Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"the full force of love's glory"

St. Diadochos of Photiki (ca. 400-ca. 485), in his work On Spiritual Knowledge, wrote something that I find very enlightening, especially in response to Kiekergaard's account of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac in Fear and Trembling:

"Faith without works and works without faith will both alike be condemned, for he who has faith must offer to the Lord the faith which shows itself in actions. Our father Abraham would not have been counted righteous because of his faith had he not offered its fruit, his son (James 2:21; Romans 4:3)

"He who loves God both believes truly and perfoms the works of faith reverently. But he who only believes and does not love, lacks even the faith he thinks he has; for he believes merely with a certain superficiality of intellect and is not energized by the full force of love's glory. The chief part of virtue, then, is faith energized by love" (Philokalia, vol 1, pg. 258)
In this passage, he argues against the all too common reduction of faith to mere belief. Faith in God through Christ when conceived of mere as belief is an abstraction, an intellectual exercise, while our intellect must consent and see that what we believe is harmonious with reason, if we stop there, we pull up far short of destiny. Here, too St. Diadochos teaches us:

"The loving and Holy Spirit of God teaches us, as we have said, that the perceptive faculty natural to our soul is single; indeed, even the five bodly senses differ from each other only because of the body's varying needs. But this single faculty of perception is spilt because of the dislocation which, as a result of Adam's disobedience [original sin], takes place in the intellect through the modes in which the soul now operates" (pg. 260).
This is why we make weird distinctions, like subject/object and faith/works. Divine love overcomes all barriers erected by sin, original and personal.

Along with Fr. Thomas Kraft, OP, I commend Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, who is in hospital undergoing treatment for cancer as we enter this new year, to your prayers. Fr. Neuhaus is the founder and editor-in-chief of the journal First Things. I do not know him personally, but I have benefitted tremendously over the years from his sage insight and his wry wit.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The pearl of great price

"We haven't given them wealth. We haven't built up a family empire. What we have given them is their faith... There's nothing of greater value we could have given them." Those were the words of the late Deacon Thomas Knestout, a permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, about his nine children, all of whom practice the faith and two of whom became priests, one of those, Barry, is being ordained a bishop today in Washington's Cathedral of St. Matthew. Bishop-elect Knestout's principal consecrator is the man he will assist as an auxiliary, His Excellency, Archbishop Donald Wuerl, shepherd-in-chief of our nation's capital.

"the hope of all the ends of the earth"

By the Mercy of God
Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch
To the Plenitude of the Church
Grace, peace and mercy from the Savior Christ, born in Bethlehem

Beloved brethren and children in the Lord,
The great and sacred day of Christmas has dawned, the metropolis and mother of all feasts, inviting each of us to spiritual uplifting and encounter with the Ancient of Days, who became an infant for us.

As St. John of Damascus underlines: “By the grace of God the Father, the only begotten Son and divine Word of God, who is in the bosom of the Father, consubstantial with the Father and the Holy Spirit, the pre-eternal and perfect God, who is without beginning, condescends to us as His servants, becoming fully human and achieves that which is newer than new, the only new thing under the sun.” (On the Orthodox Faith) This incarnation of the Son of God is not merely symbolical, like the other incarnations of the numerous gods in mythology; it is reality, a truly new reality, the only new thing under the sun, which occurred at a specific historical moment in the reign of the Emperor Octavian Augustus some 746 years (according to new astronomical data) since the establishment of Rome, in the midst of a specific people, from the house and line of David (Luke 2.4), in a specific place, namely Bethlehem of Judaea, with a very specific purpose: “He became human in order that we might become divine,” in accordance with the succinct expression of Athanasius the Great. (On the Divine Incarnation 54)

The event of incarnation of God’s Word grants us the opportunity to reach the extreme limits of our nature, which are identified neither with the “good and beautiful” of the ancient Greeks and the “justice” of the philosophers, nor with the tranquility of Buddhist “nirvana” and the transcendental “fate” or so-called “karma” by means of the reputedly continuous changes in the form of life, nor again with any “harmony” of supposedly contradictory elements of some imaginary “living force” and anything else like these. Rather, it is the ontological transcendence of corruption and death through Christ, our integration into His divine life and glory, and our union by grace through Him with the Father in the Holy Spirit. These are our ultimate limits: personal union with the Trinitarian God! And Christ’s nativity does not promise any vague blessedness or abstract eternity; it places “in our hands” the potential of personal participation in God’s sacred life and love in an endless progression. It grants us the possibility not only “of receiving adoption” (Gal. 4.5) but also of becoming “partakers of divine nature.” (2 Peter 1.4).

Of course, amid the global confusion and crisis of our time, these truths have a strange echo. Most people’s hope, resting on worldly “deities,” is falsified on a daily basis in the most terrible ways. The human person is humiliated and crushed by numbers, machines, computers, stock markets, and diverse flags of vain ideological opportunism. Nature is blasphemed; the environment groans; young people despair and protest against the injustice of the present and the uncertainty of the future. “Darkness, clouds, storms and noise” (Deut. 4.11) prevail in our world, giving the impression that even the light of hope that dawns in Bethlehem is threatened with extinction and the angelic hymn of universal joy – “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will to all people” (Luke 2.14) – is in danger of being overcome. Nevertheless, the Church calls everyone to sober attention, re-evaluation of priorities in life, and pursuit of divine traces and value in every other person of respect toward the image of God. Indeed, the Church will not cease to proclaim – with all the strength acquired by its two millennia of experience – that the child that lies in the manger of Bethlehem is “the hope of all ends of the earth,” the Word and purpose of life, redemption sent by God to His people, namely to the whole world.

We share this good news with much love from the martyric Throne of the Great Church of Christ in Constantinople, proclaiming it to all children of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and to every person that thirsts for Christ, invoking upon all of you the mercy, peace and grace of God, together with the saving gift of the only-begotten Son of God, who came down from the heavens – for us and for our salvation – and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, becoming human. To Him belong the glory, power, honor and worship, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, to the ages.

At the Phanar, Christmas 2008
Fervent supplicant to God for all
Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Year B The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

Readings: Sir. 3:2-6.12-14; Ps. 128:1-5; Col. 3:12-21; Luke 2:22-40

On this first Sunday after Christmas, we observe the Feast of the Holy Family. Our readings today largely consist of wise ways to live as families. Our first reading from Sirach is likely a commentary on the fourth commandment, in which we are commanded to honor our parents. In the view of many commentators, this commandment is a bridge between the first three commandments about loving God and the final six about loving our neighbor. According to this schema parents are rightly situated between God and other people.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul provides us with a list of values that are to be nurtured in the family. It is in the family that children first experience compassion and kindness. It is within the family that children’s spirits are shaped by gentleness, love, and forgiveness so they can bestow these on others as disciples of the Lord Jesus. This feast reminds us that every family, regardless of its composition and circumstances, is called to be holy.

While it is true that families come in many different configurations, due to broken marriages, resulting from sin, human weakness, abandonment, and abuse, while others are diminished by death, and still others that, due to certain circumstances, are single-parent families, all of which have value beyond measure and are to be strengthened and supported, it remains true that the family, consisting of mother, father, and children, is the natural norm as well as the ideal, an icon of the Holy Trinity. One reason for this is eminently practical: growing up in a home with both a mother and a father, on the whole, remains the healthiest way for children to be brought up.

