Sunday, May 29, 2011

"And the tears and the sweat only mocked my desperation"


This song says Memorial Day to me, especially in these times when have so many who have served so faithfully and honorably coming back bearing so much. Let's help them.

"A lot of people died over there and a lot of people got real screwed up." Love ya brothers. Hang tough and stick together, like you learned to do under adverse conditions. Above all, thanks.

To everyone else, please take a minute to bow your heads a give thanks for those who have given so much. Behind all the cheerleading, there is a heavy human cost. Happy Memorial Day!

Virtue acquisition in the hurly-burly is the work of Another

Much like yesterday, which is probably due to the on-going cold and rainy weather, I am in an overly introspective mood, which is always a danger, making me somewhat hyper-sensitive. So, it is funny that someone would e-mail me today asking my help with getting his mind around Husserl's edetic reduction, specifically asking me to provide an example of it. So, I used an example provided by the Norwegian philosopher, Dagfinn Føllesdal, taken from his useful article, Husserl’s Reductions and the Role They Play in His Phenomenology. Well, this required the unpacking of two other terms employed by Husserl, namely noema and hyle. On my understanding, it is by means of the noetic that Husserl tries to get at the essence of an idea.

Many of Husserl's students, certainly Martin Heidegger, eschewed the very concept of the essence of ideas. Heidegger viewed it as a hangover from traditional Aristotelian/Thomistic metaphysics that it was his philosophical project to destroy. Anyway, I will be the first to admit, as I was this morning to my correspondent, that even though I had the unique advantage of studying largely continental philosophy, it has been a long time since I have done any serious philosophical work, especially given that I have devoted whatever academic time and energy I have had to completing my thesis on the value of married permanent deacons to the church's pastoral ministry, which has left no time to any serious philosophical reading.

Edmund Husserl

With these caveats, I spent the better part of an hour thinking about and trying to explain these two terms in the context of Føllesdal's example of perceiving dice before typing my reply. What did I get back? A complaint about Husserl's writing ability and an accusation of being dismissive of the question! I suppose I could get angry, which was my immediate reaction, but taking a breath and giving it a moment's thought helped me to see that a sigh and a prayer are a more appropriate response for me today. Even after many years, it is still difficult for me to see just what Christ is getting at by means of these kinds of encounters. I guess that is why I am a "practicing" Christian. Who knows, maybe someday before I die I'll get it right for His sake?

In this instance, I think patience and forebearance are in play, but also not letting myself be taken by flattery out of pride. I suppose the really honest answer was, "Sorry, I don't think I can clarify that for you," even given that the honest answer could more realistically taken as dismissive. I have been praying that my life will become simpler, more centered at home with fewer distractions. This shows me something that must change, which is also the work of Another, albeit one that requires me to act on my desire. After all, simplicity requires humility, n'est-ce pas?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

St. Philip, deacon and evangelist

Reading: Acts 8:5-17 (not chopping up the section as the lectionary does)

Thus Philip went down to (the) city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing. For unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice, came out of many possessed people, and many paralyzed and crippled people were cured. There was great joy in that city. A man named Simon used to practice magic 4 in the city and astounded the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great. All of them, from the least to the greatest, paid attention to him, saying, "This man is the 'Power of God' that is called 'Great.'" They paid attention to him because he had astounded them by his magic for a long time, but once they began to believe Philip as he preached the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, men and women alike were baptized. Even Simon himself believed and, after being baptized, became devoted to Philip; and when he saw the signs and mighty deeds that were occurring, he was astounded. Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them and they received the holy Spirit.


Another Sunday and another reading from the Acts of the Apostles about those whom we revere as the first deacons. Today we read about Philip, the deacon who went to Samaria and preached the Gospel. Of the seven men who on whose heads the apostles laid hands, setting them apart for service, that is, diakonia, in the sixth chapter of Acts, (i.e., Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, Nicolaus), we only ever hear again about Stephen and Philip. It is interesting that Philip, who's ministry, like Stephen's, was not limited to serving at table, but seems to have revolved around him being something of a charismatic evangelist. He healed the sick, cast out demons, and apparently baptized, but he needed to go to Jerusalem and retrieve Peter and John to come and perform an ordinance that can only be likened to the sacrament of confirmation.

Philip is an interesting figure precisely because he was an evangelist. Fleeing the persecution of the nascent Christian Church unleashed in Jerusalem with the martyrdom of Stephen, Philip, along with his four daughters, relocated to Samaria. His four daughters are referenced in Acts 21. As he began to preach the Gospel, to heal the lame, and to cast out demons, he became the rival of a local miracle-worker, Simon. In his First Apology (chaps 26 and 56), St. Justin Martyr calls Simon "a magician," which for a Christian is a pejorative appellation, and notes that he was later revered in Rome as a god.

I like very much what commentator Loveday Alexander, writing The Oxford Bible Commentary says about Philip's challenge to Simon Magus:

the magician's powers may be real, but they fade into insignificance beside the powers of the gospel. The preaching of the word brings about not just a nine days' wonder, but belief and baptism, i.e., intellectual conviction and entry into a new community. The fact that the magician himself is impressed by Philip (v. 13) simply serves to highlight the gospel's power... (pg. 1038)

St. Philip, holy deacon and evangelist, pray for us

Καθολικός διάκονος: looking ahead by looking back

I was looking back over my recent posts this morning and started to chuckle at myself because they are so heavy, which is not a bad thing, especially in the blogosphere, which, by its nature, consists largely of undigested information and links to links. Since I blog wholly as a sideline and do not in any way rely on it for income or anything else, I am quite free to post on what I will, when I will it. Despite this, I try not to make blogging exclusively a matter of my will.

I am sure that I do not personally know everyone who frequents these webpages, but I am blessed to know many who do. I love the fact that I spend more time discussing what I post in person and even on Facebook with readers than in the comboxes here at Καθολικός διάκονος. Blogging is a bold endeavor. Anyone on whom this fact is lost is not fit to blog as a Christian. As in all things, it is important to use whatever makeshift platform we construct in this virtual Hyde Park in a responsible and humble manner.

19 July 2011 will mark the fifth anniversary for me of blogging on pretty much a daily basis. 16 August 2011 will mark six years since I began to blog. When I think about everything that has happened in my life over this period of time, the losses, the gains, the achievements, the disappointments, the triumphs and defeats, I am astounded. In fact, what is prompting these reflections this morning is that yesterday I substantially completed my master's degree thesis (known at my school as IPR, that is, Integrated Pastoral Research paper), Married Permanent Deacons: Ressourcement & Aggiornamento, and the imminent birth of another child. I have been working on graduate studies since Spring of 2007. I would be remiss not to note that by virtue of my blog I have been privileged to contribute an article on the diaconate to America magazine and to be picked up as an occasional contributor to Il Sussidiario. I would be even more remiss if I did not make note of how many wonderful friends I have that I would not even know were it not for blogging. All of this is humbling because, at least from where I sit, it is the work of Another.

Midnight Mass, Iraq, Christmas 2005, with Fr. Dave Fitzpatrick

Initially, I named my blog Scott Dodge for Nobody, which was a take on an old KRCL radio program that I loved, Tom Waits for Nobody, and, to a lesser degree, as a shout-out to my favorite book about Pater Tom, by his poet friend, Ron Seitz, entitled A Song for Nobody: A Memory Vision of Thomas Merton.

While I certainly hope and pray that my blog remains "a public cyberspace in which I seek to foster Christian discipleship in the late modern milieu in the diakonia of koinonia," I also hope and pray that blogging will continue to be a vehicle of personal growth and maturity, helping me to achieve my only goal in life, which is growing "to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13- ESV).

Friday, May 27, 2011

"through the forebearance of God"

Along with everything else, I am also re-reading the book of the prophet Jeremiah. How easy it is to forget the timeless value of God's prophets, who speak as clearly to us today as they did to those to whom they were initially called to prophesy. As I mentioned in a recent post, over the past few years I have taken to reading devotionally from the King James Version of the Bible, the version I am using to make my way through Jeremiah. So, on this Friday, which is a day of penance, these words from the sixth chapter (verses 26-30) seem appropriate, especially when paired with the verses from the third chapter of Romans I posted below:

O daughter of my people, gird thee with sackcloth, and wallow thyself in ashes: make thee mourning, as for an only son, most bitter lamentation: for the spoiler shall suddenly come upon us. I have set thee for a tower and a fortress among my people, that thou mayest know and try their way. They are all grievous revolters, walking with slanders: they are brass and iron; they are all corrupters. The bellows are burned, the lead is consumed of the fire; the founder melteth in vain: for the wicked are not plucked away. Reprobate silver shall men call them, because the LORD hath rejected them.

