Sunday, August 12, 2018

Jesus: bread of life and food for our pilgrimage

1 Kgs 19:4-8; Ps 34:2-9; Eph 4:30-5:2; John 6:41-51

Whenever it's been a quiet week on Καθολικός διάκονος it means I am having a busy week. This past week I was very busy. I did manage to post a traditio on Friday and today I am posting something on this week's Sunday readings.

In terms of our Gospel reading, this is the third of five weeks when we read from the sixth chapter of St. John's Gospel. This chapter, of course, is called the Bread of Life Discourse. As I mentioned a few weeks back, due to the brevity of the Gospel According St. Mark, in Year B of the three-year Sunday cycle, during which our primary Gospel is Mark, on Sundays of weeks 17-21 in Ordinary Time, the Church supplements Mark with the Bread of Life Discourse. Hence, these five weeks give us an opportunity to focus very intensely on the central act of our faith: receiving Holy Communion at Mass.

In our first reading the prophet Elijah, who is at the point of despair and begging God to kill him, finds a place to rest under a broom tree. Upon being awakened by an angel, he finds bread and water. On the strength provided by this nourishment and hydration, he makes his forty day and forty night pilgrimage to the mountain of God. Allegorically, our life, too, is a pilgrimage to God's mountain. Atop the mountain of God sits Jerusalem, our true home. Taking our cue from Abraham, our father in faith, God's people has always been a Pilgrim People. Hence, Christ's Church is a Pilgrim Church (see Lumen Gentium, Chap. VII). The Eucharist is our food and drink for the journey.

Like Elijah plopping down under the broom tree, it is likely that at certain points along our pilgrim path we might grow weary and be tempted to despair. I think given the seemingly ceaseless scandals the Church faces, which reveal to us that what ails the Church runs more deeply than we have heretofore thought, it is very easy to wonder whether or not it's worth it to continue the journey, or, like the ancient Israelites in last week's first reading, if our journey has a destination, wondering if we've been sold a bill of goods and left to fend for ourselves. Even through these doubts, anger, and fear, I remain firmly convinced that the Eucharist sustains us.

Looking ahead to our Gospel reading in two weeks, in the wake of all the deeply disturbing revelations of very dark sins by men who were without a doubt wolves wearing a shepherd's costume, like those disciples who were scandalized by Jesus telling them they had to eat his flesh and drink his blood, we are tempted to return to our former way of life and no longer follow Jesus, to no longer affiliate with or adhere to the Church. I don't know about you, but having encountered the risen Jesus in a life-changing way, like Peter, when asked by the Lord, "Do you also want to leave?" I can only reply: "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." (John 6:67-68).

You might be thinking something like, "Yeah, you're a deacon. You're a member of the clergy. What else are you gonna say?" Well, as a deacon and a member of the clergy who does not make a living through ministry but who ministers largely for free, my answer would be something like: "I don't give this answer because I am ordained. I am ordained because this is my answer." Like Zack Mayo, whom Gunny Foley is committed to breaking by making him quit in the movie An Officer and a Gentleman, "I got nowhere else to go." There is no one to whom I can turn but the One who took pity on my nothingness, who loves me not just to the point of death but to the point of rising from the dead, thus proving to me, at least, that he is "the Holy One of God" (John 6:69).

The Church is holy because Christ is holy. The Church is pure because Christ is pure. The Church is the Lord's sometimes straying Bride, what the Tradition has dubbed the casta meretrix (i.e., the chaste whore). In making this assertion I do not mean to suggest for one minute that the hierarchy is the Church. It is not. The Church is the entire Pilgrim People of God, those who died, were buried, and who rose with Christ to new life through the waters of Baptism. Presently, however, it is those in the hierarchy, some of whom, like Theodore McCarrick, who ascended to the heights of the hierarchy, whose infidelity and betrayal is causing so much distress for so many Church members. Nonetheless, Christ remains faithful even when his Bride is unfaithful. As we read in 2 Timothy: "If we are unfaithful he remains faithful." Christ remains faithful because he condescended to become one of us in order to incorporate us into himself; "he cannot deny himself"(2 Tim 2:13). Besides, when Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against his Church (Matt 16:18), he did not guarantee it wouldn't be pressed against the bars of said gates.

