Monday, April 30, 2007

Grace for a Monday

"Grace, she takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain
It could be her name

It's a name for a girl
It's also a thought that, changed the world
And when she walks on the street
You can hear the strings
Grace finds goodness in everything
Grace, she's got the walk
Not on a ramp or on chalk
She's got the time to talk
She travels outside of karma, karma
She travels outside... of karma

When she goes to work, you can hear the strings
Grace finds beauty in everything

She carries a world on her hips
No champagne flute for her lips
No twirls or skips between her fingertips
She carries a pearl in perfect condition

What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings...
Because Grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things

Grace finds beauty in everything"

For more of Bono on karma and grace link over to Deep Furrows, which is well worth a daily visit anyway.

(Lyrics by Bono)

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The secret of The Secret is not a secret

Emily Stimpson, writing for Our Sunday Visitor, tells the simple truth about The Secret, in her piece New Age Philosophy: Best-selling book and DVD make individuals bear the blame for bad things that happen. So easy is exposing the truth about The Secret that a one page article is sufficient for the job. The success of The Secret is proof-positive both of the need, even in our society, for transcendental meaning, and how shallowly we probe for meaning. Lo and behold, here comes a transcendental philosophy that urges us to embrace our gluttonous consumption, that affirms that self-servingly getting what we want is the way to happiness and fulfillment. We must keep in mind our current rate of consumption comes both at the expense of our sisters and brothers, who make up the poor of the planet and who out-number us by billions, and the environment that sustains life.

"Want to learn how to fly?," is the question with which Stimpson begins her piece, "Peter Pan knows the secret. 'You just think lovely, wonderful thoughts and they lift you up in the air,' the perennial man-child advises Wendy in J.M. Barrie's classic play.

"But what if you want a shiny new car, flashy boat or hefty raise? According to author-producer Rhonda Byrne, Peter Pan's secret will help you obtain those goodies as well: Just think lovely, wonderful thoughts, and whatever you desire will come your way."
Thinking happy thoughts is also how Harry Potter conjures his patronus, a mystical stag, when faced with the fearsome dementors of Azkaban. Rather than buy into The Secret, I'd rather close my eyes, think a happy thought, shout some pigeon Latin, and wait for my mountain cabin to appear.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Life in Zion

The Deseret Morning News, front page, Thursday, 26 April 2007:

"The devil is sticking his pitchfork into the nation's immigration politics. At least that's what one of Utah County's Republican delegates thinks. Don Larsen, a district chairman, has submitted a resolution equating illegal immigration to 'Satan's plan to destroy the U.S. by stealth invasion' for debate at Saturday's Utah County Republican Party Convention. Referring to a plan by the devil for a 'New World Order ... as predicted in the Scriptures,' the resolution calls for the Utah County Republican Party to support 'closing the national borders to illegal immigration to prevent the destruction of the U.S. by stealth invasion. In part, the resolution states, 'There are ways to destroy a nation other than with bombs or bullets. The mostly quiet and unspectacular invasion of illegal immigrants does not focus the attention of the nation the way open warfare does but is all the more insidious for its stealth and innocuousness.'"

Then, in the wake of the V.T.masscre, comes this gem:
Brent Tenney

Utah only state to allow guns at college

SALT LAKE CITY - Brent Tenney says he feels pretty safe when he goes to class at the University of Utah, but he takes no chances. He brings a loaded 9 mm semiautomatic with him every day.

"It's not that I run around scared all day long, but if something happens to me, I do want to be prepared," said the 24-year-old business major, who has a concealed-weapons permit and takes the handgun everywhere but church.

Thank God for sanity of the variety exhibited when Archbishop Niederauer was here and, when asked about how banning guns from Catholic churches would stack up against Utah's liberal gun laws, said something to the effect, that he didn't require the Utah Legislature's permission to assert the Constitutional right of freedom of religion. It is by asserting this right that Brent has to check his gun at the door of the Church. Here's to hoping the next lesson is from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, Matthew, chapter five would be good.

Some practical guidance for a Friday

With some inspiration from the cybercell of the imonk and from the Cathedral RCIA class last evening, here are a few things to help keep it simple:

-Use devotional books: Liturgy of the Hours, Magnificat, etc.

-Read meaningful spiritual books (i.e., Merton, Nouwen, Groeschel, Foster, de Montfort, de Caussade, de Sales, Giussani)

-Read these with a group of others who care about the same things

-Turn it all off for a couple of hours every day

-Be quiet

-Chew up, meditate over, digest the scriptures, even if in small portions- use the Mass readings for the day

-Repent (in the sense of turn around, change), especially of things like worrying about the mote in your brother's or sister's eye and neglecting the beam in one's own eye, of undervaluing spirituality and overvaluing being right

Follow the Five Precepts of the Church, which the Catechism tells us, are "meant to guarantee to the faithful the indispensable minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor" (CCC, 2041). In other words, at least do these five things.

1) Attend Mass and rest from work on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation
2) Go to confession
3) Live in a manner that enables you to receive communion worthily (if you fail see precept 2)
4) Observe days of abstinence (Fridays) and fasting (Ash Wednesday/Good Friday)
5) Contribute to the material support of the Church

Remember spirituality is not something we do in our spare time. It is a manner in which we seek to live all the time. Let us use the circumstances of our everyday lives to acquire virtue, by cultivating good habits

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Reasoning vs. venting

Over on the First Things blog Observations & Contentions, Robert T. Miller, with whom I have had a few disagreements, comments on the latest proof that, to paraphrase Philip Jenkins, anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice in our society. The object of Miller's critique is the cartoon above, published in the Philadelphia Inquirer last Friday and drawn by Tony Auth.

Fortunately, Mr. Miller leaves "aside the anti-Catholic slur in Mr. Auth’s cartoon because I find more worthy of attention the way in which he attempts to make his point. Faced with a serious disagreement about a matter of public concern, Mr. Auth makes no arguments on the point in dispute. Rather, he says, in effect, that the people who disagree with his view are doing so because of an unjust desire to impose the peculiar norms of their religion on others."

"An event born of an encounter"

“When I encountered Christ, I discovered my humanity,” this is an important if somewhat opaque sentence. Angelo Cardinal Scola, Patriarch of Venice, writing in the Fall 2006 issue of Communio (Vol XXXIII, Num 3), in addition to Cardinal Bertone in the link to Deep Furrows, makes this sentence a little more accessible. Of course, to really access this statement, we must have an encounter with our resurrected and living Lord.

"Such a small proportion of those who have been baptized as babies [I would add those who were baptized at any age] take the trouble to figure out the true nature of Christianity: an event born of an encounter. It is perfectly right and proper, and indeed crucial for maturity in faith that we should cultivate an awareness of that 'particular moment' in our own life when our baptism became real to us through an encounter with the Christian event. There is a moment in the life of all Christians, just as there was for the first Christians (think of Peter, Andrew, James, and John on the shore of the lake [Matt 4,18-22; Mk 1,16-20]). For many it will have coincided with a clear perception of a personal vocation. It is most important for every believer to go back to the moment when [s/]he had this experience of an encounter with the event of the Person of Christ. I am not talking about a mental or devotional exercise, but about the concrete possibility of grasping what is at stake when we talk about Christianity. After Confirmation, so many young people drift away from the Church because they do not consciously have this crucial experience of a personal meeting with Christ. A Christianity that is reduced to ethics or pure theory, a Christianity that is not event, does not interest people. The reason is basically the same as what Camus suggested when [writing] about love in his Notebooks: 'You have to encounter love before you encounter morality. Otherwise it's agony. It's not by force of scruples that a person becomes great. Greatness comes to a person, if God wills it, like a beautiful sunny day'" (pgs. 320-321).

