Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The validity of marriage and presence or absence of faith

In an interview I did with Karee Santos for her article on the Instrumentum Laboris for the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the Family, “Synod on the Family: A Preview of Coming Attractions,” I mentioned the possibility of gauging a couple’s faith in the manner it is supposed to be gauged when parents request to have an infant or small child baptized, that is, seek to establish that there is a well-founded hope that the couple will practice the Catholic religion prior marrying in the Church. While I agree with the concern expressed by canon lawyer Aldean Hendrickson concerning my suggestion, that “personal faith is a very difficult thing to measure,” I would simply note that we are already asked to measure, not perhaps so much personal faith, as the personal practice of and commitment to the faith, in the case of parents requesting the baptism of infants and small children under normal circumstances (i.e., in cases it is not an emergency- in an emergency, a case of life-and-death, we baptize).

It bears noting that in most situations this canonical requirement is considered to be met by the mere fact that one or both of the parents request baptism for their child, even if there is no discernible evidence, or expressed intention, of raising their child in the practice of the faith. Of course, baptism is not to be denied, but it may prudently be delayed in an effort to help the parents fulfill the promises they make when having their child baptized. It seems to me that often no effort is made to press them on points such as having completed their own Christian initiation, the frequency of Mass attendance, or reception of the Sacrament of Penance, or even being married in the Church.

Gerhard Cardinal Müller, the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in a recent book-length interview, to be published in English by Ignatius Press with the title The Hope of the Family: A Dialogue with Cardinal Gerhard Müller, addressed this issue. Before considering Cardinal Müller’s words, I think it is important to note that this concern was brought the fore by Pope Benedict in a January 2013 speech he delivered the Roman Rota. In that speech, the then-Pontiff said
The indissoluble pact between a man and a woman does not, for the purposes of the sacrament, require of those engaged to be married, their personal faith; what it does require, as a necessary minimal condition, is the intention to do what the Church does. However, if it is important not to confuse the problem of the intention with that of the personal faith of those contracting marriage, it is nonetheless impossible to separate them completely. As the International Theological Commission observed in a Document of 1977: “Where there is no trace of faith (in the sense of the term ‘belief’ — being disposed to believe), and no desire for grace or salvation is found, then a real doubt arises as to whether there is the above-mentioned and truly sacramental intention and whether in fact the contracted marriage is validly contracted or not” (La dottrina cattolica sul sacramento del matrimonio [Propositions on the Doctrine of Christian Marriage] [1977], 2.3: Documenti 1969-2004, Vol. 13, Bologna 2006, p. 145)
In a lengthy excerpt from Cardinal Müller’s interview provided by Sandro Magister on Chiesa, His Eminence, after he strongly re-asserted the dogmatic (i.e., unchangeable) nature of the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, which is nothing other than the teaching of Jesus Christ (Matt 19:1-12; Mark 10:1-12), he began to speak in an authentically pastoral manner. The assertion of the dogmatic nature concerning the indissolubility of marriage “does not,” he insists
prevent one from speaking of the problem of the validity of many marriages in the current secularized context. We have all witnessed marriages in which it was not very clear if the contracting parties really intended to “do what the Church does” in the rite of marriage. Benedict XVI made insistent appeals to reflect on the great challenge represented by no believing baptized persons. As a result, the congregation for the doctrine of the faith took note of the pope's concern and put a good number of theologians and other collaborators to work in order to resolve the problem of the relationship between explicit and implicit faith.

What happens when even implicit faith is absent from a marriage? When this is lacking, of course, even if the marriage has been celebrated “libere et recte," it could be invalid. This leads us to maintain that, in addition to the classical criteria for declaring the invalidity of marriage, there must be further reflection on the case in which the spouses exclude the sacramental nature of marriage. Currently we are in a phase of study, of serene but tenacious reflection on this point. I do not think it is appropriate to jump to conclusions, since we have not yet found the solution, but this does not prevent me from pointing out that in our congregation we are dedicating a great deal of energy to providing a correct response to the problem posed by the implicit faith of the contracting parties
It will be interesting to follow the upcoming Synod, which, as I also noted in my interview responses, did not deal in an inordinate way with the problem of Communion for the civilly divorced and remarried. It will also be interesting to read the conclusions of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on this matter.

