Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"Look not on our sins:" Pope Francis speaks on homosexuality

If you ask me, much too much is currently being made of the answer Pope Francis gave in responding to a question asked by Brazilian journalist Ilze Scamparini, who is a Vatican correspondent for Italy’s Globo network, during his in-flight news conference on his return trip to Rome from Rio de Janeiro last Sunday.

The transcript of his in-flight press conference is available only in Italian (some of it is in Spanish) on the Holy See’s website. Here is my imperfect translation of Scamparini’s question:
With permission, I would like to ask a question that is a little delicate, one that has been ‘turned over a bit’ all over the world, that concerning Mgr. Ricci, news about his intimate life. I want to know, Your Holiness, what will you do about this matter? How does Your Holiness intend to deal with this issue and the whole issue of the gay lobby?
While I initially originally translated Pope Francis’ response myself, I wound up using Matthew Sherry’s translation from Sandro Magister’s 31 July article on Chiesa “From Rio de Janeiro to Rome, from Poetry to Prose” with a few bits of my translation thrown in, which are in brackets:
"In the case of monsignor Ricca I have done what canon law says to do: an initial investigation. There has been found nothing of that of which he has been accused. We have not found anything. [This is the answer. But I would add one more thing on this:] Many times in the Church the sins of youth are sought out and then publicized. We are not talking about offenses, about crimes, like the abuse of minors which is a completely different thing, but about sins. But if a layperson or a priest or a sister has committed a sin and has converted and [repents], the Lord forgives, he forgets. [This is important for our lives. When we go to confession and sincerely say, “I have sinned in this,” the Lord forgets and so we do not have the right not to forget because then we run the risk that the Lord does not forget. That's a danger. This is important for our theology.] So many times I think of Saint Peter who committed the gravest sin, he denied Christ. And yet they made him pope. But I repeat, about Monsignor Ricca we have not found anything. [This is the first issue.] So much is written about the gay lobby. So far I have not found anyone at the Vatican who has written “gay” on his identity card. A distinction must be made between being gay, having this tendency, and being in a lobby. The lobbies, all lobbies, are not good. If a person is gay and is seeking the Lord with good will, who am I to judge him? The [C]atechism of the Catholic Church teaches that gay persons must not be discriminated against, but must be welcomed. The problem is not having this tendency, the problem is being in a lobby, and this applies here just as it does to business lobbies, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies. [This is the most serious problem for me. And thank you so much for asking this question. Thank you very much]
Words taken out of context are usually employed to create a pretext. This is what I see happening with these words of the Holy Father. He makes clear that one must distinguish between the “tendency” of being attracted to members of one’s own sex, which is not a sin in likely the vast majority of cases precisely because it is not chosen, and acting on that tendency. Acting on this tendency is a choice (unless one is being coerced- in which case it is not a sin). This is no scandal because, according to Church teaching, all choices that violate the virtue of chastity are objectively wrong, whether it takes the form of pre-marital or extra-marital sexual relations, solo sex, viewing pornography, or even a married couple using contraception. Now, whether such behavior can be imputed to a person as a sin depends on the formation of her/his conscience and how freely the behavior was chosen. This is boilerplate moral/pastoral theology, not anything new or provocative.



To pick one example, the case of contraception, the issue is that the consciences of married couples are not only unformed, but often malformed, with people often being taught and then reassured that they need not heed what Church teaches in this regard.

It is important that Pope Francis cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church. What does the Catechism say when it comes to homosexuality?
2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection
To take more away from what Pope Francis said than what he said, especially when his intent is pretty clear, even including the fact that he used the word “gay” (he used this English word even when answering the question in Italian), is to do something he warned against in his speech to the CELAM Coordinating Committee- making the Gospel an ideology, that is, seeking to put the Gospel exclusively at the service of some political program, especially when it means twisting its meaning to achieve a desired end.

Let’s also not fail to note that the Holy Father is being authentically paternal (not paternalistic) when he encourages us to be merciful to each other as the Lord has been merciful to each of us, which means not going about inflicting what we imagine to be God’s punishment on each other, but helping and supporting one another in our pursuit sanctity. As we pray at Mass:

Lord Jesus Christ,
who said to your Apostles:
Peace I leave you, my peace I give you;
look not on our sins,
but on the faith of your Church,
and graciously grant her peace and unity
in accordance with your will
Who live and reign for ever and ever. Amen.

Monday, July 29, 2013

"God calls you to make definitive choices"

While World Youth Day is fresh in my memory, there is one other speech I was able to watch live on television that I found significant and full of meaning: Pope Francis' address to the 15,000 WYD volunteers who had been working on WYD in Rio for the past two year, an event that happened right after his address to the coordinating committee of CELAM. In light of my previous post note what he said to these dedicated young people: "The service you have given during these days brings to mind the mission of Saint John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Jesus. Every one of you, each in his or her own way, was a means enabling thousands of young people to “prepare the way” to meet Jesus. And this is the most beautiful service we can give as missionary disciples."

Below is the heart of his message of gratitude to these young women and men:
God calls you to make definitive choices, and he has a plan for each of you: to discover that plan and to respond to your vocation is to move toward personal fulfillment. God calls each of us to be holy, to live his life, but he has a particular path for each one of us. Some are called to holiness through family life in the sacrament of Marriage. Today, there are those who say that marriage is out of fashion; in a culture of relativism and the ephemeral, many preach the importance of “enjoying” the moment. They say that it is not worth making a life-long commitment, making a definitive decision, “for ever”, because we do not know what tomorrow will bring. I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes that you are incapable of responsibility, that you are incapable of true love. I have confidence in you and I pray for you. Have the courage “to swim against the tide”. Have the courage to be happy.



The Lord calls some to be priests, to give themselves to him more fully, so as to love all people with the heart of the Good Shepherd. Some he calls to the service of others in the religious life: devoting themselves in monasteries to praying for the good of the world, and in various areas of the apostolate, giving of themselves for the sake of all, especially those most in need. I will never forget that day, 21 September – I was 17 years old – when, after stopping in the Church of San José de Floresto [to] go to confession, I first heard God calling me. Do not be afraid of what God asks of you! It is worth saying “yes” to God. In him we find joy!
Go be missionary disciples!

What is missing from post-WYD Catholic commentary? "Missionary discipleship"

World Youth Day in Rio Janiero ended with a bang, not a whimper. The bang was extended to Pope Francis' in-flight news conference during his trip back to Rome. In my view, we received more evidence that the Holy Father is very savvy in dealing with the media. Being well aware that something he might say would overshadow his entire Apostolic Journey to Brazil, he refused to take questions, that is, hold a news conference on the flight from Rome to Brazil. Then, with a successful trip under his belt, he opened up and held a presser on the flight home. As one would expect, the questions spanned a wide range of topics from homosexuality, to abortion, to divorced and re-married Catholics, all the hot-button issues. Predictably, all one has heard, even from the vast majority of the Catholic press and Catholic commentators are tortured, truncated, and dessicated editorial comments on his very non-controversial statements on these subjects, but, as you might expect, mostly on homosexuality.

In his response to this delicate question, Pope Francis invoked the Catechism and said, "The problem is not having this orientation. We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worse problem." As one would expect, the Holy Father did not change Church teaching on-the-fly, as many keep hoping he will do, but maintained a strict distinction between orientation and behavior. Context always matters. Therefore, I think it is important to note that he was specifically speaking about priests who are homosexually-oriented, saying he does judge the fact they are sexually attracted to other males.