Ancient Israel being taken captive

In its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum), the Second Vatican Council taught that "God, the inspirer and author of both Testaments, wisely arranged that the New Testament be hidden in the Old and the Old be made manifest in the New. For, though Christ established the new covenant in His blood (see Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25), still the books of the Old Testament with all their parts, caught up into the proclamation of the Gospel, acquire and show forth their full meaning in the New Testament (see Matt. 5:17; Luke 24:27; Rom. 16:25-26; 2 Cor. 14:16) and in turn shed light on it and explain it" (par. 16).

Therefore, it helps us to put things into perspective when we realize that, ultimately, God poured all the wrath Jeremiah spoke about onto His Christ- Jesus, His beloved Son (see also John 3:16):

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.(verses 23-26)

Being practical people, Americans ask, Why does it matter?

Since I posted a musical traditio earlier this week in honor of Mr. Zimmerman's birthday, today I am posting a textual traditio. It bears reminding both of my readers that traditio refers both to what is passed on from generation to generation as well as the act, the how of handing it on. While it is too early to tell whether blogs will from a legitimate part of preserving the patrimony of faith in Christ as handed on form the apostles, I will proceed today anyway with something by Pope Benedict XVI:


The mystery of the Cross does not simply confront us; rather, it draws us in and gives a new value to our life.

This existential aspect of the new concept of worship and sacrifice appears with particular clarity in the twelfth chapter of the Letter to the Romans: "I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship [word-like] worship" (v.1) The idea of worshipping God in the manner of the word (logikê latreía) is taken up here, and it means the offering of one's whole existence to God, in which, so to speak, the whole person becomes "word-like", "godlike". In the process, the physical dimension is emphasized: it is our physical existence that must be penetrated by the word and must become a gift to God (Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week- From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection 236)

During Lent I posted something by A.W. Tozer from his book The Pursuit of God (you can read in its entirety on-line) on this same verse, which is my "life verse." Not too many Catholics have such verses (it is more of an Evangelical thing), but Romans 12:1 is mine. The value of this verse is consitently reinforced by my on-going engagement with Don Gius and my recent serious re-engagement with the works of Bonhoeffer, neither of whom had any patience with passive following. After all, faith, which can only ever really be faith in Christ, is not merely swapping one set of preconceptions for another, which move reduces it to an ideology, something I see all the time, even within the ekklesia.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Power, ideology, "superior slogans," and thinking in light of the Cross

Building on some remarks by Eugene Ionesco on ideology and the power of slogans I ran across a few days ago, which arose in the context of him discussing his dislike for those he termed demi-intellectuals, namely his observation that such people are quick to "adopt slogans and are imprisoned by power." Hence, "they are people who don't really think," but who only think they think, when all they do is adopt the slogans of whatever power is ascendant. "They succumb to superior slogans," he said.


One person of Ionesco's time who truly and deeply thought and was never taken by slogan, except to resist them, was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who wrote in his Ethics:

In a world where success is the measure and justification of all things the figure of Him who was sentenced and crucified remains a stranger and is at best the object of pity. The world will allow itself to be subdued only by success. It is not ideas or opinions which decide, but deeds. Success alone justifies wrongs done... With a frankness and off-handedness which no other earthly power could permit itself, history appeals in its own cause to the dictum that the end justifies the means... The figure of the Crucified invalidates all thought which takes success for its standard (extract from Mataxes book on Bonhoeffer, pg 363)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Times change, even if just second-to-second

Mr. Zimmerman (a.k.a. Bob Dylan) turns 70 today. Happy birthday Bob. You're a rare man of integrity, as well as great song-and-dance man. So, at the recommendation of my dear friend Kim, who more than shares my enthusiasm for the music of Dylan, and in a mid-week traditio in honor of this auspicious (suspicious?) occasion, an eternal truth, a song that certainly exhibits an eschatological dimension:

Monday, May 23, 2011

T(w)oo absurd(ists)

John Sanidopoulos, author of the Orthodox blog Mystagogy, continues to surprise me with many and varied stories about how beautiful our Lord truly is, how He calls us by name in many and varied ways. For Western Christians and, I imagine, even for Eastern Christians living in the West, religion becomes empty, formal, ritualistic. Dr. Graham once said of Christians in the comfortable West that "Some people have just enough religion to inoculate themselves against the real thing." The "real thing" being Jesus Christ, who comes to us by means of the Holy Spirit. One effect of this is that many who go to church spend a lot of time and waste a lot of energy trying to accomodate the Gospel to the spirit of the age. As Peter Hitchens sagely observed, "If you marry the spirit of the age, you will pretty soon be bereaved or divorced. For that spirit doesn't wait around in the same place for long." By contrast the Gospel and its truth are everlasting.

Today Sanidopoulos wrote about the playwright Eugene Ionesco, who along with Samuel Beckett, about whom I have written plenty, including my article for Il Sussidiario, Samuel Beckett: Life in Two Dimensions a few years back, was "one of the foremost playwrights of the Theatre of the Absurd."

Samuel Beckett

Unlike the unbelieving Beckett, whose Waiting for Godot remains a never-ending paean to meaninglessness, Ionesco was a committed believer, even a disciple of the Lord Jesus. It all began with a visit to Mount Athos in his twenties. I urge you to check out Eugene Ionesco and the Elder on Mount Athos.

Eugene Ionesco

I even posted a video on Beckett as a Friday traditio a few years back. You can compare that with the videos posted by Sanidopoulos featuring Ionesco. If you only watch one of the two clips, watch the second clip. If you're even more impatient, go to 3:51 of the second clip and watch until the end. Ionesco's insights more than repay the time.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Deacon Sunday?

Reading: Acts 6:1-7

As the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit, also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them. The word of God continued to spread, and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly; even a large group of priests were becoming obedient to the faith.


Examining Acts 6:1-6 serves a dual purpose. First, it shows the difficulty in drawing straight lines from current ecclesial praxis back to the apostolic church. Secondly, it demonstrates the often ambiguous nature of the word “deacon” in all its forms as it is used by New Testament authors, showing that most frequently it refers to an activity, not to a specific office, or order of ministry, in the church. Two of the three usages of various forms of the word “deacon” in these verses of Acts indirectly refer to the seven. The first use of diakonia implies what service they are to be set apart for, namely insuring an equal distribution of food daily among the widows of the community, a community that held all things in common, thus they were set apart primarily as peace-makers and bridge-builders within the community. Closely bound up with the first appearance of diakonia is the word diakonein that the twelve use to describe the very service for which the seven are set apart by the laying on of hands. It also bears noting that despite distinguishing being in charge of the daily distribution, which apparently included something like waiting tables, from the diakonia of the word, which, along with having adequate time to pray, is why the twelve wanted to be free from those duties, especially in light of the dispute that arose, we shortly read that "Stephen, filled with grace and power" began "working great wonders and signs among the people" and launching into an extended sermon that constitutes part of the authentic Christian proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 6:9). So, while this and subsequent references to the seven men, only two of whom, Stephen and Philip, we read more about in Acts, do not refer to them as deacons, it is easy to understand why they represent the biblical basis for this order of ministry.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Wise replies

I don't engage in a lot of apologetics on these pages. I am inclined to be more of an intellectual street-fighter than any kind of intellectual, which means that I enjoy good old-fashioned apologetics more than I should. Maintaining a blog over the past several years has really helped me to acquire the virtue of prudence and taught me how to better balance that with fortitude. So, I ask your indulgence in allowing two more brief apologetical observations about Harold Camping's second claim that the Rapture is neigh (he made the first in 1994). First, just like with The Da'Vinci Code phenomenon, it is enough of a pastoral concern that it requires a response. It also provides what we have glibly come to refer to as a teaching moment. We can not only teach those who are Christian sounder methods of engaging Scripture, but we can help those who think like we're all like Harold Camping see that faith and reason are not only consonant, but resonant, even symphonic.

