Saturday, April 20, 2019

Triduum: Holy Saturday

Without a doubt, Holy Saturday is the weirdest day of the entire church year. It is the day we observe Christ laying dead in the tomb. An ancient Christian homily, which is the second reading for the Office of Readings on Holy Saturday, imagines what Jesus's was doing on this day between his death and his resurrection. Cutting to the chase, the preacher of this homily imagines Christ entering the shadow world, something akin to what the Greeks called "Hades." Christ's purpose for going there is to liberate those who have died from this shadow life.

In his journey to the underworld, Christ carries his cross, which the preacher identifies as the weapon with which he won his victory over death. He enters the shadowlands, the dark valley of death, to convey his victory to the souls of the just, who cannot reach their destination without crossing the bridge from the abyss to their eternal rest. At least on my telling (there is no mention of a bridge in the homily) the bridge over which they cross is Christ's cross.

Today the tabernacles in all churches are empty with their doors open to show that they are empty. The Blessed Sacrament is in the chapel or on the altar of repose, which serves as Christ's liturgical tomb. In fact, the church itself, sans the Blessed Sacrament, sits in tomb-like emptiness, dark and quiet. No masses, no weddings, no baptisms or confirmations (except perhaps for those who are in danger of death- these do not happen in the church) are celebrated today.

Usually confessions are heard on Holy Saturday. Penitents come into the dark, quiet, empty church to confess the many ways they deal in death. This death-dealing has a shorter name: sin. Going to confession on Holy Saturday, penitents speak their sins in the emptiness of the tomb. So, when they depart, having been absolved and (presumably) having made satisfaction, they do so with the assurance that their sins are dead and buried. By grace, they pray that these death-dealing words, thoughts, and actions will never again come to life in them.

The effect of sin is make you a spiritual zombie. Sin is never resurrected life. Sin is always a parasite on life. Honest penitents know themselves well enough not to be overly confident about succeeding because their strategies have largely to do with self-help methods. While such methods may help one cope, they cannot impart life eternal. Instead, the true penitent places her hope in the Lord, who is kind and merciful



A snippet from my unfocused paper on Samuel Beckett from last year seems fitting for Holy Saturday:
Heidegger once noted "absence is not nothing."1 It has been pointed out that Beckett’s works stand as "a testimony" to the truth of Heidegger’s assertion.2 The presence of God’s absence, which is most explicit in Waiting for Godot, turns into "an experience of transcendence."3 Referring to his own work, Beckett wrote: "I feel the only line is to refuse to be involved in exegesis of any kind… We have no elucidations to offer of mysteries that are all of their own making."4
Circling back to the Office of Readings for today, the first reading, which always comes from the Scriptures, is from the fourth chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews (vv. 1-13). Many exegetes hold that, like the ancient sermon for Holy Saturday, this book of the New Testament was originally a sermon.

Referencing Psalm 95, which I prayed as the first Psalm for the Office of Readings because I have been using Psalm 24 as the invitatory Psalm during Lent and now in the Triduum, noting how the generation that God liberated from Egyptian servitude was not permitted to enter the Promise Land because of their disobedience, the inspired author of Hebrews discusses entering into the Sabbath rest. This is the very same rest to which Christ invites our first parents in the ancient sermon. Again, citing Psalm 95, the author of Hebrews urges these ancient Jewish Christians, many of whom were tempted to renounce their faith in Christ Jesus, not to harden their hearts with regard to what they've heard God speak in and through Christ.

