Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hierarchy Update

After a series of strange events awhile back, the Holy Father accepted the resignation of His Excellency, Donald Pellotte, SSS, as bishop of the Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico, in accordance with canon 401 §2 of the Code of Canon Law, which states that "A diocesan bishop who has become less able to fulfill his office because of ill health or some other grave cause is earnestly requested to present his resignation from office".

The Congregation to which Bishop Pelotte belongs, the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament (i.e., an instiute of consecrated life founded by St. Peter Julian Eymard), means so much to me. I have been so blessed by them over the years, including Bishop Pelotte's brother, who is now a pastor in Houston. Both my first spiritual director and my current spiritual director, whose friendship I value so very, very much, come from this fine Congregation of consecrated people. Please pray for Bishop Pelotte and all the daughters and sons of St. Peter Julian. In many ways I consider myself kind of a Blessed Sacrament Third Order, as I am sure do many others who have been richly blessed by their ministry and charism. Officially, they do not have third order. For anybody so inclined, please pray a novena to St. Peter Julian on his behalf, with the added intention of more vocations to this wonderful religious order.

One interesting fact about the Diocese of Gallup: it is the only diocese in the United States to have territory in more than one state. The reason for this are the Native American Catholics who largely comprise this local Church. The diocese extends across the state lines of New Mexico and Arizona in order to include the whole territories of reservations. Bishop Pelotte himself is a Native American.

With this resignation, the sede vacante dioceses in the United States now number eight, those being Charleston, South Carolina; Knoxville, Tennessee; Green Bay, Wisconsin; St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; Juneau, Alaska; New Ulm, Minnesota; Biloxi, Mississippi; Gallup, New Mexico.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Blogging: a quasi- moratorium

Due to the sheer number of things I need to attend to presently for home, work, school, and parish, I will not be regularly blogging during the months of May, June, and July. The mere fact that I am posting this announcement is yet one more indication that we bloggers far overestimate our influence. To wit: just because we're on the world-wide web does not mean anybody is reading what we have to write. It is like when I travel for work and find myself in a hotel room being tired of reading. I do something I never do at home; turn on the television to see what is on. Typically, I spend twenty minutes or so surfing all the channels, only to learn that there is literally nothing on, at least nothing worth investing any time in watching.

So, it is a realistic assessment that my temporary absence will make no difference. This is not a statement designed to elicit pity. Rather, as I determined within my first several months of maintaining a blog, when I would fret and fuss over why I was doing it, it has to have a value for me in order to keep posting. In fact, my blog bore the original title Scott Dodge for Nobody, a title I poached from a former KRCL program that played on Sunday nights, Tom Waits for Nobody. If what I write about is useful to another person, then Deo gratias! I have no meter embedded in my blog. Hence, I have no idea how many total "hits" this blog has had, or any idea whatsoever the amount of traffic it generates daily, weekly, monthly, etc. This helps me resist the temptation to pander to an audience and aids me in keepin' it real as a faux hipster might say.

For my few regular readers, during this quasi-mortatorium, I will continue to post homilies and other things I am writing about from time-to-time as I deem them relevant and of interest. I will post a Friday traditio or two along the way, but not every week.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Year A 6th Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 8,5-8.14-17; Ps 66,1-7.16.20; 1 Pet 3,15-18; Jn 14,15-21

Each time we recite the Creed, we profess our belief in "in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son." As is indicative of the word spirit in our day, the Holy Spirit seems to be most elusive. In truth, we encounter the Holy Spirit all the time. Noted Catholic Bible scholar, Luke Timothy Johnson, gives us a most helpful way of conceiving of the Holy Spirit: the mode of Christ’s resurrection presence among us (Living Jesus: Learning the Heart of the Gospel, pg. 15). Stated a bit more clearly, it is by means of the Holy Spirit that Christ, after his ascension into heaven, remains present not only to us, but in us. In our Gospel today Jesus, speaking to his disciples about the other Advocate he is going to send, tells them that this Advocate will be with them always and remain both with them as well as be in them (Jn 14,17).

This brings up a very good question, which, when asked bluntly, goes like this: "How exactly does the Holy Spirit get 'in us'?" In seeking an answer to this question, let us look at today’s Gospel more closely. Jesus is sending the Holy Spirit so that his disciples will not be left orphans (Jn 14,18). This other Advocate will come to them after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. Once he is ascended, the world will no longer see Jesus as the twelve see him as they sit at table. Rather, Jesus will live on in his disciples, who constitute the Church. It is important to note that his living is just that, living, which does not consist of having fond memories of him and perpetuating his memory by handing on stories about his life, but his living in the Church through the Holy Spirit, “the giver of life,” who is poured out on the disciples on Pentecost.
St. Philip the deacon

Our first reading, taken from The Acts of the Apostles, goes a fair distance toward answering our question about how the Spirit, whose presence is Christ’s presence, just as in Christ the Father is present, as we read in last week’s Gospel, this why Jesus tells his disciples that when the Holy Spirit comes, they "will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you" (Jn 14,7.20). Our reading from Acts tells the story of Philip the deacon preaching the Gospel and baptizing an entire Samaritan city. After hearing this glorious news, Peter and John, two apostles, go to the city for the express purpose of confirming those who were baptized by laying hands on them and conferring the Holy Spirit, who "had not yet fallen upon any of them" (Acts 8,16). In this act of the-laying-on-of-hands for the purpose of conferring the Holy Spirit, we see the primitive origin of the sacrament of confirmation as we administer and celebrate it today.

In Confirmation we receive "a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit like that of Pentecost" (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church par. 268). Being anointed with sacred chrism is the external sign of this "special outpouring". Of course, the very title, "Christ," means anointed one. By being anointed with the Holy Spirit, like Jesus was immediately following his Baptism by John, an indelible character is impressed on our souls, namely our identity, first revealed in Baptism, as children of God, as well as priests, prophets, and royalty. This anointing causes growth in the grace we received in Baptism, reinvigorating the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.

