Saturday, September 30, 2006

"Does anybody love anybody anyway?" H. Jones


Even though the sculpture above may, at first glance, smack more of eros than agapé, we must keep in mind that in Christian marriage, eros is tempered and ultimately transformed into agapé. Anyway, below is the last paragraph of a wedding homily I completed this morning, in which I seek, in my own limited way, to do some justice to agapé in the realm of marriage.

Dear friends, I have spoken to you a lot about agapé. So, you might be asking, just what is it? What is the succinct definition of this strange, Greek word? To answer that question we need look no further than the reading from St. John’s gospel (Jn 15,12-15) which you have chosen for this, your special day. Agapé means laying down your lives for each other. Agapé always calls you beyond yourselves to live for each other. In marriage you are the ministers of the sacrament. It is by freely giving your consent that your life together will become a sacrament. The sacrament of your marriage only begins today. After today and for the rest of your lives, your marriage is your vocation, the calling God gives you. Just as some are called to be priests, nuns, brothers, and even deacons, you are called to be each other’s spouse and the parents of your children. This calls on you to pour yourselves out in service to each other, your children, your families and friends. When people see the two of you, they are to see Christ. Now, this is a very tall order. Be assured of God’s grace. Grace is nothing more than God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - sharing divine life with you. The divine life God shares with us to strengthen us in our vocations can, once again, be summed up by the one word- love. St. John tells us elsewhere, "everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. . . . for God is love" (1 Jn 4,8).

Friday, September 29, 2006

No Frills Friday


Fridays, on which we commemorate the death of the Lord, have long been days for special works of penance. Recalling Christ's Passion and death on Good Friday, all Fridays have special significance in this regard, just as Sundays, even during Lent, are always celebrations of our Lord's Resurrection. In imitation of Jesus' self-denial and offering of himself, we are invited to enter into the Christ event by our own free choice. This is done by foregoing food, either by fasting or abstaining from meat, bearing humiliations- letting things go that we might otherwise contest, and forgiving those who injure us. It is also a good day to examine our consciences in preparation for Saturday confession. While these are all things we do, our actions are merely a way of cooperating with the grace imparted by the Holy Spirit, the agent of all spiritual transformation. It should be done with a spirit of quiet joy. "For Christians", the U.S. Bishops remind us in their pamphlet Penitential Practices for Today's Catholics, "suffering and joy are not incompatible".

Here is more from our Bishops on penitential practices on Friday:

"Fridays Throughout the Year - In memory of Christ's suffering and death, the Church prescribes making each Friday throughout the year a penitential day. All of us are urged to prepare appropriately for that weekly Easter that comes each Sunday".

Prepare today for Sunday. Do it quietly and with much prayer, pray Psalm 51, beginning with verses 3 and 4, in which we pray:

"Have mercy on me, God, in your goodness; in your abundant compassion blot out my offense. Wash away all my guilt; from my sin cleanse me".

To deal with any neurosis that might arise as to Friday practices, perform your Friday penitential practices according to the liturgical day, sundown Thursday to sundown Friday. This is a small thing, but when one gets serious about living in a spiritual manner, it is amazing the little scruples that can disturb us.

I know it is already Friday morning. So, start now and go to sunset. Always remember, we earn nothing and that "it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil 2,13). We are merely trying, through our practices, to tune into God's frequency, clear some space for God to work, be more conscious of what God is already doing and conform ourselves, as disciples, to the Master, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Middle Eastern Sources

In my professional life it is my job to study and know about other societies and cultures. From time-to-time I pass along to professional colleagues the best fruits of my endeavors. I took the opportunity to do this today. So, with no further adieu, here is a reading list, which includes novels in the firm belief that literature is a gateway into any culture, one can use to gain basic insight into the contemporary Middle East.





Non-Fiction

What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response, by Bernard Lewis
The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror, by Bernard Lewis
Islam: A Short History, by Karen Armstrong
Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Michael B. Oren
Ataturk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey, by Andrew Mango
Just War Against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World, by Jean Bethke Elshtain
The Foreigner's Gift: The Americans, the Arabs, and the Iraqis in Iraq, by Fouad Ajami
Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide, by Bat Ye'or
The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude : Seventh-Twentieth Century, by Bat Ye'or


Literature

Israel/Palestine
Gate of the Sun, by Elias Khoury
A Woman in Jerusalem, a novel by A.B. Yehoshua

Turkey/Afghanistan/Iran
Snow, a novel by Orhan Pamuk
Istanbul: Memories and the City, a memoir by Orhan Pamuk
My Name is Red, a novel by Orhan Pamuk
The Kite Runner, a novel by Khaled Hosseini
The Satanic Verses, a novel by Salmon Rushdie
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, by Azar Nafisi

While there is much profitable reading not on this list, and no bibliography is complete, I have found the above books to be invaluable the past year or so.

Here is one nugget that speaks directly to the recent l'affaire Paleologos, taken from Bernard Lewis’ What Went Wrong?:

"The Moroccan al-Wansharisi, considering the case of Spain, posed what turned out to be a purely hypothetical question: if the Christian government is tolerant and allows them to practice their religion, may [a Muslim] then stay? His answer was that in that case it is all the more important for them to leave, because under a tolerant government, the danger of apostasy is greater" (pg, 36).

Currently I am infatuated with the works of Orhan Pamuk, a Turkish author whose prose is beautiful and insights profound. Of the three works of his recommended on my list, I highly suggest Snow. If you need further encouragement, follow this link to Andrei Codrescu'sreview on All Things Considered. Go to http://www.npr.org/ select All Things Considered from the left-hand drop down and type Pamuk in the right-hand search field. Select
"A Poet Returns to Turkey". Then, as with Andrei, pour yourself a nice drink and listen.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Chaos Theory


Well, life here is getting crazy. The timing seems about right: school has been back in session for about a month, the weather has turned a bit chilly, and the activities seem to keep piling up. Add to that a touch of the cold going around, children wanting to stay up past bedtime (knowing that wake-up time doesn't change) and you have a lot of weirdness and, not just potential for, but actual conflict. So crazy have things been at our house that last night and this morning have seen meltdowns a plenty. Lest I seem too detached and objective, I made my contribution to the chaos by having a meltdown last night about 8:30 pm. and chastising a whining child this morning. My point? Family life and parenting in particular are not for the weak and we need God's grace so badly to live this vocation.

The good news is God gives us what we need, even when we fail to live up to our own ideal of what a parent, a spouse, a friend, a Christian brother or sister should be. Besides, our ideals are often misguided fantasies that easily lead us astray. They become clubs we use to beat ourselves and others who don't conform to our ideal. The question remains, while we know we can rely on God, are we giving the grace we receive in a true movement of loving God and, not even our neighbor, but our spouse and children, or brothers and sisters?

If we receive grace, which by its very definition means we do not earn or deserve it, we must not only be gracious ourselves, but, like God, we must be gratuitous. At times when we are swamped by the waves of life, the best way to give grace is by forgiving and, when we've clearly been in the wrong (spouses, parents, and older children all know what I am writing about here), by saying we're sorry and asking to be forgiven. Humility is difficult. We all like to nurse our grudges and store up our grievances for use later on, or just to make ourselves feel morally superior. Our faith in and desire follow the Lord Jesus disallows such strategies. Those simple, yet difficult, things make all the difference in the world to a marriage, a family, a friendship, a parish, or church. To paraphrase Leo Tolstoy: "everybody thinks of changing the world, but nobody thinks of changing himself".

