordaining women priests there would be no conceivable justification for not ordaining them bishops was dismissed by many as a fallacious slippery-slope argument. In fact, that very argument was one of the major arguments used in the deliberations 20 years later that led to the decision to begin ordaining women bishops. It bears noting that the CofE began ordaining women deacons in 1987, followed by ordaining women priests in 1994. I don't employ this as a scare tactic, but as a working out of the logic Müller used in his interview. It's much like the difficulty of arguing for the moral liciety of contraception while insisting on the inherent immorality of homosexual acts, a disconnect Rowan Williams noted back in 1989 in his work "The Body's Grace."

While a deacon may not act in persona Christi captis, one might assert, as some have, including Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, in his forward to Deacon (Dr.) James Keating's recent book, The Heart of the Diaconate: Communion with the Servant Mysteries of Christ, a deacon acts in persona Christi servii, in the person of Christ the servant. In light of the sacramental nature of the diaconate, an issue that merits a discussion all its own, it would be difficult to argue that a deacon does not conduct his ministry in the person of Christ, even if not as the head.

In addition to arguing against what strikes me as a rather one-dimensional answer to a multi-dimensional question, I suppose I want to warn against not being reductive when it comes to the sacraments, to the mysteries of our faith. As Cardinal Martini wrote in his exchange about matters of Catholic faith with Umberto Eco on issue of ordaining women: "The Church does not fulfill expectations, it celebrates mysteries." Hence, it's important not to be reductive about the diaconate, an order instituted by the apostles and arguably older than the presbyterate.

I think it's important not to define the diaconate in an exclusively negative manner, that is, by what a deacon cannot do. One example of permanent deacons not having a fully realized ecclesial identity is how the Code of Canon Law deals with permanent deacons. In my view, it does so in three ways: negatively (i.e., what a deacon can't do), by exception (canons pertaining to clerics apply to permanent deacons, except...), and ambiguously, as with the Canon 277 §1, which deals with observing perfect and perpetual continence for those in orders. Dr. Edward Peters has definitively shown that married permanent deacons were not included in the scope of this canon by accident. Nonetheless, married men who are ordained deacons are not required to observe sexual continence as a condition of ordination. Renouncing one's conjugal rights cannot be implied, it must be done explicitly by both husband and wife. To my knowledge, no diocese in the world that has permanent deacons makes observing perfect and perpetual sexual continence a requirement for married men to be ordained. I doubt that even in those rare, but seemingly increasing, instances in which a married man is ordained a Roman Catholic priest such a renunciation is required.

I am going to end this post, as I ended my previous one on this topic, on what might easily be perceived as a sour note. Before concluding I want to point out that I am personally a very satisfied deacon who has been supported by both bishops under whom I have served, as well by the three pastors and multiple parochial vicars I have served alongside, and by the laity in the parishes I have had the privilege of serving and serving with. I belong to a diocese in which the diaconate is well and long-established (our first permanent deacons were ordained on 26 December 1976) and for the most part whose service is very much appreciated all around. Being a deacon has provided me with more opportunities than I would have ever dared imagine. Even after 12 years, I am still excited about being a deacon. My personal experience aside, one of the real tragedies of the restored and renewed diaconate is the general tendency to dismiss and marginalize it and only retrieve it for purposes such as the possibility of ordaining women, which has the effect of reducing theology to ideology.

Blogospherical bitching and missionary discipleship

I probably point this too often these days, but I've been a member of the nebulous Catholic blogosphere for nearly a decade. Perhaps once I clear the 10 years of consistent blogging milestone on 19 July, I will shut up about it. Then again, maybe not. Who knows? I still find it somewhat astonishing that people have found a way to make blogging pay, that is, to become professional bloggers. I think it's important to understand the dangers of so doing, one of which is to you set yourself up as a self-styled expert on various, or even all, aspects of Catholic history, doctrine, and practice. Ah, the power of the Google! Despite my dismissive tone, all of this is fine by me because, by and large, Catholic blogging is a derivative, often parasitical, activity that frequently relies on ecclesiastical exaggerations and distortions.