The second observation is that any respondent to Camping's claim must know not only what Camping is claiming (i.e., the Rapture, a demonstrably un-biblical doctrine that we reject, will occur today), but how he arrived at his conclusion. To wit: he does not claim that God revealed the date to him. This gives him wiggle room vis-á-vis Matthew 24:36. He claims to have deduced it along these lines:

The fact is, we know that the year [of Noah's Flood] was 4990 B.C. Seven thousand years after 4990 B.C. is A.D. 2011. Remember that when we compute the passage of time between an Old Testament event and a New Testament event, we must add the two calendar dates together and subtract 1. We subtract 1 because there is no year 0. Thus, 4,990 + 2,011 = 7,001, and 7,001 – 1 = 7,000 years.

A better equation

It helps when giving a pastoral reply, even to something as outlandish as Camping's claim, to go to the trouble to know that to which you are responding. In other words, replies must be convincing. If those to whom your reply is directed listen to you and they have a basic knowledge not only of what someone is claiming, but the basis on which their claim is made, and they can clearly discern that you only address the what and ignore the how, then your reply may have the opposite effect and lead some to conclude that there is no reply.

In our rush to refute Camping, let us be mindful that it is an article of our Catholic faith, a dogmatic belief, that Christ will return to judge the world. So, again, like the wise virgins, we need to be prepared precisely because we do not know the hour or the day, coming as it will like a thief in the night. This is what St. Paul meant when he wrote to the Romans, "the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires" (13:11-14).

P.S.
For those who are wondering, the equation above is a cheesy take on the popular bumper sticker 1Cross+3Nails=4GVN. I found it on another blog. The point is that the the value of one nail is mathematically calculated and expressed (i.e., 3S). It's a geeky-poor attempt at the whole faith and reason supposition.

Friday, May 20, 2011

End-times mania

It is important to note with all of the end-time mania going around that, like most heretical stances, Harold Camping’s prediction of the parousia is nothing new. Such people have been around since at least the time St. Paul. The apostle wrote his first letter to the Thessalonians, which is probably the first book of the New Testament to be written, to quell just these kinds of predictions. Let's not forget that Scripture itself warns us against claiming such knowledge (see Matthew 24:36). Also of use is Supplement 1763 to the Angelic Doctor's great Summa Theologiæ. This part of the supplement is where St. Thomas Aquinas addresses the question, "Whether the time of the future judgment is unknown?"

In keeping with his method, Aquinas sets forth several objections, which he proceeds to answer one-by-one, but not before stating the contrary and offering an answer. To the contrary, he writes that "[i]t is written (Mark 13:32): 'Of that day or hour no man knoweth, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father.' The Son, however, is said not to know in so far as He does not impart the knowledge to us.

"Further, it is written (1 Thess. 5:2): 'The day of the Lord shall so come as a thief in the night.' Therefore seemingly, as the coming of a thief in the night is altogether uncertain, the day of the last judgment is altogether uncertain."

He then answers "that, God is the cause of things by His knowledge [*Cf. FP, Question [14], Article [8]]. Now He communicates both these things to His creatures, since He both endows some with the power of action on others whereof they are the cause, and bestows on some the knowledge of things. But in both cases He reserves something to Himself, for He operates certain things wherein no creature co-operates with Him, and again He knows certain things which are unknown to any mere creature. Now this should apply to none more than to those things which are subject to the Divine power alone, and in which no creature co-operates with Him. Such is the end of the world when the day of judgment will come. For the world will come to an end by no created cause, even as it derived its existence immediately from God. Wherefore the knowledge of the end of the world is fittingly reserved to God. Indeed our Lord seems to assign this very reason when He said (Acts 1:7): 'It is not for you to know the times or moments which the Father hath put in His own power,' as though He were to say, 'which are reserved to His power alone.'"



Let's also turn to Objection 3 and Reply to Objection 3 to clarify matters:

Objection 3: Further, the Apostle says (1 Cor 10:11): "It is on us ['These things . . . are written for our correction, upon whom the ends of the world are come'] that the ends of the world are come," and (1 John 2:18): 'Little children, it is the last hour,' etc. Since then it is a long time since these things were said, it would seem that now at least we can know that the last judgment is nigh."

Reply to Objection 3: "The statement, 'It is the last hour' and similar expressions that are to be found in Scripture do not enable us to know the exact length of time. For they are not intended to indicate a short length of time, but to signify the last state of the world, which is the last age of all, and it is not stated definitely how long this will last. Thus neither is fixed duration appointed to old age, which is the last age of man, since sometimes it is seen to last as long as or even longer than all the previous ages, as Augustine remarks (Qq. 83, qu. lviii). Hence also the Apostle (2 Thess. 2:2) disclaims the false signification which some had given to his words, by believing that the day of the Lord was already at hand."

As to the whole pre-millenarian dispensationalist view that posits the Rapture, it is very thin biblical gruel, indeed. Let's turn to St. Jerome for a commentary on Matthew 24:40-42:
"'Two men in one field' shall be found performing the same labour, sowing corn together, but not reaping the same fruit of their labour. The two 'grinding together' we may understand either of the Synagogue and the Church, which seem to grind together in the Law, and to make of the same Scriptures meal of the commandments of God; or of other heresies, which out of both or one Testament, seem to grind meal of their own doctrines."
These reflections are not given to be definitive or complete, but just to show how the church deals with the passages of Scripture that Harold Camping is so badly abusing. I also want to refute the kind of biblical literalism that claims to know things like the day, month, and year of the flood and to make arthmetical predictions based such falsities by showing how, even from the time of St. Jerome (4th-5th centuries), we approach and interpret the sacred texts.

Indeed, dear friends in Christ, we pray the prayer of the Church from the beginning, "Maranatha," which means something like, "Come, Lord" Jesus (Rev. 22:20). Each time we attend Mass we acknowledge that we joyfully await His glorious return, not knowing the hour or the day, but, like the wise virgins, keeping our lamps trimmed and burning (Matt. 25:1-13). I love the part of the baptismal liturgy for children when the candle, lit from the Paschal candle, is given with these words: "Parents and Godparents, this light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. This child of yours has been enlightened by Christ. S/He s to walk always as a child of the light. May s/he keep the flame of faith alive in his/her heart. When the Lord comes, may he (she) go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom."

It's easy to be ironic and smug about all of this, but given the confusion in the world and in the Church, especially the many who have taken Camping's prediction seriously and who will suffer as a result, the issue deserves at least some sober treatment.

"'Cause the man from Mars won't eat up bars when the TV's on"


Since, according to Harold Camping, tomorrow is the Rapture, I thought a nice traditio would be Blondie's classic- Rapture. I am certainly no pre-millennial dispensationalist, but even should Rapture occur tomorrow, I am quite certain I will still be here for the seven years of tribulation, etc.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Those who "survived the time of great distress"

Back May 2007 I ended my homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter with the following words:
Like the child heroine of Flannery O’Connor’s story, The Temple of the Holy Ghost, who says, "I could never be a saint but I think I could be a martyr if they killed me quick," it is the lukewarm Christian "who allots himself a measure that seems appropriate to him and considers anyone who gives more to be a professional saint." "It is important to realize," writes von Balthasar, "that the genuine saint never sees his offer to God as something beyond the norm, as a work beyond what is required." One may believe that the era of the saints is over, but it is always the era of saints until Christ returns in glory, when "the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and . . . will wipe away every tear" (Rev 7:17) as they, like St. Gianna Molla, having "survived the time of great distress," join the white-robed multitude.
This is merely a lead-in to the first time I am writing about a Russian Orthodox priest who was martyred in his church in Moscow 19 November 2009 by a masked gunman, who asked for him by name and then shot him in the head and chest when he responded: Fr. Daniel Sysoyev. I have no illusions that Catholic/Orthodox ecumenical dialogue with Fr. Daniel would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, which is no small thing. However, I see him as a martyr, as a saint. I believe that he will eventually be venerated as such among Orthodox Christians. This process is underway as John Sanidopoulos chronicled over on Mystagogy.


In an interview, translated by and posted on the Russian Orthodox website, Orthodoxy and the World, you get a sense of Fr.Daniel, of his evangelical spirit and generous response to God's call on his life, which, for him, meant giving up his life. This Spirit-filled servant of God did not shrink away from preaching to and evangelizing among Muslims. It was very likely this outspoken evangelism that led to his death. Fr. Daniel succinctly laid out the criteria for giving witness (martyr meaning "witness"), "if you wish to tell another about the power of God, you should first feel the power of God yourself."

