Monday, May 31, 2010

Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin

"In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord'" (Luke 1:39-45 ESV).

Of course, the Blessed Mother's visit to Elizabeth is the second of the Joyful Mysteries of her Most Holy Rosary, the fruit of which is love of neighbor.

This reading and this feast also show us how precious life is, which should make us all the more grateful for those who laid their lives down in service to our country, often standing up against evil and tyranny in the service of the common good of humanity.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Year C

Readings: Prov. 8:22-31; Ps. 8:4-9; Rom. 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

Like our patroness, St. Mary Magdalene, to whom the resurrected Lord said, "Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father,'" we have a hard time letting go of Easter, which season ended last Sunday with our celebration of Pentecost (John 20:17). It is certainly understandable that we want to continue to bask in the immediate glow of our celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Liturgically, we don’t immediately let go, but neither do we cling. For instance, today we observe the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity and next week we will celebrate the great solemnity of Corpus Christi. As our reading of Scripture today shows us, there is continuity, not abrupt discontinuity in our practice. A few verses earlier in the same chapter from which our Gospel today is taken that occurs during Jesus’ Last Supper discourse, the Lord says, "if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you" (John 16:7). In this we see that Jesus’ glorious ascension into heaven has to happen for the Holy Spirit to come.

All of this should draw our attention to the fact that too often we engage the Trinity, which is most concisely expressed as one God in three divine persons, in a wholly abstract manner, like solving a differential equation, making it an endeavor that bears no fruit in our lives. Our departure point for any meaningful engagement about God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is the person of Jesus Christ. St. Paul captures this quite well in our second reading taken from his Letter to the Romans: we are justified by faith and have made "peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:1). It is through Christ Jesus that we gain access "to this grace in which we stand" (Rom. 5:2). The key word here is grace. It is a word that often passes in one ear and out the other because we hear it so often. So, let’s take a look at this all important word. Grace is our English translation of the Greek word charin, which means, according to the great Protestant exegete, Ernst Käsemann, "the power of salvation which finds expression in specific gifts, acts, and spheres and which is even individualized in the charismata" (Commentary on Romans, pg. 14). Stated a bit more clearly, grace is God’s sharing divine life with us here and now, as the Catechism teaches us, the Father, through his Word, Jesus Christ, "pours into our hearts the Gift that contains all other gifts, the Holy Spirit" (par. 1082).

Charismata, the gifts that are the concrete manifestations of living our grace-filled life together, the new life given us through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, brings us to the relationship between faith and hope. Hope is the flower of faith. Without faith, which is faith in Jesus Christ, it is impossible to have hope. The Greek word we translate as hope from this passage is elpida, when translated a bit more literally, means expectation. It is important to note that Paul means expectation in the reasonable sense, like the expectation that in a few minutes we will come forward and receive communion, not an unrealistic expectation, like my Suzuki station wagon will be turned into a Ferrari when I leave Mass, which is why Paul writes that "hope does not disappoint" (Rom. 5:5a). Hence, we distinguish between hoping and wishing, the difference between childish and mature faith. According to Paul, what is it that produces hope, which is certainty about what will happen to us? In a word, experience, especially the experience of affliction, of which Paul experienced plenty for the sake of the Gospel.

Rublev's Trinity icon

Jesus ascends to the Father and then sends forth His Holy Spirit upon the disciples, who, in turn, pass it along by their witness. By our participation in this liturgy, we, too, are witnesses of this, being both recipients and ones charged with passing it along. Turning now to today’s Gospel, Jesus tells the disciples that the Holy Spirit is given them to guide them "to all truth" (John 16:13). Since the Father revealed everything there was to reveal in His Son, the Holy Spirit helps us over time to unpack the revelation of God in Christ. St. Vincent of Lérins, all the way back in the fifth century, demonstrated that not only is progress in our understanding of what God has revealed in Christ possible, it is necessary, a true hallmark of the Church.

More concretely, as Scripture scholar Luke Timothy Johnson stated so succinctly, the Holy Spirit is the mode of Christ’s resurrection presence in us and among us. In other words, the Holy Spirit is the way Christ stays with us. While, as Gerard Manley Hopkins pointed out, "Christ plays in ten thousand places," there are seven specific ways the Holy Spirit makes Christ really and truly present to us, we call these sacraments. It is through our participation in the sacraments, beginning with our baptism, that we are drawn into the divine life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Like St. Mary Magdalene, whose people we are and to whom the Lord also said, "go to my brothers and tell them, 'I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God'" we, too, are called to give witness to our new life in Christ, the life of grace, which is life in the Spirit, and nothing less than our participation in the divine life of the Most Holy Trinity (John 20:17). So, dear friends, as we move forward to next Sunday’s celebration of Corpus Christi, our annual celebration of the primary way that our Lord remains present to us, a mode of presence that would not be possible had He not ascended to the Father and sent their Holy Spirit, let us go forth and give witness to the fact that He is risen, bringing new life to a world that is in such desperate need of good news.

"the horizon of existence is God’s love"

Available now on the Traces website: What Kind of Life Gives Birth to Communion and Liberation? This is a lengthy interview given by Msgr. Giussani to Giorgio Sarco in 1979. I can't wait to begin reading it. To download it, go to the Traces website, given above, and you will see the link with the title of the interview, just "click" on that, it will begin downloading the .pdf.

From the beginning:

Sarco: "What is Communion and Liberation, really—a social project, a culture, an educational strategy, or something else entirely?"

Giussani: "Communion and Liberation is only an insight of Christianity as an event of life, and so as a history. From the beginnings of the Movement, it was always stressed that an idea, something valuable that is intuited, develops in a method of facing reality, which in its turn effects a change in all the relationships that one lives. In the same way, the Christian insight develops in a method of judgment and of living.

"I believe that the history and the development that the Movement has had [to] depend more than anything else on the focused authenticity of the original insight, that is, on the point of view that we started from in order to commit ourselves to the Christian fact. Remembering how this insight began in me awakens one of the most beautiful memories of my life. To be sure, the first insight that the horizon of existence is God’s love began to shine in a spiritual situation that had been prepared by a family education and was then deepened in seminary life; but it really blossomed and reached awareness when I read and understood with real intelligence for the first time the beginning of the Gospel of John: 'The Word was made flesh.' I remember how my seminary professor, Father Gaetano Corti (who I think is now teaching the history of Christianity at the University of Trieste), used to explain this passage to us boys, saying that the cornerstone of reality and the center of the life of the person and of the world had become in Christ a presence that could be met by each one of us."

Thanks to Fred for pointing this out to me during our telephonic SofC this afternoon.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

"so that you may belong to another..."

One of the most perennial and difficult philosophical questions is the nature of morality. I have no intent to try to resolve this is in a blog post. For me, as a Catholic, morality for the most part is objective, which renders it no less complex. Like everything else, morality has to have content, these amount to prescriptions and proscriptions (i.e., things I must do and things I must avoid doing). For example, there are actions that are always and everywhere wrong, regardless of circumstances or intent, like murder, like engaging in sexual relations with someone other than my wife, etc. But I recognize that there is a difference between sin and wrong-doing.

Intention and circumstance cannot turn something that is intrinsically evil into something good, but they can mitigate culpability and be the difference between sin and mere wrong-doing. Something can only be truly sinful if I know it to be wrong and freely choose to engage in it anyway. So, truth and freedom are the most important components in living a moral life. Because it is necessary not only to know what is good and what is evil, but to know why, formation and education are necessary. It is important to know why something is required or forbidden so that I understand that morality is not arbitrary or capricious. All of the above can be summarized in the injunction to do good and avoid evil.

