Thursday, April 30, 2009

Faith found and lost

Immediately after posting my gouge on the Pew Forum's latest research yesterday, I drove to work listening to On Point with Tom Ashbrook. He was interviewing William Lobdell, a former religion reporter for the Los Angeles Times and author of the book Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America-and Found Unexpected Peace, whose personal story of faith and religious practice is odd. The program website summarizes it well:

"Award-winning journalist William Lobdell grew up an indifferent Episcopalian. Drifted from faith. By age 28, his life was a mess. He couldn’t stand the person he’d become. A friend told him, 'You need God.'

"Lobdell found Jesus. Felt his heart split wide open. Was born again, to the tune of Amazing Grace. Was saved.

"And then, over fifteen years, it all fell apart. Now, Lobdell puts himself in the ranks of American atheists. And he’s telling the wrenching story of his journey into and out of faith."
It was an interesting interview. Lobdell is very honest about where he stands, but quite unclear as to why. One of the questions posed, which reduces faith to moralism, is "If Christians are no more ethical than atheists, why belong to a church?" While that is a good question, it is reductive and ignores the fact that Christians see the world and ourselves as fallen, but in the process of being redeemed, this is a very uneven process. I mean, if we were magically perfected by being baptized, or coming to faith in Christ, there would be no need for any other sacrament, least of all confession. In addition to Giussani, another antidote for this kind of reductive view is Timothy Radcliffe's What Is The Point of Being A Christian? Catholic Christianity is not now and never has been strictly binary, that is, either/or, but both/and, accounting for reality according to the totality of its factors.

I don't mind stating that I am suffering from blogger's blah. So, unless really moved, there will be much less filling this cyber space. It seems that unless you can state something in 140 characters or less, nobody's gonna take the time. Don't look for me on Twitter, I have difficult enough time convincing myself participate on Facebook. Call me a Luddite, but I stand opposed to reduction and exalting quantity over quality, our ability to reason is already short-circuited enough. I am very interested in what others think, should they choose to take the time. The end of a month is a good time to shift into a lower gear.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What does the survey tell us; trying to make some sense of the data

According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life report, Faith in Flux: Change in Religious Affiliation in the U.S., currently 44% of all adults in the U.S. do not belong to their childhood faith, the faith in which they raised, that amounts to roughly 95 million people, according to 2007 estimates from the CIA World Factbook. 9%, or some eight and a half million of these adults were raised Catholic, but no longer affiliate with the Catholic Church. 4% of U.S. adults who were raised Catholic and are now unaffiliated, with the other 5% now self-identifying as Protestants. It is also interesting to note that 9% of adults who practice the faith in which they were raised, at some point changed faiths, either being unaffiliated or affiliating with another group, before returning to their childhood faith. According to the survey, only 3% of those raised Protestant become Catholic. In fact, more people who were raised Protestant, 4%, affiliate with non-Christian religions than with Catholicism.

Unsurprisingly, Mass attendance seems to be the biggest predictor as to whether someone remains Catholic, especially during teenage years. 69% of Catholics who were born and raised in the church and are still Catholic attended Mass at least weekly during their teen years, compared to 60% of those who were raised Catholic and who now self-identify as Protestants, and 44% of those who are now unaffiliated. Even as a child, 86% of those who remain Catholic attended Mass at least weekly versus 79% of those who are now Protestant and 74% of those who are unaffiliated. This is a bigger predictor than either participation in children and youth religious education programs or attendance at Catholic schools, with 25% of those who remain Catholic having attended Catholic schools, compared with 16% who changed to being Protestant, and 20% of those who are unaffiliated.

Among the common reasons given by formerly Catholic respondents for leaving their childhood faith and now being unaffiliated, 71% said that they “just drifted away from religion,” followed by 65% ceasing to believe in the church’s teachings. They could give more than one reason leaving Catholicism. These are the only two general reasons identified by more than half of the previously Catholic and currently unaffiliated respondents. In their own words, 54% of the unaffiliated respondents who were raised Catholic cited religious and moral beliefs as their reason for leaving, the only reason to garner more than half among this group of respondents.

For those who were raised Catholic and now identify themselves as Protestants, 54% of those who now identify themselves as Evangelicals and 53% of those who are mainline, denominational Protestants said they just drifted away from religion. Presumably, when they came back, they affiliated differently for any number of reasons. 62% of Evangelicals and only 20% of mainline Protestants said that they stopped believing in the church’s teachings.

Getting more specific, 56% of the now unaffiliated, compared with 20% of self-identifying Evangelicals, and 31% of those who now consider themselves mainline Protestants, report their unhappiness with the church’s teachings on abortion and/or homosexuality as reasons no longer affiliating with the church. 48% of the currently religiously unaffiliated, 12% of former Catholics who are now Evangelicals and 26% of former Catholics who now affiliate with mainline Protestant denominations cite the church’s teaching on birth control as a reason for leaving. Divorce and remarriage also factor in with 33% of the now unaffiliated, 23% of Evangelicals and 31% of formerly Catholic mainline Protestants, saying it is a reason that they left.

Of the 48% of those adults who have left the Catholic faith, having been raised Catholic, who cited the church’s teaching on birth control as a reason they left the Catholic Church, 23% of those who now identify as mainline Protestants, 9% of those who are self-identifying Evangelicals, and 46% of the currently unaffiliated say that the Catholic Church is “[t]oo strict and conservative.”

It also bears noting that 36% of those who change religious affiliation from the faith of their childhood change twice, and 26% change three or more times, leaving 38%, thus constituting a plurality, who only change once.

A few tentative and preliminary observations:

I am one of the 44% of adults in the United States who no longer belongs to the faith in which I was raised, having changed only once. I became Catholic at the age of 24 in 1990. I consciously quit affiliating with the LDS at 22. By way of comparing a rough outline of my own experience with that of others who have changed religious allegiance, for whatever that might be worth, I am among the 79% of people who left their childhood faith before turning 24. However, I am slightly over the age at which 71% of those who change affiliation join their current faith, which is also prior their twenty-fourth birthday, though I did begin RCIA when I was twenty-three. These numbers are overwhelming. Only 21% of adults who change religious affiliation do so after age twenty-four! This gets back to religious practice and the late teen/early adult years. These are vital years. It is a time of transition for people from being children to adults. Hence, it is not a time merely for faith formation, but for faith transformation! St. Paul wrote: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Cor. 13:11).

Helping people in their mid-to-late teens and early twenties see that maturity in faith, as in all aspects of life, is vital. To aid them in discerning that faith in Christ, which of necessity is mediated to us by the church, conceived of as the whole communio sanctorum, of which they are a part, can withstand rigorous intellectual and existential scrutiny, is our pastoral challenge. This means assisting people in getting over much silliness, like believing that the mystery of the triune God, formulated as one God in three divine persons, somehow consists of believing that at the heart of Christian faith is a gross arithmetical error, namely that 3=1, which reason tells us differ by exactly two. It also means helping people get beyond the temptation, as Fr. Carrón put it, to reproach the Lord because, even though we are Christians, bad and unexpected things happen to us. Such things happen to everybody, just as it rains on the just and unjust in equal measure. We must also do a better job of engaging young people in the area of morality, especially in the always delicate area of sexuality. This is no small challenge, there are no easy answers here, especially given that against which we are forced to contend, but you do not meet a challenge by shrinking away from it. As with success in all education, the role of parents, who are the primary catechists of their own children, a task that cannot be delegated, is crucial.

Liturgy features centrally in all of this, it was not just a theological, but an anthropological assertion by the fathers of Vatican II that the euchartistic liturgy is the source and summit of our faith. However, we must strive for good liturgy, which is not liturgy that tries too hard to be relevant. Substantial preaching is also a must. People are not stupid, especially those adults who attend Mass each week and are serious about following Christ. In no two aspects of church life do we need to put away childish things than in liturgy, which includes preaching, and catechesis. On the whole, there needs to be far more adult formation on offer.

