Saturday, March 31, 2007

A quick SOC for a busy Saturday

Now I fully realize that there is and cannot be a virtual SOC, as personal inteaction is the whole point and purpose of Don Gius' method . . . anyway, silly contradictions aside, Alex has posted the text of Fr. Carron's letter to members of CL over on his blog: Letter by Fr. Julián Carrón to Movement members after the Audience.

Here I will just take up Fr. Carron's third point of emphasis of the Holy Father's remarks on the mission of CL, which he begins by quoting Don Gius:

"'Go out into the whole world to bring the truth, the beauty and the peace that are met in the encounter with Christ the Redeemer.'… Today I invite you to continue on this path.” The Holy Father gave us a precious indication of method for carrying out this task: it will be possible only "with a deep, personalized faith, solidly rooted in the living Body of Christ, the Church which guarantees Jesus’ presence with us in this moment.” It is an invitation to continue the educative journey that may win for us such a deep, personalized faith, in “total fidelity and communion with the Successor of Peter and with the Pastors,” and enable us to be present in reality “with a spontaneity and a freedom that permit new and prophetic apostolic and missionary endeavors.” This is how we shall be able to collaborate with our charism, along with our Pastors, “to make present the Mystery and the salvific work of Christ in the world.'"

(The Holy Father's words are emboldened, which is my emphasis)

Friday, March 30, 2007

Pope Benedict XVI Visits Sultan Mehmet Mosque in Istanbul

His Demigodness, Paul Hewitt (a.k.a. Bono Vox), OBE

Yesterday, Paul Hewitt, known better as Bono Vox, or just Bono, was made a knight of the British Empire. The recognition was largely for his humanitarian work in Africa and his consciousness-raising and calling people of wealthy nations to solidarity with people in the global south, who are impoverished, victims of the structural inequities of the global economic order.

Bono, 46, proving once again that being over 40 is and can be way cool, was named a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. The ceremony, which took place in Dublin at the home of the British Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland, was typically Irish in its informality and humor.

According to the Associated Press' Shawn Pogatchnik, Bono said to reporters after the ceremony: "You have permission to call me anything you want — except sir, all right? Lord of lords, your demigodness, that'll do."

He does not have the title Sir before his name, like Sir Paul McCartney, because as an Irish citizen he cannot, that honorific is only for subjects of the Queen. So, only British citizens or citizens of the British Commonwealth, like Australia, New Zealand, Canada can use it. Due to its long, sad history of oppressing and repressing the Irish, when Ireland became a republic in 1949, it severed formal ties with Great Britain and did not become part of the British Commonwealth and is not part of the United Kingdom.

Writing about art and life, there is a post on our parish blog on just this topic.

(Photo from Yahoo News)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Sacrifice, Suffering, and God's Priestly People

We "see Jesus 'crowned with glory and honor' because he suffered death, he who 'for a little while' was made 'lower than the angels,' that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the leader to their salvation perfect through suffering. He who consecrates and those who are being consecrated all have one origin. Therefore, he is not ashamed to call them 'brothers,' saying: 'I will proclaim your name to my brothers, in the midst of the assembly I will praise you"; and again: 'I will put my trust in him'; and again: 'Behold, I and the children God has given me'" (Heb 2,9-13).(underlining and italicizing emphasis mine)

Keeping in mind that he "who consecrates and those who are being consecrated (namely, us) all have one origin", we eagerly look forward to this evening's Chrism Mass here in the Diocese of Salt Lake City. At this annual celebration we make visible this beautiful reality- the reality of the one priesthood of Jesus Christ. In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "The whole Church is a priestly people. Through Baptism all the faithful share in the priesthood of Christ. This participation is called the 'common priesthood of the faithful.' Based on this common priesthood and ordered to its service, there exists another participation in the mission of Christ: the ministry conferred by the sacrament of Holy Orders, where the task is to serve in the name and in the person of Christ the Head in the midst of the community." (CCC, 1591).

We pray:

come to us:
free us from the stain of our sins.
Help us to remain faithful to a holy way of life,
and guide us to the inheritance you have promised.

Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Wednesday of Passiontide

Lord, watch over us by day and by night.
In the midst of life's countless changes
strengthen us with your never-changing love.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

This is the prayer of the ekklesia this evening of Passiontide. Writing about Passiontide, I can do no better (mixed metaphors aside) than my dear friend Rocco, who writes Whispers in the Loggia, did earlier this week:

"This past Sunday, we began the period of Lent that, once upon a time, was referred to as 'Passiontide.' Of course, Passion Sunday was collapsed into Palm Sunday with the liturgical reforms, but from the readings of the Fifth Sunday of Lent, we find that as these days of grace intensify into their home stretch, one last chance -- a mulligan, if you will -- still exists for those of us who, to this point, haven't been the best at our observance of these Forty Days to step up to the plate and start over."

Put aside pride and the take all the mulligans God offers, you don't even have to buy once you reach the clubhouse!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

CL and the New Ecclesial Movements, according to BXVI

In his address to members of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation last Saturday, 24 March, the Holy Father, spoke of the proper place for movements, such as CL within the Church and how there is no contradiction with the Church's institutional dimension:

"In the message to the World Congress of Ecclesial Movements, May 27, 1998, John Paul II repeated, that in the Church there is no contrast or contraposition between the institutional dimension and the charismatic dimension, of which the movements are a meaningful expression, because both are co-essential to the divine constitution of the People of God, and in the Church even the essential institutions are charismatic, and, in any case, the charisms, in one way or another, have to institutionalise themselves in order to have cohesion and continuity.

"Both originated by the same Holy Spirit for the same Body of Christ concur together so as to make present the Mystery and the salvific work of Christ in the world. This explains the attention with which the Pope and the pastors look at the wealth of the charismatic gifts in the present day.

"In this regard, during a recent meeting with the clergy and parish priests of Rome, recalling St. Paul's invitation in the first letter to the Thessalonians not to quench the charisms
(1 Thess 5,16-22), I said that if the Lord gives us new gifts we ought to be grateful, even though they can be uncomfortable together. At the same time, since the Church is one, if the movements are really gifts of the Holy Spirit, they must insert themselves more into the community of the Church, thus in patient dialogue with the pastors they can constitute constructive elements for the today's Church and tomorrow's."

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Solemnity of the Annunciation

Along with questions about how to calculate the 40 days of Lent, I get a lot of questions about the Annunciation, or conception of our Lord on or around 8 December, which is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, when people observe "How could the Lord Jesus have been conceived on 8 December and be born on 25 December?" This is a good question and one with a perfectly reasonable answer. The Immaculate Conception has to do with the conception of Mary, the Mother of God (Theotokos), not the conception of her son, which we commemorate on the Solemnity of the Annunciation, about which we read in St. Luke's Gospel, chapter one, verses twenty-six through thirty-five.

The reason for bringing this up is that 25 March marks the commemoration of the angel Gabriel announcing to Miriam of Nazareth that she is to bear a child who "will be called Son of the Most High" (Lk 1,32). Since 25 March fell on Sunday this year, the solemnity is transferred to Monday. Therefore, it is not a Holy Day of Obligation. Nonetheless, attendance at Mass is fitting and highly encouraged. What is important to note about 25 March, in light of the question often asked, is that it is nine months before 25 December. So, just as the mystery of the Most Blessed Trinity is not a mathematical error (i.e, How does 3 somehow-magically- equal 1?), neither is the calculation on the liturgical calendar of our Lord's conception and birth a matter of faith contradicting reason.

It is also important to note, however, lest we get too literal-minded about these things, that we do not know the actual date of the birth of our Lord. Besides, he was born when time was marked by a wholly different calendar and scripture gives us little or no insight into the matter. Of course, it is easy enough to research and learn for oneself how we came to commemorate the Lord's birth on 25 December. This then becomes axiomatic for the calculation of his conception, which also uses the normal gestation period for an in utero human being.

