Monday, March 31, 2008

Year A 2nd Sunday of Easter

Resurrexi, et adhuc tecum sum. Alleluia!



Readings: Acts 2,42-47; Ps. 118,2-4.13-15.22-24; 1 Pet. 1,3-9; Jn 20,19-31

"Peace be with you" is how Jesus greets his frightened friends, who were hiding in a room with the doors locked for fear that they, too, might be arrested and punished. In the midst of their anxiety, Jesus is their peace (Jn. 20,19). Upon seeing their resurrected Lord they rejoiced and were reassured with the words, "Peace be with you" (Jn. 20,21). Far from promising them that their fears would not be realized, he tells them that as the Father has sent him, he, in turn, sends them. At which point he breathes on them and gives them the Holy Spirit (Jn. 20,22). It is the Holy Spirit who strengthens and equips them for all that lies ahead. It is through the Holy Spirit that Christ, after his resurrection and ascension, remains present to the community of his disciples, the Church. This all sounds glorious and indeed it is, but not in the way that we too easily imagine. Only in time and through their experiences do these disciples come to understand the peace that is Christ Jesus, the resurrected, but still scarred Lord, whose wounds eternally call to mind in order to make present in our lives Divine Mercy.

That the realization eventually dawned on them is expressed by St. Peter in our second reading. God, the Father of Jesus Christ, Peter writes, has given us "new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Pet. 1,3). Because of this new birth, through which we become God’s children, we are bequeathed an "imperishable, undefiled, and unfading" inheritance (1 Pet. 1,4). This new birth is our baptism, which, especially during Easter, we call to mind by being sprinkled again with water.

Like the Kingdom itself, our inheritance is both already and not yet. For now, we have received a down payment from our inheritance. Nonetheless, "for a little while [we] may have to suffer through various trials" (1 Pet. 1,6). The trials we suffer, which are an inevitable consequence of living in a fallen world, albeit one in the process of being healed, enable our faith to become genuine, to become "more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire" (1 Pet. 1,7). By overcoming the world with the help of the same Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and the Son, given by Christ to his first followers, our trials will “prove to be for praise, glory, and honor” when Jesus Christ comes again (1 Pet. 1,7).

Like the small band of believers cowering in the room in the days following their Master’s death and burial, Jesus brings us peace. He is not merely the guarantor of peace, he is our peace. As we have seen from our reading of St. Peter, peace is not merely the absence of conflict. Our peace comes from having a perspective, borne of a union between our hope and our desire, that this world with its joys and hopes, its griefs and sorrows while good and blessed despite being broken, is but a shadow of what awaits the children of God, born through and given our true identity in baptism.

Just as the first generation of disciples was strengthened by the gift of the Holy Spirit, as was Jesus himself, who was anointed immediately following his baptism by John in the Jordan, we are sealed with the Spirit at our confirmation. The sacrament of confirmation for too many Catholics has either been forgotten or is misunderstood. Too often we make confirmation about the choice of the individual being confirmed, about his/her decision to follow Jesus Christ. Dear friends, our decision to follow the Lord was made at our baptism, even for the majority of us who were baptized as infants. Through confirmation, wherein we are anointed with sacred chrism, we are confirmed in our baptismal identity as children of God, as priests, prophets, and royalty, as well as given a substantial down payment on our inheritance. Hence, we are strengthened and empowered for our mission, which is nothing less than ushering in God’s Kingdom.

If the Holy Spirit is the mode of Christ’s resurrection presence, then the sacraments are the media through which his presence is communicated to us; via the sacraments we receive grace. Grace is nothing less than God’s sharing divine life with us. The essence of the divine life of God is love. God is love because God is a communion of divine persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If God were not a communion of persons, he could not be love, for love always requires at least two persons, and the love between two persons, in turn, is life-giving. The result of God sharing divine life with us in and through the sacraments is that the Church, like the Blessed Trinity, is made a communion of persons. The fundamental difference being that the Church is a communion of human persons. This is why the Church is simultaneously holy and sinful. Insofar as the Church is human, she is imperfect. Yet, animated as she is by the Holy Spirit, the Church is also holy. So, we are a communion of imperfect human beings, being brought to perfection- that is sanctified- by the Holy Spirit primarily by means of the sacraments, chief among which is this Eucharist we are gathered to share.


Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles gives us very good model of the kind of communion, the kind of koinonia, the Church is called to be. The word koinonia is Greek and means something like "communion by intimate participation". It is in this passage from Acts that the term koinonia is first used in the New Testament. The koinonia of the early community of disciples consisted in their devotion "to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers" (Acts 2,42). Further, they pooled their resources, took care of each other, and reached out in love beyond their own community. The result of following Jesus in this striking and radically new way was that "every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved" (Acts 2,47). To be sure, there are many things pertaining to our faith that we can all too easily doubt, but it is impossible to doubt the loving concern of others, especially when given in times of need, in times of fear and anxiety, when we are tempted to despair.

Since the Jubilee Year of 2000, this Second Sunday of Easter is Divine Mercy Sunday, but every Sunday is a celebration of divine mercy, just as every Sunday is a celebration of our Lord’s resurrection, even Sundays of Lent. Ordering our lives in accord with this fundamental belief is the only way to realize the peace of Christ. So, with St. Faustina and St. Thomas, who once doubted, we say, "Jesus I trust in You". In turn, Jesus reassures us: "I have risen, I am still with you. Alleluia!" He is made present merely by our gathering this day, a presence further revealed in the breaking of the bread. Let us rejoice and be glad. Alleluia!



Writing of communities of disicples, also known as Churches, my dear friend Rocco over at Whispers has a very nice follow-up post on my mere reporting of hierarchy news wherein he gives the details of March (Ordination) Madness .

Friday, March 28, 2008

"the new trinity for this so-called community"



Okay, I am getting to be a sentimental old man. At least I have many youthful companions along for the ride, which for me has become a pilgrimmage. I still don't know the answers to the really heart-breaking questions because my heart is still broken, battered and bruised. The best I have been able to do is a beaten man hanging on cross. Weirdly, he, too, is along on the ride. He bears his own scars, but has a burning concern about the ones the rest of us bear in our bodies and on our souls. He seems to have a sense of direction. While he seems to know where we should go, he is not really forceful about it, which makes him easy to ignore, but he goes where we go, even the strangest places, like our forays into the depths of hell. He sings this song with relish and a kind of sadness. I love that the first few chords of Wake Me Up When September Ends are the same as this version of the X classic.

Now there are seven kinds of Coke
500 kinds of cigarettes
This freedom of choice in the USA drives everybody crazy
Down in Acapulco
Well they don't give a damn
About kids selling Chiclets with no shoes on their feet
See how we are
"Hey man, Whats in it for me?"
See how we are



This is an Easter bonus track. While I'm at it, here's another, closer to the source-1986, John Doe of X, accompanied by Billy Zoom, singing about how we are twenty-two years later. Maybe I am not too old. In 1986 I was twenty-one and still felt this song:



Besides this, I am working on something about the politics of Dorothy Day, to whom, Servant of God that she is, whether she likes it or not, I found myself praying last night. I can't promise it fast, but it is in the works. I am also undecided about more X next week or Patti Smith's Gloria.

"punk rock's high priestess"



Just because Patti Smith is really great and theresa k. recently reminded me of this fact. So, Because the Night, which, while probably her most popular song, is nowhere near her best, is our Friday traditio. She co-wrote this song with Bruce Springsteen. It has been covered by numerous artists, not least among whom is the lovely and talented Natalie Merchant, formerly of 10,000 Maniacs.

