Sunday, November 29, 2009

Year C 1st Sunday of Advent

Readings: Readings: Jer. 33:14-16; Ps. 25:4-5.8-10.14; 1 Thess. 3:12-4:2; Luke 21:25-28.34-36

Today my friends we begin a new year of grace. The great season of Advent is upon us. If you’re already “doing” Christmas, it is time to slow down! Jesus is the reason for the season of Advent as well as for the season of Christmas. Our rush to bypass Advent and get right to Christmas is indicative of our desire to jump over life, skip experience, and land in God’s presence, instead of seeing our lives, what happens to us, as our way of realizing our destiny. “Christ does not save us from our humanity, but through it” (PP. Benedict XVI Christmas Urbi et Orbi 2006).

Our word Advent comes from the Latin advenio meaning “to come to.” So, the relationship of this season to the Paschal Mystery of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is fairly straightforward: during Advent we await the arrival of Jesus Christ. Our waiting is not an exercise in pretending that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem more than 2,000 year ago anymore than we observe Good Friday without being conscious of Christ’s resurrection. The arrival we are awaiting is his return in glory.

It is important that our waiting not merely be passive anticipation. Rather, it takes the form of active discipleship. The Christian way of life actively anticipates the Lord’s return and makes his continued presence among us by the power of the Holy Spirit incarnate. The vast majority of history is too often oversimplified as a long advent. On this view, the history of Israel is seen as nothing more than a preparation for the birth of Christ, just as the history of the church is taken as a long wait for his return in glory. However, it is important that we not reduce either of these two periods to merely long waits, lest we empty human history of the value of living. If nothing else, Advent teaches us the importance of history, of time.

Jesus did not abandon us when he ascended into heaven after his resurrection. Rather, "[r]ising from the dead He sent His life-giving Spirit upon His disciples and through Him… established His Body… the Church as the universal sacrament of salvation" (Lumen Gentium par. 48). The primary means through which the Holy Spirit makes Christ present among us are the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. It is the Holy Spirit’s active presence that makes the Eucharist more than merely a memorial, but makes Christ really present among us. We believe that "until there shall be new heavens and a new earth in which justice dwells, the pilgrim Church in her sacraments and institutions," along with the whole of creation "groan and travail in pain…" (par. 48). What we are living is not a promise yet to be fulfilled, but a down payment on what God has promised.

Jesus Christ is present in our assembly today in a number of ways. In turn, we are sent forth from here to make him present to and for the world. Hence, the most nonsensical question a Christian can ask is, "Where is the Lord?" If he is not in you my dear friends, you who, through your baptism, remaining close to him in the sacrament of penance, and your participation in this Eucharist are a member of his body, then where can he be? Faith in Christ Jesus is always far more incarnational than it is mystical. The Father only makes Christ present by the power of the Holy Spirit in our gifts of bread and wine in order for him to be present in you. Indeed, "[t]he mystery of life in Christ is that Christ can live you," but you have to let him in (Michael Card Live This Mystery).

In our reading today from the prophet Jeremiah we have a prophecy of the coming of one who, like David, will unite Israel and rule over her, a just ruler who will keep the promised land safe from invaders. Indeed, many in Jesus’ day failed to recognize him as the Messiah, as the shoot of David, precisely because, as we heard last week on Christ the King, his "kingdom does not belong to this world" (John 18:36). We make the same mistake when by receiving him we fail to understand that he wants to be present to us and through us to the world.

In his first letter to the Thessalonians, which is likely the first New Testament text written, St. Paul exhorts the community "to be blameless in holiness" in order to be prepared for "the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones" (1 Thess. 3:13). The reason Paul composed this letter is because members of that community had begun to die, but the Lord had not yet returned, which caused a lot of anxiety due to their belief in his imminent return. Hence, Paul is exhorting them to live in joyful expectation of that return, the date of which nobody knows, remaining vigilant and awake, by living the ordinary in an extraordinary way, abounding "in love for one another and for all" (1 Thess. 3:12).

In our Gospel today Jesus also exhorts his followers to live in anticipation of his return by remaining awake and alert. He warns against those things that distract us from the purpose of our lives, our new life in him. We are not to become drowsy and inattentive because we choose drunkenness and carousing, or the million other ways we trivialize life. Neither are we to be consumed by life’s inevitable and daily anxieties, which also amounts to making the wrong things the focus of our lives. This is why at Mass we pray “in your mercy…protect us from all anxiety…” Instead we are to remain vigilant and prayerful, but not out of fear, or even out of a misguided expectation that the Lord will return right away, or in 2012, but to live in a manner consistent with our reason for being.

My dear friends, confident that life in Christ is in its living, appropriate the liturgical year: set up, bless, and use an Advent wreath in your home, keep excess and indulgence at bay for a few more weeks, during this time between now and Christmas sing hymns of joyful expectation, fast, pray, confess your sins, be reconciled to others, and above all help those in need. Because faith in Christ is incarnational, the liturgy, made up of its cycle of seasons, deeply rooted in creation, is our primary work. It is how we sanctify time and how God sanctifies us. Liturgy is our active participation in the Paschal mystery, which is nothing less than participation in the very life of God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Only insofar as we live rooted in love and "blameless in holiness" do we make present the One "who is, who was, and who is to come" (Rev. 1:8). We are called to be his witnesses by living the tension between the already and the not yet, "as we wait in joyful hope" for his coming.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end"*

Being the compulsive blogger that I am, an end-of-the-year post is unavoidable. Because I have spent most of the morning finishing my homily for the first Sunday of Advent, I am kind of drained. It seems like there is always something to do. For the most part I am grateful for that, as having too much time on my hands (to quote the old Styx song) is dangerous for me.

Over the past several days I have been reading the first volume of Eugene H. Peterson's projected five volume spiritual theology (four volumes are published), which takes its title from a line in a sonnet by Gerard Manley Hopkins: Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology. This book doesn't take my breath away, it gives me breath, that is, inspires me. I have been resisting the temptation to just fill my blog with insights from this very credible tome.

It is appropriate as we prepare to embark on a new year of grace to remember that "[w]orship is the primary means for forming us as participants in God's work, but if the blinds are drawn while we wait for Sunday, we aren't in touch with the work that God is actually doing" (pg. 71). Why? Because as Manley Hopkins so beautifully observed:

"Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his,
To the Father through the features of men's faces."

*title from the song Closing Time by Semisonic

Friday, November 27, 2009

"She's a good girl..."