In another wholly unplanned occurrence this morning, similar to unexpectedly praying Psalm 95, I read the final chapter of the Rule of St. Benedict. Upon completing my reading of the Rule, I read Esther de Waal's commentary on that chapter. It was de Waal's commentary that struck the harmonizing chord with the Office of Readings. Noting that in the final chapter of his Rule Benedict asks his reader - "Are you hastening toward your heavenly home?," de Waal makes the connection with the passage from Hebrews 4: "The fullness of that question comes when I read these words in the context of those poetic images from Hebrews (4:11; 11:14-15)."5 These poetic images, she notes, are "of seeking a country, and of that city that God has prepared for us."6 Both the image of the country in Hebrews 4 and of the city in Hebrews 11 are "images of home that capture the imagination."7

De Waal captures beautifully how I am thinking and feeling on this Holy Saturday morning: "The need to come home, the desire to be where I belong, is something that touches one of the deepest chords in all human experience."8

I think it is very important not to be too quick to leap over Good Friday and Holy Saturday in a mad rush to celebrate the resurrection. Making our way prayerfully through the first two-thirds of the sacred Triduum makes the Easter Vigil all the more glorious.


1 Martin Heidegger, “The Thing: Epilogue,” in Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. by Alfred Hofstadter. New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1971, 184.
2 Sandra Wynands, Iconic Spaces: The Dark Theology of Samuel Beckett’s Drama. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007, 6.
3 Ibid.
4 Maggie Johnson, "Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot: A Study Guide." Scribd Website, accessed January 26, 2018, https://www.scribd.com/doc/137704505/Waiting-for-Godot-Study-Guide.
5 Esther de Waal. A Life-Giving Way: A Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1995,189.
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid., 189-190.
8 Ibid., 190.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Triduum: Good Friday

Reading: Luke 23:46

For our Good Friday traditio, I am sharing the homilette I delivered in 2007 for the seventh of Jesus's Seven Last Words. 2007 marked the first year I preached the Seven Last Words. Sadly, even at the Cathedral where I formerly served, they no longer reflect on the Lord's words from the Cross as part of Good Friday worship. Formerly, we reflected on the Seven Last Words immediately following the Good Friday service and just prior to the choir singing the Stabat Mater. In my view, when prepared for diligently, reflecting on Christ's words from the Cross as likely re-imagined and handed on by the four evangelists, are deep reflections on Christian discipleship. Anyway, for about seven years, I preached on some or all of the Lord's words from the Cross each Good Friday. Preparing my reflections comprised a health part of my Lenten spiritual practice.

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"Commendation" is what we do at the graveside when we commend our sister or brother, not to the earth, but to God. Just as “Do this in memory of me” means ever so much more than a remembering- it is a calling-to-mind in order to make present- to commend means more than to merely hand-over, or leave. In baptism, we commended ourselves to God by dying and rising in Christ to new life.

"Commendation" means to present or mention as worthy of confidence, notice, or kindness. Further, it means to entrust, to deliver with confidence, to give charge to the one who is worthy of confidence and trust. So, when our Lord commends his spirit over to the Father, he gives himself over to the One who is trustworthy, the One in whom he can place his trust and his entire being.

The life of the disciple of Christ, who is not greater than the Master, is not merely a Via Delarosa, it is a death, even a crucifixion, a kenotic emptying-out of oneself for others. When will we learn that happiness and fulfillment does not come from pursuing one’s own agenda, but seeking the good of the other? Who is this mysterious other? The other is certainly the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the homeless, the sick, the imprisoned, the addicted, and certainly those who have died. Further, the other is the sinner, the ignorant, the doubtful, the sorrowful, the injured, the unjustly accused and condemned. The other is also one’s spouse, children, parents, siblings, friends, and fellow parishioners. The Christian term for this other is neighbor. It is by redefining who our neighbor is that reveals the revolutionary nature of our Lord’s teachings as given in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