Families are diminished in our time because marriage is diminished, thus placing us far from the cultures that constituted the context of these readings. One thing that ought to set Christians apart, making us salt and light, especially right now, is living our belief that marriage is a "covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of [children]" (Can. 1055 par. 1). Along with Holy Orders, matrimony is a sacrament in the service of communion. Therefore, Christian marriage is never merely a private arrangement between two people; it always has an ecclesial and public character.

But our confusion is more fundamental than misunderstanding the nature and purpose of marriage. We seem to be increasingly confused about what it means to be human. Recently, Pope Benedict called for a new “ecology of man,” an ecology of the human person "understood in the correct sense" (Christmas greetings to the members of the Roman Curia and Prelature). Ecology refers to the pattern, or totality, of relations between organisms and their environment. The new ecology of man called for by the Holy Father is more fundamental because it is prior to the pattern of relations between humanity and the rest of the natural world. As human beings we only understand ourselves "in the correct sense" by acknowledging the fact that we are made in the divine image. Unless we have a correct understanding of ourselves, we cannot relate properly others or to the rest of creation. So, the Pope tells us when "the Church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman and asks that [the] order of creation be respected, it is not the result of an outdated metaphysic. It is a question… of faith in the Creator and of listening to the language of creation" (Christmas greetings).

In the first of the two distinct creation narratives we find in Genesis, we read where "God said: 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground.' God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them" (Gen. 1:26-27). Marriage can be a sacrament in the service of communion only because it is first a sacrament in the service of creation, instituted from the beginning by the Creator and made part of God’s covenant with humanity by Christ. This is a major "part of the message that the Church must recover" in order to give witness to God’s presence in nature "and in a particular way in the nature of man" (Christmas greetings).

Nothing contributes more to our confusion about what it means to be human than in what "is often expressed and understood by the term 'gender'" (Christmas greetings). Differing views concerning the human person in this regard can be put into two broad categories: sacramental and gnostic. A sacramental view of the world and of the human person sees "that the stuff of the world – including maleness, femaleness, and their complementarity — has truths built into it" (Weigel The End of the Anglican Communion). By contrast, "gnostics say it’s all plastic, all malleable," that, in essence, we create and re-create ourselves (Weigel The End of the Anglican Communion). A gnostic view is a fallen view, a way of looking at the created order as something from which we must emancipate ourselves. Rather than liberation, such a view is an assertion of the self against reality, a rejection of one’s finitude, a contradiction of our very being. As Christians we reject gnosticism in all its viral mutations.

When we consider the Holy Family it is easy to become sentimental. In recent years, however, we have recovered the human context of the Incarnation from the perspective of Mary, an event that made her, for a time, an unmarried, pregnant teenager. But in order to see the bigger picture, we need to recover the perspective of St. Joseph, too. He was betrothed to a young woman, with whom he had not had relations, but who turns up pregnant before coming to live with him. Despite this, he did not abandon her, but accepted the will of God, which, even though made known to him by an angel, must have remained incomprehensible and difficult for him, especially in the months leading up to the birth of the divinely conceived child. It is the kind of manliness exemplified by St. Joseph that we desperately need today. After all, the collapse of the family falls disproportionately on women and children, crushing many. The need for this kind of responsibility is reflected in the divine command to ancient Israel to care for the widow and the orphan, something for which they were frequently chastised by God through the prophets for failing to do. The crisis of fatherhood today, which results in the grave sin of men failing and refusing to provide materially, emotionally, and developmentally for their children, stems from our rejection of the family as an institution ordained by God through nature and grace.

By taking their newborn son to the Temple, Joseph and Mary, as faithful members of God’s people, acted in obedience to God’s commands out of their love for the child and for God. This, dear friends, is what it means to be holy! Christian parents are to do the same by being married in the church and by not delaying baptism for their children. By asking the church to baptize their children, parents take upon themselves the tremendous responsibility of raising them in the practice of the faith, of doing all in their power, with God’s help, to transmit their faith in Jesus Christ, expressed so eloquently in our Gospel by the old man Simeon, to their children by word and example. If the birth of Jesus Christ and the lives of the saints teach us nothing else, they teach us that holiness is objective and concrete, not abstract. "Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways" (Ps 128:1).

Nota bene:

Sharon posts something that illustrates the reality of what it means to experience these things instead of just talking about them: My Daughter Is Getting Married Today. For us, holiness comes through living. Hence, it is a journey, albeit one with a destination. While we can only start from where we are, we move forward in the awareness of our destiny and of the Presence that accompanies us, which Presence often takes the form of a witness, that is, a friend. In sharing virtual friendship this morning on the joyous occasion of the marriage of Sharon's daughter, Suzanne drew our attention to our need to develop our capacity to carry.

Reason for concern

BBC News

Israel continues its air strikes into Gaza in the hopes of putting a stop to the indiscriminate firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel. As I mentioned yesterday, it is important to keep in mind that the Gaza strip, from which Israel unilaterally withdrew in 2005, after occupying it for 38 years, turning it over to the Palestinian Authority, is now controlled exclusively by Hamas, which, among its other objectives, seeks to eliminate the State of Israel. Hamas took control of Gaza in June 2007 after a brief Palestinian civil war.

The West Bank, which constitutes the geographically separate other portion of the autonomous Palestinian National area, is controlled by the Palestinian Authority, under Mahmoud Abbas. It is the PA that is recognized by the world community, including the U.S., as the legitimate government of all Palestinian areas. So, there are tensions between Palestinians in addition those between Israelis and Palestinians. Below is a map by the BBC showing the breakout of areas.

While the right of countries to defend themselves is legitimate (would we stand idly by while cities bordering Canada were indiscriminately attacked from the other side of the border?), there is also the need to for proportionality and limiting the potential for death or injury to non-combatants. Let us continue to pray for peace in this troubled land.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Feast of St. John Apostle and Evangelist

Today is the Feast of St. John, a day for priests, just as St. Stephen's is a feast for deacons. I am thankful for all the priests I know and I have the privilege of knowing quite a few. God is good and Christmas is a grand season.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. The violence unleashed today in Gaza by Israel is in retaliation for the continued rocket attacks into Israel. Gaza, which is geographically separated from the West bank, is controlled by Hamas, not by the more moderate Palestinian Authority, with whom Israel has been in negotiations. It is odd that just a few days ago Israel opened the border crossings into Gaza at the request of U.N. envoy Tony Blair. This seemed a step in the right direction.

Friday, December 26, 2008

St. Stephen- pray for us

Today is my patronal feast, the Feast of St. Stephen, the day on which good King Wenceslaus looked out. I was planning on assisting at Mass, but the weather put a stop to my plan. Frankly, we were lucky to get back up the mountain last night after visting family. We were powered by listening to Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales. We listened to it on a local NPR program, Radio West. It was a re-broadcast of a program recorded in 2005 that featured commentary by the late Welsh poet, who resided in Utah, Leslie Norris. Norris was a recipient of the Madeleine Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts and Humanities. I enjoyed his commentary almost as much as Thomas' poem.

St. Stephen is a great companion and friend. In earlier times, a person's saint day was a big deal, not quite as big a deal as one's birthday, but a day on which people wished people well, sent them a card, or called them on the phone. St. Stephen's day is also traditionally something like a day for deacons.

