Tuesday, July 17, 2018

A political non-rant

In the wake of yesterday's Helsinki press conference, which, like a lot of my fellow U.S. citizens, as well as many people abroad, left me more than a little stunned, I thought it might be a good idea to post something on politics. Please don't bail, it is not a commentary on yesterday's extraordinary event. There's plenty of commentary on that, you don't need me to weigh in. I am writing more generally. trying to set forth where I stand in the presently overheated political climate. While I am sure to fail at times, one of my goals in my renewed blogging effort is to be more succinct.

Like many people on all sides of the our presently intense political situation, I lament the polarization that has occurred. The political divide in our country grows daily wider. In this context, in order to establish my less partisan credentials, it's important for me to point out that while I appreciated the way President Obama conducted himself while in office (and since leaving office, which has included being quite circumspect on what he comments on and how he does it) as well as the kind of person seems to be, I do not pine away for his return to office. In fact, I don't want any of the living former presidents to serve again. I spoke out on issues with which I disagreed with President Obama and there were quite a few. One need only to peruse the Καθολικός διάκονος archives for proof of this. In addition to domestic social issues, my critiques extended to both our Libyan and Syrian misadventures.

I try to speak out publicly on matters that are not partisan. Most recently on social media as well as in person, I was very vocal about the immorality of separating immigrant families. No matter whose policy it is or was, regardless of the party to whom the executive issuing the policy belongs, or the stated reasons for doing it, it is wrong to rip children from the parents. While I've already invoked our Libyan and Syrian misadventures, I will go so far as to say that both Democrats and Republicans need to own up to the U.S.'s complicity in creating situations in places like Syria and Central America from which people feel the need to flee in order to survive. For this reason I oppose revoking the protected immigrant status of people from El Salvador and Nicaragua.

All of that being said, I am willing to grant that many people voted for President Trump for prudential reasons and did so with some reservations and no little hesitation. In other words, I don't see people who supported Trump as necessarily any more duped than people who vote for virtually any candidate in our broken presidential election system. I imagine, whether they're willing to admit it or not (pride is a strong force), many regret their choice even as the ponder the not-so-great alternative(s). On the other hand, there are some alarmingly pro-Trump fanatics who, frankly, worry me.

(from the WSJ, used under fair use provision- I do not blog for profit)

Being neither a Democrat nor a Republican - if forced to identify with a political party I would have to go with the American Solidarity Party, only because in the aggregate the policies and positions they take are most in-line with my own. As a cleric, I belong to no party and endorse no party or candidate. I don't mind saying I frequently vote for third party candidates and do so with no apology. It does matter which party; I don't for Libertarian, for instance. I am convinced that the main thing wrong with our republic is two-party duopoly.

I do have to say that as I was typing this post, I became aware- via my Facebook feed (a post by one of my favorite theology professors)- of the candidacy of Catholic theologian, Dr. Holly Taylor Coolman, for a seat in the Rhode Island House of Representatives (see "Theology professor runs for a seat in the Rhode Island legislature"). When I led a seminar for deacons at Notre Dame back in the summer of 2015, I had the chance to briefly meet and hear a magnificent lecture by Dr. Taylor Coolman. Here's an important excerpt from her interview with Crux:
Above all, I begin with the conviction that human beings have profound dignity, and that each individual person should be treated in a way that recognizes that dignity. Any system that undermines that fundamental human dignity has to be challenged.

Catholic Social Thought also insists that individuals are profoundly connected to one another.

The notion of the common good means that we aren’t just independent agents, navigating, negotiating, or manipulating one another, but that there is a good in which we all share. In the big picture, I can’t really seek my own good without concern for you, and vice versa.

All this has implications for the way I engage with other people, including constituents, political opponents, etc. Politics, just like other systems, falls too easily into simply using people for various kinds of gain. I’m committed to keep reminding myself that, in any encounter with any person, I’m dealing with a human being who is valuable in his or her own right
As a result of my views, there are many reforms I favor. To name just two of the most fundamental reforms: comprehensive campaign finance reform aimed at getting money out of politics and the expansion of the number of representatives in the House of Representatives. As to the latter. the U.S. lags far behind other democracies in proportion of population to representatives (see "U.S. population keeps growing, but House of Representatives is same size as in Taft era").