We must assist people in forming a faith that is not only an understanding of but a relationship with God, through Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, a house built on a rock, strong enough to withstand the storms of life. Belonging to a community in order to help each other out is also vital; you know, that whole God and neighbor dynamic? In fact, 10% of the formerly Catholic and currently unaffiliated cite not enough feeling of community as a reason for leaving. An identical 10% of those who were raised Catholic, but who as adults belong to Protestant congregations also gave not enough feeling of community as reason for leaving the Catholic Church. That computes to roughly 850,000 leaving because they do find the community that they seek, either giving up the search altogether, or seeking it elsewhere.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Living, not ossified, faith

It is far too easy to over generalize about the experience of others. It is reductive and so is not helpful, as it tends to rob people of their humanity, at least in our eyes, to reduce them to a type, which is a caricature. On the basis of such an assessment, we could all arrive at the conclusion that, somehow, we are so very different from everyone else, that our experience is of a different order. After having arrived at this conclusion we are prone to privilege our experience over that of others and use it as an excuse to stay apart, to withhold ourselves because "They just don't get me."

The reason we can perform this feat is because we have immediate and continuous access to our own experience, to our own inner life, an access we do not have when it comes to others, even those close to us. We fool ourselves if we think that there is such a life that is a uniform Catholic life, even among those who share the same state of life (i.e., married, single, clerical, religious). There is no following Christ that is not a journey to destiny, a pilgrimage, and there is no road to destiny without its treacherous patches, even for those who have believed all their lives. In fact, those who have always believed have weathered many storms. To take such a view is in stark contrast to our call to be companions on the way.

I cannot begin to tell you how many times people have asked to meet with me about their desire to be involved, only to tell me "No" at every opportunity afterwards. I am usually pretty available to people, but when it comes to this matter these days, I just give them ways to be involved on the phone, or in an e-mail and who they can contact to do this. I use the Nike slogan- Just do it and spare us all the hand-wringing and the pseudo-discernment, as you "discern" your way into eternity. I do not think it necessary to wrestle all night with an angel in order to decide to teach a third grade religious education class, or make sandwiches for the parish outreach program.

If I have one lament about my own experience of church, which I am careful these days not to universalize (I was not always so judicious and I still lapse, as parts of this post probably demonstrate), it is that we talk real good about community, but we are often bad at living it, choosing instead to be alone together. This why I am grateful for the Movement, which has enabled me to light a candle instead of contenting myself with the all too easy alternative of cursing the darkness. So, for me, the Movement is a positive hypothesis. Loneliness and longing for community, for communio, is also what initially prompted me to seek the companionship of certain saints. My companionship with them is a true companionship, not an imaginary one. I would invite anyone to verify this themselves through their own experience. All of this is why I was deeply moved by Fr. Louis-Marie Chauvet, when he wrote that "on the basis of the incarnation of God in Jesus... [our] encounter with God goes through [our] encounter with others" (The Sacraments: The Word of God at the Mercy of the Body, pg. 38). As I preached last Sunday: "This 'encounter with others' is to be taken in its twofold sense: our encounter of others and an experience that we share with them."

In other words, for everyone who believes and seeks to follow Christ, there is an inherent tension, a tension that is necessary in order to grow, to become who God created, redeemed, and now sanctifies you to be. This cannot happen in a vacuum, it requires other people and authentic community.

As far as what we believe, there is much we are free to dismiss, to bracket, to not believe. For example, we are not obligated to believe even in those Marian apparitions that the church has investigated and to which she has given her imprimatur and nihil obstat. In fact, I think a healthy skepticism is necessary when it comes to claims of private revelation. On other hand, we must not become skeptics and dismiss the very possibility of such things. Hence, this is one example of a dialectical tension inherent to faith. Cardinal Martini, in his wonderful book, compiled and translated by his devoted student, Marsha Daigle-Williamson, The Gospel According to St. Paul: Meditations on His Life and Letters, says that faith itself is living the dialectic tension between the seen and the unseen. Certainly, what the church proposes dogmatically is perfectly consonant with human reason. It is possible to reject it, but it can't be rejected on the basis of there being no possibility of it's being true, even according to reason.

At the end of the day, the criterion of truth is your heart, what genuinely corresponds to your deepest desire. This is why there is no substitute for honesty because without integrity there can be no faith, which is a way of knowing. In other words, as Anselm of Canterbury wrote: "we do not seek to understand in order to believe, but we believe in order to understand." Authentic faith is never a reduction, it is always an expansion of ourselves, of our view of the world, and of others. Seeing with the eyes of faith is precisely what enables us to see people as they are and to engage reality according to the totality of its factors, which is to see things neither through gray-tinted nor rose-colored glasses, but clearly.

Monday, April 27, 2009

l'affair Notre Dame redux

Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon announced this morning that she is declining the award of Notre Dame's highest honor, the Laetare medal. She did so by making public a letter she wrote to university president, Fr. John Jenkins, C.S.C. In light of a trend UND seems to have set, with the announcements over the weekend that Xavier University, a Catholic school in New Orleans, has invited Donna Brazile and that St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia has invited Chris Matthews, both pro-choice Catholics, to give commencement addresses and to be honored, Ambassador Glendon's decision strikes me as the right one.

Bishop D'Arcy has confirmed in recent days the concern I expressed at the beginning, namely that UND never consulted him about the decision to invite and honor Pres. Obama, nor did they inform him before the public announcement that they had made these decisions. However, they did consult presidents of other Catholic universities and, oddly enough, other bishops. In my humble opinion, this shows a troubling disregard for the communion of the church, both local and universal. In her letter, Ambassador Glendon calmly, succinctly, and eloquently explains her reasoning in refusing this very high honor. I think it bears mentioning that by unwittingly dragging Ambassador Glendon into this controversy, Notre Dame demonstrated a distinct lack of charity toward her.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Year B 3rd Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 3:13-15.17-19; Ps. 4:2.7-9; 1 John 2:1-5a; Luke 24:35-38

In our Gospel today, the resurrected Lord appears as Cleopas and the other disciple, who hurried back to Jerusalem from Emmaus, are recounting to "the eleven and those with them" how Jesus had walked the road to Emmaus with them and how he "was made known to them in the breaking of the bread" (Luke 24:35-36). In the middle of their report, the suddenly appearing Lord says words similar to the ones he said to the two while they were on the road: "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures" (Luke 24:35-36. 44-45). The minds of the eleven and the other disciples are opened to receive the same enlightenment as the two disciples who walked with the unidentified stranger.

What the resurrected Jesus gives them is the key to unlock the mystery of God’s plan, namely that "the death and resurrection of the Messiah" is "the key to understanding God’s whole plan according to the Scriptures" (Chauvet, The Sacraments: The Word of God at the Mercy of the Body, 24). This is exactly what Peter faithfully preaches in our reading from Acts, pointing out that both the law and the prophets are fulfilled in the person of Christ Jesus when he declares that "[t]he God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus" and that "God has thus brought to fulfillment what he had announced beforehand through the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer"(Acts 3:13.18).

"In the background of this account," observes Fr. Louis-Marie Chauvet, is a question, "which is that of any disciple of Jesus, today as yesterday: 'If it is true that Jesus arose and is alive, how is it that we cannot see/touch/find him'" (23)? Indeed, does this question not arise in your mind as you think about the resurrection, especially living in a time and culture that seeks to reduce what you can know to what you can empirically verify? The truth of the matter, my dear friends, is that "you cannot arrive at the recognition of the risen [Lord] unless you renounce seeing/touching/finding him by undeniable proofs" (25). Nonetheless, as philosopher Roger Scruton maintains, "[t]here can be no motive for pursuing truth in abstract empty praise of it: Truth must be incarnate in a person... who calls us to obedience through love" (Gentle Regrets: Thoughts from a Life).

