Sunday, June 4, 2023

Koinonia: One God, three persons

The end of our second reading is from the conclusion of Saint Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians. Koinonia is the Greek word translated in the New American Bible as "fellowship." Fellowship is a very weak translation of koinonia. What word would work better, you might ask? Easy. "Communion" is a much better translation.

This word can serve as a link between today's Solemnity and our observance next week of Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. You see, all this talk of being transformed, of sharing in the divine nature, of being reborn in baptism as children of Father, through Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit matters. It isn't, or at least shouldn't be, just a bunch of abstract twaddle. God, who is a tri-unity of persons, is koinonia. The Church, then too, is to be koinonia.

I'll be really honest. I don't think many people, at least in so-called "advanced" countries, experience the Church as kononia. This isn't just sad. It is catastrophic when the Church fails to be what she is meant to be. Because most Catholics tend to prioritize divine unity over God's revealed tri-unity, which really amounts to a kind of material modalism, most Christians remain, in the words of Karl Rahner, "mere monotheists." Mere monotheism has practical consequences. It tends to result in mistaking strict doctrinal conformity with unity. Conformity can't tolerate diversity.

Strictly policed conformity is not unity. Genuine communion, genuine community, real koinonia doesn't just tolerate or accept diversity, it positively requires it! Just look at the filoque, the phrase inserted very late into the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed that asserts that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father "and the Son" (filoque means "and the Son"). At least for Roman Catholics, acceptance of the filoque is not grounds for not being communion.

Because whether one believes the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son or from the Father only is very fundamental, it usually results in quite different doctrinal and even practical differences. Both are Trinitarian. This is the signicance of hearing what the apostle wrote a few decades after Jesus' resurrection concerning even an very early Christian understanding of God and of the Church.

The essence of koinonia, as our Gospel reading shows is self-sacrificing love. In the New Testament, especially in the Johannine corpus (i.e., the Gospel According to Saint John along with the first, second, and third letters of John), including our Gospel for today, the Greek word agape is used. Just as the essence of koinonia is agape, the essence of agape is kenosis. Kenosis is the ordinary Greek verb for emptying. In this context, it means emptying yourself out of love.

I realize this is a quite dense reflection. But I hope it is not abstract. On the contrary, I hope it is very concrete.

Next Sunday's Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is not a celebration of the consecrated species. It is a celebration of what our communion makes us: the Body of Christ. Theologically, I am going with the late Jesuit theologian Henri DeLubac. In some of his work in historical theology, DeLubac noted that over several centuries there was a slow reversal in what was meant by Christ's "mystical" body (i.e., corpus mysticum) and his "true" body (i.e., verum Corpus). On this view, the Church in her members is the verum corpus and the mystically transformed bread and wine are the Lord's mystical Body.

Either way, koinonia created by agape made real by kenosis is what it's all about. If not this, then you must content yourself with abstract twaddle.

What I am trying to get across is stated well in our scripture reading for Evening Prayer on this Solemnity:
Strive to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were called to one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:3-6- New American Bible translation differs slightly from the one in the Liturgy of the Hours)

Friday, June 2, 2023

Life's dialectic: love, hate, and indifference

Today is the day, I guess. As noted a few Sundays ago, I have felt the need to re-dedicate myself to this small patch of cyberspace. One of the things I want to get back to is posting a Friday traditio. Because it's been a while since I have posted them regularly, the Καθολικός διάκονος Friday traditio consists of a song or a piece of music that is worth handing on. In Latin traditio is a noun that refers to what is handed on. By contrast, tradere is a verb that indicates the act of handing on.

In addition to a song, I usually post some thoughts from the preceding week. Sometimes it is a coherent observation and sometimes my commentary is multifaceted, one thought not necessarily flowing out from or into others. Oftentimes, my thought is related to the song I am posting.

Ian Curtis, by Zoa Studio

Today's traditio is a live version of U2's "With or Without You." Released as the lead single the band's 1987 album The Joshua Tree, "With or Without You" was ranked 131st on Rolling Stone's 2004 list of the top 500 songs of all-time. In 2017 the band a live performance at Abbey Road Studios. The program was "U2 at the BBC."

It's a nice, lightly orchestrated version of the song with the band front and center. You can hear Adam Clayton's nice bass work. Like most bassists, Clayton is the least heralded member of the band. Another nice aspect of this delicious live performance is Bono's evocation of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" toward the end of the song. This is a nice video with Bono talking about Joy Division's Ian Curtis, who left us far too soon.

