Thursday, August 31, 2006

Leave the (Left Behind) Nonsense Behind

Michangelo's Final Judgment

His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, continued last week his catechesis for the Wednesday General Audience on the apostles. It was his third catechesis devoted to the apostle John. In his third Johannine catechesis, the Holy Father focused the Book of Revelation or, in its Greek-inspired name- αποκαλυψις, or, transliterated apokalypsis. Meaning, literally, the lifting of the veil. It has come to define a genre in Biblical literature having to do with eschatology (eschaton meaning last). Hence, it has come to be used to describe something like, as Benedict puts it in his teaching, "the idea of an impending catastrophe" .

The success in recent years of the abysmal Left Behind series of books makes it all the more important to look at this book, which has been the cause of so much weirdness among Christians. The effect of Left Behind on popular Christian religious imagination reminds me of a passage from Marilynn Robinson's wonderful novel Gilead in which the main charcter, a Congregational minister named John Ames, says that he blames television and radio preachers "for sowing a good deal of confusion where theology is concerned." He laments that one "can spend forty years teaching people to be awake to the fact of mystery and then some fellow[s] with no more theological sense than a jackrabbitt," in the present case, writes himself a series of books "and all your work is forgotten."

In this Revelation/Apocalypse/Unveiling the objective, according to il Santo Padre, is "to unveil, from the death and resurrection of Christ, the meaning of human history." But to read the book with understanding requires reading in "the context of the dramatic experience of the seven Churches of Asia, " which, "toward the end of the first century had to face great difficulties- persecutions and even internal difficulties - in their witnessing of Christ". He continues, "John's Revelation, though full of constant references to sufferings, tribulations and weeping - the dark face of history - at the same time presents frequent songs of praise, which represent, so to speak, the luminous face of history."

This brings us to the heart of Benedict's teaching, in which the Book of Revelation places us "before the typical Christian paradox, according to which, suffering is never perceived as the last word; rather it is seen as a passing moment to happiness and, what is more, the latter is already mysteriously permeated with the joy that springs from hope". The Holy Father insists that "Above all" it means our "awaiting of the Lord's definitive victory, of the new Jerusalem, of the Lord who comes and transforms the world. But, at the same time, it is also a Eucharistic prayer: 'Come, Jesus, now!' And Jesus comes, he anticipates his definitive coming" by making himself Present in and through the Eucharist.

Finally, the Pope teaches us, "John, the Seer of Patmos, can end his book with a final aspiration, in which an ardent hope palpitates. He invokes the Lord's final coming: 'Come, Lord Jesus!'" (Revelation 22:20). It is one of the central prayers of nascent Christianity, translated also by St. Paul in Aramaic: 'Marana tha.'".

This one word prayer puts me in mind of a song written and recorded by Michael Card, a fabulous contemporary song-writer, that is on his album Present Reality. This album and song are very dear to me as I was introduced to Michael Card's music shortly after becoming a Christian and just revelled in it, learned from it, prayed it, and I still do.

Maranatha is a cry of the heart/That's hopeful yet weary of waiting/While it may be joyful with the burden it bears/It' sick with anticipating/To long for the Promised One day after day/And the promise that soon he'd return/It's certain that waiting is the most bitter lesson/A believing heart has to learn

Chorus: Maranatha How many more moments must this waiting last/Maranatha, we long for the time when all time is past/A commotion, a call then that will be all/Though it's not yet the hour/The minutes are ticking away

Maranatha is the shout of the few/Who for so long in history've been hiding/Who truly believe that the sound of that call/Might actually hasten His coming/For no eye has seen and no ear has yet heard/And no mind has ever conceived/The joy of the moment when He will appear/To the wonder of all who believe

Chorus: Maranatha How many more moments must this waiting last/Maranatha, we long for the time when all time is past/A commotion, a call then that will be all/Though it's not yet the hour/The minutes are ticking away

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Theological/Philosophical Soundings




Last evening I went to bed happy because my son, who is 12 and just beginning 7th grade, was given the homework assignment by his Theology teacher (yes Theology) to read Plato's allegory of the cave from Book VII of the Republic. This just elevated my philosophical mood even more than it has been of late. I have been reading and re-reading many texts, especially those by and about Wittgenstein, whose work I find very therapeutic, but certainly not beyond criticism or correction.

Adding to my current enthusiasm are several posts by Fr. Edward Oaks, SJ, who teaches Theology at the University of St. Mary of the Lake, which includes Mundeleine Seminary, the major seminary for the Archdiocese of Chicago, on the First Things blog. These posts, while short, are well worth taking the time to read, ponder and follow-up by more reading. My first encounter with Fr. Oakes' writing was reading his introduction to the theology of Hans urs von Balthasar, whose shorter works I had been reading for some time, back in the late nineties. The book, Pattern of Redemption, is the best introduction, at least in English, of the theology of von Balthasar. Having studied Philosophy academically, but not Theology, his exposition of the analogia entis- the analogy of Being- and its fundamental importance to the Catholic theological tradition, of which Balthasar was a master, alone makes the book well worth one's time and effort. While the book is a general introduction to the vast terrain of Balthasar's thinking, Oakes focuses on his theological aesthetics. Perhaps the only rival to Fr. Oakes' book in English (stoking the Jesuit/Dominican rivalry) is Fr. Aidan Nichols, OP's The Word Has Been Abroad.

Okay, enough shameless plugging of my favorite books! Leave this blog, go forth and read Fr. Oakes' delighful and educational posts on the relationship between Theology and Philosophy, his earlier posts on the philosophy and nature of blogging, as well as his two posts on aphorisms in summertime, located here and here.

Just for the record, I am quite certain that I do not suffer from what Fr. Oakes describes as "One of the great delusional fictions that bloggers operate under." Namely, "that there are people out there who actually care what a blogger has to say!". This blog was initially named, taking its cue from an old KRCL radio segment entitled "Tom Waits for nobody", "Scott Dodge for Nobody". It would also be an exercise in (self-)deception, however, to write that I do this solely for personal amusement. I have plenty to keep me both busy and amused. Therefore, it is my sincere hope that my modest blog has a few readers. I also hope I can post items my readers find interesting, inspiring, thought-provoking, and from time-to-time challenging. Because writing, like discussion, has a way of helping me clarify my thoughts and synthesize the amazing amount of interesting things I constantly encounter, keeping a blog helps me to understand and make sense of the world. In that way it is humbling, as I am constantly dashed up against what I do not know, even that which I do not know but like to know. So, in addition to being a humbling experience, it is a way of constantly challenging myself.

How's that for a Both/And instead of an Either/Or?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

“A Decalogue for Peace in the Middle East”

Jesuit Priest, Samir Khalil Samir, who was born in Egypt, is a polyglot who speaks Arab, Italian, and French, and who lived for many years in Lebanon, where he is still a professor at the Université Saint-Joseph in Beirut. He also teaches at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, as well as at the Jesuit theological faculty in Paris. He is the founder and director of the Centre de Documentation et de Recherches Arabes Chretiennes, located at the Université Saint-Joseph.

Fr. Samir is well-known and respected by the Holy Father, who called upon him to participate in last September’s Schülerkreis, an annual gathering of the Pope's former doctoral students in which they meet for two or three days to discuss a specific topic. Prior to his ascending the throne of Peter, these meetings were usually held in a monastery. Last year, and again this year, the symposia are held at Castel Gondolfo, the Pope's residence outside Rome, where popes traditionally spend the month of August. According to Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ, a former student and participant, as paraphrased by John Allen, "the discussions are informal and free-flowing, sometimes stretching over dinner and into a few glasses of beer or wine." Fr. Samir participated in last year’s gathering as an expert on the Islamic understanding of God as derived from the Qur’an. The broader subject of the gathering was the role of Islam in secular societies. This year the group will discuss evolution.

In the wake of the recent hostilities in Israel and Lebanon, Fr. Samir has proposed "a Decalogue of Peace in the Middle East." The entire text can be read in English on the Chiesa web-site, an invaluable resource driven by veteran Vatican expert Sandro Magister: Fr. Samir: "A Decalogue for Peace in the Middle East. As Magister observes, Fr. Samir's document is "highly interesting to read" because he addresses forthrightly the great disruption caused in the region by the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, which was only made possible by the partition of Palestine, which displaced thousands. Lest a misunderstanding arise, Fr. Samir is committed to the legitimacy and on-going existence of Israel as a state. To that end he writes: "partition is a historical fact, born of an international decision. The existence of two states, Israeli and Palestinian, is an indisputable reality, legitimated by the United Nations. One cannot call it into question. All decisions were accepted as legal by the international community. That is why any solution to the conflict that does not completely respect the international legality of all the resolutions of the United Nations will not lead to peace. "

Below are the 10 points of Fr. Samir's "little" Decalogue, as published in Chiesa and translated by Fr. Wafik Nasry, S.J:

"1. Create a Palestinian state based on the international borders before the 1967 war (some final adjustments will have to be made, with common agreement between Israel and Palestine).

