Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. archangels

"'You will see greater things than this.' And he said to him, 'Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man'" (John 1:47-51).

Each year it is my joy and privilege to assist on this great feast in commissioning the choristers (two of whom are my daughters) of The Madeleine Choir School, those who sing in the Sts. Cecilia, Gregory, and Nicholas Choirs, for another year of service at The Cathedral of the Madeleine, where I am privileged to serve. It is fitting that a deacon leads them in the promises they make to serve Christ, the King, putting their muscial gifts and training at the service of worshipping Almighty God.

That's a wrap for September 2010! Friday, 1 October is the beginning of rosary month.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Remembering Pope John Paul I

On this day thirty-two years ago, just thirty-three days after becoming pope, Papa Luciani, known as John Paul I, unexpectedly passed in his sleep. One observer said of his brief pontificate "God knew we needed a smile." Indeed, anyone who remembers Papa Luciani remembers his lovely smile and his touching humility, his gentleness, and simplicity. My heart fills with joy to hear his gentle voice. If Jesus spoke English with an Italian accent this how I think He would speak to me because He knows it would melt my stone cold heart.

He wrote a prayer that I recite sometimes on Thursday evenings in preparation for Fridays: "I am asking you a grace, my Lord. I would like you to be nearby me when I close my eyes on the earth. I would like you to hold my hand in yours, as a mother with her child in the hour of danger. Thank you, my Lord."

Papa Luciani, gentle shepherd, pray for us.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Father, your will be done

Monday morning is always a good time to be reminded about life's meaning and purpose because it is the day most of us venture forth from home and hearth to engage the world once more. Many people, if not most, are filled with no little anxiety as they set out from home. In order to engage the world as Christians, we need to be prayerful so that all we do is at the service of God. I was reminded this morning that "prayer is not getting man's will done in heaven, but getting God' will done on earth." In that prayer that Jesus has placed on the lips of His Church, the Our Father, this is exactly what we ask God, our loving Father, when we pray "your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." I am happy to pray the prayer of the Kingdom twice daily and three times when I go to Mass and to pray it with the whole Church.

Prayer does not consist in pleading with God to overcome some divine indifference towards me. Rather, prayer is about me realizing how much the Father loves me. His interest in me is about bringing me to the end for which He made me, which is nothing other than Himself. Hence, I must use everything I experience to accomplish this end. It is a fact that God loves me too much to give me everything I ask for because God knows not only what I really need, but what I most deeply desire.

It is a nice thought, but a huge challenge, to pray always with Jesus' caveat, the one He introduced in His prayer in the garden, just before His passion began- "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done" (Luke 22:42). This is what de Cassuade meant when he wrote about abandonment to Divine providence! It is after Jesus abandons Himself, entrusting Himself wholly to the Father, that "there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him" (Luke 22:43).

If the point and purpose of Christian life is to deny myself and to "take up [my] cross daily and follow [Jesus]," then I must pray as He prayed in order to live as He teaches me to live by word and example, not just to the point of laying down His life for me, but taking up it up again (Luke 9:23). So, each day I am confronted with the paradox: "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it" (Luke 9:24). I will have many opportunities today to live this way. The psalm response we sing each Good Friday is echoing in my mind this morning: "Father, I put my life in your hands."

My dear friend, Sharon, posting over on Clarity, quoted Fr. Massimo Camisasca to the effect that "[e]ros is love as passionate desire for a good that is lacking. Eros is desire striving for what is missing. Ever since God created man, one can say that eros entered into God. He feels in Himself a nostalgia for our return to Him, He longs passionately for the response of our love."

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Paul and women, including a digression on men and marriage

"Women are oppressed - no kidding. But we're oppressed mainly by the people we yearn to to have sex and homes and children with, and many of these people try to stay on our good side in order to get the same things. But almost nobody has them in a peaceful state for very long, as if the human family had some sort of factory defect. All of the pain and the conflict between the genders seems to circle around this problem." This insight appears at the beginning of Sarah Ruden's chapter on Paul and women.

Of course, the factory defect to which Ruden refers is not a factory defect at all. It is what we call original sin, which Malcom Muggeridge said was the most empirically verifiable fact in the world. It is probably nowhere more evident than in human relationships, especially the intimate relationships between women and men. Another really great book, which my wife and I and are reading together, is Paul David Tripp's What Did You Expect??: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage. Tripp points out what should be obvious: "Our marriages live in the middle of a world that does not function as God intended. Somehow, someway, your marriage is touched every day by the brokenness of our world." He goes further, when he writes,

"At some point you will be selfish. In some situation you will speak unkindly. There will be moments of jealousy, bitterness, and conflict. You will not avoid this, because you are a sinner married to a sinner. If you minimize the heart struggle that both of you have carried into your marriage, here's what will happen: you will tend to turn moments of ministry into moments of anger. When your ears hear and your eyes see the sin, weakness, or failure of your husband or wife, it is never an accident; it is always grace. God loves your spouse, and he is committed to transforming him or her by his grace, and he has chosen you to be one of his regular tools of change. So, he will cause you to see, hear, and experience your spouse's need for change so that you can be an agent of [God's] rescue."
Our need for change is nothing other than our need for Christ.

The above is true for even for Christians married to non-Christians, as the apostle wrote to the Corinthians: "the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. ... how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?" (1 Cor. 7:14-15- ESV)

Friday, September 24, 2010

A homiletic note

I was thinking more about preaching this morning while driving, especially what I wrote earlier this week about the need to be careful not to get too carried away with interpreting Scripture, lest the word of God be taken hostage and is borne away violently by no less than the preacher. I reminded myself how easy it is to approach Scripture in a gnostic way, meaning that it is easy to obscure its message, instead of doing my work and seeking to enlighten those to whom I am called to preach. It is also easy to distort the word of God, by preaching something that it does not say, trying to make it conform to my preconceptions, instead of letting it transform me and those who hear me. It is also tempting to try to be clever, even preaching what amounts to sophistry. Another risk is oversimplifying the message, dumbing it down, making each week's readings say the same thing, which also demonstrates our refusal to be challenged by the word of God (i.e., be nice).

St. Paul Preaching in Athens, by Raffaello Sanzio, ca. 1514-15

I really think last Sunday's Gospel is one that can easily be distorted even to the point of false teaching, but I have already addressed that and perhaps too strongly. Preaching and teaching the truth is a service, a ministry (i.e., a munus and diakonia). Nonetheless, thinking about this again today, these words of St. Paul's came unbidden into my mind:

"When I came to you, brothers, proclaiming the mystery of God, I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive (words of) wisdom, but with a demonstration of spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God" (1 Cor. 2:1-5- NAB).

St. Paul, holy apostle and tireless preacher of God's Word, Jesus Christ, pray for all preachers that, like you, we may be faithful stewards in proclaiming the mystery of God revaled in Christ our Lord.

This also marks my very first post on my new laptop, which is the third one I have used as a blogger. The first one died, but the second one lives on. It was time for an upgrade and a computer to call my very own, again.

"I didn't know what my heart would do"

Corinne Bailey Rae sings like an angel, like Billie Holiday and Edith Piaf, except she sounds a bit more innocent, though with the very sudden and unexpected death of her husband, Jazz musician Jason Rae, that resulted from a lethal combo of alcohol and drugs in 2008, she certainly knows pain and heartache. She is a lovely chanteuse and The Blackest Lily is our Friday traditio.