Pietro de Cortona, The Stoning of St Stephen, 1660

The immediate cause of the stoning of this Greek-speaking Jew was his fearless preaching, making him the first Christian to die for the faith:
"'No, you took up the tent of Moloch and the star of (your) god Rephan, the images that you made to worship. So I shall take you into exile beyond Babylon.' Our ancestors had the tent of testimony in the desert just as the One who spoke to Moses directed him to make it according to the pattern he had seen. Our ancestors who inherited it brought it with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out from before our ancestors, up to the time of David, who found favor in the sight of God and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the house of Jacob. But Solomon built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says: "The heavens are my throne, the earth is my footstool. What kind of house can you build for me? says the Lord, or what is to be my resting place? Did not my hand make all these things?" You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always oppose the holy Spirit; you are just like your ancestors. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They put to death those who foretold the coming of the righteous one, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become. You received the law as transmitted by angels, but you did not observe it.'

"When they heard this, they were infuriated, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, filled with the holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, 'Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.' But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together. They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them'; and when he said this, he fell asleep" (Acts 7:43-60).

St. Stephen- pray for us!

Thursday, December 25, 2008


Dear friends, keep in mind that Christmas only starts today. It goes until the Baptism of the Lord on 7 January. So, celebrate, enjoy- don't tear down and throw away!

Giotto, 1266-1337

Two items:

The Holy Father's Christmas Urbi et Orbi message and

Fr. Carrón's letter to the editor of the Italian Daily La Repubblica Christmas and Hope

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

"she gave birth to her firstborn son" (Luke 2:7a)

Let us rejoice together in the Incarnation of Christ the Lord!

Affection for our humanity is affection for creation

Today I have posted two items over on Cahiers Péguy, a joint endeavor of various celini, who, in the words of Charles Péguy, are "a perfectly free association of men who all believe in something," spearheaded by Sharon: Petitio Principii in California and Defending love.

The second post is the section of the Holy Father's annual Christmas speech to the Roman Curia. The overarching theme of his remarks was pneumatology, or, how the Holy Spirit is at work in the world and how the Church is to give expression to the truth. In this portion of his speech, which has proven to be very controversial, he calls for an "ecology of man, understood in the correct sense," and makes mention of Humanae Vitae, which readers of these pages know was promulgated forty years ago this year. His Holiness recommends reading, or re-reading, this encyclical, the intention of which "was to defend love against sexuality as a consumer entity, the future as opposed to the exclusive pretext of the present, and the nature of man against its manipulation."

What is at stake? "It is a question here of faith in the Creator and of listening to the language of creation, the devaluation of which leads to the self-destruction of man and therefore to the destruction of the same work of God. That which is often expressed and understood by the term 'gender', results finally in the self-emancipation of man from creation and from the Creator." His point here is that we cannot properly care for creation if we do not properly care for ourselves, for our humanity. This is captured well in the title given to the retreat for CL's International Assembly of Responsibles: Faith: The Ultimate Expression of an Affection for Oneself.

I also considered entitling this post The condition of our liberty, not its contradiction.

With a few hours of Advent left and half of Hanukkah yet to go, here is a great Hannuakkah/Christmas song, reminding us that Jesus was, indeed, a Jew:

Greece: a reason for concern

Anne Applebaum, writing over on Slate, where Fr. James Martin, SJ also has a delightful article on St. Joseph, asks What's Going On in Greece?: Do riots in Athens portend demonstrations in Paris and Cincinnati?

The riots in Greece began in Athens on 6 December when a 15 year-old young man, Alexis Grigoropoulos, was shot and killed by police. Oddly enough, the situation in Greece came up at the beginning of our adult Sunday School class this past week. Rioting in modern Greece is nothing new, as Applebaum points out, but, she notes:

"even if Greece is unserious, even if anarchist subculture has uniquely deep roots in Athens, even if Greek corruption and youth unemployment are unusually high—it's a mistake to dismiss these riots as altogether peripheral. If nothing else, they show what can happen to a highly developed, post-ideological society where organized politics no longer interests large groups of people. One sympathizer says the rioters can be divided into three groups: communists, anarchists, and 'younger people who like to think that they are anarchists but … don't know what they stand for. They are the ones who have been looting … they feel the only way to make themselves heard is to do these things.'"
She is certainly correct to note that the thinking of rioters "isn't exactly sophisticated." She goes on to observe that this upheaval, "among other things", is "being conducted to the strains of Pink Floyd ('We don't need no education, we don't need no thought control')."

What is noteworthy about all this is the incredibly precarious situation in which more and more people are daily finding themselves in the U.S. All of this is exacerbated by the series of exit interviews being done by President Bush and Vice President Cheney, both of whom, with logic defying seriousness, are arguing that their eight years in power, six of which they had a majority in both houses of Congress, were a success across the board. Add to that the banking and financial industry bailout and the almost outright refusal of help to automobile companies and the recent attempts by the incoming to administration to downplay expectations, expressed well by Vice President-elect Biden about the "exceedingly high expectations" other countries have for the Obama presidency, and you have a great deal of lingering uncertainty and growing resentment.

Given all of this it is easy to share Applebaum's concern about those who are not sure why they no longer have a job and who do not "have the political vocabulary to explain what's wrong" and who doubt that they have leaders capable of fixing it, that for these folks "random violence" may come to be seen as "a plausible response." Let's hope that the answer to her second question is "No".

"This is the good news the prophets foretold: The Savior will be born of the Virgin Mary" (Antiphon for Mid-morning Prayer, 24 December).

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Original sin: "It is a fact"

In his 3 December Wednesday audience, the Holy Father, teaching on St. Paul's Letter to the Romans 5:12-21, said this about original sin:

"However, as people of today we must ask ourselves: what is this original sin? What does St Paul teach, what does the Church teach? Is this doctrine still sustainable today? Many think that in light of the history of evolution, there is no longer room for the doctrine of a first sin that then would have permeated the whole of human history. And, as a result, the matter of Redemption and of the Redeemer would also lose its foundation. Therefore, does original sin exist or not? In order to respond, we must distinguish between two aspects of the doctrine on original sin. There exists an empirical aspect, that is, a reality that is concrete, visible, I would say tangible to all. And an aspect of mystery concerning the ontological foundation of this event. The empirical fact is that a contradiction exists in our being. On the one hand every person knows that he must do good and intimately wants to do it. Yet at the same time he also feels the other impulse to do the contrary, to follow the path of selfishness and violence, to do only what pleases him, while also knowing that in this way he is acting against the good, against God and against his neighbour. In his Letter to the Romans St Paul expressed this contradiction in our being in this way: 'I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want' (7: 18-19). This inner contradiction of our being is not a theory. Each one of us experiences it every day. And above all we always see around us the prevalence of this second will. It is enough to think of the daily news of injustice, violence, falsehood and lust. We see it every day. It is a fact.
In his Christmas speech to the members of the Roman Curia, delivered yesterday, the Holy Father addressed a plethora of issues, among which he offered this his insight:

"What is often expressed and signified with the word 'gender' leads to the human auto-emancipation from creation and from the Creator. The human being wants to make himself on his own and to decide always and exclusively by himself about what concerns him.

"But, in so doing, the human being lives against the truth and against the Spirit creator. Rain forests deserve, yes, our protection but the human being - as a creature which contains a message that is not in contradiction with his freedom but is the condition of his freedom - does not deserve it less."
Predictably, some groups that encourage people to assert themselves against reality are upset. I especially appreciate the magisterium of the BBC's instruction, which seeks to answer the question What does the Bible actually say about being gay? Yes, that last remark was a sarcastic one, but what ridiculous pretension on the part of the secular media, a not uncommon occurence.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Gaining wisdom of heart

From Psalm 90, the first Psalm of Morning Prayer this Fourth Monday of Advent:

"Our life is over like a sigh. Our span is seventy years or eighty for those who are strong. And most of these are emptiness and pain. They pass swiftly and we are gone. Who understands the power of your anger and fears the strength of your fury? Make us know the shortness of our life that we may gain wisdom of heart."
Indeed, may we know the passing nature of this life and turn to Christ, who is the wisdom of God and who endured God's wrath on our behalf, and live.

