Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The embrace of Christ

"The Church is a human reality in which can be found unworthy people, rude people of little worth, sometimes violent, fragile, and presumptuous men, inadequate parents and rebellious children. But the Church does not stay on the other side, that is to say that of the Pharisees and of those without sin."

These words by Don Gius, spoken in April 2000 and published in the National Catholic Register, which, strangely enough, given the present circumstances we face, is a publication owned by the Legionaries of Christ, which came to me via my dear friend Sharon, over at Quaerere Deum, state very well the reality of the Church, which we all too easily lose sight of during trying times. Such observations are nothing new. St. Augustine's preaching is rife with such insights.

It bears repeating, that "[i]f the Church, with all its limitations, had not [the embrace of Christ] to offer to the world, even to the victims of those barbarities, then we would be lost. Because the evil would still be there, but it would be impossible to overcome it."

As I was typing this post I received an e-mail with the Holy Father's blessing for all the CL communities leading public Ways of the Cross on Good Friday attached. The Holy Father "prays that as the faithful silently accompany the Savior along the path of His redemptive suffering, they will enter more deeply into the inexhaustible mystery of the Cross and acknowledge it as the definitive sign of God's boundless mercy and reconciling love."

Meum cum sim pulvis et cinis

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Greater than Sin

I am happy to post in its entirety the response of Communion and Liberation to the recent scrutiny to which the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has been subjected by certain secular publications and media outlets. I quite agree with His Excellency, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, who said today "Palm Sunday Mass is sure a fitting place for us to express our love and solidarity for our earthly shepherd now suffering some of the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob, and scourging at the pillar, as did Jesus."

The CL statement begins below:

"There would be much to discuss about the events that led Benedict XVI to write his Letter to the Catholics of Ireland, and we could do this by starting from the facts, the numbers, and the data which, if looked at attentively, reveal a reality much less enormous than appears from the ferocious media campaign. Or we could start from the contradictions of those who, in the same newspaper, denounce certain wicked deeds, but after a few pages justify everything and everybody, especially in matters of sex. We could do this, and perhaps it would help to understand the context of a Church really under attack, whatever its errors may be. Only the Pope’s humble and courageous gesture pointed attention toward the heart of the question.

"Clearly there is a wound, a very serious one, one of the kind that provoked Christ (and his vicars, too) to use fiery words ('Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.').

"There is filth in the Church. Joseph Ratzinger himself said so during the Way of the Cross at the Coliseum five years ago, shortly before being elected Pope and, realistically, he has never stopped recalling the fact since. Sin is there, grave sin. Evil is there, along with the abyss of pain that evil carries with it, and everything possible has to be done, and with firmness, to stem the evil and to make amends for that pain. The Pope is already doing this, and his letter reiterates it strongly when it asks the guilty to 'answer for it before Almighty God and before properly constituted tribunals.'

"This is precisely why the true heart of the question, the forgotten focus, lies elsewhere. Alongside all the limitations and within the Church’s wounded humanity, is there or is there not something greater than sin, something radically greater than sin? Is there something that can shatter the inexorable weight of our evil? Something that, as the Pope writes, 'has the power to forgive even the greatest of sins, and to bring forth good even from the most terrible evil'?

"'This is the point: God was moved by our nothingness,' Fr. Giussani said in the phrase quoted on the CL Easter Poster. 'Not only that. God was moved by our betrayal, by our crude, forgetful, and treacherous poverty, by our pettiness... It’s compassion, pity, passion. He had pity on me.' This is what the Church brings to the world, and certainly not because of its members’ merit, goodness, or even less because of their coherence: God’s compassion for our pettiness, something greater than our limitations, the only thing infinitely greater than our limitations. If we don’t start from here, we cannot understand at all; everything goes mad, literally.

"We, too, have had moments when we have dodged that compassion, and run away from it. At times, it is in the Church itself that faith is reduced to ethics and morality is reduced to an impossible lonely recourse to laws, as if the need of that embrace were something to be ashamed of. But if we forget Christ, if we do away with the wholly different measure that He introduces into the world now, through the Church, then we no longer have the terms on which to judge the Church.

"Then it becomes easy to mistake attention for the victims and regard for their history for a conniving silence, and prudence toward the guilty parties, true or presumed – perhaps accused on the basis of rumors emerging after decades – for the will to 'cover up' (sadly it has sometimes been the case). Then it is almost inevitable to keep arguing about celibacy without even touching on the real value of virginity. And it becomes impossible to understand why the Church can be hard and motherly at the same time with the priests who go wrong. It can punish them severely and ask them to serve their sentence and make amends for the evil (it has already done so in the past, and will always do so), but without snapping, if possible, that thread that binds them, because it is the only thing that can redeem them. It can ask its children to 'be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect,' not so as to demand of them an impossible irreprehensibilty, but so as to remind them of a tension to live the same mercy with which God embraces us ('be merciful as your heavenly father is merciful').

"This is why the Church can educate, which, in the end, is the real question being challenged by those who are accusing it ('See, even the priests do wrong, and badly wrong. How can we trust our children?') as if the Church’s being teacher all depended on the behavior of her children, and not on Christ, on that presence which – amidst all the errors and horrors committed –makes possible in the world an embrace like that of Chagall’s Prodigal Son which appears on the Easter Poster. There, alongside Fr.Giussani’s phrase, there is another, by Benedict XVI: 'Conversion to Christ ultimately means this: to exit the illusion of self-sufficiency in order to discover and accept one’s own need– the need of His forgiveness and His friendship.'

"This is the embrace of Christ, in our wounded and needy humanity, far greater than the evil we can do. If the Church, with all its limitations, had not this to offer to the world, even to the victims of those barbarities, then we would be lost. Because the evil would still be there, but it would be impossible to overcome it."

Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini

Saturday, March 27, 2010

"Prepare ye the way for the Lord. Prepare ye the way for the kingdom"

"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; peace in heaven and glory in the highest."

Sticking with my Lenten theme of posting covers, Palm Sunday is a prefect time to link to Caedmaon's Call singing the John Michael Talbot song Prepare Ye the Way, from which the title of this post and my previous Palm Sunday posts is taken.

This Holy Week open yourself and the Lord will show you how much He loves you, not just love unto death, but love that conquers death, a love that never dies. As His Grace, N.T. Wright, has written: "'Amor, ergo sum': I am loved, therefore I am."

As always, posting during Holy Week will be catch-as-catch can, which is to say it depends on how and if I am moved. Of course, the Triduum will feature simple statements about the One who by His life, death, resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Holy Spirit, redeemed us and Who now seeks to sanctify us, to make us holy.

Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini

In Christ, with Christ, and through Christ "we are more than conquerors"

For some reason I have heard people say a lot recently that "God never gives you more than you can handle." Understandably, the response of many to this assertion, which is often made with great certainity, is fear because, especially today, we always have a lot. A lot of us have so much that we worry on a daily basis that our limit will be exceeded. As a result, we think if one more thing happens, especially if it is something bad, like our car breaking down, a child or a spouse having medical problems, coming down with something ourselves, some budget-busting thing emerges, we get laid off, our limit will be exceeded. You know what? Maybe this is true. Exceeding our limit creates an opening for Christ, by the power His Spirit, to make up for what we lack.