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Heeding the most important call of all

Readings: Amos 7:12-15; Ps 8:9-14; Eph 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13

Like Amos in our first reading, "the Twelve," as the inspired author of Mark's Gospel calls Jesus's closest disciples, are not professional prophets or teachers. Also like Amos, it is precisely their lack of credentials that make it necessary for them to rely solely on God to accomplish what they were sent them to do. In Amos's case, he was sent to prophesy at the shrine of Bethel in the northern kingdom, what was usually referred as "Israel" (as opposed to the southern kingdom of Judah, where Jerusalem was located).

It is important to point out that Bethel was the major religious center of the northern kingdom. Hence, the invitation extended to him to go prophesy in Judah and not to continue his prophesying at Bethel. At that time there were apparently schools of professional prophets whose "job" it was to prophesy. Often this amounted to just saying things the leaders and people wanted to hear. Amos was intent on bringing them the message God wanted to them hear, which was one to which they were not terribly receptive. This explains Amos's defensive retort that he was a shepherd and "dresser" of sycamore trees," not a prophet. His reason for speaking out was not personal gain but because God told him to speak. The message of his prophesying was to call Israel (i.e., the northern kingdom) back to fidelity with God by adherence to the covenant.

On the other hand, Jesus sent the Twelve to preach repentance, cast out demons, and heal the sick. In other words, the Lord sent them to carry out and to perhaps further his own mission. In so doing, they were to rely solely on God by taking nothing with them except the clothes on their backs (no extra clothes) and confidence that God would provide them on their mission.

At root, Amos's message was to point out how badly Israel had betrayed their God and broken the covenant by their lack of care for widows and orphans. He also lambasted them for cheating the less well-off when trading and other like misbehaviors. According to the author of the Introduction to the Book of Amos found on the NABRE on-line version of the Bible, Amos insisted that religious observance "without justice is an affront to the God of Israel and, far from appeasing God, can only provoke divine wrath."

When preaching repentance, the Twelve were to no doubt echo (the word "catechesis," which is Greek in origin, means to "echo" or "resound") Jesus's own preaching, which is summarized in Mark's Gospel thus: "The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel" (see Mark 1:14-15).

Like the Twelve, who had already left everything to heed Jesus's call (see Mark 1:16-20), Amos's embarking on his prophetic mission likely came at great cost to himself. It is no small thing to leave your flock and field behind in order to go to the major religious shrine of your nation and call on the political and religious leaders to repent. In an oracle directed at the northern kingdom, Amos famously inveighed:
For three crimes of Israel, and now four— I will not take it back [his rejection of them]— Because they hand over the just for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals; They trample the heads of the destitute into the dust of the earth, and force the lowly out of the way. Son and father sleep with the same girl, profaning my holy name. Upon garments taken in pledge they recline beside any altar [worship of false gods by the practice of usury]. Wine at treasury expense they drink in their temples (Amos 2:6-8)
Amos, by Naomi Friend, 2014

For whatever reason, culturally, we are inclined to zero in on the sexual immorality piece. But we do so from a moral perspective that was unknown to Amos and his hearers. The Hebrew verb (which transliterates into English as ilku) translated in the NABRE, from which I took the citation, as "sleep with," is a bit ambiguous. Literally, it means something like "go in unto." Most scholars agree that it probably refers to a man and his son having sexual relations with the same young woman. Because what Israel is being lambasted for in this oracle has to with injustice and oppression, this verse "perhaps suggests [sexual] exploitation" (Jennifer M. Dines, "Amos" in The Oxford Bible Commentary, 583). In other words, it likely refers to prostitution and/or the exploitation of poor young women for whom it is necessary to go into servitude to eek out a living. That such exploitation took place is witnessed by the fact that in the Book of Ruth Boaz sought to protect Ruth from just this kind of thing when she turned up as a gleaner is his part of the communal field: "Listen, my daughter. Do not go to glean in anyone else’s field; you are not to leave here. Stay here with my young women. Watch to see which field is to be harvested, and follow them. Have I not commanded the young men to do you no harm?" (see Ruth 2).