"You laid a trail that led straight to your door, oh/
And I could resist but it was hard to ignore, oh"

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

An exegetical note on last Sunday's Gospel

Last Sunday's parable from Luke 16 is the cause of much discussion and dispute, not just over the past week by those of us charged with preaching, but over many centuries. I am certainly not qualified to end this once and for all, even as I readily acknowledge certain ambiguities in the passage.

To my mind, the ambiguity arises from two things Jesus says: "And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently" (v.8a ) and "I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings" (v. 9).

Yesterday, a fellow deacon wrote in to let me know that I missed the entire point of the passage and invited me to look at his homily to see how it is done. While I certainly make no claim whatsoever to being a gifted preacher, I am diligent enough to do my homework. So, as to the first point of ambiguity, I will reprise part of my response to the well-intentioned corrective: Jesus does not commend the steward, the steward’s master commends the steward. It seems quite clear that Jesus does not agree with the master's assessment and that he does not approve of the way the steward settles the debts. This is shown by Jesus referring to the steward in verse 8 as "that dishonest steward," as "adikias," meaning, not merely dishonest, but unjust. One peril is to read this parable as an allegory, which it is not. Hence, the master is not God and the steward is not intended to be the listener.

My response to the second ambiguity builds on my first contention. Translated a bit more literally, Jesus says to make friends with mammon. I would prefer that if English translations persist in using mammon in verse 13 (i.e., "You cannot serve both God and mammon"), it should also be used in verse nine in place of "dishonest wealth" because that is what the Greek text uses. Jesus is telling his listeners to handle worldly wealth honestly, which to me is borne out by the fact that he next launches into the necessity of being honest and just even in small things and with what belongs to another over which we have been given charge. In other words, he uses the unjust steward's settling of accounts as an example of how NOT to handle mammon, before commending the steward for a certain shrewdness in looking out for his own welfare. Otherwise, you have created a big theological problem that is quite fundamental, namely that it is okay to act unjustly to secure your eternal salvation!

At the expense of sounding a little snarky, I think we have to be careful not to get too cute with Scripture. Preaching definitely requires shrewdness tempered with prudence, not to mention fidelity to the word. I am unabashedly an expository preacher. I think a good homily always involves some exegesis. I do not like dealing with Jesus' parables by telling a story about a story, which is not to say I think a well-placed story or example has no place in a homily, they certainly do, well-placed and carefully chosen being the keys.

The pharmakon revisited

Reading Ruden also put me in mind, once again, of the Greek word pharmakeia, which can often be translated as "the art of poisoning." I arrive at no conclusions on this basis, but in our indisputably over-medicated age, it is sometimes an apt description. I certainly do not reject modern medicine. Pharmakeia can also be translated as witchcraft, or sorcery, as it is in Galatians 5:20.

Reading Sarah Ruden last night put me in mind of Jacques Derrida's discourse on "The Pharmakon," specifically his demonstration about the problem of translation, namely that no single English word captures the play of signification of this ancient Greek word. In his exploration, Derrida traced the meanings assigned to pharmakon by examining Plato's dialogues, where it is used variously to refer to a remedy, a poison (either the cure or the illness or its cause), philter, drug, recipe, charm, medicine, substance, spell, artificial color, and paint. He was right to conclude that this word "is overdetermined" because it over-signifies, refers to too many things. So, by choosing one meaning translators often decide what in Plato's texts remains ultimately undecidable. It is always a problem of language.

It also makes me think of something a friend who was undergoing radiation therapy for cancer said to me: They pump you full of poison and see which dies first, you or the cancer.

"Who stood up for Stephen?"

"For many of us, the center of a new moral or religious life is the image of some evil act we have done and cannot undo. In many cases it is a cruel act. The realization that we have caused helpless suffering is a special shock and creates an especially vivid memory." So writes Sarah Ruden in Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time. Ruden goes on to assert that "for Saul the memory was of standing over a pile of outer robes, guarding them from petty thieves," as the owners of those cloaks stoned Stephen, the Greek-speaking Jewish follower of Jesus Christ, who asserted that those who did not now Jesus were uncircumcised in their hearts.

Ruden goes on to point out that ancient literature nowhere provides us with a detailed account of a stoning. However, because this extremely cruel and inhumane practice persists even in our own day, as the sad case of Sakineh Mohammad Ashtiani, the Iranian woman now imprisoned and sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, we have a pretty good idea of the traumatic cruelty of this practice, which is so at odds with our Christian faith. She goes on to write that "it would have taken Stephen some time to die; a stone small enough to throw from a few yards away usually cannot cause much damage. There is little bleeding, mainly bruising. The victim screams and tries to get away. After awhile, he shrinks down and covers his head with his arms. Impatience, pity, or self-disgust my cause someone to come up closer, raise a larger stone with both hands, and slam it straight down onto the victim - but that may mean looking into his face as he hears the approach and lifts his head..."

Ruden continues her thought: "Saul, as he was called then, saw something like this. As he went about afterward, inflicting his culture and education, his self-righteousness, his arguing, his politicking, and his networking on more Christians, he had in the back of his mind what such things had done to the body of Stephen, yet how, when the young man went down, it was to kneel and cry out words of forgiveness. It was all in the back of Saul's mind as he set off for Damascus, but if he wanted to make any peace with it, anger and ego still did not let him."

Ruden in correct that Paul "never overcame his touchiness, his fussiness, or his arrogance." She goes on to speculate that the famous "thorn in his flesh," about which he writes in 2 Corinthians 12:7, is likely anger and not lust. I love this, Paul "keeps his worst faults in bounds, sometimes with charming irony, and the knowledge of how destructive they could be was of great use to him."

Indeed, my favorite passage from Paul's writings is just this passage from 2 Corinthians because it shows what Ruden asserts about Paul, at least his arrogance and his Pharisaical fussiness, but overriding these is his deep need, which he recognizes as constitutive of his very human being. Weakness is precisely where the greatness any Christian lies: "Though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he 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. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:6-10- ESV).

Monday, September 20, 2010

Lord, I need You, heed my plea

Monday morning is an excellent time to be reminded of how much I need the One who accompanies me always. As the now Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman once preached: "a habit of prayer, the practice of turning to God and the unseen world in every season, in every place, in every emergency – prayer, I say, has what may be called a natural effect in spiritualizing and elevating the soul. A man is no longer what he was before; gradually … he has imbibed a new set of ideas, and become imbued with fresh principles" (from Pope Benedict's homily at yesterday's beatification mass in Birmingham).

As I was praying this morning, petitioning God and praying in an intercessory way for so many people, I was moved to pray to be wholly open to God's will, to trust totally in Him and to stop looking at things from my limited and proscribed perspective, which suffocates me. At the end of my prayer time I read from the devotional I am currently using this excerpt by Richard Foster, who is such a light to me over many years:

"When our asking is for ourselves it is called petition; when it is on behalf of others it is called intercession. Asking is at the heart of both experiences.

"We must never negate or demean this aspect of our prayer experience. Some have suggested, for example, that while the less discerning will continue to appeal to God for aid, the real masters of the spiritual life go beyond petition to adoring God's essence with no needs or requests whatever. In this view our asking represents a more crude and naïve form prayer, while adoration and contemplation are a more enlightened and high-minded approach, since they are free from any egocentric demands.