We see now that the answer to our straightforward question, "How is the Holy Spirit 'in us'?" also answers the question about how Christ is in us and us in him. We receive Christ in and through the sacraments, most especially in the Eucharist. The sacraments are the works of the Holy Spirit because it is the work of the Holy Spirit to make Jesus Christ present in the community of disciples, who make up the Church. In turn, it is the mission of the Church, the mystical Body of Christ, to make the Lord present in and for the world in all our various endeavors. It is to this end that we are exhorted in our reading from First Peter to "Sanctify Christ as Lord in [our] hearts" (1 Pet. 3,15). We do this by always being "ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks [us] for a reason for [our] hope" (1 Pet. 3,15). However, we are to do so "with gentleness and reverence" (1 Pet. 3,16). hence, our best answer does not consist in brilliant arguments and great learning. Rather, our best answer to anybody who asks the reason for our hope is given by how we live our lives and the qualities exhibited in our communal life. So, just as the Church is the sacrament of salvation for the world, our very lives are to be sacraments, that is, visible and tangible signs of Christ’s presence in and for the world.

Because Easter is about life, resurrected and everlasting life, our faith is about life, everyday life, which is redeemed life, being made holy by the Spirit that is within us. God invites us to partake in his very life here and now, by receiving the sacraments, most particularly this Eucharist. As we near Pentecost we pray, “Come Holy Spirit and renew the face of the earth.” Indeed, renewing the earth, ushering in God’s reign, is the mission of the Church. Hence, it is our mission, the mission toward which our entire ministry, which consists of nothing less than laying down our lives in service to others, is directed. Our Lord himself, by linking our obedience to our love for him, indicates that life in the Spirit, which is nothing other than Christian life, has an objective character. The only way to empirically verify that the gifts imparted to us in Confirmation have been duly received is the fruit it produces in our lives both individually and collectively. The gifts that “the Lord, the giver of life,” imparts produce fruit in the lives of those who have gratefully received them. The fruits of the Holy Spirit, which are “the first fruits of eternal glory,” are: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church par. 390; Gal. 5,22-23).

These graces help us to recognize that, as Christians, we do not seek a heavenly home that is detached from this world. Instead, we look for a renewal of God’s good, creation. Such a renewal requires bringing creation back in line with our Creator’s original purpose, which is communion. God created us and because of our disobedience, that happy fault, that necessary sin of Adam, he also redeemed us. Now God has given us his Holy Spirit, through whom the fullness of God, who is also Father and Son, dwells in us, to sanctify us, to heal our alienation from the earth, from each other, and from God. As we gather around the Lord’s Table today, let our celebration bear fruit as, filled with the Holy Spirit , we "cry out to God with joy" (Ps. 66,2). Alleluia!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

"The ecstasy seems as much erotic as religious"

The painting is the Stigmatization of St. Francis, by Vicente Carducho from a New York Times article on an exhibit, El Greco to Velázquez: Art During the Reign of Philip III, that Ken Johnson, writing for the Times calls "a rich, uneven stew of an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston". Philip III reigned from 1598-1621.

Blessed Saint Clare,
whose very name means light,
illumine the darkness of our minds and hearts
so that we might see
what God wishes us to do
and perform it
with a willing and joyful heart.
Before your birth,
a Heavenly voice foretold
that you would be a light illuminating the world.
Be a light to us in the sorrows
and anxieties of this earthly life,
and lead us into the eternal light
of our home in Heaven.


(Fourth day of a novena to St. Clare I am currently praying on behalf of a very dear sister and friend)

Friday, April 25, 2008

"providence blinked facing the sun"

Traditio= REM Until the Day Is Done

"so hold your babies and your guns.
forgive us our trespasses. father and son"

For those of you not initiated, you're not getting off easily. As with my oldest son, who is an aspiring and getting to be a pretty good guitarist, listen to Peter Buck (he was blown away by Buck's wall of sound on this song), REM Monster- What's the Frequency Kenneth?- for those who have ears, let them hear

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Middle Eastern Christians: The Challenge of Identity

Map from the NY Times
In a piece buried on its website and probably also buried in the print edition, The New York Times published an article by Robert Worth entitled In Syrian Villages, the Language of Jesus Lives. The article focuses on a Syrian town, Malula. Historically, Malula was a Christian town and even now the population is still half Christian. What is unique about the Christians of Malula, along with the Syrian Christians of this part of country and beyond, is that they speak the same language that Jesus spoke, namely Aramiac.

However, this identity is waning. The good news is that conscious effort is being made to maintain this identity. Most important is the establishment of a school for the teaching of Aramaic. Nonetheless, "Yona Sabar, a professor of Semitic languages at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that today, Malula and its neighboring villages, Jabadeen and Bakhaa, represent “the last Mohicans” of Western Aramaic, which was the language Jesus presumably spoke in Palestine two millennia ago".

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"renew my faith in my faith" Fr. Jim Martin

This is classic Colbert. Whenever Fr. Jaime Martin, SJ makes an apperance the clip-according to canon law (Can. 1753 §1) has to be posted on Καθολικός διάκονος.

"America is God's chosen country and if the Pope, the Vicar of Christ, cannot charm us, then, as I understand it, Jesus is not the Son of God, life has no meaning, we're all just random balls of protoplasm, the stars blindly run, we're spontaneously created by an unthinking universe, there is no heaven, no 24 hour cloud trampolines, and the Eucharist is not the Body of Christ, it is just empty carbs."

Monday, April 21, 2008

"What are you seeking? What is God whispering to you?"

