Saturday, July 21, 2018

God's love for us is tireless

Readings: Jer 23:1-6; Ps 23:1-6; Eph 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34

No doubt you've heard the saying, "There's no rest for the wicked and the righteous don't need any." Well, it's no exaggeration to state that this is not a bad summary of the message the readings for this Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time seek to convey.

I could be wrong and I am too lazy to verify this hunch, but it seems to me that no matter which cycle of Sunday readings we're in (A, B, or C) during the middle-to-late part of summer we are confronted with some very challenging Scripture readings. During these long weeks in Ordinary Time, when our readings from the Hebrew Bible are largely taken from the Nevi'im, that is the prophets, which are harmonized with our Gospel reading, we can arrive at some very deep and practical insights about what it means to be followers of Jesus. This is why, in addition to attending Mass, we should spend time each week preparing for the Sunday liturgy by reading, pondering, and praying with the Lectionary readings.

The prophet Jeremiah, in our first reading, castigates the political and religious leaders of ancient Judah for scattering the flock by their lack of care and concern for them. He even accuses these leaders of misleading God's chosen people. The scattering to which the prophet refers is the destruction of Jerusalem and the the consequent exile of Judah in Babylonian, neither of which have yet occurred. But this scattering does not constitute the divine punishment, it is but the natural consequence of the misfeasance of Israel's appointed shepherds.

While from a Benjaminite village, Jeremiah was a priest (i.e., a kohen), that is, a Levite who served in the Temple. As such, he could've contented himself with being a member of the priestly caste and living a fairly comfortable life. But God called him to warn Judah and to call them back to fidelity to the covenant. This, of course, made him a trouble-maker as well as caused him to be a somewhat troubled person.

A few chapters earlier than the chapter from which our first reading is taken, Jeremiah complains about the wearying and excruciating nature of his prophetic calling. Reflecting on how his divine calling to proclaim "violence and outrage" has led to him being the object of reproach and derision, Jeremiah tells of his refusal to speak on God's behalf but of his determination to never again mention the LORD's name. In this passage, the prophet accuses God of seducing him. But no sooner does Jeremiah make this resolution than the word of the LORD begins to burn like a fire in his heart, which fire is "imprisoned" in his bones. His bones cannot contain the fire of God's word and so he "grows weary" of resisting and can no longer refrain from prophesying (see Jeremiah 20:7-9).

In addition to predicting that God would preserve a faithful remnant through the exile, Jeremiah prophesied of a time when the LORD would raise up "a righteous branch for David;" a king who "shall reign and govern wisely," doing "what is right and just in the land" (Jer 23:6). The name of this Good Shepherd is "The LORD our justice" (Jer 23:6).

Our Gospel today picks up precisely where last Sunday's Gospel left off. Last Sunday we heard about Jesus sending the Twelve off on a mission to preach the reign of God, calling people to repentance, casting out demons and healing the sick. At the end of the reading, the Twelve, despite their seeming lack of qualification for their mission, report back to the Lord, seemingly with astonishment, that by doing just as they had been instructed their mission had been successful (see Mark 6:7-13).

Today's Gospel passage, which is separated from last week's reading by Herod's view of Jesus and the passage telling of the beheading of the Baptist, which occurred at the urging of Herodias after Salomé's mesmerizing dance, has Jesus inviting the Twelve, whom the inspired author at this point deems as "apostles" for the first time, to go with him across the Sea of Galilee to rest. "Apostles," of course, means the ones who are sent.

As Jesus and the disciples are making their way to other side of the inland sea by boat, a multitude heads to the same destination on foot. As a result, upon their arrival, Jesus and the Twelve find the crowd there waiting: "When [Jesus] disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things" (Mark 6:34).

The phrase "his heart was moved" is a translation of the Greek word σπλαγχνίζομαι, which transliterates as splagchnizomai. This word literally means "to be moved in one's bowels," which is perhaps best translated "he was deeply moved." So, instead of resting with his apostles, which was his motivation for crossing the Sea of Galilee, he taught the lost people. Like Jeremiah before him, despite sometimes being feeling the effects of his mortality, Jesus was never too weary to serve his Father by serving his sisters and brothers. Jesus is never too tired for you nor does he grow tired of you, which is more than can be said of any other person you've ever met, including your spouse, your parents, or your friends, no matter how strongly they might insist otherwise.