"This, I submit, is a false spirituality. Petitionary Prayer remains primary throughout our lives because we are forever dependent upon God. It is something that we never really 'get beyond,' nor should we even want to.... The Bible itself is full of Petitionary Prayer and unabashedly recommends it to us." (from Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home).

Lord, sometimes I feel guilty for asking You for so many things, but the truth is I am but a poor beggar, who needs You because You are my daily bread. Help me to recognize that You, too, are a beggar, begging me for my heart each day. Teach me to depend on You, trusting You because You love me, not despite my unworthiness, but precisely because You are moved by my need.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Year C Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Amos 8:4-7; Ps. 113:1-2.4-8; 1 Tim. 2:1-8; Luke 16:1-13

At first glance today’s Gospel might leave you scratching your head in puzzlement trying to figure out the point of Jesus’ parable. It is clear that the steward, around whom the parable revolves, has made a poor job of his stewardship. He is dismissed not because he has stolen from his master, but because he was an inefficient and ineffective manager. In a word, he was incompetent. So, Jesus’ accusation of dishonesty, which comes later in the parable, refers to how the steward went about settling the debts owed the rich man before being dismissed.

Upon firing his steward, the rich man tells him to settle all of the outstanding business, to it put into today’s business language, the steward is ordered to collect all accounts receivable. Worried that once word gets around that he has been fired for being an incompetent steward he will be forced to make his living either as a laborer or be reduced to begging, and reckoning that he was too old to do manual labor and too proud to beg, the steward very shrewdly goes about collecting the debts owed his boss by cutting the debtors very good deals. In the case of the olive oil, the steward cuts the payment in half and in the case of the wheat he only collects eighty percent of what is owed.

The steward’s only motivation for doing this is to ingratiate himself to the other wealthy landowners and merchants in the hope that one of them might be inclined to hire him. By settling his accounts at vastly reduced rates, the steward is looking out for himself and not for the interests of his master. So, while he was not careful when managing his master’s resources, he becomes very industrious, even to the point of cheating his master, when his own future is at stake. In short, he proves himself both shrewd and dishonest. So, while Jesus condemns him for being dishonest, he praises his shrewdness. Now, it is true that the master commends the dismissed steward for prudently settling the accounts and, likely, for settling them so quickly. But it is clear that Jesus sees the steward’s reducing the interests of his master for his own gain as dishonest.

It is important at this juncture to jump back to our first reading from the prophet Amos, which has rightly been called an oracle of condemnation. The prophet is denouncing unscrupulous merchants for their false piety, their avarice, their dishonest business practices, and especially for exploiting the poor. The poor Amos refers to are the landless, those who must purchase life’s necessities, making them wholly dependent on the honesty of those from whom they buy. The judgment of God against those who cheat the poor, especially while acting so righteously, is harsh, indeed. As Christians we deal with all the time. The person who is at Mass every Sunday, but whose life never seems affected, that is, changed by being here, which is why there are such things as the Facebook group- "Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than standing in a garage makes you a car." This is why we are called to participate fully, actively, and consciously in the liturgy, which is our common work.

This goes some way to setting forth what we are to take away from Jesus’ parable: While we are to be honest and upright, even in small matters, we should be as shrewd about our pursuit of godliness as a person in business is about running a successful business. After all being shrewd does not imply being dishonest, it implies being creative, maybe even a little wily, like Jesus, whom we follow. The Lord makes clear where our priority is to be: Your life is either lived for God, or the pursuit of worldly pleasure and gain, but not both.

Every day you get out of bed and live your life with some end, some goal, some purpose in mind. Insofar as this is the case, you put yourself at the service of what you seek to attain or obtain. Therefore, everything you seek should be at the service of obtaining the end for which you were created and redeemed, which is nothing other Jesus Christ, who is your beginning and your end, the Alpha and the Omega (Rev. 1:8). Indeed, "[y]ou cannot serve both God and mammon" (Luke 16:13). Because, as our second reading from 1 Timothy tells us, there is "one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus… who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth," you are to serve him "with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind" (1 Tim. 2:4-5; Luke 10:27). The foremost way you do this is by loving "your neighbor as yourself," serving others for Christ’s sake and for the sake of the Gospel (Luke 10:27). To love another means to love her/his destiny.

In this long body of teaching found in Luke’s Gospel, which we have been making our way through Sunday-by-Sunday, Jesus’ point about serving God and God alone becomes clearer each week. What also becomes clear is that, as a Christian, you are called to serve God nowhere other than where you are: at home, at work, at school, in social settings, wherever you find yourself. It is most often the case that what needs to change is not what you do, but how you do it, which typically presents you with a far greater challenge, which is why what we are gathered here to do is so indispensable for you.

Catechetical Sunday

Today we observe Catechetical Sunday, a day that the church in the United States sets aside each year in the early fall when parish religious education begins anew to recognize those who perform the vital ministry of catechesis. Apart from the liturgy and serving the poor, there is nothing that takes place in our parish that is more important than catechesis. Besides, it is only through catechesis that we learn about the necessary connection, made so emphatic by the prophet Amos in our first reading today, between worshipping God and serving the poor, the sick, the widow, and the prisoner. Today, when there are so many things competing for the attention of young people, much of it toxic, in no aspect of our faith do we need to be more shrewd that in passing the faith to the next generation, using all the various means at our disposal, especially those of mass media, like the internet, to proclaim the Good News that is Jesus Christ.

Perhaps the best way to translate word catechesis into contemporary English is to say that catechesis means to resound. What we re-sound, or give new voice to, is the Gospel, which we ourselves received from others dedicated to this same ministry. The catechist is the one commissioned by the community to give voice to the Gospel.

As one who has dedicated a large portion of my adult life to catechesis, I reflect often on these words from St. Paul to the Romans: "'everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.' But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring (the) good news'" (10:13-15). As the steward for catechesis at The Cathedral of the Madeleine, I am very grateful for those who labor with me in this corner of the Lord’s vineyard. It is only fitting that today we send them, that is, commission them, for this life-giving work to which they are called and with gratitude for their heeding the Lord’s call.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

"I'm putting nothing before God..."

During the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which went from 11 August-10 September this year, Muslims focus on prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. Observant Muslims do not eat or drink from sun rise until sundown. Typically, a person will arise and eat, go the entire day not eating or drinking, then gather for a communal, or family meal after the sun sets. I remember when the great NBA center, Hakeem Olajuwon would fast during Ramadan and not miss any games.

Yesterday, I read a blog post on the Yahoo sports blog Shutdown Corner about Husain Abdullah, a starting safety for the Minnesota Vikings, who, along with his brother, a player for the Arizona Cardinals, is an observant Muslim.

"Even while sprinting in the heat and humidity during drills, sometimes in full pads, Abdullah is adamant about his faith. He will not allow himself so much as a cup of water until the sun sets and before it rises.

'I’m putting nothing before God, nothing before my religion,'Abdullah said. 'This is something I choose to do, not something I have to do. So I’m always going to fast'."