So, this morning, for all you parents and spouses out there feeling swamped and overwhelmed by the ordinary, we're all in this together. In the old Catholic formulation, let us "offer it up". Offer what up, you might ask? Our suffering, anguish, and, yes, our anger. By the way, don't forget to laugh at your own overwrought reactions. I think most of us have a penchant for ridiculous at times.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Benedict's Prophetic Message: Speaking the Truth in Love

Sandro Magister, the great Italian Vaticanisti, has picked up a point I made in my Averroes/Aquinas post. Now, I am not suggesting that Magister reads my blog, but I still find it strange that the Averroes/Aquinas/reason connection was not made earlier than it was and, to date, by nobody to my knowledge except Magister and I. Here is the relevant quote from Magsiter's article, which appeared in the Italian news magazine L'Expresso, no. 38, 2006, entitled, Why Benedict XVI did not want to fall silent or backpedal:

"In Regensburg, the pope exalted the greatness of the Greek philosophy of Aristotle and Plato. He demonstrated that this is an integral part of biblical and Christian faith in the God who is 'Logos.' And he also did this deliberately. When Paleologos held his dialogue with his Persian counterpart, Islamic culture had just emerged from its happiest period, when Greek philosophy had been grafted onto the trunk of Qur’anic faith. In asking Islam today to rekindle the light of Aristotelian reason, Benedict XVI is not asking for the impossible. Islam has had its Averroes, the great Arab commentator on Aristotle who was treasured by such a giant of Catholic theology as was Thomas Aquinas. A return, today, to the synthesis between faith and reason is the only way for Islamic interpretation of the Qur’an to free itself from its fundamentalist paralysis and from obsession with 'jihad.' And it is the only ground for authentic dialogue between the Muslim world and the Christianity of the West."

The rest of the article and articles that appear as the latest offering on the website Chiesa (link on the left of this page) are worth reading to see what is in play with Benedict, that this was not just a mistake, but a deliberate attempt to, in Magister's words,"The dialogue with Islam that [Benedict XVI] he wants to create is not made of fearful silences and ceremonial embraces. It is not made of mortifications which, in the Muslim camp, are interpreted as acts of submission. The citation he made in Regensburg, from the "Dialogues with a Mohammedan" written at the end of the fourteenth century by the Christian participant in the dialogue, the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologos, was deliberate choice".

In fact, so deliberate were Benedict's words that outgoing Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who accompanied Benedict on his trip and who, as previously scheduled, was replaced upon Benedict's return to Rome by Ratzinger confidante Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, SDB, was not allowed to preview the lecture in advance. Why? Because, according Magister, "Whole sections of the text would have been censored". Do not mistake Benedict's words as an unintended blunder, nor as a provocation to violence and conflict. The Manuel II Paleologos quote and subsequent commentary was calculated in order to request that contemporary Islam place its own limit on jihad, that they separate violence from faith, as does the Qu'ran, and that Islam reconnect faith with reason, a la Averroes and others.

Dog is God spelled backwards

A little over a week ago we adopted a dog, Megara, from the animal shelter during one of their adopt-a-pet weekends. My children have been asking me for years for a dog. Up until then I had always given them some very practical, fatherly, reason for not getting a dog. In reality, I was traumatized at age 11, when my pet dog, Nikki, ate lawn fertilizer and died. I found her lying on the sidewalk paralyzed. I picked her up and ran screaming and crying to my house. Neither of my parents were home, just me and my sisters. My oldest sister, Stacey, called a neighbor and we rushed her to a vet. It was too late. Nikki died. I was absolutely grief-stricken. I remember, at age 11, thinking how can I love a damn dog that much? I suppose I wanted to spare my children any such trauma.

Well, we have had Meg for a little over a week. She is a German Shepherd/Golden retriever mix. She is demure, sweet, quiet, obedient and a lovely creature. By adopting her, we rescued her from certain death. When we got her she had been in the shelter 3 months. All the shelter workers and volunteers loved her because of her sweetness. But time was drawing neigh for this lovely creature. So, I suppose my reason for relenting was to spare my children the trauma of knowing the dog would die if we did not bring her home. Does that make me a sucker? It doesn’t, just a Dad.


She was born and raised (she is 3 or 4 years-old) on a farm in Central Utah. She was neglected and starved. She was also abused, most likely by a man. She is scared of me, but she is warming up. Yesterday afternoon, for example, after we lay on the back lawn together, I brought her back in the house. After a little while I called her to me. She just stood, looking at me, looking like she wanted to come to me but wasn't quite sure she can yet trust me. It occurred to me that that is often how I am with God. God calls me to him, but I hold back, scared. I count the cost of going to God instead of just trusting him. I should be more like God, both with my dog and my children. That means being loving and patient and never, never giving up or letting them go. For anyone who's been a parent, or a child for that matter, that is easier said/written than done. "Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love" (1 Jn 4,7b-8).

Monday, September 25, 2006

Fr. M. Louis, O.C.S.O.- Smile!

Tom Merton


On this blog I have been slowly introducing members of what my mentor, Deacon Owen Cummings, taught me to call my community of the heart. You have met on these pages Edward Schillebeeckx, OP (what a cool last name!), my dear and beloved W for Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein, Friedrich Nietzsche (two more really cool last names- I think I'm jealous because both my first and last names are only one syllable), and, in an oblique way, San Francesco d'Assisi, and Chiara Offreduccio, known popularly in English as St. Clare, or, in Spanish, as Santa Clara. In future and in no particular order or set period of time, I will provide a more thorough introduction to Francesco Bernardone (i.e., St. Francis), Madeleine Delbrel, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Joris Karl Huysmans, and a few others. An eclectic bunch? You bet!!! It all seems a bit self-indulgent. But, then maintaining a blog is a bit self-indulgent.

Now that I see them side-by-side in print, it is hard to escape the cool last name linkage- weird. Is there a therapist reading this? Of course I am just off-kilter enough to both notice (in which I am certain I am not alone) and stupid enough (which my mentor, OC, once pointed out is remediable) to mention that therapist is a compound word.

One member of my community-of-the-heart, who does not have an exotic last-name and about whom I am reluctant to share, is Frater/Pater Tom- Thomas Merton, or, his religious name, Fr. Mary Louis. No, not Mary Clarence, Mary Louis. Why am I reluctant? There is so much written on him and about him that it seems unfair to pile on. When the Merton Center opened up at Bellarmine College in Louisville, Kentucky, near Gethsemani Abbey, where Frater Tom was a cloistered monk, he remarked, "It is a good place to cut a fart and run" How can you NOT love him? He means so much to me in a way mere words could never express. So much so, that when the topic of Merton arises I adhere to dear W's seventh proposition from the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: "What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence".

Anyway, I mention Frater Tom today because one of his deepest insights was, just be yourself. How often in prayer before God do we try to be Pious Pete or Petunia? If you're anything like me, too often. Though, it is pious Pete for me. My insecurities and dishonesty haven't yet caused me to impersonate a female in prayer. When I catch myself doing this the words of Michael Palin, of Monty Python fame, come to my mind, "I'm afraid God sees through such a cheap trick". Indeed, God does. Deo gratias!

My point in all this? Being ourselves, not just in prayer, but in all things, is just as important as being quiet. In so doing I not only create a space, or open a channel, through which God can communicate with me, but I am the me with whom God wishes to communicate, the me God has created for communion, both with him and with others. Communio.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

RCIA Blog

You may have noticed that I deleted a post from this blog. It has not disappeared. I re-posted it on The Cathedral of the Madeleine RCIA Blog. So, with no further adieu, I direct you that spot. It just began today, but will soon be buzzing with activities from our team of posters.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Disciplines of Jesus' Disciples: Sacred Solitude

Silence is a prerequisite to prayer. Solitude is necessary for silence. My own definition of solitude is intentionally being alone so that in silence one can be open to God. So, to enter into the Silence each day requires making an intentional effort to be alone. We have to just do it; making an appointment with God.

Of course, it is true that we can pray anywhere and should pray always. I will address some ways to do that in a later post on the discipline of Prayer. Making this daily intentional effort is called discipline. It is something our Lord himself practiced: Matt 14,23; Mk 6,46 Lk 6,12; Lk 9,18. As disciples, we practice what is taught us by our Master.