2. Grant the right of return to the Palestinians as was recognized by UN resolution 194 of the general assembly. This should be first recognized in principle, then a discussion of a limited return and compensation guaranteed by the international community for others should follow.

3. Israeli settlements could remain for a limited period (e.g. ten years) under Israeli sovereignty. The settlers will then have to decide whether to return to Israel or to remain under Palestinian sovereignty, as did the 160,000 Palestinians who have already decided to live under Israeli sovereignty.

4. Official recognition and exchange of ambassadors between each state of the Middle East (including Turkey, Iran, Syria, Iraq) is necessary. All nations must officially recognize the borders of the other states as final, and exchange ambassadors with these states.

5. Install a “robust” international force where peace is not yet fully achieved in order to control the traffic of weapons between nations; in particular between Israel and Palestine, Israel and Lebanon, Lebanon and Syria, Syria and Iraq, Iran and Iraq, Turkey and Iraq. This international force should be posted on the both sides of the international borders.

6. Help the various militarily weak states to develop sufficiently strong national armies to ensure the safety of their citizens and disarm all other groups, especially militias and settlers. At the same time, take steps to reduce military investments in the region and control military power.

7. The release of the prisoners of other states and ensuring their return to their proper countries with exchange agreements, in particular between Israel and Palestine, Israel and Lebanon, Lebanon and Syria.

8. The creation of an international commission to solve the problem of water resources in an equitable manner in this region is an essential condition for the development of peace and to reduce the cause of the frequent conflicts.

9. The creation of an international commission that would include Israel and Palestine to discuss the fate of the city of Jerusalem, which each state legitimately wishes to claim as its capital. Security, liberty, accessibility and freedom of movement must be guaranteed by an international accord for the entire city and all its holy sites, for they are a universal heritage and must be part of the international agreement.

10. Launch the project for a Middle East Union (MEU) among all the states of the region that are willing to live in peace. Establish legal, economic, political, military and cultural conditions for membership in the regional organization; organize meetings between states of the area; sign agreements of peace, bilateral or multilateral, for long periods (10 to 20 years). One will be able to find many guiding points for such a Middle East organization from the experiment of the EU."

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Lebensformen




The writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein, along with those of Martin Heidegger, are still very influential among contemporary philosophers and theologians. The primary contribution of these two is their challenge to classical metaphysics, both Platonic and Aristotelian. Heidegger's challenge is a more direct attempt at destroying Western metaphysics and its forgetting of Sein=Being. The philosophy (which is way too monolithic a term) of Wittgenstein (W) is a more constructive engagement with the world and, hence, with tradition, that W recognized as necessary to human knowing. In this W's analysis (a better term for his method) is less pretentious, less grandiose, and less ambitious than Heidegger's.

W's analysis, especially his work from the mid-1930s on, best expounded in his Philosophical Investigations, is more successful in engaging philosophical "problems" ( W did not believe in philosophical problems as such- the problems arose, according to W, from linguistic confusion- a great book on this is Wittgenstein's Poker), such as the subject/object distinction at the root of the idealism/realism split that reaches back to Plato and Aristotle, than Immanuel Kant, whose deliberate project in the Critique of Pure Reason (which W first studied while a prisoner of war in 1917-18) was to overcome these same "problems." W, some 55 years after his death can still be considered a giant. The immediacy and depth of his thought, along with his refusal to be easily satisfied, make his work still fresh. Since theology is, to paraphrase English theologian Nicholas Lash, watching one's language before and about God, it is easy to imagine the influence Wittgenstein has had on Christian theology. Edward Schillebeeckx, OP, whose experience of God I have grossly oversimplified below for your convenience, was one of the first Catholic theologians writing or translated into English to make use of W's philosophy as a basis for some of his theological investigations.

One of the targets of W's analysis in the later phase of his life was the Cartesian turn-to-the-subject. This so-called Copernican revolution started by Rene Descartes is heralded as the beginning of modern philosophy. W undertook the challenge posed by Descartes' method of doubt very seriously and, like Kant before him, understood that this method leads to skepticism and solipsism. Like all philosophical errors, Wittgenstein held that it is an error in language that led to the confusions brought about by Descartes and compounded in various idealistic philosophies of Berkeley, Hegel, Fichte and, to some degree, in Kant himself. Perhaps the best book on Wittgenstein's rejection of Descartes "hermit in the head" view of the self and his prescription for this philosophical ailment is Fergus Kerr, OP's book Theology after Wittgenstein. W's insistence on human embodiness is a wonderful corrective to the temptation of Christian dualism, a remnant of the Cartesian idea, sung about by the Police (one of my all time favorite groups), that we are spirits in the material world.

W, in his notes, published posthumously, as were most of his "books," in a work entitled Philosophical Grammar, wrote:

"One of the most dangerous ideas philosophically is, oddly enough, that we think with, or in, our heads.
The idea of thinking as an occurrence in the head, in a completely enclosed space, makes thinking something occult."


Rather, we think as embodied persons who belong to human communities, which impart language. Since language is necessary for thinking, so are communities, traditions, etc. Or, as Fr. Kerr, drawing conclusions from W's writings, nicely puts it: "It is neither metaphysical realities (whether [idealistic] forms or [realistic] atoms) nor subjective states of consciousness (raw feels, mental pictures, innate ideas) but Lebensformen [forms of life] that are 'the given'. What is given is the human world: neither meanings in the head, accessible by introspection, nor essences in the objects around us, yielding to analysis, but the order that human beings establish by their being together." (Theology after Wittgenstein, pg. 69)

An overlooked book in the W oeuvre is Wittgenstein: Conversations 1949-1951 by O.K. Bouwsma and edited by J.L. Craft and Ronald E. Hustwit. These are published accounts of conversations that Bouwsma, an American philosopher, had with Wittgenstein during these years. "There is an intensity and an impatience about him," Bouwsma wrote after first meeting Wittgenstein on his first trip to the U.S. in July 1949. His intensity and impatience, according to Bouwsma, "are enough, certainly, to frighten one". Gladly, Bouwsma found W very congenial and developed a relationship with him during these last few years of W's life.

In his last visit to W in January, 1951, as the philosopher was at the very end of suffering through terminal of cancer, which killed him in April, Bouwsma records:

"On Saturday in the very act of turning to avoid a pain [a morbid real-life example of bodily expression, using his own oft-used case of expressing pain] he asked if I had ever heard of Coueism. I had: 'Every day in every way I am feeling better and better.' He remembered the sentence. I said I thought it might help if you could believe it. He said: Yes, since fear is a part of one's ailment, saying this might help to allay fear. His mind was still as clear as could be ". These conversations end with: "On Sunday, he also talked about his down comforter" (Conversations, pg. 75).

Thursday, August 24, 2006

"Gracious is the LORD and just; yes, our God is merciful"


I had the wonderful privilege this week to spend an afternoon with my spiritual director, who is a pastor living in another city in the Westeren U.S. Consequently, I receive a great deal of direction via correspondence of various kinds and over the phone. Nonetheless, I am so blessed to have a director who is also a close and dear personal friend, as well as my confessor. What he communicates so clearly to me is God's love, mercy, and deep desire to know and be known by me. At the end of my confession, part of my penance was to read, consider and meditate on Psalm 116:


1 I love that HaShem should hear my voice and my supplications.
2 Because He hath inclined His ear unto me, therefore will I call upon Him all my days.
3 The cords of death compassed me, and the straits of the nether-world got hold upon me; I found trouble and sorrow.
4 But I called upon the name of HaShem: 'I beseech thee, O HaShem, deliver my soul.'
5 Gracious is HaShem, and righteous; yea, our G-d is compassionate.
6 HaShem preserveth the simple; I was brought low, and He saved me.
7 Return, O my soul, unto Thy rest; for HaShem hath dealt bountifully with thee.
8 For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling.
9 I shall walk before HaShem in the lands of the living.
10 I trusted even when I spoke: 'I am greatly afflicted.'
11 I said in my haste: 'All men are liars.'
12 How can I repay unto HaShem all His bountiful dealings toward me?
13 I will lift up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of HaShem.
14 My vows will I pay unto HaShem, yea, in the presence of all His people.
15 Precious in the sight of HaShem is the death of His saints.
16 I beseech Thee, O HaShem, for I am Thy servant; I am Thy servant, the son of Thy handmaid; Thou hast loosed my bands.
17 I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of HaShem.
18 I will pay my vows unto HaShem, yea, in the presence of all His people;
19 In the courts of HaShem'S house, in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem. Hallelujah.