Gehard Ludwig Cardinal Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

The preface to Cardinal Müller’s book was written by Fernando Sebastián Cardinal Aguilar, Archbishop Emeritus of Pamplona and Tudela in Spain. In this preface, I believe His Eminence hits the nail on the head and, in true pastoral fashion, points the way ahead:
The main problem present in the Church with regard to the family is not the small number of the divorced and remarried who would like to receive Eucharistic communion. Our most serious problem is the great number of baptized who marry civilly and of sacramentally married spouses who do not live marriage or the marital life in harmony with Christian life and the teachings of the Church, which would have them be living icons of Christ's love for his Church present and working in the world

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The relationship of the old to the new

After ending a series of parables about the radical nature of the kingdom of God, Jesus asked His disciples, "'Do you understand all these things?' They answered, 'Yes.' And he replied, 'Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old'" (Matt 13:51-52).

I'm not convinced that those who answered "Yes" to Jesus' question understood completely. I certainly make no claim to understand completely. Hence, I am not pretending to write this from the perspective of someone who, more than 2,000 years later, claims to get what those who listened to Jesus firsthand and who responded to His call, even if only after His resurrection from the dead, did not. Silly, not arrogant, would describe someone who strikes such a pose. Of course, once you manage to grasp the strangeness, the upside down nature, of God's kingdom, at least when compared to the kingdoms of this world, all of which are passing and none of which are exceptional when judged by the standards of God's kingdom as set forth in the teaching of Jesus, even if a bit, this understanding changes how you engage the world by changing the way you see things, your understanding only grows.

Such an understanding certainly leads a person to be less satisfied with the worldly things, even those that are good and pleasurable, like a good glass of wine, a beautiful musical composition, freshly fallen snow, bright green leaves against a clear blue sky, an entrancing painting, or lovemaking with your beloved. Dissatisfaction can be the result if we cut the proclamation of God's kingdom in half, as it were. But Jesus comes to gives us hope, to encourage us to usher in God's kingdom, even as we await its total completion.

I don't write as much now as I did in my earlier years of blogging about my purpose for doing this. I still think quite a lot about the whats, whys, and wherefores of Καθολικός διάκονος. I guess my hope, even as a partially comprehending "scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven," is that I bring forth from my "storeroom both the new and the old." Both are necessary. Increasingly, especially given the troubling, even suicidal, turns our society and civilization have taken, many want to just cling to the old. I understand this desire. Some days I feel very much that way myself. On the other hand, we are increasingly unable, even unwilling, to remember. There is an on-going and deliberate effort in many quarters to eradicate memory. For many, especially the young, there is no past, there is nothing old, nothing worth holding onto, let alone worth passing along, all of this works to prevent preserving and further cultivating a sense of wonder and awe at our participation in being. Without the old, there can be nothing new.

Jesus never dismissed the old in His being something new because in His ever-newness He remains the Ancient of Days- "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "the one who is and who was and who is to come, the almighty" (Rev 1:8).

Odysseus and the quest for home

Currently I am reading The Odyssey with my 9 year-old son. It's been too many years since I last read Homer's epic tale. This morning we read of Odysseus, down to his last ship, leaving Circe's island for the Land of the Dead in order to consult with the dead prophet Tiresias about how to safely make it home to Ithaca. What struck me in reading this is the very natural human belief in life after death and the problem, without a wholly unexpected, cosmos-shattering intervention, of getting stuck far from home.

Of course, for the ancient Greeks, the Land of the Dead was a shadow land from whence there was no rescue. The Jewish belief in Sheol is very close to the Greek belief in Hades, not the god of the underworld, but the underworld itself. In fact, "Hades" is used 10 times in the New Testament. It is placed on the lips of our Lord four times, twice in Matthew and Luke (one of those times- Matt 11:23 and Luke 10:15- from the "Q" source) and once in Revelation (Matt 11:23; 16:18, Luke 10:15; 16:23, Rev 1:18).

Tiresias appears to Odysseus, watercolor with tempera, Johann Heinrich Füssli, c. 1780-85

What is my point in mentioning these convergences? Simple. We weren't made to exist in a shadow land for all eternity after our all too brief mortal life. I have found nothing better, certainly nothing more dramatic, than an anonymous ancient homily for Holy Saturday to highlight this. In this homily Jesus approaches the souls in what we term "the limbo of the fathers," He approaches our first parents, and says- "I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person."