Crucifixion, by Graham Sutherland, 1946

Writing about the Song of Songs, that great allegory of God’s love for his People, Pope Benedict wrote:
In this context it is highly instructive to note that in the course of the book two different Hebrew words are used to indicate ‘love’. First there is the word dodim, a plural form suggesting a love that is still insecure, indeterminate and searching. This comes to be replaced by the word ahabà, which the Greek version of the Old Testament translates with the similar-sounding agape, which, as we have seen, becomes the typical expression for the biblical notion of love. By contrast with an indeterminate, ‘searching’ love, this word expresses the experience of a love which involves a real discovery of the other, moving beyond the selfish character that prevailed earlier. Love now becomes concern and care for the other. No longer is it self-seeking, a sinking in the intoxication of happiness; instead it seeks the good of the beloved: it becomes renunciation and it is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice (Deus Caritas Est, sec. 6)
God’s love is brilliantly revealed in Christ hanging on the cross. This love, this caritas, is a perfect unity of eros and agape. Rather than a divine discourse transmitted through a human messenger and written down, God gives us his Christ- his Son hanging alone on a cross. Furthermore, Jesus calls us to imitate him by taking up our cross and dying with him. But we do so in the confidence that as we die, like our Lord, we commend ourselves, again, as we did at our baptism, to the Father with trust and confidence that, in and through Christ, new life will come from our dying, a life without end.

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This Good Friday, I am particularly struck by the thought that a Christianity that is historically and philosophically unassailable is no Christianity at all.

Our traditio is Dan Schutte's lovely hymn "Behold the Wood of the Cross" in a very simple arrangement:

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Triduum: Holy Thursday

Readings: Ex 12:1-8.11-14; Ps 116:12.13.15-16c.17-18; 1 Cor 11:23-26; John 13:1-15

Very often the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which marks the beginning of our Christian high holy days, is reduced to the institution of the ministerial priesthood. But linked as this evening’s celebration is with Baptism, we celebrate Christ’s institution of the priesthood of all the baptized and of the Eucharist. On this holy night, Jesus once again calls you to be his disciple. Being a disciple of Jesus means not only doing the things he tells you to do, but doing what he does.

Being Jesus’s disciple means not only doing the things he commands, but doing what he does. This is exactly what Jesus instructs those whose feet he washes to do: “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,” the Lord tells them, “you ought to wash one another's feet.”1 “I have given you a model to follow,” he says, “so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”2

In St. John’s Gospel there are no apostles. The fourth Gospel features only disciples. Recognizing him as Lord, Peter at first steadfastly refuses to let Jesus wash his feet. After the Lord tells him that if he does not permit him to wash his feet, he does belong to him, Lord, Peter, in a clear reference to Baptism, demands that Jesus wash “not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.”3

In Baptism, the Lord not only washed you, but immersed you into the very life of God, who is Father, Son, and Spirit. Jesus washing the feet of his closest followers is St. John’s version of Jesus’s institution of the Eucharist. In the Synoptic Gospels (i.e., Matthew, Mark, and Luke) we find accounts of the Last Supper in which Jesus blessed the bread, broke it, and gave to his disciples, saying “this is my body.” And then blessed the wine and gave it to them to drink , saying “this is my blood.” Rather than that, John’s Gospel gives us the account of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet.

In his book The Kingdom, French writer Emmanuel Carrère writes about a retreat he went on at a L’Arch community in France. What he describes is a foot-washing ritual. For the ritual, retreatants broke up into small groups. After a short Liturgy of the Word, featuring the same reading as our Gospel for tonight and a short reflection, the groups of retreatants began washing each other’s feet. Thinking about this ritual, Carrère notes: “things could have happened differently: that the central sacrament of Christianity could be foot washing and not Communion.”4 Continuing his musing, he points out that ritual foot-washing “could be what Christians do every day at Mass, and it wouldn’t be any more absurd – less, so in fact.”5



What Carrère and many others seem to miss about John’s institution narrative is that it highlights the relationship between Baptism and Eucharist. As Catholics we affirm that there are seven sacraments. But the sacramental life of grace arises from Baptism and finds its full realization in the Eucharist.

Our second reading, taken from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, clearly shows that celebrating the Eucharist constitutes the Church’s most fundamental tradition. It is by receiving communion that you proclaim the Lord’s salvific death until he returns.6 In his Letter to the Romans, in a passage that is part of the epistle reading for the upcoming Easter Vigil, St. Paul asks the Christians in ancient Rome if they are “unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”7

As our first reading from the Book of Exodus indicates, the Eucharist is our Passover. Since the Eucharist is Jesus Christ, he is our Passover. Just as the angel of death passed over the houses of the Israelites who had marked their doorposts with the blood of the Lamb, we who have been washed by the blood of the Lamb of God pass over from death to life. If the Passover meal is a foreshadowing of the Eucharist, then passing through the sea on dry ground is an image of Baptism. Christ rescues us from sin and death through Baptism and the Eucharist.