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers singing Free Fallin' is our Friday traditio. I'm not really sure why, but this came to me this morning walking down the hallway in my house. "I'm gonna free fall out into nothin', I'm gonna leave this world for awhile..." For me this song is hauntingly lovely and puts me in mind of the ultimate emptiness that results from the pursuit of a (self-)deceptive kind of personal autonomy, the kind I pursued from my early to mid-20s. It never had any substance or content, but was attractive anyways, it drew me away from reality, from the concrete reality of my own life. I renounced this when I was baptized and I rejected Satan and all his empty promises. I think free fallin' captures this zeitgeist perfectly.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving thanks

I'd love to have something really profound to write today, but I keep coming back to simple gratitude. I really don't think anything I could write, say, paint, photograph, or film would capture my gratitude exactly, or even really come close. I keep coming back to the unavoidable fact that God insists I show my gratitude in how I live, living for others, being kind, patient, taking the initiative instead of waiting, returning good for evil, forgiving, letting go of grudges and hurts. It is funny that I'd rather express my gratitude in some other way, no doubt because it is far easier than living!

I love that Eucharist means giving thanks. Jesus Christ is our Eucharist, showing us that we give thanks to God by laying our lives down for others. The list of people, events, and things for which I am grateful would go on and on. Most of all I am grateful for God's great love for me, which is made real in the person of Jesus Christ, for my wife who shows me Christ-like love everyday in her many selfless acts. I am grateful for five children, whose imperfections largely flow from my own. I am grateful for those I am privleged to serve in my ministry (a word that means service). I am also grateful for life's challenges, setbacks, and sufferings. Being born again, recreated, has to be painful at times in order to be real.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The particular holiness of Karol Józef Wojtyła: the role of mortification in spiritual practice

Today it was publicly made known and basically confirmed that Pope John Paul II engaged in the penitential practice of self-flagellation from time-to-time. The initial report appears in London's Telegraph newspaper. As might be expected, much is being made of this and not for the better, just like when it was disclosed by her confessor and spiritual director that after a certain point in her life Blessed Teresa of Calcutta no longer felt God's presence interiorly.

It is important to note that John Paul II did not propose this practice as something to be engaged in by everyone, or even by many, and certainly not by most. In fact, he never spoke publicly about it. Therefore, it constitutes nothing more than a part of his private spirituality, his deep, intense, and very personal relationship with God. The scandal arises from within a culture in which any sort of penitential practice for the purpose of putting sin to death is deemed ludicrous, even among most Catholics. This is very evident this time of year, when we leap Advent with a single bound in order to get to Christmas. After all, Advent has a penitential character and many Advent practices call for moderation, fasting, and increased prayer, which are typically the last things on anyone's mind as we wander the malls inundated by secular holiday songs while gorging ourselves. As a result, we lose Christmas as a season, one that runs from the Feast of the Nativity to Epiphany or the Baptism of Lord. By that time, we have cleaned up, taken our loot, and started to make our list for next year.

Even for those who pray the rosary on a regular basis, do we just glance over the Sorrowful Mysteries, the second of which is Jesus being whipped and scourged at the pillar, a mystery we contemplate as we ask for the gift of purity? Meditating on this mystery and its fruit should put us in mind of thought patterns and behaviors in our own lives that need to be mortified, put to death, killed. For example, most of us balk at the idea of abstaining from meat on Fridays, even during Lent when it is obligatory, let alone the rest of the year when it still constitutes the normative way of observing Friday, the day on which our Lord was crucified, as a day of penance! How many people even fast one hour prior to Mass, as we are also obligated to do? How many of us really and truly make an effort to fast on obligatory days, which for we Latins is only two days a year?

It should come as no shock that the disclosure, which was made as part of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints' investigation into his life, being conducted as part of the effort to have him declared a saint, reveals that he seemed to engage in the practice regularly prior to ordaining priests and bishops. Again, how many of us fast and increase our prayer before something like that, before being confirmed, or going to confession, or getting married? I honestly do not know the answer to those questions, but I am confident that some people do. Again, I am certainly not advocating that anyone incorporate self-flagellation into their lives and spiritual practice, let's work on praying daily and fasting and abstaining regularly, just living what throughout most of the church's history has been known as a Christian life, consisting of the regular and routine practice of the spiritual disciplines. The practice of self-flagellation is, indeed, extreme, but not utterly insane in every instance. For someone to decide to take up such a practice as a result of reading a news report, a magazine article, or a blog post would reveal a great deal of spiritual immaturity, not to mention an utter lack of discernment. In fact, no intense mortifying practice, even extra or extended fasting, should be undertaken without the guidance of a spiritual director who knows what s/he is doing.

For Eastern Christians it is customary to meet with their priest, or their spiritual director, prior to the Nativity Fast and the fast of Great Lent to determine what practice is appropriate for them, given where they are spiritually and the exigencies of their lives. While there are certain universal practices (prayer, fasting, alms-giving) and even customary times to perform them more intensely and intentionally (Advent, Lent, Fridays and even Wednesdays), one size does not fit all. By the same token, there are some sizes so peculiar that they fit very, very few. Nonetheless, these few do something valuable for the rest of us.

Papa Wojtyła, pray for us!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Vespers Homily Year B Solemnity of Christ the King

Reading: Revelation 1:5-8

Jesus Christ is, indeed, "the faithful witness" of God because by his Incarnation he fully reveals God to us. Only because he conquered humanity’s most feared enemy, death, is he the ruler of the kings of the earth, far superior in power to even the most exalted earthly ruler. His rising from the dead is the seal of all that is claimed about him and all he claims for himself. On this last Sunday of yet another year of grace, we look forward to the time when he will return in glory, to judge the living and the dead. In the interim between now and then, as his priestly people, consecrated by baptism and continually strengthened by the Eucharist, it is our task to bring about the kingdom that will be fully realized only when he returns, when it will be made to known to all that he truly is the universal king, whom the Father has given dominion over all things.

We are his priestly people only because he loves us, because he freed us from our sins by the shedding of his own blood. His love for us, shown by his dying and rising for us, is the only power that makes him king. But let’s not forget that God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- is love and that love is the reason anything exists at all, love is what made the universe, love sustains the universe, and love will redeem and ultimately sanctify creation, making it what it is intended and ordered to be: a communion of love.

As cosmic as Christ’s kingship is, encompassing literally everything that is, was, and ever will be, it is important for us to remember something that Eugene Peterson said recently, namely that "Trinity’ is our theological symbol for insisting that nothing of God…can be understood in an impersonal way." He goes on to remind us that "[e]verything God does and says is personal and can be received only in a personal way." This certainly includes the kingship of Christ. The importance of Peterson’s reminder on this solemnity is simple: It does not matter if Jesus Christ is king of the universe if you do not enthrone him as king of your heart, which is where he most longs to live and reign forever. In all of creation, only the human heart is free to reject or accept the kingship of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Solemnity of Christ the King

The last Sunday of the liturgical year marks the Solemnity of Christ the King. So, let's turn to to the preface for the Eucharistic Prayer for this solemnity:

"Father, all-powerful and ever-living God,
we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks.

You anointed Jesus Christ, your only Son, with the oil of gladness,
as the eternal priest and universal king.