After initially posting this, I read an item posted by Deacon Greg over on The Deacon's Bench about the death last week of Paul Weyrich, a fellow Catholic deacon, albeit not a Roman Catholic deacon. May his memory be eternal.

As to the issue of addressing deacons in the Eastern churches brought up by Deacon Keith Fournier in his remembrance of Weyrich, my Syriac priest friend calls me Father Deacon Scott. While this may grate on the ears of Latins, it is an ancient and venerable greeting for deacons in the East, where the diaconate as permanent order, while it certainly declined over time, never completely disappeared, as it did in the West. I am in no way arguing for the importation of this form of address into the Western church. I just think it is something that shows what is demonstrated well by James Monroe Barnett in his book The Diaconate: A Full and Equal Order, namely that the diaconate is a full and equal order, arguably older than the presbyterate.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The day nears...and is here

"Sound the trumpet in Zion; the day of the Lord is near; he comes to save us, alleluia" (Advent Antiphon 1, Week IV of the Psalter). Sine dominico non possumus= We cannot live without Sunday because Jesus comes to us each Sunday, in our gathering, in the reading and hearing of God's word, and in the bread and wine. Only he can and will right every wrong for he is "Strong God" and "Ruler of all" (Advent Antiphon 2, Week IV of the Psalter). So, joy, light, and peace to all on this, the final Sunday of this Advent, as we continue our waiting in joyful hope, together.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Apparently change=a new oligarchy

What the hell, here's another post on a Saturday during which I have chosen to do little, close to nothing, really, except read, write, and think a little bit. Anyway, I add my voice to that of Mr. Wieseltier, writing for The New Republic about how tiresome Important People have become, especially in the aftermath of President-elect Obama's 4 November victory. The promised change seems to be taking the form of a new elitism. I also heartily second the thoughts expressed by Mr. Friedman in his New York Times editorial, The Great Unraveling.

From Important People: "No class of Americans has done more to damage America than the financial class. A generalization is an ugly thing, but every day's newspaper refreshes my impression that the titans, the insiders, the big players, the boldfacers, the movers and the shakers-the hoshover menschen, as we say where I come from-have been, many of them, fools or thieves." He also writes correctly about how appointing Caroline Kennedy to the Senate would be an "obvious mutilation of the meritocratic ideal." Bushes, Clintons, Kennedys, Murkowskis. It stands to reason that hereditary and martial political dynasties are inherently undemocratic.

How is this generalization about the financial class accurate? Let's turn to Tom Friedman for an answer:

"I have no sympathy for Madoff. But the fact is, his alleged Ponzi scheme was only slightly more outrageous than the 'legal' scheme that Wall Street was running, fueled by cheap credit, low standards and high greed. What do you call giving a worker who makes only $14,000 a year a nothing-down and nothing-to-pay-for-two-years mortgage to buy a $750,000 home, and then bundling that mortgage with 100 others into bonds — which Moody’s or Standard & Poors rate AAA — and then selling them to banks and pension funds the world over? That is what our financial industry was doing. If that isn’t a pyramid scheme, what is?"

Who besides Bernard Madoff, who turned himself in, has even been indicted? Did nothing untoward or illegal occur in the respective collapses of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns? What about that hole in A.I.G. that $125 billion of taxpayer money has not been able to fill? Given that, why not chuck $14 billion, a mere 11.2% of what's been flushed down the A.I.G. toilet, Detroit's way? For that matter, what about Mr. Paulson and his oh so urgent bailout, which appears to be nothing but another brazen executive power-grab by the Bush Administration? Dear Hank, what has your scheme to keep those whom you personally deem to be important people afloat corrected, fixed, or gotten headed in the right direction, how many foreclosures has it forestalled? Why is the only fix I ever hear mentioned more consumer spending? Isn't this ridiculous, given that more and more people do not even have jobs? Besides, isn't out-of-control spending, lending, and borrowing what got us into this mess in the first place? If I understand this idiotic reasoning correctly, we do not need regulatory reform and sounder national economic policies, consumer education, better personal financial discipline, and higher overall savings rate. No, our broken and shattered economy will be fixed by everyone buying new microwaves and iPods on our credit cards; that's like saying our greenhouse gas emission problem will be solved by everyone returning to the use of coal furnances and barbecuing with charcoal brickettes every night, while idling our cars in our driveways. Hey, it's almost Christmas and, as Ricky Bobby might say, "Baby Jesus needs a new pair of shoes!" Let's go for broke! Wait! We're already broke! Well, it was fun while it lasted.

At least as regards politics, promises of change and hope notwithstanding, "Ain't no use in prayin'/Thats the way its stayin". Good thing that is not where our hope is placed. All of this elcits a Primal Scream, dedicated to the leading lights of the financial class.

Deep diaconal bows to Paper Clippings and Sharon for keeping track of things over on Cahiers.

Philosophical stuff for an Advent afternoon

"Let Φ (a physical possibility structure) be a set of distinct but intersecting paths ji–jn, each of which is a set of functions, L’s, on ordered pairs {t, w} ({time, world situation}), such that for any Ln, Lm in some ji, Ln R Lm, where R is a primitive accessibility relation corresponding to physical possibility understood in terms of diachronic physical compatibility."
That is from David Foster Wallace's senior thesis in Philosophy entitled Richard Taylor’s ‘Fatalism’ and the Semantics of Physical Modality, retrieved last week by James Ryerson for his New York Times magazine essay Consider the Philosopher.

I post this logical explanation because it explains a lot for me and (who knows?) possibly about me. The logical world of symbols is what I cut my intellectual teeth on. Like DFW and many others it is a limited and retarded world, meaning it slows up and prevents further growth and development. The need to move beyond looking at the world through the lens of logical modality is what I believe caused a change in the trajectory of Wittgenstein's philosophical work. After all, it was W who wrote, in notes published as Philosophical Grammar: "One of the most dangerous ideas philosophically is, oddly enough, that we think with, or in, our heads. The idea of thinking as an occurrence in the head, in a completely enclosed space, makes thinking something occult." It was also a way get around the enclosed space of the head that caused Husserl to develop his phenomenological method, by means of which he sought to overcome the hard and fast subject/object distinction posited by Descartes, a problem with which Kant also grappled in his Critique of Pure Reason.

It was in 1985, with the logical proof above, that DFW refuted a problem introduced by philosopher Richard Taylor in his article Fatalism, published in 1962. The thesis set forth by Taylor holds "that human actions and decisions have no influence on the future."