In fact, on the last day of Ramadan, I posted as my Facebook profile that I have "taken to calling [my]self religious, but not spiritual." My reason for doing this is because the word religion is too often reduced to its worst possible connotation, becoming for too many controlling, fear-inducing, dictatorial, superstitious, etc. In reality, religion has an object, God, while spirituality, it seems for many, is mostly about self-absorption and not taking risks. So, the difference is between who has the priority, self or the Other? Being spiritual can mean nothing other than being religious because being spiritual requires a spirituality, which is not something you haphazardly make up as you go along, but a well-worn pilgrim path that puts the self in its place both in relation to God and in relation to others.

I like his "I'm putting nothing before God, nothing before my religion" because it shows that Abdullah understands that intricate connection between religion and God, religion being nothing other than following the well-established path to God, which is not your own path, but one trod by many pilgrims before you. When it comes to the great monotheistic faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam we all worship the God of Israel, the God of the patriarchs. Hence, our praxis (i.e., what we do) is very similar, in some cases identical. At the heart of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic practice are the indispensable disciplines of prayer, fasting, alms-giving. Fasting is the middle because it connects prayer, which is worship of God in accordance with the commandment to put God first, above all things, with alms-giving, which is love of neighbor. By fasting we acknowledge that it is not about me, but about God and neighbor. Western spirituality, such as it is, puts self at the center, the self becomes the object, the end. This is a distortion.

I am glad for the witness of people like Husain and that of my observant Jewish friends, with whom I continue to pray in solidarity as they continue their observance of their highest and holiest day, Yom Kippur. As a portion of last evening's Kol Nidre prayer goes: "May all the people of Israel be forgiven, including all the strangers who live in their midst, for all the people are in fault."

Friday, September 17, 2010

Yom Kippur

As the sun begins to set, Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, begins and lasts until sundown tomorrow.

אַךְ בֶּעָשׂוֹר לַחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי הַזֶּה יוֹם הַכִּפֻּרִים הוּא, מִקְרָא-קֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם, וְעִנִּיתֶם, אֶת-נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם; וְהִקְרַבְתֶּם - "Howbeit on the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; there shall be a holy convocation unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls; and ye shall bring an offering made by fire unto the LORD" (Lev. 23:27).

For Christians, who because of Jesus Christ share in the covenant, Hebrews does a nice job of laying out the significance of Yom Kippur:

 "Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron's staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.

"These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.

"But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God" (9:1-14- ESV underlining emphasis mine).

"Who's to say the way a man should spend his days"?

Each week as I contemplate the Friday traditio I am always struck by how many great songs and artists have yet to make an appearance. One of those is John Mellencamp, formerly known as John Cougar Mellencamp, and, early in his career, as plain old John Cougar. Two of his albums I wore out listening to: Scarecrow and his follow-up Jubilee. When I write wore out, I mean it because I originally purchased both on cassette tape.

Because sundown this evening is the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, it is important to do something reflective, a bit penitential, yet hopeful. Mellencamp's Paper in Fire fits the bill.

"He wanted love with no involvement/
So he chased the wind that's his silly life required/
And the days of vanity went on forever/
And he saw his days burn up like paper in fire."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Changing our political culture, part deux

Following up on yesterday's post about the Delaware Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, Christine O'Donnell, particularly the part about her being a chastity advocate as a young woman, I came across a few things today that do not surprise me in the least. Nether does it surprise Chris Horner, who blogs over on the ultra-conservative AMSPEC blog. Horner hits the nail on the head while opining about the likes of Rachel Maddow and their response to O'Donnell unabashedly standing up for what she believes in, for her Christian beliefs, which also constitute the same sexual morality as that espoused by Muslims, as well as orthodox and conservative Jews:

"Part of the media’s O’Donnell heckling is due to the urban bubble journalists and broadcasters live in. They can’t fathom how an intelligent human being could take the conservative line on human life and sexuality — let alone the deficit — because none of their friends or colleagues do. Their mistake is presupposing that the New York City crowd is an authority on everything — or anything."

So, now we turn to the always entertaining James Carville, who does not seem to be able to make the distinction between O'Donnell's activities prior to entering politics, which did not include advocacy for making masturbation illegal, and the issues and platform on which she is running for office. In fact, Carville gets so worked up on Good Morning America he doesn't even make sense. I am pretty confident in stating that until Maddow aired the MTV interview from 1996 no mention of self-stimulation was made in whole of the campaign.

"In terms of getting into the bedroom, this woman has run against masturbation. That seems to me to be a lot of government intrusion to be honest with you. She is a very fiscal conservative, she doesn’t believe in paying the bills, and she equated masturbation to adultery. If that is the case the Iranians would be stoning a lot of people in this country, I’ll tell you that."

See for yourself:

So, let me get this straight, even though O'Donnell has never, ever advocated for a city or county ordinance, or a state or federal law outlawing masturbation, but merely stated that she believes it is immoral and, hence, personally and societally destructive and encouraged young people not to engage in it, using the same moral arguments made by the Catholic Church, if she is elected we have to worry about about Iranians stoning people who engage in self-gratification in this country? Like Glen Davis' quip about O'Donnell somehow implying that no married people are infected with HIV, I have to say, Huh?

This is a mistake the liberal media, most of whom do inhabit the urban bubble described by Horner, makes over and over again. Therefore, it is significant that Sarah Palin is not only endorsing O'Donnell, but her SARAHPAC is helping finance the Republican nominee's Delaware Senate run. What Palin did was to say, in effect, "You're right. I do stand for those things." She recognized that so do a lot of people in the U.S., perhaps even a majority and certainly a strong plurality. She refuses to nuance or compromise, or soft-peddle what she stands for, which certainly works to her detriment at times. I think O'Donnell will do much the same thing. If she's smart, she'll learn when to walk away and when to stand and fight.

My reason for bringing this up arises from nothing other than my utter amazement at the response of people like Maddow and Carville to a candidate like Christine O'Donnell.

Hierarchy Update

The Holy See announced this morning that Bishop James Sartain, who had been the bishop of the diocese of Joliet, Illnois, will become the next archbishop of Seattle, replacing the retiring Alexander Brunett, who is beyond the mandatory retirement age of 75.

With this change, there are now nine bishops serving beyond 75: Justin Cardinal Rigali, Philadelphia, PA; Archbishop Eusebius Beltran, Oklahoma City, OK; Bishops Boland of Savannah, GA; Smith of Trenton, N.J.; Sevilla of Yakima; McCormack of Manchester, N.H.; Adamec of Altoona, PA; Bruskewitz of Lincoln, NE; Galeone of St. Augustine, FL. Bishop Smith of Trenton will be replaced by his coadjutor. Two bishops will reach the mandatory retirement age by the end of October: Zipfel of Bismarck, N.D. and Gettelfinger of Evansville, IN.

There are four vacant Latin Rite sees: San Antonio, TX, Rapid City, SD, Orlando, FL, and Joliet in Illinois.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Changing our political culture

If you follow politics, or even if you don't but watch the news, you know that Christine O'Donnell won the Republican nomination to fill the Delaware Senate seat vacated by Vice President Biden in 2008. You also know that O'Donnell was not the establishment favorite, far from it, and was backed by Sen. Jim DeMint, Sarah Palin, and the Tea Party. O'Donnell was largely abandoned both prior to and after her win last night. Only the political common sense of Sen. Cornyn of Texas, head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, who had to over-rule his staffers at the committee after their tepid response to O'Donnell's primary victory over liberal Republican Mike Castle, saved the day for the GOP.