Fr. Titus (a.k.a. the Byzantine Rambler) wrote in a nice remembrance of Fr. Daniel: "It is beyond doubt that Father Daniel lived in and for Christ. He and only He was the centre and meaning of his life. His daily confession of the faith and his sincere wish to bring people to the Truth was perceived by many as something foolish, not serious, something inappropriate for reputable people."

The apostle wrote about this meant: "For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Cor. 1:22-25). The italicized words are the Greek word that transliterates as skandalon. As you can see, this is the etymological origin of our English word "scandal."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Another brief note on theology and dogma

This brief series of three reflections began with my post last Saturday, resumed yesterday, and ends today. It sounds a bit like the old poem about Solomon Grundy, but anyway...

"The theological Fathers of dogma have almost without exception failed to escape being condemned by dogma, either because it went beyond them, or lagged behind their theology. The Apologists, Origen and Augustine may be cited in support of this." (Harnack, History of Dogma, Vol I, pg. 19). The same could be said of St. Thomas Aquinas. Closer to our day, prior to the Second Vatican Council, Henri DeLubac, and, to a lesser extent, Hans Urs Von Balthasar both ran afoul of the magisterium, the former being officially silenced from 1950-59. In 1960, just a year after having the ban lifted, in a move so typical of Papa Roncalli, who left his academic post and joined the Vatican diplomatic corps when, as a young priest, he fell under the suspicion of being a modernist, DeLubac was named by the Pontiff as a consultant to the Preparatory Theological Commission for the upcoming Vatican Council. He went on to serve as a peritus during the council and, after the council, was named by Pope Paul VI a member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission.

Closer to our own time, Edward Schillibeeckx, whose research, though deeply rooted in the history of dogma, sought to utilize the methods of contemporary theology, frequently found himself on the defensive, as he delightfully chronicled in his short book, I Am A Happy Theologian. All of this does not mean that everything is up-for-grabs, as some suppose. Rather, it means coming to know revelation more fully (it is properly discovered because it is already "there") is a long, slow process.

John Henry Cardinal Newman

Harnack goes on to point out that we want to ignore these facts "by hypostatizing the ecclesiastical principle or the common ecclesiastical spirit, and by this normal hypostasis, measuring, approving or condemning the doctrines of the theologians, unconcerned about the actual conditions and frequently following a hysteron-proteron" (pg. 19). By "hypostatizing" I take Harnack to mean that we seek to the routinize the charisma of these daring thinkers and bold synthesizers by co-opting their thought into "the common ecclesial spirit" by acting as though this is what was always believed and taught, when it demonstrably is not- it is for demonstrating these disparities that Schillibeeckx, for example, got into trouble, whereas "hysteron-proteron" means to putting the latter before, meaning to get things wrong way 'round.

Something like this is happening with the recent debate, which began with Benedict’s pontificate, dating to his first Christmas address to the Roman Curia in 2005 about whether Vatican II represented anything new in the history of the church, that is, any ruptures, or tectonic shifts in the ecclesial plates. John O’Malley, in his insightful and very accessible book, What Happened at Vatican II, deals with this very well from the perspective of those who contend new things flowed from the council. Sandro Magister, writing from Rome, chronicles this debate, more or less taking the opposite view, that of continuity, on his indispensable website Chiesa, like in his most recent post on the subject "Benedict XVI the 'Reformist.' The Prosecution Rests".


I think Fr. Giovanni Cavalcoli, OP gives the best short response to the conundrum posed by Harnack when, in a response to a traditionalist critique by David Werling addressed to those, like Cavalcoli and historian Roberto de Mattei, in whose defense the friar is writing, who defend, not the much ballyhooed "hermeneutic of continuity," but what Pope Benedict actually called for in his Christmas 2005 speech, a "hermeneutic of renewal in continuity": "Analogical thought makes it possible to understand how a concept, while still remaining identical to itself, can however at the same time develop, progress, explicate and clarify itself. This is typical of all vital phenomena, from the biological level to the spiritual. Because of this, Blessed John Henry Newman compared dogmatic or theological progress to the development of a plant, which grows and develops while still remaining itself. A five-foot oak tree is still itself even when it has reached one hundred feet."

"Thus," Cavalcoli concludes, "the doctrines of Vatican II must not be viewed as a disowning or rupture with the previous magisterium, but as a confirmation and explication of them. In other words, with Vatican II we know better those same truths of faith that we knew before."

Monday, May 16, 2011

Theology and dogma: getting things right way 'round

“Dogmas arise, develop themselves and are made serviceable to new aims; this in all cases takes place through Theology. But Theology is dependent on innumerable factors, above all on the spirit of the time; for it lies in the nature of theology that it desires to make its object intelligible. Dogmas are the product of theology, not inversely; of a theology of course which, as a rule, was in correspondence with the faith of the time. The critical view of history teaches this: first we have the Apologists and Origen, then the councils of Nicea and Chalcedon; first the Scholastics, and the Council of Trent. In consequence of this, dogma bears the mark of all the factors on which the theology was dependent. That is one point. But the moment in which the product of theology became dogma, the way which led to it must be obscured; for, according to the conception of the Church, dogma can be nothing else than the revealed faith itself. Dogma is regarded not as the exponent, but as the basis of theology, and therefore the product of theology having passed into dogma limits, and criticizes the work of theology both past and future” (Adolf Harnack, History of Dogma, Vol.1, trans. Neil Buchanan from the third German edition, pg. 18).

In a footnote Harnack points out that with his above-given observation “begins the ecclesiastical theology which takes as its starting-point the finished dogma it strives to prove or harmonize, but very soon, as experience has shown, loses its footing in such efforts and so occasions new crises.”


Indeed, something of the issue Harnack raised with his observation about the relationship of dogma to theology and of theology to “all the factors” that influenced the exposition of that theology at the time it was articulated, not least among which are the presumptive metaphysics and the language that arises from it, was expressed by Bl. John XXIII, who was also a church historian, in his address to open the Second Vatican Council: “The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another. And it is the latter that must be taken into great consideration with patience if necessary, everything being measured in the forms and proportions of a Magisterium which is predominantly pastoral in character.”

Harnack went on write "that theology gives expression only to the form of dogma, while so far as it is ecclesiastical theology, it presupposes the unchanging dogma, i.e., the substance of the dogma" (History of Dogma, Vol. I, pg. 18). In the end, "dogma...must at all times take up an ambiguous position towards theology, and ecclesiastical theology a corresponding position towards dogma; for they are condemned to perpetual uncertainty as to what they owe each other" (ibid). Thus, it seems to me that Harnack, who was a Protestant, by noting this circularity, demonstrates two things- the need for there to be a deciding and mediating authority in the church, what Newman unabashedly called "the Catholic principle," and for that authority not to be arbitrary, that is, willing to meet the expressed need of Newman's ultramontanist English contemporary and fellow convert, Cardinal Manning, who remarked that he would like nothing better than to find a new infallible papal statement in each morning's newspaper.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Jesus, the Good Shepherd

The Good Shepherd, Catacombs of Rome, 3rd cent.

On this Fourth Sunday of Easter, known as Good Shepherd Sunday, let's turn to the twenty-third Psalm, but use the poetic version of the King James Bible, the 400th anniversary of which we celebrate this year:


The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Blogging: Fostering the diakonia of koinonia

In July of this year I will mark five years of blogging practically daily. Over the course of that time I have seen Catholic blogs come and go. I have also noticed that very often Catholic bloggers are drawn to controversial topics like proverbial moths to the flame. Flames, such as they are, tend to be inflammatory. Most of the time in addressing controversial subjects bloggers rely heavily on news reports, which do a poor job of framing the question most of the time. Reporters, after all, are not typically subject matter experts and so they tend to report on the matter under consideration in a flat, two-dimensional, and pruriently oppositional manner.

