Friday, December 31, 2010

"Alrightokuhhuhamen- As it was in the beginning..."

I get by with a little help from my friends. Today I get by with the help of a friend who went home to be with the Lord more years ago than I care to remember. So, for the final Καθολικός διάκονος traditio to end the first decade of the new millennium I look to Rich Mullins' Alrightokuhhuhamen. My oldest son was in a traffic accident Sunday evening driving home from the Cathedral after attending the final Mass at which I was preaching. He's okay, but our van was totalled in the five car pile-up, for which he was not responsible and blessed to be uninjured. I am going to be a Dad again to a little boy who, judging from yesterday's ultra-sound, is developing just fine. I learned late last week that my Dad has cancer, a tumor that has metastasized, thus spreading the cancer to his bones and that he has a compression fracture in his back. Frankly, I don't whether to cry for sadness or joy.

"Well the Lord said let man choose and man did
Well, there's been sorrow and trouble in the world ever since
But there's hope for us still in the Word God says
If we just be smart enough to just say yes
Smart enough to say yes to Him and say Alrightokuhhuhamen"

Or in some of the most wise words ever spoken: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:12). One more time- Alrightokuhhuhamen!

I am struck by these words of Eugene Peterson, someone who has influenced my spiritual development as much as any one: "When nothing we can do makes any difference and we are left standing around empty-handed and clueless, we are ready for God to create. When the conditions in which we live seem totally alien to life and salvation, we are reduced to waiting for God to do what only God can do, create." Jesus, I trust in You now more than ever and, while I am beggar, a bum and, like Rich, a raggamuffin, I am not like Beckett's tramps, who wait in vain.

So, I'll catch you on the other side of midnight. Enjoy New Year's Eve.

Veni adoramus

Thursday, December 30, 2010

"only mercy until we close our eyes..."

Last evening, between Evening Prayer and supper, I turned on the t.v. for just a minute and watched an episode of the Loretta Young Show on EWTN. The title of this particular show is Three and Two, Please. It originally aired 16 December 1956. In the episode, Loretta plays Sister Ann, a nun working in a Catholic hospital on Christmas Eve. What stands out in my mind is something she said to the rich, crotchety, sick, but lonely old man, Mr. Atherton, who is really longing for companionship, as she is disturbing him by re-arranging his private room in order to put a young boy, Guermo, who has not heard from his father and is worried about Christmas, in with him.

What follows is my paraphrase of the dialogue that struck me:

Mr. Atherton: Is there no justice in this world?

Sister Ann: In this world there is no justice, only mercy until we close our eyes, then there is justice.

This put me in mind of what the Holy Father wrote in his encyclical letter Spe Salvi:
"The encounter with [Christ] is the decisive act of judgement. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation 'as through fire'. But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God" (par. 47).
As a deacon I am privleged to pour the water into the wine during the liturgy as I say, sotto voce: "By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity." Indeed, this is the point of the Incarnation, there is no other. "Create in me a clean heart, O God" (Ps. 51:10).

As Deacon Greg reminds us today, no matter how hopeless things look, through Christ, in Christ, and with Christ, there is always hope. For Christians, the theological virtue of hope is not synonymous with wish. Let those who have eyes see what hope looks like, it is not ephemeral, but real and concrete, like the babe born in Bethlehem.

Veni adoramus

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Καθολικός διάκονος: Year in review

Below is my selection from each month of this past year that I think best captures what I was experiencing during that month. So, this is not really a best of 2010 list, but a representative sample of this past year here on Καθολικός διάκονος:

December- Faith and the morals: the Church and the world

November- Fleshing our Advent, incarnating it

October- Where the "less trivial elbows the important things"

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

August- A rambling remembrance of Allan Bloom on music

July- A thought from the road

June- "And don't come back until you've redeemed yourselves"

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

April- Heads Goldman wins, tails you lose (and they win)

March- Deacon Dad

February- Parshat Acharei Mot

January- Personal and philosophical ruminations for a Tuesday

I certainly invite both of my readers to chime in if there are any posts from this past year that struck you in any way.

Veni adoramus

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs

Over the course of Advent the Holy Father and our bishops asked us to pray for, work toward, and raise awareness of the dignity of all human life, even nascent human life, that is, human life at its earliest stages when, instead of seeing a nascent human person, many regard the life in its earliest stages as a cluster of cells. There are three arenas when this viewpoint comes into play: early term chemical abortions of the kind enacted when the RU-486 pill is used, which is also how birth control pills often work, when seeking to use to fetal stem cells "harvested" from aborted children, and, finally, but of no less concern, in in vitro fertilization, a procedure that requires quite a number of fertilized eggs to result in a single pregnancy, which, while well-intentioned, is not a morally acceptable means to the very good end of having a child. For those in the heart-breaking situation of being married and unable to have children and who want to, don't hesitate to contact your pastor about how you might proceed. After all, we're here to help each other.

Massacre of the Innocents, Fra Angelico, c.1450

Of course, there remains the horrible scourge of abortion. I write about all of this because today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, who were, even before St. Stephen, proto-martyrs. Today we remember those innocent children slaughtered by Herod in his dastardly attempt to kill the true King of the Jews, whom he feared as a rival to his power. As Peter Hitchens wrote just before the Nativity of the Lord about Holy Innocents' Day: "I hope as many of you as possible will recall with sorrow the continuing massacre of innocent unborn babies, our society’s greatest and deepest shame, and the one of which it most hates to be reminded." On this feast, I don't mind doing a little reminding.

St. Matthew cites the prophet Jeremiah in his lament for the Holy Innocents: "A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more" (Matt. 2:18). As Pope John Paul II never tired of reminding us, without the right to life all of our other rights are pretty meaningless. So, dear friends, choose life, like our Blessed Mother, Mary, say "Yes," even when there are difficulties involved. Rather than limit yourself to engaging in activism, get involved with your local Crisis Pregnancy Center, or contact the Family Life Office in your diocese to find out how you can help, even if only as a benefactor. This makes it easier for others to say "Yes," especially those in distress.

UPDATE: Over Il Sussidiario there is an article I originally wrote for Cahiers Péguy, where I have begun posting from time-to-time, on the repeal of DADT; a delicate subject for some.

Veni adoramus

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Feast of St. John, apostle and evangelist

Following closely on the heels of the Feast of St. Stephen, which is a special day for deacons, is the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, a day we observe with special reference to our priests.

The first reading for Mass today is from one of my favorite books of the Bible, The First Letter of John, it concludes with these words, words that make chills run down my spine everytime I read them because they give me such great hope:

"what we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; for our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing this so that our joy may be complete."

St. John the Evangelist on Patmos, by Titian 1547

Similarly, today's Gospel is from the twentieth chapter of St. John's Gospel when St. Mary Magdalene arrives and finds the empty tomb and runs to Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved, taken to be John, to tell them He is missing. While the disciple whom Jesus loved arrived at the tomb before Peter, it was Peter who went in first and discovered "the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place." "Then," the evangelist writes, "the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed."

