Saturday, January 30, 2016

Jesus: Love, death, and life eternal

Readings: Jer 1:4-5.17-19; Ps 71:1-6.15-17; 1 Cor 12:31-13:13; Luke 4:21-30

In posting yesterday's traditio, almost as an afterthought, I noted, keeping in mind that it was seeing lovers kissing by the Berlin Wall that prompted David Bowie to write "Heroes" - "Love has political implications, always and everywhere, in all times and places." As I looked at the readings for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) this morning, passing through what is perhaps St. Paul's most well-known and probably best-loved piece of writing, even if it is usually liturgically employed in a badly out-of-context manner, and arriving at the Gospel, these words sprang back into my mind.

In (literally) seeking to flesh this out a bit more, something I read recently - though published nearly 10 years ago - also came to mind. It is from Terry Eagleton's review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion that appeared in the London Review of Books (see "Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching"):
The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you
I can think of no better illustration of this than Jesus' treatment at the hands of those present at the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth on that Sabbath when he quite directly and unambiguously proclaimed who he is and what he came to do. It's important that we don't treat the Lord's fellow Nazarenes with too much contempt. Why? Because, more than we care to admit, if we're honest, we react to the reign of God in a similar manner.

Our Gospel for today marks the beginning of Jesus' ministry according to St. Luke. As we know, his ministry culminated in his passion, death, and resurrection. Especially with Lent rapidly approaching, it's vital that in our rush to resurrection we don't skip his passion and death. Because of our baptism, our lives as Christians should follow this same, cruciform, pattern. To love in the manner described by Paul, in both its positive and negative aspects, is the most subversive and revolutionary way to live. We know what happens to subversives and revolutionaries. But living this way is what truly makes a Christian a Christian and is what makes being a Christian so difficult that it kills you.

Something else that struck me reading this Gospel was Jesus' escape, not that he escaped the furious mob against improbable odds, though he apparently did, but that, as Luke records, "Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away" (Luke 4:30- emboldening and italicizing mine). What I was struck by, holding in mind the rest of Luke's Gospel, is that Jesus seems to never have returned to Nazareth. In other words, he "went away" and stayed away. I think we run this risk whenever we refuse to let the Gospel challenge us, preferring instead to engage faith only according to our preconceptions, that is, without conversion. It is precisely allowing ourselves - at least those of us who live comfortable lives in stable, secure, and prosperous societies - to be confronted by the radical message of the Gospel that Pope Francis' entire papal ministry is geared towards. This simply must happen if we are not to be like the Nazarenes, people who thought they knew Jesus all too well and so dismissed him far too blithely.



This week one of the great, albeit lesser known, French New Wave directors, Jacques Rivette, passed away. In the wake of his passing I read a lovely and relatively short article about his oeuvre. The piece, "Jacques Rivette: Slave to Beauty," written by David Thompson in The Guardian, like Eagelton's piece, was published nearly a decade ago. Writing about how Rivette, despite making visually magnificent movies - in keeping with the art form of cinema - never let the visual take over entirely, Thompson observed that in Rivette's films, "The visual is a given; it is the norm; it is the world, or its engine - and Rivette, without reservation, loves that world even when it frightens him. I doubt he has ever composed a shot without seeking both grace and an austere absence of all those signs that say: 'Here is grace'" (emboldening and italicizing emphasis mine).

Ah, to love the world without reservation, even when it frightens me! Isn't this the provocation of Jesus? If so, therein lies the goal of my life! While I don't want to delve into this now, such a mission is in no way at odds with contemptus mundi. In fact, the two are perfectly harmonious and not merely in some nebulous "dialectical" manner.

It seems to me that an essential feature of the experience of grace is that it lacks neon signs that say: "Here is grace." I believe those present in the Nazareth synagogue that Sabbath long ago also lacked such signs. If the earthly ministry of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels, shows us anything it is that it was not intuitively obvious to the casual observer that he is Lord and Messiah, the very Son of God, the Savior of the world. This is why spiritual praxis, especially the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving, taught us by Christ himself, are so important. Practicing these is important so the "visual" acuity of our hearts improves. Only in this way can we "see" grace.

What Rivette's films and so many other works of art, as well as nature, show us is that, without a doubt, beauty is the most perceptible sign of grace. While beauty, unlike love, may not kill, she certainly wounds and leaves a scar.

As Karl Rahner, that most cerebral of theologians, forthrightly observed: "In the days ahead, you will either be a mystic (one who has experienced God for real) or nothing at all." Or, as Don Giussani put it, we're "either protagonists or nobodies."

Friday, January 29, 2016

"And the shame, was on the other side"

It seems I'm not quite done with David Bowie yet. As a result, our Friday traditio for the last Friday in January is Blondie covering Bowies "Heroes" live in London way back in 1980. "Heroes" is the title track off the eponymous album, which is the second of Bowie's Berlin's Trilogy, sandwiched between Low and Lodgers.

Debbie Harry & David Bowie


The song "Heroes" was inspired by Bowie seeing his producer, Tony Visconti, kissing his girlfriend in front of the Berlin Wal, near the recording studio they were using and nearby where they lived in West Berlin.

I can remember
Standing, by the wall
And the guns, shot above our heads
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall
And the shame, was on the other side
Oh, we can beat them, forever and ever
Then we could be heroes, just for one day


Love has political implications, always and everywhere, in all times and places. Plus, it's easy to forget that Blondie, apart from having the stunning Debbie Harry fronting, was a very good band.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Living the creative tension: twelve years a deacon

Each Friday I try to post what I have dubbed a traditio. A traditio is something, usually a song, (but not always), old or new, worth handing on. Every Sunday I try to post a reflection on the Sunday readings. Sometimes one or both is just too much with everything else I have going on in my life. Instead of a Friday traditio, this week I posted a Saturday morning one. Instead of a reflection on three very long readings, especially on a Sunday on which I had no liturgical or teaching duties, I am posting a reflection on something else. Besides, my Friday traditio and Sunday reflections posts are usually, but not always, my least read offerings. But I believe some things are worth doing for their own sake.