As to the meaning of appropriation of this necessary event in salvation history, we turn to His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, from his catechesis prior to yesterday's Angelus (courtesy of Rocco over at Whispers):

"'Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to your Word.' The response of Mary to the Angel is carried forth in the Church, called to render Christ present in history, offering its own availability that God might continue to visit humanity with his mercy. The 'yes' of Jesus and of Mary so renews itself in the 'yes' of the saints, especially the martyrs, who've been killed for the cause of the Gospel. I underscore this by recalling that yesterday, 24 March, the anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, the Day of prayer and fasting for missionary martyrs was celebrated: bishops, priests, religious men and women and laity taken down in the exercise of their mission of evangelization and human advancement. These missionary martyrs, as this year's theme says, are 'hope for the world,' as they testify that the love of Christ is stronger than violence and hatred. They didn't seek martyrdom, but were ready to give their lives to remain faithful to the Gospel. Christian martyrdom only justifies itself as the supreme act of love to God and to one's brothers." (underlined and emboldened emphasis mine). Let us pray that the Holy Father's singling out of Archbishop Romero will further his canonization as a martyr!

Today also marks the fortieth anniversary of the landmark encyclical of Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progresso.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The need to consider reality

It is appropriate on this day when members of Communion and Liberation from all over the world gathered at noon, Rome time, with the Holy Father in St. Peter's Square, to consider, in true CL fashion, some words of CL founder, the late Monsignor Luigi Giussani. I offer this a brief extract from The Journey to Truth Is an Experience. It comes from the beginning of the book (page 18 of the paperback edition) under the heading CLEAR COMMUNICATION and the subheading Concreteness, number 2:

"It is so easy to avoid considering reality because it is not all we hoped for; so to approach it implies a greater commitment and toil. We easily accuse reality of not matching our comforting dreams, perhaps even as we change the rules of the game, and consequently take on the attitude of a victim or proclaim ourselves powerless before circumstances."

While we're considering reality, the concrete reality of our own lives, which is composed of our daily experiences, the question is not, "How do I have an experience like Oscar Osorio?", or, "When will God speak to me, like He spoke to Oscar?" Rather, we must be assured that God is speaking to us all the time through our experiences, calling us by name, as Bishop Wester so beautifully put it in his installation homily. The question, therefore, becomes (to hearken back to Oscar's experience) "Are you listening so as to hear God speaking to you?"- confidently knowing that He is speaking - TO YOU!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Experiencing the Truth

Lest somebody believe that writing the journey to Truth is an experience is so much theological clap-trap and the making of yet another abstraction, I refer you to the story, related by NCR's John Allen, of Oscar Osorio (not be confused with the former president of El Salvador of the same name), a Honduran Catholic lay preacher and, as such, a star of Central American television.

Orsorio's efforts, unlike Catholics in other parts of the region, enjoy the support of his bishop in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, in the person of Oscar Andreas Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiga, who said of the Church in Latin America in an interview with NCR earlier this week, "Our current pastoral model is exhausted." According to Allen, Osorio and Cardinal Rodriguez favor "a program of missionary outreach led by lay people, and rooted in Scripture." Said the Cardinal: "We lost our people by the Word, and we have to recover them by the Word."

After an initial conversion experience, "Osorio went to Mexico for a formation program, where he had another brush with what he considers divine intervention.

"'I was at an all-night vigil before the Blessed Sacrament when I heard a voice saying, "I need you,"' Osorio said. 'At first, I thought it was the priest speaking, so I said, ‘What do you need?’ He just told me to be quiet. Then I closed my eyes and I heard the voice again, and I told the priest what had happened."

"The next morning, Osorio said, he expected the priest to explain the theological significance of the experience. Instead, he said, the priest simply told him: 'Learn how to listen to God.'"

The journey to Truth, then, is more than an amorphous experience; it is a meeting in and through our experiences with the One who is the Truth, and the Way, and the Life, Jesus Christ. Especially during this Lent, let's listen to Him.

The Journey to Truth

Members of Communion and Liberation worldwide, gathering weekly in Schools of Community, are currently reading The Journey to Truth Is an Experience, by Luigi Giussani, the priest-founder of CL.

In his preface to this book, which is a compilation and, in English, a translation of three booklets written and published by Monsignor Giussani during his lifetime, Marc Cardinal Ouellet, P.S.S. (the P.S.S. is for the religious order- The Society of Priests of Saint Sulpice, known popularly as Sulpicians) and who is archbishop of Quebec, Canada, reflecting on his own experience and contrasting it with that of Msgr. Giussani writes:

"At times life offers some momentous experiences that awaken and provoke a decisive change of direction. I remember one day in the Grand Séminaire in Montreal I noted that some of my companions did not seem to be making the same discoveries, on the spiritual plane, as I was. I was struck and disturbed by this and it led me to the Priests of Saint Sulpice, where I dedicated myself to priestly training. My discovery of something lacking in their formation was the catalyst for my vocation to train priests.

"Father Luigi Giussani took the reverse path. As a young priest he taught at the Major Seminary in Milan. One day, thanks to a chance conversation with some high-school students on a train, he became aware that something was missing in the Christian experience of youth taught in Catholic institutions. He was so troubled by this that he quit his professorial duties to dedicate himself to the Christian education of young high-school students. His courageous choice was at the origin of a great ecclesial movement that has never ceased to grow and develop in Italy and in numerous other countries."

Cardinal Ouellet refers to Msgr. Giussani as "a modern-day Socrates," who "develops free and responsible personalities, introducing them to the total reality of human experience. He knows how to gradually recall, question, and lead his interlocutor to a free choice that culminates in the encounter with Jesus Christ at the heart of life." In short, this is whole point and purpose of CL.

Put a bit more robustly, his Eminence continues:

"Two questions nourish the dialogue of the members of Communion and Liberation at the 'School of Community' and draw them together to educate them: 'Who am I?' and 'Who do you say I am?' The two go hand in hand and refer us to two analytical factors that are never neglected by the author: rational analysis and the gaze of the believer who tries to embrace all the factors of human experience, neglecting none. Whoever risks this Christian path of education knows that one must commit one’s freedom if one wishes to access the depths of an experience of God that carries its own confirmation within."

Tomorrow- Saturday, 24 March at noon in St. Peter's Square- members of Communion and Liberation- known as the celini- from throughout the world will enjoy an audience with one of our own, His Holiness, the Supreme Pontiff, Benedict XVI, to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Pontifical recognition of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation. May we pray in gratitude for this fraternity, this coming-together, this shared experience of life in Christ. On this joyous day, may we not hesitate to invoke the intercession of Monsignor Giussani, who no doubt looks down upon this gathering as a happy father from the house of the Father.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Bishop of Rome to his deacons

In February 2006 in the Clementine Hall of the Vatican, His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, addressed the deacons of Rome on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the re-establishment of the permanent diaconate in the Diocese of Rome. I find these words interesting because there is so little deacon-specific teaching/exhortation. Of course, this is okay because deacons are ordained to serve, not to be served, but it is still nice to be encouraged and challenged in our endeavors. In his address the Holy Father quotes three passages of scripture that establish the diaconate of Christ: Philippians 2,7 and Matthew 20,28, Luke 22,27. He then discusses the need for deacons to cultivate a relationship with the Lord who we do not seek to serve, but to imitate in his service to others. Instead of leaving it there, the Holy Father discusses how union with Christ is "cultivated."

It is cultivated through "prayer, sacramental life and in particular, Eucharistic adoration." Union with Christ "is of greatest importance to your ministry, if it is to testify to God’s love." Of course, there is no other reason to engage in ministry than to testify to God’s love. In his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, we read in number one: "We have come to believe in God's love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life." It is only through cultivating union with Christ that we can "accept with joy and gratitude" what the Lord gives us and, in turn, generously give this same love, that "we have received as a free gift," to the people we are called to serve. As ministers of charity, in addition to working to alleviate material poverty, the Pope identifies both "spiritual and cultural poverty." We are to assist people who "have lost the meaning of life and do not possess a truth upon which to build their existence." In this way we engage in and become the diakonia, or servants, of the Truth who is Jesus Christ.