"Dear friends, truth is not an imposition. Nor is it simply a set of rules. It is a discovery of the One who never fails us; the One whom we can always trust. In seeking truth we come to live by belief because ultimately truth is a person: Jesus Christ. That is why authentic freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in; nothing less than letting go of self and allowing oneself to be drawn into Christ’s very being for others (cf. Spe Salvi, 28). " (PP. Benedictus XVI to a gathering of Catholic young people at Dunwoodie, New York).

In conclusion, the Holy Father spoke these incredible words:

"Friends, again I ask you, what about today? What are you seeking? What is God whispering to you? The hope which never disappoints is Jesus Christ. The saints show us the selfless love of his way. As disciples of Christ, their extraordinary journeys unfolded within the community of hope, which is the Church. It is from within the Church that you too will find the courage and support to walk the way of the Lord. Nourished by personal prayer, prompted in silence, shaped by the Church’s liturgy you will discover the particular vocation God has for you. Embrace it with joy. You are Christ’s disciples today. Shine his light upon this great city and beyond. Show the world the reason for the hope that resonates within you. Tell others about the truth that sets you free. With these sentiments of great hope in you I bid you farewell, until we meet again in Sydney this July for World Youth Day! "

Do yourself a favor and read the entire text.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

"its morals aren't worth what a pig could spit"

Last evening I finally had the opportunity to watch Tim Burton's film version of Steven Sondheim's Sweeney Todd. I was excited about this film even before its release, but, given the pace of my life, I was not able to see it in a movie theater. Like all Tim Burton films, Sweeney Todd is visually stunning. I recall his film, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, one of the most visually and aesthetically pleasing films I have ever seen.

I remember watching and loving a recording of the Broadway play, Sweeney Todd, featuring Angela Landsbury as Mrs. Lovette, while in high school. I have to say that the film brings out the darkness of Sondheim's vision more acutely. Starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, both of whom sing the music for their respective roles, the film has what I would call a punk, bordering on goth, aesthetic, which makes the film gripping. You really cannot go wrong with this tandem, along with Alan Rickman, who is now the film villain par exellance, playing Judge Turpin (as in turpitude), and Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat) as the slimey fake Pirelli.

Of particular note is the song, sung by Depp and Bonham Carter in Mrs. Lovette's Pie Shop, A Little Priest. This song, along with No Place Like London, captures well Sondheim's dark view.

TODD: For what's the sound of the world out there?
LOVETT: What, Mr. Todd? What, Mr. Todd? What is that sound?
TODD: Those crunching noises pervading the air!
LOVETT: Yes, Mr. Todd! Yes, Mr. Todd! Yes, all around!
TODD: It's man devouring man, my dear!
BOTH: And [LOVETT: Then] who are we to deny it in here?
TODD: (spoken) These are desperate times,
Mrs. Lovett, and desperate measures are called for!
LOVETT: Here we are, now! Hot out of the oven!

It was Guy Fawkes who said, in 1604, "The desperate disease requires a dangerous remedy" perhaps echoing, according to the Oxford Dictionary in quotations, the Latin axiom "extremis malis extrema remedia".

Of course, they take "man devouring man" to whole new levels:

TODD: The history of the world, my love -- . . .
Is those below serving those up above . . . ow gratifying for once to know . . . That those above will serve those down below!

I was not disappointed. Sondheim's dark vision captures well the alienation of the world, which is appropriate in light of yesterday's brief allusion to original sin. Of course, for Sondheim, hope must be checked at the door of reality. Even when the beautiful Johanna is rescued from Bedlam and taken to the barber shop by her beloved, the sailor Anthony, only to be left to await his return while he goes to procure a carriage to spirit them away to live happily ever after, when Anthony tells her "When we’re free of this place all the ghosts will go away.", she looks at him, according to the stage directions, "very intensely" and says: "No, Anthony, they never go away."

This is view laid out in a bare manner at the very beginning, with the barber Barker, having taken the nom de meutre Sweeney Todd, returning to London after having been at sea, singing his part of the song No Place Like London, a London captured well and more hopefully by Charles Dickens:

There's a hole in the world like a great black pit
and the vermin of the world inhabit it
and its morals aren't worth what a pig can spit . . .
At the top of the hole sit the privileged few
Making mock of the vermin in the lonely zoo
turning beauty to filth and greed...

Sondheim's vision, especially as realized by Tim Burton, is at once dark and challenging. "It didn't say much, but it only confirmed that the center of the earth is the end of the world." Am I plagued by caring? I don't think so.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Vive il Papa

First of all happy anniversary to His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI. Three years ago today he was elected by his brother cardinals to walk in the shoes of the Fisherman from Galilee. I found myself greatly encouraged by the Holy Father who, in the first paragraph of his homily for the Votive Mass for the Universal Church, celebrated with priests, deacons, and religious, at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, said to all priests, deacons, and consecrated religious:

"I am happy to celebrate this Mass with you, who have been chosen by the Lord, who have answered his call, and who devote your lives to the pursuit of holiness, the spread of the Gospel and the building up of the Church in faith, hope and love."

These words are both an encouragement and a challenge. The Holy Father reminds me what a privilege it is to serve God's holy people. Indeed, it is a privilege, not an honor. An honor is something earned, a privilege is something granted. First of all, I am grateful to the Lord for the privilege of serving. Second, I am grateful to Bishop Wester for allowing me to serve. Last, but not least, I am grateful to the people I serve for allowing me the privilege and for all their encouragement, love, and understanding.

On a completely unrelated note, we watched Juno last night. Perhaps I will write something on it, but suffice it for now to write that it is a great film. It is moral without being moralistic, which, no doubt, will cause many to mistakenly believe it to be immoral.