As king he claims dominion over all creation,
that he may present to you, his almighty Father,
an eternal and universal kingdom:
a kingdom of truth and life,
a kingdom of holiness and grace,
a kingdom of justice, love, and peace..."

Enthrone Him as King of your heart, devote yourself to waiting in joyful hope for His glorious return!

Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today Christians East and West, at least the ones who use the Gregorian calendar, commemorate the Blessed Virgin Mary's Presentation in the Temple at Jerusalem, her being led by the High Priest into the Holy Holies, according to tradition, in anticipation of her body becoming the Holy of Holies. The following is from a homily given on the Feast of the Entry of our Most Pure Lady Theotokos into the Holy of Holies given by Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica in the 14th century:

"The author of evil was jealous of Adam, when he saw him being led from earth to Heaven, from which he was justly cast down. Filled with envy, he pounced upon Adam with a terrible ferocity, and even wished to clothe him with the garb of death. Envy is not only the begetter of hatred, but also of murder, which this truly man-hating serpent brought about in us. For he wanted to be master over the earth-born for the ruin of that which was created in the image and likeness of God. Since he was not bold enough to make a face to face attack, he resorted to cunning and deceit. This truly terrible and malicious plotter pretended to be a friend and useful adviser by assuming the physical form of a serpent, and stealthily took their position. By his God-opposing advice, he instills in man his own death-bearing power, like a venomous poison.

"If Adam had been sufficiently strong to keep the divine commandment, then he would have shown himself the vanquisher of his enemy, and withstood his deathly attack. But since he voluntarily gave in to sin, he was defeated and was made a sinner. Since he is the root of our race, he has produced us as death-bearing shoots. So, it was necessary for us, if he were to fight back against his defeat and to claim victory, to rid himself of the death-bearing venomous poison in his soul and body, and to absorb life, eternal and indestructible life.

"It was necessary for us to have a new root for our race, a new Adam, not just one Who would be sinless and invincible, but one Who also would be able to forgive sins and set free from punishment those subject to it. And not only would He have life in Himself, but also the capacity to restore to life, so that He could grant to those who cleave to Him and are related to Him by race both life and the forgiveness of their sins, restoring to life not only those who came after Him, but also those who already had died before Him. Therefore, St Paul, that great trumpet of the Holy Spirit, exclaims, 'the first man Adam was made a living soul, the last Adam was made a quickening spirit'" (1 Cor. 15:45).

To do all this, Christ required a clean vessel in which to be conceived, carried, and born. So, Mary is truly God-bearer. In her womb, with her full and free cooperation, God planted a new root for our race- His Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom we become children of God.

To help bring home the beauty of this memorial, my venerable brother deacon, Greg Kandra, posts prayers from the Melkite Liturgy over on The Deacon's Bench.

In an unrelated note, I draw your attention to my latest piece for Il Sussidiario- Abbas’ resignation would raise serious concerns for both Palestine and Israel.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Love of the church is love for Christ

In his address to the bishops of the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Papal nuncio to the U.S., quoted this beautiful passage from something Pope Paul VI wrote towards the end of his life: A Thought About Death:

"I pray that the Lord gives me the grace to make my imminent death a gift of love to the Church. I could say that I always loved her; it was her love that drew me out of my petty and uncontrolled selfishness and guided me to her service; for her, and for no one else, I think I have lived. I would like the Church to know it, as a confidence of the heart, which only at life’s end does one have the courage to express.

"Finally, I would like to comprehend her entirely: in her history, in her divine plan, in her final destiny, in her complex, total, and unitary composition, in her human and imperfect consistency, in her disasters and her sufferings, in her weakness and in the misery of so many of her children, in her less pleasing aspects, and in her perennial efforts of fidelity, love, perfection, and charity.

"Mystical Body of Christ: I want to embrace her, greet her, love her, in every being which she consists of, in every bishop and priest who assists and guides her, in every soul that lives for her and honors her."

Of course, it was Papa Montini who restored the diaconate as a permanent order in the church, permitting married men to serve in an ordained capacity. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him.

Following the papal tradition of visting the tombs of their predecessors in November, Pope Benedict XVI visited Pope Paul's grave this month. The current Holy Father also visited his birth place.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"He will be the truth and offend them one and all"

Given what I wrote in my previous post, it is appropriate that I post our weekly traditio a day early. So, here is Michael Card's very lovely song about Jesus the scandalon accompanied by a video. Indeed, he breaks us to make us whole. In order to live in Christ you have die, there is not avoiding it, to live you must forfeit your own life. Indeed, "the image we present" of Jesus can all too easily stepped over, which means that we are projecting, to borrow words from another song, "our own personal Jesus."

The scandal of Jesus

"[T]he Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:28). After reading the pericope that ends the second chapter of Mark's Gospel and the one that begins chapter three, I am struck by how scandalous Jesus was to the scribes and Pharisees. This is all the more remarkable when you consider that Jesus had more in common with the Pharisees than with any of the other predominant groupings of Jews (i.e., Sadducees, who were likely "scribes" written about Mark, Herodians, Zealots, even the Essenes). We have to treat these passages carefully and see that Jesus in no way denigrates the importance of Sabbath observance, it matters that you attend synagogue, in our day church. It also matters that you observe the Lord's Day in an intentional and restful way.

This is similar to Jesus' eating with tax collectors and sinners. He does not deny that they need to repent, to change their ways. In fact, the point and purpose of his eating with them is to facilitate their repentance, by reaching out to them in a gentle and kind way, even at the risk of appearing scandalous. Who knows? Perhaps Jesus' willingness to risk the scandal of being seen and associated with them is precisely what they needed to repent. The beauty of these Gospel passages is that they show us what it means to be a Christian, to follow to Jesus Christ, which means reaching out to those in need, especially to those who simply need to change, who need to be changed by the love of God. It also means not being easily scandalized, judging that there are people who are not worthy of God's love and so not worthy of our concern, or even the concern of others. In my opinion, self-righteousness is the ugliest sin. Sadly, I am guilty of it at times. It leads us to always assume the worst about others, to easily and casually impugn motives and intentions. Jesus shows us that the love of God is a scandal, not just to the world, but to many believers.

In Greek, skandalon is what we would call a stumbling block, literally, it is a stone in the path that causes one to trip and fall. Just as Jesus was a skandalon for Jews of his time, he is one for many Christians today. If you want to follow Jesus you have to let go of ideologies, nicely pre-packaged ways of looking at others and the world. As Jesus shows us in these passages from Mark, to follow him is to go neither to the left nor to the right, but precisely after him. As Catholics we've all heard, perhaps we have even said, that so-and-so thinks he's more Catholic than the pope, we all know people who believe that they are more Catholic than their bishop. People who veer to either side of the path along which Jesus beckons us to follow him, in addition to running the risk of being hardened by ideology, can easily see themselves as more Christian than Jesus, substituting the purity and rightness of a cause for genuine love and concern for others, which means being concerned about their destiny. So, that overused and nearly broken word discipleship cannot ever mean only what I think it means at any given time because that means stopping on the path.