St. John, apostle and evangelist, pray for us.

Veni adoramus

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Year A The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Readings: Sir. 3:2-6; Ps 128:1-5; Col 3:12-21; Mt 2:3-15.19-23

Today we celebrate the Holy Family: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, which is fitting because Christmas for most of us is a time for family. While the Holy Family is the family into which the Son of God was born and was raised, it was a truly human family. Over the previous two days here at church and in our homes we have been celebrating and pondering in our hearts the great mystery of God-made-man-for-us. Today’s feast urges us to reflect even more deeply on the mystery of our salvation. In today’s Gospel, Matthew moves us quickly from the stable of Jesus' birth, past the visit of the Magi, to the need Joseph discerns to take his family and flee from the feared wrath of King Herod. In this we see that the circumstances faced by the Holy Family do not fit the idyll we often imagine when staring at our manger scenes and Christmas crèches.

Precisely because the Scriptures don’t merely have something to do with our lives, but everything to do with us, we can’t help but notice what Matthew makes clear: that God is concerned about us and is guiding us, His family, just as He protected and guided the people of Israel and Joseph’s family. There is no greater proof of the divine mission given to Israel than the Israelites not only surviving, but thriving as a result of being exiled and both times returning from exile in tact as a people. The only people who are surprised by the story told in Scripture, which culminates with Jesus coming into the world, are those who are not familiar with it. The entirety of the Bible is one continuous story of God's love and concern for His people. The Holy Family concretely demonstrates God's desire for the well-being of all families.

In today’s Gospel Jesus reprises the history of his people. We need to take note that Matthew quickly dispatches Herod from the story because the earthly king must be put aside in favor of the newly arrived King, who is truly the king of the Jews. Matthew links Jesus to David by writing about Him being born in Bethlehem, the home of Israel's shepherd king as well as Joseph’s ancestral city. In Jesus’ leaving Israel for Egypt Matthew reminds us of the patriarch Jacob, whose name was changed by the angel to Israel, and of Moses, the infant who was protected from the murderous pharaoh in order to lead his people out of slavery. These events in the Lord’s life as depicted in St. Matthew’s Gospel are not incidental, but proof that He is both Messiah and Lord. Further, these events prove that God has not forgotten the chosen people, just as God has not forgotten us, His people, who wait in joyful hope for Christ’s glorious return.

In addition to the societal and even political forces that endanger the family, there are quite a few internal pressures that ordinary families face in contemporary Western society. It is often the case that both parents work full-time outside the home and that many poor parents need to hold more than one job to make ends meet and provide the necessities of life for their children. Additionally, children also have early pressures on them to over-achieve and be involved in multiple extracurricular activities. For many of us just having a supper with the whole family gathered around the table is very difficult. The point of our Gospel today is that the Holy Family, just like us, faced the very real circumstances that life presents.

These external and internal pressures we face daily take their toll on us and can lead to discord in our homes, which makes St. Paul’s advice to the Colossians as relevant for us today and it was for the Christians of the church in Colossae: "Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do" (Col. 3:11-12).

At the beginning of Christianity, in such places as Colossae, believers met in each other's homes to pray and worship together. Hence, from the beginning we are familiar with the term "domestic church." The U.S. bishops, in their National Catechetical Directory entitled Sharing the Light of Faith remind us that the Christian family is "the basic community within which faith is nurtured." The Church teaches incessantly that parents are the first teachers of their children in the ways of faith. In fact, when having their children baptized Catholic parents accept "the responsibility of training them in the practice of the faith" (Rite of Baptism par.39). The Gospels clearly demonstrate that our Lord was born a Jew and raised in a devout Jewish family. It was in His home, from Joseph and Mary, that he first learned the Scriptures and the rites and rituals of Jewish religious practice.

It was being forced into exile away from the Temple and the various destructions of the Jerusalem Temple, the last one occurring in AD 70 that led to the establishment of synagogues and to Judaism becoming in many respects an "at-home" religion. Just think of the Passover Seder, which is celebrated in the home. As Christians we rightly emphasize the necessity of gathering for Eucharist on Sundays and solemnities, but we also need to practice our faith in our homes. One example of this is the Advent wreathes most of us used during our holy season of preparation for Christmas. At root, our Christmas trees, too, are religious symbols, which is why we don’t pitch them to the curb, or put them back in the box tomorrow morning, but leave them up until the Baptism of the Lord, the celebration that brings the season of Christmas to a close, which falls two weeks from today. Of course, between now and then, next Sunday to be precise, we observe the grand and ancient feast of Epiphany, around which many traditional home-based religious observances have been handed on to us, chief among which is the blessing of our homes.

In our day-to-day lives, we display crucifixes, icons, statues, and candles in our homes. Really, no Catholic home should be without such symbols, or without a Bible, a copy of the The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, along with a copy of Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers, the latter of which is published by United States Bishops conference and contains rites to be celebrated in our homes. In actuality, what we do together on Sundays should have its roots in what we do at home: sharing food, praying together and celebrating in creative, fun, and appropriate ways the seasons, memorials, feasts and solemnities of the liturgical year, which is how we mindfully live out and celebrate the great mystery of our salvation. In these ways, we enact in our homes what we express each time we gather for Eucharist- that we are the body of Christ, God’s family nourished through Word, Sacrament and each another. If Christ does not occupy the center of our homes, how we can say He is the center of our lives? For Christian parents, if Christ has no place, or only a marginal place, in your homes, how can He be at the center of your children’s lives?

Of course, we can’t make our families holy any more than we can make ourselves holy, only God can do that! Nonetheless, it all starts with our desire for holiness, which is nothing other than our desire to be completely satisfied, to be fulfilled, to be happy which recognition marks the beginning of our cooperation with what God wants to accomplish in us and through us, even if in surprising and unexpected ways, like the birth of His only begotten Son to a poor young woman in a stable in Bethlehem, who despite all the difficulties involved, said "May it be done to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38).

"Blessed, indeed, "are those who fear the Lord and walk in His ways” (Ps. 128:1). Merry Christmas!

Veni adoramus

Christmas at the Madeleine

From our Christmas procession and blessing of the Nativity Scene prior to the Noon Mass at The Cathedral of the Madeleine yesterday. This picture with Bishop Wester was snapped after Mass, which means that in their rush some of the children had already headed out. Anyway, a big thanks to Cathy, Tracy, and Yolanda and, of course, all the children, their parents and Bishop Wester, who is always very gracious with his time for the people of the Cathedral parish!

Veni adoramus

St. Stephen, pray for us

Since today is Sunday and on the Sunday after Christmas we observe the feast of The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the great day of my patron saint (being Scott Stephen from birth), who is also the patron of this weblog, St. Saint Stephen, is mostly passed over this year, which is okay because without Jesus, Mary, and Joseph there would be no St. Stephen. Of course, St. Stephen's day is also traditionally a special day for deacons. In fact, it was 34 years ago today that Bishop Joseph Lennox Federal, then the bishop of Salt Lake City, ordained this diocese's first permanent deacons. So, to my dear brothers, especially Deacon Silvio Mayo, our diocesan chancellor, with whom I am privileged to serve at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, happy anniversary. All of us who walk the trail you blazed in our local church owe you a debt of gratitude.