There is nothing I can add to this beautiful and inspired meditation on God's goodness and mercy. So, I encourage you, pray this psalm today, write it on your heart and recite it with your lips.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Speaking of societal consequences . . .



It is not difficult to discern many of the reasons for Europe's demographic meltdown. The BBC provides a news story that gives us an anecdotal insight into the attitudes underlying the thanatos syndrome afflicting the continent and resulting in cultural/civilizational suicide. The UMP, France's conservative party no-less, is currently running a two month PR campaign in an attempt to drum up support for the party in advance of next year's presidential election. Part of the campaign is to handout condoms, among other things, to the beach-goers of France this summer.

UMP party activists, according the BBC report, have been handing out "leaflets, T-shirts and headrests to sunbathers on France's beaches for several weeks now." But, say party activists, it is the "condoms with the party's logo and flip-flops that leave a UMP footprint have proved to be an instant hit with sunbathers". The UMP, an acronym for Union pour un Mouvement Populaire is the party of French Interior Minister, Nicholas Sarkozy, who hopes to win election as France's president in next May's presidential race. Just think of the possible protests. One in particular comes to mind. Can you guess what it is? Comment lines are open, but still moderated.

What's in a name? An observation of some societal consequences of Philosophical Nominalism

Peter Abelard

Joseph Pearce, writing today on the First Things blog, relates some encouraging news from his native England. What is encouraging is a recent decision handed down by Sir Mark Potter, president of the English High Court's Family Division, who, as such, is the senior family law judge in England. Sir Mark ruled against a lesbian couple who claimed to be married by virtue of an arrangement entered into legally in Canada and recognized in Canada as a marriage. In his decision, Sir Mark refreshingly points out that societal institutions, such as marriage, cannot be arbitrarily re-defined on a whim. Rather, they are rooted in both nature and deeply in society. Nominally, one can call same-sex living arrangements anything one chooses to call them, even marriage. However, such arrangements are not marriages as they do not meet the traditional definitions of marriage. In support of the argument that same-sex arrangements are not part of our understanding of marriage I offer three definitions. First, marriage according to the Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary. Second, marriage according to the High Court of England Family Division, via the Guardian newspaper's report on Sir Mark's ruling (I refer specifically to the fifth and sixth paragraphs). Finally, marriage as defined in canon 1055 of Codex Iuris Canonici (i.e., The Code of Canon law).

It is difficult not to note a similarity between the canonical and legal understanding of marriage. Both view marriage from the perspective of the natural law. In other words, the Church's basic definition of marriage does not rely, or even first turn to, revelation in seeking to define marriage. The same can written about the Church's view on the issues of human life (abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cells, etc.). Therefore, the argument that one is seeking to impose one's religious views on others through the law are shown to ring hollow. In puts me in mind of yesterday’s post regarding deacons as clergy and is quite similar. One is free to look at the linguistic sign for the number 3 and call it 5, but the two remain distinct, whatever one calls them, 3 remains 3 and 5 remains 5 and 5 is 2 more than 3 (reminds of Brother Maynard and the Holy Handgrenade of Antioch). Put simply, in pluralistic democracies people have a great deal of freedom to live their lives in any way they may choose. This is no less true for gay and lesbian couples. However, to demand that the such living arrangements be called and recognized as marriages goes too far. Is that to say that states (who are responsible for making laws governing marriage) cannot allow broader discretion to non-married people (gay and straight) about inheritance and other issues? No. It is to say, however, that there are civil benefits that for good reason are best reserved to married persons, not the least of which is what marriage is and is not.

It is also my wish to briefly draw attention to the inherent weakness of philosophical nominalism, so prevalent among champions of changing or expanding the definition of marriage. These advocates, who are motivated by a sincere desire to create what they deem a more just society, rarely examine the philosophy, which is to say the wisdom, of that for which they advocate. After all, if nominalism applies to marriage it also applies to justice- it's just a name that in-the-end can stand for whatever one meaning one assigns it. Or, as Alasdair MacIntyre asked, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? Surely, I oversimplify. The question then becomes, by how much and in how many cases?

For those interested in pursuing the line of reasoning I undertake in this post which, due to time constraints, is very truncated, I refer you to another thread on the First Things site written by Robert P. George of Princeton. The first link is here, while the second is here.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Permoid? Sts. Lawrence & Stephen Ora pro nobis


Part of my morning ritual, after coffee, Liturgy of the Hours, Lectio Divina with the day's readings (today's "take away" for me from Ezekiel 28,2 is "And yet you are a man, and not a god, however you may think yourself like a god"), is checking e-mail and looking at Rocco Palmo's wonderful blog, Whispers in the Loggia. This morning, along with a great piece on the theology/spirituality of U2, was a brief notice on the ordination of a deacon, Aloysius Oliver, by Bishop Robert Carlson of Saginaw, Michigan. Oliver is the first permanent deacon ordained in Saginaw in 25 years. This is, of course, great news.

What makes the Loggia piece noteworthy is this line: "Bishop Robert Carlson ordained the diocese of Saginaw's first 'permoid' in a quarter-century yesterday." Permoid? I have no problem with deacons getting no respect. After all, we're servants and ordained precisely for service. As Vatican Council II's Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, referencing Jn 21,17 , puts it: "At a lower level of the hierarchy are deacons, upon whom hands are imposed 'not unto the priesthood, but unto a ministry of service.'" I have to reject the appellation "permoid" as it . . . well . . . it just sucks.

Permoid? Where did that come from? I know this might be a bit pedantic, but deacons are deacons plain and simple. Deacons, by virtue of receiving the sacrament of Holy Orders, are also clerics, or, more familiarly, clergy. Therefore, even the constant need to use the word "permanent" as a qualifier for deacon seems to me odd. But my least favorite of all is when I read (as I do with far too much frequency): "all clergy and deacons." That is a bit like saying: "all bachelors and unmarried men."

Friday, August 18, 2006

Year B 4th Sunday of Lent

Readings: 2 Chron 36,14-16; Ps 137,1-6; Eph 2,4-10; Jn 3,14-21

Today’s readings tell us of the two great Biblical attributes of God: justice and mercy. Superficially these attributes may seem to be opposites; they are not. Scripture demonstrates time and again that they exist in a kind of creative tension. The good news is that, in the end, God’s mercy wins out. In Christ Jesus, St. Paul tells us in our second reading, God’s mercy definitively prevails. “For by grace [we] have been saved through faith . . . it is the gift of God, it is not from works, so no one may boast” (Eph 2,8-9). As we have been recently reminded, Deus Caritas Est- God is Love (1 Jn 4,8) . It is out of love that “he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn 3,16).

Our first reading from Chronicles demonstrates this creative tension. In this passage the chronicler tells us that God gave his people the chance to remain in the Promised Land, but they ignored God and ended up in exile. One of the main points of this story is quite clear, especially in the context of today’s readings, and it is disturbing: God offers us each of us the opportunity to live in the promised land of His eternal kingdom. If we ignore this invitation, if we refuse the gift freely offered, we, too, face exile. The subject of hell and everlasting punishment is one that in our day we tend to avoid. But it is the clear testimony of scripture and the constant teaching of the Church that hell is real and its punishments eternal. Jesus, in today’s Gospel, tells us those who refuse to believe in him have “already been condemned” (Jn 3,18) . Of course, even in our passage from Chronicles, God’s mercy prevails. The Persians conquer the Chaldeans and Cyrus, king of Persia, allows the Israelites to return to Jerusalem, and orders them to build a temple.

Jesus’ reference to Moses lifting “up the serpent in the desert” reveals to us the richness of God’s mercy (Eph 2,4). Jesus’ alludes to the event, which took place during Israel’s forty years of wandering in the wilderness (which serves as a major reference point for our Lenten journey). The Israelites were set upon by poisonous serpents. As people were bitten by the serpents and began to die, the Lord told Moses to put a bronze serpent on a pole, to hold the pole up in the sight of all the people "and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live." Despite the ease of this remedy, there were some who still perished because they would not even look (Num 21,6-9) . Again, the parallel is obvious. It is made even plainer when Jesus tells us we are saved when we look to him lifted on the Cross. Such a turn does not yet even require faith, only hope. Of course, both faith and hope are theological virtues and, as such, are gifts from God.

In our other readings, Jesus and Paul both approach the contentious issue of the relationship between faith and works. One important point to make up-front is that works do not earn us God’s favor. Rather, good works are evidence that we have received the gift freely offered us by our loving Father. Put in a more pithily, “faith without works is like a song you can’t sing” (Screen Door by Rich Mullins).

Good works, therefore, are thanksgiving- which is the meaning of eucharist- for what God has given us in Christ. It is to offer eucharist that we are gathered here as people who have come to believe that Jesus Christ was sent “into the world not to condemn it, but to save it” (Jn 3,17) . Our becoming Christ-like is initiated and brought to completion by God, but it requires our cooperation, our openness, our deep desire to be like Jesus. Because God’s love for us is true, God does not force us to return His love. To do so would be to violate the freedom that is constitutive of our human dignity. Put simply, God loves us and leaves the decision to return His love up to us.