Another important moral axiom, one that is frequently ignored under the guise of pragmatism, is that I may never do evil that good may come of it, which is just an opaque way of saying that ends do not justify means. To believe and to act otherwise is simply dangerous. If I am to live with any integrity at all I must try to live in this way. Yet, it can never be a matter of mere rule-keeping. Why can morality never be a matter a rule-keeping? Because my experience has shown time and again that I am incapable of keeping the rules!

St. Paul writes powerfully about this, especially in his Letter to the Romans: "For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good" (7:15-16). We see that for Paul there is a standard of holiness, the Law given through Moses; "the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good" (7:12).

Carravaggio, Christ showing His wounds

So, what is the remedy, you might well ask? The what is a who and the who is Jesus Christ. In the same chapter of Romans, St. Paul gives a brilliant analogy of what it means to live in Christ, which requires death and resurrection (i.e., baptism):

"Or do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

"Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code"
It is kind of a complicated analogy, one that can be reasonably understood in more than one way. The understanding I prefer because I think it most accurately captures what Paul is trying to communicate, is that we are not the widowed wife, with the law being the dead husband. Rather, we are ones who die in order to "belong to another"!

Photograph of Nietzsche, taken the last year of his life- 1899

In the previous chapter, Paul is more explicit about this:
"For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus." (Rom. 6:5-11)
Nietzsche, in The Antichrist, called for the "transvaluation of values." In his mind, the revaluation of all values had to occur first, which meant overcoming Christianity:

"I call Christianity the one great curse, the one great intrinsic depravity, the one great instinct for revenge for which no expedient is sufficiently poisonous, secret, subterranean, petty -- I call it the one immortal blemish of mankind… And one calculates time from the dies nefastus on which this fatality arose -- from the first day of Christianity! Why not rather from its last? From today? Revaluation of all values!"
I can't help but think that Paul is suggesting something similar here with regards to the law. At the end of the day, what Nietzsche proposes isn't much different from Freud's pain/pleasure principal: what brings pleasure is good and what brings pain is bad. This is a big reason why purveyors of porn frequently allude to Nietzsche, though they rarely quote him. At least in the Antichrist, where he counter-poses Buddhism, Nietzsche puts the premium on pain avoidance and overcoming suffering. As another great musico-philosopher, Gram Parsons, put it "love hurts, love scars, it wounds, and mars." How else could love overcome death? Love, which, if true, always seeks the good of the other and requires sacrifice given freely and without complaint, is what makes any act truly good, that is, moral.

Of course, it all comes to down how one views the human person, whether you see the purpose of existence as striving for autonomy and independence, choosing for yourself what is right and wrong in god-like fashion, which was the original sin, or whether you see that you belong to Another, who loves you and wants you to be happy, not just in eternity, but right now. It also turns on the question, in what does happiness consist, living for yourself, or living for Another? You belong to Another because you were made by Another and begotten as a child through your baptism.

To allude to the overused and often misused line by St. Augustine, our hearts are restless until they rest in the One who made us because He made us for Himself and we are not complete until this is fully realized, that is, made real, objective. Christ is not the Alpha and Omega only in some cosmic sense, He is your origin and your destiny, too! In my opinion, hell is nothing other than the full realization of living for yourself, striving for independence and autonomy. Was it not Jesus who said, "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt. 6:21)?

I have a holy card with a big color picture of Don Gius on it, which Holly insists we keep on our fridge door, underneath his picture is this quote from St. Gregory Nazianzen, one of the three great Cappadocian fathers: "Were I not yours, my Christ, I would feel a finite creature."

Friday, May 28, 2010

"Now it's all or nothing..."

It's been a musical week here at Καθολικός διάκονος. Nonetheless, a Friday traditio is still very much in order. I deliberately chose not to feature the 2003 digitally re-mastered version of Simple Minds' Alive and Kicking, due in no small part to the fact that embedding has been disabled. This is more authentic, anyway (he wrote in a half-hearted attempt to be content). Alive and Kicking is the second traditio of our '80s retrospective summer.

What you gonna do when things go wrong?
What you gonna do when it all cracks up?
What you gonna do when the Love burns down?
What you gonna do when the flames go up?
Who is gonna come and turn the tide?
What's it gonna take to make a dream survive?
Who's got the touch to calm the storm inside?
Who's gonna save you?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"unearth this holiness I can't earn..."

Without a doubt one of my favorite contemporary Christian albums is Jennifer Knapp's 2000 release Lay It Down. I love the entire album. It is one of two albums, the other being Glenn Kaiser's All My Days, I put on my headphones and listen to when I am having a hard time praying. Her music has a way of opening me up. This is the kind of insight into my personal spirituality I don't usually share, just as I don't blog about my marital relationship. Like almost everybody else, I think most contemporary Christian music is an affront both to Christians and to music, but there are a few great artists in the genre.

After experiencing a great deal of success with Kansas, her first album, and Lay It Down, Knapp was burned out and just quit music back in 2003, that is until recently when she recorded and released Letting Go. Knapp was something of a darling of Christian music for a few years. She was born and raised in Kansas in what she describes as an irreligious home. She became a Christian in college, before starting her music career. But back then, there were rumors that she was a lesbian.

Last month she sat for an interview with Mark Moring of Christianity Today. I came away from reading it loving Jennifer Knapp more than before. When asked directly about being gay and having a woman partner, she responded, "For whatever reason the rumor mill [about me being gay] has persisted for so long, I wanted to acknowledge; I don't want to come off as somebody who's shirking the truth in my life. At the same time, I'm intensely private. Even if I were married to a man and had six children, it would be my personal choice to not get that kind of conversation rolling."

The thing I find most disheartening about the way we deal with homosexuality in the church, even as one who believes deeply that the church speaks the truth about sexuality across-the-board, is both that very often we reduce people to their sexuality and allow them to reduce themselves. For example, I am not wholly defined by my attraction to women, this does not constitute who I am at my deepest level. Like everybody, I need grace and mercy in this aspect of life, an area where, like most of us, I am very vulnerable because I am broken. As Dr. Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury pointed out in his essay many years ago, The Body's Grace:

"in a church which accepts the legitimacy of contraception, the absolute condemnation of same-sex relations of intimacy must rely either on an abstract fundamentalist deployment of a number of very ambiguous texts, or on a problematic and non-scriptural theory about natural complementarity, applied narrowly and crudely to physical differentiation without regard to psychological structures."
Knapp is very honest and authentic about herself. It is refreshing that she chooses not to be defensive or militant, for example when she says: "The struggle I've had has been with the church, acknowledging me as a human being, trying to live the spiritual life that I've been called to, in whatever ramshackled, broken, frustrated way that I've always approached my faith. I still consider my hope to be a whole human being, to be a person of love and grace. So it's difficult for me to say that I've struggled within myself, because I haven't. I've struggled with other people. I've struggled with what that means in my own faith. I have struggled with how that perception of me will affect the way I feel about myself" (underlining emphasis mine).

Finally, I think she speaks the truth for many Christians when she says, "I've always struggled as a Christian with various forms of external evidence that we are obligated to show that we are Christians. I've found no law that commands me in any way other than to love my neighbor as myself, and that love is the greatest commandment. At a certain point I find myself so handcuffed in my own faith by trying to get it right—to try and look like a Christian, to try to do the things that Christians should do, to be all of these things externally—to fake it until I get myself all handcuffed and tied up in knots as to what I was supposed to be doing there in the first place." I write from my own experience when I state it feels pretty damn good to stop faking. Don't get me wrong, I catch myself every now and again and it is something I am all too eager to correct. Actually, blogging is one of the things that keeps me grounded, which is the primary reason I continue doing it.