Faith, which is a method of knowledge mediated to us by means of a witness, necessarily begins with our "renunciation of the immediacy" of needing to see and touch in order to know (Chauvet 25). Hence, faith starts with your "assent to the mediation of the church," of which the sacraments, which we celebrate together, especially baptism and Eucharist, are the primary means. The Scriptures, which never reach their "truth as word of God as fully as in the liturgical act of [their] proclamation," are fundamental to the church’s sacramental mediation of the real presence of Christ (Chauvet 47).

To this end, it is essential in order for us to grasp the instruction Luke seeks to impart, that the eyes of Cleopas and his companion only recognized Jesus after "he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them" and that as soon as they recognized him, "he vanished from their sight" (Luke 24:30-31). In other words, our encounter with Christ arises from our shared experience, from which we learn "on the basis of the incarnation of God in Jesus, that [our] encounter with God goes through [our] encounter with others" (Chauvet 38). This "encounter with others" is to be taken in its twofold sense: our encounter of others and an experience that we share with them.

Let us make no mistake, the certainty about our future, which we call hope, is not rooted in "simple human reasoning, but on a historical fact of faith: Jesus Christ, crucified and buried, is risen with his glorified body" (Pope Benedict XVI, Urbi et Orbi, Easter 2009). St. Paul, in correcting an erroneous view of Christ’s resurrection that had arisen among the Christians in Corinth, vigorously declared: "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain" (1 Cor. 15:14). He goes on to say: "If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied" (1 Cor. 15:19).

Our experience of the risen Christ, to whom we turn in the face of the inevitability of our own death and in response to the pain brought about by the absence of a loved one, who it seems we have lost to death, is better expressed in poetry than the language of either scientific or philosophical discourse, as this passage from a poem, Dream of a dead friend, written by Christian Wiman, shows:

"If I say the world is real
And outside my window is a dawn;
If I say the proof of love is grief
And trees are greener being gone,
Why, oh why
Will none of this be true
But in the moment I reach for you
Saying no, no."

Our participation in the Eucharist has implications for our lives, implications that give meaning to our mortality precisely as it is and not as we wish it to be, a meaning that points us toward the fulfillment of our desire, which is infinite. We are called to verify, to make true what we both celebrate and receive in and through this most Blessed Sacrament, the sacramentum caritatis, the sacrament of love. Love is the key that unlocks the mystery of faith, the mystery of one God in three divine persons, the paschal mystery of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, by virtue of which we, through our baptism, confirmation, confession of our sins, and sharing this Eucharist, participate. By coming to share in the mysterium tremendum, this overwhelming mystery that constitutes reality at its most fundamental, we recognize that there is often an abyss between our knowledge and our desire, an abyss that can only be filled by love made real.

To really know Jesus Christ is to desire to make him known to others. Let us take heed of what the old song says, "they will know that we are Christians by our love." Many good people who do not share our faith in Christ serve others selflessly. So, what makes our service Christian is not its matter, but its form, "which is given it by love understood as a response to God’s love, which [always comes] first" (Chauvet 41). As we read in 1 John, the same letter from which our second reading is taken: "In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another" (4:10-11). My dear sisters and brothers in Christ, what the Scriptures declare is true: "The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments" (1 John 2:3).

He who taught us to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, also commanded us to do what we are gathered here to do in memory of him (Luke 22:19). Beloved, Jesus Christ is alive and as with Cleopas and his companion, he walks with us to unfold for us the mystery of faith, which is nothing less than the mystery of our lives. In the end, "[o]nly those who give thanks are able to rejoice, for only they are conscious that life, freedom and well-being are not rights but gifts" (Scruton, Gentle Regrets).

I also posted my Vespers homilette, on the reading from 1 John, over on The People of St. Mary Magdalene.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

"We must not abandon faith! Faith is the most important thing"



KBYU, of all television stations, is showing Inherit the Wind late tonight. I saw this movie for the first time when I was a high school sophomore. I went on that same year to perform this scene as a dramatic reading at a high school speech competition. Frankly, it was liberating.

I do not agree that we must abandon faith in Genesis, though, not being a person of "the book", at least not in any strict sense, the Bible is not the object of my faith, but God and His Christ, who is Risen and accompanies us even now. We certainly must give up believing that Genesis tells us how things came to be, instead of, not only why things came to be, but why we came to be. It is amazing how many church fathers addressed issues that we see as exclusively issues of our own age. For example, we have St. Augustine's De Genesi ad litteram (i.e., On the literal meaning of Genesis). In this work, he wrote: "Often a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other parts of the world, about the motions and orbits of the stars and even their sizes and distances,... and this knowledge he holds with certainty from reason and experience. It is thus offensive and disgraceful for an unbeliever to hear a Christian talk nonsense about such things, claiming that what he is saying is based in Scripture. We should do all that we can to avoid such an embarrassing situation, lest the unbeliever see only ignorance in the Christian and laugh to scorn." As believers, we, too, must hold knowledge certainly from reason and experience, especially when we understand faith as a form of knowledge, in which revelation, properly apprehended and comprehended, plays an indispensible role.

All of this reminded me of something I posted on our parish blog more than two years ago: Doing "all that we can to avoid such an embarrassing situtation". This is a response to the so-called new atheists, whose writings only serve to demonstrate that "[w]hat has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun" (Eccl. 1:9 ).

I also think Drummond's speech in this scene is fraught with false dilemmas. After all, are not architectural, engineering, and construction techniques necessary to erect a cathedral? In fact, it is often man's desire to erect cathedrals that leads to technical and artistic advancement. Creating beauty is essential to culture and beauty cannot be separated from our desire for what is transcendent. In other words, ideas that lead to authentic human advancement do not arise in the solitary vacuum of an individual human mind, including the mind of Charles Darwin. As Dr. McNamara reminds us, posting a quote from the late Fr. Vincent McNabb, OP: "Art is beauty made a sacrament. Art is finite human expression made infinite by love."

The extreme represented in Drummond's speech, apart from being a reaction to Brady's thoughtless biblical literalism, is a good indication of what occurs when we turn to ideology, putting it before a sincere desire for truth: polarization. Once we find ourselves at polar extremes, we can only shout at each other across the distance that separates us. Besides, faith cannot be reduced to mere belief, to giving assent to a set of propositions. By its very nature, conceiving of faith in this way is static and defensive. To reduce faith to belief is to render faith uncompelling, not fascinating, unattractive. I keep coming back to our National Diaconia's judgment on the Notre Dame commencement controversy, A New Commencement, particularly to: "For us faith is not an ethical code nor an ideology but an experience: an encounter with Christ present here and now in the Christian community. Christian faith gives us a freedom and a passion for living that express themselves above all in the form of questions as we face reality, and an inexhaustible openness to everything human."

Of course, as a sophomore, my favorite line from the movie was when Henry Drummond, played by Spencer Tracy, who is a fictionalized version of Clarence Darrow, is reprimanded by his opponent, Matthew Brady, for swearing, quipped: "I don't swear just for the hell of it. Language is a poor enough means of communication. I think we should use all the words we've got. Besides, there are damn few words that anybody understands." Needless to say, my parents were neither impressed nor amused.

"Whoever troubles his own household will inherit the wind, and the fool will be servant to the wise of heart" (Pro. 11:29).

Friday, April 24, 2009

J.S.Bach



Bach's Brandenburg Concerto, No. 5, i. Allegro played by the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra is our traditio for this Easter Friday.

Oh, and my Jazz won one from the Lakers last night! Since I have introduced this bit of miscellania, why not a little more?