At the end of Mass today, during the announcements, as I sat with my three young sons in the congregation, when our pastor reminded everyone that tomorrow is the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul, it suddenly struck me that today, 24 January 2016, is the twelfth anniversary of my ordination as a deacon. At least one reason the date of my ordination, which took place on a Saturday, is 24 January is because the date of the episcopal ordination of then-Bishop (now-Archbishop emeritus) George Niederauer, who ordained me, is 25 January. I have always felt that the proximity of the date of my ordination to that of my then-bishop is significant. I was not the only deacon ordained for the Diocese of Salt Lake City on 24 January 2004. I was ordained along with 23 other men, my brothers, with whom I spent 4 wonderful years being formed primarily under the supervision of Dr Owen Cummings, a theologian and deacon, who teaches theology at Mt Angel Seminary in Oregon - the place where most of our diocese's priests are formed. I was 38 at the time of my ordination.

Because the diaconate, along with episcopate, most likely pre-dates the priesthood, at least as we understand the priesthood today, there has always been a close tie between a bishop and his deacons. Deacons were the bishop's original helpers, or servants, in taking care of the Christian community. This is clearly seen in passage of Acts that is understood as the institution of the diaconate - Acts 6:1-7. As Stephen and Philip show us, from the beginning, deacons have also been evangelizers. One way I think about being a deacon is that I make my bishop present wherever I go. This means making the Church present wherever I am. I am blessed beyond measure to have served under two bishops - George Niederauer and John Wester - who were wholeheartedly supportive and appreciative of the deacons who serve the local Church here in Utah. I fervently pray that our next bishop, who should be appointed this Spring or Summer, will be just as well-disposed towards his deacons. I was especially blessed to work closely with now-Archbishop Wester during his entire eight year ministry as bishop of the Diocese of Salt Lake City.

Midnight Mass, Joint Base Anaconda, Iraq, 2006

It was a little more than two-and-a-half years after my ordination, on 19 July 2006, that I changed the name of my blog to Καθολικός διάκονος (i.e., Catholic Deacon) and started blogging in earnest. While it took me several years to really get a feel for this medium, I have understood what I do here as an extension of my diaconal ministry. Even with my tenth anniversary of blogging in earnest rapidly approaching, I can confidently say that I will continue blogging until I prayerfully discern it is time to quit.

I am grateful for the privilege of serving the Church and the world as a deacon. Like marriage, participating in the sacrament of holy orders, which call, like my call to holy matrimony , arose from my baptism, diaconal ministry, I believe, continues to conform me more to the image of Christ, the true and perfect deacon. This is why sometimes service can be excruciating on a number of levels. In the introduction to his excellent book, The Heart of the Diaconate: Communion with the Servant Mysteries of Christ, Deacon James Keating noted that permanent deacons are called to a vocation best characterized as living the "creative tension" generated from being a cleric who lives "a lay life." If deacons are to be the leaven for the Church and for the world we are ordained to be, then this tension must be ever present. Given this inherent strain, serving as a deacon is not a vocation for just anyone, but only for those called to live this tension.

In the end, being a deacon is not about me. It is about those I am called to serve. I pray that I have served well and that, by the grace of God, I may continue to serve well. And so to my brothers with whom I was ordained, even the three who have passed over - Gerry Shea, Aniceto Armendariz, and Scott Chisholm - happy anniversary. To those still kicking - ad multos annos.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

On the overdue rubrical change to the Mandatum Rite

Recently Pope Francis wrote a letter to the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments, Robert Cardinal Sarah, regarding the Rite of the "Washing of the Feet" (i.e., the Mandatum Rite), which takes place during the Liturgy of the Mass of the Lord's Supper, which is celebrated on Holy Thursday. The Holy Father's letter is currently only available in Italian. In his letter, Pope Francis directs Cardinal Sarah to amend the rubrics of the Roman Missal that spell out the details of the Mandatum Rite so that women can officially be included among those who have their feet washed in this sacred and solemn rite. In accord with the Holy Father's direction, the Congregation issued a decree, In Missa in Cena Domini (available only in Latin) implementing this change.

The decree went into effect on 6 January and so will apply to the Mandatum Rite celebrated this Holy Thursday, which will be observed by Catholics on 24 March. At least for most parishes in the United States and, I suppose, elsewhere, this is a mere formalization of a practice long since established. Way back in 1987, the USCCB, then the NCCB, determined that the Latin phrase viri selecti in the Roman Missal, which literally means "selected men," is to be understood as applying to both men and women, "in recognition of the service that should be given by all the faithful to the Church and to the world."

At least to me, what the Pontifically-directed change in rubrics highlights is the equalizing nature of baptism, expounded perhaps most clearly in the third chapter of St Paul's Letter to the Galatians (see Gal 3:27-29). To wit: women are full-fledged disciples of Jesus Christ. Baptism, to which Confirmation is closely related, is the fundamental sacrament of Christian life, not ordination. Catholics, too, believe in the priesthood of all the baptized. The ministerial, or ordained, priesthood is at the service of the baptismal priesthood.

The witness of women in the Gospels shows that they are often the very best disciples. The witness of the Desert Mothers and other women in the early Church confirm this even further, as do faithful women in our own day. This change does nothing with regard to ordaining women. Sticking with sound theology, Pope Francis has time and again been foursquare against what he calls the "clericalization" of women's roles, as well as clericalizing the roles of many dedicated laypersons, men and women.There is simply no need to do this. I think this needs to be a particular point of discernment for prospective permanent deacons.

The prominence of women in the Church is one of those aspects of history that is either frequently ignored or grossly exaggerated. I read an article just yesterday that, on one hand, does a very nice job articulating the radical nature of female discipleship in the early Church, but, on the other hand, distorts and exaggerates the role of women in various ways: "The Rebel Virgins and Desert Mothers Who Have Been Written Out of Christianity's Early History." With regard to women bishops, the author just states it in passing as a fact with no explanation. Of course, the Greek word episkopos simply means "overseer." It may surprise some to learn that the ancient Church, for the most part, was much more sexually segregated than the Church is today. Nonetheless, women often exercised ecclesial authority over other women. So-called women deacons were women set apart - whether by ordination or not is a matter of dispute (they do not seem to have served in liturgy) - to minister to other women, like baptizing them. At that time people were baptized naked. They also served women in circumstances that it would not be appropriate for a man to minister, like visiting a single woman at home.