To mark this day, I will share a brief snippet from a massive part of an even larger work I am laboring on and, with St. Stephen's heavenly help, I will finish before Easter:

"Acts 6:1 reads: 'At that time, as the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.' In Greek, the last word of this translated passage is διακονία, which transliterates as diakonia. In the following verse the twelve say to the gathered Jerusalem community, '[i]t is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table' (Acts 6:2). The words 'to serve' are the Greek verb διακονέω, transliterated diakonein. The word diakonia appears again in verse four when the apostles determine to set the seven men apart for service to the Greek-speaking widows of the nascent Christian community so that they might devote themselves more fully 'to prayer and to the ministry of the word.' The word 'ministry' in this verse is a translation of diakonia.

Martyrdom of St. Stephen by Lorenzo Lotto, AD 1516

"Examining this passage serves a dual purpose. First, it shows the difficulty in drawing straight lines from current ecclesial praxis back to the apostolic church. Secondly, it demonstrates the often ambiguous nature of the word 'deacon' in all its forms as it is used by New Testament authors, showing that most frequently it refers to an activity, not to a specific office, or order of ministry, in the church. Two of the three usages of various forms of the word 'deacon' in these verses of Acts indirectly refer to the seven. The first use of diakonia implies what service they are to be set apart for, namely insuring an equal distribution of food daily among the widows of the community, a community that held all things in common, thus they were set apart primarily as peace-makers and bridge-builders within the community. Closely bound up with the first appearance of diakonia is the word diakonein that the twelve use to describe the very service for which the seven are set apart by the laying on of hands. It also bears noting that despite distinguishing being in charge of the daily distribution, which apparently included something like waiting tables, from the diakonia of the word, which, along with having adequate time to pray, is why the twelve wanted to be free from being in charge of the daily distribution, especially in light of the dispute that arose, we shortly read that 'Stephen, filled with grace and power' began 'working great wonders and signs among the people' and launching into an extended sermon that constitutes part of the authentic Christian proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 6:9). So, while this and subsequent references to the seven men, only two of whom, Stephen and Philip, we read more about in Acts, do not refer to them as deacons, it is easy to understand why they represent the biblical basis for this order of ministry."

Veni adoramus

Saturday, December 25, 2010

"Pray for peace people everywhere..."

A special Christmas traditio from Mr. Dylan- "I am a poor boy, too. I have no gift to bring..."

Just as it is beautiful to say Alleuia again at Easter, it feels equally good today to say MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

Veni adoramus

Urbi et Orbi- Christmas 2010



"Verbum caro factum est" – "The Word became flesh" (Jn 1:14).

Dear brothers and sisters listening to me here in Rome and throughout the world, I joyfully proclaim the message of Christmas: God became man; he came to dwell among us. God is not distant: he is "Emmanuel", God-with-us. He is no stranger: he has a face, the face of Jesus.

This message is ever new, ever surprising, for it surpasses even our most daring hope. First of all, because it is not merely a proclamation: it is an event, a happening, which credible witnesses saw, heard and touched in the person of Jesus of Nazareth! Being in his presence, observing his works and hearing his words, they recognized in Jesus the Messiah; and seeing him risen, after his crucifixion, they were certain that he was true man and true God, the only-begotten Son come from the Father, full of grace and truth (cf. Jn 1:14).

"The Word became flesh". Before this revelation we once more wonder: how can this be? The Word and the flesh are mutually opposed realities; how can the eternal and almighty Word become a frail and mortal man? There is only one answer: Love. Those who love desire to share with the beloved, they want to be one with the beloved, and Sacred Scripture shows us the great love story of God for his people which culminated in Jesus Christ.

God in fact does not change: he is faithful to himself. He who created the world is the same one who called Abraham and revealed his name to Moses: "I am who I am … the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob … a God merciful and gracious, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (cf. Ex 3:14-15; 34:6). God does not change; he is Love, ever and always. In himself he is communion, unity in Trinity, and all his words and works are directed to communion. The Incarnation is the culmination of creation. When Jesus, the Son of God incarnate, was formed in the womb of Mary by the will of the Father and the working of the Holy Spirit, creation reached its high point. The ordering principle of the universe, the Logos, began to exist in the world, in a certain time and space.

"The Word became flesh". The light of this truth is revealed to those who receive it in faith, for it is a mystery of love. Only those who are open to love are enveloped in the light of Christmas. So it was on that night in Bethlehem, and so it is today. The Incarnation of the Son of God is an event which occurred within history, while at the same time transcending history. In the night of the world a new light was kindled, one which lets itself be seen by the simple eyes of faith, by the meek and humble hearts of those who await the Saviour. If the truth were a mere mathematical formula, in some sense it would impose itself by its own power. But if Truth is Love, it calls for faith, for the "yes" of our hearts.

Veni adoramus

Friday, December 24, 2010

Hwelih Isho'

In solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq, who canceled Christmas celebrations due to fears about their safety, we begin the season of Christmas by listening to the lovely Chaldean hymn Hwelih Isho' (i.e., Christ is Born).

Above is a picture of Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad, which is decorated for Christmas as a shrine to the martyrs who were murdered there on 31 October. There will be no Christmas liturgies celebrated this year in Iraq. On this our commemoration of the Incarnation, which also bids us to look forward to the Lord's glorious return, let us remember the Christians of Iraq and throughout the entire Middle East, our sisters and brothers who risk and give their lives to worship Christ the King. Let us not do so with heavy hearts or long faces, but with great joy because we know that the tears of this world do not compare with the joy we have in Jesus.

Veni adoramus

"Out of love for us, he took upon himself our human condition"

Courtesy of The Telegraph newspaper
If you would like to read without listening, just click the "pause" button on the lower left of the video

The full text of the Holy Father's message:

"Recalling with great fondness my four-day visit to the United Kingdom last September, I am glad to have the opportunity to greet you once again, and indeed to greet listeners everywhere as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ [clip cuts off here]

"Our thoughts turn back to a moment in history when God’s chosen people, the children of Israel, were living in intense expectation.

"They were waiting for the Messiah that God had promised to send and they pictured him as a great leader who would rescue them from foreign domination and restore their freedom.

"God is always faithful to his promises, but he often surprises us in the way he fulfils them.

"The child that was born in Bethlehem did indeed bring liberation, but not only for the people of that time and place – he was to be the Saviour of all people throughout the world and throughout history.

"And it was not a political liberation that he brought, achieved through military means; rather, Christ destroyed death forever and restored life by means of his shameful death on the Cross.

"And while he was born in poverty and obscurity, far from the centres of earthly power, he was none other than the Son of God.

"Out of love for us, he took upon himself our human condition, our fragility, our vulnerability and he opened up for us the path that leads to the fullness of life to a share in the life of God himself.

