Friday, February 29, 2008

"everyone who ever had a dream"

This Velvet Underground video, recorded in Paris in 1974, is just too mind altering not to share. It starts with jazz/fusion, moves to shaky rock n' roll, progresses to punk, then to rap. Despite the poor video and sound quality, it is tremendous! 2 for Leap year, double ending, double traditio

29 February, traditionally, is upside down, backwards, and inside out. Check out theresa k.'s Leap Day Leap Year - its all about Girl Power. Amen, which, as Rebeccca, quoting St. Justin Martyr, recently reminded me, means "in the Hebrew language to genoito [so be it]".

Of motes and beams

I read something today that bothered me a great deal. To begin with, I really dislike ad hominem attacks for many reasons, not the least of which is that such arguments are always logically fallacious. It is perfectly alright, even ideal, to disagree about issues to have honest dialogue, to debate, even to argue. To employ a cliche, we can disagree without being disagreeable. However, we never have the right to question, let alone to judge, another person's intentions or motives. I think it more fruitful, if at times difficult, especially during Lent, to focus on our own character flaws that result in moral and ethical lapses than to thank God we are not like any given tax collector. So, with regards to something I read about "the Clintons" it is not despite, but precisely because he is a sinner like I am that I accept Bill Clinton as a brother in Christ and have no doubt that Hilary Clinton, too, is a person with faith in Christ who obviously has a very Christian view of what it means to be married.

Again, as with my posts on Sen. Obama and the language of hope, this is not an endorsement, nor will there ever be a political endorsement on this blog. I will post honest questions, deal with issues, take issue with various positions that people take, etc. Once again, I look to my readers to hold me accountable, especially for any lapses of charity or civility.

As I never tire of reminding myself, as a Christian how I communicate is as important, if not more important, than what I seek to communicate. I certainly do not communicate Christ by being condemnatory, nothing could be more contradictory to the life of our Lord, especially of those who were made vulnerable and subject to judgment by their obvious moral failings: the tax collector, the Samaritan woman, the woman taken in adultery, the woman who washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, Zacchaeus, the list goes on. It seems that Jesus had little or no patience with those in a hurry to condemn: Go ahead and throw the first rock in the confidence that your skeletons are safely locked away and secure in your closet. Man, I thought I was bad, but did you see what he did!? Perhaps we're better off praying the prayer of the tax collector: "O God, be merciful to me a sinner."

"all the poets they studied rules of verse; those ladies, they rolled their eyes"

Something suitably and strangely cool for this leap day, a Velvet Underground classic elegantly redone by that marvelous group- Cowboy Junkies. This, dear friends and fellow mortals, is our Friday traditio for 29 February.

On a relevant note for a Friday of Lent, it bears reminding that suffering has no intrinsic value. According to Catholic and psychologist Sidney Callahan, as summarized by Dr. David Loxterkamp, "pain, grief, hunger, depression, and loneliness. . . . are not sent by God to test our faith or punish us, to grab our attention or to perfect us. Nor should we - on the secular side - buy the self- help agenda that assigns blame for illness to toxic anger, irresponsible diet, or neglect of our third chakra." Rather, according to Loxterkamp, Callahan's "argument is a theological one, and follows the thinking of Karl Rahner."

In other words, [s]uffering does not arise from God, but from what is 'not God.' It stems from the malicious use of free choice, or from accidents that occur in a natural world still evolving toward perfection." Suffering, Callahan insists, "cannot, of itself, either calibrate our self-worth or make us better people" (Commonweal, 29 Feb 2008, vol. CXXXV, No. 4, pg. 28).

All of this gets back to Dr. Cynthia Crysdale's thesis in her remarkable book Embracing Travail: Retrieving the Cross Today, a thesis about which I have written and spoken. It is sloppily (can sloppy be used as an adverb?) summarized in St. Mary Magdalene: First Witness of the Resurrection, there is even more on this in another post: Memorial of St. Mary Magdalene.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Hierarchy update

Today it was announced that the Holy Father appointed Bishop Earl A. Boyea, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Detroit as bishop of the Diocese of Lansing, MI. He succeeds Bishop Carl F. Mengeling, who, until today's announcement, was one of the bishops serving past the age of 75. His Excellency reached the mandatory retirement age more than two years ago. It is important to note that no vacancy was created to fill this one.

This appointment leaves the number of ordinaries serving beyond the mandatory retirement age of 75 at nine. These prelates are Cardinals Maida and Egan of Detroit and New York respectively, as well as Archbishops Hughes of New Orleans; Lipscombe of Mobile, AL and Curtiss of Omaha, NE. Bishops serving past 75 are D'Arcy of Ft. Wayne/South Bend; IN; Murray of Kalamazoo, MI, Moynihan of Syracuse, NY; Saltarelli of Wilmingtn, DE. Archbishop Brunette of Seattle turns 75 shortly and Bishops Tafoya of Pueblo, CO; Pena of Brownsville, TX; Carmody of Corpus Christi, TX; Higi of Lafayette in Indiana are all 74. It bears noting that Archbishop Flynn of St. Paul/Minneapolis, who will also turn 75 this year, and Bishop Weigand of Sacramento have co-adjutors in the persons of Archbishop Nienstedt and Bishop Soto respectively.

The sede vancante dioceses in the United States remain Charleston, South Carolina; Knoxville, Tennessee; Green Bay, Wisconsin; Des Moines, Iowa; St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; Shreveport, Louisiana; Juneau, Alaska; Little Rock, Arkansas; New Ulm, Minnesota.

In what is your hope?

Beloved, let us remember today and always that Jesus Christ is our hope, not politics, not work, not even leisure. Why be sad? Lent means springtime! It may help to ask, What are your expectations? In what have you placed your hope? With the looming elections do you find yourself investing your hope in politics and politicians? If the joy of the Lord is our strength, how can we be saddened? The hallmark of being Christian is joy and our joy is rooted in our hope.

Stanley Hauerwas has written: "For some time - that is, in the time often identified as modern - Christian and non-Christian alike have thought that belief in God primarily depends on whether you think the world had a beginning: 'Something had to start it all.' God, therefore, becomes an explanation for why there is something rather than nothing. However, the god that must exist in order to show that what exists had a beginning too often, due to our fantasies, is not a god who comes to us in Jesus Christ. It is a Christian conviction, a conviction shaped by the grammar of the first verse of the gospel of Matthew, that we can know there was a beginning, because we have seen the end in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ" (Matthew 23). If, indeed, God is love, then love is the reason there is something instead of nothing. This is important because it gets us away from the reason Hauerwas is criticizing: necessity. It is not necessary that we exist, it is gratuitous, it is gift, it is free; to answer Hamlet it is better to be than not be! I do not believe that it is too much to say that this is also why nature abhors a vacuum.

If even the hairs of our head are numbered, then how much more does the Lord look out for the destiny of nations, bringing to pass His purpose, bringing hope from despair and even life from death? Our lovely God accomplishes his purposes in such creative and unexpected ways, like becoming incarnate as a Jewish peasant! So, if you find yourself sad it helps to ask the question Jesus asked some of his first disciples, "What are you looking for?" (Jn 1,38)

"Eschatology indicates that the world, including ourselves, is storied" (23). For more on hope see Spe Salvi.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Diocese of Salt Lake City. Oh, how we have grown!

The results for the Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey are now available. While anybody interested can read the results of the survey, which is "[b]ased on interviews with more than 35,000 Americans age 18 and older" (35,556 to be exact), for themselves, I want to look at only one thing, the number of Catholics in the State of Utah. While the Church in this country, as Rocco points out, may be losing ground overall, in terms of the number of Catholics in our diocese, as then-Bishop Niederauer has pointed out, we have grown more in the past ten years than we did in the previous one hundred. So, the question is, just how much have we grown? To make some sort of an estimate, which is an educated guess, as opposed to a WAG, I am using two sources: the Pew Survey and the U.S. Census Bureau.