With love we sleep
With doubt the vicious circle
Turn and burns
Without you I cannot live



Award show schlock is usually not worth the effort, but this is an exception all because Patti is so comfortable in her own skin and gives herself to her art in such a mesmerizing manner. She reminds us that we cannot live without loving and being loved and that we can neither love nor be loved without suffering.

I also want to share, via The Ironic Catholic, something from the late Charles Schultz: "Don't worry about the world coming to an end today. It is already tomorrow in Australia".

Monday, March 24, 2008

CHRISTOS ANESTI

I was stunned, awed, and filled with joy during the whole Easter Vigil, I got quite emotional at several points, not only at the Exsultet, which always wounds my heart, thus leaving a mark. I was and remain overwhelmed by the greatness of God, who is so great that He becomes small for us out of love.

I cannot believe that it is true, this can only be a work of divine grace, as is every conversion. Along with all the neophytes baptized last Saturday night is numbered Magdi Allam, who took the baptismal name Christian, as he was baptized by the Holy Father at the great Easter Vigil in St. Peter's Basilica. So much has been written since his baptism on Saturday, which I arranged to watch remotely via broadcast, that I will just chop you over to my dear friend Rocco at Whispers.

Allam is the deputy editor of Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper. He has been described as Italy's most "most-prominent Muslim commentator". Of course, as with all adult converts, in addition to being baptized, he was confirmed and received his first holy communion at the Vigil. Unlike most adult converts, he was given the grace of receiving these sacraments at the hands of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI.

In a statement, posted in its entirety by Sharon, Allam said, in part: "His Holiness has sent an explicit and revolutionary message to a Church that until now has been too prudent in the conversion of Muslims, abstaining from proselytizing in majority Muslim countries and keeping quiet about the reality of converts in Christian countries. Out of fear. The fear of not being able to protect converts in the face of their being condemned to death for apostasy and fear of reprisals against Christians living in Islamic countries. Well, today Benedict XVI, with his witness, tells us that we must overcome fear and not be afraid to affirm the truth of Jesus even with Muslims".

My dear friend in Christ, Alex, points us to an article in which Magdi Christian Allam recounts his conversion, the work of God in his life. In this account, Allam says: "At the same time providence brought me to meet practicing Catholics of good will who, in virtue of their witness and friendship, gradually became a point of reference in regard to the certainty of truth and the solidity of values. To begin with, among so many friends from Communion and Liberation, I will mention Father Juliàn Carròn; and then there were simple religious such as Father Gabriele Mangiarotti, Sister Maria Gloria Riva, Father Carlo Maurizi and Father Yohannis Lahzi Gaid; there was rediscovery of the Salesians thanks to Father Angelo Tengattini and Father Maurizio Verlezza, which culminated in a renewed friendship with major rector Father Pascual Chavez Villanueva; there was the embrace of top prelates of great humanity like Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Monsignor Luigi Negri, Giancarlo Vecerrica, Gino Romanazzi and, above all, Monsignor Rino Fisichella, who personally accompanied me in the journey of spiritual acceptance of the Christian faith." "Friends, that is, witnesses"! How truly glorious to actually see, to verify, God at work in us and through us, it is so very concrete and not ephemeral in the least.

This is witness, proclamation, martyria. "The Church's deepest nature," writes the Holy Father in Deus Caritas Est, "is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia)" (par. 25a). All Christians, by virtue of our baptism, are called to do all three all the time, without ceasing.

Writing about martyria, which is witness to Christ, today marks the twenty-eighth anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, El Salvador. You can listen to a podcast of a simply wonderful discussion about the life Oscar Romero over at America magazine, a conversation with Michael E. Lee, a professor of theology and Latin American studies at Fordham University in New York City.

Finally, there is the wonderful little story of Gorbachav and St. Francesco. God is good and works through His saints.

Dear sisters and brothers, this Easter let us greet one another with the ancient greeting CHRISTOS ANESTI, to which there is only one response ALITHOS ANESTI. In other words, CHRIST IS RISEN- TRULY HE IS RISEN. In each baptism (I had the privilege of witnessing fifteen and administering five over Easter), not only do we die and rise to eternal life, but Christ is raised again in us. What a miracle, a mystery beyond our comprehension! After all, every human being is a direct relationship with the Mystery, with God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

If you are so disposed, you can watch our Chrism Mass, the Mass of the Lord's Supper, and Good Friday liturgy from The Cathedral of the Madeleine, at which I am privileged to serve. On Good Friday, I am the deacon presenting the Cross and holding it for veneration

Sunday, March 23, 2008

"Resurrexi, et adhuc tecum sum. Alleluia!"

"I have risen, I am still with you. Alleluia!"

(The Resurrection, by Mathis Grünewald 1465-1528)

"In his glorious wounds we recognize the indestructible signs of the infinite mercy of the God of whom the prophet says: it is he who heals the wounds of broken hearts, who defends the weak and proclaims the freedom of slaves, who consoles all the afflicted and bestows upon them the oil of gladness instead of a mourning robe, a song of praise instead of a sorrowful heart" (cf. Is 61:1,2,3).
PP. Benedictus XVI

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Holy Saturday- The Triduum's space between


Today is the day of silence that falls between our gathering on Holy Thursday and the dismissal at the end of the Vigil tonight. The Triduum is all of a piece. From the Mass of the Lord's Supper to the dimissal at the end of the Easter Vigil, we are convened in liturgy, caught up in the mysterium paschale, the great mystery of our redemption, the mystery of the Lord's passing over from death into life.

Holy Saturday is, without a doubt, the oddest day of the year- "there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness", so we read in an ancient, anonymous homily for Holy Saturday. This homily is the second reading for the Office of Readings for this day. Every year I am deeply moved by it, especially by the account of Christ's descent into hell, where he seeks out our first parents, Adam and Eve. Upon finding them, he says:

"I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you . . . and we cannot be separated. For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden."

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday- The Triduum continues


"Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" (Matt. 27,46 & Psalm 22)


"'Sacrifice a lamb without blemish', commanded Moses, 'and sprinkle its blood on your doors'. If we were to ask him what he meant, and how the blood of an irrational beast could possibly save men endowed with reason, his answer would be that the saving power lies not in the blood itself, but in the fact that it is a sign of the Lord’s blood. In those days, when the destroying angel saw the blood on the doors he did not dare to enter, so how much less will the devil approach now when he sees, not that figurative blood on the doors, but the true blood on the lips of believers, the doors of the temple of Christ" (St. John Chrysostom, Catecheses). In other words, the saving power lies in the blood of Jesus and not elsewhere. What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus! So, on this day during which no masses are celebrated, let us take the time to be thankful for the Father's gift of his only begotten Son, made present to us in the Eucharist by the power of their Holy Spirit.

On today of all days, we look forward to the great Vigil during which we will once again sing the song of the redeemed after a long Lenten journey. One suggestion for today is to read and reflect on, in addition to one of the passion narratives from the Gospels (I am reflecting on Matthew's), chapter nine of the Letter to the Hebrews, verses 11-28.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Holy Thursday- The Triduum begins

fresco by Giotto (a.k.a. Ambrogio Bondone; 1304-06)


"If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do" (Jn. 13,14-15).