Original Sin

As Bruce Springsteen once wrote: "They say Eve tempted Adam with an apple
But man I ain't going for that"
- Well, neither is Lawrence. OP, who writes, about a wallpaper he created:

"Of course, I need to add as a theological point, that the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was not an apple. Rather, there is a pun in Latin: 'mala' is an apple, 'malum' is evil. I think this is how the apple became identified with the eating of this fruit, an act of disobedience to the divine will, through which sin entered the world." An interesting thesis and no doubt a contributing factor, but I think the literal understanding of the forbidden fruit of the tree is more complex.

(Diaconal bow to the Ironic Catholic)

While I am on the issue of sin, there is a post on The Cathedral of the Madeleine RCIA Blog regarding Purgatory, which is an effort to answer some questions regarding this doctrine of the faith.

Friday, April 18, 2008

"If they would just as soon forget/ all disguise"

REM's new album Accelerate is a return, a journey backwards and forward. They went to Dublin last year, where they are and have been wildly popular for many years, in order to debut the songs for their new album live. They have an official website, remdublin 2.0. Check it out and please pray they come to SLC. If so, I am leading a pilgrimmage to the concert. Dear friends, Supernatural Superserious is our Friday traditio. You can also check out a great interview with the guys in Spin. I love the punk hook: "Nobody cares and no one remembers and nobody cares". Awareness is life.

While I am on my Friday kick, I read a very nice, short interview with Robert Downey, Jr. It is along the same lines as the one with Kim Deal, both of whom are in my age group:

"On Addiction
"Anyone who can't go five minutes without a cigarette, or can't stop drinking or is strung out on drugs, knows that after a while there develops an attachment to the ritual of using it that has little to do with your original motive. The original impetus was to feel its effect, and the effect seemed positive at the time."

"But if years down the road you are still saying, 'Baby, I do it because it makes me happy,' you don't really mean it."

"On What He Wants for His Son
"What I want for my son is for him to be honest and happy."

This teenagestation is where my oldest son is at. Along with Robert Downey, Jr., I want the same for my sons and my daughters. Knowing that you are loved, that you are cherished, that the lives of others, indeed, the world would be incomplete, poorer, without you is so very important to our flourishing. For those of us who did not get that message loud and clear, it causes life-long issues.

The ritual of use, indeed. Kim Deal of the Breeders and Pixies openly discusses her former ritual in her recent Spin interview: "When I was drinking, it was like, go to the bar for eight hours or get a 12-pack at the house. It was exactly the same every day - it was the most boring thing".

We need ritual, rituals are fundamental to being human. So many people tell me that what draws them to the Church is ritual. What is strange is that many feel like they need to apologize for being attracted by ritual, that somehow such an attraction is shallow, superficial, inauthentic. On the contrary, it is what resonates most deeply within in us. Religion gives us the rituals we need to be healthy and happy, forgiven and healed. Rituals are vital in our on-going discovery of who we are, which is beloved children of the God who is love and wants us to call him Abba, Father. As the Apostle writes:

"For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, 'Abba, Father!' The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us" (Rom. 8,14-18). Everybody comes not from somewhere, but from someone. All human beings share a common origin, which truly makes us sisters and brothers. So, on this Friday, don't forget from whom you came or to whom you are returning. Let Jesus Christ, present to us in the Eucharist, to quote Archbishop Niederauer, give "meaning and purpose and direction to everything else in our lives".

For takes and snippets on the Holy Father's Apostolic Journey, please see our parish blog, The People of St. Mary Magdalene.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Urgently needed: The development of a healthy understanding of sexuality

"Children deserve to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships. They should be spared the degrading manifestations and the crude manipulation of sexuality so prevalent today. They have a right to be educated in authentic moral values rooted in the dignity of the human person. This brings us back to our consideration of the centrality of the family and the need to promote the Gospel of life. What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today? We need to reassess urgently the values underpinning society, so that a sound moral formation can be offered to young people and adults alike. All have a part to play in this task – not only parents, religious leaders, teachers and catechists, but the media and entertainment industries as well. Indeed, every member of society can contribute to this moral renewal and benefit from it. Truly caring about young people and the future of our civilization means recognizing our responsibility to promote and live by the authentic moral values which alone enable the human person to flourish. It falls to you, as pastors modelled upon Christ, the Good Shepherd, to proclaim this message loud and clear, and thus to address the sin of abuse within the wider context of sexual mores. Moreover, by acknowledging and confronting the problem when it occurs in an ecclesial setting, you can give a lead to others, since this scourge is found not only within your Dioceses, but in every sector of society. It calls for a determined, collective response" (from the Holy Father's address to the bishops of the U.S., delivered yesterday at a Vespers service in the National Basilica of the Immaculate Conception).

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Holy Father's Apostolic Journey

Today marks the arrival of the Holy Father in these United States for a very busy Apostolic Journey to New York and Washington. This will likely be the only visit of the Pontiff to these shores during his Pontificate. Without a doubt his most important address will be the one that is really the reason for his visit, the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York on Friday, 18 April. He will also meet with and talk to the bishops of the United States and Catholic educators among others.

Reuters reports from an aiborne press conference that the Holy Father, in his characteristically forthright and gentle manner, when asked, addressed the sex abuse scandal in the U.S. and pulled no punches, saying: "We will absolutely exclude pedophiles from the sacred ministry". Further, he acknowledged being "deeply ashamed and will do whatever is possible so that this does not happen in the future". In addressing the scandal that has rocked the Church in this country for some six years now, he also addressed the shortage of priests, saying that everything that can be done will be done to screen candidates for the priesthood "so that only really sound persons can be admitted. It is more important to have good priests," the Holy Father said, "than to have many priests".

Let us keep him in our prayers during these days and always. It is a blessing to receive support from the Holy Father on tax day. Ours are complete as of 11:15 PM last night- Deo gratias!