The latest Census Bureau data, which is from 2006, puts Utah's overall population at 2,550,063. The Pew survey puts the Catholic population of Utah at 10%. This means that there are approximately 255,000 Catholics in the state. Due to a number of factors, Utah's percentages have a rather high margin of error at +/- 6.0%. This in contrast to a margin of error for the national numbers of only +/- 0.6%. However, the margin of error for the 8,054 Catholic respondents across the country is +/- 1.5%, which still puts the Catholic population of our state comfortably over 250,000. I typically put the number at 200,000. This is based on old data. This weekend the Rector of The Cathedral of the Madeleine, where I serve, publicly put the number at 250,000, which caused me to wonder, but wonder no more- 250,000+ is the better number. Until the mid-1990s we estimated the number of Catholics in the state to be around 85,000. This is a funny number because The Diocese of Salt Lake City encompasses the whole State of Utah, the area of which is 84,990 square miles. The old number represented about one Catholic per square mile. Even now, Utah only has an overall population density of thirty people per square mile.

Year A, Third Sunday of Lent

Readings: Exo 17,3-7; Ps 95,1-2.6-9; Rom 5,1-2.5-8; Jn 4,5-42

How many times, when we have found ourselves in the middle of a bad set of circumstances, have we wondered, either to ourselves or out loud, Why is God letting this happen to me? Worse yet, how many times have we blamed God for bad things that have happened to us? In our first reading today, this is exactly what the Israelites do. They have not forgotten God’s great deeds, wrought through Moses that accomplished their liberation from Egypt. Rather they say to Moses, "Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock" (Exo 17,3)? So angry and incensed are the people that Moses fears for his own life, saying: "What shall I do with this people? A little more and they will stone me" (Exo 17,4). In the Rite of Baptism, when blessing the water, we pray: "Through the waters of the Red Sea you led Israel out of slavery to an image of God’s holy people, set free from sin by baptism" (par. 91). So, their liberation is accomplished by water and their rebellion is extinguished by water. Just so, our liberation is accomplished and our rebellion is extinguished by water in baptism. Whether bringing water from the rock or life from death through the waters of baptism, God accomplishes his purpose. It is not too overly simplistic to say that ever since the fall it has been God’s purpose to bring life from death and hope from despair.

Our Psalm today is usually the invitatory psalm with which the Church begins each day. It is a wonderful liturgical hymn that speaks to us: "Oh, that today you would hear his voice: 'Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the desert, Where your fathers tempted me; they tested me though they had seen my works'" (Ps 95,7-9). In Hebrew Massah means testing and Meribah means dissatisfaction. How often do we, like the Israelites, find ourselves in this place? Knowing what these words mean helps us to see that this narrative from Exodus speaks directly to our experience and not merely as metaphor. This passage speaks to the fact that we are often dissatisfied and, unlike our Lord in dealing with the temptations in the desert, we, like the Israelites, put God to the test. This is especially true when we are challenged precisely by our baptismal commitment to follow Christ in obedience to the Father.

It is crucial to note that the ire of the Israelites is not aimed directly at God. Rather, it is Moses’ authority that they attack. It is appropriate, given that today marks the first of three scrutinies our Elect and Candidates will undergo prior to being received into the Church, to discuss one crucial dimension of the Church’s communion: authority. In committing to follow Christ by being brought into full communion with his Church we commit to ordering our lives in accordance with what the Church teaches, with which we profess our agreement prior to being baptized and again just prior to being confirmed. In a speech he was invited, but unable to deliver at Rome’s La Sapienza University last month, the Holy Father reassures us that, while speaking with the authority of Christ, the Church is not authoritarian. The Pope, Benedict says, "should not try to impose in an authoritarian manner his faith on others, which can only be freely offered. Beyond his ministry as Pastor of the Church and on the basis of the intrinsic nature of this pastoral ministry, it is his task to keep alive man’s responsiveness to the truth . . . and [to help him] perceive Jesus Christ as the light that illuminates history and helps find the way towards the future" (La Sapienza Lecture). Stated more simply, "[t]he Church proposes; she imposes nothing" (Redemptoris Missio, par. 39). What the Church offers is living water, confident that, like the Samaritan woman, or even the dissatisfied children of Israel, we are thirsty (Jn 4,14).

Striving to order our lives in accord with what the Church teaches inevitably presents us with challenges, not in the manner of being tested, but as a realization of the radical call that Jesus Christ places on every aspect of our lives, even on our most intimate relations. In our Psalm response today, we sang: "If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts." We hear God’s voice in the teaching of his Church. "The obedience of faith,” we read in the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, "is to be given to God who reveals, an obedience by which [we] commit [all of ourselves] freely to God" (par. 5). In order for us to make this act of faith, the constitution continues, "the grace of God and the interior help of the Holy Spirit must precede and assist, moving the heart and turning it to God, opening the eyes of the mind and giving ‘joy and ease to everyone in assenting to the truth and believing it'" (par. 5). St. Paul, too, in our second reading, emphasizes the priority of God’s grace in writing that "we have peace . . . through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand" (Rom 5,1-2).

Turning to our Gospel, we consider the woman to whom our Lord, in his characteristically puzzling manner, makes known his Messianic identity. In the first instance, she is a woman. In ancient Mediterranean cultures women were very marginal people. We read that when his disciples find him they are "amazed that he was talking with a woman" (Jn 4,27). Further, this particular woman is someone who we might say is relationally challenged. She is at least a person with a complicated personal history. The fact that she was living with a man who was not her husband would certainly make her an outcast. Finally, she was a Samaritan. She replies to Jesus’ request for a drink with a question: "How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink" (Jn 4,9)? The evangelist, in what can only be characterized as an understatement, writes: "For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans" (Jn 4,9). In terms of Judaism, Jesus would have been hard pressed to make his identity known to someone in a place that would have rendered him more ritually unclean. The objective truth this narrative impresses upon us is the universality of the call of Jesus. We can verify the truth of this by simply looking around this Cathedral. With all of our differences, we are united in gathering around this altar, thousands of miles away from either Jerusalem or Mt. Gerazim, worshipping God "in Spirit and truth" (Jn 4,24).

We also see in the Samaritan woman something of a proto-type of our beloved patroness, St. Mary Magdalene. After her encounter with Jesus we are told, "[t]he woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, 'Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?'" (Jn 4,28-30). By having the burdens of her sins lifted, she is truly liberated. Her new found freedom is the source of her joy, which is too full not to share. The experience of the God who is Love supernaturally overflows into a passionate love of neighbor. It is a true movement of grace.

My dear friends, when we are baptized, we are baptized into Christ. So, again, what Jesus tells the woman is no mere metaphor; it is a sacramental reality, that is, a sign and symbol of ultimate reality. What Jesus offers the woman and what he also offers us through the sacraments, most particularly in this Eucharist, is himself, through whom we are made one body and one spirit, an everlasting gift to the Father.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Death is struck, and nature quaking, to its Judge an answer making

Building on my previous post, our traditio for today is the Dies Irae (i.e., Day of Wrath) from Mozart's great Requiem. I could not locate a similar recording of Benjamin Britten's, which I also love and which I have heard live with The Cathedral of the Madeleine Choir and the Utah Symphony.

Hope in justice, in meaning and truth from:

Psalm 51 (stanzas 5-8)

Make me hear rejoicing and gladness,
that the bones you have crushed may revive.
From my sins turn away your face
and blot out all my guilt.

A pure heart create for me, O God,
put a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
nor deprive me of your holy spirit.

Give me the joy of your help;
with a spirit of fervor sustain me,
that I may teach transgressors your ways
and sinners may return to you.