No sooner had I posted a bit from my on-going graduate work, in which I seek to demonstrate the thesis that by their full and simultaneous participation in the sacraments of matrimony and holy orders, the two sacraments at the service of communion, married permanent deacons make up for something that was previously lacking in the church's pastoral ministry, than someone posted a link to Dr. Edward Peters' website, where he addresses the fact that there is no explicit canonical exemption to Canon 277.1, which holds that clerics must observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of God's kingdom, for married permanent deacons. Of course, my opinion on the matter was asked for, despite the fact I had addressed it in the bit I posted. However, in the extract I posted, I dealt with the matter theologically, not canonically. What is important about this is that, in my opinion, theology has priority over canon law. Nonetheless, I am not going toe-to-toe with a respected canonist, a lesson I learned by posting an ill-conceived comment on another blog a few years ago.

It is precisely because theology, which, if it is good theology, is no more free to dismiss tradition with the wave of a hand than is canon law, enjoys this priority that dealing with the issues of the day via the media is so deficient. Unlike canon law, good theological work, which is always deliberative and never hasty, can move matters forward, resulting in what St. Vincent of Lérins called a profectus, which is a deeper, better, more correct understanding of the revelation of God in Christ pertaining to any number of issues, whereas arriving at certain conclusions hastily only amounts to so much activism, tantamount to the moth flying into the flame of the bug zapper.

It goes without saying that almost everybody has an opinion, sometimes even a very strong opinion. Strong opinions, especially ones that are not well-informed, tend to elicit strong emotion. Strong, conflicting emotions result the kind of arguments that are the anti-thesis of the koinonia we (hopefully) seek to foster. As with all media, when a blogger notes that things have gone a little flat in terms of readership and comments, s/he faces the temptation to stir things up by posting something that will draw people's attention and interest, especially if there is a news item on the matter hanging there like the fruit on the tree in the middle of the garden. The trouble with doing this is that you go down the same path as our once venerable fourth estate and cease to contribute anything of lasting value. Attempting to start rolling arguments are contrary to my stated purpose for blogging, which is "to foster Christian discipleship in the late modern milieu in the diakonia of koinonia and in the recognition that 'the Eucharist is the only place of resistance to annihilation of the human subject.'"


It may interest my readers to know that while I disagree both with Dr. Peters' canonical conclusion and his suggestions about the best way forward, I think he has performed a valuable service to the church by identifying the disjunction between the church's current practice of ordaining married men deacons without requiring them or their wives to relinquish their conjugal rights and the fact that canon law can be legitmately interpreted as saying they ought to, especailly given the post-conciliar history of what became Canon 277 in the 1983 Code of Canon Law. Along these same lines, Dr. Peters has been accommodating and generous in responding to a few queries I have had over the course of the past year, which correspondence demonstrates the kind of informed, civil, and courteous dialogue I think Catholic bloggers should seek to foster.

Though it received far too little notice in the Catholic blogopshere when it was released earlier this year, Pope Benedict's Message for the 45th World Communications Day, which will be observed on the fifth of June, is a great reflection for all Catholic bloggers. There is much of value in this timely message that is relevant to the concern I am addressing. The passage of the Holy Father's message that strikes me each time I read is the one in which he insists that those of us who take to the web in the name of Christ and identiy ourselves with His Church

"must be aware that the truth which we long to share does not derive its worth from its 'popularity' or from the amount of attention it receives. We must make it known in its integrity, instead of seeking to make it acceptable or diluting it. It must become daily nourishment and not a fleeting attraction. The truth of the Gospel is not something to be consumed or used superficially; rather it is a gift that calls for a free response" (underlining emphasis mine).

ADDED: One way to also discern is to discover whether and how a blogger makes money off his/her blog. This is not to say avoid blogs off which bloggers make money, but it is something to keep in mind when confronted with the pandering to controversy meme. No readers or commenters= income stream drying up. Even amomg those who make money, a distinction can be made between those who do so in mendicant manner (i.e., solicit reader donations) and those who make money commercially, meaning in a less obvious way (the presence of ads is a good indicator). For the record, Καθολικός διάκονος is now and will be for the duration of its existence ad free, commercial free, and, well, just free.

Friday, May 13, 2011

"Qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis"


The Agnus Dei from Jon Rutter's Requiem is this week's Friday traditio

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

An academic extract: marriage and deacons

Below is a bit from what I have been working on recently:

Owen Cummings is correct to assert that in order to recognize the image of the deacon that arises from what Ditewig has termed the "double vocational sacramentality" of married permanent deacons, marriage must be reaffirmed as a sacrament on par with the other six sacraments and, due to it being a sacrament at the service of communion, having a special affinity with the sacrament of holy orders (Cummings, “Images of the Diaconate” 2). This requires overcoming the view that sees the sacrament of matrimony in primarily or even exclusively juridical terms, a view of marriage that held sway for more than a millennium of the church’s history and which only started to be challenged at Vatican II. In seeking to theologically justify my assertion that by their full and simultaneous participation in the sacraments of matrimony and orders married permanent deacons bring a much needed dimension to the church’s pastoral ministry, there is no need to resort to technical or abstruse theological language.


Cummings points out that the popular mindset almost always reduces sacraments to a singular celebration of the rite for a particular sacrament (2). He is quite right to suggest that this mindset needs to be pastorally and persistently challenged. This all-too pervasive way of seeing things is expressed even in casual conversation when people say things like, "I was married so many years ago," or, "I was ordained so many years ago" (2). Indeed, such an understanding falls far short of the sacramental reality that those who receive these sacraments are called to live them out, flowing as they do from the fundamental sacrament of baptism, from the time of the celebration of the rite in the midst of the church until death (2). This is why, Cummings succinctly notes, "getting married in the church" does not mean much if the couple who so marries are not committed to being church precisely in and through their marriage (2).

The same holds true with regard to ordination. For example, if ordination is received by the ordinand as the conferral of personal honor instead of as a response to a divine call flowing from his baptism by which he is commissioned and strengthened for service appropriate to order into which he is ordained, then being ordained does not mean much. Lest we forget, episcopacy and priesthood, like marriage, are fundamentally diaconal insofar as these orders, too, are conferred so that one who enters them can minister, that is, serve others by performing specific kinds of service.

Due in large part to lingering suspicions about the inherent goodness of human sexuality and perhaps also to the pervasive view, which is held by many in the church, of not understanding marriage as an irrevocable bond, there is a discernible sense that marriage as a sacrament does not quite measure up (Cummings, “Images” 4). Cummings notes "a certain reluctance" on the part of many Christians to understand and experience their sexuality as a divinely-given good, let alone as "a mediating encounter with God" (4). Indeed, to investigate all the factors that contribute to this discernible state-of-affairs would itself require a separate and in-depth probe (4).


To top-off the theological portion of this section, I turn to Karl Rahner, who simply re-proposed an authentically Christian understanding of matrimony as the way to overcome the unhealthy and largely un-Christian duality inherent in the view of human sexuality that is either assumed or explicitly endorsed by those who insist that married permanent deacons in the Roman Catholic Church actually are, or should be, obligated to live continently upon their ordination. In his pre-conciliar essay "The Theology of the Restoration of the Diaconate," which he foresaw, as did most who promoted the restoration of the diaconate as a permanent order prior to Vatican II, as being made up in large part of married men, most of whom would work secular occupations:

in a true theology of marriage, marriage must really and truly not be regarded as a mere concession to human weakness (a conception attempted over and over again by an almost manichaean intellectual undercurrent in the Church), but must be seen to have an absolutely positive and essential function, not only in the private Christian life of certain individuals, but also in the Church. Marriage, understood as a sacramentally consecrated union, is both in and for the Church the concrete and real representation and living example of the mystery of Christ's union with the Church (163)

Monday, May 9, 2011

The unintended irony of ideological arrogance

I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to completing my massive paper I have to finish before being awarded my master's degree. Due to this, I have had little time for posting and will likely have less as May moves forward and eventually turns into June. Despite this massive push, I have finally been able to enjoy reading Eric Metaxas's so far brilliant biography of a person I have highly venerated for years, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Once my graduate work is finished, I plan to re-read Bonhoeffer's Ethics, a truly brilliant philosophical/theological ethics that most people, even if it were explained to them forthrightly, would shrink back from due to how daring it is, but the daring of The Cost of Discipleship is even bolder. Discipleship is a book into which I frequently dip, and read for the first time Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith In Community.