"It's a beautiful day
Don't let it get away
It's a beautiful day

"Touch me
Take me to that other place
Teach me
I know I'm not a hopeless case"

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Public Morality closer to home

Writing on matters I addressed in my previous two posts, I turn to Rocco over at Whispers, who reports on Archbishop Burke of St. Louis taking a very public stand against a Catholic medical center in his archdiocese hosting a fund raising event featuring Sheryl Crow, a well-known proponent of abortion and, being a native Missourian, a person who lent her support to an initiative on last year's ballot in Missouri, allowing human cloning and fetal stem cell research. Bringing up a point too often forgotten, the archbishop writes: "When, for economic gain, a Catholic institution associates itself with such a high profile proponent of the destruction of innocent lives, members of the Church and other people of good will have the right to be confirmed in their commitment to the Gospel of Life." Being concerned about safeguarding, rather than scandalizing the faithful seems to be a concern often forgotten these daze (misspelling intentional and emboldening and underling of Archbishop Burke's remarks are mine).

Another perspective comes from a brilliant canonist's blog, Dr. Edward Peters' In Light of the Law. The post, which does not bear directly on the CIC, is entitled Abp Raymond Burke and Cardinal Glennon Hospital.

A sad day in Mexíco

While driving this afternoon after posting my initial comments on the Mexico City law allowing unrestricted access to abortion in the first trimester, I have been having a debate between Archbishop Chaput's call-to-action in his speech in Philadelphia last Saturday and Senator Binetti's response to Archbishop Amato's pointed remarks about euthanasia, abortion, and same-sex marriage. I see no essential contradiction between the two positions and see the need to always exercise prudence when speaking or writing about serious matters about which people care a great deal. I have concluded that from time-to-time it is most helpful to have a leader of the stature and hierarchical position of Archbishop Amato, or Archbishop Chaput, speak frankly and unambiguously on these issues, lest we loose sight of what exactly what is being discussed and the ramifications of immorality on a mass scale. Of course, regardless of civil law, we are to be joyful witnesses of life. But we must not turn our backs on injustice just to keep the peace. On that note, I am posting my initial response to the Mexico City law, my decision to go ahead and post it was also influenced by listening to a news commentary talking about this as "progress" and denouncing the Church for impeding "progress" across Latin America. I sincerely try to foster a Thomistic optimism, but my Augustianian realism keeps getting in the way.

Warning: This post contains uncontrollable sarcasm

In Mexico City this week a victory was struck for a woman's right to choose. Choose what, you might ask? Choose to freely abort an in-utereo child, but only during the first tri-mester of pregnancy, would be the response. So, it seems that the Mexico City council is keeping their laws off the body of Mexico City's women, thus allowing these women to legally permit abortionists to put their hands on unborn children for the purpose of killing them. For champions of so-called progress, this will go some way to making up for the U.S. Supreme Court's roll back of "progress" last week, when they upheld a federal law outlawing a "particular practice"- partial birth abortion, which is a gruesome form of infanticide. If you believe the news media, the Mexico City council's action, on a 46 to 19 vote, is a clear victory for human rights.

President Felipe Caldéron deserves much credit for vigorously and publicly opposing this unjust law as does Mexico's First Lady who marched Sunday in a massive pro-life demonstration. Mexico's bishops and many thousands of the faithful who also witnessed on behalf of justice and the dignity of the human person, also deserve credit for their efforts. However, I was saddened to read about the level of discourse on the street, one abortion supporter called pro-life protesters "damn fascists" to which a pro-lifer responded, "they should have aborted you, bloody murderer." Neither outburst has any place in public discourse. It is instructive that pro-life demonstrators carried placards with "Yes to Life" written on them, while pro-choice demonstrators, blissfully unaware of ironies and contradictions, had placards that read, "For the right to decide." Since when is the life of an innocent person the subject of a another person's choice? Well, far too frequently, especially during the bloody twentieth century, if the truth be told.

This erosion of a society's moral underpinnings is painful to watch. It is not indicative of a merely moral relativism, but an even more troubling ontological relativism.

This is where the first post begins.

A logical puzzle for a Wednesday

Keeping in mind Italian Senator Paola Binetti's remarks in the wake of the Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Angelo Amato's speech to a gathering of Italian Hospital Chaplains last week, in which he railed against abortion, euthanasia, and homosexual marriage, calling the first two "terrorism with a human face," I hope my remarks will be taken in the constructive spirit in which they are offered. While not disputing Archbishop Amato's positions, Senator Binetti, an Opus Dei numerary, questions the prudence of a high Church official publicly expressing himself in this manner. National Catholic Reporter's John Allen writes about the interview that Senator Binetti gave to Marco Tosatti, Vatican reporter for the Italian newspaper La Stampa on his All Things Catholic blog, in which she distances herself from Archbishop Amato's tone, if not the substance of his remarks:

"Today, we are all the children of a culture that makes language an element that’s often more important than the content of what one says," Binetti said. "Paraphrasing [Marshall] McLuhan [who opined "the media is the message"], we can say that 'language is the message.' In these cases, we have to pay careful attention to express our values in a way that people will receive them, so that we’re not just proposing them, so to speak, for the sake of proposing them. This is the great challenge that all of us Catholics face in this moment."

She was careful to point out that this "doesn’t mean being relativistic with respect to the truth. It simply means knowing that every time I say something, I have to think about whom I’m addressing, and in what way my point might best be understood, might best be useful."

"In a culture like the one in which we try to move," the senator continued, "which is a culture of charity, I’m always reminded of that phrase of Scripture that says, Vertitatem facientem in caritate. ('Do the truth in charity' [Eph 4,15]). One always has to speak the truth, but in a way that helps." Senator Binetti went on to express the hope that the good archbishop's remarks will not be taken as a verbal "act of terrorism."

Anyway, the argument that seems to have won the day in the debate in Mexico City about allowing unrestricted abortions in the first tri-mester of pregnancy is one that is heard often in this same debate in our own country, namely that if abortion remains illegal, many women will continue to seek and to receive illegal, unhygenic abortions often provided by medical hacks under unregulated conditions. Now, this should concern everybody, especially law enforcement officials. However, consider the logic of such an argument by means of a counter-example. To that end, let's consider stealing. Stealing (i.e., to take or appropriate without right or leave and with intent to keep or make use of wrongfully: to take away by force or unjust means) is illegal. Despite the fact that stealing is illegal, thieves continue to steal and many never get caught, charged, tried, convicted, and punished. Does this state of affairs indicate that stealing should be made legal?

"Only one question really matters. Does God exist or not?"

Georges Bernanos

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, Order of Friars Minor, Capuchin, the archbishop of Denver, gave a talk last Saturday in Philadelphia as part of the 2007 John Cardinal Krol Conference. The Capuchin Friars are a Franciscan renewal order to which Sean Cardinal O'Malley, O.F.M., Cap. also belongs, as did Padre Pio. The Capuchins are a Franciscan reform movement of the sixteenth century. A contemporary parallel is Fr. Benedict Groeschel's Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. I begin this post with Archbishop Chaput's summary and conclusion. I highly encourage reading the entire address, entitled Religion and the Common Good, which, according to His Excellency, we "most truly serve":

"by having the courage to be disciples of Jesus Christ. God gave us a free will, but we need to use it. Discipleship has a cost. Jesus never said that we didn’t need a spine. The world doesn’t need affirmation. It needs conversion. It doesn’t need the approval of Christians. It needs their witness. And that work needs to begin with us. Bernanos said that the 'scandal of Creation [isn’t] suffering but freedom.' He said that 'moralists like to regard sanctity as a luxury; actually it is a necessity.' He also said that 'one may believe that this isn’t the era of the saints; that the era of the saints has passed. [But] it is always the era of the saints.'"

The lecture is also endearing to me because, as the proud holder of a Philosophy degree, I can relate to Archbishop Chaput's introduction: "Sooner or later, every teacher hears the same old joke about the philosophy student and his dad.

"The dad asks, 'Son, what are you going to do with that goofy degree?' And the son says, 'I’m going to open a philosophy shop and make big money selling ideas.' I smile every time I hear it, because nobody yet has figured out how to get rich off the Sartre or Kierkegaard or Friedrich Nietzsche franchise."