Proving Camus was correct in his contention that "[t]here is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide" and demonstrating that he was perhaps ironically expressing a kind of fatalism when he wrote, "I'll say God seems to have a kind of laid-back management style I'm not crazy about. I'm pretty much anti-death. God looks by all accounts to be pro-death. I'm not seeing how we can get together on the issue, he and I . . .," DFW killed himself on 12 September 2008. I tried reading some of his writings after that as a sort of homage, but I couldn't and still cannot. His fiction is not for everyone, laden with notes and asides and positively teeming with contingencies and sketches of what it is to be human now. Infinite Jest is his most well-known novel and the source of the above DFW quote. Should you read it? I don't know. I remain fascinated by the book, but I don't recommend it often. I think Ryerson hit the nail on the head when he wrote this about DFW:

"But Wallace was also wary of ideas. He was perpetually on guard against the ways in which abstract thinking (especially thinking about your own thinking) can draw you away from something more genuine and real. To read his acutely self-conscious, dialectically fevered writing was often to witness the agony of cognition: how the twists and turns of thought can both hold out the promise of true understanding and become a danger to it. Wallace was especially concerned that certain theoretical paradigms — the cerebral aestheticism of modernism, the clever trickery of postmodernism — too casually dispense with what he once called 'the very old traditional human verities that have to do with spirituality and emotion and community.'" (underlining added by me)
So, what DFW was grappling with was the complex and intertwined knot of fatalism, relativism, and most of all the late modern human tendency to subjectvisim, the most extreme form of which is solipsism, and the (consequent/subsequent?) breakdown of community, especially given the (seemingly contradictory) rise in social (global?) consciousness. Hence, the prominent role that addiction plays in his fiction, something pulled in from his experience. There is a quote in the segment on Thomas Merton from the Hearing Voices broadcast, Yes to God, done by Noah Adams way back in 1980, in which Fr. Matthew Kelty, Merton's last abbot, says something that has some bearing on this, too, while answering a question about why Merton remained a Trappist.

The dangerous idea that human actions have no bearing on the future, which the whole season of Advent refutes, is tackled brilliantly, that is, humorously and humanely in an episode of the only sci-fi series I have ever liked and followed, Red Dwarf. This installment of the series is entitled Cassandra.

Keep in mind that the point here is that what we do now matters and that while we may not be absolutely free, we are, at least in the vast majority of circumstances in which we find ourselves, free enough to be able to do what is good and resist evil. This insight seems simple, but fatalism, in its various forms, many of which are religious and all of which embrace Taylor's thesis, is very prevalent, especially as it pertains to final things, even among Christians. Let us remember what Pope Benedict insightfully wrote in Spe Salvi:

"Grace does not cancel out justice. It does not make wrong into right. It is not a sponge which wipes everything away, so that whatever someone has done on earth ends up being of equal value. Dostoevsky, for example, was right to protest against this kind of Heaven and this kind of grace in his novel The Brothers Karamazov. Evildoers, in the end, do not sit at table at the eternal banquet beside their victims without distinction, as though nothing had happened" (par. 44).
I wrote about DFW six days after his death in a post, the title of which is taken from Kiekergaard's Fear and Trembling, called "if the basis of all that exists were but a confusedly fermenting element . . .", featuring Cake. What I hope shows through is how faith not only complements reason, but completes it, and how this completion results in true knowledge. In other words, reason and faith are interdependent and intersubjective- rationalism, fideism, and solipsism are ways of looking at the world that do not and cannot allow us access to reality. These modes are what Giussani would classify as predispositions, which often lead to dangerous ideologies.

Rounding out the year in sex on Καθολικός διάκονος

I posted a lot this year on a subject usually and understandably avoided. But how can we remain silent in the face of so much confusion, of so much ideology, of so much propaganda? While not a major contribution to anything, I have collected what was lacking in my previous post on this delicate matter. So, from the most recent to the earliest, I offer thoughts and observations on marriage, chastity, and sex in general:

A song for nobody: remembering Fr. M. Louis

Seemingly random associations left seemingly random

Humanae Vitae and the communio sanctorum

An amateur stab at moral reasoning

A humane view "Of Human Life"

Starting from a positive hypothesis: marriage is unity

Bl. Louis and Marie Martin, pray for us

A few brief thoughts on chastity and teens

Hiatus interrupted to bring you this message

Humanae Vitae turns 40, part II

Humanae Vitae turns 40

"I think, therefore I am," but what about God?

The on-going need for natural theology

Urgently needed: The development of a healthy understanding of sexuality

"Send [Wisdom] forth from your holy heavens and from your glorious throne dispatch her That she may be with me and work with me, that I may know what is your pleasure" (Wisdom 9:10 from Saturday Morning Prayer, Week III of the Psalter).

Active elsewhere

I have been posting frequently over on our parish blog, The People of St. Mary Magdalene. Just this morning I have posted two new items:

Two years in the Areopagus and

You will bear a son

Like a lot of people this year, I have been posting the O Antiphons. The ones I have been posting are the ICEL translations found in the English Liturgy of the Hours.

Thanks once again to my dear brother Alex for being attentive and pointing me to the new Flash movie on the CL website.

"The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary..." So, as we prepare to usher in the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we pray

Veni Sancte Spiritus, veni per Mariam

Don't miss Deacon Greg's Homily for December 21, 2008: Fourth Sunday of Advent.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A certain way of seeing human (female) persons

I posted about several things this past year serially. Sexuality was a major theme. It will continue to be, as I am working on a short post, in which I want to sunmmarize key insights from an article published in Communio back in 2006, by David S. Crawford, entitled Liberal Androgyny: "Gay Marriage" and the Meaning of Sexuality in Our Time. I digress. So, below is a series, posted in May, about a certain strain of post-feminist theorizing. The problem with theorizing, a problem that Crawford also addresses, which is a problem that extends all the way back to that Greek theorist, Pyrrho, whose idealist theory led him to a skepticism so extreme that he had to no way verify his own existence, is that it renders abstract what we has to be concrete. All of which reminds me of Samuel Johnson's refutation of the idealist, Bishop George Berkeley; upon stubbing his toe, Johnson quipped "I refute him thus!" Hence, all it takes to de-bunk such a theory is to ask a simple question- If one were to order one's life according to this theory, how would s/he live? I write about the suicide of Karen Bach to demonstrate this with regard to the theory espoused by certain post-feminists:

The cinema on sex

Life as dirty joke: one post-feminist perspective


Baise Moi- literally, pardon my French

The evil dynamic of lust: the story of Amnon, son of David

The last post leads me to link with Unlocking the Scriptures.

Originally posted by Daphne and re-posted by her friend, Crissy, who also escaped the hell of the so-called sex industry:

"It's important to warn people who are mesmerized by the glamour of pornography (both men and women) before they get themselves into a mine field, making decisions to be in and part of a world which ends up looking more like guerilla warfare in Vietnam than glamour in Paris.

"A lot of girls walk blindly into stripping and porn and then end up in situations like mine. This industry feeds off young girls who are insecure and broken, promising them fortune and glamour. I was so damaged, I would get on stage the night after having been raped. G-d forbid that I'd have to pay extra fines for being absent or late. I've seen girls have major drug overdoses and walk right back into work. It's a mode of survival. And these companies don't care about the damage they are doing to the girls; they are thinking about how much money they can get out of a girl before she has been worn in and torn out.

"The industry is all about selling a fantasy. It's like a mirage in a desert. You are so thirsty and then go to a pond of water. After the fantasy fades, you lay there, your mouth full of sand and more in need of water than you were at the beginning. Only, you'd be lucky if that were the worst thing that could happen to you from buying a fantasy. You'd be real lucky. Some people pay with their lives."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Retrievals from the 2008 archive

Like last year, I looked back over this past year and picked a post for each month, based on highly subjective criteria, that I think most significant. I welcome observations by readers on their favorite posts as a way of gauging what, if any, of these words matter or mean anything to anyone else. I found it heartening that none of my political posts made my own cut! I do not know how much I will post between now and the new year, some, but probably not a lot. So, I thought I'd do this now. This year's 368 (so far) posts falls far short, thankfully, of last year's 427. 2008 marked my second full year (January-December) of blogging. This is my blog's 978th post.