In his lovely song, Scandalon, Michael Card captures what I am writing about beautifully:

"The seers and the prophets had foretold it long ago/That the long awaited one would make men stumble/But they were looking for a king to conquer and to kill/Who'd have ever thought He'd be so weak and humble-Chorus- He will be the truth that will offend them one and all/A stone that makes men stumble/And a rock that makes them fall/Many will be broken so that He can make them whole/And many will be crushed and lose their own soul."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Sacred College of Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church

Currently there are a number of Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church who are archbishops emeritus and whose successors have not (yet) been created cardinals in their own right. In order to be able to participate in a conclave, a cardinal has be younger than 80 when the Holy See becomes vacant, which normally occurs when a pope dies. Of 185 living cardinals, 113 are currently under 80 years of age. According to the Apostolic Constitution, Universi Dominici Gregis, promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1996, the number of cardinal electors should not exceed 120. Not having more than 120 electors at any one time is something that Pope Benedict XVI takes seriously. He is also reluctant to elevate the current occupant of an important archiepiscopal see to the Sacred College until his predecessor is superannuated, that is, turns 80. This is not necessarily the case with curial positions, especially when a new prefect is appointed to oversee a Roman Congregation. It remains to be seen if this will hold true for the heads of Pontifical Councils, or even if all heads of these councils will continue to be created cardinals.

At present there are 15 cardinals who are retired archbishops and one retired Swiss cardinal who was a bishop, due to the fact that Switzerland does not have even one archdiocese, whose successors have not been created cardinals. It is a safe bet that in most of these cases the successor not already being created a cardinal is due to the emeritus being younger than 80. Over the next twelve months seven of these retired cardinal archbishops will turn 80: Cardinal Ambrozic of Toronto, Canada; Cardinal Di Giorgi of Palermo, Sicily; Cardinal Glemp of Warsaw, Poland; Cardinal Maida of Detroit, U.S.; Cardinal McCarrick of Washington, U.S.; Cardinal Tumi of Douala, Cameroon; Cardinal Williams of Wellington, New Zealand. Their successors respectively are Archbishops Thomas Collins, Paolo Romeo, Kazimierz Nycz, Allen Vigneron, Donald Wuerl, Samuel Kleda, and John Dew. Some of these successors, perhaps Archbishop Vigneron of Detroit, may not receive the red hat even once their predecessor turns 80, due largely to shifting demographics. This is what happened with the Archdiocese of St. Louis, which was known at one time as “the Rome of the West” and was led by three cardinal archbishops from 1946 to 1979. In any case, it is a given that most, if not all, of these archbishops will be elevated to the Sacred College at the next consistory convened by the Holy Father.

Currently One Roman Congregation (for the Causes of Saints) has an emeritus cardinal prefect whose successor is not yet a cardinal. There are also three Pontifical Councils (i.e., Culture, Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, and Legislative Texts ), along with the Apostolic Penitentiary and the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See that have emeritus heads who are cardinals and current heads who are not. The curial emeriti who turn 80 in the next year are Cardinals Herranz and Poupard, the emeritus presidents of the Pontifical Councils for Legislative Texts and Culture respectively. The Apostolic Signatura’s prefect emeritus is a cardinal over 80, which makes it a sure bet that Archbishop Raymond Burke, the current prefect, will be created a cardinal in the next consistory, as will Archbishop Angelo Amato, S.D.B., Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, even though the prefect emeritus has more than two years before turning 80.

If the Pope were to convene a consistory for the purpose of creating new cardinals next year, there would likely be nine to eleven new members of the Sacred College. Judging by recent consistories, this would be too small a number. Waiting another year would increase the number by four to six, not including those few who might receive the cardinal red after the age of 80 in recognition of their contribution to the church, thus making 2011 a better bet for the next consistory.

I give a deep diaconal bow to Catholic Hierarchy for doing such a wonderful job of providing so much valuable information on a continuously updated basis. It is an effort worthy of your financial support. This morning I added the Catholic Hierarchy news blog to my blog feed.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Jesus Christ makes us clean and whole

During the first part of the Nativity Fast (15 November-12 December), I am trying to pray my way through St. Mark's Gospel. In my reading this morning, specifically chapter two verse seventeen, Jesus says to those scribes and Pharisees who are scandalized by him eating with tax collectors and sinners: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." In so doing he affirms the opinion of the scribes and Pharisees with regard to the tax collectors and sinners, that are sinful and need to repent, that is, they needed to reorient their lives, to change. The Lord also, with a no small amount of irony, bordering on sarcasm, includes the scribes and the Pharisees among those who need to repent. In other words, despite all their works, their strict observance of the 613 mitzvot, their lives need to be reoriented, too.

It seems to me the difference between these two groups is that the tax collectors and sinners are somewhat conscious of their sins and, hence, of their need to repent, but the scribes and Pharisees see themselves as righteous, as spiritually well, thus needing no physician to heal them. A more subtle element comes into play here, too. Christ came into the world to heal, not to judge, to call us to repentance and blaze the path of righteousness. Insofar as our good works are motivated by legalism, by a self-congratulating sense of keeping the rules, they have the effect of keeping us from God and separating us from others by causing us to think we are somehow better because we try harder. In the case of fasting and abstinence, say, we have to see what are doing as a means and not as an end in itself. The end to which such efforts are a means is holiness, Christ-like-ness.

Genuine righteousness comes through faith and is manifested by wholesome works. Like the teachers of the Law, very often we want to expel evil, to cast it out, to avert our gaze. Christ Jesus comes to transform evil, to stare it in the face, and to overcome it. When contemplating evil, I need look no further than my own heart. In the prayer at end of Lauds this morning (Tuesday, Week I of the Psalter), we pray: "The light of heaven's love has restored us to life; free us from the desires that belong to darkness."

As an observant Jew, but one who is Messiah and Lord, Jesus did not become unclean by contact with tax collectors, sinners, or even Gentiles. His touch makes the unclean clean. Can anyone imagine that the tax collectors and sinners who dined with Jesus walked away from this event unchanged? Of course, the textbook answer is "No! They would have been changed, their lives redirected!" More realistically, in our heart of hearts, which draws from our own experience, we can imagine them walking away unchanged. We can imagine this because of how often we walk away from Mass having received the Eucharist unchanged, that is, unrepentant. As we approach Advent perhaps we should give some thought to the reason for our hardness of heart. I urge you to consider this reason: maybe too often we receive communion not being properly disposed, that is, to use the old formulation, not in a state of grace, put more simply still, not having gone to confession for far too long.