The fact that the ideologization (if I may be permitted the use of this neo-logism) is "the worst problem" when it comes to the issue of homosexuality is a nice segue into what I really I want to post about, which is what I believe to be the road map for Pope Francis' pontificate, something he set forth in his address to the coordinating committee of CELAM (acronym for Consejo Episcopal Latino Americano, or the Latin American Episcopal Conference), which was not part of the World Youth Day program. The road map is the so-called Aparecida document which was written at a gathering of CELAM in Brazil in 2007, which was the Fifth gathering of CELAM since its inception in 1965. This gathering was the occasion for Pope Benedict XVI's Apostolic Journey to Brazil. Then-Cardinal Bergoglio was the main author and architect of the Aparecida Document, which is available in its entirety en Inglés here.

What arises from the document is something called "missionary discipleship," which, unsurprisingly, is something that Pope Francis invoked several times in his homilies and addresses to the youth gathered for World Youth Day. In his speech to representatives of CELAM, the Holy Father spoke of three temptations "against missionary discipleship." The first of these is Making the Gospel message an ideology. About this he said,
This is a temptation which has been present in the Church from the beginning: the attempt to interpret the Gospel apart from the Gospel itself and apart from the Church. An example: Aparecida, at one particular moment, felt this temptation. It employed, and rightly so, the method of 'see, judge and act' (cf. No. 19). The temptation, though, was to opt for a way of 'seeing' which was completely 'antiseptic', detached and unengaged, which is impossible. The way we 'see' is always affected by the way we direct our gaze. There is no such thing as an 'antiseptic' hermeneutics. The question was, rather: How are we going to look at reality in order to see it? Aparecida replied: With the eyes of discipleship
Pope Francis following his speech to the Coordinating Committee of CELAM

Under the temptation of turning the Gospel into an ideology, he identifies four specific and distinct ways this is done:
a) Sociological reductionism. This is the most readily available means of making the message an ideology. At certain times it has proved extremely influential. It involves an interpretative claim based on a hermeneutics drawn from the social sciences. It extends to the most varied fields, from market liberalism to Marxist categorization.

b) Psychologizing. Here we have to do with an elitist hermeneutics which ultimately reduces the “encounter with Jesus Christ” and its development to a process of growing self-awareness. It is ordinarily to be found in spirituality courses, spiritual retreats, etc. It ends up being an immanent, self-centred approach. It has nothing to do with transcendence and consequently, with missionary spirit.

c) The Gnostic solution. Closely linked to the previous temptation, it is ordinarily found in elite groups offering a higher spirituality, generally disembodied, which ends up in a preoccupation with certain pastoral “quaestiones disputatae”. It was the first deviation in the early community and it reappears throughout the Church’s history in ever new and revised versions. Generally its adherents are known as “enlightened Catholics” (since they are in fact rooted in the culture of the Enlightenment).

d) The Pelagian solution. This basically appears as a form of restorationism. In dealing with the Church’s problems, a purely disciplinary solution is sought, through the restoration of outdated manners and forms which, even on the cultural level, are no longer meaningful. In Latin America it is usually to be found in small groups, in some new religious congregations, in tendencies to doctrinal or disciplinary “safety”. Basically it is static, although it is capable of inversion, in a process of regression. It seeks to “recover” the lost past
It seems many of us are content to play small ball, to major in the minors, to remain in the ideological fight, the culture war. I am not only referring to people on one side, but those on both sides. Politics is a very poor substitute for faith, which changes culture, not by fighting, but by transforming it from within, as leaven (Matt. 13:33). Playing politics with faith is playing with fire.

Pope Francis' message is the Gospel and the Gospel is nothing other than Jesus Christ. He is the sole criterion by which we judge everything.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Year C Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Gen. 18:20-32; Ps. 138:1-3.6-8; Col. 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13

The Lord our God is kind and merciful. If you take away nothing from our readings today, remember that.

How merciful is the Lord our God? In his very first Sunday Angelus address, Pope Francis urged us to remember that “God never ever tires of forgiving us!” We may well tire of asking God to forgive us, but God never tires of so doing. We may also tire of forgiving those who have wronged us, but God, our merciful Father, because of the precious sacrifice of His only begotten Son, “never tires of forgiving” (17 March 2013 Angelus).

While this is good news, indeed, for many it is also a scandal. In our first reading today Abraham, our father in faith, eventually tires of imploring the LORD to be merciful towards the inhabitants of Sodom. He starts by asking God to spare the city His wrath if he can find fifty righteous people. God agrees. Feeling emboldened, Abraham lowers the number to forty-five. God agrees. He keeps bargaining and God keeps acceding: forty, thirty, twenty, and finally ten, before he inexplicably stops. Why do I say his stopping is inexplicable? Because up to that point the LORD had granted everything he asked. For those unfamiliar with the Middle Eastern way of doing business, even down to our day, it is a culture where prices are not fixed, like ours, but are negotiable. Both sides seek to obtain the best possible deal for themselves, each expecting the other to protect his bottom line.


Lot fleeing Sodom, by Benjamin West, ca. 1810


In Abraham’s negotiation with God, as witnessed by the LORD’s willingness to bargain as long as Abraham wanted to dicker, it was a win/win: the fewer people destroyed because of wickedness the better, both for Abraham and for God. What should strike us about this is that God has no appetite for destruction. His sending Jesus Christ into the world is the best proof of this that anyone can offer.

This brings us to the scandal of God’s Divine Mercy, which is divine because it is infinite, that is, unbounded, meaning that God’s mercy is higher, lower, wider, and broader than you or I can fathom. Attempting to impose limits on God’s mercy is to blasphemously attempt to reduce God to your own measure. We impose limits on God's mercy both when we exaggerate our sins, thinking them too great for God to forgive, and when we diminish the wrong we do, mistakenly believing that we don't need Divine Mercy. This is exactly what St. Paul is getting at in our second reading today. Writing about the powerful effects of baptism, in and through which we die, are buried, and rise in Christ, the apostle reminds, not just the saints in ancient Colossae, but you and I this very day that “even when you were dead in transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, [Jesus Christ] brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions; obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims, which was opposed to us, he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2:12-14).

I believe it is instructive to look at the verse that follows the last verse of today’s second reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, which not only brings this section of the letter to an end, but finishes the sentence left unfinished by the lectionary: “despoiling the principalities and the powers, he made a public spectacle of them, leading them away in triumph by it” (Col. 2:15). In addition to bringing us to life, the life that is truly life, by dying on the Cross for our sins, Christ not only defeated, but publicly humiliated and led away as captives the principalities and powers that seek to destroy us. All we have to do, my brothers and sisters, is lay claim to this victory again and again, never growing weary.

When we go to confession, we do not admit defeat. It is precisely how we lay claim to Christ’s victory, making His triumph our own. This is why, as Christians, we should grant discouragement no quarter in our lives. It is also why we should never grow weary of seeking the Lord’s mercy, of seeking His face, of laying claim to that life which is truly life: life in Christ. After all, isn’t that why we are here right now? If not, then being here now is useless!



In today’s Gospel Jesus urges us not merely to be persistent, but to be unrelenting in imploring the Father for good things in prayer: for His mercy, His grace, a greater portion of the Holy Spirit, for the fulfillment that is the desire of every human heart. Is this not the lesson we learn from father Abraham?

We can be unrelenting because God is trustworthy, as Jesus assures us, “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Luke 11:13) The theological virtue of hope means the ability to trust God. While hope, like faith and charity, is a theological virtue, meaning that it can only be initially acquired as a gift from God, it is something we can verify in reality, over and over again through the very circumstances of our lives.

