Thursday, December 31, 2009

Καθολικός διάκονος year in review

Below are my picks by month of the blog posts I remember. As might be expected, some months it was difficult to choose even one and others it was tough find only one. I do not include homilies, as these are written in a different vein than posts; post being written spontaneously with no planning. I would be happy to have readers share their favorite post or posts in the combox.

December- True Knowledge Wounds Us

November- Jesus Makes Clean and Whole

October- Love is the only reason

September- Our on-going cultural embrace of non-being

August- "resistance to the annhilation of the human subject"

July- Of human rights

June- Why deacons?

May- YouTube Orthodoxy and Saturday miscellania

April- April begins, the snow continues, notes on ecumenism, and the ND controversy goes on

March- Patience takes time, being patient costs us time, but it is well spent

February- Abraham Lincoln's 200th

January- What sacrifice?

This year I posted 355 times, making 2009 the first year since I began blogging seriously in 2006 that I did not average at least a post a day. There are now 1,353 post on this blog. Who knows what 2010 holds? So, this wraps up another year on Καθολικός διάκονος. I pray that everyone has a great New Year's Eve!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"the law of the 'I' is love"

We are tempted all the time to reduce Christian life to moralism, to doing the right thing. When we live in such a way, we give ourselves a lot of credit for being what we mistakenly believe to be obedient. Obedience, which is adherence to Christ, is not just following the rules in a strict way. If living in this way comprised what life in Christ is meant to be we could have just stuck with the Law, with observing the 613 mitzvot. The trouble with this, as Jesus demonstrated time and again in his encounters with the scribes and Pharisees, is that heartless observance of these prescriptions and proscriptions does not even constitute fidelity to the Law. Jesus Christ alone fulfilled the Law by loving the Father and us perfectly. He alone makes up for our unwillingness and inability in this regard. He crystallized the Law for us: "But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 'Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?' And he said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets'." (Matt. 22:34-40).

How do I know when I am living in a moralistic manner? Luigi Giussani, in whose charism I am blessed to share, stated that "if your action derives from something dictated to you, it's child's play. If it comes from the awareness moved by the presence of a [person] destined for the eternal, it is no longer child's play" (Is It Possible to Live This Way? Vol 3). As St. Paul urged the church in Corinth "do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature" (1 Cor. 14:20).

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Cathedral of the Madeleine Nativity Pageant

Each year prior to the Noon Mass on Christmas day we have the children of the parish who are enrolled in Religious Education in grades K-4 process to our lovely creche located in the Our Lady Chapel, located West of the main altar. It is always one of the joys of my Christmas Day. I process with them and they help me bless the manger scene. So, here is this year's picture, courtesy of our Children's Religious Education Coodinator, without whom my life as a DRE would be nigh unto unmanageable, Cathy Piaz:

This picture makes me beam, like a warm ray of light on a cold day.

The Cathedral of the Madeleine Book Club recommences

For those of you who live in the Salt Lake City metropolitan area, I am happy to announce the recommencement of The Cathedral of the Madeleine Book Club. We will begin meeting again on Tuesday, 2 February 2010 from 7:00-9:00 PM. The book we are going to discuss is The Reader by Bernhard Schlink. According to Dr. Marianne Friederich, Schlink's novel is part of the fourth wave of German Holocaust literature. Dr. Friedrich has noted that in The Reader Schlink "takes a new approach in dealing with the Holocaust" not only by shifting the focus "from the victims to his protagonist's personal encounter with a perpetrator," but "he also replaces the bond between fathers and their children with a bond of passionate love," which the film version greatly overplayed at the expense of the novel's integrity.

We will gather in the Our Lady of Zion chapel promptly at 7:00 PM, which is the prayer room just off the Cathedral, the one with the votive candles, just prior to moving to the Cathedral rectory where our discussion will take place. After The Reader, we will read and discuss John Allen's recently published book The Future Church: How Ten Trends are Revolutionizing the Catholic Church.

Charity and generosity, what's the diff?

Is there is a difference between service and Christian service, between service and diakonia? If so, what is it? Msgr. Giussani, in the Assembly at the end of the first chapter of Is It Possible to Live This Way?: An Unusual Approach to Christian Existence, Vol. 3 Charity, makes a distinction between generosity and charity, caritas, love. The difference may seem a little hair-splitting, especially to those of us who hail from the U.S. because we tend to be so pragmatic, results oriented. In other words, we ask- If something good is done by one for another or a group of people for other people, what difference does their motivation make? This attitude explains a lot about Christianity in this country, where a few years ago a majority of respondents to a poll about their favorite Bible verse picked "God helps those who help themselves," which is not a Bible verse. The answer is- it makes a big difference, both to the one who gives as well as to the one who receives. In his encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est, which merits reading over and again, the Holy Father wrote about why motivation matters, why love, caritas, matters more than anything else:

"Going beyond exterior appearances, I perceive in others an interior desire for a sign of love, of concern. This I can offer them not only through the organizations intended for such purposes, accepting it perhaps as a political necessity. Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave. Here we see the necessary interplay between love of God and love of neighbour which the First Letter of John speaks of with such insistence. If I have no contact whatsoever with God in my life, then I cannot see in the other anything more than the other, and I am incapable of seeing in him the image of God. But if in my life I fail completely to heed others, solely out of a desire to be 'devout' and to perform my 'religious duties', then my relationship with God will also grow arid. It becomes merely 'proper', but loveless. Only my readiness to encounter my neighbour and to show him love makes me sensitive to God as well" (par. 18)
In this letter Pope Benedict also cites kerygma-martyria, leitourgia, and diakonia as expressions of the Church's deepest nature (par. 25a). Leitourgia and diakonia (i.e., love of God and love of neighbor respectively) are ways that we become martyrs, ones who proclaim (kerygma) Christ. Of course, all three of these "presuppose each other and are inseparable" (par. 25a).

For Giussani "generosity begins with you, an impetus that originates in you. Its whole reason for being is to express something in you" (Is It Possible 61). I think we can detect generosity when we hear things like, "I helped at the soup kitchen and I felt so good afterwards. Helping others makes me feel so good." By contrast, "the act of love arises outside you, arises from a presence that lies outside you and surrenders to the emotion or to being moved by that presence"
(61). While this sounds good, even easy, we often initially resist what the love that arises outside of us demands; it means doing something I may find inconvenient, even difficult.

Giussani chooses the perfect illustration from the beginning of the thirteenth chapter of St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, which is one of the most overused, hence, misapplied and misunderstood passages of Scripture, read at virtually every Catholic wedding- "If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing" (verse 3). He uses the example of the Czech, Jan Palch, who lit himself on fire and burned to death to protest the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 to further illustrate. "[C]harity is a presence for whom I give my life, to whom I give my life" (61-2). This presence has a name, the name given by the archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin, the name of the presence is Jesus, who is Christ the Lord. We are still celebrating His becoming human for us and for our salvation, which, the Holy Father reminded us a few Christmases ago, is worked out through our lives, which is composed of the various circumstances in which we find ourselves, and not despite our every day experiences.

Most, if not all, of this was summed up by the Holy Father when he wrote: "Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift" (Deus Caritas Est par. 7). You see, this difference makes all the difference in the world? It is the difference between giving a man a fish, teaching a man to fish, and being a fisher of men, which means being loved and, in turn, loving the other person's destiny.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Update on Christmas Mass shenanigans in St. Peter's

VATICAN CITY, 25 DEC 2009 ( VIS ) - Holy See Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J. today released the following communique:

Yesterday evening, during the entry procession of the celebration, an unbalanced person - one Susanna Maiolo, age 25, with Italian and Swiss nationality - leapt over the barrier and, despite an intervention by the security guards, managed to reach the Holy Father and grasp his pallium, causing him to lose his balance and fall to the ground. The Pope was able to get up immediately and continue the procession, and the rest of the celebration took place without incident.

