Monday, October 29, 2007

Program note

It's been a busier month than I intended here on Καθολικός διάκονος. So, don't look for anything new until at least Thursday morning. I appreciate all of the prayers and encouragement, as well as comments, feedback, and discussion. Keep them all flowing! In the meantime, have a happy Halloween.

Year C, Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Sir. 35,12-14.16-18; Ps 34, 2-3.17-19.23; 2 Tim. 4,6-8.16-18; Lk 18,9-14

"The LORD is a God of justice" (Sir. 35,12). So begins our first reading from the book of Jesus ben Sirach. What does he mean, we might well ask? The answer could not be simpler, God is just because God "knows no favorites" (Sir. 35,12). In other words, in the eyes of God, as with any loving father of more than one child, each of us is equally beloved. Nonetheless, while not "unduly partial toward the weak," God "hears the cry of the oppressed" (Sir. 35,13). Indeed, as the Psalmist sings, "The Lord hears the cry of the poor" (Ps. 34).

That God, while remaining just and impartial, "identifies with the victims in the world’s history," observes Dr. Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury, is demonstrated by "the fact that the bearer of his grace and power in our history," Jesus Christ, "is one who can be described as 'purely' victim, in no way the perpetrator of diminishing and excluding violence" (Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel 17). The book of Sirach, while originally written in Hebrew, has come down to us in Greek. The Greek text suggests that God not only hears the cry of the oppressed, but that God yields to their requests. Sr. Dianne Bergant writes that it is "almost as if God is bound to respond positively to [the poor and the oppressed]. As a covenant partner God is accountable to them, especially when other covenant partners disregard their responsibilities" (Preaching the New Lectionary: Year C 397). The surprise in both this first reading and the Gospel is that those considered unacceptable in ancient Jewish social and religious circles are the very ones whose prayers God heeds. Their prayer is proper prayer. That God has chosen to take the side of the poor and to pay special attention to the prayer of the lowly is what connects our first reading to today’s Gospel.

Today’ Gospel allows us to connect some dots, the dots are those of personal spirituality and living justly, or, put in a more familiar manner, to see how love of neighbor flows from love of God. Discerning this connection is absolutely essential for anybody who would follow Christ. On this basis we can posit two pillars of the Christian life: prayer and growth in holiness, or human flourishing. Holiness cannot happen; we cannot flourish, without prayer anymore than we can live without breathing. It is from our own fundamental relationship with God that not only do we, like St. Paul, derive our strength to live to justly, but it is also from this relationship that we derive our very desire to live just, holy, lives. The lesson that we must continually re-learn, it seems, is that happiness does not lie in being self-contained. Rather, happiness comes from allowing God to stretch us open to love others. In other words, holiness consists "in being turned outwards" (Timothy Radcliffe, OP What is the Point of Being a Christian? 51).

Jesus says in his Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are the poor in spirit" (Matt. 5,3). In the Jewish scriptures the poor- the anawim- are those without material possessions. In his teaching, our Lord adds "in spirit" in order to extend God’s favor to all, regardless of social rank, in keeping with God’s impartiality. To be poor in spirit means to acknowledge our complete and utter dependence on God, no matter whether we are rich or poor. It is this acknowledgement that makes the prayer of the tax collector the acceptable prayer.

Because he was a tax collector, we can be assured that this man was materially well-off, even if he was a social pariah among his fellow Jews. But, he is the one who gives witness to what it means to be poor in spirit. The pharisaical temptation is to begin to think that we are justified by our own actions and our own prayer. Therefore, if we are to go home justified today, we must pray and then seek to live in the humble spirit of the tax collector. This is why, just before receiving communion, we will acknowledge together, to each other, and to God that we "are not worthy to receive" Christ and that it is only through God’s saving word that we are healed and made worthy. To ever think we are more worthy to receive Christ than anybody else, is, like the Pharisee, to fall prey to a fatal deception.

Prayer is the means by which we enter into and maintain an intimate relationship with God. Hence, along with the sacraments, prayer is a means of attaining holiness which John O’Donohue describes as being "able to rest in the house of belonging that we call the soul (Anam Chara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom 23). Nonetheless, our final justification is dependent on our humility, on our continual, honest acknowledgement of who we are before our just, but ultimately merciful and loving God. We know from our experience that it is difficult to pray like the tax collector. We also know that it is difficult to be faithful in prayer, to take time out each day to be nurtured and strengthened by God, who, in Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can address as Abba, Father. The "real protagonist of history," according to Msgr. Luigi Giussani, "is the beggar: Christ who begs for man's heart, and man's heart that begs for Christ". Every day a thousand things allow us to rationalize not making time for prayer. Let us make no mistake, prayer is a discipline. To be a disciple is to practice the disciplines laid down by the Master. Prayer certainly tops the list of the disciplines of the Christian life. My dear sisters and brothers, even a simple act of prayer, faithfully performed each day, is an acknowledgement of our dependence on God. All of this leads us to the inevitable conclusion that daily prayer is just as essential to acquiring the humility necessary to be justified as it is to our flourishing.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Il Papa Buono-Bl. John XXIII remembered

Blessed Pope John XXIII

On this day in 1958 Angelo Giuseppi Cardinal Roncalli, the Patriarch of Venice, was elected by his brother cardinals to succeed the deceased Pope Pius XII. So, on this day we give thanks for the life and service of Bl. Pope John XXIII. There is more on this wholly good man over on our parish blog The People of St. Mary Magdalene, where you will also find a video on the Good Pope. Here, too, I want to thank Ron Yengich for bringing this date to my attention after 8:30 AM Mass today. Otherwise, I would've let this day slip by without a peep!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

"The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties" Gaudium et Spes 1

"The bearded face – eyes staring defiantly to infinity, the long wavy hair beneath the beret stirred by the Caribbean breeze – has become one of the world’s most familiar images," so begins a brief article on the legacy of one Ernesto Ché Guevara, the Argentine doctor turned Marxist revolutionary, in a recent issue of The Economist. It is no small irony this dedicated Marxist, who is so revered by many in the anti-globalization crowd, "has spawned a global brand". According this same article this familiar image, which is a photograph taken of Guevara by photographer Alberto Korda, “has adorned cigarettes, ice cream and a bikini".

No doubt the recent film The Motorcycle Diaries contributed greatly to Guevara’s iconic status "as a universal symbol of romantic rebellion". Please do not misunderstand, I, too, watched, enjoyed, and was moved by this well-made film, which is a stylized and artistic rendering of the young Ernesto Guevara’s travels throughout his native South America. It was during these travels that this idealistic young man came to see the economic disparities, social injustices, and human rights abuses across this long troubled continent. As a result, his conscience was deeply troubled by what he witnessed and experienced. Nonetheless, The Economist article is absolutely correct in the several assertions it makes about Ché. The first assertion is that his status is more about "semiotics" than it is about politics; semiotics refers to a philosophical theory of signs and symbols. Second, like James Dean, Guevara, because he died at age 39, is, in the words of Alphaville’s lone hit, forever young. Guevara was killed in the mountains of Bolivia, where he was organizing a Marxist insurrection, by the CIA working alongside the Bolivian army, forty years ago, on 9 October 1967. The third assertion is, apart from a life holiness, which is characterized by loving perfectly, Guevara has all the trappings of a saint. In a kind of a post-modern irony, this is positive in that it speaks to the intractable Catholicism of Latin America, even among those who buy into secular, atheistic ideologies, like Marxism and who revere Ché. Of course, the same can be said for Orthodoxy and Communism in Russia, where Lenin still lies on public display in his mausoleum in Moscow.