Hope is the flower of faith. Faith comes, as Pope Francis recently reminded us in his first encyclical, Lumen fidei, which he co-authored with Benedict XVI, by means of a life-changing encounter with Christ. This encounter is decisive for everyone who has it (see Deus caritas est, par. 1). “Faith,” we read in Lumen fidei, “is no refuge for the fainthearted, but something which enhances our lives. It makes us aware of a magnificent calling, the vocation of love. It assures us that this love is trustworthy and worth embracing, for it is based on God’s faithfulness which is stronger than our every weakness” (par. 53).

Our blessed Lord told St. Paul, who implored Him three times to take away some unspecified "thorn in the flesh," "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, with the apostle, let us heed what Christ urges us to do and never tire, but be content "with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ,” in the awareness that “ when [we are] weak, then [we are] strong" (2 Cor. 12:6-10).

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Natural Family Planning Awareness Week 2013

Given all the emphasis put on resisting the unjust HHS mandate, such as the Fortnight for Freedom, one would think the USCCB's annual observance of Natural Family Awareness Week would merit more emphasis. But I doubt that many Catholics in the U.S. even know that this week, 21-27 July, is NFP Awareness Week. In addition to being in the midst of the struggle against the imposition of the unjust mandate, 25 July 2013 was the 45th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's promulgation of Humanae Vitae.

His Eminence, Cardinal Dolan of New York, grasped this when he said to the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto in an interview last year that Humanae Vitae "brought such a tsunami of dissent, departure, disapproval of the church, that I think most of us—and I’m using the first-person plural intentionally, including myself—kind of subconsciously said, ‘Whoa. We’d better never talk about that, because it’s just too hot to handle." More important, he continued, the bishops "forfeited the chance to be a coherent moral voice when it comes to one of the more burning issues of the day."

But Cardinal Dolan also gives the reason why I think NFP Awareness Week remains a relatively obscure, under-the-radar observance: "We've grown hoarse saying this is not about contraception, this is about religious freedom." This is a statement with which I both agree and disagree. Allow me to explain why this is not merely an empty exercise in post-modern dialectics: It is not insofar as we hope to make common cause with other people of faith and even people of no faith, to stand firm on one of the bedrock principles of U.S. constitutional democracy. However, it is precisely about contraception, especially when access to contraception is viewed by many as a woman's "right." When framed in terms of competing rights, especially when an individual right is asserted, you must be able to engage at that fundamental level. The price of refusing to do so is to remain, both for Catholics and non-Catholics an incoherent moral voice. Such an approach also has the eefect of emptying religious freedom of any discernible content. It seems to me that that engaging on a more fundamental level became even more crucial when it was publicly disclosed that many Catholic institutions already voluntarily offered contraceptive coverage and also when it became public that other local churches and Catholic institutions, such as Archdiocese of New York, had already bowed to state, not federal, mandates in this regard.



Am I discouraged? No. There is great joy in living the truth. In other words, it is worth doing for it's own sake quite apart from whether anyone else does, or even quite apart from the growing number of people who think you are insane for so doing. I am especially encouraged by the number of wonderful women of my acquaintance who have been very active in promoting NFP Awareness Week through so many on-line apostolates, even just posting relevant links and updates on Facebook. Today I am also reminded of the beautiful witness of Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity who, in response to the inhumane onslaught of coercive and deceptive birth control programs in India, began teaching Indian women NFP with great success.

If nothing else, I encourage anyone reading this post to visit the USCCB's NFP Awareness website, which is a wonderful, authoritative resource.

Over the seven years I have been a card-carrying member of the so-called Catholic blogosphere, I have posted extensively on this issue. So rather than provide a comprehensive list of links to past posts, I am providing links for posts on NFP over the past two years, plus adding two 2008 posts that marked the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae:

"Natural Family Planning Awareness Week"

"Amos was a prophet and so was Pope Paul"

HHS mandate: Why the kerfuffle?

"The joy of NFP"

"NFP: a faithful reality check"

"The reality of the human person"

"'Not everyone can receive this saying'"

"Humane Vitae turns 40: Updated and expanded 26 July 2008"

"Humane Vitae turns 40, part II"

Friday, July 26, 2013

"Now the thing that I call living is just being satisfied"

Last night, a beautiful and very hot summer evening, I was driving home from an appointment at the Cathedral listening to the radio. I heard Gordon Lightfoot's "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," an amazing ballad. Hearing that song made me think of what an amazing and undervalued songwriter Lightfoot is. So, with no further adieu, our Friday traditio is Lightfoot's "Carefree Highway." It's a song that reminds of my Dad, his kind of music.



Searching through the fragments of my dream shattered sleep/I wonder if the years have closed her mind/I guess it must be wanderlust or trying to get free/From the good old faithful feeling we once knew

It's another song about freedom and how not to achieve it, as tempting as it at times. I'd have to say that at least once a week I have a fantasy about slipping away on the carefree highway, before once again realizing it is the "Highway to Hell." Of all the things Sartre was wrong about (he was wrong about almost everything), was his assertion that hell is other people. On the contrary, hell is being all about yourself.

Pope Francis urges young people to make "noise" UPDATED

The Holy See's official English translation is now available. So, this is updated as appropriate:

Some powerful words from the Holy Father speaking to pilgrims to WYD from his native Argentina in the Cathedral of San Sebastian in Rio de Janeiro. You can read his short address in its entirety here:



"Let me tell you what I hope will be the outcome of World Youth Day: I hope there will be noise. Here there will be noise, I’m quite sure. Here in Rio there will be plenty of noise, no doubt about that. But I want you to make yourselves heard in your dioceses, I want the noise to go out, I want the Church to go out onto the streets, I want us to resist everything worldly, everything static, everything comfortable, everything to do with clericalism, everything that might make us closed in on ourselves. The parishes, the schools, the institutions are made for going out ... if they don’t, they become an NGO, and the Church cannot be an NGO. May the bishops and priests forgive me if some of you create a bit of confusion afterwards. That’s my advice. Thanks for whatever you can do." Pope Francis

Note: this means bearing witness to Christ in a powerful way, like he used to do when he actually celebrated Mass and preached on the streets of Buenos Aires, when he rode the bus, etc. Take the Gospel to the streets! Bring Christ out to meet everyone. This why we are dismissed at the end of the Mass. Don't believe the silliness of faux dismissals, like "The Mass never ends, go in peace" (one that is [was?] popular at Teen Life masses). The Mass ends, Christ is in us, and He desires us to take Him to others. "Go in peace, proclaiming the Gospel of the Lord;" "Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life."

Servant of God, Madeleine Delbrel, pray for us! We the ordinary people of the streets.

He also had this to say, which puts some meat on the bones:



"Look, at this moment, I think our world civilization has gone beyond its limits, it has gone beyond its limits because it has made money into such a god that we are now faced with a philosophy and a practice which exclude the two ends of life that are most full of promise for peoples. They exclude the elderly, obviously. You could easily think there is a kind of hidden euthanasia, that is, we don’t take care of the elderly; but there is also a cultural euthanasia, because we don’t allow them to speak, we don’t allow them to act. And there is the exclusion of the young. The percentage of our young people without work, without employment, is very high and we have a generation with no experience of the dignity gained through work. This civilization, in other words, has led us to exclude the two peaks that make up our future. As for the young, they must emerge, they must assert themselves, the young must go out to fight for values, to fight for these values; and the elderly must open their mouths, the elderly must open their mouths and teach us! Pass on to us the wisdom of the peoples!"