Something I remind myself of on occasion is the fact that the vast majority of even faithful, practicing Catholics are not much concerned with matters those of us who can rightly be termed "Church geeks" find so interesting and important. This means that it is likely almost always the case that those who read what we post comprise a relatively small subset of Catholics: those with strong opinions one way or the other and who are looking either for affirmation of their preconceptions or someone with whom to debate. Another danger inherent to blogging is to pump out propaganda in the service of ideology.

It probably goes without saying (we bloggers are notable for pointing out the obvious) that the pontificate of Pope Francis is an absolute boon for Catholic bloggers. I would not be the least bit surprised to confirm a suspicion I have concerning Papa Begoglio: that he enjoys yanking chains. Such a confirmation would only make me like him more. What prompted this post is a certain smugness I sometimes detect from Catholic bloggers who seem to consider themselves a cut above what they perceive as the average Catholic. This manifests itself by smug and condescending responses to reactions they receive from their blogging, especially writing about the exploits of Pope Francis.

Anyone who pays the slightest bit of attention to Pope Francis knows that he seeks to provoke. It's fair to describe his pontificate, at least to this point, as a provocation. Provocation is good - pro + vocation = for the call. At the center of his papal magisterium is the making of missionary disciples (see "What is missing from post-WYD Catholic commentary? 'Missionary discipleship'"). According to the end of St. Matthew's Gospel, Jesus not only told his apostles to go and baptize in God's thrice-holy name, but first to "make disciples of all nations" (Matt 28:19). In order to "make disciples" of Jesus, we must first become his disciples.

In my view, it is to help us become full-fledged, truly mature, disciples of the Lord that Pope Francis ceaselessly tries to break through our preconceptions and misconceptions of what that means. He is especially provocative when he speaks of "the globalization of indifference," on the one hand, and our need, as disciples of Jesus, to create "a culture of encounter," on the other. He speaks as someone not from Western Europe or the United States. Hence, it should neither surprise nor dismay us that people strongly react to his provocations and all that they entail. Isn't it easier to focus on personal piety (something we should never neglect- I try not use the word "pious" as a pejorative term), strict adherence to liturgical rubrics, and denouncing the decay of public morals than to engage like Jesus? Let's face it, even today, more than 50 years after the Second Vatican Council, Catholicism can still amount to so much dead ritualism. I am dismayed by the number of those who firmly believe the answer to this is to move backward and not forward. Pope Francis, it seems to me, is determined to lead the Church forward.

Why should Catholic bloggers be neither surprised nor dismayed? Because the Holy Father's provocations are having the intended effect! This is true even when what we experience is only the first order effect of irritating someone, as did Amoris laetitia, which changed no part of Church teaching. He's shaking us up, trying to awake us from our slumber, to engage reality according to all the factors that constitute it. He is intent on showing us that perhaps the surest mark of Christian maturity is the ability to deal with some ambiguity, especially that which arises from life's inherent complexity, which complexity ought to drive us to daily nurture our relationship with Christ.

My plea to my fellow Catholics, be they fellow clerics, religious, or lay people, who engage publicly is to engage well, in the manner of missionary disciples. Among other things, this means eschewing snarkiness and condescension, especially with regard to those we may provoke. Let go of the ethos of giving as good as you get, which is but an attenuated version of an eye-for-an-eye and tooth-for-a-tooth. The mark of a Christian, in the words of St. Paul, is not to "be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good" (Rom 12:21). I must admit, it is tiresome to hear Catholics who are intent on making their faith public criticize, demean, and berate those who take strong exception to what they write, even when those who take such exception act ignorantly and/or uncharitably.

