Saturday, January 12, 2019

Baptism of the Lord

Readings: Isa 42:1-4.6-7; Ps 29:1-4.9-10; Acts 10:34-38; Luke 3:15-16; 21-22

At least for Roman Catholics in the United States, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord brings the liturgical season of Christmas to an end. It was wonderful to baptize two children on the penultimate day of Christmas (as with "juxtapose," I always look for opportunities to use "penultimate"). This morning I had the privilege and pleasure of baptizing a seven year-old girl and her three year-old brother. Their parents were formally received into full communion with the Catholic Church last Sunday, on Epiphany.

On the Fourth Sunday of Advent, I was privileged to baptize a 2-week old infant. This Baptism occurred at the parish in which, at 24, I was baptized during the Easter Vigil of 1990: St Catherine of Siena Newman Center. Of course, on the Fourth Sunday of Advent in Year C of the Sunday Lectionary cycle (this liturgical year), we read about the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to the house of her kinswoman, Elizabeth- the mother of John the Baptist. Like Mary, but unlike her husband, Zechariah, Elizabeth believed and responded to God's loving initiative with love and fidelity. What made celebrating the Baptism of little Millie-Josephine on this day so special was that her parents had been trying and deeply desiring to have a child for quite a few years. Prior to her conception, Millie-Jo's Mom and Dad were going through arduous process of adopting a child, something they found to be nearly as discouraging as not being able to conceive.

Needless to say, Baptism has been much on my mind since the Third Week of Advent when I began preparing for these Baptisms. I love that the primary option for today's New Testament reading is from the portion of the Acts of the Apostles that tells us of a Second Pentecost- the Pentecost of the Gentiles (see "Year B Sixth Sunday of Easter"). The message of this reading is clear: "God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him" (Acts 10:34b-35). These days, at least in advanced Western societies, the assertion that anyone who "fears" God is acceptable to him doesn't typically evoke more than a shrug of the shoulders. This shoulder shrug, I think, can be attributed to Christian influence, even as we can acknowledge those times in history, some not so long ago, when Christians have acted contrary to this truth and been unfaithful to God's revelation in Christ. Suffice it to say, at that time the assertion that God shows no partiality was revolutionary, especially in the almost exclusively Judaic milieu of the primitive Christian Church. Our reading from Acts gives us part of Peter's Spirit-led preaching at the house of the Roman centurion Cornelius (for the whole thing see Acts 10:34-43)

Largely thanks to marketing, which trumpets many things as "revolutionary," to say something was "revolutionary" doesn't mean much. It is important to bear in mind, however, that up until that point the status of Gentiles in the nascent Christian church was very unclear, But then, it's very likely the case Christian Gentiles were practically non-existent. Those Gentiles who were Christians were probably also observant Jewish converts. Stated simply, the primitive Church in Jerusalem remained deeply rooted in Judaism. Hence, it was not entirely distinguishable, even to its members, as something other than a form of Messianic Judaism.

In his Letter to the Galatians, Paul more clearly expounds the revolutionary nature of what happened at Cornelius's house- the second Pentecost event:
For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendant, heirs according to the promise (Gal 3:27-29)


Using the passage from Isaiah 42 as our first reading we can make reference not only Jesus's Baptism by John in the river Jordan but to his confirmation as well: "Upon [my servant] I have put my spirit" (Is 42:1). Yes, Jesus's identity as the Only Begotten Son of the Father in the flesh, which was revealed in Baptism, was confirmed as he came up out of the water and "the holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, 'You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased'" (Luke 3:22). There was not a bishop in miter and crozier with a vial of Chrism waiting on the other side of the Jordan. Rather, he was anointed with the Spirit and his divine Sonship was announced by the Father.

Moreover, the passage from Isaiah 42 focuses on God bringing about justice through his anointed servant. It was to bring about justice in the world that God called Israel. Jesus, the Messiah (i.e., "Anointed"), is the crowning achievement of what God accomplished through Israel. It is Christ who opens "the eyes of the blind," who brings "out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness" (Isa 42:7).