Christine O'Donnell

I like anyone who rocks the political establishment and knocks them back on their heels. I like them even more when they also do it to the news media. O'Donnell performed a twofer! What is O'Donnell guilty of, apart from being a true, blue conservative in a that isn't supposed to have any? Well, you see, she's an average person. It took her almost twenty years to pay her student debt to her alma mater Farleigh Dickinson University so she could formally be awarded the degree she earned back in 1993. She has also had other financial difficulties, despite some professional success.

O'Donnell is also guilty of being an unabashed Christian and has been since she was in college. It seems she started out in college doing so many of the things too many college students do: partying a lot and being, by her own admission, at least for a time, a bit promiscuous. Being a Catholic who returned to the practice of her faith while still a young women and having absorbed the lessons of her college experience, she founded an organization called S.A.L.T. (Savior's Alliance For Lifting the Truth) shortly after finishing college. The acronym for her organization is likely a reference to Jesus' words in Matthew 5:13 "You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet" (ESV- parallel passages are also found in Mark9:50 and Luke 14:34). I readily admit that the full name is a bit over blown, but that is not really an issue at all.

It didn't take long for Rachel Maddow to rake O'Donnell over the coals for an anti-masturbation campaign she undertook in the 1990s on behalf of S.A.L.T. Glen Davis, writing for Mediaite describes Maddow "gleefully" showing an interview O'Donnell did on MTV in 1996. In the interview O'Donnell and her friends have audacity to assert that our sexual desires, while God-given, should be expressed "in God’s appropriate context," meaning in marriage. Another young woman says that "masturbation is a selfish act, and it’s a lustful one, and we are to walk with pure hearts, not adulterous, lusting hearts." The fact that a group of young people standing for Christian values. Davis' article is poorly written, he takes aim at O'Donnell's assertion that urging young people to masturbate as a way of sex outside of marriage and STDs is wrong-headed by inserting (parenthetically) a red herring of stunning proportion: "the apparent fact that no married people have AIDS is news to us." Huh?

The video is below:

In the wake of all the liberal hand-wringing over an obscure pastor's threat to burn a few copies of the Qu'ran and allegations that somehow opposing the building of the Ground Zero Islamic Center, complete with mosque, is symptomatic of a mental illness known as Islamophobia, it strikes me as utterly incoherent that a member of this chorus can get away with engaging in a genuine act of religious intolerance by asserting that because someone practices her faith and publicly encourages others to do the same she is unfit to hold office. It just goes to show that many who support the Ground Zero mosque do so, not from a concern about religious faith and practice, which always has content and an existential component (i.e., shapes how adherents live their lives), but from a radical secularizing relativism.

If it's a matter of being fair and balanced, how about some mention of her general election opponent, Democrat Chris Coons' youthful communism, which he described in a newspaper article he wrote for Amherst College student newspaper entitled The Making of a Bearded Marxist. In the article Coons describes his journey from a clean-cut, fairly conservative young person to being a college Marxist. I assert that the difference is, while Coons certainly repudiates his youthful Marxism, O'Donnell still stands for the truth she espoused as a young woman, which makes her odd and the object of scorn.

Let's see how what O'Donnell advocated stacks up with what the Church teaches by looking at some paragraphs from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2351: Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.

2352 By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate [self-]stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. "Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action." "The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose." For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of "the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved." To form an equitable judgment about the subjects' moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety, or other psychological or social factors that lessen or even extenuate moral culpability.

2353 Fornication is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman. It is gravely contrary to the dignity of persons and of human sexuality which is naturally ordered to the good of spouses and the generation and education of children. Moreover, it is a grave scandal when there is corruption of the young.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/11 Justice & Mercy

Over the 5 year history of Καθολικός διάκονος I have only re-posted three or four items. Today I am re-posting a homily I preached at a daily Mass back in 2006 at Holy Family Church in South Ogden, Utah on the fifth anniversary of 9/11. Today we pray for the repose of those who were killed in the attacks, healing for those who survive them, and above all that the peace of Christ will be realized throughout the world. We pray today for those who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, serving the cause of peace and justice.

Readings: 1 Cor 5,1-8; Ps 5, 5-7.12; Lk 6,6-11

"Lead me in your justice, Lord," we ask in today’s Psalm response (Ps 5,8). The Psalmist also sings: "For you, O God, delight not in wickedness; no evil man remains with you" (Ps 5,4). Indeed, it is appropriate to call to mind the Lord’s justice on this fifth anniversary of 9/11. The Lord our God is just in all his ways. More importantly to us sinners, God is merciful. We certainly ask God’s mercy to be upon those who perished in the unspeakably evil attacks on the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and the third plane that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. We ask God’s healing mercy to be with those wives, husbands, children, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, and close friends who lost loved ones on that horrible day. But, in light of our faith, which finds its perfect expression in the teachings of Jesus Christ, what should our attitude be toward those responsible for these attacks? Their wicked acts are to be condemned without a doubt, but what about our attitude to those who mean us harm, our enemies? This question is not asked, like Jesus’ questions in today’s Gospel, rhetorically, with the answer being obvious. Neither is it asked in order to receive a ready-made answer; it is asked as a question for each of us to ponder in our hearts this day on which we remember a horrible evil perpetrated by human beings upon other human beings, as we ponder "man's inhumanity to man."

A key to a Christian response to these questions is contained in our Gospel this morning. As with Saturday's Gospel, Jesus is violating Jewish Sabbath observance by healing a man with a withered hand. Prior to doing this, our Lord asks the Pharisees, "is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?" It is easy to imagine Jesus asking this question and waiting for a few awkward moments for a reply, while the Pharisees shuffled around, looked at their feet, and mumbled. In this instance he receives no reply. So, he goes ahead and heals the man’s withered hand (Lk 6,9-10). Like all the words and actions of our Lord, there are many lessons to be drawn from this episode, especially from his questions. Let us consider just two. Let us first consider his question about the lawfulness of doing good rather than do evil on the Sabbath. For the disciple of Jesus it is obligatory always and everywhere to do what is good and avoid what is evil. The second point is that, life being sacred, we are always obliged to save life. In other words, we are to be healers.

In order to heal we have to be healed. To be healed, in each of our cases, means to be forgiven. In order to be forgiven, we must forgive. To forgive requires mercy. In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us, "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy" (Matt 5,7). It is important to note that mercy does not cancel out justice. Because it does not sometimes in our fallen and sinful world justice requires resorting to the use of force. Our Lord tells us in his rhetorical question to the Pharisees it is better to save life than to destroy it. In the context of 9/11 and its aftermath, we must keep in mind that the ultimate goal of just war is to re-establish peace. More specifically, the peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought. What this reinforces is that vengeance, which Paul, in concert with the Psalmist, tells us in Romans, is the Lord’s (Rom 12,19 ), plays no part in the Christian response to any evil, even one as horrific as the 9/11 bombings.

Regardless of where we stand with regard to certain "hot button" issues we know that peace and mercy begin with us. Therefore, we must practice both daily in all of our interactions, in our homes, in our places of work, and here in our parish, which should be a model of true justice brought about by mercy and resulting in peace. Because we have freely chosen to follow the way of the Lord Jesus, we are committed to acting intentionally in our efforts to adhere to the objective standards of morality clearly taught us by him. In other words, we obey Jesus because we love him (Jn 14,15 ). If our love for God is genuine, it leads to love of neighbor. Our neighbor, of course, is every person. Acting intentionally means knowing what our motives are. It also means knowing what our motives should be. This, in turn, requires us to pray, work, and cooperate with God so as to bring our will and our desires into conformity with Christ’s teachings.

