Thursday, June 30, 2011

Impatience, passion, and "tenderness towards the truth"

File this one under the same heading as my recent post For too many "the reasons complicate." When it comes to formation impatience is inevitable and ambivalence can be the order of the day. On the good side, impatience indicates a true desire on the part of one being formed as well as on the part of the one charged with formation. This impatience is good insofar as it orients us the right way and is a response to what (i.e., Who) we truly long for. On the other side, insofar as it reveals our desire to skip experience and come to truth another way, it is inhibiting and is the cause of many throwing their hands up in exasperation. Desiring to skip experience is undoubtedly a gnostic approach. It is also true that very often the one charged with formation wants to be understood completely the first time in order to spare those being formed the same experiences (i.e., doubt, pain, etc.) s/he has had. In this way the one charged with formation is very much like a parent.


For the ones being formed and for the one charged with formation (under the heading of the one who teaches learns the most), "things have to be repeated and, in repeating them, it seems that they become more difficult to understand" (Is It Possible Vol. 3 pg 65). Nonetheless, "if you're forced to repeat things to understand them, either you ardently desire the truth (you have a passion for the thing you are studying), or you grumble - at a certain point you grumble: grumbling coincides with understanding less" (pg. 65). If you stick with it through passion and grumbling "at a certain point it's as if, unexpectedly, the first breath of morning - the dawn - breaks, and you begin to understand...[e]ven if there are many objections, lots of darkness, many partitions that obscure the direct vision of things, the triumph of truth lies at the heart's core..." (pg.65- underlining and emboldening emphasis mine).

What is this truth that lies at the heart's core? Love for Christ, which "is not something different - it's only different in the sense that it's deeper, more gripping, than even the affection you experience with people you know" (pg. 66). What must be kept in mind to surmount impatience is "that God makes the first move" (pg. 66).

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Solemnity of Saint Peter and Saint Paul

Today is the Solemnity of Saints Peter & Paul. This solemnity is of ancient origin and is observed in the both the East and the West on the same day, which is always a sign of an ancient observance. In fact, for many Eastern Catholics and all Orthodox there is a two week fast leading up to this great feast, just as there is a two week fast that precedes the Solemnity of the Assumption (called the Dormition in the Christian East).


In a sermon for this great feast, St. Augustine, preached: "This day has been consecrated for us by the martyrdom of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul. It is not some obscure martyrs we are talking about. Their sound has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world. These martyrs had seen what they proclaimed, they pursued justice by confessing the truth, by dying for the truth... There is one day for the passion of two apostles. But these two also were as one; although they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, Paul followed. We are celebrating a feast day, consecrated for us by the blood of the apostles. Let us love their faith, their lives, their labours, their sufferings, their confession of faith, their preaching."

Saints Peter and Paul, holy apostles, who sealed your testimony with your blood, pray for us, pray for Christ's holy Church.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The reality of the human person

Each year the Holy Father delivers a Christmas speech to the Roman Curia. These addresses are always worth paying attention to because in them the pope addresses matters that are of the greatest concern to him and lays out a set of priorities. In his 2010 speech, for example, Pope Benedict gave a brilliant synthesis of Newman on conscience. In 2008 he spoke about humanity's relationship to the created order and of the necessity of recognizing the inherent connection we have to the world and to each other. He also spoke about the consequences of our failure to recognize this connection, which failure is nothing other than a recapitulation of original sin. Original sin basically consists of wanting to be god for ourselves, to be self-determining. In other words, Freud was right, except that we are not content with merely wanting to be our own father, we want to be our own gods and goddesses!

Pointing to the effects of this human tendency is what prompted Malcom Muggeridge to observe that original sin is the most empirically verifiable fact in the world. In his 2008 Christmas address, the Holy Father insisted that even in these fast-paced times when great efforts are being made to overturn man's relationship to reality in order to make humanity more self-determining, that now, more than ever, we have a duty to give witness to the truth, which is why he speaks about "the language of creation":


"Since faith in the Creator is an essential part of the Christian Credo, the Church cannot and should not confine itself to passing on the message of salvation alone. It has a responsibility for the created order and ought to make this responsibility prevail, even in public. And in so doing, it ought to safeguard not only the earth, water, and air as gifts of creation, belonging to everyone. It ought also to protect man against the destruction of himself. What is necessary is a kind of ecology of man, understood in the correct sense. When the Church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman and asks that this order of creation be respected, it is not the result of an outdated metaphysic. It is a question here of faith in the Creator and of listening to the language of creation, the devaluation of which leads to the self-destruction of man and therefore to the destruction of the same work of God. That which is often expressed and understood by the term 'gender', results finally in the self-emancipation of man from creation and from the Creator. Man wishes to act alone and to dispose ever and exclusively of that alone which concerns him. But in this way he is living contrary to the truth, he is living contrary to the Spirit Creator. The tropical forests are deserving, yes, of our protection, but man merits no less than the creature, in which there is written a message which does not mean a contradiction of our liberty, but its condition. The great Scholastic theologians have characterised matrimony, the life-long bond between man and woman, as a sacrament of creation, instituted by the Creator himself and which Christ – without modifying the message of creation – has incorporated into the history of his covenant with mankind. This forms part of the message that the Church must recover the witness in favour of the Spirit Creator present in nature in its entirety and in a particular way in the nature of man, created in the image of God. Beginning from this perspective, it would be beneficial to read again the Encyclical Humanae Vitae: the intention of Pope Paul VI was to defend love against sexuality as a consumer entity, the future as opposed to the exclusive pretext of the present, and the nature of man against its manipulation."
This, again, is what makes the legal requirement to recognize and even endorse same sex relationships so problematic. Let's be clear, this is not about denigrating anyone, or disrespecting another, it is not even about failing to see a certain value in all affective human relationships, but an exercise in loving another by loving his/her destiny, which means inviting them into a way of seeing reality more clearly in order that they can live in the awareness of their own destiny. It is certainly our connection to the created order and our place within it that we are prompted to contemplate as we consider the Incarnation of the Son of God.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The ideology of so-called same-sex marriage

Late last week the New York State legislature passed a law legalizing so-called same-sex marriage. Not being a nominalist (i.e., things cannot be reduced to what we call them), it bears noting that same-sex marriage is a contradiction in terms, along the lines of a rounded square. The bill was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo. It is beyond problematic that the governor is a Catholic, as are a number of the New York State legislators who voted to continue the systematic dismantling of marriage and family in our country.

Of all the responses to this travesty, I think the statement of Bishop Nicholas DiMarzo of Brooklyn is the best because it is succinct, sharp, and clear. Bishop DiMarzo is quite correct to note that what supporters call "marriage equality" "is not a civil rights issue, but rather a human rights issue." It is true that "marriage equality" measures are most often argued for on the basis of human rights, but it is a very incoherent view of human rights. People are quick to be offended when people write and say things like, "If you permit same-sex marriage, pretty soon you will have to allow polygamy."

Proof that such statements are not very far-off in reality are cultural undertakings, such as HBO’s Big Love, which sought to "normalize" polygamy, seeing nothing wrong with such an arrangement, as long as it is practiced by consenting adults, who do not marry within genetically problematic degrees of consanguinity. After all, Dustin Black, one of the chief writers of the series, is a homosexual former Mormon, who narrated the film 8: The Mormon Proposition, a documentary that was highly critical of the LDS Church’s effort, supported also by the Roman Catholic Church via individual dioceses and the California Catholic Conference, to defeat Proposition 8. Proposition 8, which was on the ballot in California in 2008, was an initiative that sought to change the definition of marriage, not by legislative or judicial fiat, but by means of a popular initiative. The result of the proposition is still the subject of an intense court battle. People take this logic even further, by means of an attempted reductio ad absurdum argument, asking what would prevent a state legislature, or Congress, from legally permitting a person to marry his household pet? Even people who understand marriage are understandably offended by these kinds of attempts, but what people try to demonstrate by using such admittedly incendiary examples is just that such a view of human rights is incoherent.