I also learned something very cool from Fr. Jamie Martin, SJ, who, writing over on America magazine's In All Things blog, informs us that as of Tuesday, 18 March 2008, Louisville, Kentucky has a Thomas Merton Square and a plaque on the corner, Fourth and Walnut, on which he experienced his deep conversion that "was," to use Pater Tom's own words, which appear in, what for my money is his greatest book, Conjectures of the a Guilty Bystander: "like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness". The world of which he wrote about as having a dream-like quality of 'separateness" and "spurious self-isolation", of course, was the world of his monastery. Far from pushing him away from his monastic vocation, this epiphany clarified and strengthened it, gave it more depth and meaning. You can't be holy alone, you can't be holy without without embracing the whole in some way, without washing feet.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah."

In Matthew chapter sixteen, the Pharisees and the Sadducees ask Jesus for a sign, just as Satan did in the desert in chapter four, because they want to "confirm Jesus's status without a sign requiring their lives to be changed" (Matthew 147). This reminds me of exchanges that, especially in this age of communication, occur among Catholics and between Catholics and non-Catholics, be they Christians or not, about sacramental signs.

I was made privy to a conversation recently in which one, no doubt well-meaning, participant was trying to argue for something the Church has always rejected, namely, that with the words of consecration the bread and wine undergo a physical change. The level at which this change occurs, according to this person, is the molecular level. Such an empirical claim can certainly be verified by subjecting consecrated hosts and wine to scientific analysis. Indeed, such an analysis would not constitute sacrilege if the Church actually made such an absurd claim. Sacraments are signs. As signs they do not merely point to what they signify, but effect it. In other words, sacraments are signum sacro sanctum efficax gratiae, that is, a sacrosanct sign effecting grace. Hence, the only way to empirically verify that, say, the Eucharist, which is the sacrament of sacraments, is Jesus Christ, Body, Blood, soul, and divinity, is what fruit it bears in our lives, individually and collectively. To seek any other proof is to be like the Pharisees and Sadducees, seeking to confirm Jesus' status without the necessity of changing our lives. Understanding this necessity constitutes faith, which is a form of knowledge, a way of experiencing reality, not an irrational leap into the void, though it does involve taking a risk that will cost us our lives as we follow Jesus to the Cross.

"We believe," writes Stanley Hauerwas, "that the truth of the gospel cannot be separated from the kind of lives required for the recognition of that truth" (Matthew 147). So, the belief in the real presence is not how we convince another of the truth about Jesus Christ, that he is "the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (Matt. 16,16). Rather, the Eucharist serves as a destination, but not a terminal destination. Jesus himself is our food for the journey to the Kingdom, giving us strength along our pilgrim path, accompanying us as our pillar of cloud and our pillar of fire (Exo. 13,21). Eucharist is not an end itself, it points us beyond, but our path is through this world. We are not saved despite our humanity, but through it. The Chalcedonian insight is that Jesus' humanity is his divinity, the two cannot be neatly separated out, just as we are our bodies, not souls trapped in bodies, which is a gnostic understanding that leads to disastrous conclusions about how to live.

Therefore, we must resist the temptation "to separate the truth of what we believe from the way we live" (Matthew 147-8). The Lord, as his rebuke of the Pharisees and Sadducees shows, "refuses to allow us to abstract our knowing from our living. The gospel is not information; it is a way of life" (Matthew 148). May this Holy Week serve to help us further incarnate what we know because, like Peter, it has been revealed to us, namely, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Holy Week



Posting will be light this week. Have a blessed Holy Week. Let us immerse ourselves in the Paschal Mystery, which is not only the meaning of this week, but of everything. Consider going to confession, reconciling with those from whom we are alienated. In other words, prepare the way for the Lord, prepare the way for the kingdom, which is inside us, in our hearts, like seeds waiting to sprout.

Since today is normally St. Patrick's Day- Beannachtaí na Féile Phádraig- Have a blessed St. Patrick's Day!

St. Patrick- pray for us this Holy Week

Saturday, March 15, 2008

"Prepare ye the Way of the Lord. Prepare ye the way for the Kingdom"



Reading for Evening Prayer I for Palm Sunday:

"Realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb. He was known before the foundation of the world but revealed in the final time for you, who through him believe in God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God" (1 Pet. 1,18-21)

mysterium Christi: faith and reason; truth and experience

"Therefore, from the day we heard this, we do not cease praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding to live in a manner worthy of the Lord, so as to be fully pleasing, in every good work bearing fruit and growing in the knowledge of God, strengthened with every power, in accord with his glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy giving thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light. He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he himself might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross (through him), whether those on earth or those in heaven.

"And you who once were alienated and hostile in mind because of evil deeds he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through his death, to present you holy, without blemish, and irreproachable before him, provided that you persevere in the faith, firmly grounded, stable, and not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, am a minister.

"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God's stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God, the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past. But now it has been manifested to his holy ones, to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; it is Christ in you, the hope for glory. It is he whom we proclaim, admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.

For this I labor and struggle, in accord with the exercise of his power working within me"
(Col. 1,9-29).

The answer to the question what, or, more accurately, who, holds all things together is Christ. How all things are held together (in Christ) is a scientific question. It is by scientifically seeking the answer that we begin to attain an understanding of reality that is not divorced from our experience. In other words, there are meta-physical questions and questions of physics. This seems to me a very crucial distinction that is all too often lost, not only on people like Richard Dawkins, but on people of faith as well. Our faith calls us to the space between rationalism and fideism, both of which we reject. It is necessary to understand this crucial distinction in order to shape a sound methodology as we seek a synthesis. Arriving at a synthesis enlarges our understanding, which, in turn, enables us to follow the One in whom, by whom, and for whom all things hold together. I am quite certain that this is a valid inference to draw from what St. Paul has written.

In his great synthesis, the Summa Theologica, St. Thomas of Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, in objection three, to question two, of article one, in the first part observes: "Further, the existence of truth is self-evident. For whoever denies the existence of truth grants that truth does not exist: and, if truth does not exist, then the proposition "Truth does not exist" is true: and if there is anything true, there must be truth. But God is truth itself: 'I am the way, the truth, and the life' (John 14:6). Therefore 'God exists' is self-evident." He concludes: "The existence of truth in general is self-evident but the existence of a Primal Truth is not self-evident to us." Rather, as the apostle tells us, "For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross (through him), whether those on earth or those in heaven."

Friday, March 14, 2008

Help Me Mary Please



Liz Phair, like St. Paul is one born out of time- okay bad analogy- but she is also one born out of place (i.e., too late for the bi-coastal punk scene and in Chicago). Her music is an eclectic blend of pop stylings, punk, and Chicago electric blues. Along with my dear Beth, she is one of my favorite post-punk alt artists. Her album Exile in Guyville remains a classic, at least for me. Help Me Mary, performed live in London, is our Friday traditio. The video and sound quality are not the greatest, but that is okay for Lent.

Jesus' disciples: humble,odd, and patient

Last evening the Church in Utah gathered for our annual Chrism Mass. We celebrate this joyous event the week prior to Holy Week because of the large size of our diocese, which, geographically, is the largest in the continental United States. Therefore, it was particularly providential this morning to read the thirteenth chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel and Hauerwas' commentary on all the parables in this dense collection of our Lord's teachings, which amount to many reflections on discipleship and the church.