In that wonderful passage on the sacramental and eschatological nature of marriage found a bit further on in the fifth chapter of Ephesians, St. Paul wrote about this very thing:
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So [also] husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body (Eph 5:25-30
In our reading from Ephesians today we hear about just the kind of healing our faithful participation in the Eucharist should bring about. In imitatio Christi, we renounce "All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling," as well as "all malice" (Eph 4:31). Instead, we are to "be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ" (Eph 4:31). As God has forgiven you in Christ... you need to always keep in mind the great mercy the Father gives you in Christ by the power of their Holy Spirit. This does not mean you overlook egregious sin or wrong-doing. When considering the sickening sin of clerical sex abuse, it certainly does not mean forgetting about justice for victims. I think one of the Intercessions for today's Evening Prayer (Sunday Evening Prayer II, Week III of the Psalter) frames this very well:
Through your Son, the herald of reconciliation, the victor of the cross,
   -free us from empty fear and hopelessness
In his magnificent encyclical on the theological virtue of hope, Spe salvi, Pope Benedict XVI wrote something that is well worth remembering when thinking about justice and mercy:
Both these things—justice and grace—must be seen in their correct inner relationship. Grace does not cancel out justice. It does not make wrong into right. It is not a sponge which wipes everything away, so that whatever someone has done on earth ends up being of equal value. Dostoevsky, for example, was right to protest against this kind of Heaven and this kind of grace in his novel The Brothers Karamazov. Evildoers, in the end, do not sit at table at the eternal banquet beside their victims without distinction, as though nothing had happened (sec. 44)
Picking up a thread from last Sunday's Gospel, in which Jesus told the hungry crowd that doing the work of God means believing "in the one he sent" (John 6:29), in today's Gospel Jesus tells the same crowd, "whoever believes has eternal life" (John 6:47).

Belief requires an object, which means that believing means believing in something, or, in this case, believing in someone. What one needs to believe to have eternal life is that Jesus is "the bread of life" (John 6:48). By believing Jesus is the bread of life, which belief prompts you to partake of it, you will not die but be raised on the last day (John 6:50; John 6:44). This is the cornerstone of Christian faith. Pull it out and everything collapses. Faith, or believing that Jesus is the one sent by God to save us, is called a theological virtue because it is a gift from God. This what Jesus means when he says "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him" (John 6:44). Faith is our response to God's initiative towards us. Faith is neither irresistible, as some suppose, nor is it compelled. You are always free to respond to God's initiative or not. In concrete terms, you respond to God's initiative each time you come to Mass and partake of the bread of life.

Christ summons each one of us to gather together every Sunday and on holy days, like the one coming up this Wednesday, 15 August - the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Believing means being eager to heed the Lord's loving summons. So, together let's partake of the nourishment we need as we make our pilgrim way to the mountain of God, to the eternal city, to the wedding banquet of the Lamb. If, like Elijah, you find yourself at the doorstep of despair, it becomes all the more important to "Taste and see the goodness of the Lord" for yourself.

Friday, August 10, 2018

A day for deacons

Today, 10 August, the Church marks the Feast of St. Lawrence of Rome. Lawrence was one of the seven deacons of Rome. He lived in the third century. Along with his bishop (Pope Sixtus II) he was martyred during a persecution of the Church that took place in Rome during the reign of the Emperor Valerian in AD 258. It is fitting, therefore, that today my local Church, the Diocese of Salt Lake City, laid to rest to a great deacon, Silvio Mayo. Deacon Silvio was ordained with the first class of permanent deacons for our diocese by Bishop Joseph Federal. This first ordination of permanent deacons took place in The Cathedral of the Madeleine on 26 December 1976. Of course, 26 December is the feast of that other great deacon, St. Stephen, who was the Church's first martyr. Somehow, this book-ending seems very fitting for Silvio.

Deacon Mayo, I believe, was the first permanent deacon to serve as Diocesan Chancellor of any diocese, at least in the U.S. if not worldwide. He served our diocese as Chancellor for nearly 30 years - from 1984-2013. I had the privilege of serving with him at The Cathedral of the Madeleine from the time of my ordination in 2004 until his retirement in 2013. For the first year or two, given not only our age difference but my relative youth (I was 38 when I was ordained- Silvio was then in his late 70s), we couldn't quite figure each other out. Our relationship for those first few years was cordial.

After serving with each other for a few years, however, Silvio and I became good friends and we enjoyed each other's company. We would sit have a cup of coffee in the kitchen of the Cathedral rectory at least once a week. Man, did we joke around and give each other a hard time. To be frank, what we discovered we had in common was that we were both smart alecks. After he retired, when I was still serving at the Cathedral, on a Sunday here or there when I did not have duties at the altar, I would go to Mass with him. I remember one year, 2014 I believe, we were at Mass together on the First Sunday of Lent. Listening to the homily, the homilist mentioned he was giving up coffee for Lent. Silvio looked at me with his mischievous smile and said: "Let's not get carried away."

Deacon Silvio Mayo's funeral card

Deacon Silvio's funeral Mass at the Cathedral today was beautiful. This young punk deacon (I am still the youngest permanent deacon in my diocese) was honored to be asked to sit at the screen on the Cathedral chancel and to pray the Intercessions. Silvio was 93 at the time of his passing.