A human right is something that one only need be human to enjoy, or to exercise. Human rights are not granted and cannot be taken away by any government. All people, by virtue of being human, have rights that must be respected. Of course, even modern history is not short of examples of regimes that sought through legislative fiat, backed up by extreme violence, leading to mass murder, to deprive certain groups of their human rights. That marriage is not a human right per se can be demonstrated by the simple fact that people are still not free to marry within certain degrees of consanguinity (i.e., you cannot marry a sibling). Of course, forbidding marriage between those who are closely related is bound up with even "civil" marriage presuming the link between matrimony and procreation. Without such a presumption, why should the state legally be forbid a man from marrying his male first cousin? If two men, or two women, who are closely-related, can marry, doesn’t it become discriminatory to prevent a closely-related man and woman from marrying? After all, according to proponents of "marriage equality," marriage has nothing to do with the procreation of children, n’cest ce pas? This is but one way to demonstrate how authentic marriage is a social good that merits the protection of the state.

Photo from Zumapress.com

In his succinct statement concerning the legalization of so-called same-sex marriage in the State of New York, Bishop DiMarzo cuts to the chase when he points out that the most ardent supporters of so-called same-sex marriage and so of "the governor and the state legislature have demonized people of faith, whether they be Muslims, Jews, or Christians, and identified them as bigots and prejudiced…" DiMarzo further points out the disingenuousness of proponents of so-called same-sex marriage, who denounce the "bigotry" and "prejudice" of people like me, by noting that even they don’t believe their ideological pronouncements. He does this by asking "how in good conscience" can they offer exemptions to what they claim is a right for institutions, like the Catholic Church? In other words, one does not support carving out conscience clauses for people who oppose human rights, or even legitimate civil rights.

A few years back, in his Mail On Sunday column, Peter Hitchens pointed out what is best described as a kind of ideological tyranny: "I really don’t want to know what other people do in their bedrooms. But these days they really, really want us to know. And, more important, they insist that we approve…We are forced to say that we think homosexuality is a good thing, that homosexual couples are equal in all ways to heterosexual married couples… Many people who believe nothing of the kind now know their careers in politics, the media, the Armed Services, the police or schools will be ruined if they ever let their true opinions show." As a result of this, with Hitchens, I am quite certain that many people routinely lie simply to avoid any problems. Rather, they "cringe to the new Thought Police, like the subjects of some insane, sex-obsessed Stalinist state…" Most insidious of all, the would-be denizens of this Orwellian utopia want us all to make our sexuality the cornerstone of our personal identity.

So, I am particularly glad that Bishop DiMarzo didn’t take any detours in his succinct statement. Sometimes truth is most charitably offered sans the spoonful of sugar, or, straight, no chaser. These events should draw our attention to the great need we have, which Santa Fe's Archbishop Michael Sheehan addressed in a pastoral letter, to do more within the Church to insure the integrity of the sacrament of matrimony. Over the years I have written much about marriage, including two posts concerning Sheehan's Santa Fe pastoral: Marriage as a sacrament of salvation, a channel of God's grace and More on marriage and pastoral care. My most recent post on the Church's teaching about marital sexuality, "Not everyone can receive this saying".

Catholic politicians should bear in mind these words spoken by the Lord, which are recorded in all three of the synoptic Gospels: "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?" (Mark 8:36- ESV) I was especially reminded of these words when I saw pictures of Gov. Cuomo being celebrated at a "Pride" parade, along with the news stories now touting him as a presidential contender in 2016. As Archbishop Dolan, whose post, The True Meaning of Marriage, is well worth reading, said, "We've been let down by the politicians." To which I respond with more than a tinge of sarcasm, "What else is new?"

Sex, the homosexual soldier, and the rest of us

This post originally appeared on Cahiers Péguy immediately following the announcement of the lifting of Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Earlier this year over on Καθολικός διάκονος, I posted something I originally wrote back in the summer of 2009: "...we must refuse to speak in sanitized clinical euphemisms". In that post I used a quote from Archbishop Rowan Williams' 1989 impassioned apologia for the morality of homosexual sex, written while he was still professing theology at Oxford University, The Body's Grace, in which he argues that

"in a church which accepts the legitimacy of contraception, the absolute condemnation of same-sex relations of intimacy must rely either on an abstract fundamentalist deployment of a number of very ambiguous texts, or on a problematic and non-scriptural theory about natural complementarity, applied narrowly and crudely to physical differentiation without regard to psychological structures."

I employed the quote to show the logical consequence of divorcing sex, even heterosexual, married sex, from procreation in response to a chapter of Pastor Mark Driscoll's otherwise very good resource Porn Again Christian: a frank discussion on pornography and masturbation. I opined that Driscoll would likely deploy several scriptural texts in a fundamentalist manner, but I also asserted that several of the scriptural passages that would be marshaled are not as ambiguous as Williams axiomatically assumes them to be. For me, the trouble with Driscoll's proof-texting is that it not only fails to answer, but even to ask, the pesky Why? question. Why does God forbid same sex relations? After all, if God is not arbitrary and capricious, and we know He is neither, there has to be a reason.

What prompted my repost was reading an article that appeared in an issue of Our Sunday Visitor in which Robert A.J. Gagnon, an associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, not only rebutted, but refuted Lisa Miller's Newsweek article, Gay Marriage: Our Mutual Joy. Sadly, Prof. Gagnon's article is available only to subscribers.



Among the unambiguous passages is the one from the first chapter of St. Paul's Letter to the Romans, specifically verses 24-27. More importantly, Prof. Gagnon deals with Jesus' teaching on marriage, which, in the synoptics, is set forth most clearly in the thesis/anti-thesis section of Matthew chapter five, verses 31-32. This can be augmented with our Lord's teaching on marriage in Mark chapter ten. He shows how what he calls "the male-female prerequisite" is at the core of a biblical understanding of marriage and sexual relations. He demonstrates how the core verses from Genesis (1:27 and 2:23-25) are the basis of the later rejection, first by the Essenes and then by Jesus, of polygamy. He also shows how Miller's viewpoint easily leads us backwards and not forwards, that is, back towards polygamy, etc. What he offers is far from the fallacious slippery-slope argument that such assertions are frequently accused of.

Gagnon concludes that "there is no realistic possibility that Paul's indictment of homosexual practice - or, for that matter, the indictment by any Jew in antiquity of such behavior - was limited to certain exploitative, 'violent' homosexual acts."

What brings this all back to mind is last week's passage of the bill that overturned the U.S. military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, which was enacted during the Clinton Administration. This change in the law that will ultimately permit homosexual people to serve openly in the U.S. military is heralded by many as a landmark moment, a moment of societal progress on par with Pres. Truman's racially integrating the military by executive order. Of course, analogies between race and sexual preference are woefully inadequate on many grounds. This is why I was struck by John Guardino's post on the American Spectator blog in which he points to the beginning of the all too predictable backlash in a post entitled DADT and Left-Wing Intellectual Bigtory. In his post, Guardino points to an article by Richard Cohen in the Washington Post calling for the dismissal of the recently installed Gen. James Amos, Commandant of Marine Corps, who had the audacity to oppose the change. Guardino is absolutely correct to point out that, contra Cohen, Gen. Amos never uttered one disparaging word about people who are homosexual. In fact, after the passage of the legislation changing the policy of homosexual people serving in the military, Gen. Amos issued this statement:
"Fidelity is the essence of the United States Marine Corps. Above all else, we are loyal to the Constitution, our Commander in Chief, Congress, our Chain of Command, and the American people. The House of Representatives and the Senate have voted to repeal Title 10, US Code 654 'Policy Concerning Homosexuality in the United States Armed Forces.' As stated during my testimony before Congress in September and again during hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month, the Marine Corps will step out smartly to faithfully implement this new policy. I, and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, will personally lead this effort, thus ensuring the respect and dignity due all Marines. On this matter, we look forward to further demonstrating to the American people the discipline and loyalty that have been the hallmark of the United States Marine Corps for over 235 years."
I encourage you to read Guardino's piece in its entirety. Believe it or not, I even think what he quotes from Pat Buchanan's article is quite insightful because it is reminiscent of many of the arguments Peter Hitchens makes about these things, which are firmly rooted in reality, especially about homophobia, which, apart from meaning "fear-of-the-same," goes hand-in-hand with other crack-pot diagnoses, like Islamophobia, from which everyone who opposes the Ground Zero mosque apparently suffers. I am tempted to call Guardino's piece prescient, but since he is writing about what has already started to happen, it is not, but merely descriptive and likely predictive. He is quite correct to point to a J.E. Dyer piece that appeared on Commentary's Contentions blog in which Dyer insists that even prior to the repeal of DADT gays could "already serve in the U.S. military; repealing DADT isn’t about allowing them to [serve]. It’s about endorsing their sexual orientation in military operations and culture." Indeed, this strikes me as the crux of the matter.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Year A: Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Readings: Deut. 8:2-3.14b-16a; Ps. 147:12-15.19-20. 6.8; 1 Cor. 10:16-17; John 6:51-58

In our first reading for this Solemnity of Corpus Christi, our annual celebration of and as Christ’s Body, Moses says to the Israelites, recounting how God provided for them during their sojourn in the desert, that "not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD" (Deut. 8:3). Our Gospel today is from St. John. In the magnificent prologue that comes at the very beginning of the fourth Gospel, we read: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). Towards the end of this breathtaking introduction, we learn that "the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).

My brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ is the definitive Word of God. Michael Card, in a beautiful contemporary Christian song he composed, entitled The Final Word, sang: "He spoke the Incarnation and then so was born the Son/His final word was Jesus/He needed no other one." Jesus Christ is the Father’s the life-giving Word that is perpetually breathed from the mouth of the Father. In this same vein, it is important to recall that the word "spirit" means breath.

So, just as when God at the creation of the world breathed on waters and life began to emerge, so when the Father sends his Spirit upon us we are also given life, the eternal life about which the Lord speaks to his incredulous listeners in today’s Gospel. Each and every time we participate in the Eucharist, we consecrate our gifts of bread and wine. At a certain point in the Eucharistic prayer, the priest pronounces what is called the epiclesis, which is a Greek word that means "to call down." Hence, we hear words like these: "Therefore, O Lord, we humbly implore you: by the same Spirit graciously make holy these gifts we have brought to you for consecration, that they may become the Body and Blood of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ, at whose command we celebrate these mysteries" (Eucharistic Prayer III). Each time we do this the Father graciously sends his Holy Spirit, thus sacramentally transforming the bread and the wine into Christ’s body and blood that we, in turn, consume and by which we are transformed into Christ’s body, the church.

Very often we get hung up on trying to explain just how the Eucharistic elements are transformed in an effort to provide objective arguments and proofs to those who doubt, or even those who defiantly disbelieve, that what we experience so profoundly is true. At the end of the day, we are forced to admit that the only empirical evidence that the bread and wine, in fact, become Christ’s body and blood are the lives, that is, the witness of those of us who partake of it.

Corpus Christi brings to an end (an end that is not terminus, but a starting point, a commencement) a crucial liturgical sequence that began during the Triduum with our commemoration and observance of the Lord’s passion and death, continued by our celebration of his glorious resurrection, followed some forty days later by our celebration of his Ascension, with its implied promise of his on-going presence among us and explicit promise that he will return again in glory, then came our celebration of Pentecost, which marks the fulfillment of the Lord’s first promise to always be with us, which was dramatically fulfilled at the first Christian Pentecost and continues to fulfilled in a multitude of ways, especially in and through the sacraments, which all flow from and back to the Eucharist. Finally, last week we celebrated the penultimate event of this sequence, Trinity Sunday. So, even as we contemplate Christ’s real presence in the Eucharistic species and acknowledge that "the Eucharist has to do with Christ alone" (Ratzinger, God Is Near Us 121), we must not fail to see that it is an act of God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.


Theologian Aidan Nichols, commenting on the work Hans Urs Von Balthasar wrote that theologically,
"the basic affirmation found in the Church’s faith is that Christ is the interpreter of the Invisible. That means, in the first place, of the Father – though thanks to the reciprocally defined relations of the [three divine persons] and their consequent relations of communion, the Father cannot be revealed without a concomitant self-revelation of the Son as the One sent by the Father and of the Spirit in whom the interpretation of the Father is both made by the Son and understood by ourselves" (Nichols, Say It Is Pentecost 73-74)
So, why is the Invisible made visible to us by the Holy Spirit under the signs of bread and wine? The answer is deceptively simple- because nothing is more necessary to sustain life than eating and drinking!

A human being cannot live without food and water, but it is God’s word, not even the manna God sent from heaven to sustain them, Moses tells the people in our first reading, that truly gives life (Deut 8:3). In our Gospel today, Jesus says, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world" (John 6:51). Indeed, my dear friends, by means of giving himself to you in communion, Christ not only shows you the Father, but seeks, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to draw us all into the very the life of the Most Holy Trinity. He becomes bread and wine so that we can "participate" even now in divine life, the essential nature of which he makes concrete by his total and complete self-giving on the altar.

So, while it is true that without nutrition and hydration you will die, you must ever bear in mind that Christ conquered sin and death, thus opening for you the way to eternal life. Hence, without Christ you are truly dead and have no hope for that for which you so ardently long, what Pope Benedict, in his encyclical letter, Spe Salvi, referred to "as the life which is simply life, simply ‘happiness'" (par. 11). In our Gospel for Trinity Sunday, also taken from St. John, we heard that while the Father "did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world," but rather to save it, that those who choose not to believe have "already been condemned, because [they have] not believed in the name of the only Son of God" (John 3:16-18). The point here is that without Christ, you are more dead than if you stopped eating and drinking.

So, today, on Corpus Christi, be mindful of what St. Paul in today’s second reading calls your "participation" in the body of the Christ, which, among other things, calls us to be mindful of our need for communion with each other and our communion with Christians throughout the world, especially those in communion with the pope, who once wrote: "Christ gives himself in the Eucharist, and he is entirely present in each place, so that wherever the Eucharist is celebrated, the whole mystery of the Church is present" (God Is Near Us 121-122). It does not end there because the Eucharist is not an end in itself. Therefore, it is your job, when you are sent forth from this Eucharist to "Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord" (Order of the Mass), doing so knowing that what you proclaim by how you live is not so much a Gospel of life, but showing how the Gospel is life.

Friday, June 24, 2011

"In the field they may be with you"

One of the truest clichés is "misery loves company." This is true because evil is a sucking vortex, no matter where or how it rears its ugly head. This is why humility is so necessary. I believe that it is humility, even more than prudence, that allows us to resist evil. You see, if you are humble you are not convinced of your own righteousness. As Matthew Archbold wrote recently over on Creative Minority Report (with a deep diaconal bow to Fr. Erik): "I don't want a religion that accepts me for who I am. I know who I am and am unimpressed. I want a religion that calls me to be better than I am even as I resist it."

In his Letter to the Galatians, the apostle wrote: "For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another" (5:13-15-ESV).

Now, what constitutes charity in a given instance differs. For example, as a parent, it is really true that I often love my children more by putting foot my down, which makes them unhappy, at least for awhile, than by just letting them do what they want. Charity, caritas, means that I love another by loving her/his destiny. This is why authentic friendship demands honesty. Just today I sent a friend a FB message in which I expressed a thought, a feeling, that I know I shouldn't have. My hope, which is a form of trust, is not that my friend will delicately talk me out of feeling the way I feel (feelings, while real, are fickle and most often secondary or tertiary), but accept it and help me work through my anger. To paraphrase Archbold, I want friends who love my destiny, even when I don't!

This is what I mean when I write that when it comes to charity one size does not fit all. Over the years I have developed a three-fold way to evaluate how I make important decisions that affect others, which certainly applies to blogging. First, I ask myself, is it, according to my best judgment and the best counsel I have received, objectively the right conclusion? Second, even when I can conclude with integrity it is the right conclusion, are my motives good? Finally, how do I plan to go about following through? I can think of two examples in the past several years that I have done the right thing, for the correct reasons, but blown it in how I went about doing. In both cases I was too passive-aggressive.


I remember when Pope Benedict conditionally lifted the excommunications of four illicitly ordained bishops from the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX). I wrote a pretty critical post about how he really should've been better advised, that he should have known before he issued the document, not after, that Williamson (one of the bishops) was a denier of the mass murder of European Jews in Germany during the reign of the National Socialists. I still think that judgment is correct, but the spirit in which I expressed it was not. But then I remember reading the Holy Father's letter to the bishops of the world, in which he cited the text from Galatians about not devouring one another, but to love and serve each other. I was more than happy to make up for what was lacking in my critical post.

