Saturday, October 30, 2010

All Hallows Eve (eve)

As we enter this lovely three-day festival of the communio sanctorum, remember it's more than okay to have fun and enjoy. Be careful, look out for each other, and above all remember that no matter where you go, or what you do, "you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness" (1 Thess. 5:5- ESV).

All holy men and women, pray for us

Friday, October 29, 2010

"I saw Joe Strummer walking with the Queen"

Hey, it's the last traditio before All Hallow's eve, which marks the beginning of the three day festival of saints. So, what better than the late, great Warren Zevon singing Werewolves of London?

"I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand walkin' through the streets of Soho in the rain/He was lookin for the place called Lee Ho Fooks, gonna get a big dish of beef chow mein."

On the doorstep of the month during which we remember our beloved dead, Zevon's allusion prompts me to say Warren and Joe rest-in-peace!

"Enjoy every sandwich."

All holy men and women, pray for us

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Scripture shows us our need to for a Savior, Jesus Christ

From the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum):

"Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church. Holding fast to this deposit the entire holy people united with their shepherds remain always steadfast in the teaching of the Apostles, in the common life, in the breaking of the bread and in prayers (see Acts 2:42, Greek text), so that holding to, practicing and professing the heritage of the faith, it becomes on the part of the bishops and faithful a single common effort.

"But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed. The first duty of the Church's teaching office.

"It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God's most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls" (par.10).
This post is a follow-up to yesterday's post, especially the part about the crucial difference between our inability to live the truth fully, which is precisely what gives rise to our need for a Savior, and the outright denial of the truth, which sometimes and sadly extends as far as our insistence that the Church is in error on fundamental matters. To rail against some aspect of Church teaching one finds difficult, maybe even impossible to live, shows our fallen-ness in that, kind of like our first parents, we want to save ourselves by being perfect.

So, if I find an aspect of the faith impossible to live, this reasoning goes, then it must be false precisely because I can't live it, or it takes effort on my part and that, despite my effort, I find that I still fail. Put bluntly, we can't stand not being perfect. We can't bear the fact that we need a Savior. We don't really believe what St. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:6-10 that Christ's "power is made perfect in [our] weakness." His death on the Cross shows us definitively just how His power is made perfect in weakness. Hence, "when I am weak, then I am strong." Nor what the apostle writes in Romans 5:20 that "where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more." This is why, turning back to 2 Corinthians 12, that as a Christian, like Paul, we "boast most gladly of [our] weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with [us]." This is why faith can never be reduced to moralism.

Dei Verbum is a profound and all too often ignored dogmatic statement about what Catholics believe with regard to divine revelation, namely that it has two streams that flow from the one source, Jesus Christ, who is the fullness of God's revelation. The two streams are Scripture and tradition, tradition being nothing other than the living community of the Church through time. Hence, while authentic interpretation of the word of God "is entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church" by Christ himself, the Church's living magisterium "is not above the word of God." The first duty of the Church is to listen to God's word "devoutly." It is only after listening and discerning what God has revealed in Christ Jesus that it can be guarded and explained in order to be lived, that is given witness to. Finally, the Church "draws from this one deposit of faith," constituted by Scripture and tradition, "everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed."

This is why, beginning with Dei Verbum, all the Christian faithful are encouraged to daily study the Scriptures. At the end of the recently concluded Synod of Bishops on the Church in the Middle East among the 41 propositions given by the synod to the Holy Father for inclusion in his forthcoming post-synodal exhortation, numbers two and three deal with the need for Christians to study Sacred Scripture:

Propositio 2
The Word of God

The Word of God is the soul and foundation of the Christian life and of all pastoral work; we hope that every family would own a Bible.

The synod fathers encourage daily reading of and meditation on the Word of God, especially "lectio divina", and the creation of a website about the Bible, including Catholic explanations and commentaries which are easily understood by the faithful. We would also like to see the preparation of an introductory booklet to the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, which could offer a simple way to help people read the Bible.

They also encourage eparchies / dioceses (throughout the document, the word "diocese" also applies to an "eparchy", the equivalent term in Eastern terminology) and parishes to introduce and promote Bible studies in which the Word of God is meditated upon and explained in such a way as to answer the questions the people have, and help them to become more familiar with the Scriptures, deepening their spirituality and apostolic and missionary commitment.

Propositio 3
A Biblical Pastoral Programme

The synod fathers urgently recommend that work be undertaken to place the two Testaments of Holy Scripture at the centre of our Christian life by encouraging the faithful to proclaim them, read them, meditate on them, interpret them in the light of Christ and celebrate them liturgically, as did the first Christian communities.

We propose that a Year of the Bible be proclaimed after due preparation and that it be followed by an annual Week of the Bible.

This certainly constitutes a challenge for us, if not an outright provocation. Let us be attentive to the emtymology of the word pro- vocation. After all, there is only one vocation, a vocation that fell often from the lips of the late Pope John Paul II: "Follow Christ!" We do this knowing, like his first disciples, that following Him leads to the Cross. It also leads us beyond it- "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it" (Luke 9:24). This is why God gives us each other as companions (which literally means people who share bread) on the way, to love, help, and support one another as we work together to usher in God's Kingdom.

While we're on the subject of Vatican II, my brother deacon, Trip D. (a.ka. Deacon Dr. Ditewig), points out that today is the forty-fifth anniversary of a landmark decree of this great ecumenical council, Nostra Aetate. Like Dei Verbum, it is short. So, take a minute and read it today.

It bears noting that 8 December 2010, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Concpetion of the Blessed Virgin Mary, marks the forty-fifth anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, which is surely a watershed of living water in the history of the church.

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A reflection on today's Gospel- Do you hear and heed Him?

Today the Church throughout world proclaims in her liturgical assemblies Luke 13:22-30:

"Jesus passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, 'Lord, will only a few people be saved?' He answered them, 'Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, "Lord, open the door for us." He will say to you in reply, "I do not know where you are from." And you will say, "We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets." Then he will say to you, "I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!"'

"And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out. And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the Kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."

Only Jesus saves us. Only Christ, the only begotten Son of the living God, bent down to look upon our nothingness. Because he was moved by our plight he was born of a virgin, thus becoming God made man for us. What does he mean when speaks of those who will not be strong enough to enter through the narrow passage? Well, given the context (i.e., what he goes on to say after making this statement), it seems that nobody is strong enough to kick in the door to the Father's house once it has been locked! The point here is the urgency of the Kingdom. Jesus is autobaselia, the Kingdom in person. This is what he means at the beginning of His ministry when He says, "Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand."

These words bring to my mind Hebrews 3:15, which echoes Psalm 95: 8 (the Psalm I know by heart because I begin each day by reciting it because it is the Invitatory for Morning Prayer)- "Oh, that today you would hear his voice: 'Harden not your hearts as at the rebellion.'" Paradoxically, those who will not prove strong enough are those who persist in believing that they can and must save themselves, those who still think that their far from perfect observance of the Law, of the rules, is sufficient to attain salvation.