Unfortunately, in the confusion, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray fell and broke the neck of his femur. He was taken to Rome 's Gemelli hospital where his condition is good although he will have to undergo an operation in the next few days.

The young woman, who was unarmed but showed signs of mental unbalance, was taken to a psychiatric hospital where she will undergo obligatory treatment.

In a separate communique issued yesterday, the Holy See Press Office made known that Cardinal Roger Etchegaray underwent a complete arthroprothesis of the hip. The operation was successful and he is in good health.

The Press office also stated that Ms. Maiolo's case remains with the Vatican magistrates who, "in the light of the reports of doctors and of the Vatican Gendarmerie, will evaluate the next steps to be taken." Along with our daily prayers for the Holy Father, let us continue to pray for His Eminence, Cardinal Etchegaray and for Ms. Maiolo

Feast of the Holy Innocents

During these days immediately following Christmas we celebrate three very important feasts. We observe the Feasts of St. Stephen, St. John the Evangelist, and the Feast of the Holy Innocents. The Feast of St. Stephen is a special day for deacons, the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, which would have been observed yesterday were it not Sunday, but Sundays remind of the reason for any of it, is a day for priests. My friend, Paul Z., posted a wonderful Blessing of Wine to be given on the Feast of St. John. In my opinion, wine itself is a blessing. Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, a day that we honor the young men and women, boys and girls who serve at the altar.

Cathedral of the Madeleine Christmas pageant 2008
"Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

'A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more'" (Matt. 2:16-18)
In today's world with all the violence, especially in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and more recently in Pakistan, there is a lot of random violence that takes the form of suicide bombings, remotely detonated bombs, or stand-off attacks that kill indiscriminately. Along with innocent men and women, children are killed. A few weeks ago I watched the Brazilian movie The City of God. In the film there is a horrifying scene where two street children, one maybe five and the other seven, are cornered by a drug dealer who shot them both in one of their feet and then had a child about their age decide which of them should be killed. Let's not forget the many innocents who have been abused in the church. For those who follow things ecclesial, the child abuse crisis in Ireland reached a crescendo just before Christmas, revelations came forth in a government report that caused several bishops to resign for their failure to act to protect children. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, who was named to his post to deal with this situation, addressed this in his Christmas homily, which is painful and hopeful at the same time:

"It has been a painful year. But the Church today may well be a better and safer place than was the Church of twenty five years ago when all looked well but where deep shadows were kept buried.

"The Church in Dublin is called to conversion and to renewal. The origins of the past failings spring in a special way from a false understanding of the Church. They spring from a false understanding of the place of the priest in the Church and from a totally impoverished understanding of the Church as a community of the baptised.

"Paradoxically, such a false understanding of the place of the ordained priesthood in the Church has damaged priests. Many survivors of abuse and their families not only had a better understanding of the nature of abuse and its disastrous effects than did the experts of the Church and science. They also had a better understanding of the role and importance of the priest and the vocation of priests to be Christlike in a special way. Survivors turned to a priest sincerely and with idealism and they were met by betrayal of priesthood through abuse or distortion of the priesthood though lack of the care they had a right to receive."

He goes to say something about priests that is also needed and often neglected in this heart-breaking horror- "There are great priests in this diocese. They too feel betrayed. Many feel that I have not defended them enough and not supported them adequately at this moment. If I have failed them, from this Mother Church of the Archdiocese I ask their pardon. I recognise their dedication and I am sure that the people of the diocese do too." Nonetheless, he goes to says that the Church can only be renewed by "honestly and brutally recognising what happened in the past. There can be no glossing over the past. Renewal must begin with accepting responsibility for the past. Criminal behaviour must be investigated and pursued. Gross failures in management must be remedied in a transparent way. Current practice must be effectively monitored. Anachronisms left over from past history must be replaced." In the end, we look to the Word of God, who for us and for our salvation became human. Indeed, the Church writ large is called to constant conversion and renewal until we attain the fullness of the stature of Christ (Eph. 4:13).

All children have a right, an inherent right, to receive love and care. So, if you are a parent, a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, an older brother or sister, or a godparent, give a little one a hug today, let them know you love them, let them know they are safe and can grow up confident in your love and care. This should be especially easy since we are still basking in the glow of our celebration of the Lord's coming into the world as a helpless baby, the day after our observance of the Feast of the Holy Family, and the day we remember the Holy Innocents.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Year C Feast of the Holy Family

Readings: Sir. 3:2-6.12-14; Ps. 128:1-5; Col. 3:12-21; Luke 2:41-52

According to Jewish practice during the Second Temple period, the time in which Jesus lived, every male was required to go to Jerusalem to make an offering to the Lord three times a year: on Passover, which commemorates Israel’s deliverance from Egypt; Pentecost, which recalls God’s giving the Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai; Tabernacles, which marks Israel’s forty year sojourn in the desert. In today’s Gospel Jesus had just reached the age at which he was required to fulfill these obligations.

Like the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, eight days after his birth, St. Luke uses this episode to highlight the Holy Family’s fidelity to the Torah. Like so many episodes in his life, this observance results in a surprise, a very early manifestation of Jesus’ messianic and divine identity. What is surprising about this narrative is what appears to be our Lord’s impertinent answer to his mother’s question, "Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety," an anxiety that any parent would feel upon realizing a child was missing or lost (Luke 2:48). Jesus responds, "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?" (Luke 2:49)

Our Lord’s seemingly impertinent response to his mother leads us to consider our reading from the Book of Sirach, which is seen by many scholars as a commentary on the fourth commandment that enjoins us to honor our father and our mother. This commandment is a bridge between the first three commandments about loving God and the final six about loving our neighbor. In this schema, parents are rightly situated between God and other people. This unique place parents occupy in our lives entails mutual responsibilities. We should honor our parents because they gave us life and our elders because they are the repositories of life’s wisdom. Very often it is their hard work and self-less sacrifice that earned the benefits we enjoy.

There is much said and written today about the Church’s magisterium, her teaching authority. Most of this speaking and writing focuses on the authority of the papacy or the episcopacy. On this feast, we are reminded that parents, because their authority is also divinely derived, constitute part of the Church’s authentic magisterium because in "Christ the family becomes the domestic church because it is a community of faith, of hope, and of charity" (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church par. 456).

With authority comes tremendous responsibility. Hence, the responsibilities of parents exceed the duties of their children. When presenting a child for baptism, after requesting the sacrament for her/him, Christian parents willingly accept "the responsibility of training [them] in the practice of the faith" (Rite of Baptism for Several Children par. 39). They assume the "duty" of bringing their children "up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor" (par.39). Indeed, much of any child’s image of God is derived from his/her parents. Therefore, Christian parents must be mindful that their authority, like that of the Church, "is not above the word of God, but serves it" (Dei Verbum par. 10)." In order to serve the word of God, parents must listen "to it devoutly" (par. 10).

In our second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians, the apostle provides us with a list of values that are to be nurtured in the family. More fundamentally, the family has a value that itself needs nurturing, especially at a time when it faces such danger brought about by radical attempts to redefine it in ways that accord neither with nature nor revelation.

