Friday, December 30, 2016

"I don't know why sometimes I get frightened"

Because Christmas fell Sunday this year today Roman Catholics observe the Feast of the Holy Family. This feast is usually observed on the Sunday after Christmas. In my years serving at The Cathedral of the Madeleine I almost always preached on this feast. We celebrate this wonderful feast, which highlights the fact that despite the unusual circumstances surrounding His birth, God saw fit that His only begotten Son be born into a family so that He would have the care of both a mother and a father. I rather like the Alternative Prayer for today's feast provided in the Liturgy of the Hours:
Father in heaven, creator of all,
your ordered the earth to bring forth life
and crowned its goodness by creating the family of man.
In history's moment when all was ready,
you sent your Son to dwell in time,
obedient to the laws of life in our world.
Teach us the sanctity of human love,
show us the value of family life,
and help us to live in peace with all men
that we may share in your life forever.
We ask this through Christ our Lord
As theologian Dr. Tim O'Malley wrote: "The feast of the Holy Family is a celebration of divine solidarity. It's not about trying to save ourselves through becoming the perfect family."




Just because, or, as the Monty Python players used to announce at various points of their television show The Flying Circus, "And now for something completely different," our final Friday traditio of 2016 is one of the best New Wave songs of the 1980s- Split Enz singing "I Got You":



Maybe it's because I have marriage and relationships weighing heavily on my mind due to the fact that my task the rest of today is to finish my pastoral psychology term paper, which is on fostering intimacy in marriage and this can't help but cause me to indulge my own insecurities, even if just a little:
Look at you, you're a pageant
You're everything, that I've imagined
Something's wrong, I feel uneasy
You show me, tell me you're not teasin'
I know this is kind of a weak post with which to end the year, but 2016 would be a difficult year to sum up. How blessed we are that one year gives way to another; the future flows from the past through the present. So, to both of my readers, I pray only for God to pour out His blessings upon you as we approach that crucial junction that splits off into 2017.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Καθολικός διάκονος: 2016 Year in Review

The end is near. Well, at least the Year of Our Lord 2016. For me this year was very much a mixed bag. Culturally, 2016 was a devastating year. It began with the passing of David Bowie and Glenn Frey in January and culminated with the passing of George Michael and Carrie Fisher (whose death I learned about as I was composing this post). For me this year was a busy year. Frankly, it was much busier than I cared for it to be.

In July I marked 10 years of continuous blogging. However, August marked 11 years since I established this weblog (you'll notice 6 posts from that year- then a big break). It seems remarkable that still I have the desire to keep going, but I do. Way back when I started blogging regularly I grappled with why I blogged. It took me several years to realize that I blog because it is a vehicle of personal growth for me. Certainly I hope what I write is meaningful to others as well. If blogging had no value for me I wouldn't do it. It's too difficult.

This year I will finish with 163 or 164 posts, depending on whether I post anything on New Year's Eve. With the exception of 2005, which I am not sure really counts, it is the fewest posts ever. I figured out several years ago that "chasing" the headlines is no way to blog.



With that, below is a list of posts, one from each month, I think worth highlighting at the end of the year. It is something of a "greatest hits" compilation. I don't include my homilies for consideration. As always (though I've never had anyone take me up on the offer), I welcome any comments letting me know what, if anything, from my blog was meaningful to you this year.

December: An Advent Prayer

November: All right, then, have it your way

October: Visions of Scuppers: Doing the things that matter

September: "Why do you come here?": Dispatch from distraction

August: Without theories, facts make no sense

July: Criticizing the critics, going to bat for the Pope, and citing Nietzsche

June: "I was standing/You were there/Two world's collided"

May: Blogospherical bitching and missionary discipleship

April: More on sex by a believing deacon

March: Certain matters of sex and the believing deacon

February: I am not giving up alcohol for Lent

January: Epiphanising the Epiphany

Happy New Year. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, the solemnity of which we celebrate on New Year's Day, watch over you and frutfully intercede on your behalf in 2017.

Monday, December 26, 2016

On the Feast of Stephen

Christmas is not over. It's just beginning. The only people for whom Christmas is over are those who skipped Advent. Today is but the second day of Christmas, the day my true love gave to me two turtledoves. Why turtledoves? Turtle doves symbolize love and faithfulness because they mate for life, work together to build nests and raise their young together. Like marriage itself, this first and foremost points to God's faithfulness to us.

According to the law of Moses (see Leviticus 12:8), two turtle doves could replace a lamb as the sacrifice prescribed for consecrating a firstborn son to God. Because they were poor, St Joseph and the Blessed Virgin sacrificed two turtle doves, or maybe even two pigeons (Luke 2:24), in obedience to what the law required of them. It is for these reasons that turtle doves are still associated with Christmas.

