Saturday, July 30, 2011

Jesus Christ, St. Paul, the powers, and the necessity of your "I"

"What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:35.37-39).

I would just point out that to realize this (meaning to make it real, concrete, as opposed to notional and abstract) it involves our I. Such passages as this one by St. Paul, for whom such insights arose directly from his experience, can easily be reduced to a kind of sentimentalism, one that demands nothing from us. We can take this as a further excuse to keep waiting for God to deliver us from our circumstances instead of save us precisely through them.

As Don Gius taught, "Expect a journey, not a miracle that dodges your responsibilities, that eliminates your toil, that makes your freedom mechanical. No! Don’t expect this." If you need proof, then look at St. Paul's incredible journey to his destiny, which was a real-life Odyssey, events that happened in history. I think this is also the point of the adventure of Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy in C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The nature, essence and necessity of the Church

"So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come" (2 Cor. 5:17). This is so, Fr. Carrón noted in "Whoever Is In Christ Is A New Creation", the CL Fraternity Spiritual Exercises, "because Christ is something that is happening to me." He urges us "to identify with the disciples after Easter" with conquered them, with "[w]hat prevailed in their hearts, in their eyes, in their self awareness": Christ's "living presence". His presence "was so evident for them that they could not rip it away. It was a Presence that overcame any doubt, any shadow: it imposed itself. Christ was something that was happening to them. He was not a doctrine, a list of things to do, a sentiment."

He continued, "if we compare what the disciples experienced that week of Easter with what we have lived, we would all acknowledge the distance, the abysmal distance that separates us from the experience they had. This also holds for participation in the Liturgy: for them it was the moment of recognizing Him (their eyes were opened and they recognized Him), and for us it is often reduced to rite."

Johann Adam Möhler, in his book, Die Einheit in der Kirche, as quoted in Balthasar's The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church wrote this: "Therefore whoever now lives in the Church, and truly lives in her, will live also in the first period of the Church and will understand it. And whoever does not live in the present will neither live nor understand the earliest for both are one and the same." He observed that anyone "born of the Church brings nothing alien into her, because the Church has begotten him and has built into him her being and her essence. She has from the first established herself within him, and it is that which he now manifests."

Stated succinctly one cannot be "in Christ" as "a new creation" without being in the Church, which is His Body, without becoming part of her. As Möhler notes, one must truly live in the Church. Indeed, as Balthasar also noted about Möhler, in her essence, "the Church is a community of love." Her distinct communio is not a human achievement, but the result of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who, as noted yesterday, is fully a divine Person (i.e., hypostasis) and not merely a modus, to which He is very often reduced. Hence, "Only those who love and labor within this bond of charity understand the Church," that is, live within her. This is so because, according to Balthasar, "the self-revelation of Jesus could not be forced on the disciples from without but had to be accepted and affirmed from within. Looking at it this way, the ideal of the Church (namely, that she is pure communio of love) corresponds to her reality in the Holy Spirit."

In other words, turning again to Möhler, the Church "is only as ideal as it is real, and it can become real only because it is ideal."

I think this aids us in understanding two parables we have heard recently in the Sunday Liturgy: the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:3-9), along with the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matt. 13:24-30).

"Joyous free in flame and life"

With Summer frivolity out of the way, we return on Fridays to our regularly scheduled program. So, our traditio for this day is the unforgettable Billie Holiday singing Yesterdays.

Sad am I
Glad am I
For today I’m dreamin' of

Billie makes melancholy seem sweet, if bitterly so.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A pneumatic sketch

Like the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is what we call a Person, or, more precisely a distinct hypostasis. It is really the great Cappadocian fathers (i.e., St. Basil and the two St. Gregories- of Nyssa and Nazianzen) who fleshed out our theological language with regard to the Holy Trinity. Of course, St. Basil's treatise on the Holy Spirit remains indispensable for a clear understanding of the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity.

Very often we reduce the Holy Spirit to a mere modus, strictly to a function. For example, we hear and say things like, "the Holy Spirit is the mode of Christ's resurrection presence among us." Now, this is a correct assertion, especially when we think of the sacraments as being the works of the Holy Spirit. Hans Urs Von Balthasar stated the matter this way:
Through Jesus of Nazareth, the real man of flesh and blood, God himself becomes definitively concrete. By the uniqueness of Jesus' existence and his transcendent destiny in the Resurrection, we not only learn to know who and what God is but, in our own existence, we become partakers of him'
How do we become partakers of Christ? According to Balthasar, it is by receiving "his Spirit who alone can fathom the depth of the Godhead."