So, I urge you all to practice solitude this weekend, on both days. This may mean getting up an hour before everybody else, or staying up a bit later. Each day set aside half-an-hour to be alone with God. Begin by putting yourself in God's presence. Go to a quite place and just sit, breath, listen to the wind, your heartbeat, the hum of the electric light, whatever the "sounds of silence" are. Wait for God to communicate with you before replying. In this take a lesson from Scripture, 1 Kings 19,11-12, in which God says to Elijah "'Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.' Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence"

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Christians & Muslims must Worship God and "promote peace, liberty, social justice and moral values for the benefit of all humanity"

Averroes


What can we, as individual believers, do in the wake of recent upheavals throughout the Muslim world? We can pray and work to bring about peace among all people in the circumstances of own lives. We should pray and work for mutual understanding and dialogue between Christians and Muslims, as well as between Christians and everybody else. Prayer is so important to the spiritual life that its importance cannot be overestimated. This point was even made clearer to me after a comment was forwarded to me for inclusion as commentary on one of my posts on l’affaire Paleologus. The quote was entirely unacceptable, which is why it was not posted. Neither the Holy Father’s comments nor my commentary are intended to insult Islam or Muslims. Both are a plea for the right use of reason, which leads to mutual respect and understanding, while recognizing the legitimate differences between us.

Neither Greek thought nor right reason (i.e., rationality) is foreign to Islam. In fact, Aristotle’s thought was largely preserved in Islam and reintroduced into the Christian West via Ibn Rushd, known better as Averroes. Averroes is quoted frequently by Saint Thomas Aquinas. In fact, in so high a regard is this Islamic thinker (i.e., Averroes) held by the Angelic Doctor (i.e., Aquinas), he is referred to by St. Thomas as simply "The Commentator," while the "The Philosopher" for Aquinas is Aristotle. Averroes' work on Aristotle is extensive. He wrote commentaries on most of Aristotle's works. The notable exception being Politics, to which he did not have access. Hebrew translations of his work also have had a lasting impact on Jewish Philosophy.


Aquinas
Just as faith building on reason is not foreign to Islam, the misconstrual of God’s nature, primarily rooted in the nominalism of John Duns Scotus, especially among Protestant reformers "who," in he words of Ryan T. Anderson, "sought to create a Christianity untethered to philosophical truths of what they considered a 'foreign' [one thinks of Karl Barth] philosophical system." Benedict, in his lecture, said that such a misconstrual of God’s nature leads "to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness."

This leads us back to prayer, through which we open ourselves to God and experience God; his truth, goodness, and beauty. We pray for the recovery of an understanding of God, rooted in human reason as expressed in Greek Philosophy, which inheritance we share with Muslims who, along with us and the Jewish people, "adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men" (Nostra Aetate, 3).

In today’s General Audience, the Holy Father, alluding to his lecture said:

"I spoke on the relationship between faith and reason. I included a quotation on the relationship between religion and violence. This quotation, unfortunately, lent itself to possible misunderstanding. In no way did I wish to make my own the words of the medieval emperor. I wished to explain that not religion and violence, but religion and reason, go together. I hope that my profound respect for world religions and for Muslims, who ‘worship the one God’ and with whom we 'promote peace, liberty, social justice and moral values for the benefit of all humanity'’ (Nostra Aetate, 3) is clear. Let us continue the dialogue both between religions and between modern reason and the Christian faith!"

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

La fin de l'affaire de Paleologus

In typically erudite, but accessible fashion, Fr.Richard John Neuhaus has given the distressing reaction in many parts of the Islamic world and among many, but by no means all, Muslims breadth and situated it within a broader context, relating them . . . well . . . to first things, fundamental principles, in a posting on his First Things blog. In a not entirely unrelated post, Fr Edward Oakes, S.J. has written yet another brilliant post. This time he addresses Michel Foucault.

Islam's Unreasonable Response to Benedict's Call to Dialogue on the Basis of Reason

The Pope Being Burnt in Effigy


In a column written for The Australian, George Cardinal Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney, Australia, has brought some much needed clarity and sanity to the overreaction among many Muslims to Pope Benedict's innocuous words delivered as part of his lecture last week at the University of Regensburg, where he formerly taught theology. His Eminence also published an article in the June/July 2006 issue, number 164, of the journal First Things entitled Islam and Us. Put simply, the good Cardinal is no Johnny-come-lately to the subject.

In his apology, given during last Sunday's Angelus, the Holy Father said his lecture "was and is an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect". Picking up on this expression, Cardinal Pell pointed out that meaningful dialogue, which leads to mutual understanding, remains impossible as long as the responses of Islamic leaders see fitting criticisms of certain manifestations of contemporary of Islam as "always someone else's fault" and ignore issues touching on the nature of Islam, instead of intelligently engaging these issues.

Referring to the demonstrations in reaction to a quote from a dialogue between Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and a learned Persian Muslim, used by the Pope in his lecture, Cardinal Pell said that the responses to the Pope's comments accurately demonstrate "the link for many Islamists between religion and violence, their refusal to respond to criticism with rational arguments, but with violence". It is refreshing to see a Church leader being firm in a delicate situation that urgently needs attention. It is called speaking the truth in love.

In response to the calls to action to all Australian Muslims by that country's mufti, or primary Islamic religious leader, Sheik Taj al-Din al-Hilaly and Dr Ameer Ali of the Muslim Reference Group, Cardinal Pell said: "Our major priority must be to maintain peace and harmony ... no lasting achievements can be grounded in fantasies and evasions". He went on to characterize the Pope's lecture as an "academic and gentle speech". "In fact", said Dr. Pell, "the Pope's long speech was more about the weaknesses of the Western world, its irreligion and disdain for religion and he explicitly rejected linking religion and violence".

Pope Benedict, toward the end of the second paragraph of his lecture, given in the main hall of the University of Regensburg last Tuesday, 12 September 2006, states his thesis clearly: "In this lecture I would like to discuss only one point"- itself rather marginal to the dialogue [referring to the dialogue between the Byzantine emperor and the learned Persian, from which he had just quoted]- "which, in the context of the issue 'faith and reason', I found interesting and which can serve as the starting-point for my reflections on this issue". To what end does Benedict employ the quote from Manuel II Paleologus? Let him answer: "The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature".

He goes on to note the observation made by Theodore Khoury, editor of the dialogues between the emperor and the Persian, that for the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practice idolatry.

Then, the Holy Father proceeds to answer the question, What does that mean for us now? As far as understanding God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we find ourselves faced with a dilemma which nowadays challenges us directly. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always intrinsically true?" This question is as pertinent to contemporary Christianity as it is to contemporary Islam. So, instead of arguments and examples of how Islam obliges Muslims to act in accord with right reason, we get calls for mass demonstrations, days of rage, clarifications about how jihad is a metaphor for internal conversion, and burnings of the Pope in effigy, etc. To any informed observer, the irony of this response to a call to reason is not lost.

Dialogue, while remaining respectful, must be honest. Being honest means, at times, being critical. Christianity is certainly subject to much criticism in the Islamic world, where, in many countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Christians are not even free to practice their faith. Even in Turkey, a relatively enlightened and democratic Islamic country, Christians are subject to persecution and forced conversions are not unheard of, and where churches are quite unapologetically turned into mosques. In the wake of al-Qaida in Iraq's vow on Monday, in a communique addressed to Pope Benedict XVI, to make war on Christianity and the West until Islam takes over the world, calls for "Yaum al Ghadab", Arabic for "Day of Rage", by Qatari Islamic scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi this Friday in response to Pope Benedict XVI's remarks about Muslims, while not exactly a call to violence, it hardly rises to the level of rational dialogue. Finally, Iran's supreme leader, Khameni, in response to the Holy Father's quote, said: "Islamic Jihad is not a tool for imposing one's opinions on others, but rather a movement of liberation against those powers that shackle humans with slavery,." Rather than telling the Pope this, where is the internal Islamic challenge to Muslims, like Hezbollah, Hamas, al-Qaida, and other groups, who clearly see jihad as a violent tool for imposing one's opinions and Islamic rule, including shar'ia, on others? Where are the massive demonstrations in the Islamic world calling for the end to violence in the name of God in Iraq and other places?