When we think that there is some limit imposed on God, even if it is God self-imposing a limit, beyond which our life just stops until we get caught up, we are fooling ourselves and setting ourselves up to then say, when we have decided that we've had enough, "Well, God gave me more than I can handle. I'm outta here." Frankly, dear friends this is childishness. It is dangerous. It is important to note that, in terms of casusality, God doesn't work like that. This is one of those instances in which a little theology is eminently practical. Most importantly, thinking this way causes you to miss much of what God is doing in your life and to see for yourself how God works.

The only passage in the New Testament I know of that could possibly be used to justify the assertion that God will not give us more than we can bear is 1 Corinthians 10:13, which reads: "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." So, we are talking about temptation, not bad things, things beyond your control, like cars, health, accidents, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc. None of these are punishments from God, those who insist they are divine punishments are as childish, maybe more so, than people who impose imaginary limits on reality.

The Temptation of St. Anthony, by Félicien Rops (1878)

When I am tempted I am faced with a choice, to do something that seems attractive, or to do what is truly right and good, which is to act not only in accordance with reason, but to act in harmony with what I truly desire. Hence, I have some power in the given situation. This is exactly what St. Paul is discussing in the whole passage from 1 Corithians 10, which runs from verse six through verse thirteen. He is writing to Gentile Christians who were formerly pagans and who were not only tempted to return, but in some cases had actually returned, to pagan practices, like temple prostitution, etc. There is a prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours that enjoins us to resist temptation to the shedding of our blood. After all, don't you think some of the early Christian martyrs were sorely tempted to make the token sacrifice to an idol in order to spare their lives? For them the way out God provided was being eaten by a wild beast in a coliseum. You see, dying is not the worse thing that can happen to any of us.

What does God give us? God gives us Jesus Christ. Christ conquered the world. He even vanquished death. The take away is that because in Christ we have everything there is nothing we cannot face or with which we are unable to deal, I mean NOTHING! St. Paul makes this point over and again throughout his letters. I particularly like this passage:

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

'For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.'

"No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord"
(Romans 8:35-39- underlining emphasis mine).

Christianity is not a folk religion. God is never more present to us than when we struggle, than when we're down. This is how resurrection becomes something experiential and not just something we wish for, not really believing it. Being on the verge of Holy Week is an opportune time to both reflect on and see how the Paschal Mystery plays out in our individual lives and in our life together as Church. Look at it this way, some day you will die. Dying is a limit, a horizon beyond which you cannot see. Because of Christ you will be resurrected. In this way God exceeds your limit. It doesn't work that differently right now, while you are alive. Following Christ is a daily dying to self. Only by dying to myself daily do I see, not only how God brings life from death through Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, but I see how God brings me from death to new life through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Meum cum sim pulvis et cinis

Being Towards Destiny

"Whatever course you have chosen for yourself, it will not be a chore but an adventure if you bring to it a sense of the glory of striving, if your sights are set far above the merely secure and mediocre" (David Sarnoff). We need to bring the glory of striving to all we do, even to play. Living this way entails taking risks, which requires trust. This trust is not necessarily proven by whether or not we succeed or fail because failure, too, is a part of living. Setting my "sights far above the merely secure and mediocre" also requires me to live without preconceptions. Not having preconceptions is different from not having aspirations and desires for proximate ends. It means being open to the unexpected, to being surprised.

While there is an inherent glory to human endeavor, our striving needs an object, an end towards which it is all directed because no matter what we achieve in this life it falls short of what we really want, which is the life that is truly life. Otherwise, all our busyness only serves to distract our attention from what really matters. As Don Giussani teaches us, we must use everything as means to accomplish the end we desire, to arrive at destiny, which is nothing other than fully realizing the purpose for which we exist. So, while there is the glory of striving, there is also the glory for which we strive and the two, while distinct, are inextricably linked. The glory for which I strive is striven for in no other way than how I live each day of my life, which means letting each moment be for me truly an experience, not just so many random things that happen to me. It is precisely through our daily activities that Christ comes meet us, to make the events of our days encounters with Him, the One who doesn't merely show us our destiny, but who is our destiny, our beginning and our end. He who is Alpha and Omega.

Meum cum sim pulvis et cinis

Friday, March 26, 2010

"Time makes you bolder and children get older; I'm getting older, too"

Smashing Pumpkins cover Fleetwood Mac's Landslide. It would be impossible to express what this song, that never resonated with me until I was in my 40s, means to me. "So, take my love and take it down..."

Meum cum sim pulvis et cinis

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Solemnity of the Annunciation

"The Annunciation" by Henry Ossawa Tanner

The angel of Lord declared unto Mary

And she conceived by the Holy Spirit

Behold, the handmaid of the Lord

Be it done unto me according to thy word

The Word was made flesh

And dwelt among us

Hail Mary, full of grace...

For those who confuse the Immaculate Conception, which is 9 December, with the Annunication, note that today is nine months before 25 December.

Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Χριστὲ ἐλέησον (Christe Eleison)

Being too busy to post anything of real substance has been something of a needed penitential exercise for me over the past few days. As a deacon, the days and weeks of Lent ofare very busy, but also very rewarding. I am learning again to pray on the go. In addition to Morning and Evening prayer, I have been able to offer up many Memorares and to pray the Angelus three times a day (6:00 AM, Noon, 6:00 PM). God is so good and so is His Mother, who, by grace, is our Mother, too.

There is a lot happening in the world right now. Of particular interest to me are the health care bill and the Administration's incomprehensible stance towards Israel, both of which trouble me a great deal. I hope to have some time to deal with these is due course.

Above all, I hope Lent is proving a fruitful season of grace for everybody. I hope your practice of the disciplines of increased prayer, fasting, and alms-giving, along with whatever personal practices you've added have cleared space in your life for God to work through Christ by the power of their Holy Spirit. I also hope that you're learning through your failures to keep these disciplines that God isn't just merciful, but in Christ Jesus, is mercy, a mercy that constantly challenges us, as our Sunday Gospel readings, whether your parish is using the A cycle or the C cycle, amply demonstrate. I urge everyone not to take the easy way out when contemplating these passages by only identifying with the woman caught in adultery or the prodigal, but with the judgmental crowd and the older son, too. We need to let Jesus challenge as well as comfort us. Only by so doing will you be able to deal with the challenges you face daily, using experience as the instrument for your journey towards destiny.

Meum cum sim pulvis et cinis

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Year C 5th Sunday of Lent

Readings: Isa. 43:16-21; Ps. 126: 1-6; Phil. 3:8-14; John 8:1-11

It is difficult to preach on the story of the woman caught in adultery without some comment on the text itself. Despite the fact that it now appears in all printed versions of the Bible, going from John 8:1-11, this narrative does not appear in the most ancient manuscripts of any of the canonical Gospels. In John’s Gospel, in addition to its settled location, it also appears, depending on the manuscript, in two other places. In some manuscripts it is found in what many scholars argue is its more natural place, in the Gospel of St. Luke. But, again, even in Luke it is found in two different places.