Contrary to the insistence of many well-meaning Christians, Christ did not come to bring an end to religion, but to fulfill religion, to establish the true religion, the fulfillment of which is the Eucharist. The idea that Christianity it not a religion would've seemed strange, odd, and untrue to early Christians, who often gathered in secret, sometimes at great risk to their lives, or at least their freedom, to celebrate the Paschal Mystery, which was nothing other than the Eucharistic liturgy.

Turning to The Odyssey, specifically to Odysseus' arrival at the Land of the Dead and his locating the convergence of the two rivers, the River of Flaming Fire and the River of Lamentation:
"This is where we must sacrifice the sheep," Odysseus said. "When they smell the blood, the souls of the dead will rise up to meet us, and we will ask them to bring up Tiresias." Following Circe's instructions, he poured honey and milk into a trench, adding wine and water and grains and barley. Then he sacrificed the sheep and drew his sword. The souls of the dead came fluttering up from the underworld with hollow, eerie cries. Thousands of them flocked around Odysseus as he stood shivering on the edge of the trench. The ghosts of young men and girls floated next to battle-scarred warriors. Old men with gray hair brushed against newly married brides. They jostled together, vying for Odysseus's attention. He scanned their insubstantial faces... (The Odyssey, Gillian Cross, Illustrated by Neil Packer, 77)

To illustrate my point about Christ and religion I'll invoke this passage from the Letter to the Hebrews:
But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that have come to be, passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hands, that is, not belonging to this creation, he entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of a heifer’s ashes can sanctify those who are defiled so that their flesh is cleansed, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.

For this reason he is mediator of a new covenant: since a death has taken place for deliverance from transgressions under the first covenant, those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:11-15)
I will juxtapose it with this from St Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians: "For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, 'This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes" (11:23-26).

In his novel Ignorance, Milan Kundera wrote, "The Greek word for 'return' is nostos. Algos means 'suffering'. So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return." Nostalgia is not a place, it's part and parcel of being human, of the "human condition," such as it is, or least how the vast majority of us experience it. Like Odysseus, it is what drives us forward. I suppose we can imagine nostalgia to be a "place." If we do, then, like those insubstantial figures Odysseus encounters, we might become stuck there. What we truly long for does not lie behind us, it lies ahead. How can our return lie ahead and not behind? This can only be satisfactorily answered by the poet: "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time" (T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding").

Friday, July 25, 2014

"Do you love me babe?"

I don't mind saying that the Friday traditio recently has been a little difficult for me. I am not really sure why. But with the passing of the lone surviving member of The Ramones, Tommy Ramone, on 11 July, makes this week's traditio is easy. Tommy Ramone was born Erdélyi Tamás in Budpest, Hungary in 1949. All of the band members passed way too soon. Tommy drummed for The Ramones from 1974-1978, when Mark took over. Both before and after drumming, Tommy managed the band and produced some albums.

The Ramones' original line-up (Tommy second from left)

The Ramones were East Coast punks. Back in the day there was a pretty big rivalry between West Coast, East Coast, and English punks. Anyway, our Friday traditio is The Ramones performing "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend," one of the songs Tommy wrote.

At a cancer benefit he performed in October 2008, after being preceded in death by all his former bandmates, "Ramones Beat Down on Cancer," Tommy, speaking of The Ramones said something very true: "They gave everything they could in every show. They weren't the type to phone it in, if you see what I mean."

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

UPDATED: Natural Family Planning Awareness Week

Every year the week that includes 25 July is designated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as “National Natural Family Planning Awareness Week.” The reason for this is that it was on 25 July 1968 that Venerable Pope Paul VI promulgated what would turn out to be the final encyclical of his pontificate, Humanae Vitae. Paul VI remained pope for slightly longer than ten years after issuing this watershed document.

Given that the Catholic Church’s teaching on the inherent immorality of contraception is what currently constitutes the brightest “flash point” between the Church and the United States government, it seems like a good time for the Church to begin making its members more aware of this teaching and to teach it more persuasively. But chances are you heard far more about the Fortnight for Freedom, which concluded on 4 July, than about National NFP Awareness Week. Nonetheless, I really like the theme for this year: Natural Family Planning: It’s Worth It. Join the Revolution!