Silvio lived a long and fruitful life, a diaconal life, that is, a life of service to others. It bears noting that his son, Monsignor Joseph Mayo, was the Cathedral Rector during our years of service there together. I often felt like I was a member of the Mayo family. Silvio, along with the rest of his diaconate class, laid a firm foundation for the diaconate in our diocese. There are only two members of that class who are still alive, both of whom are no longer in active ministry. Our Chancellor today, George Reade, who is a member of my diaconate class, serves our diocese as Chancellor, continuing what I hope will be long-lasting tradition. Requiscat Silvio in pace.

In light of all that it's difficult to pick a Friday traditio. It's good to give this some thought each week.

After giving this quite a lot of thought after making my way from Silvio's funeral, our traditio for the Feast of St. Lawrence is Samuel Barber's Agnus Dei.

Composed by Barber in 1967, his Agnus Dei composition has its roots in his 1936 composition Adagio for Strings. Sung in B-Flat Minor, Barber's piece is a musical setting for this part of the Mass: Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis/Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis/Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem - "Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace."

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Jesus: the true bread from heaven

Readings: Ex 1:2-4.12-15; Ps 78:3-4.23-25.54; Eph 4:17.20-24; John 6:24-35

There is an easily discernible harmony between all of our readings this week. Given the importance of this 5-week interlude during which we take a break from reading the Gospel of Mark and read the Bread of Life Discourse found in St. John's Gospel, I think it is important to stay close to the shore and examine what the Scriptures tell us and not become distracted by rushing to carve out a neat moral, or by our desire to reduce what Christ reveals by telling a different story, or by making a joke in the face of this opportunity and so shrink back from the intense encounter with reality to which Jesus invites us.

In our reading from Ephesians, the Apostle exhorts the members of the Church in ancient Ephesus to live in what he called in last week's second reading "a manner worthy of the[ir] call" ( Eph 4:1). Just like you and I, the Christians of ancient Ephesus received their call in Baptism. In this week's reading, which moves us a bit further along in the same chapter, the nature of this call is made more explicit. They are to live like they have "learned Christ" (Eph 4:20). The result of learning Christ is that one puts "away the old self," thus eschewing her "former way of life," which is "corrupted through deceitful desires" (Eph 4:22). Our corruption "through deceitful desires," which promise us fulfillment but fail to deliver, Paul often calls "flesh." While neither word is used in this passage, in Koine Greek, the language of the entire New Testament, "flesh" is sarx, not soma. Soma refers to your physical body, which is in no way to be denigrated, whereas sarx refers to the deceitful desires that threaten to corrupt us, even after Baptism.

The "futility" of mind referred to in our reading from Ephesians (4:17) is the result of giving in to the deceitful desires that corrupt, mistaking our indulgence in them as fulfillment. What this futility of mind amounts to is the willingness to sell yourself short, to settle for less in the belief that "this is as good as it gets." In his sermon, The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis accurately describes what it means to sell oneself short in this way:
it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased
In Baptism we put "away the old self" when make our three-fold rejection of sin. Because Jesus is the Gospel, the Good News, the One who brings life from death, there is a positive aspect as well. This positive aspect is conveyed in the Rite of Baptism by the three-fold profession of faith. At the heart (i.e., in the middle) of our profession is the question:
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered death and was buried,
rose again from the dead
and is seated at the right hand of the Father?
One's answer to this question is one's answer to reality. It is one's answer to reality because it is the recognition of all the factors that together constitute (i.e., make up) reality. To answer this question affirmatively in a casual manner or without really meaning it just might be the worst blasphemy there is. The result of one's positive answer is Baptism. The result of Baptism is being "renewed in the spirit of your minds," putting "on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth" (Eph 4:23-24). Another feature of the Rite of Baptism is being clothed with a white garment after emerging from your submersion into the very life of God. This white garment is a symbol of putting on one's new self, of putting on Christ.

Early third century depiction of Eucharistic bread and fish, Catacomb of San Callisto, Rome, from Wikipedia

Being made new in Christ enables one to see with new eyes. Among other things, seeing with new eyes enables you to see God at work in and through all things - in all people you meet and through all the circumstances you face. Just as beta carotene, which our bodies convert into Vitamin A, is important for good eye health and vision, our spiritual eyesight is nourished by receiving Holy Communion. This is brought home in a dramatic way in our reading from Exodus and in our Gospel reading.

In our reading from Exodus, the Israelites complain to each other about going hungry in the desert. They begin to lament the fact that God liberated them from Egypt by the hand of Moses. Despite the fact that, in Egypt, they were slaves treated with increasing hostility, at least they ate their fill every day. Hearing their grumbling, God promised to provide them with manna in the morning and quail in the evening every day. Later, of course, they will complain about this too (see Numbers 11:1-15). Seeing with the eyes of faith enables one to proclaim in times of trouble, even when your very life feels imperiled, those times when God seems absent or far away, using the words of last week's responsorial: "The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs."