This past week, I ran across an article in Church Life Journal by Paul Griffiths entitled "Ora et Labora: Christians Don’t Need Leisure." In his piece, Griffths notes how our self-centered culture encourages us to think of leisure as doing nothing. He uses the Latin for doing nothing otium. He notes that otium, which he describes as "the state or condition of doing nothing, of being otiose, of occupying a place in which nothing is expected and there is nothing to do," as hell. We take respite from our labor by worshiping God. This side of the end of the world, we are to work and to pray. I think today's Gospel reading supports Griffths's thesis quite well. While it may sound Stoic, this manner of loving is joyful because it brings us joy. It is the path to joy, to fulfillment, especially when compared with the hedonistic pleasure-seeking that is really what our society's obsession with "leisure" truly is.

By insisting that it's important that we do not become what one of my former bosses described as "chronic recreators," I am not saying that we don't need to rest. We need to rest and take breaks. This is accomplished daily by our going to bed, which is a bit like dying, before arising to for a new day of ora et labora in the service of God and neighbor.

John R. Quinn, the Archbishop emeritus of San Francisco, died last summer. Due to the good graces of his one-time priest-secretary, now-Archbishop John Wester, I had the opportunity to meet Archbishop Quinn on a few occasions and to speak with him a little. Like most bishops I have known, such as John Wester himself, who was formerly my bishop, and my current bishop, Oscar Solis, Archbishop Quinn was a good shepherd. This means that he engaged in his ministry whole-heartedly, serving God's people with great fervor and zeal. In his homily at Archbishop Quinn's funeral Mass, Archbishop Wester shared a story about when he served as Quinn's secretary. One of the duties of a bishop's priest-secretary is to travel with the bishop. This means serving as chauffeur. Wester told of driving Quinn home on a Sunday evening after a particularly grueling day when Quinn told him "he was 'experiencing a certain lassitude.'" The young priest replied: "You just can't bring yourself to say you're tired." To which the archbishop replied, "Certainly not!"

My friends in Christ, may we never give into weariness as we make our way through hac valle lacrimarum in worshiping the Lord and serving others out of love as we eagerly await that day when we "will run and not grow weary" and will "walk and not grow faint" (Isa 40:31). '

Friday, July 20, 2018

A political non-rant II

In "A political non-rant," earlier this week I said there was only one possible exception to my desire not to have any living president serve again. Who is that exception? Jimmy Carter. According to the off-the-shelf narrative, we're supposed to think that Carter was a terrible president but a great human being. I readily admit that when Carter left office the country was at low-ebb. It's easy to overlook that Carter inherited many problems. He came into office not long after our Vietnam debacle came to its humiliating end with the dramatic news footage of the evacuation of Saigon in 1975. He also served in the wake of Watergate, Nixon's resignation, and Ford's pardon of Nixon. who was likely guilty of committing felonies. In the chaos that succeeded the dramatic year of 1968 during which Dr. Martin Luther King and Senator Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated, the nation found itself adrift in rapidly changing times without the kind of leadership it needed. When he was elected in 1976, Jimmy Carter, who came out of nowhere to win the Democratic nomination and then the presidency, was seen as a breath of fresh air.

In what became known as his "Great Malaise" speech - it is called this despite the fact that he did not use the word "malaise" in the speech - Carter set out to diagnose the roots of the nation's crisis. The speech, given to the nation on 15 July 1979. It is probably better called Carter's "Crisis of Confidence" speech. I was reminded of this speech by an article in Sojourners by David Schwartz: "Revisiting Jimmy Carter’s Truth-Telling Sermon to Americans."

After Fourth of July, Carter went to Camp David for ten days to consider the problems facing the country and his own political problems. During his Camp David retreat, Carter read from the Bible, he read Christopher Lasch’s book The Culture of Narcissism and E.F. Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful, which Schwartz describes as "a meditation on the value of local community and the problems of excessive consumption." Schumacher's book, at least in my view, is still a must read.

In addition to the reading, he consulted with religious leaders, business and union leaders, other politicians and assorted intellectuals. "By the end of his retreat," Schwartz observes, "Carter had concluded that the country faced more than a series of isolated problems. Collectively they comprised a fundamental cultural crisis."

In his speech to the nation Carter asserted, "In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities and our faith in God, too many of us now worship self-indulgence and consumption." The speech went over very well and saw Carter's support jump significantly nationwide.