"The wider the cult spreads," the piece continues, "the further it strays from the man". Guevara was not a saint in any meaningful sense of the word; he was not even the secular equivalent of a saint, a humanitarian, despite his beautifully depicted coming of age. Instead, Guevara "was a ruthless and dogmatic Marxist, who stood not for liberation but for new tyranny". Relics of Guevara were auctioned off on Thursday in Dallas. These relics were collected by Gustavo Villoldo, a former CIA operative who helped hunt Guevara and who was put in charge of secretly burying Ché’s body. A lock of the revolutionary's hair fetched $119,500.00!

As has been noted, Guevara was an idealistic young man, whose impulse after his travels throughout Latin America was to help effect a change that would begin to break down the inarguably unjust conditions across this region of the world. That he turned to Marxism as the answer is a tragedy. Ché took his motorcycle trip at the age of twenty-three, in the first years of the decade of the 1950s. At that time, sadly, the Church cannot be said to have been on the side of the poor. Sure, there were individual priests, bishops, as well as religious sisters, brothers, and even whole religious orders dedicated to serving the poor, but there was no institutional effort made by the Church to address these gross injustices at the upper levels of society. So, where was such an idealistic young man to look for inspiration?

Of course, the Catholic Church was and remains perhaps the most influential institution from México to la Tierra del Fuego. In the wake of Vatican II, the Church has begun to address many of the issues that existed in Guevara’s youth but which continue to persist down to now. This disparity between what the Christian faith has always professed but often failed to live out is addressed in part two of the encyclical Deus Caritas Est in a section entitled Justice and Charity, at the beginning of which Pope Benedict XVI takes up an often valid Marxist critique of Christianity:

"Since the nineteenth century, an objection has been raised to the Church's charitable activity, subsequently developed with particular insistence by Marxism: the poor, it is claimed, do not need charity but justice. Works of charity—almsgiving—are in effect a way for the rich to shirk their obligation to work for justice and a means of soothing their consciences, while preserving their own status and robbing the poor of their rights. Instead of contributing through individual works of charity to maintaining the status quo, we need to build a just social order in which all receive their share of the world's goods and no longer have to depend on charity" (par. 26).

While admitting that there is "some truth to this argument, the Holy Father goes on to assert that the Church holds that "the pursuit of justice" is primarily the job of the State. While I much admire this encyclical and do not disagree about the necessary separation of Church and State, each with its own competency, I have to say that my admiration is largely limited to the first part of the letter. It is here that this first encyclical of Benedict XVI’s pontificate has come in for some harsh criticism by many, especially many of the leading luminaries of liberation theology, like Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez, OP, whose book The God of Life, at least to my mind, would serve the first part of Deus Caritas Est better than the actual second part of the encyclical, wherein the Holy Father asserts "that the pursuit of justice must be a fundamental norm of the State and that the aim of a just social order is to guarantee to each person, according to the principle of subsidiarity, his share of the community's goods" (par. 26). While it is true that such an understanding "has always been emphasized by Christian teaching on the State and by the Church's social doctrine," it fails to address what the Church’s role is, especially in places like Latin America, where some 473,000,000 of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics live, thus making it the most Catholic region in the world, in bringing about a more just social order.

The Church’s continuing institutional challenge in doing more to relieve the plight of the impoverished millions in this region, taking its cue from the leadership of many bishops, like Aloísio Cardinal Lorschieder, OFM, and Archbishop Helder Camera, who once averred, "When I feed the poor, they call me a Saint. When I ask why are they poor, they call me a Communist," has resulted in some very disturbing trends. The first was liberation theology gone wild, resulting in priests getting involved in violent revolutionary movements, the most dramatic moment of which occurred when Pope John Paul II, upon his arrival in Managua, was greeted by President Daniel Ortega and all the ministers of the Sandinista government, including Jesuit priest Ernesto Cardenal, who continued to serve as a government minister even after the Holy Father ordered all priests serving in political positions to resign, gave Cardenal a very public tongue lashing, complete with finger wagging, right on the airport tarmac. The second disturbing trend that we see resulting from the Church’s inertia is the success of evangelical Christianity throughout the region.

The Holy Father admits that, after the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century "the Church's leadership was slow to realize that the issue of the just structuring of society needed to be approached in a new way" because, with the Industrial Revolution, "the relationship between capital and labour" became the decisive issue (pars. 26-27). What changed the nature of the relationship between labor and capital with the rise of mass production was that "the means of production were now the new source of power which, concentrated in the hands of the few, led to the suppression of the rights of the working classes" (par. 26). While the human economy, at least in advanced societies, is undergoing another tremendous shift, what we might call the Information Revolution, much of the underdeveloped world is still coming to grips with the realities of the nineteenth century and, hence, these countries are ill-equipped to enter this new era.
So, in the end, there is a noticeable disparity between the Benedictine and Pauline teaching on these matters. After all it was Papa Montini who wrote both the encyclical Populorum Progresso and the Apostolic Exhortation Evangeli Nuntiandi. Both of these remain great guides for concrete praxis, especially in regions of the world that are afflicted with the historical and contemporary ills of Latin America.

None of this is written as an apology for the over-romanticized Ché, he made choices and did what can only be characterized as evil things, thus making his legacy irretrievably an evil one. Just to impart some idea of his sins, he was put in charge of executing counter-revolutionaries and was responsible for creating the Cuban gulag system and Communist reeducation camps. As Minister of Industry he was put in charge of the usually violent expropriation all private property, including small farms and shops, a job he carried out with irrepressible zeal. Still, it is difficult not to wonder what would happen if the Church’s social doctrine, which, it is often joked, is the Church’s best kept secret, were lived concretely, not just by individual Christians, but the Church as the Body of Christ, and especially as an institution, in which manifestation it is both a social and political entity. The idealistic young people of the Global South experience, live, and see many of the same injustices as those seen by the young Ernesto Guevara in the Latin America of the 1950s. These young people are the targets of people recruiting on behalf of organizations espousing various radical and violent ideologies, like the perverted form of Islam that currently wreaks so much havoc across the globe. I readily admit that it is easier to outline the problem than to propose a solution. The solution the Church proposes, however, whether in the magisterium of Benedict XVI, Leo XIII, John Paul II, or Paul VI, is the concrete praxis of our Christian faith. Our program consists of nothing but two principles taught some 2,000 years ago by a marginalized peasant who belonged to an oppressed and repressed people: Love God with all our hearts, might, minds, and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves. In answering the question, Who is my neighbor, this same peasant, whom we revere as our Lord and God, tells us that all human beings we encounter are our neighbors, but especially the person we encounter who is most in need. So, in this season of elections, as citizens of a free society, let us not neglect what our own bishops tell us is our duty, to vote, to advocate for the common good, to work to bring about a more just society. This is not enough; we also need to make our parishes models of love and justice, true Christian communities.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Holy Father to people like me: No clowning!

In his weekly catechesis the Holy Father said that people who teach the faith "cannot run the risk of appearing like a type of clown who is playing a part; rather he must be like the beloved disciple who rested his head on the Master’s heart and learned therein how to think, speak and act". There goes my idea for Theological anthropology: A comparative study- Bozo vs. Ronald. I suppose I'll have to stick with Augustine and Aquinas!

Doin' the Chicken

"And now for something completely different" as regards our Friday traditio, the late, great jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius, playing The Chicken. This one goes out not to the one I love, or to the one I left behind, but to Pigpen, Fred, and Charles Schultz!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

God, creation, meaning, and purpose: A jazz-like improvisation on a riff laid down by Fr. Oakes

Fr. Edward Oakes, S.J., who is a professor of theology at Mundelein seminary, which is the seminary for the Archdiocese of Chicago, over on Observations & Contentions, posted a piece entitled Purpose: Biological, Biblical, or Both? about meaning and purpose according sacred scripture.