I do not shy away from matters of sex and sexuality in this cyberspace. So, I appreciate very much what Steven Crowder writes over on the Big Hollywood blog - Appreciate My Indifference To Your Sexuality. I linked to Crowder's post via The Anchoress, who adds "I think the gay community does not really understand that most folks don’t care who they sleep with - they just resent having it all shoved in their faces, so they’re forced to react - it’s a set-up." I would add that such a desparate need for socio-religious approval is a pretty good indication that something is not quite right. Again, to reduce yourself or anyone else to their sexuality is dehumanizing. Very often our sexuality is the most difficult part of our personality to integrate. We live in a society that presents every imaginable obstacle to such a healthy integration. Herein lies the set-up: instead of being able help each other, we get into knock-down, drag out arguments that do not leave any of us better for it, just weary and resigned. The kind of weary resignation exhibited by Doug Kmiec and others, who are seriously advocating that there should be no such thing as state-recognized marriage. In other words, "I don't care if you don't care."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hope is certainty about one's future

Hope is certainty about the future that arises from the Presence we encounter by means of a witness. Hence, it is not politics, school plans, career progression, or financial independence that give us certainty about the future. Despite our best efforts, plans may not come to fruition due to any number of factors, most of which are beyond our control. Think of Hurricane Katrina, the Christmas tsunami in the Pacific several years ago, the recent earthquake in Italy, or the global financial meltdown that reduced fortunes to pittances. Having certainty about my future requires that I trust and to trust means to entrust myself to Another. This cannot be done lightly and it is not a snap decision made in the blinking of an eye. Rather, it happens through experience.

I can only come to completely entrust myself to Christ through my experiences, the circumstances of my life, through which I verify that He is trustworthy, that He will not disappoint me. Christ does not satisfy me by giving me everything I want; asking for and receiving everything I want is not entrusting myself to Him, it is being a manipulative, spoiled child. If I have Christ, I have everything! Indeed, "this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith" (1 John 5:1-4). Do we believe this, or does it remain inspiring religious rhetoric? Completely entrusting myself to Christ means being obedient, but not as a way of placating Him in order to get what I want, this is a truly pagan notion. Obedience is the fulfillment of my freedom, it is the only way of being free. Of course, obedience is not conformity with rules imposed on me, that is oppression that arises from fear and "perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18).

Fr. Carrón reminded us in January of what Msgr Giussani taught us: when we are faced with life's challenges what we hold most dear surfaces. In other words, it is when we are faced with life's challenges that what we put our hope in is made known. Was your hope in the promotion at work, getting an A in that class, Pres. Obama fixing many problems in our society, McCain becoming the next president, in the friendship of one who turns out to not be trustworthy? If our hope is in anything or anyone other than Christ, sooner or later we will not only be disappointed, but defeated, not just discouraged, but despairing, that is, without hope. It is by entrusting ourselves to Him that we learn what it is to be trustworthy and faithful.

It is important that we avoid falling into the trap that sees pinning our certainty about the future on Christ alone as a form of fatalism, a call to retreat and quietism. On the contrary, it is a call to witness, a call to be engage reality according to the totality of its factors, a call to gaze on another with the gaze we have received. In A New Commencement we are reminded that

"For us faith is not an ethical code nor an ideology but an experience: an encounter with Christ present here and now in the Christian community. Christian faith gives us a freedom and a passion for living that express themselves above all in the form of questions as we face reality, and an inexhaustible openness to everything human."
We had a beautiful example last week of what I am trying to explain: Carrie Prejean did not place her hope in being crowned Miss U.S.A. Instead, she gave witness to the truth about marriage. In an interview after the pageant with NBC's Matt Lauer, she continued to be an impressive young woman, saying that "it's unfortunate that a lot of pageant girls, you know, they have the pressure. Like Claudia Jordan said—she was one of the judges, she was great. She said that, you know, I should have been more in the middle, I shouldn't have given a specific answer. But that goes against what I stand for. And when I'm asked a specific question, I'm going to give a specific answer. I'm not going to stand in the middle. I'm going to take one side or the other." To which Lauer responded, "Carrie, you came so close." She responded to that, ending the interview by saying, "And I am—I am so proud of myself and I have so many people that are so proud of me. And it wasn't what God wanted for my life that night." That's impressive and a far cry from Rick Warren's less than straight-forward answers on Larry King, which I can only describe as Hinckleyesque. I am beginning to suspect that Larry may have hypnotic powers.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day

Today is Earth Day, a day to be mindful that we are stewards of God's good creation, of this relatively small orb that we call home. The scientific consensus shows that human activity is impacting our environment hugely. The exact effects of this are in some dispute, but it is easy to see in many places, certainly here along the Wasatch Front, which is my home and native land, what these effects are.

Progress has been made on many fronts, but more needs to be done. As in all worthy things, we must do our part. As we sing: "let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me." I believe it was Tolstoy who quipped that everybody wants to change the world, but nobody wants to change themselves.

Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Washington published an article in a recent issue of America entitled Stewards of Creation: A Catholic approach to climate change that is worth reading today. Another good article is one published in this same magazine back in 2001: Biodiversity and The Holy Trinity. One of the two suggested hymns (the other being All Creatures of Our God and King) for Morning Prayer for Wednesday, Week II of the Psalter, the week we are in, except that is Easter, includes this verse:

"He only is the maker
Of all things near and far;
He paints the wayside flower,
He lights the evening star.
The winds and waves obey him,
By him the birds are fed:
Much more to us his children,
He gives our daily bread"


Think about attending Mass today and giving God thanks for creation. As the IC notes there are many good reasons to go to mass daily, or any time. Of the twelve reasons given, my favorite is number 1. "It's kind of like facebook with God, the angels, and the saints." It dawned on me this morning (not for the first time) that being able to truly pray is a grace in itself. For me, this shows two things- the absolute goodness and graciousness of God and how dependent we are on our Father, who, in Christ Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, gives us life in abundance

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Jesus and Rutherford B. Hayes

I am doing some reading on the sacrament of confirmation, while reading today I came across something by the late Fr. Aidan Kavanaugh, OSB, who, when discussing the problems that negatively affect our understanding, liturgical praxis, and living out the sacrament of confirmation, states that we misunderstand "the connection between memorial (anamnesis) and invocation (epiclesis) in worship." He insists that "memorial and invocation, anamnesis and epiclesis are in reality one, since the deepest memory of God is made possible only when the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus to be the Christ of God." Here is the punchline: "To remember Jesus in any other way is not essentially different from remembering Rutherford B. Hayes."

I love Fr. Kavanaugh's writings on the sacraments and this made me smile today and to remember him. He passed over in 2006.

Hierarchy update

It was announced this morning that the Holy Father has named His Excellency, Bishop Robert Carlson, who was serving as the bishop of Saginaw, Michigan, as the new archbishop of St. Louis. Prior to leading the Diocese of Saginaw, Bishop Carlson headed the Diocese of Sioux Falls, SD. It was also announced that Bishop Robert Cunningham is being transferred from the Diocese of Ogdensburg, N.Y. to the Diocese of Syracuse, replacing Bishop Moynihan, whose resignation was accepted by the Holy Father, Moynihan having reached 75 almost two years ago.

With these appointments there are now six vacant sees in the U.S.: Cheyenne, Wyoming; Duluth, Minnesota; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Ogdensburg, N.Y.; Owensboro, Kentucky; Saginaw, Michigan.

The number of Latin rite bishops currently serving beyond the mandatory retirement age of 75 (i.e., bishops whose resignations the Holy Father has not accepted) is now at eleven.

Archbishops:

Hughes- New Orleans, LA; Curtiss- Omaha, NE; Brunett- Seattle, WA;

Bishops:

Tafoya- Pueblo, CO; Cooney- Gaylord, MI; Peña- Brownsville, TX; Carmody- Corpus Christi, TX; D'Arcy- Ft Wayne-South Bend, IN; Higi- Layfette, IN; Cullen- Allentown, PA; Skylstad- Spokane, WA.