It is often said and easily observed that actions speak louder than words. God shows His love for us in concrete acts, like the Incarnation, which we contemplate in light of yesterday’s celebration of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel told Mary she was to bear the Son of God. The divine wellspring of the Incarnation “flows through a privileged channel: the Virgin Mary . . . The angel’s proclamation was addressed to her; she accepted it, and when she responded from the depths of her heart: ‘Here I am . . . let it be done to me according to your word’ (Lk 1:38) , the eternal Word began to exist as a human being in time” (Homily of Pope Benedict XVI, 25 March 2006). In this, as in all things, Mary humbly models for us the appropriate response of gratitude, which finds its completion in concrete acts of love for neighbor, just as Mary’s humble submission to God’s initiative- agreeing to be an unwed mother in a society that punished unchaste behavior with death- gained for us our Savior.

Mary’s modeling reminds us that too often we think that if we just state the same truth over and over again, eventually others will believe it. But words lose their effectiveness after a time. Hence, it is not enough to tell people “Believe in Jesus and you will be saved,” especially if they have no experience of what that means. Let us resolve, therefore, that in our encounters with other people this week, to find ways to show through our actions and attitudes that we believe in God’s abiding love for the world and everyone in it. In this way we see that even our good works, insofar as they flow from faith, are gifts of God.

The creative tension between God’s justice and mercy was summarized well by Franciscan Fr. Raniero Cantalmessa, preacher of the papal household, when speaking recently in New Orleans to victims of Hurricane Katrina: “A disaster like this is not a punishment but a warning for everybody that we should be vigilant and should not put all our trust in what can be taken away in one day, if not by the flood of water, then by the flood of time.” “Time passes,” observes Cantalmessa, “and will take everything” (Intermountain Catholic, Vol. 68 No. 11, pg. 16).
My dear sisters and brothers let us resolve to make Jesus Christ present in all we do and say. Let us respond to God’s love by loving our neighbor. It is only in this way that we become, individually and collectively, like our Blessed Mother, a Eucharist.

Nietzschean Phenomenological Fragments for Philosophical/Theological Friday



Reudiger Safranski, in Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography, wites about what Nietzsche saw as necessary for “phenomenological attentiveness to the world of consciousness.” Nietzsche, according to Safranski, believed that “We become so caught up in our daily routines and ensnared in our many obligations and habits that anxiety and opportunity gain the upper hand. As a result we are not sufficiently composed to let the world work its magic. We fail to provide it with a stage on which to appear as an epiphany, rich and enigmatic" (pg 218). Th word magic here is unfortunate, but not destructive of what Safranski is attempting to convey.

According to Safranski, Nietzsche’s phenomenology is an attempt to overcome Kant's das ding an Sich (i.e., the thing-in-itself), the noumenon, or the subject/object distinction. He notes: “Usually this process is accomplished by juxtaposing a subjective interior and an objective exterior and then asking how to fuse back together what was artificially split by ascertaining how the world comes into the subject and the subject into the world." On this view, Nietzsche sought to demonstrate that our perceptions and thought processes function differently from how we generally imagine them to function. For him they function much more on pre-conscious level by forming "a series of discontinuous clarifications in a stream of acts not focused on the individual. Only secondary reflection, namely the consciousness of consciousness, splits the world into a world of ego and a world of objects." In other words, for Nietzsche, "the world consists of nothing but details." Hence, he contends, "there is no actual history, but only moments and events strung together and interpreted by consciousness.”

An Overly Simplified Attempt at Explaining The Experience of God according Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx, OP




I spent some time this morning reviewing some of my reading notes on Dominican theologian Edward Schillebeeckx. My notes are heavily dependent on a fine and extensive article by Society of the Precious Blood Fr. Robert J. Schreiter, formerly a student of Fr. Schillebeeckx and professor at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago. The article on which I rely was published in The Modern Theologians, edited by David F. Ford.

A good schema to employ up-front with Schillebeeckx is the three-fold schema of experience, contrast experience, and experience of God. On this account it is in and through experience and contrast experience that we experience God. Or, perhaps: e(xperience)+c(ontrast)e(xperience)=e(xperience of)G(od). Something that occurred to me this morning while considering this three-fold schema was a possible Trinitarian implication. Experience, as the most fundamental element, would relate to God qua God, as explained in the Catechism, which, in turn, takes its cue from Lateran Council IV: "God transcends all creatures. We must therefore continually purify our language of everything in it that is limited, imagebound or imperfect, if we are not to confuse our image of God --'the inexpressible, the incomprehensible, the invisible, the ungraspable'-- with our human representations". Contrast experience, the experiencing of sin, suffering, injustice, etc., would correspond (clunky and possibly misleading term) in some sense to the Son, most especially the Cross and Resurrection. The experience of God brought about by the mediation of the paradox between experience and contrast experience can be seen as the work of the Holy Spirit. Again, all of that is rough, sketchy, and preliminary.

Experience

Human experience is fundamental for Schillebeeckx. This is what enables one to classify him as a post-meta-physical theologian. On his view, human experience is not to be contrasted with divine revelation. Rather, human experience is the vehicle (clunky term I know) through which revelation is communicated. There is nothing earth-shattering about such a conception nowadays, but when Schillebeeckx first started these investigations in the 50s and 60s in dialogue with modern Philosophy he created quite a controversy. Why it would be controversial seems strange as one can see it as an attempt to explain the very basic Thomistic (as a Dominican studying in the 1930s he was deeply immersed in Thomism and would self-identify as a Thomist until his philosophical turn in the 1950s) axiom that grace builds on nature.

Human experience includes more than rationality and language. Hence, revelation is not reducible to just another category of experience (i.e., physical, mental, spiritual). For Schillebeeckx revelation encompasses the full range of human perceptions and activities. Therefore, "all revelation is mediated to us through the channels of our experience." Furthermore, revelation offers a critique of our experience and "ends up" standing in dialectical relationship to it. One fruitful result of locating revelation in human experience, is that revelation becomes more than just words and propositions. Revelatory experiences, while mediated by language, are never exhausted by language or concepts. This is another readily accepted view now, a view championed by Schillebeeckx and others as periti (theological experts) at Vatican Council II, among whom was the young Doktor Professor Joseph Ratzinger, as well as Jesuit Karl Rahner, and accepted by the Council fathers. However, when first suggested it was very revolutionary.

A major influence on Schillebeeckx in his student years was Dominicus De Petter, a Neo-Thomist philosopher with an interest in phenomenology and Kant as something of a proto-phenomenologist. A project of De Petter's picked up by Schillebeeckx and, while never abandoned, furthered in dialogue with modern philosophers like Heidegger, Wittgenstein, and Gadamer, was how to link reality to concepts in light of the Critique of Pure Reason.

I hope by writing that experience is described by Schillebeeckx as mystery, I don't damage his essentially existential standpoint. He uses mystery in the double sense of the Greek mysterion; the unknown and a path to knowledge that transforms the subject who walks it. Schillebeeckx, especially in his later work employs a perspectival approach that holds "every perspective contributes to our understanding, but no human perspective can claim absoluteness."

Contrast Experience
Contrast experience occurs when one comes face-to-face with sin, suffering, and injustice, when one experiences events falling short of the ideal of human life, even as understood from non-Christian perspective.

Experience of God: Mediation of the Paradox of Experienced Reality

The experience of God, which comes by way of e+ce. God is experienced through the mediation of the paradox between experience and contrast experience. This is the Cross. For Schillebeeckx the actus fidei the act of faith is essentially an intuition, but is an intuition that is confirmed through the experience of God which is the mediation, put simply, the-making-sense-of, experience and contrast experience. As all such summaries are this is over-simplified, but for a blog entry, a sincere attempt nonetheless. Besides, I'm still finishing my coffee!!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Evolution and Proliferation of Nonsense



Late this afternoon a friend e-mailed me a review written by Jerry Coyne, professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, that originally appeared in The New Republic and was subsequently posted on the Powell's Books website. It is written in the bombastic style of Coulter herself, as something of a parody.

Here are some of the salient details:

"Enamored of I[ntelligent] D[esign], and unable to fathom a scientific reason why biologists don't buy it, Coulter suggests that scientists are an evil sub-cabal of atheist liberals, a group so addicted to godlessness that they must hide at all costs the awful 'truth' that evolution didn't happen. She accuses evolutionists of brainwashing children with phony fossils and made-up 'evidence,' turning the kids into 'Darwiniacs' stripped of all moral (i.e., biblical) grounding and prone to become beasts and genocidal lunatics. To Coulter, biologists are folks who, when not playing with test tubes or warping children's minds, encourage people to have sex with dogs. (I am not making this up)."