Based on Amos's response to God's call and the response of the Twelve to Jesus, you'd think it was the most important thing in the world. Well, for one who has heeded it, God's call is the most important thing in the world. God will never make you do what he calls you to do. He calls and allows the one he calls the freedom to respond or not. You were called by name when you were baptized. Your call is to participate in Christ's prophetic, priestly, and royal mission. You were sealed and further strengthened for this call when you anointed in confirmation. This call is renewed and you are strengthened to undertake it each Sunday at Mass, at the end of which you are sent (i.e., dismissed) to carry it out.

While it also refers to a specific office in the Church (one that only twelve, perhaps 13- if you count Matthias, who was chosen to replace Judas - people were ever called to; the office continues because bishops are "successors of the apostles" and exercise the apostolic office), at root the word "apostle" means "one who is sent for a purpose." When, in the creed, we confess that the Church is "apostolic" (as well as "one, holy, catholic") we refer at one and the same to the apostolic office, which is handed on through apostolic succession, and to our being sent forth with words like, "Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord" (one of four authorized dismissals - the other three being "Go forth, the Mass is ended," "Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life," or simply, "Go in peace" - The Roman Missal, sec. 144). Like Amos and the Twelve, you can be sure that heeding this call will cost you something. But, then again, it is the most important thing in the world.

Friday, July 13, 2018

"The pleasure, the priviledge is mine"

There is probably nothing more stultifying than reading a blog post about why a blogger has not been posting. Therefore, my answer is simple. I have not been posting because I've been busy. I've been busy being married, being a Dad, going to work, serving as a deacon in my parish as well as busy completing the requirements to earn a Doctorate in Ministry (DMin) from Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon. Along with 5 other classmates, I am privileged to be a member of the seminary's first-ever doctoral class. If things go as planned, I will complete my degree requirements by March of next year and graduate in May, which will be the culmination of three-and-a-half years of intensive effort.

More importantly, it is my intention to resume posting with some regularity here on Καθολικός διάκονος . True to form, I am going to begin again by resuming my least popular features: the Friday traditio and reflections on the Sunday readings for the weeks I don't preach and my homilies for the Sundays that I do. Since I am doing a lot of writing for school, I will probably post what I think are some interesting fragments of some of that work, both excerpts of what I write and observations that arise from my reading and writing. Then, finally, back to form, posting on a variety of things a few times a week.

It has become a custom over the past several years for me to note that I began blogging on 6 August 2005. Initially, this blog was named Scott Dodge for Nobody, which was a pretty blatant rip-off of the name of an old Sunday night radio program that used to air on KRCL in Salt Lake City: Tom Waits for Nobody. Pretty imaginative, don't you think? I remember being amazed at how easy it was to create a blog and start posting in the realization that anybody on the worldwide web who wanted to could read what I wrote. Though, in all honesty, back then I could not imagine anyone wanting to read anything I wrote. This is why after six posts I ceased blogging.

Not quite a year later, on 19 July 2006, after renaming this blog, I began blogging in earnest. The post that marked this true beginning was "How Occasional?" From 2007-2011 I posted on average just shy of 384 times a year. Yes, that is an average of more than once a day! Predictably, my most active year was my first year of consistent blogging, during which time I posted 422 times. The past six years, during each of which I posted fewer times successively (this year will maintain that trend), I have posted on average about 208 times a year. For an independent blog authored by one person, I somehow managed to far exceed any expectations I might've had when I started blogging in earnest as to how many people might want to read what I write.

In a good way, a sizeable readership places a burden on the blogger in terms of quantity, quality, and timing of posts. Another reason for my recent semi-hiatus is that during most of that time I just didn't feel like I had much of interest to say. Lest I become carried away, it was only 53 days between this post and my last post. Thirteen days was the break between the post prior to this and the post that preceded it, which followed a 12-day break between posts. This, in turn, followed an 18-day break. When considered over the course of 12 years (144 months), my post-Easter semi-hiatus is just a blip. Yes, I am doing all of this arithmetic for my own sake. I am a little more obsessive than most people realize.