The form of Christianity that is the target of the worst attacks of critics, like Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and Dennett is what Fr. Oakes calls “one-dimensional fundamentalism.” Like the critics, as Catholics we also reject such a narrow literalist reading of sacred scripture. Nonetheless, we believe in a Creator God about whom we confess that "We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen”. Our basis for such a belief lies in both revelation and reason. Scripture tells us, from beginning to end, that God is the origin and destination of all that is. Hence, we look to many passages throughout the sacred library we call the Bible, passages like, "In the beginning, God created . . ." (Gen. 1,1); "He created everything according to its kind' (Gen. 1,11); "He upholds the universe by his word of power' (Heb. 1,3); "You have made him [man] little less than God" (Ps. 8,6); "All things were created for him [Christ]" (Col. 1,16); and "Subdue the earth" (Gen. 1,28). We also learn from scripture, as well as from Aristotle, that "what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse" (Rom. 1,19-20).

So, we are good ground. Nonetheless, the authority of the Bible, which we revere as revelation has to factor in at some point in the discussion. Since we reject biblical literalism, especially as it relates to certain genres of literature we encounter in scripture, like the creation stories of Genesis, what authoritative claim does the Bible have over us? In seeking to examine this question, Fr. Oakes injects two papal statements into the discussion. The first statement is from Pope Pius XII’s Divino Afflante Spiritu:

"“the ancient peoples of the East, in order to express their ideas,
did not always employ those forms or kinds of speech which we
use today; but rather those used by the men of their times and countries.
What those exactly were the commentator cannot determine as it were
in advance, but only after a careful examination of the ancient literature
of the East.

The second, by Pope John Paul II, is taken from a written message from the late Holy Father to scientists and theologians:

"If the cosmologies of the ancient Near Eastern world could be purified and assimilated into the first chapters of Genesis, might contemporary cosmology have something to offer to our reflection upon creation? Does an evolutionary perspective bring any light to bear upon theological anthropology, the meaning of the human person as the imago Dei, the problem of Christology—and even the development of doctrine itself? What, if any, are the eschatological implications of contemporary cosmology, especially in light of the vast future of our universe?"

These two statements taken together in isolation, according Oakes, "make it seem that the Bible is being hit from two directions at once: the sciences of archaeology and history determine the Bible’s past meaning, and contemporary sciences, biology and cosmology primarily, determine what we are allowed to find credible today." This sets the stage for the question about the authority of the scripture, "how and where is the Bible allowed to speak on its own terms?" It is at this point that he introduces arguments from a recent book written by Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, OP, the archbishop of Vienna, who served as chairman of the drafting committee of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I will not go into. Suffice it say that scripture does speak with an authority of its own. However, in order for scripture to speak clearly we must read it properly which means, among other things, understanding the genre of the book of scripture we are engaging. As I have stated several times before, when we read, say the creation stories found in Genesis (there are two distinct stories), we make a grave error by reading them literally, as if we are reading an actual history of creation, just as many mistakenly think that the mystery of the Trinity consists in somehow explaining that 3=1, which, of course, it does not. The worst result of this grave error is that the narratives lose much of what they seek to communicate. I gave another example in a homily last week, one of the readings for which was the Book of Jonah: "it is necessary to point out that the author of the Book of Jonah does not record, or even pretend to record, actual events. Hence, instead of getting bogged down with silly questions, like how can a person survive inside a big fish for three days, we should focus on the divinely inspired message that the author is trying to convey through the telling of the story. After all, Jesus' parables were not about things that actually happened. Are they any less true, or applicable to life for that? "

It is in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes that we find at least a provisional answer to this quandary, which states:

"methodical investigation within every branch of learning is carried out in a genuinely scientific manner and in accord with moral norms, it never truly conflicts with faith, for earthly matters and the concerns of faith derive from the same God. Indeed whoever labors to penetrate the secrets of reality with a humble and steady mind, even though he is unaware of the fact, is nevertheless being led by the hand of God, who holds all things in existence, and gives them their identity. Consequently, we cannot but deplore certain habits of mind, which are sometimes found too among Christians, which do not sufficiently attend to the rightful independence of science and which, from the arguments and controversies they spark, lead many minds to conclude that faith and science are mutually opposed".

Fr. Oakes brings his post to a conclusion by stating that "the most significant statement that the Bible can say to science" is that "Everything that comes to us is pure gift, precisely because it has been gratuitously, graciously, and freely created by God. If you want purpose in your life, don’t look to biology, look to creation, that gracious bestowal of existence from which all other blessings flow, including life in all its splendid biological complexity." In other words, Truth, Beauty, Goodness are transcendentals. Hence, they are metaphysical, over and above physics. We get so bogged down with facts and act as if facts themselves give us Truth. Facts are not value neutral, especially when facts are linked together in narrative fashion in order to explain a theory, which is precisely what science does.

Take the so-called Big Bang as an example. We know the story: A piece of very dense matter exploded in space. From this explosion the universe, or, as is now fashionable among some cosmological physicists- multiverse- was born. This narrative certainly takes account of all the facts, as far as we are presently able to discern them. There is no reason to doubt the veracity of this story, this narrative, which is told in order to explain the theory. There are several things for which this theory does and cannot account, like, What is the origin of the dense matter? What caused the explosion? Now, physics either does or probably can account for these questions, but even if that is so, the question physics can never answer is why, or to what end did any of this occur? Of course, the response of many is why does there need to be a reason? Of course this is an odd question coming from a scientist who has dedicated his/her life to inquiry. Fr. Oakes gives us a rather good answer to this question about meaning and purpose, an answer rooted in the nature of the human person. Writing about star atheist and Darwinian champion Richard Dawkins' frank admission that nobody in their right mind would want to live in a society governed by the principles of Darwinism and that such a society, like Nazi Germany, would inevitably be a facist state, Oakes observes that Dawkins' "ethical critique of Darwinian dystopias itself testifies to man’s uniqueness, specifically his possession of a conscience independent of evolutionary forces. And once conscience asserts its independence, it’s but a short step to establish that the same holds true of man’s natural desire for God". Such an answer gives us not only hope, but confidence that we can intelligently discuss meaning and purpose in light of faith, while, at the same time, accounting for all the facts.

I apologize for this post being a bit of a jumble, but in light of yesterday's post and given my limited time, it is the best I could string together this morning.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Complex questions have complex, not simple, answers

The great journalist H.L. Mencken is often quoted as observing that in politics "for every complex question there is a simple answer". In a comment on an earlier post, David expressed a frustration that, I think, is one faced by many of us who are believing, practicing Christians: "All sorts of people lead long lives believing in one thing,or in something else, or in not much at all. Some people change beliefs while others don't. Some end their lives in confusion. Its a mystery to me. Is there a doctrine that explains the multiplicity of faiths and belief systems? Can the Truth be measured? Will it always yields the same results when manipulated?"

Truth, the kind with a capital T is, properly speaking meta physical. Therefore, the answer to the last question David asks is "No". However, Truth can be measured, not with instruments, etc., but by one's life. To this end, at the last Communion & Liberation worldwide gathering, known as the The Meeting (No, not "the Meadows" of So I Married an Axe Murderer fame- my wife's all-time favorite movie), which is held annually in Rimini, Italy, philosopher Francesco Ventorino, professor of Ontology and Ethics at the Studio Teologico S. Paolo di Catania, answers this question better than I ever could:

"Man rejects the truth because he does not know what to seek, does not know this truth which has set out in search of man. In some way, the initiative is the truth's, is God's, and man, provoked by this initiative, responds to God's yes with his own small yes. This is the Church's reply to the skepticism of the world."

As far as a doctrine that explains the multiplicity of faiths I offer my best hack from this blog, a post entitled You will know them by their fruits, along with a follow up post called An addendum from slightly more than a year ago.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

California fires

It would be an aggregious oversight not to mention the fires that are raging across parts of Southern California. These fires have forced as many as 250,000 people to evacuate their homes. Sharon, over at Clarity Daily, has pretty eye-watering facts, details, and pictures of the devastation, including a map showing the huge areas engulfed in fire, as well as news about her brother's evacuation. So, today let us keep SoCal in our prayers, especially those who have lost their homes and those who have been forced to flee. As always, please pray for the intrepid men and women who are working to put the fires out, both for their safety and success.