About three weeks ago The Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey was released. In its wake there has been much hand-wringing. Just prior to drifting off into that little death we call sleep last evening, I read in the current issue of Commonweal, one of the best Catholic publications going, an editorial entitled The Missing, which is indicative of the response within the church to the Pew survey. The editorial concludes with this exhortation: "Yes, many Catholics have drifted from the church, and those who remain are often polarized. Yet no Catholic can take satisfaction in learning that the church has lost a third of its members. The church in America must give a better account of the hope that is in us".

It was helpful to be reminded that size, status, wealth, etc., are not what really what matter at the end-of-the-day. What matters is faithfulness to the Master, to Jesus Christ. "The gospel," Hauerwas observes, "is dangerous" (Matthew 129). Therefore, "[t]here is a kind of madness commensurate with being a disciple of Jesus" (133). "Too often those who propose strategies to recover the lost status and/or membership of the church do so hoping that people can be attracted to become members of the church without facing the demands of being a disciple of Jesus" (129). These strategies revolve around telling people what they are missing by not being members, what benefits to their lives, their prosperity, their relationships they would accrue by joining or returning to the church. Far from the madness commensurate with being Jesus' disciple, all of the above mentioned strategies are exercises in rationality, of calculation, determined by some kind of cost/benefit analysis. The idea being that in order to join or return to the church the benefits must outweigh the costs by a significant margin. Well, the cost of discipleship is steep. Jesus asks us for nothing less than everything we own and everything we are, for our whole lives poured out as an oblation in service (diakonia) to others. Christianity is not at all about what we get out of it. Jesus tells the disciples: "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matt. 10,37-39). So, the question is one of trust, of letting go, of following Jesus.

Let's use the last sentence of that passage as our evangelization theme and put it on billboards next to some of the church advertising billboards I've seen, like Go beyond religion. Beyond religion for me would mean staying up really late Saturday and sleeping really late on Sunday, making a great pot o' coffee, reading the Sunday NY Times, and going for a hike, topped off by watching a movie, or, better yet, a film. I prefer religion, I love worship, I love Mass, I can't love without Sunday, I digress . . . Following Jesus will not make you better looking, richer, or even a whole lot happier, if we use the world's definition of happiness. Neither will it make you smarter, help you get a promtion, or make it easier to write your master's thesis, even if it is in theology. It will help you become who God made you to be, but first you must die to yourself, then you must really, physically, die. Jesus, I trust in you.

Sentimentality is the enemy of Christian discipleship. Nonetheless, it is the "[t]he task of the church is to be uncompromisingly patient" (134).

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Who/what is politics about? Getting it right

Plato & Aristotle, by Raphael
from the Sistine Chapel


Contra disgraced former New York governor Eliot Spitzer's platonic philsopho-babble, politics is about people, not ideas. It's just that, ideally, politics is not about politicians, it is about the common good, that is, the rest of us, particularly the least among us. As our Bishops remind us every four years: "A basic moral test for our society is how we treat the most vulnerable in our midst. In a society marred by deepening disparities between rich and poor, Scripture gives us the story of the Last Judgment (see Mt 25:31-46) and reminds us that we will be judged by our response to the 'least among us'".

When those we elect cease to see themselves as beholden to we the people and begin to see themselves as our rulers, as somehow above the law, our democracy is endangered.

On the day the sex scandal exploded, then-Gov. Spitzer had a 3:00 PM appointment with the Catholic bishops of New York, who were going to register their protest to his abortion bill, which was pending in the legislature. Paul Moses, writing over on dotCommonweal, writes about this bill that seeks to legislatively "declare abortion a 'fundamental right'". Can you imagine, among those inalienable rights with which the human person is endowed by her Creator, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and, oh yeah, abortion? In such a schema, which happens to be the one set forth by our nation's founders and bolstered by our our faith, abortion would negate the right to life with which we are endowed, that is, gifted, by our Creator. To paraphrase Pope John Paul II, without the right to life all other rights are kind of meaningless. Taking my cue from David Letterman, I am hoping to have water-skiiing drunk added to the laundry list of fundamental rights.

Such foolishness is the direct result of a fundamental error. That error is precisely conceiving of politics as being about ideas and not about people, about the human person, who is a direct relationship with the Mystery, from the time of conception throughout eternity. This puts me in mind of the beginning of St. Augustine's Confessions, where we read: "Great are You, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is Your power, and of Your wisdom there is no end. And man, being a part of Your creation, desires to praise You, man, who bears about with him his mortality, the witness of his sin, even the witness that Thou 'resistest the proud,'—yet man, this part of Your creation, desires to praise You. Thou movest us to delight in praising You; for You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You." (Book I, chapter 1).

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

More on foreign policy and presidential politics

Writing for Dissent on-line, Nicolaus Mills opines a bit more about last week's dust-up involving Samantha Power's comments about Sen. Clinton. Prof. Mills disagrees with the Obama campaign's eager acceptance of her resignation and offers another, more plausible reason for the quick acceptance of her offer to resign.

Commenting on a BBC News interview Power gave while on her fateful London trip, Mills observes that perhaps this interview is the reason why her resignation was immediately accepted, maybe even sought by the campaign, whose foreign policy guru she had been until last Friday. Mills obeserves that in the interview "she spoke with a complexity that Barack Obama has not yet displayed on the campaign trail about the problems of a quick American pullout from Iraq. After explaining to her BBC interviewer that Obama’s 16-month plan for American troop withdrawal was only 'a best-case scenario,' Power went on to paint a stark picture of the practical obstacles Obama would face as president. 'He will of course not rely upon some plan that he crafted as a presidential candidate or as a US senator,' Power told the BBC. 'He will rely on a plan, an operational plan that he pulls together in consultation with people who are on the ground, to whom he doesn’t have daily access now as a result of not being the president.'" This should do away with any charges of naïveté on her part and show the realism that foreign policy requires whether we like it or not.

In other not so good foreign policy news, Admiral William Fallon, commander of U.S. Central Command suddenly announced his retirement today. In all likelihood the reason he retired was because he found all the saber rattling with regard to Iran unhelpful to on-going efforts to stabilize the Middle East in the wake of our Iraqi adventure and was urging immediate reductions in U.S. forces. This apparently put him at odds with some in the Administration, though, oddly enough, not his immediate boss, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who is also an eminently reasonable person and who, I believe, was very sad to see Fallon's departure.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Christian monasticism: giving witness to Jesus

I found a really convincing rationale today for the success of the film Into Great Silence, about life at La Grande Chartreuse (the great charterhouse) of the Carthusian monastic order. Sharon, over on Clarity Daily has a wonderful recent post on the inherent power of this film. The rationale comes from a Protestant theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, whose book Matthew, which is one volume in the BrazosPress series Theological Commentary on the Bible, is accompanying me through my most recent reading of The Gospel According to St. Matthew. In his theological commentary on Matthew chapter ten, about Jesus' sending of the twelve to preach the gospel, Hauerwas writes: "We should not be surprised, therefore, that monasticism has always remained one of the most effective forms of Christian witness, for monks and nuns must learn to travel light, to offer and receive hospitality, to trust one another for their very ability to live" (107).

He goes on to point out that the driving force behind Christian monasticism was not, at least in the first instance, "a form of witness to those not Christian" (107). Nonetheless, he continues, "the attractive character of monastic life makes monks and nuns witnesses to strangers almost in spite of themselves, for the joy that radiates from truthful worship of God proves to be an irresistible witness to those who have not yet been confronted by Jesus's summons" (107). He concludes by explaining why monasticism has this attraction: "All people are created for such joy" (107).