Thinking back to last week, we discussed the difference between an epiphany and a theophany, Jesus's Baptism is truly "an appearance of God," which is what θεοφάνεια (transliterates as theophaneia) means. Are you looking for the Trinity in Sacred Scripture? Jesus's Baptism, an account of which is included each of the four canonical Gospels, is a great one. The theophany that occurred at Jesus's Baptism also sanctified water. Rather than being an element of destruction, as it was in the flood and for the Egyptians in Red Sea, by Christ Baptism water became the matter of salvation, our way of deliverance, like the ancient Israelites fleeing Pharoah's army, that through which we are reborn as God's children, that into which we are buried after we "paschally" die and from which we rise to new life, eternal life.

When you were baptized you were reborn as a child of God through Christ by the power of their holy Spirit. When one considers Baptism in light of the reality that every human being bears the imago Dei (the image of God), it becomes clear that Baptism makes what is implicit in us explicit. It's like when a detectorist (i.e., someone who searches for treasures using a metal detector) detects something metallic. Once she digs the object up, it is typically covered with mud. And so, to see what it is and if it is of value, the detectorist must wash it with water. Like all analogies, this one limps, because even before you are baptized you are worth more to God than you will ever possibly imagine. Just as Christ's identity was revealed at his Baptism by his subsequent Confirmation, our identity as God's adopted children (through Christ by the power of their Spirit) is revealed in Baptism and strengthened in Confirmation.

Baptism, then, is the fundamental sacrament of Christian life. It is important to state this fact very clearly because very often for both laity and clergy alike people view ordination as the apex of Christian life. Of course, the source and summit of life together in Christ (there is no life in Christ that is not together) is the Eucharist. Every Eucharist seeks to include all the baptized. It is a very human tendency to want to exclude others, those who are different, those who do not meet one's standards, belong to one's tribe, or do not, in your view, consistently "keep the rules," etc. But in Baptism we made all the commitment we need to be Christians: we renounced sin and the devil and professed our Father God, Father, Son, and holy Spirit.

In short, what continues to scandalize people, what continues to scandalize far too many Christians, is the radical inclusivity of the Gospel. Well, it's not called Good News for nothing! Learning to get over yourself and not only welcoming but inviting others to "Come and see" (John 1:39) is what your Baptism bids you do with all the acceptance and hospitality with which Christ and his Church welcomed you. This is the justice of God. God's justice (in Hebrew מִשְׁפָט, or mishpat) cannot be separated from God's lovingkindness (in Hebrew חֶסֶד or ḥesed)

Friday, January 11, 2019

Books and the world; Catholicism versus Catholisilly

As a result of an article posted on the website of the dissident "Catholic" website Church Militant, the husband of a dear friend is under fire and perhaps in danger of losing his job. The husband of my friend is Dr. Stephen Lewis. Dr. Lewis chairs the English Department at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. On a couple of occasions a number of years ago, I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Lewis. Through my paltry participation in the ecclesial movement of Communion and Liberation, with which I have been affiliated more or less (these days less) since around 2007, I have been good friends with his lovely wife Suzanne.

If you can bring yourself to do so, you can read the initial Church Militant article: "Franciscan Univ Defends Use of Pornographic, Blasphemous Book." If you (understandably) can't bring yourself to give Church Militant any clicks, then just know that at the heart of the controversy is Dr. Lewis's assignment of the English translation of a book by French author Emmanuel Carrère, Le royaume, or, in English, The Kingdom. Originally published in France back in 2014, the book was translated into English and published in 2017. Church Militant, in truly prurient fashion (i.e., masked as moral outrage), does a great job laying out the salacious details found in Carrère's prose. I can only imagine their excitement is "discovering" something so titillating to "report" on and read (about).

To say that Carrère is a provocative writer is to understate matters by orders of magnitude. Perhaps the most provocative aspect of Carrère's work is his genre-bending, a term lifted from Tim Whitmarsh's February 2017 review of The Kingdom for The Guardian newspaper. Whitmarsh goes on to describe what he means by genre-bending: "Carrère is not an easy writer to categorise, working as he does at the intersection between fiction, biography, autobiography and history."