“Natural Family Planning,” or “NFP,” is an umbrella term for the various methods of NFP that couples may use, such as the Billings Ovulation Method, the Creighton Model, the Sympto-thermal method, to name just some of the methods. According to the USCCB website, “Natural Family Planning (NFP) is the general title for the scientific, natural and moral methods of family planning that can help married couples either achieve or postpone pregnancies” (emboldening in original).

There are so many misconceptions about NFP that it would be impossible to address them all in a single blog post. Therefore, I will refrain from attempting the impossible. What I intend to do is make one crucial distinction, followed by a clarification, and finally to write to any of my married brothers who might read this.

Having written about and taught on NFP consistently over the past 10 years, the distinction is one I make quite often: When used by spouses who, “for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time” (Humanae Vitae par 10), NFP is a form of birth control.

As to the “serious” reasons a couple might decide not to have more children either temporarily or indefinitely, the criteria is given in the encyclical. Of course, NFP can also be used as an aid to conceiving a child. The takeaway here is that the Catholic Church is not opposed to birth control per se, but is opposed to contraception in all cases, even to what might be called "natural forms of contraception" (i.e., forms that do not artificially prevent conception, but prevent pregnancy by abstaining from sexual relations during the fertile period of a woman’s menstrual cycle) when a couple’s reason(s) for so doing arise from what amount to selfish, consumeristic, or any worldly motives.

When broaching the subject of contraception in light of NFP, it is important to clarify what this might mean, lest NFP be viewed as a “natural form of contraception.” According to fundamental Catholic morality the inherent “goodness” or “badness” of certain acts is objectively determined, which means that while intention and circumstance may either mitigate, or eliminate altogether, the culpability of a person who engages in a "bad" act, neither circumstance nor intention can change the nature of the act itself from "bad" to "good." So, while one’s intention cannot turn a “bad” act into a good one (the road to hell is paved with good intentions), one’s intention can render an otherwise "good" act “bad.”

So, the distinction is between birth control and contraception. NFP can be employed in what might be called a contraceptive manner, that is, with a contraceptive mindset, or, to use an overused phrase that understandably drives many people nuts- “with a contraceptive mentality.”

One way such a mindset/mentality/cultural/societal disposition, whatever you want to call it, is made manifest on the part of some who vigorously oppose NFP is when a person arguing against NFP says to someone like me, “Well, you practice NFP and you have six children.” Their point, it seems, is that NFP doesn’t work because I have six children. According to this logic, NFP can only be proven successful when it is used in a contraceptive way. In reality, one of the best ways to demonstrate that NFP is not “a natural form of contraception” is by living your marriage in a manner that is open to life. A marriage open to life is a marriage open to children, which means accepting children as blessings, not as financial burdens who get in the way of self-realization.

Finally, far too many men believe that practicing NFP requires heroic virtue. In other words, many believe that using NFP when not trying to conceive a child requires long periods of sexual abstinence. I want to be honest, for some couples it does mean that. But if your wife’s menstrual cycle is more or less regular (most women’s are) then NFP does not require long periods of abstaining from sex, but relatively short ones.

UPDATE: My lovely wife, who actually possesses true expertise on NFP, upon reading this made an observation worth passing along, which she typed in her own words:
In your twenties it can require longer periods of abstinence if you are not trying to conceive. Nature seems to work towards conception during these years
But even with that, let’s not lose sight of the fact that chastity is a virtue even within marriage. Chastity should not be conflated with celibacy or sexual continence. Acquiring any natural virtue requires self-denial. A natural virtue is one that we acquire by practicing it. Of course, God’s grace, especially as given us in and through the sacraments, comes to our aid even in the acquisition of the natural virtues, something Paul VI points out beautifully in Humanae Vitae.