In the sacramental realm, the Bishop of Rome encourages his deacons in their ministry of Baptism and the family: "By teaching Christ’s Gospel, a faculty conferred upon you by the Bishop on the day of your ordination, you help parents who ask for Baptism for their children to reflect more deeply on the mystery of the divine life that has been given to us, and that of the Church, the great family of God." Deacons are also encouraged to "proclaim the truth about human love to engaged couples who desire to celebrate the sacrament of marriage." The truth we are to proclaim to those preparing for marriage is nicely summarized in number 11 of Deus Caritas Est: "marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa."

"Welcoming the Redeemer into their lives is a source of deep joy for human beings, a joy that can bring peace even in moments of trial," the Pope continues. "Therefore," he exhorts deacons, "be servants of the Truth in order to be messengers of the joy that God desires to give to every human being."

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The continuing relevancy of relativism

How serendipitous that in light of yesterday's post on relativism, addressing Robert T. Miller's claim that it has been surpassed by all of our many words on matters moral, that Pope Benedict XVI, in his Wednesday audience, addressed this matter in his catechesis on St. Justin Martyr

"Continuing our catechesis on the Fathers of the Early Church, we consider today Saint Justin, Philosopher and Martyr. Saint Justin was born in Samaria, Palestine, around the year 100 (one hundred). During his youth he ardently sought the truth. After a meeting with an old man, who directed him to prayer and the study of the prophets, the Saint converted to Christianity. He eventually established a school in Rome where he taught the new religion; he was denounced as a Christian and decapitated in the year 165 (one sixty five). Of his written works only his two Apologies and his Dialogue with Trypho remain. These emphasize God’s project of Creation and Salvation which find fulfilment in Jesus Christ, who is the Logos or Word of God. Before the birth of Christ the Logos allowed men and women to come to know part of the truth about God and man. The full truth, however, has been given to Christians with the Incarnation of the Word of God. Our dialogue with philosophy and other religions, inspired by Saint Justin, must remain firmly rooted in Truth, while always avoiding that which is merely fashionable." (emphasis mine)

Rocco has a more complete translation of this timely catechesis over on Whispers.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Criticism of a critique

Robert T. Miller over on the First Things blog Observations & Contentions in his post Right Reason in the Public Square, offers a critique of an essay by Bishop Giampaolo Crepaldi, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. What is strange about his critique is that he sees Bishop Crepaldi's addressing the issue of relativism in matters of morals as anachronistic. He goes so far as to tag it with the Don Quixote cliche, "tilting at windmills". As quoted by Miller the good bishop's definition of relativism is: "Public reason is 'not possible in a culture that is dominated by the 'dictatorship of relativism' [a phrase from Benedict XVI], for a very simple reason: Relativism is a dogma and therefore it a priori rejects rational argumentation, even toward itself. . . . Relativism [denies] a capability of reason to argue truth . . . [and so] prevents the use of public reason" (emboldened emphasis mine). Using dogma in this manner brings up some questions and concerns, as it plays to the contemporary misunderstanding of what dogma is and the role dogmas play in the exposition of the Catholic faith. Nonetheless, the subject of the essay is relativism regarding religion, what is also known as religious indifferentism. However, Bishop Crepaldi does further define relativism and its effects in the essay. The bishop uses relativism in the most general sense; a view that ethical truths depend on the individuals and groups holding them. "Relativism regards all religions as equivalent," writes the bishop. "It does so," he continues, "because it is incapable of engaging in a public critique of religions because for relativism common good cannot be rationally identified." While far from comprehensive, it is a considerably better definition than Miller indicates.

What Miller's argument ultimately amounts to is an indirect attack on Pope Benedict's critique of the "the dictatorship of relativism", that was the main feature of then-Cardinal Ratzinger's homily at the Votive Mass for the Election of a New Pope. Bishop Crepaldi's essay amounts to nothing more than an abbreviated version of this already abbreviated argument, which has been fully developed by the Holy Father over most of the previous twenty years. Furthermore, Miller makes the odd claim that relativism in morals is no longer a concern due to the sheer amount of rational discourse on matters of morals be the issue "abortion or gay rights, tax policy or the trade deficit, global warming or third-world debt, everyone seems ready to adduce arguments in support of some position or other." He makes the simple error of confusing the quantity of discourse with quality, and content, while ignoring the philosophical assumptions of our public discourse. He rightly sees the verificationism required for the success of logical positivist claims as being long since refuted, but he also claims that emotivism is fifty years dead.

That last claim simply cannot be sustained. After all, was not MacIntyre's After Virtue published in the 1980s? How can one write about emotivism without mentioning McIntyre? It seems Miller is the one behind the times. Has the emotivism identified in McIntyre's seminal work really been refuted, rejected, surpassed?

Also, the project, which he picks up from R.R. Reno, of seeking to make analytic philosophy the philosophia prima, thus supplanting phenomenology, is no small project. It is certainly worth discussing and considering. If Miller is going to pursue this critique, rather than expend his energy on this particular essay, he needs to contend with McIntyre and the best of Ratzinger, like the recently translated The Dialectics of Secularization: On Reason and Religion, his dialogue with philosopher Jurgen Habermas.

Reader's poll

I thought it would be interesting to see what we're all reading for Lent. Or, if by chance you've given up reading for Lent, what else are you doing?

As for me, I am reading Archbishop Bruno Forte's (I've been waiting since last year) To Follow You, Light Of Life. One fruit of this is that I was able to compose my homily for the First Sunday of Lent.

Monday, March 19, 2007

All Night Vigil

This is just a brief post to express how beautiful and sublime was listening to our Cathedral Choir perform Sergi Rachmaninoff's All Night Vigil last night in our lovely Madeleine. The beauty of the setting and the singing were almost overwhelming for me. I had been looking forward to this concert for months and my anticipation was richly rewarded. This work of Rachmaninoff's, like many of his works, is so challenging, but our choir, under the direction of Gregory Glenn and Melanie Malinka, were more than up to the task. How nice it was to spend more than an hour in prayer!

So, to Mr. Glenn, Mrs. Malinka, and the men and women, girls and boys of the Cathedral Choir: Thank you for this beautiful experience!

A happy St. Joseph's day to one and all!

St. Joseph- pray for us

Especially for those of us who are fathers (spiritual and biological) St. Joseph is a patron whose intercession is worth invoking daily.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Finding God in all things

Spring seems to be springing here along the Wasatch Front. It is lovely to behold. It is the age-old observance of coming-back-to-life. The Paschal Mystery is such an integral part of our lives that we often fail to notice it. Take grace, in which we move all the time, like fish in the ocean, yet so often we are still trying to find God, even though God is here all the time, most especially in other people, and not just in the people we happen happen to like, or who like us. In addition to people, God is in the many occurrences in our lives, in our experiences- speaking to us, challenging us, calling us beyond ourselves, reassuring us, even if with just enough hope to get us beyond a stressful, sad, arduous moment. "No one has ever seen God," we read in St. John's First Letter. "Yet," he continues, "if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us" (1 Jn 4,12).

One thing that Lent is about is intensifying our prayer, spending more time perceiving God in our lives and in others. Spiritual maturity, like emotional maturity is tough to achieve. If you're anything like me, it is easy to feel like we condemn ourselves repeatedly to be forever spiritual adolescents by being selfish, demanding, arrogant, prideful, by not only refusing to forgive, but actively nursing our grudges, by seeing those different from us as threats rather than the gifts they are. Nonetheless, God is still at work in us, or, at the very least knocking at the door hoping we will open up to Him and to the people we encounter. One cause of these symptoms is our slowness to accept that life isn't just cut-and-dry all the time, but is often ambiguous, resisting being stuffed into our all too neat categories, what I call in some classes our God matrix. After all it is St. Paul who writes: "At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror" (1 Cor 13,12). Perhaps it is this that makes those moments in which we distinctly perceive God all the more precious. As St. Paul wrote to the Phillipians, "I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil 1,6)

Hopefully that puts us in mind of St. Patrick's Breastplate, which ends:

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation

Be mindful of "the Creator of Creation"! Happy St. Patrick's Day.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Easter on-the-way

Writing about how much the presence of friends and neighbors added to our celebration on Wednesday, I was reminded of one of my favorite Pater Tom (Merton) quotes, from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander:

"If I affirm myself as Catholic merely by denying all that is Muslim, Jewish, Protestant, Hindu, Buddhist, etc., in the end I will find that there is not much left for me to affirm as a Catholic: and certainly no breath of the Spirit with which to affirm it."