Let there be no doubt, the story of the woman caught in adultery has sufficient apostolic credentials to be included in Scripture. Eusebius, the early church historian, writes that Papias, an early second century bishop, told the story “of a woman who was accused of many sins before the Lord.” More insight is gleaned about the story by its appearance in a third century book, The Apostolic Constitutions, where it is used to warn bishops who are too strict. St. Augustine speculates that the story was omitted from the Gospel text "to avoid giving scandal." It seems the fear was that a story of such mercy towards an adulteress would cause the faithful to take the grave sin of adultery too lightly. So, in an ironic twist, the church becomes the judgmental crowd, judging even our Lord by finding him too forgiving. Of course, the whole point of this episode is precisely to demonstrate how deep and wide is God’s mercy, given us in Christ. We recognize how radical this is when we pray during our Stations of the Cross here at the Cathedral: "Bring to life everlasting all who have made the world a place of misery. Let the power of your love be stronger than human failure and let no one be without redemption."

It is easy to imagine Jesus on the Mount of Olives in deep, intimate prayer to his Father. As He concludes His prayer and comes down into the courtyards of the Temple and begins to teach He is put to the test by the religious authorities, who seek to impale him on the horns of a vicious dilemma. In the Judaism of Jesus’ time, when a legal question arose, it was taken to a rabbi. So, it is as a rabbi that Jesus is approached with the case of this woman who is caught in flagrante delicto. Beyond the particulars of the case, or the trickery of the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus sees a person in distress, a scared and shamed woman, a person stripped of her dignity and seemingly at the mercy of the merciless. He is moved. It no longer matters to Him what she has done, despite the fact that there seems to be no question about her guilt, though one wonders, since she was caught in the act, where her partner is. This scene is a concrete illustration of what St. Paul is trying to describe in our second reading when he writes about "not having any righteousness of [his] own based on the law," but only "that which comes through faith in Christ" (Phil. 3:9). In other words, St. Paul tells us that self-righteousness is an oxymoron.

In His response to this distressed and about-to-be-killed woman, Jesus, through his words and actions, reveals that He is at once true God and true man. In a truly human act of solidarity He not only takes pity on this woman, but, to a degree, takes on her guilt and shame. Among the ancient explanations given as to why or possibly what he wrote in the dirt, one that stands out is that He was seized with an intolerable sense of shame. As a result, he could not make eye contact with the crowd nor with the woman’s accusers and least of all with the accused herself. "In his burning embarrassment and [initial] confusion he stooped down so as to hide his face and began writing . . . on the ground" (Barclay, Gospel of John, vol. 2, pg. 3). Perhaps the leering, lustful looks on the faces of the accusers and the bleak cruelty in their eyes combined with the prurient curiosity of the crowd, not to mention the shame of the woman, all "combined to twist the very heart of Jesus in agony and pity, so that he hid his eyes" (ibid). Another ancient explanation is that Jesus wrote the names of her accusers who were themselves guilty of adultery, which may indicate that she was a prostitute.

After this awkward pause, Jesus’ divinity begins to show forth, not by cleverness, but by His love for her, shown by His compassion. Without impugning the law, he challenges the scribes and Pharisees and beats them at their own game: "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her" (John 8:7). After speaking these words, he bends down and resumes writing in the dirt. As He does this the crowd disperses, the accusers drop their stones and slowly walk away, no doubt murmuring to each other, then, much to the woman’s surprise, Jesus, though himself without sin refuses to condemn her. His refusal to condemn her does not mean that He condones her sin. He admonishes her to "go, and do not sin again" (John 8:11).

By forgiving so freely, Jesus transcends the demand of justice, in this case death, and seeks to turn a sinner into a righteous person by giving her new life, thus fulfilling the words of the prophet Isaiah: "see, I am doing something new!" (Isa. 43:19). Jesus Christ is God's justice, who often challenges our all too human notions of what it means to be just. As with so many episodes in the Gospels, this story remains unfinished. It remains unfinished because we do not know if the woman only took the reprieve Jesus obtained for her from stoning, or if her whole life was changed, turned around. Of more importance to us than speculating about her is our own unfinished story.

There is a connection between today’s Gospel last week's. The thread that links the two is the call to conversion, which is the passage from death to new life. The attitude of the men condemning the woman is much the same as the attitude of the older brother in last week’s Gospel. In neither case do those who consider themselves righteous want to show mercy. Jesus shows us that righteousness, to a very large extent, consists of nothing other than being merciful. Indeed, as we sang for today’s responsorial, "[t]he Lord has done great things for us." We show the joy with which we are filled by allowing ourselves to be changed from self-righteous, judgmental people looking for opportunities to throw stones, into compassionate and forgiving people; women and men who speak and act like Jesus. Only in this way do we, like Christ, show that the power of God's love is stronger than human failure.

Meum cum sim pulvis et cinis

Saturday, March 20, 2010

"I know when I think about Hitler and Stalin I think social justice"

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Glenn Beck Attacks Social Justice - James Martin
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorHealth Care reform

Thanks, Stephen! This gets it about right. Somehow, I think were I to inform my bishop about any focus on social justice, he would be pleased. This is not to say that we don't need to clarify from time-to-time and that social justice is not a name we can apply to all political activity, which is why we look to our bishops to clarify and to lead. To try and be a little fair, it is true that not everything that flies under the flag of social justice is truly just. We need to be clear on what justice is because it informs not only the ends we strive to achieve, but the means we use to accomplish them.

Meum cum sim pulvis et cinis

Deacon Dad

I am spending my early morning with my little boys today. It is fun and energetic. It is also very nice because of the busy week I had at work and at the parish. I have been thinking a lot this week about fatherhood and diaconate. They are mutually reinforcing, not mutually exclusive. In other words, being a Dad makes me a better deacon and being a deacon makes me a better Dad. It is one of the surest signs of grace in my life, flowing from the sacraments of matrimony and holy orders. Don't get me wrong, my life is busy sometimes to the point of near exhaustion, like the past two weeks. It is a good kind of being tired, a kind that fills me with gratitude and awe.

To use words from an old John Mellencamp song: "This is my life, it's what I've chosen to do/There are no free rides, no one said it'd be easy." Clarifying a bit, I am quite certain I could not do what I do if I was not called to do it. The fact that grace builds on nature means that, by definition, it is not cheap. God always solicits and often requires our cooperation. After all, being a deacon is nothing other than agreeing to cooperate with what God is accomplishing in the world through Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit. The deacon is one who, hearing the call, says, "Here I am. Choose me." In other words, it is of the essence of the diaconate to walk where angels fear to tread.