Pope Benedict has observed that "[t]he family is the indispensable foundation for society and a great and lifelong treasure for couples." The family is also "a unique good for children," the Holy Father continues, "who are meant to be the fruit of love, of the total and generous self-giving of the parents." Recently a document called the Manhattan Declaration was issued. It is an ecumenical document signed by several Catholic and Orthodox bishops, as well as by many Protestant leaders in the U.S. In the section on marriage it states forthrightly that in order "[t]o strengthen families, we must stop glamorizing promiscuity and infidelity and restore... a sense of the profound beauty, mystery, and holiness of faithful marital love. We must reform ill-advised policies that contribute to the weakening of the institution of marriage... we must work in the legal, cultural, and religious domains to instill in young people a sound understanding of what marriage is, what it requires, and why it is worth the commitment and sacrifices that faithful spouses make." This is no small chore, but one that can be accomplished by Christians, strengthened by sacramental grace, who seek to make known the great mystery of God’s love by living matrimony as a holy state of life, as a sacrament.

Getting back to Jesus’ response to his mother, we see, on closer examination, that Jesus is not being impertinent or disrespectful. While he is and will always be the son of Mary and was beholden to Joseph as to a father, he is most profoundly the Son of God. His words, therefore, are a reminder to Mary and Joseph to recognize the reality of who he is and how he is constitutive of reality, a recognition that forces them to confront the great mystery of God-made-man for us.

Our Gospel ends with a portrait of family life that gives us a little insight into the life of Jesus between the age of twelve the beginning of his public ministry: "He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man" (Luke 2:51-52). By humbly submitting himself to the parental authority of Mary and Joseph our Lord made known to them what they were not able to understand that day in the Temple. Likewise, it is by our humble obedience to the Father, whose perfect will is expressed through his Son that we make the Lordship of Jesus Christ known to those who do not understand. As you continue your joyful celebration of Christmas, along with all the goodies and sweets may all of you enjoy the sweetest fruit of all, which we contemplate as the fifth and final Joyful mystery of the rosary: the joy of finding Jesus, who is Christ the Lord.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

On the feast of Stephen

Today marks the feast of my patron, St. Stephen (Στέφανος in Koine Greek). He is also the heavenly patron of this blog, the mission of which "is to foster Christian discipleship in the late modern milieu in the diakonia of koinonia." Stephen was a Greek-speaking Jew, one of the seven men set apart by the apostles to help with daily distribution in the earliest Christian community in Jerusalem. These seven Greek-speaking Jewish men, one of whom was a convert to Judaism, are viewed as the first deacons, though they are never referred to in Scripture by this title. However, a deacon is not defined by a title, but by service. After all the Greek word diakonia, from which the noun diakonos is derived, means service. Hence, all Christians are called to be deacons in a very real sense by virtue of our baptism and confirmation. One who is ordained a deacon is ordained to service and is to sacramentally embody the link between the liturgy and Christian life, between liturgy, witness, and service. This is one reason why the deacon sings or says the dismissal at the end of the Mass. This is a sending forth of all who have received Christ into the world to be Christ for others through selfless service.

These seven men were called to help bring peace to a young community that had grown somewhat fractious due to the fact that the Greek-speaking members felt that Greek-speaking widows were not getting their fair part of the daily distribution of food. Their call was a call to diakonia of koinonia- a call to the service of communion so that the apostles could devote themselves fully to preaching. In a way, it shows us something with which all Christian communities struggle, what makes us different, language, culture, or whatever. Yet, we profess to be one in Christ. Let's look at the account of their call:

"At that time, as the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, "It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the holy Spirit, also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them. The word of God continued to spread, and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly; even a large group of priests were becoming obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:1-7).
However, before the end of the sixth chapter of The Acts of the Apostles, Stephen, too, is preaching. Stephen's preaching drew the attention of other Jews who saw nascent Christianity as a heresy, not least among whom was Saul of Tarsus, and at Saul's behest Stephen was stoned to death becoming the first martyr for the faith. He is referred to as proto-martyr because his martyrdom set the form for future witnesses. In his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict wrote that "[t]he Church's deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia)" (par. 25a). In St. Stephen we move from theoria to praxis, to the concrete embodiment of what this looks like.

In the Christmas issue of Magnificat is an article by the Jesuit, Fr. Alfred Delp, who himself died a martyr's death under the Nazis in 1945. In this lovely reflection he writes that because God became a man "[h]istory now becomes the Son's mode of existence; historical destiny becomes his destiny. He is to be encountered on our streets. In the darkest cellars and loneliest prisons of life, we will meet him. And that is already the first blessing and consecration of the burden: that he is to be met under its weight." He goes on to say that second blessing is that we feel a new power to bear this weight and the third blessing that results from God becoming man for us is that Jesus Christ provides the model of how to live in a truly human way, what Fr. Delp called "the primordial model of existence." We will be formed according to this model if we, like St. Stephen, "do not resist this formation." According to Delp "[t]he strength for mastery of life grows through the influx of divine life among those to whom Christ has made himself known, among the greater human community as well as small groups brought together by circumstance." In Christ, with Christ, and through Christ "[s]omething new has been born in us, and we do not want to tire of believing the star of the promises and acknowledging the singing angels' Gloria - even if it is sometimes through tears." Like St. Stephen, who saw Jesus at the right hand of God as he was being stoned, which vision allowed him forgive those who were killing him, which meant for him in that moment bearing the weight of what could well be seen as a terrible reality, "[o]ur distress has truly become transformed, because we have been raised above it."

With a deep diaconal bow to my friend Paul Z., who blogs over on Communio, here is a news item about the Holy Father's Angelus remarks on this lovely feast: On St Stephen’s, we remember believers who are tested or suffer because of their faith.

St. Stephen- pray for us.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Urbi et Orbi- Christmas 2009



Dear Brothers and Sisters in Rome and throughout the world,
and all men and women, whom the Lord loves!

"Lux fulgebit hodie super nos,
quia natus est nobis Dominus.

A light will shine on us this day,
the Lord is born for us"
(Roman Missal, Christmas, Entrance Antiphon for the Mass at Dawn)

The liturgy of the Mass at Dawn reminded us that the night is now past, the day has begun; the light radiating from the cave of Bethlehem shines upon us.

The Bible and the Liturgy do not, however, speak to us about a natural light, but a different, special light, which is somehow directed to and focused upon "us", the same "us" for whom the Child of Bethlehem "is born". This “us” is the Church, the great universal family of those who believe in Christ, who have awaited in hope the new birth of the Saviour, and who today celebrate in mystery the perennial significance of this event.

At first, beside the manger in Bethlehem, that "us" was almost imperceptible to human eyes. As the Gospel of Saint Luke recounts, it included, in addition to Mary and Joseph, a few lowly shepherds who came to the cave after hearing the message of the Angels. The light of that first Christmas was like a fire kindled in the night. All about there was darkness, while in the cave there shone the true light "that enlightens every man" (Jn 1:9). And yet all this took place in simplicity and hiddenness, in the way that God works in all of salvation history. God loves to light little lights, so as then to illuminate vast spaces. Truth, and Love, which are its content, are kindled wherever the light is welcomed; they then radiate in concentric circles, as if by contact, in the hearts and minds of all those who, by opening themselves freely to its splendour, themselves become sources of light. Such is the history of the Church: she began her journey in the lowly cave of Bethlehem, and down the centuries she has become a People and a source of light for humanity. Today too, in those who encounter that Child, God still kindles fires in the night of the world, calling men and women everywhere to acknowledge in Jesus the "sign" of his saving and liberating presence and to extend the “us” of those who believe in Christ to the whole of mankind.

Hwelih Isho'

In solidarity with our Chaldean brothers and sisters, some of whom, specifically those in Basra, Iraq, who have cancelled Christmas celebrations because Christmas "coincides this year with a sad memorial for Shiite who commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Al Hussain and his brother Al Abbas in Karbala." Hwelih Isho' (i.e., Christ is born) is our Christmas and Friday traditio.