I encourage you to read Jennifer Knapp Comes Out. In her words and in her attitude she seems to be grasping the fundamental truth, which is that first and foremost she is loved by that person of grace, Who is grace itself, the One she correctly identifies as her hope. On my reading it seems that her experience has taught her that reducing faith to morality is the dead end Jesus teaches us it is. I find it very sad that she doesn't go to church, but I certainly understand why she doesn't and that makes me even sadder. As the old Russian proverb puts it, "Life is not a walk across an open field," the truth of this is intensified when it comes to living a Christian life. To pretend it is otherwise is simply to ignore reality.

While my favorite song off Lay It Down is When Nothing Satisfies, it is not available on YouTube, at least not a version that is sung by Jennifer. Just in case you have never heard her, here is my next favorite song off her album, A Little More, which I also posted back in 2007. It is a song that reminds me of the great pity with which God looks upon me, which moves Him to save me, not once, but over and again, usually from myself, and at great cost.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"that you don't want to give up... and that you need to give up"

Giving up in order to possess is one of the paradoxes of Christian existence. It is perhaps best set forth by the Lord, when he says, "whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it" (Mark 8:35). I don't mind saying, without divulging more than one anyone would care to read, that I am presently passing through something of a difficult time, which is not the result of some tragic event, or unexpected setback in my life, but arises from desire. Desire always has an object, it matters a great deal what the object of my desire is because often it is imaginary and something about which I am easily deceived.

Reading, again, from Is It Possible to Live This Way, volume three, which is on charity, I came across something that struck me, hard, like a rock, or a board: When asked why, if "truth in a relationship coincides with maintaining the attractiveness of the relationship," be the relationship with a person, with your job, or, in my case, with pastoral ministry, and that renunciation, or detachment, is also required, does the relationship seem to lose some attractiveness as a result of the detachment, making one's renunciation seem false, like a betrayal, Giussani says to the inquiring person:

"Because you think about a relationship with an inflection that you don't want to give up (who among us hasn't experienced this?) and that you need to give up- and it's a dramatic moment - in order to possess. Because esteem and love are maintained only if you detach yourself from your immediate and usual way of feeling about things. If you want to go on according to the immediate and usual way you feel about things, you'll lose them" (pg. 113- underlining emphasis mine).
It is necessary, at least for me, that Don Gius goes on to say that "It's not my fault" that this is how life works- "that's the way it is." In the first instance, it is important that I see my desire to hold on as normal and very human, which is why letting go feels like a betrayal, but let go I must, lest I want to lose that to which I cling so tightly. I have to let it all go until I realize, yet again, that I am beggar because it is the beggar who is the protagonist of history.

This puts me in mind of what is probably my favorite U2 song, Walk On, especially the end of the song, which is a litany of sorts:

Leave it behind
You've got to leave it behind

All that you fashion
All that you make
All that you build
All that you break
All that you measure
All that you steal
All this you can leave behind
All that you reason
All that you care
It's only time...

All that you sense
All that you speak
All you dress up
And all that you scheme
All you create
All that you wreck
All that you hate...

This is the 1,500th post on Καθολικός διάκονος.

Monday, May 24, 2010

"They’re selling postcards of the hanging"

24 May 1941 was the day Robert Zimmerman, who would grow up to become Bob Dylan, was born.

So, today is the birthday of this quintessential American musician, this trans-generational voice. It would be difficult for me write about how much I look up to Dylan, one of the last people of integrity, who has it in perspective, and has a wonderfully ironic sense of humor. Even after all these years, Highway 61 Revisited remains one of his best albums.

Anyway, Desolation Row paired with The Mascot by Władysław Starewicz, a great filmmaker by any measure is my tribute to the man my dear friend Kim calls His Bobness. What a treasure to find this today! Besides, Desolation Row was recorded the year I was born.

Yea, it's a bit long, but only if you have a short attention span. Bob wouldn't care and so neither do I. Besides, we all need something a little trippy on a Monday in May that began with snow!

Happy birthday, Bob! I am still angling for you to come to Salt Lake City. Hey, Wendover is a dive, which means we'd both love it. Hell, I'd even drive to Winnemucca!

"Right now I can’t read too good
Don’t send me no more letters, no
Not unless you mail them
From Desolation Row."

Sunday, May 23, 2010

κήρυγμα=kerygma=the basic Christian proclamation

κήρυγμα, or kerygma, is closely akin to κηρύσσω, or kērússō, a verb meaning something like to proclaim or herald, with kerygma, a noun, meaning proclamation, announcement, or, in a specifically Christian context, not just preaching, but the original content of what is proclaimed.

Today is Pentecost and in the second chapter of Acts we have a version of Peter's preaching that constitutes the original Christian kerygma. Of course, we see Pentecost as the beginning of the Church. Pentecost, a Greek term for fiftieth, and the word used in Acts for the Jewish festival of Shavu'ot, which begins begins 50 days, 7 weeks plus a day, after the second day of Passover. Shavu'ot is known as the Festival of Weeks, seven being a significant number. Shavu'ot commemorates God giving the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai.

As with any preaching, we look at Peter's in Acts 2, given in verses 14-39, and ask, "What is the take away?" Well, here it is: "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself" (verses 38-39 ESV). Let there be no doubt, if you have heard these words, then you are called.

Closer to home for me on Pentecost is the idea of charism, which basically means a gift of grace, given by the Holy Spirit, who is the giver of charismata (plural of charism). Many of the so-called gifts of the spirit are given to us personally, like the gifts and fruits we speak about with regard to the sacrament of confirmation, but some are communal to the point that they give rise to something new in the Church, like when a new religious order is founded, or, in more recent times, when new forms arise in the Church, as with the ecclesial movements, like Opus Dei, Focolare, The Community of Sant'Egidio, et. al. The charism given to Msgr. Luigi Giussani is one such gift, one in which I am blessed beyond belief to share, which constitutes the raison d'être of Communion and Liberation. So, it means very much to me that today, Pentecost Sunday, my friend Sharon reminded me of something beautiful by Don Gius: "the first thing you have to help one another to do is to celebrate the evidence that there exists an ultimate endpoint of happiness who became man, that is, Christ; that Christ exists." The Lord sends the Holy Spirit so that we are not left orphans as we wait in joyful hope for His return. We have to understand that Christ's post-resurrection presence among us takes concrete form; in toto the concrete form is the Church, more particularly He is present in many and various ways.

The Church is institutional and charismatic at the same time, a state-of-affairs that causes tension, which, when lived properly, gives balance, making us witnesses to the one, true God who is a trinity of divine persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Like God, the Church, as the many charismata demonstrate, is also communion of persons, albeit of human persons- as we are certainly reminded these days, to use Nietzsche's lament, "all too human." Just look at the movements I mentioned above and compare, say, Opus Dei and the Community of Sant' Egidio. It would difficult find two groups in the church more different from each other, but they are both real, that is, concrete manifestations of the Spirit at work in the Church so the Church can be at work in the world.