My oldest son and I at his confirmation in 2008

I have mentioned before that I am slowly reading through the book Ascend: The Catholic Faith for a New Generation. This lovely book was written by two deacons and is really a gift to the church. Among the many things I do as a deacon faith formation is at the top of the list. As a parent, along with my wife, I am the first teacher of my children in the way of faith in Christ, a sacred trust I cannot delegate to anyone else. So, handing on the faith to a new generation is a daily concern of mine. I like very much what Ascend has to say about deacons: "The deacon has three ministries of service. By the ministry of the Word, the deacon preaches, teaches and proclaims the Gospel at liturgy. By the ministry of the Altar, the deacon has certainn duties during liturgy. By the ministry of Love, the deacon has a responsibility to serve the outcast, to help the Christian community serve the outcast, and to welcome the outcast into the Christian community." Especially in light of Glenn Beck's recent and, frankly, silly comment, I like this: "The deacon is ordained for social justice."

Meum cum sim pulvis et cinis

Friday, March 19, 2010

St. Joseph a model for men

This is an excerpt from my homily, delivered on the Feast of the Holy Family in 2008.

"When we consider the Holy Family it is easy to become sentimental. In recent years, however, we have recovered the human context of the Incarnation from the perspective of Mary, an event that made her, for a time, an unmarried, pregnant teenager. But in order to see the bigger picture, we need to recover the perspective of St. Joseph, too. He was betrothed to a young woman, with whom he had not had relations, but who turns up pregnant before coming to live with him. Despite this, he did not abandon her, but accepted the will of God, which, even though made known to him by an angel, must have remained incomprehensible and difficult for him, especially in the months leading up to the birth of the divinely conceived child. It is the kind of manliness exemplified by St. Joseph that we desperately need today.

St. Joseph the Carpenter by artist John Collier, a deep diaconal bow to Deacon Greg Kandra for bringing this lovely painting to my attention

"After all, the collapse of the family falls disproportionately on women and children, crushing many. The need for this kind of responsibility is reflected in the divine command to ancient Israel to care for the widow and the orphan, something for which they were frequently chastised by God through the prophets for failing to do. The crisis of fatherhood today, which results in the grave sin of men failing and refusing to provide materially, emotionally, and developmentally for their children, stems from our rejection of the family as an institution ordained by God through nature and grace."

St Joseph, pray for us.

"Gotta go to Idaho"

Today is the Solemnity  of St. Joseph. In most places in the world today is a holy day of obligation, but not in the U.S. "It may sound funny, but it's true" today is not a day of abstinence. So, even though it is a Friday that falls in Lent, you can have a cheeseburger should you choose. How cool is that?

Anyway, I'm back on the cover jag. Since today is kind of an upside day our traditio is the Foo Fighters covering Danny Says by the Ramones.

St Joseph, pray for us.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick's Day

Being a Welsh speaker from an area located in modern Scotland, along with his captivity and later missionary work in Ireland, Patrick is what might be called a pan-Celtic saint.

Here's a kickin' Celtic tune, Barroom Hero, by our friends from Boston, the DropKick Murphys. As my friend, Brian, reminded all the non-Celts out there, friends don't let friends drink green beer. Besides, drinking something like Bud Light on St. Patrick's shows a distinct lack of the requisite Celtic spirit. Have a Guinness, a Harp, or maybe a Smithwick's, but not green anything. I maintain a don't ask, don't policy on this. After all, it's your self-respect that's on the line!

Let's not forget to pray the Breastplate of St. Patrick, my favorite stanza of which is:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

Have fun and be careful out there. Look out for one another. Never forget, in the name of St. Patrick, to whom you belong.

Meum cum sim pulvis et cinis

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Spiritual discipline- the road to freedom in Christ

"Spiritual discipline... is not bondage. It is a rejection of bondage, a pursuit of holiness while gaining freedom from legalism and sinful passions. The freedom of grace is known through the discipline of being bound to God the Father, to Christ, and to the Holy Spirit. Christ fulfilled the law with its demands that we might be free in Him, justified by faith, to live fruitful and righteous lives, obeying the truth. Thus Paul exhorts the Galatians, 'Do not grow weary while doing good' (6:9) and, 'Do good to all' (6:10) (The Orthodox Study Bible pg 423).

Meum cum sim pulvis et cinis

Monday, March 15, 2010

Monday, reinvigorate, or reboot- trusting God

"Each morning, Lord, you fill us with your kindness" (Antiphon 1 of Morning Prayer Lenten Monday, Week IV of the Psalter). Indeed, each morning the Lord fills us with His kindness, reminds us of His great love for us. Especially today, the day after Laetare Sunday, as we resume our Lenten journey towards our celebration of the Lord's death and resurrection at the great Easter Vigil. Laetare Sunday gives us a brief respite, as all Sundays of Lent do to some degree, from the disciplines of Lent. Of course, the reason for our rejoicing yesterday is God's infinite mercy towards us, as exemplified by the parable of the prodigal son. So, if you're feeling a little discouraged about how Lent has gone for you this far, today is a reset, an opportunity to pray, to fast, to give alms, which cannot be done authentically unless it is a response to what God has done for you in Christ. I am still really struck by the words of St. Peter Chrysologus that before God, whom we call our Father, we rise "higher because of pardon than [we] fell low because of [sin]."

Perhaps you just need a little strength, some reinvigoration, to keep up the disciplines of Lent, which serve no purpose other than getting our egos out of the way, clearing some space for God to work in our lives. Maybe you just need to be reminded that it doesn't depend wholly on you, but on God. If you are white-knuckling it through Lent, today you are invited to relax your grip, to let go and, as a popular slogan puts it, let God. Yes, today is the ides of March, but as far as I can recall this was only ominous for Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. For us let it be auspicious. To be on the safe side, avoid gatherings of men in togas holding daggers. I think this always good advice.

Meum cum sim pulvis et cinis

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Laetare Sunday- "Rejoice, O Jerusalem"

Return of the Prodigal Son, by Rembrandt

"So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him" (Luke 15:20b).

He got up "from the wreckage of his conscience and body alike. He arose from the depths of hell and touched the heights of heaven. Before the heavenly Father, a child rises higher because of pardon than he fell low because of guilt" (St. Peter Chrysologus, from Magificat). It is important to note that in order to see the wreckage we must have a reckoning, a realization of what we have wrought, which is what makes us see that we need forgiveness. Without such a reckoning, which is also a grace, we are either faking it or looking for what Bonhoeffer called "cheap grace," which I will define here as forgiveness without a reckoning. Now, it is certainly true that in and through Christ we are always already forgiven, but in order to really grasp what that means in order for it to be life-changing, in order to repent (i.e., change), we must come to the realization of just how deep and wide is God's love for us. God's unfailing love and forgiveness is our cause for rejoicing today. We, too, are prodigal sons and daughters who were once lost and have been found. We are the lost sheep sought out and found by the Good Shepherd.