Being the second day of Christmas, today is also the Feast of St Stephen. Stephen was one of the seven Spirit-filled men chosen by the primitive Church in Jerusalem, which was led by the Apostles, to ensure that the Greek-speaking widows received their fair amount of food in the daily distribution. The primitive Church described in Acts held all things in common. A dispute had arisen that, apparently, was taking up too much of the Apostles' time. Time they felt their time was better spent in prayer and preaching the Good News.

Pretty soon some of these seven Spirit-filled men, specifically Stephen and Philip, who have been considered the first deacons at least since the time of St Ireneaus of Lyons (late 100s to early 200s), were themselves proclaiming the saving power of Jesus Christ. Stephen, who was stoned to death for his witness, has an entire chapter, Acts 7, dedicated to his activities. It contains a long discourse that gives us, I think (I am with Martin Hengel, a learned New Testament scholar who insisted, contra many, on the historical accuracy of the Acts of the Apostles), the basic content of Stephen's preaching.

The Stoning of St. Stephen, by Michail Damaskinos

In no way did Stephen imitate our Lord more than when, as he was being hit with stones thrown by the angry mob, incited by a Pharisaical fanatic known as Saul of Tarsus, a graduate of the Gamaliel Rabbincal school, he pleaded for those stoning him: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). I am convinced that Saul's conversion was the Lord's answer to Stephen's prayer and his subsequent intercession for the man we know as St Paul, the Apostle.

Along with St Martin of Tours, on whose feast I was born (11 November), St Stephen (Stephen being my middle name and my Dad's name) is my patron saint from birth. Perhaps I was destined to be a deacon. Above all, a deacon is a witness (in Greek martyr) to the saving power of Christ. THese are the reasons that St Stephen has been the patron saint of Kαθολικός διάκονος since its inception (my blog existed for a little more than year as Scott Dodge for Nobody).

St Stephen, deacon and proto-martyr, on this, your feast day, pray for us.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Urbi et Orbi- Christmas 2016



URBI ET ORBI MESSAGE
OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF
FRANCIS


Christmas 2016


Dear Brothers and Sisters, Happy Christmas!

Today the Church once more experiences the wonder of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph and the shepherds of Bethlehem, as they contemplate the newborn Child laid in a manger: Jesus, the Saviour.
“For to us a child is born,
To us a son is given.
And the government will be upon his shoulder;
and his name will be called
“Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Is 9:6)
The power of this Child, Son of God and Son of Mary, is not the power of this world, based on might and wealth; it is the power of love. It is the power that created the heavens and the earth, and gives life to all creation: to minerals, plants and animals. It is the force that attracts man and woman, and makes them one flesh, one single existence. It is the power that gives new birth, forgives sin, reconciles enemies, and transforms evil into good. It is the power of God. This power of love led Jesus Christ to strip himself of his glory and become man; it led him to give his life on the cross and to rise from the dead. It is the power of service, which inaugurates in our world the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice and peace.

For this reason, the birth of Jesus was accompanied by the angels’ song as they proclaimed:
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” (Lk 2:14).
Today this message goes out to the ends of the earth to reach all peoples, especially those scarred by war and harsh conflicts that seem stronger than the yearning for peace.


The Nativity of the Lord: Mass During the Day

Readings: Isa 52:7-10-12; Ps 98:1-6; Heb 1:1-6; John 1:1-8

My dear friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, through whom by the power the Holy Spirit, we are God’s adopted children by virtue of our re-birth in water and the Spirit at our Baptism, Merry Christmas! How beautiful it is that we are here together, as Christ’s Body, celebrating the great mystery of His Incarnation; the Incarnation of the Son of God, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, who for us and our salvation came down from heaven.