Today is the liturgical feast of St. Mark, Evangelist.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Re-shaping the hierarchy, part III

Today's appointment of Bishop John Nienstedt of New Ulm, Minnesota, as co-adjutor to Archbishop Harry Flynn of St. Paul-Minneapolis, who turns 75 in May of 2008, is the cause for today's hierarchy update. Updating last week's post, the number of vacant U.S. dioceses increases to eight, bringing to 26 the number of Roman Rite dioceses in the United States that are vacant, have bishops over the retirement age of 75, or whose bishop will turn 75 within the next 12 months.

The Seven Last Words- First Word “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing”

The need to forgive is made more evident everyday. I hope this homily serves as a reminder as to why, at least for those who bear Christ's name, forgiveness is so very crucial. Indeed, so many horrendous acts are committed by people who do not know what they are doing. Yes, they know they are committing murder and causing mayhem, acting out to avenge perceived, or even real wrongs, none of which come anywhere close to justifying their violent response, but they certainly lack an awareness of the full impact and all the implications their actions will have in the lives of their victims, their victims' families, their own families, etc. In any case, as Christians, we forgive because we have been forgiven. I do not see Jesus putting limits on what or how many times to forgive in his teaching on the subject. On the contrary, he stresses the need to forgive "seventy times seven", he forgives the people who torture and kill him, he forgives the guilty thief hanging next to him. In imitation of our Lord, St. Stephen, one of the original seven deacons, forgives those who are stoning him to death for his preaching about Jesus Christ.

Good Friday
The Cathedral of the Madeleine
Reading: Luke 23,34

"Father, forgive them" is the first of the seven last words of our Lord Jesus Christ as he hung upon the Cross. Why? Because forgiveness is where it all begins and is what is necessary for God’s purpose to be accomplished, for Christ’s work to be finished. Jesus willingly suffers and endures the humiliation, the degradation, the pain and the anguish that sin, our sin, merits. In his agonies are gathered up and recapitulated all the suffering that ever was and all that ever will be.

It would defeat the purpose of what God was doing in Christ for the Lord to endure the miseries of his passion and not, even while enduring them, forgive those at whose hands he suffered. It is only by forgiving that the cycle of violence, the very cycle in which Christ is not caught up, but to which he willingly submits himself for our sake, is broken and, fulfilling his Messianic mission, sets humanity free. In Christ, we see that forgiveness is the necessary condition of reconciliation and liberation.

It is clear that those inflicting torture on Christ, those crying out for his death, and those carrying out Pilate’s sentence, did not know what they were doing. In other words, they did not know they were torturing and killing Israel’s Messiah, the Son of God, the second person of the Blessed Trinity. Therefore, the first reconciliation we must bring about on the basis of our Lord’s first word is with the Jews, the people through whom God, according to his inscrutable wisdom, first entered into covenant and through whom, in Christ, his promise of salvation is extended to all humanity. Therefore, we must reject any anti-Jewish charge of deicide. Surely, believing such a charge, which Christians did for many centuries, contributed to one of the worst horrors imaginable, the most systematic genocide of the bloody twentieth century. Christ is God’s new and everlasting covenant extended to all without prejudice. We, as sharers in this covenant through our Baptism, are called to reconcile a humanity that all too readily divides on the bases of race, language, tribe, religion. Nothing is more contrary to what God is accomplishing in Christ than such divisions.

In the eyes of those who caused the Lord’s suffering, they were putting to death a rebel, a blasphemer, a trouble-making, but marginal Jew. So, Jesus also suffers on behalf of the poor and marginalized, like thieves, like the victims of racism, sexism, immigrants, the people of Darfur, Iraq, North Korea, and those dumped onto the streets and abandoned in cities throughout the world, even in the United States.

Jesus' pleading to his eternal Father to forgive those torturing him and putting him to death cannot be anything other than efficacious. If we believe that Jesus’ pleadings for forgiveness are ever ignored by the Father, then our own forgiveness and, hence, our very salvation is called into question.

God still brings about forgiveness and reconciliation through the Body of His Son, who now, in and through the Eucharist, takes the form of the Church. Reconciliation, like Eucharist, is sacramental precisely because it is not confined to those times and places in which we formally and ritually celebrate it. Wherever forgiveness brings about reconciliation, there is Christ.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Our Great Desire

Discussing sexuality, as I did on Friday, inevitably and naturally leads to a discussion of desire, of yearning. What is it that will satisfy our longing, our deepest desire? Suffice it to say that a one-night stand, or a shallow relationship based on sex will not. Building on St. Augustine's great observation, encapsulated pithily in the well-known and often used axiom: "Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in you" (Confessions, Book I.1), we seek an answer. In another passage from his Confessions, this great saint, heeding the voice urging him "to take up and read," quickly returns "to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for there I had put down the apostle's book (i.e., St. Paul's letter to the Romans) when I had left there. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: 'let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh (Rom 13,13-14). I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away" (Confessions, Book IX.29).

Our Holy Father, an Augustinian if ever one sat upon the cathedra of St. Peter, seeks to answer our question in his address to the young people of Poland last May:

"My friends, in the heart of every [person] there is the desire for a house. Even more so in the young person’s heart there is a great longing for a proper house, a stable house, one to which [s/]he can not only return with joy, but where every guest who arrives can be joyfully welcomed. There is a yearning for a house where the daily bread is love, pardon and understanding. It is a place where the truth is the source out of which flows peace of heart. There is a longing for a house you can be proud of, where you need not be ashamed and where you never fear its loss. These longings are simply the desire for a full, happy and successful life. Do not be afraid of this desire! Do not run away from this desire! Do not be discouraged at the sight of crumbling houses, frustrated desires and faded longings. God the Creator, who inspires in young hearts an immense yearning for happiness, will not abandon you in the difficult construction of the house called life" (Pope Benedict XVI, Meeting with Young People, Kraków-Błonie, 27 May 2006).

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Ringing hollow

Here's a great preaching allocution: To bear and not to share, as in "Some burdens are to bear and not to share." This particular allocution has the distinction of saying everything without saying anything!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Earth Day, 2007

The environment, which sustains us, has rightly come to occupy a significant place in public discourse in recent years. The papal magisterium has not been silent on the need for us to be responsible stewards of the creation entrusted to us by the Creator. Perhaps the most comprehensive document issued by the Holy See, composed by the International Theological Commission in 2003, a papal commission under the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, at that time under the prefecture of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, in the course of exploring the implications of human beings created in imago dei, explores ecology, which, is the study of the relationship of human beings to the natural environment, is Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God.

As mentioned, the document is comprehensive and discusses the vast implications of human beings created in the imago dei. However, it deals in detail with ecology in chapter three, which is entitled, In The Image of God: Stewards of Visible Creation: "Created in the image of God to share in the communion of Trinitarian love, human beings occupy a unique place in the universe according to the divine plan: they enjoy the privilege of sharing in the divine governance of visible creation. This privilege is granted to them by the Creator who allows the creature made in his image to participate in his work, in his project of love and salvation, indeed in his own lordship over the universe. Since man's place as ruler is in fact a participation in the divine governance of creation, we speak of it here as a form of stewardship" (C&S, 57).

Later in this same chapter, we read "The steward must render an account of his stewardship, and the divine Master will judge his actions. The moral legitimacy and efficacy of the means employed by the steward provide the criteria for this judgment. Neither science nor technology are ends in themselves; what is technically possible is not necessarily also reasonable or ethical. Science and technology must be put in the service of the divine design for the whole of creation and for all creatures. This design gives meaning to the universe and to human enterprise as well. Human stewardship of the created world is precisely a stewardship exercised by way of participation in the divine rule and is always subject to it. Human beings exercise this stewardship by gaining scientific understanding of the universe, by caring responsibly for the natural world (including animals and the environment), and by guarding their own biological integrity."