Dr. James Dobson used to warn about Christians forming a circular firing squad whenever someone was "caught" misbehaving. No matter how well-intentioned, this is not charitable. There will be scandals in the church until Christ returns in glory. St. Augustine, preaching on Matthew 13:24-30 (ESV), says that the Lord is the One who sows the seed, but
"He showed how that the enemy who sowed the tares was the devil; the time of harvest, the end of the world; His field the whole world. And what says He? 'In the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, to burn them, but gather the wheat into My barn.' Why are you so hasty, He says, you servants full of zeal? You see tares among the wheat, you see evil Christians among the good; and you wish to root up the evil ones; be quiet, it is not the time of harvest. That time will come, may it only find you wheat! Why do ye vex yourselves? Why bear impatiently the mixture of the evil with the good? In the field they may be with you, but they will not be so in the barn" (Sermon 23 On the New Testament)
This post is obviously not apropos of nothing, nor is it a plea not to act charitably in a tough love sort of way, in diakonia of the truth for the good of others and the unity of the church. Rather, let's be mindful that misery, indeed, loves company and that sometimes, in our zeal, the line between good and evil can become barely visible. Prayer and fasting, counseling together, seeking advice, and, above all, being humble, are what open us to grace of which we are always in dire need so that we can clearly discern. After all, St. Augustine himself was a great servant of both truth and charity as he engaged in controversies that threatened those he was called to serve and/or the unity of the Church.

"things go better with rock"

Ever since Mr. Roboto last week, off Styx's Kilroy was Here album, with its storyline that rock was to be eliminated, I have been thinking about songs that highlight, not only the importance of this uniquely American art form, but that explicitly celebrate it. So, this will be the focus of our Friday traditio for awhile.

Our first traditio is Autograph's 1984 song, Turn Up the Radio


"The only time I turn it down is when I'm sleepin' it off." This gets my series kicked off. Oh, I am taking requests for songs in this vein from my fellow rock enthusiasts.

Besides, what a great song for a sunny Friday at the beginning summer! This is a dedication that goes out to my brother, Dan, a fellow rocker, and his beautiful daughter Lizzy, as they prepare to celebrate "Gotcha Day" on Monday.

Cheezy? Hell yes it is! Also, I bet you didn't know you could earn medals for rocking until you watched this.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

For too many "the reasons complicate"

In the recently concluded Spiritual Exercises of The Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, "Whoever Is in Christ Is a New Creation," Fr. Julían Carrón spoke not just about the relationship between faith and reason, but both about the necessity of this relationship and about how averse we often are to the necessity of this relationship for our own lives. This is true even within the Movement itself, as we make our way this year through Giussani's The Religious Sense. Carrón says that he is today hearing the question that Don Gius heard back in his days at Berchet High School, which Gius described in his book “Tu” (o dell’amicizia) ("You" (or, On friendship)), where he observed that "people no longer perceive the correspondence between the Christian proposal in its originality, the Christian event, and everyday life." Trying mightily to help them understand, they object, saying, "you’re so complicated!"

Reflecting back on his days at Berchet, referring to the School of Community he would dictate and that his students would write down, he remembers a young man who would visit with another priest and show this priest his notes from School of Community. "This priest," Giussani remembered, "stirred him up against what he read in the notes from my lessons, and told him, ‘See, this complicates, while, instead, religion is simple.’ In other words, ‘the reasons complicate.’" How many still say the same thing, he asks, namely that "the search for the reasons complicates"? On the contrary, Giussani insisted, the search for reasons illuminates! This rejection of the search for reasons, Giussani continues, "is the reason Christ is no longer an authority, but a sentimental object, and God is a boogeyman and not a friend.”

Picking up on these and few other observations of Fr. Giussani, Carrón insists that "[a] Christianity incapable of moving the person, of kindling the human, has caused disinterest in Christianity itself, making it become irrelevant. In many cases, it was not a rebellion against the Christian proposal; in most cases, Christianity simply lost its interest, became irrelevant. This shows that the awakening of the 'I' that is the religious sense is not just a useful step leading to faith: it is decisive in every moment. It is the true verification of faith. Do we think that we will act differently from the others without this verification? Or will we end up like everyone else? Won’t we, too, end up disinterested in the Christian proposal if we do not travel the road Fr. Giussani proposes to us?


"In a concise line, Giussani summarizes the challenge we have before us: 'I came to believe deeply that only a faith arising from life experience and confirmed by it (and, therefore, relevant to life’s needs could be sufficiently strong to survive in a world where everything pointed in the opposite direction….' Here is the decisive point: the need to focus on an experience that can hold up. For this reason, in the passage I have just quoted, Fr. Giussani offers us a triple key for understanding whether we are on the right road: that faith is a present experience (not the story of facts you subsequently stick something on to), a judged experience, not a repetition of formulas or sentences or comments; that faith find confirmation of its usefulness for life in present experience, in experience itself (otherwise we will always need a supplement of certainty 'from outside'); and that faith is able to hold up in a world where everything says the opposite."

I readily admit that reasons can complicate, but the only possible simplification is verification through experience, not shunning complexity (as if that were even possible), what Carrón calls "a judged experience, not a repetition of formulas." Any method that does not take for its starting point your own experience, in addition to likely having little or nothing to do with reality, will lead to disappointment and ultimately to disinterest. Your life is your unique path to destiny. Or, as Morrissey urged us longer ago now than I would care to remember: "Burn down the disco/Hang the blessed DJ/Because the music that they constantly play IT SAYS NOTHING TO ME ABOUT MY LIFE." While in the end it is not all about me, it's not like it has nothing to do with me from start to finish. While we are to die to ourselves for the Lord's sake in the service of others, Christianity, unlike the Eastern religions, is not about the annihilation of the self, but becoming who you are, who God made created, redeemed, and sanctifies you to be.

Another way of stating the matter is that if honestly searching for reasons does not illuminate, then how can the truth liberate you?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cora Evans, Servant of God

Over the right hand side of my blog you will see a picture of Cora Louise Evans, identifying her as a Servant of God and asking for her intercession. Like me, Cora was a Utah native and a convert to the Catholic faith. The cause for her canonization is highly significant for me and for many like me, who are LDS converts to the Catholic faith. There are many of us here in the Church in Utah, where I am privileged to serve. There are also many LDS converts to the Catholic faith throughout the U.S. and the world (our numbers are not as nominal as many might think!).

There are three exciting developments regarding Cora's cause. First, Bishop Richard Garcia, the bishop of Monterrey, California, the diocese where Cora was resident at the time of her death in 1957, formally opened the cause for her canonization. Secondly, Bishop Garcia appointed Fr. Joseph Grimaldi, J.C.L. "as postulator for the cause of the lay faithful, known for her holiness, Cora Evans." This step formally makes her a Servant of God. Fr. Grimaldi’s appointment is good news as he served as Promoter of Justice for the cause of the recently canonized St. Damien of Molokai.

Cora Evans, Servant of God, pray for us

The promotor iustitiae was formerly known, at least popularly, as the "devil’s advocate" (i.e., advocatus diaboli), formally called the promotor fidei (i.e., promoter of faith). So, Fr. Grimaldi’s role in Cora’s cause will be the exact opposite of the canonical duties he performed in the cause of St. Damien. As postulator for Cora’s cause, Grimaldi will serve as what used to be called advocatus Dei, or God’s advocate, promoting her canonization and stating the case for her being raised to the altar, whereas when he served as Promoter of Justice it was his job to examine the accuracy of everything submitted in favor of Fr. Damien’s canonization and to scrutinize claims made on behalf of his holiness, not with an eye towards preventing his canonization, but to insure the honesty and integrity of the proceedings.

One famous and recent example of the role of the Promoter of Justice was to have Christopher Hitchens, author of the scathing book The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, testify before the Congregation for the Causes of Saints against Bl. Teresa being recognized as a saint of the church, an experience he described in his article, "Less Than Miraculous," as "representing the Evil One, as it were, pro bono."

Finally, back in February, His Excellency, Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco (formerly bishop of Salt Lake City), granted an imprimatur for Prayer for the Intercession of Cora Evans, composed by her long-time confessor and spiritual director, Fr. Frank Parrish, S.J. I encourage any who read this blog to bring any particular needs to Cora, asking for her intercession. Below is the approved prayer:

First - Visit the Blessed Sacrament

Cora prayed that she would be given the same gift as Saint Therese, the Little Flower,
spending her heaven on earth doing good. But, first visit the Blessed Sacrament.