Monday, April 14, 2008

"the children of those who murdered the prophets"

This morning I read and reflected the twenty-third chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel in which Jesus has very harsh words for the scribes and Pharisees. This picked up on some reflections I have been engaging in regarding pastoral ministry lately. Specifically two things I have recently posted. One from Saturday in which I wrote that "It is a constant battle not be a phony in my pastoral ministry. I'll be honest, I fail because I need to 'finish the task'. What is the task? Or, more fundamentally, is there a task?" The second instance was something I reflected on earlier this month: "I know that in pastoral ministry, when people seek advice and counsel, most often the last thing they are looking for is to be challenged in their lives by the Gospel, by the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. Hence, too often, what counts for pastoral ministry is what most counsellors would call enabling behavior, amounting to nothing more than telling people what they want to hear, watering down Jesus' call to discipleship". So, as always, Jesus' words are also for us, for the Church and for me specifically.

Among the several appellations given to the scribes and Pharisees by our Lord is "blind guides" (Matt. 23,16). This blindness, observes Stanley Hauerwas, "is not unrelated to their desire to be guides" (Matthew pg. 199). Even in the Church, those who want to lead and who are even called to lead "often fear those they lead" (ibid). Specifically, "they fear hurting those they lead", mistakenly thinking "that their task is to make the life of those they lead secure" (ibid). Disciples of Jesus are not called to lead lives of safety and security. Yesterday's second reading shows that the earliest disciples understood the radical nature of Christian discipleship: "But if you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps" (1 Pet. 2,20b-21). Peter tells us that our calling is to suffer for doing good. In other words, suffering for doing good is our baptismal vocation. Suffer we will, but we must not suffer in a silly manner, in ways that are Pharisaical, but in an authentic, not a dramatic, fashion.

Those of us who lead in the Church sometimes "hide from [ourselves] what [we] know to be true because [we] think that those whom [we] lead cannot bear the truth" (Hauerwas pg. 199). Hauerwas concludes that the same lack of sight that plagued the scribes and Pharisees "is a blindness that threatens the church no less than any people" (ibid). There is a difference, however, the "difference between the Pharisees and those who would lead Jesus's people is that the latter lead a people who have no reason to fear the truth" (ibid). The truth dear friends is that we are close to God's "upside-down kingdom", but if we wish to enter we must learn "to live as a people who believe that Jesus is the resurrected Lord" (ibid). Those who learn this and allow their lives be illuminated by this truth are free and joyful. Too often we "become lost amid attempts," like the Pharisees, "to make our difference depend on matters that do not matter" (ibid). For example I am not Catholic because I do not eat meat on Fridays, I do not eat meet on Fridays becaues I am a Catholic. I remain free to have a hamburger, especially if I observe the penitential nature of Friday in some other way, like performing acts of charity, which is probably better. I do not attend Mass on Sunday because I am Catholic, I am Catholic because I attend Mass on Sunday. These examples are not just shallow attempts at playing Captain Conundrum, but efforts to get things the right way 'round. Yesterday, quite by accident, I stumbled across a homily preached by Archbishop Niederauer at Most Holy Redeemer parish in San Francisco's Castro district last Fall, in his characteristically wonderful and clear manner of speaking he made this point very well and linked it back to the central act of our faith- Eucharist:

"Around the Archdiocese of San Francisco, when I talk to our young people at Confirmation, I remind them and their families of the same truth that I’m calling to your attention this morning. Do you recall what probably bothered the Pharisees most about Jesus Christ? His awful taste in people! Their exact words were: 'This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!' And twenty centuries later, Jesus Christ is still welcoming sinners and eating with them. Indeed, feeding them with his own Body and Blood.

"We Catholics are a Eucharistic people. We are not a people who believe that, on the night before he died, Jesus had supper with his apostles and told them, 'Crawl the mall in memory of me.' Or, 'have brunch in memory of me.' No, we are the people who believe that, on Holy Thursday night, Jesus took bread, broke it, and said, 'This is my Body.' Then he took the cup filled with wine, and said, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood.' Then Jesus said, 'Do this in remembrance of me.' So each Sunday, the Lord’s Day, we do this in remembrance of Jesus Christ, and we believe that it gives meaning and purpose and direction to everything else in our lives, even the mall and the brunch."

Eucharist, which means simply giving thanks, is the key that unlocks our baptismal calling of learning to live as a people who believe that Jesus is the resurrected Lord, with whom we have died, been buried, and risen to new life. Hence, it is the key to living authentically, that is, truthfully.

Hierarchy update

Last week was monumental in the realm of episcopal appointments for the Church in the United States. Two new ordinaries were named by the Holy Father, Bishop Richard Edmund Pates, an auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis was named bishop of Des Monies, Iowa and Fr. Anthony Basil Taylor of the clergy of the archdiocese of Oklahoma City was named bishop of Little Rock, Arkansas. In the naming of these two new ordinaries the Holy Father created no new vacancies.

Further, the Holy Father named three new bishops who will serve as auxiliaries: Msgr. James Douglas Conley of the clergy of the diocese of Wichita, Kansas as auxiliary of the archdiocese of Denver. Fr. Oscar Cantu of the clergy of the archdiocese of Galveston-Houston as auxiliary of San Antonio. Fr. William J. Justice of the clergy of the archdiocese of San Francisco, as auxiliary of San Francisco. Msgr. Justice's appointment gives Archbishop Niederauer an auxiliary to replace our bishop, John Wester, who has been in Salt Lake City just a little over a year.