In today's Gospel, Jesus and his closest disciples re-cross the Sea of Galilee and come back to Capernaum, which served as home-base for their Galilean mission. It seems that the same crowd that followed them from Capernaum to the spot on the other side also followed them back. Jesus quickly discerns why they followed him back: they wanted him to keep feeding them. It is important to note, I think, that the Lord does not criticize them for this. He does not call them "lazy" or "dependent." This is most likely because those who followed him for this reason were very poor. These folks probably did not enjoy what we call today "food security." In all likelihood, just as the working poor do today, they worked very hard for very little. Stated starkly, they probably worked very hard and yet did not receive what they needed to get by. While it is not the point of this passage, their plight and the injustice that underlies it was a matter of deep concern to the Lord. Therefore, it should be a concern for anyone who claims his name. Taking care of the poor and seeking to overcome the injustice that leaves people lacking what they need surely constitute part of what it means for Christians to live in manner worthy of our call.

Seizing the moment and leveraging the interest of those who were so intent on following him, Jesus tells them to "not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life" (John 6:27). With this exhortation, the Lord catches their interest. They ask: How do we accomplish God's work? (John 6:28). Jesus's answer to their question is very important: "This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent" (John 6:29). Seemingly aware that Jesus is referring to himself as the one God sent, in a most human manner, they ask Jesus (keep in mind, John portrays these as being the same people who were not only witnesses to but beneficiaries of the feeding of the multitude) to show them a sign so that they can accomplish the work of God, the opus Dei. They point to the event set forth in our reading from Exodus as an example of the kind of sign they seek. Nonetheless and quite understandably, their demand for a definitive sign still seems to be tied to food security, which, again, is no criticism of these people who probably went hungry quite often. This is the point at which Jesus begins to tell them the Good News.

Jesus says that while the bread Moses gave the Israelites (i.e., manna) was, indeed, bread from heaven, it was not the "true" heavenly bread (John 6:32). He goes on to tell them something shocking (the shock of what he tells them will reverberate for us across the next three weeks): "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst" (John 6:35).

Friday, August 3, 2018

"State your peace tonight"

As you may have heard, yesterday Pope Francis promulgated a change to section 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Section 2267 concerns the death penalty. From he first edition of the Catechism, which was promulgated in 1992 (published in English in 1994), to the second edition, which came out in 1997, this same section was revised to reflect what Pope John Paul II had written in his encyclical letter Evangelium vitae. Here is the revised text promulgated yesterday:
Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”, and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide

The footnote after the direct quote refers the reader to a speech given by Pope Francis on 11 October 2017 to those participating in a meeting convened by the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization. 11 October is a significant date because it marks the day on which, in 1962, Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. It was on 11 October 1992, the thirtieth anniversary of the opening of the Council, that Pope John Paul II promulgated the Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum, by means of which he gave the Church its Vatican II Catechism, something the 1985 Synod of Bishops asked him to do.

This is the text of 2267 in the second edition of the Catechism:
The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor. "If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

"Today, in fact, given the means at the State's disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender 'today ... are very rare, if not practically non-existent.'[John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56.]
To give you a complete picture of the history of 2267 in the forms promulgated by the ordinary papal magisterium, as opposed to various schemata that may have been proposed during the seven years it took to compose the Catechism, the first edition of the Catechism stated:
If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person
In my view, the change between the first and second editions of the Catechism represented a greater development in Church teaching than Pope Francis's revision, which simply builds on the logic of the previous revision. Accompanying the revised text, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sent a letter to bishops providing a fuller treatment of the matter.

There is a lot I could write about the changes and the reasons for them but I am going to push that off to another day, maybe. Besides, we have a traditio to get to.

I will confess my personal bias, which is always in favor of life regardless of the issue (i.e., abortion, euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, war, etc.). This is my default setting, not only as a Christian but as a human being. I have opposed the death penalty since reading George Orwell's essay "A Hanging" when I was 17. While I recognize that, at least with regard to egregious cases that arguably merit the death penalty in which the guilt of the person has been duly determined, there is no absolute moral equivalency between the death penalty and abortion, I am puzzled by those who oppose abortion and yet whole-heartedly support the death penalty. It bears noting that, while not absolute, there is some moral equivalency between abortion and the death penalty, most obviously both include killing a defenseless person. However, I must admit that I am more puzzled by those who support abortion and oppose the death penalty.