[clip resumes here] "As we ponder this great mystery in our hearts this Christmas, let us give thanks to God for his goodness to us and let us joyfully proclaim to those around us the good news that God offers us freedom from whatever weighs us down: he gives us hope, he brings us life.

"Dear Friends from Scotland, England, Wales and indeed every part of the English-speaking world. I want you to know that I keep all of you very much in my prayers this Holy Season.

"I pray for your families, for your children, for those who are sick and for those who are going through any form of hardship at this time.

"I pray especially for the elderly and for those who are approaching the end of their days.

"I ask Christ, the light of the nations, to dispel whatever darkness there may be in your lives and to grant to every one of you the grace of a peaceful and joyful Christmas.

"May God bless all of you!"

Emmanuel come and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile... Veni sancte Spiritus, veni per Mariam

"God shows us the humility of the Mother"

Speaking of the Blessed Virgin appearing at Fatima, Portugal in Light of the World, the Holy Father gave this insight: "In our rationalism, and in the face of the rising power of dictatorships, God shows us the humility of the Mother, who appears to little children and speaks to them of essentials: faith, hope, love, penance." As we bring Advent to an end I can't help but point out again the necessity for us not only to recognize, but to live the penitential dimension of this holy time; a time we prepare not only for our celebration of the Nativity of the Lord, but for when we go to meet him. We also do penance because, as the Holy Father goes on to say, the evil at work in the dictatorships of the twentieth century, to which Fatima was God's response, is still at work in the world today, just "in another way. He goes on to say that "the power of evil is restrained again and again, that again and again the power of God himself is shown in the Mother's power and keeps it alive." Hence, [t]he Church is always called upon to do what God asked Abraham, which is to see to it that there are enough righteous [people] to repress evil and destruction."

Then coming around to Advent, he discusses the necessity for every age to "open itself to the presence of the Lord" in the recognition that here and now we "stand under the Lord's judgment." It is normative for us to speak "only of a twofold coming of Christ - once in Bethlehem and again at the end of time," but the Holy Father reminds us that "Saint Bernard of Clairvaux spoke of an adventus medius, of an intermediate coming," which is how Christ "periodically renews his intervention in history."

Maranatha - Veni sancte Spiritus, veni per Mariam

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI on the need to "fight against the banalization of [human] sexuality

Below is a note issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in order make clear what Pope Benedict was indicating in the answer he gave to a question asked by Peter Seewald that prompted such great controversy. Suffice it to say that, like the pope donning the camauro, a medieval hat traditionally worn by popes, back in the winter of 2005, his statement was subject to over-interpretation by many on both sides of the issue. Seemingly the only competent commentator to fully, or even partially, grasp what the Holy Father was trying to say was philosopher Fr. Martin Rhonheimer, as the latest post by Sandro Magister over on Chiesa further indicates.

What follows below is the CDF clarification:

"Following the publication of the interview-book Light of the World by Benedict XVI, a number of erroneous interpretations have emerged which have caused confusion concerning the position of the Catholic Church regarding certain questions of sexual morality. The thought of the Pope has been repeatedly manipulated for ends and interests which are entirely foreign to the meaning of his words – a meaning which is evident to anyone who reads the entire chapters in which human sexuality is treated. The intention of the Holy Father is clear: to rediscover the beauty of the divine gift of human sexuality and, in this way, to avoid the cheapening of sexuality which is common today.

"Some interpretations have presented the words of the Pope as a contradiction of the traditional moral teaching of the Church. This hypothesis has been welcomed by some as a positive change and lamented by others as a cause of concern – as if his statements represented a break with the doctrine concerning contraception and with the Church’s stance in the fight against AIDS. In reality, the words of the Pope – which specifically concern a gravely disordered type of human behaviour, namely prostitution (cf. Light of the World, pp. 117-119) – do not signify a change in Catholic moral teaching or in the pastoral practice of the Church.

"As is clear from an attentive reading of the pages in question, the Holy Father was talking neither about conjugal morality nor about the moral norm concerning contraception. This norm belongs to the tradition of the Church and was summarized succinctly by Pope Paul VI in paragraph 14 of his Encyclical Letter Humanae vitae, when he wrote that 'also to be excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.' The idea that anyone could deduce from the words of Benedict XVI that it is somehow legitimate, in certain situations, to use condoms to avoid an unwanted pregnancy is completely arbitrary and is in no way justified either by his words or in his thought. On this issue the Pope proposes instead – and also calls the pastors of the Church to propose more often and more effectively (cf. Light of the World, p. 147) – humanly and ethically acceptable ways of behaving which respect the inseparable connection between the unitive and procreative meaning of every conjugal act, through the possible use of natural family planning in view of responsible procreation.

"On the pages in question, the Holy Father refers to the completely different case of prostitution, a type of behaviour which Christian morality has always considered gravely immoral (cf. Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, n. 27; Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2355). The response of the entire Christian tradition – and indeed not only of the Christian tradition – to the practice of prostitution can be summed up in the words of St. Paul: 'Flee from fornication' (1 Cor 6:18). The practice of prostitution should be shunned, and it is the duty of the agencies of the Church, of civil society and of the State to do all they can to liberate those involved from this practice.

"In this regard, it must be noted that the situation created by the spread of AIDS in many areas of the world has made the problem of prostitution even more serious. Those who know themselves to be infected with HIV and who therefore run the risk of infecting others, apart from committing a sin against the sixth commandment are also committing a sin against the fifth commandment – because they are consciously putting the lives of others at risk through behaviour which has repercussions on public health. In this situation, the Holy Father clearly affirms that the provision of condoms does not constitute 'the real or moral solution' to the problem of AIDS and also that 'the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality' in that it refuses to address the mistaken human behaviour which is the root cause of the spread of the virus. In this context, however, it cannot be denied that anyone who uses a condom in order to diminish the risk posed to another person is intending to reduce the evil connected with his or her immoral activity. In this sense the Holy Father points out that the use of a condom 'with the intention of reducing the risk of infection, can be a first step in a movement towards a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.' This affirmation is clearly compatible with the Holy Father’s previous statement that this is 'not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection.'

"Some commentators have interpreted the words of Benedict XVI according to the so-called theory of the 'lesser evil'. This theory is, however, susceptible to proportionalistic misinterpretation (cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Veritatis splendor, n. 75-77). An action which is objectively evil, even if a lesser evil, can never be licitly willed. The Holy Father did not say – as some people have claimed – that prostitution with the use of a condom can be chosen as a lesser evil. The Church teaches that prostitution is immoral and should be shunned. However, those involved in prostitution who are HIV positive and who seek to diminish the risk of contagion by the use of a condom may be taking the first step in respecting the life of another – even if the evil of prostitution remains in all its gravity. This understanding is in full conformity with the moral theological tradition of the Church.

