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 the 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

Monday, April 2, 2018

Why Orwell still matters

This morning I saw piece on the New York Magazine "Intelligencer" page that I found disturbing but hardly surprising: "News Anchors Reciting Sinclair Propaganda Is Even More Terrifying in Unison." The lead-off of this piece by Chas Danner is what I can only describe as Orwellian:
Over the last week or so, local television news anchors across the the country have joined together to paradoxically warn viewers about the “troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country.” The identical, seemingly earnest editorial messages paid lip service to the importance of fact-checking and unbiased reporting, but they also complained about “false news” and “fake stories.” If that seems to echo the rhetoric of President Trump, it’s probably because the statement was written by one of his allies
I use the adjective "Orwellian" in the awareness that it is increasingly incomprehensible to people, which I also find discouraging.

It is apparent to anyone who has paid attention over the past three decades or so that our so-called fourth estate has been in failure mode for a long time. There are some exceptions, of course. But we now live in a strange time when fake news, parroted by the mainstream media, is deemed real news. At the same time, independent and conscientious journalists and media outlets are dismissed as "the MSM" and their reporting on real matters, things that matter, is dismissed as fake news.

Truth be told, as frustrating as the Stormy Daniels affair and the independent counsel's Russia investigation, which has been irretrievably compromised by its being turned into a media circus, are really distractions from what is really happening right under our noses: tax "reform," healthcare "reform." immigration "reform," the military-industrial complex and its accompanying saber-rattling, etc. It bears noting that in his Easter Urbi et Orbi (i.e., "The City and the World"), Pope Francis took of the latter of these by noting the "apparently endless war" in Syria, the conflict happening the Holy Land, as well as in Yemen. Let's not forget how important perpetual war was to Oceania in 1984. Far from desiring the re-uniting of altar and throne, it is tremendously important for the Church to maintain her independence in order to be prophetic. What does it mean to be prophetic? It means to speak the truth fearlessly irrespective of consequences.

I am currently reading Orwell's novel Coming Up For Air. He wrote this novel about a decade prior to 1984. In it, Orwell introduced many themes he would take up more explicitly and thoroughly in 1984. While I think fair to call Orwell a prophet of sorts, it wasn't really that difficult to see where things were headed. In Coming Up For Air, the main character, George Bowling, worries, not so much about the impending war (WWII), in which he was too old fight (he was a veteran of the Great War) but about "the after-war" -
But it isn't the war that matters, it's the after-war. The world we're going down into, the of hate-world, slogan-world. The coloured shirts, the barbed wire, the rubber truncheons. The secret cells where the electric light burns night and day, and the detectives watching you while you sleep. And the processions and posters with enormous faces, and the crowds of a million people all cheering for the Leader till the deafen themselves into thinking that they really worship him, and all the time, underneath, they hate him so that they want to puke. It's all going to happen. Or isn't it? Some days I know it's impossible, other days I know it's inevitable (George Orwell, Coming Up For Air [San Diego: A Harvest Book reprint, 1969], 176)
As I finish Coming Up For Air it is fascinating for me to see in middle age how much Orwell shaped my politics. I read a lot of Orwell between the summer that separated my junior from my senior year in high school and when I began college some three and-a-half years later.

One result of reading Orwell was my decision not only to study Philosophy but my deep interest in the philosophy of language and my on-going fascination with Wittgenstein's philosophy (as well as my later fascination with the writings of Samuel Beckett). The second result was Orwell is largely responsible for forming my views of both capitalism and Marxism.

Because last Friday was Good Friday I did not post a traditio. TO make up for that I am posting a YouTube link where you can listen to Orwell's "Politics and the English Language, which, at least in my opinion, remains his most important work of non-fiction:

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Urbi et Orbi- Easter 2018


Easter 2018

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Happy Easter!

Jesus is risen from the dead!

This message resounds in the Church the world over, along with the singing of the Alleluia: Jesus is Lord; the Father has raised him and he lives forever in our midst.

esus had foretold his death and resurrection using the image of the grain of wheat. He said: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24). And this is precisely what happened: Jesus, the grain of wheat sowed by God in the furrows of the earth, died, killed by the sin of the world. He remained two days in the tomb; but his death contained God’s love in all its power, released and made manifest on the third day, the day we celebrate today: the Easter of Christ the Lord.