Recently philosopher Edward Feser, along with Joseph Besette, published a full-throated defense of capital punishment: By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment. Fortunately, theologian David Bentley Hart took the time to respond to the book's outrageous thesis and poor argumentation. His initial review of Feser's and Bessette's book, "Christians & the Death Penalty," was published in Commonweal. His reply to Feser's response to his Commonweal review, "Further Reflections on Capital Punishment (and on Edward Feser)," was published in the on-line publication Church Life Journal. I have to state that, as a Christian, I cannot really wrap my mind around retributive punishment, which strikes me as being very much at odds with the teaching of Jesus Christ. In the course of human events, it is sometimes necessary for the Church re-discover the Gospel in its radical depths.

Since I invoked so-called "retributive justice," while it has to do with imprisonment and not the death penalty, - I live where retributive justice is practically an article of faith for the majority religion, including something called "blood atonement" (this does seem to be changing) - I read something the other day that broke my heart: "'I'm so sorry I was a coward that day': Man seeks parole for killing Utah trooper 25 years ago while 18." Of a crime committed 25 years ago (shooting and killing Utah Highway Patrol officer Dennis "Dee" Lund) by a then-18 year-old, now 43 year-old, who has always expressed deep remorse for his crime a representative for the family of the slain trooper said: "As a family, we want the max for him. I hate to say that. He's probably making a lot of progress. But that doesn’t help my family make progress. We still suffer. I don’t say he should suffer. But we just want him to pay his maximum sentence like it's designed." While I usually don't recommend this, I urge you to read the comments on the article. Sadly, many people arguing in favor of continued Rodney Lund's incarceration would likely be among the first to insist the United States is a Christian nation.

Tuesday evening, I went to a concert. Three bands performed: The Fixx, X, and the Psychedelic Furs, respectively. It was a great show. Of course, this gives me ample fodder for our Friday traditio for the next several weeks. I will begin with "Stand or Fall" by The Fixx.

Gaining popularity in the early 1980s, many of The Fixx's songs have a heavy Cold War vibe. Listening to "Stand or Fall" last Tuesday, I was struck by the renewed relevancy of its lyrics. I remember in the immediate aftermath of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the concomitant break-up of the Warsaw Pact news commentator Danial Schorr opining that the dangers of the bi-polar world look relatively safe when compared with what was to come as a result of a multi-polar world. If the 21st century has proven anything, it's the truth of Schorr's assertion. It seems to me that the U.S. has yet to find a strategic foothold in the multi-polar world.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Year B Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: 2 Kings 4:42-44; Ps 145:10-11.15-18; Eph 4:1-6; John 6:1-15

Due to the brevity of St. Mark’s Gospel, beginning this, the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year B of our three-year Sunday Lectionary cycle, the Liturgy of Word is augmented on five consecutive Sundays by St. John’s Gospel. Specifically, our Gospel readings for these Sundays are taken from the sixth chapter of John. This chapter is called “the Bread of the Life Discourse.” Without a doubt, in the Bread of Life Discourse we have the most in-depth exposition in all of Sacred Scripture on the Eucharist.

Especially during this long stretch of Ordinary Time, when we read from the Gospels in a semi-continuous manner, it is important to follow the thread of Jesus’s story from one week to the next. If you remember way back to three weeks ago, Jesus is rejected after teaching in the synagogue of his hometown: Nazareth. Two weeks ago, after being rejected in his hometown, Jesus sent those who, in Mark’s Gospel, are identified for the first time as “the Twelve,” on a mission (Mark 6:8-9).

The mission of the Twelve, who seemed rather unprepared to venture forth, was to preach repentance, cast out demons, and heal the sick. He sent them in pairs and instructed them to take nothing with them but the clothes on their backs, the sandals on their feet, and a walking stick. He even forbade them from taking a “second tunic,” which to us would be like saying, “don’t take a jacket” (Mark 6:9). He instructed them thus so that they were to forced to rely only on God and on one another.

In our reading last week from Mark, the Twelve, who are identified for the first time as “apostles,” which means ones who are sent, reported back to Jesus their remarkable success. After hearing their report, the Lord invites them to get away from the crowds who were placing such great demands on them that they did not even have time to eat. He wanted them to cross the Sea of Galilee with him for some rest. As they shoved off, it became known to the crowds where Jesus and the Twelve were going. The crowd beat feet, as it were, arriving at the spot before Jesus and the apostles (see Mark 6:30-34).

Proving the truth of the saying “There is no rest for the wicked and the righteous don’t any,” approaching the shore and seeing that the crowd was like a flock of sheep without a shepherd, Jesus was moved with compassion Mark (6:34). Putting his plans to rest on hold, the Lord “began to teach them many things” (Ibid.). So eager were the crowds to be where Jesus was very few of them thought to bring anything to eat. Because they were apparently there for a long time, listening to the many things Jesus taught, they were hungry and due for a meal. Even were we to stick with Mark’s Gospel, the next episode is Jesus’s feeding of the five thousand (see Mark 6:35-44). But this is where we switch to St. John’s extended discourse. It is easy to see, therefore, that the insertion of these five passages from John into the Lectionary during Year B is done organically.