Viva il Papa!

This kind of papal exhortation at WYD is not new. At the Vigil to begin WYD in 2005 in his native Germany, Pope Benedict spoke these words: "The saints, as we said, are the true reformers. Now I want to express this in an even more radical way: only from the saints, only from God does true revolution come, the definitive way to change the world....True revolution consists in simply turning to God who is the measure of what is right and who at the same time is everlasting love. And what could ever save us apart from love?"

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Is your intent suicide? A moral engagement

Finding myself on my own last Saturday evening, I did one of the things I like doing best. I watched a movie. Since I have been unable to engage in any serious reading over the past few weeks, I wanted to watch something substantial, perhaps even a bit provocative. After about an hour of pondering and searching, I decided to watch director Steve McQueen's first film, released in 2008, about the 1981 hunger strikes in Northern Ireland's Maze Prison, Hunger.

Bobby Sands' coffin

The film premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival and earned McQueen the festival's Camera d' Or prize for first time filmmakers. The film went on to garner many prizes.

I am not going to attempt the tell the whole story because it is readily available for anyone who is interested. I remember all of this from the news when it happened. From the time I was 11 I read the newspaper cover-to-cover everyday and watched as many news programs as I could. I certainly remember Bobby Sands, who was the first of the 10 IRA prisoners to die in Maze from starvation trying to gain political prisoner status in the 1981 hunger strike.

His story eventually becomes the focal point of the film. I was particularly struck by the scene in which Sands requests a meeting with a sympathetic priest. The reason Sands wanted to have such a meeting was to tell the priest of his decision to go on a hunger strike and to die if necessary. Of course, the priest tries to dissuade him from taking this drastic course of action on a number of grounds, but ultimately comes to see that he cannot talk Sands out of doing it. So, I share the scene below. It's a bit long I suppose for a blog post, but well worth watching. Even though the dialogue is in English, there are subtitles, which help:



The scene in McQueen's film is a dramatization. However, it does bear noting that Pope John Paul II sent his private secretary to visit Sands on both 28 and 29 April 1981. Between meetings, he met with Great Britain's Secretary for Northern Ireland, Humphrey Atkins. His object was to get Sands to end his hunger strike and open negotiations. He failed on both accounts. My point in posting this is not to garner sympathy for violence and terrorism, which are not acceptable means of achieving political, or any, ends, but because I think the scene does a good job of bringing home how difficult are morals and ethics, especially in a fallen world, especially for a person who has lost hope.

Pioneer Day: looking back

It's been a backward looking week for me. On Sunday night, in response to my post on Sts. Martha and Mary, Norm, commenting on his visit to the beautiful Cathedral of the Madeleine, mentioned the Servant of God Cora Louise Evans, who, like me and many Roman Catholics throughout my diocese and elsewhere, was a convert to the Catholic faith from Mormonism. One of the best ways to facilitate her canonization is to invoke her intercession for various needs. The post I linked to above will tell you how.

Then yesterday I finally took the opportunity to read a New York piece, "Some Mormons Search the Web and Find Doubt." As I pointed out to one LDS friend, who insinuated that what one might find on the worldwide web cannot be relied on, the title does not really do the content of the article justice. While he is correct in a general sense, access to information leads to questions and questions lead a person to seek answers, to either disprove or verify things they have encountered.

This prompted me, as is my wont every few years, to go back and start looking at some LDS issues, like the website that provides information on Mormon founder Joseph Smith, Jr.'s 34 wives, Remembering the Wives of Joseph Smith. Of the 33 women Smith married after marrying his first wife, Emma Hale, 11 were married to other men at the time Joseph "married" them and ten were teenagers, the youngest two, Nancy Winchester and Helen Mar Kimball, were 14 at the time of their supposed marriage. But it was Lucinda Morgan Harris whose story caught my attention perusing the website this time around. This is one of those websites that provides information that is at variance with the official LDS Church line on both the origins of Mormon polygamy and their founder's personal practice of it.



Lucinda was 37 and married to George Harris when she spiritually married the self-proclaimed Mormon prophet in 1838. She and her husband had joined the LDS Church in 1834 in Terre Haute, Indiana. Apparently she married Smith in Missouri, but, like many other women who became his spiritual wives, she continued to live with her husband, making her a polyanderer, that is a wife with more than one husband. After Smith's death, according to Todd Compton in his book In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, Lucinda divorced her husband and "joined the (Catholic) Sisters of Charity, and at the breaking out of the civil war, was acting in that capacity in the hospitals at Memphis Tennessee..."

There is some convergence in all of this. Cora Evans was born and raised LDS here in Utah. When the time came for her to marry, she married her husband in the Salt Lake LDS Temple. After this experience, she wrote, "I was a true loyal Mormon at the hour of entering the temple, but nearly a confirmed atheist when I left the temple building after the marriage ceremony." Her biography, which can found on The Mystical Humanity of Christ website, also records how Cora summed up her feelings after that event: "I was without a God and religion, but had gained a very wonderful husband. As I looked at him and learned to love him more and more I resolved to help find a God for him." Indeed, years later Cora's husband followed her into the Catholic Church.

Today in Utah we celebrate Pioneer Day, our state holiday to commemorate the arrival of the Mormon pioneers in Salt Lake Valley.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Martha and Mary- a short Sunday reflection

We live in a world that seeks to push us all towards polar extremes. Sadly this as true in the Church as in the world. Such a force is truly diabolic, meaning that it is the devil's work to divide us. Our English word "devil" is derived from the Latin word diabolus, which, in turn, is a transliteration of the Greek word διάβολος. This Greek noun comes from the Greek verb diaballo that literally means something like "to put at cross purposes" (dia= "across," or "through" and ballo= "to throw"). It seems to me that the point of today's Gospel, especially in light of our first reading from Genesis, wherein Abraham and Sarah go to great lengths to provide a feast for their three guests, in whom the Church sees an image, or at least some kind of vague intimation, of the Most Holy Trinity, is not to privilege contemplation over Christian service. To give one example, Does the Church not need both deacons and contemplative religious orders?

Given the above I find it interesting that the place where the Holy Father has taken up residence in the Vatican is the Domus Sanctae Marthae, or, in English, "St. Martha's House." An old Benedictine, that is, monastic, motto is "receive everyone as you would Christ," meaning offer anyone who turns up as much hospitality as you are capable of giving her/him. In the final chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews, the sacred writer reminds his listeners, "Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels" (13:1-2). Our first reading from Genesis may well be what the author of Hebrews had in mind when he wrote those words.

Christ with Martha and Mary, by Johannes Vermeer, 1654-55

As a deacon, I firmly believe that the shape, or form, of my discipleship is supposed to be more like Martha's than Mary's. My role in the liturgy is to effectively do what Martha was doing in our Gospel today. It seems to me that what earned Martha what I can only personally imagine to be a gentle correction from our Lord was her either/or thinking, her demand that the Lord "Tell [Mary] to help me" (Luke 10:40). Let's not fail to see the very unique circumstance in which Martha and Mary found themselves- being visited in their home by the incarnate Lord! Jesus' gentle rebuke to Martha reminds me of when He said, in response to the criticism that His disciples were not fasting, that wedding guests do not fast while the bridegroom is present, before indicating they would resume fasting after He left (Luke 5:33-39).