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The on-going trivialization of U.S. politics

Samantha Power is a brilliant person. She is affiliated with The Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. She is the author of the book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 2003. A Problem from Hell is one of those must read books on current world concerns. She has also written a forward to a 2004 edition of Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism. Her most recent book, Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World, was published on 14 February 2008.

Powers is in her late thirties and representative of a new generation of thinkers. Until this past Friday she was Senator Obama's leading foreign policy advisor, though working in an unpaid capacity. The reason for her resignation are some unfortunate, intemperate, and no doubt emotion-driven comments she made during a recent trip to London, one of which was calling Sen. Hillary Clinton "a monster". The context for the "monster" statement, however, was Power referring to Clinton's campaign tactics, as this Times Online report shows:

“Ms Power made the offending remark during a trip to London this week in which she was apparently too candid about the problems facing the Obama campaign.

“‘We f***** up in Ohio,” she told the newspaper. ‘In Ohio, they are obsessed and Hillary is going to town on it, because she knows Ohio’s the only place they can win.

“‘She is a monster, too – that is off the record – she is stooping to anything,’ Ms Power added. The newspaper described her as ‘hastily trying to withdraw her remark’.

“Scotsman editor Mike Gilson tonight stepped in to defend his use of the ‘off-the-record’ quotes.

“He said: ‘We have no opinion on whether Ms Power was right to quit and perhaps politics should be able to retain people with talent who are prepared to learn by their mistakes but we are certain it was right to publish. I do not know of a case when anyone has been able to withdraw on the record quotes after they have been made.’”
Samantha Power

So, on 7 March she offered her resignation with these words: “With deep regret, I am resigning from my role as an advisor the Obama campaign effective today. Last Monday, I made inexcusable remarks that are at marked variance from my oft-stated admiration for Senator Clinton and from the spirit, tenor, and purpose of the Obama campaign. And I extend my deepest apologies to Senator Clinton, Senator Obama, and the remarkable team I have worked with over these long 14 months." It is important to note that her resignation and apology were delivered without any apparent coercion and without her making any excuses, not even invoking her attempt to hastily withdraw the comment from the record.

I certainly do not agree with Ms. Power’s comment on Sen. Clinton. At the end-of-the day, whether her remarks were on or off the record is immaterial to me. I agree with the editor of The Scotsman, though not with his decision to publish the remarks, which I still see as a violation of journalistic ethics as well as blatant sensationalism, regarding allowing people to make amateur mistakes without it being fatal. She is a talented, smart, committed woman with a lot to contribute and a few things to learn, especially about politics. Should Obama become president I certainly hope Ms. Power will be on-hand in some advisory capacity or even in an official position.

I think candidates who seek to sell themselves as uniters and reconcilers, which both Democratic candidates certainly do, need to take opportunities to show us that they are. Senator Clinton could begin by publicly accepting Ms. Power's public apology and forgiving her, instead of contributing to the on-going trivialization of presidential politics. For his part, Obama, as one commenter suggested over on Talking Points Memo , could refuse to accept her resignation while acknowledging the wrongness of her statement, thus upping the ante and the moral tone of the campaign.

As I wrote elsewhere, if all this makes me a naïf, then I am content to remain one. "I beg to dream and differ from the shallow lies", even if I fail at times to rise to such a high standard.

Springing forward from death to life

The beginning of holiness is the recognition that we are not well. This leads nicely into today's Gospel, wherein Jesus raises Lazerus from the dead. I think this part of today's word particularly instructive in this regard:

"So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb.
It was a cave, and a stone lay across it.
Jesus said, 'Take away the stone.'
Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him,
'Lord, by now there will be a stench;
he has been dead for four days.'
Jesus said to her,
'Did I not tell you that if you believe
you will see the glory of God?'"


Jesus demands that the stone that lays across our heart be removed. He knows that there is a stench, which is the toxic smell of death that results from our sin. Then, in the very face of death, Jesus reveals to us the glory of God.

This is my 700th post on Καθολικός διάκονος

Larry Norman: Gone home

I have a confession to make. I let the death of Larry Norman, who passed into eternity back on 24 February, pass without a word. I can't claim ignorance. I knew he had passed. Anyway, Larry Norman pretty much invented the genre of Christian rock. Unlike the industry it eventually spawned, Larry never, ever lost his integrity, which meant that he never got rich, something for which he is now probably quite grateful. I was introduced to his music by a guitar playing Christian brother, who would regale me, like a child, over and again with the song The Outlaw, which remains one of my favorite songs about our Lord. So, if you want to hear some of Larry Norman's cuts, like the classic Why Should the Devil have all the good music" visit his website. If you like what you hear, order a cd right off the site. Also, it would be worth your while to read Larry's last message, it is beautiful. The video is not the greatest, with him doing an unplugged version of Sweet, Sweet Song of Salvation, but it'll do as a tribute, especially given that he is now singing that sweet, sweet song of the redeemed.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

How to acknowledge evil


Stanley Hauerwas asserts that, as disciples of Jesus, we "are not to judge because any judgment that needs to be made has been made. For those who follow Jesus to act as if [we] can, on [our] own, determine what is good and what is evil is to betray the work of Christ. Therefore, the appropriate stance for acknowledgement of evil is the confession of sin." (Matthew 85).

From this and other premises, in the next chapter of his book, he arrives at this conclusion, which I think quite brilliant: "The church's safety comes through the confession of our sinfulness, which is nowhere more apparent than our refusal to live in accordance with who this man, Jesus, says he is. It is only through the confession of sin that the church becomes for the world what the world cannot be for itself" (97).

Friday, March 7, 2008

Sarah Silverman: satire as social commentary (how alliterative)



In this clip from her program, dear Sarah, in her blunt, brilliant, over-the-top and funny way shows how both sides have a lot to get over when it comes to abortion. This is something like a Sarah Silverman short adaptation of the 1996 film Citizen Ruth, starring Laura Dern, which was praised by people of vastly different opinions on this deeply serious and grave matter. This clip, which is not for the easily offended, shows how satire can serve a social purpose, though I know Sarah would probably skewer me by ruthlessly making fun of my earnestness.

To further demonstrate, as with posting a live performance of Green Day's Jesus of Suburbia last fall (blame any lapses of judgment on the fact that the clip is Sarah Silverman AND Green Day), that there are serious points I am trying to make, I offer a link to one of the most insightful things I have read on the sore subject of abortion over the past few years. It is an article that appeared in the 30 May 2005 edition America magazine, written by Dennis O'Brien and entitled No to Abortion: Posture, Not Policy.

So, to point out the futility of sloganeering, which is how we do politics in this country: If it is a child and not a choice, then why urge people to choose life? Implicit in the latter phrase is the recognition that choice is always involved, even if abortion were to be made illegal. By recognizing that choice plays a role in every human situation, we recognize that we must respect freedom because choosing requires freedom. Of course, in turn, freedom entails responsibility. Our responsibility is moral, which means doing what is good and avoiding what is evil. Indeed, the intentional killing of a nascent human being is objectively wrong.