As someone who has written, (though not in-depth- see "Martin Scorcese") about the role The Last Temptation of Christ- first the movie and then the book- played in my own conversion, I have to say, Carrère's book looks fascinating to me. In addition to writing his fictional-autobiographical-historical books, Carrère, as Whitmarsh notes, "is also – importantly – a screenwriter, and a sensualist who likes to feel the world he describes." The Kingdom, the review continues, "is his attempt to get under the skin of Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, and to imagine his way back into that world." After noting that, like most scholars who study the New Testament, Carrère takes Acts to be a work by the same author who wrote the Gospel According to St Luke, Whitmarsh is correct to point out that Carrère is all on his own when, in The Kingdom, he asserts "that Luke wrote the New Testament’s epistles of Peter, James and John."

Emmanuel Carrère


If your stomach can take it, Church Militant did a follow-up piece in response to the University's apology for one of its professors having the audacity to assign a provocative and challenging book to students: "Concerns Remain After Franciscan Univ Apologizes for Blasphemous Book." Predictably, this article contains the raging of the "righteous," who seem oblivious to self-righteousness their harsh words exhibit to anyone not sharing their soda straw view of the world, a view that can hardly be considered Catholic in any meaningful sense. Of course, a number of those quoted make all kinds of threats and demands. Their threats mostly consist of not sending prospective students to Franciscan U and/or withdrawing financial support. Their demand? That Prof Lewis be harshly disciplined or even fired.

While it may seem they are outraged by Carrère's far less than pious thoughts about the Blessed Virgin Mary, there is a passage in Whitmarsh's review that, I believe, gets to the heart of the matter, which is fear. It has to do with the autobiographical aspect of the book:
The first part of [The Kingdom] is called "The Crisis", and deals with the transformation of a secular cynic – "the egocentric and mocking Emmanuel Carrère" – into an obsessive Catholic, attending Mass every day, and filling notebooks with endless pious commentaries on John’s Gospel. He paints himself here with a Knausgaardian palette, as an unlovable narcissist whose self-absorption leads him to neglect all around him, particularly his family. Gradually, faith deserts him. It’s a tale of slow disenchantment with the intellectual acrobatics of belief. His pious episode, however, has changed him irreparably; there is no going back to his cynical former self. 'Case closed? It can’t have been completely.' Like many a 'post-Christian', he ends up with a great faith-shaped hole inside, which he is desperate to fill somehow. The rest of the book is his attempt to come to terms with that loss
This is what really worries the angry mob.

This is no insult to Stephen Lewis, but looking at his academic credentials (B.A. Swarthmore College and then M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago), I am surprised that Franciscan University was able to land such an academic heavy-hitter. It is to his credit that he not only brought but has kept his erudition at Franciscan U. Lest you think I am simply engaging in degreeism by mentioning the institutions from which he graduated, Lewis is the English translator of a number of important works by contemporary French philosophers. Chief among these authors is Jean-Luc Marion, at least five of whose works Lewis has translated: Giveness and Revelation Negative Certainties, The Reason of the Gift, The Erotic Phenomenon, and Prolegomena to Charity.

There are many, many days I am glad that I received my philosophical undergraduate and graduate education at a state university. Today is one of those days. It was as an undergraduate Philosophy student that I was baptized and became a Roman Catholic. My conversion was in no way a reaction against my academic formation but very much the product of it.

Both because Carrère's book fascinates me and in solidarity with Stephen Lewis, I ordered a copy of The Kingdom this very afternoon. Is there anything more interesting than a book placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum or a banned book? I will not begin reading it, however, until I finish the Philip Roth novel the author loved best: Sabbath's Theater. But then, being a literary heretic, which makes me pretty Catholic, I also read and enjoyed Cain, the controversial novel by Nobel laureate José Saramago (see "Cain by José Saramago – review"). With no sarcasm or facetiousness whatsoever, I can say, like a "good" Catholic, I have been including the Lewis family in my daily Rosary petitions.

Jesus, kenosis, Jonah and a decent tune

How is 2019 going? I hope it's going well for you so far. Me? It's going well. If I am being honest, my only complaint is that, like 2018, this year is shaping up to be busier than I would care for it to be.

I have been busily working on my tome on the theological foundations of a diaconal spirituality in the hopes of soon completing my Doctor of Ministry (DMin) degree. Currently I am about two-thirds of the way to completing the third (of an anticipated six) chapter. It is on kenosis, or self-emptying. You know, that verse from the New Testament (Philippians 2:7) in which St Paul, using what is likely an early Christian hymn- now called by Bible scholars "the Kenotic Hymn"- writes about Jesus that "he emptied himself." By taking on our humanity, Jesus is said to have emptied himself of his divinity. I agree with Jesuit scripture scholar Brendan Byrne when he insists that saying Jesus emptied himself of his divinity in order to become human is metaphorical. In other words, the divinity Jesus is said to have emptied himself of is not divinity at all, but an all too human misconception of it. To see Jesus is to see God (John 14:9; Colossians 2:9).