Here is something from the book you can file under both Consider the Source and Consider the Consequences of Such a Mistaken and Myopic View. Metaxas quotes an extract from the diary of Nazi propagandist-in-chief, one of history's greatest liars and deceivers, Dr. Joseph Goebbels. Note the horrifying irony in the opening accusation of arrogance and, moreover, note that what replaces faith in Jesus Christ is usually ideology, perhaps not as blood-thirsty as Nazi ideology, but then again...

The Fuehrer spoke very derogatorily about the arrogance of the higher and lower clergy. The insanity of the Christian doctrine of redemption really doesn't fit into our time. Nevertheless there are learned and educated men, occupying high positions in public life, who cling to it with the faith of a child. It is simply incomprehensible how anybody can consider the Christian doctrine of redemption as a guide for the difficult life of today. The Fuehrer cited a number of exceptionally drastic and in part even grotesque examples... Whereas the most learned and wisest scientists struggle for a whole lifetime to study but one of the mysterious laws of nature, a little country priest from Bavaria is in a position to decide this matter on the basis of his religious knowledge. One can regard such a disgusting performance only with disdain. A church that does not keep step with modern scientific knowledge is doomed. It may take quite awhile, but it is bound finally to happen. Anybody who is firmly rooted in daily life and who can only faintly imagine the mystic secrets of nature, will naturally be extremely modest about the universe. The clerics, however, who have not caught a breath of such modesty, evidence a sovereign opinionated attitude toward questions of the universe.
I could easily write an extended, point-by-point, answer to all the foolish and inaccurate assertions made by perhaps the maddest of all Nazi hatters, like anyone who has had an authentic experience of God cannot help but be modest with regard to questions of the universe, at least how the universe works and even how all these workings serve God's providential purposes. However, precisely because of their belief in the Christian doctrine of redemption, such people are reasonably clear about the purpose and the meaning of human existence. Despite pretensions to sophistication in matters theological, Goebbels was obviously unfamiliar with the fundamental axiom of St. Anslem of Canterbury that is most relevant to his ignorant critique: "I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this I believe- that unless I believe, I should not understand."

I would also say that anyone possessed of modern scientific knowledge who does not believe that existence is rooted in reason, that is, logos and, therefore, has purpose and meaning is a great danger not only to his fellow human beings, but to creation itself, which is why all godless ideologies, like Nazism and Communism, are more destructive of people and creation than anything known in the history of the world, including, contra Hitch, religion. At end of the day, especially in quantative, that is, reductionist scientific terms that constitute the intellectual coin of the godless realm, the competition isn't even close!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Events of 1 May 2011

The Most Fascinating Story on May 1st- Statement by Communion & Liberation:

On the one hand, countless news outlets proclaimed the death of Osama Bin Laden. Yet, dramatic as this story’s particulars may be, it is not really new.

This tale tells of the demise of a man whose ideology led him and his followers to perpetrate and rejoice in the death of others. In fact, ideology always encourages those caught in its grip to devalue human life in front of the idols it creates and to delight in the deaths of those who refuse to worship them. From this point of view, we found the emotional celebrations for Bin Laden's death to be a disturbing sign of the dominion of another ideology over some, albeit one that employs words such as "freedom," "democracy" and "justice."


On the other hand, we saw that 1.5 million people gathered in Rome to celebrate the beatification of the late pope, John Paul II. Here we witnessed a fascinating story, one that is truly new.

His dramatic life played out within two of the wickedest regimes ever known to history, inspired by two of the most blinding ideologies ever fashioned: Nazism and Communism. Living his faith in the words of Pope Benedict XVI as the "intelligence of reality" led him to recognize and proclaim the ultimate goodness and dignity of every person, founded upon a unique relationship with God. By encouraging his countrymen to join together in solidarity and put that intelligence to use, he gave them a weapon that vanquished Communism within their nation, triggering its collapse in Europe.


That intelligence of faith likewise bestowed upon him a palpable love for human beings, witnessed particularly by his forgiveness of his would be Muslim assassin. Who can forget the 1983 picture of John Paul II in prison with his arm around Mehmet Ali Aca, while shaking his hand? We’ve recently witnessed that same intelligence of faith wrestle with the ideology of Islamic terrorism in Pakistan, after the murder of its ex-Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti. After Shahbaz's death, his brother, Paul, said he and his family have forgiven the assassins, "because our faith teaches us to do this. Our brother Shahbaz was a Christian and the Christian faith tells us to forgive."

The intelligence of faith also made John Paul II courageous in front of evil, proclaiming to all, "Be not afraid," because, "Love is stronger than death!" What a contrast to the fear that grips so many after Bin Laden’s death!

We find the story of John Paul II’s life and its continued draw upon millions around the globe a much more fascinating story than that of one man’s death. This is so because six years after his own passing, John Paul II’s story still witnesses to the only truly new announcement in history: the fact of a man who is risen from the dead and of His continuing presence among us.

Looking at His witnesses, we struggle to follow Christ present today and to learn to render the intelligence of our faith an intelligence of reality, in order to build what John Paul II termed a "civilization of love," one that is stronger than that which opposes it, the culture of death.

-

Friday, May 6, 2011

Bach: Goldberg Variations, part 1


Glenn Gould plays Bach. There's really not much more I need to write, except that this is the first of what is going to be a number of very different Friday posts. Enjoy.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Salvation comes neither by law nor by cheap grace

In his introduction to Eric Metaxas' recent biography of Christian martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Timothy Keller, pastor of New York City's Redeemer Church and author of several very good books, like The Reason for God: Belief in the Age Skepticism, writes about Bonhoeffer's most important theological theme: the stark contrast between "cheap grace" and "costly grace", which he set forth is still very relevant book, The Cost of Discipleship:

Asking how the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany was so easily co-opted by Hitler and the Nazi party, Keller, in a warning to us today, writes that the answer "is that the true gospel, summed up by Bonhoeffer as costly grace had been lost. On the one hand, the church had become marked by formalism. That meant that going to church and hearing that God just loves and forgives everyone, so it doesn't really matter much how you live. Bonhoeffer called this cheap grace. On the other hand, there was legalism, or salvation by law and good works. Legalism meant that God loves you because you have pulled yourself together and are trying to live a good, disciplined life."

Towards the end of his foreword, Keller writes in the true spirit of Bonhoeffer when he says "we know that true grace comes to us by costly sacrifice. And if God was willing to go to the cross and endure such pain and absorb such a cost in order to save us, then we must live sacrificially as we serve others. Anyone who truly understands how God's grace comes to us will have a changed life. That's the gospel, not salvation by law, or by cheap grace. Costly grace changes you from the inside out. Neither law nor cheap grace can do that."


I think this is worth considering right now in the wake of so many conflicting reactions to the death of Osama bin-Laden. As followers of Christ we must insist that how we live and what we do matters, we cannot shrink back in the face of evil, using cheap grace as an excuse to take a powder, or, even worse, to smugly condemn out of self-righteousness those whose response is to stand-up to evil. This is the challenging legacy and witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

This puts me in mind of something written by my brother deacon of old, St. Ephrem the Syrian, which I posted over Lent:

"On that dreadful and amazing day, You shall say to us sinners, O Lord: ‘You men know well what I have undergone for you; what have you suffered for Me?’…The martyrs will point to their wounds, their sufferings, the severed parts of their bodies… The ascetics will point to their asceticism, to their long fasts and vigils, to their liberality…But I, idle, sinful, transgressing as I am, what shall I be able to point to? Spare me, O merciful One! Spare me, O Thou Lover of mankind!"

You see, grace is costly, which means that cheap grace is no grace at all.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Happy 400th Anniversary to the King James Version of the Bible

In Catholic circles the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible understandably passed on Monday without much notice and certainly with no fanfare. Not having been raised a Catholic I grew up reading from and listening to the King James Bible exclusively. I was probably in my twenties before I read from any other version of the Bible. In recent years I have started to once again use the KJV in my private devotional reading of Sacred Scripture. I agree very much with what Peter Hitchens wrote earlier this year in an article to mark the KJV's anniversary lauding its beauty and timelessness: "it is not simply a translation, but a poetic translation, written to be read out loud to country people in large buildings without loudspeakers, to be remembered, to lodge in the mind and to disturb the temporal with the haunting sound of the eternal."