On an unrelated note: Last night I posted "Perez… that’s a very hot topic in our country right now" and..., over on Cahiers.

Monday, April 20, 2009

PP. Benedictus XVI




On this day four years ago, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was chosen to walk in the shoes of the fisherman from Galilee and to sit on the chair of Sts. Peter & Paul. He chose the name Benedict in order to highlight his determination to re-evangelize Europe in the manner of his chosen namesake. I very much agree with and like Sharon's reflection on four years of the Benedictine papacy- The Serenity of a Simple and Humble Laborer.

Of the many things he has written and spoken that resonate so deeply within me, sharing, even transmitting, He who corresponds to my heart, Christ the Lord, I am still struck by the closing words of his first Easter Urbi et Orbi message:

"For this reason the Church repeats insistently: 'Christ is risen - Christós anésti.' Let the people of the third millennium not be afraid to open their hearts to him. His Gospel totally quenches the thirst for peace and happiness that is found in every human heart. Christ is now alive and he walks with us. What an immense mystery of love!

Christus resurrexit, quia Deus caritas est! Alleluia!"
(emphasis mine).

Vive il Papa!

Since I spent a good portion of last November researching and writing about the papacy, especially developments over the past 140 years or so, here is an extended excerpt from my writings on the papacy and Scripture:

"In the lists of the Twelve Apostles recorded in the Gospels, Peter is always listed first (Matt 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:13-16). It is impossible to understand the perceived relationship between Peter and the papacy without examining the scriptural text on which a lot of weight has been placed, especially as it pertains to any interpretation of Vatican I’s dogmatic definition of papal infallibility:

'And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven' (Matt 16:18-19).

"It is never enough to merely point to any given passage of Scripture as proof of a stated proposition, it is always necessary, when seeking to discern the meaning of a given passage, how that passage has been received, interpreted, and understood in Christian tradition, a tradition that is at once fixed and evolving. To that end, it is important to note that the first distinctive characteristic of the passage is that 'rock' is apparently intended, in its original Greek, as '[a] pun on Peter’s name in Greek (Petros, petra)' (Viviano 659). Just as Abram’s name was changed to Abraham and Jacob’s to Israel, in this passage, Simon becomes Peter, the rock (Gen 17:5; 32:29; Matt 16:18). Another, perhaps more important, term in this passage is the use of the Greek word ekklesia, which is translated as 'church' (659). The word ekklesia is fairly precise and is derived from the Hebrew Scriptures. It 'refers to the assembly of the people of God' (659).

"This brings us to Jesus’ giving the keys of the kingdom to the newly renamed Peter. By relating the church to the kingdom, the author of Matthew sees the ekklesia as 'an interim arrangement which mediates salvation in the time between the earthly ministry of Jesus and future coming of the kingdom' (659). The part of the passage that has the biggest implications for Vatican I’s dogmatic definition of papal infallibility is the power to loose and to bind. It is clear that Jesus, in this verse, 'gives enormous authority to Peter' (659). This prompts the question, 'What is the nature of this authority' (659)? Binding and loosing are 'rabbinic terms' that have a range of meaning, but mostly refer to authority in the form 'of definitive decision making' (659).

"It necessary here to appeal to history and to appropriate it theologically, or, more precisely, ecclesiologically, to remember that the leader of the earliest church in Jerusalem was James the Greater. James presided over the anachronistically named Council of Jerusalem, at which Peter was present (Acts 15:1-29). The Gentile Christians, whose status vis-à-vis the Mosiac Law was the subject of the church’s first so-called council, would have preferred Paul as their leader (Viviano 659-660). On this view, Peter 'represents a compromise that can hold both tendencies in the early church in an uneasy synthesis' (660). The two tendencies, were those of the almost exclusively Jewish Church in Jerusalem and the Gentile churches being established by Paul and probably others, the very churches among which the so-called Judaizers from Jerusalem were stirring up dissension and calling into question Paul’s apostolic authority. Most importantly, in this compromise the author of Matthew 'shows his ecumenical good sense' (660).

"It is also important to note that Jesus entrusts Peter with 'the keys to the kingdom of heaven' only after Peter’s two-fold confession that Jesus is both Messiah and Lord (Matt 16:16.19). Peter is able to make this two-fold confession only because the Father has revealed it to him (Matt 16:17). Nonetheless, 'Simon does not learn that Jesus is the Messiah by some mystical or intuitive mode of knowing' (Hauerwas 150). Peter 'learns that Jesus is the Messiah because he obeyed Jesus’s command to be his disciple' (150). Jesus Christ is God’s revelation. 'There is no other revelation of God than Jesus' (150). Scripture, along with tradition is the church’s way of handing on revelation. Scripture is the premiere institution for handing on apostolic tradition, but not revelation per se. Jesus is God’s revelation. Hence, there is an important distinction to be made between the Word of God (i.e., Jesus Christ) and the words of God (i.e., Scripture and tradition). Peter and the author of Matthew 'are witnesses to the revelation of Jesus,' irreplaceable ones; without Peter and the other apostles, without the witness of Scripture, especially the Gospels, 'we would not know Jesus' (150). So, while 'Peter becomes the first among the disciples,' a primacy based on nothing other than his two-fold confession, his new status does not reduce that of the other disciples (150). It becomes Peter’s 'task to serve so that none of the gifts of the church will be lost' (150). This is indicated by another key Gospel passage employed in Pastor Aeternas to support the dogmatic definition of papal infallibility: 'Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers' (Luke 22:31-32). On the basis of Scripture, proclaiming that Jesus is 'the Messiah, the Son of the living God,' and the strengthening of his brothers and sisters are what constitute the universal ministry entrusted to the Bishop of Rome, conceived of as Peter’s representative (Matt 16:16)."
While I will not go on at length, we must never forget that Rome is the See of Sts. Peter & Paul and that the papacy has a Pauline dimension as well, one that in our day is often overlooked. Whenever, the Holy Father undertakes an apostolic journey, as he did to these shores a year ago and to parts Africa recently, he is exercising the Pauline dimension of the papacy. This dimension was given a great deal of impetus by Pope Paul VI, who was the first pope to avail himself of modern means of travel and to undertake apostolic journeys throughout the world. As to the distinction between the Word of God, Jesus Christ, and the Scriptures, I like very much that Fr. Chauvet writes that they are the sacrament of the Word of God, as such, as pointed out in the paragraphs above, their function, as with sacraments as a whole, is to mediate, that is, to signify. After all, we are not a people of the book, we are the people of the resurrected and risen Lord! Alleluia!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Lectio for mystagogia

Reubens, Resurrection of Christ, 1612

After Easter in RCIA we enter into the mystagogia period for the neophytes and those received into the church at the Vigil. Part of the change in our gatherings is the way we engage Scripture. So, this past week I designed a very simple lectio divinia exercise using the four readings for today, the Second Sunday of Easter.

We had a different member of the class proclaim the first three readings as we would at Mass, including the Psalm, reciting back the responsorial, and I proclaimed the Gospel in the usual manner. Between each reaching, to which we listened instead of reading along, we took several minutes, picked the word or phrase that jumped out at us, meditated on it, and prayed it a bit. After all the readings and the silent periods, I invited one person to share the word or phrase for each reading, telling us what it was and why, after reflection, they think they chose it.

Then, I had everyone synthesize their words and/or phrases, using them to form a sentence, or maybe two. Finally, we shared these with each other. Here is mine:

"The apostles bore witness to the resurrection, it is wonderful in our eyes; the victory that conquers the world is our faith, do not be unbelieving, but believe."