If you think living the moral teachings of the church is difficult, you are correct. I would say that living this way, in the manner of disciples of Jesus, doing the right things for the right reason in the right way, is impossible on our own, even assuming that we really want to. We need the support of others who are committed to holiness, but more than that even, we need God's grace. Where and how do we receive the grace necessary to live as followers of Jesus? The answer is that we receive the grace necessary to be made whole, to be made healthy, to be made clean, through the sacraments. Post-baptismally, we receive the grace we need primarily in and through the sacraments of penance and Eucharist. To fully receive the grace the Eucharist holds for us, we must clear out all that blocks God's grace. Sin does not prevent God from communicating divine life to us, but it prevents us from receiving God's life and communicating God's love to others. So, like the scribes and Pharisees, we deny that we need a physician by not going to confession. By refusing to go to confession, we do not seek treatment for what ails us: sin. Like any untreated serious illness, sin results in death. Jesus is the healer of my soul.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Prayer for the beginning of the day

This is my morning prayer during this season of preparation:

"O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace. Help me in all things to rely upon Your holy will. In every hour of the day reveal Your will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me. Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that Your will governs all. In all my deeds and words, guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by You. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day, with all that it shall bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray, and You, Yourself, pray in me. Amen."

This prayer replaces for me the Memorare during this season of preparing for the Lord:

"It is truly right to bless you, O Theotokos, ever blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim, without defilement you gave birth to God the Word: true Theotokos, we magnify you. Mary, Theotokos, pray for us."

Kyrie eleison
Christi eleison
Kyrie eleison

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Nativity Fast

For Eastern Catholics today begins what is often called Philip's Fast, or the Nativity Fast. It is called Phillip's Fast because on the Eastern liturgical calendar 14 November is St. Philip's feast. The Nativity Fast is similar to the fast of the Great Lent, though not quite as austere in some aspects. According to Byzantine Catholic practice, on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays one abstains from meat, meat products, and all dairy and dairy products, which includes eggs. Fish and shellfish, which are distinguished from each other in Eastern Christian dietary practice, are permitted on these days, as are olive oil and wine until 12 December. In a complete reversal, Wednesdays and Fridays are not fast days or days of abstinence, at least not until 13 December. 12 December, which is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the Roman calendar, marks the last day of the initial part of the Nativity Fast.

St. Philip
Beginning on 13 December, all days through 24 December are days of abstinence that one fasts from meat, meat products, all dairy, fish, olive oil, and wine. Shellfish is permitted. While it is important to take the fast seriously, in the United States, with our observance of Thanksgiving during the Nativity Fast, it is okay and I would say even encouraged to just go ahead and observe Thanksgiving in the normal and expected way. It is similar to how we Roman Catholics in the U.S. typically take a break from our strict Lenten observance on St. Patrick's Day. On Wednesdays and Fridays from 13-24 December it is customary to only eat one very modest meal. During the latter period of the Nativity Fast wine and olive oil are permitted only on Saturdays and Sundays.

I make only one modification in that from 15 November to 12 December, as a Roman Catholic, I abstain from meat and meat products on Fridays. Also, there are Fridays on which I go on a water only fast. I also interpret no wine as no alcohol. Observing these lengthy periods of fasting is difficult, which is why the following tips from the website of Our Lady of Fatima Byzantine Catholic Church in San Francisco are necessary:

1. The external observances of our Faith do not make us better than anyone else. No sense of superiority or exclusiveness should be allowed to enter into our practice.
2. Insofar as possible, it is best to fast quietly, without letting anyone know that you are fasting. This is clearly in line with Our Lord's teaching. When ordering at a restaurant, don't proclaim, "No meat for me, I'm fasting!" Just order the dish which accords with the fast.
3. Do not become discouraged if you are unable to keep the whole fast. The Evil Spirit is always on the lookout to fool us into giving up because we cannot do it all. Part of fasting is to learn our weakness and inability to save ourselves.
4. Remember that Fasting includes a) fasting from sin; b) additional spiritual reading and prayer; c) almsgiving and other works of Philanthropia ("the love of humankind"). Do not neglect these as you prepare for the Feast.

So, what to eat? I point you a great website with a lot of links to recipes that enable observance of both the Nativity Fast and fasting during the Great Lent: Sources for Orthodox Fasting.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Hierarchy update

It was announced this morning, the day before the USCCB's annual fall gathering in Baltimore, that the Holy Father accepted the resignation of Bishop John D'Arcy of the Diocese of Ft. Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, due to his having reached the age at which bishops are mandated to retire. He turned 75 more than two years ago. It was also announced today that Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania was named to succeed Bishop D'Arcy. Given that Notre Dame University is in South Bend, it is notable that Bishop Rhoades was one of the 75 bishops who publicly supported Bishop D'Arcy when he protested Notre Dame's awarding of an honorary doctorate to President Obama back in May. Along with the Diocese of Birmingham, Alabama, where Mother Angelica's formidable Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) is located, being the bishop of a jurisdiction with a mammoth Catholic institution, like Notre Dame, requires finely honed leadership and communication skills. It was also announced today that the Holy Father appointed Bishop Jerome Listecki of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin to be archbishop of Milwaukee, a see that was vacated when Archbishop Timothy Dolan was transferred to New York back in February.

There are now seven Latin Rite bishops serving past the canonical age limit of 75 in the United States: Bishop William Higi of Lafayette, IN; Bishop Edmond Carmody of Corpus Christi, TX; Archbishop Alexander Brunett of Seattle, WA; Bishop Raymundo Pena of Brownsville, TX; Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, WA; Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati, OH; Archbishop Eusebius Beltran of Oklahoma City, OK.

With this morning's appointments, there are seven vacant Latin Rite dioceses: Owensboro, KY; Ogdensburg, NY; Springfield, IL; Austin, Texas; Scranton, PA; Harrisburg, PA; LaCrosse, WI.

Friday, November 13, 2009

"Lux aeterna luceat eis Domine"

This being November, the month during which we remember our dead, and in light of the week I have had so far, I turn to the sacred liturgy for solace because Christ does not disappoint. So, the Lux Aeterna from Mozart's Requiem Mass, performed by the Krakow Philharmonic for the Sacrem Profanum Fesitval in 2004, with a video by Maciej Sobociński and Paweł Augustynek-Halny. Oddly, I could not find out anything about the soloist or the choir. The projection is worthy of this sacred music. I cannot begin to describe how deeply this moves me this morning. Deo gratias!

Mozart's Lux Aeterna from his Requiem Mass is our Friday traditio.

"Cum sanctis tuis in aeternum, quia pius es"

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Telling the truth using humor and even sarcasm

With a deep diaconal bow to my friend Paul Z., who blogs over at Communio, I offer this humorous take on youth ministry. As a former Youth Minister and current Director of Religious Education, I appreciate the humor and sarcasm in this video. Sadly, what he describes is too true too often. It is even true with adults. After all, one cannot deny the vital link between orthodoxy and orthopraxis. Nonetheless, we often do.