"We've known for years," Coyne continues, that nearly half of all Americans believe in the Genesis account of creation, and only about 10 percent want evolution taught in public schools without mentioning ID or other forms of creationism. But it's worth taking up the cudgels once again, if only to show that, contrary to Coulter's claim, accepting Darwinism is not tantamount to endorsing immorality and genocide."

It was then pointed out to me by someone I respect very much that he had read the review in TNR and participated in a discussion on The New Republic's website. He stated that most of those who responded to the review on the discussion board were unhappy that Professor Coyne attacked Coulter in the way he did. Specifically by making fun of her looks. Please notice that the quotes I posted are not the ones that attack Coulter personally, as I am only interested the views she expresses and grieve over how widespread such views are among Christians. As for myself, I didn't find Coyne's piece particularly offensive or enlightening, but I do think it appropriate for its genre- a short, negative book review. I find it all the more understandable, not justified, just understandable, because Coulter personally attacks him in her book with the accusations he lists in the review. I admit to having a visceral reaction to many of the less-than-enlightened opinions expressed by Coulter (i.e., referring to Middle Eastern Arab countries-"We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity") for many and good reasons, not least of which is her mean-spiritedness which is indicative of intellectual laziness. It is my personal hope that Coyne's review is disseminated and causes folks not buy her book and/or for Christians who think to challenge the lazy assumptions that lie therein.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

"I watch the ripples change their size but never leave the stream of impermanence"

This evening I was sitting with my 12 year-old son and listening to some music I had downloaded. The music was "my" music. If you're wondering what I mean by that check this out. Anyway, one song that, upon listening to it, put me back in a time and place not so long ago. The song is David Bowie's Changes, the place is Iraq about 35 North/Northwest of Baghdad, the time just before Thanksgiving 2005. I was driving at night and, ignoring tactical protocol, we were listening to the radio. The two other two passengers are long-time professional colleagues. I have known both of these men for many years, since we were young men. We're all roughly the same age (early forties) with me being the youngest at barely 40. Well, there we are driving and listening to the radio, when a version of Changes comes on the radio, but not David Bowie. It was some new band covering this great song. When one of my colleagues, normally a very mellow, quiet, and reserved guy just loses it and goes off on a tirade about what a horrible (to put it kindly) cover it was and how dare they f - - - the song up with this cover, etc. , etc. The other two of us remained silent. Sometime toward the end of the the tirade I reached over and turned the radio off and we resumed driving to our duties that dark evening.

Recalling this doesn't strike me as funny, or humorous. It strikes me as human and reaching for what we know when facing the unknown. Keeping in mind the lyrics "Pretty soon now, you're gonna get older/Time may change me, but I can't trace time", which we all knew by heart, it was a recognition that the three of us are older and, yet, we were still off fighting far from home, which we have doing since we were young men. This was made more poignant by the fact all of us now have homes and families. We did not when we first met. A few days later we located a digital copy of David Bowie singing the song and played it over-and-over.
Anyway . . .

Changes
Still don't know what I was waiting for
And my time was running wild, a million dead end streets and
Every time I thought I'd got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet


So I turned myself to face me
But I'd have never caught a glimpse
Of how the others must see the faker
I'm much too fast to take that test


Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange ch-ch-changes
Don't want to be a richer man
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange ch-ch-changes
Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me, but I can't trace time


I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream of warm impermanence and
So the days flow through my eyes
But still the days seem the same

And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They're quite aware of what they're going through

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange ch-ch-changes
Don't tell them to grow up and out of it
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange ch-ch-changes
Where's your shame, you've left us up to our necks in it
Time may change me, but you can't trace time

Strange fascination fascinating me
Ah, changes are taking the pace I'm going through


Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange ch-ch-changes
Oh, look out, you rock and rollers
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange ch-ch-changes
Pretty soon now, you're gonna get older
Time may change me, but I can't trace time
I said that time may change me, but I can't trace time

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

This daughter of Jerusalem is lovely and beautiful as she ascends to heaven like the rising sun at daybreak

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary



Today is the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a Holy Day of Obligation that, like so many others these days in the Western U.S., does NOT fall on the nearest Sunday. So, go to Mass and treat today as you would a Sunday. Since dogmas, like the Assumption, are no small matters of confusion, even among Catholics, take the time to learn about this dogma, which must be believed with divine and catholic faith. A good place to start is with Papa Pacelli's encyclical DEIPARAE VIRGINIS MARIAE ENCYCLICAL OF POPE PIUS XII ON THE POSSIBILITY OF DEFINING THE ASSUMPTION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY AS A DOGMA OF FAITH. Then, of course, the Apostolic Constitution that declares and defines the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary as a dogma, also by Pope Pius XII, is MUNIFICENTISSIMUS DEUS: DEFINING THE DOGMA OF THE ASSUMPTION.

(On a sidenote, I want to draw attention to the very holy man who is Pius XII, perhaps the most maligned man of the 20th century, by directing readers to Society That Thinks Pope Pius XII Rules)


The commemoration of the death of the Blessed Virgin Mary (the Dormition, or falling asleep, as it is known in the East) is known as the Assumption because of the tradition that her body did not decay but that she was bodily raised up into heaven. This tradition was already present in the sixth century; by the beginning of the twentieth century it was widespread; and, in consultation with bishops throughout the world, Pope Pius XII formally and infallibly declared the doctrine of the Assumption to be part of the authentic and ancient doctrine of the universal Church. In a word, it became .
In these difficult days of division and violence, let's not hesitate to call upon our Blessed Mother for peace throughout the world. As Pope Benedict said when speaking of the war in Israel and Lebanon "Thus, in the face of the bitter observation that so far the voices asking for an immediate ceasefire in that tormented region have gone unheard, I feel the urgent need to renew my pressing appeal in this regard, asking everyone to make an effective contribution to build a just and lasting peace. I entrust this renewed appeal to the intercession of the Most Holy Virgin". Even though there is now a cease-fire in place and it appears to be holding Deo gratias, let us still implore the Blessed Virgin for peace whereever there is violence.

Let this be our prayer today, all day:

Ave Maria

Ave, Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum;
benedicta tu in mulieribus,
et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus.
Sancta Maria, mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus,
nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.


Or, in English

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Monday, August 14, 2006

"The soldier above all other people prays for peace . . ."


Today the agreed upon cease-fire between Israel and the terrorist organization, otherwise known as Hezbollah, goes into effect. According the BBC "Fighting ended at 0500 GMT, although in one later clash, Israeli soldiers fired on a group they said were militants. Israel has said its troops will remain in Lebanon until an international peacekeeping force can take control. " U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which the U.N. has yet to post on their website, but is available courtesy of the BBC, is the result of an intense week of diplomacy. Let's hope the U.N. forces are committed to reigning in and disarming Hezbollah.

Despite all of the post-nation-state clap-trap, nation states are for from obsolete. If nothing else, in the age of global terror, the importance of well-governed, sovereign countries has been reinforced. That is why, in addition to Lebanon, both Iraq and Afghanistan need to become such entities. It is no time for timidity on the part these new governments. Of course, the answer for the U.S. is neither to cut-and-run, or to keep repeating the same mistakes. If we states are necessary, then so are statesmen.

My friends, let's pray the cease fire holds and that the heretofore hapless Lebanese army, with help from more advanced troops from various countries, can gain control of their own territory and disarm the terrorists in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559.

The Holy Father Sits and Talks

Benedict's Interview


Thanks to Rocco Palmo over at Whispers in the Loggia for the heads up and link to the English translation of the Holy Father's interview which aired on German television Sunday evening. While encourage everyone to pay a visit to Rocco's blog, I also offer the link to the English translation of the interview for those eager to read it: Pope Benedict XVI: "We Have a Positive Idea to Offer"

A salient quote from His Holiness gives some indication of what the positive idea on offer is, from early in the interview:

"today the West is being strongly influenced by other cultures in which the original religious element is very powerful. These cultures are horrified when they experience the West's coldness towards God. This 'presence of the sacred' in other cultures, even if often veiled, touches the western world again; it touches us at the crossroads of so many cultures. The quest for 'something bigger' wells up again from the depths of western people and in Germany. We see how in young people there's the search for something 'more,' we see how the religious phenomenon is returning, as they say. Even if it's a search that's rather indefinite. But with all this the Church is present once more and faith is offered as the answer."

Friday, August 11, 2006

Saint Clare/Santa Chiara/Santa Clara

San Daminano




Chiara Offreduccio (St. Clare) was born in 1194. She died 11 August 1253. Along with Francesco Bernardone (St. Francis of Assisi), she is considered co-founder of the Franciscan Family. Chiara began to meet with Francesco after hearing him preach during Lent in 1211 at the Cathedral of San Rufino in Assisi. On 28 March 1211 she left her father's house to elope with Jesus Christ. She receive her habit from Francis in the Porziuncola. Afterwards, Chiara lived a cloistered life in San Daminano (pictured above).