As I was pondering this week's Friday traditio I heard the group Burning Sensation's song "Bell of the Whale" this morning. As I sat down and began to write this I thought the whale, or large fish, or whatever certainly emptied itself when it spit Jonah up on the Mediterranean shore nearest Nineveh, which, were this story historical, would have required the recalcitrant prophet to cover a lot of desert before arriving at his destination. This led me to mentally make the leap to Heidegger's concept of "thrownness." The German word is Geworfen. Geworfen is the word Heidegger used to denote the inscrutably arbitrary nature of Dasein (i.e., human being). Yeah, not much there yet by way of concrete linkage but there's certainly some intellectual raw material with which to work.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

The Epiphany of the Lord

Readings: Isa 60:1-6; Ps 72:1-2.7-8.10-13; Eph 3:2-3a.5-6; Matt 2:1-12

An epiphany is not merely a revelation. The term revelation is too generic to describe an epiphany. Neither is an epiphany simply a "manifestation" of something significant, a moment of insight. Then what is it? At least on Christian terms, an epiphany is a manifestation of God. As Christians, we need to distinguish epiphany from theophany. In a theophany it is clear that God is making himself manifest.

Looking forward to next Sunday's Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which will bring this Christmas season to an end for Roman Catholics in the United States, we have an example of a theophany. Turning to St Matthew's account of Jesus's Baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, the theophany occurs as Jesus
came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened [for him], and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove [and] coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased'" (Matt 3:16-17)
By way of contrast, an example of an epiphany, apart from the one had by he magi in their encounter with the child Jesus, is found in St Mark's account of Jesus's crucifixion. The Roman centurion standing guard at the place of execution "seeing how [Jesus] breathed his last" declared: "Truly this man was the Son of God" (Mark 1:39). Using Mark as a source, Matthew's account also conveys this episode but does so with the gloss typical of the inspired author of that Gospel when incorporating Markan material into his narrative (see Matt 27:54). Rather than Jesus's manner of death (arguably) being the source of the centurion's epiphany, as in Mark, for Matthew, it is the earthquake and all the other things that prompt their recognition of the executed Jew as the Son of God. But even in Matthew's account, there is a contrast between epiphany and theophany.

Judging from the centurion's epiphany at the Cross and the epiphany the unspecified number of magi had in the house at Bethlehem, we can define epiphany from a Christian perspective more precisely: an epiphany is a manifestation of God through ordinary circumstances. In other words, to have an epiphany you must have eyes to see and ears to hear. The founder of the Society of Jesus (i.e., the Jesuits), St Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the order in 1540, instructed his earliest confrères to "find God in all things."

Christianity that is worthy of the designation, far from loathing creation, creatures, and human beings, holds it as axiomatic that God is always present and active in the world. Hence, an epiphany is possible at any moment, even in what we might see as the least likely of people and/or circumstances. Provocatively, because every single person bears the imago Dei, the image of God, you can find God in everyone you meet. I know, this sounds foolishly naïve, especially when someone considers all the crappy things people do to each other and the propensity of some people (i.e., me at times) to do really terrible things. To assert that everyone bears the image of God and to even more boldly assert that it is possible to see the divine image in everyone is not to say for one minute that it is intuitively obvious, that is, easy.



Not only is it often not intuitively obvious, but to the casual observer or the Christian who operates solely on the basis of certain preconceptions, ones that are usually derived from a reductive, and so destructive, theology conveyed by misguided preaching and catechesis, the contrary is often the case. To pass along some idea as to how this might "work," I turn to a quote that is usually attributed to G.K. Chesterton. But so far as anyone can tell, Chesterton neither wrote nor said anything like: "the young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God." The actual author of this line is Scottish novelist Bruce Marshall. The lines appeared in his 1945 novel The World, the Flesh, and Father Smith. For the fairly scintillating context of this quote, which Marshall puts in the mouth of his main character, see "FactChecker: C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton Quotes". Returning to my point, sometimes you have to look really hard to see God manifested in another. Furthermore, how God's image is made manifest in another just might be in a counter-intuitive or paradoxical way. It is most likely due to the fact that Marshall's line is paradoxical that it is often attributed to Chesterton, whose many, many paradoxical sayings, frankly, tire me.