I could do one of these on preaching, especially on the perceived need to dumb it down. Very often how effectively the readings can be dumbed down for the congregation is the sole criterion by which preaching is judged. When it comes to the mysterium tremendum we have to face up to a certain irreducible complexity, which can only be worked out, that is, verified through my experience, through my endeavor to live, my acceptance of the Lord's invitation, given to each one of us: "Come and you will see" (John 1:39)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Today is Martinmas

Two priest friends today weighed in with different and enlightening bits on one of my two principal patrons, the saint on whose feast I was born, Martin of Tours- soldier, turned monk, turned priest, turned bishop. Fr. Meinrad Miller, OSB points out that St. Martin was greatly admired by St. Benedict. Fr. John Montag, SJ added these fine thoughts about this impressive saint: "St Martin was a hugely significant figure--he sort of redefined sainthood. Before he came along, you pretty much had to be a martyr to be considered a saint. I hope all the soldiers we remember today are inspired by Martin and his humble generosity. We could all use a bit of that!" I can only add my hearty Amen!

Among the many intercessions I lift up to St. Martin today is one for all our wounded and scarred veterans. I also ask prayers for the repose of Billy's soul and for comfort and blessing for her husband and daughters. Here is the link to her obituary. Her vigil is this evening and her funeral Mass tomorrow.

Many Mexican restaurants feature an image of St. Martin somewhere in the vicinity of the customer service counter. I just love this. So, whenever you go for Mexican food and see St. Martin lift a petition to him.

Saint Martin of Tours- pray for us.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bishop Tobin to Rep Patrick Kennedy, for a second time

In a follow-up to the exchange brought about by Rep. Patrick Kennedy's intemperate assault on the stance of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on the issue of health care reform, specifically their outright refusal to support a bill that provided federal funding for abortion or increased access to abortion, a stance reinforced by his cousin, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, in her Newsweek article, Bishop Thomas Tobin, the bishop of Providence, Rhode Island, the state Kennedy represents in the House, made public a letter he addressed to the congressman, in which he engages Kennedy's public claims about what publicly persistent disagreement with church teaching means with regard to one's status as a Catholic. Bishop Tobin takes particular aim at Kennedy's claim that because he disagrees "with the hierarchy on some issues" he is no less a Catholic. His bishop does not want to leave that statement unchallenged lest it "lead others to believe it’s true." Besides, as Bishop Tobin points out, "it raises an important question: What does it mean to be a Catholic?"

So, addressing Kennedy's claim, Bishop Tobin writes that the fact that he disagrees "with the hierarchy on some issues does not make [him] any less of a Catholic" does, in fact, make him somewhat less of a Catholic because "when someone rejects the teachings of the Church, especially on a grave matter, a life-and-death issue like abortion, it certainly does diminish their ecclesial communion, their unity with the Church. This principle is based on the Sacred Scripture and Tradition of the Church and is made more explicit in recent documents."

Bishop Tobin brings up a very delicate matter, but does so forthrightly-

"Congressman, I’m not sure whether or not you fulfill the basic requirements of being a Catholic, so let me ask: Do you accept the teachings of the Church on essential matters of faith and morals, including our stance on abortion? Do you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish? Do you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly? Do you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially?

"In your letter you say that you 'embrace your faith.' Terrific. But if you don’t fulfill the basic requirements of membership, what is it exactly that makes you a Catholic? Your baptism as an infant? Your family ties? Your cultural heritage?"

Bishop Tobin, who no doubt made his letter public because Kennedy chooses to continue their dialogue in public and by so doing likely rebuffs efforts to resolve the matter in person with his bishop, ends with these words:

"Congressman Kennedy, I write these words not to embarrass you or to judge the state of your conscience or soul. That’s ultimately between you and God. But your description of your relationship with the Church is now a matter of public record, and it needs to be challenged. I invite you, as your bishop and brother in Christ, to enter into a sincere process of discernment, conversion and repentance. It’s not too late for you to repair your relationship with the Church, redeem your public image, and emerge as an authentic 'profile in courage,' especially by defending the sanctity of human life for all people, including unborn children. And if I can ever be of assistance as you travel the road of faith, I would be honored and happy to do so."

Monday, November 9, 2009

Healthcare: a long way from reform

Health care reform passed in the House of Representatives, but not by an overwhelming margin. 218 votes are needed for a majority in the 435 member House and the health care bill passed with 220 votes. There was only one Republican who voted for the bill. The lone member of the GOP to vote for the measure was Anh Joseph Cao, who was elected last November. Cao, a conservative, represents a very liberal district in New Orleans. He defeated the disgraced Rep. William Jefferson, the one in whose freezer the FBI found cold, hard cash allegedly from bribes he took. In an all too rare posting in this highly partisan post-partisan era, Quin Hillyer, writing on the blog of the conservative magazine The American Spectator, makes an eloquent defense for Rep. Cao's vote.

Rep. Anh Joseph Cao, (R) Louisiana with his daughter
Before anyone gets too excited, the Senate has yet to vote on their version of health care reform. It is not a given that it will pass due to the fact that approval of the legislation in the upper house requires 60 votes. With the possible exception of Sen. Snowe, no Republican will vote for the Senate measure, which means that only two Democrats need to vote against it to vote it down. Senator Lieberman is committed to leading a filibuster if the Senate bill contains a public option. So, only one Democratic defection is needed to force either non-passage or to deliver a bill very different from and perhaps even irreconcilable with the House bill. Given the political realities involved, there will be more than 2 Democrats who will oppose a public option. In all, thirty-nine Democrats, including Jim Matheson of Utah, voted against the House bill, something that finally brings to the fore the fact that the Dems took control of the House back in 2006 and increased their majority in 2008 because conservative districts elected conservative Democrats. It is good to see the so-called Blue Dogs finally flex a little muscle. Of course, facing re-election next year focuses a lot of political minds. Even should the Senate pass a bill, any final measure would emerge from a House/Senate conference committee, which would be formed to work on a bill that the House and Senate would both vote on. In other words, we are a long way from reform.

The price tag of the House measure, which is double the size of the originally estimated $900 billion, will be of tremendous concern to the Senate. It's like the stimulus bill, we need comprehensive health care reform, but do we need what the House passed? I think not.