Something else I read this week that is worth passing along is a a very good and rather funny sermon preached to mark this noteworthy occasion delivered at St. Michael’s Cornhill by Rev. Peter Mullen. Dr. Mullen achieved notoriety a few years ago with what he thought was an uproariously funny anti-homosexual ditty that he posted on his blog, drawing the attention and ire of the British press and the attention of the Bishop of London, Dr. Richard Chartres, who preached what I thought was a very good sermon at the Royal Wedding last Friday. Mullen publicly and sincerely apologized for his gaffe. In any case, in his sermon Dr. Mullen compares and contrasts the poetic beauty of the King James Version with the less than inspiring, although perhaps more literally translated, modern English versions. The New Jerusalem Bible is the one most singled out for the inadequacy of its language. One example will suffice:

The King James Version says, "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord..."

In the New Jerusalem Bible this degenerates into tasteless obscurantism:
"If you live in the shelter of Elyon and make your home in the shadow of Shaddai, you can say to Yahweh..."

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Personal freedom along with the pit and perils of social media

Without a doubt stupidity is the greatest threat to freedom. In this age of rampant and instantaneous social media, like blogspot, my forum of choice, from whence I post links to Facebook that, in turn, go out over Twitter (btw I tweet @ deacondodge), we can all weigh in all the time on anything that strikes us. I have no problems or issues with this, except that it may have the effect of making us less free. Take the example of Pittsburgh Steelers’ running back Rashard Mendenhall’s response to the reaction of so many to the death of Osama bin-Laden, which he expressed in several separate tweets:
"What kind of person celebrates death? It's amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We've only heard one side...

"@dkeller23 We'll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style

"I believe in God. I believe we're ALL his children. And I believe HE is the ONE and ONLY judge.

"Those who judge others, will also be judged themselves.

"For those of you who said you want to see Bin Laden burn in hell and piss on his ashes, I ask how would God feel about your heart?

"There is not an ignorant bone in my body. I just encourage you to #think"

There is all kind of hullabaloo being made about these statements, prompting Art Rooney II, the spokesperson for the family who owns the franchise to have to say publicly: "I have not spoken with Rashard so it is hard to explain or even comprehend what he meant with his recent Twitter comments. The entire Steelers' organization is very proud of the job our military personnel have done and we can only hope this leads to our troops coming home soon." I could have grabbed a number of examples of just this kind of thing to illustrate my point, like one of the multiplying stories about how political correctness is enforced by employers monitoring social media.

Mendenhall is certainly skating on thin-ice by intimating that perhaps bin-Laden, KSM, and a consortium of others we kind of lump together as al-Qaeda were not behind the 9/11 attacks, the attacks of the U.S. embassies in Africa, and much terror and violence throughout Central Asia. They are guilty by their own admissions and by that fact alone, their murderous run needed to be brought to an end. Being charitable, it seems that the main thing Mendenhall sought to express was close to what was said by the spokesman for the Holy See, Fr. Frederico Lombardi, SJ: "In the face of a man’s death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred."

It bears noting that Rooney is not Mendenhall’s direct supervisor. He is not even Mendenhall’s boss’s boss. As the owner, he is the player's boss’s, boss’s boss. Nonetheless, Rooney felt the need to counter Mendenhall’s statement, a sure indication that he was worried people would think the running back tweeted for the whole Pittsburgh organization. Now, only a foolish person would think Mendenhall was tweeting on behalf of anyone except Mendenhall. This is precisely where the stupidity factor that endangers our freedom, something far too often exhibited by members of our so-called fourth estate, comes into play. I remember a wise teacher once saying, "The good thing about stupidity is that it is remediable."

So, even though when it comes to bin-Laden Mendenhall is clearly up-in-the-night, I hope we would all accord him the freedom to speak out on a matter about which he obviously feels strongly. Moroever, members of the news media would be wise to realize that he is a football player, just as they had to be reminded that places are called dangerous, well, because there is danger. As with actors and other famous people with no particular expertise, it would be difficult for me to care less what a NFL running back thinks about such matters. After all, I am quite certain, given his martyr-complex, that Charlie Sheen has some thoughts on all that has taken place these past 48 hours.

All of this prompts me to look at my own situation: I blog as a Roman Catholic deacon. However, I have an extensive disclaimer that I entitled "Integrity Notes." In these notes I make it clear that, while I blog as a member of the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church, incardinated in to a particular diocese and assigned to a specific parish, what I post does not express the official views of the Church, my diocese, my parish, my bishop, my pastor, etc. Further, I am quite certain that, despite making every effort to be responsible in what I write and post, there are undoubtedly times when one or all of those entities would disagree with me. This is fine by me. I do not remember waiving my right to free speech when I was ordained back in 2004. So, how about, when asked, instead of feeling the need to "set the record straight," Rooney just said that as far as he is concerned Mendenhall has the right to express himself freely and that he does not speak for anyone but Rashard Mendenhall?


I am also prompted to make a few further observations: By the large, people in the Middle East and Central Asia want liberty, modernization, education, and economic prosperity. However, many want it without importing the destructive elements of Western culture. As people of faith in that culture, don’t we struggle mightily with this same trade-off, wanting all the benefits of things, like the internet, even while being opposed to readily-accessible pornography and on-line gambling and the like?

Figures like bin-Laden resonate with many people for many of the same reasons that so many in the U.S. are drawn to Christian fundamentalism, because they both vocally and actively resist what many see as the societal decline brought about, at least in part, by the effects of technology. One does not have to be a fundamentalist, however, to believe something Peter Hitchens reiterates quite often, namely that without faith and without stable families the development of personal conscience is stunted, private life is diminished, all of which results in the need for the power of the state to be increased.

However, while one group seeks to accomplish these ends peacefully within a constitutionally democratic system, the Islamists seek to do so by violent overthrow of that same system followed by the imposition of a world-wide caliphate. The trouble is you cannot build a peaceful and prosperous future on such a negative and backwards vision precisely because it squashes the other, conflicting, aspirations of so many.

Truth transforms us

In his book Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, commenting on 1 Timothy 1:13, where St. Paul writes that he was "a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent" of God and the church, going on to write that he "received mercy because [he] had acted ignorantly in unbelief," the Holy Father writes, referring to Paul's studying "under the best masters" to the point he could certainly be considered an expert in the Scriptures, "This combination of expert knowledge and deep ignorance certainly causes us to ponder." Pondering this "reveals the whole problem of knowledge that remains self-sufficient and so does not arrive at the Truth itself, which ought to transform man." (pg. 207)

Monday, May 2, 2011

A lesson learned once again

Another lesson learned, yet again: Don't react! This requires prudence. Acting imprudently is certainly an occupational risk for anyone who blogs, at least for someone who tries to do so responsibly. In light of the lack of seriousness and utterly absurd and preachy judgments arrived by many (among which I number my earlier post) concerning the death of Osama bin-Laden, I feel the need to highlight another aspect of this event, one in which I will try to avoid abstraction:

While I do not rejoice at or celebrate the news of bin-Laden's death, I am puzzled by those who seem to want to quasi-canonize him. Let's not forget that he was a man who consciously and unapologetically did evil things to good people and who had much blood on his hands, including the blood of untold thousands of his fellow Muslims. He also encouraged and facilitated others in their murder and evil-doing. I have no doubt that his death saved lives. So, while I am not rejoicing, I am not exactly in mourning, or bereft. Sadly, along with President Obama, I have to say that the world is better off without him in it.

I have come to see today that analogies, metaphors, et al. are not appropriate in this case. I read and heard a lot of emotionally-driven abstract statements, along with a lot of preachy advice about what my response, as a Christian, "ought to be". I would just say that it is precisely because we follow Christ that we must resist cheap grace, passively-aggressively dispensed over social media. Nothing can be cheaper, more worthless, or abstract than insisting something be forgiven that costs you nothing.

At end of the day, I can only share meaningfully from my own experience, which, even with deep wounds, indicates the truth of what Pastor Brian Zahnd writes in his very challenging book, UNconditional: The Call of Jesus to RADICAL FORGIVENESS: "Hope dares to imagine the future as a legitimate alternative to the vicious repetitions of the past. But refusal to forgive is a toxic memory that endlessly pulls the painful past into the present." Perhaps we should consider that the survivors of those killed by bin-Laden's terror are a little more at peace today not because they are blood-thirsty revenge-seekers, but because they realize that he will no longer be able to commit atrocities, or to faciliate, finance, and train others to kill innocent people, even while realizing there are plenty of people left who are still ready, able, and willing to do evil in the service of their warped idea of the good.