Here is the beginning of the statement by the Vatican Secretary of State

"STATEMENT OF HIS EMINENCE, CARD. TARCISIO BERTONE, SECRETARY OF STATE

In light of the reactions on the part of Muslims to some parts of the discourse of the Holy Father Benedict XVI at the University of Regensburg, and the clarification and precisions already offered by means of the Director of the Press Office of the Holy See, I wish to add the following:

-- The position of the Pope on Islam is unequivocally that expressed in the conciliar document Nostra AetateThe third section of Nostra Aetate, the declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian Religions of Vatican II, states the basis on which dialogue can take place and puts the matter clearly when addressing Islam.

"The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth,who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting".

Nostra Aetate, number 3, continues,

"Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom."

One would be hard-pressed find such a statement concerning Christianity from a contemporary Islamic source. Again, frank and sincere dialogue with mutual respect on the basis of reason- is that too much ask? We hope and pray it is not. We shall see. To put this in the even larger context of the Papal trip to Bavaria and of Benedict's overall papal program, I refer readers to the incomparable Sandro Magister and his piece Islam’s Unreasonable War Against Benedict XVI .

Monday, September 18, 2006

"German Intellectual meets soundbite media"


Picture:Constantinople before the Fall of 1453

The title of this post is a quote made by National Catholic Reporter's John Allen to NPR last Saturday. Allen is the foremost Vaticanisti from the U.S. His weekly column, recently renamed All Things Catholic (it was formerly known as Word from Rome) is well worth reading. Allen is Vatican expert for NPR, CNN, and other mainstream media outlets. He is a balanced and knowledgeable voice on Church affairs. Since one quote from a half-hour lecture at Regensburg has sparked such an outcry, it must be commented on. Since it has been commented on so much, there is no need for me write a lot, except that my opinion is that it is much ado about nothing and I think Allen's succinct quote sums up the l'affaire Paleologus very well.

In the context of lecture, the quote makes sense and does not comprise the message that Benedict was trying to communicate. Here's what Allen writes: "For example, any PR consultant would have told the pope that if he wanted to make a point about the relationship between faith and reason, he shouldn't open up with a comparison between Islam and Christianity that would be widely understood as a criticism of Islam, suggesting that it's irrational and prone to violence. Yet that is precisely what Benedict did in his address to 1,500 students and faculty at the University of Regensburg on Wednesday, citing a 14th century dialogue between the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and a learned Persian."

Not being a media professional, I am willing to accept Allen's wisdom on the PR front. I think what Allen writes prior that insightful paragraph is more apropos of Benedict's insistence of putting substance over style: "Benedict XVI is not a PC pope. By that, I don't mean that he sets out to give offense; on the contrary, he's one of the most gracious figures ever to step on the world stage. Instead, he simply does not allow his thinking to be channeled by the taboos and fashions of ordinary public discourse."

Nonetheless, there is no small irony, as in the case of the violent demonstrations throughout much of the Muslim world in response to the Danish cartoons, which implied that Islam is inherently violent, that the response to a perceived insinuation that Islam can be prone to irrationality, is met with such an irrational response. The response, fuelled by the soundbite media, is irrational because it is a response to a quote by a Byzantine emperor, whose empire was being attacked, and was, some fifty years later, destroyed by Islamic armies with the fall of Constantinople (which, as a result, is now Istanbul) in 1453. It is clear from its context in the lecture that this quote does not represent the Holy Father's view.

Okay, enough by me. For further thought, I refer you to the actual text of the Holy Father's lecture. It is important, for those concerned about what Benedict said, to get their information from the source, rather than receive it refracted through the international news media, or zealous bloggers, like your scribe. So, here's the context, with the offending passage emboldened- READ THE WHOLE EXCERPT:

"In the seventh conversation [between Manuel II Paleologus and the educated Persian] (διάλεξις - controversy) edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). The emperor must have known that sura 2, 256 reads: There is no compulsion in religion [the Qu'ran is divided into surahs, which are like chapters, there are 114 suras in the Islamic scripture, 256 would refer to the verse of the second surah]. It is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threaten. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur’an, concerning holy war. Without decending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the 'Book' and the 'infidels', he turns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words: 'Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.' The emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. 'Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably (σὺν λόγω) is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death . . .' The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practice idolatry."

Another source for comprehensive coverage is Rocco Palmo's Whispers in Loggia. I have no desire to duplicate or copy Rocco's great work. We will also see what implications it has for the Holy Father's scheduled trip Turkey in November, which, adding to the irrationality of the response, is said to be endangered by this controversy. One benefit that may derive from this is with the Orthodox. Today, in Belgrad, Serbia, the International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic church and the Orthodox church resumes its activity after a prolonged hiatus. Since the Churches of East have suffered more at the hands of Islamic domination, Pope Benedict's frank remarks should play well among the Orthodox.

Year B 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time- Catechetical Sunday

Readings: Isa 5,5-9a; Ps 116,1-6.8-9; Jas 2,14-18; Mk 8,27-35

"The Lord GOD opens my ear that I may hear" (Isa 50,5). This is a fitting opening for our scriptural reflection this Sunday, as the Church throughout the United States marks what has been designated Catechetical Sunday the theme for which is taken from Jesus’ question in today’s gospel, "Who do you say that I am" (Mk 8,29)? The term catechesis comes from the Greek word that means to echo. Before the invention of the printing press in 1450, catechesis was an oral and aural experience comprised exclusively of speaking and listening. This method consisted of a Church teaching being recited and the listener would be expected to echo, or repeat it, until the teaching could be recited by heart. Of course, this method of teaching and learning predates the Church. Jewish teachers, even down to our day, teach the Scriptures by again and again asking the learner to repeat verses (United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, pgs xv-xvi). Like most theological terms, the term catechesis has different meanings and references. In addition to the method in which the learner echoes back the recited teaching to the catechist, or teacher, it also refers to the content, what is recited in the first place. Therefore, the content of our teaching is also an echo. It is the echo of the teachings of our Lord himself, which, beginning with the apostles, echoes down through time. It is the depositum fidei-the deposit of faith, "which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jd 1,3).

Today’s gospel provides us with the basic content of our faith, which is found in St. Peter’s response to Jesus’ questions to the twelve about his identity, when he confesses, "You are the Christ" (Mk 8,29). Christ is not, as many of us might have supposed as children, Jesus’ last name. It is his title. Like catechesis, it stems from a Greek word, the word Christos. Christos, in turn, finds its origin in the Hebrew word Mashiach, which we transliterate as Messiah, meaning anointed one. In this statement, Jesus is recognized, as he is at the beginning of his ministry by John the Baptizer, as the one in whom the promise made long ago to Abraham, our father in the faith, through whose descendants all the nations of the earth find blessing, is fulfilled (Gen 26,4).

Peter’s simple statement is a dense statement, like the matter that exploded at the Big Bang in which the entire created universe was contained. In this simple sentence uttered by the Galilean fisherman is contained the entire content of the Christian faith. After hearing Peter’s profession, Jesus "began to teach them." What did he teach them? He taught them "that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days" (Mk 8,31). It is clear that Peter does not understand all the implications of his own statement because after Jesus teaches these things, Peter pulls Jesus aside and begins to rebuke him. Jesus’ response, after rebuking Peter strongly, is once again to teach. He teaches them the manner of life they and others who would follow him must live, which is to imitate him by taking up their cross and living a selfless life (Mk 8,32-35).