We Christians believe and know that Christ’s resurrection is the true hope of the world, the hope that does not disappoint. It is the power of the grain of wheat, the power of that love which humbles itself and gives itself to the very end, and thus truly renews the world. This power continues to bear fruit today in the furrows of our history, marked by so many acts of injustice and violence. It bears fruits of hope and dignity where there are deprivation and exclusion, hunger and unemployment, where there are migrants and refugees (so often rejected by today’s culture of waste), and victims of the drug trade, human trafficking and contemporary forms of slavery.

Today we implore fruits of peace upon the entire world, beginning with the beloved and long-suffering land of Syria, whose people are worn down by an apparently endless war. This Easter, may the light of the risen Christ illumine the consciences of all political and military leaders, so that a swift end may be brought to the carnage in course, that humanitarian law may be respected and that provisions be made to facilitate access to the aid so urgently needed by our brothers and sisters, while also ensuring fitting conditions for the return of the displaced.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Paschal Vigil

Readings: Gen 1:1-2:2; Gen 22:1-18; Ex 14:15-15:1; Rom 6:3-11; Mark 16:1-7

My friends, tonight is the holiest night of the year. The Easter Vigil is the Mother of all Masses. It is the most important liturgy we celebrate. The Easter Vigil is the Church’s celebration of the one, true Passover: Jesus Christ, who passed over from death to life. Christ’s resurrection from the dead is the central event in the history of the world.

Apart from creation, through which, by God’s gracious decree, everything that is was brought into being, Christ’s resurrection from the dead, which ensures that God did not create in vain, is the most important event ever to occur. Each of us should be awestruck as we join in this celebration, which hallows this night.

On this holy night, we do not merely celebrate an event that happened more than 2,000 years ago. Christ’s resurrection is an on-going event. It will continue until he returns in glory and everyone is raised from the dead. During his mortal ministry, Jesus said:
the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear [the Father’s] voice and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:28-29)
Even more than this, tonight we will witness the paschal death, burial, and rising to new life of Magnin, Dahliana, Tiffany, and Brennan. This is exactly what St Paul was referring to in our reading from his Letter to the Romans when he asked: “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Rom 6:3) His question was rhetorical: “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death” (Rom 6:4). Because we died and were buried with him in the waters of baptism, “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Ibid).

Christ's Resurrection, by Matthias Grunewald, Isenheim altar piece, 1512-1516
St Paul’s point is that eternal life is not the life that begins after mortal death. Eternal life begins when you are baptized. Once baptized, you are to live a new life, a life washed clean from sin and no longer subject to death and the fear that death incites. Baptism is the fundamental sacrament of the Christian life. All vocations are rooted in baptism. In the end, there is only one vocation, one call, the call to holiness, the call to follow Christ. The rest of it is just figuring out how Christ calls you to follow him. This why St Paul exhorted the Christians in ancient Rome to think of themselves “as being dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:11).

The renewal of our baptismal promises on this holy night, something for which Lent is supposed to be our preparation, is very important. Through our renewal, we recommit our lives to Christ, who suffered, died, and rose for us. By his dying and rising, the Lord showed us that love is not only as strong as death but strong enough to conquer death, which is our enemy and God’s enemy.

Our redemption by means of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection is not God’s Plan B; Plan A having failed because of the fall. The mystery of our redemption is captured well in this line from the Exsultet, which was sung at the beginning of our liturgy:
O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the Death of Christ/
O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a redeemer (Roman Missal, The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night, sec. 19)
In our Gospel tonight, which is taken from St Mark, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, making their way to Jesus’s tomb on the morning after the Sabbath, wonder, “Who will roll back the stone for us?” (Mark 16:3) When they arrived, they immediately noticed that the stone was already rolled away. Christ is resurrected because God is love. It was the power of God, which is the power of love, that rolled away the stone from the tomb’s entrance. Indeed, because God loves you, God rolls the stone away from your heart, enabling you to believe. We call this great act of divine love faith.

Seeing the stone rolled away, the women could not help but enter the tomb. Upon entering, they encountered “a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe” (Mark 16:5). Seeing him “they were utterly amazed” (Ibid). Imagine how much more amazed they were by what he told them: “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; here is not here” (Mark 16:6) This was Good News, not only for these faithful women but for everyone throughout the ages! The young man then told them something very important, something our participation in this great Vigil tells us, which is our natural tendency when we receive good news, let alone the Good News: “But go,” he said, “and tell his disciples and Peter…” that he is risen from the dead and that he will meet them in their native Galilee (Mark 16:7).