From its beginning, cenobitic monasticism has had priors and prioresses (abbots and abbesses). They exercised, as they still do today, an episcopal-like function over members of their communities. The author of the article is wrong to state that even today ecclesially-approved women's orders are closely watched over by men. Such orders are not. They are self-governing, according to their approved constitutions, just the same as men's orders. The fact remains that the Church was perhaps the only place, apart from the household, where women held any authority at all. This probably remained true until about the middle of the 20th century.



Linking back to the change in the rubrics for the Mandatum Rite, my main point is that the change points to the fact that baptism is the great equalizer. Women are full-up disciples of Jesus Christ, empowered by Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist. The essence of ordained ministry is service to the rest of the Church. Those of us who have received the sacrament of orders are ordained to empower, not exercise power over, others. Here is Christian leadership summarized by Jesus: "The greatest among you must be your servant" (Matt 23:11). It is never a question of equality! Men and women, while different in important respects, our differences being deeply embedded in nature, are equals.

The only justification I could think of for excluding women from the Mandatum Rite is if the rite was restricted to the bishop celebrating it in his Cathedral and washing the feet of 12 priests. Or, in an even more concentrated manner, if the celebration of the rite was restricted to the pope washing the feet of 12 bishops. But this is not the theology of the passage from chapter 13 of St John's Gospel, the Gospel for the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday- the Gospel in which there are no apostles, only disciples, even if the twelve are a select group of disciples.

I have to admit that I was disheartened somewhat when someone on a Facebook thread, opposing the change, wrote that the inclusion of woman turned the Mandatum Rite into a "tawdry pantomime." I would counter that for the vast majority of Roman Catholics our annual celebration of the Mandatum Rite is a solemn and sacred event. Indeed, the Mass of the Lord's Supper is about the institution of the Eucharist. Our Gospel reading for that holy night - John 13:1-15 - tells of Jesus washing the feet of twelve of his disciples. For St John, this is the institution narrative of the Eucharist. In light of this, I would ask, Why 12 laymen to the exclusion of women, especially when one links Jesus' act of foot washing with baptism, something the sacred author of John's Gospel clearly does? The Church is apostolic not only because of apostolic succession, but because, as a result of our baptism, we are sent: "If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it" (John 13:14-17).

Another major theme of the Mass of the Lord's Supper, closely linked with the institution of the Eucharist, is the institution of the priesthood. This, too, at least in my view, harmonizes perfectly well with the rubrical change. The priest, acting in persona Christi captis, in washing the feet of people selected from among those he is called to serve, performs the humblest act of service for them. By so doing, he exhorts them to go forth and serve others. Ideally, he is assisted in the foot-washing by a deacon. Hence, a deacon is the servant of the servant who performs the humblest of services (deacon as dogsbody?). Let's be honest, the priest had no authority or intention to ordain 12 laymen to the priesthood, or even to pretend they were ministerial priests, when he performed the foot-washing for men only.

Let's not forget that Mass is called Mass after the Latin word misa, which refers to being dismissed. John's institution narrative, with its strong tie to baptism, is about being sent to serve others, which, along with apostolic succession, is what makes the Church apostolic. At the end of Mass we are all sent. As a deacon the only time I use the simple dismissal "Go in peace" is during Lent and Advent (and during Easter with the sung Alleluia) the rest of the time I use the other approved dismissals: "Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life," or "Go in peace, proclaiming the Gospel of the Lord."

Glenn Frey: RIP

Due to busy-ness I was unable to post a Friday traditio yesterday. So, I am putting up a Saturday morning traditio instead.

As I am sure both of my readers know, Glenn Frey's passing followed closely on the heels of David Bowie's. I don't think anybody who was alive in the U.S. in the 1970s  is unfamiliar with The Eagles' music (they broke up in 1980 and did not reunite until 1994). It's interesting that the band formed when they were Linda Ronstadt's band. There's a pretty good likelihood that many of us in our 40s, 50s, and 60s know all of the lyrics to quite a few Eagles' songs. The Eagles music is familiar to me from listening to it with my parents driving in the car when I was a child, or listening with some of my older cousins. I have always enjoyed their music. I remember 20 years ago, or so, listening to a recording of one of their Hell Freezes Over tour concerts on a long plane flight home after spending quite awhile overseas. Their music sounded like home.

It seems appropriate that Frey hailed from the Detroit area. His first band, The Subterraneans, took their name from one of Jack Kerouac's novels. Suffice it say, Glenn Frey was a contributor to that glorious collection we frequently call "the American songbook." Frey, who suffered terribly for years from rheumatoid arthritis, was only 67 at the time of his passing.

Glenn Frey, 1948-2016- RIP

Our traditio for this week is The Eagles' "Take It to the Limit," which is my favorite Eagles song. I love songs of longing. Isn't life, to a very large extent, longing? At least for me, that is a rhetorical question. I like that it's a live performance from way back in 1977. The song was written as a collaborative effort between Frey, Randy Meisner, and Don Henley:



And when you're looking for your freedom
(Nobody seems to care)
And you can't find the door
(Can't find it anywhere)
When there's nothing to believe in
Still you're coming back, you're running back
You're coming back for more

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Death; hope, not optimism

At least where I live January is a dead time of year. I can't remember feeling any differently about the first month. When my Dad died five years ago in January this feeling intensified. Given the brilliantly shocking convergence of the release of his album Blackstar on 8 January, his birthday, and his death on 10 January, David Bowie’s passing intensified this all the more.

As I contemplated Lent last weekend, it occurred to me that this year, with Easter falling on 27 March, we will observe Good Friday on the Feast of the Annunciation: 25 March 2016- quite a convergence. With all of that out of the way, I apologize in advance for the disjointed nature of what follows.