So, Balthasar goes on to note, the Holy Spirit "does not merely perform before us the drama of his eternal love, he makes us participate in that drama." St. Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit pours his love into our hearts. The way the Spirit is poured is the Eucharist. After all, are not the bread and the wine transformed into the Christ's Body and Blood by the power of the Holy Spirit, which we then receive? In the words of Aaron Riches, the elect are "[d]rawn into the Church to feed on Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar." Hence, "the pedgogy of the faithful becomes the ontological transformation of eucharistic participation, the 'mysterious continuity linking the Incarnation to the Church.'" Thus, it is precisely in and through the Eucharist that the Church is given and becomes in fact the Body of Christ. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.

Let me conclude this by turning again to Balthasar: "The the one who reveals the eschatological fulfillment toward which all human striving and endeavor are directed."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Discourse divorced from reality: Norway and Israel

Insanity begets insanity. There is no justification whatsoever for murder, terrorism, or criminal violence. What tends to happen in the wake of attacks like those in Norway, however, is that maximum political advantage is made by those whose policies, along with other factors, motivated the madman, using the opportunity to discredit any all who may share some of the violent actor's concerns or views. While the vast majority of people are peaceful and not at all prone to try and get what they want by terroristic means, it does not mean that some of what radicalized a certain person to become a coldly calculating terrorist finds some resonance among more reasonable and civilized people, who seek recourse through civil and, at least in the West, democratic means.

I was reminded of this today when I read Rod Dreher's piece, Why Anders Breivik's Manifesto Mentions Me, in which he notes that "Europe really does have a significant problem assimilating Muslim immigrants, and with Islamic extremist networks that hate, even to the point of violence, the same liberal secular societies that have given them refuge. European cultural elites have dealt with this by blaming the messenger, typically by demonizing them as, yes, Islamophobic." I wrote about this myself earlier this year in two articles that appeared in the English edition of the on-line news source, Il Sussidiario: What does a liberated woman look like? and Notes from Eurabia, a piece of the latter I will revisit this coming Monday, which marks the beginning of Ramadan.

This brings me to a dust-up of sorts that happened in Israel in the wake of the Norway attacks. First, an editorial in the English-language Israeli daily the Jerusalem Post made the suggestion that Norway, in the words of Alana Goodman, writing Commentary's blog Contentions "that Norway use this attack to reevaluate the way it integrates immigrants." This was written undoubtedly in the awareness that Islamic immigration is causing some civil unrest and sparking movements, like that of the assassinated Pim Fortuyn in the Netherlands, in many countries of Europe. The only people surprised that there are extremists groups in Scandinavian countries capable of terrorism are people who do not follow these things closely. Just consider the following of Norway's Varg Vikernes and others like him (If you go to the video, read the comment by Angels Thanatos93 that begins with "Religion is a crutch, who cares if he burned a church..."- this gives you a taste of Scandinavian extremism).

Hamas logo

Predictably, the JP's editorial prompted immediate outrage, even to the point of the newspaper issuing an apology. Whether I agree with the opinion or not, it is always sad when freedom of the press in violated, whether by governments or outraged activists. In the age of ideology there is no reasoned debate, only politically leveraged emotivism. What makes this episode even stranger is that there was no condemnation of the outrage committed by someone who fancies himself a diplomat: the Norwegian ambassador to Israel no less, one Svein Sevje. Sevje was quoted in another Israeli paper, Maariv, as saying that "Norwegians consider the occupation to be the cause of the terror against Israel," and that Norwegians "will not change their mind because of the attack in Oslo."

Then, apparently feeling the need to add insult to injury, asked whether the Israelis and the Palestinians could resolve their issues without Hamas, which is currently busy oppressing the people of Gaza, he answered his own rhetorical question by saying, "I don't think so." So, here we have an ambassador of a country that is still grieving a horrifying and traumatic event brought about the violence committed by one terrorist defending an organization that is terrorist through-and-through and blaming the country that is repeatedly attacked by this group, which refuses to renounce violence and even to acknowledge the right of Israel to exist!

As Goodman notes, "Most people would be rightfully offended if anyone... pressured Norway to succumb to Breivik’s desired policy changes to stave off future acts of right-wing terror. Yielding to the demands of terrorists only encourages more terrorism."

