Friday, April 18, 2014

Lumen Christi

This morning I kept to my schedule for reading the entire Bible in a year. I finished the Book of Ezra. In the ninth chapter, Ezra becomes keenly aware of how unfaithful Israel has been to God by intermarrying against God's explicit command prohibiting this. It seems that God's reason for this prohibition was to keep Israel from worshiping idols and false gods. Given that today is Good Friday, I was struck by Ezra's penitential prayer, which I will make mine today:
My God, I am too ashamed and humiliated to raise my face to you, my God, for our wicked deeds are heaped up above our heads and our guilt reaches up to heaven (Ezra 9:6)
Like Israel of old, who returned to the Promised Land from exile, "mercy came to us from the LORD, our God" (Ezra 9:8).

Jesus Christ is Divine Mercy. He came to deliver us from the land of our exile, from our alienation and estrangement from God, from our shame and guilt, not because we deserve it, but because God loves us that much. "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him" (John 3:17). Nonetheless, "the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil" (John 3:19). We can condemn ourselves by our lukewarmness or by our outright refusal of God's love and mercy. Choose this day to end your exile, your estrangement, from God, who longs for you to address Him as "Abba, father." As St Paul wrote:
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him (Rom 8:15-18)

The Triduum Continues: Good Friday

The Crucifixion, Bartolomé Estebán Murillo, ca. 1675

"He mounted the Cross to free us from the fascination with nothingness, to free us from the fascination with appearances, with the ephemeral."- Msgr. Luigi Giussani

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Triduum Begins: Holy Thursday

So, during supper, fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Master, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.” Jesus said to him, “Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over;...

So when he had washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” (John 13)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Birthday greetings to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Today is His Holiness, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's 87th birthday. I am so grateful for the life, witness, and papacy of this humble worker in the Lord's vineyard.

I was born on Holy Saturday, 16 April 1927, in Marktl am Inn. The fact that my day of birth was the last day of Holy Week and the eve of Easter has always been noted in our family history. This was connected with the fact that I was baptized immediately on the morning of the day I was born with the water that had just been blessed. (At that time the solemn Easter Vigil was celebrated on the morning of Holy Saturday). To be the first person baptized with the new water was seen as a significant act of Providence. I have always been filled with thanksgiving for having had my life immersed in this way in the Easter mystery, since this could only be a sign of blessing (Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977, 8)
Ever since I first read Pope Benedict's autobiography, I have loved this passage. I was baptized at the Easter Vigil in 1990. But no matter on what day you were baptized, your life, too, is to be immersed in the Paschal Mystery of Christ's death and resurrection.

I take great comfort knowing that Pope Emeritus Benedict spends most of his days praying. God's ear is particularly attuned to the prayers of His righteous ones. I would be remiss not to draw attention to Artur Rosman's recognition that the most recent Benedictine papacy was more radical than the Franciscan one so far: "What Do We Make of a Disturbingly Radical Papacy?"

Saturday, April 12, 2014

"This traitor is loved"

One of the most difficult things for me is learning to look at myself with the same tenderness with which Jesus looks at me. I just started Fr Paul Donoghue's book The Jesus Advantage: A New Approach to a Fuller Life. Just now I read this:
Jesus asserts that we are to love God with the entirety of our being - mind, heart, soul. The touchstone for the truth of our love for God is the love of our neighbor. 'You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.' But there's the rub. We don't really love ourselves. If the criterion of how we love our neighbors is the love we have for ourselves, our neighbor may be in trouble

Writing from my own, often painful experience (most of the pain self-inflicted), I would add that it is only the love God gives me in and through Christ by the power of their Holy Spirit, the kind of love Andy Freeman described Jesus having for Judas in Episode 28 of 24-7 Prayer's Anagnorisis series, that allows me to love myself. Hence, I can love because I am loved.

Speaking of God's love, no sooner had I posted this than I began to think about that ol' Ragamuffin, Brennan Manning. My thought was prompted by the profile picture of one of my Facebook friends that looked like Brennan. It turned out to be a photo of René Girard. I thought what a fitting time to think of Brennan Manning! Then it dawned on me that he died exactly one year ago this very day, 12 April 2013.

In his book Abba's Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging, Brennan wrote: "Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion." Please remember this week that Jesus did it all for love of you.

Palm Sunday: Prepare ye the way for the Lord...

Prepare ye the way for His Kingdom...
They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them,
and he sat upon them.
The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road,
while others cut branches from the trees
and strewed them on the road.
The crowds preceding him and those following
kept crying out and saying:
“Hosanna to the Son of David;
blessed is the he who comes in the name of the Lord;
hosanna in the highest.”
Holy Week begins. Come let us worship.

Pope Francis on the current milieu- a few thoughts in passing

Towards the end of my post castigating Brandeis University (see "Conscience: A matter on which I must take a stand") for siding with the oppressors instead of the oppressed by unilaterally deciding to withdraw the honorary doctorate they were going to confer on Ayaan Hirsi Ali, I wrote:
Let's not forget that Christians are not entirely guiltless in related matters. May we continue to repent and seek to live in the triumphant love of Jesus Christ, which we are preparing to celebrate at Easter. I think it's important for victims to be able to share their stories without fear of more violence
Therefore, I was very happy to read the very next morning what Pope Francis said about this matter during his meeting with the leadership of the France-based International Catholic Child Bureau:
I feel called to take responsibility for all the evil some priests – large in number, but not in proportion to the total – have committed and to ask forgiveness for the damage they’ve done with the sexual abuse of children.