Fortunately, the prohibition only pertains to Basra. Nonetheless, let us remember the Christians of Iraq and the entire Middle East, churches that are truly undergoing martyrdom, women and men who risk their lives to worship Christ the King.

A deep diaconal bow to Dr. McNamara for bringing this video to my attention.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

On the day before our comemoration of the Lord's Nativity

From the people at The Resurgence, it is accompanied by these words:

A Miracle
"In John 6, Jesus performs a miracle of multiplying loaves of bread and fish to feed over 5,000 people. This passage has been used to make the point that Jesus had to wait for the boy to offer his food before Jesus would do his part. When applied to our spiritual lives it looks like this: 'God is really into you, but he wants you to be really into him first and he wants you to make the first move and show him that you are serious and all about his glory. And after you respond, God will look upon you with favor and good pleasure. God may even ‘use you’."

"This is not true. We do not have this miracle recorded for the purpose of trying to convince you to try harder to get God’s attention."

One the remaining theological giants of the twentieth century, one of the Dominicans who launched last century's Thomistic revival, Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx, OP, passed away yesterday, 23 December, at the age of 95. It would be an understatement to say that Schillebeeckx pushed the theological envelope, especially after the Second Vatican Council. Somebody once asked me if there were any happy Catholic theologians. One was Schillebeeckx. He wrote a gem of a small book called I Am A Happy Theologian. Even though he was from Belgium, he lived, taught, and wrote for most of his life in the Netherlands, spending more than 50 years teaching at the Catholic University of Nijmegen. He was educated in Belgium by Jesuits, but joined the Order of Preachers Friars, popularly known as the Dominicans. At the time of his death he was trying to finish a major theological work on the sacraments.

For me, the most valuable achievement of Fr. Schillebeeckx was bringing Catholic theology, especially Thomism, into dialogue and confrontation with contemporary philosophy, especially with the likes of my beloved W (whom I have not mentioned for far too long). His most enduring and controversial work (to tie it to my lead in)remains his two volume Christology, which he dubbed an experiment. Thomism, namely the analogia entis (i.e., analogy of being), remained central to his theological project. He understood, as the titles of one of his books on ecclesiology and another book on Christology show (i.e., Church: The Human Story of God and Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God) that our encounter with God in Christ is an existential encounter, which can only be a mediated encounter. As is appropriate for any Christian, Fr. Schillebeeckx was full of hope, which is an appropriate subject for these final hours of Advent. Robert McClory of NCR interviewed Schillebeeckx a few years ago. During the interview McClory asked him how he saw the future, to which the happy theologian responded he was "always" optimistic," explaining his optimism, he said: "I believe in God and in Jesus Christ." McClory recalled that he said that as as if to ask- "And what else would one need?" Indeed, what else?

It was also made known the day before yesterday, that American philosopher John Edwin Smith, who worked in the American pragmatic tradition and who made many valuable contributions to the philosophy of religion, died back on 7 December.

Today's edition of the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera features a letter to the editor written by Fr. Julián Carrón, which was given the title That Nostalgia for the Infinite. In my estimation, Carrón is most correct when he observes that "[t]he most convincing sign that Christ is God, the greatest miracle that astonished everyone—even more than the healing of cripples and the curing of the blind—was an incomparable gaze. The sign that Christ is not a theory or a set of rules is that look, which is found throughout the Gospel: His way of dealing with humanity, of forming relationships with those He met on His way. Think of Zacchaeus and of Magdalene: He didn’t ask them to change, but embraced them, just as He found them, in their wounded, bleeding humanity, needful of everything. And their life, embraced, re-awoke in that moment in all its original profundity." He goes on to ask "how do we know that Christ is alive now? Because his gaze is not a fact of the past, but is still present in the world just as it was before. Since the day of His resurrection, the Church exists only in order to make God's affection an experience, through people who are His mysterious Body, witnesses in history today of that gaze capable of embracing all that is human."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A few random items

It is a strange day, akin perhaps to Holy Saturday, the quiet before storm. There is a lot going on, but I am remaining calm, prayerful, hopeful. I am especially hopeful in light of the fact that my beloved Utes are playing tonight in the Poinsettia Bowl against the University of California Golden Bears. A Ute win is all the more necessitated by the win of our arch rival, BYU, last night. The Cougs walloped Oregon State in the Las Vegas Bowl. This is a good place to admit that I root for all Mountain West Conference teams to win their bowl games, especially against teams from BCS conferences, like the PAC-10. Yes, I even root for the Y. So, way to go Cougs! GO UTES!
UPDATE: Utes beat Cal 37-27 for their 9th bowl victory in a row, the longest in the nation to finish this season 10-3.

We had our Cathedral staff luncheon this afternoon. I had the privilege of sitting next to and getting caught up with our Vicar General, who also serves as our Vicar for Clergy, Msgr. Fitzgerald, who embodies for me what being a priest means, a man whose love of the church, kindness, intelligence, energy, and sound judgement are unparalleled.

Anyway, the celebration and commemoration of the Lord's Nativity is nigh. As Advent comes to a close, I pray Maranatha- Come Lord Jesus!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

True knowledge wounds us

In his first encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est, the Holy Father wrote that "[t]he Church's deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacrament (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable" (par. 25a). The first of these, martyria, or, stated simply, giving witness, is, indeed, primary. Hence, liturgy and service are ways of giving witness to the One who was crucified, rose again, ascended, and who will return: Jesus Christ.

Being a witness means really and truly having an encounter with Christ, an authentic and genuine, if mediated, experience of Him. After all, we cannot give witness to what we have not seen. I recently had the opportunity to be present for the reception of two women who are in very poor health, so poor that their days are clearly numbered, into the church. While baptized, confirmed, and brought into communion with the church via the Roman Rite, they were carefully prepared to be Byzantine Catholics by family members. So, our small celebration had many of the trappings of an Eastern Rite celebration, which is more ecstatic than our solemn and beautiful Roman ritual. Because I was present to witness this great event, I was given a martyr's ribbon, a small bow with a small gold medallion on it. I cherish it. The whole afternoon and evening I continually thought about what it was I witnessed. I saw Christ that day in the water, in the sacred chrism, in the bread, in Msgr. Mayo, the celebrant, but most of all in the faces of these two women, who wanted so badly to be united to Christ in and through their chronic and even terminal suffering unto death. I bear a wound from that day, it was awesome because it was awful, meaning full of awe.

I am currently reading Rowan Williams' The Wound of Knowledge: Christian Spirituality from the New Testament to St. John of Cross. Dr. Williams is currently the Archbishop of Canterbury, as such he is the head of the worldwide Anglican communion, which currently presents him with no shortage of suffering as controversy rages and division threatens, all of which was only exacerbated by the Holy See's promulgation of Anglicanorum Coetibus. Before ascending to this position, before being made an Anglican bishop, he was and remains a highly respected theologian and scholar of ancient and Eastern Christianity. In all his works, at least the ones I have read, Williams highlights the centrality of the cross. At the beginning of The Wound of Knowledge he highlights what a scandal the cross remains for too many Christians. "Our healing," Williams writes, "lies in our obedient acceptance of God's will; but this is no bland resignation." It cannot be mere resignation to what happens to us, such a bland approach has no place in Christian praxis. If Christianity means anything, it means not being fatalistic because through Christ God is intimately involved, not just in the world, but in my life. He goes on to write that our healing "is a change wrought by anguish, darkness and stripping. If we believe we can experience our healing without deepening our hurt, we have understood nothing of the roots of our faith" (20).