Especially now, we seem to forget that to love someone, to really love an other, is to make yourself vulnerable. Love is always a risk. There is no hurt the rivals a broken heart. As Leonard Cohen sang, it's the cracks that let in the light. These things, until very recently, were common wisdom. Hate is not the opposite of love. The opposite of love is indifference.

Pope Francis speaks often of indifference. In a video message to the Fifth Festival of the Social Doctrine of the Church, delivered on 29 November 2015, the Holy Father said
Our life is made up of many things, a torrent of news, of many problems: all this leads us not to see, not to be aware of the problems of the people who are near us. Indifference seems to be a medicine that protects us from involvement and becomes a way of being more relaxed. This is indifference. But this non-involvement is a way of defending our selfishness, and saddens us
You don't play life not to lose. You play to win. In life, love is victory, the ultimate victory. Christ's resurrection shows us that love conquers even death. So, love can tear us apart or love can hold us together. There is a dialectic of love.

Like it or hate it, this is the music of my people. It's nice to resume the tradition of the traditio:

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Viva the Archdiocese of Las Vegas- Updated

As I hinted in Sunday's post, there is some fairly big Church news that breaking today. What is this news? The creation of a new ecclesiastical province: the Archdiocese of Las Vegas.

All of the territory for this new metropolitan province comes from the Archdiocese of San Francisco. San Francisco is an enormous archdiocese. Until today it counted twelve dioceses as suffragan dioceses. Among those were the dioceses of Las Vegas, Reno, and Salt Lake City. Now, these three dioceses together comprise the Archdiocese of Las Vegas.

Going back to the late nineteenth century, Utah and most of Nevada were part of the same Vicariate Apostolic. This vast area was served by Lawrence Scanlan. Scanlan went on to become the first bishop of Salt Lake City. He was ordained a bishop on 29 June 1887 in San Francisco. As a bishop, he continued to have charge of this vast territory until his death on 10 May 1915 in Salt Lake City.

Considering the establishment of the Archdiocese of Las Vegas and the growth of the Catholic Church throughout the huge territory where he so faithfully ministered, it is interesting to remember that at the time of his death, Bishop Scanlan was not terribly optimistic about the future of the Roman Catholic Church in this part of the United States. It seems to me that Bishop Scanlan's skepticism about the Church's prospects here supports one of my main theological theses: hope only begins where optimism ends.

On 27 January 1891, Pope Leo XIII erected the Diocese of Salt Lake City. At that time, the diocese included most of Nevada. It was not until 27 March 1931 that Pope Pius XI created the Diocese of Reno. This diocese consisted of territory taken from the Dioceses of Sacramento and Salt Lake City. From its inception until 21 March 1995, the Diocese of Reno covered the entire state of Nevada. Pope John Paul II, splitting Nevada in two, made the Diocese of Las Vegas, all of its territory coming from the Diocese of Reno.

Cathedral of the Guardian Angels, Las Vegas, Nevada

If I am not mistaken, when the Archdiocese of Denver was erected in 1941, there was a proposal to move the Diocese of Salt Lake City into that metropolitan province, but this did not happen. Originally, Utah was to be aligned with Colorado. Despite the Holy See's creation in 1871 of the Vicariate Apostolic of Colorado and Utah, this alignment never really occurred.

The Vicariate of Colorado and Utah lasted until 1887 when Utah was designated a Vicariate Apostolic in its own right under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. As already mentioned, this vicariate and, from 1891 to 1931, this diocese, included most of Nevada. So, until today, the Diocese of Salt Lake City remained the eastern outpost of the vast metropolitan province of San Francisco.

Two bishops of Salt Lake City moved on to serve as archbishop of San Franciso: John Mitty and George Niederauer. I have to note that I was ordained a deacon in 2004 by then-Bishop Niederauer. Another bishop of Salt Lake City, William Weigand, went on to serve as bishop of the Diocese of Sacramento. Sacramento was the other diocese from which territory was taken in 1931 to establish the Diocese of Reno.

One more historical note I want to bring up is that the first native Utahn to be ordained a priest, Robert Dwyer, went on to serve as the second bishop of the Diocese of Reno. From there, he was named archbishop of Portland, Oregon. Dwyer, to date, remains one of only two priests of the Diocese of Salt Lake City to be consecrated bishop. The other is Duane Hunt, an adult convert to the faith, who served as the fifth bishop of Salt Lake City.