In the wake of Bowie’s death, while listening to the first of his Berlin Trilogy albums last Friday, I decided to re-read Jacques Derrida’s The Gift of Death. In anticipation of this re-reading I read Derrida’s Guardian obituary, reading this led me to read Terry Eagelton’s response to some of the newspaper’s coverage of Derrida’s death (see: “Don’t deride Derrida”), which, in turn, led me to Eagleton’s 2006 review of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, which appeared in the London Review of Books (see: “Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching”). That is the path that led me here. How's the for intertexuality?

Where is “here,” you might ask? “Here” is the place of hope as set forth by Eagleton in his review of Dawkins’ execrable book:
The Christian faith holds that those who are able to look on the crucifixion and live, to accept that the traumatic truth of human history is a tortured body, might just have a chance of new life – but only by virtue of an unimaginable transformation in our currently dire condition. This is known as the resurrection. Those who don’t see this dreadful image of a mutilated innocent as the truth of history are likely to be devotees of that bright-eyed superstition known as infinite human progress, for which Dawkins is a full-blooded apologist. Or they might be well-intentioned reformers or social democrats, which from a Christian standpoint simply isn’t radical enough
This seems wholly fitting from Eagleton, whose Page-Barbour Lectures were published just last year with the title Hope without Optimism. About these published lectures, Slavoj Žižek wrote: “In our predicament every direct optimism is by definition a fake--the only bearers of true hope are those who dare to confront the abyss we are approaching.” In a very real sense, aren't we all hurdling towards the abyss? Death is the horizon beyond which we cannot see.

Green tree against grey sky- from my walk today

Eagleton rightly notes that the central doctrine of Christianity “is not that God is a bastard,” but is the incarnation of God’s only Son, who Eagleton correctly describes as “a joke of a Messiah . . . a carnivalesque parody of a leader who understood, or so it would appear, that any regime not founded on solidarity with frailty and failure is bound to collapse under its own hubris." Then, citing the English Dominican theologian, Herbert McCabe, Eagleton insists that the central message of Christianity is “if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you.” It seems to me that very often we try to make it not only about something else, but about anything else.

As if any of this needed reinforcement, as I prayed Evening Prayer today the two psalms were one psalm, as they often are when the selected psalm is a bit longer: Psalm 49, which reminds us that death is the great equalizer, or, as Bowie sang on the title track of his last album, perhaps narrating a dramatic dialogue he imagined taking place upon his own death: You’re a flash in the pan . . . I’m the great I am.

All of this made the prayer that concluded Evening Prayer this evening truly a prayer, that is, a cri de coeur:

Father,
yours is the morning
and yours is the evening.
Let the Sun of Justice, Jesus Christ,
shine for ever in our hearts
and draw us to that light
where you live in radiant glory.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Year C Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Isa. 62:1-5; Ps. 96:1-3.7-10; 1 Cor. 12:4-11; John 2:1-11*

“Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). These are the words spoken by the Blessed Virgin Mary to the servers in today’s Gospel. Come to think of it, when we consider all of the approved apparitions of Our Lady at places like Lourdes, Fatima, Knock, La Salette, etc., this is the message she continuously gives. Last week we brought the season of Christmas to an end with our celebration of the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, a celebration referred to by most Eastern Christians, both Catholic and Orthodox, as Holy Theophany, which closely follows Epiphany.

Epiphany simply refers to an appearance, or manifestation of something that points the observer to something deeper. It is an appearance that emanates what we might call a spiritual resonance, whereas Theophany refers specifically to a manifestation of God almighty. While there are theophanies in the Old Testament, it is only at our Lord’s Baptism that the tri-unity of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- is explicitly manifested for the first time. In our Gospel today, Jesus is made manifest at the behest of Our Lady albeit in a less dramatic way, that is, not by a star, or a voice from heaven accompanied by the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove, but by granting his mother’s request, miraculously providing, not just more wine, but the very best wine for the wedding feast, a feat known only to himself, his mother, and the servers. While there is much to unpack in this episode which, in St. John’s Gospel, marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, let’s stick with what is perhaps most obvious- the direct connection between the Lord’s acceding to his mother’s request by performing a miracle with her on-going intercession on our behalf.

But before considering the importance of the Blessed Virgin’s intercession on our behalf, it’s important to consider the setting for the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in St John’s Gospel. It takes place at a wedding feast. In light of our first reading from Isaiah, it is no exaggeration to say that, in light of God’s revelation, we see that reality is nuptially, or martially, structured. At the very beginning God created man and woman. The two together comprise the divine image (Gen 1:27). When the man awoke from his sleep, during which slumber God created woman, upon seeing the lovely creature he declared: “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of man this one has been taken” (Gen 2:21-23). Immediately following this joyful outburst, we read the very same Scripture Jesus cited in his dispute with the Pharisees about marriage and divorce (Matt 19:1-12; Mark 10:1-12), “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body” (Gen 2:24). Fast-forwarding all the way to the end of time, everything will culminate with a wedding feast - the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, when Christ the Bridegroom will return for his bride, the Church (Rev 19:6-9).

Pentecost, by El Greco, 1596

It seems fitting at the beginning of our annual week of Christian unity to give thanks to God that relations between Christians have improved so much over the last fifty years since the end of the Second Vatican Council. Nonetheless, even today, it is not uncommon for some of our non-Catholic sisters and brothers to ask us whether we worship the Blessed Virgin Mary. Of course, the simple answer to this question is “No.” Worship is due to God and God alone - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As far as the saints, those holy women and men who, throughout the Church’s history, have shown us concretely what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, we venerate them, that is, hold them in high regard, look to them as examples, and ask them to pray for us, to intercede on our behalf. While we do much the same when it comes to the Blessed Virgin Mary, she falls into a category all her own.

Jesus summarized the Ten Commandments in his Two Great Commandments- to love God with all our heart, might, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. He gave us his radical and challenging definition of neighbor in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The first three commandments (i.e., worshipping God and God alone, not taking God’s name in vain, and Sabbath observance) are about loving God. The final seven are about how we relate to our fellow human beings. The fourth commandment, which enjoins us to honor our parents, like the Blessed Virgin, occupies a unique place, falling between the commandments about loving God and those about loving our neighbor. This, in turn, helps us to recognize the singular place parents occupy in the lives of their children. It also points us to the unique role of the Blessed Virgin in God’s plan of salvation.