As Catholics we affirm that you are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This confession brings up two important questions. What is faith? How do we receive God’s grace?

Answering the first question, the fruit of faith is loving your neighbor. Loving your neighbor is not primarily how you feel about him or her. You love someone by concrete acts of care and concern. Faith without works is dead.8 “Above all,” the Scriptures teach, “let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins.”9

We receive the grace that saves us, the grace that impels us to acts of charity, in the sacraments. The sacraments are the means by which God communicates grace, which is the divine life of the Blessed Trinity, to our souls. In communion we receive Christ. Receiving Christ together is what makes us Christ’s body. The Eucharist makes the Church and the Church makes the Eucharist. The Eucharist and nothing else makes St. Olaf Parish.

At the end of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, as we process with the Blessed Sacrament to the chapel of repose, we sing the exquisitely beautiful hymn Ubi Caritas. The first verse of this hymn sums up very well what this evening’s Mass is all about:
Where charity and love are, God is there.
Christ's love has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And may we love each other with a sincere heart


1 John 13:14.
2 John 13:15.
3 John 13:9.
4 Emmanuel Carrère, The Kingdon, 381.
5 Ibid.
6 1 Corinthians 11:26..
7 Romans 6:3..
8 James 2:17..
9 1 Peter 4:8..

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Hope in desolation: the burning of Notre Dame

Yesterday's belated Palm/Passion Sunday post felt right. Sometimes I get carried away with words. Once in awhile, I think, I manage to say something worth reading or listening to. In his song about the Incarnation, Michael Card sings: "You and me we use so many clumsy words/the point of what we often say is not worth being heard." This rings very true with me, especially in this age of instantaneous electronic communication that tempts me to weigh in an anything and everything.

The first casualty of my wordiness is silence. Observing Holy Week, especially these few days between Palm Sunday and the beginning of the Triduum, requires a heavy dose of silence.

I don't know about you, but watching in horror yesterday as Notre Dame de Paris burned summoned forth no words, just a gasp and feeling of great sorrow and loss, the beginnings of grief. Like virtually everyone else, I was forced to helplessly watch the fire at a distance as the fire brigades of Paris did desperate battle with the flames. What could I say except perhaps a Hail Mary or a Memorare, invoking the intercession of the Blessed Virgin as a beautiful cathedral dedicated to her was besieged by fire?

Photograph taken in the nave of Notre Dame after yesterday's fire


It seems to me that in the wake of such a loss, I need to remind myself that the Church is made of living stones. Yes, the burning of Notre Dame cathedral is a painful way to be reminded of this! Another reality, one of which I was reminded on Ash Wednesday, is that, sooner or later, everything will be reduced to dust, including myself. I suppose my consolation is my belief that I will not remain dust.

Like the woman taken in adultery, I hope that Christ Jesus will lift me from the dust, making me a new creation. The audaciousness of this hope is often lost on me. I am not sure how such a belief ever becomes routinized. Yet, somehow I succeed in doing just that. Witnessing the burning of Notre Dame is but one more proof not only that hope lies beyond optimism but that desolation is the soil from which of hope arises.

Salvation history shows us time and again that the opus Dei is bringing hope from desolation by bringing life from death. This is what Holy Week invites us to experience, whether we observe it in a magnificent cathedral or in the crudest of chapels.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Palm Sunday: Holy Week begins

Prepare ye the way for the Lord; prepare ye the way for his Kingdom



Blessed is the king who comes
in the name of the Lord.
Peace in heaven
and glory in the highest
(Luke 19:38)


Better late than never

Friday, April 12, 2019

Good Friday, Black holes, fascination w/ nothingness

It's the final Friday of Lent. Next Friday is Good Friday. Last night my diocese celebrated our annual Chrism Mass. We celebrate our Chrism Mass the week before Holy Week because our diocese consists of the entire state of Utah, some 85,000 square miles. Therefore, it would be impossible to celebrate it during the day on Holy Thursday and for everyone to be back in time to celebrate the Mass of the Lord's Supper. It is always moving for me to participate in the Chrism Mass. I look forward to Holy Thursday because at the Mass of the Lord's Supper when my parish will receive the oils consecrated by our bishop into our parish for use during the ensuing year.