I would never argue that we should not all take the time to sit at Jesus' feet and simply be in His presence, as it were. Quite the contrary! It is of the essence that we do this and, in all honesty, probably more frequently than most of us do. But it is also vital for us to avoid reading Scriptural passages in isolation, apart of the rest of the witness of Scripture and disregarding the experience of the Church over time, especially the experience of the saints, who show us what it means to follow and serve Jesus Christ in every age. After all, we venerate both Martha and Mary as saints!

I think the key is not to act like Martha when we should be acting like Mary and vice-versa. It is also important to recognize that Christ's Church needs both.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Honor your Mother- the Blessed Virgin Mary

Traditionally, Saturdays are the day of the week we honor the Blessed Virgin Mary in a particular way. One way we can still see this is in Morning Prayer for Saturdays, especially in the Intercessions. For example, today the Church prayed Saturday Morning Prayer from the Week III of the Psalter. Therefore, we began the intercessions with this: "With confidence let us pray to the Father who willed that the Virgin Mary should surpass all creatures in heaven and earth." One might retort, "Wait a minute! What about our Blessed Lord?" Well, Jesus Christ is not a creature, but "true God from true God."

With all of this already in mind, I opened the first volume of Hans Urs Von Balthasar's Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics (I quickly made it through the first half of the book during Lent and since have bogged down in my effort to re-read it due to so many commitments) and started to read "The Marian Experience of God," which begins thus:
At the point where all roads meet which lead from the Old Testament to the New we encounter the Marian experience of God, at once so rich and so secret that it almost escapes description. But it is also so important that time and again it shines through as the background for what is manifest. In Mary, Zion passes over into the Church; in her, the Word passes over into flesh; in her, the Head passes over into the body. She is the place of superabundant fruitfulness (pg. 338)
St. Anne, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Christ Child, by Leonardo da Vinci

Identifying Mary as "the place of superabundant fruitfulness" puts me mind of the way we respond to silly accusations of worshiping the Blessed Virgin. Of course, in accordance with the Decalogue, we worship God and God alone- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Greek word for worship is latria. We also venerate the saints and the Greek for that is dulia. The Mother of God, however, occupies a unique space between God and the saints. The reverence due to her we call hyperdulia, which is just what it sounds like, the prefix hyper meaning over and above, or beyond. So, while hyperdulia falls well short of latria, it goes over and beyond dulia

Since Mary is not only the Mother of God, but also the Mother of the Church, that is, as Jesus said from the Cross to the beloved disciple (John 19:26-27), our Mother, and since I have already invoked the Ten Commandments (i.e., the Decalogue), it bears noting that the first three commandments have to do with loving God with all heart, might, mind, and strength. But it is not exactly accurate to then lump the remaining seven commandments together and say they are about loving our neighbor. The fourth commandment enjoins us to honor our parents. It is the commandment with a promise. For each of us, even if our parents, or one parent, are absent from our lives, our mother and father occupy a space between God and everyone else. In this schema it makes sense to honor the Blessed Virgin. It also helps us to see that Von Balthasar in no way exaggerated her importance either in this passage or elsewhere, especially in his ecclesiology, which holds that the Church is essentially Marian.

Friday, July 19, 2013

"They like to get you in a compromising position"

Earlier this month, writing for the American Conservative, David Masciotra did a piece on the music of John Mellencamp. Mellencamp began his career as John Cougar, then John Cougar Mellencamp, before settling on using his real name- John Mellencamp. He is from southern Indiana- the town of Seymour to be exact. It's true that Mellencamp identifies as an ardent uber liberal, one with a populist bent. But I think the article, "Rock for Republicans? How the GOP misunderstands John Mellencamp’s heartland ethic," does a pretty good job of fleshing out some of the more salient themes found in his music. I remember learning that before he became a rock star, Mellencamp worked for the phone company and also that he was once a welfare recipient. When he started making good money he paid back all the money he received while he was on welfare. Even though he has strongly expressed his views as social liberal, in many ways Mellencamp stands for the kind of ideas that the Democratic party used to stand for, that is, for the little man. Sadly, that brand of American politics is dead and may well be be buried.



Here's the extract I found most interesting in Masciotra's piece:
Mellencamp was raised in the Nazarene Church and left when he was 16 because, as he tells it, “They said, ‘no smoking, no drinking, no dancing, and girls can’t wear make up.’ And I said, ‘That doesn’t sound like much fun’.”

He might have left the church of his childhood, but he never fully left the faith. The image and name of Jesus hovers over Mellencamp’s music. He often performs on stage with a white porcelain statue of Jesus in front of his amplifier. A painting of Jesus hangs over a jukebox on the album jacket for his best record, “The Lonesome Jubilee,” and he invokes Christ’s teachings in many of his songs, from some of his biggest hits to some of his most obscure album cuts. On “Jack and Diane,” his only number one single, he combines both of his belief systems into a visceral prayer: “So let it rock / Let it roll / Let the Bible Belt come and save my soul…”
I can say in all honesty that Melllencamp's music has always been a hit with me. I remember listening both to The Lonesome Jubilee and Scarecrow over and over again when they came out. I still know the words to all the songs on those albums, which date to back when records, that is, albums had some thematic content and a coherence all their own. But the song that has meant to the most to me over the years is his "The Authority Song." Hence, it is our traditio for this July Friday- the performance is from his Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame induction, which happened on 10 March 2008:



...They like to get you there and smile in your face/They think they're so cute when they got you in that condition/Well I think it's a total disgrace

It's like Camus' The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt turned into an American rock song. It was in that essay that Camus wrote, 'Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence and an appeal to the essence of being."

Sunday, July 14, 2013

"Go and do likewise"

"[I]t is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out"- Moses (Deut. 30:14).

Jesus (referring to the two observant Jews and the Good Samaritan): "Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?"

Scholar of the Law: "The one who treated him with mercy"

Jesus: "Go and do likewise" Jesus (Luke 10:36-37).

We all know that this is easier said than done because there are times when each one of us have not only been guilty of not showing mercy by way of omission, but have deliberately refused it to someone in need.

The Greek word for "mercy" that issues from the mouth of the scholar of the law in this passages is eleos, which also connotes "compassion" and "kindness." Eleos is a word that occurs with some frequency throughout the New Testament. In our uniquely Christian Scriptures, it usually refers to what God has done for us in Christ. For example, consider Ephesians 2:4, where St. Paul describes God as being "rich in mercy." In Latin, "rich in mercy" translates as dives in misericordia. Dives in misericordia is the title of Pope St. John Paul II's second encyclical letter, which begins by citing Ephesians 2:4: "It is 'God, who is rich in mercy' whom Jesus Christ has revealed to us as Father: it is His very Son who, in Himself, has manifested Him and made Him known to us."

It is certainly true that we should be merciful because of the mercy the Father has given us in Christ, but it is often only God's mercy that enables us to be merciful. Many times it requires God's grace to bend us outward from ourselves toward the other in an effort to connect us to one another in charity. This is especially the case when it comes to those towards whom we may have some enmity, or who may have some towards us. This is summed up well a bit later in the second chapter of Ephesians:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile both with God, in one body, through the cross, putting that enmity to death by it (2:13-16)
As Jesus seeks to teach in today's Gospel, what we do we must do out of love, not by way of compulsion or obligation. I believe it was C.S. Lewis who noted that if you feel you don't love your neighbor, begin acting as though you do and your heart will usually follow. But if it doesn't, so what? Like prayer, reaching out to those in need is not first foremost about our feelings and affective disposition. In fact, it very often makes us nervous and uncomfortable.