The Church is aware of this damage
While I do not presume to lecture the Holy Father on what he should say, I do think, at least from where I sit, that continually expressing surprise that this would, or even could, happen in the Church, as the Pope did when he said that it was hard for him to believe that "men of the Church" would do such thing, is harmful. It can and has happened. We need to know that certain "men of the Church" are more than capable of such things. Who knows what evil lurks in the human heart? On the other hand, Deacon Greg, citing John Allen, rightly draws our attention to what Pope Francis did right in his remarks: "Why what Francis said about sex abuse yesterday matters."

A little more than a week ago, Deacon Greg also noted that reports of such outrageous behavior on the part of "men of the Church" continues to be reported here in the U.S. Some of these accusations proved to be substantial. According to the most recent USCCB audit, conducted for the period between 1 July 2012 - 30 June 2013, "936 Allegations Of Sexual Abuse Were Made Last Year." Of those, 27 "allegations have been substantiated." More than 700 clerics were accused of abuse, including more than 500 priests and 11 deacons.

At least Pope Francis seems to partially refute his dismay concerning certain evils committed by "men of the Church" with his refreshing emphasis on the fact that, precisely as Christians, as "men of the Church," our enemy has us in his cross-hairs. In his homily for daily Mass just yesterday, the Holy Father noted:
We too are tempted, we too are the target of attacks by the devil because the spirit of Evil does not want our holiness, he does not want our Christian witness, he does not want us to be disciples of Christ. And what does the Spirit of Evil do, through his temptations, to distance us from the path of Jesus? The temptation of the devil has three characteristics and we need to learn about them in order not to fall into the trap. What does Satan do to distance us from the path of Jesus? Firstly, his temptation begins gradually but grows and is always growing. Secondly, it grows and infects another person, it spreads to another and seeks to be part of the community. And in the end, in order to calm the soul, it justifies itself. It grows, it spreads and it justifies itself
It is impossible for our Enemy to succeed without our complicity.

As we asked some four years ago, "Alongside all the limitations and within the Church’s wounded humanity, is there or is there not something greater than sin, something radically greater than sin? Is there something that can shatter the inexorable weight of our evil?" We need to end the denial so as to end our collective self-deception by continually returning to the only One who is greater.

According the U.K.'s Catholic Herald newspaper, there were a few other things in Pope Francis' comments that, understandably, were lost as the result of his apology and strong condemnation of sexual abuse within the Church. I think these things are worth noting. I will even be so bold as to assert that these issues are tangentially related.

The first was the Pope's insistence of the need to defend a child's right "to grow in a family with a mother and father able to create a healthy environment for their growth and affective maturity," which allows the child to mature "in relationship to the masculinity and femininity of a father and a mother."

His Holiness also strongly defended the "right" of parents to determine the proper "moral and religious education" for their children. He insisted that this parental determination should not undermined by, or given a lesser priority, than the cirriculum offered in schools. School cirricula, he pointed out, to use the words from the Catholic Herald article, is often constituted by "thinly veiled courses of indoctrination into whatever ideology is strongest at the moment." In this vein, he went on to say that it is sometimes difficult to discern whether parents are sending their children to school for authentic education, or if they send their children "to a re-education camp" like those run by totalitarian regimes.

In his balanced manner, which balance is frequently lost in secular media reporting, he went on to state that children can't be raised in "glass jars," but need to be taught and equipped, as part of an authentic education, to grapple with contemporary issues in a media-saturated culture while respecting the freedom and dignity of others.

Friday, April 11, 2014

My bishop and the Rosman/Rocha Immigration Manifesto

Last Sunday, 6 April, just before the 11:00 AM Mass at The Cathedral of the Madeleine, where I am privileged to serve, I had the pleasure of welcoming my bishop, John Wester, back from his excursion earlier in the week to the southern Arizona desert. It was a trip he took with Cardinal O'Malley and eight other of his brother bishops to the border. As he shared some of the criticism he had received, much of it quite harsh, it occurred to me that immigration is about people before it is about politics. It is about politics because it is about people.

In my on-line browsing this week I spotted something in my Twitter feed from my friend Artur Rosman, who I believe to be one our brightest young Catholic thinkers, about immigration. Co-authored with Sam Rocha, I am happy to say that in their Immigration Manifesto, I have finally found an immigration position I can support.