With these appointments the number of ordinaries serving beyond the mandatory retirement age of 75 remains the same at ten. These prelates are Cardinals Maida and Egan of Detroit and New York respectively, as well as Archbishops Hughes of New Orleans; 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; Tafoya of Pueblo, CO; Cullen of Allentown. PA. Archbishop Brunette of Seattle turns 75 early in 2009. Bishops Peña of Brownsville, TX; Carmody of Corpus Christi, TX; Higi of Lafayette in Indiana are all 74. It also 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 vacante dioceses in the United States now number seven, those being Charleston, South Carolina; Knoxville, Tennessee; Green Bay, Wisconsin; St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; Juneau, Alaska; New Ulm, Minnesota; Biloxi, Mississippi.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A prayer for a Sunday

Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara, Archishop of Olinda and Recife, Brazil (1964-1985-died 1999):

"Come Lord!
Do not smile and say
you are already with us.

Millions do not know you
and to us who do,
what is the difference?
What is the point of your presence
if our lives do not alter?

Change our lives, shatter
our complacency.
Make your word
flesh of our flesh,
blood of our blood
and our life's purpose.

Take away the quietness
of a clear conscience.
Press us uncomfortably.
For only thus
that other peace is made,
your peace."

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A prayer request for Fr. Thomas Kraft, OP

I added a new link to the Spirituality section of my blog. It is a link for Fr. Tom Kraft, OP. He is a Dominican priest without whose ministry I would not be Catholic- Okay, that is not the world's best endorsement. By way of redemption, he was instrumental in helping me discern that I was not called to be a priest. So, precisely because of his ability to deal with difficult pastoral cases, like me, he is a gifted, loving, and prayerful priest, the likes of whom the Church could use a lot more - Anyway (Phil Hartman as Vickie in So I Married An Axe Murderer eye roll), he is seriously ill with cancer. He witnessed our marriage and baptized our oldest child. I remember being poor graduate students with a small baby and living in a fourplex and Fr. Thomas coming over to our apartment for a pastoral visit and holding our little guy, ever so tenderly and tentatively. He belonged to a group of fellow Dominicans, who called themselves the Pilgrim Friars, who did some great bluegrass and gospel music- he is a guitarist. One of my nicest memories is of Fr. Thomas, another dear brother, Rob, and I having a Mass, just the three of us, in a small chapel in a Cistercian monastery. In short, he is just a great person and a wonderful priest.

Please pray for him and for all who suffer from cancer in all of its various and debilitating forms. Our hope, I know Fr. Thomas' hope, is in Jesus Christ our Lord. I remember attending a football game with Fr. Tom and somebody, in exasperation, yelled Jesus! He quickly chimed in at the top of his blessed lungs- IS LORD! Amen- Alleluia!

"Spitting in a wishing well"

The Breeders song Cannonball, while not, at least in my book, the quintessential Breeders (a band with an ever-changing lineup apart from the Deal sisters) song, it is still cool and probably their biggest hit. Why The Breeders, why today? Well, I read an interview in Spin today with Kim Deal, who is back living in her native Dayton, taking care of her mother who suffers from Alzheimer's, along with her sister, Kelley. In her wonderfully frank, dismissive and yet kind way, she discusses her sobriety. In answering the question

"Did you fear that sobriety would affect your ability to make good music?", she answers:

"Oh yeah. Not doing drugs had such a bad connotation for me: If you didn't do drugs, you were boring. But now I find it way more fraught with danger- in a good way. Every time I go up and talk to somebody, it's like, 'Hello, this is going to be awkward and weird in a few seconds because I am f******g part of it.' Which is way more interesting than it was before. It's strange and I really like it. And it's ugly- it's so awful and ugly everyday."

I can relate. It may seem weird to people who know me, but I am not really a people person. It is a constant battle not be a phony in my pastoral ministry. I'll be honest, I fail because I need to "finish the task". What is the task? Or, more fundamentally, is there a task? Blogging is therapeutic for me and, at times, when I use it improperly (i.e., using it to gain approval, to get an ego boost, or as a confessional), a bit passive-aggressive , which is why I maintain accountability with what I write. That being written, some of the best meetings I have had with people, especially those in recovery who have asked me to help them spiritually, have consisted of maybe twenty words over an hour. The silence is awkward at first, with some people this awkwardness remains, which is not helpful, but being with someone and feeling comfortable enough to be quiet is something that is healing. It is a gateway to prayer, a way to communicate. Kim Deal's insight really challenged my modus operandi. I have to quit feeling like I always have to meet expectations and have an opinion. Even if I have a word, an opinion, a correction, some information, I do not feel like sharing it, which is okay. My week away was so very badly needed.

So, the questions are all wrong- the question is Why not Pixies? This is our late traditio.

Oh, and because of accountability and the nature of this blog, I feel the need to disclaim that the kissing is a person (i.e., Kim Deal) kissing herself in the mirror. While I am disclaiming and, on a bit of a passive-aggressive note, it bears pointing out that my blog was first called Scott Dodge for Nobody, riffing off an old KRCL Sunday night program that I miss terribly, Tom Waits for Nobody. Maybe I am just feeling inferior because no dedicated reader has come up with a cool Καθολικός διάκονος banner.Mon Dieu! That is so passive-aggressive that even if somebody offered a banner I'd reject it. See how weird and circular such reasoning is? It is not healthy.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A brief interlude

Rublev's Ikon of The Trinity
I will be gone this week. So, I will not be posting. In the meantime, continue enjoying Easter, this most blessed season. Remember, dear friends, our hope, expressed most beautifully in the resurrection of our Lord, "is that God would have us share the life of love called Trinity" (Hauerwas, Matthew, pg 192).