We must begin to allow ourselves to be "moved," as was the Samaritan when he saw the man who was beaten and left for dead, by the plight of the other. Not least of which because in his need the other reflects my own need back to me, which is why, as Luigi Giussani powerfully asserted, "The true protagonist of history is the beggar." It is never enough for Jesus Christ to make Himself known to us. He bids us to make Him known to others in the manner of the Good Samaritan. This, my friends, is the New Evangelization and will be until Christ returns in glory (see Matthew 25:31-46).

It is our need to show kindness, mercy, and compassion that causes Jesus to hold up the Samaritan as an example and to say things like this to the Pharisees: "tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you" (Matt. 21:31).

Saturday, July 13, 2013

"Homo curvatus in se" - attempt at skimming the surface

I have written before that in many ways being a Catholic is the way I hold the tension between my Protestant and Orthodox proclivities. In no way is this truer than when it comes to pondering the depths of human sinfulness, that is, our collective and individual estrangement from God. This is why the witness of the saints is so very vital for me. The saints give me hope, even as I realize that in the end the Church of Christ is made up only of the saints. My hope arises from the fact that, by-and-large, the saints are those who were willing to engage in the struggle, the agon, as St. Paul referred to it (Yes, the word from which we derive "agony").

It is easy to forget something that Sacred Scripture teaches: "our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens" (Eph. 6:12). Stated succinctly, our struggle is against evil, manifest in each of our lives as sin. As is also set forth clearly in Scripture: "If we say, 'We are without sin' we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing. If we say, 'We have not sinned,' we make him a liar, and his word is not in us" (1 John 1:8-10). It seems to me that individually and collectively we expend an extraordinary amount of effort finding ways around these truths, one of the many ways we try to reduce God to our own measure in order to let ourselves off-the-hook, as it were. But it also has the effect of reducing Divine Mercy, which is a sacrilege. All I have to do to verify that this is true is to contemplate my own heart.

It was interesting, along these same lines, to read some of the reactions to Dr. Ralph Martin's book, published earlier this year, which merely restates what the Church has always taught, something reinforced, not done away with, by the Second Vatican Council: Will Many Be Saved?: What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization. To wit: if you ain't a sinner, you don't need a Savior and Christianity is rendered incoherent. St. Paul begins the earliest Christian creed that has been handed on to us with, "For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3). In the Letter to the Hebrews, on which I am currently leading a parish Bible study, we find something similar towards the beginning: "When he had accomplished purification from sins, he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Heb. 1:3). The missionary mandate given by Christ to the Church, known as The Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20), to take the Gospel everywhere to everyone remains as valid today as ever.

Homo curvatus in se, "man curved in on himself" is how St. Augustine described the unjustified human condition. Sticking with this image, Christ comes to straighten us out, or, perhaps more accurately, bend us outward. Simul iustus et peccator is how Martin Luther described the justified man, who is simultaneously justified while still a sinner. Think of St. Paul's "But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). Consider also the whole phenomenon of our post-baptismal proclivity to go on sinning, which necessitates the need for the Sacrament of Penance. I believe it was Archbishop Sample of Portland who noted on Divine Mercy Sunday this year that the Sacrament of Penance was the first gift Christ gave to His Church after His resurrection.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux- Doctor of the Church

I am currently making my way through Franz Posset's Pater Bernhardus: Martin Luther and Bernard of Clairvaux. Eventually I hope this will bear fruit and allow me to further some thoughts I shared in "Discipleship costly for all who follow."

Especially after reading Christoph Cardinal Schönborn's treatment of Luther's understanding of justification exactly a year ago in his book God Sent His Son: A Contemporary Christology, I have been trying to determine how Augustianian I can be with regard to human sinfulness without falling into Lutheranism, or the very tempting, but philosophically and theologically inadequate, Calvinistic doctrine of total depravity. While I found Cardinal Schönborn's comparison of Luther's doctrine of justification with that of St. Thomas Aquinas useful and informative in this regard, I find Posset's more apt because Luther, who was steeped in monastic theology, as opposed to scholasticism, tended to look to St. Bernard and not St. Thomas and the schoolmen, whom he held in contempt because he felt they viewed Scripture as secondary and not primary.

"Self-centeredness," Posset writes, "is the essence of curavtio of the warped soul. In this regard Bernard and Luther thought alike." As Bernard viewed the matter, Posset continues, "evil stems not from the body, but from the heart." He goes on to suggest that "[t]his idea may also have rubbed off on Luther." He notes that in Luther's lecture on one of the passages above, 1 John 1:10, Luther "spoke of human beings as carrying 'a monster in our flesh', which may echo the bernardine brutus and bestialis spiritus." In his lecture on this verse from 1 John, Posset continues, "Luther declared that we are weakened, not only by fleshly sins, not only by the fervor of libido, wrath, false wisdom, by also by carnal affect which flees hope and faith; and that we are always inclined to wrath, which is graver than any in the flesh."

What is more striking to me is Luther's insistence, in light of our inclination towards wrath, is the human "tendency to seek a remedy on [our] own." While there may be differences between Bernard and Luther about the depth of human sinfulness, both believing that it runs rather deep (as Posset summarizes it, in his 82nd sermon on the Song of Songs, Bernard "reflected on whether man resembles more God or a beast"- St. Bernard is a Doctor of the Church), they agree that there is only one remedy for what afflicts us: Christ Jesus crucified and risen. However, there remains the constant temptation to give into antinomianism, which, as defined by Merriam-Webster, refers to "one who holds that under the gospel dispensation of grace the moral law is of no use or obligation because faith alone is necessary to salvation," which is contrary to Scripture, not least of which because it reduces "faith" to mere belief and one that does not move us.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

"They say time takes its toll on a body..."

Yes, I know Randy Travis is a drunk, an alcoholic, who, despite his earlier fame fortune can't seem to get his act together. He's country music's version of Amy Winehouse or Lindsay Lohan, someone we collectively laugh at, belittle, etc. No doubt, due at least in part to his heavy drinking, Travis is lingering in a Texas hospital experiencing congestive heart failure, then having a stroke. Just a little while back Travis was arrested, again, for drunk driving.

It's easy to forget why we know and maybe even care about Randy Travis, he's great songwriter. So, our traditio is "Forever and Ever Amen," performed at the Grand Ole Opry. Besides, it's been far too long since I've dedicated one of these to my lovely wife. More important than my love for you, is yours for me, especially given my many failures and multiple weaknesses.

Randy's predicament reminds of the fidelity my Grandma showed in the face of Grandpa's drinking problem. True love, precisely because it is selfless, is rarer than people think, but an amazing thing to behold.

It reminds of something Giussani said about true love, referring an elderly couple he said to her husband of fifty or more years, a woman could be hairless and toothless and him she is the most beautiful woman in the world.

Mark Driscoll, who frequently says lamentable things, recently struck gold by saying that your wife is your standard of beauty. Maybe he's been reading JPII, doubt it, but we can wish.

This week we're going for the liturgical day Friday and posting it a bit early:



Randy, I hope you get well soon. Hang in there brother.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Ramadan Mubarak

For Muslims throughout the world, today is the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. During this time Muslims fast, even from water, between sunrise and sunset. When the sun sets, the fast is broken by the itfar, a communal meal. As with the other so-called Abrahamic faiths (i.e., Judaism and Christianity), prayer, along with other spiritual practices, such as holy reading, increased attendance at communal worship, along with alms-giving go hand-in-hand with fasting. As I never tire of mentioning (truth, especially that born of and only verified through experience, bears repeating), prayer tends to be subjective and alms-giving, or serving the less fortunate, can be too outward directed, thus does fasting play an important integrating function, locating the inward and outward directly in our bodies, helping us to constantly purify our motives.