At the level of what might be called "political theory," I especially applaud this:
This is why the Catholics need to look beyond national loyalties on this issue and many others. In 1960, when John F. Kennedy promised the Southern Baptists that he wasn’t going to be taking orders from Rome, he was telling them that he wouldn’t take the Vatican hardline on supporting the Civil Rights movement. Where has this gotten Catholics in American public life? Nowhere
In economic terms, especially given my distributist leanings, calling out this reality was refreshing:
The more important point is that, besides the covert and hidden ways we collectively profit from undocumented labor, there is the economic principle that is invoked on both sides of the U.S. political establishment: global capitalism. The idea, made concrete in NAFTA and countless political speeches and policies, by which goods and capital can move as freely as possible across borders, with little to no restraint, whereas people and their families are glued to their geopolitical and temporal conditions, is a perverse and inverted reversal

Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City takes a picture of a discarded backpack in the Arizona desert (photo by Nancy Wiechec for CNS)

Manifestos call for action. My posting this is my way of sharing this with my local Church as well as affixing my name to it. As Artur and Sam insist:
The United States must stop living in a scapegoating lie. Let’s face up to it: Our most basic services (food, farming, building) are provided by people from other countries, especially Mexico. The laws under which illegal immigrants live are fundamentally unjust. They are skewed toward corporations that take advantage of a labor force that’s legally captive. The corporations also collude in propagating laws that are designed to keep that labor force legally captive. We then have the temerity to impute the label illegal to these people whom we clearly need
Getting back to the bishops' trek to the border, I have long wondered if (and if not, why not) the Mexican bishops are actively redressing their government for the kind of political and economic reforms that would result in fewer people taking this life-threatening risk.

Jesus or religion: an oblique take on a false dichotomy

Here's a thought that occurred to me late this afternoon: One of the ways Catholics and Evangelicals fail to communicate is when Evangelicals denounce "religion" and insist on the primacy of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

I think the subtitle of Jefferson Bethke's book can help get past this impasse. It does this by succinctly stating what Evangelicals (often/usually) mean when the denounce "religion": Jesus > Religion: Why He Is So Much Better Than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough.

Even with this there remains some what we might call "ecclesiological dissonance." It seems to me that for Catholics and Evangelicals alike, the question is, How do we evangelize? Do people feel like they have earn acceptance in order to belong?

The truth of the Gospel is- Jesus did what you needed in order for to be good enough for God. Hence, nothing you can do will make God love you more, or less. I know this remains a scandal for many. You certainly can't add anything to what Christ did for you.

As I frequently mention, the question is never "Does God love me?" Rather, it is, "Do I love God?" At least for me, the honest answer is "Not as much as I should, not even as much as I think I want to." Isn't how much I want to, at least to some degree, shown forth by what I say and do?

In any case, what we "do" must have its source in love and be for love. Hence, I think the fundamental issue that remains between most Evangelicals and Catholics is whether grace is imputed or imparted. Imputed grace is a succinct way of referring to forensic justification, which holds that Christ's righteousness "covers" my unrighteousness like snow can cover a pile of dung (A metaphor used by Luther)> Imparted grace refers to God transforming me from the inside out, which speaks to the necessity of the sacraments and, in a particular way, the Eucharist. This is why I find the most compelling definition of grace to be, "God sharing divine life with us." I think we agree that whether grace is imputed or imparted it cannot be earned. If it were earned it couldn't be grace, right?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Conscience: a matter on which I must take a stand

As many of my readers know, Brandeis University, caving into intimidation, unilaterally decided the withdraw the honorary doctorate they were going to award Ayaan Hirsi Ali during their commencement next month. For those who do not know, Hirsi Ali first came to prominence in the Netherlands for collaborating with Theo Van Gogh on his film Submission. As a result of making this film, Van Gogh was stabbed-to-death in broad daylight on the street by an Islamic extremist. Ever since, Hirsi Ali, who briefly served as a member of the Dutch Parliament before running into citizenship issues, has lived in danger of being killed for letting her story be told in the film. Undaunted, she has bravely persisted in telling her story. Here is part of her response to the school's disgraceful act:

Ayaan Hirsi Ali
When Brandeis approached me with the offer of an honorary degree, I accepted partly because of the institution’s distinguished history; it was founded in 1948, in the wake of World War II and the Holocaust, as a co-educational, nonsectarian university at a time when many American universities still imposed rigid admission quotas on Jewish students. I assumed that Brandeis intended to honor me for my work as a defender of the rights of women against abuses that are often religious in origin. For over a decade, I have spoken out against such practices as female genital mutilation, so-called ‘honor killings,’ and applications of Sharia Law that justify such forms of domestic abuse as wife beating or child beating. Part of my work has been to question the role of Islam in legitimizing such abhorrent practices. So I was not surprised when my usual critics, notably the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), protested against my being honored in this way.

What did surprise me was the behavior of Brandeis (you can read her complete statement here)
So our early Friday traditio is Part One of Submission in English:

This makes me feel slightly better for not being able to post yesterday on the 69th anniversary of the martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Let's not forget that Christians are not entirely guiltless in related matters. May we continue to repent and seek to live in the triumphant love of Jesus Christ, which we are preparing to celebrate at Easter. I think it's important for victims to be able to share their stories without fear of more violence. I commend Ayaan Hirsi Ali for her courage, for not being intimidated into silence, even as I upbraid Brandeis University for their reprehensible cowardice.

UPDATE: Mark Shea weighs in on Brandeis University's poltroonery- "Gutless Brandeis U Chickens Out."