So, while our faith enables us to discern what is good and what is evil, it also teaches us that we are sinners, who have done evil ourselves and who have been forgiven. God’s justice was satisfied in the act of ultimate mercy; Jesus Christ nailed to the Cross for our sins. Of all people, Christians understand that we must be merciful because we have received mercy. In a few moments we will pray the Our Father, the prayer taught us by our Lord himself. In this prayer we will ask God to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Scripture tells us, "judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment" (Jas 2, 13). Let these reflections be the background against which we consider the questions raised by justice and mercy on this day during which remember so great an evil.

Friday, September 10, 2010

From Communion & Liberation of Connecticut

Islamophobia and Mother Teresa:

The proposed construction of an Islamic center and mosque at Ground Zero has resulted in the outrage of many Americans and the recent public discussion about "Islamophobia" in America. These events provoke us to affirm the following:

1. We notice a growing tendency to manipulate circumstances to serve as a pretext to create a public furor that demands people make a choice between one of two pre -packaged, ideological positions. We refuse to engage in a debate about whether or not to build a mosque at Ground Zero. The reality of Islam in America brings up questions that go much deeper than that of the construction of one mosque. Indeed, one critical and open question is how contemporary American culture comes to grips with the human person's religious sense.

2. Many of those among the cultural elite, as well as many who hold the levers of power in our nation, have abandoned the religious tradition that informed the lives of the vast majority of their ancestors: Christianity. They have reduced it to a moral code or a vague myth, linked to a man dead for more than 2,000 years. Instead, they have embraced a "scientific" outlook on human life. But science provides no answer to those questions that continuously gnaw at the human heart, such as the problem of justice, the meaning of human life, or the problems of suffering and evil. In fact, science tends to stifle them. Hence, contemporary American culture finds itself weak and tremendously uncertain about any response to universal human inquiries and longings.

3. Just over two weeks ago, we marked the 100th anniversary of Mother Teresa of Calcutta's birth. One who looks at her sees a resplendent human person, overflowing with love for everyone, especially strangers of different religions. Her humanity touched all: religious and atheist; Muslim and Hindu; rich and poor. Mother Teresa's life invites anyone who seeks truth to open his or her heart and mind and take a fresh look at Christianity.

4. For serious Christians, the challenge of Islam, the large-scale abandonment of Christianity, the emptiness of the dominant culture, and the witness of Mother Teresa signal the urgent need for conversion. Pope Benedict XVI recently said that " not a mere moral decision that rectifies our conduct in life, but rather a choice of faith that wholly involves us in close communion with Jesus as a real and living Person." The Pope brings us face to face with the defining difference between Christianity and Islam: one religion bases its response to the human person's religious sense upon a message delivered 1,400 years ago, while the other offers the experience of a Man who died but is alive and present with us today. As Fr. Juliàn Carròn, President of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, recently affirmed: Jesus' message and even all the miracles He performed were not enough to overcome the sadness of His disciples on the road to Emmaus --only His risen presence could ignite their hearts once again.

5. We are not Islamophobic, nor do we fear our post-modern world. On the contrary, we invite all to look at Mother Teresa and at the Man to whom she gave her life. In His Person, present with us today, all can find the Truth that alone will deliver the freedom America promises.

Communion and Liberation

September 11, 2010

Benedict XVI, General Audience, Paul VI Audience Hall, Wednesday, February 17, 2010 (

I thank my dear friends for their well considered and timely judgment.

Obama Administration: feeling the magnetic pull of Jones' swamp

As with just about anything these days, I think the administration is overreacting to Jones' stunt by orders of magnitude. Such a grandiose protest only adds to the circus Jones wants to create, it is a bit like negotiating with a terrorist. Yesterday, Jones was indicating that if the so-called Ground Zero mosque were moved, he would call off his self-declared Burn a Koran Day. While I am opposed to placing the mosque that near Ground Zero for many of the same reasons I am opposed to Jones burning the Qu'ran, I also do not believe that ends justify means (i.e., we may never do evil that good may come of it).

Beyond that, having Gen. Petreaus, Sec. Gates, the State Department, and the White House plead with this guy not to burn the Qu'ran is simply ridiculous and beneath their dignity. It does not represent us well. The Administration should not ever initiate a discussion about this. Inevitably, given the fecklessness of the news media, the question will be asked. In which case, you say something like- "We respect the constitutional rights of all citizens of the United States, which does not constitute an endorsement of specific ways they may choose to express themselves."

Above all, it is not the job of those sworn to protect and defend our constitution to seek to limit constitutionally protected speech, no matter how offensive they might find it. In these turbulent times, it is more important than ever that we stand firmly on our democratic principles and not let them be held hostage by those who not only do not share them, but who violently oppose them. It goes without saying that many in the administration crowd, the president foremost among them, would not bat an eye at a group of people burning the U.S. flag, or an NEA grant given for a new version of Piss Christ.

I am starting to become very alarmed at the utter lack of coherence demonstrated on an almost daily basis by the Obama Administration. I may post something in the near term about the debacle they created with their failed attempt to restart Middle East peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Rosh Hashanah

I love Shofar Callin', which is odd because generally I don't listen to rap, not that I don't like it necessarily, it just isn't really part of my reportoire. Sundown this evening marks the end of Rosh Hashanah. So, I thought this would make a great Friday traditio. Plus, as mentioned last Saturday, I read Marek Halter's Sarah, which, while not a great work of literature by any stretch, is a very imaginative and interesting re-telling of the story of Abraham and Sarah, written in the voice of Sarah. Additionally, I am most of the way through Kugel's fantastic book on the Jewish Scriptures.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Burning the Qu'ran is not the way a Christian acts

As we rapidly approach the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States, we are also approaching pastor Terry Jones' self-declared Burn a Koran Day, slated for Saturday, 9/11/10. Jones says he continues to pray about whether to stage a burning of the Muslim holy book at his church in Gainesville, Florida this Saturday. As a Christian, I do not need to pray about what Scripture clearly sets forth. So, I recommend this passage from St. Paul to Jones:
"Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.' To the contrary, 'if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:17-21-ESV).
Besides, it should go without saying that not all Muslims have offended us, that is, not all Muslims are complicit in the 9/11 attacks. In fact, as the Holy Father takes every opportunity to point out, people of faith, especially Jews, Christians, and Muslims, have more in common with each other than we do with the prevailing secular, instrumentalist, and empiricist mind-set, which is so reductive of the human person. Much of what Muslims find objectionable about the West is also offends believing Christians.

As a Catholic Christian, I affirm with the words of the fathers of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council that "[t]he Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God" (Nostra Aetate, par. 3).

One temptation that has be resisted by Christians is the temptation to say, "I don't see why Muslims would get that worked up about a small Christian congregation, led by a publicity-seeking extremist, burning a few copies of the Qu'ran. I wouldn't care that much if a bunch of hard-line Muslims burned the Bible." This temptation must be resisted for two reasons. First, Muslims revere the Bible, both the Jewish Scriptures and the New Testament. Second, the relationship of Christians to the Bible is very different from that between Muslims and the Qu'ran, or between Jews and the Tor'ah. I suppose there are those Christians who view the Bible in a similar way, but this is not the historic Christian approach. After all, we are not, properly speaking, a people of the Book, but the people of the resurrected and living Lord!