In the words of the Venerable Pope Paul VI:
The right and lawful ordering of birth demands, first of all, that spouses fully recognize and value the true blessings of family life and that they acquire complete mastery over themselves and their emotions. For if with the aid of reason and of free will they are to control their natural drives, there can be no doubt at all of the need for self-denial. Only then will the expression of love, essential to married life, conform to right order (Humanae Vitae par 21)
Men this requires us, as caring husbands, to be active participants in NFP, which primarily takes the form of charting, or at least being aware of where things stand so as not to put your wife in the position of having to frequently tell you “Not tonight,” which can put a lot of strain on your marriage. It also gives us many opportunities to find non-sexual ways of drawing nearer our wives.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

God is kindness and mercy

Readings: Wis 12:12.16-19; Ps 86:5-6.9-10.15-16; Rom 8:26-27; Matt 13:24-43

Most of the attention in the ambo (i.e., pulpit) this weekend will no doubt be given to the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares. With the Gospel reading being rather long, the other readings and even the remaining two parables contained in the Gospel are likely either to receive short shrift, or be completely ignored. This is not a complaint. As a preacher, I grasp that you can't preach everything.

A single mustard seed

Since I invoked our second reading from St Paul's Letter to the Romans in the post immediately preceding this one, I will focus on the other readings.

Towards the end of our first reading, we hear "that those who are just [righteous] must be kind" (Wis 12:19). One of the most difficult things to "get right" is balancing mercy with justice. Humanly speaking, at least in my view, striking a perfect balance between mercy and justice is impossible. The main reason it is impossible is because we are never aware of all the factors that need to be known in order to make a "spot on" determination. Contrary to the view of some, if we err, we should err on the side of mercy. Is this just my personal opinion? No, it is scriptural: "For the judgment is merciless to one who has not shown mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment" (James 2:13). The person I should judge most is myself. But I only judge myself in order to receive God's mercy, which is nothing apart from a brand new pledge of His great love for me.

Turning to the parable of the mustard seed, it's important to note that Jesus here is not talking about personal faith. His use of the example of a mustard seed to teach about faith comes a bit later in St Matthew's Gospel (Matt 17:20). Being part of what New Testament scholars identify as the "Q" document ("Q" being shorthand for the German word "quelle," meaning source), which is posited to account for the material that the Gospels of St Matthew and St Luke have in common that they did not derive from St Mark, is also found in St Luke's Gospel (see Luke 17:6). In this passage, the Lord is talking about establishing the kingdom of heaven, which, like the mustard plant, starts out improbably small, but will ultimately fill the earth. I believe that this is the kind of thing Bl Teresa of Calcutta had in mind when she said, "God does not require that we be successful only that we be faithful."

Jesus makes very much the same point by using the example of how a little bit of yeast leavens an entire loaf of bread as He sought to make in the Parable of the Mustard seed. It is difficult for us, being a people constituted by the Eucharist, to hear Jesus teach using bread as an example and not be put in mind of the Eucharist. I don't think it'd be stretching things too much to say that our receiving communion is precisely what is supposed to make us into the leaven our Lord calls us to be: the leaven at work bringing about the kingdom of heaven.

So, connecting these two parables to that of the wheat and the tares, I think we can conclude that the Church, at least the Church on earth, cannot be taken as co-terminus with the kingdom of heaven, which is yet to come. But it is not my job, or your job, to determine or decide who is in and who is out. Nonetheless, I think we'd be less than honest if we did not frankly admit that we are sometimes tempted to do just this, both generally and in particular cases. One way to avoid this temptation is to call to mind the wisdom expressed in our reading from the Book of Wisdom- "that those who are just must be kind" (Wis 12:19). Kindness, which is perhaps best described as love in action, is the leavened and baked loaf. Kindness is the full-grown mustard plant. Love expressed in word and deed, is the fulfillment of the kingdom of heaven.

Last night I attended the memorial service for a wonderful man who, in a moment of pitch black despair, took his own life. I was extended the privilege of making a few remarks and offering a prayer at the end of what turned out to be one of the most beautiful memorial services I have ever attended. Inside each program was a card that read, "Be gentle with yourself & with others." Let's not forget that God is gently and kindly disposed towards each of us without exception. In other words, this includes you, whoever you may be, or wherever you may be, either geographically or spiritually.

In our first reading we heard these words, addressed to God almighty- "For you show your might when the perfection of your power is disbelieved." This is followed by Psalm 86, the reponsorial for which is, "Lord, you are good and forgiving" (Ps 86:5). Let's not forget that God's might was most powerfully shown, not in punishment and harshness, but in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

"Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

Saturday, July 19, 2014

"Your empty passion won't satisfy me"

Since my Friday postings lately have usually been both late and hasty, on this Saturday morning, as the fruit of a grace-filled encounter with some friends this morning on FB (Yes, social media can be a succor instead of a vexation- our encounter was virtual, but the grace we experienced was real), I offer a supplemental traditio: "No More Words" by Berlin. It was my friend Paul who invoked this song during our encounter.