In its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei verbum, the Second Vatican Council, noted: “God, the inspirer and author of both Testaments, wisely arranged that the New Testament be hidden in the Old and the Old be made manifest in the New” (sec. 16). Hence, in the Lectionary, especially during the weeks in Ordinary Time, great effort was made to harmonize the Old Testament reading with the Gospel. It is easy to see how our first reading this week, taken from 2 Kings, involving the prophet Elisha’s miraculous feeding of the one hundred, harmonizes with and points forward not only to Jesus’s feeding of the multitude, but to his institution of the Eucharist.

Before the miracle, “Jesus took the loaves” and “gave thanks” (John 6:11). In Koine Greek, the language in which the New Testament was written, the word the Gospel of John puts in the mouth of Jesus is eucharistesas, a verb meaning “giving thanks.” In this and every Eucharist, we gather to give thanks to the Father through his Son for creating and redeeming us. Out of gratitude, we don’t merely offer bread wine along with whatever we put in the collection basket, we offer ourselves to the Father through Christ. Our gifts of bread and wine as well as our offering are symbolic of us offering ourselves entirely to the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit.

Nothing is more central to our faith than the Eucharist. It has been observed: “The Eucharist makes the Church and the Church makes the Eucharist.” While this may sound a bit circular it is not. Christ established the Church by instituting the Eucharist, thus the Eucharist makes the Church. It is by our gathering each Sunday to make the Eucharist that together we become the Body of Christ. Eucharist “is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed” and “the font from which all her power flows” (Sacrosanctum concilium, sec. 10). The “aim and object of [all our] apostolic works is that all who are made [children] of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord's supper” (Ibid.).

Mass is where we truly encounter the risen Lord. Christ is not only made present in the consecrated bread and wine, but in the gathering of the baptized, in the person of the priest, and in the proclamation of the Scriptures. Like the crowds who were eager to be where Jesus was, we should look forward each week to gathering together on Sunday to listen to the Lord’s teaching and be nourished by his body and strengthened with his blood. At end of each Mass, like the Twelve, we are sent forth on a mission to herald the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God we are sent to proclaim, as we see dramatically in today’s Gospel by Jesus’s slipping away rather than being acclaimed king, “does not belong to this world” (John 18:36).

In our reading from Ephesians we learn what it means to live God’s kingdom as a present reality, “to live in a manner worthy of the call [we] have received” (Eph 4:1). This means living “with all humility and gentleness” as well as having great patience with each other (Eph 4:2). Applied to our parish life, this means “bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace" (Eph 4:2-3). I am sure I am not the only one puzzled by the fact that Church life is sometimes so brutal. Let's not forget that each parish is supposed to be an outpost of God's kingdom in the world. The fact that it sometimes isn't bears eloquent witness to our brokenness and our need for the healing Christ seeks to give in the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance.

If we’re not committed to bearing with one another in patience out of love, to encouraging one another, to serving each other as well as the wider community, then what’s the point of gathering for the Eucharist? Like those Jesus sent out together, we are companions on our mission. The root of the word “companion” is the Latin word for bread: panis. “Companion” was originally coined to describe someone with whom you share a meal. Our participation together in this Eucharist makes us companions.

The Eucharist is the way the Lord remains present among us, in us, and through us until he returns in glory. The only way to know the reality of what we sang about in our responsorial – “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs” – is through the experience of participating in Mass each Sunday. Conversely, the only possible empirical evidence that the bread and wine we offer are transformed by the Spirit into Christ's body and blood is the transformed lives of those who partake of it.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

McCarrick no longer a Cardinal

It was announced this morning that Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Theodore McCarrick from the College of Cardinals. Further, the Holy Father suspended McCarrick a divinis and has directed him to live a life of penance and prayer in seclusion as the canonical case dealing with his sexual abuse of young men over many years is in process. According to canon 1333 §1, a divinis suspension is the suspension of a cleric (bishop, priest, or deacon) that prevents the cleric from licitly exercising "1° all or some of the acts of the power of order; 2° all or some of the acts of the power of governance; [and] 3° the exercise of all or some of the rights or functions attaching to an office." I believe McCarrick's suspension is all, all, and all.