It is significant that before Ramadan ends that the Eastern Christian Dormition Fast, leading up the Solemnity of the Bodily Assumption (called the Dormition- falling asleep- by most Eastern Christians) of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which goes from 1 August- 15 August, begins. Hence, creating an overlap of a few days, which is appropriate and perhaps even provendential given that Mary is venerated among Muslims.

I think it especially important in these times when humanity seems to me to be so divided, plus being the Year of Faith ushered in by the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, even while keeping in mind the plight of my Christian brothers and sisters in Syria, Egypt, Turkey, Libya, and elsewhere, that we are once again reminded of the words of the Council's Declaration Nostra Aetate: On The Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions:

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

Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom (par. 3)
In light of my several recent posts on the vital importance of memory, the word "forget" in the English text is not lost on me. The Latin word in the editio typica is obliviscentes, from oblivisci, which can also mean "disregard," or "neglect." It seems to me that forgiveness can accurately be described as choosing to disregard a wrong inflicted, choosing to neglect it rather to focus on it, which amounts to a refusal to nurse grudges.

It seems to many people in the West that the holy month of Ramadan is all over the Gregorian calendar. It seems this way because it is! The Islamic holy year, of which Ramadan is the ninth month, is reckoned in a lunar manner, not a solar one. So, to all my Muslim friends here and abroad, as well as to my few Muslim readers, Ramadan Mubarak; Ramadan Kareem. Through your fasting, prayer, and care for the poor, may the God of Abraham draw you closer to himself and make you instruments of his peace.

During this month I am going to watch the amazing movie Of Gods and Men.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Truth: "a question of...deep memory"

The question of truth is really a question of memory, deep memory, for it deals with something prior to ourselves and can succeed in uniting us in a way that transcends our petty and limited individual consciousness. It is a question about the origin of all that is, in whose light we can glimpse the goal and thus the meaning of our common path (Lumen Fidei, par. 25)
To lose faith simply means to forget, or worse, to renounce memory, which, as Milan Kundera has so forcefully noted many times, is an evisceration of conscience.

Just think of the "unbaptize" movement that gained so much attention a few years back. Whatever the circumstances, even if it occurred when you were an infant and you have no personal, immediate memory of that event, if you were baptized, then you were baptized. It is a fact, something that really happened.



While you remain free, you cannot erase the fact, even the memory because you are not the only one who remembers. If nothing else, it is recorded in a big book that sits at the parish in which your baptism occurred and is, no doubt, recorded in heaven. We can rest secure in the fact that God remembers all. Jesus said: "Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows" (Matt. 10:29-31).

Hence, rooted in my own pastoral experience of helping to reconcile people back to the Church, even many who are understandably embittered, it seems to me that a big part of evangelization, at least in the U.S., is helping people remember their experience of what God has done for them in Christ.

Today as you celebrate the Eucharist do not forget that it is an act of calling to mind in order to make present (i.e., anamnesis). This is why, to quote Archbishop Javier Martínez, "the Eucharist is the only place of resistance to annihilation of the human subject." All of this even before considering what it means to deliberately forego participating in the Eucharist of a Lord's Day.

Lord, I remember. Help me in my forgetfulness!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Lumen Fidei: the witness of Father Abraham

I wish that Pope Francis' first encyclical Lumen Fidei had been made public, promulgated as it was on 29 June, the great solemnity of the Apostles Sts. Peter & Paul, prior to me composing my post "Our need to separate how from why," if for no other reason than being able to cite this passage from it:
God’s word, while bringing newness and surprise, is not at all alien to Abraham’s experience. In the voice which speaks to him, the patriarch recognizes a profound call which was always present at the core of his being... For Abraham, faith in God sheds light on the depths of his being, it enables him to acknowledge the wellspring of goodness at the origin of all things and to realize that his life is not the product of non-being or chance, but the fruit of a personal call and a personal love. The mysterious God who called him is no alien deity, but the God who is the origin and mainstay of all that is (par. 11)
Since I am currently leading on Bible study on the Letter to the Hebrews, it bears noting that, as Christians, we acknowledge Abraham as our father in faith. Because of faith (which can only be faith in the true and living God), not being his genealogical descendants, he is our father.



Abraham is first mentioned in the Letter, which most New Testament scholars believe is really an ancient homily, in the second chapter (2:16), but only in passing. He is not mentioned again until the sixth chapter, where we read:
When God made the promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, "he swore by himself," and said, "I will indeed bless you and multiply" you. And so, after patient waiting, he obtained the promise. Human beings swear by someone greater than themselves; for them an oath serves as a guarantee and puts an end to all argument. So when God wanted to give the heirs of his promise an even clearer demonstration of the immutability of his purpose, he intervened with an oath, so that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge might be strongly encouraged to hold fast to the hope that lies before us. This we have as an anchor of the soul, sure and firm, which reaches into the interior behind the veil..." (6:13-19)
Abraham figures prominently in the seventh chapter of Hebrews, but is not mentioned again until chapter eleven. It is in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, the chapter that begins by defining faith (i.e., "Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen" 11:1), that we read-
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs of the same promise; for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God (11:8-10ff)

Milan Kundera on memory and conscience- Updated

In my post "Memory and Morality: God remembers all," I wrote about the central role that memory plays in the works of Milan Kundera, literary works that I cherish and to which I return time and again. Kundera certainly grasps the necessity of remembering in order for there to be truth. Nonetheless, he also grasps that human beings are, due to our limited nature, forgetful creatures. In this he would not differ with Pope St. John Paul II, who insisted that the purification of memory consisted first and foremost in remembering accurately and not evading evil episodes, or even trying to tidy them up, or explain them away. After all, to forgive can never mean to forget, at least not entirely. To do so would wipe away the significance of forgiveness itself!

In his second encyclical, Spe salvi, on the theological virtue of hope, Pope Benedict XVI noted something of tremendous importance: "justice and grace—must be seen in their correct inner relationship. Grace does not cancel out justice. It does not make wrong into right. It is not a sponge which wipes everything away, so that whatever someone has done on earth ends up being of equal value. Dostoevsky, for example, was right to protest against this kind of Heaven and this kind of grace in his novel The Brothers Karamazov. Evildoers, in the end, do not sit at table at the eternal banquet beside their victims without distinction, as though nothing had happened" (this also serves to remind me that I need to re-read Derrida's "On Forgiveness," something I read last fall on an airplane and prompted many thoughts).

Reading from the same book of Kundera's essays, Encounter, last night I read something that helped me to tie up a loose end concerning memory and the gap between believing and not believing in God. The essay that contained the clarification is entitled "The Total Rejection of Heritage, or Iannis Xenakis (a text published in 1980 with two interventions from 2008)." The enlightenment comes from Kundera's first 2008 intervention, when, remarks on his initial response to re-reading his essay on what the musci of Xenakis meant to him after the 1968 Soviet invasion of his native Czechoslovakia:
Reading my old text, seeing the phrases "my nation had just gotten a death sentence" and "the catastrophe that had struck my country...and whose consequences will be felt for centuries," I felt a spontaneous urge to obliterate them, since these days they can only seem absurd. Then I got a grip on myself. And I even found it rather disturbing that my memory should think to censor itself. Such are the Splendors and Miseries of memory: it is proud of its ability to keep truthful track of the logical sequence of past events; but when it comes to how we experienced them at the time, memory feels no obligation to truth...