It is certainly good news that Rep. Stupak's amendment, explicitly prohibiting federal funding for abortion, was approved as part of the House measure, though no member of the Democratic leadership was willing to say they would fight to keep it in the conference committee negotiations. Contra uncle Teddy's dishonest niece, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, writing in Newsweek: prior to the enactment of the so-called Stupak amendment there was not language in the bill prohibiting the use of federal funding for abortions. I find it appallingly contradictory, not mention morally confused, that in the same article and apparently with a straight face Kennedy Townsend argues for the need to lower infant mortality rates in the U.S. AND for making abortion more widely available, stating with regard to abortion that she considers herself "pro-conscience". "Women," she writes in a frightening display of newspeak, "do not make the decision to have an abortion lightly, but it is absolutely critical that they have the means to make this decision and access to the care they need, no matter what their choice. Anything less would be turning the clock back on the progress we have made on advancing women's health!" Like her cousin, who earned a robust rebuke from his bishop, she has the audacity to call the bishops out for insisting that health care reform not expand access to abortion. As Bishop Tobin pointed out to Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who he called an embarrassment and a disappointment, the U.S. bishops have been advocating for health care reform long before it became the political issue du jour. As regards the Stupak amendment, 194 Democrats voted against it, thus leaving 64 Democrats voting for it. Of the 177 Republican House members, 176 voted for it, with one member voting present. Some 41 Democrats wrote to Speaker Pelosi threatening to vote against the bill if the Stupak amendment passed! In the end, they voted for the bill amendment and all, but no doubt this effort contributed to the ambivalence of the Democratic leadership in staunchly supporting the amendment through conference committee negotiations should the Senate pass a bill, too.

While it may have been a shrewd and even necessary political move back in 1960, JFK's speech in Houston to a group of Protestant ministers is not the place to start when trying to articulate the role faith plays in governance, but Kennedy Townsend seems to think it is. Most people in the U.S. are not in favor of what the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus dubbed "the naked public square." As John Paul II taught so fervently for the years of his pontificate: freedom divorced from the truth is not freedom, it is dangerous, especially for society's most vulnerable members. Besides, to check one's most cherished beliefs at the door of the chamber of power is not even human because it is an act against both reason and conscience. By contrast, Reps. Bart Stupak and Anh Joseph Cao stand as a bright examples of acting in accord with reason and conscience, of honorable service to their constituents and, hence, to their country.

While I am on the subject of bishops in the public square, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York takes on anti-Catholicism in the news media in a blog post simply titled Anti-Catholicism.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Because love conquered death, despair cannot erase hope

Just about every year someone I know commits suicide. Not a few times they have been people close to me, even touching my own family. Other times it has been people I have come to know in various other ways. It is always indescribably sad and scary. I cannot imagine how bereft of hope a person must be to take her/his own life.

I learned this morning that a parishioner sought relief from suffering in death last night. In the face of such a great tragedy, we are comforted by these words from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives" (par. 2283). So, I ask your prayers this morning for her to Our Lady of Sorrows, who is so full of grace and love for us, especially her wayward and lost ones. I also ask you to pray for her husband and two young daughters. She suffered from really devastating depression for a long time. Hence, let us also invoke the intercession of St. Dymphna on her behalf.

I'll end this post by noting that "[w]e are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for [God's] honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of" (par. 2280). Life is the supreme gift of love given us by God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All the factors involved in any suicide are known to God and God alone, thus we commend Billy to God's mercy and pray for her, even as we comfort those she left behind. Especially in the face of tragedy and devastation, we are to be heralds of hope, witnesses to the infinite mercy and love of God, "who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all" (Rom. 8:32). In this same verse, in light of the fact that God not only gave his Son up for us, but raised him from the dead for us, St. Paul asks rhetorically "will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" The only way to bear our suffering and to allow God to use it for our salvation and that of the whole world is to unite whatever we suffer with the sufferings of Christ Jesus. Otherwise, we are liable to succumb to despair, which is the most devastating weapon in the arsenal of our enemy, who "prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour," even when we factor in depression and other natural causes (1 Peter 5:8). Jesus Christ gives us hope by giving himself for us and to us. He is our hope.

It is weird that preaching, teaching, and blogging about the role suffering plays in our salvation has been laid so heavily on my heart this past month or so. It is a message that needs to be heard, understood, and put into practice in our lives.

Friday, November 6, 2009

"I don't have to shout... I have no doubt"

It is fall and my friend Kim put me on a Tom Waits jag this week. The video is a live performance from Warsaw, Poland- Jesus Gonna Be Here-

"Jesus will be here
Be here soon
he's gonna cover us up with leaves
With a blanket from the moon
With a promise and a vow
And a lullaby for my brow"

Looking in my wife's November issue of Magnificat for yesterday, under the heading Saints of Today and Yesterday, I learned of St. Guethenoc. This Welsh saint was an abbot who lived in the 5th century. He is a patron of soldiers because it is believed he served as one before becoming a monk. Besides, guethenoc means warrior in Welsh. Did I mention he is Welsh? His sainted twin brother, Jacut, is too, along with his sainted parents Sts. Gwen and Fragan. Let us ask for his prayers, along with those of St. Martin of Tours, on behalf of those killed and wounded at Ft. Hood yesterday. Let's be bold and ask for their intercessions on behalf of the deeply disturbed soldier who went on the shooting spree, too. While we're on matters of prayer and penitence, today being Friday, I draw your attention to something written by Bishop Paul Loverde of Arlington, Virginia regarding the impending execution of another soldier turned murderer, John Allen Muhammad. His Excellency's article is Hope in life, even in the midst of despair. In this pastoral plea, Bishop Loverde writes:

"In the needles of lethal injection, we see the manifestation of despair. And in this despair, in advocating the use of the death penalty, our society has moved beyond the legitimate judgment of crimes. Brothers and sisters, we are better than this. We are called to be more than slaves to despair; we are called to be heralds of hope!"

In this month during which we remember our departed dead and renew our commitment to the communion of saints, a month began in this cyberspace by remembering the Little Flower, Bishop Loverde points to her as "a striking example of" the hope we are to herald:"Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, who, as a young girl, prayed and did penance for the conversion of a convicted murderer Henri Pranzini. Although he had repeatedly refused to repent, at the moment before placing his head in the noose, he kissed the crucifix held out to him three times. Through the prayers and penance of Saint Thérèse, a person judged to be lost was won for Christ! "

Muhammad's execution is currently slated for Tuesday, 10 November, the vigil of the memorial of St. Martin of Tours. Because we are heralds of hope, let us ask him and our beloved Little Flower to pray for Muhammad to the Lord our God. Let us never cease praying for the victims of Muhammad's bizarre and scary shooting spree and for their families. As the Holy Father reminded us in his encyclical letter 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... [e]vildoers, in the end, do not sit at table at the eternal banquet beside their victims without distinction, as though nothing had happened" (par. 44).