Along with the late Fr. Jacques DuPuis, SJ, I take the "you will know them by their fruits" approach. Why? Because over and above Fr. DuPuis, these are the words of our Lord himself.

Rejoicing, we now return to our regularly scheduled liturgical season. It bears noting that we are more than half-way to Easter!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

These past few days

The last two days have been some of the most powerful experiences I have had as a member of the Body of Christ. I renewed old acquaintances, met new people, especially many bishops. We are so blessed to have so many shepherds who truly seek to emulate the Good Shepherd. It was a special pleasure to finally meet Archbishop Pietro Sambi in person. He is the Holy Father's personal repsentative to the Church in the United States, as well as the Holy See's ambassador to the U.S. government.

Finally, it was a privilege and a joy to serve as Master of Ceremonies for Bishop Wester's Installation Mass. It was great to joke around with Archbishop Niederauer before Mass. It was a nice blending of what was and what is come. It would be impossible for me to transcribe my experiences into words. In fact putting all my experiences into words is not necessary, or even desirable (Okay, those of who know me can quit laughing now). The picture below better communicates the joy of these past few days.

As Archbishop Niederauer said last evening in a speech at a dinner for Bishop Wester, now that these events are concluded, it is time for us get on with the joyful task of "being Church in Utah." And so it is under the leadership of Bishop Wester that we continue this sacred task, the fulfillment of our baptismal vocation, which is both a grace and a joy.

The occasion was made even more joyous by the presence of civic leaders and ecumenical leaders, all of whom I had the great privilege of introducing to Bishop Wester. Among the civic leaders were Governor Huntsman, Mayor Anderson, Mayor Coroon, Police Chief Burbank, and the presence of our Episcopalian neigbors, led by Bishop Carolyn Tanner Irish, and including our dear friends from "through the block", Fr. Rick Lawson, Rector of St. Mark's Cathedral (Episcopal), and Canon Carol Marsh, also from St. Mark's. Pastor Michael Imperial from First Presbyterian Church, our direct neighbor to the East, right across C Street from the Diocesan Pastoral Center, was also on-hand. I am not betraying a confidence by relating that Pastor Imperial said to Bishop Wester, "My office is across the street from yours. We can shout out the window to each other." Of course, the presence of President Monson of the LDS First Presidency and Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve, contributed much to the communal atmosphere of the celebration.

(Photos from the Salt Lake Tribune)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

An evening of celebration and conversation

Yesterday was a wonderful day, the first of two days of events surrounding the installation of Bishop Wester, which will take place today at The Cathedral of the Madeleine (on the other link it is your scribe who is at the left of Bishop Wester). I had the privilege of assisting Bishop Wester, along with Deacon Silvio Mayo, the Chancellor of our diocese and something of the dean of our college of deacons, at a celebration of Evening Prayer at St. Anne's Parish in Salt Lake City. As always, this celebration was made beautiful and more prayerful by our Cathedral Choir, under the direction of Mr. Gregory Glenn and Mrs. Melanie Malinka, with Dr. Douglas O'Neil at the organ. This service marked the first public liturgy presided over by Bishop Wester in his new diocese.

Later that evening I had the pleasure of attending a supper in honor of our new bishop and sitting at table with Msgr. J. Terrence Fitzgerald, who until last evening was our Diocesan Administrator, and the episcopal contingent from the Diocese of Orange, California in the persons of ordinary, Bishop Tod Brown, and his auxiliary, Bishop Jaime Soto. I had the opportunity of telling Bishop Soto what a great job he has done in locking horns with CNN's Lou Dobbs on the issue of immigration. Rocco over at Whispers has covered this well. Bishop Soto informed me that his appearances on Dobbs' program were likely not yet at an end. I am quite sure that he will make a fine ordinary for some very fortunate diocese in the not too distant future.

As we approach the installation of Bishop Wester:

Holy Mary. Mother of God - pray for us
St. John- pray for us
St. Charles Borromeo- pray for us
St. Joseph- pray for us
St. Francis of Assisi- pray for us
St. Mary Magdalene- pray for us
Sts. Peter & Paul- pray for us
St. Stephen- pray for us
St. Martin of Tours- pray for us
St. Clare- pray for us
St. Thérèse of Lisieux- pray for us
St. Peter Julian Eymard- pray for us
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta- pray for us
All holy men and women- pray for us

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Sacramentum Caritatis

Writing of bodies and redemption: we are Christ's Body by virtue of the communion we share in the one bread and the one cup.

St. Paul on the agon, Part II

In yesterday's post, which took its direction from 1 Corinthians 9,24-27, we see that holiness is not merely some abstract spiritual pursuit, but is a bodily endeavor. Sometimes we chop ourselves up into so many parts (i.e., body, mind, spirit, soul, heart, etc.) that we lose sight of ourselves as unified, whole, persons. This manifests itself in such things as "I am spiritual, but not religious." In this context at least, that is a bit like saying I am really into to fitness, as I lay on the couch eating chips and watching ESPN (add to that drinking a beer or two and you have- what is for me- a "get behind me Satan" moment- especially with spring Training underway and my beloved A's yet to undertake another summer, this one without Barry Zito, who moved across the Bay). Holiness, as Paul seeks to explain over and again in his teaching, which comprises most of the New Testament, requires discipline, the training of our bodies.

As we all know, our bodies are recalcitrant and often resist being trained. It doesn't matter if it is overeating, eating poorly, drinking too much, not attending Mass, even when we resolve anew each week to do so, physically exercising, getting enough rest, praying regularly, taking time to serve others, or disciplining our sexual appetites. The need to do the latter even extends to married couples. St. Paul addresses this in the seventh chapter of this letter both as to abstaining from relations and the dangers of abstaining too long (I take this opportunity to point out a new link to Intermountain Fertility Care, courtesy of the Director of our diocesan Office of Family Life, which is a resource on teaching the Creighton Model of NFP- another post to appear in the near-term). A good way to learn about salvation as a physical pursuit is by studying Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body. In turn, a nice entry way into this beautiful and profound teaching of our late Holy Father, is Bishop Robert Baker's pastoral letter, The Redemption of our Bodies: The Theology of the Body and Its Consequences for Ministry in the Diocese of Charleston. He is the bishop of the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina and his letter is for his own people, but is well worth consideration of anybody who is sincere about how, as human beings comprised of spirit and body, we fulfill the end for which we are created. During this holy season, may we "not fight as if [we are] shadowboxing." Let us also not lose sight of the fact that discipline is a means, not an end. The end is closer union with God, becoming Christ-like through love of God and neighbor. Our efforts are but a way of cooperating with God's grace, not forcing God's hand, or trying to make ourselves better than others. To the contrary, true discipline, as we come to realize our dependence on God and our need for community, only humbles us.

Monday, March 12, 2007

St. Paul on the agon

Last week in a post entitled The point and purpose of obediance, it was observed that we "engage in the struggle so that we are ever more conformed, by God's grace, given us in and through the sacraments, to Christ. Struggling with certain clear teachings, either to accept or to live these freeing truths, may be a life-long process. The point, however, is not to drive ourselves crazy by futilely trying to adhere to a list of dos and donts that we perceive as being externally imposed on us. In his first encyclical, our Holy Father wrote, "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction" (Deus Caritas Est, 1). The point and the mode of life that arises from being a Christian, therefore, is to become ever more like God, who is fully revealed in Jesus Christ, and who is love- agapé (1 Jn 4,8.16). In a word, through the struggle, with the undeserved help of God, we become divinized. It is for no other reason that we engage in the agon, knowing that we need God's help, which He freely gives us, especially through the sacraments of Penance and Eucharist. Put simply, we must always keep in mind that the only good reason for obedience can be nothing other than love of God and neighbor. Such an understanding should immunize us against the sin of self-righteousness."