Even though is is 12 April, here along the Wasatch Front of Northern Utah we received several inches of snow overnight. Yes, snow. When I arrived home from the Chrism Mass last night about 9:45 PM, I went for a walk. It was lovely, a bit warm. As I was finishing my walk, it began to rain a bit. Then, about 3:30 AM this morning, my wife, who had gotten up to get a drink of water, told me it was snowing. Yes, the snowplows are out this morning.



Anyway, this week we all saw the first picture of a black hole. This was made possible by the diligent work of a brilliant young woman named Katie Bouman. Our Friday traditio, then is the late Chris Cornell with his early grunge group, Soundgarden, singing "Black Hole Sun." I was told by a friend, after posting this video on FB, that NPR used this as the lead-in and fade to their story on the picture of a black hole.



When you think of it, picturing Jesus on the cross, which is the image of Good Friday, we see something like the black, existential hole that life sometimes seems to be. For some, it often or always seems this way. What Don Giussani asserted is true: "[Jesus] mounted the Cross to free us from the fascination with nothingness, to free us from the fascination with appearances, with the ephemeral." In light of all this, I would invite you to look back at my post "Dreams have never made my bed".

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Confusion and division must not continue: Benedict's letter

I suppose at least some of my readers know about the ill-advised letter composed by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (see "Full text of Benedict XVI essay: 'The Church and the scandal of sexual abuse'") that became public over the past few days. Writing the letter was ill-advised. Making the letter public comes close to a catastrophe. I have no desire to denigrate a very old man who, as the letter indicates, is clearly not at the top of his powers. I cannot imagine that those close to the former pope did not dissuade him from writing about this. Failing that, how did it leave his dwelling?

I don't mind stating up-front that I hold Pope Benedict XVI in the highest regard. Over the decades I have been Catholic I have benefited enormously by reading the theology of Joseph Ratzinger. When it comes to the issue of the sexual abuse of children and young people in the Catholic Church, Josef Ratzinger did a lot. First and foremost, he recognized it as a problem that needed to be dealt with. To the extent that priestly sexual abuse was acknowledged and dealt with at all during the papacy of John Paul II it was largely due to the efforts of then-Cardinal Ratzinger. When he became pope, the matter began to receive the attention that it deserved. He sustained this throughout his papacy. As we all know, it took Pope Francis some time to come to grips with this issue himself, despite the efforts of his predecessor.

Back to the letter- I am amazed at its anecdotal and rather shallow contents. At least to me, it reads like a tightly-written apologetic tract, the kind that makes a very tight but not very cogent argument, one that ignores many relevant facts and issues. If one were to take the letter at face value, it would seem that there was no pedophilia or ephebophilia in the church until the mid-to-late-1960s. But my own diocese's disclosure is enough to disprove this. One can read the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report. Even with its flaws, you can see that the analysis applied in this letter fails to account for a healthy number of cases that happened before the much-vilified sexual revolution. For these instances, Benedict's letter has no explanation whatsoever.

The so-called sexual revolution certainly had many downsides and created a lot of causalities. However, there were some good things that emerged from this societal movement. Some of the good things found their way into Humanae Vitae. For instance, in teaching that sexual intercourse has a "unitive" dimension, Pope Paul VI was quite revolutionary. Progress that is true progress usually requires some short, tentative, incremental steps before gaining momentum.