Friday, April 17, 2009

"What will pass for mercy now, we practice unforgivingly"

I am rapidly tiring of the culture war- President Obama giving the commencement speech at Notre Dame, some items being covered at Georgetown University during the president's economic speech, etc. The more I consider it the more I agree with my wise friend, Fred, that this culture war is not the answer to the fundamental problem of education. The CL judgment on the ND controversy speaks well to this fact. It seems to me that when we get all wound up about such things that we lose the larger perspective and descend to the level of mere politics, of mere ideology, thus further compromising our witness to the One whose disciples we claim and aim to be and reduce faith. After all, we have to accept what we cannot control. The question becomes, how do we face these circumstances?

Anyway, it is the first Friday of Easter and time for our traditio. So, today I offer Joe Henry singing God Only Knows:



"God only knows that we mean well/God knows that we just don’t know how/But I’ll try to be your light in love/And pray that is enough for now/I’ll try to be your light in love..." Joe is absolutely correct that might and will neither make us right nor free. We must stop acting like they do.

UPDATE: I moved the post after this over to Cahiers.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Hope for the hopeless and sight for the blind

Something was brought to my attention the other day, as so many insightful things are these days, by Paper Clippings, a blog of sorts that originates from the Crossroads Cultural Center in New York. It is an article that appeared in London’s Daily Mail newspaper on Holy Saturday, an piece written by A.N. Wilson: Religion of hatred: Why we should no longer be cowed by the chattering classes ruling Britain who sneer at Christianity. Wilson began his life as a prominent writer as something of a Christian intellectual before he lost his faith and began writing books calling the truth of Christianity into question. The first indication that he had begun to question his belief was his critical biography of C.S. Lewis, followed by books on Jesus and St. Paul that mined a similar vein.

The only book of Wilson’s I have read stands out very starkly in my mind: God’s Funeral: The Decline of Faith in Western Civilization. It is really about the decline of faith of Victorian England and not throughout the West. Nonetheless, the book is a beautiful lament, an elegant elegy for the loss of faith. He never gets around to in the book to analyzing how something not true could be the source of high culture.

Because Wilson lamented the loss of faith in his society, which became a personal loss, it is not surprising that with his Holy Saturday piece, which is about his experience on Palm Sunday, he announces his return to faith. He asks very probing and direct questions about the loss of faith in English society:

"But how many in Britain today actually believe the story? Most recent polls have shown that considerably less than half of us do - yet that won't, of course, stop us tucking into Easter eggs (symbolising new life) and simnel cake (decorated with 11 marzipan balls representing the 11 true disciples, with Judas missing).

"For much of my life, I, too, have been one of those who did not believe. It was in my young manhood that I began to wonder how much of the Easter story I accepted, and in my 30s I lost any religious belief whatsoever.

"Like many people who lost faith, I felt anger with myself for having been 'conned' by such a story. I began to rail against Christianity, and wrote a book, entitled Jesus, which endeavoured to establish that he had been no more than a messianic prophet who had well and truly failed, and died.

Why did I, along with so many others, become so dismissive of Christianity?"

He ends his article with what I can only characterize as a mature and authentic profession of faith:

"Ah, say the rationalists. But no one can possibly rise again after death, for that is beyond the realm of scientific possibility. And it is true to say that no one can ever prove - nor, indeed, disprove - the existence of an after-life or God, or answer the conundrums of honest doubters (how does a loving God allow an earthquake in Italy?)

"Easter does not answer such questions by clever-clever logic. Nor is it irrational. On the contrary, it meets our reason and our hearts together, for it addresses the whole person.

"In the past, I have questioned its veracity and suggested that it should not be taken literally. But the more I read the Easter story, the better it seems to fit and apply to the human condition. That, too, is why I now believe in it.
Easter confronts us with a historical event set in time. We are faced with a story of an empty tomb, of a small group of men and women who were at one stage hiding for their lives and at the next were brave enough to face the full judicial persecution of the Roman Empire and proclaim their belief in a risen Christ.

"Historians of Roman and Jewish law have argued at length about the details of Jesus's trial - and just how historical the Gospel accounts are. Anyone who believes in the truth must heed the fine points that such scholars unearth. But at this distance of time, there is never going to be historical evidence one way or the other that could dissolve or sustain faith.

"Of course, only hard evidence will satisfy the secularists, but over time and after repeated readings of the story, I've been convinced without it." (underlining and emboldening emphasis mine)
Wilson is certainly correct when he concludes that, at the end-of-the-day, the only proof that matters "is the way that Christian faith transforms individual lives - the lives of the men and women with whom you mingle on a daily basis, the man, woman or child next to you in church tomorrow morning."

My dear friend, Greg Wolfe, with whom I am also now friends on Facebook and who is a far better judge of matters literary and of Wilson’s ouvre in particular, comments on this same article over on dotCommonweal.

A New Commencement

This judgment represents for me all that needs to be said about President Obama's commencement address at Notre Dame next month:

Notre Dame’s invitation to President Obama to deliver the Commencement address and to receive an honorary degree unleashed a wide controversy and provoked violently opposed reactions among all who look upon this University as a sign of the ideal of Catholic higher education. The community finds itself divided and confused, and the integrity of the University’s educational mission is being challenged. On such an occasion, with great urgency we feel the need to take hold of the reasons for which such an institution exists.

What is the meaning of Christian education, and even more fundamentally what is Christian life today? How do we live today the fruitful faith that led a handful of French missionaries a century and a half ago to found a tiny college on the shore of Saint Mary’s Lake—where before there was nothing—with the firm conviction that the school “will be one of the most powerful means for doing good in this country”? How is that connection between faith and life present as the impetus for our work in the university and in society?

For us faith is not an ethical code nor an ideology but an experience: an encounter with Christ present here and now in the Christian community. Christian faith gives us a freedom and a passion for living that express themselves above all in the form of questions as we face reality, and an inexhaustible openness to everything human. Political and ethical categories do not define us; our life springs from belonging to a fact, to a story begun and carried forward by an exceptional Presence in human history. Over the course of two millennia, that Presence has inspired innumerable initiatives that have educated men and women, including the University of Notre Dame. We cannot limit our thirst for truth and our desire to enter into a genuine relationship with reality; we want certainty about its meaning in its totality. We need a place where faith and reason are not enemies, where their unity launches us on a path of knowledge that is fearless, open, and free.

An invitation to a Catholic university – an invitation to anyone, especially to the President of the United States of America – should be an invitation to encounter that history, that method of relating to reality, and that experience of life and freedom.

What then is at stake in this Commencement Day? Much more than merely defending values — even the most sacred — or affirming a Catholic institution’s “openness” to the world. At stake is our hope for the future of the university and the future of society.

For us hope begins from the recognition that with Christ we discover a new way to live life, to study, to do research, to be involved in politics and economics, to work in the world. In commencing from that Presence, we live hope not merely as a sentiment, a dream, or a project of power but as a certainty for the future that springs forth from an experience happening now.

With the certainty of faith that Father Sorin had after Notre Dame burned to the ground in 1879, let us recognize at the end of each day that we “built it too small … so, tomorrow, as soon as the bricks cool, we will rebuild it, bigger and better than ever”.


Communion & Liberation

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hope and the heart

Grace is nothing less than God sharing divine with us, the very same life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The essence of the divine life is love. Hence, we are givers of grace whenever we put others before ourselves, just as Jesus Christ did over and again. Indeed, as Msgr. Giussani taught us "the affirmation of Another [is] the meaning of the self" (Is It Possible, vol 2, pg 97). This Other, of course, is Christ, who came to reveal our true identities as children of God by rebirth in baptism. Each day of this octave the liturgy reminds over and over of our baptism and the call that arises from our dying and rising to new life in imitation of our Lord.

I have been struggling hard with something. It is not a big thing to anyone but me. Yesterday, as I was really struggling, feeling hurt and angry, the Lord gave me a word: where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt. 6:21). I was laying in bed later, having just finished evening prayer, when I felt that I needed to pick up Is It Possible to Live This Way?: An Unusual Approach to Christian Existence, vol. 2, which we are reading in School of Community. We are still on chapter 2, which is about the need for poverty, for detachment. Too often I put my hope where it does not belong. Our hope is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth and in no one and nothing else, unless I want to see my hope turn to ashes in my hands.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

"Isn't it just possible that you're missing the point?"