I was very struck the other day reading Stuart Reid's article about Mel Gibson. In his piece, Mel Gibson may be an alcoholic, a sedevacantist and an anti-Semite – but he has my sympathy Hollywood has turned against him: he has been dropped from the cast of Hangover 2, which appreared on the website of the U.K.'s Catholic Herald, Reid gets it quite right:
"But not even Google can tell us exactly what Mel’s religious position is. His friend the Jesuit scholar William Fulco says that Mel denies neither the Pope nor Vatican II. Mel Gibson is obviously a religious nut, however, and there must have been times when, as a loyal son, he embraced his father’s sedevacantism. It is possible that he remains a sede. But so far as I know he has never questioned, far less rejected, any part of Catholic teaching. That’s more than can be said for a lot of Catholics, including priests and bishops. Surveys show that most Catholics in the comfortable West do not accept the Church’s teaching on (for example) birth control. They don’t just ignore it – the way we all ignore moral teaching from time to time – they believe the Church is in error. So it could be that some of those accusing Gibson of sedecavantism may themselves be heretics, or at the very least recalcitrant dissidents. I am not defending sedevacantism – on the contrary – but I am suggesting that sedes are sometimes more faithful to Church teaching than respectable Catholics in the suburbs."
Reid's point here is simple and demonstrative of the point I am trying to make, namely that it is one thing to find something difficult, maybe even impossible, to live, to adhere to. In such instances we have recourse to God's mercy given us in Christ Jesus, a grace we can most directly access in and through the sacraments. But, it is a wholly different thing to deny the truth outright, which is not to say we can't ask the most searching and necessary of human questions- Why? Asking Why? is not only permitted, but required.

To say the Church is in error when it pertains to fundamental matters and to declare yourself arbiter of the truth is of a wholly different order! The Church is now and has always been merciful, if not downright indulgent, of my weakness, my inability, even my refusal to live the truth. As I see my own plight, which I live everyday, woe to me if I deny the truth because I find it difficult to live! For then I have surely hardened my heart, heard Jesus, ate and drank with Him, but refused to both believe Him and believe in Him.

So, the question for all us today is, Are we strong enough to acknowledge our need, not just a need that we have, like for food and water, but the need that is at the core of our very contingent and human being, which is manifested by the desire that burns in us all? Did you just hear Jesus teaching in your streets, or did you hear His voice and have your hard heart softened, or, untrustingly, did you continue to refuse to abandon yourself to Him, even after eating and drinking Him?

Jesu Confido Tibi

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Elections 2010: What Do We Desire?

A statement by Communion & Liberation on the elections

On the eve of the midterm elections, our nation faces grave issues that touch the lives of all Americans: a deep and extended recession, stubbornly high unemployment, a crisis in health care, and a ten-year war in Afghanistan. We are pained because the possibility for dialogue in our political culture seems to be evaporating. With this flyer, we hope to offer a contribution to all men and women of good will before the November vote.

We discern the origins of the polarization and hostility in our political culture and the origins of the most pressing problems our nation faces as the forgetfulness or, perhaps, the undervaluing of our common human desire.

We know no other reason for tirelessly making the effort to dialogue with others, if not to gain a better understanding of truth. Without a dogged dedication to discovering what is real, communication ends, leaving only the will to power in order to impose one's own ideology. Ideologies, in turn, become evermore rigid and restrictive. We also recognize that the struggle to realize justice can frustrate and tempt us to disillusionment. Yet, if we do not take up that struggle, what is left but surrender to the powerful? We understand that there can be no better relationship among people than love. And clearly love costs sacrifice for the other’s true good. But, if we surrender to the fear of sacrifice, we become trapped in ourselves, alone, numb to the needs, desires, and sufferings of others. Moreover, the social structures we build tend to alienate and manipulate others. Above all, we recognize the risk in constantly betting on human freedom and its ability to seek what is good, beautiful, and true. Yet, without betting on human freedom, we entrust ourselves to policies, procedures, rules, and regulations, pretending that—in the words of T. S. Eliot—we can dream up a "system so perfect, no one will have to be good."

We recognize these primal human yearnings as the voice of the mystery of God in each of us, ever calling us forward, beyond ourselves toward a richer human existence, capable of love for the truth and others. Yet, even without such certainty, we are sure that there is no more attractive adventure than a life and a society that seek the answer to these yearnings.

To live such an adventure is the goal of any truly human education, and particularly a Catholic one. For this reason, the first criterion that guides our assessment of any political party, candidate, or system is support for freedom of education, the most critical element of religious freedom.

People who have the courage to live with human authenticity build enterprises, communities, and institutions animated by justice, truth, beauty, and love. For this reason, our second criterion is subsidiarity. Government should defend the common good, supporting and deferring to those human structures that dedicate themselves to the good of persons and communities. The recent disappearance of Catholic hospitals (such as St. Vincent's in lower Manhattan, the first hospital to welcome AIDS victims en masse), orphanages, adoption agencies, and other charitable organizations impoverishes our communities.

We offer such a statement because we want to affirm what Pope Benedict XVI recently said in Scotland: "Society today needs clear voices which propose our right to live, not in a jungle of self-destructive and arbitrary freedoms, but in a society which works for the true welfare of its citizens and offers them guidance and protection in the face of their weakness and fragility."

Communion & Liberation, October 2010

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Where the "less trivial elbows the important things"

"The life of men is made of many and varied activities. Deep in the heart of men is the longing, fitfully glimpsed and but half realized, to gather up all these strivings into an intense pursuit of one all-embracing objecive worthy of the toil and tears and devotion of the human heart. Such is the half-shaped dream; but the reality is a picture of heaped-up activities where the trivial jostles the less trivial and less trivial elbows the important things, and there is no unity of design, nor intensity of single, concentrated purpose...what is essentially trivial but immediately urgent, looms large and commands attention; while what is essentially important but not immediately urgent or insistent, is relegated to the hazy recesses of the background."
So begins Karl Rahner's short book, which bears the English title The Need and the Blessing of Prayer. I remember reading a book of compiled interviews that Fr. Rahner gave towards the end of his life, Faith in a Wintry Season. He was asked in one interview which of his works he was most pleased with, or the least displeased with, as the case may be, he cited this "little book on prayer" as his favorite. Prayer is vexing for many people, at times it is vexing even for those of us committed to praying. Our vexation leads us not so much to ask the question, Why pray?, as it does to wonder about the practicality of prayer, or the question, How do I pray? It is true that there are as many ways of praying as there are people who pray. It is equally true that there are effective ways of praying and perfunctory ways of praying, that is, better and worse ways to pray. Nonetheless, the prayer uttered perfunctorily, even just mentally, is far superior to not praying at all. The question What do I pray for? often accompanies the question about how to pray. These questions are as simple as they are direct. One can offer a lot of advice about prayer, even good advice, especially on the importance of praying. However, I think most people who read my blog are already convinced that praying is important. I am equally convinced that many of my readers are well-versed in prayer. One can also discourse on how to pray, citing many holy and learned people. I think the best any of us can offer to each other is to share from our own experience.

For Christians, as I suspect for Jews and Muslims, who also worship of the God of Abraham, prayer is not optional. Praying is a necessary and essential part of our faith, both communal prayer and individual prayer. This is why prayer is a discipline. I always like to point out that discipline finds its origin in the word disciple and disciple means one who follows another, who follows the teachings and practices of a master. Of course, we follow Jesus Christ, which means we adhere not only to what He taught, but seek to do the things He did. Jesus certainly prayed to the Father often and deeply. In very first chapter of St. Mark's Gospel, at end of his first round of healings, we read that Jesus arose "very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed" (1:35- ESV)

In response to His first disciples asking Him to teach them how to pray, our Lord taught them the most perfect prayer, the Our Father, which forms part of our communal prayer, whether we are talking about Mass or praying the Liturgy of the Hours. As Catholics we have many forms of fixed prayer, perhaps the most prevalent of these is the rosary, which, in addition to the Our Father, also consists of praying the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, the Hail Holy Queen, and reciting the Apostles Creed.