In the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed we recite together each Sunday, we unpack this dense statement about the identity of Jesus the Christ, when we profess that he is "God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, one in being with the Father" who for us came down from heaven, was crucified and died for our sins, was buried, rose again, ascended into heaven, and will return in glory. One unique aspect of the Christian faith is that the messenger, Jesus Christ, is the Message. Because of this we learn our faith with the confidence of knowing that the truth is not a series of propositions that can be completely captured by words. This gives us confidence because all of us, great and small alike, can know the Truth because the Truth is a person, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Hearing and believing in Christ has implications. St. James, in our second reading, makes this abundantly clear. The apostle tells us "faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead" Jas 2,17). Our faith, if it is genuine, spurs us to action. It is important to note the proper relationship between faith and works. Stated clearly, we are saved by faith and not by works. Therefore, faith precedes works. Consequently, our works flow from our faith, which, as a theological virtue, is a gift from God. What James writes in no way contradicts this fundamental truth. "Indeed," writes the leader of the Jerusalem Church, "someone might say, 'You have faith and I have works.' Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works" (Jas 2,18).

While we can distinguish between faith and works, the two are inseparable for any true disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. Why is this so? Because faith and works find their unity in another word: Love. Love is what links orthodoxy- correct belief and orthopraxis- correct practice. This is where we begin to understand the importance of theology, which is at the service of Church, as opposed to Philosophy of Religion, or any merely academic study of belief and practice. Theology, which is distinguishable from catechesis because it informs the Church in many more ways than in just the teaching and handing on of the faith, is practical. For if our faith is to inform our actions, helping us to intentionally live as Christian disciples, it stands to reason that we must be informed about our faith.

My friends we live in a world and in a society that is starving due to a lack of spiritual food. So, among the ways to put our faith into practice is by teaching it to others. On this catechetical Sunday we recognize those members of our faith community who give of their time and talents in service to our parish. In addition to those commissioned by us to teach the faith, there are other catechists among us, namely parents. Parents are the primary teachers of the faith to their children. As important as Catholic schools and parish religious education programs are to the ministry of catechesis, they can never, nor should they even try, to take the place of parents in handing on the faith to future generations. In the focused teaching time in the classroom, either one hour or several hours a week, the best any children’s religious education program can hope for is to give content and structure to what parents are teaching at home.

Taking a building-block approach, there is a scope and sequence for each grade. These are the learning objectives, the Christian teachings recited by the catechists. These include basic Christian prayers, such as the Sign of the Cross, the Gloria Patri, the Hail Mary, the Our Father, along with the mysteries of the rosary, which teach us the Paschal mystery through the privileged channel of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Basic catechesis certainly includes learning the Nicene creed and the Apostles creed, which Pope Benedict recently called "a little Summa in which everything essential is expressed" (Homily at Mass at Regensburg, Bavaria). It also includes teaching basic formulas of Christian doctrine: Christ’s two Great Commandments, the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, the theological and cardinal virtues, the five precepts of the Church, the communion and intercession of the saints, etc. Like catechesis of old, these prayers, creeds, and doctrinal formulas need to be learned by heart and be echoed back by the learner. But beyond memorizing and repeating these things, they must be lived. This is where parents, as primary catechists, are absolutely indispensable.

The goal of catechesis is summed up in the preface to the Roman Catechism, which was compiled at the behest of the fathers of the Council of Trent, and published in 1566:

"The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed to the love
that never ends. Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope, or for
action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone
can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have
no other objective than to arrive at love" (Roman Catechism, Preface, 10).

Love is the objective "because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love" (1 Jn 4,8).

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Triumph of the Cross

The Temptation of St. Anthony, by Félicien Rops

Today is the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. It is common to hear during Holy Week that Easter follows Good Friday. Today’s feast reminds us that Good Friday necessarily precedes Easter. The reading from today's Morning Prayer is Hebrews 2,9-10 in which we read, "it was fitting that when bringing many sons to glory God, for whom and through whom all things exist, should make their leader [referring to Jesus Christ] "in the work of salvation perfect through suffering". Being made perfect through suffering is exactly why it is necessary for Good Friday to precede Easter. Stated another way, without Good Friday, Easter is impossible. It is, therefore, true that life can be and often is Good Friday, or, to borrow an image from Psalm 23 , "the valley of the shadow of death".

As Christians we share in common with Buddhists the insight that to live is to suffer. However, unlike Buddhism, which seeks to overcome suffering by attaining nirvana, the annihilation of the self, which I associate with what is described by the lyrics to the Pink Floyd song, Comfortably Numb (which is covered by the German group Gregorian, who perform Gregorian chant-inspired versions of contemporary songs, on their recent album "Masters of Chant Chapter V"). Christians do not believe this because suffering is never the last word, Jesus is the final Word. If we look to Christ, like him, we are made perfect through our suffering. Since suffering in this life is unavoidable, and avoiding suffering completely undesirable, "it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil" (1 Pet 3,17 ).

One parallel that always strikes me when contemplating the Cross of Christ is the one made by Jesus himself in the fourteenth and fifteenth verses of the third chapter of St. John’s Gospel, these verses precede the famous and overused John 3,16. We read, "as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." The episode with Moses being referred to is found in the twenty-first chapter of the book of Numbers, verses four through nine:

"From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, 'Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.' Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses, and said, 'We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.' So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, 'Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.' So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live."

When we are perishing we need but look at Jesus "lifted up." Just look that is all! Such a move doesn’t even yet require faith, a desperate hope will suffice. Hope, like faith, is a theological virtue, which is to write that it is a gift from God. We can receive this gift by merely looking at Christ lifted up when we are beset by fiery serpents in the valleys of our own lives. Whatever we are going through, it doesn’t matter what it is, has been suffered for and redeemed by our Savior. There NOTHING, absolutely NOTHING, no matter how vile or traumatic that Jesus Christ did not suffer to redeem. Therefore, there is NOBODY, absolutely NOBODY, no matter what you have done or had done to you, beyond the redemption of the Cross. Jesus calls us to the Cross when says "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" ( Matt 16,24-25).

Pope John Paul II wrote, in his 1984 Apostolic Letter, Salvifici doloris, that suffering "is present in the world to emit love, to make born works of love for our neighbor, to transform all of human civilization into 'a civilization of love.'". This kind of language can seem silly, stupid, and wild-eyed, written and said in syrupy ways by those who do not know what it means to suffer. Beyond that, as profound as it is when taken in the right way, this insight does not come close to satisfactorily explain the mystery of suffering, "which would not hurt any less," sang the late Rich Mullins, "even if it could be explained". However, John Paul II gave credibility to his words when, some twenty years later, in the twilight of his life, he made incarnate in himself that of which he wrote. By confronting his illness with courage, he brought much attention to human suffering, both physical and spiritual. In this he showed suffering has dignity and worth and also demonstrated by the witness of his life that a human being’s worth is not in his/her efficiency, nor her/his appearance, but is inherent as a person created and loved by God.

We can only understand suffering at its deepest level by uniting our own sufferings to those of the Passion of Jesus Christ. In this way, like St. Paul, we become servants of the gospel, rejoicing in our sufferings and completing in our flesh "what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" (Col 1,24). At the end of the day, even for the Christian who sees redemption in it, suffering is a great mystery that defies words and, understandably, causes many to turn away from God. Which makes it all the more important for Jesus' disciples to sit silently at the foot of his Cross in solidarity with those who suffer and even at times on behalf of those who suffer. In this we turn again to St. Paul, who suffered tremendously for Christ, to help articulate this mystery: "The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor 1,18).

Rather than wallow in suffering today, or any day, let us rejoice in the Triumph of the Cross as we look forward to tomorrow’s memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows and ultimately to our own Easter. One way to rejoice in today's feast and to anticipate tomorrow's memorial is to thankfully contemplate the Sorrowful mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin, may "we imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise."