The Greek word for the worship, or more accurately, the adoration, that is due to God and God alone is latria. Similarly, the Greek word for the veneration we give to the saints is dulia. The very cool Greek term used to describe the uniqueness of our relationship to Our Lady is hyperdulia, which means something like “super” veneration, which falls short of worship, but consists of more than merely veneration.

When we look at sacred art depicting the first Christian Pentecost we often see our Blessed Mother sitting in the middle of the twelve, when, in fulfillment of her son’s promise, the Holy Spirit descends on them, appearing, not as a dove, but as tongues of fire (Acts 2:1-3). In our reading from First Corinthians we hear a very good explanation, given by St. Paul, of the role the Spirit plays both in the life of the Church, especially in local assembly, or parish, and in the lives of individual Christians.

Marriage at Cana, by Giotto, 1306


Regarding the Holy Spirit, it is important to note something St. Paul wrote in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, namely that “the Lord is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:17a), which is what we profess in the Creed when we acknowledge the Holy Spirit as Dóminum et vivificántem, or, “the Lord, the giver of life.” However, we do not profess the Holy Spirit as Lord in such a way as to negate what we profess earlier in the Creed: “I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ.” Something written by theologian and New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson helps us to reconcile this: “The Holy Spirit is the mode of Jesus’ resurrection presence to the world” (Living Jesus 15). The word “mode” is a little technical, but simply means “way.” So the Holy Spirit is the way Jesus remains present in and for the world. Of course, the primary actions of the Holy Spirit that make Jesus present in and for the world are the sacraments, especially the Eucharist of which we partake and from whence, empowered by the Spirit, we are sent out to make Jesus manifest. Our making Jesus manifest it what it means to say the Church is "apostolic." It is the Holy Spirit that impels us to heed the exhortation of today’s Psalm response: “Proclaim his marvelous deeds to all the nations.”

In our reading from First Corinthians, St. Paul does not undertake to set forth a comprehensive list of spiritual gifts, but give to give the Church at Corinth an idea of the great diversity of the Spirit’s many, perhaps innumerable, gifts. Moreover, he insists that the Spirit gives all the baptized some “manifestation of the Spirit… for some benefit” (1 Cor. 12:7). Just as the great gift of the Eucharist is misconceived if we see it as an end in itself, so are the gifts given us by the Spirit. We need to be good stewards of the gifts the Spirit bestows on each one of us. This requires us to discern our gifts and then put them to good and constant use as our way of making Jesus manifest. It is in this way that we heed Our Lady’s admonition, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:7). If you were read the four canonical Gospels as one continuous book, these words (i.e., “Do whatever he tells you”) are the last spoken by the Blessed Virgin Mary. Especially during this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, we should pray often: Veni Sancte Spiritus, veni per Mariam- “Come Holy Spirit, come through Mary.”

* While this is something I rarely do, today's homily is an updated and expanded version of one I gave in January 2013

Friday, January 15, 2016

"I was always looking left and right"

In addition to David Bowie's passing, this week also marks the thirty-ninth anniversary of the release of his album Low, the first album of his so-called Berlin Trilogy. After spending several years in southern California once he "hit it big," Bowie retreated to Berlin to recover from his lifestyle of excess, which resulted in a fairly serious cocaine addiction.

Bowie later claimed to only have sketchy memories of his time in California, even claiming not to remember recording his Station to Station album. Station to Station was the album just prior to Low. While I am sure there is some truth to his reported lack of memory, it's easy to imagine there were things he later simply preferred not to remember, perhaps like the episode involving the 15 year-old Sable Starr (see "Oh! You Pretty Things: Spotlight on David Bowie and Catholic Sex Scandals"). Speaking of his time in Berlin, Bowie observed that by moving there from California he moved from the cocaine capital of the world to the "smack" (i.e., heroin) capital, but he had "no taste for smack." And so it appears Bowie got clean in Berlin.



The Rolling Stone Album Guide says that Low is "the music of an overstimulated mind in an exhausted body . . . [the album] sashays through some serious emotional wreckage." In an article posted yesterday on the anniversary of Low's release, Frankie Deserto tells the story of how Low began as the soundtrack for Bowie's film The Man Who Fell to Earth, for which it was rejected, and later became a seminal album, making many critical 100 best album lists: "David Bowie: Low."

Our Friday traditio for today is "Always Crashing the Same Car" off Low:



I would also draw your attention to Henry Rollins' remembrance of Bowie, which he accomplishes through the prism of Bowie's last album Blackstar:
Blackstar is on the level of Low, Heroes or any of Bowie’s standout works. It is hard to listen to because it was obviously written with his [terminal] condition in mind. The final lyric of the last track, "I Can’t Give Everything Away," repeats the song title over and over, like a mantra, and makes me want to chase after him as the song fades away, pleading with him not to go
It seems that, at least for Rollins, Bowie's Blackstar has the effect of what I might call in my pedestrian manner of writing, "good art" in that by listening to it he confronts his own mortality- ars moriendi. Today I plan to listen to Blackstar in its entirety for the first time.

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It's impossible not to mention the passing of actor Alan Rickman, who, like Bowie, passed this week at age 69. His passing was also due to the terminal effect that cancer has on so many of its victims. Almost without doubt, Rickman's best work as an actor was on stage. But his film Truly, Madly, Deeply has rightly been described as a minor masterpiece. But as an unabashed Harry Potter enthusiast, I have to state that Rickman was nothing short of sublime in his portrayal of Severus Snape. Hence, I can't help posting Rickman's take on the fascinating character of one of J.K. Rowlings' best creations:



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Ars Moriendi, by Marcos Carrasquer

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Baptism of Jesus: Divine and Human Paternity

I am not surprised that the best thing I read this year on the Lord’s Baptism was written by an Evangelical pastor. Writing in Christianity Today, Jeff Strong, who pastors a Covenant Evangelical Church in British Columbia, shares his experience of growing up with a Dad whom he describes as being apathetic towards him. While he admits that his father’s indifference, which persists even now, still haunts him, he shares a powerful testimony to the healing power of the Gospel. The power of his testimony does not lie in some silly, imagined “cure” of the kind often claimed by people who would simply rather not grapple with things as they are, such as a moment when his Dad’s indifference simply stopped mattering to him (I think one would have to question the divine origin of such a realization), but derives its power directly from the Gospel.