It’s important, I think, to be reminded that prior to being born in the manger in Bethlehem, Jesus existed from all eternity as the Father’s only begotten Son. When we say in the Creed that the Son- Jesus Christ- is consubstantial, or, perhaps better-stated “one in being with,” the Father, we mean that, like the Father and the Spirit, He is “true God from true God, begotten, not made.” You see, like begets like. Human parents beget human children, lions beget lion cubs, sea horses beget seahorses, and so it goes throughout nature. The divine Father eternally begets His divine Son. This is what Tradition tells us St John meant when he concisely wrote:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be (John 1:1-3)
The great mystery we celebrate here at Christ+Mass on Christmas Day is also concisely and beautifully set forth by St John a little later on in the prologue to his Gospel, which is our Gospel reading today:
And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth (John 1:14)
The Word becoming flesh for us and for our salvation is what Christmas is all about. This is the Gospel, the good news. Prior to the Word becoming flesh, as the inspired author of Hebrews tells, God spoke in varied yet partial (as opposed to complete) ways. “But,” St Paul wrote in his Letter to the Galatians, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption” (Gal 4:4). In Christ Jesus, the Father, by the power of their Holy Spirit, whose overshadowing resulted in the Blessed Virgin Mary’s virginal conception of our Savior, spoke His complete word. In lyrics composed by contemporary Christian songwriter, Michael Card, the Father
spoke the incarnation, and then so was born a Son/His final word was Jesus, He needed no other one/Spoke flesh and blood so He could bleed and make a way Divine/And so was born a baby who would die to make it mine
“When [Christ] had accomplished purification from sins,” we heard in our second reading, “he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high…” (Heb 1:3b). But He will not remain there because He is coming back to bring to fulfillment what He began in a manger in Bethlehem of Judea. It is because of Jesus’ divinity and humanity that we have received “grace in place of grace” (John 1:16).

Nativity by Rembrandt, 1654

Through Moses, God gave the law, which ultimately only served to move the chosen people farther from God, not nearer. Jesus came to bring God’s grace and truth, God’s salvation. The name “Jesus” means “God saves.”

In his homily for Christmas Day 45 years ago, Bl Pope Paul VI said,
God could have come wrapped in glory, splendor, light and power, to instill fear, to make us rub our eyes in amazement. But instead he came as the smallest, the frailest and weakest of beings. Why? So that no one would be ashamed to approach him, so that no one would be afraid, so that all would be close to him and draw near him, so that there would be no distance between us and him. God made the effort to plunge, to dive deep within us, so that each of us, each of you, could speak intimately with him, trust him, draw near him and realize that he thinks of you and loves you… He loves you! Think about what this means! If you understand this, if you remember what I am saying, you will have understood the whole of Christianity
In Christ, God comes near to us. We could never bridge the chasm, the gulf, between heaven and earth through our own efforts. Only Jesus Christ, true God and true man, could bridge the gap. It is as the bridge to this gap that St Catherine of Siena saw Christ in one of her mystical visions. In short, you can’t save yourself.

Because He loves you, the God who made came to save you. Just as Christ, the only begotten Son of the Father, drew near to us by being born of the Virgin Mary, wrapped in rags, and laid in an animal’s feeding trough, He draws even nearer to us in this Eucharist. He is not content merely to draw near to you, but desires to live in you and through you.

In our first reading from the prophet Isaiah, we heard,
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation, and saying to Zion, “Your God is King!” (Isa 52:7)
Christ’s feet are beautiful because they still bear the marks where He was pierced for you. His wounds are His most beautiful feature because they show you how much He loves you. As we read in the third chapter of St John’s Gospel:
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him (John 3:16-17)

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Nativity of the Lord: Mass at Night

Readings: Isa 9:1-6; Ps 96:1-3.11-13; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14

We gather here in the darkness of a winter’s evening not only to celebrate an event that occurred over 2,000 years ago, but to express our hope in the return of that same Someone whose birth we celebrate. St Paul, in our second reading, taken from his Letter to Titus, sums up both our commemoration and our hopeful waiting very well: “The grace of God has appeared, saving all” (Titus 2:11).

God’s grace is not something abstract and theoretical. God’s saving grace is concrete; it happens in time and space. God's saving grace is Jesus the Christ. In addition to being born of the Virgin in a manger, being crucified, rising, ascending back to the Father, and sending the Holy Spirit to be His presence in us and among us until He returns, Christ showed us what godliness looks like, sounds like, smells like, feels like, and in Holy Communion, even tastes like.

Jesus shows us, in the words of the apostle, what it means “to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age” (Titus 2:12). To live in this way is what it means to live in hope, what it means to live as Christians and not as practical atheists affected by a little religious sentimentality. Paul tells Titus that living temperately, justly, and devoutly is how one hopefully awaits “the appearance of the glory of the great God… our savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). Beloved, it is Christ who delivers us from lawlessness, who cleanses us, who transforms our hearts so that we are “eager to do what is good.”

Too often in our culture Christmas is reduced to syrupy sentimentality. When we reduce the great mystery of God-made-man-for-us in this way, we deny it the power to change our lives. It is not an exaggeration to note that history, with one approximately thirty-three-year interlude, consists of two long Advents. The first extended from the Fall of our first parents to the Nativity of Jesus Christ. The second extends from Christ’s Ascension into heaven until His return in glory. During this second Advent we live in a state of tension between the already and the not-yet.