Monday, July 25, 2011

Protagonist, antagonist, nobody

Oh the fallen world in which we live! The Norwegian equivalent of our Oklahoma City attack, the premature death of the talented young jazz singer due to drugs and alcohol, along with the famine in the Horn of Africa, which, frankly, makes both pale in comparison. It is enough either to lead us to despair or merely to live in a state-of-denial and just attend to our own lives, look after our own well-being and not get too worked up about things we can do nothing to change. The other two options, it seems, are to fall into a kind of empty, preachy, moralism, or devote ourselves entirely to various political actions, which are often little more than thinly disguised fronts for ideologies that are factors that contribute to the world's misery. This prompts the question asked by Fr. Julián Carrón in the June issue of Traces: "Did Christ, desiring to have an impact on history, make a mistake when He created the Church instead of a political party?" He goes on to observe that "[i]f we think so, we will always think that it's better to do something else, that we will have more of an impact by doing something else." The "something else" consists of the possibilities I listed above. But what is it we should be "doing" instead?

All of this can be stated more concisely in terms of what it means to have "an impact on history." Even when you are engaged in a cause you are thoroughly convinced makes a difference, you have an awareness "that no position, no power," no cause, no activism, "can fulfill the human person's desire." This, too, leads to the existential symptoms described above. The problem with looking at things this way is that it introduces a dualism by seeing history as different from our I, looking at things as if these were separate and/or unrelated.

Fr. Giussani taught us that "The forces that move history are the same that make men happy" because "the force that makes history is a man who made His home among us: Christ." This same man, who is also God and who pitched His tent among us, seeks to make us His dwelling place in us. This is why St. Paul asks the Christians of ancient Corinth, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?" (1 Cor. 6:19).

This is why in the CL Spiritual Exercises Fr. Carrón takes up the issue of whether our experience of faith, which is so decisive and that introduces a newness "into history and our life... can endure, can last in us as awareness," not intermittently, not once or twice, but remain a present experience. He cites Fr. Giussani, who pointed out that "[t]he powers that be cannot block the wakening of the encounter." Nonetheless, "as soon as they see it, they try to stop it from becoming history."

Carrón elaborates by noting that the powers "act" on this awakening of the I "over time," seeking to weaken its duration, its permanence, trying to stop it from becoming an ever-present experience, a human being fully alive (alluding to St. Irenæus), thus impacting reality, that is, history. How do they do this? By attempting "to reduce our desires as soon as they are awakened by the encounter." How often, Carrón asks, "have we discovered that we have returned to the situation of before" after an experience that awakens us? Attending again to our present circumstances that reduce us to posturing activism, inattentive denial, or despondency, we turn to Don Gius, who reminds us, "Just look at what great rips of emptiness are opened in the daily fabric of our consciousness and what lostness of memory."

Here is the pro vocation that can set us on the path to being protagonists instead of seeing ourselves as victims of the powers, who seek to convince us that in the face of circumstances we can do nothing unless we allow ourselves to be co-opted:

For the newness introduced by the encounter to become substantial in such a way that not only do we not return to the situation before, or worse yet, become sceptical, but instead the perception of our mystery is deepened, we must travel a road, a fascinating road, because nothing is as fascinating as the discovery of the real dimensions of our "I." Nothing is as rich in surprises as the discovery of one’s own human "I." It is striking to read the suggestion that Fr. Giussani gave high school seniors years ago to encourage them in this adventure–it seems that it is useful for us as well: "Expect a journey, not a miracle that dodges your responsibilities, that eliminates your toil, that makes your freedom mechanical. No! Don’t expect this."
Looking at Magnificat this evening I came across a hymn that implores:
We're called to speak disturbing things/Though wealth and power conspire/To hush the messenger who brings God's purifying fire

We're called to preach by Jesus Christ/Who with the Spirit's breath/Will make our fragile words suffice/To raise new life from death
These disturbing things are spoken to provoke, to awaken, not to condemn.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Year A Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: 2 Kgs 3:5.7-12; Ps. 119:57.72.127-130; Rom. 8:28-30; Matt. 13:44-52

Today’s readings unmistakably are about wisdom. Wisdom means something like the ability, or, more precisely, the result of an ability, to think and act utilizing knowledge, experience, understanding, and common sense. In other words, wisdom is bound up with and arises from reality. Hence, wise sayings tend to be very concrete, building as they do on universal human experience often described by a singular person. Most of the wise sayings with which we are familiar are aphorisms, a term which refers to a saying that is neatly and effectively concise. The Scriptures are full of just this kind of wisdom. In fact, the entire book of Proverbs conveys to us wisdom in exactly this way. Hence, the axiom for all biblical wisdom is found in the Book of Proverbs: "The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the LORD, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding" (Prov. 9:10). Indeed, the wisdom conveyed in our readings for today seems not only to presume this axiom, but to prove it and show us that, indeed, knowledge of the Holy One is true wisdom.