Experience is, indeed, the instrument for our human journey, all of our experience, nothing excluded. "The desire to be in God's image without attaining Christ's image is a desire for immediacy, which wants everything without detour and without self-actualization" (21). Self-actualization can only be realized (i.e, made real) through experience. Such a desire for immediacy, Williams points out, is "a narcissistic desire of the ego to settle down in God, immortal and almighty" (21). A person who approaches life in this way "doesn't find it necessary 'to let [her/his] life be crucified' and to experience the night of pain" (21). This attitude is operative among young and old alike in these days leading up to Christmas, when we want to get through all the build up, all the violin concerts, choral recitals, church services, shopping for others, etc., and just rip open those packages with my name on it!

Writing about the witness of the early martyr Ignatius of Antioch, on whose memorial my youngest son was born, Williams says that in the letters he wrote to the churches of Asia Minor on his way to his own gruesome death at the hands of the Roman authorities, Ignatius understands that "the death of God is that which uniquely gives meaning to the death of the martyr" (25). Conversely, Ignatius give witness to the fact that "there is equally a sense in which the death of the martyr gives meaning to the death of God-made-man" (25). Be that as it may, "[t]he martyr has no illusion about the reality of his bonds, his fear, and his pain. Yet in it he knows the closeness to God" (25). Citing the fourth chapter of Ignatius' letter to the church in Smyrna, where he became a Christian under the tutelage of Polycarp, another early bishop/martyr, Williams quotes the martyr: "To be in front of the wild animals is to be in front of God"(25).

Where is God? We often ask this when experiencing something difficult. God is in the wild animals you face. God is using these circumstances and all the circumstances of your life to accomplish His purpose in and through you, not only to perfect you, but with your cooperation, to reconcile the world, just as he did through Jesus, who was also perfected through suffering (Heb. 5:8-9). Already, less than century after Jesus Christ lived, died, rose, and ascended, there were those in the church who "found it intolerable that the Savior, the agent and embodiment of God, should share so wholly in the vulnerability of humanity" and submit himself to an unjust and shameful death (25). It is against these people and this notion that Ignatius, even as he marches towards Rome to his certain death, "turns all his polemical vigor" (25). His vigor is not exhausted by rhetoric. It is completed by his own gruesome death, which he accepted joyfully, offering himself as a sacrifice, albeit one made acceptable by the perfect sacrifice of his Lord.

God becoming man for our sake. God sharing wholly in human vulnerability. This is what we celebrate at Christmas, not cozy little manger scenes and nice, warm yet small thoughts. We are confronted with reality that liberates only because it shakes us awake, out of our slumber, out of our desire domesticate God, to to reduce Christ's humanity. Green Day hit the nail on the head when they sang that "the Jesus of suburbia is a lie;" for so indeed he is.

When you hear that God loves you, you have but two choices that indicate you understand the reality those words convey- either you run for your life, or you willingly lay it down for others. I will let Jesus himself testify to the truthfulness of this observation: "whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it" (Luke 9:24). I always joke around and say that someday I am going to sing this dismissal at the end of Mass: "The Mass is ended, run for your lives!"

In his second letter to the church at Corinth, St. Paul writes that he pleaded with the Lord three times to remove "a thorn was [that was] given [him] in the flesh," but the Lord responded, telling him "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:6-9). So, Paul resolves that he "will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:9-10). It is an aw(e)ful(l) thing to realize that it is through our brokenness that we best witness to what God has done for us in Christ; so much so that when those who persevere, surviving the time of tribulation, are resurrected, like Christ, their wounds will be the most beautiful parts of them. The wounds in his hands, feet, and side mean so much more than anything He ever said, or anything else He did, all of which was done for us in humble obedience to the Father.

Sts. Stephen, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, Perpetua, Felicity, and all holy martyrs- pray for us as we, in turn, pray Maranatha-Come Lord Jesus!

Monday, December 21, 2009

"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it"

Today marks the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year up here in earth's northern hemisphere. This event has always and rightly been significant to human beings living above the equator. The farther north of the equator you go, the more significant is this day due to the prevalence of darkness. So, it is no big deal, despite what many self-described Christian purists think, that Christmas, the day on which we celebrate the coming into the world of the "true light, which enlightens everyone," is celebrated around this day (John 1:9). On the contrary, even on Christian terms, it only makes sense.

Anyway, on this particular day of the year on which the winter solstice arrives, a day on which we turn the corner, heading for longer, lighter days we offer this prayer, this O Antiphon, as it were:

"O rising sun, and splendor of the eternal light, and son of justice! Come and illuminate those sitting in the shadow of death!"

Maranatha- Come Lord Jesus!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Vespers Homily for Year C 4th Sunday of Advent

Reading: Heb. 10:5-10

As the long passage at the beginning of our reading this evening, taken from Psalm 40, shows, the only sacrifice acceptable to God is to do God’s will. In our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews four different sacrifices are mentioned: animal sacrifice, meal offering, burnt offering, and sin offering. Together these four kinds of sacrifice constitute the entire sacrificial system of ancient Israel. By appealing to the Psalm, the author seeks to demonstrate, using Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross as the model, that interior obedience must accompany external ritual if our rites are to signify, or, better yet, symbolize anything at all.

Our sacrifice is acceptable to God only because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, whose only purpose in everything he said and did, including the offering of his body to God for us was in obedience to the Father. While Jesus Christ clearly shows us that obedience comes before praise, he also shows us how it is impossible to have one without the other. By sacrificing himself on the Cross, an act in which he was both victim and priest, Jesus shows us the unity between obedience and praise.

Sacrifice pleasing to God is voluntary sacrifice on the part of human beings, taking up our cross and laying our lives down in the service of others in imitation of Christ. Making our lives a daily sacrifice of service is what makes us God’s priestly people. By so doing we make clear the innate connection between interior obedience and external practice, between Eucharist and daily living, between Sunday and the rest of the week. If we do not undertake to live life in this way, our liturgical acts may well be empty, perhaps even unacceptable to God.

As we embark on the final few days before our celebration of the Lord’s Nativity, let us examine our consciences, confess our sins, and be reconciled to one another so that we can undertake our work, which is the work of God through Christ by the power of the Spirit, to reconcile the world to God. This is not only the way we prepare ourselves for Christ’s return in glory, but how we, like John the Baptizer, prepare the way for his return.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The state of Christian marriage

The Manhattan Declaration is an important document. Released on 20 November 2009, this declaration is signed by Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox leaders, not least among whom are several Catholic bishops and Metropolitan Jonah, head of the Orthodox Church in America. The entire declaration, which focuses on issues of life, marriage, and religious liberty is a well-written and timely declaration of the Christian faith in the contemporary United States. The section on marriage is of particular interest given the current national debate about it, a debate that is very ideological and too often reductive. To give just one quick example of where we are on marriage, there is an effort underway in California, where a state-wide referendum to amend the state constitution to define marriage as being exclusively between one man and one woman narrowly passed last year, to collect enough signatures to get a measure banning divorce on next year's ballot. I am in favor of such a measure, at least of a measure banning so-called no-fault divorce. Trust me, I understand that it is difficult to stay married. If you're looking for reasons to bail on marriage you never have to look far. We need to change our mindset and look for reasons to stay married. Like priesthood and religious life, marriage is not for everyone, though I daresay it is more normative than priesthood, religious life, or being single. Because it is a vocation raised to the dignity of a sacrament, marrying another requires prayer and serious discernment.