A French friend posted something on Facebook this morning that indicated that Terry Jones' Qu'ran burning was typical of people in the U.S. today. By comparison, the U.S. is far more tolerant and even indulgent of religion than is France. Several other Europeans concurred and added their own disparaging comments about Americans. Adding irony to irony, they are engaging in the same kind of tactic as Terry Jones. To wit: burning the Qu'ran is not a "very American" thing to do in these times and to assert against all evidence that it is is to demonize people in the U.S. the same way Jones demonizes Muslims. The truth is that most people in the U.S., especially those who are religious, are appalled and offended by Jones' uncharitable foolishness. I find it far more offensive that people think most of us here in the U.S. approve of this kind of obnoxious behavior. At the end of the day, this is just another iteration of Fred Phelps' anti-Christian "God hates fags" campaign. If "God is love" (1 John 4:8.16), then God cannot hate anyone, lest God cease to be God.

While it is ill-advised and appalling, this one pastor and his very small congregation, only made significant by an irresponsible news media who took Jones' weird little gesture viral, are free to do this. Because one is free to do something doesn't make it good or right. I am always amused by people who say morals can't or shouldn't be legislated by the state and then turn around and insist that the state legislate morality, usually in a disturbingly totalitarian manner. My personal position on this, oddly, is much the same as my opposition to building the proposed Islamic Center, which will feature a mosque, so near to Ground Zero: I don't question Jones' right to burn the Qu'ran, he is on firm constitutional ground in so doing. Neither do I want to enact laws that restrain freedom as a result of this escapade. I just think it is unwise, deliberately inflammatory and unnecessarily divisive. In the case of Jones' proposed bonfire on inanity, I also think it objectively un-Christian on strictly scirptural grounds.

It is appropriate to end this post with words from our Lord, Jesus Christ, that can be applied to those who feel offended by Muslims, among whom I cannot be numbered:
"But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you... If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same... Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful" (for the entire passage see Luke 6:27-36- ESV).

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The God of Israel, whom we worship and adore

As the sundown goes down in the West out here in the West, I want to wish all my dear Jewish friends a happy Rosh Hashanah; may you have a good and sweet year. Sunset this evening marks the beginning of the 5771st year on the Jewish calendar. The observance of Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown and ends at sundown on Friday, at which time, at least this year, the sabbath commences.

As the first night of Rosh Hashanah begins, May you immediately be inscribed in the Book of Life!

Apples and honey, featured at many Rosh Hashanah meals, symbolize a sweet new year

As the sun fades away, Christians mark the end of our observance of the Feast Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, the Jewish young woman whom we revere as theotokos.

"To the Israelites belonged the adoption, the glory, the covenant, the law-giving, the worship, and the promises; theirs were the patriarchs, and from the came the Messiah (I speak of human origins). Blessed forever be God who is over all! Amen" (Rom. 9:4-5- reading for Evening Prayer II for today's Feast of Our Lady's Nativity).

I might add that apples dipped in honey are delicious. This will be our dessert from this evening through Friday evening.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Today's deacon: restoration and renewal

Three days and some 18 pages later, I emerge from many hours of working on my master's thesis. I know that the right time does not always come by my merely summoning it. So, these have been three days of great enjoyment, finally setting forth what has been brewing in my mind for the past three years. Anyway, I came across this today in the book, which I read shortly after being ordained, From the Diakonia of Christ to the Diakonia of the Apostles, a document on the diaconate by the International Theological Commission, which is under the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:

Deacon Dennis Jebber, of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, assisting in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy

"In three places, Vatican II uses different terms to describe what it intends to do when it speaks of the diaconate as a stable rank of the hierarchy of the Church. Lumen Gentium 29b uses the notion of restitutio, Ad Gentes 16f uses that of restauratio, while Orientalium Ecclesiarum 17 employs instauratio. All three connote the idea of restoring, renewing, re-establishing, and re-activating" (pg 65).

I think this means today's diaconate is not merely restored, but renewed and reactivated, an animating force in today's church.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Deacons Today, a new and exciting cyberspace

Along with Deacon Greg Kandra, who blogs over at The Deacon's Bench, I want to welcome Dr. Bill Ditewig, who, along with Owen Cummings, is a leading light among deacons in the United States, to the blogosphere. His blog, which now appears on my blog update feeder to the right on the sidebar, is Deacons Today: Dalmatics and Beyond. His presence knowledge, insight, and pastoral experience is a boon to the so-called Catholic blogosphere. Deacon Doctor Ditewig (Triple D. as we sometimes affectionately refer to him) holds a Ph.D in theology from the Catholic University of America and is a professor of theology at St. Leo's University in Florida. Formerly, we was the head of the diaconate office for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

On a personal note, I am always eager to express gratitude publicly. Bill Ditewig has been and remains a great resource for me as I seek to deepen my own and far from perfect or complete understanding of what it means to be a deacon. He is most generous with both his time and his expertise. His header for Deacons Today makes very excited: "In 1967, there were no permanent deacons in the world; today there are more than 35,000. The reasons for this phenomenal growth are fascinating and the future roles for deacons are almost without limit. Here we will discuss the past, present and future of the diaconate."

I am ecstatic that welcoming Triple D. to the Catholic blogosphere marks the 1,600th post here on Καθολικός διάκονος.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Onesimus, Paul's own heart

It isn't often that we read from St. Paul's Letter to Philemon at Mass on Sunday. Today, which marks the Twenty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time in Year C, is one such occasion. Paul's letter to Philemon is an undisputed letter of the apostle. This letter is unique because, unlike the rest of St. Paul's letters, whether Pauline or deutero-Pauline, the apostle is not writing to a community, but to an individual, a man named Philemon, who is a Christian.


The occasion for Paul writing to Philemon is because another Christian brother, Onesimus, is with Paul. The trouble is that Onesimus is a runaway slave, belonging to Philemon. To the best of our knowledge, he ran away to accompany the apostle who is being led in captivity to Rome where his appeal to the emperor will fail and he will have his head cut-off, thus failing to realize his intention of moving westward from Rome to spread the Gospel. It is clear that Paul loves Onesimus, who would not love another willing to accompany you, at such great risk to himself, under adverse circumstances? This is why the apostle states that he would like "to retain him for myself, so that he might serve me on your behalf in my imprisonment for the gospel" (Phil v. 13). It is clear that it is difficult for Paul to let Onesimus go, but, Paul states that he does not want "to do anything without [Philemon's] consent, so that the good [he does] might not be forced but voluntary" (v. 14).