The document ends on this note:

"Our ontological status as creatures made in the image of God imposes certain limits on our ability to dispose of ourselves. The sovereignty we enjoy is not an unlimited one: we exercise a certain participated sovereignty over the created world and, in the end, we must render an account of our stewardship to the Lord of the Universe. Man is created in the image of God, but he is not God himself (C&S, 94).

Today is also the 2,760th birthday of the city of Rome.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The virtue of chastity

I like very much what Dawn Eden had to say on the delicate, but nonetheless important, topic of chastity in the most recent Our Sunday Visitor and on her Dawn Patrol blog. Her blog is great. It is hip, intelligent, cutting edge, entertaining and shockingly countercultural. Single young adults who are looking for daily support in living and loving as disciples of the Risen One can find no better on-line resource than the Dawn Patrol. She pulls no punches, however. It is her refusal to pull punches that makes her take so countercultural- hers is not discipleship for faint of heart or the fair-weather follower.

Every Christian- ordained, religious, or lay; man or woman; heterosexual or homosexual; married or single- is called to live a chaste life. In our society and culture, living in such a manner is difficult, but far from impossible. For example, this very medium, the Internet, through which all manner of filth can easily be accessed, is the primary means of making porn mainstream. Anyway, what Dawn says should resonate:

“We need to describe what chastity is and what it isn’t. It’s not just a negative, it’s not just saying ‘no’ to sex before marriage. It’s a positive, saying ‘yes’ to your intrinsic value as a human being apart from your willingness to have sex, and saying ‘yes’ to the intrinsic value of another by not using them in a way that violates their dignity.” It is viewing chastity as merely "saying 'no' to sex before marriage" that contributes to the fact that young people who receive abstinence education in schools are just as likely to engage in pre-marital sex as those who do not. After all, who wants to live their life negatively? Being a Christian, being Alleluia people, means being a people, and persons who say Yes! to life, to love, to each other, to ourselves, and, lest we forget, to God. Therefore, Dawn couldn't be more correct when she insists that chastity is a positive.

To take the discussion a bit further, we can lay a solid foundation by considering what the Church teaches about chastity in The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (nos 488-493):

488. What is chastity?

Chastity means the positive integration of sexuality within the person. Sexuality becomes truly human when it is integrated in a correct way into the relationship of one person to another. Chastity is a moral virtue, a gift of God, a grace, and a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

489. What is involved in the virtue of chastity?

The virtue of chastity involves an apprenticeship in self-mastery as an expression of human freedom directed towards self-giving. An integral and continuing formation, which is brought about in stages, is necessary to achieve this goal.

490. What are the means that aid the living of chastity?

There are many means at one's disposal: the grace of God, the help of the sacraments, prayer, self-knowledge, the practice of an asceticism adapted to various situations, the exercise of the moral virtues, especially the virtue of temperance which seeks to have the passions guided by reason.

491. In what way is everyone called to live chastity?

As followers of Christ, the model of all chastity, all the baptized are called to live chastely in keeping with their particular states of life. Some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner. Others, if they are married live in conjugal chastity, or if unmarried practise chastity in continence.

492. What are the principal sins against chastity?

Grave sins against chastity differ according to their object: adultery, masturbation, fornication, pornography, prostitution, rape, and homosexual acts. These sins are expressions of the vice of lust. These kinds of acts committed against the physical and moral integrity of minors become even more grave.

493. Although it says only "you shall not commit adultery" why does the sixth commandment forbid all sins against chastity?

Although the biblical text of the Decalogue reads "you shall not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:14), the Tradition of the Church comprehensively follows the moral teachings of the Old and New Testaments and considers the sixth commandment as encompassing all sins against chastity.

What we are taught is that we need help, we need God's help and we need each other's help. The last thing we should ever do is be condemnatory or judgmental. We must come to value ourselves and others as God, our loving Father, values each one of us, regardless of how we live or have lived- God's love is not dependent on our worthiness. To Him each of us are irreplaceable and priceless- loved beyond our comprehension. Sexuality is a deep part of our psyche. It is perhaps the most impressionable and sensitive part of us. It is a beautiful part of us that is easily distorted. Eros must be tempered by agapé just as reason must temper faith. Chastity, after all, means positively integrating our sexuality into our personality and vice-versa. Again, given that our sexuality is shaped to some degree by forces beyond our control during our developmental years, self-knowledge is a vital part. That we are sexual, have desires, proclivities, etc., is nothing to be ashamed of, it is part and parcel of being human, a good part. Therefore, shame and guilt should never prevent us from dealing with the disordered parts of our sexuality.

Last November, in their document on Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care, our bishops, as I wrote previously, "discuss the need for all Christians, married and single, homosexual and heterosexual, to acquire the virtue of chastity. In this quest grace is necessary because failure is almost certain at times. Too often we think of grace as the help God gives us by strengthening our will to do good and weakening our desire to do evil as we white-knuckle our way through life hoping to attain heaven. While I certainly believe God, over time and with our cooperation, graciously strengthen our wills, we cannot see that as grace in its totality. Even with God's help, building such strength is a gradual process that requires our cooperation when faced with temptation, it requires us working through the issues we need to work through to deconstruct our false selves, most of all it requires brutal honesty that oftentimes comes only at the price of failure and restoration, which bring true humility. We must always be humble because we never really arrive; we remain broken, fragile, sinful, and susceptible to sin. In this life of grace the sacraments are indispensable."

In an excellent article, Overcoming Discord in the Church, which was actually a lecture he delivered at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress in April 2006, Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, former Master General of the Dominican Order, suggests that we explore "a Christian understanding of our sexuality. What does the Gospel say about sexuality’s deepest meaning? And I propose that we can do this by looking at the Last Supper, where Christ gave us his body: 'This is my body and I give it to you.' We can only understand our sexuality in the light of this utter self-gift of Christ. So rather than battling away at the level of permissiveness versus insistence on the rules, we try to understand a Eucharistic understanding of what it means to live sexuality as the reverent gift and acceptance of our bodies.

"This is very short hand. It would take a whole lecture to spell out what such a Eucharistic understanding of sexuality might mean. All that I am trying to do is to show when conversation gets stuck and dialogue seems impossible, then we dig down deeper, until we reach the bedrock of the Gospel, and then maybe we will understand each other better. We may not agree but we will be able to talk."

(emboldened and underlined emphasis mine)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Syriac Orthodox Church

There are many options to choose from when determining your charitable giving. Such giving, which provides for the material support of the Church, is one of the Five Precepts of the Church outlined in The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC, 2042). Hence, adherence to these precepts is obligatory for Catholics. Hopefully, as intentional disciples, we do not give out of a sense of obligation externally imposed, but out of gratitude and love. It is no accident that the giving of our gifts is part of the Eucharistic liturgy- the offertory- which is the bridge between the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the Eucharist and so constitutes a vital part of our giving thanks to God, which is the fundamental meaning of Eucharist. The giving of our gifts, therefore, is truly sacramental and indicative of our identity as a priestly people. Of course, we should give by choice and do so cheerfully. When establishing our priorities it is always good to give primary consideration our parish followed by our diocese. Beyond these two obvious priorities there is a mind-boggling number of worthy causes to support. There is one cause I am taking this opportunity to propose for consideration: The Catholic Near East Welfare Association. The association was established by Pope Pius XI in 1926:

-to support the pastoral mission and institutions of the Eastern Catholic churches
-to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need without regard to nationality
or creed
-to promote Christian unity and interreligious understanding and collaboration.
-to educate people in the West about the history, cultures, peoples and churches of
the East

For more about how to contribute to this papal agency for humanitarian and pastoral support, please visit the CNEWA website.

(Seated on the right side of the church, according Syriac tradition,
Syriac Orthodox women pray in Baghdad at Easter)

One Church CNEWA supports is the Syriac Orthodox Church. This ancient Church, whose liturgical language is Syriac, a language based on Aramaic, which was the native tongue of our Lord. Syriac Christians exist in southeastern Turkey, northern Syria, and northern Iraq, down into and including Baghdad. In their excellent publication, One, the Syriac Orthodox are profiled in this month's issue of the magazine.