Monday, October 22, 2007

"Oh therapy can you please fill the void?"

"Many Americans insist that everyone have a positive attitude," begins psychologist Barbara Held in her piece for the NPR series This I Believe entitled A Positive Outlook Is Overrated. So insistent have we become that everyone always have a good attitude that it extends even to times, "when the going gets rough." We have become a culture obsessed with being happy all of the time. This is discernible, she continues, "From the self-help bookshelves to the Complaint-Free World Movement, the power of positive thinking is touted now more than ever as the way to be happy, healthy, wealthy and wise."

From there she gets to the crux of the matter, to that point in her essay that I wanted to shout AMEN!:

"The problem is that this demand for good cheer brings with it a one-two punch for those of us who cannot cope in that way: First you feel bad about whatever's getting you down, then you feel guilty or defective if you can't smile and look on the bright side. And I'm not even sure there always is a bright side to look on."

There are two more points Dr. Held makes that are worth repeating, the first has to do with a personal experience that she had with physical illness, a flu that resulted in her having viral meningitis from which her physician assured her that she "would make a full recovery." Nonetheless, she was left "traumatized by the weeks of undiagnosed pain. I really thought I had a brain tumor or schizophrenia. Being a psychologist didn't help; I was an emotional wreck.

Fortunately it happened that my next-door neighbor was a brilliant psychiatrist, Aldo Llorente from Cuba. I asked him, 'Aldo, am I a schizophrenic?'

"'Professor,' he pronounced, 'you are a mess, but you are not a mentally ill mess. You are just terrified.'"

The second point worth repeating has to do with her own psycho-therapeutic practice: "Some of my one-session 'cures' have come from reminding people that life can be difficult, and it's OK if we're not happy all of the time" (underlined and emboldened emphasis mine). Of course, it is not okay if we're unhappy all of the time, just to pre-empt any destroyers of straw men.

So vexing is such a point-of-view that, despite its common sense and naturalness, I am fighting off the temptation to apologize for drawing attention to it, but her point is too important for that and I thank Dr. Held. For more of her perspective, from the This I Believe page, you can listen to her talk on NPR's Talk of the Nation back in August 2000. Among her several books is Stop Smiling, Start Kvetching: A 5-Step Guide to Creative Complaining. The word Kvetch comes from Yiddish kvetshn, which means "to squeeze, to complain". The Yiddish, in turn, finds its roots in the Middle High German word quetzen, quetschen, "to squeeze".

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Plowing the furrows on a fall day

Once again, Fred, over on Deep Furrows, brings up some important issues, like have most Catholics lost, or never acquired, what one might call a Catholic sensibility, or have we all become mere Pastafarians?

"It's misleading and wrongly triumphalist" Fred writes, "to speak of Catholic sensibility since Catholics are not en mass markedly more sensible than anybody else." All I can say in reply is Amen! Well, of course I can and will write more:

This has a lot to do with the breakdown that Fred and I discussed yesterday between faith and reason, the separation of goodness from beauty, and the belief that truth is entirely subjective. Sadly, Catholics, at least most in the U.S., are no different than our Protestant friends and neighbors in this regard. To this end, I got in a real-life argument, as opposed to a blargument, this week with somebody who dared insist that the Catholic Church was but a denomination. Hell, even actual Protestants, ones who know what a Protestant is, wouldn't make this claim. The sad truth is that most Catholics today would accept the truthfulness of such an erroneous premise. To do so is to concede the argument up front, thus limiting yourself to one beer.

Deacon Scott's Mediterranean Scrambled Eggs

Okay, this is not as elaborate nor, I am sure and hope to find out for myself, as delicious as Alex's dishes, but here's my Mediterranean egg recipé:

-Scramble three eggs with water, milk, pepper, sea salt, and perhaps a little olive juice for those of us who like our martinis dirty

-Cut up six olives, either regular olives or green olives (If you don't know the difference, use green olives)

-Slice two medium size mushrooms

-Sauté olives and mushrooms in a frying pan in olive oil until, well, they look sauteed

-Pour scrambled eggs into pan, cook until done

-Put on plate, sprinkle with feta cheese

-Eat with fresh pita bread and V8 Lemon twist juice

-Then pour a nice, strong cup of home-brewed French Roast coffee

This also counts as Morning prayer, at least it does for me this rainy fall morning!

Saturday Surprises

I came across two bits of interesting news this morning. The first has to do with Peanuts creator Charles Schultz being, according to his biographer, David Michaelis, "a funny, warm and charming man with a great sense of calm and decency. But he also had a lifetime of being lonely, misunderstood and unhappy". Instead of happiness being a warm puppy, Schultz would insist that "Happiness is a sad song", perhaps like Morrissey's Everyday is Like Sunday. I do not think this too surprising. It does make the world of Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Sally, Snoopy, and Peppermint Patty that Schultz bequeathed us all the more valuable.

In a Q & A session, held in a packed Carnagie Hall in New York City, Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling, was asked whether Dumbledore ever found "true love". Her initial response to this question was quite succinct: "Dumbledore is gay". She then added that the much revered Hogwarts headmaster, in his younger years, "was smitten with rival Gellert Grindelwald, who he beat in a battle between good and bad wizards long ago".

Rowling explained Albus' infatuation with Grindelwald, thus: "'Falling in love can blind us to an extent,' she added, saying Dumbledore was 'horribly, terribly let down'". She also said that "his love for Grindelwald was his 'great tragedy'. It once again shows that one should not underestimate the complexity of Rowling's writing.

Here are the closing lines of my homily for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time for this year, which was 5 August: "The ultimate paradox, taught us by our Lord himself, is that only the person who loses his/her life for his sake will save it. The true master of death, the wise Albus Dumbledore says to Harry Potter, 'does not seek to run away from Death. He accepts that he must die, and understands that there are far, far worse things in the living world than dying' (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, pg. 721). The true master of death, Jesus Christ, shows us that it is only by dying to self that we live forever!"

Writing of homilies, let's not forget that tomorrow is Dies Domini, the Lord's Day. Let us also be mindful that liturgy is the work of all God's priestly people. So (I write in my best admonitory voice), if you're baptized, that means you dear sister and brother! If you're not baptized, like Nacho Libre, who says to his sidekick, Esqueleto, commenting on his never being baptized, "I'm worried about your salvation n' stuff".

Friday, October 19, 2007

". . . a strange dust lands on your hands"

Stephen Morrissey for our Friday traditio, taking things down a notch. Remembrance of things past and the sad, sweet melancholy of a late Sunday afternoon. It occurred to me as I posted this that Rocco over at Whispers had an intriguing post on Morrissey about a year and-a-half ago Morrissey the... Catholic?.

If you're interested in a bit more on the upcoming consistory, please see All Things Catholic over on The People of St. Mary Magdalene, our parish blog.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

"III . . .manuel Kant was a real piss ant who was very rarely stable" M. Python

I would be remiss not to call attention to a couple of posts over on Deep Furrows that are right up the Καθολικός διάκονος alley. The first is entitled reading Francis Schaffer and the second, on the same book, which is called a brief note on unfallen reason.

I would introduce one note of caution regarding Schaffer's treatment of Kant and Hegel: anybody who seems to be cutting through the clutter of German Idealism usually does not understand German Idealism, as in those who would conflate Kant and Hegel. Kant's project is very different from that of Hegel and is something of a synthesis of Continental Idealism and British Empiricism, especially Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, which is the foundation of his philosophy. The best existing philosophical critique of Hegel are the writings of Søren Kierkegaard. Anybody who would reduce Hegel to thesis+antithesis=synthesis has clearly not studied Hegel closely and even misunderstands Marx in an important manner.