At 88 years old, McCarrick was a superannuated member of the Sacred College. Superannuation occurs when a Cardinal turns 80. A superannuated Cardinal, while remaining a member of the College, does not serve on Vatican commissions or in Vatican Congregations. Cardinals over 80 are not eligible to participate in a conclave to select a new pope when the Holy See becomes vacant due to the death or resignation of the Roman Pontiff. Nonetheless, McCarrick's resignation is fitting in light of what is already known about his gross misbehavior, namely the settlements paid out by the Diocese of Metuchen and the Archdiocese of Newark. There can be little doubt that, should McCarrick survive the canonical process (he's 88 and in poor health), further penalties will follow, perhaps even laicization.

Writing for the National Catholic Reporter (see "Conservatives distort McCarrick scandal to attack Francis"), Michael Sean Winters points out how McCarrick's sickening case is being used by those often dubbed "conservatives" to spread blame and, predictably, attack Pope Francis, someone they simply cannot stand. It is not lost on Winters, nor should it be on anyone else, that many of these same "conservatives" could not abide the Dallas Charter, which, as Winters notes, agreeing with one of those he highlights who is spreading blame, should've had canonical provisions to deal with misbehavior by bishops, but did not. I remember how outraged many self-styled traditionalists were by the Dallas charter with its call for mandatory reporting and the involvement of law enforcement.

The blame-spreading extends to Cardinal Seàn O'Malley, the Capuchin friar who serves as archbishop of Boston (see "Catholic Bishops Beg for a Clear Policy against Evil"). Lest it be forgotten in our memory-impeded age, O'Malley was sent to Boston in the wake of the horrific situation there made infamous by the stellar work of reporters of the Boston Globe, whose important work was popularized by the movie Spotlight, in the wake of that diocese's well-known malfeasance and misfeasance in dealing with clerical sexual abuse. He was chosen because he handled a similar situations while serving as bishop of the Dioceses of Fall River, Massachusetts and Palm Beach very well. It's fair to say no prelate in the U.S. and perhaps no prelate in the entire world has spent more time with victims of clerical sexual abuse than Cardinal O'Malley.

It was O'Malley's track record that prompted Pope Francis to select him as head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. While heading that Commission, which rightly numbers abuse survivors among its members, O'Malley has humbly accepted the pointed criticism of the Commission by members, some of whom have publicly resigned. Hanging in there instead of quitting, he's sought to make the necessary changes. In addition to this responsibility and that of being a member of Francis's C9, he's a very present bishop. Was it not O'Malley who helped the Holy Father see he was being duped not just about the Barros situation in Chile but about something more widespread in that country? (see this AP report) It was O'Malley's intervention that led Francis to send Archbishop Scicluna to Chile to carry out a thorough investigation. After receiving Scicluna's extensive report, the Holy Father summoned all of the bishops of Chile to Rome. At the end of this three-day gathering, all the Chilean bishops submitted their resignations to Pope Francis (see "All of Chile’s Catholic Bishops Offer to Quit Over Sex Abuse Scandal") In the end, he accepted three of these, including that of Barros, whose complicity in the abuse of another priest, was the spark that lit the fire (see "Pope accepts Chilean bishops' resignation over abuse scandal").

Yet, in the National Review screed, O'Malley is castigated for being just another ecclesial bureaucrat for noting that there does, in fact, need to be canonical provisions for dealing with bishops who are wolves in shepherd's clothing. He is accused of being lawyerly by stating a letter from a prominent theologian to the Pontifical Commission he heads was received but he had not read it. Of course, it does bear asking why the Diocese of Metuchen and the Archdiocese of Newark did not make a bigger deal when they paid settlements to victims of McCarrick's despicable and self-indulgent behavior, instead of binding the victims to secrecy and carrying on with business as usual, allowing a predator like Ted McCarrick to continue his illustrious career. At the end of the day, it's the reflexive covering up that really angers most people. But there is no reason to blame the current bishop of Metuchen or the current archbishops of Newark, neither of whom immediately succeeded McCarrick, or Cardinal Wuerl, McCarrick's successor in D.C., for these things. Cardinal Tobin and Bishop Checcio (archbishop of Newark and bishop of Metuchen respectively) have acquitted themselves well by opening records of actions taken prior to their tenures and not only releasing the victims from their legal gag orders but encouraging them speak out and offering them their support as they do.

Catholics should take no relief from let any joy in what the #MeToo movement is helping to unearth in the secular realm or in other eccelesial communions, like the Southern Baptist Convention, which has been grappling with its own massive failures as of late concerning sexual abuse and its systematic cover-up.

I guess what I am trying to communicate is that the McCarrick affair is gut-wrenching for everyone who loves Christ's Bride. No sooner do we think we have turned a corner on sexual abuse than we're grabbed by the shoulders and yanked back onto to Shit Street. Yes, it grows tiresome and, worse yet, produces worry and doubt. This is why making it about anything else is so wrong. Using the trauma of victims of sexual abuse to advance one's ideological agenda renders the victims yet another injustice. If we want to look at clerical, specifically priestly and episcopal, sexual abuse through the lens of conservative/liberal we will quickly see that this not a discriminator. Priests and bishops who've horrifically abused those for whom they should've caring, thus degrading their office and sullying the Church, can be found across the conservative-liberal spectrum.