Whether we’re here when Christ returns or He calls us to Himself before then, our lives are to be shaped by the reality of the Incarnation, which, it has been observed, “is so earth-shattering that it enacts something akin to the psychoanalytic concept of trauma” on the world (Paul’s New Moment: Continental Philosophy and the Future of Christian Theology 7). A life shaped by the Incarnation of the Son of God is cruciform, that is, cross-shaped. It is a life marked by temperance, justice, and devotion to God.

To live temperately means that if you are fairly well-off or very well-off to live below your means. To live justly means to be concerned for those less well-off, who should be the recipients of you living below your means. To live devoutly means to worship God.



Christmas is about repentance because it is about the Father reconciling us to Himself through His Son by the power of their Holy Spirit. Stated simply, Christmas is an invitation to follow Jesus more closely, to let His teachings become your life. This is what it means to belong to the “people who walked in darkness” and who “have seen a great light” to be among those who previously “dwelt in the land of gloom” but on whom now “a light has shone” (Isa 9:1). In His Sermon on the Mount, our Lord taught: “your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matt 5:16). Whatever light of ours shines before others is but a reflection of that Light who shines upon us.

With our Mass earlier this evening, we brought the much-neglected season of Advent to a close. We fail to observe Advent to our own great spiritual disadvantage. Jesuit martyr, Alfred Delp, who, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was executed by the Nazis towards the end of World War II for his persistent and public resistance, observed:
The deepest meaning of Advent cannot be understood by anyone who has not first experienced being terrified unto death about himself and his human prospects and likewise what is revealed within himself about the situation and constitution of mankind in general.

This entire message about God’s coming, about the Day of Salvation, about redemption drawing near, will be merely divine game-playing or sentimental lyricism unless it is grounded upon two clear findings of fact.

The first finding: insight into, and alarm over the powerlessness and futility of human life in relation to its ultimate meaning and fulfillment . . . The second finding: the promise of God to be on our side, to come to meet us
Of all places, God came to meet us in a manger in Bethlehem. Manger is the biblical word for what we, in English, call a trough; the thing from which farm animals eat. The word manger is a French verb, simply meaning “to eat.” In turn, the French word manger is derived from the Latin verb manducare, literally meaning “to chew.”

God comes tonight to meet us in this Eucharist. The altar is the manger on which He appears under the signs of bread and wine. Just as God’s glory could only be seen through the eyes of faith in the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, that is, wrapped in rags, His coming to us in the bread and the wine can be difficult to see, which is why He lets us touch and taste Him. You see my dear friends, Christ comes not only to dwell with us. He comes to dwell in us and accomplish God’s purposes through us.

“God loves man so much,” observed Romano Guardini, “that He wants to renew the mystery of the Incarnation in every one of us. To become a true believer means to receive the risen Christ within us” (The Rosary of Our Lady 53). Or, as contemporary Christian songwriter Michael Card sang, “The mystery of life in Christ is that Christ can live in you” (“Live This Mystery”).

Friday, December 23, 2016

"Another promise fallen through"

Alfred Delp, SJ, who was executed by the Nazis towards the end of World War II for his principled resistance, wrote this about Advent:
The deepest meaning of Advent cannot be understood by anyone who has not first experienced being terrified unto death about himself and his human prospects and likewise what is revealed within himself about the situation and constitution of mankind in general.

This entire message about God’s coming, about the Day of Salvation, about redemption drawing near, will be merely divine game-playing or sentimental lyricism unless it is grounded upon two clear findings of fact.



The first finding: insight into, and alarm over the powerlessness and futility of human life in relation to its ultimate meaning and fulfillment . . . The second finding: the promise of God to be on our side, to come to meet us
"In a Big Country" by Big Country is the song for this penultimate day and ultimate Friday of Advent. It's a song of hope. The verse of this song sings hope to me is:
Because it's happened doesn't mean you've been discarded
Pull up your head off the floor, come up screaming
Cry out for everything you ever might have wanted
I thought that pain and truth were things that really mattered
But you can't stay here with every single hope you had shattered


Hope is not optimism, let alone wishing. To think otherwise is to fool yourself into thinking you're going to somehow save yourself. Such a notion is perhaps the worst self-delusion. Hope is what you have when you think or feel you have nothing else. I think this is exactly what Delp expressed. In, or in whom, do you hope? Your life tells the story your words could never express, one way or the other. Also this is little so-called "anti-culture" for the culture warriors who haven't a clue.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Year A Fourth Sunday of Advent

Readings: Isa 7:10-14; Ps 24:1-6; Rom 1:1-7; Matt 1:18-24

The author of St Matthew’s Gospel was very concerned to show from the Old Testament how Jesus was the fulfillment of the hopes of Israel. This is why he saw the ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy from our first reading today as Jesus’ birth to the Blessed Virgin Mary in Bethlehem. King Ahaz was the original recipient of this prophecy. The Hebrew word almah, which is usually translated into English as “virgin,” precisely means “a young woman of marriageable age.” Of course, Miriam of Nazareth, who is believed to have been 14 to 17 years old when she conceived and gave birth to Jesus, certainly fits that bill.