"In conclusion, in the battle against AIDS, the Catholic faithful and the agencies of the Catholic Church should be close to those affected, should care for the sick and should encourage all people to live abstinence before and fidelity within marriage. In this regard it is also important to condemn any behaviour which cheapens sexuality because, as the Pope says, such behaviour is the reason why so many people no longer see in sexuality an expression of their love: 'This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being' (Light of the World, p. 119)."

See also a post from September- censoring the scope of the desire.


O Emmanuel for whom we wait in joyful expectation

With this final installment, I don't mind saying that I am ready for the O Antiphons to take a year long hiatus!

UPDATE:Next year's preparations for the Nativity of the Lord here on Καθολικός διάκονος will have a distinctively and unapologetic Eastern flavor. I am convinced that until a penitential dimension of this sacred time is recovered in the Western tradition it will continue to seem to me more than a bit faux and forced. I was greatly impressed with the beginning of Peter Hitchens' Advent Message that appeared on his Mail on Sunday blog:

"I shall not be posting - apart from my Mail on Sunday column - until some days after the Feast of the Nativity (commonly called Christmas Day). In fact I doubt if I shall be posting until after the Holy Innocents’ Day, on which I hope as many of you as possible will recall with sorrow the continuing massacre of innocent unborn babies, our society’s greatest and deepest shame, and the one of which it most hates to be reminded.

"As it’s not yet Christmas, but still the penitential season of Advent, I’ll save any Christmas greetings for when the twelve days have actually begun."
As I often do, I thank Mr. Hitchens for his concise lucidity. For those who are new readers and unversed in the glorious liturgical feasts we celebrate during the first week of the Christmas season, stay tuned.

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"Havin' a party up next door but I'm sittin here all alone"

Echoes of reggae comin' through my bedroom wall
havin' a party up next door but I'm sittin here all alone...
all I got is this blank stare and that don't carry no clout at all

Isn't Advent about our longing to be invited to the party, even just the baby shower? After all, we were fashioned from clay precisely to share in the wedding feast of the Lamb

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"Seems I'm not alone at being alone"

Walked out this morning
Don't believe what I saw
A hundred billion bottles
Washed up on the shore
Seems I'm not alone at being alone
A hundred billion castaways
Looking for a home

This is why we pray "O Morning Star...come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death." It is also why, being Eve's banished children, we cry out to the Blessed Virgin, to whom we bring our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears, to turn her eyes of mercy toward us and after this, our exile, to show unto us the blessed fruit of her womb, Jesus- Who is the Morning Star.

O Oriens,
splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis

Monday, December 20, 2010

The "path of conscience" is "not a path of self-asserting"

Church historian Eamon Duffy, in a recent book review of John Cornwell's Newman’s Unquiet Grave: The Reluctant Saint, wrote about Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman that he was "[a] remarkably consistent thinker" in that "to the end of his life [he] looked back on his conversion to evangelical Protestantism in 1816 as the saving of his soul. Yet as a fellow of Oriel, the most intellectually prestigious of the Oxford colleges, he outgrew his earlier Calvinism. He came to see Evangelicalism, with its emphasis on religious feeling and on the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone, as a Trojan horse for an undogmatic religious individualism that ignored the Church’s role in the transmission of revealed truth, and that must lead inexorably to subjectivism and skepticism." Even reading Duffy's review will give you a very good idea of what an independent thinker Newman was and remained throughout the eighty-nine years of his life. Newman's still very relevant An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, which, as Duffy notes in his review, was described by "the distinguished Oxford philosopher Sir Anthony Kenny... as the most significant contribution to epistemology between Descartes and Wittgenstein," played a large role in my own conversion.

The Holy Father in his annual Christmas speech to the Roman curia, delivered today, which is one of the most important addresses he gives every year, he looked back on the beatification of Cardinal Newman, an event he was eager to preside at himself, an unusual thing for him, gave a great insight into an aspect of Newman's thought that frequently gets distorted: conscience. Benedict's understanding of Newman is deep. So, his exposition of Newman on conscience is no ploy on the part of an institutional figure to routinize Newman's unique charisma, which remains as attractive today as it did a century ago.

"I would like to highlight just two aspects which belong together and which, in the final analysis, express the same thing. The first is that we must learn from Newman’s three conversions, because they were steps along a spiritual path that concerns us all. Here I would like to emphasize just the first conversion: to faith in the living God. Until that moment, Newman thought like the average men of his time and indeed like the average men of today, who do not simply exclude the existence of God, but consider it as something uncertain, something with no essential role to play in their lives. What appeared genuinely real to him, as to the men of his and our day, is the empirical, matter that can be grasped. This is the 'reality' according to which one finds one’s bearings. The 'real' is what can be grasped, it is the things that can be calculated and taken in one’s hand. In his conversion, Newman recognized that it is exactly the other way round: that God and the soul, man’s spiritual identity, constitute what is genuinely real, what counts. These are much more real than objects that can be grasped. This conversion was a Copernican revolution. What had previously seemed unreal and secondary was now revealed to be the genuinely decisive element. Where such a conversion takes place, it is not just a person’s theory that changes: the fundamental shape of life changes. We are all in constant need of such conversion: then we are on the right path.

Cardinal Newman towards the end of his life

"The driving force that impelled Newman along the path of conversion was conscience... In modern thinking, the word 'conscience' signifies that for moral and religious questions, it is the subjective dimension, the individual, that constitutes the final authority for decision. The world is divided into the realms of the objective and the subjective. To the objective realm belong things that can be calculated and verified by experiment. Religion and morals fall outside the scope of these methods and are therefore considered to lie within the subjective realm. Here, it is said, there are in the final analysis no objective criteria. The ultimate instance that can decide here is therefore the subject alone, and precisely this is what the word 'conscience' expresses: in this realm only the individual, with his intuitions and experiences, can decide. Newman’s understanding of conscience is diametrically opposed to this. For him, 'conscience' means man’s capacity for truth: the capacity to recognize precisely in the decision-making areas of his life – religion and morals – a truth, the truth. At the same time, conscience – man’s capacity to recognize truth – thereby imposes on him the obligation to set out along the path towards truth, to seek it and to submit to it wherever he finds it. Conscience is both capacity for truth and obedience to the truth which manifests itself to anyone who seeks it with an open heart.

"The path of Newman’s conversions is a path of conscience – not a path of self-asserting subjectivity but, on the contrary, a path of obedience to the truth that was gradually opening up to him. His third conversion, to Catholicism, required him to give up almost everything that was dear and precious to him: possessions, profession, academic rank, family ties and many friends. The sacrifice demanded of him by obedience to the truth, by his conscience, went further still. Newman had always been aware of having a mission for England. But in the Catholic theology of his time, his voice could hardly make itself heard. It was too foreign in the context of the prevailing form of theological thought and devotion. In January 1863 he wrote in his diary these distressing words: 'As a Protestant, I felt my religion dreary, but not my life - but, as a Catholic, my life dreary, not my religion'. He had not yet arrived at the hour when he would be an influential figure. In the humility and darkness of obedience, he had to wait until his message was taken up and understood. In support of the claim that Newman’s concept of conscience matched the modern subjective understanding, people often quote a letter in which he said – should he have to propose a toast – that he would drink first to conscience and then to the Pope. But in this statement, 'conscience' does not signify the ultimately binding quality of subjective intuition. It is an expression of the accessibility and the binding force of truth: on this its primacy is based. The second toast can be dedicated to the Pope because it is his task to demand obedience to the truth."