I was reminded of the scriptural basis of engaging in the agon while praying Evening Prayer for the Third Sunday of Lent, the reading for which was 1 Corinthians 9,24-27, in which the apostle writes:

"All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it. 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."

Sunday, March 11, 2007

"The sacrament of love"

Pope Benedict's Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (i.e., The Sacrament of Love) from the 2005 gathering of the world's bishops on the Eucharist will be released Tuesday, 13 March. Like all of the Holy Father's writings, it is certain that this exhortation on the Eucharist, the "source and summit of the life and mission of the Church," will be a great gift.

(Diaconal bow to the The Roving Medievalist from whom I poached this lovley picture of the Holy Father)

Saturday, March 10, 2007

God, Beauty, and Children

On a lighter, not to mention shorter, note: Upon my arrival home this afternoon, our driveway was covered with beautiful chalk drawings in flourescent pink, blue, yellow, and green. It is truly lovely. I need to take a picture and post it. I knew my very expressive six year-old daughter was the one largely responsible. As I told her before her going-to-bed: "You have so much beauty that you can't keep it inside." Maybe Jesus knew what he was saying when he said that unless we receive the kingdom of God like a child, we will not enter it (Mk 10,15).

In defense of marriage

What follows is a dialogue based on an exchange prompted by a consideration of an article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, entitled: Study finds age divide on gay marriage on another blog. The dialogue that follows is not identical to the original dialogue, but is faithful to it. I freely admit that my responses are more robust than my immediate responses in the give-and-take of the dialogue, but I duly note departures from and additions to the original dialogue.

The point at which I entered the discussion was when the issue of the relationship between morality and societal consensus in a democracy was introduced. In what follows my responses are in normal font and what I am responding to is in italics. It bears noting that my responses constitute my considered opinion on the matter and nobody else's. Furthermore, while I hope this dialogue instructively address some common questions and confusions on this delicate matter, I fully realize my opinions are far from definitive or comprehensive and fall far short of the last word on the matter. There is certainly much more that can, has been, and yet needs to be said and written in defense of marriage in constructive dialogue. Nonetheless, rushing in where angels fear to tread, but with confidence in the truth, I offer the following exchange.

So what we really have is a question of whether or not the majority will permit the minority to have with it wants for itself.

This, it seems to me, gets to the crux of the issue, as it touches the point where morality and democracy intersect. I will state up-front that morality is never determined democratically. By contrast, discussion of ethics, which I see as the application of morality to life, is a constant in the public life of a democracy. Neither can society reduce morality down to what we can agree upon. All this brings up the whole issue of happiness and the classic question, posed by Aristotle, What does it mean to be happy? One possibility is that true happiness consists in getting what I want for myself. This seems to me an impoverished notion of happiness.

I am inclined to agree with those who do not think allowing legal recognition, which amounts to societal sanction, of same-sex relationships will end the debate, just as Roe v. Wade was not, thankfully the last word on abortion. Rather than strengthen marriage, legally recognizing such unions would further weaken an institution, vital to all societies, and that pre-dates the founding of our nation, or any nation, and that is already reeling from our failure to legally safe-guard it (i.e., by allowing no fault divorce, etc.).

The most common argument I hear in favor of allowing same-sex marriage, apart from it being a right, is the argument that points out that roughly half of all marriages end in divorce, which is true. Now, I realize there are better arguments than these in favor of same-sex marriage or domestic partnerships, but these seem to comprise the basis of many peoples' reasoning on the matter. After all, U.S. citizens tend to be pragmatic to a fault. Beyond that, an appeal to human rights is hugely problematic. Such an argument typically follows the logic: It is a human right to marry. Homosexuals are human beings. Therefore, homosexual human beings have the right to marry. Homosexual persons are certainly human beings and are, therefore, equal to every other human person and are bearers of all human rights. Not Part of Original Dialogue: This why the Church teaches that it "is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church's pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law" (Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 10).

Return to dialogue:
What is problematic with this reasoning is its equivocation on human rights. Marriage is not a human right, properly understood. A human right is something a person has by virtue of being human, like the right to life, a living wage, health care, etc. Even arguing that one has the right to pursue happiness, with happiness being defined exclusively as what I want for myself, fails this test. Marriage, even as it pertains to heterosexual persons, is not an arrangement that any man and any woman can enter enter into. One is not free to marry a sibling, a first cousin, or more than one person at a time. To bring such a view to its logical conclusion, if marriage is a universal human right, the state would have no business regulating who could be married to whom, apart from seeing to it that there was no coercion and that parties were of legal age.

I do want to make it absolutely clear that I am not making a moral comparison between homosexual marriage and incestuous marriage. I am using the legal prohibition against marrying within certain degrees of consanguinity and being married to more than one person at a time (which homosexual marriage would- presumably- have no effect upon) to show that marriage is not a human right because it does not extend to everyone without condition, even to heterosexual persons. In terms of both society and even biology to change this would yield bad results as much of what ills us is attributable to societal changes that have resulted in an altered view of marriage, with this altered view resulting in deleterious legal changes related to marriage, which has been devastating for families and, therefore, to the individuals who comprise society.

Not part of the original dialogue:
As regards the necessity of a proper view of human sexuality, Pope Paul VI, with his promulgation of Humane Vitae, has proven quite prophetic, especially in number 17 in which he writes:

"Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law" (emphasis of underlining mine). Is anybody going to make the argument that sexual ethics have risen since 1968? This is not as big a digression as it may appear.

Sexual intercourse completely divorced from procreation is the heart-breaking result Paul VI is referring to throughout this encyclical, which is the best example of speaking the truth in love of the twentieth century. It is also one of the things Pope Benedict XVI alludes to some twenty-eight years later, in Deus Caritas Est, when he writes: "Today, the term 'love' has become one of the most frequently used and misused of words, a word to which we attach quite different meanings." The attitude that getting pregnant, the love between a man and a woman bringing about the existence of a new human being, is incidental or accidental to having sex is at the heart societal and personal ills too numerous to list, not the least of which is the male abdication of true manliness. In all this, we must never lose sight of God's mercy, God's love, God's tender concern for each one of us.

Return to original dialogue:
To argue that morality cannot be legislated makes about as much sense as saying "Keep your laws off my body." If morality and action, which requires a body to perform, were not legislated, life would be, to quote Hobbes's Leviathan, which cannot be seen as a religious argument, "nasty, brutish, and short."

More generally, I am arguing that there is no way of allowing homosexual marriage that does not seriously undermine our societal and legal understanding of marriage and/or diminish our understanding of human rights.

Is there no room in our democracy for differing moralities? Who determines for homosexuals that their morality (between consenting adults) is 'wrong'? The majority who are not homosexual and who are from a different religious point of view?

Of course there is room for differing moralities. The question is how do we resolve issues between differing moralities? Along with MacIntrye, I reject emotivistic ways of so doing because they tend toward a relativism that cannot be sustained. My position was expressed well by Rocco Buttiglione, who was rejected as the E.U.'s Justice, Freedom and Security minister primarily because he is a believing, professing, and practicing Roman Catholic, when he said during his confirmation hearings on the subject of homosexuality, "I may think that homosexuality is a sin, and this has no effect on politics, unless I say that homosexuality is a crime."

Should two people of the same-sex choose to live in a committed marriage-like relationship that is their right. As far as granting legal recognition to such arrangements, as stated previously, I am opposed. So, two consenting adults of the same sex can, especially in light of the recent Supreme Court decision finding the Texas law prohibiting homosexual acts unconstitutional, decide for themselves whether to have such consensual relations. As a Christian, I have no problem with such a ruling because it allows the freedom proper to the individual human being, even though I believe any sexual expression outside of marriage to be immoral. It is a different thing altogether to gain societal recognition for same-sex partnerships.