O rescue me, God, my helper,
and my tongue shall ring out your goodness.
O Lord, open my lips
and my mouth shall declare your praise.

Of course, the Church begins each and everyday with the words:
Lord, open my lips
-And my mouth shall declare your praise

In this we acknowledge that even our ability to declare God's praise is a grace.

An addendum to our traditio is this (thanks Alex and Fred!) on Don Gius. With an eye toward indulging The Ironic Catholic's pentecostal proclivities, Brother Lyle has a few things to add re: Judgment Day, hope and Eucharist- Dining in the Kingdom of God. While I am making feeble attempts at alliteration, Bp. Wester lamented last Sunday at the 6:00 PM Mass that I did not give the pitch for our Diocesan Development Drive, thus depriving him of the opportunity to thank "Deacon Dodge for his delighful discourse on the Diocesan Development Drive". Sorry bishop, maybe next year. Just keep in mind, when thinking about having me do it, that it is preferable and pleasing for people to actually pledge!

Finally, risking becoming the interminable blogger, I want draw attention to a post by Zadok the Roman, entitled Theodore of Mopsuestia (4th Century) on the Duties of Deacons. It is funny that he posted this on the day after I read this same passage in Barnett's English language magnus opus on the diaconate. I remember a particular fly from last summer that, over the course of several Sundays, I had to keep shooing away from the wine on the altar. Where's my fan?

The Last Judgment- the decisive image of hope, not terror

It really has taken months for me to come to an appreciation of Spe Salvi. I am indebted to our School of Community for helping me, in our reading of it and discussing it light of our lives, of our experience, for showing me what a treasure this letter is. So, here are bits of the encyclical, numbers 42-43 completely and the opening part of number 44. I suppose Fridays, with the penitential aspect, especially Fridays in Lent, have an eschatological twinge.

"42. In the modern era, the idea of the Last Judgement [sic] has faded into the background: Christian faith has been individualized and primarily oriented towards the salvation of the believer's own soul, while reflection on world history is largely dominated by the idea of progress. The fundamental content of awaiting a final Judgement [sic], however, has not disappeared: it has simply taken on a totally different form. The atheism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is—in its origins and aims—a type of moralism: a protest against the injustices of the world and of world history. A world marked by so much injustice, innocent suffering, and cynicism of power cannot be the work of a good God. A God with responsibility for such a world would not be a just God, much less a good God. It is for the sake of morality that this God has to be contested. Since there is no God to create justice, it seems man himself is now called to establish justice. If in the face of this world's suffering, protest against God is understandable, the claim that humanity can and must do what no God actually does or is able to do is both presumptuous and intrinsically false. It is no accident that this idea has led to the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice; rather, it is grounded in the intrinsic falsity of the claim. A world which has to create its own justice is a world without hope. No one and nothing can answer for centuries of suffering. No one and nothing can guarantee that the cynicism of power—whatever beguiling ideological mask it adopts—will cease to dominate the world. This is why the great thinkers of the Frankfurt School, Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, were equally critical of atheism and theism. Horkheimer radically excluded the possibility of ever finding a this-worldly substitute for God, while at the same time he rejected the image of a good and just God. In an extreme radicalization of the Old Testament prohibition of images, he speaks of a 'longing for the totally Other' that remains inaccessible—a cry of yearning directed at world history. Adorno also firmly upheld this total rejection of images, which naturally meant the exclusion of any 'image' of a loving God. On the other hand, he also constantly emphasized this 'negative' dialectic and asserted that justice —true justice—would require a world 'where not only present suffering would be wiped out, but also that which is irrevocably past would be undone'. This, would mean, however—to express it with positive and hence, for him, inadequate symbols—that there can be no justice without a resurrection of the dead. Yet this would have to involve 'the resurrection of the flesh, something that is totally foreign to idealism and the realm of Absolute spirit'."

I like what the Holy Father does here with what is known in contemporary Philosophy as the inconsistent triad, which is at the heart of the question of evil, known more technically as theodicy. The inconsistent triad (of propositions) goes as follows:

God is all good
God is all powerful, yet
There is still evil in the world

Hence, one of four possibilities follow:

God is not all good
God is not all powerful
God neither all good nor all powerful
God does not exist

The take away here is that regardless of which of the four conclusions one chooses to employ, in the words of Pope Benedict, "there is no God to create justice". Is it not odd that oppressed people understand this, but easy-living folks do not? So, bracketing the fourth conclusion, we feel that for the sake of morality "this God has to be contested". In light of this we human beings must "establish justice". I would add to Adorno and Horkheimer a third thinker, whose ideas are more widespread: Albert Camus, especially in his novel The Plague and his essay The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt. What is so fundamental that it is often overlooked in this calculation is the felt need, intrinsic to humanity, although challenged by some, like Nietzsche, to establish justice.

The Center of triptych, by Hans Memling 1467-71

This human need, this deep desire, for justice, a just world, which Christians recognize as nothing less than the Kingdom of God, gives rise to a contradiction: the recognized need to establish justice on the one hand and, on the other, doing so si Deus non daretur, as if God did not exist. Here is where we come face-to-face the disastrous idea of freedom as an end in itself, having no relationship whatsoever to truth, not truth as a series of propositions, but the very truth of our being. Therefore, something that Pope Benedict was going to say at La Sapienza University, building on a major theme of his thought over the years, is relevant here: "The danger facing the Western world ... is that man today, precisely because of the immensity of his knowledge and power, surrenders before the question of truth."

In an address given to catechists during the Jubilee Year in 2000 while still Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then-Cardinal Ratzinger, commenting on a conclusion arrived at by theologian Johannes Baptist Metz, said: "The true problem of our times [according to Metz] is the 'Crisis of God,' the absence of God, disguised by an empty religiosity. Theology must go back to being truly theo-logy, speaking about and with God. Metz is right: the unum necessarium to man is God. Everything changes, whether God exists or not"

"43. Christians likewise can and must constantly learn from the strict rejection of images that is contained in God's first commandment (cf. Ex 20:4). The truth of negative theology was highlighted by the Fourth Lateran Council, which explicitly stated that however great the similarity that may be established between Creator and creature, the dissimilarity between them is always greater ["between Creator and creature no similitude can be expressed without implying an even greater dissimilitude"-Lateran Council IV: DS 806]. In any case, for the believer the rejection of images cannot be carried so far that one ends up, as Horkheimer and Adorno would like, by saying 'no' to both theses—theism and atheism. God has given himself an 'image': in Christ who was made man. In him who was crucified, the denial of false images of God is taken to an extreme. God now reveals his true face in the figure of the sufferer who shares man's God-forsaken condition by taking it upon himself. This innocent sufferer has attained the certitude of hope: there is a God, and God can create justice in a way that we cannot conceive, yet we can begin to grasp it through faith. Yes, there is a resurrection of the flesh. There is justice. There is an 'undoing' of past suffering, a reparation that sets things aright. For this reason, faith in the Last Judgement [sic] is first and foremost hope—the need for which was made abundantly clear in the upheavals of recent centuries. I am convinced that the question of justice constitutes the essential argument, or in any case the strongest argument, in favour of faith in eternal life. The purely individual need for a fulfilment that is denied to us in this life, for an everlasting love that we await, is certainly an important motive for believing that man was made for eternity; but only in connection with the impossibility that the injustice of history should be the final word does the necessity for Christ's return and for new life become fully convincing."

This, again, is so fundamental that we might miss it. God does not answer our cry for justice with a brilliant argument, but by becoming human for us and revealing "his true face in the figure of the sufferer who shares man's God-forsaken condition by taking it upon himself". Jesus Christ, in his passion, death, resurrection, and return in glory, is the answer to our cry for justice. Nonetheless, at the same time, as the Holy Father notes, our Lord meets Horkheimer's criteria.