A deep diaconal bow to Deacon Greg Kandra for bringing Bishop Loverde's article to my attention.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A few mid-week politico-philosophical musings

This morning Deacon Greg posted something very insightful on Virginia's Governor-elect, Robert Francis McDonnell, who is a Roman Catholic. I am most impressed with the fact that he stuck by his guns during the campaign and was honest about the evolution of his views on career women since writing his master's thesis quite a few years ago, something that happened as the result of him raising 3 daughters with his wife. One of his daughters is currently an Army officer leading a platoon in Iraq. McDonnell himself went through ROTC while at Notre Dame. I am so glad that ROTC remains at this flagship Catholic institution, even as our elite schools eliminate ROTC. Military service is service. For Christians who serve conscientiously it rises to diakonia. In fact, many permanent deacons are retired military members and others are policemen and firefighters. There is certainly a reason we call the military "the service." My precocious 4 year-old this morning told me that he wants to be in the Army to defend his country. We have a long way to go, but that would make me proud.

All-in-all, it looks to me like the Commonwealth chose wisely. Corzine is out in New Jersey. Let's hope Governor-elect Christie keeps his focus and cleans up Jersey politics, something he did well as U.S. Attorney.

My friend Lorraine, herself an Army officer, brought the European Court's decision against Italy's display of the crucifix in public school classrooms to my attention this morning. I found Jewish legal scholar, Joseph Weiler's thoughts on the matter, published by Il Sussidiario, very enlightening. It bears noting that the European Union is, at least in my estimation, a very undemocratic bureaucracy of the kind warned about by Dostoevsky, Kafka, and Orwell. The good news, as Kolakowski came to see, write about, and defend is that seeking the transcendent is the very essence of what it means to be human. So, the good news is that faith cannot be abolished by governmental fiat. It is sad that too many remain enamoured of such Soviet-style tactics and continue their efforts to banish faith from the public square and install a nihilistic agnosticism as the de facto state religion, replacing it with legal positivism- the dehumanizing and all-powerful state, which our recent enthusiasm for enacting Animal Farm-like hate crime laws, which enshrine the nonsensical axiom that some people are more equal than others, readily demonstrates.

Finally, Maine voters overrode a law passed by their legislature back in May that granted marital status to same-sex couples by amending their state constitution, as 31 other states have done. I bear no ill-will towards people who are homosexual, nor do most people who affirm marriage. Hence, I whole-heartedly reject the term "homophobia," which, as P.J. O'Rourke noted sometime ago, technically means being fearful of having the same fear. The term homophobia is too often employed as an epithet to stifle legitimate debate on social policy. While I would not go so far as LDS apostle Dalin H. Oaks and equate those who actively oppose and as a result are vilified for their opposition to so-called same-sex marriage with those who fought for civil rights for people of color, I also reject applying this analogy to people on the other side. No matter how you slice them, one is an apple and the other is an orange. Our increasing inabilty to make important distinctions is a big reason why we are unable to engage in discussions on matters of importance in a civil manner.

We have become very confused about what is and what is not a human right, as the existence of the Facebook group Marriage is a Human Right, not a Heterosexual Privilege indicates. I must admit that one could form a very good proposition for debate on the basis of that title. We have to recognize that human rights are not granted by governments. Asserting that they are granted by the state is to de facto acknowledge that the state can take them away as well as to deny natural law. I readily grant that all of this is very complex and worthy of an honest discussion, the kind that is not truncated by emotivist interventions, like hurling the epithet Homophobe.

I am left wondering why the imagined march towards human progress always requires so much negation, so much forgetting. As Archbishop Dolan noted recently, the Christian position on matters of importance, even when we find ourselves in opposition, stems from our fundamental affirmation of the human person, which cannot be divorced from our teleology, our very reason for being. Indeed, this is a very difficult truth to communicate, one that is most effectively communicated by how we live. In the first instance, it requires us to recognize that all things arise from our fundamental Yes. Giussani recognized this with his insistence that we must always start from a positive hypothesis, from an affirmation. To borrow an example Fr. Carrón has used a lot this year, what does it matter if we have the perfect doctrine of marriage if we do not live it? If we do not endeavor to live it, this perfect doctrine remains an abstraction, a nice idea, even if it is of divine origin. I readily grant that there is some substance to the argument for dismantling the institution of marriage that arises from our obvious failure to live what we believe. To that end, I cannot recommend too highly the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website, For Your Marriage.

Since I already mentioned P.J. O'Rourke and to end on a lighter note, here is P.J.'s Weekly Standard article from earlier this month: Outsourcing Hate. In his delightful manner and very human way, O'Rourke shows how hard it is to communicate the kind of affirmation on which I am so (too?) earnestly insisting. Enjoy! Hell, even laugh a little. For those who want the executive summary, here is my take away quote: "I know people who are black, gay, Jewish, and Hispanic. But, unfortunately, I like them. When you like a person it's difficult to treat him (or even her) with the kind of vigorous and unrestrained bigotry that Jimmy Carter [and Nancy Pelosi] expects me to engage in."

Monday, November 2, 2009

All Souls Day

All Souls Day, by Jules Bastien (1882)

All Souls Day marks the end of the beginning. It is the end of our three day celebration of the communion of saints, which three day festival marks the beginning of the month of November, the month during which we commeorate those who have gone before us. This is why we begin the month with the great solemnity of All Saints, asking for the intercession of those who dwell in beatitude, in the immediate presence of God, those canonized and those whose life is hidden in God with Christ.

All Souls is our religious observance of memorial day. So, consider visiting the grave of a loved one, of a dead priest or sister who may have nobody to visit their grave. Certainly make time to pray for the dead. Without a doubt the best opportunity to do this is by attending Mass on this great feast, which is not a holy day of obligation, but a day that should be observed nonetheless.

This is something I posted 2 years ago on our parish blog, The People of St. Mary Magdalene.

All holy men and women, pray for us.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Solemnity of All Saints

"I had a vision of a great multitude,
which no one could count,
from every nation, race, people, and tongue.
They stood before the throne and before the Lamb,
wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.
They cried out in a loud voice:

"'Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne,
and from the Lamb.'

"All the angels stood around the throne
and around the elders and the four living creatures.
They prostrated themselves before the throne,
worshiped God, and exclaimed:

'"Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving,
honor, power, and might
be to our God forever and ever. Amen.'

"Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me,
'Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?'
I said to him, 'My lord, you are the one who knows.'
He said to me,
'These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress;
they have washed their robes
and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.'"

(Revelation 7).

We know that the Little Flower is among those about whom the elder spoke. St. Thérèse verifies in her life what Scripture teaches, namely "that in order to become a saint you have to suffer a lot, always be in search of what is most perfect, and forget yourself" (Story of a Soul, pg. 19). Those who would be saints in every age must pass through "the time of great distress," in imitation of the One to whose image and likeness they want to be conformed. Being holy happens intentionally, not accidentally. God is the reward of all the saints.

The eucharistic sacrifice unites us more fully with the saints. Hence, every Sunday is All Saints day!

I am very pleased that All Saints marks the 1300th post on Καθολικός διάκονος.

All holy men and women, pray for us.

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 ...