Isaiah promised the king that God would destroy his enemies. As a sign that his oracle was true, Isaiah predicted that a young woman of marriageable age would give birth to a child who would be called Immanuel, which means in Hebrew, “God is with us.” Like many of the Old Testament prophecies the author of St Matthew’s Gospel asserted that Jesus fulfilled, this prophecy also has meaning in its original context. The original context had to do with Ahaz, king of Judah, entering into an alliance with the northern kingdom of Israel and Aram-Damascus to fight against the Neo-Syrian empire, which threatened the states who sought to be allied. Of course, Jesus would come and destroy all God’s enemies, including death, and then return to definitively establish God’s reign.

This is what St Paul, in our second reading, calls “the gospel of God… the gospel about his Son, descended from David according to the flesh, but established as Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness through [his] resurrection from the dead” (Rom 1:3-4). What, or more precisely, who is “the gospel of God”? The Gospel, which means good news, is nothing and nobody except “Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 1:3).

Our Gospel reading for today is really about the “righteous” man Joseph. While the Blessed Virgin was likely a girl in her teens, Joseph was probably much older, perhaps in his 30s. I think to appreciate the birth of our Savior, it is necessary to grasp the crisis His conception created in the lives of both Joseph and the Blessed Virgin. Scripture gives us both of their perspectives. In the only two Gospels that present us with Infancy Narratives, Matthew and Luke, we have the perspective of Joseph and Mary respectively.

Betrothal was the step just before getting married. Betrothal was more than being engaged. To be betrothed was already to be committed. The main thing that occurred to change a betrothal into a marriage was for the bride to move into the groom’s home. To prevent the unexpectedly pregnant young woman from moving in, Joseph had to legally and publicly repudiate her. Joseph knew two things: how a child was normally conceived and that the child Mary conceived was not his.

Traum des hl Joseph (The Dream of St Joseph), by Anton Raphael Mengs, 1773/1774


We are told that because Joseph “was a righteous man” he did not want to expose Mary to shame. Such exposure might not only result in her being publicly shamed, it might have resulted in her death. Cheating on your betrothed amounted to adultery, which, under the law of Moses, was punishable by death. Interestingly, Joseph’s righteousness in this passage does not come from strictly obeying the law, but from his unwillingness to expose what he understandably perceived to be his adulterous betrothed to the shame and danger mandated by the law. It seems safe to conclude that, at least as far as the author of Matthew was concerned, Joseph’s unwillingness to so expose the young woman was proof of his righteousness. In other words, because Joseph was a righteous man, he extended mercy.

God then granted Joseph his own annunciation. Like his namesake, Joseph, the son of Jacob, who was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, God communicated with Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary, through dreams. An angel told him that Mary had conceived her child by the Holy Spirit, thus allaying his fears about the child’s paternity. What is noticeable in St Matthew’s narrative is that Joseph never speaks. He does what the angel directs him to do, which is to take Mary into his home as his wife. Implied by this act is Joseph assuming fatherly duties for her unborn Son. Joseph was intent to listen to and faithfully obey God, thus showing, rather than telling, us exactly what the “obedience of faith” St Paul, as an apostle, sought to bring about among the Gentiles to whom he was called to proclaim the Gospel.

We are blessed this year because Advent is as long as it can possibly be. Even after this Fourth Sunday, we have almost a week until we celebrate our Lord’s nativity. For most of us, this time of year is busy. For some of us it is downright hectic. But these “extra” days provide us the opportunity to spend time in silence, in prayer, pondering the mystery of God-made-man-for us. It allows us to prepare our hearts for Christ to be born in them anew by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I ask you to take time this week to pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary every day through Christmas Eve. This is a very fruitful way to spend time pondering the mystery of our Lord’s birth. Also, I encourage you to make a small sacrifice each day: forego sweets, or caffeine, or meat, sleep an hour less, don’t watch T.V., don't spend time on the internet. Pick one of these things each day, or pick one and be faithful to it every day. If you haven’t yet gone to confession during Advent, go this week. The Sacrament of Penance, along with the other sacraments, is only possible because of the Incarnation of God’s Son.