Why do I blog? First and foremost, it has been an amazing vehicle, for lack of a better word, of personal growth. That may sound selfish, but if I did not benefit from this endeavor there would be little reason to engage in it. It is not selfish because it is a recognition that it may very well be the case nobody, or very few people, will read what I write. I am deeply conscious of this as I resume posting. On the hopeful side, I hope to continue to reach a few people who otherwise might not be inclined to listen to Christian minister. Maybe, as a deacon, I offer a different Catholic perspective, perhaps that of a medic, as opposed to a physician, at the field hospital Pope Francis insists the Church should be.

While it might seem more fitting to put up a Tom Waits song for this return traditio, I am going to post Teeth & Tongue's very nice cover of The Smiths' classic "There is a Light that Never Goes Out." It's good to be back. I hope both of my long-time readers are glad too. Sometimes it's good to strip things down and begin again. Besides, can you think of a more propitious day to begin again than Friday the thirteenth?

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Year B Pentecost Sunday

Readings: Acts 2:1-11; Ps 104:1.24.29-31.34; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7.12-13; John 15:26-27.16-12-15

Today the Church throughout the world celebrates the great Solemnity of Pentecost. The first Christian Pentecost in Jerusalem was the beginning of the Church. On that day the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus descended on the Blessed Virgin Mary and the apostles. As a result of their being filled with the Spirit, the apostles began to preach salvation through Christ to their fellow Jews who were gathered in Jerusalem from throughout the known world to celebrate the festival of Shauvot (in Greek “Pentecost”). So powerful was their Spirit-filled preaching that 3,000 people came to faith and were baptized that very day (Acts 2:41).

The ability for each person to hear the apostles in his own language has traditionally been viewed as God lifting the curse of the confusion of languages. In the Bible, this curse was the result of the attempt to build a tower – the Tower of Babel – that reached to heaven, where God was thought to be (Gen 11:1-9). Of course, this assertion is theological, not historical. The theological point is that God desires all of humanity to be unified, to be a family, to be in communion. Communion not only requires but implies communication. The Holy Spirit is the way God communicates with us to bring us into communion with himself, with each other, and the rest of creation.

The Holy Spirit’s descent during the first Christian Pentecost marked the beginning of God’s re-creation of the world. According to the first creation account in Genesis, at its creation, the earth was covered with water (Gen 1:2). As a result of God's Spirit breathing on the waters, life emerged from its simplest forms to its most complex form, reaching its apex with human beings created in God’s image and likeness (Gen 1:27). Because it is what makes us human, the image of God that each and every person bears cannot be eradicated. Our likeness to God, however, is destroyed by sin. God seeks to restore us to his likeness through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit coming upon Our Lady and the apostles like tongues of fire marks an important moment in salvation history. Pentecost is second in importance only to Christ’s resurrection. The dramatic descent of the Holy Spirit was only possible because of Christ’s resurrection and ascension. Hence, the first Christian Pentecost, which will last until Christ returns, is indispensable for God’s work of redemption.

The fruit of God’s redemptive work will be the restoration of the cosmos to the state of original grace. The state of original grace is perhaps best described as “communion.” By infusing us with the Holy Spirit, who is nothing other than the love between the Father and the Son personified, God calls us to be co-workers in his work of redemption. This is why we prayed a few moments ago when we sang the antiphon of our Responsorial Psalm: “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.”

It is important to point out that the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is the Eve, or Mother, of God’s new creation, was among those upon whom the Holy Spirit fell. Due to her Immaculate Conception, she is the first fruit of God’s new creation. On 11 February of this year - the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes - Pope Francis inserted a new liturgical memorial on the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar: Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of the Church. This memorial is to be celebrated the Monday after Pentecost Sunday (Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Decree on the celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of the Church in the General Roman Calendar).

Pentecost, Marko Rupnik, SJ, 2010- Episcopal Chair Chapel, Tenerife, Canary Islands

The decree announcing this new memorial points to the Church’s Tradition by noting that St Augustine “says that Mary is the mother of the members of Christ, because with charity she cooperated in the rebirth of the faithful into the Church” (Ibid). It also points to the teaching of Pope St Leo the Great, who observed: “the birth of the Head is also the birth of the body, thus indicating that Mary is at once Mother of Christ, the Son of God, and mother of the members of his Mystical Body, which is the Church” (Ibid).