Matthias Stom(er), Old Woman Praying, ca. 1640

For what it's worth, I use fixed prayers in three ways. The first way I use fixed prayer, like the rosary, or praying Morning and Evening Prayer, something I promised to do at my ordination, is as a way to meditate. Of course, this takes time, which I don't always have. So, another way I use fixed prayer is a way of praying on the go. Here I also use the Memorare. In fact, I pray the Memorare a lot. I find it a wonderful way to offer up my petitions. When I tell someone I will pray for them for a specific reason there are two ways I do this, during the petition portion of Morning and Evening Prayer, and offering Memorares to the Blessed Virgin, entrusting their need to our Blessed Mother. I also try to pray the Angelus several times day. Also, I often pray the rosary while driving. A third way I used fixed prayer is when I don't really feel like praying, but recognize that I need to. I would like to say that this is an easy way to pray when I don't feel like it, but often it takes effort to get these words through my lips, especially when my heart it is not in it. When I find that I have a hard time praying from my heart, I use fixed prayers as a way of letting the Spirit soften my heart, opening me up to God so that I can really pray.

While I pray to the Father, through the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit, I very often direct my prayers directly to Christ, finding this to be most useful and efficacious.

I find not only the help of our Blessed Mother indispensable, but the intercession of my heavenly friends, the saints, especially my patrons St. Stephen and St. Martin of Tours, not to mention St. Gianni Molla. I have little litanies I pray, some of which I used to post periodically.

As Owen Cummings points out in his very insightful book, which is as short and useful as Rahner's, Thinking About Prayer, which is something of a nice prologomena for Christian prayer-
"There are very definite and practical benefits to prayer. Prayer promotes a sense of unity or wholeness in life. In the course of a day we do so many different things: getting up, grooming and dressing ourselves, preparing food, going to work, becoming engaged in different tasks, and so on and so forth. You could say we live very dispersed lives. Our energies are scattered over so many different things. In fact, sometimes the busy-ness of the day can seem like one thing after another after another. There can be a lack of unity, a lack of wholeness to the day and perhaps to our lives. Our lives can seem altogether broken up, sometimes completely fragmented, leading to a sense of drift, with no integration and no direction... Prayer can bring a unity and a wholeness into our existence."
Indeed, our lives can easily become nothing but distraction (i.e., one damn thing after another- as Arnold Toynbee once described human history), thus depriving us of the transcendental context of our existence that the Gospel imparts to us as a great gift. If nothing else (it has the potential to be so much more), prayer is a reminder, not just of what really matters, because the things we do every day matter. After all, God saves us in and through our lives, not over and above them. The simple act of lifting our minds to God in prayer has a way of putting things into perspective. As both Cummings and Rahner point out, prayer is the way we let God bring unity and coherence to our otherwise fragmented existence.

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Ephesians 4:29 rule: a proposal

As a longtime member of the so-called Catholic blogosphere and one who is not shy about rushing in where angels fear to tread, commenting on subjects that typically cause division and acrimony, but trying (which does not mean always succeeding) to do so in a helpful way, I am not fearful of dealing with reactions to what I write. The only comments I refuse to publish are those that are highly critical, not mention often personally insulting, and posted anonymously. I despise passive aggressive behavior, especially when I catch myself engaging in it. I do not tolerate poltroons. I mean, if you can't be charitable, at least have the courage of your convictions.

Since no blogger is an island, there are other Catholic bloggers with whom I associate and with whom I even collaborate sometimes. I keep abreast of their blogs, which includes posting comments and reading the comments of other readers from time to time. Hence, I am calling for the implementation of the Ephesians 4:29 rule. My proposal is not one that calls for rigid enforcement, but rather relies on the adherence of people who comment, especially when being critical. The rule is the verse: "No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear." By foul language the author is not only referring to using what we call swear words. In fact, he is not primarily referring to so-called swear words.

Other translations of this passage capture its meaning much better than the New American Bible. For example, in the New King James Version of the New Testament, favored by many English-speaking Orthodox Christians, the Greek words "logos sapros," the literal meaning of which is something akin to "rotten words," are rendered as "corrupt word." The whole verse from the NKJV is: "Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers."

By proposing this rule, I do not seek to eliminate critical comments or discussion. My only desire is to keep discussions in our neck of the virtual woods respectful, charitable, and constructive. I can point to so many examples of comments, including some I read over on The Deacon's Bench this morning made about something as innocuous as the new business card of a friend of mine who is also a deacon, a card I happen to think is very well done, that violate the Ephesians 4:29 rule. Desiring to be constructive, I also want to give a positive example. So, I point to comments made about my post from last Saturday regarding the Catholic Church's teaching about human sexuality, an example of how to make critical comments in a thoughtful way, Adding to the confusion by widening the divide.

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam

Hierarchy update

The Holy See announced today that Bishop Gerald Noonan, previously an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Miami, is the new bishop of the Diocese of Orlando Florida, succeeding Archbishop Thomas Wenski, who left Orlando upon being appointed archbishop of Miami. Bishop Noonan is 59 and was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Miami at age 32 back in 1983.

Bishop Noonan's appointment leaves only two vacant Latin Rite dioceses in the United States: Joliet in Illinois and Rapid City, South Dakota. However, there are currently eleven ordinaries serving past the canonically established retirement age of 75. The only Eastern Catholic ecclesiastical jurisdiction in the U.S. currently vacant is the Ruthenian Archeparcy, based in Phliadelphia. This see was vacated in June when Archbishop Basil Schott, O.F.M. passed away.

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam

Friday, October 22, 2010

"only You could make it what it had to be"

When I think about all the people whose personal example, words, writings, paintings, poems, and music have influenced me as a Christian, the life and music of Rich Mullins ranks towards the top of my list. He is a charter member of my community of the heart. His song Elijah is a good representative sample as to why this is.

"There's people been talking
They say they're worried about my soul
Well, I'm here to tell you I'll keep rocking
'Til I'm sure it's my time to roll
And when I do"

I am now and always will be a ragamuffin. Rich died in a horrific car crash in September 1997. He is still missed, but his unique legacy of faith in late (post?) modern America as expressed in his music lives on in the hearts, minds, iPods, tape decks, and computers of many. When I hear him now it is incredible to think he has been gone for 13 years.

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What it means to remember Christ, to resist a world after Him and without Him

In her truly remarkable witness, given at the La Thuile Assembly of Responsibles of Communion and Liberation back in August, "Living Is The Memory of Me," Prof. Marta Cartabia discussed her experience of living in New York City for a year. What she experienced there in terms of faith and religion she described as "an invisible and ineffectual religiosity," or, "the clear separation between public and professional life...and the religious dimension" of life for people of faith, especially her fellow Catholics. She notes that the student Masses were well-attended, but there was no discernible Catholic student presence at the university outside of Mass.

She went on to point to a very important insight she ran across while reading an essay by Ernest Fortin, in which he observed that Nietzsche's declaration that God is dead "is perfectly compatible with 'bourgeois religiosity'." Prof. Cartabia states "that a society without Christ is essentially a society that, without us realizing it, atrophies our relationship with Christ. It makes it mute and ineffective to personal and social lives," which, she devastatingly observes, "reduces Christ to moments of emotional or sentimental religiosity or, even worse, to a set behaviors," to a kind of moralism. This is all very compatible with the pragmatic thrust of life in the U.S.