In our first reading, God, by means of a dream, offers to give the young King Solomon whatever he asks. Solomon asked for "an understanding heart" with which to properly judge, with which "to distinguish right from wrong" (2 Kgs 3:9). It is evident that the Lord God was most pleased with the young ruler’s earnest request for wisdom, commending him for not asking for a long life, wealth, or vengeance against his enemies (2 Kgs 3:11). By his request, Solomon demonstrated that which we sang in our responsorial Psalm, "Lord, I love your commands" (Ps. 119:72). He showed his love for God’s law by valuing it more than he valued "thousands of gold and silver pieces" (Ps. 119:72).

This is all fine and well, a good lesson in how to be good, how to be moral, how to be ethical. But what recourse do those of us who recognize our distinct and frequent lack of wisdom have? What do we do when we do not love the Lord’s commands, when we do not fear him, that is, revere Him, when our thoughts, words, and actions are utterly devoid of wisdom? It is precisely here that the great apostle of God’s grace given us in Christ Jesus comes to our assistance. He assists us by telling us that "all things work for good for those who love God" and "who are called according to [God’s] purpose" (Rom. 8:28). What might easily be missed is that, according to our English translation, St. Paul writes that "we know all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28). The Greek word of which "we know" is a translation is oidamen, which literally means, "We have perceived." So, another, perhaps more accurate way, to translate oidamen is, "We have seen, for ourselves," or, "We have experienced firsthand." Earlier in this same chapter of his Letter to the Romans (chapter eight from which we have been reading for a month), Paul alluded to how he "knows" all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purposes, when he wrote: "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us" (Rom. 8:18).

So, it is through suffering that I come to experience for myself just how God, who because of Jesus Christ I can call "Father", makes all things work together for my good, uses everything to bring me to my destiny, which is Himself. I am never more conscious of my need than I when I suffer. This is why Paul, just a few verses after the last verse of our second reading, writing from his own experience of being stoned, whipped, beaten, imprisoned, ship-wrecked, and embattled within the Church, was able to write:
What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword. As it is written: "For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us (Rom. 8:31-37)
All of this may bring up the question in your mind about whether you are called according to God’s purpose. This question can be answered in two ways, depending on your circumstances. If you are legitimately baptized, you can be certain that you are called according to God’s purpose. If you are not baptized, but feel the love of God, which is best discerned by your realization of your great need for a Savior, you are also called and only need to respond. Our Lord said: “Many are invited, but few are chosen,” meaning that not everyone who is invited responds to the invitation (Matt. 22:14). It is a fact, revealed to us in Sacred Scripture, that our loving and gracious God desires “everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).

St. Mary Magdalene from the cover of Magnificat

In our Gospel today, Jesus reinforces what the great Protestant theologian Karl Barth termed "universal election," by which he referred to the fact that all are called, but not everyone responds to God’s call. The reinforcement of this point comes in the third, perhaps least well-known, of the three parables Jesus employs in our Gospel. In this parable, taken very much from the experience of the people of His native Galilee, which roots it in reality so that it does not remain abstract, He likens the kingdom of heaven to "a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind" (Matt. 13:47). But not all the fish are what we call "keepers". The fishermen sort the fish, separating the good from the bad and cast the bad aside. Jesus tells us, who are His listeners today, a truth we work hard to avoid, especially in Church, that at the end of time, "The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous," casting the wicked, not back into the sea, but "into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth" (Matt. 13:49-50). So, you must respond to His invitation, purchase the field with the treasure, buy the pearl of great of price while they are on offer!

The fundamental question the Lord poses to you today is exactly the question that baffles so many who claim to be wise: Does your life have a meaning and a purpose, a point and an aim, a rhyme and a reason, or not? Do you have a destiny, that is, do you walk a path that leads somewhere, or wander aimlessly all your days? My friends, discerning the purpose of your existence, which amounts to a relentlessly honest search for what/who will truly satisfy you, certainly requires wisdom, the beginning of which is the fear of the Lord. Keep in mind that in this context "fear" is not synonymous with being frightened, or scared, even of hellfire, but being in awe, respecting, and revering that which endows your existence with purpose.