I was blessed with a loving father. However, my Dad (who passed away 5 years ago next week) and I were very different people. We went through a fairly prolonged, but not bitter, estrangement for 5-6 years when I was in my 20s. I have no doubt this stemmed from the choices I made that either actually disappointed him or that I imagined disappointed him. Chief among these would be leaving Mormonism and becoming Catholic, perhaps followed closely by my decision to study Philosophy and History, which he largely viewed as a waste of time and money. Our estrangement, which was never total, only ended when I married. No matter what, I knew my Dad loved me. We had a wonderful relationship the last 18 years of his life, a grace for which I am very grateful.

Unlike Strong, my Dad was neither apathetic nor indifferent towards me, but neither was he terribly pushy, even if he did take opportunities once in a while to criticize me, especially when I was younger and simply trying to find my way in the world. I accepted then as I do now that it is sometimes a father’s duty to set forth expectations for his children, especially as they become young adults. In my experience both as a son and as a father, this can cause resentment and bitterness on both sides. Nonetheless, I think it’s important to help my children move from being what I call pseudo-adults, someone who has reached his majority and claims all the rights and prerogatives of adulthood, to becoming an authentic adult, someone who also assumes the duties and responsibilities that come with being an adult.

While it is certainly no original conclusion, my overall point is that human fathers are, well, human. Stretching my articulation of the obvious, children of human fathers are also human. Being human not only means that we’re limited, but also that we’re sinful. In other words, we can do the right things in the wrong way; good intentions don’t always result in good acts.

In my 21+ years of being a father I know it is all too easy to violate St Paul’s exhortation not to provoke our children (Eph 6:4; Col 3:21). I know I am guilty of such provocations, especially when I consider my relationship with my oldest son. The transliterated Greek word translated “provoke” in Ephesians 6:4 is paragizo, which means something like “do not deliberately anger.” In Colossians 3:21 the transliterated Greek word translated as “provoke” is ereqizo, which comes closer to meaning “exasperate.” I am convinced that, at some point, all of us must learn to accept the humanity of our parents, which means, among other things, forgiving them for things both real and imagined. At least for me, this was/is no easy thing.



Commenting on Jesus’ baptism according to St Mark’s account of the Lord's baptism, which is conveyed in three verses (Mark 1:9-11), Strong notes, “We witness both beauty and heartache.” This theophany, which is the first explicit manifestation of God’s triunity, this “outpouring of love and affirmation from the Father,” occurs prior to the Lord “setting his face toward Jerusalem – and toward the cross.”

Strong points out a fact in light of the chronology of our Lord’s life: this outpouring of the Father’s infinite and æternal love for his Son occurs before Jesus performs one deed, utters one teaching, or performs one miracle. This is genuine fatherhood! “God,” Strong points out, “is the kind of Father who would disrupt reality in order to show his Son just how much he delights in and loves him.”

Rather than being off-putting, the divine paternity of God should be the rock on which we, as Christians, build our lives. Improbably, no matter what, God loves you and there’s nothing you can do about it. Jesus Christ is proof-positive that we are God’s children whom he loves and with whom he is well pleased: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

Like most fundamental tenets of our faith, God’s perfect paternity is both a comfort and a provocation. It seems to me that God’s perfect fatherhood must be a comfort before it can serve as a provocation. In contrast to how a variant of “provocation” is used in the verses from Ephesians and Colossians I invoked earlier, in this context “provocation” means pro + vocation = for my divine calling.

This strikes me as a fitting note for me as I embark on this brief season of Ordinary Time, which I plan to use as a preparation for the holy season of Lent.

Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie, RIP

Like many people, I was surprised to learn early this morning that David Bowie passed away. His passing came two days after his sixty-ninth birthday. It was on his last birthday that his 25th album, Blackstar, was released. No doubt there are many better places where you can read about David Bowie’s life and accomplishments. I just wanted to pass along some thoughts one might expect to find on the blog of a clergyman on the passing of such an influential artist.

One cannot have any familiarity with David Bowie’s life and music and not have a sense of the depth from whence most of it came. I found it interesting to read in an article in the Guardian newspaper that Bowie did not consider himself to be a naturally gifted performer and once confessed that he did not really enjoy performing live. The same article quotes Bowie as saying, "My entire career, I’ve only really worked with the same subject matter. The trousers may change, but the actual words and subjects I’ve always chosen to write with are things to do with isolation,abandonment, fear and anxiety," then in what I can only imagine to be a wry tone, he said, "all of the high points of one’s life."

David Bowie in 2013

In 2004 he told Ellen DeGeneres that he tried Christianity at one point. Apparently the point at which he tried turning to Christ was a very low-point, occurring shortly after he achieved fame with his Ziggy Stardust persona, towards the end of a few years he spent mostly in Southern California in the grip of what was, by all accounts, a serious cocaine addiction. As Leonardo Blair wrote in a Christian Post article, it was at that time he wrote what was probably his most explicitly religious song - "Station to Station," which is deeply rooted in the Stations of the Cross.

In a 2003 BeliefNet interview, when asked if his questions about reality had changed over the years, Bowie replied,
I honestly believe that my initial questions haven't changed at all. There are far fewer of them these days, but they're really important. Questioning my spiritual life has always been germane to what I was writing. Always. It's because I'm not quite an atheist and it worries me. There's that little bit that holds on: "Well, I'm almost an atheist. Give me a couple of months
In the same interview, when asked what his priorities were over the next few years, he talked about how over the previous 10 years his life had stabilized after his marriage to Somali-born model, Iman, and how at ease he was with being "a family-oriented guy," which he said he didn’t previously think was part of his makeup. "But," he quipped, "somebody said that as you get older you become the person you always should have been, and I feel that’s happening to me." He then added, "I’m actually like my dad!"

Even then, 13 or so years before his death, as a man in his mid-50s, with reference to God, Bowie sagely observed, "That's the shock: All clichés are true. The years really do speed by. Life really is as short as they tell you it is. And there really is a God--so do I buy that one? If all the other clichés are true... Hell, don't pose me that one." The interview ended on that note.