I see the restoration of the permanent diaconate, the order to which I belong, in similiar terms: Deacons are very different from one another, but all of us bring distinct gifts. No two deacons have a ministry that looks alike, to which I say Deo gratias! We are neither laymen nor priests. Nonetheless, we are not defined by what are not, neither are we an either/or, a dilemma, a problem to be solved, which would inevitably result in being reduced to mere functionaries. The true gift of the permanent diaconate to the Church and to the world is the deacon himself, who, in his very being, is constituted a servant by sacramental grace given him at his ordination. Hence, he is a both/and, an affirmation, a big YES! shouted to God from the midst of the ekklesia, the assembly of God's priestly people.

The Lord himself teaches us about His Spirit: "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you" (John 16:13-15 ESV).

Veni Sancte Spiritus, veni per Mariam!

Saturday, May 22, 2010


“Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.’

"Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Peter speaking from Acts 2:29-36 ESV).

Veni Sancte Spiritus, veni per Mariam!

Faith is reason grasping objective reality

"the point of departure of faith is an event, the encounter with an objective fact; it is not a doctrine or an abstract culture or a past, but a real presence, here and now, a phenomenon of different humanity, that is the only one that corresponds to the nature of what happened in the beginning...because Christianity is such an exceptional, objective fact before us, that exalts the 'I,' it unleashes all the criticality spoken of these days, all the capacity of reason" (Fr. Julián Carrón from Experience:The Instrument for a Human Journey, pgs. 28-29).

Veni Sancte Spiritus, veni per Mariam!

Friday, May 21, 2010

"it happened forever for a short time"

I have been in an '80s frame of mind for a few weeks now. Time is such a strange thing. I mean, I can remember being 15 years-old and having days, weeks, and months I thought would never end, but now I blink and a year goes by. Anyway, Suddenly Last Summer, by Martha and the Motels has been "a short loop runnin' 'round my mind." Hence, it is this Friday's traditio. I don't know why, maybe it's because I found Martha Davis very attractive. The video also reminds me a little bit of Catherine Breillat's film, Une Vraie Jeune Fille, which, by way of warning, is not a light summer romp, but a film, like a lot of Breillat's movies, that many would find disturbing, even deeply so.

The Motels were a New Wave band, an appellation not used much these days. If for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, then New Wave, in my estimation, was the equal and opposite reaction to punk. As Johnny Slash in the T.V. show Square Pegs averred: "I’m not punk, I’m new wave. Totally different head. Totally."

It is a good way to start off summer, during which Fridays will feature something from the '80s- pre-1985.

Alithos Anesti

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Muhammad in Islamic art

The above painting of Mohammed is from an Islamic source and is an artistic depiction of Muhmmad on his prayer rug. It is Persian and dates from late medieval times, the exact date being uncertain. Depictions of Mohammad are not forbidden in the Qur'an and are matter of interpretation as the matter is addressed in the hadiths , which are the traditions relating to the words and deeds of the Prophet. Hadith collections are regarded as important tools for determining the way Muslims should live. Hadiths are accepted by all, but interpreted differently by various traditional schools of Islamic jurisprudence, both Sunni and Shi'a.

Alithos Anesti

Monday, May 17, 2010

"Amor ergo sum"

I don't why it is so difficult for us, myself included, to get over the idea that there is a correlation, even a direct correlation, between following the rules and God's propensity to bless us, or even love us. We have all been told that God loves us no matter what we do. However, many of the same people who tell us this, like Job's friends, when the chips are down for us, say things like "What'd you do to piss God off?" Isn't this what St. Paul was getting at when he wrote to the early Christian community in Rome, telling them "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8)? So, I think it helps to be clear about what it means to be blessed. A blessing is nothing other than our recognition of one of the many concrete manifestations of God's love for us.

To truly love another person is to love her/his destiny. Nobody loves your destiny more than the One who is your destiny. He uses everything that happens to you to bring about His purpose for you and through you. If you doubt that, let's turn again to Paul: "we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28).

"Aha," you might say, "I found the loophole!" In order for all things to work together for my good I not only have to love God, but be called according to God's purpose. Well, we're all called. I am a firm believer in what the great Protestant theologian Karl Barth set forth when he posited universal election, which was echoed by Von Balthasar: God calls everyone, no exceptions! So, God, "who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth," is always and without exception trying to lead to you to your destiny ( 1 Tim. 2:4). Love, which constitutes both God's call and our response, requires freedom. Because God is love, God respects our freedom. Think about this: Unlike Isaac, whom God called upon Abraham to sacrifice on Mt. Moriah, Jesus was a knowing and willing sacrifice. If Jesus really had not wanted to submit Himself to the Father's will, the Father would have respected his choice. According to St. Luke's account, Jesus prayed, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done" (Luke 22:42).

As with so many things, The Beatles got it quite wrong: in the end the love you take is infinitely greater than the love you make. Along with Paul Hewitt (a.k.a. Bono Vox, or just Bono), I'll take grace over karma anyday. If your karma ran over my dogma, then the whole world is in trouble!

This mode of thinking has many practical manifestations in the life of faith. For example, many people put off going to confession because they are worried about whether God will forgive them. My friends, we go to confession knowing that we are always already forgiven, no matter what we have done. After all, we don't call it good news for nothing! Besides, God doesn't need confession, we do. It is the way God gives us for realizing and experiencing God's love as forgiveness in Christ. I use realize in the sense that confession makes what is already true real for us by making it an experience, something objective, concrete. It is an event that can certainly be for us an encounter, a place where we meet Christ, who embraces us, wipes away our tears, binds up our wounds, and assures us, again, that He is with us always.

I am thinking about a t-shirt that says on the front- God loves you, okay? On the back it would read- Deal with it!

Or, perhaps getting permission from His Grace, Bishop N.T. Wright, to use his lovely variation on Descartes' theme- 'Amor, ergo sum,' meaning "I am loved, therefore I am!"

Alithos Anesti

"What are you seeking?"

For those who believe, those who have experienced, even to a small degree, God's love for them, there is a manner of living that prompts him to follow Jesus. This was the experience of the first disciples: "The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, 'Behold, the Lamb of God!' The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, 'What are you seeking?' And they said to him, 'Rabbi'(which means Teacher), 'where are you staying?' He said to them, 'Come and you will see'"

So, while morality has its place, to act in a truly moral manner is always to act out of love towards God and neighbor. It is never a matter of empty rule-following in the fear that hell awaits should you slip up; this is anti-thetical to living like a Christian: "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love" (John 1:35-39). Until you experience the event that truly becomes for you an encounter that changes everything, you can perhaps live in a way that society sees as being upright, but such is not necessarily Christian living. Being an upright citizen, as the writings of St. Paul demonstrate, is only a by-product of being a Christian, but is not the church's primary concern, which is to usher in God's kingdom, to walk our path to destiny.

Alithos Anesti

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A few observations prompted by the passing of Ronnie James Dio

Ronnie James Dio passed away today at age 67 after battling cancer for the past year, or so. He followed Ozzy as the lead singer of Black Sabbath. His first Sabbath album, Heaven and Hell, is considered by many as one of the finest heavy metal albums of all time. Before Sabbath he was the lead singer of Rainbow and after Sabbath he had a good solo career. In recent years, he has been touring with a version of Sabbath, called Heaven and Hell.

Dio, born Ronald James Padavona, in New Hampshire, but raised in upstate New York, was raised as a Roman Catholic. In an interview he gave years ago to Heavy Metal magazine, he discussed this quite frankly:

HMM: "How has your Roman Catholic background inspired, affected or driven your lyrics writing."