Second - The Prayer - Ask Cora to intercede in your behalf

Dearest Jesus, You blessed Cora Evans with many supernatural mystical gifts as a means of drawing us to a deeper and more intimate union with your Sacred Heart through Your Divine Indwelling, Your Mystical Humanity. I ask You through her intercession to help me in my special request (name the favor) and my efforts to do Your will here on earth and be with You, Your Blessed Mother, Saint Joseph and the whole Court of Heaven forever.

Third - Say three times

The Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be to the Father.

To read more about Cora, please visit this link.

While I am on the subject of recently opened causes for canonization, I cannot help but mention that of Dorothy Day, who once averred that she did not want to be a saint because she did not want to be dismissed that easily. Specifically, I draw your attention, dear reader, to Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete’s article, which appeared in Il Sussidiario (an on-line effort to which I make an occasional contribution), “Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement."

For Catholics there is no sacramental "outside"

I don't think I realized how hard I was working until I slowed down about two weeks ago. Since then I have been enjoying some down time, which has meant not feeling the need to post something here everyday, just almost everyday. On the other hand, when I go a day without posting something I miss doing so. As I mentioned on Monday, there is a lot to write about presently, even when I exclude l'affair Corapi, including a recent pastoral letter on the diaconate by Bishop Alexander Sample of the Diocese of Marquette, Michigan, certain aspects of which I will take up in the not too distant future.

While I took myself out of he Corapi conversation early (a decision I do not regret), it has continued to be a hot topic largely due to additional statements made by the soon-to-be laicized priest. One of the most surprising things he said in what can only be described as a rambling statement on Monday was that in twenty years of priestly ministry he did not administer the sacraments very frequently. He said "90 percent of what I did in the past did not require ordination. Speaking through social communication—radio, TV, so forth—that's not ministry, strictly speaking. My particular mission was speaking, writing, and teaching—not so much in the sacraments, but outside of them, in conjunction with them. So what I'm going to be doing in the future is pretty much the same thing."

Before urging you to read Deacon Greg's Patheos article on this rather strange pronouncement, Corapi's 10 percent solution, I feel that I need to make one observation by way of a clarification. As a bishop, a priest, a deacon there is no such thing as "outside" the sacraments, even if conceived as in "conjuction" with them. The same is true of matrimony, which, along with holy orders, is a sacrament at the service of communion, or, more succinctly, the sacraments of vocation. In a still very relevant talk given at the International Diaconate Centre back in 1995, "Images of the Diaconate," Dr. Owen Cummings calls these the "diaconal sacraments." Hence, for those who participate in these states of Christian life there is no "outside."

Yours truly engaged in public ministry

For example, there is nothing I do that I don't do as Holly's husband and as a Catholic deacon. There is no way that I am a deacon more than serving my wife and children, or doing my regular job diligently. My full and simultaneous participation in both diaconal sacraments as a married permanent deacon is what Bill Ditewig, in his America article, "Married and Ordained," called "double vocational sacramentality." Do I have to be a deacon to be a husband and a father? No! Whether ordained or not, the service of any Christian, whether a man or a woman, as a spouse and a parent is diaconal because it is self-emptying (i.e., kenotic) service that requires dying to one's self for Christ's sake and the sake of God's kingdom. In short, there are plenty of priests in the church whose main ministry is not in a parish and who perhaps do not administer the sacraments on a daily basis, who are no less priests engaged in ministry.

Communicating as a bishop, priest, or deacon is certainly a ministry, strictly speaking. Assertions to the contrary strike me as self-serving. As with all ministry, there comes with these endeavors, whether assigned or freely chosen, a great responsibility, which requires some accountability and oversight, unless you are a bishop, whose job is to exercise oversight and to insure there are structures of accountability in place for those so engaged who are under your supervision. Whatever the truth about the allegations that brought all of this to a head, it seems that accountability was sorely lacking during Corapi's twenty years ministering mostly "outside" the sacraments. I find his assertion that what he did was not ministry irresponsible and highly misleading, if not disingenuous. Stated less ecclesiologically and theologically, if he had not been a priest during those years, who would have listened to him in the first place?

Inside the sacraments is not just for those married and ordained. We are also baptized and confirmed, which, as with holy orders, sacramentally imprints on us a permanent character. So, for anyone who is incorporated into Christ's Body, the church, there is no sacramental "outside," or sacramental tangent. To think otherwise is to reject, even if implicitly, the universal call to holiness of all the Christian faithful. In other words, our call to follow Christ is not something we turn on and off, depending on what we are doing.

Monday, June 20, 2011

"Open the door and see all the people"

It is one of those days when there are many things to write about, but I have little time or desire to write about any of those things. Besides, there is nothing about which I want to comment that can't wait until a better time and day. I was speaking to the rector of the Cathedral at which I serve yesterday just prior to our midday Mass. We were discussing the many things going on and how they affect both the Church in general and our parish community in particular. It was a nice conversation because it wasn't world-weary or cynical in any way. It also wasn't about money, but a productive pastoral discussion about the people we both serve, whom we both love.

Towards the end of our conversation, he was telling me some advice he had very recently given to a few people independently of each other: "The best thing you can do for your life, for your faith, for your family is come to Mass every Sunday, find a pew, and join in. That is what will change things." I agree with this very wholeheartedly! Occam's razor is best applied to advice and wisdom, the simpler, the better. I mean, the parish is where church happens for just about every, single member. It doesn't happen on television, even on EWTN, in popular Catholic magazines, or via media of any kind, including blogs! Without a doubt, what I like best about our downtown Cathedral is that every Mass is like the eschatological banquet described by Jesus in Luke (14:15-24).

The Cathedral of the Madeleine

Trinity Sunday was the perfect day to point this out. After all, just as God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is a communion of persons, the Church, too, is a communion of persons, albeit of human persons (often all too human, to cite Nietzsche), instead of divine persons. In and through the Eucharist we celebrate together (we call it the liturgy, meaning our common work), God is at work drawing us into the very life of the Most Holy Trinity. But what keeps this from being merely a nice, abstract idea is the concrete community to which I belong. Like the disciples at Jesus' Ascension, my gaze is levelled, my attention brought back to reality, which is my path to destiny. This is just as true of priests, deacons, and religious as it is anyone in the church. Plus, this has been true of the Church of Jesus Christ from the beginning: "And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42- ESV).

As we approach the great solemnity of Corpus Christi, let us be mindful that the only empirical evidence that the bread and wine really and truly become Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul, and divinity, is the witness given by those of us who partake of it.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Witnessing what it means to be a father

Because I want to be free from as many commitments as possible tomorrow, I wanted to post something for Father's Day a little early. Going back to my days as an accomplished high school extemporaneous speaker under the tutelage now U.S. Representative- Rob Bishop, I want to briefly write about three things: First of all, I want to wish a happy Father's Day to two parishioners and friends who are truly remarkable dads, Paul and Joseph. Paul is the father of two beautiful daughters. He was unexpectedly left as a single parent when his wife tragically died in November 2010. Joseph is the single father of 5 children after being divorced. Both of these men show me what it means to be utterly selfless, especially when I might be getting a little full of myself, in their service to their children. As fathers, both of these men really show anyone who cares to pay attention what it means to be a dad. The power of their witness lies in the quiet way they live deeply Christian lives on behalf of their children.

The second thing is that yesterday was my Dad's 73rd birthday. As my readers know, he passed in January. Tomorrow will be my first Father's Day ever without him in the world. It makes me feel kind of empty. His headstone is being installed today, in the space between his birthday and Father's Day. It brings home to me, yet again, how blessed I was to have a Dad, a man of few words (unlike his sometimes verbose only son), who taught me how to be a man, even how to die like a man, meaning even as he lay dying he was more concerned about all of us than about himself. I miss you, Dad.

St. John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests

Finally, in the wake of all seemingly unending affronts to the priesthood, I want to thank the many priests I know who are wonderful fathers. These are the priests who see and do not shrink back from the paternal aspect of their vocation. Just this week, in the midst of trying to reach a satisfactory conclusion concerning my ministry, I asked a priest of our diocese if he could make some time to speak with me and advise me. He is very busy as pastor of his parish and I am not a parishioner, or a deacon assigned to his parish. Well, he spent the entire afternoon with me. It didn't even dawn on me until I took him back to his parish and went in to use the restroom before driving home, what spending that time with me meant for him. As he walked in, his secretary had about four urgent messages for him (like nearly everyone on the go these days, he has a smartphone, which he only checked once while he was with me), including that a woman in the parish he had been visiting was in need of anointing, as it didn't look like she was going to make it through the day.