Since it seems like we are moving beyond this particular case to a more general consideration, the bigger question is, Does being pluralistic necessarily mean being relativistic, or hedonistic (I realize hedonistic is loaded term- I mean it in the sense of happiness conceived of as what I want for myself) and thereby abandon the need for societal consensus in search of the common good?

Surely one does not have come from a position of religious faith (i.e., Jürgen Habermas in recent years and even Richard Rorty) to see that relativism conceived as: "I have my morality and you have yours and since we have no way to decide between what is right and wrong, morality goes out the window and we all do what we want with no regard of the damage to the common good," has to be rejected, especially as it bears on our common life together.

This is the one I never get: How does it "seriously undermine" anything? All I can see is that allowing homosexuals to marry seriously undermines the religious sensibility that homosexuality is morally wrong... this is one clear way that the religious can continue to demonstrate that they believe homosexuality to be wrong. I don't see how two people of the same sex marrying changes anything for anyone else

As a first approach to answering this specific query, allow me the following:

You are correct in that legally allowing two people of the same-sex to marry does not change anything for anyone else, it changes the entire understanding of marriage for everyone! This is a crucial distinction. As to how it changes things for everyone, I refer you back to my first, lengthy, response.

Along with the argument from rights (from either the perspective of equality or pursuit of happiness), the one, if I am not misreading you (always a risk!), you make here is simply a red-herring. To answer the question I think you're posing, Does marriage between to people of the same-sex affect my marriage or your marriage? I can say unequivocally, No!

I have to comment on your dismissal of the belief that homosexual activity is immoral as a "religious sensibility." My objection is a logical one, such a dismissal begs a serious question and makes a huge claim. In the first instance, my understanding does not prescind from revelation and, hence, faith, but reason and nature.

Now, I am well aware that homosexuality occurs naturally outside the species homo sapiens, but the natural argument would factor in that human beings are the only species possessed of full reason, will, and intellect, thus causing this analogy to break down.

I can see that by allowing same sex marriage we are changing the definition of the word marriage as it has been traditionally applied. Is that the primary change then?

My point about differing moralities didn't have to do with differing opinions, but with provisions within the law for different moralities. For instance, I would also support polygamy for Muslims and Mormons. I support both conscription for the armed services but agree that the law should provide for an exception to those who are of the Mennonite and pacifist traditions.

This is what I meant in my argument. I think it is fine for churches to withhold the right to marry within their particular traditions. I don't know why the government ought to.

In your comment about social consensus of morality, then, we are back to the primary point of the article I posted, right? If the moral consensus shifts to supporting gay marriage, then I suppose you would also support it (or at least, you would support it in the sense that you would tolerate or accept it as expressing the moral consensus)? Or am I misreading you?

I have to disagree because the societal consensus is based on something other than the fact that it is the social consensus. See my previous response on reason and nature.

However, I will be the first to admit that the reasons underlying the societal consensus are just as forgotten among those who support it as those who oppose it. I would even go so far as to give credit to those who oppose the consensus, understand the reasons for it, and engage those reasons. Fr. James Alison comes to mind as one such person.

This is where we differ. I am a moral relativist when it comes to allowing the widest possible expression of personal beliefs/moralities to coexist in a pluralistic society. I agree that the lines drawn become more and more difficult to articulate. In this case, I need to see some way in which this differing point of view is a threat in order to withhold something as important as marriage from them.

I see a bit where you are headed now, though. You see homosexuality as being disordered nature, right? As such, you wouldn't criminalize it, but you also wouldn't sanction it with state endorsements in the form of marital benefits. Is that closer to what you're saying? And your argument stems from a complex of spiritual, rational (as in the application of reason), natural (as in science) and historical (as in historical definition of marriage) reasons for not allowing the state to sanction marriage for gay couples.

So how would you argue this to a gay couple who didn't share your spiritual worldview? How might they come to see it the way you see it? I think that's the case that hasn't been successfully made. And while that case isn't made, it becomes more and more difficult for the younger generation to see this debate as anything more than generational up tightness... at least that's how it looks to me.

Why would I feel the need to change my arguments? What argument would a gay couple who did not share my "spiritual worldview" and who wanted to get married make to me? It is our right? I've addressed that one. To accept marriage as a human right has bad consequences both for our understanding of marriage and for our understanding of human rights. It bears pointing out that this is a philosophical, not a theological argument. They might also state, We should be allowed to get married because we want to. I have addressed this, too, with a philosophical argument.

I have to admit being a bit puzzled by your insistence on dismissing philosophical arguments as mere religious sentiment and as part of a spiritual worldview.

As to relativism, I don't think your analogy between homosexual marriage and conscientious objection bears any weight whatsoever. It is a classic apples and oranges argument. I, too, accept your principle "the widest possible expression of personal beliefs/moralities to coexist in a pluralistic society". This, however, is not relativism. To keep this as a principle and to prevent it from degenerating into a mere slogan, the question must be answered as to what constitutes the limit of possibility? But this is circular in that it just poses the same question that started our exchange, rather than answer it. I think (hope?) we would both agree on the need for such a limiting of possibilities in order to prevent a fall into absolute relativism, which is both unsustainable and even dangerous.

Beyond the dialogue:

Even the canonical definition of marriage is taken from a natural, rather than a supernatural, understanding. According to canon 1055 §1. "The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized."

For a more authoritative statement on much of what I argue for, see the 1993 document issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the prefecture of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, entitled Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons. In addition to the posts on marriage and sexuality- Marriage and the Gift of Life: Some Diaconal Observations and Observing the Gap through the Prism of Sexuality, respectively- I provide the link for my first post on the matter What's in a name? An observation of some societal consequences of Philosophical Nominalism.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Friday Q & A

From the parish bulletin of St. Gregory the Great Parish in Bluffton, South Carolina:

"Why can we eat fish on days of abstinence? Fish and most other animals that live in water are cold-blooded. Abstinence from meat applies only to the meat of warmblooded animals. So we may also eat frog’s legs, turtle soup, alligator, and even snake (which is a delicacy in some places) … just not the meat from a bird or mammal."

If nothing else, it shows that Catholics in the South typically have a wider variety of foods to choose from on Fridays of Lent. Unless anyone feel slighted, here in the Western U.S. we remain free to indulge in rattlesnake. I hear it tastes like chicken. Maybe we talk the KofC into hosting a Lenten Rattlesnake Barbecue one of these years!

By virtue of our Baptism, in which we died with Christ and were raised with him, in addition to meat, let us abstain from all that separates us from God and from each other, all that does not flow from genuine love/charity/caritas/agapé.

Prayer from Lauds for the Second Friday of Lent:

Merciful Father,
may our acts of penance bring us your forgiveness,
open our hearts to your love,
and prepare us for the coming feast of the resurrection.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Lent, again!

I received an e-mail last evening, the subject of which was- no kidding- Realize total and absolute power. It was like getting an e-mail from the devil (too bad he is far more subtle than the ham-fisted spammer). I suppose it caught my attention more than usual because I preached on the First Sunday of Lent. It also reminded me of something I read earlier yesterday, a masterful paraphrase of a passage from C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce: "any besetting lust, whether the lust be lust for power, or acclaim, or the satisfactions of the flesh . . . any sin that a man ultimately refuses to do without will damn him." I would suppose, to logically complete the thought, it damns him because he prefers his sin to God. This made me mindful of what a lovely prayer the Act of Contrition is:

My God,
I am sorry for my sins with all my heart.
In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good,
I have sinned against You, whom I should love above all things.
I firmly intend,
with Your help,
to do penance,
to sin no more,
and to avoid whatever leads me to sin.
Our savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us. In His name my God have mercy.