"44. To protest against God in the name of justice is not helpful. A world without God is a world without hope (cf. Eph 2:12). Only God can create justice. And faith gives us the certainty that he does so. The image of the Last Judgement [sic] is not primarily an image of terror, but an image of hope; for us it may even be the decisive image of hope."

So, perhaps the reason that Gaudium et Spes was not used as a point of reference for this letter (I am speculating- probably wildly) is that, without becoming a prophet of doom, the Holy Father found it too optimistic. After all, to be hopeful, as Spe Salvi shows, is not the same as being optimistic. On a tagental note for a Friday post, sometimes admitting failure is the first step to succeeding.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Solemnity of the (Re) Dedication of The Cathedral of the Madeleine

Today at The Cathedral of the Madeleine, the parish I am privileged to serve as a deacon, is a Solemnity because it was on this day back in 1993 that the Cathedral was rededicated after two years of renovation. Over on our parish blog, Gregory Glenn, our Director of Liturgy and Music, who was instrumental in the renovation and who planned the re-dedication liturgy, as well as founding, along with Msgr. M. Francis Mannion, then the rector, our Madeleine Choir School, has been documenting this week's build up to today's noon Mass.

Next year we will mark the centennial of our lovely lady. Mr. Glenn posted a picture yesterday of the Cathedral as it was nearing completion in 1908, taken one hundred years ago yesterday. I am excited to see the contents of the time capsule, which we put on display. I have to admit being a little nervous this morning due to the 6.0 Richter scale earthquake just west of us this morning in Nevada, which was centered 11 miles southeast of Wells near the Nevada-Utah line, according to the Associated Press. For those of us who are life-long residents of the Intermountain West, we know that earthquakes release pressure off of fault lines, which is a good thing. Better slight shifts than sudden, massive ones.

Bishop Lawrence Scanlan
Please keep us, the people of St. Mary Magdalene, in your prayers today. If you feel so inclined, in addition to asking for your prayers, we can also assist you in making good on pledges of Lenten almsgiving by making a secure electronic donation to the Cathedral. I assure you that none of it goes to the Deacon Retirement Fund and it is, of course, tax deductible.

It always bears mentioning that our lovely Cathedral is largely the result of the efforts and dedication of one man, Bishop Lawrence Scanlan, our founding bishop. Bishop Scanlan, as per his wishes, is entombed beneath the old main altar of the Cathedral. I am always reminded of Bishop Scanlan's dedication, love, and determination by our Vicar General, a native Utahn and, like our pioneer bishop, also an Irishman, Msgr. Fitzgerald. Bishop Joseph S. Glass, CM, who succeeded Bishop Scanlan, is the man responsible for the interior grandeur of the Madeleine and for re-naming it the Cathedral the Madeleine, which is simply French for the original name, The Cathedral of St. Mary Magdalene.

I also want to post the link to the entire article Ron Yengitch (sic): Why We Defend the Guilty, by Barbara Stinson Lee. I have also made the update to my original post, Making justice our aim.

St. Mary Magdalene- pray for us.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

An Easter encyclical?

Hopefully this time it is true. Last August when it became known that the Holy Father was working on and very close to promulgating another encyclical, it was initially believed in some quarters that the encylical would be on the Church's social teaching, with a special reference to Pope Paul VI's underappreciated and largely unappropriated encyclical Populorum Progressio, the fortieth anniversary of which we marked last year. Of course, what we received from Pope Benedict as an Advent gift was Spe Salvi, a much needed letter on hope, which it took time for me to fully appreciate.
An encyclical on the Church's social teaching, taking the Second Vatican Council and the papal magisterium of Papa Montini as its starting point, is much needed. However, I must admit a certain amount of trepediation given the tenor and tone of some of what we have received so far, particularly in part two Deus Caritas Est, which was critiqued in certain quarters for moving in a different direction than the two previous popes, Papa Luciani, whose papacy was lasted only thirty-three days, not included. This same concern also arises in light of the second encyclical on hope, in which no reference was made to that remarkable pastoral constitution of Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, of which Pope John Paul II, then still Bishop Karol Wojtyla, was a major architect. Like the papal magisterium of Montini, this constitution is quite prophetic and speaks volumes to our present situation, both by way of criticism and giving hope.

According to my good friend Rocco, the intrepid author of Whispers, "The 1968 (sic) letter on globalization and the development of peoples marks its milestone on 26 March, this year's Easter Wednesday. Listed among the new document's [i.e., Pope Benedict's anticipated encyclical] 'consistent themes': '"poverty, globalization, peace, disarmament, war between the rich and the poor, nuclear war and the environment.'"

Digging in the archives from both Καθολικός διάκονος and The People of St. Mary Magdalene, I offer two posts, first from Καθολικός διάκονος, entitled "The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties" Gaudium et Spes 1, then from The People of St. Mary Magdalene, Populorum Progressio turns 40. Finally, a homily for Year C, Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, from last year.

More to follow in coming days on these issues, given that I am reading a brilliant analysis of these matters.

Monday, February 18, 2008

President's Day presidential IAT

Okay, you might feel like you have a good hack on who you support for president this year. It is time to engage your brain. So, I give the link to Harvard University's Implicit Association Test. The IAT is designed to show you your unconscious political biases. In the test you are asked to asscociate pictures with words, both positive words such as Friend and Love, as well as negative words, like Enemy and Hate. The basic theory is that the faster you associate the candidate with the positive word, the more strongly you feel about the candidate and vice-versa. The IAT does not pretend to tell you for whom to vote, but it gives a ranked ordering as to which candidate you feel best about and the candidate about whom you feel the most negative.

It is reminiscent of My Personal DNA.

"How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news"

This morning, while doing my morning blog-check, which is kind of like calling friends, I learned from my friend Rocco, over on Whispers, that a man who taught me a lot about preaching, though I never met him, Fr. Walter Burghardt, SJ, died yesterday at age 95.

I am re-posting something from Whispers, written by Fr. Burghardt himself:

"Love God above all else. Love every human being -- friend or enemy -- like another self as a child of God, especially those who are on the lower edge of society. Touch the earth, God's material creation -- nuclear energy or a blade of grass -- with respect. With reverence as a gift of God."

I remember just prior to ordination we were asked what we wanted our preaching to communicate and, under the influence of Burghardt and others, I wrote "The passionate love of God for each one of us." I do not know how well I succeed, but I know, at least for me, Fr. Burghardt's homilies, which I have only ever read, succeeded. May he be gathered into that love which is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, that love he dedicated his life not only to telling people about, but teaching others to communicate effectively.

The life and ministry of Fr. Burghardt are summed up well by St. Paul:

"For 'everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.' But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring (the) good news!'" (Rom. 10,13-15). Walter Burghardt's feet must have been gorgeous!

Again, with due acknowledgement to Rocco, here is a tribute to Fr. Burghardt by someone who knew him. It is a post entitled Eternal Light Be His, Lord.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The importance of speaking the language of hope

It is important to note that my reflection yesterday on the attractiveness of speaking the language of hope, was sparked by political ugliness here in Utah, which seems almost always to occur whenever our Legislature is in session. This year's ugliness has taken the form of a horribly racist allusion made by Sen. Chris Buttars, a poster boy for how not to speak truth from a position of power for many years. This particular outrage occurred when Buttars rose in the Senate to oppose an education bill, of which he said, building on an ugly baby metaphor made by another senator: "This baby is black, I'll tell you. This is a dark and ugly thing". Lest anyone think this just a one-time incident, it is worth noting that Chris Buttars has publicly denounced the Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. the Board on the radio without apologizing. Of course, in the wake of his most recent rant, he issued the non-apology apology- If anyone was offended by the comments I made . . ..