Dio: "It's given me a lot of religious turmoil in some of the songs I've done. I never agreed with the message of the Catholic church, and still don't to this day. There are some things that are fine, and what I think is very important is the moral upbringing of the young people. But I mean, you could send people to the church of silly walks, and they're gonna get that. I just disagree so much with the way the Catholic church says things like if you're not a good person you'll die and go to Hell, there's a purgatory there . . . if I was talking with a Holy Ghost, it would scare the living Hell out of me. God's Son was nailed to a piece of wood up in the air . . . instead of really explaining it all, I think, at least from my perspective, they frightened us first, and then we're supposed to just believe everything, and follow the rules or you'll burn in hell or something. And I just totally disagree with that. I disagree completely with that idiom. The whole attitude about birth control -- I mean we are a country that took about 10,000 generations to reach the population we have now, which is 4 billion, and it'll only take a little over 1 generation to double it, but yet, you're supposed to not use birth control -- let's have more children! So, the Catholic church, though I think it's important that people grow up with moral values, I just always disagreed with their tactics, which I thought were fright tactics, as opposed to sitting down and explaining the situation" (underlining emphasis mine).

HMM: "What do you think of Jesus Christ?"

Dio: "I think that He was a prophet. I've had a difficult time coming to terms with Jesus Christ as the Son of God. He was a great man for the time... The thing that bothers me about taking that conclusion is that most of the general statements that Christ made, you can look at the dead language of Greek at the time it was used, and the writing styles that shifted around 50 A.D., you can pretty much date parts of the New Testament. Then His whole claim to be the only way wouldn't make Him a good prophet, because like a lot of Muslims believe that Jesus was a great prophet in the lineage of prophets. But a good prophet is not gonna stand up there and say, "I'm the only way to the Father." He's either a lair or He's a crazy man."

I do not know if he intentionally or unintentionally employed C.S. Lewis' assertion that Christ is Lord, liar, or lunatic. Nonetheless, Dio tries to split the difference by saying that the New Testament distorts what Jesus really taught. How anyone would know what Jesus really taught apart from the Scriptures and the constant testimony of the Church, I do not know. Of course, there is nothing really earth-shattering in what he says, but it shows the sad results of what happens when we reduce faith to morality, which we do too often. I, too, reject that idiom. When presented that way, it's easy, as Dio shows, to Just Say No."

As Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, OP, wrote and often reiterates, until people come to see/understand/know that God loves them, Christian morality does not make any sense. Think about the incoherence of people who see religion only as a means of instilling moral values in children, but reject the more salient aspects of faith, like Jesus is Lord and Messiah. What, or, more precisely, who grounds, guarantees, gives morals any value? I don't post this to denigrate Dio, but to demonstrate an attitude that is very pervasive, all too pervasive. I give Dio credit for being honest. I can't begin to count the number of times I have spoken with parents preparing to have their child baptized, who, when I ask them why they are seeking to have their have their child baptized, especially parents who don't practice the faith themselves and who are often neither confirmed nor married in the church, invariably begin to talk about the need for moral values.

There is also something to be written about the quasi-religio-liturgical nature of rock, a criticism gently suggested years ago by then-Cardinal Ratzinger. When some people say, "I sold my soul to rock n' roll," they mean it literally! Don't get me wrong, "I love rock n' roll. So, put another dime in the jukebox, baby!"

Alithos Anesti

Ascension Sunday*

Christ's Ascension, by Garofalo, 1510-1520

"So when they had come together, they asked him, 'Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? He said to them, 'It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.' And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, 'Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven'" (Acts 1:6-11 ESV).

Alithos Anesti

*In several dioceses in the western U.S. we celebrate the Solemnity of Ascension on the 7th Sunday of Easter instead of the 6th Thursday. It is supposed to be on an experimental basis, but it is probably permanent. Personally, I would prefer Ascension Thursday, 40 days after Easter, etc.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

"Tamar your daughter-in-law has been immoral..." and other imporant scriptural passages

"The world of the Bible is like your world - messy and broken. The people of the Bible are like you and your spouse - weak and failing. The situations of the Bible are like yours - complicated and unexpected. The Bible just isn't a cosmetic religious book. It will shock you with its honesty about what happens in the broken world in which we live. From the sibling homicide of Cain to the money-driven betrayal of Judas, the blood and guts of a broken world are strewn across every page. The honesty of God about the address where we all live is itself and act of love and grace" (What Did You Expect: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage, by Paul David Tripp, pg. 25).

My uncle, a retired Army colonel and economics professor, as well as all around religious skeptic, likes to say "If you want to read a dirty book, read Genesis." I never disagree. He's also the one who asks my Mom if I am over my holiness phase yet. To which I respond that I am still waiting for it to start! This way of looking at Scripture, along with the truth of what Tripp asserts, was brought home to me clearly and in a powerful way by The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb, one of my favorite book purchases of last year, the book from which the illustration of Joseph being seized by his jealous brothers above is taken. Crumb does a good job of depicting the agony and the ecstasy.

Let's not forget, that, at least according to Matthew's genealogy of Jesus, Tamar is one of his ancestors (Matt. 1:3)

Alithos Anesti

Charism is a gift of grace and grace is God sharing divine life with us

“A charism can be defined as a gift of the Spirit, given to a person in a specific historical context, so that this person can initiate an experience of faith that might in some way be useful to the life of the Church. I emphasize the existential nature of charism: it makes the Christian message handed down by the apostolic tradition more convincing, more persuasive, more ‘approachable.’ A charism is an ultimate terminal of the Incarnation, that is, it is a particular way in which the Fact of Jesus Christ Man and God reaches me, and through me can reach others.” Monsignor Luigi Giussani.

I am very grateful to belong to the charism brought into the world through Giussani and lived in the companionship formed around him, beginning in Milan, Italy and known as Communion and Liberation.

Alithos Anesti

Friday, May 14, 2010

"I prayed my prayers, but I went my way..."

Glenn Kaiser singing Shaky Ground live, is this week's traditio.

"He'd gone to the church all of his life
He'd heard what the preacher said
but the life he lived did him no good
the truth simply filled his head."

To paraphrase Giussani, for most people religion remains only words, or, worse yet, head stuff, not a matter of the heart, which is why Jesus always speaks "cor ad cor loquitur," which means heart speaking to heart. So, to borrow words from the psalmist, "if today you hear his voice, harden not your heart."

Alithos Anesti

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Hierarchy update

It was announced that the Holy Father has accepted the resignation of Bishop Leo Higi of Layfayette, Indiana and has appointed as the new bishop of this diocese Bishop-elect Timothy Doherty, a priest of the Diocese of Rockford, Illinois. Bishop-elect Doherty is 59.

With the retirement of Bishop Higi and the elevation of Bishop-elect Doherty, there are still four Latin Rite dioceses vacant in the United States: Harrisburg; PA; LaCrosse, WI; San Antonio, TX; Orlando, FL. There are now five Latin Rite ordinaries serving at or past 75, the age at which canon law requires bishops to submit their resignations to the pope: Bishops Skylstad and Boland of Spokane, WA, and Savannah, GA respectively; Archbishops Beltran and Brunett of Oklahoma City and Seattle, along with His Eminence, Justin Cardinal Rigali, archbishop of Philadelphia.