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

"Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks, and serve him with great humility."

The internet is vast. Much of it is a vast wasteland of useless information, idle chat and pornography. Yet, as all media, it is a valuable to way to get the word out. One of the joys of having a blog is to be able to direct interested people to places on the web that are good and edifying. To that end, I was deeply gratified this morning to find that Fr. Raniero Cantalmessa, O.F.M. Cap has an English-language website. This son of St. Francis is the preacher of the papal household, who belongs to my own, what another of my mentors, Deacon Owen Cummings, would call community of the heart. Like the books on Scripture by His Eminence Carlo Maria Cardinal Montini, SJ, Fr. Raniero's little books are treasures; his preaching is Spirit-filled.

In this day, when it is so much on the outs, Fr. Raniero remains a Catholic charismatic, who sees the charismatic renewal as way to evangelize those Catholics, especially in Latin America and Africa, who are drawn to charismatic forms of Protestantism. He also sees it as a powerful form of ecumenism. So, to my old and dear charismatic friends, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, you have a friend in high places, who has the ear of the Holy Father, who is a learned theologian, Church historian, and student of the Church Fathers. In other words, he has credibility.

If you want to wade into Fr. Cantalmessa's works, I recommend Sober Intoxication of the Spirit: Filled with the Fullness of God. I also recommend his little book entitled: Eucharist: Our Sanctification. If nothing else visit his website.

Prayer for a day in late Summer:


"Most high, all powerful, all good Lord! All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing. To you, alone, Most High, do they belong. No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance.
Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you brighten the night. He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you; through those who endure sickness and trial. Happy those who endure in peace, for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.
Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no living person can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Happy those she finds doing your most holy will. The second death can do no harm to them.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks, and serve him with great humility."
San Francesco d'Assisi's Canticle of the Sun

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Pope Benedict- "a little Summa"

In addition to reading my humble and, by comparison at least, amateurish words on this week's daily readings as I conduct weekday Communion services at the request of a vacationing pastor (masses on Sundays), you can easily follow Pope Benedict's pilgrimage to his Bavarian homeland by linking to Rocco Palmo's wonderful blog, Whispers in the Loggia. It is to Rocco that I owe the link to the Holy Father's homily for yesterday's Mass in Regensburg, his adopted Bavarian home, where he taught theology up until Pope Paul VI elevated him to the See of Munich-Freising in 1977 and created him a cardinal of the Holy Roman Church later that same year.

As in all the words of this learned, humble, and deeply spiritual man, we hear an echo of the voice of the Master. Let us thank God that such a worthy man today walks in the shoes of the Galilean fisherman as Christ's Vicar on Earth! Let us pray for him and with him daily. Here is a snippet to whet your appetite:


"We are gathered here for a celebration of faith. But the question immediately arises: What do we believe? What does it mean to have faith? Is it still something possible in the modern world? When we look at the great Summae of theology compiled in the Middle Ages, or we think of the number of books written each day for or against faith, we might lose heart and think it is all too complicated. In the end, we can no longer see th forest for the trees. True enough: faith's vision embraces heaven and earth; past, present, and future; eternity- and so it can never be fully exhausted. And yet, deep down, it is quite simple. The Lord tells us so when he says to the Father: 'you have revealed these things to the simple - to those able to see with their hearts' (cf Matt 11, 25). The Church, for her part, has given us a little Summa in which everything essential is expressed. It is the so-called 'Apostles' Creed' . . . "

Year II 23rd Tuesday in Ordinary Time- "The Lord takes delight in his people"



Readings: 1 Cor 6,1-11; Ps 149, 1-6.9; Lk 6,12-19

This morning we continue reading through St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians and St. Luke’s Gospel. The theme for today’s readings is the nature and structure of the Church. In this morning’s Gospel we read of Jesus’ calling the twelve after spending the night in prayer on the mountain. It is significant that St. Peter comes first on the list, as he does in all the Gospels whenever the apostles are listed. Of course, this is indicative of the unique primacy given to Peter among the apostles and in the Church. The number twelve itself is significant because in the new Israel, which is the Church, the apostles correspond to the twelve patriarchs, the sons of Jacob, who was given the name Israel by the angel after wrestling with Jacob all night long. It is from the sons of Israel that the twelve tribes of Israel claim descent. All of this is enough to indicate Jesus, in his calling of the twelve, is establishing a new people.

After Jesus’ resurrection, it was the twelve who, at his command, took the Gospel "into all the world" (Mk 16,15/Matt 28,19-20). We see from Paul’s missionary activity that as the Church was established in various places, like Corinth, a structure was necessary, beginning with the apostles, who consecrated bishops, who, in turn, ordained priests and deacons. While in the primitive Church there was some variation in how the earliest communities were organized, establishing a structure was done in other ancient Churches, not established by Paul, who claim apostles as founders: the Church in southwestern India, founded by St. Thomas; the Churches of Egypt and Venice, founded by St. Mark; the Churches of Rome and Antioch, founded by Peter; the Church in Jerusalem, presided over by St. James, etc. After establishing his new people on the basis of the twelve apostles, at least in St. Luke’s chronology, our Lord then teaches his people the law they are live by, known in Luke as the Sermon on the Plain. This is Luke’s version of Matthew’s magisterial Sermon on the Mount. It is with this so-called sermon that our Gospel today end. Again, the parallel between Israel and the Church is made clear. Just as Israel was formed as a people and given the law, so, too, with the new People of God.

Picking up on this theme is St. Paul writing to the Corinthians. In the Church of Corinth we have a microcosm of the entire Church, even the Church in our own day to some extent. Paul exhorts his Christian brothers and sisters not to cause scandal to believer and unbeliever alike by taking their disputes and squabbles to civil courts. Ideally, according to Paul, if everyone is endeavoring to be the spiritual person he has been urging them to be, such disputes would be extremely rare, or even non-existent. In fact, he tells them, "it is in any case, a failure on your part that you have lawsuits against one another" (1 Cor 6,7). Stated simply, strife in the Church and among believers should be avoided, even to the point of suffering an injustice. As he wrote earlier in the letter, which we read last week, when urging the Corinthians to be "fools for Christ," in imitation of him and Apollos, when they were ridiculed, they should bless and when they were persecuted, to patiently endure (1 Cor 4,12).

Above all, Paul is concerned that strife in the Christian community that spills into civil courts is an obstacle to unbelievers. The apostle goes beyond how we should settle disputes that arise within the Christian community to all manner of behavior that is contrary to what Christ taught. He writes about those things that if done and not repented of and forsaken will bring damnation: fornication, adultery, and all manner of sexual immorality, drunkenness, theft, greed, and lying (1 Cor 6,9-10). After all, if we do not practice what we preach, and if we do not preach what the Lord Jesus taught, then we are indeed hypocrites, hollow people who heap damnation on ourselves.

How many of us know people who either do not believe, or who do not practice their faith because of the bad example set by believers of bad experiences they have had with professed Christians, with people like you and I who attend Church regularly and publicly identify ourselves as Catholics? Currently our Church suffers from a serious lack of credibility in our culture and society, which needs Christ so badly, because of the scandals of recent years, in which even many bishops are complicit, with some of the guilty parties refusing to acknowledge responsibility or to publicly repent of their sins of commission and omission.

In his characteristic fashion, St. Paul, at the end of this passage, reminds them and us that, prior to our following Christ, we used to do many of the things he justly condemns. More importantly he reminds us that there is forgiveness of the sins; "you have had yourselves washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor 6,11). My brothers and sisters, there is forgiveness and cleansing in Christ. We should avail ourselves of it often, confessing our sins freely so that "we walk in the light" and "have fellowship with one another" (1 Jn 1,7). So let us, like the people in today’s Gospel, avail ourselves of the power that comes forth from our Lord Jesus Christ, which is the power to heal our broken and ailing souls in order to be the people he has divinely constituted us to be (Lk 6,19). To be a people in whom “the Lord takes delight” (Ps 149,4).