Earlier this month, Sharon Jayson, writing in USA Today, demonstrated that many couples marry not expecting their union to last. This attitude builds from another demonstrably bad practice, co-habitating prior to getting married, a subject Jayson also tackled in concise format for USA Today some months earlier. As with Pope Paul VI's predictions about the consequences of the widespread availability of artificial contraception, what the church teaches about marriage holds up well when measured by against reality. Nonetheless, honesty requires me to note that the divorce rate among Christians, including Catholic Christians, does not significantly differ from the overall divorce rate. This flows in part from the pastoral mentality that does not view co-habitation, pre-marital sex, and non-practice of the faith as barriers to being married in the church. Too often there is no judgment made about whether a sacramental marriage is even possible between the two people asking to be joined. I would also say that teaching people it is not necessary to adhere to Christ by endeavoring to be obedient to what the church teaches about sex within marriage, which basically amounts to dispensing married people from practicing and acquiring the virtue of chastity, also contributes to this sad this state-of-affairs. Neither is it unusual for one or both people not be confirmed, often not seeing completing Christian initiation as important. In this regard, it is always important to remember that to truly love an other means to love her/his destiny.

In any event, the authors of the declaration- Robert George, who is profiled in the current issue of the New York Times magazine, Timothy Beeson, and Chuck Colson (a Catholic and two Evangelicals respectively)- begin the section on marriage with self-critical reflection on the failure of Christians to understand and live marriage in a sacramental way:

"The man said, 'This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, for she was taken out of man.' For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." Genesis 2:23-24

"This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband." Ephesians 5:32-33

"In Scripture, the creation of man and woman, and their one-flesh union as husband and wife, is the crowning achievement of God’s creation. In the transmission of life and the nurturing of children, men and women joined as spouses are given the great honor of being partners with God Himself. Marriage then, is the first institution of human society—indeed it is the institution on which all other human institutions have their foundation. In the Christian tradition we refer to marriage as 'holy matrimony' to signal the fact that it is an institution ordained by God, and blessed by Christ in his participation at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. In the Bible, God Himself blesses and holds marriage in the highest esteem.

"Vast human experience confirms that marriage is the original and most important institution for sustaining the health, education, and welfare of all persons in a society. Where marriage is honored, and where there is a flourishing marriage culture, everyone benefits—the spouses themselves, their children, the communities and societies in which they live. Where the marriage culture begins to erode, social pathologies of every sort quickly manifest themselves. Unfortunately, we have witnessed over the course of the past several decades a serious erosion of the marriage culture in our own country. Perhaps the most telling—and alarming—indicator is the out-of-wedlock birth rate. Less than fifty years ago, it was under 5 percent. Today it is over 40 percent. Our society—and particularly its poorest and most vulnerable sectors, where the out- of-wedlock birth rate is much higher even than the national average—is paying a huge price in delinquency, drug abuse, crime, incarceration, hopelessness, and despair. Other indicators are widespread non-marital sexual cohabitation and a devastatingly high rate of divorce.

"We confess with sadness that Christians and our institutions have too often scandalously failed to uphold the institution of marriage and to model for the world the true meaning of marriage. Insofar as we have too easily embraced the culture of divorce and remained silent about social practices that undermine the dignity of marriage we repent, and call upon all Christians to do the same."

When it comes to out-of-wedlocks births, which occur dispropotionately among people who are poor, maybe we owe Dan Quayle an apology.

All Christians remember, our Lord is a Jew

For all my elder sisters and brothers in the faith, to whom I am related by adoption through Christ Jesus, I offer Jill Sobule's Hanukkah classic for this last day of Hanukkah- Jesus Was A Dreidel Spinner as a belated traditio.

Along these lines, I want to agree with His Excellency, Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who in his unique and pastoral way, makes the case that Advent Must Be Preserved. Just as Archbishop Dolan, who recently became the Catholic lead for the on-going dialogue with Jews in the U.S., was invited to light the Hanukkah menorah at Temple Emanu-Elin on 11 December, the first day of this Jewish season, he has invited Rabbi David Posner, senior Rabbi of the 5th Ave Jewish congregation, to St. Patrick's Cathedral tomorrow to light the fourth candle on the Advent wreath.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A brief note on the meaning and purpose of human existence

Advent is clicking by at a rapid pace. Since this is a time of waiting in joyful hope for the Lord's return the quickness with which it passes it indicative of life. The rapidity of life, which becomes more apparent to everyone with each passing year, makes us all search all the more for life's meaning and purpose. To have purpose our lives must have meaning. Without meaning there can be no purpose. I think believing that life can have purpose without meaning is fairly widespread in our day. I don't decide what the meaning of my life is, just making a pragmatic move, my life has inherent meaning. Only from meaning can purpose arise. The purpose of our lives is to love, which means laying our lives down in the service of others.

We are created by love in order to love. The meaning of life, what my life means to me, is revealed in how I live, not necessarily in what I say. To truly love, to act charitably, means giving without calculation, with expecting anything in return. This is easy enough to say, or to write, but difficult to live because sooner or later, after giving what I deem to be a lot of myself, I want something for my efforts. Even though Christ promises me the hundredfold, the increase in reason, in understanding, in love, etc., if my giving of myself involves calculation, the determination to get something for myself, then I lose what little I have.

"Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us"(1 John 4:7-12). Just as to be is to be made, to be brought into being an Other, in order to really love we must first be loved by an Other.

To love another is to love her/his destiny, which means love requires some detachment, some objectivity, as well as knowledge of the purpose of my own life. For example, I may think I am loving another by enabling behavior that does not accord with his destiny. In such a case, I am not loving him, far from it. This is where we see, in practical terms, how the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Loving the destiny of another requires reason. It means wanting for the other what I want for myself, which is true happiness, genuine fulfillment. This leads us by a circuitous route back to meaning and purpose. Again, the meaning of the existence of every human being is inherent our being, as part and parcel of existence, it is a given, which is why human beings are creatures that seek meaning. We sense the meaning of our loves in many different and varied ways, most especially in our longing, our desire. Jesus Christ is the key to unlocking our understanding, to opening our eyes. The opening of our eyes happens for us like it happened for Saul of Tarsus, through an encounter with the risen Lord. Hence, it is rooted in experience, not discourse.

Today, as we begin the O Antiphons, we pray for Wisdom:

"O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence."

Prudence governs all the virtues. Prudence is what allows me to to truly love another, to relate to her with a view towards her destiny. Prudence means using reason to help me determine whether to act, when to act, and how to act. Judging well is being prudent and to be prudent is to be wise, in turn, to be wise is to love well, which is nothing other acting with purpose in light of life's meaning.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Fish gets roguish about Palin

While still an undergraduate I had the opportunity to listen to Stanley Fish give a lecture on his academic specialty, John Milton's poem Paradise Lost. The particular focus of the lecture was "the fall" and its aftermath: the woman and the man eating the fruit of the tree of good and evil. I especially remember him calling the man’s blaming the woman, when confronted by God about his disobedience, “the first domestic dispute.” For reasons I have never quite been able to understand, Fish remains a very controversial academic. I can only surmise that it is because he refuses to get on-board with any particular agenda, or ideology, and is not hesitant to make and defend complex arguments, refusing to be reductive. I know for quite a few years he was labeled, both with some justification, but at times unjustifiably, as a so-called Derridian deconstructionist. As a result of this labeling/libeling he is sometimes viewed as a rank relativist, which he has never been. In my view, Fish is a relentlessly honest reader and commentator, with whom I frequently disagree. I like that Fish is interested in those who disagree with him, taking their points and arguments seriously. Over the past year or so, I have really enjoyed reading his New York Times column, in which he discusses books, contemporary issues, and responds to readers who post comments to what he writes. What really sets Fish apart is that he gives authors, even the authors of comments to his columns, the benefit of the doubt by trying to see their points, even when poorly expressed.