All of this requires correctly formed consciences. This gets us back to respecting the freedom of each person. To be a mature, well-integrated, person with a properly formed conscience is precisely not to be a moral automaton, but a free person. I think we all chafe at things like: "it's not that you can't; it's that you must not". The truth of the matter is I can, even if I must not. Indeed, what is important is knowing what is right. It is in knowing what is right and freely choosing it that I find true liberation, the freedom to become who I am. Therefore, knowing what is right does not in any way limit my freedom, it is the path to freedom to true liberation. Any teaching about what is right that seeks to limit freedom is rightly to be rejected. It is our failure to recognize this that results in many young people walking away. You know what? They are right to reject it. Jesus did not teach this way. So, in walking away, they are not rejecting Jesus. In fact, it is precisely by walking away from dictatorial Christianity that follow Jesus, many are quite conscious of this fact. That is why many people, rightly, have an aversion to organized religion.

Freedom is what we often find so damned perplexing and scary. It is our fear of freedom, and that of others, that causes us to want to make God a dictator. Well, God is not and never will dictate to us, that is, eradicate our freedom. "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (2 Cor. 3,17). People in recovery learn this truth. They learn that I must not drink/use drugs/engage in compulsive sexual behavior, etc., but I can. When I feel my addiction bursting the seams of my freedom, or even when it becomes my desire to do what I must not do, I remain free to do it. This is scary because it is here, at intersection of must not and can, that I understand the limits of my freedom and my weakness, my need for One who is greater than me, but my need is not for someone to tell me what to do, I know what I should do, what I must do, but do not want, for whatever complex of indeterminate reasons, to do it. I need compassion, not somebody to suffer for me, but with me, to share my broken-ness. Like Martin Darrow in Susan howatch's novel Absolute Truths, I learn that "It makes all the difference to know there's someone else screaming alongside you - and that's the point of the Incarnation, I can see that so clearly now. God came into the world and screamed alongside us". More than that, in his resurrection, Christ bridges the infinite void, the gap between us and God.

We also need other people who care about and who love us. For people in recovery, this is where one picks up the phone and calls a sponsor, a friend, someone who will come to my assistance and make haste to help me- this is why we begin each hour of the Liturgy of the Hours, with the exception of the first hour (Lord, open my lips. And my mouth shall proclaim your praise) with O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me. Many days this is the most heartfelt and truly prayed part of Evening Prayer. God usually answers this prayer through people who care. That is why if our congregations are not communities of care what we do is mostly pointless.

At the end-of-the-day, what most matters is that our lovely God makes all things intermingle for the good of those who love him, bringing hope from the pit of despair, and life from death.

"(Now) this is how we shall know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts before him in whatever our hearts condemn, for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything. Beloved, if (our) hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And his commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us. Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit that he gave us" (1 Jn 3,19-24- italicizing and underlining mine).



(Please notice the lovely people in the audience).


"It's not a question, but an answer learned in time". This, dear friends, is our Friday traditio.

Suffering: "an existential reality"

"Thanks for the post.

I'm not entirely sure I agree that suffering has no intrinsic value, however. Certainly, Augustine's perception of evil is a reasonable and acceptable one, but understanding suffering is more than understanding evil. Evil is a necessary factor in suffering (which I would contend is a distinctly human phenomenon), but suffering is more than just evil; even if by the mere fact that it occurs in the human person, we are bound to say that something about suffering requires goodness, and specifically the loss of goodness at that. Whereas evil is, for Augustine, simply the depravation of a due good--a metaphysically nullity--suffering is a real and existential truth. Therefore, there seems to be something more in suffering than in evil, even on the primal and ontological level.

Further, I would suggest that understanding evil requires going beyond simply what Augustine proposed; while he is a Father of the Church and oft-quoted by Thomas, there is certainly a lot of good, newer philosophy that gives wonderful insight into the problem of evil. Thus, our understanding of suffering is also augmented.

I'd like to hear what you think. I'd also be curious to see more posts on the topic--unless we've already beat it into the ground :-P

Thanks. In Christ,
Andrew"


Dear Andrew:

Thank you for your comments and your great insights. I always appreciate the opportunity to explore more deeply questions of such importance.

You write that "suffering is a real and existential truth." I agree. You also assert that there is more to suffering than its merely being caused by evil. Here I will part ways with you. I think that there is something like a cause and effect relationship between suffering and evil. For my pedestrian purposes I pose the following: through suffering evil becomes real and existential, in its parasitical way, in our very person. Suffering, like evil, is the result of living in a broken and fallen world, which was caused by human disobedience. Suffering is not a punishment for disobedience, just a natural consequence. I never pass on an opportunity to point our Malcolm Muggeridge's observation that original sin is the most empirically verifiable fact in the world. So, for us as Christians, this is a non-controversial suggestion, we would even say that it is axiomatic, which is to say dogmatic.

Dostoevsky makes a distinction between redeemed and unredeemed suffering. The latter being things that just happen to us that cause us to suffer, like suddenly enduring the loss of a loved one and the former being the suffering we bring upon ourselves, not God's punishment, due to sin, to abusing our freedom. As attractive as this distinction is, I can only accept it with a few caveats, with which Dostoevsky would not necessarily disagree. The first caveat is that Jesus Christ redeems all suffering, even the suffering caused by our sins, this is the point St. Paul makes over and again, but stated succinctly in Romans: "while we were still sinners Christ died for us" (Rom 5,8). The point of the distinction, it seems to me, is to present the contrast for the purpose of assigning some intrinsic value to what he calls redeemed suffering. The necessary caveat to this, which builds on my first caveat, is that in order for suffering to have meaning, to have value, it must be appropriated by the person who is suffering and seen in the light of Christ.
When something happens that causes a person to suffer, the death of a child, say, there is no inherent, that is, intrinsic value in such an occurrence, no good in itself. After all, how can, say, a tsunami be a bad thing? In terms of nature the Christmas tsunami of a few years ago was just a massive shift of tectonic plates. However, to the people affected, as well as for those of us who were not affected, it was truly bad precisely because of the human suffering it caused. There is no intrinsic value, that is, no good in itself, in being diagnosed with a fatal, or even a chronic disease. There is no intrinsic value in being mentally ill, or chemically dependent. None of these things, these occurrences in and of themselves make anybody holier, they might just as well drive one to despair. I know a man who was once a physician, an anesthesiologist who worked in a hospital, he was successful and then he had some terrible things happen in his life. He now lives on the street drug and alcohol dependent, walking around in a stupor most of the time. Did his tragedies have inherent value for him? No. Could they have value for him? Yes! Do I hope that he arrives at meaning, able to make sense of his traumatic story? More than anything in the world! It is not being too trivial to suggest that he must allow his story to be made part of God's story. Jesus Christ makes this really, that is, ontologically, possible.

Let's face it, if we insist that suffering has intrinsic value, is a positive good, a good in itself, we really are giving evil more than its due. Beyond that, if suffering is a good in itself, we can, at least at times, blame God for causing us to suffer. I submit that God does no such thing. I agree that St. Thomas has a lot to say that is of value on a vast array of issues, including suffering. Being far more an Augustinian than a Thomist, however, I am inclined to think Thomas a bit too theoretical in parts. Therefore, I find Thomas' writings a better place to begin and Augustine's writing a better place to end. I simply find St. Augustine more existentially aware than St. Thomas.