Interestingly, the metropolitan see of the new archdiocese is the youngest of the dioceses that comprise the province. Today's establishment of the Archdiocese of Las Vegas has the effect of elevating George Leo Thomas to the rank of archbishop. Archbishop Thomas, the third bishop of Las Vegas, has served there since 2018. Originally from Seattle, where he was an auxiliary bishop, he served as bishop of the Diocese of Helena, Montana before being sent by Pope Francis to Las Vegas. His suffragan bishops are Oscar Solis of Salt Lake City (my bishop and much-beloved friend) and Daniel Mueggenborg of Reno. Archbishop Thomas also has an auxiliary bishop: Gregory Gordon.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Service as a healing gift: getting outside myself

As it turns out, I can't quite wait until 2 June to resume blogging. In light of my recent struggles, which I noted in my previous post, I have to say that getting outside of myself is quite helpful. On Thursday morning, as I was working from home, my phone rang. To my shame, I thought it was my wife calling me for the third time in rapid succession. Resisting the temptation, to just pick up my phone, swipe, and say something like the gentle but slightly annoyed spousal, "What now?," I looked and saw that it was a call from Bishop Solis, my bishop.

Because I serve as the Director of the Office of the Diaconate, I have responsibility for both permanent deacons and those in formation to be deacons. Hence, I thought my bishop was probably calling me about a clergy personnel matter. So, managing a polite, "Hello, bishop," he asked me if I was available to accompany him on a trip to Southern Utah. He informed me that if I was available, we would need to leave in two hours. I was able to quickly make some arrangements at home and work and go with him.

On Thursday we traveled from Salt Lake City to St. George, Utah. Arriving in the late afternoon, we stayed in the parish rectory with Frs. Dave Bittemann and Tristan Dillon. We spent a pleasant evening together, going to dinner and enjoying some light conversation. After dinner, I stayed up very late talking with Fr Bittemann, a wonderful priest, with whom I served at the Cathedral years ago right after he was ordained.

The next day, I had most of the day to myself. It was very nice. After dropping the bishop at the golf course, where he'd been invited by some parishioners of St. George Parish to play, I went on a nice hike on a lovely desert trail. It was the kind of alone time that is truly healing, not more unhealthy self-isolation. This was a time when my heart was more attuned to gratitude than resentment. I then joined the bishop, Fr Dillon, and the bishop's golfing partners for lunch.

After a post-lunch rest, we celebrated Confirmation for 85 young people. The Mass was a beautiful, bi-lingual celebration. The rather large church was full. The Confirmation Mass was followed by a very nice catered dinner. During my time at the dinner, I was able to speak with the deacons assigned to St. George and one of our aspirants to the diaconate who will be made a Candidate for the Sacrament of Orders by Bishop Solis this coming Saturday. I also met and spoke with several wonderful parishioners.

Arising early on Saturday morning, I drove the bishop to the small farming community of Milford, Utah. There, in St. Bridget's Church, we celebrated Confirmation for around 25 young people from the pastoral area. This large area consists of Milford, Delta, Fillmore, and Beaver. This local church is capably served by Fr. Marco Lopez, who is from El Salvador. He is a wonderful priest who serves his people very well. He is a very kind, gentle, and energetic pastor.

La misa celebrada en español. Tuve un buen opportunidad para practicar español con la gente amable de la parroquia. Once again, the Church was packed. After a wonderful lunch at the home of a very nice family, the bishop and I headed back south to Christ the King Parish in Cedar City. There we celebrated Confirmation, appropriately enough on the Vigil of Pentecost, for another roughly 30 young people.

Following the reception in Cedar City, I drove the bishop 250 miles back to Salt Lake City. I arrived home myself at about 12:45 AM. It was a lot of fun jamming to the music of Carlos Santana driving late at night with my bishop!

Why do I post all this? Well, it ties back to my starting point of how getting outside of myself often helps with what otherwise debilitates me. I realize this may sound like a cliché. But for those who are afflicted with what sometimes afflicts me, it is no easy thing to get outside of yourself. This is true even as I recognize that it would "probably" help. My bishop's call was a godsend. Serving my bishop and the wonderful people of our diocese for two-and-a-half straight days was such a privilege and so helpful to me.

In my experience, this is how God's grace works, that is, in ordinary and yet unexpected ways. My bishop's phone call came out of the blue! Having traveled like this with my bishop before, I was once again able to see how his life is almost totally dedicated to self-giving service. While he gets physically tired sometimes, he serves with such joy and fervor. He is a great example to me. Putting some physical distance between myself and my everyday life also helps me gain some perspective on my perceived troubles. Who knows? I may be able to preach again soon. We'll see how things go.

In addition to this post, I have another one coming this week. It will contain some interesting and exciting ecclesiastical news.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Regrouping- a post about blogging

Thus far 2023 has been slow here on Καθολικός διάκονος. The pace will not pick up until 1 June. Between now and then, for the eleven days following this, I am not going to post anything.