For those members of the Catholic blogosphere not engaged daily and in person in pastoral ministry, just know that what happens there often makes what happens on-line pale in comparison, no matter what some might say. Aggression and passive-aggression are not exclusively the domain of the virtual world. Keep in mind that one cannot claim to serve Christ and fail to love, not even those who you treat you with contempt, but especially those who so treat you. Did not our Lord say,
But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? (Matthew 5:44-47
As I am sure everyone reading this knows, Pope Francis has declared this year a Jubilee of Mercy. Central to observing this year as such is our individual and collective practice of the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy. I think it is fair to observe that practicing these make us missionary disciples. After all, they fulfill Jesus' commandments to love God with all our heart, might, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Practicing the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy are also means by which we die to self and selflessly serve others.

Moving from the general to the specific, among the Spiritual Works of Mercy are Forgiving Injuries and Bearing Wrongs Patiently, as is Instructing the Ignorant and Admonishing the Sinner. Let the latter two be balanced by the former two, or, as the late Rich Mullins sang, "Let Mercy Lead."

Friday, May 13, 2016

"Carry me on the waves to the land I've never been"

Sunday is Pentecost. It's difficult to believe that Evening Prayer on Sunday will mark the end of Easter for this Year of Grace, which the Holy Father has designated as a Year of Mercy. God is, indeed, merciful. If he were not, what would be the point of our fifty day celebration of Easter? It's a rhetorical question, of course.

I found this picture on JPUSA's "In Some Measures" blog

God's mercy is Jesus Christ. In the Letter to the Ephesians we read:
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved), raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them (Eph 2:4-10)
Yes, as Catholics we, too, affirm that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. That is a matter of revelation, as the above passage, and many like it, more than amply demonstrate. After all, that is the Good News.

I think of the term "salvation" as a composition that consists of three distinguishable, but not wholly distinct, movements: redemption, justification, and sanctification. Pope Francis was absolutely correct a few years ago when he said that everyone, including atheists, are redeemed. Christ died for all, did he not? I find it useful to think of redemption as a gift and justification as accepting, or at least not rejecting, the gift. Sanctification, in this metaphor, would be like putting the gift to good use. Oversimplified? You bet it is, as is any other explication of the mystery of our salvation, no matter how in-depth. My persistent point is that what God has done for us in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit is something we can verify through experience and not just have a lot of nice ideas about.

Okay, enough of that! Largely because it's simply been too long since I've listened to it, Enya's "Orinoco Flow" is our Friday traditio for this last Friday of Easter:

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Pope Francis and women as deacons

To much predictably ill-informed media fanfare, Pope Francis, in a seemingly impromptu response to a request that arose from his meeting in Rome with the International Union of Superiors General (UISG), a body of superiors of women's religious orders, agreed to create a committee to study the ministry of women deacons in the early Church. The results of the study would then presumably be used to help determine whether women might be instituted, or perhaps even be ordained, as deacons for the Church today. According to the National Catholic Reporter, in his response to this request, the Holy Father remembered speaking with a "good, wise professor" who had studied the ministry of female deacons in the Church's early centuries. According to the NCR piece, Pope Francis confessed that even after his discussion with the professor the role of women deacons remained unclear to him: "What were these female deacons?" he remembered asking the professor. "Did they have ordination or no?" "It was a bit obscure."

It bears noting that the International Theological Commission, which belongs to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, back in 2002 published a fairly comprehensive study on the diaconate that was five years in the making: From the Diakonia of Christ to the Diakonia of the Apostles. Section IV of Chapter 2 of the Commission's study specifically addressed "The Ministry of Deaconesses." The concluding paragraph of that section echoes what Pope Francis said to the UISG:
The present historical overview shows that a ministry of deaconesses did indeed exist, and that this developed unevenly in the different parts of the Church. It seems clear that this ministry was not perceived as simply the feminine equivalent of the masculine diaconate. At the very least it was an ecclesial function, exercised by women, sometimes mentioned together with that of sub-deacon in the lists of Church ministries. Was this ministry conferred by an imposition of hands comparable to that by which the episcopate, the priesthood and the masculine diaconate were conferred? The text of the Constitutiones Apostolorum would seem to suggest this, but it is practically the only witness to this, and its proper interpretation is the subject of much debate. Should the imposition of hands on deaconesses be considered the same as that on deacons, or is it rather on the same level as the imposition of hands on sub-deacons and lectors? It is difficult to tackle the question on the basis of historical data alone
Along with the minor orders of porter and exorcist, the sub-diaconate was abolished by Bl Pope Paul VI in his Apostolic Letter, promulgated in 1972, Ministeria quaedam. While the minor orders of lector and acolyte remain, neither is currently conferred by the laying on of hands. These minor orders are reserved to men preparing for ordination.