The effect of Pentecost on Our Lady was that she came to know all those things the inspired author of Luke’s Gospel, who also wrote Acts, tells us she reflected on “in her heart” (Luke 2:19). As Jesus told his disciples in our Gospel today, when the Holy Spirit comes “he will guide you to all truth” (John 16:13).

Because “in view of the merits of Jesus Christ,” Our Lady was conceived without sin and remained sinless, she never forfeited her likeness to God (Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus [The Immaculate Conception]). Because of her sinlessness, Mary is the model Christian disciple. Our Blessed Mother is the “ecclesia immaculata,” the Church immaculate, or holy (Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Mary for Today, 39). She makes “up to completion and perfection what we have done incompletely and imperfectly” (Ibid., 41). Our Blessed Mother’s perfection was the result of her being filled with the Holy Spirit and so we pray- Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam, or “Come Holy Spirit, Come through Mary.”

Like the 20 young women and men of our parish at last evening’s Pentecost Vigil Mass, when you were confirmed, you were infused with the same Spirit that came upon the Blessed Virgin and the apostles at the first Christian Pentecost. It is in our reading from St Paul’s First Letter the Corinthians that we find the “so what” of today’s great celebration. In this passage, the apostle is insistent that the Spirit produces spiritual gifts in everyone to whom he is given: “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit” (1 Cor 12:6-7). Therefore, how we can convincingly say “Jesus is Lord” is by putting ourselves, our Spirit-given gifts, at the service of the Gospel.

It would've been inconceivable to the earliest Christians that someone could profess Jesus as Lord without visibly producing the fruits of the Spirit. “The Holy Spirit is the mode [or way] of Jesus’ resurrection presence to the world” (Luke Timothy Johnson, Living Jesus: Learning the Heart of the Gospel, 15). In and through this Eucharist, like the Blessed Virgin Mary, Christ desires to be present in you and through you.

Christ dwells in you in order to work through you in creating the world anew. As St Paul insists in his Second Letter to the Corinthians: “whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor 5:17). God, the apostle continues, “… has reconciled us to himself through Christ” and has “given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18).

If you are filled with the Spirit, like our Blessed Mother and the others who were Spirit-infused during the Church’s founding event, then every day is Pentecost, every day is the day to proclaim, “Jesus is Lord!” Because the Holy Spirit is the love of the Father for the Son and the love of the Son for the Father personified, you tap into his power whenever you love God with your whole being by loving your neighbor as you love yourself. You love your neighbor by putting your Spirit-given gifts at her service for the sake of the Gospel.

Love is passionate, not passive. Love is the universal language understood by all. They will know that we are Christians by our love.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Year B Sixth Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 10:25-26.34-35.44-48; Ps 98:1-4; 1 John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17

Towards the end of my preparation for ordination, my classmates and I were required to write a short statement on what we hoped to accomplish through our preaching. While I don’t remember the exact words I wrote, I remember writing something like- “I hope to communicate the love of God I have experienced to other people.”

After more than fourteen years at the ambo, I still think striving to communicate God’s love is my most important and urgent task as a preacher. Our readings for this Sixth Sunday of Easter are all about God’s great love for us. Judging by its appearance in large letters on poster-boards at sporting and other major events going back many decades, God’s love for us is perhaps most memorably summed up in the words of John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” At the very beginning of our Gospel for today, taken from Jesus’s Last Supper Discourse in St John’s Gospel, the Lord told his disciples and, by extension, us: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you” (John 15:9).

In order to know how much Jesus loves me, I need to have some grasp of how much the Father loves him and he how much he loves the Father. I think we find a very good answer to this in our second reading from the First Letter of John in the phrase “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Before we proceed any further it is important to point out that this phrase is not reversible: God is love but love is not God. God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is God. For love to be love and not narcissism, there has to be at least two people: a lover and a beloved. Because love is profuse, or, as the dictionary defines “profuse” – “exuberantly plentiful” or “abundant” - the love between the Father and the Son is personified in the Holy Spirit.