Fred does an excellent job of defending Aquinas from some of Schaffer's wilder assertions, though I am not much of a Thomist myself.

Faith and experience

This week over on our parish blog, The People of St. Mary Magdalene, I have been pondering a series of questions that arise from faith and experience. This series happened quite naturally, as each post arose from an article I have read recently. The posts are listed below first to last:

Faith and (faux)certainity- Fr. John Garvey, Orthodox priest, writing in Commonweal

Faith and doubt- Fr. Edward Oakes, S.J., writing on the First Things' blog Observations & Contentions

Faith and Death- Charles Taylor, also writing in Commonweal

Faith and Anxiety Fr. Jacques Servais, S.J., writing in Communio

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Getting political

As if news of the consistory were not enough good news for one day, I learned this morning that it's official, Colbert's in. Yes, Stephen Colbert is running for president! So, dear readers, all 15 of you, let's organize, galvanize, and seek to elect the one man who can turn it all around! Stephen Colbert! Get your bumpersticker and from it derive your Philosophy.

Writing about the need for change, especially for those who continue to think

a) The invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam was a good strategic move, and
b) That partitioning Iraq is the way ahead, hold on to your hats!

Just today "Turkey's parliament has given permission for the government to launch military operations into Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish rebels." For more I link you to the BBC.

A hierarchy update

As expected His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, during his Wednesday audience, announced a consistory, which is a worldwide gathering of all of the cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, to be held in the Vatican 24 November 2007, which this year falls on the eve of the Feast of Christ the King. The main business of this consistory will be to confer the red hat on twenty-three men, among whom are two U.S. prelates: John Patrick Foley and Daniel Nicholas DiNardo.

The list of new cardinals, known as the biglietto, as Rocco, my good friend over at Whispers, where you'll find the best wall-to-wall coverage of the consistory, points out, "is arranged in order of precedence" Hence, at the head of the biglietto is "Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches" and, "Just behind him is the . . . Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, Cardinal-designate John Foley."

Foley, who, until recently, served as head of Pontifical Council for Social Communications and has been serving as the pro-grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, is a native of Philadelphia. Upon being named a cardinal Archbishop Foley is now the Grand Master of the Equestrian Order, being able to drop the "pro" from his title.

Archbishop DiNardo is the archbishop of Galveston-Houston, which was only raised to an archdiocese on 29 December 2004, the same day Archbishop DiNardo was named co-adjutor to Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza. Perhaps the biggest surprise, at least for the Church in the U.S., is the absence from the list of Archbishop Donald Wuerl who, as archbishop of Washington, D.C., was widely expected to be named a member of the Sacred College. Like Archbishop Wuerl, Cardinal-designate DiNardo is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and was ordained a priest, as was Archbishop Wuerl, for that diocese before being named co-adjutor bishop to Sioux City, Iowa, a see to which he succeeded before going to Galveston-Houston.

Paris once again has a Cardinal Archbishop now that Andre Vingt-Trois has been named a cardinal. As with Archbishop Wuerl's omission from this consistory, it was a surprise when Archbishop Vingt-Trois was not created a cardinal during Pope Benedict XVI's first consistory, held on 24 March 2006. Vingt-Trois was installed as archbishop of Paris on 11 February 2005. It was a surprise when his name did not appear on the list of new cardinals, but that of his countryman, Jean-Pierre Bernard Ricard, archbishop of Bordeaux, another archdiocese that did not have a history of cardinal archbishops, did.

It is of great significance that among those named to the Sacred College by the Holy Father is His Beatitude Emmanuel III Delly, patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, Iraq. Though he is over 80, this is a well-deserved honor for the patriarch of an ancient Church that is currently fighting for survival, not unlike the early Christian community in Rome, to which His Beatitude will now be united in a profound manner.

After next month's consistory "the College of Cardinals will number 202 members of whom 121, under the age of 80, will be electors." In addition to eighteen new members of the Sacred College who are younger than 80 and, hence, able to vote in any Papal Conclave, bringing the number of electors to one over the self-imposed limit set forth in Pope Paul VI's Romani Pontifici Eligiendo, the Holy Father, in keeping with a tradition established by his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, "also decided to elevate to the dignity of cardinal 'three venerable prelates and two worthy priests,' all over the age of 80 and hence non-electors, for their 'commitment and service to the Church.'"

(photograph shamelessly poached from Rocco over at Whispers)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Theological Virtue and the Papal magisterium of Benedict XVI

Rocco over at Whispers reports that, contrary to what was previously reported, the next encyclical by the Holy Father will not be on global development, but, sticking with the theological virtues, it will be on hope. The tentative title of the letter, according to Catholic News Service's Rome correspondent, John Thavis, is Spe Salvi, which means "Saved by Hope".

According to Thavis, the encyclical is complete, but there is no word on when it will be formally promulgated.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Some thoughts on from what, when and how to protect young people

October 9, 2007
Catholic League president Bill Donohue discussed the league's reaction to the upcoming movie, "The Golden Compass":

"New Line Cinema and Scholastic Entertainment have paired to produce 'The Golden Compass,' a children's fantasy that is based on the first book of a trilogy by militant English atheist Philip Pullman. The trilogy, His Dark Materials, was written to promote atheism and denigrate Christianity, especially Roman Catholicism. The target audience is children and adolescents. Each book becomes progressively more aggressive in its denigration of Christianity and promotion of atheism: The Subtle Knife is more provocative than The Golden Compass and The Amber Spyglass is the most in-your-face assault on Christian sensibilities of the three volumes.

"Atheism for kids. That is what Philip Pullman sells. It is his hope that 'The Golden Compass,' which stars Nicole Kidman and opens December 7, will entice parents to buy his trilogy as a Christmas gift. It is our hope that the film fails to meet box office expectations and that his books attract few buyers. We are doing much more than hoping—we are conducting a nationwide two-month protest of Pullman's work and the film. To that end, we have prepared a booklet, 'The Golden Compass: Agenda Unmasked,' that tears the mask off the movie.

"It is not our position that the movie will strike Christian parents as troubling. Then why the protest? Even though the film is based on the least offensive of the three books, and even though it is clear that the producers are watering down the most despicable elements—so as to make money and not anger Christians—the fact remains that "We are fighting a deceitful stealth campaign on the part of the film's producers. Our goal is to educate Christians so that they know exactly what the film's pernicious agenda really is."

Copyright © 1997-2007 by Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.
Material from this website may be reprinted and disseminated with accompanying attribution.

While the entire effort bothers me, I will limit myself to what really bothers me about this particular communication:

"To be specific, if unsuspecting Christian parents take their children to see the movie, they may very well find it engaging and then buy Pullman's books for Christmas. That's the problem."

For my part I think protests, like the one Bill Donohue is calling for in this communiqué, are the problem. After all, it is efforts like this that make me want to investigate further, just as the Index of Forbidden Books provided a reading list for previous generations of Catholics. Does anybody really think that these kinds of tactics are effective, or, in this case, either necessary or desirable? When it comes to things like this we're better off teaching our young people to be critical viewers than we are trying to protect them from things that are aimed at their age group, like this trilogy of books, the first of which is being made into a film.

Lest I be misunderstood and subject to a barrage of straw man arguments, I do believe it is important, for parents especially, but all adults who work with young people, to see to it that they are not exposed to things for which they are not ready and that are truly harmful, like pornography and excessive and graphic violence, not to mention rampant consumerism, which is probably as soul-maiming as anything, and from which the two other dangers I mention spring! In the age of the Internet this is no easy task. In other words, as parents we should know and be interested in what are children are “into” and even why that appeals to them. Of course, this is best done through dialogue and relationship, not suspicious interrogation. In other words, there is no need to protect young people from ideas about the world that differ from the ideas they hold as well as from the ones Christian parents seek to communicate to them.