I attended a vigil Mass last night with my two oldest children. I was struck and deeply moved upon hearing these words from Paul to Philemon, referring to Onesimus: "I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you" (v. 12). This, I thought, is true companionship! I can't imagine that Onesimus, despite likely being very disappointed and even a little heart-broken at being sent back, would not go at the behest of St. Paul. We do not know the rest of the story, did Onesimus go? Did Philemon receive him back with brotherly love? Assuming Onesimus did go, it is easy to imagine the parting between the apostle and his devoted companion, who came to be with him at such great risk to himself, a parting that was made in all probability with the realization that they would never see each other again. Yet, it was not hopeless because they clearly both trusted in the One who brought them together in the first place.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A brief reflection on what I am currently reading

If Abraham is our father because of his faith, then Sarah is certainly our mother because of hers. I am enjoying reading Marek Halter's historical novel Sarah along with Kugel's magisterial book on the Jewish Scriptures. Halter is a Jew of Polish extraction who lives in France. He is the author of a series of historical novels on Jewish women of the Scriptures, including the enigmatic figure of Zipporah, Moses' wife, and Mary of Nazareth. It is always fun to note that, in addition to being an accomplished painter, Halter studied pantomime with Marcel Marceau.

Mesopotamian Ziggurat in the land that was ancient Ur in Chaldea

It is fascinating to look at the Scriptures from a Jewish point-of-view, which is something Christians don't do nearly enough. Of course, if you read the writings of St. Paul, especially Romans and Galatians, you will have some idea of what this means. When reading St. Paul you have to keep in mind that, looked at objectively in this regard, his interpretation of the Jewish Scriptures is idiosyncratic because his point of origin is his encounter with our risen Lord while on his way to Damascus.

It is also interesting to read a straight-up scholarly take on the Scriptures by Kugel, a highly respected Scripture scholar and professor of Hebrew, who is also an observant Jew, along side a highly knowledgeable work of historical fiction about one of the central female personages side-by-side, as it were. Because Halter knows the world of the ancient Near East well, these works are complimentary, not at odds. In other words, Halter, even writing as a novelist, does not write using any of the four assumptions Kugel identifies in his book:

1) The Bible is fundamentally a cryptic text- "when its says A it might really mean B"

2) The Bible is a book of lessons "It is instruction, telling us what to do: be obedient to God just as Abraham was and you will be rewarded, just as he was"

3) The Bible contains no contradictions and is perfectly harmonious "It is perfectly harmonious, despite its being an anthology...that everything the Bible says ought to be in accord with the interpreter's own religious beliefs and practices" For example: even as portrayed in Genesis, was Abraham an ethical monotheist?

4) That the Bible is God speaking directly- "the entire Bible is essentially a divinely given text"

One could write a treatise, a dissertation, a dense monograph on each one of these assumptions and the role it has played in both Jewish and Christian reception of these texts and how these interpretations shape religious praxis from worship to living everyday life. However, it is important to note that Kugel does not introduce these assumptions only to dismiss them as nonsense. He simply states that a scholar cannot operate on the basis of these assumptions. By having an intricate knowledge of the world, the cultures, the geography, and people of the ancient Near East and simply trying to locate Sarah, our mother because of her faith, in her milieu, Halter performs a great service both to people of faith and to people who do not have faith, both to those who see and those who do not see the Bible as a sacred text. After all, Kugel, Halter, and I are numbered among those who see the Jewish Scriptures as sacred texts.

Friday, September 3, 2010

"censoring of the scope of desire"

In the annual Spiritual Exercises of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, Fr. Julián Carrón stated that "the sign par excellence of the marginalization of Christ from life is the shriveling of the dimensions proper to humanity, a reduced understanding of one's own humanity, of one's perception of self, a reductive use of reason, affection, and freedom, a censoring of the scope of desire" (Can a Man Be Born Again, Once He Is Old?, pg 7). One manifestation of this is what is best described as the pathologizing of behavior, which means applying the disease model to everything and referring to every deviation from political correctness as a "phobia," an irrational fear, something that requires treatment, re-education. In this it is easy to discern the seeds of a new totalitarianism.

To shift gears, because we're now all about sex all the time, even to the point of asserting that our sexual preferences are the basis for rights, and the fact that from time-to-time I engage on the subject of sex in a straightforward way, it seems opportune to point out that the "censoring of the scope desire," by which I mean reducing desire to sexual desire, as if sexual desire itself is an end, not a means to our end, which celibacy for the sake of the kingdom seeks to embody in the here and now, was summed up well by Allan Bloom in an article he wrote for National Review back in 1982: "There is nothing wild, Dionysian, searching, in our promiscuity. It has a dull, sterilized, scientific character." An example of this leads me to make a guilty admission.

Years ago my wife and I, when we were up late, used to periodically watch the show Blind Date. The show would arrange a blind date for two people. The date always included limousine service, which would pick up the man first before swinging by to pick up his date. It always included supper and an activity, bowling, mini-golf, bungee jumping, what have you. Sometimes it led to dropping the lady off at her doorstep and culminating with a friendly peck on the cheek and a clear determination no follow-on date would ensue. Other times, it led to more. The couple was always debriefed after the date during which they were asked whether they would like to date the each other again. More often than not, either one or both of the people did not want to date the person again. One such episode sticks in my mind. After supper and the scheduled activity, the couple wound up getting in a hot tub and went "all the way." During the debriefing, the woman was adamant that she would not date the guy again. When the show’s host said something like, “But you had sex with him,” to which she replied, "I was bored." Boring, indeed

"I'm supposed to get a raise week, you know damn well I won't"

Okay, Labor Day weekend is upon us. Labor Day is the day we celebrate work by not doing any, which I personally love. Huey Lewis and the News singing Working for a Livin' is our traditio for today. Besides, it's a little more palatable than my St. Joseph the Worker traditio by the Dropkicks was to many, plus I am not feeling really imaginative today.

Bus boy, bartender, ladies of the night
Grease monkey, ex-junky, winner of the fight
Walking on the streets its really all the same
selling souls, rock n' roll, any other day

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Existential rambling

Is it good to write when you are really at odds with the world as you are experiencing it presently? I guess that depends on whether you have something specific to write about, which I don't at present. Oh, there are plenty of items that concern me about which I could compose a coherent post, but all that seems to fade into the background when I feel combative. I suppose it helps to be patient and to deal with and even manage change better, especially when changes are happening that are for the better. Nonetheless, I also have my disappointments.

According to Giussani's method, I have to try to see things as clearly as I am able, which means recognizing and setting aside any preconceptions I may have. Are preconceptions and expectations the same thing? Is the only way to judge expectations a posteriori? When I am disappointed is it just as simple as seeing that my expectations were unrealistic? If this is true, how do you not become a cynic? By being a cynic I mean having the lowest expectations possible, like believing everything will suck and people will act like asses until they prove otherwise. Stated simply, are low expectations the only expectations that are not preconceptions? As George Carlin once confessed, "Scratch any cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist'"

I would be less than human if I did anything without expectations. It is a fair enough thing to determine, either before or after, whether your expectations were realistic. Experience teaches me how to manage expectations to a large extent, but what about when I am disappointed? Is it all on me? It is ever objectively okay to just say "Now, that sucked" and be correct? It seems to me that it has to be. Otherwise, I am just an adherent of the power of positive thinking, to the idiotic dictum that perception is reality, as if I am the grossest kind of solipsist. If this is the case, in the words of REM- "to offer me solutions is to offer me alternatives... and I decline." In the end, we have be able to make judgments.

I usually try to put the best face on things, projecting what I would like it to be, only to find I am unable to sustain this in the face of reality, in light of my own experience, at which point I become enraged and won't stop being critical until I have reduced everything to ashes. Then again, some things need to be burned to the ground, especially the idols we build. No less than Picasso once observed that "every act of creation first involves an act of destruction. ..."

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...