Last night, before going to bed, I finished reading P.D. James novel, The Children of Men, which is set in the England of AD 2021. The state has become so much more than a nanny state without becoming too totalitarian, just very efficient and practical, carefully seeing to the needs of a dying and dwindling population. Two members of the small and largely ineffective resistance group, "The Five Fishes," are Christians, who celebrate Eucharist together every morning, that is until Luke, the Anglican priest, is brutally murdered. The Christians are flawed and engaged in adultery together, which led to the other of them, Julian, conceiving a child, the first human child known to be conceived in the world in some twenty-five years. This betrayal causes Julian's husband, who understandably believes himself to be the father of the child until it is revealed he is not upon Luke's murder, to betray them.

Re-reading Prof. Cartabia's witness at the same time I read James' novel created an interesting and informative juxtaposition. In James novel we have both the result of a "world after Christ, without Christ" and we also have what can rightly be characterized as a truly faithful remnant, two people, Luke and Julian, two fallible and flawed people, the latter of whom lays down his life for his friends, who show us that when we can no longer even dream of it and when we no longer expect it, "the One re-enters man's life in order to save it." Christ, Fr. Giussani told us, "gives Himself again by dying for man. He gives all of Himself, a total gift of self up until: 'No one loves his as much as one who gives his life for his friends.'"

Don Gius tells us that "there's one, final nuance: what Christ gives us by dying for us - dying because we betrayed Him - in order to purify us of the betrayal, what He gives us is greater than what we expected." To understand the greatness of what Christ gives us (i.e., His whole self, body, blood, soul, and divinity) we have to understand our betrayal, "we have to think about our distraction, because it's a betrayal to spend days, weeks, months... what about last night: when did we think about Him? When did we think about Him seriously, with our heart, in this last month, in the last three months"?

All true martyrs, even literary ones, show us how to "aim for a victory without power!" After all, even at the end of James' novel, it is Theo the "good" but unbelieving man who places the symbol of power on his own hand, thus showing us that victory is not complete until He comes again in glory, a coming we await in joyful hope, a hope that shapes how we live now. He is the victory without power! This brings into clearer focus the truth of Archbishop Javier Martínez axiom that "the Eucharist is the only place of resistance to annihilation of the human subject."

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Hierarchy update: Consistory called for November

After almost a year of speculation, the Holy Father made the official announcement today at his Wednesday audience that he will hold a consistory on 20 November 2010. At this consistory Pope Benedict will create 24 new cardinals of the Holy Roman Church. I weighed in with some speculation last November in a post The Sacred College of Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church.

Of note and special concern to me is that one Eastern Rite patriarch, Antonios Naguib, Patriarch of Alexandria of the Copts in Egypt, will be created a cardinal. Unlike the Maronite and Chaldean patriarchs, who, while members of the Sacred College, are superannuated, that is, they are over 80 and, hence, unable to participate in any conclave to select the next pope, Patriarch Antonios, at 75, is eligible to participate in a conclave should one occur in the next four years or so. It is interesting to note that one of the items being discussed at the Synod of Bishops on the Middle East currently being held in Rome is allowing the patriarchs of Eastern Churches, who do not resign at age 75, but, like the pope, can serve until death, to participate in conclaves regardless of age and without having to be members of the College of Cardinals. When one is created a cardinal he becomes a member of the clergy of Rome. Needless to say, creating an Eastern patriarch a cardinal of the Holy Roman Church is ecclesiologically complicated and not always well-received in Eastern Catholic circles, not to mention puzzling to our Orthodox friends.

Chaldean Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly, being created a cardinal November 2007

Two prelates from the U.S. are among those who will don red in November: Archbishop Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, which is something akin to the canonical supreme court and Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington. D.C. Neither Archbishop Dolan of New York nor Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles were on the list this time around. In the case of Dolan, his predecessor, Cardinal Egan, has not yet reached 80 and Gomez remains coadjutor to Cardinal Mahoney in Los Angeles, who will not turn 80 for more than 5 years.

Also on the list is Archbishop Reinhard Marx, who, as archbishop of München und Freising, leads the church formerly led by the Holy Father himself, prior to his being summoned to Rome in 1981 by Pope John Paul II. I am still waiting for an English translation of the 2008 book written by Marx, who is a sociologist, Das Kapital:A Plea for Man.

Barring any untimely deaths, the creation of 20 new cardinals on 20 November 2010 will raise the number of electors for a potential conclave to 121 until 26 January 2011, when Cardinal Panafieu of Marseille, France turns 80, at which time the number of electors will be 120, the number specified in the Apostolic Constitution, promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1996, Universi Dominici Gregis. A number Pope Benedict, unlike his predecessor, has been keen not to exceed.

As has become customary, the Holy Father has named four men cardinals as something of an honorarium, all of them entering the Sacred College already having turned 80. Staying with the precedent established when the great Dominican theologian Yves Congar was created a cardinal by Pope John Paul II, the two of these men who are not already bishops will not be ordained to the episcopacy.

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"God is not some abstract hypothesis; he is not some stranger who left the scene after the 'big bang'"

Sometimes we pay a lot lip service to prayer, saying we will pray for this person, those people, such and such an outcome, etc. Hopefully, most of the time we mean it and at least offer up some kind of utterance to God on behalf of the one for whom we have promised to pray. It is also true that prayer lists can get very long, thus requiring a lot of time to actually lift up everything to our good and loving God, who listens even to our most perfunctory prayers and petitions.

Among those for whom we really should pray daily are our bishops and our priests, not necessarily in general, as a group, though that is commendable, too, but for own bishop, our pastor, our associate pastor, or, in the case of the Cathedral at which I serve, our parochial vicar (let's not forget that we are the Cathedral!). After all, these are men who made a decision, most of them as young men, to dedicate their lives to God, foregoing home and family, to serve us. I can tell you from my first row seat that it is often very challenging, not without its rewards and consolations, but often difficult to discern the fruits of one's labors.

I had the great pleasure of running into Bishop Wester Sunday afternoon and the opportunity to speak with him for a few moments. One of the things I made it a point to tell him is that I pray for him everyday. I don't know why I felt compelled to tell him that, especially given the brevity of our conversation. Looking back on our brief exchange, I can't think of anything more important I had to say to him.

Another group for whom we should fervently pray is for the seminarians of our respective dioceses. Yesterday, on the Feast of St. Luke, the evangelist, the Holy Father released the text of a letter he wrote to seminarians. Like his message for next year's World Youth Day, the Holy Father begins his heartfelt encouragement with a personal reminiscence:

"When in December 1944 I was drafted for military service, the company commander asked each of us what we planned to do in the future. I answered that I wanted to become a Catholic priest. The lieutenant replied: 'Then you ought to look for something else. In the new Germany priests are no longer needed'. I knew that this 'new Germany' was already coming to an end, and that, after the enormous devastation which that madness had brought upon the country, priests would be needed more than ever. Today the situation is completely changed. In different ways, though, many people nowadays also think that the Catholic priesthood is not a 'job' for the future, but one that belongs more to the past. You, dear friends, have decided to enter the seminary and to prepare for priestly ministry in the Catholic Church in spite of such opinions and objections. You have done a good thing. Because people will always have need of God, even in an age marked by technical mastery of the world and globalization: they will always need the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, the God who gathers us together in the universal Church in order to learn with him and through him life’s true meaning and in order to uphold and apply the standards of true humanity. Where people no longer perceive God, life grows empty; nothing is ever enough. People then seek escape in euphoria and violence; these are the very things that increasingly threaten young people. God is alive. He has created every one of us and he knows us all. He is so great that he has time for the little things in our lives: 'Every hair of your head is numbered'. God is alive, and he needs people to serve him and bring him to others. It does make sense to become a priest: the world needs priests, pastors, today, tomorrow and always, until the end of time."