Alithos Anesti

Jesus saves

In all the dust-up over the recent and very troubling revelations about sexual abuse in the Church it was refreshing to read yesterday that the Holy Father attributed this to sin in the Church. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, it's true. Priests sin, bishops sin, and even deacons manage to freely do something we know is wrong now and again, not to mention avoid doing things we should do, and the laity sin, too. We are all guilty of sins of commission and omission, things we have done and things we have failed to do, as we acknowledge, in some manner, each time we gather for Mass. Some sins rise to the level of being grave, or at least sins with grave matter, times when we act in a knowingly evil manner, sometimes to our own great surprise and consequent horror. We have sometimes not only failed to do good, but outright refused to avoid evil by positively embracing it. As I mentioned last week, all of this only proves the Christian thesis, not that we are sinners in the hands of an angry God, but sinners in the hands of a loving God, whose mercy is boundless.

"In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10). This, my friends, is the good news: Jesus Christ is the Gospel!

I turn, as I often do, to St. Paul, who wrote a long time ago to a Christian community he did not found and one he had yet to visit:

"For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation" (Rom 5:6-11 ESV).

Jesus didn't die for the godly, for the righteous, He died for people like me, the ungodly and the unrighteous to save me from God's wrath. As Psalm 49 reminded me last night: I am unable to redeem myself, to "pay to God a ransom. Too high the price to redeem [my] life; [I]would never have enough to stay alive forever and never see the pit," Jesus Christ not only has enough, but gave it all for me and for you.

Once in awhile we need to strip off all the varnish and see the beauty of the wood, the blood-stained wood of the Cross.

Alithos Anesti

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Through death to life

Tuesday Evening Prayer for Week II of the psalter- the Church's prayer for today- begins with Psalm 49, which is broken in two. The second part of this Psalm states:

"One cannot redeem oneself, pay to God a ransom. Too high the price to redeem a life; one would never have enough to stay alive forever and never see the pit. Anyone can see that the wisest die, the fool and the senseless pass away too, and must leave their wealth to others. Tombs are their homes forever, their dwellings through all generations, though they gave their names to their lands. For all their riches mortals do not abide; they perish like the beasts. This is the destiny of those who trust in folly, the end of those so pleased with their wealth. Selah- Like sheep they are herded into Sheol, where death will be their shepherd. Straight to the grave they descend, where their form will waste away, Sheol will be their palace" (verses 9-15).

Praying this put in me mind of something the Holy Father said last Saturday in his homily for the funeral Mass of Luigi Cardinal Poggi:

"Facing the mystery of death for a person without faith everything seems irredeemably lost. It is the word of Christ, then, that illuminates the path of life and confers value to each moment."

Alithos Anesti

Monday, May 10, 2010

dunamoumenoi=beING-made-ABLE= being-endued

"May you be strengthened with all power [dunamoumenoi], according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light" (Col. 1:11-12 ESV).

Alithos Anesti

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day

For my lovely wife and mother of my children, for my own Mom, and all mothers today:

Remember, O Blessed Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence I fly unto thee O Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To thee I come, before thee I stand sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.

Veni Sancte Spiritus, veni per Mariam

Saturday, May 8, 2010

St. Paul's "still more excellent way"

I am reading another incredible little book on St. Paul: A Still More Excellent Way: How St. Paul Points Us to Jesus, by Joseph Durepos. It is published by Loyola Press in Chicago. The book is the fruit of Durepos spending one year engrossed in things Paul. This little gem is simply formatted and easy to read.

The contents of the book are 52 passages from St. Paul's writings, which appear on the left side page and a personal reflection on the passage by Durepos on the right side page. Now, there are lots of books like this, most of the ones I have ever picked up I put down almost immediately, but this book is truly marvelous because of the deep insights of the author, whose reflections are not academic in the least, but truly personal thoughts about the passage means.

The book begins with Romans 1:16, 17: "I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith... For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith."

Here's part of Durepos' reflection:
"Paul says that our first task is quite simple - do not be ashamed of our story. To live as Christians, we must first find ourselves within the epic story of our faith. We must approach it with the awe and respect due a legacy of ancient and enduring spiritual heritage. We do this best by studying scripture, by prayer and instruction, and especially by learning the story of Jesus: his life and teachings, his death and resurrection.

"When we embrace this great story, we open ourselves to God who speaks directly to us and reveals our unique part in the unfolding story of salvation. This is God's gift to all who believe. This is what Paul was saying to people of his time. I'm certain this is what Paul is saying to us today"
(pg. 3).

In a way it's too bad that this year is not the Year of St. Paul because of the many things going on in the church, the many revelations of sins of omission and commission, et. al. I am writing very much from personal experience by stating that without St. Paul, who really and truly points me to Jesus, I would find living through such times much more difficult. Most Christians who spend a lot of time studying Scripture have a verse or two they take as their own, especially since being ordained my verse is 2 Cor. 12:10- "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," which is preceded by this verse: "[the Lord] "said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." These are words that can all too easily remain abstract and "inspirational," or they can be realized, that is, verified through your experience and actually be inspiring, which means they give breath and life, which mere words can never do.

St. Paul, pray for us.

Friday, May 7, 2010

"enough a sinner to believe..."

"It's just enough to be strong in the broken places..." because Christ is the glue that holds me together where I am broken, which is precisely how I witness to Him who loves me and who takes pity on my nothingness. Even though it is late, Jars of Clay Faith Enough is really the only possible traditio for this Friday. Who cares about the video? Just close your eyes and listen, then do it again. Peace!

Christos Anesti

"We have this treasure in jars of clay..."

Mature Christians aren't shocked by the behavior of others, even other supposedly mature Christians. Why? Because a mature Christian is one who not only understands that she needs Jesus Christ , but who also acknowledges that her need is constitutive of her fallen humanity as well as her identity as a child of God, given her in baptism. The on-going revelations about which bishop knew what and when, as well as how he responded, while often deeply troubling and sometimes even criminal, not to mention sinful, really only prove the truth of the Christian claim. This was the whole point of Greater Than Sin, the statement made by Communion and Liberation after allegations against the Holy Father began to appear during Lent.

In the evangelical world something similar was revealed this week, namely that Dr. George Rekers, who was a founding member of the Family Research Council, which was initially an expansion of Focus on the Family, recently went on a vacation to Europe with a male prostitute he hired from a website that exists in order to allow prostitutes to advertise their services. In addition to being a psychiatrist at the University of South Carolina, whose expertise is homosexuality and who, quite controversially, advocates what is known as reparative therapy, which seeks to sexually re-orient homosexuals, that is, make them straight, Rekers is also a Baptist minister. Despite the fact that Dr. Rekers, who steadfastly refuses to admit there was anything untoward in all this, despite being contradicted by the young man who accompanied him, has had nothing to do with FRC for for quite awhile, Tony Perkins, president of the council made this statement, which I like a lot: "FRC has had no contact with Dr. Rekers or knowledge of his activities in over a decade, so I can't speak to what he may or may not have done. However, I can say that while it's extremely disappointing when any Christian leader engages in the very activities that they 'preach' against, it's not surprising. The Scriptures clearly teach the fallen nature of all people. We each have a choice to act upon that nature or accept the forgiveness offered by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. As leaders, we should do our best to ensure our actions—both public and private—match our professed positions" (underlining emphasis mine).

Cutting to the chase, a mature Christian recognizes that her best efforts and those of others are not enough.  Recognizing our need and having it met in, through, and by Jesus Christ is what allows us to be gracious and graceful, kind and merciful, empathetic and sympathetic, while not defining down the holiness to which our baptism calls us. St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, Gentile former pagans who were having a difficult time living as Christians, "[b]e imitators of me, as I am of Christ" (1 Cor. 11:1). So, who can you trust? You can trust Christ at work in his church through broken, sinful people. It only proves the truth of the Christian claim to recognize that "we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us" (2 Cor. 4:7).