Monday, September 11, 2006

Year II 23rd Monday in Ordinary Time- 9/11: Justice & Mercy



Readings: 1 Cor 5,1-8; Ps 5, 5-7.12; Lk 6,6-11

"Lead me in your justice, Lord," we ask in today’s Psalm response (Ps 5,8). The Psalmist also sings: "For you, O God, delight not in wickedness; no evil man remains with you" (Ps 5,4). Indeed, it is appropriate to call to mind the Lord’s justice on this fifth anniversary of 9/11. The Lord our God is just in all his ways. More importantly to us sinners, God is merciful. We certainly ask God’s mercy to be upon those who perished in the unspeakably evil attacks on the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and the third plane that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. We ask God’s healing mercy to be with those wives, husbands, children, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, and close friends who lost loved ones on that horrible day. But, in light of our faith, which finds its perfect expression in the teachings of Jesus Christ, what should our attitude be toward those responsible for these attacks? Their wicked acts are to be condemned without a doubt, but what about our attitude to those who mean us harm, our enemies? This question is not asked, like Jesus’ questions in today’s Gospel, rhetorically, with the answer being obvious. Neither is it asked in order to receive a ready-made answer; it is asked as a question for each of us to ponder in our hearts this day on which we remember a horrible evil perpetrated by human beings upon other human beings, as we ponder "man's inhumanity to man."

A key to a Christian response to these questions is contained in our Gospel this morning. As with Saturday's Gospel, Jesus is violating Jewish Sabbath observance by healing a man with a withered hand. Prior to doing this, our Lord asks the Pharisees, "is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?" It is easy to imagine Jesus asking this question and waiting for a few awkward moments for a reply, while the Pharisees shuffled around, looked at their feet, and mumbled. In this instance he receives no reply. So, he goes ahead and heals the man’s withered hand (Lk 6,9-10). Like all the words and actions of our Lord, there are many lessons to be drawn from this episode, especially from his questions. Let us consider just two. Let us first consider his question about the lawfulness of doing good rather than do evil on the Sabbath. For the disciple of Jesus it is obligatory always and everywhere to do what is good and avoid what is evil. The second point is that, life being sacred, we are always obliged to save life. In other words, we are to be healers.

In order to heal we have to be healed. To be healed, in each of our cases, means to be forgiven. In order to be forgiven, we must forgive. To forgive requires mercy. In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us, "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy" (Matt 5,7). It is important to note that mercy does not cancel out justice. Because it does not sometimes in our fallen and sinful world justice requires resorting to the use of force. Our Lord tells us in his rhetorical question to the Pharisees it is better to save life than to destroy it. In the context of 9/11 and its aftermath, we must keep in mind that the ultimate goal of just war is to re-establish peace. More specifically, the peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought. What this reinforces is that vengeance, which Paul, in concert with the Psalmist, tells us in Romans, is the Lord’s (Rom 12,19 ), plays no part in the Christian response to any evil, even one as horrific as the 9/11 bombings.

Regardless of where we stand with regard to certain "hot button" issues we know that peace and mercy begin with us. Therefore, we must practice both daily in all of our interactions, in our homes, in our places of work, and here in our parish, which should be a model of true justice brought about by mercy and resulting in peace. Because we have freely chosen to follow the way of the Lord Jesus, we are committed to acting intentionally in our efforts to adhere to the objective standards of morality clearly taught us by him. In other words, we obey Jesus because we love him (Jn 14,15 ). If our love for God is genuine, it leads to love of neighbor. Our neighbor, of course, is every person. Acting intentionally means knowing what our motives are. It also means knowing what our motives should be. This, in turn, requires us to pray, work, and cooperate with God so as to bring our will and our desires into conformity with Christ’s teachings.

So, while our faith enables us to discern what is good and what is evil, it also teaches us that we are sinners, who have done evil ourselves and who have been forgiven. God’s justice was satisfied in the act of ultimate mercy; Jesus Christ nailed to the Cross for our sins. Of all people, Christians understand that we must be mericful because we have received mercy. In a few moments we will pray the Our Father, the prayer taught us by our Lord himself. In this prayer we will ask God to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Scripture tells us, "judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment" (Jas 2, 13). Let these reflections be the background against which we consider the questions raised by justice and mercy on this day during which remember so great an evil.

Saturday, September 9, 2006

Year II 22nd Saturday of Ordinary Time- "Fools for Christ"

San Francesco d'Assisi

Lest anyone panic, my homily this morning was a much shorter version of this rather long reflection on today's readings. It timed out at about 7 or 8 minutes. I came home and intended to tighten it up a bit before filing it, but it kept flowing. There must be something God wants to say to somebody reading this. Deo gratias!

Readings: 1 Cor 3,6b-15; Ps 145, 17-21; Lk 6,1-5

We continue this morning with our reading through St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. Despite appearances, Paul is still discussing what it means to be spiritual people, albeit it in a sarcastic, but loving manner. In this passage he uses the famous phrase "fools for Christ" (1 Cor 4,10), which many of us associate with St. Francis of Assisi and his early followers, to describe himself and his companion Apollos, as well as all of the apostles. He contrasts the foolishness of the apostles with the Corinthian Christians who, he sarcastically writes, "are wise in Christ" (1 Cor 4,10).

In describing himself and his fellow apostles as "fools for Christ" who are worthy of imitation, Paul writes about what it means to be a fool for Christ. In doing so he is careful not to go beyond what is written, which is just another way of saying that he and Apollos only teach what Christ himself taught. The behaviors Paul attributes to these "fools for Christ" are indeed rooted in Jesus' teachings, particularly in the beatitudes . According to the apostle, a fool for Christ when ridiculed blesses; when persecuted, patiently endures; when slandered, responds gently (1 Cor 4,12-13). This blends in nicely with the reading for this morning's prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours, taken from Romans, chapter 12, in which Paul exhorts the Roman Christians to "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil."

It is easy to see why the world finds such behavior foolish. Certainly each of us individually can attest to the wisdom of God being foolish to those living "in the flesh" by considering our own reactions when we are ridiculed, persecuted, or slandered. We want to defend and justify ourselves. Almost reflexively do we return evil for evil. Such reactions are very natural, which is to say they are visceral and automatic, but we are not slaves to our fallen nature because, as we read in first Corinthians at the beginning of the week, we have received the Spirit of God (1 Cor 2,12). As disciples of the Lord Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called and committed to a higher way, to cooperating with God's grace, which builds on our nature, to being transformed and matured into Christlikeness.

So, when Paul refers to the Corinthians as "kings" and as being "wise" he is lovingly, if sarcastically, chiding them in order to make his point, calling them, and us, to deeper conversion. That to be like Christ is to be accounted a fool is made clear from the very first chapter of this letter:

"The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside." Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith'" (1 Cor 1,18-21).

In our passage today, Paul is elaborating even further on this theme. To be wise in Christ, he insists, means to receive in faith what is taught by Christ himself and by his "fools." According to the apostle, the wise person realizes that what s/he possesses is a gift freely given. But a gift is not a gift until it is received. Because what we have received from God, our loving Father, is a freely given gift, not something we earn or deserve, it is not something to be puffed up or haughty about. On the contrary, it should be humbling. After all, who are we that we deserve to be given the riches of God? On receiving God's gift, theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote:

"Faith is a movement of the entire person away from himself, through the gift of grace; thereby he lays hold of the mercy of God given to him in Christ--in the form of the forgiveness of sins, justification, and sanctification. In this movement away from himself man has done all that he, through grace, can do; he has done all that God requires of him. Since his intention is to leave himself, without reservation, and hand himself over entirely, this movement implicitly contains all the 'works' that he will eventually do. They are not some second entity beside faith; if they are performed in a Christian spirit, they are only forms in which faith expresses itself."