Above all, find time to be quiet. Light a candle in dark room and just listen, or quietly pray the Joyful mysteries. God’s first language is silence. Prayer and self-denial is how Christians, until very recently, have prepared to celebrate Christmas. As you do all of this, remember, Christmas is not only a day. It is a season. So, there is plenty of time to rejoice and celebrate.

Friday, December 16, 2016

"We need all the hope that we can get"

Our penultimate Advent Friday traditio for 2016 is The Call with "I Believe." I don't know about you, but for me the older I get life really does become more about hope. I don't think hope is the same as wishing. Not being a gifted writer, maybe the difference between the two is more subtle that I can express. But I think hope emerges from reality through genuine experience. Wishing, by contrast, is something that is more like a deus ex machina; waiting for something to happen, something that arrives from above, around, or beneath reality and experience.

From the blog Mortal Flesh

Experience has its way of clarifying what, or Who, it is I really long for. I don't consider myself old, but I am certainly not young. I guess that means I have reached that dreaded time of life we call middle age. I think in a way similar to how adolescence bridges the gap between childhood and adulthood, middle age is a bridge to old age. It's a transitional time.

Increasingly life for me is about looking for and attending to the light I see in what St Paul called "this present darkness" (Eph 6:12). In his short (less than one page) Preface to his book The Rosary of Our Lady, Romano Guardini observed: "The longer one lives, he more plainly one sees that the simple things are the truly great. But for that very reason, they are also the most difficult to master."

Anyway, The Call expresses it better that I have:



But I still believe.
I still believe.
Through the shame,
And through the grief.
Through the heartache,
Through the tears,
Through the waiting,
Through the years

Monday, December 12, 2016

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Readings: Rev 11:19a.12:1-6a.10ab; Judith 13:18-19; Luke 1:26-38

It is right at fitting that over the course of Advent we celebrate two great Marian feasts. Just last week we celebrated the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and today we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. For us, as inhabitants of the continent of North America and of the country the United States of America, these are for us very important observances. The Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe, is patroness of the Americas. Under the title Immaculate Conception, she is the patroness of these United States of America. I do not call her “Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception,” but only ‘the Immaculate Conception” because this is how she revealed her identity to St Bernadette in Lourdes, France in 1858, after the young peasant girl, at the behest of her pastor and the local authorities, had been imploring the one she called, in her local dialect, un petito damizelo, which in English is “a small young lady,” to reveal who she was.

Of course, as Our Lady of Guadalupe she revealed herself centuries before her appearances in Lourdes to another lowly person, an indigenous person, St Juan Diego. During the time he was favored with the appearances of Our Lady, Juan Diego was a catechumen. He was a member of what we today call RCIA. In other words, he was receiving instruction to be baptized. The first apparition he experienced was while walking from his home to the Franciscan mission where he was receiving instruction. According to the sources we have, the Blessed Virgin appeared to Juan five times. It was in her very first appearance that she requested, through Juan Diego, that the bishop build a chapel in her honor. The bishop Juan Zumárraga, while never seriously doubting the witness of Juan Diego, asked for a sign to authenticate what he was being told.

It was during her fourth apparition that Our Lady provided the sign requested by the bishop. Her fourth appearance took place under interesting circumstances. Juan Diego was determined to miss his appointment with Our Lady because his uncle had fallen ill and was in danger of death. As a result of his uncle’s illness, he set out to retrieve a priest to hear his uncle’s confession, anoint him and give him communion. In order to not be delayed by his appointed meeting with the Virgin, Juan chose another route, one that avoided the place he was to meet her. But she appeared along his alternate route and asked him where he was going. After Juan explained, the Virgin gently chided him for not having had recourse to her, using her most famous words to him, the words that today are etched over the main entrance to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City: ¿No estoy yo aqui que soy tu madre? (Am I not here, I who am your mother?).

The Blessed Virgin assured Juan Diego that his uncle was now completely healed. Then she instructed him to climb a nearby hill and collect flowers growing there. Heeding her instructions, Juan found many flowers growing out of season on a rocky outcrop of the hill where normally only cactus and scrub brush grew. Using his open mantle as a sack (with the ends tied around his neck) he returned to the Virgin; she re-arranged the flowers in his mantle and told him to take them to the bishop. On gaining admission to the bishop later that day, Juan Diego opened his mantle, the flowers poured to the floor, and the bishop saw they had left on the mantle an imprint of the Virgin's image which he immediately venerated. Juan’s mantle is with image of Our Lady of Guadalupe can miraculously still be seen today.