Meum cum sim pulvis et cinis

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Adding to political moments that will live in infamy

Let's say you served several consecutive terms in your state's legislature, left to run for Congress and, after losing your congressional bid, returned to your state's legislature and rose to become the leader of the majority party. Beyond that, you are a respected businessman and a leader in your church, a past pastor of a local congregation and, after that, being called to the next level of leadership. Then, on the last day of the most recent legislative session, you stand up before the House, after the governor speaks, and admit to being naked in a hot-tub some 25 years ago with a 15 year-old girl, though you state, in Clintonesque-fashion, that "there was no physical contact, there was no touching, there was no intercourse, there was none of those things." At the time of the hot tub incident you were 30 years-old, married with children and in business for yourself. In fact, this young woman worked for you and had been in a Sunday school class you taught several years before. You further disclose that while you were running for Congress, this woman, who is now grown, threatened to disclose the incident and the grooming that led up to it. In response, you, through your attorney, enter into a legal confidentiality agreement and pay her $150,000.00 to remain silent. What do you suppose the reaction of your fellow lawmakers would be; silent shock, whispered murmurings, indignation, calls for you to resign? Well, if you were in Utah, it would merit you a standing ovation.

Apparently, members of our state legislature find taking advantage of a minor, lying about it for 25 years, paying her off to be silent, then tearfully confessing when she starts to go public about it courageous. For demonstrating such resolve in the face of controversy, Rep Kevin Garn, (R) Layton, was lauded by his colleagues on the last day of our state's annual legislative session. Who knew courage could be so self-serving? The woman, Cheryl Maher, who is now talking about the incident, is saying that Garn groomed her for this hot-tub encounter, which, according to her, involved alcohol procured by Garn, which he gave her, and that there was contact. She said that Garn "likes to massage." In a weird twist, while Garn never graduated from college, he is a graduate, though years after the hot-tub incident, of the Utah College of Massage Therapy. In addition to being Republican majority leader in the Utah House, Garn has also served as a LDS bishop and stake president.

Fellow lawmakers console massage therapist Kevin Garn after his tearful confession of sorts, photo from the Deseret News

Bishops in the LDS Church are similar to pastors in that they lead the local congregation, called a ward, though on an unpaid, part-time basis. A ward is the LDS equivalent of a parish. A stake is the next level of organization above a ward and consists of several wards and perhaps a branch or two (a branch being the LDS version of a mission, except that it is independent of a ward and falls directly under the stake) that are located, at least in Utah, in a pretty small geographic area. A good question, posed by one LDS commenter in response to the first story I linked to, is how many LDS Church disciplinary councils (known more commonly as a church court) did Garn preside at where the conduct was similar to his own, or not even as bad, say, like this kind of behavior that occurred between consenting adults who were not spouses? A LDS disciplinary council occurs when a member is credibly accused of or admits to egregious behavior, like having an extra-marital affair, or even pre-marital relations. The disciplinary council determines what actions the church will take, like to excommunicate or disfellowship, etc. There is no doubt that any admission of hot-tubbing with no clothes on with a member of the opposite sex who is not your wife, let alone a minor, would have resulted in a disciplinary council for Garn and, at that time, almost certain excommunication. There remains the fact that this behavior was illegal, even at the time it occurred. This also brings up the sheer hypocrisy of having a self-admitted sex offender passing laws dealing with sex crimes.

To make it worse, the Deseret News, which, along with the Salt Lake Tribune, is a major newspaper in Salt Lake City, knew about these allegations back in 2002, when Garn was running for Congress, but decided not to run the story because, according to the newspaper itself, he didn't win. He lost in the Republican primary. Their reason for not running it when Garn sought re-election to the Utah House was their belief or knowledge of the legal agreement entered into between Garn and Maher. I am not a lawyer, but I can't imagine it would be illegal to print what had been previously gathered and to state that a confidentiality agreement had subsequently been entered into by the parties. It does bear mentioning that the Deseret News is owned by the LDS Church and, under its current editor, Joe Cannon, who formerly chaired the Utah Republican Party, is self-consciously a LDS newspaper.

Now, let's try to put this into some perspective. I do not do so with the intent of downplaying anything. This kind of behavior on the part of an adult toward a child is grossly immoral and rightly felonious. So, think about the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, many instances of abuse consist of no more than what Garn and Maher describe took place between them. I have in mind here the confirmed allegations made by former U.S. Representative Mark Foley of Florida, who went on to have to his own troubles with minors, against a Catholic priest. Again, to be clear, any instance like this is wrong, gravely immoral, and rightfully illegal! According to Maher, she reported this to LDS church leaders at the time, like their bishop, who did nothing, not even notifying the police. Failure to notify the police of such an accusation, thanks to tougher laws, no doubt supported by Garn, is now a criminal offense in its own right and rightfully so. Had their bishop notified the police, Garn would have been arrested, charged, and since we know by his own admission that he was at least in the hot tub naked with her, likely convicted. Today he would be required to register as a sex offender, but instead he is being lauded by his fellow legislators for his courage.

While I am outraged, I am not without sympathy or compassion for Garn, but I take exception to him playing the victim. In light of his years of hypocrisy as both a church leader and a legislator, Jesus' parable of the unforgiving servant is sticking in my mind (Matt. 18:21-34). I thought long and hard before posting on this. I am truly beside myself that, according to the Tribune, the Speaker of the Utah House, Dave Clark, said after Garn's tearful admission, "I know not of the man you speak of, but I know the man I consider a friend, a leader and an asset to the State of Utah and I would ask our fellow colleagues that our hearts might be open." Clark went on to say "We hope you would remain with us." After these words Garn was treated "to a standing ovation from the representatives and applause and shouts from those in the gallery." For this bit of bad political theater, Speaker Clark and the Utah House of Representatives owe Cheryl Maher, all people who have been sexually victimized by adults as children, and the citizens of Utah a public apology. Adding to the weirdness, this occurred in the same week that it was announced that Brian David Mitchell, who kidnapped and abused Elizabeth Smart, having been found mentally competent, will stand trail beginning 1 November.

Another part of my judgment to write about this stems from my dissatisfaction with what I have read in both Salt Lake newspapers, which have failed to put this into proper perspective and have not grasped how wrong it is to blame the victim. I am also unhappy with the double standard being applied vis-à-vis the religious angle, not to mention that the Deseret News seems to be more concerned about salvaging its journalistic integrity, which has to be called into question in light of all this. Finally, too many commenters on the D News website see Garn as the victim, even to the point of calling Maher an extortionist who should be jailed.

UPDATE: It is being reported this morning that Kevin Garn has resigned his House seat. A step in the right direction, but in light of everything only one step of several needed to correct this bizarre and sad episode brought about by a man who still seems to be a (largely unrepentant) manipulator. He may also be facing charges for violations of election laws for failing to disclose his $150,000 pay off to Maher in 2002.