2 June is a Friday. On that day, I am going to resume our Friday traditio. On 4 June, I will resume posting reflections on the Sunday readings on the Sundays I don't preach and my homilies when I do. I will also resume posting the weekday homilies I prepare and deliver here and there. During the week, unless it is a solemnity, I usually preach on Mondays. Why Mondays? Because that is the one day of the week my parish celebrates daily Mass in the evening.

It is also my desire, starting in June, to post some thoughts on other matters in the church and in the world. It's funny, the thought of giving up blogging after more than 16 years is one I can't bring myself to take seriously. As Beckett wrote at the end of his novel The Unnamable: “ … you must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” Something like that.

I realize the halcyon days of blogging are over, I am oddly attached to this medium. I still take my cue from the now very outdated term weblog, of which blog is an abbreviation. What I find especially attractive is captured by Nick Barney in a piece describing blogs (see "What is a Blog?"): "a frequently updated web page used for personal commentary."

I can honestly say that there is nothing at all scientific about my approach to blogging. I just write and post what I write. My only means of dissemination are my own social media accounts (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, MeWe). I don't use analytics or employ strategies about how to increase readership, etc. In my early years of blogging, I wrote a lot. I also worried about whether or not people were interested in what I wrote. This drove me to tackle just about every disputed question about which I had view. It wasn't a bad exerise for me, even though once in awhile I look back and realize that my views have changed. In most cases, not completely but in important ways nonetheless. These days, I express myself more carefully, with far less certainty, and, hopefully, more generously.

After several years and a lot of posts, I started- to use a phrase I loathe- "to find my voice." I also realized that writing is a great way to help me understand what I think, explore questions more deeply, and grow. Once I realized that not just writing but writing publicly was a vehicle for growth, I was committed. Taking this view means not worrying too much about the number of people who read what I post. In short, I am not trying to impress anyone. I simply find value in thinking through things that interest me and sharing the results of that process.

So, far from being dead or even on its last legs, this little cyberspace will continue, at least for now and for the foreseeable future. One weird thing that's happened this week here on Blogger. Four comments that were made more than a decade ago suddenly showed up for me to review. Only one was spam. I wonder why that happened. This caused me to reflect for a moment on just how long I've been doing this. Of course, in the early days, before social media really took off, my blog was much more interactive.

As for me, I am in the process of recovering from a pretty devastating bout of depression. I tend to have one or two a year. As a result, I have pulled back from everything for a few days, preferring to stay at home. I wish I could write more honestly about what it's like, but I can't. I am not sure I ever will be able to do it. Trust me, I am under no illusion that I am a writer of any sort. Yet, I write!

What did I do? Well, Friday I melted down and finally fell asleep. Yesterday, I slept in, walked, and read the third of Philip Roth's so-called "Nemesis" novellas, The Humbling. I set out to read all four last year but I only made it through two: Everyman and Indignation. These short works were the last things Roth published before calling it quits. Nemesis, the final book, was published in 2010. Roth died in 2018. After that, I started reading the one John Cheever novel I have not read: Oh What a Paradise It Seems.

The Humbling, for those who've read it, may not seem like a great book to read for someone in my situation. Oddly enough, I found it helpful. I could go on about that but I won't. I am also finishing the late theologian James P. Mackey's The Critique of Theological Reason. Like most of Mackey's work, this important book from the first half of the first decade of this century was too overlooked. Maybe I will share some thoughts about and insights from the book.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

When a homily is really a sermon: Mother's Day revisited

Someone asked where I draw the line between a homily and a Mother's Day Sermon. It's a fair enough question and one I am happy to answer. But before answering, I feel the need to point out the obvious. As indicated in my Integrity Notes, everything on this blog falls under the caveat "in my view." While, like everyone else, I share a view because I think it is more or less a correct one, I make no claims to infallibility.

Generally, what is supposed to be a homily becomes a sermon when it has nothing to do with the readings proclaimed or even when it renders the readings tangential by veering off onto other things. This is merely to state the difference between a sermon and a homily. This difference is something with which those of us charged with preaching should know. Bait and switch is usually the tactic employed.

It would be pretty hard to squeeze a Mother's Day homily out of the readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter Year A of the Sunday lectionary. In these circumstances, the bait and swith usually happens by means of a transition, sometimes smooth and sometimes not. This is where the person preaching begins by addressing the readings, or an aspect of the readings, then transitions to something else s/he wants to talk about. In evaluating the preaching of prospective deacons, this is something I am pretty consistent about calling out and strict about discouraging.