There is a Psalm prayer for the first Psalm (i.e., Ps. 93) of Lauds of the third Sunday of the Psalter:

"All power and all authority in heaven and on earth have been given to you, Lord Jesus; you rule with decrees that are firm and trustworthy. Be with us always so that we may make disciples whose holiness will be worthy of your house"

May we be disciples whose holiness will be worthy of the House of the Lord, to which we return on this Dies Domini. Remember also that to be holy is nothing else than to love perfectly and that love- agapé, caritas, charity- along with faith and hope, is a theological virtue. In other words, it is a gift from God. Therefore, our love is only ever a response to the love that is God, who is Father, Son, and Spirit: "In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins" (1 Jn. 4,8). So, to love in the way we should is a grace. It is not earned, lest we boast and become self-righteous, which is the worst outcome of all! May we never lose sight of the fact that "God is greater than our hearts and knows everything" (1 Jn. 3,20).

While I am writing about the theological virtues, there is still no Easter encyclical letter from the Holy Father. On the other hand, there have been two episcopal appointments, with the likelihood of at least one more prior to the Pontiff's arrival on these shores. If reports prove true, Little Rock, Arkansas will have a new bishop. The Razorback state's only diocese has been vacant for nearly 23 months, since the transfer of His Excellency, Bishop Sartain, to the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois.

Friday, April 4, 2008

"you might feel a shaft of light make its way across your face"

Since I mentioned Natalie Merchant and 10,000 Maniacs in last week's traditio I have had this song (These Are Days) on my mind, along with a lot of Mazzy Star, which I have been listening to while driving, especially at night, I thought this would make a nice early Spring traditio for a Friday. Besides having such a distinctive and powerful voice and being a great artist, Natalie is one of those women who have appeared on the American music scene whose life is so very consonant with her art. For further proof of this check out her Wonder video. Like Patti's live performance last week, this performance is a trip down nostalgia lane. I remember hearing this song once in a dark period and it gave me hope, it is translucent, the light just shines through it and through Natalie, like a lovely stained glass window. It is a song of gratitude, which is the beginning of authentic spirituality, there is no other starting point than realizing "it's true

"That you are blessed and lucky
It’s true that you
Are touched by something
That will grow and bloom in you"

Our mission is nothing more or less than showing every human being this truth about herself and all of us together, nothing else really matters except becoming who we are, who God created us to be. In order to do this we need each other. Don Giussani gives us our working definition of the human person: "direct relationship with the Mystery". Dear friends, this is the fundamental truth of our existence and the very reason that there is anything at all. So, I offer this song, Wonder, and many other things (i.e., songs, poems, films, novels, plays, etc.) from our contemporary culture in refutation of the many "prophets of doom". I feel really compelled this morning, largely at the instigation of Brother Bluebird, who has returned to once again inhabit our backyard this Spring and Summer, to quote Il Papa Buono, who once observed: "In the daily exercise of our pastoral ministry -- and much to our sorrow -- we must sometimes listen to those who, consumed with zeal, have scant judgment or balance. To such ones the modern world is nothing but betrayal and ruin. They claim that this age is far worse than previous ages, and they rant on as if they had learned nothing at all from history-and yet, history is the great Teacher of Life." With Papa Roncalli, I, too, "feel bound to disagree with these prophets of doom who are forever forecasting calamity -- as though the world's end were imminent. Today, rather, Providence is guiding us toward a new order of human relationships, which, thanks to human effort and yet far surpassing human hopes, will bring us to the realization of still higher and undreamed of expectations."

While I am on the subject of remarkable women, courtesy of my dear friend Rocco over at Whispers, here is a link to an article in the latest edition of the U.K.'s Tablet on Dorothy Day in anticipation of the forthcoming publication of her diaries. Robert Ellsberg also remembers Dorothy in Commonweal- subscription required to read the article and otherwise highly recommended. A bit closer to earth and to home, Sharon, writing over on Clarity Daily, shares a life-giving experience that, too, is about remarkable women.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Living lives of love

"To be a Christian is to be called to a life of love, but that calling is a lifelong task that requires our willingness to be surprised by what love turns out to be" (Hauerwas, Matthew, pg. 194). It might be good to also add that we must be willing to be surprised by what love turns out not to be. "In particular," Hauerwas continues, "the separation of love from the one who has come to teach us what it means to be loved by God by making us disciples tempts [us] to sentimental accounts of love. As a result, accounts of Christian morality are often hard to distinguish from utilitarianism." To wit: When we "make love a relatively unspecified ideal," a touchy, feely account of what Msgr. M. Francis Mannion might call wheat fields and waterfalls, we "are tempted, if not willing, to do great evils that good may come because [we] have lost the skills necessary to discern good from evil" (Matthew, pg. 193). It might also be the case, at least individually, that we have never acquired the necessary skills because we are too often jonesing for an emotional fix, wanting to be affirmed in behavior that needs to change.

I know that in pastoral ministry, when people seek advice and counsel, most often the last thing they are looking for is to be challenged in their lives by the Gospel, by the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. Hence, too often, what counts for pastoral ministry is what most counsellors would call enabling behavior, amounting to nothing more than telling people what they want to hear, watering down Jesus' call to discipleship. It is important to keep in mind that the Good Shepherd does not and never has pastored his sheep in this way. Now, lest I be misunderstood, I am not proposing the opposite extreme, namely that pastoral ministry consists of beating up on people who are already down, for whatever reason(s), in the belief that what people always need is a kick in the pants. I am proposing the development of the skills necessary to discern good from evil, which, in the immortal words of Boston, is more than a feeling. It actually involves the use of reason. Using our reason in such acts of discernment, thinking with Christ, which is thinking with the Church, is an act of love (Matt. 22,37). Far from always being an affirmation, such a discernment can lead us to conclude that we must do what we do not necessarily want to do, what is the difficult and not the easy thing.