UPATE 2: In addition to saying how Garn's abuse has affected her life very negatively, Cheryl Maher contends that Garn's relationship with her was long term and that there were others with whom he was involved. Adding more fuel to the fire, Maher also contends that she contacted the Salt Lake Tribune in 2002. They, too, did not run the story. I am sorry to say that I am not surprised in the least that the fourth estate continues to fail us. This failure, not the advent of blogging, is their downfall. How about good, hard-nosed, objective reporting instead of infotainment? Undoutedly, there will be more to follow, but you won't read about it here.

Meum cum sim pulvis et cinis

Friday, March 12, 2010

"And love's strange, so real in the dark..."

The Academy Awards tribute to John Hughes has me in an '80s frame of mind this week. So, instead of sticking with the covers (I will return next week), I am posting the original video of the Simple Minds' classic, Don't You Forget about Me, it's still retro! This song was made all the more popular because it is the final song for Hughes' The Breakfast Club, the lyrics of which resonated perfectly with the film.

"...slow change may tear us apart when the light gets into your heart ... When you call my name, I'll be there..."

Meum cum sim pulvis et cinis

Thursday, March 11, 2010

"Rebellion is profoundly positive"

In L’homme Révolté, Camus points out that "in the act of rebellion as we have envisaged it up to now, an abstract ideal is not chosen through lack of feeling and in pursuit of a sterile demand." In other words, the metaphysical rebellion called forth by the existential condition of being human is not in the pursuit or advancement of an ideology. "We insist that the part of man which cannot be reduced to mere ideas should be taken into consideration – the passionate side of his nature that serves no other purpose than to be part of the act of living. Does this imply that no rebellion is motivated by resentment? No, and we know it only too well in this age of malice. But we must consider the idea of rebellion in its widest sense on pain of betraying it; and in its widest sense rebellion goes far beyond resentment." How far beyond resentment does rebellion go, you might well ask. Rebellion not only goes to the end of human existence, but constitutes our end, that is, the meaning of our existence, our point and purpose. "When Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights," Camus continues, "says that he puts his love above God and would willingly go to hell in order to be reunited with the woman he loves, he is prompted not only by youth and humiliation but by the consuming experience of a whole lifetime. The same emotion causes Eckart, in a surprising bit of heresy, to say that he prefers hell with Jesus to heaven without Him. This is the very essence of love."

Hence, "[r]ebellion…is profoundly positive in that it reveals the part of man which must always be defended."

Meum cum sim pulvis et cinis

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Life is not elsewhere, it always already here, now

"Everything turns problematic, questionable, subject to analysis and doubt: Progress and Revolution. Youth. Motherhood. Even Man. And also Poetry…"

from Life is Elsewhere, by Milan Kundera

Jesus is concrete and real. He shows us that experience, the life we live, is the instrument for a human journey, that my experience is the instrument for my journey. Life is not, as Kundera's novel shows that it is too often for too many, elsewhere. Having this revelation is what allows me to realize this. It is what allows me to engage reality according to the totality of its factors, ignoring nothing. Jesus Christ is the revelation that allows for this realization, to steal a Jesse Jackson chop. He makes and then keeps it real.

© Sohrab Hura

I'll be honest, I don't want to be holy. I want to be happy. Nonetheless, I realize that holiness is the means I must use to be truly happy. Because in order to be resurrected I have to die, which is what I did in baptism, after which I was buried and arose to new life, to eternal life, the life that is truly life, twenty years ago next month. A week or so ago, a friend relayed that the sermon at her church that Sunday was about how we are not called to happiness, but to holiness. What? I refute it thus: "Gloria Dei vivens homo"! I think God's only real concern is our happiness, our fulfillment.

I sincerely hope that the title of the sermon served merely as a provocation and that the message ultimately turned more around the question, what does it mean to be truly happy, before proceeding to discuss what it means to be holy, which means to live the paradox of dying to self in order to truly live, and that being holy is the path to true happiness. Being holy is nothing other than loving perfectly because God is love (love is not God, an important distinction; 1 John 4:8.16). God is our origin and our destiny, that is, the fulfillment of our desire, that longing which makes us human and is the surest proof that we are created in the imago dei.

A deep diaconal bow to Shahidul Alam for the photograph and the quote from Kundera's book, a novel, along with all of Kundera's works, that I cherish because they have formed me in many ways over the years. His books run like an underground spring through my soul, especially Immortality.

Meum cum sim pulvis et cinis

Monday, March 8, 2010

"Don't you forget about me..." An Academy Awards Tribute to John Hughes

I'm not much for awards shows, but I had to watch this tribute to John Hughes. I was moved by the deep and utterly unfeigned gratitude and love shown by those actors and actresses who worked with him. In most their cases, John Hughes was the one who gave them their break, but that wasn't all he gave them.

I have to say that my favorite John Hughes movie, though I cherish each and every one, remains The Breakfast Club. If I am committed to anything, it is to keeping my heart alive, which differs from not letting it die, just like playing to win is different than playing not to lose. It means starting from a positive hypothesis, which some days (these days), is harder than it sounds. It a struggle, a contest, an agon. Thanks, John for providing me with some companionship through your compelling stories and characters!

Meum cum sim pulvis et cinis

Emptiness is the condition of being filled with hope

I think that by the time the Romans drove the nails into His body, Jesus was empty and exhausted. I believe this allowed him to be calmly determined, to see His choice with clarity. The spiritual disciplines (i.e., prayer, fasting, alms-giving) help us get our egos out of the way because they have the effect of emptying us. It is only by being empty that we can be hopeful, that is, full of hope. It is hope, which is certainty, not  naïve wistfulness, that allows us to achieve clarity of purpose. Through practicing the spiritual disciplines, I learn to sacrifice, which means giving something up because I freely choose to, not because I have to, or because I am obligated to.

The Cross as the Tree of Life

Everyday presents me with opportunities to offer sacrifices and sacrifice, in turn, is what turns many defeats into victories. There is no magic involved in this because sacrifice requires a choice, a decision, one that is almost always difficult because I have to put aside my ego, which is made possible by my practice of the spiritual disciplines. For example, I can let an insult fester, I can seek vindication, or try to get even, or I can forgive it and offer it up, as it were. Love requires sacrifice. Jesus sets the example by dying on the cross.

Jesus did not want to die on the cross, we all know that, but neither did He do it because the Father made Him. No! He chose it for our sakes in obedience the Father. This tells us that obedience, too, is a choice. So we see that freedom is the indispensible condition for being a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. If we are His followers, his disciples (disciples practice the disciplines of their master), we must choose the cross, too. This is part of what I call the inverse property of redemption, which is something I hope calls to mind St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross's (i.e., Edith Stein) The Science of the Cross, in which we come to see that without the cross there is no resurrection; without Good Friday, Easter not only loses meaning, but is not even possible. Please, don't take my word for it.

"Then Jesus told his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it'" (Matt. 16:24-25). A paradox, no? This requires trust in the One who tells us this. It is trust, even if tentative and a bit skeptical at first, that allows us to take the risk of verifying this through our experience.

Meum cum sim pulvis et cinis

Sunday, March 7, 2010

From whence comes "meum cum sim pulvis et cinis"?