Jesus Christ is the pearl of great price. He is wisdom. He wants nothing more than to grant you what God granted young Solomon, by giving you Himself, doing so over, and over in and through the sacraments and in a most profound way in the Eucharist. To know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him is the apogee of wisdom. In turn, He asks you to give yourself to Him.

On Friday we commemorated our great patroness, St. Mary Magdalene, who truly found wisdom and shows us what it means to be wise, which, paradoxically, often looks quite foolish. In St. Matthew’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene is mentioned three times in the account of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. First, she is one of the women "looking on at a distance," one of the women "who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him," as our Lord died on the cross (Matt. 27:55-56). Next she is written about with regard to Jesus’ burial by Joseph of Arimathea, where we read that after the body was buried and a great stone had been put in place to prevent entry, "Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained sitting there, facing the tomb" (Matt. 27:61). Finally, we read that at dawn on the first day of the week, the two women who sat facing the tomb two days earlier, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, "came to see the tomb" (Matt. 28:1). As they arrived "there was a great earthquake" and "an angel of the Lord descended from heaven… rolled back the stone, and sat upon it" (Matt. 28:2).The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead…'" (Matt. 28:5-7). In response, “they went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to his disciples” that He had been raised (Matt. 28:8).

Because, like young King Solomon, Mary of Magdala truly loved wisdom, she was able to offer herself completely to Christ, her Lord. Despite her uncertainty about the future, Christ rewarded her, overcoming her fear with joy and making her apostula apostulorum, that is, apostle to the apostles. God has made her memory eternal. So, to be the people of St. Mary Magdalene means to be a people of wisdom, a people who live always in the awareness that God, who is love, is their origin and destiny, and who offer their lives as witnesses to the One who is Wisdom incarnate.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

"the inability to be truly free, that is, ourselves, in reality"

Learning of Amy Winehouse's death this afternoon really moved me. She is one of the people who resisted all that needed to be resisted in the entertainment world and she with all her might, perhaps going beyond what she was able to sustain on her own. She refused to be a packaged product, an entertainment commodity, insisting on doing her own thing. Besides, apart from some classical pieces, she is one of the few musicians my wife and I both enjoy listening to together. Previously, I posted as a Friday traditio her duet with Peter Weller, singing Heard it Through the Grapevine. Given how much I like her music, she should've made more than one appearance. So, Valerie is a special Saturday traditio in honor of her memory.

This afternoon, not long after learning of Amy's passing, in my daily reading from the CL Spiritual Exercises, I read this, said by Fr. Carrón:

Today we see around us an enormous desire for freedom, but at the same time we observe the inability to be truly free, that is, ourselves, in reality. It is as if, actually, we all bow under what is expected of us in each circumstance: in this way, you have one face at work, another with your friends, another at home… Where are we truly ourselves? Not to mention how many times we feel suffocated in the circumstances of daily life, without the least idea of how to get free, except that of waiting to change the circumstances themselves (this often seems the only road for liberation that we manage to conceive of). In the end, you find yourself blocked, dreaming of a freedom that will never arrive. In a historical moment in which freedom is spoken of so much, we see the paradox of its lack, its absence.
What made me attend to these words more closely than I othewise would have was something I read in an article announcing Winehouse's death, tweeted by her close friend, Kelly Osbourne, Ozzy's daughter: "i love you forever Amy and will never forget the real you!" Commenting on a post by a mutual friend, who merely noted Amy's death from her lethal addictions, someone wrote, "We all watched. Feels dirty." I am ambivalent about that statement because Amy Winehouse was so talented, so soulful. Yet, many derived entertainment value from her very public struggles, including her disaster in Belgrade earlier this summer. So, I guess it depends on how you watched, how you looked at her. Don't we all need a loving gaze? We need just the gaze with which Jesus looked on Mary of Magdala.

Requiescat in pace, Amy.

Harry Potter is epic

My two oldest children, now 17 and almost-15, are the perfect age to have grown up with J.K. Rowlings' Harry Potter books. We read all but one of the books together as a family out loud. I don't mind saying that at first I was hesitant because it was such a popular craze at the time and I probably take far too much pride in resisting such trends. All these years later I can state unequivocally that I truly like Rowlings' magical world. She restored in me a sense of wonder that was truly great to experience as an adult. So, on Tuesday evening when my lovely wife and I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, I felt sad going in because it was the last movie, coming several years after the publication of the last book.