Pope Benedict's letter is a lovely reflection on priesthood. It is very inspiring. Of course, everyday I pray for the Holy Father, whom I love with a deep filial affection. You can the read the entire text of his letter here. Above all, we need to pray for more vocations to the priesthood, both worldwide and in our respective dioceses. We also need to encourage young men to consider priesthood as a possibility for their lives.

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam

Monday, October 18, 2010

Feast of Saint Luke, evangelist

St. Luke, by El Greco

"Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught" (Luke 1:1-4- ESV).

October is, indeed, a month during which we celebrate and commemorate many great saints. Had yesterday not been Sunday, we would have observed the memorial of St. Ignatius of Antioch, who is the baptismal patron of a certain little guy who celebrated his second birthday yesterday. There is a connection between Ignatius and Luke: both are from Syrian Antioch.

Of course St. Ignatius was a martyr, who like St. Paul, was led to Rome in captivity, where he was fed to wild beasts. As he made his way to Rome, he wrote letters to the churches in Asia Minor. After his martyrdom, his relics were brought back to Antioch by Deacon Philo of Cilicia and another faithful brother, Rheus Agathopus. Once back, his remains were interred outside of Antioch. Later, his relics were moved and re-interred by Emperor Theodosius II in what was formerly a Temple of Fortune, but was converted into a church under his patronage. Finally, in AD 637, the relics of this great bishop/martyr were translated to Rome, where they remain today in the church of St. Clement, which was built on the site of what had been a Temple to Mithras. St. Ignatius of Antioch, fearless martyr, who shows us what victory without power looks like, pray for us.

Main altar of the Church of St. Clement, beneath which St. Ignatius' relics, along with those of St. Clement, are interred

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam

Sunday, October 17, 2010

"God loves every one of us..."

The Holy Father visited Malta in April of this year. The significance of 2010 is that it is reckoned to be the 1,950th anniversary of the shipwreck that landed St. Paul on the shores of Malta. Speaking to the youth at the Great Port of Valetta, he said:

"Maybe some of you will say to me, Saint Paul is often severe in his writings. How can I say that he was spreading a message of love? My answer is this. God loves every one of us with a depth and intensity that we can hardly begin to imagine. And he knows us intimately, he knows all our strengths and all our faults. Because he loves us so much, he wants to purify us of our faults and build up our virtues so that we can have life in abundance. When he challenges us because something in our lives is displeasing to him, he is not rejecting us, but he is asking us to change and become more perfect. That is what he asked of Saint Paul on the road to Damascus. God rejects no one. And the Church rejects no one. Yet in his great love, God challenges all of us to change and to become more perfect."

As St. Paul pointed out over and over, as has the Holy Father, this becoming "more perfect," being more conformed to the image of Christ, is not something we are capable of doing on our own. It does not happen as a result of some super-human effort on our part. We need God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that is, we need grace. We need to recognize just what in us must change and desire that change, which is nothing other than desiring Christ, our Alpha and Omega. Seeing in Him our fulfillment and how that plays out not over and above our lives, but in and through what happens to us everyday.

Lord our God, Father of all,
you guard us under the shadow of your wings
and search into the depths of our hearts.
Remove the blindness that cannot know you
and relieve the fear that would hide us from your sight.

We ask this through Christ our Lord (Alternative Prayer for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Pope John Paul II 32 years on

From not in way too long, to twice in a week- a deep diaconal bow to Rocco over at Whispers for reminding me that it was 32 years ago today that the world received a great surprise, a shock, a great gift, Karol Cardinal Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II. The Lord's way of saying yet again, "Behold, I do something new!" (Isa. 43:19)

Thanks, too, to Rocco for linking to this lovely video.

I could never even come close to adequately expressing how I feel about Pope John Paul II, the great affection I have for him. Papa Wojtyla, pray for us.

Totus Tuus

Adding to the confusion and widening the divide

I am hesitant to write about this topic again, especially since I have posted about it twice recently- last Monday in a post entitled At the service of an ideology and the Monday before that with my post "We love because he first loved us." My post last Monday was a general response to the many ideologues seeking to put the recent and heart-breaking suicides of five lovely young people, all them having as a causal factor their sexual orientation, at the service of politics. The first casualty of such misguided efforts is the truth. First, the truth about these young people, which should not be reduced in such a heartless manner. Second, the truth about the human person, at least as conceived of on a Christian understanding. Picking up on this same trend, my brother deacon, Greg Kandra, author of The Deacon's Bench, one of the best and, hence, one of the best known blogs in the Catholic blogosphere, responded today to a new initiative being undertaken by Episcopal Bishop, Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. As most people know, Robinson is an openly gay and extremely controversial figure, even within his own church, not to mention within the worldwide Anglican communion to which the Episcopal Church U.S.A. belongs.

Bishop Robinson's initiative is called It Gets Better. In his post Deacon Greg observes that, at least by its initial appearance, It Gets Better by denigrating Catholic, Southen Baptist, and LDS teachings about homosexuality. Predictably, Deacon Greg's observation that "Robinson is entitled to his opinion, and his own moral theology," but that it is impossible to "respect the way he has gone about brazenly dismissing (and, in fact, misrepresenting) the moral teachings of others," does not sit well with many, especially those who vehemently disagree with the Catholic Church's views about human sexuality, which is their right, a freedom we respect.

The upshot of Catholic teaching with regards to human sexuality for homosexual people is not, as one commentator suggested, that "God made junk when He made you, die." Nothing could be further from the truth, not to mention more lacking in charity! It seems to me that presently there are few things about which we are more confused than about our sexuality. For one thing it is over-emphasized by all parties and not just when it comes to homosexuality. To reduce faith to a single issue, be it sex, immigration, abortion, or whatever, is to make the mistake of reducing faith to a kind of moralism, which is never attractive, not to mention inherently un-Christian.

Recent events have convinced me more than ever that we must not define people, or allow people to define themselves, exclusively by their sexual orientation, by whom they prefer to have sex with and how they prefer to have sex. Of course, our sexual desire, our need in this regard, which is not merely, perhaps not even primarily, physical, is yet another manifestation of the need at the heart of our human, that is, our contingent and far from self-sufficent, being.

What the church teaches us is that it is Christ who ultimately satisfies our hungry hearts and that, to quote Springsteen, "everybody's got a hungry heart," that is, a needy heart, a heart that will be satisfied with nothing less than being loved beyond measure! It seems to me that the two groups most at risk of having their humanity reduced to their sexuality are homosexual young men and all young women. Indeed, there is something ideological if not downright sinister about such efforts, which are often subtle, especially when they appropriate the language of social justice.

To the young person who perceives that s/he is "different" and who feels threatened and/or terrified as a result we offer them our love, our protection, our support, as well as our active care and concern. It is characteristic of genuine love that it asks nothing in return. To offer them less is to fail to be Christians. As Deacon Greg said, we can respectfully disagree about the nature and purpose of human sexuality, how it fits into our overall understanding of the human person, especially our transcendent dimension, which cannot but determine how we relate to people pastorally, but to mischaracterize and make false accusations does nothing for Christian fellowship, nor for people caught in the crossfire.