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros

Our first reading, taken from the last book of the Bible- Revelation- gives us much of the imagery we find in the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which the Virgin miraculously imprinted on the mantle of Juan Diego. This shows us that the Blessed Virgin is the one who gave birth to God’s son, who took away the curse of our first parents.

All what was predicted way back after the fall began to be fulfilled in a cave in the little town of Bethlehem, where Mary of Nazareth gave birth to her son, who she named, in obedience to what was revealed to her by the Archangel Gabriel, Jesus, which name means “God saves.” My dear friends, as our Blessed Mother herself, along with Sts Juan Diego and Bernadette Soubirous, shows us God brings about his purposes in the world through the lowly and humble, through those who the world considers nothing. Our Savior’s birth is the most perfect example of what St Paul clearly wrote about in First Letter to the Corinthians: “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God” (1:27-29).

In thinking of the flowers the Virgin used to imprint her beautiful image on Juan’s mantle, it’s important to note that our word “Rosary” comes from the Latin word rosarium. A rosarium is a garland of roses. It’s vitally important to pray the Rosary often, preferably daily. Offering our prayers and petitions and those of people who have asked for our prayers to God through her. So, don’t ever hesitate to ask the Virgin Mary to intercede for you and/or for others. She constantly says to us what she said to the humble man, Juan Diego centuries ago: ¿No estoy yo aqui que soy tu madre? - Am I not here, I who am your mother?

Sunday, December 11, 2016

An Advent prayer

It was my privilege this evening to give the closing prayer for the Bountiful Interfaith Christmas Service. The service was held in the lovely sanctuary of Bountiful Community Church. It program was well-chosen and beautifully performed. The last hymn, just before I offered the prayer, was the congregation singing of one of my favorite Christmas hymns: O Holy Night.

I had planned to use the collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent as the closing prayer. But about two-thirds of the way through the service, a prayer began to form in my heart. It was this prayer I prayed to close the service:



Lord our God,
we thank you for gathering us together in the dark of a winter's night
around the light of our shared faith in your Son, Jesus Christ.
Bless us as we prepare to celebrate his Nativity.
Prepare our hearts that he might be born in them anew by the power of your Spirit.
And may his rebirth in us bear fruit for the coming of that kingdom where
he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Lord, "show leniency towards my wretchedness"

After today the season of Advent we are currently observing makes its turn from preparing for the great and terrible day of Christ's glorious return to preparing for our celebration of the Lord's Nativity. It's important not to present these two distinct aspects of Advent as too much of a dichotomy, making up as they do the tension of living between the already and the not-yet.

As I mentioned yesterday, this week, while traveling, I read Peter Seewald's final book-length interview with Pope Emeritus Benedict: Last Testament: In His Own Words. I found some remarks by the Pope Emeritus towards the beginning of the book, where Seewald is inquiring about his post-papal, life fitting to bring this early part of Advent to a close.

Seewald asks His Holiness: The central point of your reflections was always the personal encounter with Christ. How is that now? How close have you come to Jesus? In answering this unanswerable question, the Pope Emeritus recalls an episode that happened when he was a young priest, one involving Romano Guardini, who, the Holy Father recalls, was staying as a guest at a Protestant parish in the vicinity of where he (then-Father Ratzinger) was serving as a chaplain. Benedict recalls Guardini saying to the Protestant pastor, speaking of relating to the Lord, "in old age it doesn't get easier, but harder." He shares that what Guardini said that day, "deeply impacted" him because "there is something true in it."

What Pope Benedict was finding true in Guardini's observation through his experience of living a monastic life in the Mater Ecclesiae convent in the Vatican Gardens as an old man, is that while being old one is "more deeply practiced," your life has "taken its shape." In other words, you've done what you were going to do. "On the other hand," he observes, "one feels the difficulty of life's questions more deeply, one feels the weight of today's godlessness, the weight of the absence of faith which goes deep into the Church, but then one also feels the greatness of Jesus Christ's words, which evade interpretation more often than before" (9).



Benedict's answer prompts Seewald to ask: Is this connected to a loss of God's nearness? Or with doubt? His Holiness says, referring to Scripture, "one notices that the depths of the Word are never fully plumbed." As an example he discusses an aspect of the Word that the lack of faith he mentioned previously makes most of us eager to ignore: "some words of wrath, of rejection, of the threat of judgement," saying, these "certainly become more mysterious and grave and awesome than before" (9).

A bit further on, in response to Seewald's question about whether he fears death, Pope Emeritus Benedict, wisely responds the only way a person of faith can respond, yes and no. Of particular interest to me was this: "Another thing is that, despite all the confidence I have that the loving God cannot forsake me, the closer you come to his face, the more intensely you feel how much you have done wrong. In this respect the burden of guilt always weighs on someone, but the basic trust is of course always there" (11).