We are rapidly approaching the Solemnity of Pentecost. After Easter, Pentecost is the most important day of the liturgical year. Yes, it is more important than Christmas. Meditating on the Holy Spirit’s descent on our Blessed Mother and the apostles on the first Christian Pentecost is what the third Glorious Mystery of Our Lady’s Rosary bids us do. The fruit of this mystery is the Love of God, which is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit in this and every Eucharist.

For the entirety of the Easter season, our first Mass reading, on both Sundays and on weekdays, is taken from the Acts of the Apostles. Our reading today happened after Pentecost. In it we hear about a Second Pentecost, what we might call the Pentecost of the Gentiles. Cornelius, a Roman centurion, approached Peter and venerated him, thus demonstrating his faith in Christ. Up until that point, the status of Gentiles in the nascent Christian church was very unclear because Christian Gentiles were practically non-existent. The primitive Church in Jerusalem remained deeply rooted in Judaism and it was not entirely distinguishable as something other than a new form of Messianic Judaism. The Church at that time consisted almost exclusively of Jews who had come to faith in Jesus as Messiah and Lord. The three thousand people who came to faith and who were baptized on the first Christian Pentecost were Jews from all over the ancient world (Acts 2:5). They were in Jerusalem for Shavuot, or, in Greek, Pentecost (Acts 2:1). Even today, during this festival, Jews celebrate God giving the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai (Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History, New York: William Morrow And, Co., Inc., 1991: 592).

Angel Appears to Cornelius, Roman Centurion, by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, 1664

Cornelius, who, despite being a Gentile, was a generous alms-giver to the Jews and a man who prayed fervently to the God of Israel. He was what is sometimes referred to in the New Testament as a “God-fearer.” Leading up to his encounter with Peter, Cornelius had a vision in which an angel told him to send men to the city of Joppa to summon Peter (Acts 10:1-8). While the men were making their way from Caesarea to Joppa, Peter, who was staying with a fellow Jewish-Christian there, also had a vision (Acts 10:16). In this vision God told him that it was alright for him, an observant Jew, to eat unkosher foods (Acts 10:11-15).

Because the message of the vision was so radical, despite its essence being reiterated three times (i.e., “What God has made clean, you are not to call profane” [Acts 10:15]), Peter had doubts about what it meant. As Peter was contemplating the meaning of what God had revealed to him, Cornelius’s men arrived. Upon their arrival, the Holy Spirit told Peter he was to go with them “without hesitation.”

It is with Peter’s arrival at Cornelius’s house in Caesarea that our reading today begins. After Cornelius’s reverential greeting, Peter did not hesitate to tell the Roman centurion- “You know that it is unlawful for a Jewish man to associate with, or visit, a Gentile, but God has shown me that I should not call any person profane or unclean" (Acts 10:28).

The theological point here is that while, as Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well, “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22) it is not exclusively for the Jews. In and through Christ, salvation is for everyone who fears God and acts uprightly regardless of race, gender, age, language, etc.

Because God is love he “wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:3-4) In other words, God does not discriminate. He offers salvation freely to everyone. God’s saving power is revealed by witnesses, by those who have come to faith in Christ and who bear witness, not only, or even primarily, by their preaching but by their manner of living.

Echoing Pope Francis, Bishop Oscar has called each one of us, whether we are laypersons, in religious vows, or members of the clergy, to become missionary disciples. A missionary disciple is a Christian who bears witness to Christ in everything s/he does. As Bl Pope Paul VI noted in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi, which translates as “Proclaiming the Gospel,” a document that even Pope Francis points to as the foundational document for evangelization in our modern, or, as some might insist, our post-modern, world (J.J. Zielger, "Evangelii Nuntiandi: 'The greatest pastoral document that has ever been written'"), noted: in our day people listen more “to witnesses than to teachers” (sec. 41) If people today listen to teachers, Pope Paul continued, “it is because they are witnesses” (sec. 41). This is simply to say it is more important to walk the walk than to talk the talk. We walk the walk by loving others as Jesus loves us, which is how the Father loves him- by the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of selfless, self-sacrificing, and unconditional love.