In my several years of experience in Youth Ministry with high school and junior high school teens one aspect of my ministry was to try and teach them to become critical viewers. However, I quickly became aware that young people are often better able to explain the basis and assumptions on which things are based than most adults, as well as why and with what they agree or disagree in said media, be it books, journalism, film, music, video games, etc. In other words, while I was able to teach them something about being critical viewers, like helping them reason by teaching them some elementary informal logic, they were not nearly as gullible as I thought when I began. As a parent of a teenager, I more aware of this than ever.

At the end of the day, I am firmly convinced that what I am trying to teach my children and, via my ministry, the children of other people, is far superior to any of the ideas put forth by Pullman in his books or those by many other writers and artists who are critical and even hostile toward faith. What next? No Orson Scott Card because he is LDS and in much of his writing he sets forth an LDS understanding of the world, or no Khaled Hosseini because, as a Muslim, he writes in a compelling manner from an Islamic perspective, or no Tolstoy, given his really bizarre ideas on God, faith, and religion? I believe it was Hunter S. Thompson who once said that if, as a parent, you inculcate in your child a passion for reading you have done half of your job. While I know with certainty that there would be much about which Thompson and I would have disagreed (he is deceased), I think he is spot on with that observation!

Being exposed to other ways of looking at the world can be and often is a cause to examine what we believe more carefully as well as allowing us to honestly dialogue with others who do not share our outlook. In all honesty I am more worried about bad religion than I am about atheism, which the vast majority of people, even in the "secularized West," reject. On that score, I suppose the one thing I agree with Donohue about is the necessity of not being an unsuspecting parent. In other words, know what your children are into and let them tell you about it, establish a dialogue, encourage them to be critical for themselves instead of playing the heavy. After all, who can imagine telling their 13 year-old son or daughter, "We can't go see the The Golden Compass because you might want the book for Christmas?"

". . . straining forward to what lies ahead" (Phil. 3,13)

Among less pleasant things this morning, I find myself just marvelling at the beauty of the Fall weather here along the Wasatch Front, especially after Saturday's lovely cold wetness. Fall is the most reflective time of year for me. It is this year especially because I am finishing up my coursework, which consists exclusively of writing papers, to bring the current year of graduate school to a close.

Even on that score it is funny how things work out. I found myself not worrying too much about my theology paper, which was supposed to be something of a personal Credo. I had planned all along to systematize a baptismal preparation class for parents, a class I have been teaching for ten years. When it came to writing it, however, I found the going tough. I did post one section of the paper here on the blog in a post entitled Original Sin: The Need for Justification. The paper was mostly about the role of the sacraments in sanctification.

The paper I was really worried about, my pastoral integration paper for Liturgy, on the other hand, went smoothly. For anybody interested you can read a section of this paper over on our parish blog. Of course, it helped that I had outlined the paper while reading Msgr. Kevin Irwin's excellent book Models of the Eucharist on the plane home from Minnesota. This was one of the texts for the course, the first model of which, Cosmic Mass, was the basis for my pre-residency paper. Nonetheless, I found it interesting to think about what I would say to believing Catholics between the ages of twenty and thirty-nine, only 31% of whom attend Mass at least weekly, in addressing the question, Why go to Mass?
The martyrdom of St. Stephen, deacon

I hope to finish one last assignment this week and then get really serious about my research and compiling my annotated bibliography for thesis research. I only write about this to give fair warning that there will probably be a lot on the history and development of ministry in the Church in the coming weeks and months, especially as it pertains to the diaconate. I am just finishing Schillebeeckx's The Church with a Human Face: A New Expanded Theology of Ministry, then I plan to read Paul Bernier's Ministry in the Church, then on to Thomas O'Meara's newly updated Theology of Ministry. Of course, a review of the norms for diaconal formation, both from the Holy See and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' National Directory for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent Deacons, along with many articles.

Friday, October 12, 2007

I edged my way to Friday

In a week in which I heard from Alice Armendariz (a.k.a. Alice Bag) and during which I wrote about both genocide and San Francisco, today's Καθολικός διάκονος lectio is Serj Tankian (who is Armenian), backed by the Foo Fighters, whose recently released album, Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace, I eagerly look forward to listening to very soon, singing a song by San Francisco's own Dead Kennedy's. Holiday in Cambodia, a most visceral song, was released in 1980. This performance took place at an MTV party in Las Vegas of all venues! It is a bit fun, not to mention a bit uncharitable, to watch the uncomprehending audience. All-in-all a good cover of the song, despite the fact that they changed a word to make it more politically correct. Besides, it is impossible to do the whole Jello Biafra act anyway. I don't think that even Jello can do it anymore.

Oh, by the way, Turkey recalled its ambassador to the U.S. today in protest and denial of the Armenian genocide and continues to threaten and conduct cross-border attacks into northern Iraq. The BBC News's Have Your Say feature on this issue is quite interesting, as you have people from both Turkey and Armenia discussing the current state-of-affairs.

With that, I probably won't post again until Monday. Life beckons!

Nobel Peace Prize to U.N. Intergovernmental Panel and V.P. Gore

From the BBC: "Climate change campaigner Al Gore and the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have been jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The committee cited 'their efforts to build up and disseminate knowledge about man-made climate change'".

It always nice, perhaps because it is so unusual, to awake to hopeful news.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Over to Rocco at Whispers for two hierarchy things

Both of these from my dear friend Rocco over at the rightly venerated Whispers:

First, a chronicle from an event I would have happily imposed upon relatives in the Bay area to attend had I known about it sooner, A lecture, delivered at USF by Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco, the man who I am so happy to say ordained to me to the diaconate, "on the writer he termed 'a supreme artist'". Courtesy of Whispers and the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit institution, here is the link to the entire text of Archbishop Niederauer's lecture.

Secondly, as I wrote my dear friend Jan, who lives in Sacramento, that diocese received a tremendous blessing today by having Bishop Jaime Soto named coadjutor to Bishop William Weigand, who was Archbishop Niederauer's predecessor as bishop of Salt Lake City. I had the pleasure, earlier this year of sitting next to His Excellency at a supper.

Twenty-seventh Thursday in Ordinary Time, Year I

Readings: Mal. 3,13-20b; Ps. 1,1-4.6; Lk 11,5-13

Why try? Why weary ourselves doing what is right, praying everyday, forgiving, even when we don’t feel like it, reaching out to others when they rarely seem to appreciate our assistance and when, despite our best efforts, nothing really seems to change? To summarize what the prophet Malachi is getting at in the beginning of our first reading: Despite all our efforts the wicked seem to prosper and the world remains, in many ways, a mess.

To approach life in this way, especially our life of faith, is to get it all wrong. Indeed, as our Psalm response indicates: "Blessed are they who hope in the Lord" (Ps. 40,5a). Of those who fear Him, God says through Malachi, that He "will have compassion on them" (Mal. 3,17). To fear God does not mean to be scared of God. Rather, it means to acknowledge God as God, to reverence God, and to submit ourselves totally to God, even when it seems difficult and when we are discouraged, or tempted to despair. What Malachi is saying is that being discouraged about the seeming lack of success of our own efforts is a kind of pride, a way of living that does not fear God, that does not let God be God, that does not trust God.

Nonetheless, in today’s Gospel Jesus teaches us to be persistent in prayer to the point of being, what would seem to us, a little annoying. In this our Lord encourages us to continue praying and acting, doing what we know God would have us do- loving God and our neighbor- even when it seems to us make little difference, or to have no effect. What Jesus encourages us to do is what He did, even to the point of death, trust God. We are to trust in the confidence that, as our loving Father, God wants to give us every good gift. Of course, the best gift God the Father gives us is His beloved Son, who we receive in the Eucharist, and so we pray with St. Faustina, "Jesus, I trust in you".