The term "epic" is used these days, just as the word "awesome" was back in my younger days, which means it is a word rapidly being drained of its basic meaning. An "epic", of course, is a long, narrative poetic composition most often centered on a hero and the hero's exploits. So, we look to ancient epics, like The Epic of Gilgamesh, Homer's Iliad and Odessey, Virgil's Aeneid, Beowulf, et al. I'm not sure that I am ready to put the epic of Harry Potter in the same category, but I don't shrink back from making the comparison either. After all, like Harry Potter, epics are episodic. There is much that is Christian in Harry Potter, as Rowling has all along acknowledged. I think particularly Harry's light-filled encounter with the deceased Albus Dumbledore, which takes place in King's Cross Station no less, just one example of many that can be cited.

King's Cross Station, London

In the final film, I think the battle between good and evil is quite accurate, with those fighting what St. Paul called the good fight while being vastly outnumbered and engaging in what seems a suicidal endeavor. Harry willingness to die for others and his surprise. I also have to say that with the recent passing of my own father, I was moved almost to tears when Harry, going off to give himself up to Voldemort that others might live, encounters his Mom, Dad, his godfather, Sirius Black, and Remus Lupin, all of whom have died. Harry asks if dying hurts and is told, "It's as easy as falling asleep." Harry asks if they have been with him all along, Sirius answers in the affirmative. Harry wonders where/how they have been present to him, which prompts Sirius to point at Harry's heart and tell him that's where. I understand this now in a way I never could have before.

The morning after seeing the movie, I remembered that back in August 2007 when I finished reading The Deathly Hallows, I referred to it in a homily I preached for the Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Today, dear friends, in our gathering, we have heard God’s voice, may we harden not our hearts and “May the favor of the Lord our God be ours” and may God “Prosper the work of our hands” (Ps. 90:17). As Qoheleth shows us, paradox is an inescapable reality of the spiritual life. The ultimate paradox, taught us by our Lord himself, is that only the person who loses his/her life for his sake will save it. The true master of death, the wise Albus Dumbledore says to Harry Potter, “does not seek to run away from Death. He accepts that he must die, and understands that there are far, far worse things in the living world than dying” (Rowling 721). The true master of death, Jesus Christ, shows us that it is only by dying to self that we live forever!
Indeed, there are far worse things than death.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Solemnity of St. Mary Magdalene (at least where I live)

Because I am a deacon at the only cathedral in this country of which she is the patroness, I look to St. Mary Magdalene very often. Today the Church throughout the world remembers her, which we have done on 22 July since time immemorial. At The Cathedral of the Madeleine we do not merely celebrate a liturgical memorial, but a solemnity! It is a fun and exciting day. Mary of Magdala found wisdom and, in turn, shows us what it means to be wise, which, paradoxically, often looks quite foolish. Because we are in Year A of the three year lectionary cycle, I want to point out that in St. Matthew’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene is mentioned three times in the account of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. I also look forward to our Sunday readings, which are about true wisdom.

Assumption of St.Mary Magdalene, by Jusepe Ribera, 1636

First, she is one of the women "looking on at a distance," one of the women "who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him," as our Lord died on the cross (Matt. 27:55-56). Next she is written about with regard to Jesus’ burial by Joseph of Arimathea, where we read that after the body was buried and a great stone had been put in place to prevent entry, "Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained sitting there, facing the tomb" (Matt. 27:61). Finally, we read that at dawn on the first day of the week, the two women who sat facing the tomb two days earlier, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, "came to see the tomb" (Matt. 28:1). As they arrived "there was a great earthquake” and “an angel of the Lord descended from heaven… rolled back the stone, and sat upon it" (Matt. 28:2).The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead…'" (Matt. 28:5-7). In response, "they went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to his disciples" that He had been raised (Matt. 28:8).

Sancta Maria Magdalena- ora pro nobis

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"When you haven't got a prayer"

We interrupt our series of rock songs about rockin' to put up something that is just too moving not to post: A live recording of Tom Jones covering Marc Cohn's awesome song Walking in Memphis live. This is surely a tribute to a dear friend. Man, you can feel "it" in Tom's version of this song. I am posting the traditio a day early because tomorrow is a solemnity in my neck of the woods: St. Mary Magdalene.