The other day I posted the video of William Shatner doing a beat reading from Sarah Palin’s autobiography, Going Rogue, which ended with a similar reading by Gov. Palin of an excerpt of Shatner’s autobiography, Up Till Now, from The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien. I really have to say that my opinion of Gov. Palin is slowly evolving and for the better. I am not sure I want her to be president (I am not sure she wants to be, which is one reason my opinion of her is on the up-tick), but I think she is a valuable voice in our civic life. You can complain all you want about her fear of "death panels," but her hyperbolic point focused attention on a part of the massive health care reform bill that otherwise would have been ignored, a part that seeks to deal with end-of-life issues, at least to an extent, by law and under the radar. She certainly got the better of Al Gore in their recent exchange on climate change. In other words, she is rapidly becoming a political force to be reckoned with, which is good.

What do Stanley Fish and Sarah Palin have to do with one another? Well, Fish writes about Palin’s autobiography and then responds to predictable protests from Times readers about the fact that he liked the book. He begins his initial column on Palin’s autobiography by describing his experience trying to purchase Going Rogue at Strand Bookstore in Manhattan. After asking the sales assistant, whom he describes as a "bright young thing," a description much disliked by many readers, where he would find the book, he writes that she looked at him "as if I had requested a copy of 'Mein Kampf' signed in blood by the author." Apparently, he went to a nearby Barnes & Noble, "where, presumably, readers of dubious taste and sensibility" shop, to buy it. Fish goes on to make the judgment that Going Rogue is "compelling and very well done." It is important to ask by which criteria he arrives at this judgment. True to form, Professor Fish does not leave us in the lurch:

"My assessment of the book has nothing to do with the accuracy of its accounts. Some news agencies have fact-checkers poring over every sentence, which would be to the point if the book were a biography, a genre that is judged by the degree to which the factual claims being made can be verified down to the last assertion. ‘Going Rogue,’ however, is an autobiography, and while autobiographers certainly insist that they are telling the truth, the truth the genre promises is the truth about themselves — the kind of persons they are — and even when they are being mendacious or self-serving (and I don’t mean to imply that Palin is either), they are, necessarily, fleshing out that truth." In typical Fish fashion, he goes on to make a statement that is easily misread: "autobiographers cannot lie because anything they say will truthfully serve their project, which, again, is not to portray the facts, but to portray themselves." In order to be understood, this statement has to be read in light of his two-fold criteria: "(1) Does Palin succeed in conveying to her readers the kind of person she is? and (2) Does she do it in a satisfying and artful way? In short, is the book a good autobiographical read? I would answer ‘yes’ to both." Prof. Fish even deals with the predictable complaint that it was ghostwritten.

Fish succinctly states why my opinion of Sarah Palin is evolving and changing for the better when he writes that "[i]In the end, perseverance, the ability to absorb defeat without falling into defeatism, is the key to Palin’s character." He ends his ruminations on Gov. Palin by warning "[h]er political opponents, especially those who dismissed Ronald Reagan before he was elected, should take note. Wherever you are, you better watch out. Sarah Palin is coming to town."

In his follow-up column he clarifies his biography/autobiography distinction in this way: "a biographer is saying, 'This is the way it was'; an autobiographer is saying, 'This is the way I saw it and remember it'." He goes on to deal with complaints about his previous column, which he groups into four distinct categories. He takes on the most salient of these, which have to do with his audacity to write anything positive about Gov. Palin, like the one from Connie Boyd, who complained that Fish wrote "a love note to [Palin] in the New York Times," which is apparently tantamount to leaving a dookie in a sacred shrine. Connie goes on to ask Fish if he has any "sense of responsibility left?" Fish responds by stating that his "sense of responsibility" is "to the column [he] sat down to write, not to the columns some readers wanted [him] to write or thought [he] had in fact written." He tries to clarify by dismissing the reductively ideological. "Celebrations and denunciations of Sarah Palin are a dime a dozen. I was after something else." To make these two points more clearly, he ends his second column by citing Emily Noon’s not so subtle comment that in her recollection Fish likes "the devil in Paradise Lost too." In defending his objectivity he reminds Ms. Noon that "[i]t is a matter of record that [he has] been the most reliable and vociferous anti-Satanist in the world of Milton studies for more than 40 years. Yes, facts do matter."

Hierarchy update

This morning the people of the Diocese of Owensboro, Kentucky were given an Advent gift by the Holy Father, one on which they will have to wait on until 10 February 2010, when it was announced that Fr. Bill Medley, a priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville, will be their new bishop. Bishop-elect Medley is a pastor, having spent his life as a parish priest. The bishop elect is a Kentucky native and is 57 years-old.

As St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote: "Wheresoever the bishop appears, there let the people be, even as wheresoever Christ is, there is the Catholic Church." Bishop + people (numbered among the people, serving them on behalf of the bishop are presbyters and deacons)=ekklesia (i.e., Church).

With Bishop-elect Medley's appointment, there are six vacant Latin rite sees in the U.S.: Ogdensburg, NY; Springfield, Il; Austin, TX; Scranton, PA; Harrisburg, PA; LaCrosse, WI. Also in the U.S. there are currently six Roman Catholic prelates serving beyond 75, whose resignations the Holy Father has yet to accept.

UPDATE: Last week the Holy See announced the appointment of Bishop Daniel Flores, an auxiliary in Detroit, as the next bishop of the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas. He will replace Bishop Raymundo Peña, whose resignation was accepted by the Holy Father upon his having reached the age limit. Bishop Flores is 48 and a native of South Texas.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Spirituality, sin, and the ordinary

It is amazing how very predictable life is, especially when I begin to pay close attention and endeavor to live in the manner of disciple of Christ. I always convince myself that I am doing very well, making progress as it were...and, then, BOOM! Something happens. I respond to what happens by reproaching myself, by focusing on my failure, my lapse, before coming to understand all over again how merciful God is, how good God is, what Jesus meant when he said: "No one is good except God alone" (Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19). It is too easy to read this verse as a reproach, to reduce it to a condemnation instead of a simple statement about reality. Experience is the only way to learn this truth, to know it.

It is always nice to receive sound spiritual advice because it is so rare. Sound spiritual advice is simple, not complicated. This is why the desert fathers are as relevant today as they were more than a millennia and a half ago. So, here's some simple advice: read C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters in a serious way, not as a fable, but as serious literature, like The Brothers Karamazov. It is very easy to reduce this work to a funny little exchange between one fairly harmless and one almost hapless demon. That this work is meant to be taken seriously is indicated in Lewis' preface when he writes: "There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight. The sort of script which is used in this book can be very easily obtained by anyone who has once learned the knack; but disposed or excitable people who might make a bad use of it shall not learn it from me."

To give an example of what I am trying to express, I offer an excerpt from the first letter written by Screwtape to Wormwood:

"Never having been a human (Oh that abominable advantage of the Enemy's!) you don't realise how enslaved they are to the pressure of the ordinary. I once had a patient, a sound atheist, who used to read in the British Museum. One day, as he sat reading, I saw a train of thought in his mind beginning to go the wrong way. The Enemy, of course, was at his elbow in a moment. Before I knew where I was I saw my twenty years' work beginning to totter. If I had lost my head and begun to attempt a defence by argument I should have been undone. But I was not such a fool. I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control and suggested that it was just about time he had some lunch."

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Gaudete Sunday

Today, which marks the Third Sunday of Advent, is Gaudete Sunday. The word gaudete is Latin for rejoice and is taken from the introit for today's Mass, which, in turn, is taken from Philippians 4:4-5: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice! The Lord is near."