Let's not forget what is most fundamental to Christian faith, summarized well by St. Paul: "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" (Romans 5:6-8). This cuts across all humanity, down to each and every person, heterosexual and homosexual.

In the present cultural moment, our confusion about the nature and purpose of human sexuality is certainly not limited to a particular group. To wit: heterosexual people, including married couples, at least from the Catholic perspective, are just as confused as everyone else. In this light, I appreciate that Catholic teaching on sexuality invites us to consider our sexuality in the context of the totality of our personhood, especially in light of the end for which each one of us is lovingly made, encapsulated well by these famous words of St. Augustine- "God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you." Too often our conception of even our own personal sexuality is mundane, earth-bound, wholly lacking a transcendent dimension, which cannot but blind us not just to the truth, but to the goodness, and the beauty of our very being.

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam

A personal reflection about faith and politics, or the politics of faith

Currently there is so much going on that when I think about it I am almost overwhelmed. I have to admit that with the off-year elections happening  in a little more than two weeks I am very glad that I have not written anything about politics. This is largely due to the fact that from 2006 to 2008 I finally got over my life-long fascination with politics. All of this has been on my mind this week in light of the televised religious roundtable I participated in for our local PBS station, KUED, Channel 7, last Wednesday.

There was a time when I thought politics, a career in politics, was the path I would pursue, but then many things happened in my life, not least among which was becoming Catholic. This had a two-fold effect on this ambition. First, it changed my politics fairly dramatically. Second, where I live moving from the dominant religion to embrace and become a member of a different religion was, if not outright disqualifying, then something probably too big to overcome. I also have to say that being involved with Communion and Liberation, especially having formal ties to the Movement for the past 4 or 5 years, has changed the way I approach politics even more dramatically than when I became Catholic more than 20 years ago.

As a member of the clergy actively engaged in pastoral ministry, I tend to look at issues without concerning myself too much about how I might fit them into some over-arching and preconceived political schema, otherwise known as an ideology. As a result, after many years as a registered Democrat (my affiliation with the Democratic Party preceding my becoming Catholic), I am now a political independent. All of this is very liberating, indeed, because my sole point of reference for political issues is my faith, which not only doesn't preclude the use of reason, but positively requires it.

I approach politics in a reasonable and faithful way, which does not mean slavishly applying church teaching to political issues of the day, which would be tantamount to relinquishing my freedom, which is anti-thetical to my Catholic faith, but looking at what fosters a greater humanity- which is the whole point of the Gospel that is Jesus Christ. Besides, according to Catholic teaching, how we apply the tenets of our faith to political matters boils down to individuals making well-informed prudential judgments about various issues. We're not monolithic, nor can we be in dealing the very complex matters we are faced with today. For example, here in Utah, the Democrat running for governor is a Catholic. He cannot count on my vote just because I am Catholic, too. To vote that way is highly irresponsible, whether the identification with any candidate is religion, gender, or race. I loathe identity politics, which is inherently divisive and arguably undemocratic.

Besides, as a member of the clergy, which inherently includes being something of a public figure, it is not appropriate or ethical for me engage in partisan politicking, which is different from not engaging political issues at all. As both of my readers know, I am not shy about weighing in on issues that matter to me- immigration, labor matters, international affairs (a concern that naturally arises from my secular occupation), and on economic matters, too. I generally don't tell people who I vote for, though I do lay out my criteria for judging candidates- don't be uncomfortable about the verb to judge in all its variants because we have to make judgments everyday, we certainly render a judgment when we go into the voting booth. I am not the least bit relativistic when it comes to my faith, especially when it comes to matters of politics.

I firmly believe that it is highly important, a matter of conscience rightly formed, to bring my faith to bear in the public square. I do not do this from the standpoint that all religiously held points-of-view are equally valid. Just as truth by its very nature is not relativistic, all view points, even when derived from religious principles, are not equally valid. So, part of my task is to have a well-informed conscience and another part, as a religious educator, is to collaborate with others in the task of conscience formation. What makes Catholic morality so controversial is that it is objective, as opposed to subjective or relativistic, which is not to say that to reason according to the principles of Catholic morality renders one incapable of accounting for the complexity of many moral issues, though it does a good job of reducing and even eliminating so many false complexities.

So, this week when I vote early once again, I will vote a split ticket that will include casting a vote for a few third party candidates. Politics are not merely a necessary evil, politics is nothing but a single word, and a generic one at that, we use to describe how we manage our common life. To denigrate politics in a democracy is to denigrate democracy, especially a representative one like we have in the United States. This one of the most tiresome complaints of the Obama Administration, who seem to think that in a democracy you can separate governing from politics. You cannot. It is not only impossible, but wholly undesirable. None of this is to say that there aren't ways of engaging in politics that are beneath our dignity, that coarsen public discourse, and that are to be eschewed by decent people, not just Christians.

In the current cycle, looking at the nation as a whole, two examples stand out. The first is the unconscionable way Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell has been treated in her race by the media and even by her own party. Regardless as to how you might feel about her as a candidate, she is surely a victim of the politics of personal destruction. To her good credit, she has handled it all gracefully, even with a little humor. The second is how the Republican candidate for New York governor, Carl Paladino, has conducted himself, which I can only describe as shocking.

I will bookend this week by ending with the same quote by Luigi Giussani with which I ended last Friday's post; a quote that also gave rise to last Saturday's post:

Bernini's Martyrdom of St. Lawrence

"Christians may not win. This is exactly the point: that we always win, even if we were to be always defeated, where ‘winning’ is realizing a greater humanity, and ‘being defeated’ means not having power. As one of you said once in a discussion: ‘We aim for a victory without power!’ This was what he meant. It’s the victory of the human. By facing life according to faith, we achieve a victory of the human, our gesture is more human. This does not mean that our position prevails politically, economically, and so on, that we attain power."

This general idea was also put forth by the Holy Father in his extemporaneous remarks to the bishops gathered in Rome to participate in the Synod on the Church in the Middle East. Pope Benedict was correct to begin his wide-ranging remarks by citing God-made-man-for-us in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, who we rightly revere as Theotókos, as the pole around which everything else revolves, before going on to say,

"We think of the great powers of today's history, we think of the anonymous capitals that enslave man, that are no longer something belonging to man, but are an anonymous power that men serve, and by which men are tormented and even slaughtered. They are a destructive power that threatens the world. And then the power of the terrorist ideologies. Violence is done apparently in the name of God, but this is not God: these are false divinities that must be unmasked, that are not God. And then drugs, this power that, like a ravenous beast, stretches its hands over all parts of the earth and destroys: it is a divinity, but a false divinity, which must fall. Or even the way of life promoted by public opinion: today it's done this way, marriage doesn't matter anymore, chastity is no longer a virtue, and so on.

"These ideologies that are so dominant that they impose themselves by force are divinities. And in the suffering of the saints, in the suffering of believers, of the Mother Church of which we are part, these divinities must fall..."

I wholly concur that it is witness, martyria, even to the shedding of blood, that constitutes the ultimate victory of power without power- "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13- ESV).

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam

Friday, October 15, 2010

"Good coffee, strong coffee"

"I need to have some."

Jars of Clay singing their Coffee Song seems a more than appropriate traditio for a Friday in the fall when there is a chill in the air and the darkness lingers a bit longer.