Buttars' public homophobia and hate-filled speaking has painted all of us in the state who defend the institution of marriage with the same brush. In fact, referring back to The San Francisco Solution, Buttars engaging in the politics of fear, in the words of veteran Utah political commentator, Paul Rolly, "is sponsoring or pushing legislation or amendments in this legislative session that could potentially force people out of their homes while trying to pay for expensive medication for their elderly and infirm parents . . .

"All in the name of decency."

"Buttars, R-West Jordan, fashioned Senate Bill 267 to invalidate any domestic partnership ordinance passed by a city. It was filed in response to Salt Lake City's new ordinance creating a volunteer registry for unmarried couples who could then have a chance to gain health-care coverage and other benefits from businesses for their loved ones.

"Buttars has said he fears a 'homosexual agenda' and will stamp out any effort that he believes would be a step toward equal rights for that class of people.

"Never mind that an estimated 78 percent of those who would benefit from the registry are in heterosexual relationships. Buttars' bill could also affect Salt Lake City's adult-designee ordinance, which allows people to designate housemates other than a husband or wife for health benefits. That includes people who are caring for infirm parents whose medical and pharmaceutical costs would otherwise devastate the family income."

Last time I checked the only qualification for human right, like access to necessary healthcare, is being human.

In addition to Buttars' obvious and deplorable speech and behavior, Rolly's comments also show how such fear-driven politics leads people away from truth and causes people to get on-board with anything that politicians, like Buttars, oppose, using the understandable logic, If he opposes it, it has to be okay. To paraphrase something Andy Rooney said about abortion a long time ago- I oppose abortion, but I like people who are for abortion better than most people who oppose it.

This point is made even more starkly in another editorial, this one by Barb Guy, Picture told the ugly story of Utah's cultural divide better than words. In this editorial, Guy emotionally castigates Buttars for seeking, among other things, "to define the parameters of marriage for people other than himself". How dare he! This shows that we do truth no favor, or justice, in taking such a misguided approach.

As Christians how we advocate or dissent is every bit, if not more important, than that for which we advocate or from which we dissent. A good example of this is Cardinal Sean's response to the Supreme Court ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Court making same-sex marriage legal. How can we not speak the language of hope and think we are being true our experience of the Lord? More importantly, how can we experience the Lord and not speak the language of hope?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Cyber community

In a spirit of Lenten goodwill, I direct the anonymous poster, who obviously took offense to my post In the Catholic Church deacons are clergy, which I posted more than a month ago, to another post, Deacons are clergy, part III- A correction. Part II was about permanent deacons and celibacy. However, I fail to see what relevance the issue had to my post Soul Strumming.

Just as I am reminded from time-to-time by readers, like Adrian, who help hold me accountable for what I post, I remind readers that I do not mind publishing anonymous posts as long they are relevant and not negative or critical. Just as I am willing to own everything I write here, including mistaken posts, which I do not delete, like the original deacons are clergy post, I expect commenters to write with the same integrity. I dislike passive-aggressive behavior, especially when I engage in it. So, let's help each other out.

Making justice our aim

"Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan's plea, defend the widow. Come now, let us set things right, says the LORD: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; Though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool" (Isa. 1,16-18).

I have fully recovered from Thursday's Go-Gofest. It did take almost two full days. This brings me back to the subject of Lent, the Church's springtime. Lent is about change, about blossoming, about becoming individually and together what God created and redemed us to be. This means, as we are exhorted in the reading from Isaiah, which is the reading for Lauds today, making "justice [our] aim". In that regard I have been focusing a lot recently on the issue of immigration. I would like to shift gears and shine a bit of light on our system of justice, that is, our courts, etc. As with immigration, I do not claim to be an expert. However, there are experts, women and men who daily work for justice, whose work is not just a way of earning a living, but a contribution to humanity. One such person is attorney Ron Yengich, who is Utah's best defense attorney. Ron is also a parishioner at The Cathedral of the Madeleine. In fact, it was Ron who reminded me, by giving me a holy card, of the anniversary last fall of the election of Il Papa Buono to the Chair of St. Peter.

Ron Lafferty, left, and Yengich review Lafferty's
murder case in Provo courtroom in September 2002.
(Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News)
In the most recent issue of our diocesan newspaper, the Intermountain Catholic, there is an article by Barbara Stinson Lee, the paper's editor, on Ron and his work. While encouraging anyone interested in justice to read the entire article, I want to post the beginning of Ron Yengitch (sic): Why We Defend the Guilty:
"Criminal Defense Attorney Ron Yengitch (sic), a member of Cathedral Parish, has a forgiveness story. It involves a woman whose son was killed by one of Yengitch's (sic) clients. During the sentencing phase of the trial, the victim's mother was given the opportunity to speak. Instead of railing against the perpetrator of the terrible crime, she spoke instead of healing.

"'She told the judge my client had apologized and that putting him in prison for life was not going to help her heal,' Yengitch
(sic) said. 'It wouldn't bring her son back.'

"Courtroom scenes like that happen periodically, Yengitch
(sic) said, and they are graced moments.

"'People think jail or prison time is a slap on the wrist,' he said, in an interview with the Intermountain Catholic. 'There are no slaps on the wrist in the American justice system any more. There are kicks in the crotch or slaps on the back of the head. Then, there are actual executions, but there are no slaps on the wrist'".

This last observation should give us all pause, especially in light of our faith, in light of what God's word tells us. I think of the movie Office Space, a film I like a great deal. When the main characters realize that their illegal activities, ripping off the company for which they work, are in danger of being discovered, they begin to worry about their punishment. When Michael Bolton begins to consider what their judicially mandated punishment would be upon their convictions, he laments loudly about being sentenced to serve time in "a federal pound-me-in-the-a** prison". Of course we laugh on cue. I can think of two films that might be educational, even formational, in this regard as we move through Lent: American Me and American History X. I give fair warning, these are not easy films to watch, let alone to digest.

Returning to the IC article, Yengich insists that "[s]howing mercy does not mean we are taking guilt lightly." He reminds us of something important right at the heart of Catholic moral theology with a real world example: "guilt is often relative to circumstances. Who is the drug addict and who is the supplier? Most people sell drugs to supply their own habits. What would happen if we, out of mercy, offered treatment?" Hmmmm . . . I wonder. I worry about Christians who think getting what is deserved is what justice is all about. It is not. Such an idea is contrary to God's justice. After all, dear brother, do you really want what you deserve? I can tell you that I, for one, do not, either for you or for me. I frequently throw myself at the mercy of the heavenly court. Thank you Jesus.

Indeed, we are washed clean in baptism and cleansed again and again through reconciliation, of which penance is but a part. I am so thankful for, not to mention awestruck by, Christians who serve, who daily exercise the ministry (i.e., diakonia) proper to our baptismal vocation, which is confirmed in our anointing with sacred chrism, also known as Chrismation. Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, tells us that lay Christians "are by baptism made one body with Christ and are constituted among the People of God; they are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly functions of Christ; and they carry out for their own part the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world.

"What specifically characterizes the laity is their secular nature. . . the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer"
(par. 31- emboldening and underlining mine). Put simply, the laity do all God's heavy-lifting in the world. On this view the most important role of the ordained is to give support and encouragement to the laity in their ministry of sanctifying the world.

Il Papa Buono, pray for us.

Over on Cahiers are two more posts relative to this topic: Immigration: A Catholic Response and Barak Obama and the language of hope.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Something cool for today and tomorrow as a make up for last week

To make up for missing last week and to show that I am not really a party pooper to all you V-day-o-philes (note the name of the store they go into in Our Lips Are Sealed), a double dose of the Go-Gos, whose bassist is/was Kathy Valentine, for this week's Καθολικός διάκονος traditio, and a day early. So, here are the the cuties of the LA punk scene. Yes, the L.A. punk scene. If you knew it, then you'd know. The sound quality on We Got the Beat is not great, but this early video, filmed in London, is a great flashback. The song works much better with a raucous, particpating, out-of-control audience.