In addition to the International Theological Commission's study, there are are some other relatively recent books on this matter that bear noting: Holy Saturday: An Argument for the Restoration of the Female Diaconate in the Catholic Church, Women Deacons: Past, Present, Future, and Deaconesses: An Historical Study.

Despite having done what can be considered fairly serious academic work on the diaconate, which, if nothing else, allowed me to survey most of the literature available on the diaconate over a period of four years, I am not offering a personal opinion on the possibility of women deacons. But I would say, don't automatically assume women deacons means ordaining women. I laud the pope's decision to appoint a committee to study the singular issue of women deacons. By all means, let the conversation and discernment continue.

St. Stephen by Luis de Morales, 1575

The question of admitting women to holy orders is not a simple one, but is rather dense and complex. In short, the vast majority of the plenteous commentary now on offer, only one day after Pope Francis' seemingly impromptu announcement, no matter the view being expressed (i.e., for or against), with perhaps a few exceptions, is likely gravely deficient in one or more aspect. The blogosphere with its rush to comment on news tends to be very reactionary and the mainstream media tends to be as ideological and it is ignorant when it comes to ecclesiological matters.

Since I am on the subject of deacons, I have to say that I frequently marvel at how marginalized deacons and the diaconate remain. As a case-in-point, I offer the recent announcement of a diocesan synod for the Diocese of San Diego. Bishop Robert McElroy, who serves as bishop of the diocese, in announcing the synod, which will consider five "major challenges"- divorced Catholics, "witnessing to the Catholic understanding of marriage, Church resources for unmarried couples, raising kids, and spirituality within families" - described a synod as bringing "together the bishop, the priestly leadership and lay and religious representatives from throughout the diocese to wrestle with the most important questions that a diocese faces."

Notably missing from this discussion of the most important questions that local church faces are San Diego's permanent deacons, who number just under 150 according to the website Catholic Hierarchy. As with most dioceses in the United States and abroad, the vast majority of San Diego's permanent deacons are no doubt married with children. You'd think married clerics and their wives might be identified as having valuable inputs given the matters the synod is slated to discuss. I attribute no ill-intent at all to Bishop McElroy. In fact, I congratulate him for convening a diocesan synod. However, his omission of deacons strikes me as something still all too common more than 40 years after the restoration of the renewed diaconate in the wake of the Second Vatican Council.

In my own local Church it is not infrequently that I still hear the phrase "Clergy and deacons." I also sometimes hear about "Clergy Convocations" that include only priests. Of course, there is nothing wrong with holding a Priests' Convocation or a Deacons' Convocation, but then there is a lot right with gathering the entire clergy of a diocese together on, say, an annual basis. There is certainly much to be said for not being unnecessarily, if unintentionally, reductive and exclusive. I do have to point out that both bishops under whom I have served as a deacon were remarkably appreciative of eager to include deacons in the life of the Church here in Utah.

What is the thread connecting these two seemingly disparate matters? Apart from yesterday's off-the-cuff announcement about appointing a committee to study the ministry of women deacons in the early Church, to the best of my knowledge, Pope Francis has said nothing to or about permanent deacons in his more than three years as Pontiff. Perhaps this stems from the fact that the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, as of 2012, again, according to Catholic Hierarchy, had only 11 permanent deacons. By contrast, the Diocese of Rome, as of 2014, had 122 permanent deacons. Bishop McEloy's omission of deacons from his statement about the upcoming diocesan synod, which I only use to serve as a recent reminder of a very deeply ingrained tendency to overlook deacons, may indicate that conferring the diaconate on women might not be the best way to bring them in from the margins.