I do not believe that evil is a problem, as in something to be solved, just as suffering is not a theory, but, as you put it, an existential reality. Therefore, with the Buddhist we say to live is to suffer. The difference is in how we make sense of suffering. I can only make sense of my suffering. Due to its real and existential character, suffering is deeply personal. The intensely personal nature of suffering is what makes us feel so alone when we suffer. Enduring suffering can lead to alienation as easily as it can lead us to God. This alienation is not only from God, but from other people, and from the world. Most devastating is alienation from one's self, which is where dangers like addiction can creep in. Community is crucial to making sense of suffering, to redeeming it, to enduring it. Let's be honest, having communities of care and concern, which, od necessity, must be communities of truth, is not always the Church's strong point. For these and other reasons I am suspicious and remain unconvinced by any grand theory of suffering, which is not to reject that it can be salvific, just a refusal to accept that it is intrinsically so. Put simply, as far as I can tell, there is a lot of pointless suffering in the world.

I appreciate very much your comments and questions. I also appreciate very much fraternal nature of your comment. So, rather than me posting more on suffering (it has consumed most of my blogging this week- all from reading a book review!), which is a great meditation during Lent, one that I see as Providential, I invite you to be a guest blogger and post a Thomistic take on the value of suffering. I would be most eager to read such a contribution.

In Christ our Eucharist,
Dcn Scott

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Some thoughts while awaiting the Easter encyclical

As we eagerly await the Holy Father's Easter encyclical on social justice, which he began writing last year, the fortieth anniversary of Pope Paul VI's landmark encyclical, Populorum Progresso and, given that this is an election year here in the U.S., during which a lot of attention will be paid to economic matters, making permanent the Republican tax cuts of the Bush years, health insurance, predatory lending practices, free trade agreements, etc., it seems a good time to revisit somes themes, explored in a post from last Fall, and to do so in a manner not very familiar to Christians in these United States. I want to begin by posting a passage that appears in the introduction to the book Marxism and Christianity, which is quoted by Hauerwas in Matthew, by philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, who also authored the seminal work After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, in which he writes this of capitalism:

"Christianity has to view any social and economic order that treats being or becoming rich as highly desirable as doing wrong to those who must not only accept its goals, but succeed in achieving them. Riches are, from a biblical point of view, an affliction, an almost insuperable obstacle to entering the kingdom of heaven. Capitalism is bad for those who succeed by its standards as well as for those who fail by them, something that many preachers and theologians have failed to recognize. And those Christians who have recognized it have often enough been at odds with ecclesiastical as well as economic and political authorities" (xiv).

This brings to mind, once again, something uttered by Archbishop Helder Camara, an unswerving champion of the poor, who paid both the political and ecclesiastical price for so being: "When I feed the poor, they call me a Saint. When I ask why are they poor, they call me a Communist". This, in turn, brings us to the question posed by Papa Montini in his great encyclical: how does the love of God abide in the person "who has the goods of this world and sees his brother in need and closes his heart to him" (par. 23)? "Everyone knows," he continues, "that the Fathers of the Church laid down the duty of the rich toward the poor in no uncertain terms" (par. 23). Pope Paul goes on to quote St. Ambrose of Milan, who, speaking to the rich, said: "You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich" (De Nabute c. 12, n. 53). It is on this basis that Pope Paul concludes that "No one may appropriate surplus goods solely for his own private use when others lack the bare necessities of life." In short, "the right of private property may never be exercised to the detriment of the common good" (par. 23). When people lack life’s necessities it is not, properly speaking, an act of charity to give her what she needs to live, but an act of justice. I agree with Fr. Timothy Radcliffe who, basing his observations on the writing of fellow Dominican Herbert McCabe, sees the absolutization of private property to the detriment of the common good as something that must be overcome. One of Jesus' parables, found in Luke 12,15-21, which a parallel passage to part of Matthew chapter six, is a good illustration of the Gospel basis of this way of approaching the goods of this world.

As Stanley Hauerwas observes, reflecting on the part of the Lord's prayer in which we pray, "give us this day our daily bread"": "Just as God supplied Israel daily with bread in the wilderness, so followers of Jesus have been given all they need in order to learn to depend on one another on a daily basis. Without the community that Jesus has called into existence, we are tempted to hoard, to store up resources, in a vain effort to insure safety and security. Of course our effort to live without risk not only results in injustice, but also makes our own lives anxious, fearing that we never have enough (Matt. 16:19-21). In truth, we can never have enough if what we want is the bread that the devil offered Jesus" (Matthew 78).

Writing of things a bit out of the mainstream, Ms. Alice Bag posts a great pic with commentary over on her blog, Diary of a Bad Housewife.

On being "the forgiven"

In his deeply moving address before Pope John Paul II in 1998, Msgr. Luigi Giussani asserted that "Existence expresses itself, as ultimate ideal, in begging. The real protagonist of history is the beggar: Christ who begs for man's heart, and man's heart that begs for Christ". In my daily pondering of St. Matthew’s Gospel, which is being facilitated by Stanley Hauerwas, who spoke at last year at CL's main event, The Meeting, which is held in Rimini, Italy, I was struck by an observation on chapter six, wherein Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray. Before proceeding to the relevant and revelatory (at least for me) observation, I think what Hauerwas writes concerning Jesus' admonition, given at the end of this chapter, not to worry is important: "The temptation . . . is to assume that Jesus's admonition not to worry is some general human truth that is true whether Jesus says it or not. But, as we have seen, the content of the sermon cannot be abstracted from the one who delivers the sermon" (Matthew 82).

Earlier in the chapter Hauerwas asks, Do we really "want to pray that our debts be forgiven as we have forgiven our debtors"? The truth of matter, he asserts, is that "we find it easier to forgive than to be forgiven". Why is this true? It is true because we spend a lot of our lives "trying to avoid acknowledging we owe anyone anything. Yet to be a follower of Jesus, to learn to pray [the Our Father], means that we must first learn that we are the forgiven. To learn to be forgiven is no easy lesson, desiring as we do to be our own master - if not creator. But to be a disciple of Jesus demands that we recognize that our life is a gift that requires, if we are to live in a manner appropriate to our being a creature, our willingness to accept forgiveness with joy" (Matthew 79). Besides, does not being the benevolent bestower of forgiveness smack of the same kind of arrogance that is shown in our desire to be our own master, our own creator, an arrogance that moves beyond ourselves and extends to others? Our very ability to truly forgive is only made possible because "while we were still sinners Christ died for us" (Rom 5,8).

I think that this passage really gets at the heart of the matter. Any understanding of being human that rejects our created-ness, our contingency, our bodily nature, our dependence on God, or our broken-ness, is a fantasy. Most pernicious of all are those theologies that teach us we only get from God what we earn, like the allowance we used to receive for cleaning our room, mowing the lawn, taking out the trash, and shoveling the driveway. Being recreated by being graciously forgiven is the beginning of life because it offers unfailing hope. It is in Christ Jesus, through our baptism, that the nature of our relationship with God changes from one of creature, albeit beloved creature who is called, to one of daughter or son of "our Father", one who is chosen.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

"What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus"

As you are all aware by now, I am currently reading in the morning the volume on the Gospel of Matthew from the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. This particular volume is authored by theologian Stanley Hauerwas, who teaches at the Divinity School of Duke University in North Carolina. Dr. Hauerwas works within the Methodist tradition. Like Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Lutherans, Methodists are ecclesial, which makes them quite catholic. In fact, there are ways in which their ecclesiology is better developed, understood, and lived than among Roman Catholics. This is primarily due to the fact that not only has Roman Catholic ecclesiology not overcome clericalism, it seems to be returning to a form of clericalism that might yet prove disastrous, complete with its confectionary view of the sacraments- Pardon me while I whip up some Eucharist for you, as if the assembly has no role. Such an understanding is a recipe for spiritual infantilism, not Christian maturity. This is what I was hinting at last night in discussing penance as a sacrament. Precisely because it is a sacrament, it is not limited to the transaction that occurs in the box. Exploring ecclesiology, ministry, and orders is my research for my thesis which, when fully articulated, will have something to do with what role deacons play, which is a supporting and bridge-building role both between the Church and the world and between priestly and lay ministry. Anyway, I digress.