January: St. Paul and us: The event of an encounter along the way

February: Feelings re-visited

March: On being "the forgiven"

April: Living lives of love

May: Life as dirty joke: one post-feminist perspective

June: Prophets

July: Humanae Vitae turns 40

August: Giussani on melancholy

September: Obedience

October: True education starts from a positive hypothesis

November: Starting from a positive hypothesis: marriage is indissoluble

December: A fundamental question

I also want to remember Seattle Beginning Day: An event that becomes an encounter over on Is It Possible?.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Prepare our hearts

Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, ever faithful in your promises
and ever close to your Church: the earth rejoices in hope of the Savior's coming
and looks forward with longing to his return at the end of time.
Prepare our hearts and remove the sadness that hinders us from feeling the joy
which his presence will bestow, or he is Lord for ever and ever

(Alternative prayer for 3rd Sunday of Advent).

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Santa Lucia- ora pro nobis

St. Lucy's day, which comes a week after St. Nicholas' memorial, marks another high point in our household during Advent. The following is a slightly re-edited re-post from 2006.

Santa Lucia was a young Sicilian girl who promised God she would live as a virgin in devotion to Christ. Despite her desire, Lucy's mother arranged to marry her off to a pagan suitor. Lucy sought to dissuade her mom by means of a miracle. To that end, Lucy began praying at the tomb of St. Agatha (another Sicilian saint who was martyred between 250-253) that a hemorrhage from which her mother suffered would be cured. When her hemorrhage got better and completely stopped, Lucy's mother agreed to cancel the proposed marriage.

The pagan suitor did not take the cancellation well and sold Lucy out as a Christian. Authorities went to collect her, planning on forcing her into prostitution -- but they were unable to budge her, even after tying her to a team of oxen. She was then tortured by having her eyes torn out. They'd planned on torturing her by fire, too, but the fires kept going out. She was then killed by being stabbed in the throat with a dagger. She was martyred in 303 AD, during the Diocletian persecution. Do we, like St. Lucy, in our "struggle against sin" resist "to the point of shedding blood" (Heb. 12:4)? How do we give witness, martyria?

Because of the above, St. Lucy is the patron of those with eye problems, and is often depicted carrying her eyes, usually on a plate, and/or being tied to a team of oxen, with St. Agatha, or before her judges. Her relics lay in Syracuse for hundreds of years, were translated to Constantinople, and then to Venice where they may be venerated at the Church of San Geremia. Her head was sent to Louis XII of France, and reposes in the cathedral of Bourges, which is the Cathedral of St. Etienne, or St. Stephen- my patron.

Her name, "Lucia," means "Light," and light plays a role in the customs of her Feast Day. In Italy, torchlight processions and bonfires mark her day, and bowls of a cooked wheat porridge known as cuccia is eaten because, during a famine, the people of Syracuse invoked St. Lucy, who interceded by sending a ship laden with grain.

In Sweden on St. Lucy's day, the oldest daughter of a family will wake up before dawn dressed in a white gown for purity, often with a red sash as a sign of martyrdom. On her head she will wear a wreath of greenery and lit candles, and she is often accompanied by starboys, her small brothers who are dressed in white gowns and cone-shaped hats that are decorated with gold stars, and carrying star-tipped wands. "St. Lucy" will go around her house and wake up her family to serve them special St. Lucy Day foods. This is a custom, which, thanks to my lovely wife, we have observed the last nine years, since our oldest daughter was three. I rejoice in our domestic Church!

give us courage through the prayers of Saint Lucy.
As we celebrate her entrance into eternal glory,
we ask to share her happiness in the life to come.

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


While I am on the beauty of devotions, Rocco writes of the five million of our sisters and brothers, which comes to "[t]wo and a half times the number of Muslims who've spent the past week on Hajj in Mecca," who went to Mexico City yesterday to observe the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupé. If this is not an Advent sign of hope, then I do not know what one looks like!

A fundamental question

I turn now to Camus, but through the medium of filmmaker Lance Hammer, who won best director at this year's Sundance film festival for his film Ballast. In his philosophical analysis of suicide and the absurdity of life, Le Mythe de Sisyphe, Camus declared that "[t]here is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy". Ballast features a character named Lawrence who is shut-down by the suicide of his brother and seeks a reason to go on living. In an interview in Cineaste, speaking of Lawrence, Hammer says:

"Every human being should consider why we think about suicide. [Camus'] myth of Sisphyus comes to mind. I think it's important to understand it. We need to understand how it works, and we need to embrace the very dark side of existence. Only then can you have any chance of experiencing joy. And though my characters may not become forever joyful, they will be able to recognize beauty and recognize the beauty of being alive"
Camus himself wrote in the The Invincible Summer, "Live to the point of tears".

Friday, December 12, 2008

Our Lady, who brings Jesus to all people, pray for us

On this the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupé, following closely on the heels of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a beautiful rendition of the Hail Maria- the Ave Maria- is the most appropriate, if predictable, traditio for this second Friday of Advent.

Blessed Mother- To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve.

This thought occurred to me: I do not want the church to stop teaching and telling the truth just because I am unable to reconcile myself and/or live perfectly as a disciple of Jesus Christ. That is why I pray to the one, Mary, who, by a unique and singular grace, was able to.

Today marks the promulgation of the long awaited Dignitatis Personae by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Picking up on our Merton quote from yesterday, this document, building on the church's moral teaching, seeks to deal with ethical issues that arise in arena of biomedical research. It also provides guidance on how to respect human life and human procreation in the wake of scientific advances. More in due course.

We implore the intercession of our Blessed Mother on behalf of Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ, who died this very morning.

Veni Sancte Spiritus, veni per Mariam

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A song for nobody: remembering Fr. M. Louis

As I have written before, it is difficult for me write about those who have influenced me hugely, be it my dear Wittgenstein, Camus, von Balthasar, or, in this case, Pater Tom- Thomas Merton, known also as Fr. M. Louis, O.C.S.O. Today marks the fortieth anniversary of his death by accidental electrocution while attending a monastic conference in Thailand. Suffice it to say that his autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain, which, like the Confessions of St. Augustine, will remain a spiritual classic, was hugely influential for me, as it has been and continues to be for many. I read it after completing Cardinal Newman's spiritual autobiography, Apologia Pro Vita Sua. The combined influence (confluence/comfluence?) of these books, along with regular Mass attendance and a wonderfully welcoming community, are the reasons I finally decided to become Catholic almost twenty years ago.

The book by Merton that I cherish, that I read and re-read, is Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. So, in memory of this spiritual master, who is something of a father and brother to untold thousands, here is an excerpt, an extract that seems to show he had read some Heidegger, especially H's The Question Concerning Technology:
"The central problem of the modern world is the complete emancipation and autonomy of the technological mind at a time when unlimited possibilities lie open to it and all the resources seem to be at hand. Indeed, the mere fact of questioning this emancipation, this autonomy, is the number-one blasphemy, the unforgivable sin in the eyes of modern man, whose faith begins with this: science can do everything, science must be permitted to do everything it likes, science is infallible and impeccable, all that is done by science is right. No matter how monstrous, no matter how criminal an act may be, if is justified by science it is unassailable

"The consequence of this is that technology and science are now responsible to no power and submit to no control other than their own. Needless to say, the demands of ethics no longer have any meaning if they come into conflict with these autonomous powers" (pg 75 Image paperback edition)
While it may seem odd, especially in light the Heideggerian connection, this is a somewhat Ratzingerian point-of-view on science and technology.