May we strive to love God, who "loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins." Therefore, "if God so loved us, we also must love one another (1 Jn 4,10-11). It is only by loving God first and most that we are able to love our neighbor as we should.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Lent Two Weeks on

Two weeks ago today we inaugurated the holy season of Lent. It is a good time, in light of one of the petitions from Morning Prayer today, to take up briefly the role that suffering and struggling play in our sanctification: "help us to receive good things from your bounty with a deep sense of gratitude- and to accept with patience the evil that comes to us." When bad things come our way, we are presented with opportunities for self-reflection and to acquire virtue, not the least among which is humility. Our faith, our relationship with the Lord in prayer, helps us to frame our difficulties as part of a bigger picture, the true picture. The ability to do this is nothing less than the God-given gift of hope. As the author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes: "You have also forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as sons: 'My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges'" (Heb 12,5-6).

Therefore, may we seek and find God in all things, even our trials and struggles, maybe even especially in our trials and struggles, whether they result from our own choices, or just happen to us unexpectedly. After all, the point from Hebrews holds even when we fail to perceive the relative justice of that which causes us to suffer and struggle. Besides, bearing wrongs patiently is one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy, perhaps the most difficult one to practice.

teach us to live good lives,
encourage us with your support
and bring us to eternal life.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Communion and Liberation

Msgr. Giussani speaking

Last night in my lecture I mentioned how much what the Holy Father writes in the first part of Deus Caritas Est reminds me of the writings of the late Monsignor Luigi Giussani, founder of Communion and Liberation, who, by the Pope's own admission, "changed my life". In his homily at the funeral of Msgr. Giussani in February 2005, then-Cardinal Ratzinger stated: "Communion and Liberation brings to mind immediately this discovery proper of the modern era, freedom. It also brings to mind St Ambrose’s phrase, 'Ubi fides est libertas.' Cardinal Biffi drew our attention to the near coincidence of this phrase of St Ambrose with the foundation of Communion and Liberation. Focusing on freedom as a gift proper of faith, he also told us that freedom, in order to be true, human freedom, freedom in truth, needs communion. An isolated freedom, a freedom only for the 'I,' would be a lie, and would destroy human communion. In order to be true, and therefore in order to be efficient, freedom needs communion, and not just any kind of communion, but ultimately communion with truth itself, with love itself, with Christ, with the Trinitarian God. Thus is built community that creates freedom and gives joy."

I have also mentioned in some previous posts how much I want to start a CL School of Community. Papa Ratzi himself attends a SOC, you can read more on this written by Rocco Palmo on Whispers in his post The Pope's Saturday "School". For those so inclined, I direct you to the U.S. Communion and Liberation website. Surf around and see for yourself. It is worth a little time.

The necessity of prayer

Mary Magdalene in Prayer

"For Christians," Pope Benedict taught at his Wednesday audience, "prayer does not mean evading reality and the responsibilities reality brings, rather it means a complete assumption of those responsibilities, trusting in the faithful and infinite love of the Lord. For this reason, the confirmation of the Transfiguration is, paradoxically, the Garden of Gethsemane" when, "on the eve of His Passion, Jesus experienced mortal anguish and entrusted Himself to divine will.

"At that moment, His prayer was a pledge for the salvation of us all. In fact, Jesus pleaded with the heavenly Father to 'save Him from death' and, as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes, 'He was heard because of His reverent submission.' The proof of this is the Resurrection."

Prayer, then, "is not an accessory, an optional extra, but a question of life or death. Only those who pray, in other words those who entrust themselves to God with filial love, can enter into eternal life, which is God Himself."

Monday, March 5, 2007

Blogging and accountability

NB:This post has been edited a bit from its original, which I posted yesterday. I probably posted it too soon, while I was too emotional. What is changed are mostly deletions. While I certainly accept the need to be accountable, at the end of the day, I have not attacked anybody or been uncharitable in anything I have written. If my intentions have been misunderstood, I do bear some responsibility for that, but I do not have a problem asking for and expecting others, out of charity, to give me the benefit of the doubt, just as I am willing to do the same. While I may disagree with others, I do not question their intentions or assign them motives. Finally, there is nothing I write here that I do not own and would not say.

It has been my practice since beginning to blog in earnest last July, as a deacon blogging on a site called Catholic Deacon, to be accountable for what I write. Shortly after deciding the blogging life was for me, I let my pastor know what I was doing and gave him the URL so he knows where to go when he wants to read what I am writing and publicly posting on a daily basis. For a person in my position such accountability is crucial. If I am ever called upon to stop by the bishop, my pastor, or the vicar general, I will do so. In my blogging I try to steer clear of controversies, like the one that exploded on front page of the Salt Lake Tribune this morning in an article, by Peggy Fletcher Stack, entitled, Gay-friendly Mass on way out. I did make a comment on another blog stating my opposition to what was happening in Park City, pointing out that I did not think it was in accordance with the guidelines issued by the USCCB last November, entitled: Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care, which I addressed in a post last fall: Another delicate matter. I have since deleted that comment.

I want this blog to be a source of catchesis, thoughtful reflection on contemporary life in light of our faith, as well as a source of inspiration and dialogue at service of communion. Should my efforts come to be perceived as being primarily ideological and, hence, divisive, I will simply stop. I continue to believe, however, that such efforts are vital, even if they stir controversy from time-to-time. In this age it is necessary for the Church at every level to have a presence in cyber-space. Of course, these efforts require appropriate pastoral oversight. I readily accept that there are some who may disagree with me or my way of explaining things. I invite those who disagree with me to join the discussion. It is my on-going promise that all who participate here will continue to be treated with dignity and respect.

The reason I even deign to mention all this is because my post, A gratuitously long exposition on the Church's mission, has been perceived by some as a criticism of Archbishop Niederauer, whom I love dearly and about whom I have written frequently and glowingly. I offer the following two examples that indicate the high esteem in which I hold him: The Sacrament of Holy Orders on an Anniversary and Well done, Archbishop Niederauer! Even in my other long post on related matters, Church and State in Democratic Societies: The Shifting Balance, my critical comments seem to me quite tempered. I recognize the difficulties bishops face in the many complex and highly-charged issues they are forced to deal with and understand that solutions are not one size fits all.

What I intended the post in question to be was a pitch for our Diocesan Development Drive, which is what provides the resources for the bishop of our diocese to meet the pastoral needs of our local Church. Far from being a criticism of then-Bishop Niederauer, my post sought to discuss the unique position our diocese is in presently: meeting the needs of an exploding Catholic population and dealing, as all dioceses must, with the scarcity of resources. Also, for what it was worth, pointing out a few areas that, in my opinion, we should make higher priorities as time goes on. As I mentioned in the post, these are great challenges, both in terms of their magnitude and, among an unlimited range of possibilities, these are the challenges to have! Nonetheless, I deleted the offending post.

Please know, that I also look to you, my readers, to hold me accountable. I am a firm believer in, and try to be a practitioner of what our Lord outlines in Matthew chapter 18, verses 15-17, which begins: "If your brother sins (against you), go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother."

Saturday, March 3, 2007

The point and purpose of obedience

This is a re-worked version of a post from yesterday. I deleted the previous post.

I just read a really wonderful article written by His Excellency, Robert Vasa, bishop of the Diocese of Baker, Oregon, entitled, There are just and unjust choices — church teaching helps. Bishop Vasa's article, commenting on The Rites of Election he presided over in his diocese on the First Sunday of Lent, builds on last evening's RCIA class at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, the topic for which was the Sacrament of Matrimony. It especially puts me mind of our discussion of marital sexuality towards the end of class. It is vitally important for adults seeking to enter into full communion with the Church to know what the Church teaches on such delicate matters, to borrow a phrase from Papa Luciani.

In addition to the post for which the link above is provided, I also addressed the issue of marital sexuality in the wake of a wonderful document issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at their meeting last November in a post called Marriage and the Gift of Life: Some Diaconal Observations. Finally, in the wake of a very unenlighthened article in the Salt Lake Tribune by a Philosophy professor from the "U", in which he castigates religiously held views of sexuality, I offer my post on sexuality in general: Observing the gap through the prism of sexuality. The long and short of all this, in light of Bishop Vasa's column, is that adults need to know both what Christ teaches us through the Church and why the Church teaches what she does (i.e., the reasons derived from both reason and revelation), so that they can give their free assent to these teachings, even if this causes some grappling, doubt, and fear.