"When I feel alone, I reach for you and you bring me home"

As Christians we are not utopians, but neither are we pie-in-sky navel-gazers. His Grace, Bishop N.T. Wright, begins his magnificent book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church , by asking "What are we waiting for? And what are we going to do about it in the meantime?" In the first instance, according to Bishop Wright, we hopefully wait "for salvation, resurrection, eternal life." Nonetheless, at least for the Christian, our waiting "is about the discovery of hope within the present world: about practical ways in which hope can come alive for communities and individuals who for whatever reason lack it."

I wholeheartedly agree with His Grace when he goes on to insist that "[a]s long as we see Christian hope in terms of 'going to heaven,' of a salvation that is essentially away from this world," then our view of heaven has nothing to do with our present life. God made man for us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth shatters this silly illusion, which is why we pray during these dark and final days of Advent for the key of David to "[c]ome and lead the prisoners from the prison house" and be the Light for "those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death."

The lovely and talented Belinda Carlisle, who arose from the gritty L.A. punk scene to become a kind of American sweetheart, especially in her solo career after the success of the Go-Gos, brings this home for us:

When the night falls down I wait for you
And you come around
And the world's alive
With the sound of kids
On the street outside

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis

Sunday, December 19, 2010

"Don't give up until you drink from the silver cup..."

Today is the fourth and final Sunday of Advent. So, in recognition of that I am posting Jars of Clay covering the America song Lonely People, which was written and recorded in 1970s. This is an explicitly Christian song re-recorded by a contemporary Christian group. Dan Peek, who composed it, is a Christian and later added to the lyrics of the song, after the words "silver cup"- "and give your life to Jesus Christ."

While I am on about memory these final days of Advent, I remember a conversation several years ago with somebody, a sort of friend (to use the word in the most generous sense), a musician who has written and even recorded what can only be described as contemporary Christian music. We were talking about music and I mentioned a Michael Card song that I liked a great deal. He told me that he just didn't like contemporary Christian music, insisting that all of it basically sucked. I readily admit to feeling the same way about a lot of contemporary Christian music, but he meant his remarks as a blanket statement, an indication of his hard-line stance that he would not allow to be brooked by any argument to the contrary. He went on to adamantly express an equally stupid opinion about all blogs and all bloggers. In all fairness he did not know that I was a blogger, but being an advocate of honesty, I am glad he didn't.

Of course, at times I am equally as ridiculous and when I catch myself saying such stupid things I immediately recognize it as my pride. Life forces us to make judgments, even if it is only about what to eat for lunch, but all this means is that we have to be judicious, which means judging things by reasonable and truthful criteria.

It is precisely to counteract the judgment above- not my friend's about contemporary Christian music or blogging, but my judgment of him- that Fr. Carrón reminds us of Don Giussani's words in Living Is Memory of Me, namely that "there is no stronger sign of dishonesty than to note first of all the flaws inside the companionship." After all, he continues quoting Don Gius, "[o]ne perceives what is similar to himself." So, "[i]f evil is predominant in you, you will complain about evil; if the search for truth is predominant in you, you will discover truth.' How simple, keen, attentive, available we need to be in order to catch Him at work! It doesn’t mean that the flaws are not there, but what kind of discovery is it to realize that they are there? We are not here because we are perfect." Maybe this is something to think about when you attend Mass today, which just might be your only hope of catching Him at work!

All remembrances aside, I am very grateful that Hannah Wohlenhaus, who made this video as her final semester project, gratuitously shared it by posting it on Youtube. As St. Paul exhorted the church at Philippi, "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Phil. 4:8). It seems to me that this applies both to that which is meant to be sacred in some sense, as well as to that which could easily be dismissed as profane, but when judged properly, proves praiseworthy.

Since I mentioned blogging, I am quite content to remain on the margins of the so-called Catholic blogosphere, writing when and what I will for whomever finds it worth their while to read it; an endeavor driven neither by ideology nor activism. I also remember the original name of my blog, which I started back in August of 2005: Scott Dodge for Nobody, which arose both from a long since gone local radio program called Tom Waits for Nobody and Ron Seitz's book on Pater Tom, Song for Nobody: A Memory Vision of Thomas Merton, which is by far the best book about (as opposed to by) Pater Tom I have read.

"O root of Jesse...[c]ome and deliver us, and delay no longer."

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare

Saturday, December 18, 2010

"Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now..."

"This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly..."

"...All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,' which means 'God is with us'" (Matt. 1:18-19.22-23).

My question remains, What was God thinking? But then look at who else He chooses! As the late Rich Mullins used to say, "God is a wild man!"

Father, all-powerful God,
your eternal Word took flesh on our earth
when the Virgin Mary placed her life
at the service of your plan.
Lift our minds in watchful hope
to hear the voice which announces his glory
and open our minds to receive the Spirit
who prepares us for his coming.
We as this through Christ the Lord (Alternative Prayer for the 4th Sunday of Advent).


"life is simple: it's either cherry red, or midnight blue"

There is a lengthy post I put some work into this week with the idea that I would complete and post it today, but that isn't going to happen.

Memory, memorare, remembrance, mimesis... This morning I awoke remembering how hearing Lou Gramm's song Midnight Blue on the radio while driving to various places last night, all the while seriously considering just finding a bar, with which there is nothing wrong in and of itself, but Lou's song broke me out of the morass I was in. This song enabled me to breathe and helped flood me with a sense a gratitude- two things I had been unable to do all week. It's difficult to describe my mindset at such times. Suffice it to say that the sickly sentimentality of this pre-Christmas season has always caused me to react viscerally because there is so much pretense. As I get older, I can see that this pretense, at least to some extent, is a form of longing, but this is a progression that I suspect I will never fully realize, at least not on my own. Anyway, this morning, while thinking back on this, I suddenly remembered that REM covered this great song. So, prompted to start looking, it was gratifying to discover a live cover REM did way back in 1987.

Ain't got no regrets
And I ain't losin' track of
Which way I'm going
I ain't gonna double back, no
Don't want no miss play
Put on no display
An angel no
But I know my way
Oh yeah, oh oh, oh oh

I'm thinking a song a day over the course of the seven days of the O Antiphons because this seems to be the way I am attentive right now. It just goes to show that our God is a God of surprises, otherwise why would the Davidic king be born to an unwed couple in a cowshed and hail from Nazareth? As Nathaniel queried, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" To which Philip responded, "Come and see."

Because of who we are and what we have experienced, for some of us life is often midnight blue, which is why I pray today that the Lord will come to redeem us with His outstretched arm and paint our hearts cherry red; replace our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh, like His own human heart. After all you have to have a heart in order for it be a Sacred Heart!