The women were sent to be witness to Christ’s resurrection. The word “apostle” means one who is sent. This is why Mary Magdalene, who in all four Gospels is among the first to witness Jesus’s resurrection and, as a result of being a witness, is sent to tell Peter and the others Christo anesti, Christ is risen! This is why she is revered as apostola apostulorum: apostle to the apostles. In his commentary on John’s Gospel, St Thomas Aquinas asserted that Mary Magdalene was given three great privileges:
First, she had the privilege of being a prophet because she was worthy enough to see the angels, for a prophet is an intermediary between angels and the people. Secondly, she had the dignity or rank of an angel insofar as she looked upon Christ, on whom the angels desire to look. Thirdly, she had the office of an apostle; indeed, she was an apostle to the apostles insofar as it was her task to announce our Lord's resurrection to the disciples (Super Ioannem, 2519)
My dear sisters and brothers, tonight you will witness death, burial, and resurrection in and through Christ. What you witness is no less real for being sacramental, which means it is a way of perceiving reality via signs and symbols. Signs and symbols reveal reality to us in-depth, offering us a glimpse of reality according to all the factors that constitute it. It is important to be clear: If Christ was not raised from the dead, then what we do tonight means nothing at all.

At the end of this celebration, like Mary Magdalene, who is the patroness of our diocese, you will be sent to bear witness to Christ’s resurrection by living the new life the Father has given you in Christ, which life was sealed and strengthened by their Holy Spirit when you were anointed with Sacred Chrism in Confirmation. Your witness to Christ’s resurrection is what makes the Church not only one, holy, and catholic but is what makes the Church apostolic, that is a community of missionary disciples sent to bear witness to Divine Mercy.

Triduum: Holy Saturday

For Christians, Holy Saturday is the strangest day of the year. It is the day we commemorate Jesus's body lying the tomb while he descended into hell. His descent into hell, which was the subject of a very intense theological debate several years ago, is part of our redemption. It can and, at least in my view, should be taken as part of the Lord's passion. The intense debate over the phrase in the Apostles Creed, "he descended into hell," was prompted by a young theologian's critique of the Holy Saturday theology of Hans Urs Von Balthasar.

Balthasar, along with Henri De Lubac, Marc Chenu, Yves Congar, and others, was one of the theologians responsible for what came to be known, prior to the Second Vatican Council, as la nouvelle théologie (French for "the new theology"). The overarching effort that united these very different theologians was their desire to go beyond, or even overturn, that very stale non-theology, the so-called neo-Thomism, which was the order of the day. All of them paid a price for their attempts. The primary thrust of their theology was what came to be called, again in French, ressourcement, or a "return to the sources" of Christian faith. Their work prompted a patristic revival that is still on-going. In fact, Balthasar, with his anthology of the writings of Origen, entitled in the original German Origenes Geist und Feuer (the English translation is Origen: Spirit and Fire), was single-handedly responsible for retrieving Origen into Western Christian theology. Thirty years after his death, he remains highly influential and will remain so for a very long time.

The Lamentation Over the Dead Christ, by Andrea Mantegna, 1480

In his book Mysterium Paschale: The Mystery of Easter, Balthasar devoted a chapter, entitled "Going to the Dead: Holy Saturday," to this weirdest of all days of the liturgical year. He began the chapter by noting the lacuna in the Church's Tradition concerning Holy Saturday:
The more eloquently the Gospels describe the passion of the living Jesus, his death and burial, the more striking is their entirely understandable silence when it comes to the time in-between his placing in the grave and the event of the Resurrection (Mysterirum Paschale [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000], 148)
Balthasar points to Nicholas of Cusa as one who understood Holy Saturday in terms of the, or "a', passion, seeing it "as forming part of the vicarious Passion properly so called" (170).

Balthasar, rightly, in my view, sees Holy Saturday as the origin of both Purgatory and Hell. I do not wish to delve into complex and contentious matters in-depth in this post. I only want to note that this day on which the Church celebrates no baptisms, confirmations, Masses, weddings, or ordinations (except in cases of someone who is in imminent danger of death receiving the sacraments of Christian initiation) is usually the forgotten and overlooked day of the Triduum, despite being of vital importance for our salvation.

"Triduum" means "three days." By our participation in the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday and the liturgy of Good Friday, we are able grasp, or at least grapple with, these mysterious aspects of our redemption. But Holy Saturday is easily forgotten and so not grappled with. This is where the Lirurgy of the Hours can play a vital role. We are to pray the offices on Holy Saturday. By by so doing we can ponder more deeply the mysteries revealed to us on this Saturday we call "Holy."