Another oft-used and mis-attributed quote that brings home the point I am trying to make about the nature of epiphany, but with a significantly different emphasis, is this one by St John Chrysostom: "If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find him in the chalice." While John the Golden-Mouthed preacher never said that using those words, it has been noted that what this quote amounts to is "somebody's crisp paraphrase of [Chrysostom's] Homily 50.4 on Matthew" (see "If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find him in the chalice").

What enabled the magi to see God in the baby at Bethlehem is that they were looking, they were seeking, they were open, not operating under debilitating preconceptions of what they might find. It is salutary to note that Epiphany is when the Gentiles come to worship the God of Israel. I suppose you could say the preconceptions had by many in Israel about the coming of the Messiah is precisely what prevented them from recognizing Jesus of Nazareth as God's Anointed, the successor of King David, whose kingdom is everlasting.

A bit further on in St Matthew's Gospel, after the start of his ministry, during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches exactly what the magi heeded:
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened (Matt 7:7-8)
Sounds like a very good New Year's resolution to me. How about you?

Friday, January 4, 2019

Christmas continues as Epiphany approaches

Okay, it's the first Friday of the New Year. Time for the first traditio of 2019. I must admit that, uncharacteristically, I haven't been listening to a lot of music as of late (see "Listening to podcasts and longing for home"). Since I have been listening to Michael Card's "In the Studio" podcast, I've been listening to some Card's music.

El Greco - St Joseph and the Christ Child

Since Epiphany is this Sunday, 6 January, which means this year Roman Catholics in United States will celebrate this glorious solemnity on the correct day for once! Nonetheless, U.S. Catholics will still have a whole week of Christmas left after Epiphany. This is not a bad thing, just as listening to Michael Card's music is not a bad thing. The Vatican leaves up its public Christmas tree until Candlemas, which is on 22 February.

Our first traditio of the New Year, then, is "Joseph's Song." If I might be permitted, here is a short excerpt from my homily for last Sunday's Feast of the Holy Family: Nuclear families produce individuals. Because we were made for communion by a communion of divine persons, we know that one person is no person. Along with Jesus, Mary and Joseph constituted the Holy Family because, like the Son of God made man, both of them were wholly committed to doing the Father’s will come what may. No matter how literally or not-literally you take Matthew's Infancy Narrative, Joseph is a fascinating figure, one worthy of our emulation. Joseph is also a bit of a blank canvas on which we can paint using our theological imagination.



We'll pick up the pace as the year progresses.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God

For Roman Catholics, 1 January marks the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. In many places, today is a holy day of obligation for Roman Catholics. In my diocese, however, today's solemnity has been abrogated as a holy day.

Since 1966, New Year's Day has also been observed as the World Day of Peace. I would be hard-pressed to think of better foci for the first day of the New Year. It is customary for the Pope to issue a message for the World Day of Peace. This year was no exception, click here to read this year's message. Among other things, in his message this year, Pope Francis addressed politics:
2. The challenge of good politics

Peace is like the hope which the poet Charles Péguy celebrated.[ Cf. Le Porche du mystère de la deuxième vertu, Paris, 1986.] It is like a delicate flower struggling to blossom on the stony ground of violence. We know that the thirst for power at any price leads to abuses and injustice. Politics is an essential means of building human community and institutions, but when political life is not seen as a form of service to society as a whole, it can become a means of oppression, marginalization and even destruction.