So close were their ties that when Francesco died in 1226, his body was brought to San Daminano so Clare could say goodbye to him. Not long after receiving a Bull from Pope Innocent IV granting her and her sisters the Privilege of Poverty, Chiara died. Her holiness was of such renown that she was canonized in 1255. In 1958 Pope Pius XII proclaimed St. Clare the patron saint of television because toward the end of her life, when she was too ill to attend Mass, an image of the service would display on the wall of her cell. Papa Pacelli's Apostolic Letter is available from the Holy See's website, but only in French.

Hagiographers write that when Chiara was in her mother's womb, an angel appeared to her and said, "your child will be a light that will illuminate the world!" According to this legend that is why she was named Chiara, meaning "light." With that I encourage you to link to the lovely daughters of light, the Poor Clares, descendants of the virgin Chiara Offreduccio, living lives of holiness in Virginia eight centuries after her birth into eternal life. Additionally, I urge to visit the blog Canticle of Chiara for a lovely meditation for today's memorial from somebody with whose life Santa Clara is deeply involved.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

A Song for Shabbat

Menucha veSimcha

Keep Praying for the Peace of Jerusalem

From an observant Jewish friend of mine, Shmuel Kuper, who lives in Haifa:

"It's some three weeks now that I skip my daily hour walk. So, last Friday decided to take one. My usuall walk I take in a road with a view to the bay and the Galilee. It being a road with no houses on its side renders it unfit to walk in a time when one has to be all the time close to a shelter. So, I walked last Friday in residential streets, climbing up the Carmel mountain.
The routine is thus. With every step I observe the closest staircase, see if it's not locked with a door and estimate the distance from it to the next available. The goal is to be in any given time as possible as is, to a staircase within 30 seconds of reach, when the siren starts howling."


Psalm 122, 6-9

For the peace of Jerusalem pray: "May those who love you prosper!

May peace be within your ramparts, prosperity within your towers."

For family and friends I say, "May peace be yours."

For the house of the LORD, our God, I pray, "May blessings be yours."

Saint Lawrence (Laurence)/San Lorenzo- Deacon/Servant-Martyr (Witness)

Fra Angelico's St. Lawrence Distributing Alms

One cannot have a blog called Catholic Deacon and pass the Feast of St. Lawrence with no comment. St. Laurence, from the introduction to his feast in the Liturgy of the Hours, "was one of the seven deacons of the Church of Rome and was executed on 10th August 258, four days after [Pope] Sixtus II and his companions. By now, few of the facts of his life are known for certain: he was probably a Spaniard from Toledo. A basilica was built over Laurence’s tomb fifty years after his death, by the Emperor Constantine, and the anniversary of his martyrdom was kept as a solemn feast – with considerably more solemnity than that of Pope Sixtus II (we do not know why). By the sixth century, it was one of the most important feasts throughout much of western Christendom. His name occurs (with Sixtus’s) in the Roman Canon of the Mass."

It bears mentioning again that St. Lawerence was a deacon, a man ordained for nothing but service diakonia. He, along with many of the Roman clergy, including the Pope, was a victim of the Valerian persecution. At the beginning of August in the year 258, the emperor Valerian issued an edict commanding that all bishops, priests, and deacons should immediately be put to death ("episcopi et presbyteriet diacones incontinenti animadvertantur" -- Cyprian, Epist. lxxx, 1). Lawrence was in charge of all the Church of Rome's temporal goods. According to legends of his martyrdom, after being captured by the emperor's soldiers, St. Lawrence was given two days to bring all the treasures to the imperial palace, under penalty of death. Lawrence gathered up the all the diseased, orphaned or crippled Christians, brought them to the palace, and told the startled emperor, "These are the treasures of the church!"

The psalter for Evening prayer this evening begins with Psalm 116, 1-9, which reads: " I was caught by the cords of death; the snares of Sheol had seized me; I felt agony and dread. Then I called on the name of the LORD, 'O LORD, save my life!' Gracious is the LORD and just; yes, our God is merciful. The LORD protects the simple; I was helpless, but God saved me" (4-6). Indeed, the Lord save St. Lawrence who gave his life, in imitation of Jesus Christ, not only in his death, but in his life of service to the Christians of Rome.

It is hard to over emphasize San Lorenzo's importance to the Church of Rome. His Church, known as San Lorenzo fuori le Mura — Saint Lawrence outside the Walls — is one of the most important basilica churches and one of the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome. As such it is a station Church during Lent. The Basilica was built in the 4th century over St. Lawrence's tomb by digging into the catacomb in which he was buried and isolating his shrine so that a church could be built around it. The basilica was restored by Pope Pelagius II (579-590). Pelagius' restored church has been preserved as part of the current structure as the part of the church beyond the altar.


The basilica is the shrine tomb of the church's namesake, Saint Lawrence. Pope Pius IX, awaiting canonization into sainthood, is also buried at the basilica. Italian Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi, a founding father of the European Union also rests in the basilica.

Pray for your deacons, men who, like Lawrence, are ordained for service.

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Sunday, August 6, 2006

The Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

Altar of Transfiguration painting by Raphael, 1520

Today we celebrate the Transfiguration of the Lord. A hot, sunny August day when colors are all a bit white, faded by the heat of the sun's ray in summertime, is a great setting for this feast (at least for those of us in the Northern hemisphere). It is, therefore, worthwhile for a little scriptural reflection/comparison/exegesis on the Gospel texts. To that end, I want to briefly compare this pericope as it appears in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark.

Like all synoptic parallel passages, Matthew and Mark share the same outline and structure. In both of these accounts the event takes place six days after Jesus' first prediction of his passion. On this day Jesus takes Peter, James, and John, who, the author of Matthew tells us is James' brother, "up a high mountain." It is on the mountain that "he [Jesus] is transfigured before them." Both authors describe a change in our Lord's appearance. Mark describes only the dazzling whiteness of his clothes, while Matthew, in addition to describing his clothes, also writes: "his face shone like the sun." In both accounts the disciples, while beholding Jesus' glowing transformation, also see Moses and the prophet Elijah "talking" with him.

Upon seeing this, Peter, in both versions, proposes building three "dwellings" on the mountain: one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. In both narratives a cloud overshadows the disciples and a voice from the cloud speaks. The voice identifies Jesus as "my Son" as well as "the Beloved." Peter, James, and John are given the emphatic directive "listen to him!" In Matthew's telling the voice also says it is "well pleased" with the Beloved, the Son.

It is in the responses of the disciples to the transfiguration that significant differences begin to emerge between these two tellings. In Mark's account Peter is "terrified" by what he witnesses. He seems to make his suggestion about erecting the dwellings because, as the author of Mark writes, "He did not know what [else?] to say." This would make Peter's suggestion far less pious than that of Matthew's awestruck Peter.

The reactions of the disciples to the cloud experience also interestingly differ. In Matthew's story, after hearing the voice, the disciples "fell to the ground and were overcome by fear." Jesus tells them to "get up" and "not to be afraid." By contrast, the story found in the Gospel of Mark, after hearing the voice, the three "looked around" and "saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus." Subtle differences can also be seen as Jesus and the three disciples walk down the mountain. In both accounts Peter, James, and John are "ordered" by Jesus to tell nobody what has occurred until after his death and resurrection. Mark's disciples, despite the preceding prediction of the passion, are left "questioning what the rising from the dead could mean." Compare that to the understanding reception of Jesus' words by Matthew's three. They seem to know what Jesus is talking about, even before the issue of the return of Elijah preceding the advent of the Messiah is raised. From Jesus' answer to the query they comprehend that John the Baptist is Elijah and so what had been revealed on the road to Caesarea-Phillipi is only reaffirmed. Summarily, the differences between the two accounts is that Mark's features much more human disciples and a less wordy, less regal, and, hence, more human Jesus.

Saturday, August 5, 2006

Praise for God's Loving Compassion

It is a beautiful morning here along the Western foothills of the Wasatch Front. As I contemplate all that needs to be done today, especially in our yard, I first, along with St. Paul, "affirm that . . . the Gentile peoples are to praise God because of his mercy" (Rom 15,8-9). God's mercy is Jesus Christ, through whom, Paul writes elsewhere in Romans, we are grafted into God's Holy People.

Psalm 117, the shortest Psalm of them all, from Lauds this morning, is how this Gentile chooses to praise God this day:

1 Praise the LORD, all you nations! Give glory, all you peoples!
2 The LORD'S love for us is strong; the LORD is faithful forever. Hallelujah!