"I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).

Today is also the memorial of St. Teresa of Avila, another Doctor of the Church. I am never afraid to admit that the Carmelite spirituality of Teresa and John of the Cross is not my spiritual cup-o'-tea. I think this arises from the many useless attempts to turn what is essentially a contemplative spirituality into a lay, or active, spirituality. Then again, I'm not a big of St. Francis de Sales Introduction to the Devout Life either. Oh well. St. Teresa of Avila, pray for us.

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hierarchy update

Today it was announced that Bishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, M.Sp.S., who currently serves as an auxiliary bishop in Chicago, will be the next archbishop of San Antonio, Texas. He succeeds Archbishop Gomez, who was named coadjutor to Cardinal Mahony in Los Angeles in April of this year. Bishop Garcia-Siller is a member of the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit, a religious order of Mexican origin founded in 1914.

With Garcia-Siller's appointment there are now three Latin Rite dioceses in the United States that are vacant: Orlando, Florida; Rapid City, South Dakota; Joliet in Illinois. Additionally, there are ten ordinaries serving past the canonical retirement age of 75- Justin Cardinal Rigali of Philadelphia and Archbishop Beltran of Oklahoma City, along with Bishops Boland of Savannah, GA; Smith of Trenton, NJ; Sevilla of Yakima, WA; McCormack of Manchester, NH; Adamec of Altoona-Johnstown, PA; Bruskewitz of Lincoln, NE; Galeone of St. Augustine, FL; Zipfel of Bismarck, North Dakota. Bishop Gettelfinger of Evansville, Indiana will turn 75 on 20 October. Bishop Smith of Trenton, NJ has a coadjutor in place in the person of Bishop David O'Donnell, who will succeed him once the Holy Father accepts his retirement.

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Random thoughts for a Wednesday afternoon

I haven't done a wide open and rambling post for quite sometime. In the past I have resorted to posting this, usually on Saturday mornings, because it is the only way for me to come even close to capturing, if only in a very incomplete way, what happens to me. Last night I was very struck by Pope Benedict's opening remarks to bishops gathered in synod in Rome to discuss the vexing problem of the ancient Christian communities of Middle East. I have had many personal experiences with these communities, which have always deeply moved me. My faith is so weak compared to that of my sisters and brothers whose adherence to Christ places them in danger daily. I cannot believe for one moment that when the apostles said to Jesus "increase our faith," they knew what they asked.

I was particularly struck by the Holy Father's reference to "anonymous capital", that is, to the world's impersonal and depersonalizing way of doing business. I have to admit that by reading the Pontiff's remarks I felt very vindicated with my on-going critique of Goldman-Sachs, which, to me, exemplifies what Benedict was referring to when he spoke about "the anonymous capital that enslaves man, which is no longer in man’s possession, but is an anonymous power served by men, by which men are tormented and even killed. It is a destructive power, that threatens the world." These words, at least to my mind, are very prophetic.

I was also profoundly moved and gratified, not to mention privileged, to participate in the KUED discussion this morning, which seeks to bring some local flavor to the PBS event God in America. One thing that all of us who participated share is the belief in the transcendent dimension of human being, what Don Giussani so aptly termed the religious sense, which is nothing other than the recognition, at the level of personal consciousness, that existence, my existence, has meaning and purpose. So, the Second Vatican Council and Pope John Paul II were absolutely correct to assert that the most fundamental human right is freedom of conscience with regard to matters of faith (i.e., religious freedom). The only human right more fundamental than the freedom to worship God according one's own conscience is the right to life, without which all other rights have no meaning.

Beyond just a common belief in the transcendent dimension of human being, we all share a belief that we are lovingly created in the image of God and that recognizing what Catholics call the imago dei in every person is the basis for morality and right action. After all, loving God with one's whole being and loving one's neighbor as one's self are taken directly from the Torah.

What the Catholic tradition brings to religion in America, which often tends to be very individualistic, is that faith and reason work together to bring us to the fullness of truth, to give us access to what we can really call knowledge. When the split between believing and knowing occurs it throws us off balance, puts us out of kilter. When reason is in the ascendant, we tend to become somewhat authoritarian. When faith holds the upper hand, we tend to be very individualistic and subjective, thus rendering faith as something that is merely private. This is why religious communities are so important, which is just a way of saying we need each other, we need connection.

It is never objectivity vs. subjectivity, but how do I engage reality according to the totality of its factors? As a Catholic the sacramental dimension, especially the Eucharist, around which everything else revolves, like the solar system orbits around the sun, is what connects me to God (in Christ by the power of the Spirit), to others, and to the world, showing me just why I am made, why what I do matters, not to mention why I am in church and not home watching football, or hiking, or sleeping, reading the newspaper, etc. In short, church is not where I have to be, but where I want to be because it is what allows me to be.

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"These ideologies that dominate, that impose themselves forcefully, are divinities"

It's been a long time since I have given props to my old friend Rocco Palmo, over at Whispers. So, it is with deep gratitude that I post some words of the Holy Father delivered yesterday at the opening session of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, a gathering for which I am offering both prayer and fasting over the course of its days. In keeping with his tradition of addressing the various synods convened at the Vatican by making some extemporaneous remarks, Pope Benedict delivered an unvarnished address that brings home the urgency of what the bishops are called upon to judge in these days. You can read Pope Benedict's entire address over at Whispers.

Indeed, the ancient Christian communities of the Middle East, both Catholic and Orthodox, as well as Syriacs and Copts, are experiencing something deeply painful and disturbing, something that is costing blood, making martyrs, that is, witnesses of many Christians in our own day. Among the His Holiness' remarks were these words that express well the evils we face:-

"right at the time of the rising Church, where we can see how the blood of the martyrs takes the power away from the [pagan] divinities, starting with the divine emperor, from all these divinities. It is the blood of the martyrs, the suffering, the cry of the Mother Church that makes them fall and thus transforms the world.

"This fall is not only the knowledge that they are not God; it is the process of transformation of the world, which costs blood, costs the suffering of the witnesses of Christ. And, if we look closely, we can see that this process never ends. It is achieved in various periods of history in ever new ways; even today, at this moment, in which Christ, the only Son of God, must be born for the world with the fall of the gods, with pain, the martyrdom of witnesses. Let us remember all the great powers of today’s history, let us remember the anonymous capital that enslaves man, which is no longer in man’s possession, but is an anonymous power served by men, by which men are tormented and even killed. It is a destructive power, that threatens the world. And then the power of the terroristic ideologies. Violent acts are apparently made in the name of God, but this is not God: they are false divinities that must be unmasked; they are not God. And then drugs, this power that, like a voracious beast, extends its claws to all parts of the world and destroys it: it is a divinity, but it is a false divinity that must fall. Or even the way of living proclaimed by public opinion: today we must do things like this, marriage no longer counts, chastity is no longer a virtue, and so on.