Shouldn't we draw from life in our preaching? Only if you want your preaching to have some relevance. This is not the issue I am addressing and nothing I wrote contra Mother's Day sermons indicates otherwise.

Elsewhere, I made a comment about last Sunday's readings in which I said something about how lacking pneumatology often is Roman Catholic preaching and teaching. By contrast, our liturgical pneumatology is sublime. Being prima theologia, liturgy is a good place to start. Along these lines, I have one word: epiclesis. Last Sunday's readings provided a great opportunity to address, creatively, of course, the Holy Spirit: who the Spirit is, what the Spirit does in the divine economy, how the Spirit works, and why it even matters.

I will restate another issue with Mother's or Father's Day sermons: the cue concerning the family is not usually taken from the New Testament, at least not from Jesus or the authentically Pauline letters. "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it" (Luke 8:21). The first sentence of the NABRE footnote to this verse states: "The family of Jesus is not constituted by physical relationship with him but by obedience to the word of God."

The paralell passage from Mark 3, lacking the background of Luke's Infancy Narrative, is more stark (see Mark 3:31-35). Of course, this, too, can and has been put to nefarious use. Our quick dismissal of this revealed reality causes all kinds of problems, certainly doctrinal and, more practically, in forming and sustaining Christian community, the Father's eschatological family. This also negatively impacts how the Church gets with the larger society.

Do last Sunday's readings present any possibility to bring up Mother's Day? While not claiming to have algorithmically analyzed every possible connection, one hook might be Paracletos, rendered "Advocate" in the NABRE. A paracletos is one who stands beside you, who literally takes your side. This is something good mothers certainly do. But this is easily rendered vapid by making recourse to a stereotype: the mom who takes her child's side even when her child is way off-base. So, in this vein, a mention here might not be out of line. But nobody's Mom, however sainted, is the Holy Spirit.

One also needs to be mindful of those for whom such observances are a bit painful for various reasons: wanting children but not being able to have them, not having a good experience with one's mother, to name perhaps the two most obvious. There is no issue with adding some intercessions to the Prayers of the Faithful appropriate for Mother's Day, which can also include prayers for those women who desire to be moms and healing for those who may have issues with their mothers. Another possibility is a blessing for mothers, which might include those who want to be moms, between the Prayer after Communion and the Dismissal.

I am not proposing ignoring Mother's Day altogether. But it is important to not make-up a Mass for Mother's Day.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Blogging, the Holy Spirit, deacons, and Mother's Day

Things here have been very dormant as of late. Life takes priority over blogging. Nonetheless, I miss writing posts. I have every intention of resuming. I even intend to resume posting more than homilies and reflections on Mass readings. I am taking a pass again this week, however.

The thing that strikes me about today's Gospel is what a deep pnuematology Jesus lays out in this snippet from John's Last Supper Discourse. It is a wonderful opportunity to unpack what it means to be Spirit-filled.

Speaking of Spirit-filled, after last week's reacing about the seven men called by the primitive Church in Jerusalem and set apart for service by the apostles, today picks up a thread of one of those seven: Philip. Remember, there were three criteria set forth for those called: men of good reputation and who were "filled with the Spirit and wisdom" (see Acts 6:3).

We only hear more about two of the seven: Stephen and Philip. Unlike Stephen, who was stoned to death Jerusalem, Philip fled the persecution and went to Samaria. Undaunted, he preached the Gospel, like Stephen. Many responded to his preaching by coming to faith in Christ. If you take these seven men as the first deacons, something done in the Church since at least Irenaeus, who lived from the second into the third century, then, from the beginning, deacons have been evangelists. Today this highlighted by the deacon reading the Gospel at Mass. In the absence of a deacon, a priest reads the Gospel at Mass as a deacon.

Without a doubt, today, many were subjected to a Mother's Day sermon instead of a homily. Oddly, this tends to happen in places where there is a lot of loud protesting about the Church capitulating to the culture. Well, Mother's Day is a secular observance. It's not on the liturgical calendar. Not many Christians in the U.S. conceive of family eschatologically, which stands in contrast to natural/biological family. God's eschatological family really couldn't be much clearer in the Gospels and in the authentically Pauline letters. At least in the U.S., Christians tend to make an idol of family. If not an idol, then settng forth an unrealistically idealized version of family.

I will content myself with a few thoughts barely sketched out today.

Koinonia: One God, three persons

The end of our second reading is from the conclusion of Saint Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians. Koinonia is the Greek word trans...