If you don't believe there wasn't sexual weirdness among ecclesiastics before the 1960s, I urge you to pick up a copy of Hubert Wolf's The Nuns of Sant' Ambrogio: The True Story of a Convent in Scandal. It is an engrossing book. Wolf tells the tale of a rather lengthy and strange series of events that happened in Rome on the eve of the First Vatican Council. In this book, Wolf also provides deep insight into how inhumane church teaching had become with regard to sexuality. For example, confessors manuals and moral theology works held that French-kissing between spouses was a mortal sin (see "Humanae Vitae at 50").

Even if one takes the sexual revolution as the starting point, the sexual abuse of children and young people, male and female, was at least as prevalent among traditionally-inclined priests as it was among so-called progressives, if not more so. I will just note in passing that Benedict's characterization of what is called "revisionist" moral theology amounts to a gross caricature. Often revisionist moral theologians, like Bernard Häring, were more aware of the complex and ambiguous nature of human sexuality and understood that one could apply an atemporal set of norms to govern this unruly aspect of humanity. I write this as someone who, along with my wife, has sought to adhere to church teaching on marital sexuality throughout our marriage. We still do. So, I am not dismissive of the church's teaching in least.



One could drive a truck through the gap between Benedict's admission that it is impossible to build a systematic sexual ethic on the basis of Scripture alone. In his letter, Benedict points to the efforts of one moral theologian to do just that. His summarily dismissive attitude toward contemporary moral theology as it seeks to address human sexuality in light of the paucity provided by the Scriptures, especially the New Testament, as well as accounting for the deeper understanding we have the human person overall and human sexuality in particular.

As an amusing side note, I was unaware of something Benedict asserts in his letter, namely there was a time when one could watch "sex movies" on commercial airliners. And that this was a bad idea because violence would break out. Yeah, anyway...

I could go on, but I will limit myself to 3 further observations:

1- Benedict's "history" is narrow, incomplete and overly simplistic to the point of not only being misleading, but laughable

2- Isn't it interesting that nowhere is clericalism (a term that I grasp is rapidly being overused and misused) part of his diagnosis? This stands in stark contrast to Pope Francis's Letter to the People of God, written last August from last summer. In that letter Francis grasp the really troublesome dynamic in play, which he identifies as "clericalism." Rather than being the source of the problem, for Francis the communion ecclesiology of Vatican II, characterized by the phrase given us by the Council, "hierarchical communion" (communion modifies and flattens hierarchy), is the solution, not the problem

3- Back to the issue of Christian sexual ethics, natural law and Stoicism are poor substitutes for the Gospel. Perhaps some things do not lend themselves to the kind detailed systematic approach the church has sought to impose on human sexuality

If popes resigning becomes a common feature of church life, then we require clearer guidelines about the comportment and engagement of former popes. Taking my cue from many people who are more knowledgeable about these things than I am, I think there should be no such title as "Pope Emeritus." There can only be one pope at a time, lest there be confusion. One of the major reasons for the existence of the papal office is to guarantee authoritative teaching.

Therefore, should a pope resign, he should be designated as "Bishop of Rome Emeritus." He should be forbidden the use of any and all papal insignia, including wearing white. Rather than being known by his papal name, he ought to revert to using his given name.

While it may be lost on Benedict/Ratzinger, it is not on those close to him that his unfortunate letter plays into the hands of those who seek undermine Francis and the important work of reform he is undertaking. As a result, it compounds division in the church. To say I am deeply disappointed in this development is to state my feelings in a muted manner.

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Addendum:

This morning, I ran across Austin Inverleigh's piece on Pope Emeritus Benedict's letter- "Pope Benedict's letter on sex abuse is not an attack on Francis (or Vatican II)". It is a good piece but ultimately unconvincing article. I don't see the intent of Ratzinger's letter as an attack on anyone or on the Council. However, I think the letter plays into the hands of Francis's enemies. They will weaponize it. I do not back down on my view that the letter is embarrassingly shallow. Again, I wish Benedict and the church had been better served by those around him.

Triduum: Holy Saturday

Without a doubt, Holy Saturday is the weirdest day of the entire church year. It is the day we observe Christ laying dead in the tomb. An an...