One of the greatest deacons in the history of the Church was St. Ephrem the Syrian. Deacon Ephrem was a Syriac Christian. Even more than St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ephrem is a model for me.

(Click to enlarge)

For anyone interested in really finding out more about our Syriac sisters and brothers, you can go to Syriac Orthodox Resources at Catholic University of America's website Margoneetho.

(Graphics-picture and prayer- from CNEWA's One magazine, Vol 33, Number 2)

An Anniversary and a gift from Rome

On the second anniversary of the elevation of Joseph Aloysius Ratzinger to the Chair of St. Peter, courtesy of Zadok the Roman, here are a few glances at the Holy Father's book, Jesus of Nazareth, which will not be available in English until next month:

Jesus of Nazareth - Initial Thoughts

Jesus at Prayer: A brief extract from the 'Introduction' of Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus of Nazareth - The Baptism in the Jordan

Jesus of Nazareth - The Temptations of Christ and St Augustine

Jesus of Nazareth - Africa and the Good Samaritan

(Photo from Zadok the Roman)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Life is stronger than death

Apropos of Easter, in the wake of the horrifying events in Virginia, I am happy to write about the U.S. Supreme Court's decision yesterday to uphold the 2003 law banning partial birth abortions.

I love the euphemism used by USA Today reporter Joan Biskupic in her report on the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision Wednesday to uphold the Congressional ban on partial birth abortions. She calls it "a particular abortion procedure." Further, she uses scare quotes when writing about "a method critics call 'partial birth' abortion." She is correct, however, that this decision makes "plain how a single change in a justice can change the law of the land." The unnamed justice, of course, is Samuel Alito, who replaced Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the high court. Wednesday's decision marks the first time since Roe v. Wade that the Supreme Court, to use Ms. Biskupic's words, "emphasized the value of fetal life over a woman's right to end a pregnancy." In far too many people's estimation fetal life is not yet human life.

I know this is an emotional issue for people on both sides and I apologize up front for what may be perceived as sarcasm, but it is a sad day when a clear triumph for human life, the banning of a "procedure" that amounts to infanticide, is viewed as somehow diminishing human rights. This ban, which contains no provision for a woman's health, largely due to the American Medical Association disavowing the medical necessity of partial birth abortions, is a great day and a step in reversing the "culture of death", which we are to replace, not with a culture of life, but with a culture of love, one component of which is recognizing the sacredness of human life and valuing life.

The medical necessity of partial birth abortions has an interesting history in this debate, going back to 1996, when the ban was first put before Congress. During committee hearings on the bill before it was put to a vote in Congress in 1996, as well as in an appearance on ABC's Nightline, Ron Fitzsimmons, then executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, dishonestly testified about the medical necessity and frequency of "the procedure." He later admitted to the New York Times in 1997 that he "lied through [his] teeth" when he testified that partial-birth abortions were performed rarely and only to save the life of the mother. In an article that was published in the 3 March 1997 edition of Medical News, an American Medical Association publication, Fitzsimmons admitted that pro-life advocates were correct in asserting that in the overwhelming majority of cases, the procedure is performed on a healthy mother who is five months pregnant with a healthy, unborn child. "The abortion rights folks know it, the anti-abortion folks know it, and so, probably, does everyone else," he wrote. By his own admission, the reason Fitzsimmons lied was because he was worried that the truth would lead to curbs on abortions.

So, rather than lamenting the loss of a person's "right" to "terminate a pregnancy," let's celebrate that our society has become a more civil, more hospitable, and more just society. We must not be smug about this positive development, however. As Christians we must retain our commitment to reach out to women in crisis pregnancies in order to give them both spiritual and material support and assistance in bringing their children to birth. We must also commit to ourselves to assisting mothers and children after birth. Single parent households headed by women are one of the most impoverished segments of our society, a leading contributor to the rising number of children growing up in poverty. We must also remain committed agents of God's love, mercy, and healing for women who have made the tragic choice to have an abortion, often aided and abetted, if not forced, by others into carrying out such a sad decision. We must positively practice and teach the virtue of chastity.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the five justice majority, wrote that the government may use "its regulatory authority to show its profound respect for the life within the woman," thus demonstrating that yesterday's decision is not only a triumph of faith, it is also a triumph of reason, without which there is no justice.

Hierarchy redux

No sooner do I update my gratuitous hierarchy post than Rocco over at Whispers drops a bombshell of a post on the much anticipated - and several times disappointed - Benedictine Curial re-shuffling. This scenario sketched out and well-documented has William Cardinal Levada, currently Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, returning to the U.S. to replace Edward Cardinal Egan as archbishop of the New York City.

Cardinal Egan barely turned 75 on April second. As I mentioned yesterday, as a member of the Sacred College, he does not become superannuated for five more years. Furthermore, because Cardinal Egan's tenure in the Big Apple has been rife with controversy, despite the fact that he has done much to put the archdiocese back on solid financial footings, which was a lot of work given the situation he inherited, the rapid acceptance of his resignation is desired by many. It must also be mentioned that the Holy Father does not want to appear to have had his hand forced, especially with regard to a metropolitan see as highly visible and significant as New York.

Up until this bombshell, the name most affiliated with New York as a potential future archbishop is current Milwaukee archbishop, Timothy Dolan, who, before returning home to St. Louis in 2001 as an auxiliary, served as Rector of Rome's North American College from 1994. Dolan's name has also surfaced as a potential successor to Cardinal Keeler in Baltimore, who is 76 and in poor enough health, especially after his car accident last year, that he reportedly wants to retire.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Gratuitous Hierarchy Update

Much has been made about Pope Benedict's appointment of bishops here in the United States. Of course, his two biggest appointments thus far have been Archbishop Niederauer to San Francisco and Archbishop Wuerl to Washington, D.C. I cannot neglect to mention the appointment of Bishop Wester here in Salt Lake City. For my money, that's a great track record! Looming is an even larger transformation of the U.S. hierarchy over the next year or so.

Currently there are seven vacant dioceses: Des Moines, IA; St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; Shreveport, LA; Great Falls/Billings, MT; Pittsburgh, PA; Little Rock, AR; and Birmingham, AL. Additionally, there are presently ten ordinaries serving beyond the mandatory retirement age of 75. It must be noted that while it is mandatory for a bishop to submit his resignation at age 75, it is not mandatory for the Holy Father to accept it. Those serving beyond 75 are three cardinal archbishops: Cardinals Maida, Keeler, and Egan of Detroit, Baltimore, and New York respectively. The others are Bishops Balke of Crookston, MN; Fliss of Superior, WI; Leibrecht of Springfield/Cape Girardeau, MO; Mengeling of Lansing, MI; Yanta of Amarillo, TX, as well as Archbishops Kelly of Louisville, KY, and Lipscombe of Mobile, AL.

There are eight bishops and archbishops who will turn 75 within a year. These ordinaries are: Bishops Cullen of Allentown, PA; D'Arcy of Ft. Wayne/South Bend, IN; Moynihan of Syracuse, N.Y.; Murray of Kalamazoo, MI; Saltarelli of Wilimington, DE; Tafoya of Pueblo, CO. Additionally Archbishops Curtiss of Omaha, NE, and Hughes of New Orleans will turn 75 within the year. So, that makes 25 dioceses, slightly over 14% of all Roman Rite dioceses in the country that will have an ordinary past the mandatory age of retirement. Conversely, two of sixteen Catholic Eastern Rite bishops in the U.S. are over the mandatory retirement age. Ruthenian Rite prelate, Bishop Andrew Pataki, of the Eparchy of Passaic, New Jersey, is 79, and Armenian Rite Bishop Manuel Batakianwho is 77. These two prelates make up 12.5% of Eastern Rite bishops. Nonetheless, that statistic shows us that more than one in eight Roman Rite bishops will be past the mandatory retirement age within the next twelve months.