(Homily preached at Holy Family Parish)

Some Central Asian notes and references

Over on Clarity Daily, in addition to Sharon's stunning photographs, she has a number of really excellent posts. I want to link to two articles having to do with a part of the world in which I have been involved and about which I care a great deal. The first article deals with a little attended regional aspect of the destabilization of Iraq, the Turkish/Kurdish conflict, which, prior to 2003, had come to a kind of peaceful resolution after many years of violence. The second has to do the Turkish genocide of Armenians which took place between 1915-1917, during the years of World War I and preceded the establishment of the modern Turkish state. The third article, from the BBC, this morning is about the Turkish reaction to a vote by a US congressional committee recognizing as genocide the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks.

Turkey Threatens Move Against Kurds

American Witnesses to Genocide

Turkey condemns US Armenia vote

This is a sad chapter in Turkish history and, while I love Turkey, its people, and have many friends there, it is time to acknowledge and repudiate this horror and to begin to allow ethnic and religious minorities the freedom to exercise the rights guaranteed them under the Turkish Constitution.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Eschewing violence as redemptive

With due acknowledgement to Alex, who, on his blog, Vitus Speaks, alerted me to this new article over on Godspy by Dr. Susan Windley-Daoust, I, too, wish to draw attention to Anger Management: Looking Back on the Amish School Shooting. Toward the beginning of the article, Dr. Windley-Daoust paints the horrific picture of what happened slightly more than a year ago in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania in a tiny Amish schoolhouse:

"A grandfather crouching by slain Marian Fisher, 20 bullets in her body—one of two girls who pleaded with Roberts to 'shoot me first'—and telling the other children, 'You must not hate this man.'

"The Amish community—including the parents of those who had died—visiting the killer’s wife and child, offering forgiveness and financial help. Many later attended a memorial service for Roberts.

"An Amish woman interviewed by CNN, stating quietly but confidently, 'Oh no no no, definitely not, we’re not angry. We just don’t do that here.'"

I do not mind pointing out that Susan is a professor of theology, who is never to be mistaken for a liturgist, with whom I have had the privilege of studying. She is a professor and a person who has taught me a lot, both in the classroom and out by her unfailing kindness, patience, and encouragement. Among many things, she is the person who introduced me to Dr. Cynthia Crysdale's book Embracing Travail: Retrieving the Cross Today, some of my classmates might say the book was inflicted on them (bad theology student insider joke). It was this book, along with another book recommended by her as a corrective to my being too uncritical of certain aspects of Crysdale's theology of the Cross, Archbishop Rowan Williams' Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel, that formed the basis of my lecture delivered as part of our parish observance of the Feast of St. Mary Magadalene, our patroness. In Crysdale's lexicon, what Susan takes aim at in this article is something that is all too prevalent in current U.S. society- the myth of redemptive violence.

Twenty-seventh Wednesday in Ordinary Time, Year I

Readings: Jon. 4,1-11; Ps. 86,3-6.9-10; Lk. 11,1-4

There are two pillars of the Christian life: prayer and growth in holiness, or human flourishing. Holiness cannot happen, we cannot flourish, without prayer anymore than a flower can bloom without good soil, water, and sunlight. It is important to realize that prayer, in addition to talking to God, also means listening to God. Most contemporary writers on Christian spirituality define prayer as opening one's self to God. This point about listening to God in prayer is made in a rather comedic way in our reading today from the Book of Jonah.

Jonah was a prophet in Israel who was called by God to preach to the Ninevehites. Jonah resisted this call with all his might. He set out for Tarshish, which is on the western end of the Mediterranean, or ninety degrees out from where God called him. God had called him to go East to Nineveh. Of course, God's plan is not frustrated. First the ship was beset by a fierce storm, during which, upon the crew's realization that Jonah was the cause of their peril, the reluctant prophet was thrown overboard only to be swallowed by a very large fish and spit up on the shore near Nineveh. At this point Jonah realized that there was no escaping his call. So, he preached to the Ninevehites, who were renown for their wickedness, and they repented, one and all, and began to worship the Lord God. Was Jonah happy about this? No! He was angry. This is where today's reading picks up.

After the conversion of Nineveh, Jonah went from the city and built a hut waiting for and still hoping that God would visit punishment upon the formerly wicked city. You see, Jonah is a character representing one kind of Jew, the kind who believed that God's covenant with Israel was an end in itself, not a means to making all people, like the Ninevehites, God's people. To go off on kind of a tangent, it is necessary to point out that the author of the Book of Jonah does not record, or even pretend to record, actual events. Hence, instead of getting bogged down with silly questions, like how can a person survive inside a big fish for three days, we should focus on the divinely inspired message that the author is trying to convey through the telling of the story. After all, Jesus' parables were not about things that actually happened. Are they any less true, or applicable to life for that? Returning to the point, the author of this book is taking the other side, the side that the prophets tend to take, that through God's covenant, initiated with Abraham, "all the nations of the earth shall find blessing" (Gen 22,18). So, Jonah is a deliberately ridiculous figure who represents those we might call xenophobes. The Catholic analog to the xenophobe is the one who believes that the Eucharist is an end in itself in which only the privileged few get to participate, when it is the means through which God brings about the redemption and sanctification of the whole world, through Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

God then makes a gourd plant grow to give Jonah shade, but then sends a worm to kill and eat the plant, leaving Jonah exposed once again to the blistering sun, about which Jonah complains. God takes this opportunity to rebuke Jonah for caring more about the plant, or, really about his own comfort, than about the people who came to believe through his preaching, who he now resents.

Isn't this often true in our prayer life, that we are so busy asking God for what we want that when God asks something of us we feel put upon, or even listening enough to know? We also see this in how we share our faith. Do we want others to experience the love of God, the love that is at the very heart of Blessed Trinity, or would we, like Jonah, rather see God's punishment visited upon them? The question is, if we share our faith at all, how do we share it, as an experience of love, truth, goodness, and beauty, or do we use it as a club with which to beat others? This is why, in our Gospel today, Jesus teaches us how to pray, which is simply. What the Lord's Prayer shows us is that prayer is more about accepting what God, our loving Father, gives that we need than asking for what we want.

Our antiphon, taken from St. Paul's Letter to the Romans, which we recited as part of our Gospel acclamation, reveals a further insight into the life of prayer, namely that through Christ we have received a spirit of adoption as daughters and sons of God, to whom we pray, in imitation of our Lord, Abba! Father (Rom. 8,23)! So, let us not fail to pray for the coming of God's Kingdom. Let us be attentive to God in our lives, trying to heed what God would have us do. Being open to other people is something our faith, something God, requires of us that we do not need to inquire about. Nonetheless, as the story of Jonah shows it is not always easy to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

(Homily preached at Holy Family parish)

Monday, October 8, 2007

Are the LDS Christians? The red herring that won't go away

The major theme of the LDS General Conference held over this past weekend was that the LDS are just Christians, like us. The question about whether Latter-day saints are Christians strikes me as one big red herring. Back in 2000 Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, in the journal he edits, First Things, wrote a very good essay on this very question entitled Is Mormonism Christian?. My comments will pale in comparison. It is my hope that what I have to contribute remains worthwhile.

If we are Christians on the basis, not only of our Baptism, but of our baptismal profession of faith, then the LDS, according their own beliefs, are the only Christians because they re-baptize all people who become LDS. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, readily acknowledges that there are Christians who are not Catholics. We do not re-baptize them, though we confirm them in their baptismal faith when they seek to be in complete communion with the Catholic Church, as their communion is partial even prior to becoming Catholic in light of their Baptism.