This year, Gaudete Sunday falls on St. Lucy's day, which, along with St. Nicholas' day, is a big deal in our house. I always find it delightful when a the feast of a great saint falls on Sunday because it reminds us that it is all about Jesus, our Lord, to whom Santa Lucia gave witness through her matryrdom.

I especially like the alternative prayer for this Sunday, which can be used as the Opening Prayer for Mass and the final prayer for Lauds and Vespers:

"Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
ever faithful to 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 and hope
which his presence will bestow,
for he is Lord for ever and ever"

I am slowly learning that life in Christ just has to be lived, through living comes joy. There are so many silly things that can distract me. Preaching spontaneously at a baptism a few months ago, I said something like "The Gospel is simple: love God with all you heart, might, mind, and strength and your neighbor as yourself. What clouds this simplicity is sin. First, my own sinfulness, then that of others. Even so, the simplicity remains and in order to be holy I have to live this simplicity, which is difficult, but with God nothing is impossible."

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe- ruegue para nosotros

Following closely on the heels of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is today. I was in Ft. Worth, Texas for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. I went to a midday Mass at a small church that was about one third full. I had to stifle a very juvenile chuckle when the lector, a lovely lady from Texas, reading the first passage from Genesis, said "nekkid" instead of "naked." Truthfully, I prefer nekkid because, in keeping with the spirit of the reading, it has a naughty undertone. Anyway, the glorious feast we celebrate today comes just before the half way point of Advent and a day before Eastern Christians and we Latins who follow the Eastern discipline intensify our Nativity Fast in preparation for the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord. Following the Byzantine discipline, from 13 December to 24 December, this intensification consists of abstaining from meat and meat products, dairy products, fish (excluding shell fish, which can be eaten), and olive oil. However, olive oil and wine can be taken on Saturdays and Sundays. It also means that on Wednesdays and Fridays no food is to be eaten between meals and that meals should be moderate in quantity, ideally only one per day, or even fasting from food altogether.

I do not write this to get others to do it. In fact, do NOT do this on the spur of the moment because fasting requires preparation and discernment. So, do something more manageable, but penitential, and start planning ahead for Lent!

This morning also marked the first ever Communion and Liberation Advent Retreat in Utah, which built on the Fraternity's Spiritual Exercises, From Faith, the Method. I was powerfully reminded that my encounter with Christ is not merely an idea, it is a fact, an event that not only happens in history, but in my history. My on-going encounter with Christ is always more than than I can express, will always be more than I can ever express, whether in a given moment or over the entire course of my life. As Fr. Erik told us, when it comes to the mystery of Christ I am always an ant looking at elephant, but even what I see from my limited perspective is glorious, awful at times and awe-inspiring at others, but no less glorious for all that. My inability to express the fullness of my heart is what has kept me from posting this week. Like Mary, this Advent I am trying to treasure "all these things, pondering them in [my] heart" (Luke 2:19).

Friday, December 11, 2009

"Surrender don't come natural to me...

...I'd rather fight you for something I don't really want than take what you give that I need"

I needed this song today. I am thankful my friend Michael made me remember Rich, his music, and Hold Me Jesus- our Friday traditio.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

"How can I display what I know I'm worthy of"

I didn't post a traditio yesterday. In order to correct my error, here is Tom Jones singing A Boy From Nowhere live in Cardiff, Wales.

"Where good honest men grow weak and the rich grow strong, something's wrong "

Tom is was a Welsh boy from nowhere and now look at him, a great singer and a good and gracious man with a few flaws!

A brief take on the importance of marriage

I am hard-pressed to write anything really meaningful or even heartfelt at the moment, not because there is nothing on my heart or mind, but because I have been so very busy. I finished all my coursework for my graduate degree and now have to begin writing my Integrated Pastoral Research paper on the emerging ecclesial identity of the permanent deacon in the Roman Catholic Church, much to ponder there...

In light of the USCCB's document Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan and the Manhattan Declaration, both of which set forth very well the Christian view on marriage and take on many of the very shallow arguments in favor of altering the fundamental meaning of marriage, my mind is very much on this subject. If you look, you will find good things in the most unexpected places, like in the British tabloid-like newspaper The Daily Mail. Of course, it was in The Mail this past spring that A.N. Wilson announced his return to Christian faith. In yesterday's on-line edition, author Sally Emerson recounts the importance of marriage and family by recounting a torrid affair she had with Douglas Adams, author of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, early in her marriage. She also recounts how she came to her senses about life and love, something many who go down that path never do. Towards the end of her lovely article, 'My wild affair with author Douglas Adams and how returning to my husband taught me the true value of marriage', she writes: "I can't understand in whose interests it might be to allow this most ancient institution to crumble. The facts and figures of countless research studies are devastatingly conclusive: children with two devoted parents tend to do better at school and have fewer behavioural problems. It is not hard to work out why.

"A government should not be trying to knock down the edifices which make us happy, but should be trying to build them up."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Prayer and the heart

It is amazing how busy my life is! Once in awhile it catches up to me. It certainly has this week. Instead of spending time writing, I am spending it reading and praying more. It's always amazing to me how much a little more effort yields, how much it changes my perspective on life, people, things. I suppose this is the purpose of Advent.

There is certainly a lot going in the world at present, including Pres. Obama's announcement that we will send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan for an eighteen month period. What bothers me is that, like the Bush Administration, Obama, in declaring Afghanistan not lost, has yet to spell out in a succinct manner just what our desired end state is, what we want to achieve politically and in terms of security (i.e., number of Afghani army and police troops trained, equipped, fielded, etc.). In other words, clear benchmarks against which we can measure progress. It seems to me that this is more important that saying by July 2011 we will begin reducing troops levels, which seems kind of arbitrary to me.

A picture taken by my friend, Carlo, last Thursday
So, many things, perhaps too many. It becomes increasingly clear to me how much prayer is needed. I am always bothered by how ambiguous that statement is. When we pray for someone or some other specific intention, we, too, need to be specific. What exactly are we praying for in any given situation? It is important for us to pray in God's will, which means to subject what we pray for to judgment. We judge our intentions against the criteria of the Gospel, not some subjective standard. While we certainly ask God to intervene, to get involved, to change the person or circumstances. What means does God use? Among the means at God's disposal, which are literally infinite, God primarily uses us, or at least wants to use us, as far-fetched as that may seem. This puts me in mind of Tolstoy's famous quip to the effect that everybody wants to change the world, but nobody wants to change himself.

It also seems that we use in far too sentimental a way sayings like Ghandi's "be the change you want to see." By what criteria do I judge the change I may want? In other words, how can I be sure that the change I seek is for the better in the service of the good? Even assuming that the change I seek is for the good, how do I become that change? These two seemingly disparate things connect. The primary means God has for intervening is us, as far-fetched as that may seem. So, the change we pray for most of all is a change in me, in my heart. Of course, I also pray for God to powerfully intervene in affairs and in the lives of people in ways that are beyond me, over and above me, or even ways too subtle for me to detect. I do this in the confidence that God is already involved and at work. I think of what St. Paul in that beautiful passage from his letter to the Romans: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect," then pray for that God's will done in you and through you (12:2). Prayer is not calling on a God who is otherwise absent. As Pope Benedict said at the start of this Advent: "God is here, he hasn’t retired to his world, he hasn’t left us alone." This was perhaps the major point I tried to make in my homily on Sunday.

It is crucial that it all start with gratitude, not gratitude generally, vaguely, and sentimentally construed, lifted up as a half-hearted gift, as some kind of God-ordained prerequisite, but genuine thanksgiving, a movement of the heart toward God for what you face right now, which is nothing other than a step toward your destiny. I think this goes some distance to unpacking what Paul means when he exhorts us to "be transformed by the renewal of [our]mind[s]."

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 ...