Shortly after the speech, Carter, who was making changes in his personal life-style even while president, seeking to build on the momentum of his speech, massively reorganized his Cabinet. Rather than making changes incrementally, he sought rapid and wholesale change. This move, politically-speaking, was a miscalculation and ultimately spelled his electoral doom.

With Some years after leaving office, Carter, who was famous for being an practicing Baptist and committed Evangelical, left the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) as it was being overtaken by the Fundamentalists. These same Fundamentalists who succeeded in taking over the SBC are the same group who quickly co-opted the term "Evangelical." Evangelicalism was initially conceived of after World War II as a solid middle way between fundamentalism and extreme theological liberalism. It is this same group who, due to their "complementarian" sexism, are currently in hot water as the SBC experiences its #MeToo moment. The façade of the brutishness known as fundamentalism has been stripped away.

While I readily acknowledge the overly simplistic nature of this assertion, the country basically ignored the hard truths Carter told us in his Crisis of Confidence speech by electing Ronald Reagan in 1980. The deregulation and militarization mania that characterized the Reagan years has led to a lot of bad consequences since. Without exception, since that time we have been governed by Republican and Democratic neo-conservatives. It seems to me that we were at something of a crossroads at the end of the 1970s and chose to go down one road, the one we've been moving down ever since, which I can't help but think has reached its terminus with our present situation. Let's not forget that since the 1980s we have built in an economy that lives or dies by consumer spending and consumer debt. This was a major cause of the 2008 collapse. Rather than take a lesson, we've set about rebuilding the same economy. The only constant in such an economy is that more and more wealth is distributed upward and the divide between haves and have-nots grows wider. And so, we lurch from one bubble to the next. It is significant to note that Reagan was elected with overwhelming "Evangelical" support, aided in a big way by the nascent Morality Majority, headed by a Fundamentalist who branded himself an Evangelical- Reverend Jerry Falwell. This brings me to another aspect of this post, the theological one.

In July of 2017 Fr Anthony Spadoro. S.J., editor of the quasi-official Jesuit monthly La Civilitá Cattolica (the contents of each issue are reviewed and approved by the Holy See's Secretariat of State prior to publication), along with Presbyterian minister Marcelo Figueroa, published an article on religion and politics in the United States: "Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism: A Surprising Ecumenism." This article caused a bit of a stir and outraged those Catholics who are part of the alliance Spadoro and Figueroa identify and criticize. While there was a lot of sputtering, among the several rebuttals I read there was really not a persuasive response. Just the other day, Spadoro and Figueroa marked the anniversary of their first article with a second one: "The Prosperity Gospel: Dangerous and Different."

Whereas in their first piece they identified and addressed the problem of Catholics participating in this Fundamentalist-led alliance as well as its implications and effects, in "The Prosperity Gospel," Spadoro and Figueroa seek the roots the problem. At the very beginning of their article, the authors write this about the Prosperity Gospel:
The "prosperity gospel" is a well-known theological current emerging from the neo-Pentecostal evangelical movements. At its heart is the belief that God wants his followers to have a prosperous life, that is, to be rich, healthy and happy. This type of Christianity places the well-being of the believer at the center of prayer, and turns God the Creator into someone who makes the thoughts and desires of believers come true.

"The risk of this form of religious anthropocentrism, which puts humans and their well-being at the center, is that it transforms God into a power at our service, the Church into a supermarket of faith, and religion into a utilitarian phenomenon that is eminently sensationalist and pragmatic"
This, of course, is not Christianity but its inverse. While being careful to distinguish the two as well as making an effort to see some positive in certain conceptions of the American Dream, the authors go on to link the Prosperity Gospel with the so-called "American Dream," seeing between them a symbiotic relationship. They also note how rapidly the Prosperity Gospel has gone global.

In a section of their article entitled A theology of the American Dream?, Spadoro and Figueroa cut-to-the-chase:
This theology [the theology of the American Dream] clearly serves the economic-political-philosophical concepts of a neo-liberal model. One of the conclusions made by exponents of this theological tradition is geopolitical and economic in nature, and tied to the place of origin of the prosperity gospel. It leads to the conclusion that the United States has grown as a nation under the blessing of the providential God of the Evangelical movement. Meanwhile, those who dwell south of the Rio Grande are sinking in poverty because the Catholic Church has a different, opposed vision exalting poverty. From political connotations, it is even possible to verify the link between these positions and the integralist and fundamentalist temptations.