One of the concerns expressed by the Holy Father both at the consistory he called in anticipation of the Synod of Bishops dedicated to the Eucharist and at the synod itself was the increasing number of retired bishops who are still in good health and able to serve. Cardinals do not become superannuated members of the Sacred College until they reach the age of 80. Putting these two issues together, it seems logical to assume that Pope Benedict XVI is not overly eager to accept resignations as soon as they are proffered by bishops turning 75, especially if they are cardinal archbishops of major metropolitan sees. If a bishop is capable and willing to continue his service beyond 75, it seems the Holy Father is disposed to allow such a prelate to continue.

As to the Sacred College of Cardinals, membership stands at 184. However, there are 76 members over age 80 who are superannuated and, therefore, unable to vote in any future conclave. There are six members of the Sacred College who are already 79 years old. Voting members of the college are limited to 120 (which the Pope can exceed anytime and for any reason, which Benedict is unlikely to do). Right now, the number of voting members, including the six who are 79, stands at 108. Hence, it is likely that there will be a consistory this summer, during which new cardinals, one of whom is likely to be Archbishop Wuerl, will be created. If the consistory is held, as is customary, on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, which is 29 June, an additional three cardinals, including Pope John Paul II's hand-picked successor as archbishop of Kracow, now that metropolitan see's emeritus, Franciszek Cardinal Macharski, will be superannuated. The Holy Father can create 15 new cardinals this year without exceeding 120. However, just as Pope Benedict is unlikely to exceed 120 voting cardinals, he is just as unlikely to create cardinals just to get the number of voting members up to 120. So, there is your Church hierarchy update for a Tuesday as we celebrate two years of the Benedictine papacy.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Regensburg revisited- briefly

Today is Pope Benedict XVI's eightieth birthday. Thursday, 19 April, marks the second anniversary of the election of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger as the 265th successor of St. Peter. Therefore, it is inevitable that a flurry of news reports about what his pontificate means and how it has met or not met expectations will be aired and published ad nauseam. Most of them, like the one on NPR's Morning Edition this morning, will be short-sighted and, given the sound-bite nature of most journalism, far from comprehensive, or well-balanced. Of course, many of them will be critical, which is just fine.

However, in a fairly comprehensive, well-balanced and well-written print piece, brought to my attention by Rocco over at Whispers, Anne Rodgers, in an article written for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, discussing the significance of last September's Regensburg speech, quotes George Weigel, who argues that the Regensburg speech is the most important papal address since Pope John Paul addressed the United Nations in 1985 because, he says, it "defines one of the key themes of the first two years of his pontificate, the necessary interface between faith and reason." Referring to Pope John Paul II's penultimate encyclical Fides et Ratio, Dr. Weigel says, "John Paul wrote that humanity has to rise on two wings of faith and reason. Benedict has now identified the problem that happens when those wings fall off the bird. Irrational faith teaches that God wants you to strap a bomb on and blow up people in a pizza parlor. And reason without faith has made Europe unable to say why blowing up people in a pizza parlor is a bad idea."

I am not as familiar with papal discourses as Dr. Weigel. Therefore, I cannot say with any expertise whether it is the most important papal address of the last twenty plus years, but I think he summarizes what the pope was trying communicate rather well. I think such a reflection on the fundamental nature of morality is appropriate on a day as sad as this day, in light of the slaughter on the campus of Virginia Tech.

Please remember the victims and their families in your prayers. On this, the day after the observance of Divine Mercy, it would be most appropriate to pray for it.

In the midst of this media flurry, I would like to draw attention to three items, none of which is very long. The first is from the blog Deep Furrows about the novelty of the papal magisterium of Pope Benedict XVI. Secondly, I point you to Sandro Magister's article on the Holy Father's new book, which was officially released last week. His article is entitled, And He Appeared in Their Midst: “Jesus of Nazareth” at the Bookstore. The Pope's book will not be available in English until May. Magister's article is informative and contains an outline of the book. Finally, the book's preface, written by Pope Benedict, was made available back in January and can also be read on Magister's Chiesa website.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Divine Mercy Sunday

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday. The Sunday after Easter was designated as such by Pope John Paul II. On 23 May 2000 the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments declared "the Second Sunday of Easter will receive the name Divine Mercy Sunday, a perennial invitation to the Christian world to face, with confidence in divine benevolence, the difficulties and trials that mankind will experience in the years to come." In the Catholic Church there are many devotions and devotional practices that flow from them, one such devotion is the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.

This particular Sunday is also the day on which Pope Benedict XVI will formally celebrate both his eightieth birthday and the second anniversary of his pontificate, which actually fall on 16 and 19 April respectively.

For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Saturday in the Octave of Easter

Alleluia! He is risen!

We're back from a half-week in Moab, which was glorious! We had a variety of weather, which was also nice. How beautiful is God's creation! As the octave of Easter draws to a close (with Evening Prayer tomorrow), it is worth reflecting on the events of this past week, especially the great Easter Vigil which we celebrated a mere week ago at which we received the Elect and Candidates, the former who are now designated neophytes, into the Church, witnessed their incorporation, their embodiment into Christ.

Evening Prayer for this evening is a lovely expression of these realities both in the reading and in one of the petitions offered in the intercessions:

"But you are 'a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises' of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were 'no people' but now you are God's people; you 'had not received mercy,' but now you have received mercy" (1 Pet 2,9-10).

I know this is a passage referred to a lot this past Lent and Easter, but I'll risk bringing it up one more time in light of the queries regarding priesthood. Here are some good footnotes to these two verses: "The prerogatives of ancient Israel mentioned here are now more fully and fittingly applied to the Christian people: 'a chosen race' (cf Isaiah 43:20-21) indicates their divine election (Eph 1:4-6); 'a royal priesthood' (cf Exodus 19:6) to serve and worship God in Christ, thus continuing the priestly functions of his life, passion, and resurrection; 'a holy nation' (Exodus 19:6) reserved for God, a people he claims for his own (cf Malachi 3:17) in virtue of their baptism into his death and resurrection. This transcends all natural and national divisions and unites the people into one community to glorify the one who led them from the darkness of paganism to the light of faith in Christ. From being 'no people' deprived of all mercy, they have become the very people of God, the chosen recipients of his mercy (cf Hosea 1:9; 2:23)." As to what it means to be a kingdom, priests for God our Father (Rev 1,5-8), I offer, again, my homily for Vespers on Christ the King last November.

We pray:

Lord Jesus, "You are the first and the last, you were dead and are alive, keep those who have been baptized faithful until death, that they may receive the crown of victory"

Heavenly Father and God of mercy,
we no longer look for Jesus among the dead,
for he is alive and has become the Lord of life.
From the waters of death you raise us with him
and renew your gift of life within us.
Increase in our minds and hearts
the risen life we share with Christ
and help us to grow as your people
toward the fullness of eternal life with you.
We ask through Christ our Lord.

Alleluia! He is risen, indeed!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Catechism- a resource for gaining knowledge of the faith

Alleluia! He is risen!

By virtue of our Baptism and our Confirmation we are priests, members of the one priesthood of Jesus Christ. Of course this does not make all of us ministerial priests, only those who are consecrated and ordained. On all this the Catechism is quite clear and concise. Beyond that this passage also so demonstrates the scriptural basis of the Church's understanding of the priesthood of the new and everlasting covenant.

1539 The chosen people was constituted by God as "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Ex 19,6;Isa 61,6). But within the people of Israel, God chose one of the twelve tribes, that of Levi, and set it apart for liturgical service; God himself is its inheritance Num 1,48-53; Jos 31,3) A special rite consecrated the beginnings of the priesthood of the Old Covenant. the priests are "appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins" (Lev 8; Ex 29,1-30).

1540 Instituted to proclaim the Word of God and to restore communion with God by sacrifices and prayer, (Mal 2,7-9) this priesthood nevertheless remains powerless to bring about salvation, needing to repeat its sacrifices ceaselessly and being unable to achieve a definitive sanctification, which only the sacrifice of Christ would accomplish (Heb 5,3; Heb 7,27).