Of course, we re-baptize LDS people who become Catholic. Why? Because they have not professed the same faith that we profess. This amounts to their rejection of the Trinity on the basis of the Doctrine & Covenants, one of the three books, along with the Bible, that they revere as scripture. This comes out in a particular way in D & C 130:22, which states that "The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s", not to mention their rejection of original sin on the basis of their second article of faith, which is canonized in The Pearl of Great Price, another of the books revered by the LDS as scripture: "We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression." Before we even begin discussing these points, or enter into a dialogue about the pros and cons of believing one way or the other, which I have absolutely no intention of doing (I am not allowing comments on this post), we have to acknowledge these fundamental differences and respect them. In fact, what I posited above about LDS belief is right from their own sacred books, lest there be any doubt about whether this is what Latter-day saints believe. The link to the article on the Godhead, written by Daniel H. Ludlow for the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, was obtained from clicking on the "Additional Online Materials" link from this page on, the official website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Frankly, given the tremendous amount of time, energy, and resources the LDS Church devotes to proselytizing, it doesn't even make sense- If we're all already Christians, or the LDS are Christians like us, then why become LDS? Now, I know this same question can be asked of Christians who become Catholic, but since we reject proselytizing, people seek communion with the Catholic Church on their own initiative. I need look no further than my own experience of RCIA when year-after-year twenty to forty people come seeking such communion at our parish alone. Besides, if they are baptized Christians, they still profess the same Creed: faith in the Triune God, the salvific nature of Christ's death on the Cross, His resurrection from the dead, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, one baptism, forgiveness of sins, etc. They retain this faith, along with their understanding of this God who has claimed them, who has saved them, not some other god who was once a mortal human being. For more on that, in addition to D & C 130:22, see The Book of Abraham, which is also contained in The Pearl of Great Price, especially chapter three. Or you can rest content in this summary, spoken by LDS prophet Lorenzo Snow: "As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become". We read in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, a semi-official publication of the LDS Church: "This process known as eternal progression is succinctly expressed in the LDS aphorism, 'As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become'" (vol. 4, pg. 1474). This is before attending to the LDS belief in the so-called Great Apostasy, which is their belief that the early Church apostatized from the Truth that is Christ and, hence, could no longer be considered the true Church.

So, it was this so-called Great Apostasy, this falling away from the true Christian faith, that necessitated, according LDS belief, the need for the Gospel, neigh the Church, to be restored. According to LDS belief, God was able to do through Joseph Smith, Jr. what God was unable to accomplish in Christ Jesus, namely to establish the Church to last until the end of time. This LDS belief is based on what is recorded in Joseph Smith- History, again found in The Pearl of Great Price, when the young Joseph asked Jesus Christ, who he claimed appeared to him, along with God the Father, which Church he should join, "I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that [quoting the prophet Isaiah 29,13]: 'they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof'" (Joseph Smith- History 19).

Let us not forget, however, that there is a distinction to be made between orthodoxy and orthopraxis. Ideally one (i.e., orthopraxis) flows from the other (i.e., orthodoxy). If forced to choose, orthopraxis wins every time. There will be no theology test to get into heaven. Rather, we will be judged on the basis of what we do, or do not do. In St. Mark's Gospel we read this "John said to him, 'Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.' Jesus replied, 'Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us'" (Mark 9,38-40).

Blogging: An aided reflection

Last night I read an editorial in Christianity Today by Ted Olsen entitled The Death of Blogs: Well some of them, anyway. It is an insightful piece about how blogging can be an unhealthy obsession, especially when you write a blog that isn't part of your everyday work. Indeed, there are perils to blogging, like everything else. As Rodney Dangerfield, who in his old age married a much younger woman from my hometown, once said: "Thanks to jogging more people are dropping dead in perfectly good health than ever before."

People always ask me how I find the time to blog. I make time because I like blogging, most of the time these days I blog in the morning and in the afternoon immediately after work. This means that I blog before everybody else is up, or before everybody else gets home. Today, being Columbus Day, I am off work. Besides, I have always written a lot, plus it helps me think through issues and get my juices flowing of a morning. That being said, I rarely spend more than an hour pumping words onto this is because I usually write about something I have thought about, at least a bit. I do not watch television. So, I figure an hour a day blogging + zero hours watching t.v.= a far less encumbered life than watching t.v. two or three hours a night. Of course, I am an incurable reader!

I think back to this time last year when blogging was so new. I sometimes posted four times a day. Fortunately, that was just a phase. While I still post about everyday, I am far less obsessive about it. If I post nothing for a day or two, it is not a big deal. Part of this comes with being better grounded. As much as I enjoy maintaining this blog and contributing to The People of St. Mary Magdalene, I have no illusions that thousands, or even hundreds, or even dozens daily visit these sites. On the other hand, I know that people read what I have to write, just as I read several blogs myself. In addition to writing for others, blogging has become a bit of a conversation with others who blog and with people from my parish. My posts are often prompted by insights I gain on a subject after having taught on it, or a conversation I have had with a person, either in person or via e-mail.

Writing, discussing, challenging and being challenged also helps me connect the dots of my life. As an example, recently, while looking for free digital music of my favorite punk bands of the late '70s/early '80s, I discovered the blog of Alice Bag, one of the "courageous, intelligent and daring women back in the 1970's [who] decided to break the rules of society". She did so by founding the group The Bags. Her blog is called Diary of a Bad Housewife. Though she is, like me, now in her forties, she remains, as when she was younger, a very long way from being a bag in a certain colloquial sense. Nonetheless, I can appreciate very much Olsen's observation, which is a modified version of Warhol's comment about everybody being famous for 15 minutes, that due to blogging "everyone will be famous to 15 people for 15 minutes".

Citing research conducted by Olsen writes that it is estimated "that 3 million new blogs are launched every month". He also points out that technocrati's motto is: "Zillions of photos, videos, blogs, and more. Some of them have to be good" - images of the million monkeys typing (of which I am definitely one) in order to write Hamlet come to mind.

Olsen also cites research done by Gartner, Inc. to the effect "that 200 million people have given up blogging, more than twice as many as are active". So, while blogging has its perils, like most activities, even ones we view as healthy, it also has a sorting mechanism. As Christians our metric is "by their fruits you shall know them". As Catholics it is also important for bloggers to have some accountability. I am not writing about submitting everything I write for review and editing, but a commitment to telling the truth, to writing what is both appropriate and what builds up the Body of Christ, as well as being able to publicly acknowledge my public failures. There are many things about which I have opinions, even very strong opinions, even about some things I don't know enough about to be considered well-informed. Of course, I share my opinions daily, but not all of them. I am slowly learning to be prudent. I am thankful for the times I have been corrected and challenged. I try to cultivate an awareness that what I write and post to my blog is public. Therefore, I have to own it with no excuses, especially when I am mistaken, or when I have crossed a boundary. As Christians we are bound, because we freely choose to be, to cultivate a Christian witness on-line. As my 15 readers know, this does not mean posting pietistic pabulum. Personally, I would rather read something offensive!

Last fall, after I had been blogging for awhile, I would get really discouraged when it was not clear to me that people were reading these pearls of wisdom I daily dropped on them. This resulted in a number of pathetic posts seeking affirmation (the posts still exist- here is an example, both of my issue and the kindness of people). I had to step back and evaluate whether blogging had any intrinsic value for me. It does and while I would be lying to write that I don't care if anybody reads what I write, I can say that it does have value for me over and above who reads it. This was and remains an opportunity for growth and maturity for me. If nothing else, I hope to contribute in some small way to the growth and maturity of others. Growing in maturity also means grappling honestly with my immaturity. I have bucket loads of that! To quote Billie Joe Armstrong: "Nobody's perfect and I stand accused, for lack of a better word, and that's my best excuse."

Well, my hour is up . . .

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: Hosea 2:16.17c.18.21-22; Ps 145:2-9; Matthew 9:18-26 Our Gospel today is Saint Matthew’s version of events first written about ...