"These ideologies that dominate, that impose themselves forcefully, are divinities. And in the pain of the Saints, in the suffering of believers, of the Mother Church which we are a part of, these divinities must fall, what is said in the Letters to the Colossians and to the Ephesians must be done: the domin[ion]s, the powers fall and become subjects of the one Lord Jesus Christ. On this battle we find ourselves in, of this taking power away from God, of this fall of false gods, that fall because they are not deities, but powers that can destroy the world, chapter 12 of Revelations mentions these, even if with a mysterious image, for which, I believe, there are many different and beautiful interpretations. It has been said that the dragon places a large river of water before the fleeing woman to overcome her. And it would seem inevitable that the woman will drown in this river. But the good earth absorbs this river and it cannot be harmful. I think that the river is easily interpreted: these are the currents that dominate all and wish to make faith in the Church disappear, the Church that does not have a place anymore in front of the force of these currents that impose themselves as the only rationality, as the only way to live. And the earth that absorbs these currents is the faith of the simple at heart, that does not allow itself to be overcome by these rivers and saves the Mother and saves the Son."

It is possible in light of this to return to the beginning of the Holy Father's remarks, which were about the import of 11 October, the date on which this synod began and also the date that in our day we rightfully revere the opening the Second Vatican Council. However, Pope Benedict reminds us that his predecessor, Bl. John XXIII, chose 11 October as the starting date of the council because it is the day that "the feast... of the Divine Motherhood of Mary was celebrated and, with this gesture, with this date, Pope John wished to entrust the whole Council into the motherly hands and maternal heart of the Madonna." Indeed, the Holy Father goes on to say, "Theotokos is a courageous title. A woman is the Mother of God. One could say: how is this possible? God is eternal, he is the Creator. We are creatures, we are in time: how could a human being be the Mother of God, of the Eternal, since we are all in time, we are all creatures?" Nonetheless, he continues, "[n]ot only was a man born that had something to do with God, but in [Jesus Christ] was born God on earth. God came from himself. But we could also say the opposite: God drew us to Himself, so that we are not outside of God, but we are within the intimate, the intimacy of God Himself."

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam

The Judas Shuffle

"It was not for the thirty pieces of silver / but for the hope / that He awakened / in me that day. I was a quiet man, / I had a comfortable life, / I even used to pay my respects / to God in His house. / But one day that Man came, / He spoke of peace and love / He said that He was the Messiah, / my Savior. // Through lands dried up by the sun, / through the streets of every village / we were suffocated by the crowd / with their outstretched hands, / but then the days went by / and His kingdom did not come. / I had already given Him everything / and He betrayed me. // My heart became like stone / and my eyes became good at escaping. / He had given me anguish / and so He had to die. / Hanging from a tree is a body / that is no longer mine. / Now I see in His eyes / that He is the Son of God." (C. Chieffo, Il monologo di Giuda [Judas’ Monologue]).

The lyrics of this song by Claudio Chieffo describe well the interior drama that all serious Christians experience. In fact, it is something that leads many to stop following Him, at least in an intentional way. Our initial encounter is something that holds a lot of promise, the answer to many of life's problems, a way to overcome our many difficulties. Let us never forget that His summons to us is this: "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?" (Luke 9:23-25- ESV). Without doubt this is a hard saying. It is not what we want to hear, let alone to strive to live.

The Prayer of St. Francis, which cannot be traced any earlier than the second decade of the last century, expresses this well. Most often we hear or recite the first line of this beautiful prayer, which, if not composed by my brother deacon, certainly expresses well his manner of discipleship: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace." But the way I see it, it is the prayer's ending that should catch our attention, echoing, as it does, the summons of the Lord:

"For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life"

Indeed, as we endeavor to serve the Lord each day by carrying our cross and helping others to carry theirs, by giving without counting the cost or expecting anything in return, by forgiving even the most egregious wrongs others commit against us, by dying to ourselves and living for Him, we easily begin to wonder, What's in this for me? How long must I keep this up? When, Lord, will I see your glory? The short answer to the first question is- Everything! As Fr.Carrón recently reminded the Responsibles of Communion & Liberation: "There’s no [distance] greater than the one between being and nothingness!"

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam

Monday, October 11, 2010

At the service of an ideology

Sadly, yet predictably, many have turned the recent suicides of five homosexual young men into propaganda at the service of an ideology. The good news is that these movements tend to reach a tipping point almost as quickly as they emerge by, ironically, turning into just the kind of thing they set out to oppose in the first place. I was thinking about all this yesterday afternoon, trying to determine how I might approach this issue in writing in a constructive and charitable way, which is why I am very grateful that my dear friend Deacon Greg Kandra's response to an article by Michele Somerville for The Huffington Post over on his blog The Deacon's Bench does just this.

Somerville's piece is a great example of what I tried to describe above. Stated simply, it is intemperate, unfair, and at the service of an ideology. All she does is further polarize and alienate people from each other by reducing the beliefs of others, in this case Catholics, to so much idiotic simple-mindedness. At the level of both Christian experience and reflection is the divinely revealed reality that "God is love" (1 John 4:8.16- ESV). From this one can easily deduce that God does not hate anyone. Her article reminds me of the well-intentioned, but very unbalanced, editorials I used to read in the campus newspaper at university. It takes the tone that "If you don't agree with me, then there is something really wrong with you."

Like the term islamophobia, with which I took issue during the great Ground Zero mosque debate, I think the term homophobia is slung around far too carelessly. Besides not describing any actual psychological malady, it has a disturbingly totalitarian ring to it, the kind employed by dangerous ideologies, like in the Soviet Union, where people were institutionalized for refusing to toe the party line. After all, a phobia is not merely a fear, but an irrational fear, one that needs therapy.

This is not to insist for one minute that homosexual people do not often experience prejudice and unjust discrimination, they certainly do in many quarters. Even the Catechism of the Catholic Church states unequivocally that homosexual persons "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity." More apropos to the subject at hand, the Catechism goes on to assert that "[e]very sign of unjust discrimination" against homosexual persons "should be avoided" (2358). To wit, we have perfectly acceptable ways of discussing prejudice, unjust discrimination, and even bigotry, without inexpertly condemning others to the psych ward. Increasingly, the epithet homophobic is employed to stifle honest discussion.

With his post, Homophobia in the Church? Really?, Deacon Greg makes a valuable contribution to the current discussion by bringing balance and perspective. I think his conclusion is worth repeating:

"Catholic teaching on sexuality is more complicated and nuanced than many realize. And, despite what writers like Somerville may think, there is a moral framework on which that teaching is built -- a framework constructed on something truly radical, and audacious, and sacred, a framework that not only offers dignity to those people who experience same sex attraction, but which also demands that they be treated with Christian love."

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam

Faith is movement

Faith is a two way movement, always initiated by God, who uses everything, especially our difficulties, to draw us to Himself. God uses our difficulties because it is precisely in this aspect of our existence that we realize we are not self-sufficient. Those who open themselves to God's loving care come to see, as Bl. John Henry Newman observed, that
"[t]en thousand difficulties do not make one doubt."

In writing about the works of Graham Greene, seeing that they are thoroughly imbued with grace, Owen Cummings observes that the greatness of Greene's oeuvre "lies in recognizing and struggling with the ambiguities not of life in general, but our own individual lives, even as we strive to remain faithful to God." He goes on to observe that "[t]he grace of Graham Greene lies in accepting our complexity, our fragility, our permeative sense of incompleteness and yet not giving up." Finally, the greatness of Greene's writing "lies in glimpsing, albeit occasionally and partially, that our holy God is"- here he quotes a Methodist hymn- "the Love that will not let us go" (Thinking About Prayer 75).

If you have never read Greene's The Power and the Glory, or his The Heart of the Matter, the latter of which Cummings uses for his discussion of Greene's narratively unpackaged theology of grace, you have two great things to which to look forward.

Veni Sancte Spiritus, Veni per Mariam

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...