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Bart Ehrman
colbertnation.com
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It is more than a possibility. It is certain that Bart Ehrman misses the point in his new book with an edgy title, a book in which he rehashes tired arguments. He also tells a bad old joke on The Report. Has Ehrman read any biblical criticism and/or scholarship? Perhaps someone could introduce him to His Grace, N.T. Wright. Anyway, his title is enticing: - Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them). Oh, do tell.

Actually, never mind. If I am jonesing for ideologically-driven second-hand scholarship I think I still have a book or two by John Shelby Spong laying around somewhere.

Monday, April 13, 2009

"The Spirit is in the house!"



What else am I going to post on Easter Monday? My friends, halleluiah. Today we continue our celebration of our hope, our joy, the reality for which we are made and the celebration of our destiny!

Our risen Lord, who has conquered even death bids us to:

"Leave it behind
You've got to leave it behind
All that you fashion
All that you make
All that you build
All that you break
All that you measure
All that you steal
All this you can leave behind
All that you reason
All that you sense
All that you speak
All you dress up
All that you scheme..."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

He's risen, Alleluia!



Apart from the great liturgical hymns, Keith Green's Easter Song is perhaps my favorite resurrection song. One of my favorite memories from my early days as a Christian is having an informal Easter sing-along right after Mass in the church with many friends and the woman with whom I fell in love and married at the piano. I still enjoy Keith's music very much. Both my lovely wife and I started singing this song in the kitchen this morning.

His resurrection is a fact that blows away the world and re-orders creation- ushers in a new creation, not by making new creatures, but by transforming creatures into sisters and brothers, making them, by re-birth in baptism, children of the Father! As such, we are to walk always and everywhere as children of the light.

As the Holy Father, whose primary ministry is to proclaim that the risen Christ, this Jesus of Nazareth, is both Messiah and Lord, proclaimed to the city and to the world this morning: "Easter does not simply signal a moment in history, but the beginning of a new condition: Jesus is risen not because his memory remains alive in the hearts of his disciples, but because he himself lives in us, and in him we can already savour the joy of eternal life."

Christos Anesti! Aleithos Anesti!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Holy Saturday




This is strangest day of the liturgical year. It is a day of silence between Good Friday and the Easter Vigil, a silence that symbolizes Jesus Christ in the tomb, a day on which there are still no masses, no weddings, no funerals, no ordinations, only emergency baptisms and anointings. Appropriately, there are confessions. The churches are still stripped bare with the exception of those, like the women visting the tomb and anointing his body, who are getting ready the flowers and decorations for Easter. It is a time for silence, a time of prayer, a time to pre-prayer, and apparently to make-up new words while blogging.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday


Crucifixion by Georges Rouault ca, 1920s



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

"The losers in this globalization game are the migrants themselves"

On the day he had surgery (i.e., yesterday), the Salt Lake Tribune published an editorial by our bishop, John Wester, on the issue of immigration. What Bishop Wester consistently shows is that what needs to be happening with regards to this highly-charged issue is at once clear-headed, compassionate, and practical. His editorial is entitled Migrants should be more than pawns in the game. The thing that really puts Catholic social teaching in contrast with so many other views on this issue is the insistence, on the part of Bishop Wester and other bishops, on not only recognizing, but putting the humanity of migrants at the center of the debate.

Bishop John Wester of the Diocese of Salt Lake City
"the United States receives the benefit of their toil and taxes without having to worry about protecting their rights, either in the courtroom or the workplace. When convenient, they are made political scapegoats and attacked -- both rhetorically and through work-site raids -- as if they were not human.

"Under this system, Mexico wins financially as well, as the country receives up to $20 billion in remittances per year without having to pay attention to the lower rungs of the economy."

Please keep Bishop Wester in your prayers, pray for his full recovery, for all afflicted with cancer, and pray that we can realize that justice and compassion are not mutually exclusive. Good Friday is a good time to pray for the alleviation of suffering and freedom for the oppressed.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Holy Thursday- The Triduum begins



As we move toward the Triduum at sunset this evening, I draw attention to Lara's beautiful post about her Triduum experience in the Holy Land in 2006: Next Year in Jerusalem.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Friendship with saints

Suzanne posted Friendship in Christ over on her blog Come to See. It is a beautiful description of just what it means to be friends in Christ. I love that she includes saints. Indeed, friendships with saints are real and, like normal friendships, can happen very unexpectedly. I have several saintly friends, these are people to whom I feel close. This is one of those posts which certain people will point to and say, "See, I told you he was crazy!"

St. Gianna Molla

I became friends with St. Gianna Molla most unexpectedly almost two years ago while preparing a homily. I was almost done when suddenly I remembered that there was a saint, a medical doctor, who died while giving birth to a child she was encouraged to abort. I began searching and found St. Gianna. As I wrote about her I could see events, especially the agonizing birth and short clips of her few days of life afterwards, as well as of her family, including the daughter whose birth was so difficult, Gianna Emanuela, gathered in St. Peter's Square for her canonization. Now, was any of this "real" versus being a product of my imagination? Who knows? The interior reality of that moment and the sheer unexpected nature of all this leads me to conclude it was the former. Yesterday I was reading in Chauvet's book on the sacraments that "the imaginary tends to erase" the distance between the external world, apprehended via our senses, and its interior symbolic representation, thus allowing us "to regain the immediate contact with things" (pg. 15). I like this phenomenological description very much. On this score, as Husserl, the father of phenomenology, a school to which Edith Stein (i.e.. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) made serious contributions, intended, the subject/object distinction is overcome without resorting either to crude realism or infinitely regressing subjectivism, while at the same time avoiding seeing language as merely representational. My earliest experiences with serious philosophical research, while at a state university, were with a professor who was epistemologically evaluating mystical accounts of saints. I think he turned to me because I was religious, having been a Catholic for all of two years, and I was one of the more continentally inclined students in the department, as opposed to analytically inclined, deeply immersing myself at that time in phenomenology, especially the ethics of Max Scheler. Anyway, my whole experience on that day with St. Gianna, including what I wrote about her, happened in about three minutes.

I delivered the homily during that weekend's masses, only to discover on Wednesday, the day I posted it, that I was working on the homily on the day of her memorial, which is 28 April. So, not only am I a friend of St. Gianna, she actually initiated our friendship. The saints I have come to know, like all people, have personalities, that is, friendships with the saints, like all friendships, have dynamics of their own, it is not a one size fits all. In my experience, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (i.e., Edith Stein) is more retiring than the outgoing St. Gianna, and St. Stephen, the one who was ordained by the apostles to help with the daily distribution, but who was martyred for boldly proclaiming Christ, somewhat ironically, helps me to be prudent.

We always talk about Lenten reading, but I am going to suggest some Easter reading. If you have not yet done so, read Fr. James Martin's My Life With The Saints. I can honestly say that this is one of the best books I have read in the past five years.

Sancta Gianna- ora pro nobis.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A moving moment passing quickly

Do yourself a favor and watch Last Jew in Afghanistan, a short documentary in which "[Zebulon] Simantov, a Jewish resident of Kabul, explains why he remains despite his increasing solitude." I post this as a tribute to all my Sephardic friends, who, like the ancient Christian communities of the Middle East, exemplified by the Syriac communities of eastern Turkey, are being cut off from their roots. Indeed, it is no idle boast, Zebulon is a brave man, a courageous man making a stand, not in a violent or defiant way, but in an authentically human and admirable way.

What Zebulon says of Islam, though he has no use for "the donkey Taliban" who pervert Islam, finds resonance in the teaching of the church, which "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" (Nostra Aetate, par. 3).