Balthasar indicates by his allusion to "all the 'works' that [we] will eventually do, that faith, although a gift from God, is a way of life. Christ himself is "the Way" (Jn 14,6). Even before being known as Christians, followers of Jesus, the movement we now call Christianity, was simply known as "the Way" (Acts 9,2). Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans that the Way must be learned: "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? " In this way faith becomes a verb, not a noun.

In addition to sending His beloved Son, God, our Father, sends others who teach us the faith, not just by their words, but more powerfully by their manner of life- those who walk the walk. These are the people, the women and men, we must seek to be like insofar as they are like Christ. Of course, exemplars of the Gospel par excellance are the saints. For our communion extends beyond this world into eternity. The saints are powerful intercessors on our behalf, if we will invoke them. Yesterday, on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we discussed briefly three dimensions of our life of worship and devotion: latria, hyper-dulia, dulia. It is the last of these that is the theological term for the veneration, honor, and respect we pay to the saints. I daresay we all have a patron saint, baptismal patron, a confirmation patron, or a saint whose intercession has been beneficial to us. Invoke them daily, ask them to intercede for you, study their lives. By not doing so you forfeit much treasure lavished on us by God, who, as our loving Father, wishes to give us all He has and is.

In today's Gospel Jesus speaks powerfully to the manner of Christian life by his violation of Jewish Sabbath observance. By invoking the example of David and his men eating the bread of offering, reserved for the priests, in their hunger, our Lord tells us that, at root, following Him is not about keepingthe rules. Our Holy Father further highlights this teaching in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est , by writing, "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction" (DCE, 1). Those we seek to emulate, the holy women and men both past and present, are those who have encountered our resurrected and living Lord, Jesus Christ. This encounter has given their lives a new and "decisive direction." By decisively turning (to turn around, or change one's mind is the meaning of the Greek word metanoia, usually translated in English Bibles as "repent") in this direction, they chose the narrow path that led to them into beatitude, from whence they can intercede for us.

It is not too much to say that many of us have encountered our resurrected Lord. So, let us ask ourselves, as we prepare to encounter Jesus in the most intimate way in the Eucharist, what difference is our encounter making in our lives today? Let us probe a bit deeper and ask what difference should our encounter with the living Christ be making in our lives? Am I sharing the gift I have been graciously given, or am I prideful and puffed up about it? Does the gift of Jesus Christ make us humble and cause us to give thanks, which is the meaning of Eucharist, always to the Father for having found the Pearl of Great of Price?

It is by asking ourselves these questions frequently and answering them honestly before God both in our private prayer and in our sacramental encounter with Christ in confession that we heed what our Lord and his apostle, St. Paul, teach us. So, on this day as we prepare to celebrate that little Easter we call Sunday, may we be more open to receiving more of the infinite gift that our loving Father wants so desperately to give us- His love, which is His very self. Christ invites us today into his foolishness of which Michael Card sings so beautifully:
"When we in our foolishness thought we were wise/
He played the fool and He opened our eyes/
When we in our weakness believed we were strong/
He became helpless to show we were wrong/
And so we follow God's own fool/
For the only the foolish can tell/
Believe the unbelievable/
And come be a fool as well"

Friday, September 8, 2006

Well it's got to be a Choc-O-late Mary



I came across the story of the Blessed Virgin making an appearance in chocolate in California this morning on what very well might be my favorite blog, Rocco Palmo's Whispers in the Loggia. It put me in mind of a Tom Waits' song, Chocolate Jesus, from his magnificent album Mule Variations. I find Waits' somewhat irreverent song strangely Eucharistic. Here's the chorus:



Well it's got to be a chocolate Jesus
Make me feel good inside
Got to be a chocolate Jesus
Keep me satisfied



Lest ye be unduly offended; follow the link and read all the lyrics. If that isn't enough, do yourself a big favor and begin acquainting yourself with the work of Tom Waits. In that way you will understand his, admittedly, strange take on the world, including his quirky spirituality.

Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Readings: Mi 5,1-4; Ps 13, 6; Mt 1,18-23

Today we celebrate the birth of the Blessed Virgin, the Mother of God, Mary Most Holy, who was conceived without original sin in order to be able to carry God the Son, the Second Person of Most Holy Trinity in her womb, to be the privileged channel through whom God became man. Today’s Gospel makes clear Mary’s purpose as well as the crucial role she plays in God’s plan of salvation. We celebrate this feast less than a month after celebrating our Blessed Mother’s glorious assumption into heaven at the end of her life, which calls us to pray for the grace of a joyful death. To die joyfully is to die in the friendship of Christ, the Virgin Mary's son.

Mary’s conception without sin (i.e., Immaculate Conception) was dogmatically defined by Pope Pius IX in the Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus, promulgated on 8 December 1854. In essence the dogma, which must be believed with divine and Catholic faith, pronounces that the Blessed Virgin Mary "in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin." This means that Mary was conceived by her parents, who, according to tradition are known as Joachim and Anna, in the normal way children are conceived, unlike Mary’s conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit, which is also a unique and singular event. Her unique role in the economy of salvation is recognized in the role she plays in our Catholic worship and devotional life. First there is latria, which is worship due to God alone. Then there is dulia, or the veneration we give to the saints. In between these two is the category of hyper-dulia , which is exactly what it sounds like, super veneration. Alone in this category, between God and the saints, is our Blessed Mother, Mary.

It is important not to wax too romantic about Mary’s life and what her "Yes" to God meant for her in practical terms. Her lot was not without suffering, fear, and anxiety. Our Gospel this morning makes this very clear. We read in Matthew that Mary found herself “with child through the Holy Spirit.” Since she was with child prior to being married to Joseph and going to live with him, it is easy to see why Joseph initially reacted in the way he did, seeking to break off their betrothal until what had happened was made known to him by a divine messenger. While confident, no doubt, that God is trustworthy, it is difficult to imagine that Mary experienced uncertainty, anxiety, and even some fear about her predicament, especially about how it might appear to others. It is quite clear from this passage that the fact she was with child “through the Holy Spirit” was known only to Mary and Joseph. It is safe to assume that everybody else thought, as Mary became more visibly pregnant, the child she was carrying and gave birth to, was Joseph's child.

What does this mean for us poor banished children of Eve? As all mysteries of the faith it means many things. However, in basic terms, it means that by recognizing Mary’s crucial role in the economy of salvation, we also recognize her as a model for our own faith. It is no exaggeration to say that Mary was the first Christian due to her acknowledgement of Jesus, her Son, as the Messiah promised to and long awaited by Israel. Her magnificat clearly indicates this when she concludes her hymn of praise: “He has come to the help of His servant Israel, for he has remembered his promise of mercy. The promise he made to Abraham and his children forever.” Mary’s whole life was a “Yes” to God. She answered “Yes” to God without counting the cost, without worrying about the consequences because she trusted God, knowing that He is love and also knowing that God’s ways are not human ways. As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to do the same in all of the circumstances of our lives.

Secondly, now as then, Mary brings Jesus to us and us to Jesus. As Blessed Teresa of Calutta, also known as Mother Teresa, would say when asked by non-Catholic Christians about her devotion to Mary, “No Mary, no Jesus.” We can expand on this and say K-N-O-W Mary,
K-N-O-W Jesus. Therefore, we should trust in her intercession and call upon her often. For indeed she did a bear a son, just as the angel promised. Jesus Christ, the son of Mary, is Emmanuel; God with us. He is with us in no way more powerfully than in the Eucharist.

So, dear friends in Christ, pray the rosary today and, in observance of this Feast and in light of today's Gospel, despite the fact it is Friday, a day on which we usually meditate on the Sorrowful mysteries, contemplate the Joyful mysteries.