Far from using this as an excuse to engage in hypocritical and/or immoral behavior, Christ Jesus not only offers us a way to overcome our sinfulness, but is the Way, as well as the Truth, and the Life. Far from condemning one another in a most un-Christian manner, we need to help each other. So, it is very much an act of charity, though a difficult one for which we can usually expect no thanks, to call someone out for sinful behavior. We have a duty to hold each other accountable, but we do so not in order to condemn, quite the contrary. In other words, as disciples of Christ we don't shoot our wounded, even when the wounded refuse to acknowledge their brokenness. First aid requires that the bleeding be stopped. Neither is this to argue that those hurt and decimated by the evil behavior of others are not our primary concern.

Jesus Christ is always a mercy challenging us, which means we do not have the luxury of ignoring the sinner, or even the sinner's enabler, who makes himself complicit and whose actions only create more victims, which is why we must once again ask, "[a]longside 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'?" I would say there is nothing that overcomes our evil, but there is some- One- Christ the Lord! Let us return wounded to Him who was wounded for us and by whose stripes, paradoxically, we are healed (Isa. 53:5).

Christos Anesti

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Love is not neither a sentiment nor a sediment- what discipleship looks like

"Who stands fast?" asked Dietrich Bonhoeffer. "Only the man whose final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, or his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God—the responsible man, who... tried to make his whole life an answer to the call of God."

Bonhoeffer's point is precisely that we can often be held back by these things, which are not necessarily gifts of grace. For example, virtue is acquired through habitus, that is, through effort (excepting the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love), conscience is a developed faculty, etc. What brings us to perfection is love, without which "I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" (1 Cor. 13:1). We love because we are loved and God's love is Christ. So, He becomes that final standard, the criterion, by which we judge everything. I think we can see Christ crucified as the perfect example of what Bonhoeffer is writing about, which is the sole criterion by which he judged, a judgment that caused him to act in such a way that he, too, was executed.

Too often we reduce things to our measure. Note that Bonhoeffer writes: "his" before reason, principles, conscience, and freedom. This "his" transfers to "mine." Shaky ground, indeed! I am quite certain that if he had remained content to judge his circumstances and what was required of him by his own measure, Bonhoeffer surely would've taken a different course of action. Instead, in imitation of the Lord, he gave all of himself, which I am sure now seems to him as not a huge sacrifice at all.

Christos Anesti

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What is the point of Christian community?

The answer is- spiritual growth, which sounds nebulous. Growing spiritually means growing in your relationship with Jesus Christ. The relationship we have with Jesus is a friendship, yes, but we are his disciples, that is, the ones who follow him, who practice the things he taught us. For example, if you don't pray, read Scripture, spend time in solitude, and, as Catholics, not just participate in Eucharist, but do so worthily, which means making it to confession when you need to go, it is difficult, if not downright impossible to know Christ as he wants us to know him, as he seeks everyday to make himself known to us in and through everything that happens to us. Beyond that, we believe that it is in Scripture and the sacraments that we have direct encounters with the Lord.

Today I came across a very brief interview with Dr. Dallas Willard on the Christianity Today (to which I have long subscribed) blog Out of Ur. According to Dr. Willard, a well-regarded academic philosopher and a leading expositor of the writings and thought of Edmund Husserl, the father of phenomenology, too often we measure the success of our congregations by faulty criteria. Too often we measure success by attendance and, more often, by the collection, when, Willard suggests, "we should be looking at more fundamental things like anger, contempt, honesty, and the degree to which people are under the thumb of their lusts. Those things can be counted, but not as easily as offerings."

Without a doubt these things are much more difficult to measure, but not impossible. When asked if he is discouraged by there not being a greater focus on spiritual growth, on discipleship, Dr. Willard says, "I am not discouraged because I believe that Christ is in charge of his church, with all of its warts, and moles, and hairs. He knows what he is doing and he is marching on." To which I can only respond, Amen! Nonetheless, he says that this state-of-affairs causes him to grieve for those who are hurt and suffering "because much of North America and Europe has bought into a version of Christianity that does not include life in the kingdom of God as a disciple of Jesus Christ... [n]ew people are entering the church, but a lot are also leaving. Disappointed Christians fill the landscape because we've not taken discipleship seriously." To live this way requires more than good intentions, it requires a method.

Thanks to my dear friend Suzanne, who blogs over on Come to See, for this from Don Giussani: "The immanence of the mystery of community, to the extent that it is recognized, loved, and participated in, penetrates our being as if by osmosis with new moral standards and new moral sensitivity."

As we approach Ascension and Pentecost, let us be mindful of the Great Commission, given us by the Lord: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations..." (Matt. 28:19).

Christos Anesti

Monday, May 3, 2010

Our sinfulness is "an insane, horrifying romance with death"

In his introduction to his theological commentary on Genesis, Dr. Russell Reno, writing about "the promised future that pulls on the characters, scenes, and episodes... like a supernaturally powerful magnet" (pg. 20).

by Gustave Dore

"Once the promise is heard, our reading of Genesis inevitably takes on an anticipatory flavor. The seemingly permanent architecture of the universe created 'in the beginning' starts to march forward into the promise with joyful anticipation. The painful, familiar reality of human sinfulness becomes an insane, horrifying romance with death, whose rotting image we paint with lipstick and rouge and prop up in the whorehouses of our souls. The primeval past comes alive, both reaching toward the promised future and remaining darkly, mysteriously resistant" (pg. 20).

Christos Anesti

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Abbot Emmanuel Spillane, OSCO- Requiescat in pace

I am sad this morning because I learned that Abbot Emmanuel Spillane, OSCO, died yesterday. Abbot Immanuel was formerly the abbot of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity Cistercian abbey in Huntsville, UT. He was a truly wonderful man and monk, one with an irrepressible zest for life, a monk with a sense of humor. It is not over doing it to say that he was a character!

One of Fr Emmanuel's favorite stories was about the time he picked up a nun at the Salt Lake airport in 1972, who was here for a retreat. It turns out that this nun was none other than Mother Teresa. Yes, Abbot Immanuel was a relative of the author of hard-boiled detective stories, Mickey Spillane. I first met the abbot when I interviewed him for a paper I was working on as a sophomore in college. I didn't know anything about monks, but he was kind, patient, and most generous with his time. He was truly a beautiful man.

I remember visiting him when he was up at the abbey during a time he was serving as chaplain for the Trappistines in Arizona and my friend, who knew Abbot Emmanuel very well, referring to him being with the Trappistines said: "Isn't that a case of putting a fox in charge of the hen house?" Fr Emmanuel just laughed and laughed, he thought that was so funny, probably because it is was so absurd. Abbot Immanuel was in his 70s at the time. His holiness was not other-worldly, but very rooted in life, which is what made him such a charismatic person. Too often people trying to look holy seem to me like characters out some bad 1950s, Ed Wood-directed, Catholic movie. The kind of people who make me want to say- "Come down off the cross, we could sure use the wood!" As Pater Tom once said: "It is better to just be yourself than to try and act like an angel." Abbot Emmanuel understood this and without having to have Pater Tom tell him! Indeed, holiness is to become who you truly are, to become that unique, unrepeatable phenomenon God created you and redeemed you to be, which is what it means to be sanctified.