The reality that is eclipsed in all the clutter is the selfless and dedicated service of so many wonderful priests, who, like Joseph, Paul, and my Dad, live for others. I personally know many, many priests like that. So, to them, too, HAPPY FATHER'S DAY, Fathers! The power of your quiet witness shines all the more brightly in the darkness that sometimes seems to engulf priestly ministry these days.

St. John Vianney, holy patron of parish priests, pray for your brothers.

Final thoughts on l'affair Corapi

I do not plan to post endlessly, or even anymore, on the whole Corapi mess because I think one very quickly crosses a moral line speaking and writing about these things, taking an obsessive and prurient interest in such matters and urging others to do so, thus creating a kind of tabloid culture in the ekkelsia. However, there is one take on this matter that I think merits drawing some attention to- that of Deacon Bob Yerhot of the Diocese of Winona, Minnesota, who, unlike myself and others, actually has some expertise he can bring to bear on yesterday's announcement: John Corapi, aka "The Black Sheep Dog,". Bob offers some very worthwhile insights to anyone who has an interest in this matter, especially those who, understandably, want to defend "The Black Sheep Dog".

Deacon Bob, who works in the field of mental health, wrote- "From only reading the text of his statement it strikes me of a man who has a wounded pride. He seems to be lashing out, and seeing himself in some way now as the defender of truth in the world. He doesn’t actually say that, but it leaves that impression in my mind." Bob is one of the most faithful and gracious people I know. As I always, I appreciate his wisdom, prudence, and charity.

Deacon Bob also took the time to post an thoughtful comment regarding my last post, as have several others, like Bill Ditewig, who urges us not to forget the great disappointment, hurt, and potential disillusionment on the part of many who have followed Corapi over the years. A pastoral concern that I certainly share.

St. Isidore of Seville (proposed patron saint of the internet) and St. Francis de Sales, pray for us.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Sad, but unsurprising

As with a lot of things in both the church and the world over the past several months, I have not written or spoken in any way about the predicament of John Corapi. I don't have anything particularly original or insightful to add. Suffice it to say, I am not a fan of anyone in the church who sets out on his/her own, creating ministries, especially media ministries, that are primarily about self-aggrandisement and making money. Few can bear it. Those who can bear it operate within structures of accountability. Dr. Graham is a great example of operating within structures of accountability. I certainly never rejoice when somebody, anybody, is caught doing something wrong. It grieves me, but I also pray that s/he will experience Christ through their self-inflicted troubles.

For those who are unaware, Corapi, striving, predictably, to get out in front on the story, announced today that he would no longer serve the church as a priest. Rather than accept any responsibility for the events that led to his effective resignation, which will likely result in formal action by the church in the near term, meaning his religious order, the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, he spends the entirety of his time complaining about the process and the authority of bishops regarding these matters, even while saying he accepts it all.

For those who do not know, Corapi was accused by a former female employee back in March that he engaged in sexual relations with multiple adult women and habitually abused drugs. These allegations were deemed credible by the responsible church authorities and, in accordance with binding norms, his priestly faculties were suspended pending the results of an ecclesial investigation. Corapi's response to the announcement of his suspension was really quite defiant, impugning the process practically before it began and all the while saying derogatory things about his accuser. Today, Corapi made the following announcement:


It's always disturbing when members of religious orders set off on their own, as did Corapi a long time prior to the allegations, living alone, focusing on the success of his own ministry, which he ran independently. I don't mind saying that I was never a fan of Corapi. I really disliked his style, which also seemed pretty self-absorbed (as does his most recent message). In my own ministry I can think of at least two occasions when I had to spiritually talk people down from what they took away from listening to him on a regular basis. I also know people from Sacramento who were there during his days in that diocese ('nuf said). All of this is why I resisted the temptation to write something before now. I was not sure I could write charitably.

I have read comments to the effect that Corapi is correct about the process. He is not. It is a canonical process, which in this instance would certainly provide him, even if only eventually (like when the investigation is completed), the opportunity to face his accuser and to be advised of the specific canonical charges (if there are any) against him. Maybe if he had decided to see the process through, which might include a canonical trial, even he would understand it better, and perhaps be exonerated. His decision not to wait for the process to move forward indicates that Corapi knows very well that everyone else involved in the case is sworn to confidentiality and so cannot respond publicly to the criticisms he voices in his resignation from the pristhood.

As you might imagine, there has already been a lot written in response to Corapi's pre-emptive announcement. I have to disagree with my dear brother Greg Kandra, who wrote that this announcement "is a sad moment... for the Church, which has lost a dynamic and singular voice" and agree with Mark Shea, who wrote that Corapi's statement set "a world record for most passive-aggressive manipulative self-aggrandizement ever squeezed into 8 and a half minutes." Sadly, at least to me, this seems an accurate summary of Corapi's ministry, too. As always, I appreciate Mark's forthrightness and honesty. (I doubt he remembers it, but I briefly met Mark outside Blessed Sacrament Church in Ballard, WA early on a Sunday morning in October 2008).

I pray for Corapi to receive the grace of true repentance and/or humility by recognizing just how Christ is reaching out to him in and through these events. As the Angelic Doctor averred, love is seeking the greatest good for your beloved. Or, as my dear Don Gius said, to truly love another is to love her/his destiny.

I will be so bold as to suggest that Corapi read the trials and travails of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, who was truly a victim of calumny and false accusations. For me personally, Pio's holiness lies mainly in his absolute trust in Christ in the face of such allegations.

"Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto"


After a very chill week here Καθολικός διάκονος, I am putting forth Styx's Mr. Roboto as our Friday traditio; an unapologetic blast from the past. I had forgotten what a great song this was until I heard it while working out last week. I love that this is a live version of the song performed at a relatively small venue.

Styx's album Cornerstone remains one of my favorite rock albums ever. Mr. Roboto, however, is off their album Kilroy Was Here. Somewhat like the Who's Tommy, Kilroy is something of a rock opera set in a dystopian future in which rock music is against the law in a facsist state governed by "MMM (i.e., "the Majority for Musical Morality- can anyone say [as Allan Bloom did], Plato's republic?). Kilroy, the main character, was formerly a rock star, but is now imprisoned by MMM leader Dr. Righteous. Mr. Roboto is the part of the story where Kilroy escapes, disguised as Mr. Roboto, after finding out that another musician, Jonathan Chance, is making efforts to restore rock music.

Or, as Geddy Lee sang: "All this machinery making modern music/Can still be open hearted."

"The problem's plain to see/Too much technology/Machines to save our lives/Machines de-humanize...Now everyone can see (Secret secret, I've got a secret)/My true identity.../I'm Kilroy! Kilroy! Kilroy! Kilroy..."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"We have seen for ourselves, and can testify..."

"We have seen for ourselves, and can testify, that the Father has sent the Son as savior of the world. When anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwells in him and he in God" (1 John 4:14-15- ESV). What a beautiful and all-encompassing statement of what it is to be a Christian! I was very struck reading and meditating on this passage, which is the Scripture reading for the Church's prayer this morning.


Summertime simplicity, to which the morning sun bids me adherence, dictates that I limit myself this morning to conveying a few birthday greetings. First to my youngest daughter I pray for a very happy birthday. She is a beautiful girl who brings so much joy and spontaneity to our family. Her happiness and enthusiasm for life are positively contagious!

I also send along my prayer for a happy birthday to His Excellency, Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco, who turns 75 today. As longtime readers know, it was then-Bishop Niederauer who ordained me and my diaconate class in January 2004.

Frankly, I was relieved for couple of reasons to check the Vatican's Bollettino this morning and not see the good archbishop's name on it, not least of which is that he is the kind of pastoral leader the church needs more of, not just presently, but always.

Monday, June 13, 2011

"Lord, whose love in humble service..."

As I posted on Facebook this morning, with Easter being over and the months of summer setting in, I have a lot less going on outside of work and family (i.e., in ministry). It's time for me to start to pushing back against the flow. The good news is, this push back is not a negative reaction, but a genuine response to experience.