A few weeks ago, commenting on the observation that "history" will judge Fidel Castro, I wrote: "'History' will not be [Castro's], or anyone else's, judge. The judgment of history is human judgment. Christ will judge Castro and all of us, living and dead, when He returns in glory. I pray that God has mercy on him, I truly do. I will need mercy on judgment day too. In fact, the plan for my defense on that day is to prostrate myself before the Judge, who is also my Savior (in Hebrew, my go'el), and say what I hope will be a perfect enough Act of Contrition." In response to Seewald's question, So when you stand before the Almighty, what will you say to him?, Pope Benedict answered simply: "I will plead with him to show leniency towards my wretchedness."

Friday, December 9, 2016

"But would you suspect My emotion wandering"

Initially, I had some fairly good plans for posting this week. But sometimes life takes precedence over writing. I didn't even put up a reflection on last week's readings. I didn't because I was busy with my final preparations for a presentation I gave for our parish on the Immaculate Conception.

Heaven forbid that I miss posting a Friday tradito! Well, alright, I miss posting these once in awhile too. While I have discovered my readers don't much care for poetry and personal, theological commentary on poems, I am gratified by the reception my weekly traditio normally receives these days. Given my depressive disposition, Advent and Lent seem particularly fruitful times to post songs.

I've shared this before, but one way I measure certain kinds of songs, especially certain love song and relationship songs, is to replace either the subject or object of the song with God and see how it works. There are plenty of very good love and relationship songs that aren't reversible in that way. Human love, especially so-called romantic love, at its best can serve as something of an analogy for divine love. By the same token the futility, pain, and anguish caused by the love of one person for another is sometimes transferable to our relationship with God, who can, at times, seem quite distant, unconcerned, and uninvolved life. This method, if you can call that, works both ways: you speaking to God or God speaking to you, perhaps even sometimes it can be a dialogue.

Pope Emeritus Benedict, while still pope

This week I read Peter Seewald's final book-length interview with Pope Emeritus Benedict: Last Testament: In His Own Words. I am not going to lie. Reading this book made me miss Pope Benedict. I remember how surprised and disappointed I was the day he announced his resignation- the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes: 11 February 2013. My wife's birthday. While there is much more I could write, I will limit myself for now to sharing the epigraph to his book, which was taken from the talk he have to the Curia at the end of their 2013 Lenten retreat, which followed almost immediately after Benedict announced his resignation to a stunned world: "Faith is nothing other than the touch of God's hand in the night of the world, and so - in the silence - to hear the word, to see love."

Our Friday traditio for this Second Friday of Advent is The Thompson Twins' "If You Were Here"

Friday, December 2, 2016

"We long for the time when all time is past "

One passion I have that clearly not too many people share, at least not people inclined to read this blog, is my passion for poetry. However, I can't promise I won't post anymore poetry or any more about poetry. It's too important to me not to do so. Besides, I don't do it nearly as much as I want to.

I have been planning all week to post something appropriate for this first Friday of Advent. "Today," I read in the Advent issue of The Word Among Us for the first day of Advent last Sunday, "it seems that Advent is much more about celebrating Jesus' first coming rather than anticipating his Second Coming." Nonetheless, "the Church reminds us to use this time to prepare for Christmas and," as the Catechism instructs us, to "renew [our] ardent desire for [Jesus'] second coming" (par 524).



This dual purpose of celebration and anticipation makes Advent a season of hope- the baby born in Bethlehem, who grew, was baptized by John in the Jordan, confirmed by the Father and the Holy Spirit as he emerged from the river, made God's reign present in his very person, called apostles, was Transfigured, healed and taught, died, was resurrected, ascended, and sent his Holy Spirit, will return again in glory.

Hope is the least understood of the theological virtues. But you can't live without hope. Life without hope is not life, it's mere survival. Life is a journey, a pilgrimage. The Church is a pilgrim people making our way to God's kingdom. This makes Advent, too, can be a journey should you choose to diverge from the path of holiday chaos and spend time seeking the Lord in prayer, in Scripture and other spiritual reading.

In English, Revelation 22:20, the penultimate verse of Revelation and, as such, of the entire Bible, in most translations, ends with the words, "Come, Lord Jesus." In the original text, these three words are one Aramaic word: maranatha. In the context, maranatha most likely an imperative statement, meaning "come, O Lord." "Maranatha" is the response to the Lord's promise he is coming soon: "The one who gives this testimony says, 'Yes, I am coming soon.' Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!" Jesus Chris is my hope.

Our Friday traditio is a repeat- Michael Card's "Maranatha"