Write this prayer on your heart today and recite as you go about your activities, especially your chores. In this way you'll heed St. Paul's exhortation to "Pray without ceasing". Utter a prayer or two for the peace of Israel and throughout the world. God offers us His peace, Jesus Christ.

Friday, August 4, 2006

St. Peter's Basilica

I have to add my hearty endorsement to the many that have already been published to R.A. Scotti's book on the history of St. Peter's entitled Basilica. It is a masterfully written history of Christendom's main church from its conception by Nicholas V to its dedication. It is not a thorough history and there are a few minor errors, detectable only by those who really know Rome and/or Roman history. But her chronology is correct as are her portraits of the main characters in this drama- Julius II, Michangelo, Raphael, and some of the unsung players without whom we would either have no basilica, or one not nearly as grand. It is also a well-written, popular book on the Renaissance and the transition from the Renaissance to the Counter-Reformation. While a Catholic book through-and-through, Scotti does a decent job of discussing the corruption of the Renaissance Church, the sources of her corruption, and attempts at Reform, such as Luther's, which one in particular was due in no small part to his visit to Rome and the trafficking in indulgences to pay for the construction of St. Peter's Basilica. This book, along with James Martin, S.J.'s My Life With The Saints are two of the best popular books I have read this year.

Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem

Honoring the day our Lord was crucified for the sins of the world, for our own sins, and to reconcile a broken creation to God's infinite holiness, Fridays are, traditionally for Catholics, days of abstinence, penance, and prayer. Penance flows, as Hebrews 6,6 hints, from the realization that we are guilty of blood of Christ; that our sins nailed Him to the Cross. Eamon Duffy, eminent Church historian, wrote an article a few years back in The Tablet on fasting and abstinence that critically asks, Why is Friday no longer a day of fasting and abstinence?

So, in a spirit of penance let us pray for peace throughout the world, for justice and security for all peoples, for the peace of Israel. Might I recommend praying in particular Psalm 130 and Psalm 83. Asking Christians to pray Psalm 83 may seem a bit odd, as it calls up God to wipe out the enemies of Israel. But, whether God changes the hearts of those attacking Israel, or allows Israel to defend itself we can leave to God. It is important to note that militant Islam, of the kind espoused by Hebollah, is an enemy of Christianity, too. Militant Islam has been disastrous for Palestinian Christians and Arabic Christians throughout the Middle East, either forcing conversions or emigration. Let's call not mince words, unprovoked attacks, especially on exclusively civilian targets, is evil. We should pray for an end such evil.

Thursday, August 3, 2006

Year B 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Isa 43,18-19.21-22, 24b-25; Ps 41,2-5. 13-14; 2 Cor 1,18-22; Mk 2,1-12

Introduction

Today’s readings give us an opportunity to look forward to Lent by drawing our attention to the need each one of us has to be forgiven. Our attention is drawn to the sacraments in general and to the sacrament of reconciliation in particular. For the sacraments truly constitute the economy of salvation. If the sacraments are so important for our salvation, it follows that the Church, our Holy Mother, from whom we receive divine nourishment, is also necessary to attain the end for which we are created.

The Church in the economy of salvation

The Church is a hierarchy. A hierarchy is not, as some would have us believe, an oppressive, patriarchal order. At its most basic, it is a sacred ordering. Our Holy Father, in his homily on the occasion of his installation as Bishop of Rome, said regarding hierarchy: “Presiding in doctrine and presiding in love must . . . be one and the same: the whole of the Church's teaching leads ultimately to love.” Love, therefore, “is the criterion for all teaching” (Benedict Installation Homily- 7 May 2005)

To this end, theologian Hans urs von Balthasar, observes: “the entire structure of the Church, from the Petrine ministry to humblest parish pastorate, exists for one purpose: making saints.” “The ultimate reason for her whole institutional structure and objective side,” writes Balthasar, is “the obligatory vocation to subjective and personal sanctity” (The Saints of John Paul II by Philip Zaleski in First Things #161). This universal call to holiness is seen even more clearly in the document Lumen Gentium, written and promulgated during the Second Vatican Council. Referring to the sacraments, the Council Fathers write: “Fortified by . . . such powerful means of salvation, all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord, each in his own way, to that perfect holiness to that perfect holiness whereby the Father Himself is perfect” (LG 11). It also must be noted that the Church herself is "the universal sacrament of salvation" (Gaudium et Spes 45). Holiness, as each of us knows from our own experience, is not a state we can achieve through our own efforts. Hence, we pray with the psalmist, “Lord, heal my soul, for I have sinned against you” (Ps 41,5). We need God’s help to attain holiness. The name for this undeserved help is grace.

The Sacraments in the economy of salvation

That it is the hallmark of our divine and catholic faith that the sacraments are the means God uses to communicate grace to us is beyond dispute. However, by holding this we do not restrict God, for the Spirit blows where it will (Jn 3,8) The sacraments are sure means of receiving what God so desperately wants to give us. So, rather than have to exercise subjective and uncertain judgment about where and how God is working, the sacraments give us certainty.

At its most basic the economy of salvation is the ordinary and objective way God sanctifies us. In today’s second reading Paul is forced to defend his apostolic ministry. He makes his defense in a way that aids us in understanding the economy of salvation. In this passage, Paul uses commercial images to describe how the Holy Spirit works in the lives of believers. The seals that are affixed to merchandise signify ownership and identity- like designer labels on clothing today. The seal of the Spirit functions the same. It marks us as belonging to God. The seal of the Spirit also acts as a pledge of deposit, a guarantee of future blessings. The sacraments, especially baptism, and confirmation are what mark us by placing the seal of the Spirit on us, as well as being a deposit on the future blessing of life eternal.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation in the sacramental economy

We come now to the main point of today’s readings, which aids us in preparing for the holy season of Lent. This instruction also informs us of the roles confession and reconciliation play in the sacramental economy. In order to receive the graces God gives us in and through the sacraments, we must receive the sacraments worthily. In other words, we should be in a state of grace when receiving the sacraments, especially eucharist- the sacrament of sacraments- of which, St. Paul writes, one “should examine himself first; only then should he eat of the bread and drink of the cup . . ." (1 Cor 11, 28). The exceptions to this are, of course, the sacraments of baptism and reconciliation.

We are baptized only once. It is, therefore, through confession of our sins in the sacrament of reconciliation that we receive God’s forgiveness for sins committed after baptism. In this sacrament we realize what Isaiah writes about in our first reading. In this passage Isaiah writes powerfully of the regeneration that God effects. Rivers flow in the desert, bringing life to an otherwise fairly lifeless place. God brings water “to give drink to [his] chosen people” (Isa 43,20). The water of which Isaiah writes is a metaphor for God’s mercy and forgiveness. God wants to do something new in each of our lives. To this end, he provides a way to wipe out our sins and to remember them no more (Isa 43,25), thus giving us a new start.

Sin is a concrete reality and one Jesus calls us to confront in an honest and forthright way, as he does so boldly and unexpectedly in today’s Gospel. We kill the divine, Trinitarian life God shares with us by our deliberate failure to keep the promises each of us made at our baptism, in which we “reject sin so as to live in the freedom of God’s children.”

In our readings from Mark’s Gospel over the past several Sundays we have read about Jesus healing the sick and casting out demons. In today’s Gospel we have something like a convergence of these two aspects of Jesus’ ministry when he first forgives the sins of the paralytic man, dispelling the evil he is plagued by, and only then curing his paralysis, which, it is important to note, is not caused by his sinfulness. Let us also note the eagerness of the man to receive what only Jesus Christ can give him.

Oh, my dear friends, that we should be so eager to receive the peace and joy found in the sacrament of reconciliation! By first saying, “Child, your sins are forgiven” (Mk 2,5), Jesus sees the man’s need for forgiveness as a more urgent need than the curing of his paralysis. Indeed, the greatest disability, the most debilitating disease from which we can suffer is sin.

In this currently neglected, but nonetheless necessary, sacrament, sanctifying grace, which is lost through sin, is restored. In confession the priest acts in the person of Christ by absolving our sins. This is done on the same authority that Jesus forgives the paralytic man. Christ, by virtue of his divinity, is this authority. He, in turn, gave it to his apostles, from whom it is handed on, literally, by the conferral of the sacrament of holy orders when a man is ordained a priest.

Lest anyone think this is an outdated, outmoded, or no longer necessary way of understanding how God chooses to share and restore divine life within us, let us turn again to Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium: “Those who approach the sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from the mercy of God for the offence committed against Him and are at the same time reconciled with the Church, which they have wounded by their sins, and which by charity, example, and prayer seeks their conversion” (LG 11).