"respondens Abraham ait quia semel coepi loquar ad Dominum meum cum sim pulvis et cinis" (Gen. Xviii, 27).

Abraham pleading with God not to destroy Sodom.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Cor ad cor loquitur

It has been a really Lent-like week, whatever that means! For me, it means that it has been a difficult week, an exhausting week. If we practice spiritual disciplines to get ourselves, that is, our egos out-of-the-way, then this week works great. I am crushed. When I get down (not in the funky way), I feel alone. I know that I am never alone and this comforts me. What comforts me even more is this being made manifest to me in concrete ways. Sure, Christ is very often present to me in and through other people, but not exclusively in this way. Sometimes, I think we take that too far. By taking that line of reasoning too far, I mean when we start to think that Christ is only present to us in and through other people. While I am grateful that I can acknowledge both, right now I am most grateful that I am aware of His presence apart from people.

Just because this is a spiritual insight does not mean that reason doesn't apply; reason still applies. To wit: other people let me down, disappoint me, and are not always there for me in the ways I need to them to be. Sometimes this is not a problem and is the result of unrealistic expectations and unhealthy attachments on my part. At other times, it is just another person's inability to read my mind, which is surely an impossible expectation! There are times when it is none of those things, when I am being neither unrealistic nor unreasonable. I don't just have needs, as Fr. Carrón said, I am a need! Here is where the judgment of reason comes in- if Jesus is only present to me in and through other people, then sometimes He disappoints me, lets me down and is indifferent to me.

I know the Lord is never indifferent towards me. He is always deeply concerned about me, about how I am doing, and cares for me in the way only He can. I know this through many experiences. I know this through what I am experiencing now and what I have been going through this past week, especially towards the end of the week. This is what I really mean by this week being Lent-like. All the Lenten paces I have been putting myself through are worth it to realize His presence, to get closer to Him. I am not merely being sentimental or wistful.

He accompanies me, which means He doesn't magically make everything better, but that He walks with me through it. He holds me up when I need it. He invites me to His table for nourishment, giving Himself to me body, blood, soul, and divinity, as well as absolving me of my sins. Could I really ask for anymore? Too often, as Rich Mullins sang, I'd rather fight Him for what I don't really want than take what He gives that I need. I am inclined to call this the beggar's exchange, in which I give Christ my heart and Christ gives me His very self, thus satisfying the need I am because if I possess Him, I possess everything! I don't share this to be smug. I am mindful of these words written by Camus: "Beginning to give yourself means condemning yourself to never giving enough even when you give everything. And you never give everything." These words are a fair summary of my struggles this week.

St. Justin Martyr, the first Christian philosopher, wrote: "He who once for all conquered death for us, now continually conquers in us." Moreover, He conquers our hearts with His tenderness.

Meum cum sim pulvis et cinis

Friday, March 5, 2010

"We'd like to help you learn to help yourself"

Jesus loves you more than you will know (Wo, wo, wo)/God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson/Heaven holds a place for those who pray (Hey, hey, hey...hey, hey, hey)

Since I posted a cover for last week's Friday traditio and because I heard this song a few times this week, I decided on the Lemonheads' cover of Simon & Garfunkel's Mrs. Robinson. Yes, there is a bad word in the lyrics.

Meum cum sim pulvis et cinis

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Why do I blog?

Does blogging count as a hobby? I sure hope so because after I complete everything I have to do sitting down and writing a few words is about all I can manage these days, though as the weather grows warmer I anticipate heading to the hills and work outside. Authoring Καθολικός διάκονος day-by-day is an adventure, perhaps it is an avocation, or maybe a provocation. I choose the latter. This August will mark four years of serious and pretty much daily blogging. I have to say that it isn't a lot of work. Blogging provides an outlet for many of the things that course through my consciousness everyday. It helps me to synthesize, to clarify, even revealing to me when I am way off base. It is easy to say that writing is therapeutic and/or cathartic, but it is really neither of those for me, though it may work that way for others. Rather, writing for me is a challenge, a provocation. I don't mind provoking others with what I write. I certainly know that I have that effect from time-to-time.

Blogging is especially good for me right now, during this Lent. Given the corrective post I was morally obligated to write because of some anonymous person's being provoked by another post and responding in a manner that utterly lacked integrity, I had intended to forego my annual Lenten introspective on blogging. Obviously, I changed my mind. It is important to me that what appears on these pages origniates from me. I almost never know what I will read, think, hear, or see that I will pull together and write about, which is not to say I am not careful about what I post and what I don't. There are a lot of things about which I would never write publicly.

There is the ever present question, Why do I blog? I think the why questions are the ones that make us human. Hence, it is important to keep them in front of us. One of the things I like about Heidegger's philosophical method was his dogged insistence over many decades of the centrality of the question of Being. He saw his life-long project as a recovery of this quaestio: Why is there something instead of nothing? Like most why questions, the one about blogging has no singular or set answer. Well, actually it does, but the way we arrive at our understanding of the answer is more important than the givenness of the answer. Kind of like when you first started studying algebra and, unlike your previous experience with arithmetic, it was not just about arriving at the correct answer, but showing, step-by-step, how you arrived at it.

Last night at School of Community, we ended by talking about how truly radical the method we follow in CL is. It is radical because experience, the things that happen to me everyday, the circumstances in which I find myself, are how I see that I am a direct relationship with the Mystery, are the means Christ uses to bring to me to my destiny, and are precisely where I encounter Him. "Our whole life is a questioning, quaestio, the quest for an answer. What's the most important condition in searching for an answer? Not having preconceptions" ( Is It Possible to Live This Way? vol. 3, pg. 119). In other words, my beliefs, which are pretty much summed up by what the Church teaches, can all too easily be nothing other than a set of preconceptions into which I try to stuff my experience instead of trusting in the One who is the answer to the questioning that constitutes my (human) being.

In the end, it is a choice between Christ or nothingness. He is the answer to the fundamental question. I understand how stark and even how alienating that assertion may seem to many. Without a doubt, it is a provocation. Nonetheless, I cannot allow even this clear and bold statement to become a preconception, a lifeless banality. I will never grasp that the choice is between Christ and nothingness by someone telling me it is so, even if I robotically and reflexively nod my head in agreement. When it works, this truth boldly proclaimed provokes you and may even have the effect of pissing you off. The truth is that it can only be verified through experience, which means, at least in the first instance, facing reality honestly. It also means not playing it safe. Life in Christ both requires and emboldens us to take risks. In other words, the truth of the provocation, at least for me, is something that needs to be verified over and over because I am forgetful. My blogging greatly aids me in choosing Christ over nothingness, which, in turn, enables me to see that I am either a protagonist or a nobody.