In truth, one of the serious problems that the prosperity gospel brings is its perverse effect on the poor. In fact, it not only exasperates individualism and knocks down the sense of solidarity, but it pushes people to adopt a miracle-centered outlook, because faith alone – not social or political commitment – can procure prosperity. So the risk is that the poor who are fascinated by this pseudo-Gospel remain dazzled in a socio-political emptiness that easily allows other forces to shape their world, making them innocuous and defenseless. The prosperity gospel is not a cause of real change, a fundamental aspect of the vision that is innate to the social doctrine of the Church
To the critics who insist Spadoro and Figueroa lack an understanding of U.S. politics both domestic and global, these two articles show they have a deeper understanding than do most citizens and leaders of the U.S. Being a quasi-official publication of the Holy See, in addition to showing how the theology and politics of this alliance are at odds with the Gospel, they also highlight with specificity what Pope Francis, in his papal magisterium, addresses more generally.

If you want to hear about the mores that publicly matter, listen to Carter's "Crisis of Confidence Speech" for yourself (a link to a video of the speech is provided above or you can click here). Hey, Carter only served one term. So, he's not constitutionally ineligible to serve again. To date, the only president in our nation's history to serve two non-consecutive terms is Grover Cleveland, who served from 1885-1889 and again from 1893-1897. At 92, I don't think Jimmy Carter is inclined to seek a second term but he is something that most people in the U.S., Christian or not, do not know exists, or existed, in politics: a committed Christian who is not right-wing. Another exemplar of this was the late Republican Senator from Oregon, Mark O. Hatfield, who died in 2011.

"I'm gonna kick tomorrow"

I have long loved the sound of the '90s band Jane's Addiction. While doing some music listening recently, I ran across this acoustic version of what is perhaps the band's signature song: "Jane Says."

"Jane Says" is a song about being addicted to drugs and to the idea "I'm gonna kick [quit] tomorrow." While listening(/watching) on Youtube, I read this comment by a commenter posting under the moniker "Absentee Childhood":
I had no idea what this song meant 25 years ago although I loved it and was sadly living it for the most part..being 43 and watching this just allowed me to let a lot if heavy stuff go and celebrate 20 years of being clean. This song so vividly captures beautifully what addiction is without glorifying it. Thank you for sharing your talent, gentlemen. You don't even know me but you saved my life during some dark shit. I live in light and happiness now. Thank you. *drug free since 94
Sobering. At least I hope it is.

One of the blessings composed by the late John O'Donohue that appears in his lovely book of blessings, To Bless the Space Between Us, is called simply For An Addict. Here is a stanza:
May you crash hard and soon
onto real ground again
where this fundamentalist shell
might start to crack
for you to hear again
your own echo
Anyway, "Jane Says" is our Friday traditio this week. It goes out to all those I know who have kicked and to those still kicking. It is certainly dedicated to those who want to kick but to whom that seems impossible. Don't give up hope.

Venerable Matt Talbot, pray for us. May all who are addicted find a tomorrow on which they can kick and start to live again, or maybe for the first time.

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 and 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 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 he strikes as being, 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, with one possible exception I will address in a subsequent post. I spoke out on issues about 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 to which party 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 being 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 they ponder the not-so-great alternative(s). However, the unbridled aggression demonstrated by many who oppose President Trump only exacerbates the matter, making it almost impossible to have an honest and open discussion. On the other hand, there are some alarmingly pro-Trump fanatics who, frankly, worry me. This highlights some of the understandable concerns about the impact of this presidency on the long-term health of our constitutional democracy.

(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 because in the aggregate the policies and positions they take are most in-line with my own. As a cleric, it is essential to note, 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. I am convinced that one of the things that ails our nation the most is the disenfranchisement of many citizens who do not think either party represents their interests or aspirations. One of the contributing factors is the 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
This strikes me as the only basis for a truly human politics, for what might be called, to borrow a phrase from one of the only politicians I can say I truly admire: Václav Havel, an anti-political politics.

As a result of my views, there are many reforms I favor. To name just two of the most fundamental ones: 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 the ratio of elected representatives to those represented (see "U.S. population keeps growing, but House of Representatives is same size as in Taft era"). This leaves us lacking the democratic accountability we so desperately need.

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.

God's love for us is tireless

Readings: Jer 23:1-6; Ps 23:1-6; Eph 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34 No doubt you've heard the saying, "There's no rest for the wicked...