Here's a video for the song "Lazarus" off his Blackstar album:



Look up here, I'm in heaven
I've got scars that can't be seen
I've got drama, can't be stolen Everybody knows me now

Look up here, man, I'm in danger
I've got nothing left to lose...

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Baptism of the Lord

The significance of his Baptism by John in the River Jordan is one of the mysteries of our Lord's life that is very often overlooked or underplayed. Our Eastern Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters refer to today's feast as the "Feast of the Holy Theophany." A "theophany" is when God manifests himself in a manner detectable by our senses.

It's easy to miss that in our Gospel for today's feast that, immediately following his baptism, Jesus is confirmed (Luke 3:15-16.21-22). Because he is the anointed One, the Messiah, Jesus is anointed directly by the Holy Spirit, who descended on him in the form of a dove, as the voice of the Father declares that he is the Father's beloved Son. This is the Theophany of the Most Holy Trinity, God making himself fully manifest for the first time in Scripture.

All four canonical Gospels agree that his baptism by John marked the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. I think that one reason why the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is so closely linked on the liturgical calendar to his Nativity (in the United States it brings the season of Christmas to its end) is because these events set in motion the Paschal Mystery, which is the very mystery of our redemption.



Our brothers and sisters who observe today's feast as the Theophany also see his baptism as making holy all the waters of the world. As we see in the blessing of water in our Roman Catholic baptismal rite, water is both necessary for life and, at times and under the right conditions, a deadly force.

In baptism God claimed you as his own. When you were baptized, you were called by name. Through baptism God made what was implicit in you explicit. In the waters of baptism we are reborn as God's children, which adoption is only made possible by Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.

As he ascended, the Lord sent his disciples (his sending is what made them apostles) to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in God's thrice holy name (Matt 28:16-20). It was on the first Christian Pentecost that 3,000 people were baptized in response to Peter's preaching (Acts 2:14-41). Such has been the case for more than 2,000 years. We, too, are sent to proclaim the Gospel, to glorify the Lord by our lives, to make disciples of all nations. In order to make disciples, you must first be a disciple.

In light of his own baptism, we certainly Jesus by receiving baptism ourselves. As I pondered today's feast, an event from Jesus' life popped into my mind is when Peter wanted to walk on water to the Lord, who was himself walking on the water (Matt 14:22-36). At the Lord's urging Peter stepped out of the boat and began to walk on the water of the Sea of Galilee. But he lacked faith and so he sunk. As he sunk, Peter cried out "Lord, save me!" St Matthew tells us, "Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, 'O you of little faith, why did you doubt?'" Who knows, perhaps that was Peter's baptism?

Friday, January 8, 2016

"It takes strength to be gentle and kind"

Since the end of the year is always such whirlwind, I've deliberately taken it a bit easier now the we're in 2016. Since last Friday was New Year's Day, the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, I chose not to post a traditio. Choosing thusly I missed a great chance to post U2's "New Year's Day." Oh well, a bit cliché n'est ce pas?



Today I had that procedure, highly recommended for people as we turn 50. Maybe it's because my Dad was killed by cancer that I was so nervous and, frankly, a bit scared. My results seem to indicate a clean bill of health. I am grateful that after I was prepped and waiting to go into the procedure room (sounds omninous in a kind of Huxleyan way, which is how it felt- I hate hospitals and airports), I was able to pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary and utter a few Memorarés. While it may seem overly dramatic, it was an opportunity to usefully contemplate mortality. Whenever I am consciously confronted with my mortality, I ask the Blessed Virgin for the grace of not dying without benefit of the sacraments.

I recovered quickly enough from the anesthesia and found my lovely wife waiting beside me. Seeing her smiling face was wonderful. I am very grateful, too, for the many friends who prayed for me yesterday and today.

After I arrived home, we made breakfast and listened to The Smith's. The first song I heard was "I Know It's Over" off their 1986 The Queen is Dead album. It sounded lovely to me on a gray, cold, semi-snowy January day. Hence, "I Know It's Over" is our first Friday traditio of 2016:



It's so easy to laugh
It's so easy to hate
It takes strength to be gentle and kind
Over, over, over, over

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Epiphanising the Epiphany

At least to my mind and ear "epiphany" is a wonder-filled word. According to any useful dictionary, our English word "epiphany" comes to us via the Middle English word epiphanie, derived from Anglo-French through the Latin epiphania. Before Latin, the word originated in the Greek epiphaneia, which simply refers to an appearance, or manifestation. We typically use the word to refer to the appearance or manifestation of something, or someone, that is not only significant in some way, but an appearance pregnant with meaning, a manifestation that goes deeper than what appears to our senses, having what I will call, for lack of a better term, spiritual resonance.

James Joyce made use of "epiphany" as a literary tool throughout his oeuvre. In his posthumously-published autobiographical work, Stephen Hero - which work was the basis of his A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - Joyce defined what he meant when he used "epiphany." Stephen Hero's epiphany about epiphanies happened one evening as he was strolling down a Dublin street ("Eccles' St," according to Joyce). As he walked he became aware of a young woman speaking to a young man on the steps "of one of those brown brick houses which seem the very incarnation of Irish paralysis." Stephen overhears the young woman telling the young man, no doubt in an effort to be demure, that she had just been at chapel. To this the young man responds with something inaudible to Stephen, but something to which the young woman "softly" replies, "0 ... but you're ... ve ... ry ... wick ... ed." Joyce conveys that "This trivialit*y made [Stephen] think of collecting many such moments together in a book of epiphanies."
By an epiphany [Stephen] meant 'a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself. He believed that it was for the man of letters to record these epiphanies with extreme care, seeing that they themselves are the most delicate and evanescent of moments. He told Cranly that the clock of the Ballast Office was capable of an epiphany. Cranly questioned the inscrutable dial of the Ballast Office with his no less inscrutable countenance:

-Yes, said Stephen. I will pass it time after time, allude to it, refer to it, catch a glimpse of it. It is only an item in the catalogue of Dublin's street furniture. Then all at once I see it and I know at once what it is: epiphany.