That's more like it, home at the Whiskey-a-Go-Go- L.A. 1981.

Go-Go music really makes us dance
Do the Pony puts us in a trance
Do the Watusi just give us a chance
That's when we fall in line

Yes it does:

Yes, there are a million and one other things I should be doing. Help!!

Last week's missing traditio

V-day in way too many offices. Title: Preparing for the V-day Club Scene, or Work, the way it was meant to be. You make the call.

Today is not Saint Valentine's Day

Secularly today is Valentine's Day, the day of inventive lingerie, like red teddies, as well as champagne, chocolate, and various lotions and oils. Valentine, along with Christopher and others whose historicity was highly doubtful, were removed from the liturgical calendar in the 1969 revision, which was part of the reform initiated by the Second Vatican Council.

Instead, today we observe the memorial of Sts. Cyril & Methodius. These two brothers, who lived in the ninth century, were missionaries to the Slavs and beyond. In 1980, the late, great Pope John Paul II, a Slavic pope who had only been wearing the shoes of the Fisherman for a few months, in an ecumenically magnanimous gesture to our Orthodox sisters and brothers, named these great saints as co-patrons of Europe. Hence, Europe has three male patrons and three female patrons: St. Benedict, St. Cyril, St. Methodius, along with St. Bridget of Sweden, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (a.k.a. Edith Stein), and St. Catherine of Sienna

Sts Cyril & Methodius were born in Thessalonica (Thessaloniki/Salonica- fascinating city, previously referenced on Καθολικός διάκονος- the Church to which St. Paul addressed two letters). Cyril was educated in Constantinople. Together they went to Moravia to preach the faith. They translated liturgical texts into the Slavonic language and invented the Glagolithic and possibly also the Cyrillic alphabet. After Cyril's death, Methodius went to Pannonia, where he was assiduous in the work of evangelization. In the complicated international politics of the time he suffered much from attacks by his enemies, but he was always supported by the Popes.

I am not opposed to the observance of Valentine's Day, but neither do I feel compelled to dive in, epecially given that this year we are already in Lent. Besides, as a Christian, without sounding too sanctimonious, glib, or maudlin, everyday is a celebration of love, even in Lent.

I also want to draw attention to last Monday, 11 February, which marked the 150th anniversary of the Blessed Virgin's first apparition to St. Bernadette Soubrious at Lourdes, France. While I may not have blogged about it, we observed it with our faith community, that is, our parish. I also want to draw attention to two items I posted today on politics over on Cahiers- Making a prudential judgment based on reason: Immigration and Two questions.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The absolute priority of God's love

"Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.

"This is how we know that we remain in him and he in us, that he has given us of his Spirit. Moreover, we have seen and testify that the Father sent his Son as savior of the world. Whoever acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God remains in him and he in God. We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him" (1 Jn 4,7-16-underlining and emboldening mine).
The Last Supper, by Boninsegna

I do not presently feel either the need or the desire to be original. I am trying to listen, both to God and to other people. Frankly, in my job and my ministry I get tired of hearing myself. Last evening I had my first series of meetings with people who are preparing to either enter the Church or complete their Christian initiation at the great Easter Vigil. It was a blessing and a privilege to listen to their stories, their questions, their hopes, and concerns.

The above passage is what I want to convey to each of them because it is God's word, not mine. Receiving the sacraments is just that, receiving. Therefore, the only question is, Will you receive what God, who is love because He is Father, Son, and Spirit- a communion of persons- wants desparately to give you? Jesus on the Cross is the sign of God's desparation for you, for me, for us all. This is the ONLY question, there is no other one. This what that God wants to give us is a who, a Person, His Son, Jesus Christ, who calls us to be His friends.

Please, please, please do not reduce Christianity to moralism, this is perhaps the worst distortion of the Good News that is Jesus Christ because it is the most common distortion. To that end, I post again that wonderful passage by Fr. Radcliffe, who writes: "The Church has nothing to say about morality until our listeners have glimpsed God's delight in their existence. People often come to us carrying heavy burdens, with lives not in accord with the Church's teaching, the fruit of complex histories. We have nothing to say at all until people know that God rejoices in their very existence, which is why they exist at all" (What is the Point of Being a Christian? pg. 59). As to burdens, let's turn again to scripture, to St. Matthew's Gospel, eleventh chapter, twenty-eighth to thirtieth verses, where Jesus, speaking to you and me, says: "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Diaconal dialogue with the Holy Father

Each year as the bishop of Rome, the Holy Father meets with the clergy of his diocese, that is, his auxiliary bishops, priests and deacons. While deacons are formed and trained to follow Jesus the deacon, to serve and not be served, to not seek approval and ego gratification, it is necessary from time-to-time, as in all human endeavors, to be encouraged, especially by our bishop. In our diocese we receive constant encouragement and affirmation from Bishop Wester. Since his installation last year, Bishop Wester has taken a keen interest in the diaconate, in his deacons. Of course, we always had a great friend and father in now-Archbishop Niederauer, but I digress. During this meeting the Holy Father was asked a question by one of his deacons. The following is the Zenit transcript of the dialogue, to which my dear friend Rocco, over at Whispers, drew my attention:

"Holy Father, I would like first of all to express my gratitude and that of my brother deacons for the ministry that the Church so providentially has taken up again with the [Second Vatican] Council, a ministry that allows us to fully express our vocation. We are committed in a great variety of works that we carry out in vastly different environments: family, work, parish, society, also the missions of Africa and Latin America -- areas that you indicated for us in the audience you granted us on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the diaconate of the Diocese of Rome.

"Now our numbers have grown -- there are 108 of us. And we would like for you to indicate a pastoral initiative that could become a sign of a more incisive presence of the permanent diaconate in the city of Rome, as it happened in the first centuries of the Roman Church. In fact, sharing a significant, common objective, on one hand increases the cohesion of diaconal fraternity and on the other, would give greater visibility to our service in this city. We present you, Holy Father, the desire that you indicate to us an initiative that we can share in the way and the manner that you wish to specify. In the name of all the deacons, I greet you, Holy Father, with filial affection."

Pope Benedict XVI replied:

"Thank you for this testimony as one of the more than 100 deacons of Rome. I would like to also express my joy and my gratitude for the Council, because it revived this important ministry in the universal Church. I should say that when I was archbishop of Munich, I didn't find perhaps more than three or four deacons, and I very much favored this ministry because it seemed to me to belong to the richness of the sacramental ministry in the Church. At the same time, it can equally be the link between the lay world, the professional world, and the world of the priestly ministry -- given that many deacons continue carrying out their professions and maintain their positions -- important or those of a simple life -- while on Saturday and Sunday they work in the Church. In this way, you give witness in the world of today, as well as in the working world, of the presence of faith, of the sacramental ministry and the diaconal dimension of the sacrament of Orders. This seems very important to me: the visibility of the diaconal dimension.

"Naturally as well, every priest continues being a deacon, and should always think of this dimension, because the Lord himself made himself our minister, our deacon. We can think of the gesture of the washing of the feet, with which he explicitly shows that the master, the Lord, acts as a deacon and wants those who follow him to be deacons, that they fulfill this role for humanity, to the point that they also help to wash the dirtied feet of the men entrusted to us. This dimension seems very important to me.