I don't know about you, but for me it's often an interesting exercise for me, when listening to some contemporary songs, to replace a human lover with God. I admit, the fit can be both good and somewhat incongruent, even in the same song. For example, in this song, a reference is made to when "We make love..." Now, this might make us uncomfortable when we think of God. But let's not be too quick to dismiss this notion outright. In his reflecting on his marriage to Helen Joy Davidman, C.S. Lewis, in A Grief Observed, wrote about marital sex as perhaps the nearest human analog to experiencing divine love:
One thing, however, marriage has done for me. I can never again believe that religion is manufactured out of our unconscious, starved desires and is a substitute for sex. For those few years [Joy] and I feasted on love, every mode of it—solemn and merry, romantic and realistic, sometimes as dramatic as a thunderstorm, sometimes as comfortable and unemphatic as putting on your soft slippers. No cranny of heart or body remained unsatisfied. If God were a substitute for love we ought to have lost all interest in Him. Who’d bother about substitutes when he has the thing itself? But that isn’t what happens. We both knew we wanted something besides one another—quite a different kind of something, a quite different kind of want
Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, by Bernini, 1647-1652

"No more words/You're telling me you love me while you're looking away." Christ wants us to meet His loving gaze, but we're afraid His brilliance will blind, or maybe even kill, us. The truth is, returning His gaze will both blind us and kill us, but only in order to enable us to see things anew and to raise us to new life. We need to see things clearly and to put to death that part of us that needs to die, our sinful nature, characterized by our self-absorption, which causes us to be attracted to so many ephemeral things. But meeting Christ's gaze requires you to stand there with everything, especially your self-deception, stripped away, which is scary, but it's the only way to gain any sort of comprehension of how much He loves you.

But don't fool yourself
Your empty passion won't satisfy me, I know
So don't pretend that you want me

"In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will" (Rom 8:26-27).

I hope this does not come from a motivation of "Hey, look at me," but I don't mind sharing that my favorite way to pray is to lie prostrate in silence before the Blessed Sacrament. I never feel more like God hears me than when I do this, just letting the Holy Spirit articulate my "inexpressible groanings." I make no claim to any personal righteousness, all this amounts to is just taking some time. I often use words to create a barrier, a smokescreen, between myself and God (I do this with my wife too).

Last night I re-watched an episode from series three of Rev. I was blown away by the scene in which Adam admits to his wife, Alex, that he kissed another woman, touched her breast, and enjoyed it, but still wished he'd never done it. After she vents her anger a bit, her response is amazing:

"Adam, it's not about the...tits
and the willies, and the fannies.
It's about the hearts.
You've broken mine."

Then she graciously forgives him and he thanks her profoundly. Aren't we all, in some way, the aptly named Adam?

I believe it was St Ignatius of Loyola who bids us to pray as we can, not as we think we ought.

A note on grace

I think the phrase "grace builds on nature," that is, grace is always at work through the ordinary and every day circumstances we experience, is just a way of saying it usually percolates slowly. I believe this is true because I do not believe that God's grace is irresistible. You are always free to resist grace at any given moment and you are even free to do so ultimately. This why C.S. Lewis, in the Great Divorce, wrote:
There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened
While God relentlessly pursues you, He won't save you, or damn you against your will. Keep in mind Jesus' rebuke of the "lukewarm" Christians of Laodicea: "So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth" (Rev 3:16). A lifetime of resisting grace, of pursuing your own will, especially with regard to matters that are clearly at odds with God's expressed will, doesn't predispose one to want to submit to God's will in the end.

Pater Tom wrote, "A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire." Lest I tempt anyone to despair, please remember these words of our Risen Lord to St Paul: "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor 12:9)

Friday, July 18, 2014

"Blowing through the jasmine in my mind"

Okay, today's late, late traditio is a song I had stuck in my mind for a few days early this week- Seals and Crofts version on "Summer Breeze."

It's summer and it's here along the Wasatch Front. I am not sure why (I blame it on the heat), but I am always a little bit more anxious than usual in the summertime. I consider this song and this version of the song, which I remember my parents listening to when I was young, coming into my mind and remaining with me at the beginning of a long and stressful week a great grace.