Jesus tells us that, “if anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mk 9:35). In the words of Pope Paul VI, “to take politics seriously at its different levels – local, regional, national and worldwide – is to affirm the duty of each individual to acknowledge the reality and value of the freedom offered him to work at one and the same time for the good of the city, the nation and all mankind” (Apostolic Letter Octogesima Adveniens (14 May 1971), 46)

Political office and political responsibility thus constantly challenge those called to the service of their country to make every effort to protect those who live there and to create the conditions for a worthy and just future. If exercised with basic respect for the life, freedom and dignity of persons, political life can indeed become an outstanding form of charity
Instead of focusing on Mary as Mother God, I want to focus on one implication of her being Theotokos, which implication was recognized by Pope Paul VI in his speech ending the Third Session of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. In this speech, which he delivered to the Council on 21 November 1964, the then-Pontiff declared: "For the glory of the Virgin and our consolation, we proclaim Mary the Most Holy Mother of the Church, that is, the Mother of the whole People of God, both the faithful and the pastors." To flesh this out a bit, I turn to an Anglican theologian, the late John Macquarrie. Macquarrie's work played an important part in shaping and forming me as a Christian for the past quarter century. What follows comes from his one volume systematic theology: Principles of Christian Theology (2nd Edition. Charles Scribner's Sons: New York, 1977, 398-399):
It will be noted that I have said nothing about the supposed relation between reverence for the Blessed Virgin Mary and the need for a feminine element in religion. It may well be true, as a matter of historical fact, that the veneration of the Virgin is related to ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean worship of the Mother Goddess, just as many other features of Christian worship have pagan precursors. It may also be true that reverence for the Virgin satisfies a psychological need, missed by a too masculine conception of God; and that such reverence encourages a kind of piety that is warmer and more personal than the austere and not very attractive virtues of the Puritans. But these considerations have no direct bearing on the theological question about Mary, and can be used neither to support nor to detract from the place traditionally given to her in the Church. Berdyaev is completely correct when he affirms that reverence for the Blessed Virgin "is essentially distinct from pagan worship of the feminine principle"34 The practical benefits or, as has sometimes happened, abuses, which reverence for Mary has brought, cannot be determinative of her place in Christian thought and devotion. This has to be considered in theological terms, that is to say, in the light of christology, ecclesiology, and the transformed anthropology that goes with them, as we have tried to show. If we have consistently held throughout this book that theological thinking must be rooted in the existential dimension of faith, we have maintained equally that practical attitudes have to be correlated with theological reflection and, where necessary, corrected by it. It seems to me, however, that it is precisely a renewed theological consideration of the issues involved that will increasingly lead Protestants (as it has led some of them already) to abandon their negative attitudes toward Mary, and to join with the Catholic brethren (and with the New Testament) in a glad Ave Maria!
Fresco in Sacro Speco in Subiaco, from scenes in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary


This lengthy paragraph ends a section of Macquarrie's work that considers Pope Paul VI's declaration that the Blessed Virgin Mary is Mater Ecclesiae or Mother of the Church. In the section, he also considers the other major Marian dogmas, but given the newness of Pope Paul's designation when Macquarrie first wrote his book (1966), Mary's relationship to the Church constitutes the majority of this section on the Blessed Mother.

Because Mary is Mater Ecclesiae, far from being an obstacle to ecumenism and ultimately to Christian unity, she is instrumental to achieving it, just as she is instrumental to realizing peace in the world. If it is true that peace on earth begins with me, with realizing peace in my own soul, then I recommit myself to making recourse to the Blessed Virgin Mary daily by praying her Most Holy Rosary, the Angelus, and her Memoraré daily. I urge you, dear reader, to do the same.

Happy New Year! Holy Mary, Mother of the Church, through your intercession, unite all those who in believe in your Son. By the unification of all the baptized, pray that the world becomes more peaceful.


34The Beginning and the End, p. 246

Monday, December 31, 2018

Καθολικός διάκονος: End of the year roundup

2018 was the year Καθολικός διάκονος nearly died. But my work here is truly a labor of love. Up until the end of October, despite posting pretty sporadically for most of the year, things stayed pretty much the same in terms of the number of people who read my posts. Then I went 12 days without posting (from 21 October to 2 November). Subsequently, I posted only eight more times in November. For whatever reason(s), since then the numbers of readers for each post have dropped by more than half. Experiencing this has been a gift because it led me to hearken way back to 2006, the year I began blogging in earnest.