1541 The liturgy of the Church, however, sees in the priesthood of Aaron and the service of the Levites, as in the institution of the seventy elders, (Num 11,24-25) a prefiguring of the ordained ministry of the New Covenant. Thus in the Latin Rite the Church prays in the consecratory preface of the ordination of bishops:

God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

by your gracious word

you have established the plan of your Church.

From the beginning,

you chose the descendants of Abraham to be your holy nation.

You established rulers and priests

and did not leave your sanctuary without ministers to serve you....

1542 At the ordination of priests, the Church prays:

Lord, holy Father, . . .

when you had appointed high priests to rule your people,

you chose other men next to them in rank and dignity

to be with them and to help them in their task....

you extended the spirit of Moses to seventy wise men....

You shared among the sons of Aaron

the fullness of their father's power . . .

As ministers of your tabernacle you chose the sons of Levi

and gave them your blessing as their everlasting inheritance.

The one priesthood of Christ.

1544 Everything that the priesthood of the Old Covenant prefigured finds its fulfillment in Christ Jesus, the "one mediator between God and men" 2 Tim 2,5) The Christian tradition considers Melchizedek, "priest of God Most High," as a prefiguration of the priesthood of Christ, the unique "high priest after the order of Melchizedek"; (Heb 5,10; Heb 6,20; Gen 14,18) "holy, blameless, unstained, (Heb 7,26) "by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified," (Heb 10,14) that is, by the unique sacrifice of the cross.

1545 The redemptive sacrifice of Christ is unique, accomplished once for all; yet it is made present in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Church. the same is true of the one priesthood of Christ; it is made present through the ministerial priesthood without diminishing the uniqueness of Christ's priesthood: "Only Christ is the true priest, the others being only his ministers" (Heb 8,4).

Two participations in the one priesthood of Christ

1546 Christ, high priest and unique mediator, has made of the Church "a kingdom, priests for his God and Father" (Rev 1,6; Rev 5,9-10; 1 Pet 2,5.9). The whole community of believers is, as such, priestly. the faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood through their participation, each according to his own vocation, in Christ's mission as priest, prophet, and king. Through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation the faithful are "consecrated to be . . . a holy priesthood" (Lumen Gentium, 10 #1).

1547 The ministerial or hierarchical priesthood of bishops and priests, and the common priesthood of all the faithful participate, "each in its own proper way, in the one priesthood of Christ." While being "ordered one to another," they differ essentially (Lumen Gentium, 10 #2). In what sense? While the common priesthood of the faithful is exercised by the unfolding of baptismal grace - a life of faith, hope, and charity, a life according to the Spirit - ,the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. It is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians. the ministerial priesthood is a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his Church. For this reason it is transmitted by its own sacrament, the sacrament of Holy Orders.

Why this long passage today? Because I have been fielding a lot of questions lately about the priesthood by Catholics who have been discussing our faith with members of the LDS Church. It is always more important to explain what we believe and why we believe it than to denigrate the beliefs of others, which they hold in good faith. St. Peter counseled the early Christians to always "be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame." St. Peter continues, recognizing that good deeds do not always go unpunished: "For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil" 1 Peter 3,15-17). Given that our celebration of the Mass of the Lord's Supper last Thursday, Holy Thursday, was a commemoration of the institution of the Eucharist, which is the source and summit of our faith, as well as the sacrifice offered by priests on behalf of and in cooperation with God's priestly people. This Mass also celebrates and commemorates the institution of the ministerial, or, ordained priesthood, it seems an opportune time to reflect on these matters. It is also good show how The Catechism of the the Catholic Church is the resource par excellance of learning, knowing, and explaining our faith. Along with its companion volume, The Compendium of the Catechism of the the Catholic Church, the Holy Bible, and The Catholic Book of Household Blessings it is a book that should be found in every Catholic home, bookmarked and dog-eared.

The first priests of the new covenant were the apostles, who, in turn, ordained priests and bishops as the faith grew and spread, which it did not really do until after St. Paul's conversion. The successors of the apostles are the college of bishops. Apostolic succession is a key feature of the priesthood, what Bishop Duane G. Hunt described as the "unbroken chain" going back to our Lord himself.

Alleluia! He is risen, indeed!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Easter Monday- Lamb at last!

Alleluia! He is risen.

Since- in the immortal words of a person who shall remain anonymous at the end of the Triduum and Easter Sunday- "He is risen, but we're all dead"- I come home and do some serious relaxing (i.e., sleep the sleep from which to awake is to be resurrected) while everybody else goes to my parents' house for ham (talk about your Christian triumphalism!), we enjoyed our Easter Monday Paschal lamb feast last evening. We enjoyed this resurrection feast with much praise and a nice bottle of Louis Jadot beaujolis wine. Deo gratias for the good and new life we have in Christ Jesus, who makes all things new! As the responsorial to the reading of the Word of God in the Liturgy of the Hours throughout the Octave indicates: "This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad, alleluia! (Ps 118,4)

Alleluia. He is risen, indeed!

Monday, April 9, 2007

Octave of Easter

Alleluia! He is risen!

A happy Easter to everyone! Today is in the octave of Easter. The octave is eight consecutive days that we observe like Easter Sunday. The octave concludes with the Second Sunday of Easter, which also marks Divine Mercy Sunday (more on that later in the week). Of course the eighth day, going back to the Church Fathers, is the eternal day, the day that will never end, the dawn of which is Christ's resurrection. Each week, as we count days from Sunday to Sunday, the Lord's Day is both the first and the eighth day, just as Jesus Chist is the Alpha and the Omega- the beginning and the end, "the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Heb 13,8).

From the Monday following Divine Mercy Sunday it remains Easter until the great feast of Pentecost, which, this year, is Sunday, 27 May. So, we still have a lot of Easter to enjoy! It is fitting that we rejoice and celebrate ten days longer than we observe Lent. We must keep in mind, of course, that Lent can and should be a joyful observance in its own right. During Easter our midday prayer switches from the Angelus to the Regina Caeli, both of which can be found in Latin and English in the Holy See's web version of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

It is during Easter that we enjoy the fruits of the discipline we undertook during Lent. If, for example, one of your Lenten foci was praying daily, you should be well in the habit of daily prayer and so enjoy this new found, or re-established closeness to our resurrected and risen Lord. Whatever else we focused on, overcoming those habits and even addictions that are not life-giving, we are also to continue to enjoy during Easter, and not return to them, like a dog to its vomit, to use St. Peter's stark, almost over-the-top metaphor (2 Pet 2,22). "It is a pity," writes Deacon Owen Cummings, quoting Resurrectionist priest Harry Williams, in his article The Spirituality of Ash Wednesday and Lent, which appeared in Emmanuel magazine, a publication of St. Anne's Province of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, if "we think of Lent as a time when we try to make ourselves uncomfortable in some fiddling but irritating way."

Bishop Wester preached eloquently on Easter about how it is that we experience this new life that God gives us in Christ and through His resurrection. He spoke about how this new life is to be experienced in the very in ordinary circumstances of our daily lives. If we look for it elsewhere, as a sudden flash from the great beyond, we are bound to be disappointed and our lives very little changed.

Alleluia! He is risen, indeed!

(Picture is an album cover for the Christian group Eighth Day as is from their website Eighth Day Music Online)

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday is the strangest liturgical day of the year. From the onset of night on Good Friday to forty-five minutes after sundown on Holy Saturday, when the Great Easter Vigil begins, we observe a silence, a pause. We are caught between extreme sadness and great joy. Therefore, it is not as strange as we might initially think. After all, is not most of our life lived between such dramatic moments? What we do in this in between, then, takes on a great importance. Let us observe this ambivalent and ambiguous day, this day of silence in gratitude as we move toward the great Easter feast.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

A Meditation on the Passion

For anyone who is interested, I will be presiding at The Cathedral of the Madeleine's Seven Last Words devotion on Good Friday. These meditations, which constitute a celebration of the Word, begin shortly after the conclusion of the Celebration of the Lord's Passion, which commences at Noon and concludes shortly before 3:00 PM, when the Choristers from The Madeleine Choir School will sing Giovanni Battista Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, a choral meditation on the Passion.