The internet broadcast of the Mass for the Second Sunday of Easter from The Cathedral of the Madeleine, at which I had the privilege of preaching in the presence of Bishop Wester, despite the fact that it has Bishop Wester as the homilst, is now available for viewing. Thanks Fred!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Iohannes Paulus II- ora pro nobis

O Blessed Trinity
We thank You for having graced the Church with Pope John Paul II
and for allowing the tenderness of your Fatherly care, the glory of the cross of Christ, and the splendor of the Holy Spirit, to shine through him. Trusting fully in Your infinite mercy and in the maternal intercession of Mary, he has given us a living image of Jesus the Good Shepherd, and has shown us that holiness is the necessary measure of ordinary Christian life and is the way of achieving eternal communion with you. Grant us, by his intercession, and according to Your will, the graces we implore, hoping that he will soon be numbered among your saints.

Three years ago today Karol Wojtyla went home to the Father's house.

Hierarchy update

This morning it was announced that the Holy Father has named Bishop Thomas Rodi of Biloxi, Mississippi as archbishop of Mobile, Alabama. Bishop Rodi is 59 and succeeds Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb, the nation's longest-serving metropolitan, who reached the retirement age of 75 back in October 2006.

This appointment adds Biloxi to the list of sede vacante dioceses, which decreased to eight for one day and is now back at nine. It makes sense for a vacancy to be created for a metropolitan (i.e., archdiocesan) see, especially when filled by a bishop from within the metropolitan province, like Rodi.

Archbishop Lipscomb's retirement decreases the number of ordinaries serving past age 75 from eleven to ten. I left Bishop Cullen of Allentown, PA off the list in yesterday's update- it is corrected.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Hierarchy update

The Holy Father has appointed Msgr. Michael Duca, currently rector of Holy Trinity Seminary in Dallas, Texas, a priest of the Diocese of Dallas, TX, as bishop of the Diocese of Shreveport, LA. Bishop-designate Duca succeeds Bishop William Benedict Friend, who retired in December 2006 at age 75. It is important to note that, like the past several appointments, no vacancy was created to fill this one.

This appointment finds the number of ordinaries serving beyond the mandatory retirement age of 75 on the rise, currently numbering eleven. 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; Tafoya of Pueblo, CO; Cullen of Allentown. PA. Archbishop Brunette of Seattle turns 75 early in 2009. Bishops Peña of Brownsville, TX; Carmody of Corpus Christi, TX; Higi of Lafayette in Indiana are all 74. It also 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 are now Charleston, South Carolina; Knoxville, Tennessee; Green Bay, Wisconsin; Des Moines, Iowa; St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; Juneau, Alaska; Little Rock, Arkansas; New Ulm, Minnesota.

Jesus Christ, the liberator of humankind

Nativity mural at Batahola Norte Community Center in Managua, Nicaragua

In a really insightful article, Fr. Roger Haight, S.J., whose book, Jesus Symbol of God, merited a notification from the he Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, masterfully condenses developments in theology since the Second Vatican Council in seven stages, with one stage, stage three, being divided in two. The first part of stage three, which deals with the development of liberation theology, or, better stated, theologies of liberation is summarized in this way, with two lessons:

"Stage 3: Gutiérrez, Segundo, Sobrino, Ellacuría
Latin American Liberation Theology

"Two fundamental elements reflect the essential logic of liberation theology. The first is negative experience, which leads to an awareness of the dehumanized condition of large numbers of people. The experience has three dimensions: a situation is wrong; we know it could and should be different; the contrast fuels an urge to right the wrong. What does Christian theology say to this situation?

"The second fundamental element of liberation theology seeks to answer that question. The response appears embryonically in Luke’s parable of the Good Samaritan, which can be read as dramatizing the principle that love of God is displayed as love of neighbor. The truth of the principle is conveyed with climactic force by the shocking fact that only the Samaritan had internalized it. Modernity adds a conviction that beyond tying up the victim’s wounds, true love will make the road to Jericho safe for all. With this addendum liberation theology rewrites the parable for the whole world.

"Lesson 4. Social practice is an intrinsic dimension of Christian faith from which one cannot prescind. One of the deepest principles liberation theology presents to the Christian community is that action and practice are not just the consequences of faith, but the intrinsic testimonial of its authenticity. As Ignatius of Loyola postulated in his Spiritual Exercises, 'Love ought to manifest itself more by deeds than by words' (No. 230). For this love to be effective and authentic, it must be directed against the causes of human suffering.

"Lesson 5. Social-ethical considerations are intrinsic to theological understanding. Catholic theology has come to a new realization of the social ethical implications of Christian faith. After a period of separation between theology and ethics, theology has recognized the necessity of accountability. In 1971 the essential link between faith and justice was written into magisterial teaching when the World Synod of Bishops wrote that 'action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the gospel' (Justice in the World, Nov. 30, 1971)" (America Vol. 198 No.9- subscription required and recommended).

Bible scholar Luke Timothy Johnson, writing in Commonweal, responds to the CDF's notification of Fr. Sobrino's Christology. Johnson shows that there is still something of a phobia about all things that smack of the liberation theology. Without a doubt theology is an ecclesial endeavor. Therefore, any theology that merits the name is subject to authority. Nonetheless, it seems that there needs to be more of a dialogue and perhaps a way of reading that does not assume the worst. Any serious work of theology is always a bit ambiguous and begs for more dialogue, facilitates dialogue and brings not only reason, but experience, into contact with faith, seeking to make sense of human experience in the light of faith.

It is a new month, April, the day for foolery. We have snow on the ground and we have already been in Easter for more than a week. It is all weird, but in a good way, in a way that makes me more attentive and aware. Lent was intense, Easter is proving even more intense, busier. Spring means life, Easter means a lot of sacraments, the media through which God communicates his divine life to us.

Happy April Fool's Day!

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 ...