Sweet days of summer
the jasmine's in bloom
July is dressed up
and playing her tune

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Notes and asides on the Celestine Jubilee

On Saturday, 5 July, in Isernia, Italy, the probable birthplace of Pietro del Morrone, who, from 5 July -13 December 1294, served as Pope under the name Celestine V, Pope Francis announced the beginning of a Celestine Jubilee Year. Speaking in the piazza of the Duomo di Isernia, Cattedrale di San Pietro Apostolo, the Holy Father said:
Here is the truly modern sense of the Jubilee Year, this Celestine Jubilee Year, which I proclaim open from this moment, and during which the door of divine mercy will stand wide open to everyone. It is not an escape, not an avoidance of realty and of one’s problems, it is the answer that comes from the Gospel: love as a force of purification, of integrity, a force of renewal of social relationships, a force of planning for a different economy, which places the person, work and family at the centre rather than money and profit
From the perspective of his resignation, which he announced 11 February 2013, many commentators came to see Pope Benedict XVI's 2009 visit to the tomb of Pope Celestine V (the last pope to resign), which is in L'Aquila, Italy, in Santa Maria di Collemaggio Basilica, in a new light. Celestine V is a canonized saint of the Church. He was canonized as a holy hermit and founder of a contemplative religious order. Due to the high regard in which he is held, even venerated, first by Pope Benedict and now by Pope Francis, the question, "Who was Pietro del Morrone?" has been raised. Sandro Magister's recent article "Celestine V a Model Pope? The Myth and the Reality" is as good a response to this question as I have found.

Pope Benedict XVI visiting the tomb of Pope Celestine V

It seems to me that from the perspective of this papal veneration, one cannot simply dismiss Celestine V as "a bad pope." That he was not an effective pope is beyond historical dispute. He never wanted to be pope! Let's keep in view the fact that Pietro del Morrone was not elected pope until he was 84, which would be old even now. His pontificate only lasted five months and nine days.

One of the reasons Bergoglio was not on my radar during last year's conclave is that, given Benedict's resigning due to age, at 76, I thought him 10 years too old. This is no mere digression. Pope Benedict, having lived through the final years of the papacy of Pope St John Paul II, who gave heroic witness to the value of human life during this time, did not see fit to put the Church through that again.

Both Benedict and Francis see Celestine V as a model precisely for his humble and even selfless realization and acknowledgment that, as an old man, well past his prime, he was not "up to" the job. In this regard it bears noting that Benedict XVI resigned when he was the same age as Celestine V was when he resigned: 85. As Magister describes it, Celestine V's "plans for abdication were scrupulously examined from the juridical point of view. And on December 13, in the Castelnuovo in Naples, he read his declaration of resignation before the assembled cardinals. He set aside the pontifical vestments and dressed himself again in the gray robe of his congregation: the pope had again become Pietro del Morrone."

At least to me, there is something quite beautiful and distinctively Franciscan in Magister's description of del Morrone's resignation. Undoubtedly this is one reason why, in his speech announcing the Celestine Jubilee, the Holy Father linked these two men so closely together. I was personally gratified that in his Isernia remarks Pope Francis finally uttered the word "deacon" in public. Speaking of the example set by Sts Pietro del Morrone and Francesco de Assisi in giving prophetic witness to a new world, the foundation of which is mercy, a world in which "the goods of the earth and of work are equally distributed and no one lacks the necessary, because solidarity and sharing are the concrete result of fraternity," the Holy Father noted "one was a deacon [St Francis], the other a bishop, the Bishop of Rome — as clergy, both had to set the example of poverty, of mercy and of totally divesting themselves."

Pope Francis in Isernia

Regarding what the Pontiff said concerning "mercy," "indulgence," and "the forgiveness of debt," it bears noting that not long after he became pope, Celestine V promulgated a papal bull granting a plenary indulgence to all pilgrims visiting Santa Maria di Collemaggio (where he is now entombed) through its holy door on the anniversary of his papal coronation. He was selected as Roman Pontiff on 5 July, but was not installed until late August. To this day, the people of L'Aquila celebrate a festival, called Perdonanza Celestiniana, each year on 28-29 August.