"On this occasion, I bring to mind -- though it is perhaps not immediately inherent to the theme -- a simple experience that Paul VI noted. Each day of the Council, the Gospel was enthroned. And the Pontiff told those in charge of the ceremony that he would like one time to be the one who enthrones the Gospel. They told him no, this is the job of the deacons, not of the Pope. He wrote in his diary: But I am also a deacon, I continue being a deacon, and I would like to also exercise this ministry of the diaconate placing the word of God on its throne. Thus, this concerns all of us. Priests continue being deacons, and the deacons make explicit in the Church and in the world this diaconal dimension of our ministry. This liturgical enthroning of the word of God each day during the Council was always for us a gesture of great importance: It told us who was the true Lord of that assembly; it told us that the word of God was on the throne and that we exercise our ministry to listen and to interpret, to offer to the others this word. It is broadly significant for all that we do: enthroning in the world the word of God, the living word, Christ. May it really be him who governs our personal life and our life in the parishes.

"Now, you have asked me a question that, I must say, goes a bit beyond my strengths: What would be the tasks proper to the deacons of Rome. I know that the cardinal vicar knows much better than I the real situations of the city and the diocesan community of Rome. I think that one characteristic of the ministry of the deacons is precisely the multiplicity of the diaconate's applications. In the International Theological Commission, a few years ago, we studied at length the diaconate in the history and also the present of the Church. And we discovered just that: There is not just one profile. What they should do varies, depending on the preparation of the persons and the situations in which they find themselves. There can be applications and activities that are very different, always in communion with the bishop and with the parish, naturally. In the various situations, various possibilities arise, also depending on the professional preparation that these deacons could have. They could be committed in the cultural sector, which is so important today, or they could have a voice and an important post in the educational realm. We are thinking this year precisely of the problem of education as central to our future, and the future of humanity.

"Certainly the sector of charity was in Rome the original sector, because those called presbyters and deacons were centers of Christian charity. This was from the beginning in the city of Rome a fundamental area. In my encyclical 'Deus Caritas Est,' I showed that not just preaching and the liturgy are essential for the Church and for the ministry of the Church, but rather equally important is the service of caritas -- in its multiple dimensions -- for the poor, the needy. Thus, I hope that all the time, in the whole diocese, even if in distinct situations, this continues being a fundamental dimension, and also a priority for the commitment of the deacons, even if not the only one, as is also shown in the early Church, where the seven deacons were chosen precisely to permit the apostles to dedicate themselves to prayer, liturgy and preaching. Also afterward, Stephen found himself in the situation of having to preach to the Greeks, to the Jews who spoke Greek, and thus the field of preaching was amplified. He is conditioned, we could say, by the cultural situation, where he has a voice to make present in that sector the word of God. In that way, he makes more possible the universality of the Christian testimony, opening the doors to St. Paul who witnessed his stoning, and later, in a certain sense, was his successor in the universalization of the word of God. I don't know if the cardinal vicar would like to add something; I'm not as close to the concrete situations."

You can read Cardinal Ruini's comments by clicking the word Zenit above.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Soul strumming

Years ago I was employed by our diocese at the Paraclete bookstore/Catholic Center in downtown Salt Lake City. I was the director who was given the sad task of closing the Center down, a wise but difficult decision taken by our diocese in light of the fact that building we were in was slated for demolition and the impossible cost of setting up somewhere else. While employed there I had the privilege of meeting many people who worked in the downtown area. One such person was Deseret News columnist Jerry Johnston, who was always a pleasure to speak with. I always learned something from him and enjoyed our encounters. I remember upon my leaving the Catholic Center Jerry giving me a copy of his book, Spirits in the Leaves, which was published by Signature Books here in Salt Lake City.

I have read Jerry's book and found that his writings and reflections have struck many chords in me. Even though we have lost touch, I always read his columns in the Deseret Morning News. I especially liked his latest column, which appeared in the paper last Thursday. It is entitled Personal ministries have made Pres. Monson 'pastoral' leader. This struck a couple of chords.

My reading of this column came on the heels of a conversation about President Monson with the rector of the Cathedral Church at which I serve. In this conversation, I was told about the personal interest President Monson takes in the more than $45,000 of help the LDS Church provides each year to our parish outreach, known as the Good Samaritan Program. This interest took the form of Monson singling out this good priest and telling him he was happy to cooperate in our parish endeavor, telling him "there's plenty more where that came from."

In his column, Jerry favorably compares President Monson to the wonderful Albino Luciani, known to the world as Pope John Paul I. Here is what he has to say:

"When Albino Luciani of Italy became Pope John Paul I, he — too — was known for his large 'personal ministry.' He was democratic by nature. And in Catholic circles, where there's a distinct split between 'high' and 'low' church, the more brainy fretters feared his "personal touch" would hamper his ability to govern on a global scale." Jerry continues, "It was hogwash, of course — the hand-wringing of skeptics with too much time on their hands. Luciani was a breath of fresh air. And I felt sad the world never got to fully appreciate the sweetness a shepherd can bring to mighty tasks."

As for me, I always think of the observation about the 33 day papacy of Papa Luciani Of his all too brief papacy it was said: "God knew we needed a smile".

I disagree with Jerry's conclusion about Monson eschewing "The Shoes of the Fisherman". After all, he did not seem hesitant about becoming the head of the LDS Church. Nonetheless, here's to friendship, to reaching across divides to serve others, to encourage and strengthen each other. As Michael Card, who is a Protestant, has written:

"Every time a faithful servant serves
A brother that's in need
What happens at that moment is a miracle indeed
As they look to one another in an instant it is clear
Only Jesus is visible for they've both disappeared"

Friday, February 8, 2008

First Friday of this Lent

I think it important on the first Friday of this Lenten season to post something about our tendency to reduce faith to morals, thus making it about us, a rejection of grace. Morality, while important, is not the most important thing. Neither is the most important thing to love God. The most important thing is coming to an understanding, even getting a glimpse, of how much God loves us, how much God delights in our very existence, each one of us individually and all of us together. In an article that appeared last year in the lenten issue of Emmanuel magazine, Dcn Owen Cummings writes: "Thirty years ago, Harry Williams, a member of the Community of the Resurrection, began a sermon on Ash Wednesday and Lent with these words: 'It is a pity that we think of Lent as a time when we try to make ourselves uncomfortable in some fiddling but irritating way. And it’s more than a pity, it’s a tragic disaster, that we also think of it as a time to indulge in the secret and destructive pleasure of doing a good orthodox grovel to a pseudo-Lord, the Pharisee in each of us we call God and who despises the rest of what we are.'"

Scripture is instructive on this point: "God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another" (1 Jn 9b-11). This gets things in the right order, we are only able to love in the assurance that we are first loved. Our love of God and of neighbor, if genuine, is always a response to God's love, which is not only prior to our response, but consitutes reality, the reason that anything exists at all. Sadly, we often do not really believe that God can love me, this me. Nonetheless, He does. This, my friends, is the Gospel, the Good News. Lent is about responding in love to Love. Whenever we see a crucifix it is not a reminder of our sinfulness, but of how much God loves us. To believe that our sins are greater than God's love is to grossly overestimate ourselves.

Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, OP writes incisively on this point: "The Church has nothing to say about morality until our listeners have glimpsed God's delight in their existence. People often come to us carrying heavy burdens, with lives not in accord with the Church's teaching, the fruit of complex histories. We have nothing to say at all until people know that God rejoices in their very existence, which is why they exist at all" (What is the Point of Being a Christian? pg. 59). What a lovely lenten thought! We exist so that God can rejoice, not in what we do, but in the very fact that we are!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

A friend, that is, a witness, not a mediator

Caravaggio, The Call of St. Matthew, 1599-1602
I was struck full force this morning by the words of Fr. Carron from the end of his synthesis of Friends, That is, Witnesses, the International Responsibles' Assembly, especially given the newness of our SLC School of Community and our meeting last evening:

"We do not accompany people by managing them, like 'mediators' in their relationship with the Mystery. A 'mediator' wants to spare you the dizziness that the Mystery produces ('I'll see to it.' 'No thanks.') He thinks he has a direct line to the Mystery, that he knows what the Mystery wants from you. No! The 'I' is direct relationship with the Mystery. What Fr. Giussani says seems little, but is crucial. A mediator thinks he knows what the Mystery has in store for you, but someone who would spare you the Mystery is cheating you-it is an attempt at possession. There is only one mediator: Christ. What is the meaning of Christ as a figure? Christ is the mediator because He lived in the first person His relationship with the Mystery, with the Father, and when someone tried to draw Him away from this, like Peter, He sent them to blazes: 'Go away from me' (Matt. 16,23; Mk 8,33). Christ generated disciples not because He explained things to them, but because He lived His unique, personal relationship with the Mystery in the first person, up to the Cross, up to the last instant. His problem was not to organize the Church, but to live the Father's will, and in this way he generated the Church, He generated the people, He generates us.