As the Holy Father reminded us in his Christmas Urbi et Orbi message back in 2006- "Christ does not save us from our humanity, but through it; he does not save us from the world, but came into the world, so that through him the world might be saved" (cf. Jn 3:17). This is why we experience our redemption when and where least expect it; we can't just conjure it up, which is precisely what we try to do through our sentimentalism, which is what makes it so tedious, not to mention odious. So, I offer Midnight Blue today in something of the spirit of the Song of Songs. Indeed, I live in the hope that "there's gonna come a day" when He'll "be back again." Maranatha!

I'm thinking that in addition to Knockin', you just might have to know Midnight Blue to be in the band.

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento

Friday, December 17, 2010

"I remember searching for the perfect words"

Every once in awhile I just have go with a totally Eighties riff. So, our traditio for this Friday of Advent has no deeper meaning than that, except that focusing so much in my spiritual life on memory, on understanding that Living Is the Memory of [Christ], these lyrics popped into my mind: "I remember..". Other than that I post this for my favorite reason, namely no particular- gratuitously!

This evening we begin our recitation of the O Antiphons, which, at least for today are the perfect words:

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Hierarchy update

UPDATE: Yesterday it was announced that Bishop Ronald Gilmore of the Diocese of Dodge City, KS resigned and that Pope Benedict XVI named John Balthasar Brungardt, priest of the Diocese of Wichita, KS, as the new bishop of Dodge City. Bishop Gilmore resigned at age 68 due to reasons of health in accordance with Can. 401 §2, which states that "[a] diocesan bishop who has become less able to fulfill his office because of ill health or some other grave cause is earnestly requested to present his resignation from office." Bishop-elect Brungardt is 52.

For obvious reasons, I am posting the picture below of The Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupé, which is the mother church for the diocese of Dodge City

Given the one-for-one swap (i.e., a bishop retiring and new bishop being named, not transferred from elsewhere), this move does not affect the number of vacant sees in the United States.

The Holy Father has accepted the resignation of Archbishop Eusebius Beltran of Oklahoma City, who served more than a year beyond the mandatory canonical retirement age for bishops, which is 75. His successor is Archbishop-designate- Paul Coakley, who until today served as the bishop of Salina, Kansas. Coakley is 55.

With Bishop Coakley's transfer there are currently 4 vacant Roman Catholic dioceses in the U.S.: Salina, KS; Fresno, CA; Joliet in Illinois; Rapid City, SD. The Ruthenian archeparchy of Pittsburgh also remains vacant.

With Archbishop Beltran's retirement, there are nine ordinaries serving past age 75- Justin Cardinal Rigali archbishop of Philiadelphia; Bishops Boland of Savannah, GA; 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, ND; Gettelfinger of Evansville, IN.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Keep your lamp trimmed and burning

As both of my readers know, on 24 November, Manuela Camagni, who belonged to Memores Domini and, as such, also belonged to the papal family, living in community with the Holy Father and, with three other companions, caring for him, was killed by car while walking with friends in Rome. Her death was sudden and unexpected. On the morning of 2 December, Pope Benedict celebrated a memorial Mass for his departed friend. What follows, courtesy of the Movement of Communion and Liberation's international website, is the Holy Father's homily from the Mass. My reason for posting it, in addition to remembering Manuela, is because it is perhaps the best piece on Advent I have ever read.

"Dear Brothers and Sisters, in the last days of her life, our dear Manuela used to talk about the fact that on November 29 she would have belonged to the community of Memores Domini for thirty years. And she said that with a great joy, getting ready – such was the impression – for an interior feast celebrating her path of thirty years towards the Lord, in communion with the Lord’s friends. But the feast was different from what was expected: precisely on November 29 we took her to the cemetery, we sang asking for the Angels to accompany her to Heaven, we guided her to the ultimate feast, to God’s great feast, to the Lamb’s Wedding. Thirty years walking towards the Lord, entering the Lord’s feast. Manuela was a 'wise, prudent virgin,' she had oil in her lamp, the oil of faith, a lived faith, a faith nourished by prayer, by a dialogue with the Lord, by her meditation on the Word of God, by communion in her friendship with Christ. And this faith was hope, wisdom, it was certainty that faith opens up to the real future. And faith was charity, it was giving herself for the others, it was living in the service of the Lord for the others. I, personally, must thank for her availability to put her energies at work in my house, with this spirit of charity and of hope that comes from faith.

"She entered the Lord’s feast as a prudent and wise virgin because she lived not in the superficiality of those who forget the greatness of our vocation, but in the great expectation of the eternal life; so she was ready when the Lord came.

"Memor Domini for thirty years. Saint Bonaventure says that the memory of the Creator is inscribed in the depths of our being. And precisely because this memory is inscribed in our being, we can recognize the Creator in His creation, we can remember, see His traces in this cosmos created by Him. Saint Bonaventure also says that this memory of the Creator is not merely a memory of the past, because the source is present, it is a memory of the presence of the Lord; it is also a memory of the future, because it is certain that we come from the goodness of God and that we are called to strive for the goodness of God. Therefore in this memory there is the element of joy, our origin in the joy that is God, and our call to reach the great joy. And we know that Manuela was a person in[wardly] penetrated by joy, precisely that joy that derives from the memory of God. But Saint Bonaventure also says that our memory, as well as all of our existence, is wounded by sin: therefore memory is obscured, is covered by other superficial memories, and we aren’t able any more to overcome these other superficial memories, to go deeper, all the way to the true memory that sustains our being. Therefore, because of this oblivion of God, because of this forgetfulness of the fundamental memory, also joy is covered, obscured. Yes, we know that we were created for joy, but we don’t know any more where we can find this joy, and we look for it in various places. Today we see this desperate search for joy that increasingly moves away from its true source, the true joy. Oblivion of God, oblivion of our true memory. Manuela was not one of those who had forgotten memory: she lived precisely in the living memory of the Creator, in the joy of His creation, seeing God in all creation, even in the daily events of our lives, and she knew that joy comes from this memory – present and future.

"Memores Domini. The Memores Domini know that Christ, on the eve of His passion, renewed, or better, elevated our memory. 'Do this in memory of me,' He said, and in this way He gave us the memory of His presence, the memory of the gift of Himself, of the gift of His Body and of His Blood, and in this gift of His Body and Blood, in this gift of His infinite love, we touch again with our memory a stronger presence of God, of His gift of Himself. As Memor Domini, Manuela lived exactly this living memory, that the Lord gives Himself with His Body and renews our knowledge of God.

"In His dispute with the Sadducees about resurrection, the Lord tells them, who don’t believe in it: 'God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob'. Those three men are part of God’s name, are inscribed in God’s name, are in God’s name, in God’s memory, and therefore the Lord says: God is not for the dead, He is a God for the living people, and those who are part of God’s name, those who are in God’s memory are alive. Unfortunately, we human beings with our memory can remember only a shadow of the people we have loved. But God’s memory doesn’t keep only shadows, it originates life: the dead live here, with His life and in His life they have entered God’s memory, which is life. This is what the Lord tells us today: you are inscribed in God’s name, you live in God with a true life, you live from the true source of life.