We engage in the struggle so that we are ever more conformed, by God's grace, given us in and through the sacraments, to Christ. Struggling with certain clear teachings, either to accept or to live these freeing truths, may be a life-long process. The point, however, is not to drive ourselves crazy by futilely trying to adhere to a list of dos and donts that we perceive as being externally imposed on us. In his first encyclical, our Holy Father wrote, "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction" (Deus Caritas Est, 1). The point and the mode of life that arises from being a Christian, therefore, is to become ever more like God, who is fully revealed in Jesus Christ, and who is love- agapé (1 Jn 4,8.16). In a word, through the struggle, with the undeserved help of God, we become divinized. It is for no other reason that we engage in the agon, knowing that we need God's help, which He freely gives us, especially through the sacraments of Penance and Eucharist. Put simply, we must always keep in mind that the only good reason for obedience can be nothing other than love of God and neighbor. Such an understanding should immunize us against the sin of self-righteousness.

More importantly, it is the grave responsibility of those, like myself, entrusted by our bishops and pastors with teaching the faith, to know, to strive to live, and to be able and willing to clearly communicate what the Church teaches, especially on these matters that, in our culture, all too easily become matters of serious confusion. Here is an extract from the good bishop's column that bears reading:

"Some months ago a prominent Catholic public person, described as faithful to the church, was asked if being pro-choice or pro-abortion was an issue which conflicted with the Catholic Faith. Here is what was said: 'To me it isn’t even a question. God has given us a free will. We’re all responsible for our actions. If you don’t want an abortion, you don’t believe in it, then don’t have one. But don’t tell somebody else what they can do in terms of honoring their responsibilities.' According to a close relative the choice to have an abortion or not to have an abortion had no moral component whatsoever. 'They were just choices.'

It seems to me that there are just choices and there are unjust choices. Choices would be the preference for chocolate ice cream over vanilla ice cream or sherbet instead of ice cream. That is just a choice.

A just choice would be to choose to pay a fair and living wage to employees as opposed to simply meeting the mandatory standard of minimum wage laws. An unjust choice would be to choose to terminate the life of another human being. This is not just a choice and it is not a just choice; it is an unjust choice.

Furthermore it is an unjust choice which is diametrically opposed to the clear and consistent teaching of the Catholic Church as well as to the clear and consistent teaching of God Himself in the Ten Commandments. The direct, intentional taking of the life of an innocent human being is inhumane and unjust. It is not just a choice!

It is categorically impossible for the same person to state that he or she believes simultaneously both what the Catholic Church teaches and that abortion is just a choice. What we believe must inform what we do."

Indeed, there is a link between orthodoxy and orthopraxis, lest theology become, borrowing from Herman Hesse, as quoted by then-Cardinal Ratzinger in the mid-90s, a "glass bead game." Bishop Vasa's words bear pondering today, which falls during this season of preparation for and renewal of our baptismal covenant with God, made possible by Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, who effects the sacraments. Number 25 of the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, is also worth reflecting upon at this time:
Among the principal duties of bishops the preaching of the Gospel occupies an eminent place. For bishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ, and they are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice, and by the light of the Holy Spirit illustrate that faith. They bring forth from the treasury of Revelation new things and old, making it bear fruit and vigilantly warding off any errors that threaten their flock. Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking." (emboldening and underlining are mine).

Dear friends, this is my last post at least until Tuesday. It is time for me finalize the first of my two-part presentation on the Holy Father's encyclical Deus Caritas Est, which I am scheduled to deliver Monday evening at The Cathedral of the Madeleine, as we begin our ambitious Lenten schedule of events in earnest. To this end, as always, I invoke the intercession of our Blessed Mother, Mary, St. Mary Magdalene, Sts. Stephen and Martin of Tours, Sts. Lawrence, Philip, and Francis of Assisi. I would also greatly appreciate your prayers as we re-inaugurate, after a hiatus of several years, our Cathedral Lenten series.

(Diaconal bow to Fr. Erik over at The Orthometer for bringing Bishop Vasa's most recent article to my attention)

Second Sunday of Lent: A very brief exegetical commentary on our Lord's Transfiguration

Readings: Gen 15, 5-12.17-18; Ps 27,1-9.13-14; Phil 3,17-4,1; Lk 9,28B-36

This is something I posted in August for the Feast of the Transfiguration. It is based on something that I originally wrote as an assignment while I was in diaconate formation. In light of my homily for the First Sunday of Lent, in which I focused on the necessity of Jesus' humanity for our salvation, this seems an appropriate and seamless follow-up. It is my prayer that this will aid the reader in her/his preparation for the celebration of the sacred mysteries this Sunday, which is always and forever the Lord's Day, until we realize the eighth day, which will never end.

Altar of Transfiguration painting by Raphael, 1520

Today we celebrate the Second Sunday of Lent during a year in which we are still covered on white. The whiteness of the snow is a great setting in which to reflect on today's Gospel (at least for those of us in the Northern hemisphere). It is, therefore, worthwhile for a little scriptural reflection/comparison/exegesis on the Gospel texts. To that end, I want to briefly compare this pericope as it appears in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. This being Year C our Gospel is taken from Luke's, which bears more than a passing resemblance to St. Matthew's account.

Like all synoptic parallel passages, Matthew and Mark, along with Luke, the third synoptic, share the same outline and structure. In all of these accounts the Transfiguration takes place some days (six in the case of Matthew and Mark and eight according to St. Luke) after Jesus' first prediction of his passion. On this day Jesus takes Peter, James, and John, who, the author of Matthew tells us is James' brother, "up a high mountain." It is on the mountain that "he [Jesus] is transfigured before them." Both authors describe a change in our Lord's appearance. Mark describes only the dazzling whiteness of his clothes, while Matthew, in addition to describing his clothes, also writes: "his face shone like the sun." In both accounts the disciples, while beholding Jesus' glowing transformation, also see Moses and the prophet Elijah "talking" with him.

Upon seeing this, Peter, in both versions, proposes building three "dwellings" on the mountain: one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. In both narratives a cloud overshadows the disciples and a voice from the cloud speaks. The voice identifies Jesus as "my Son" as well as "the Beloved." Peter, James, and John are given the emphatic directive "listen to him!" In Matthew's telling the voice also says it is "well pleased" with the Beloved, the Son.

It is in the responses of the disciples to the transfiguration that significant differences begin to emerge between these two tellings. In Mark's account Peter is "terrified" by what he witnesses. He seems to make his suggestion about erecting the dwellings because, as the author of Mark writes, "He did not know what [else?] to say." This would make Peter's suggestion far less pious than that of Matthew's awestruck Peter.

The reactions of the disciples to the cloud experience also interestingly differ. In Matthew's story, after hearing the voice, the disciples "fell to the ground and were overcome by fear." Jesus tells them to "get up" and "not to be afraid." By contrast, the story found in the Gospel of Mark, after hearing the voice, the three "looked around" and "saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus." Subtle differences can also be seen as Jesus and the three disciples walk down the mountain. In both accounts Peter, James, and John are "ordered" by Jesus to tell nobody what has occurred until after his death and resurrection. Mark's disciples, despite the preceding prediction of the passion, are left "questioning what the rising from the dead could mean." Compare that to the understanding reception of Jesus' words by Matthew's three. They seem to know what Jesus is talking about, even before the issue of the return of Elijah preceding the advent of the Messiah is raised. From Jesus' answer to the query they comprehend that John the Baptist is Elijah and so what had been revealed on the road to Caesarea-Phillipi is only reaffirmed. Summarily, the differences between the two accounts is that Mark's features much more human disciples and a less wordy, less regal, and, hence, more human Jesus.

Year B Third Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 3:13-15.17-19; Ps 4:2.4.7-9; 1 John 2:1-5a; Luke 24:25-48 “You are witnesses of these things,” Jesus tells his incredulous...