-What?

-Imagine my glimpses at that clock as the gropings of a spiritual eye which seeks to adjust its vision to an exact focus. The moment the focus is reached the object is epiphanised. It is just in this epiphany that I find the third, the supreme quality of beauty [italicizing mine]
The third "supreme quality of beauty" to which Joyce's protagonist refers was articulated by Aquinas, no doubt explicating Aristotle. Stephen goes on to opine that cataloging epiphanies can only be done "with the aid of the lantern of tradition," that is, he must work from an aesthetic theory. With this he wades into a discourse on beauty according to the Angelic Doctor (i.e., Thomas Aquinas):
You know what Aquinas says: The three things requisite for beauty are, integrity, a wholeness, symmetry and radiance. Some day I will expand that sentence into a treatise. Consider the performance of your own mind when confronted with any object, hypothetically beautiful. Your mind to apprehend that object divides the entire universe into two parts, the object, and the void which is not the object. To apprehend it you must lift it away from everything else: and then you perceive that it is one integral thing, that is a thing. You recognise its integrity. Isn't that so?


With this introduction Stephen proceeds to unpack for poor Cranly Aquinas' three qualities. While it doesn't seem that Cranly is very interested from get-go, this does not begin to become apparent to Stephen until his companion is distracted by the antics of a drunk man who has just been thrown out of a bar. It seems that while Stephen, in the wake of his awakening, is content to discourse about epiphanies, Cranly simply pays attention to what is going on around him, reminiscent of Stephen's walk down Eccles' St.
Having finished his argument Stephen walked on in silence. He felt Cranly's hostility and he accused himself of having cheapened the eternal images of beauty. For the first time, too, he felt slightly awkward in his friend's company and to restore a mood of flippant familiarity he glanced up at the clock of the Ballast Office and smiled:

-It has not epiphanised yet, he said
How often have you felt like Stephen after engaging in a discourse? You know, the kind you launch into, telling someone how to build a watch when she only asked you what time it was. I don't know about you, but I have to be careful not to cheapen "the eternal images of beauty." One way of reading this Joycean excerpt, the way I read it today, is by refusing to accept it as a case of Stephen casting pearls before swine and seeing it, instead, as an instance in which a swine dons pearls and sashays about like a great beauty.

So-called "apologetics" often cheapens images of eternal beauty. To live faith apologetically can render you blind to daily life, to what is unfolding right in front of you in all its beauty and complexity. Faith that is truly faith does not seek to apply pre-fabricated answers to life's pressing and persistent questions and quandaries. As Msgr Giussani often noted, what is needed is not a discourse, but a witness. To take our cue from Joyce: the mystery of God-made-man-for-us has to be epiphanised.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

A month or so ago I ordered a used copy of David Wilbourne's little book A Virgin's Diary. In the book, Wilbourne, who serves as a bishop for the Anglican Church in Wales, creates an imaginary diary for the Blessed Virgin Mary during her pregnancy with our Lord. As one might suspect the entries run the gamut from mundane, to funny, to whimsical, to quite insightful. It certainly is not a book everyone would like, but I am enjoying it immensely.

Appropriate to today's solemnity is something from an entry in which Mary, or Miriam as she is called in the diary, accompanies Zechariah to Jerusalem for his first service in the Temple since the birth of his son, John (the Baptist). In the early morning of the second day the young, pregnant virgin goes for a walk that takes her down through the Kidron valley and up the Mount of Olives. Once on the mount she is amazed by the glory of what she sees as she looks over the holy city. But her amazement "is quickly replaced by another feeling." As the change occurs she begins to shiver "with sheer terror, dread at what lies ahead." She begins to doubt her fiat: "What on earth am I doing, going along with all this? How can I, or my yet-to-be-born son, ever hope to make even the slightest impact . . .?" In Wilbourne's telling she is referring specifically to making an impact on the Jewish religious system rooted in Temple worship, which worship she participated in the previous day. In her despondency, she tells God "let's forget all about it."

In his imaginary account, Wilbourne writes that God "is surprisingly upbeat" in response to Miriam's near despair. "This is a fresh start," He tells the young woman. "Through you and our baby, I want people to know that I'm into everything, all the squalor, all the heartbreaks, all the pain, all the pregnancy sickness, that nothing in all creation is beyond my reach." God ends this disquisition by telling the despondent young woman, "That's incarnation girl! I want to abolish the sacred by shouting out that everything is sacred!"

I am tempted to end my post here, but I like where Wilbourne takes the dialogue. In reply, the young Miriam says, "A laudable ambition . . . As a sermon, that deserves a straight alpha. But doesn't it seem a funny way to go about it, kicking off the [God's]-Into-Everything-Show with a virgin birth. It does give the teeniest weeniest impression that you ain't into sex." God replies: "Oh no, I passionately believe that with delight and tenderness couples may know each other through love . . . But we had to go for a virginal conception so I could put my signature to the venture from the start. No more or no less than that. Don't worry Miriam, I won't let you down. We'll win through. Remember that I am with you."



Reflecting on her encounter, Miriam notes that remembering God is with her, far from being a comfort at this point, causes her to "shake more with terror." As she makes her way back into the city she is overcome with weariness. She sits down and begins to weep. As she sits weeping a donkey nuzzles her and stays by her side. Miriam climbs onto the donkey's "cross-marked back" and rides back into Jerusalem.

As my friend, Fr Peter Nguyen, SJ, noted in a brief exchange we had concerning Reformed theology- theology without a Marian dimension leaves one cold. Specifically he wrote, "To tell/theologize the story of Christ is to also tell/theologize about his mother."

In light of Wilbourne's welcome reflection on Christ's mother, here's something most relevant by Edward Schillebeeckx, OP, from his classic book on sacramental theology, Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God: "The incarnation is not merely a Christmas event. To be man is a process of becoming man; Jesus' manhood grew throughout his earthly life [here I would invoke Luke 2:52], finding its completion in the supreme moment of the incarnation, his death, resurrection and exaltation. Only then is the incarnation fulfilled to the very end."

Remember, O Most Blessed Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided.

Happy New Year!