Let's not take the easy way out and smugly content ourselves with applying these words externally. Let's look inward, which is what this season is about. I'd like to apply Merton's insight to the realm of our sexuality, namely the contraceptive mindset. As Pope Paul VI tried to teach us in Humanae Vitae, promulgated forty years ago, the contraceptive mindset is nothing less than the de-humanizing intrusion of the technological mind into the most intimate sphere of human relations. This intrusion promises to free us by liberating us sexually. The application of technology to human sexuality, in which sexual gratification is completely severed from procreation, is what makes the production of pornography possible. This false and ideological promise of freedom has resulted in a disastrous reduction of the human person, a reduction we see in the whole Proposition 8 protest, that our sexuality is our identity, that it is the sum total of who and what we are. I am not merely a libido despite the fact that my sexuality is a very transcendental aspect of my humanity.

We are fairly certain that Merton struggled and failed in his vow of celibacy. It is pretty clear that he had an affair with the mysterious M, who apparently was a nurse he met while he was in hospital in Louisville. All indications lead to the conclusion that his relationship with her, which eventually ended, was sexual. While this is serious and seriously wrong, I think it is one reason why many find Merton easy to relate to; he has flaws, like us- big flaws, like us. The lionization of those we deem holy is no doubt what drove Dorothy Day to quip, when told she would be made a saint someday, "I hope they don't dismiss me that easily".

Anything that tries to liberate us from what it is to be human must be rejected, even when it seems attractive, maybe especially when it seems attractive. After all, as Shakespeare observed in The Merchant of Venice, "all that glisters is not gold". This false and ideological kind of liberation tries to bring about utopia, a place found "at the end of another lost highway/signs misleading to nowhere". Of course, utopia means, literally, nowhere. We have a destiny, that is, a destination and it is not nirvana, where the self is annihilated, but the fulfillment of who God, in a pure act of gratuitous love, created us to be. Becoming who we are lovingly made to be is the central theme in the spirituality of Pater Tom. This journey, or pilgrimmage, to ourselves is also captured well in C.S. Lewis' 'Til We Have Faces. Don Giussani's whole pedagogy is about helping us learn, aiding us in knowing, what it truly means to be human, thus teaching us who we are; that one person is no person, that we are companions on a pilgrimmage.

It is too easy to rail against the bulldozers and coal-fired power plants, but we still buy tract homes, drive on roads that destroy wetlands, and use electricity. There are areas where we can make choices that matter, let's focus on those, without giving in on the bigger issues. The take away is that we, too, like Pater Tom, at least to some extent, are guilty bystanders. It is part and parcel of our fallen existence that God seeks to redeem and sanctify. Conversion is a hard word and change is painful. The question, therefore, becomes: What is your confession? This Advent, may our confession also be our hope: Jesus is Christ and Lord!

Another book about Merton that I read and cherish is Song for Nobody: A Memory Vision of Thomas Merton, by his friend, the poet Ron Seitz, whose poetry I also like a great deal.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

We exist for the praise of God's glory

"In him we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the one who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will, so that we might exist for the praise of his glory, we who first hoped in Christ" (Ephesians 1:11-12- underlining mine).

I was struck by these verses at Mass last night for yesterday's solemnity. It puts me mind of Romans 1:20-21: "Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse; for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks." This refusal, according to St. Paul, is what ails the world, an ailment with which the woman who is, by the grace of God and for the sake of our salvation, both virgin and mother, was not afflicted.

We exist to praise God's glory, to show forth his goodness and his love, to always and everywhere give him thanks. This is what it means, fundamentally, to be a Christian- living in the awareness of Christ's Presence by the power of Holy Spirit, a Presence only possible because of the fact of God becoming a man.

Veni Sancte Spiritus, veni per Mariam

Monday, December 8, 2008

Profiles in the new evangelization and Monday morning miscellania

On this the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, let us implore Our Lady to intercede on behalf of my dear brother, Deacon Greg Kandra, who left a very successful twenty-six year career, which included winning an Emmy, at CBS News back in October to become the news director for New Evangelization Television, known as NET. The channel is an endeavor of the Diocese of Brooklyn, his diocese. Deacon Greg also blogs over at the The Deacon's Bench. This sounds like an exciting endeavor! What a great day for a launch!

A deep diaconal bow to our mutual friend Rocco over at Whispers for the post in which you can also read one of Deacon Greg's wonderful homilies, which he also posts on The Bench.

I earnestly pray for the success of this endeavor and for others like it, such as our more modest effort, spearheaded by the Cathedral of the Madeleine's parochial vicar, Fr. Omar Ontiveros, who is on Spanish-language television and radio, both AM and FM. You can visit their website: Valor Catholico.

On yeah, and the Utes are off to New Orleans to play the Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. While I am at, if you have not seen the movie Bella, wow! What a great film.

Today's Solemnity of Blessed Virgin is certainly not miscellaneous, it is of primary importance and so we pray:

Veni Sancte Spiritus, veni per Mariam.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Grant us the vision of wisdom

Father in heaven, the day draws near when the glory of your Son
will make radiant the night of the waiting world.
May the lure of greed not impede us from the joy
which moves the hearts of those who seek him.
May the darkness not blind us
to the vision of wisdom
which fills the minds of those who find him.
We ask this through Christ our Lord
(Alternative Prayer for the 2nd Sunday of Advent).

Saturday, December 6, 2008

St. Nicholas, pray for us

Today is St. Nicholas Day. I mysteriously had some goodies in my shoe this morning, which I had put in front of the fireplace before going to bed. One present on this great saint's day, which, along with Santa Lucia, is a high point of Advent in our household, was Scott Simon's interview with Sir Tom Jones, one of my favorite Welshmen, on Weekend Edition Saturday this morning. Listen to it and hear what a down-to-earth and gracious person he is. His new CD, 24 Hours is on my Christmas list. Besides, I think St. Nicholas tells us To Give a Little Love:

Here is a recent embarrassing moment: It happened last Sunday evening as I was preparing for Sunday Advent Vespers, at which I had the privilege of presiding in the Cathedral. It is a celebration called From Darkness to Light. It is beautiful. During this service, which begins in darkness, the presider processes around the Cathedral behind our world class choir, beginning at the Our Lady Guadalupé shrine, moving to the St. Anthony of Padua shrine, to St. Vincent de Paul, and winding up in front of my favorite shrine in the our lovely Cathedral, the Good Shepherd shrine. Anyway, this liturgy requires a portable microphone, which our chief sacristan, who walks right behind me and who is a good friend, a dear brother, and someone with whom I enjoy joking around, had. Not knowing that the microphone was on, I was joking about warming up my voice. He knows that I am a Tom Jones fan, due to the fact that my Mom was a huge Tom Jones fan. So, I started to sing It's Not Unusual in a very low and quiet voice. A few minutes later a dear sister came from the church back to the sacristy to let us know she could hear us. I was terribly embarassed and apologized. Hey, I am only human!

Friday, December 5, 2008

What the church's sacred ordering (i.e., hierarchy) is really for

If you want something refreshing for today, see Rocco's post on the new Metropolitan Archbishop of the Orthodox Church in America, Jonah and the Wow: An Orthodox Shocker. I cannot remember when I have been more impressed by a pastoral statement by a Christian hierarch, who, among other things, said: "Hierarchy is only about responsibility, it’s not all of this imperial nonsense". I like very much the distinction he makes between forgiving and excusing, which are not even close to being identical. When we forgive, we make a conscious and often very difficult choice. Eis polla eti, despota to Metropolitan Jonah! I pray that even in his responsibilities as metropolitian, he will remain a simple and wise monk, vitally connected to Christ in prayer. I want explore the distinction Metropolitan Jonah introduces.