I don't want to break my arm patting myself on the back, but this past year was amazing, awesome, and awful. Last fourth of July weekend I began writing my Integrated Pastoral Research project (i.e., my thesis) in earnest. I finished the first draft on the Friday before Memorial Day. In September I learned my wife was pregnant again. Our beautiful new son was born a week ago today. In December I found out that my Dad had cancer. He passed into eternity a month later, in January. My oldest daughter graduated from the Choir School at the beginning of June. In the meantime, in addition to my full-time job, at which I put in around 44 hours per week, all the stuff at home and for my kids, I have been putting in an average of somehwere around 20-25 hours a week running and/or overseeing all of the aspects of our parish religious education program. Apart from birth and death, all of this has been par for the course for the past 6 years.


God is so good and I am so blessed to have a lovely family, a great job, and to serve His holy people as a deacon. I am also mindful that a healthy portion of my diaconal service, tied as it is to the altar, is my life with my family and the witness and service I provide in my daily life, building bridges between the church and the world. I wrote about this recently, beginning with some observations by Walter Cardinal Kasper:

Kasper goes on to note that it is precisely because he is married and lives with his family, while most often working in the world, that simply relating to people in the concrete circumstances of his daily life constitutes a major part of the ministry of many permanent deacons. The cardinal also points out that because diaconal service is different from and complementary to presbyteral service, a deacon should not compete with the priest(s) in his parish by seeking to grab as large a slice of the pastoral pie as possible. After all, Kasper goes on to observe, before parishes can gather around the altar of God to celebrate the Eucharist, the parish, made up as it is of people, “must first be built into a collective community.” Going all the way back to the seven men set apart by the apostles, in addition to bridging the gap between the church and the world, such community-building within the church has always been a necessary part of authentic diakonia.

Along lines similar to the ones laid down by Cardinal Kasper, [Fr.] Latcovich concluded that “what a deacon does (in terms of ministry) is not as important as who a deacon is.” This simple but profound insight is all the more important because it cuts across all the images that arise from the concrete situations of all permanent deacons, be they married, single and never married, widowed, and even those few who have suffered the pain of a divorce. Most important of all is the witness a deacon gives to the one he ultimately serves, Jesus Christ

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Pentecost

"'Oh, could I tell, ye surely would believe it!
Oh, could I only say what I have seen!

"How should I tell or how can ye receive it,
How, till He bringeth you where I have been?

"Therefore, Lord, I will not fail nor falter,
Nay, but I ask it, nay, but I desire,
Lay on my lips Thine embers of the altar,
Seal with the sting and furnish with the fire;


"Give me a voice, a cry and a complaining,
Oh, let my sound be stormy in their ears!

"Throat that would shout, but cannot stay for
straining,
Eyes that would weep, but cannot weep for tears.

"Quick in a moment, infinite for ever,
Send an arousal better than I pray.
Give me a grace upon the faint endeavor,
Souls for my hire and Pentecost to-day!"

Dr. Frederick Myers

Barth on the meaning of the word "apostle"

I know he was a Protestant, but then so was Bonhoeffer. Nonetheless, I benefit tremendously from reading Karl Barth, even if, like Karl Rahner, I can only absorb his dense theology in short bursts. I benefit because, along with Bonhoeffer's writings, as well as that of many others, Barth's theology reveals the essential unity of Christian faith, not to mention the catholicity of the church, which, like Bonhoeffer, he understood better and lived more deeply than do many Catholics today. I believe for Roman Catholics of the second and third millenia, who understandably tend to rely heavily on matters of faith being definitively defined by the papal magisterium, reading theologians like Barth is refreshing and gives us great confidence in our ability to apprehend the truth.

It is certainly no geographic accident that Barth and Balthasar were in Basel at the same time and knew each other. If memory serves me correctly, Balthasar lectured Barth's students on the theology of Karl Barth! His little book, The Theology of Karl Barth remains a very good critical introduction to Barth's highly influential theology. Balthasar questions whether Barth's proposed analogia fidei was really all that different from the classic analogia entis that Barth sought to displace.

St. Paul, apostle

In his treatise on St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, Barth wrote:
A man may be of value to another man, not because he wishes to be important, not because he possesses some inner wealth of the soul, nor because of something he is, but because of what he is - not. His importance may consist in his poverty, in his hopes and fears, in his waiting and hurrying, in the direction of his whole being towards what lies beyond his horizon and power. The importance of an apostle is negative rather than positive. In him a void becomes visible. And for this reason he is something to others: he is able to share grace with them, to focus their attention, and to establish them in waiting and in adoration
Too often our faith is driven by the personality and charisma of others, especially in a media-driven day like our own. I am always surprised by how shocked and disappointed people are when religious media personalities fall, fail, are revealed to be fakes and phonies. I think in this insightful passage Barth offers us great insight as to why, at least among Christians, this is the case. When it comes to the use of electronic media, I think being controversial for the sake of being controversial, or, worse yet, trying to generate attention by providing a spectacle (which I would distinguish from being provocative by intent) is like spitting in a pond full of carp. The response is gross, but fascinating to watch because it appeals to our morbid curiosity.

I think here Barth truly gets at the essence of the apostleship of St. Paul, which, in his own day, was a difficult battle, in which Paul refused to assert himself in certain ways, relying instead on the Holy Spirit, and remaining true to his calling as an apostle, which was not accepted by all.

Friday, June 10, 2011

"Cast in this unlikely role, ill-equipped to act..."

Since this is the 1,900th post here on Καθολικός διάκονος and it is Friday, I have been racking my brain all week for something appropriately wonderful. I gave up on that because it is really kind of a silly criterion. When all else fails, go with what you know. So, here's Rush singing a great song, Limelight, one that flies in the face of carte blanche denunciations of rock music. For me to forsake or betray rock would be to deny an important and actual part of my experience, that is, myself, one of those factors that contribute to who I am.


This is our traditio for today. I appreciate the diligence of both of my readers. For the past year or so, believe it or not, my blog is a day-to-day proposition, which I hope enables me to convey a kind urgency, which must be distinguished from both desperation and panic, let alone paranoia, or negativity.

Last night reading in the third chapter of Ecclesiastes I came across these verses, which surprised me despite having read this book many times: "I have considered the task which God has appointed for men to be busied about. He has made everything appropriate to its time, and has put the timeless into their hearts, without men's ever discovering, from beginning to end, the work which God. I recognized that there is nothing better than to be glad and to do well during life. For every man, moreover, to eat and drink and enjoy the fruit of all his labor is a gift of God. I recognized that whatever God does will endure forever; there is no adding to it, or taking from it. Thus has God done that he may be revered" (verses 10-14).

The word "the timeless" in this passage is variously translated as "eternity," "the world," or sometimes even "darkness." As near as I can tell, the most literal translation is something like "the obscurity."

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"Light a candle everything's alright"

It's too easy to get overwhelmed by the negative, by all the things in the world that drag us down, break our hearts, and tick us off, be it in the church or in the world, at home, or at work, wherever. All of this is why I love the motto of The Christophers so much: It's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

Along these lines, I came across David Brooks' 30 May 2011 column in the New York Times entitled It's Not About You.


He begins his article with by observing how poorly we, their elders, have served this year's graduating class, but he goes on to discuss not just the challenges and obstacles this presents to them, but the opportunities, too. He uses the opportunities to build up to his main point, which he captures beautifully in his final paragraph:
Today’s grads enter a cultural climate that preaches the self as the center of a life. But, of course, as they age, they’ll discover that the tasks of a life are at the center. Fulfillment is a byproduct of how people engage their tasks, and can’t be pursued directly. Most of us are egotistical and most are self-concerned most of the time, but it’s nonetheless true that life comes to a point only in those moments when the self dissolves into some task. The purpose in life is not to find yourself. It’s to lose yourself
I urge you to take a few minutes today, amidst all the tumult, to read Brooks' article in which he truly lights a candle. Thanks Mr. Brooks.

Besides, the One we follow tells us: "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5:14-16- ESV). As my dear Don Gius put it, we are to be protagonists, not antagonists, in imitation of the Lord.