Hence, “the first means of evangelization,” according to Pope Paul, “is the witness of an authentically Christian life, given over to God in a communion that nothing should destroy and at the same time given to one's neighbor with limitless zeal” (Evangelii nuntiandi, sec. 41). This is an echo of today’s Gospel in which Jesus tells us, his disciples, that in order to remain in him we need to keep his commandments. His commandment is straightforward: “love one another as I love you” (John 15:12).

We can only truly love because we are first loved. “In this is love,” we heard in our second reading, “not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). It is the love of the Father for his Son and the love of God’s Son for us, which love is the Holy Spirit, that raised Jesus from the dead. Because love is stronger than death, love is strong enough to overcome everything that divides us and everything that comes between us. Being a member of a Christian community does not mean belonging to a perfect, flawless group. It means belonging to a group of people committed to following Jesus, which means we are committed to forgiving one another and to being forgiven by others.

Loving one another like Jesus loves us requires us to live by the power of that love Christ constantly seeks to give us, which, again, is nothing other than the power of the Holy Spirit. Foremost among the ways Christ seeks to pour his love into our hearts is through the Eucharist we are about to receive. To properly dispose yourself to receive Christ poured out in love, like Peter, you must let yourself be convicted, challenged, and stretched. In a word, you must be willing to change, to be converted.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Post-resurrection Christianity

I want both of my readers to know that I have not given up blogging or stopped this modest effort to foster the diakonia of koinonia on-line. My reason for not posting this month is a very good one: I have been busy doing things that matter to me. Some of what I m currently working on will show up on here on Καθολικός διάκονος.

In the meantime, I was thinking this morning of a deeply insightful book I read some years ago now: Louis-Marie Chauvet's Symbol and Sacrament: Sacramental Reinterpretation of Christian Existence, which remains an important book some 24 years after it was published. Chauvet sees the Emmaus experience of Clopas and his unnamed companion as central to post-resurrection Christianity (see Luke 24:13-35). Writing of this pericope found in the twenty-fourth chapter of St Luke's Gospel, Chauvet insisted that
The passage of faith thus requires that one let go of the desire to see-touch-find, to accept in its place the hearing of a word, whether it comes from angels or from the Risen One himself, a word recognized as the word of God
The desire to see-touch-find leads us back to Jesus' dead body, which is not the body we receive in the Eucharist

Road to Emmaus, by Fritz von Uhde, 1891

As St Paul wrote: "For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance" (Rom 8:24-25).

"Luke in effect asks his audience," Chauvet continued, "'So you wish to know if Jesus is really living, he who is no longer visible before your eyes? Then give up the desire to see him, to touch him, to find his physical body, for now he allows himself to be encountered only through the body of his word, in the constant reappropriation that the Church makes of his message, his deeds, and his own way of living. Live in the Church! It is there that you will discover and recognize him'" (Symbol and Sacrament 166) It is the Eucharist that makes the Church the Body of Christ. The most concrete proof or disproof that we receive Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is the lives of those who receive it.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Fifty Years Ago in Memphis

Fifty 50 years ago today Dr Martin Luther King was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee by James Earl Ray. In a song off U2's Unforgettable Fire album (my favorite U2 album by miles) entitled "Pride (In the Name of Love)," Paul Hewitt (a.k.a. Bono Vox) sang: "Early morning, April four/Shot rings out in the Memphis sky..."

It was Dr, King, a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, echoing the words of the one he sought to follow (see Matthew 12:26), who said- "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that"- Martin Luther King.

In his memorable speech, delivered while standing on the bed of flatbed truck in Indianapolis, Indiana, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, whose brother, John, was assassinated in 1963 and who himself would be assassinated in Los Angeles in a few days over two months, said this:
My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He once wrote: "Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God"

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness; but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black."

"... and say a prayer for our country and for our people."
I have little doubt that, as a Catholic (the most devout of the Kennedy brothers), Bobby also prayed for the repose of Dr King's soul.

MLK and RFK remain people who represent the best of what we are and point us to what we, as a people, might yet be.

"How long shall they kill our prophets, while we stand aside and look?" Bob Marley

A political non-rant

In the wake of yesterday's Helsinki press conference, which, like a lot of my fellow U.S. citizens, as well as many people abroad, left ...