"So, in this moment of sadness, we get comforted. And the new liturgy after the Council dares to teach us to sing 'Halleluiah' even during the Mass for the dead. This is bold! We feel most of all the pain for the loss, we feel most of all the absence, the past, but the liturgy knows that we are in the Body of Christ and that we live starting from the memory of God, which is our memory. In this in[tertwining] of His memory with ours we are together, we are living. Let’s pray the Lord that we may feel this communion of memory more and more, that our memory of God in Christ becomes more alive, so that we can feel that our true life is in Him and in Him we stay united. In this sense, we sing 'Halleluiah', certain that the Lord is life and that His love never ends. Amen."

Two days ago, on the feast of the virgin martyr Santa Lucia, I cited the Holy Father's words in response to the assertion that virginity in today's world is impossible. Manuela showed us that not only is it possible, but that virginity for the sake of God's kingdom, which is lived out in community, is beautiful and joyful, because living is, indeed, memory of Him.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What keeps everything from remaining mere words? Experience in a companionship

Experience of communion, that is, companionship...

"Not any companionship is true, but that companionship that makes Christ's gaze be present to me. This is why it is not enough to read texts of the past. Even to read the texts of the past like the Bible, tradition is necessary, because tradition is the beginning happening again...If Christ doesn't remain as present as at the beginning - as Fr. Giussani always taught us - we find ourselves alone with the texts of the Bible and myriad interpretations, as happens for the Protestants, until we get bored" (Fr. Carrón from Living is Memory of Me).


Monday, December 13, 2010

St. Lucy, virgin and martyr, pray for us

Today we observe the liturgical memorial of Santa Lucia (ca. 283-304). She died a Syracuse on the island of Sicily likely during the persecution of the Roman emperor Diocletian. She was widely venerated from an early date, which is why her name appears in the Roman Canon. Her feast, celebrated during Advent, is a feast of light. Her day is observed in particular ways among Christians in Northern Europe. After all, Lucia means light.

A few years ago, I composed a lengthy post on Santa Lucia, which was an expanded version of a post from a few years before that, just to give you an idea of the cultus of this highly venerated virgin/martyr.

In Light of the World, Peter Seewald mentions the words of a famous Brazilian supermodel to the Holy Father, stating "that nowadays no woman enters marriage a virgin." Pope Benedict says quite forthrightly that he "disagrees with the supermodel, and many others as well." He goes on to "insist that statistics do not suffice as a criterion for morality... the results of surveys about what people do or how they live is not in and of itself the measure of what is true and right." Indeed, it is the witness of the saints, how they lived and, for the martyrs, like St. Lucy, how they died, in imitation of the Lord, that establishes the criterion of truth and right.

Santa Lucia, ora pro nobis.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Gaudete Sunday

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near (Phil. 4:4-5).

"Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you" (Phil 4:6-9).

For both of my readers, I will only post sparsely between now and the end of the year, but tomorrow, the Feast of Santa Lucia, will be one of those times, plus our Friday music, which may well be all until next Sunday. I plan to post a Καθολικός διάκονος year in review post, a few Nativity posts, and my homily for the Feast of the Holy Family and, as always, something on my patron St. Stephen, whose feast this year is superceded because it falls on a Sunday.

Tomorrow we round the bend of the Nativity Fast, a time that we intesify our preparation for the Nativity of the Lord, Jesus Christ. In conjunction with what else I am doing, I am taking a hiatus from Facebook, except to post the links to what I put up here on the blog on my FB Καθολικός διάκονος page. I need to pray about how to proceed in the New Year with my on-line apostolate. I am thinking less is more, which is a good principle, but how do I heed it? This will be my focal point. So, we'll see what's in store. As Bob Dylan sang so ironically- "it's all good."

REJOICE! The Lord is near.

Friday, December 10, 2010

'The Deacon's Bench' is moving

If you're like me and just can't get enough of the ruminations of Roman Catholic deacons, then you need to know that Deacon Greg Kandra is moving his blog, The Deacon's Bench, from Beliefnet to Patheos. Until Monday he is blogging in both places, but come Monday only in the new location. So, adjust your bookmarks and links accordingly. For the convenience of both my readers, I have changed my link.


"It's the terror of knowing what this world is about..."

To all those do not celebrate Hanukah or observe Advent, I wish you a happy Kwanzhanukahmas. On a more serious note, I am posting posting Pressure, featuring David Bowie and Queen, as this Friday's traditio as a follow-up to yesterday's short post.

"Cause love's such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care
For the people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way
Of caring about ourselves"

Ah, love! In his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict insisted that "God's love for us is fundamental for our lives" and that love "raises important questions about who God is and who we are." Even before beginning to consider what God's love means for my life, I am "immediately... hampered by a problem of language" because for a very long time "the term 'love' has become one of the most frequently used and misused of words" (par. 2).

In thinking about the question raised by God's love for me, I have found a short book written by Owen Cummings and John Galindo, Spirituality, Intimacy, and Sexuality, to be of great help recently, particularly the beginning of book in which they use the example of Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, found in John 12:1-7, as an example of what God's love means for me when they write that "[w]hat she did was at once spiritual, sensual, and intimate." In this gesture "[s]he gave herself completely to Christ" and "he accepted her as only he could." "As Christians," they continue, "we talk, study, sing, and pray about giving ourselves completely to God. But to see Mary actually do it must have evoked an array of responses from those present...[s]he loved him with all of her self." This relieves a lot of existential pressure, but only because it is not a pragmatic moved on my part, but a real movement of God to embrace me, to take pity on my nothingness.

What does it mean to look at yourself the way Christ looks at you and how does this, in turn, change the way you look others?


Thursday, December 9, 2010

A public service announcement: "I have overcome the world"- Jesus Christ

Commenting on a tragedy earlier this year, the tragedy being a suicide and it's impact on the lives of those who are connected to the one who took his own life, someone wrote: "We do[n]'t need to be holy Joes or spiritual superstars to live this way; the Bible wasn't written for holy Joes and spiritual sup[e]rstars. It was written for ordinary people who need an extraordinary God and are willing to trust Him. In John 16:33, Jesus says, "In this world, you WILL have trouble. But take heart! I HAVE overcome the world!"

As we enter this time of year, which is so damn difficult for so many people for a lot of reasons, let's think about what we celebrated yesterday by our observance of Mary's Immaculate Conception: in Christ Jesus God has done something extraordinary for you, which is why you don't have to be a spiritual superhero and are liberated to be who God made and redeemed you to be- this is what we call sanctification. Now, you can take this as so much spiritual pabulum, or reduce it to a sentimental thought by someone you think hasn't been there, or you can see for yourself if it is really Good News. Frankly, if this isn't what Advent and Christmas are about, then as far as I'm concerned we can call the whole thing off.


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...