UPDATE: Speaking of lighting a candle, Jim & Cindy McConnell's pastor shows us what it means to gently shepherd his flock, see The Deacon's Bench for more. You might also wish Deacon Greg a happy birthday while you're there.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A matter of conscience

I guess this wouldn't be much of a deacon blog if I resolutely ignored developments concerning the permanent diaconate. Like many of us in this neck of the woods, I learned about the decision of one soon-to-be deacon for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Jim McConnell, to decline his bishops' "call to holy orders," a canonical document issued when candidates have completed their formation and been accepted for ordination, from intrepid newsman Deacon Greg's The Deacon's Bench.

As he stated it, McConnell's decision flowed from the behavior of the bishop to whom he was to vow respect and obedience, Bishop Robert Finn, in the appalling and now much publicized case of a priest, Shawn Ratigan [Priests who abuse, while they still participate to some extent in the sacrament of holy orders, are not called "Father" on these pages. After all, "Father" is a title that has to be earned. Being a term of endearment, it is not given automatically and it can certainly be revoked.], whose behavior under the current norms it seems to me should have merited suspension of his faculties, investigation, and canonical proceedings to laicize him. Under the circumstances McConnell felt he could not make that vow in good conscience. Max Lindeman, in an article over on Patheos, appropiately subtitled, Catching a Creep in the Circle of Grace, supplies some background.

As do all matters related to the seemingly endless malfeasance and even misfeasance on the part of some bishops and within some dioceses concerning matters of the sexual abuse of children and young people, Deacon Greg's post sparked a lively and heated discussion.


As is his wont, Deacon Bill Ditewig brings a well-formed and well-informed perspective to this matter over on his blog, Deacons Today: Dalmatics and Beyond.

As for my two cents, which I originally pitched in as a comment to the post on Deacons Today, I appreciate very much the charity and clarity Bill brings to this vexing situation. McConnell's decision strikes me as a matter of conscience, which must always be respected, even when we don't fully understand or when we may disagree with the conclusion reached. There is always more to say, even about a matter someone has painstakingly discerned for himself, but life requires us to make judgments and decisions that force us to account for both objective and subjective factors, thus making it the right the decision for me. I applaud his honesty and courage, even while I think how much the church needs clerics possessed of just this kind of integrity. God bless him and his wife as they continue to serve the church, which service by no means requires one to be ordained- heaven forbid!

Given the subject and the fact that I publicly blog as a permanent deacon, it is worth noting that the initial comprehensive John Jay study conducted on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which was completed in 2006, The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States, related that-
The second question on the Cleric Survey sent to all dioceses for the Nature and Scope study asked: “At the time of the alleged offense(s), was the cleric a(n):” and then listed nine positions in Catholic ministry. This list included positions as Transitional Deacon and Permanent Deacon. There were 19 transitional deacons and 42 permanent deacons reported by their dioceses to have allegations of sexually abusing minors that were included in the Nature and Scope study. These 61 individuals represent less then one and one-half percent of all priests accused of sexual abuse of children (1.39%) whose data was included in the Nature and Scope study. The number of cases is so small that statistics are not useful to describe the relationships among them (Section 2.3 Deacons, pg. 22)

"Not everyone can receive this saying"

I suppose the day after the birth of a child is a good time to post about issues related to the Church's teaching on marital sexuality, but not (and hopefully never) from the perspective of moral superiority or crowing. Having a child is a moment of great humility and awe that truly makes me wonder if I can manage the tremendous commitment and responsibilities that come with being a husband and a father. This kind of humility was described to me once by a non-religious friend in this way: after he and his wife had their first child he told me that before he held her, he looked at her and thought, "I can never care for her, love her, provide for her." After a few minutes after holding her he said he became pretty certain that nobody else could do as good a job. True confidence is born from humility.

I find it lamentable that so many people disagree with the conclusion arrived by Pope Paul VI in his encyclical letter Humanae Vitae without reading it and seriously engaging the points that he raises, especially in light of the fact that the predictions he made about the societal effects of making the means of birth control cheap and widely available are true, which causes many (including myself) to revere Humanae Vitae as truly prophetic. By prophetic I do mean accurately predicting the future like some kind of divine fortune-teller, but prophetically giving witness, like Jeremiah, to the natural and inevitable consequences of certain courses of action, thus requiring the prophet to tell people things they do not want to hear, often provoking virulent and even violent responses. In writing about the consequences that would naturally follow making methods of contraception cheap and widely available, Paul VI wrote that such a change
could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection (underlining emphasis mine)

Pope Paul VI and then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla

On this basis alone dismissing the conclusions arrived at with no consideration for the solid foundation on which the Church's teaching in this regard is based strikes me as truly operating on the basis of preconceptions that either arise from or give rise to an ideology. Pope John Paul II courageously called the ideology to which this perfunctory and absolute rejection is part "the culture of death." It is certainly the culture of self first, the rejection of the kind of self-emptying love that constitutes the very heart of the one vocation to follow Christ, which is what makes marriage a truly Christian vocation. It always bears noting that what JPII proposed as the remedy to the pervasive "culture of death" was not a the "culture of life," but the "culture of love," which implies life and much more. Indeed, for Pope Paul VI to go along with the spirit of the age in this regard would've been an abject dereliction of his duty not only to preserve the depositum fidei, or even to transmit it, but to apply the Gospel, which, given the fallen-ness of the world in which we live, is always deeply and profoundly counter-cultural, to the issues of the day.

Nonetheless, the fact that Humanae Vitae is a very progressive statement about the positive nature of conjugal love gets lost in the political and ideological clamor that any mention of it inevitably enjoins because, as truth tends to do, it convicts consciences. After all, the letter begins with these very pastoral words:
The transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator. It has always been a source of great joy to them, even though it sometimes entails many difficulties and hardships.

The fulfillment of this duty has always posed problems to the conscience of married people, but the recent course of human society and the concomitant changes have provoked new questions. The Church cannot ignore these questions, for they concern matters intimately connected with the life and happiness of human beings
Section 12 of Humanae Vitae is particularly relevant to what I want to convey:

This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.

The reason is that the fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life—and this as a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman. And if each of these essential qualities, the unitive and the procreative, is preserved, the use of marriage fully retains its sense of true mutual love and its ordination to the supreme responsibility of parenthood to which man is called. We believe that our contemporaries are particularly capable of seeing that this teaching is in harmony with human reason
NFL Hall of Fame linebacker and coach, Mike Singletary (who is not Catholic) with his wife Kim, 7 children, a few in-laws and a grandchild

One thing that often goes missing, even among those who support the Church's teaching and endeavor to live by it, is that the various methods of Natural Family Planning (NFP) (which no longer includes the so-called rythym method and has not for decades) are not just natural means of contraception. When we teach it in this way the inevitable and understandable response is, "What's the difference between using, say, a barrier method (a diaphragm and condom, being sterilized) and a so-called natural method?" Well, if we are merely proposing NFP as an acceptable method of contraception, it is a distinction without a moral difference. Of course, not only are Christian couples not required to have every child they can possibly have, but that they have a moral responsibility to limit the number of children they bring into the world to the number they can materially support and spiritually and emotionally nurture. It is exactly in charting this course that the Church gives us sound moral guidance, which also leaves room for the wild unpredictability that real loves requires.

Living the Gospel in any aspect is always a matter of the heart, it always encompasses our intentionality, thus making it important not just to do what is right and good, but to do good with the intention of doing good, as a response in freedom. This means recognizing and embracing the inherent sacrifice this normally entails. The self-emptying sacrifices to which marriage calls us are no less and, in fact, are often greater than those that arise from priestly or religious vocations. In this realm the sacrifice takes two forms: parenting and seeking to master our sexual desires by working to develop the virtue of chastity and working towards to real intimacy in marriage, which is more spiritual than physical; enjoying having sex together doesn't seem to pose too great a problem for most couples, but praying together daily certainly seems to present issues. It seems that prayer, not sex, is the final frontier of intimacy!

It is easy to miss what Jesus teaches about marriage in the nineteenth chapter of the Gospel According to St. Matthew because He is also discussing celibacy and continence, becoming a "eunuch" for the kingdom of heaven. After His teaching on the impermissibility of divorce, Jesus' disciples say, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry." To which the Lord responds, talking directly about marriage, not celibacy and the continence to which it gives rise- "Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given" (verses 3-12- ESV). Of course, marriage as a vocation arises from Christ's teaching. It is a vocation because it is a sacrament. Not all vocations are sacraments, but all sacraments draw us more deeply into the divine life of God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, enabling us to heed to the one vocation to follow Christ.