This morning I wrote that "[a]s I get older I come to grips more and more with who and what I am. In addition to being a husband, a father, a son, and brother, I am a deacon whose ministry primarily consists of teaching, preaching, and counseling. So, on this day when the demise of Osama bin-Laden, a man who really can't be seen as anything other than a murderer and an ideologue who was responsible for the killing many more innocent Muslims than any other people, is being widely reported and even celebrated, I offer what I can, which is my reflection for this year on the first of Jesus' Seven Last Words as He hung upon the Cross." While I do not retract what I offered, I realize that it was not really appropriate in this context and over this medium.

Thankfully, even early this morning I was capable of making at least a partially accurate judgment, grounded in reality: "In practical and realistic terms we can certainly hope that the death of bin-Laden strikes a blow to the financial, operational, and recruiting capabilities of al-Qaeda. We should pray that his death has the effect of reducing violence, especially senseless acts of terror, which were certainly his evil specialty, along with corrupting idealistic young men, drawing them into his evil and murderous game, which, sadly, is his lasting and pathetic legacy."

Jesus, I trust in you

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Year A Second Sunday of Easter/Divine Mercy Sunday

Readings: Acts 2:42-47; Ps 118:2-4.13-15.22-24; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

On this Second Sunday of Easter we not only celebrate Divine Mercy, but we rejoice in the beatification of the one who proclaimed today our celebration of Divine Mercy, our much-loved Bl. Pope John Paul II. In His revelations to Sr. Faustina, the Lord asked numerous times not only that there be a feast day dedicated to Divine Mercy, but that it be on the Second Sunday of Easter. It seems that the reason for asking that the Feast of Divine Mercy be on the Second Sunday of Easter was that, in the liturgy prior to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, all the liturgical texts concerned the institution of the sacrament of penance, that is, confession. Even in the reformed liturgy after the council, we continue to give thanks on this day to "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." (1 Pet. 1:3)

Of course, we receive new birth in and through the waters of baptism, as we witnessed again last week at the Great Easter Vigil when, responding to God’s merciful love, our five new sisters and brothers were born of water and the Spirit (John 3:5) In addition to renewing our baptismal vows last Sunday, at the beginning of our Easter liturgy today we were sprinkled with water, giving thanks to our "God of mercy," who washes "away our sins in water" and gives "us new birth in the Spirit."

On this feast of Divine Mercy it is certainly worthwhile to point out the primary instruments of God’s mercy are the seven sacraments. It also bears reflecting on the intrinsic connection between the sacraments of baptism and penance. This relationship is depicted beautifully here in own Cathedral. Our baptism font consists of two main parts: an upper basin and a lower font. The lower font is shaped like a cross. If you follow the line of the cross-shaped font’s beams either East or West, that is, to the walls of the Cathedral these lines intersect with our confessionals. This is meant to show us that penance is an extension of baptism. When we are baptized we enter not merely into a covenant with God, but we enter into an intimate relationship, which, like all intimate relationships must grow and develop over time. Availing ourselves of the sacrament of penance is necessary if our relationship with Christ is to deepen and grow.


Because we are born again in and through baptism the very nature of our relationship with God changes from one of creature to Creator, albeit a very beloved creature, to child of God through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Archbishop Celestino Migliore stated this very succinctly: "You are not really born until you are baptized." In baptism we are restored to the state of original grace. This state of original grace was not only lost through original sin, but is lost through personal sin, too. Scripture tells us that we are created in God’s image and likeness. The divine image, what we refer to as the imago Dei, is ineradicable and cannot be lost because each one of us has at the core of our being what St. Justin Martyr, writing in the second century, called "a divine spark." Unlike the divine image, our likeness to God is lost through sin. We are only like God to the extent that we imitate Christ.

It was not lost on the earliest Christians that while baptism restores us to the state of original grace we keep on sinning. In other words, we do not become perfect in the blink of an eye. If this were so, we would need only one sacrament- baptism! We have a really great, smart-sounding word, to describe our post-baptismal disposition to sin- concupiscence. While baptism imparts "the life of Christ's grace," washing away personal sins and erasing original sin and orienting us back towards God, our nature is still weak "and we remain inclined to evil." (Catechism par. 405) Because of His great mercy, our Lord does not leave us helpless, but comes to our aid by means of another sacrament, namely penance, which we also call confession and reconciliation.

As with the liturgy prior to the Council’s lovely reform, the first part of our Gospel for today, the part we frequently ignore so as not to miss yet another opportunity to engage in hand-wringing doubt, is the passage we point to when demonstrating just where in His life and ministry our Lord instituted penance as a sacrament. While we must be careful in drawing a straight line from our current practice back to Jesus, it is no exaggeration to say that penance has existed as a sacrament in one form or another throughout the Church’s entire history. Whatever shape and form this sacrament has taken over time, its basic elements have been confessing our sins, performing acts of penance and reparation, resulting in absolution. Through this sacrament we are not only mercifully reconciled to God, but also to the Church, whose communion we impair each time we sin.

You are only baptized once. You are only confirmed once. If you are married, ideally, you are only married once. Those of us who are ordained are only ordained to an order of ministry once. Rarely do we receive the sacrament of anointing of the sick, though this is a sacrament, like penance, we should make more use of because it is not only something to receive if you are in danger of death, but something to be received periodically if you suffer from a chronic disease, or are facing surgery, or any serious situation with regard to your physical health. I mention all of this only to highlight the fact that the two sacraments we receive over and over again so that, by God’s grace, we become more like Christ, are penance and Eucharist.

Just as there is a necessary connection between baptism and penance there is also an inextricable connection between baptism, penance, and Eucharist. Indeed, the sacrament of penance serves as a vital link between these two sacraments, which constitute the ground of the whole sacramental economy of grace established by Christ. Looking once again at our Cathedral, in addition to being the terminus of the beams of our font’s cross, the confessionals are also placed slightly in front of the font, making them aid stations on our journey from the font to the altar, providing indispensable relief for us on our pilgrimage from the already to the not yet.

On this Divine Mercy Sunday I want to note two things about the sacrament of penance, which is truly the Tribunal of Divine Mercy. First, we are obligated to receive the sacrament of penance at least once a year. Second, according to the teaching of the Church, which was reiterated by the U.S. bishops in 2006: "If we are no longer in the state of grace because of mortal sin, we are seriously obliged to refrain from receiving Holy Communion until we are reconciled with God and the Church." (USCCB, Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper 8) The way we are reconciled with God and the Church is through the sacrament of penance, that is, by going to confession, even if the first thing you confess is that it has been longer than a year since your last confession.


On this glorious day as we bask in the radiant light of Christ’s resurrection from the dead it is fitting that we now number Pope John Paul II, Karol Joseph Wojtyla, among the blessed, those women and men whom we venerate because they show us what it means to follow Christ in the concrete circumstances of our own lives. It was Pope John Paul II who not only redeemed the shattered reputation of his fellow Pole, Sr. Faustina Kolwolska, but who canonized her eleven years ago yesterday on 30 April 2000. A little less than a month later, on 23 May 2000, at his direction, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments decreed that "throughout the world the Second Sunday of Easter will receive the name Divine Mercy Sunday, a perennial invitation to the Christian world to face, with confidence in divine benevolence, the difficulties and trials that [hu]mankind will experience in the years to come."

In his second encyclical letter, Dives in misericordia- Rich in Mercy- calling to mind our Blessed Mother’s words from her Magnificat, "he has mercy on those who fear him in every generation" (Luke 1:50), Bl. Pope John Paul II wrote that the Church, which includes you and me, perpetually ponders "the eloquence of these inspired words," and seeks to apply "them to the sufferings of the great human family." We "must become more particularly and profoundly conscious of the need to bear witness in [our] whole mission to God's mercy, following in the footsteps of … Jesus Christ Himself and His Apostles." (Section VII) Martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer described well the implications of what John Paul II is called us to: "The call to follow Christ always means a call to share the work of forgiving men their sins. Forgiveness is the Christlike suffering which it is the Christian’s duty to bear." (Cost of Discipleship 90)

Our Lord said, "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." (Matt. 5:7) Let our response be that of St. Faustina: "Jesus, I trust in you."

Jesus, I trust in you