When we forgive, we acknowledge the wrong, we call out the evil, which we are to resist in ourselves and combat in the world. So, we choose to forgive, we choose to return good for evil in imitation of our Lord, whose disciples we claim to be. This is why, when it comes to actions that wound us deeply, forgiveness is a process, it is making the choice, not just once, but whenever the wound bleeds, to be reconciled instead of remaining estranged. You know what? It hurts and it is hard, which is why we need God's grace, especially the grace we receive in the sacrament of penance. Metropolitan Jonah gives a direct take on the attitude that leads to forgiveness, "My reaction is destroying me and I need to stop it. If I value Jesus Christ and the Gospel and communion with God, I need to stop it and move on." To quote the late Keith Green, the Lord will "take care of the rest". Do you trust the Lord? Letting go of an old grievance is the best way I can think of to make room for the Lord's coming.

By his passion and death, the Lord did not excuse our sins, he paid for them at the cost of his humanity and his divinity. He didn't just die for us, he descended into hell for us- I'll stay with Balthasar contra Pitstick. So, here is one of those hard questions to which I alluded in my previous post today; it is a necessary question: "In your struggle against sin" have you "resisted to the point of shedding blood?" (Heb. 12:4)

It's odd that this should come to my attention on the day that Patriarch Alexi II of Moscow died. I am also reading what is rapidly turning out to be the best theological commentary on a book of Scripture I have ever read. The book is by Philip Cary and is part of the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible series, the same series in which Stanley Hauerwas comments on Matthew, it is simply Jonah, read it! Here is Cary commenting on Jonah 1:14, when Jonah is about to be thrown off the ship headed to Tarshish: "Jonah, alone and miserable, cowering under the wrath of God and waiting to die, has begun to fulfill his calling as a prophet" (pg 68).

"So, you think you can tell..."

One thing our Advent waiting and restraint can help us with is the reclamation of our humanity in an increasingly de-humanized culture. It's a time to ask ourselves if we have sold our baptismal birthright, or exchanged "a walk on part in the war, for a lead role in a cage". If we don't use this time to ask ourselves the hard questions, we're just "running over the same old ground" only to find "the same old fears".

Thursday, December 4, 2008


I know I have posted this great photo by Ben Bell before, but for me this captures Advent as something I experience and not just a lot of nice thoughts set to candlelight. I also posted about hope today on Is It Possible. The image from that posted prompted tomorrow's traditio.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Year B 1st Sunday of Advent

Readings: Is 63:16b-17.19b.64:2-7; Ps 80:2-3.15-16.18-19; 1 Cor 1:3-9; Mk 13:33-37

Today, as we usher in a new year of grace, Jesus tells us to be "watchful" and "alert" (Mk 13:33). But, for what, or for whom are we alertly watching and waiting? We are attentively watching and waiting for nobody other than Jesus Christ himself, whose return, he tells us, will be like that of a man who comes back from a long trip, a return that is not scary for his faithful servants, the ones who are not found sleeping when he arrives. The eager watching and waiting of the faithful servant is not an excruciating exercise in wearily fighting to stay awake. It is an exercise in hopeful expectation, which always has to do with the future.

Because it is what prompts us to look to the future, hope is our most human characteristic. Being human is to experience ourselves "within the tension between the past and the future as [we] pass through the present" (Ratzinger "On Hope," Communio, Summer 2008, 302). "To be without hope, to have nothing to live for, is to surrender to death in despair" (Mark Searle The Spirit of Advent). The opposite of hope is fear. To be fearful is to take a negative stance towards the future, which can never be known with certainty. Fear results from the absence of love, from the experience of life as "No," as nothing but a series of disappointments. At the root of all our fears "is the fear of losing love altogether, fear of an existence in which the little daily disturbances fill everything, without anything large and reassuring" to aid us in keeping it all in perspective (Ratzinger 303).

Each of us can verify through our experience that no matter what we may accomplish, no matter what we acquire, we are still dissatisfied; the largeness of our hope is bigger than ourselves, our desire is bigger than the world. We need something, or someone, that goes beyond that which we can attain or obtain on our own. This is an existential fact, not a theological conclusion. Our acknowledgement of this fact of human existence prompts a question: Are we just absurd beings, always needing more than we have, or is there something, or someone, who can satisfy our longing?

The church proclaims through the ages that Jesus Christ is the answer to our longing, the fulfillment of our desire, as the hymn, Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring, beautifully indicates. Paul, who met the answer to his longing on the road to Damascus, writes to the Corinthian Church about "the grace of God bestowed on [them] in Christ Jesus" (1 Cor 1:4). It is in Christ that, like the Corinthians, we are "enriched in every way, with all discourse and all knowledge" (1 Cor 1:5). Hence, we "are not lacking in any spiritual gift as [we] wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 1:7).

For Christians joyfully watching and waiting is a spiritual gift manifested by our practice of the presence of God. This practice has to begin with the knowledge that we are loved, that our existence is a "Yes" on the part of God. Hence, our answer to Hamlet’s timeless query, then, is that it is always better to be than not to be! So, we work, we learn, we live in the awareness of the Lord’s presence, which is to live in the awareness of God’s love and the promise of Christ’s return, "[w]hen everything is subjected to him… so that God may be all in all" (1 Cor 15:28). The practice of the presence of God teaches us to grow in hope so that we can cast off our fear of the loneliness that we embrace every time we reject God’s company through sin so that we can begin to discern and to welcome his loving presence freely.

Advent in our time presents us with a huge challenge in this regard. In these days immediately following our observance of Thanksgiving, we see lights, hear non-stop Christmas music, we observe and sometimes participate in frantic shopping, worrying about whether our desires and those near and dear to us are bigger than our wallets. How can we find a center in the midst of all these distractions? Well my friends, it requires an intentional effort on our part. Growth in hope, that is, spiritual growth, does not happen by responding to the occasional inspiration or good feeling, but by daily practice, known as discipline. Disciplines are what disciples practice in imitation of their master. Prayer is the cornerstone of all the other disciplines. Eileen Campbell-Reed recently observed that "[t]rying to have Advent without prayer is a little like trying to give birth while holding your breath" it can be done, but is not recommended. There is no better resolution we can make at the beginning of this new year of grace than making time, or making more time, each day to pray.

While it starts and ends with prayer, there is something important that has to happen in between, namely love of neighbor. Practice of the presence of God is what enables us to make Christ present to others, by reaching out to them in love and meeting their need. This year, with the massive economic downturn, resulting in a great deal of financial distress for many people, we are presented with an opportunity to make Christ present to others. In his song, Distressing Disguise, Michael Card beautifully links the practice of the presence of God with joyfully waiting for the Lord’s return:

'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."
Reaching out beyond ourselves, especially in these distressing times, saying "Yes" in love to others, is the only way that God, as Isaiah prays, "might meet us doing right," being "mindful of [him] in our ways" (Is 64:3). It only through our free response in love to the needs of others, which is the fruit of our practice of God’s presence in the now of our lives, that we will be kept "irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ," the day for which we not only wait, but joyfully seek to hasten "for the sake of [his] servants" (1 Cor 13:8; Is 63:17).

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 ...