Friday, March 30, 2018

Triduum: Good Friday

A reflection on the third of Jesus's Seven Last Words from the Cross:

Woman, behold your son ... Behold your mother (John 19:25-27)

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta would often say, when asked by non-Catholic Christians about the role of Mary, the Mother of God, in the economy of salvation, “No Mary, no Jesus.” As most of us know from our own experience of growing up, or being married with children, that at the heart of the family is the mother. She is often, especially in this age of disintegrating families, the core, the strength, the person in whom and through whom the family is united. Of course, the Church is a family. It is the family of God, which we enter by rebirth through the waters of Baptism. Hence, we not only speak of the Church as our mother, but of the Blessed Virgin Mary as Mater Eccelsia, the Mother of the Church. As the Mother of Christ, she is the Mother of the Church, which is Christ’s Body.

In all this we more than see the dignity and the equality of women. In one of his weekly General Audiences several years ago in the catechesis that brought an end to his “journey among the witnesses of early Christianity mentioned in the New Testament,” Pope Benedict XVI discussed “the many female figures who played an effective and precious role in spreading the Gospel.” In accord, “with what Jesus himself said of the woman who anointed his head shortly before the Passion: ‘Truly, I say to you, wherever this Gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her’ (Mt 26:13; Mk 14:9), their testimony cannot be forgotten” (Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, 14 Feb. 2007).

Among these women, perhaps second only to the Blessed Virgin in prominence, stands St. Mary Magdalene, the patroness of my diocese, the Diocese of Salt Lake City. “Not only was she present at the Passion, but she was also the first witness and herald of the Risen One” (cf. Jn 20:1.11-18). “It was precisely to Mary Magdalene that St Thomas Aquinas reserved the special title,” apostolorum apostola, or, “apostle of the apostles.” It was of her that the Angelic Doctor wrote this lovely sentence: “just as it was a woman who was the first to announce the words of death, so it was a woman who would be the first to announce the words of life” (Super Ioannem, 2519).

From the very beginning “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). It is woman and man together, then, who make up the imago dei- the divine image.

Crucifixion with the Virgin, John the Evangelist, and Mary Magdelene, by Fra Aneglico, 1419-1420

As Church we witness eloquently to this equality, especially in her rites of Baptism and Matrimony. It is through the waters of Baptism that we are born into God’s family. Our Baptism has radical effects, which are written about beautifully by St. Paul: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:27-28).

In the Nuptial Blessing of the rite of Matrimony, after blessing the bride, the minister prays these words:
May her husband entrust his heart to her, so that, acknowledging her as his equal and his joint heir to the life of grace, he may show her due honor and cherish her always with the love Christ has for his Church (The Order of Celebrating Matrimony, sec. 74)
The Code of Canon Law, in defining marriage, also makes clear the equality between woman and man: “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life” (canon 1055 §1). Partners are equals.

Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem, On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, wrote:
The Church gives thanks for each and every woman.... The Church gives thanks for all the manifestations of the feminine ‘genius’ which have appeared in the course of history, in the midst of all peoples and nations; she gives thanks for all the charisms which the Holy Spirit distributes to women in the history of the People of God, for all the victories which she owes to their faith, hope and charity: she gives thanks for all the fruits of feminine holiness (sec. 31)
Let us be thankful to the Lord for giving us, in his agony, his own Mother. Let us also thank him for guiding his Church and “generation after generation, availing himself equally of men and women who are able to make their faith and Baptism fruitful for the good of the entire Ecclesial Body and for the greater glory of God” (Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, 14 Feb. 2007).

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Triduum: Holy Thursday

Ex 12:1-8.11-14; Ps 116:12-18; 1 Cor 11:23-26; John 13:1-15

Tonight, we enter what for Christians are our high holy days. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper marks the end of Lent and the beginning of the shortest season of the liturgical year: The Triduum. It is important to note that at the end of our Mass this evening there is no dismissal. As a result, when we gather tomorrow to commemorate the Lord’s Passion and to venerate His Holy Cross, there will be no opening rites – no greeting, no penitential rite and certainly no Gloria. We will begin simply, by praying the Collect for Good Friday.