In Christ we have Someone greater than all our sins. He loves His often unfaithful Bride, whom Tradition has dubbed Casta meretrix (i.e., the chaste whore). As for us, whether we be lay person or cleric, we need to let our own light burn brightly in the assurance that what the Lord said is true:
No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel or sets it under a bed; rather, he places it on a lampstand so that those who enter may see the light. For there is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light. Take care, then, how you hear. To anyone who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he seems to have will be taken away (Luke 8:16-18- italicizing and emboldening emphasis mine)
When the massive failure in Los Angeles was revealed (see "Addressing the pastoral failure in L.A."), I wrote about a previous resignation of a Cardinal: "Turning in the red hat; resigning as a Cardinal."

Dum vero Christus, "sanctus, innocens, impollutus" (Hebr 7,26), peccatum non novit (cf. 2Cor 5,21), sed sola delicta populi repropitiare venit (cf. Hebr 2,17), Ecclesia in proprio sinu peccatores complectens, sancta simul et semper purificanda, poenitentiam et renovationem continuo prosequitur- "While Christ, holy, innocent and undefiled knew nothing of sin, but came to expiate only the sins of the people, the Church, embracing in its bosom sinners, at the same time holy and always in need of being purified, always follows the way of penance and renewal" (Lumen gentium, sec. 8).

Friday, July 27, 2018

"It could happen to you so think for yourself"

Tempest fugit! Another week has flown by. A work colleague who is in her early 30s this week mentioned to me how much more quickly time is seeming to pass for her these days. Trying to not to play too much the wizened person full of cornball wisdom, I simply said, "It only seems to go faster moving forward." Especially in the summertime, I can remember when I was in school and time seemed to move slowly, the days and weeks dragging on. In accordance with the practical application of Einstein's theory of relativity, time moves slower when you're bored and rapidly when you are not. Time seems to move at its most rapid when you're having a good time. But as the second hand on my analog watch reminds me, time is just a function of change and moves steadily and at the rate. Certainly over the course of my half-century plus on this planet, the pace of change has increased rapidly. Sometimes it seems to move at ludicrous speed. Forgive me for the dated reference but I watched Spaceballs last weekend with my three youngest children. Anyway, it is Friday once again.

St. Paul wrote something relevant to this:
Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified (1 Cor 9:24-27)
Egkrateueta is the transliterated form of the Greek word the Apostle uses and is translated into English as "discipline." Egkrateueta literally means "self-restraint."

Looking at Humanae vitae it is easy for me to see how, as a universal pastor, Paul VI wrote in the awareness of the unruliness of sexual desire, especially as this unruliness was beginning to become more openly manifest in the late 1960s. As a result he wrote:
The right and lawful ordering of birth demands, first of all, that spouses fully recognize and value the true blessings of family life and that they acquire complete mastery over themselves and their emotions. For if with the aid of reason and of free will they are to control their natural drives, there can be no doubt at all of the need for self-denial. Only then will the expression of love, essential to married life, conform to right order. This is especially clear in the practice of periodic continence. Self-discipline of this kind is a shining witness to the chastity of husband and wife and, far from being a hindrance to their love of one another, transforms it by giving it a more truly human character (sec. 21)

Without emotional maturity it is impossible to attain spiritual maturity. Emotional maturity cannot be attained without self-discipline. Bl. Pope Paul VI was also quick to note how our collective lack of self-control could threaten our humanity by causing us to surrender to technological control or, worse yet, state control over one of the most human of all activities: conceiving children. Because he was not stupid, naïve, or ridiculously idealistic, he realized that stumbling and falling would occur even for couples committed to following Church teaching. This is why he wrote to them:
If, however, sin still exercises its hold over them, they are not to lose heart. Rather must they, humble and persevering, have recourse to the mercy of God, abundantly bestowed in the Sacrament of Penance. In this way, for sure, they will be able to reach that perfection of married life which the Apostle sets out in these words: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church. . . Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the Church. . . This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband" [Eph 5:25.28.32-33]" (sec. 25)
Given the subject today, I think Billy Idol's underappreciated song "Catch My Fall," off his incredibly good 1983 album Rebel Yell, is a good selection for our Friday traditio:

Jesus: bread of life and food for our pilgrimage

1 Kgs 19:4-8; Ps 34:2-9; Eph 4:30-5:2; John 6:41-51 Whenever it's been a quiet week on Καθολικός διάκονος it means I am having a bus...