Meum cum sim pulvis et cinis

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Living a Christian life, a life of integrity

"While comfort and consolation are legitimate things to experience at and from liturgy there is also - and, I would argue, more compellingly - the challenge that all liturgy offers us; nothing less than communal conversion and communal self-transcendence. This means that the Eucharist challenges us to change our minds, hearts, and - yes - our ways and wills to conform to what God has already revealed and has in store for us. Liturgy is not a refuge from the world so much as it is an intense moment in time that refocuses our lives and reminds us that what we celebrate in liturgy should be borne out in the way live our lives" (Msgr. Kevin W. Irwin Models of the Eucharist pg. 92).

Asserting that what we do in liturgy should be bear fruit in our lives is a call to integrity, that is, integration. As Christians we have integrity only insofar as what we do in liturgy shapes how we live. Along these lines, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver delivered a great speech the other night at Houston Baptist University (the link takes you to His Excellency's complete speech on YouTube). In it he discussed the disastrous nature of the speech John F. Kennedy gave in Houston to a group of Protestant ministers during the 1960 presidential campaign. In his Houston speech, which Mitt Romney's College Station speech was supposed to be some kind of LDS analog, Kennedy basically said that if he were elected his Catholic faith would have no bearing whatsoever on how he governed. In essence Kennedy's message that night in Houston some fifty years ago was "I solemnly swear on a stack of Constitutions that if elected my most deeply held and cherished beliefs will have absolutely no impact on how I govern." This is not living one's faith with integrity. One could multiply examples moving forward. Probably the next most famous example would be Mario Cuomo's 1984 Notre Dame speech when he set forth his "personally opposed but I can't impose my faith on other people" defense of his stance in favor of an unlimited abortion license, as if the defense of innocent human life were a uniquely Catholic concern.

Living with integrity is difficult at times. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer observed a long time ago, Christian discipleship has a cost. Sometimes it costs us nothing less than it cost the Lord, as with Bonhoeffer, it may cost you your life! For most of us, the cost is not that high, it may mean accepting defeat, disappointment, rejection, being seen as being "a bit off," as the British say. Then again, Jesus asks, "what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels" (Mark 8:36-38). The Greece/Goldman shenanigans offer us a concrete glimpse of what it means to lack integrity, which almost rises to the level blasphemy, given Blankfein's claim that they are doing God's work.

The Eucharist is what gives us strength "to live this way." As Archbishop Javier Martínez of Granada, Spain stated in a speech he delivered several years ago, Beyond Secular Reason, part of which I include in my blog header: "The Eucharist is the only place of resistance to the annihilation of the human subject. And the Eucharist is also the place where one can learn and experience a universality, which is not the abstract and false universality of modernity, which is not in opposition to local realization, identity and fullness."

This Lent make an effort to go to Mass more in order to let the Lord challenge you, to let Him conform your lowly body with his glorified body, so that you may live a life that accords with your destiny, the reason you exist, a life of integrity, the only path to true happiness.

Meum cum sim pulvis et cinis

Monday, March 1, 2010

Goldman-Sachs and God

Lloyd Blankfein the current chairman of Goldman-Sachs, you know, the firm that specializes in making money by adding no value whatsoever, yeah, the firm implicated over the past week or so for less than above-the-board dealings with the Greek government to keep a lot of deficit spending off their books so that Greece could appear to be adhering to the mutually agreed upon European Union guidelines for countries participating in the common currency, known as the euro, stated last November that he and his firm are doing "God's work." Greece's malfeasance, aided and abetted by our friends at Goldman, has caused the common European currency to drop significantly in value and it has been learned that Goldman is working with other European governments on similar schemes. So, instead of borrowing money to cover their deficits, Greece had an off-the-books arrangement with Goldman, involving derivatives, that had the effect of misleading investors and the EU about Greece's financial health. These dealings are well explained by Beat Balzli, writing for the international edition of the German magazine Der Spiegel, which is published in English. The article is called, How Goldman Sachs Helped Greece to Mask its True Debt.
When queried about their Greek dealings, Goldman says they were only doing what Greece wanted, which caused Harry Shearer on yesterday's installment of his weekly radio program, Le Show, to accurately observe: "Yes. Goldman-Sachs has gone, ladies and gentlemen, since last November when the chairman, Lloyd Blankfein, said 'we're doing God's work,' they've gone from that to the hooker's defense: 'well they wanted it'." I think in the comprehensive reform of our finance laws, which Congress will no doubt get to once they finish with healthcare reform, there should be laws against pandering of the kind routinely engaged in by these international hustlers.

If you check out Le Show and want to listen to his take on Goldman's Greek odyssey, go to 30:52 and listen until 40:00, a section that includes Shearer's witty muscial tribute to Mr. Goldman and Mr. Sachs.

Ah, Hammerin' Hank and the boys! Matt Taibbi took their measure in his Rolling Stone article Inside The Great American Bubble Machine. These guys are the architects of what Naomi Klein, in her insightful book, The Shock Doctrine, called "diaster capitalism." Heads these guys win, tails you lose (and they win). I am not a socialist, but a capitalist. I believe in markets, which is why I am skeptical of the two bills now under consideration in Congress to reform healthcare. I believe that markets require some regulation, however. Regulation of markets, like gun laws, must be smart, that is, not only applicable and burdensome to honest, law abiding people and businesses, enforceable, and minimal.

In addition to helping to create and then benefitting from crises, Goldman Sachs thrives off a kind of crony capitialism, the kind of corruption and opacity, that keeps underdeveloped or barely developed countries, like, say, Greece, which is one of the EU's poorest countries, especially among the countries that participate in the common currency, from ever thriving economically. The only possible silver-lining to this cloud is that some are predicting that this and other situations as they come to light will lead to the break-up of the euro, which was never a really good idea. If it comes to that, Goldman Sachs will undoubtedly find a way to profit from the problem they helped to create.

Just as Bob Dylan observed that it doesn't take a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, it doesn't take a moral theologian to know that this ain't God's work, quite the contrary. If you're not convinced, I urge you to read Caritas in veritate and/or Populorum Progresso.

UPDATE: This post was published on Il Sussidiario.

Meum cum sim pulvis et cinis

If March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb

I think March is about lions and lambs not primarily because of the weather, but because most of the month is Lent moving towards our celebration of the Paschal Mystery of Christ's passing over from death to life. It is a time we endeavor to make peace in ourselves through penitential practices, which do not in themselves bring us closer to God, but aid in getting our egos out of the way so that God, through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit can conform us more to His image, His shape, which is cruciform, the cross being the tree of life!

It is the cross that makes the lion of Judah the Lamb of God, who takes away our sins and makes our peace with God and with each other. As regards Lent, walk on, remembering "that the only baggage you can bring is all that you can't leave behind."

Two things are staying with me through this Lent: the refrain from the responsorial Psalm from the first Sunday of Lent- "Be with my Lord, when I am in trouble;" the words of Don Giussani that tell me of the necessity of "accepting the sacrifice of the circumstances through which [I am] made to pass." God is at work in my life in no other way than through my life, a tautology to be sure, but also a necessary reminder.

Meum cum sim pulvis et cinis

Koinonia: One God, three persons

The end of our second reading is from the conclusion of Saint Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians. Koinonia is the Greek word trans...