The first several years I blogged (if I may use that word as a verb), I did not garner a very large readership. I was neither surprised nor disappointed by this. For most of that time, I remained utterly amazed that I could post my thoughts on the worldwide web. After a while, when I seemed to gain no traction in terms of readership, I was forced to ask myself, often out loud in blog posts- "Why am I doing this?" I answered that question by realizing that I posted on my blog because I found it personally useful. This realization helped me to relax and not worry about the number of people who read what I write. Keeping in mind that the term blog began as a shorthand way to refer to a weblog, ever since my second or third year of blogging I have thought of this cyber-space as a kind of online journal, albeit one that contained entries suitable for sharing publicly. Looking back, there were certainly times I overshared. But as anyone who writes regularly knows, writing about something is perhaps the best way to clarify your own thoughts and feelings about it. Whoever wants to read what I post here is free to do so. If someone is helped in some way, if what I write contributes to our common humanity, even in some microscopic manner, then God be praised.

Another lesson I re-learned as a result of more or less starting over late this year is that constantly blogging about blogging is boring. I know, I know, how self-contradictory to write that in a blog post! But an end-of-the-year round-up seems an appropriate time to blog about blogging. I will try to remain conscious of this moving ahead.

I have to admit that it wasn't until about 2011 that I began "finding my own voice" as a writer/blogger (I hate the phrase "finding my own voice," by-the-way). The surest way to see that is when I began to "find my own voice" (sorry) is that in 2011 the number of posts began to drop. There was a dramatic drop in the number of posts between 2011 and 2012. With the exception of a slight increase from 2012 to 2013, I have posted fewer times each year. Last year and this year I did not even post 10 times a month. When I picked up again this year at the beginning of Advent, I was not certain I would reach 100 posts for the year.

I certainly intend to keep blogging in 2019. In August of next year, I will mark the 14th anniversary of Καθολικός διάκονος and the 13th anniversary of blogging regularly. The weekly anchors of my blog will remain the Friday traditio and my commentary on the Sunday readings for the weeks I do not preach and my homilies for the weeks I do. Typically, I try to post something on solemnities and major feast days as well. Once in a while, I post on other matters theological, pastoral, philosophical, cultural, historical or political. While I don't avoid politics altogether, I don't mind saying that I write about them far less than I did formerly. At present, I have don't want to add too much to all the noise. Very often posting on these these other matters is provoked by reading something with which I disagree in whole or in part.

Moving ahead, I expect to post between 100-120 times a year. This means posting 8-10 times per month. Looking at the number of posts I put up in my first five years of blogging, I can honestly say I will never return to that volume, especially when I consider the quality of many of those posts. Writing a lot of bad pieces, however, was necessary for me to become a better writer. Don't worry, I don't think I am a good writer, let alone a great one. From time-to-time, I must admit to suffering from delusions of adequacy. But without a doubt, blogging has helped me to write better.

One temptation I have had to resist over the course of the last two years is to go back and delete posts that set forth viewpoints I no longer hold (I have deleted a few, very few, really terrible posts, however). What allows me to overcome this temptation is keeping in mind what I wrote above about this being a weblog. Hence, I like the fact that it (hopefully) shows that my thinking evolves.

In keeping with my tradition, below you will find what I think is the best post for each of the past 12 months. Feel free to leave a comment about a post(s) from Καθολικός διάκονος this year that you found useful, insightful, or interesting.



January - "We'll find another end" - Dolores O'Riordan requiscat in pace

February - Remembering Billy Graham with mixed emotions

March - Another note on salvation in Christ, a papal one

April - Post-resurrection Christianity

May - Year B Pentecost Sunday. I usually don't consider my homilies or reflections on the Sunday readings for inclusion in this end-of-the-year list. I also don't consider the Friday traditio posts for this list. Given the paucity of choices for May, this is the one.

June - A political non-rant II. Since I posted nothing in June, I am picking a second July post.

July - Humanae vitae at 50

August - Make abusive and gravely errant clerics penitents. This was far-and-away my most read post in 2018.

September - Ephphatha! Open our hearts

October - Ushering in God's Reign is not primarily a political project

November - Beginning a bit early: a pre-Advent reflection

December - Exclaiming "Alleluia!" at Christmastide

In any case, for better and for worse, this post brings my 2018 blogging to en end. See you on the other side of midnight.

Baptism of the Lord

Readings: Isa 42:1-4.6-7; Ps 29:1-4.9-10; Acts 10:34-38; Luke 3:15-16; 21-22 At least for Roman Catholics in the United States, the Feast...