The service consists of seven Gospel passages that constitute what Scripture records as our Lord's words spoken from the Cross, a short commentary on the reading, a homily, then several minutes of kneeling in silence. We do all this before the Cross of Veneration, which contains a relic of the True Cross.

Lent ends with Evening Prayer this evening. The Mass of the Lord's Supper, which begins after sundown, starts the Triduum. This Mass, along with the Celebration of the Lord's Passion on Good Friday, and the great Easter Vigil, really constitute one liturgy. There is no dismissal (i.e., "The mass in ended . . .") until the end of the Vigil

(Picture is the 12th Station from the Stations of the Cross in Lodwar, Kenya Cathedral, taken from Australian EJournal of Theology)

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Year C, Palm Sunday

Readings: Lk 19,28-40; Isa 50,4-7; Ps 22,8-9.19-20.23-34; Phil 2,6-11; Lk 23,1-49

In our Eucharistic celebration today we cover an entire week, a week in which our fickle and fallen human nature is revealed to us in its fullness. We began by reading of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and have just recited the account of his trial, conviction, and punishment that culminated in his being nailed to the Cross, which, according to the evangelists, occurred less than a week after the Hosannas were shouted in the vicinity of the Temple.

This story is recapitulated in each of our own lives and in our life together. How many times have we committed and recommitted to living as disciples of Jesus Christ, committed to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, to loving God with all our heart might, mind, and strength and to loving our neighbor as ourselves, accepting that all people are our neighbor, especially the poor and the marginalized? Then, how many times, when in a position to match our words with our actions have we acted in ways that are at odds with this commitment, thus, in the words of the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, writing about apostates, "recrucifying the Son of God . . . and holding him up to contempt" (Heb 6,6)?

The good news is that grace builds on nature, even fallen, sinful nature. Sin does not erase the imago dei- the divine image- in which women and men together are created. In other words, despite our best, or, more accurately, our worst, efforts, something of the very goodness with which God creates us remains. Thus, our Catholic faith causes us to reject the notion, prevalent in some theologies, that humankind is totally depraved. As many of you know, in recent months we have entered what Pope John Paul II called "the first Areopagus of modern times," the world of mass communication, by starting a parish web log, or, in cyber-parlance blog. Today, reversing my usual order of preaching and then posting, I am sharing my post from this past Friday, the last Lenten Friday before our Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday, in the hope that it is worth considering on this first day of Holy Week:

Too often we are sentimental about our faith, about what it really means at its deepest level and the implications it should have for our engagement with the world. The problem with being overly sentimental is that it leads to being shallow. For instance, it is often nice and comforting to believe that Jesus Christ, by his dying on the Cross, took away our sins and the sins of the whole world. How wonderful, we think, that God will forgive me for the last time I got angry and said some regrettable things to the person at whom I was angry, or forgive the impure thought I entertained, etc. Yet, in the very next instant we might encounter something on the television news, or in the newspaper, about yet another horrible thing one person did to another, or several people; a murder, a rape, a drug addict punching and robbing an old woman on her way to Church, an off-duty police officer mercilessly beating a woman in a drunken rage, or another act of genocide by a stronger group of people against a weaker group, etc., etc. In other words, the kind of things that happen in the world which caused Malcolm Muggeridge to accurately observe that original sin is the most empirically verifiable fact in the world. After witnessing such depravities, we often give lie to our faith, by condemning, not the merely the actions, which are deserving of condemnation and opposition, but the people who perpetrate them. One significant proof of this, in the U.S. anyway, is that two-thirds of people still support the death penalty. How does it give lie to our profession? It gives lie because a person's dignity as a human being created in the divine image is not forfeited by sin, even heinous sin. For this we should all thank God everyday.

This week on the Westminster Cathedral blog Monsignor Mark Langham, Administrator of the Cathedral and its resident blogger, wrote a post entitled, Praying the Gill Stations. The Gill Stations were created by a famous artist named Eric Gill. In a shocking 1989 biography, written by Fiona McCarthey, it was learned for the first time that Gill, a much celebrated artistic genius and a devout believer all his life, an adult convert to the Catholic faith from the Church of England, was quite disturbingly depraved. Since the biography’s publication, Msgr. Langham continues, "we have had to come to terms with the fact that our greatest Cathedral artwork is the product of a man who was in many ways detestable. There were many calls for the Stations to be removed." Thankfully, "the redemptive quality of art" prevailed. Msgr. Langham sums the whole episode up beautifully: "As so often in the Church's history, works of great beauty and inspiration have come from those who seem less than worthy of their talents. God uses vessels of clay to perform his great works, and sometimes it is shocking to us how weak those vessels are - yet his grace shines through, and even mediated by sinful hands, allows others to experience his presence."

Given his faith, his depravity, and much of his art, certainly the Westminster Cathedral Stations, it seems that Eric Gill knew he was a man in need of redemption. A story related by Msgr. Langham indicates as much: "As [the Stations] were being installed in the Cathedral, a woman came up to Gill to say that she did not think they were very nice carvings, to which he snapped back that it was not a very nice subject!" Without romanticizing evil, or the deep harm it causes others, such stories help us overcome our tendency to domesticate and sentimentalize the deep love of that IS God, especially this Passion Sunday, during which we see God's love in the sacrificial suffering and emptying out of his Son for our sakes, for the very worst of our sins. May this lead us to a deeper compassion- a deeper suffering with- others, both those whose sufferings are caused and who, in turn, often cause suffering, perpetuating the cycle that brings about the need for a Savior in the first place, as well as for those who cause suffering in the first instance. These are the dysfunctions of Adam's race, explained in a somewhat disconcerting way in the great Easter exultet: "O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!" Are these sentimental words?- In light of the faults of the world and of each of us, hardly!

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Ehad

Last night at sundown Passover began. It is the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan, the year 5767. Last evening in Jewish homes throughout the world, the youngest person present asked: "Why is this night different from all other nights?" Of course, the Passover marks the night on which Jews celebrate and commemorate the night on which, by putting the blood of the sacrificed lamb on their doorpost, the angel of death passed over their house, thus sparing their firstborn from the tenth plague.

In a few days' time, at the great Easter Vigil, as Christians, we will celebrate our own Passover,

"This is our passover feast,
when Christ, the true Lamb, is slain,
whose blood consecrates the homes of all believers.

This is the night
when first you saved our fathers:
you freed the people of Israel from their slavery
and led them dry-shod through the sea."

Scriptural basis for Spiritual Disciplines

An excerpt from the Scripture reading from today's Office of Readings:

"You have also forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as children: 'My child, 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 child he acknowledges.' Endure your trials as 'discipline'; God treats you as children. For what 'child' is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are without discipline, in which all have shared, you are not children but bastards. Besides this, we have had our earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not (then) submit all the more to the Father of spirits and live? They disciplined us for a short time as seemed right to them, but he does so for our benefit, in order that we may share his holiness. At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it. So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord" (Heb 12,5-14).

The reason I emphasized the words I did is to highlight that discipline, even spiritual discipline, is a means not an end. Be mindful, however, that disciple and discipline are as linked as bicycle and cyclist, runner and running, writer and writing, etc.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Holy Week

Holy Week is here. It is a glorious and busy week. Posting will be light to non-existent. I will post my homily from Palm Sunday probably tomorrow. Meanwhile, let us pray:

All powerful God,
by the suffering and death of your Son,
strengthen and protect us in our weakness.

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.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Hosanna in excelsis

Prepare the way of the Lord. Prepare the way for the Kingdom!

(Picture from BBC News/In Pictures, Christians in Ranchi, India)

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...