Sanctuary of the Church at Our Lady of Holy Trinity Abbey- Huntsville, Utah

He began his priestly life as a diocesan priest in Los Angeles and knew many Hollywood luminaries and was a serious fund-raiser, but always wanted the monastic life, a call he was unable to heed until his younger brother finished school and could take care of their mother.

To my mind, cloistered monasteries of both women and men religious are islands of sanity, outposts of God's kingdom, places where there is no danger of the human subject being annihilated, not least of which because these are truly Eucharistic communities. For the benefit of those who do not know, Pater Tom was a Trappist, that is a Cistercian, a member of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance. They strictly observe the Rule of St. Benedict. He wrote about an episode of the Huntsville monastery in his book The Sign of Jonas.

I have little doubt that St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Benedict were there to welcome one of their faithful sons into the house of the Father. Requiescat in pace dear Abbot Emmanuel, you are already missed and world is poorer without you in it. I know you'll continue praying and interceding for us and for the whole world.

It is important to remember that, as monk, he died years ago, heeding St Paul: "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3).

Christos Anesti

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The insurmountable limits of blogging

Lately, in my neck of the Catholic blogosphere, there has been some healthy reflection going on about blogging; about what it is, what it isn't, etc. This kind of reflection is not only healthy, but necessary for anyone who starts driving her/his family truckster down the information super highway, especially anyone who blogs as a Catholic Christian. This reflection started when Deacon Greg disabled the comments feature over on the Deacon's Bench because some commentors were just going nuts, in the words of Deacon Greg himself: "I never intended The Deacon's Bench to become a place for knees in the groin and brass knuckles to the jaw. God knows, I also never thought it would turn into a place for escalating violence, where one commenter pulls out a knife, until another whips out a pistol. Lively debate is one thing. Relentless, merciless hate is something else."

Deacon Greg's post prompted a rather thought-provoking post by Mike Hayes, of Busted Halo, on his personal blog Googling God- Any Idiot Can Have a Blog. Many of us who blog daily, or nearly daily, can relate to this. I have been blogging almost daily since late July 2006. There are certainly times when I resemble Mike's remark. I know that there are a few out there who think that's true everytime I post something. Hence, I adhere to the axiom that the person who has no detractors is a person who has never stood for anything.

One of Mike's insights that can easily be overlooked in this very worthwhile post is this: "Bloggers need to choose how engaged they want to be with their 'fans'." In other words, a blogger, like any writer, has to find her/his voice, as it were, his/her M.O. Frankly, I don't see the people who regularly read my blog as "fans," but as readers, many of whom are friends. I do not want fans. As I have stated before, this site does not have nor will it ever have a site meter. It will never feature ads. I maintain no metrics or stats as to how many people visit this cyber space. I will never be enticed to move my blog somewhere else. I am happy to write for other venues, to contribute and collaborate other places, to allow this blog to be linked to, quoted, etc., but, unlike just about everything else in my life, this endeavor is uniquely mine for better or for worse. Consequently, I am solely responsible for what appears here, including moderating comments. All of the Catholic bloggers I know write for different reasons, which is healthy and good as long as we write in the service of communion, the diakonia of koinonia.

I honestly don't think you can call yourself a Catholic blogger and not have a way of being personally accountable (see Integrity Notes at lower right side of this site). I certainly look to my readers to hold me accountable and not to be passive aggressive about it (i.e., don't take your complaints to somebody else before taking them up with me directly, which is the only Christian way to behave see- Matt. 18:15-17). On several occasions I have been corrected by readers. I am grateful for this. In other words, I want to be able to state my piece without worrying about being shut down and I want to be corrected, either as to errors I make in matters of fact, or when I am being unfair, uncharitable, or just plain annoying. The blogging model that I really like is the one used by Peter Hitchens on his Daily Mail blog, as one who cut his teeth as a young adult in the philosophy graduate seminar, a bit o' the old rough and tumble does not bother me as long as it remains reasonable and doesn't get personal.

Another insight of Mike's is that "Usually, blogs are told from a specific point of view, namely the blogger’s–which could mean they come from a certain place on a variety of spectrums and therefore don’t really express the fullness of any one tradition." As is my wont, I will ratchet this up a notch: blogs always represent a specific point-of-view. Writing from a point-of-view, your point-of-view, is inescapable, as anyone who has ever read Gadamer's Truth and Method knows, which neither disputes the objective, or inter-subjective, nature of truth, nor puts forth a weird kind of solipsism. This true to the point that to think otherwise is to engage in self-deception. While it is true that everyone has an opinion, it is equally true that not all opinions are equal. Hand-in-hand with this, at least for Catholic bloggers, is that you don't express or exhaust the fullness of our 2,000 year tradition in single post, or even across several posts. On a good day, to quote Msgr. Giussani, we are able to open up "a newness", which "always opens up the road within the old words." Besides, if you do not wish to express your point-of-view, then blogging becomes an exercise in saying nothing in 1,000 words or more, which is great only if you're auditioning for a job in public relations.

There are things about which I simply report the news, as with episcopal retirements and appointments in the United States, but my overall point and purpose is to express my point-of-view on matters that I deem worthy of comment. This sounds more than a little imperial, but it is just to state a fact that is true not only of all bloggers, but all writers. After all, you can't write about everything! So, everyone who blogs makes choices about content. I strive for original content. I want my readers to read something they can't find anywhere else, but I would never want to be the sole source of information, which is why I provide so many links. As a preacher I try to do the same thing. I write every homily myself, for better or for worse. I don't recycle homilies, though, given that you can't preach everything in any one week's readings, I may take something from a previous homily and develop it more. I then rely on the Holy Spirit to do something with the words I prayerfully manage to string together. I approach blogging in much the same way, which goes a great distance towards explaining why many of my posts have a homletic quality. I suppose that makes me something of a not-fit-for-primetime-Catholic-editorialist. So, don't look for me on the opinion page of your diocesan newspaper anytime soon, or in my diocesan newspaper for that matter!

Blogging for me goes through discernible phases that are determined by what is happening in my life and in the world. My blog gives me a space to connect the dots. Additionally, I like to highlight aspects of Catholic thought that I think are frequently overlooked, or even denied. Admittedly, there is a fine line between consciousness-raising and rabble rousing, especially when you're rabble, like me. Looking at my posts over this past week or so, I have written about economic and political issues in a rather straight-forward and admittedly one-sided manner in an attempt to be provocative. Given the utter lack of reader response, both here on my blog and on Facebook, I understand that my views on these matters are not likely shared by many people, if for no other reason than I tend to be pretty impassioned about the gross immorality of the type exhibited by those at the highest levels of Goldman Sachs and to having little patience or tolerance for people who use threats to try and silence others, even when those others produce art that I often find personally offensive, if at times extremely funny (like love, imo, humor covers a multitude of sins). I also get that others simply aren't as worked up about these things as I am. I certainly wouldn't say that those who don't share my views are stupid or that those who don't get as worked up as I do over things are apathetic. I fully grasp that it may well mean that they are simply more prudent. It is often self-evident that Deacon Scott (Yes, I just went all Jimmy Kimmel imitating Karl Malone by referring to myself in the third person) rushes in where angels fear to tread, which only proves Mike's thesis that any idiot can, indeed, have a blog!

St. Joseph the Worker, pray for us

Year B Third Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 3:13-15.17-19; Ps 4:2.4.7-9; 1 John 2:1-5a; Luke 24:25-48 “You are witnesses of these things,” Jesus tells his incredulous...