Conclusion

If anyone believes in Jesus Christ and yet struggles with the necessity of confession, let him/her answer the question posed by Jesus today: “Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk’” ((Mk 2,11)? In answering the question keep in mind that it was only because of the hardness of the hearts of those who refused to believe that he caused the man to walk, but it was out of divine love and mercy that Jesus forgave his sins. As to how God’s power is made most manifest, consider what the late Christian songwriter, Rich Mullins sang: “It took the hand of almighty God to part the waters of the sea, but it only took one little lie to separate you and me." My friends, we are not as strong or self-sufficient as we often think we are (Rich Mullins, We Are not as Strong as We Think We Are).

St. Mary Magdalene

Here is a link to the article in our local Catholic newspaper, The Intermountian Catholic, on the lecture I gave almost two weeks ago: "St. Mary Magdalene celebrated in music and word." Again, a lot to say and write the Apostle to the Apostles. I will try to get my notes together and publish some of what I said.

Occasional Note

I've been incredibly busy this summer. But the good news is I am now able to the reader to those sites which help shape my daily view of the world. To point out the obvious, a lot has been going on that I would like to write about. My main area of pre-occupation is the Israeli-Hezbollah stand-off, which has shown that the Vatican needs a new take on the Middle East. The best short commentary I have found on this is Joseph Bottom, editor of First Things, writing in The Weekly Standard. As usual, Italian Vaticanista, Sandro Magister, weighs in with thoughtful criticism on the matter and does a fine job of illustrating the subtle, gentle, yet firm way Benedict XVI is getting a grip on ecclesiam ad extra by continuing to show the folly of Cardinal Sodano's deeply flawed view of the world. in two articles published in Chiesa Israel Is Fighting for its Life, but the Vatican "Deplores" a and At the Summit on the Middle East, Benedict XVI Preaches the Cross of Jesus.

Alas, I haven't time at present to write my own coherent thoughts on the matter, but will soon, God willing. As far as war and ethics, a particular and personal concern of mine, Michael Walzer, a philosopher at Princeton and one of the people responsible for the revival of Just War Theory in during our long involvement in Vietnam. In War Fair, he makes some points regarding how Israel is conducting its response to Hebollah's provocation, lest I get too one-sided. This is not to take the heat off Hezbollah, whose tactics are from the get-go are contrary to all laws of war and ethics, including Islamic morals. Despite decisions to attack civilian infrastructure, Israel is trying to attack only mlitary targets, which is made difficult due to Hezbollah hiding behind civilians, including women and children and using a hospital as a communications and logistics center. Providing these links should give the thoughtful Catholic much to ponder while we, in union with the Holy Father, "entrust this sorrowful petition to the intercession of Mary, Mother of the Prince of Peace and Queen of Peace, so venerated in Mideast countries, where we hope to see soon reign this reconciliation for which the Lord Jesus has offered his precious Blood."

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Year B 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: 2 Kgs 4,42-44; Ps -145, 10-11. 15-18; Eph 4,1-6; Jn 6,1-15

In today’s Psalm response we sang: "The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs" (Ps 145). This calls to mind St. Jerome’s comparison of reading the Scriptures with eating the Eucharist: "In reading the Bible," Jerome writes, "the Fathers did not read the texts, but the living Christ, and Christ spoke to them. They consumed the Word with the Eucharistic bread and wine." He continues, "I believe that . . . the Scriptures, the divine doctrine, are truly the body and blood of Christ" (James Wallace, Preaching to the Hungers of the Heart: The Homily on the Feasts and within the Rites, pg 11). To that end, the recounting of the feeding of the 5,000, in today’s gospel certainly feeds us because it deepens our understanding of Eucharist of communion, which "is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows.(Sacrosanctum Concilium 10).

It is important to note that this week the sequence of gospel readings shifts. Since Trinity Sunday we have been reciting St. Mark’s Gospel. Since Mark’s is the shortest Gospel John’s is not the subject of a year’s cycle of Sunday readings, the Johannine text is used during Year B. John’s account of the feeding of the 5,000 is inserted into the same place in the lectionary that would otherwise be occupied by Mark’s recounting of this same event. So, beginning with today’s Gospel, we will remain in chapter six of John, examining this profound Eucharistic discourse, for three additional Sundays after next week’s observance of our Lord’s Transfiguration.

Before engaging John’s Eucharistic discourse head-on, our first reading deserves attention. This passage from 2 Kings, paired with today’s Gospel, is a wonderful example of "God . . . wisely [arranging] . . . the New Testament [to be] hidden in the Old and the Old [to be] made manifest in the New" (Dei Verbum 16). The likely setting for this story is the shrine of Gilgal. In the early years of Israel’s history, before the construction of the temple, the prophets, who were attached to these shrines, such as the one at Gilgal, acted as intermediaries between worshipers and God. The man who presents the offering comes from the village of Baal-shalishah, which indicates a village devoted to Baal, the Canaanite god of fertility. One of the chief tasks of prophets, like Elisha, in the central highlands of Israel during this time, was to keep the cult of the God of Israel pure. Elements of the cult of Baal were often invoked, even by Israelite farmers, in this part of the country. In fact, it was not unusual for Israelite farmers to offer their first fruits to Baal. The unidentified man in this story goes to Gilgal to offer his first fruits, through Elisha, to the God of Israel.

First fruits were offered to God because they were considered the best and freshest –the portion of the harvest that possessed the most vibrant force of life. In all likelihood, the offering of bread, made by the man to Elisha, was, in turn, to be offered to God as the "bread of the presence," which was kept at the shrine for a time and then eaten by, and only by, those who served there. But Elisha, in a highly unusual gesture, directs that bread and grain be given to the people who had gathered at the shrine (2 Kgs 4,42). Our question, then, is, Why would the prophet do such a thing? Only something as serious as famine and the resulting hunger would have justified such a serious violation of cultic regulation. Predictably and understandably others who ministered at the shrine objected (2 Kgs 4,43). Their objections were likely on two grounds: violation of cultic regulation and giving away the food offerings intended for them, which was not enough, they objected, to feed "a hundred people." But Elisha, speaking for the LORD, says, "They shall eat and there shall be some left over" (2 Kgs 4,43) and so it was. In addition to being proof of God’s bounteous generosity, this narrative makes an important, even crucial, link between our worship and the rest of our lives, between orthodoxy (correct belief) and orthopraxis (correct practice), between loving God and loving our neighbor.

We turn now to John’s Gospel. It is from John’s account of our Lord’s crucifixion that interpreters have seen in the water and blood flowing from Christ’s pierced side symbols of the birth of the Church as well as the life and nourishment Christ provides through Baptism and Eucharist. The Gospel of St. John, therefore, shows a strong interest in sacraments and links them to the Jewish feasts – as in today’s passage.

Today’s Gospel shows us that Jesus had a mesmerizing effect on crowds of his fellow Jews. Many followed him from place-to-place. Of those who followed him around, many did this less out of faith than out of the hope that they would witness a miracle. In this passage there is no indication that people had come to listen to Jesus, this is validated by the fact that Jesus offers no teaching. Unlike many of Jesus’ miracles, this one is not in response to a request. Jesus feeds the people, not because they were hungry, as in the case of Elisha. Knowing their weak faith, Jesus reaches out to the people with a sign they can immediately grasp: he feeds them. By giving them more than they could eat, our Lord does not merely meet their needs, he far exceeds them. Imitating our Lord, we must resist the temptation to respond only to people’s physical needs. This means that Christian charitable activity cannot leave Christ aside because, as our Holy Father points out, "Often the deepest cause of suffering is the very absence of God" (Deus Caritas Est 31c). If we do not offer Christ, we short-change those we serve.

Linking this event to the Passover and the feast of Unleavened Bread relates it directly to our first reading. These two festivals commemorated two important events in Israel’s history: the release from Egyptian bondage and the first harvest after their arrival in the land of promise. These were celebrations of both remembrance and anticipation. They celebrated saving events of the past and they looked forward in hope to the Messianic age. This age is revealed by Jesus in the miracle of the loaves.

John relates that Jesus took the barley loaves and the fish and "gave thanks." The Greek word used for "gave thanks" is eucharisteo. The crowds wonder whether Jesus is "the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world." Today's passage shows that Jesus doesn't reflect just one prophetic voice or presence. He sums up all the prophets because, like them, he shows that God notices the hungry, the little ones and those treated unfairly and has sent prophets like Elisha, Moses and ultimately Jesus to meet their deepest needs. Jesus and the prophets provided bread for the hungry and so must we. Good works are thanksgiving- eucharist- for what God has given us in Christ.

Our Holy Father writes in his recent encyclical: "I cannot possess Christ just for myself; I can belong to him only in union with all those who have become . . . his own. Communion draws me out of myself toward him, and thus also toward unity with all Christians. We become 'one body,' completely joined in a single existence." For in and through the Eucharist "love of God and love of neighbor are . . . truly united" (Deus Caritas Est 14).