At the end of our Good Friday liturgy, again, there will be no dismissal. In fact, we won’t be dismissed until the end of the great Paschal Vigil, the Mother of all Masses, on Saturday evening. What does this mean? It means that from then until now we are to remain in what we might call "a liturgical state-of-being," praying about, pondering and seeking to let Christ draw us more deeply into the Paschal mystery of His passion, death, and resurrection. Jesus is the true Lamb of God whose blood saves us from sin and death. His passing over from life to death is the true Passover, as is indicated in St. John’s account of the Last Supper, which was the Passover meal the Lord shared with his disciples before his passion. During this Passover meal, Christ instituted the Eucharist.

At the end of Mass this evening, like Jesus' first disciples, we will leave the table and accompany Jesus out. Unlike those disciples, however, we do so in the awareness of his resurrection, which makes our procession solemn but joyful.

In St. John’s account of the Last Supper, Jesus washing the feet of his disciples is the Eucharistic institution narrative. In other words, St John’s Gospel does not contain an account of our Lord taking bread and wine, breaking the bread, blessing the cup and then giving them to his disciples as his body and his blood. We find those accounts of the Last Supper in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke- those are the accounts to which St Paul refers in our reading from 1 Corinthians, which was likely written some twenty years before any of the canonical Gospels.

Jesus told Peter, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me” (John 13:8) As with Peter, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus washed us in the bath of Baptism, which is Baptism into himself, the living water. Because we were bathed in Baptism, we are, by God's grace, “clean all over” (John 13:10). Nonetheless, our feet become dirty as we journey through life. Undaunted by our failures, shortcomings, and betrayals, Jesus humbly washes our feet over and over again. How does he wash our feet? By forgiving us in the Sacrament of Penance, which is an extension of Baptism. He also washes our feet by making himself small for us and vulnerable to us in the Eucharist. It is by humbling himself and becoming small for us that he shows us his greatness.

Giovanni Stefano Danedi - Kristus umiva noge apostolom
Christ Washing the Disciples Feet, by Giovanni Stefano Daendi, 17th century

In addition to celebrating our Lord’s institution of the Eucharist, which is the sacramentum caritatis, the sacrament of love, tonight we also celebrate the institution of the priesthood. When celebrating the Eucharist and the sacrament of penance, a priest acts in persona Christi captis, in the person of Christ the head. By contrast, the assembly at Mass or the penitent in confession acts in persona Christi corporis, in the person of Christ the body. A body without a head, or a head without a body, is dead. In case you’re wondering, a deacon acts in persona Christi servi, in the person of Christ the servant, serving body and head. All of us together form what St Augustine dubbed the totus Christus - the total, or complete, Christ.

It’s important for us to grasp that what we’re doing over these next three days is vitally important. It can never be a matter of going through the motions, of empty ritualism. We need to be open and so allow our hearts not only to be touched but changed. God wants to change our hearts by healing them with His love. “God is love” (1 John 4:8.16) God can be love because God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Love requires at least a lover and a beloved. Because love is profuse, meaning love moves outward to draw others in, the love between the Father and the Son is personified in the Holy Spirit. With reference to our first reading, God delivered Israel from Egypt out of love, not just for Israel, but for all of humanity in fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham that through his descendants all peoples of the earth would be blessed (Gen 22:18). Christ washed the feet of his disciples and urged them to do the same for each other out of love, not out of obligation.

Tonight, Fr. René will wash the feet of people from our parish who represent all those he is called to serve, performing for them and, by extension, the rest of the community, the humblest act of service. The sacrament of orders, consisting of the offices of bishop, priest, and deacon, is about selfless service, not power.

My dear friends, tonight is all about love, divine love, which, as the old hymn tells us, excels all love. Let me summarize with a quote from the late Dominican theologian Fr. Herbert McCabe:
The gospels … insist upon two antithetical truths which express the tragedy of the human condition: the first is that if you do not love you will not be alive; the second is that if you do love you will be killed. If you cannot love you remain self-enclosed and sterile, unable to create a future for yourself or others, unable to live. If, however, you do effectively love you will be a threat to the structures of domination upon which our human society rests and you will be killed… (God Matters [New York: Continuum], 218)
This is why in our Psalm this evening we heard the words, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones.” You see, the way to resurrection is through the Cross, not over it, around it, or underneath it, but through it. The Lord bids all who accept his kind offer - “Take up your cross and follow me” (Matt 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23).

Jesus’ passion and death show the truth of Fr. McCabe’s pronouncement. As a result, this sacred Triduum is about self-sacrificing love to the point of death or it is about nothing. Because the Triduum is about divine love, it is not about what we can or should do for God. It is about what the Father has done for us in Christ by the power of their Holy Spirit: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).