Russian tanks roll through Prague, Spring 1968

... if we we forget our state of mind back then, there is no way to understand anything
Of course, his desire to revise what he wrote in 1980 clearly arose, in 2008, from the fact that Czechoslovkia no longer existed, there is the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic, neither of which are under either Soviet or communist domination. In other words, he was tempted to see his 1980 observations as incorrect, inaccurate, in need of revision, or obliteration. He realized that such a revision is a gross violation of conscience, what happened in the interim notwithstanding. It also reminded him of the transitory nature of all earthly things. Does this not reveal the beauty of Eastern Christian response to someone's death, "May his memory be eternal"?

Update: Just this morning, as I resumed my initial reading of Pope Francis' and Pope Benedict's collaborative encyclical, Lumen Fidei, I was struck by this (which, in my view, is pure Ratzinger)- "The question of truth is really a question of memory, deep memory, for it deals with something prior to ourselves and can succeed in uniting us in a way that transcends our petty and limited individual consciousness" (par. 25).

Pope St. John XXIII, pray for us

It really was not my intention to give Pope St. John XXIII short shrift yesterday. To make amends, below is a list of posts going back several years, with a preponderance from last year, here on Καθολικός διάκονος concerning Good Pope John:

30 Nov. 2006- "Papal Coronation of Blessed Pope John XXIII"- links to videos no longer active (you can find them on YouTube)

28 Oct. 2007- "Il Papa Buono-Bl. John XXIII remembered"

1 Nov. 2007 (All Saints Day)- "Good Pope, bad assessment"

5 Jan. 2012- "Bl. Pope John XXIII and the convening of Vatican II"

1 Feb. 2012- "Bl. John XXIII and the plight of Italian hens"



3 Feb. 2012- "The Council and updating canon law"

3 Feb. 2012- "The surprise of Vatican II"

20 Feb. 2012- "The task of Vatican II: Regum Dei"

20 Feb. 2012- "Libertas ecclesiae: freedom for the truth"

11 Oct. 2012- "Year of Faith"- whole text of Pope St. John's address to open the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council

Friday, July 5, 2013

Pope St. John Paul II, pray for us

Oh glorious day! Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII will be added to canon of saints!

Pope John Paul II, I have no doubt, is one of the main reasons I am a Catholic. In my estimation, he was the towering figure of the last half of the twentieth century. I have shared this here before, but I have a most vivid memory of Pope John Paul II's election in October 1978, when I was in seventh grade and staying at what was then my grandma's fairly remote farmhouse. It was like I felt a jolt of electricity pass through me when I saw this man, having no idea who he was apart from being the new pope.



Since today marks the public promulgation of Pope Francis' first encyclical, Lumen Fidei, let's look at Pope John Paul II's first encyclical, promulgated in March 1979, Redemptor Hominis. Here is the opening sentence: "The Redeemer of man, Jesus Christ, is the center of the universe and of history."

What else would I post today for our Friday traditio except this from Pope John Paul II's 1979 Apostolic Journey to United States, delivered in Boston, his first stop?



Pope John Paul II's fellow Pole, Artur Sebastian Rosman, on his new and very worthwhile blog, Cosmos The In Lost, posted something very good about what the witness of John Paul II at the end of his life means to atheist psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva, "Kristeva’s Declaration of Dependence: On JP2.". I urge you to read the whole thing, it is really quite amazing, even stunning in certain respects, but I was struck by this, referring to John Paul II in his last years, Kristeva wrote, 'the body of the handicapped pope was and remains and invitation to know life up to its limits. And to develop this solidarity with people who are dependent–the handicapped or the aged–which modern humanism has so much difficulty doing."

My lovely wife and I have started to plan out pilgrimage to Rome. we marked our twentieth anniversary last month, but didn't have the opportunity to do anything befitting such an auspicious event. I think perhaps this was in the cards all along. The date has yet to be announced.

None of this is to slight Good Pope John, but Pope John Paul II's canonization is something very personal, even immediate, for me.

Encyclical Letter Lumen Fidei



ENCYCLICAL LETTER
LUMEN FIDEI
OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF
FRANCIS
TO THE BISHOPS PRIESTS AND DEACONS
CONSECRATED PERSONS
AND THE LAY FAITHFUL
ON FAITH


29 June 2013


1. The light of Faith: this is how the Church’s tradition speaks of the great gift brought by Jesus. In John’s Gospel, Christ says of himself: "I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness" (Jn 12:46). Saint Paul uses the same image: "God who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts" (2 Cor 4:6). The pagan world, which hungered for light, had seen the growth of the cult of the sun god, Sol Invictus, invoked each day at sunrise. Yet though the sun was born anew each morning, it was clearly incapable of casting its light on all of human existence. The sun does not illumine all reality; its rays cannot penetrate to the shadow of death, the place where men’s eyes are closed to its light. "No one — Saint Justin Martyr writes — has ever been ready to die for his faith in the sun". Conscious of the immense horizon which their faith opened before them, Christians invoked Jesus as the true sun "whose rays bestow life". To Martha, weeping for the death of her brother Lazarus, Jesus said: "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" (Jn 11:40). Those who believe, see; they see with a light that illumines their entire journey, for it comes from the risen Christ, the morning star which never sets.


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Our need to separate how from why

This thought, prompted by an email, despite it's conciseness, is worth a blog post rather than a Facebook status update. It's something I can't wrap my mind around: How can someone seriously assert that everything happens for a reason while simultaneously denying the existence of God?

Implied by the modern atheistic assertion that there is no God is the belief that everything happens for precisely no reason, that is, everything is accidental and without an underlying "reason." The implications that flow, in turn, from that assertion are horrifying. This is true whether you move in a determinist or non-determinist direction.

In a world godlessly conceived everything happens for no reason, or, to play a bit of a semantic game, nothing happens for a reason! Either way, why are we so intent on always looking for the reasons that things happen? Such curiosity is part of the structure of human consciousness. I believe that in order to make sense of this we must separate "reason," what we might call final cause, from efficient cause. This is merely to recognize the difference between how and why.

To illustrate this point I'll use something that pops up pretty regularly on FB, which is from Aaron Sorkin's show Newsroom: "I only seem liberal because I believe that hurricanes are caused by high barometric pressure and not gay marriage." This is to confuse how with why, to make a category error. It is this kind of smugness that short-circuits our human quest every bit as much as what it seeks to refute, perhaps even more.



I, too, believe that hurricanes are naturally caused and that earthquakes are the result of plate dynamics. But when an earthquake hits Haiti, or a tsumani swamps a lowly-lying South Pacific country the day after Christmas, or endangers a nuclear power plant in Japan, my questioning goes deeper than merely "How?", but extends to "Why?" This is what makes "Why?" the most human of all questions. We might even say that our need to ask "Why?" is constitutive of our humanity.

As to the why, we need to seek answers in a deeper way, which does not mean taking it upon ourselves to inflict God's punishments on the world, but in the way David Bentley-Hart, writing from an Eastern Orthodox perspective, sought them in the wake of the 2004 tsunami in his book Doors to the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsuanmi? Bentely-Hart takes on the cognitive dissonance that follows such an event, prompting, as they do, the question, How can an all-powerful and all-loving God be reconciled with evil and natural disaster?

As Rich Mullins, who was only a ragamuffin songwriter, lamented in his song "Hard to Get": "I know it would not hurt any less/Even if it could be explained," but only after acknowledging, "I know you bore our sorrows/And I know you feel our pain." At least from a Christian perspective, the former is more important than the latter, as the sacred author of the Letter to the Hebrews passed along: "Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested" (2:18).