This morning I read Hauerwas' theological commentary on the fifth chapter of Matthew's Gospel, which is the first part of the Sermon on the Mount. I stopped underlining due to the realization that I might underline most of the chapter. So, I limited myself to a long passage that Hauerwas quotes from The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster, by Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder. This quote, along with another by Lutheran Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from his incredible book Discipleship, have to do with how suffering has meaning in light of Michael Spencer's observation I posted last night. The two are interspersed with a quote by Hauerwas himself.
Yoder: "the cross and not the sword, suffering and not brute power determines the meaning of history. The key to the obedience of God's people is not their effectiveness but their patience. The triumph of the right is assured not by the might that comes to the aid of right, which is of course the justification of the use of violence and other kinds of power in every human conflict. The triumph of the right, although it is assured, is sure because of the power of the resurrection and not because of any calculation of causes and effects, nor because of the inherently greater strength of the good guys. The relationship between the obedience of God's people and the triumph of God's cause is not a relationship between cause and effect but one of cross and resurrection" (Matthew 72-emboldening and underlining mine).

Hauerwas, commenting on this passage of Yoder's and on the final verse of Matthew chapter five: "We are called, therefore, to be perfect, but perfection names our participation in Christ's love of his enemies. Perfection does not mean that we are sinless or that we are free of anger or lust. Rather, to be perfect is to learn to be part of a people who take the time to live without resorting to violence to sustain their existence. To so live requires habits like learning to tell one another the truth, to be faithful in our promises to one another, to seek reconciliation. To so live can be called pacifism and/or nonviolence, but such descriptions do no do justice to the form of life described in the Beatitudes and antitheses, for that form of life can be lived truthfully only if Christ is who Matthew says he is, that is, the Son of God" (Matthew 72-emboldening and underlining mine).

Bonhoeffer: "Only those who there, in the cross of Jesus, find faith in the victory over evil can obey his command, and that is the only kind of obedience which has the promise. Which promise? The promise of community with the cross of Jesus and of community with his victory . . .

In the cross alone is it true and real that suffering love is the retribution for the overcoming of evil. Participation in the cross is given to the disciples by the call to discipleship". They are blessed in this visible community"
(Matthew 73- emboldening and underlining mine).

So many hymns, verses, stories of other people I have been privileged to hear and, in small ways, be a part, as well as vignettes from my own story have flooded my mind this morning. I want to be a disciple of Jesus, not merely an admirer. Only in the Cross of Jesus does suffering have meaning. Apart from the Cross suffering is meaningless, which is why it bears no intrinsic value. Suffering can only be assigned meaning according to this divine hermeneutic, the interpretive key being our Lord himself, who redeems our suffering by his unfailing love for us. Insofar as we live lives that redeem suffering by unfailing love, which, among other things, means helping people find their voices in order to tell their stories, to tell the truth, to speak the the truth in love and not out of spite, thus joining their "stories with his", we are his disciples. Stated simply, Jesus' disciples, in whatever situation we may find ourselves, seek to bring about reconciliation. This also means acknowledging the truth about ourselves, becoming who we are, which is beloved children of the Father through the Son, and thus empowered by the Spirit, who, Luke Timothy Johnson tells us, is the mode of Christ's resurrection presence among us.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Thank you

I was gratified to learn this evening that this blog, denoted in transliterated form as Catholikos Diakonos, has been nominated in several categories of the annual Catholic Blog Awards. The categories for which I am nominated are: Best Blog by Clergy/Religious/Seminarian, Best Written Catholic Blog, Most Informative & Insightful Catholic Blog, and Smartest Catholic Blog. In addition, our CL collaborative blog, Cahiers Peguy: the drama of Christian humanism, was nominated for Best Group Blog.

Without sounding too maudlin, or over-the-top, thank you. I am humbled. It is always nice to be encouraged and to receive validation, especially for an endeavor that truly comes from my soul and which I do not do competitively and could not do without a community.

God's story is good news

I have been pondering the meaning of suffering ever since reading a review of Dr. Sidney Callhan's latest book last Friday. My assertion that suffering has no intrinsic meaning because evil is a parasite has prompted a few very good questions and observations. It seems that the question, which is one that I am pretty sure Callhan addresses in her book- it is certainly addressed by Crysdale and Dr. Williams, among others- after the assertion that evil and suffering have no intrinsic meaning, once we have clarified that God is not a sadist and we are not masochists, is can suffering have meaning? If suffering can and does have meaning, how? Hint: there is no Deus ex machina involved. If suffering is to have meaning it must be appropriated, that is, made sense of by the sufferer. Well, this gets us back to Hauerwas' assertion that "Eschatology indicates that the world, including ourselves, is storied". Michael Spencer (a.k.a. the internetmonk) gives us clarity in the form of wisdom, which is always succinct. In a post entitled Humiliation, Humanity and the Fifth Commandment: Can We Tell The Truth About Those Whose Sin Affects Us?, he writes: "The Gospel is God’s story. The Biblical story is God’s story. The invitation of God is to join our stories with his, and to come to terms with the elements of our own stories in the context of the story that reveals a new world and new people in the image of Jesus Christ."

This is not an unheard of way of making sense of suffering. In fact, both Williams and Crysdale, along with many other Christian writers and theologians, insist that this is the way of making sense of suffering, especially our own. It is not somebody else's job to tell our story, we must find our voice and tell our own story. In this way we become not just admirers of Jesus, but disciples. It is also bears noting that Michael's post is a powerful meditation on how sin is never a private affair, but affects our communion. I find it heartening to be reminded by a Protestant brother that, as Catholics, we need to find a way of reappropriating this truth through our practice of penance as a sacrament, which, for many, has become a dead exercise of reading off our (dirty) laundry list in an ornate box. Hence, something to be avoided. I think this is an area in which a mutual exchange could prove most fruitful.

A bit more on why suffering has no intrinsic value

Descent in to hell

In writing about evil in the context of our Lord's temptations in the desert, Stanley Hauerwas reminds us that "God's love risks our disobedience in the hope that we will freely return the love he has for us. God refuses to coerce us to participate in the love that is the interdependent life of the Trinity". He goes on to discuss the nature of evil, which, as pointed out last Friday, has no intrinsic value. It has no intrinsic value because evil has no intrinsic, that is, independent, existence. It is not too much to say that evil is always parasitical, a perversion.

To make this point, Hauerwas points us to something that St. Augustine wrote on the nature, or the lack of any distinct nature, of evil: "If every being, insofar as it is a being, is good then when we assert that a defective thing is bad, it would seem we are saying that evil is in fact good, for any defect depends on the goodness that is always prior and therefore there is no evil apart from that which is good. In other words, nothing evil exists in itself, but only as an evil aspect of some entity because every actual entity is good [omnia natura bonum est]. Absurd as this sounds, the logical connections of the arguments nevertheless compel us to this inevitability" (Matthew 51).

Picking up more from Hauwerwas, especially on politics, please see Politics: Worship and Sacrifice- making a judgment.