This puts me in mind of a post from quite awhile back: What Job teaches us, or lessons from a Muslim.

On an unrelated note, I am very happy with the judgment of the members of the University of Notre Dame community who belong to Communion and Liberation on Pres. Obama giving the school's commencement address next month. It exemplifies well what Fred expressed when commenting on Suzanne's Cahiers post: "This culture war is a totally inadequate reaction to the problem of education."

Tuesday of the week we call holy

Christ's presence is a mediated presence. As disciples of the One who died, rose from the dead, and now lives in glory, we we do not look for unassailable proof of His presence. We take the Presence as axiomatic and accept that it is most powerfully mediated through the church, particularly in the liturgy, the rites by means of which we celebrate the sacraments. Since the church is the sacrament of salvation, the presence of Christ is fundamentally in the gathered assembly of the baptized. He is always present and we are to be signs of His presence in and for the world. Understanding this is the only way to Christian maturity.

On the basis of this, the question Where is God? is not one that makes sense on Christian terms. The answer is, He is here, present in even the most distressing and horrible of circumstances. It is precisely here that the ancient martyrs instruct us. I think today of The Passion of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity

"But for the women the devil had made ready a most savage cow, prepared for this purpose against all custom; for even in this beast he would mock their sex. They were stripped therefore and made to put on nets; and so they were brought forth. The people shuddered, seeing one a tender girl, the other her breasts yet dropping from her late childbearing. So they were called back and clothed in loose robes. Perpetua was first thrown, and fell upon her loins. And when she had sat upright, her robe being rent at the side, she drew it over to cover her thigh, mindful rather of modesty than of pain. Next, looking for a pin, she likewise pinned up her dishevelled hair; for it was not meet that a martyr should suffer with hair dishevelled, lest she should seem to grieve in her glory. So she stood up; and when she saw Felicity smitten down, she went up and gave her her hand and raised her up. And both of them stood up together and the (hardness of the people being now subdued) were called back to the Gate of Life. There Perpetua being received by one named Rusticus, then a catechumen, who stood close at her side, and as now awakening from sleep (so much was she in the Spirit and in ecstasy) began first to look about her; and then (which amazed all there), When, forsooth, she asked, are we to be thrown to the cow? And when she heard that this had been done already, she would not believe till she perceived some marks of mauling on her body and on her dress. Thereupon she called her brother to her, and that catechumen, and spoke to them, saying: Stand fast in the faith, and love you all one another; and be not offended because of our passion" (par. 20).
The account continues:
"And when the people besought that they should be brought forward, that when the sword pierced through their bodies their eyes might be joined thereto as witnesses to the slaughter, they rose of themselves and moved, whither the people willed them, first kissing one another, that they might accomplish their martyrdom with the rites of peace. The rest not moving and in silence received the sword; Saturus much earlier gave up the ghost; for he had gone up earlier also, and now he waited for Perpetua likewise. But Perpetua, that she might have some taste of pain, was pierced between the bones and shrieked out; and when the swordsman's hand wandered still (for he was a novice), herself set it upon her own neck. Perchance so great a woman could not else have been slain (being feared of the unclean spirit) had she not herself so willed it" (par. 21- underlining emphasis mine)
Fred also takes up this idea in a post over on la nouvelle, a post that begins: "[Supernatural] Faith is anchored in what Jesus and the saints see..."

If this account of martyrdom does not give lie to insistence on the part of some that the sign of peace "is merely a ritual gesture," I do not know what does. First, in the eucharistic liturgy there are no "mere" gestures. Second, the exchange of the sign of peace is a vital part of the liturgy, as such it should be given adequate time between the invitation to "offer each other the sign of peace" and the singing of the Agnus Dei. One cannot appeal to the liturgy prior to Vatican II as the basis on which the sign of peace is set forth as a "mere gesture". Why? Because most people were busy with their devotions during Mass and the priest, in a hurry to rush through, probably just liturgically high-fived the altar server. In other words, the biggest retrieval of the reformed liturgy is that the assembly is not ancillary, but necessary for the Eucharist. In fact, Mass with a congregation is the normative Mass. This is why it is no longer a requirement for every priest to celebrate Mass everyday. Now, priests are certainly free to do so, but no longer required. The earliest Christians certainly knew and practiced this. Indeed, the priority of the assembly is an authentic ressourcement, a retrival of authentic Christian liturgical praxis. In the eucharistic liturgy "every prayer is said in the first person plural" (The Sacraments: The Word of God at the Mercy of the Body, pg. 32). Hence, "the agent of the celebration is the church as church understood in the primary meaning of assemby" (pgs. 32-33). This does not arise, as some think, from a democratic ideology, but from a genuine theological reason. Indeed, "it is insufficient to think that the community celebrates only by uniting itself to what the priest does" (pg. 33). The entire assembly, the ekklesia, as God's priestly people is the agent of celebration, an ordered celebration at which the priest presides. Why this today? Because we are close to the Triduum, the Christian high holy days, in which we commemorate and celebrate in a particularly intensive and powerful way the paschal mystery. Your presence is needed, not extraneous.

Please keep Bishop Wester in your prayers, pray specifically for his operation tomorrow to go well. Further, this Holy Week pray for all who suffer the scourge of various kinds of cancer.

I am very pleased that this is the 1,100th post on Καθολικός διάκονος.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Hierarchy update

Keeping up the pace for a busy year in episcopal appointments, it was announced this morning that the Holy Father has named His Excellency, Bishop Paul Bradley, currently an auxiliary to Bishop Zubick in Pittsburgh, as the new bishop of the Diocese of Kalamazoo. Michigan. Bishop Bradley will take over the reigns from Bishop Albert Murray, whose resignation the Holy Father accepted. Bishop Murray turned 75 in July 2007.

With this appointment there remain five vacant sees in the U.S.: Cheyenne, Wyoming; Duluth, Minnesota; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Owensboro, Kentucky; St. Louis, Missouri.

However, the number of Latin rite bishops currently serving beyond the mandatory retirement age of 75 (i.e., bishops whose resignations the Holy Father has not accepted) is now eleven.

Archbishops Hughes of New Orleans; Curtiss of Omaha, NE; Brunett of Seattle, WA.

Bishops: D'Arcy of Ft. Wayne/South Bend, IN; Moynihan of Syracuse, NY; Tafoya of Pueblo, CO; Cullen of Allentown, PA: Higi of Lafayette in Indiana, Carmody of Corpus Christi, TX. Peña of Brownsville, TX, Skylstad of Spokane.

Let's keep in mind that Monday of Holy Week, which we can call Holy Monday, is only a contradiction if we allow it to be.

While we are on matters ecclesial, a priest of our diocese, Fr. Bill Flegge, passed away on Saturday after a fairly lengthy battle with cancer. Fr. Flegge is a great priest. He was the pastor of St. James parish, which is right across the street from where I grew up. Of course, I did not grow up Catholic. I did live at home for the better part of the year prior to getting married in 1992-93. So, he was my pastor during that time. He was a wonderful pastor, a great confessor, a priest who gave me support when I needed it. The support I needed is that my living at home was the first time I had spent a lot of time with my parents after having been baptized in 1990. In addition to just being a happy, gentle man, he, too, was a convert from the LDS church, a story that he shared with me in confession one time. It is interesting that the current pastor of St. James, Fr. Erik Reichstag, is also a convert from the LDS church. At the Cathedral, my brother deacon, Lynn Johnson is, too.

He was very practical and down-to-earth. St. James is located on north Harrison Blvd in Ogden. Harrison, along with Washington and Monroe, is a major street running the length of the city. However, Harrison bottle-necks into a one lane street a few miles south of the church. Needless to say, there was a lot of aggressive driving, trying to get ahead of the other car, just before the bottle-neck. I remember a homily he gave about putting others first. Well, he didn't have to look far for an example with which we could all identify! R.I.P.