"Our problem is not the management or the organization of our people, my problem and your problem is to live!"
(pg. 77)

True living is religious living and, according to Fr. Carron, "is the only thing that generates true friendship, because friendship is going together toward destiny, going together toward the Mystery. This is the only true friendship, the only one that lasts; the rest are relationships of convenience. All other types of relationship, apart from this, are political. We have to decide whether we want to establish political relationships of convenience, or to be true friends. Do we want to play games with each other, or accompany each other to destiny?" (pgs. 78-9)

Our SLC School of Community, our gathering of friends, will occur again on Friday, 15 February. We will first walk the Stations of the Cross in the Cathedral, which begins after Vespers, around 6:10 PM, then we will gather in the Our Lady of Zion chapel to recite the Angelus before moving to our gathering place where we will conclude our discussion, our learning from, our illumination by the Holy Father's encyclical Spe Salvi. After the Holy Father's encyclical we will read Fr. Carron's presentation of Giussani's book Is It Possible To Live Like This? before moving to the book itself.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

LENT: The Journey continues

Memento homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris. =
Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.

In a funeral discourse on his brother's death, St. Ambrose said:

"Death was not part of nature; it became part of nature. God did not decree death from the beginning; he prescribed it as a remedy. Human life, because of sin . . . began to experience the burden of wretchedness in unremitting labor and unbearable sorrow. There had to be a limit to its evils; death had to restore what life had forfeited. Without the assistance of grace, immortality is more of a burden than a blessing." Earlier in the discourse he said: "Death is, then, no cause for mourning, for it is the cause of mankind's salvation" (Spe Salvi par. 10).

In this way our lives are caught up in the Paschal Mystery, the life, passion, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. May we today be reminded of who we are and of our common destiny: to be children of God through Christ. This injunction also serves as a reminder of our baptism, or, in the case of catchumens, a looking forward to baptism, in which we die, are buried, and rise to new life, "the life which is simply life, simply 'happiness'" (Spe Salvi par. 11).

If you are still looking for what do for Lent, check out the Ironic Catholic. She has many good suggestions. Personally, I'd be impressed by discalced theology professors in Minnesota in February!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Liturgy and Mission

I am happy to share the joyful news that I am now published. An article I wrote last year, based on a liturgical paper written for St. Mary's University of Minnesota Institute in Pastoral Ministry, appears in the March/April 2008 (Volume 114, Number 2) issue of Emmanuel Magazine, published by the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament. Though I am identified as Don Scott Dodge, a confusion of the abbreviation for deacon (i.e., Dcn) I often use in correspondence, I am very thrilled to have been published in this magazine to which I have subscribed and read ever since becoming engaged in pastoral ministry, which was at the time I first met members of the Congregation, all of whom have so richly blessed my life.

It is even more of a privilege to have an article published in same issue as two of my mentors, both of whom I am grateful to call friends, Fr. J.T. Lane, SSS and Dcn Owen Cummings. My article is entitled Liturgy and Mission. Beyond that, in his editorial for this issue, Fr. Paul Bernier, editor of Emmanuel and author of a very good book on ministry, entitled Ministry in the Church, picks up where I left off in my post Cognitive dissonance.

After addressing Anselm's satisfaction theory of atonement and the unsatisfactory way this theory has played itself out in Christian history, he writes about the aspect of the Paschal Mystery that needs to be stressed now, namely that in the Scriptures Jesus is primarily portrayed "as our exemplar, our model in his total commitment to the will of the Father. It was Jesus' complete fidelity to his vocation, his willingness to pursue the right path, no matter the difficulties that was pleasing to God. It was also redemptive for us inasmuch as it puts us on the right path, and enables us to live as God's true children. Since we have been ennobled in baptism to become members of God's family, the exemplary life and death of Jesus makes it possible for us to know God's will for us, and - with the grace of the Holy Spirit- to live it" (pg. 99). With this reminder I have learned twice today not just the importance of other people, but of Christian brothers and sisters. We need to encourage each other, challenge each other, correct each other so that we can be more faithful to the One we have encountered.

At times I find myself full of doubt, not about faith, but about life, about people. I suppose this counts as a way of being serious about what I have found along the way, though not a very useful way. I need to look deeper than appearance. In my case analysis, which breeds anxiety and causes me to be hyper-sensitive, often swamps simplicity of heart. I suppose needing reassurance, being reminded that it is about Him, not anything else, is what I needed to reminded about today. Too often in my own experience it becomes about so many other things. As I have been working through the La Thuile exercises, something I neglected all weekend, I have been reminded of this and warned against the dualism to which I am so prone, pitting faith against life and vice-versa.

A note of explanation

Many of the following posts date back to last Fall, which is why they seem a bit dated. Hopefully, they are still relevant, especially as we approach what is being termed Super Duper Tuesday.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Religion and faith in the public square

Over on Observations & Contentions, which is the First Things blog, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, the journal's editor, has web-published his remarks given last Saturday at a debate sponsored by The Economist. The resolution being debated was "Religion and politics should always be kept separate."

He begins by defining terms which, in a debate, is absolutely essential. He uses Aristotle's definition of politics according to which politics is our answer to the question, "How ought we to order our life together?" He points out that "The ought in that definition indicates that politics is in its very nature, if not always in its practice, a moral enterprise."

He goes to ask about the role of religious institutions, which "understand themselves to be divinely constituted," in the polity of these United States. According Fr. Neuhaus, the United States Constitution views them as "voluntary associations of citizens who join together for freely chosen purposes." Hence, churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, etc. are "on the same constitutional footing as labor unions, political action groups, professional associations, and a host of other organizations formed by common purpose. In the heat of the political fray, all these institutions are tempted to claim that, on the issues that matter most to them, they have a monopoly on morality. All of them are wrong about that."

He goes on to state that "religion cannot be separated from politics. More precisely, religion cannot be separated from democratic politics. But I do believe that religious leaders should be more circumspect and restrained than they sometimes are in addressing political issues, and that for two reasons. The first and most important reason is that the dynamics of political battle tend to corrupt religion, blurring the distinctions between the temporal and the eternal, the sacred and the profane. So the first concern is for the integrity of religion." The second reason, lest I leave you hanging is "concern is for the integrity of politics".

He also gives some of his thoughts and impressions on Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship that are well worth reading in their own right as well as nicely complement his remarks from the debate. The USCCB document includes this section: "In making these decisions, it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue. In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching," which some cynical and morally ill-informed commentators have turned into what Neuhaus calls "the conscience clause", which gets interpreted in our emotive culture as, at the end of the vote anyway you like as long you feel strongly about it.

Fr. Neuhaus is accurate and succinct in his observation that this so-called "conscience clause" "is not a loophole but speaks to a solemn obligation. It is clear Catholic teaching that one must act in accord with conscience, even if one’s conscience is misguided. At the same time, one is obliged to form one’s conscience according to moral truth. It is also the Church’s teaching, reiterated in this document, that acting according to a rightly formed conscience is a matter that impinges upon one’s eternal salvation" (underlining and emboldening mine).

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...