Now Muriel, plays piano
Every Friday at the Hollywood
And they brought me down to see her
And they asked me if I would

To do a little number
And I sang with all my might
She said, "Tell me are you a Christian child?"
And I said, "Ma'am, I am tonight"

Powerful lyrics by a Jewish songwriter!

Tom record it, please!!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The joy of NFP

Following closely on the heels of Danielle Bean’s refreshing and faithful take on Natural Family Planning, comes Jennifer Fulwiler’s blog post, Bad at NFP and Proud!. These two articles are extremely complementary. Both are notable and truly inspiring because they are perspectives of married women whose fidelity gives rise to an honest engagement with reality in and through the sacrament of matrimony. I cannot help but mention that I am married to a woman whose witness to the beauty of the truth I find even more inspiring because it is a witness I encounter every day.

Fulwiler, I think, makes Bean’s point a bit less ambiguously. As a writer and mother of five children she shares that whenever she makes a joke about being bad at NFP her email box is flooded by well-intentioned people, the very ones who seem have given rise Bean’s article, complaining that she is giving NFP a bad name and making it less likely that more people will employ any of the methods of Natural Family Planning. She accurately observes "that these kinds of comments are not only not harmful, but can sometimes be helpful in getting people to open their minds to giving up artificial contraception. In fact, I think the world could use a few more good 'bad at NFP' jokes." She goes on to give three reasons why, which I encourage you to read for yourself.

There are two points she makes that I would like to reiterate and perhaps elaborate on a bit. The first gets to Bean’s point by succinctly noting “that discussions about the high effectiveness rates of the various natural birth control methods are mostly a waste of time.” Such arguments are not only unconvincing to the already-unconvinced, but are indicative of the kind of reductive, instrumental reasoning that only seeks to foster the already pervasive contraception mindset, which is not faithful to the Church’s teaching as definitively set forth in Humanae Vitae. I went into this particular issue in detail in my previous post, NFP: a faithful reality check.

Mother and Child, by Picasso, ca. 1901

This leads to the real point I want to which I want to draw attention:
We live in a culture where “planned parenthood” is the only acceptable type of parenthood, where unexpected pregnancies are portrayed like a cancer diagnosis, life-ruining experiences that must be avoided at all costs. As long as I clung to this worldview, talking to me about NFP was like talking to a brick wall. My perception of pregnancy and married life had to change fundamentally before I could consider applying the Church’s teaching to my own life—and that’s where the NFP jokes came in
What Jennifer Fulwiler offers is not a discourse, but a witness. How was she able to give witness? She mentions being influenced by what “smart Catholic women” wrote about their own experiences. These women introduced her "to a whole new way of thinking about family life,” helping her to see that pregnancies are not “precarious, once- or twice-in-a-lifetime events that require extensive planning and hand-wringing," but "a natural part of married life." This is what gives rise to the jokes, which reveal joy, not cynicism. What she found really "crazy" was that living this way did not "ruin their lives." "In fact," Fulwiler observed, "they seemed pretty happy! Having spent my whole life in secular culture, this was a revolutionary idea."

It is all too easy to employ what amount to empty phrases, like divorcing sex from procreation, thus seeking to reduce it merely to recreation, both inside and outside of marriage, without fully taking into account what it means to keep them together. I thank God for faithful couples who give witness, not by "embracing the suck" as we used grumble about in the military, but through their joy, which is what makes the jokes both possible and funny.

For the unconvinced and wondering, the various methods of Natural Family Planning are effective at both facilitating and preventing pregnancy. It's just that, unlike artificial methods of contraception, you have to be intentional about your conjugal relations, constantly keeping things in perspective, which means living your marriage with an awareness of your destiny. If, for serious reasons, you do not wish conceive, NFP certainly requires communication and occasional self-restraint. Nonetheless, Fulwiler's point remains, the joy of NFP is, literally, la joie de vivre!

UPDATE: I would also point those interested in to Jennifer's post Does Contraception Make Marriage Easier?, which is another deeply insightful take on marital matters.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Archbishop Chaput heads East to Philadelphia

The Catholic blogosphere is alight today with the official news that His Excellency, Archbishop Charles Chaput, formerly the archbishop of Denver, has been named to succeed His Eminence, Cardinal Rigali, in Philadelphia.

There was some erroneous reporting that a Philadelphia native had been tapped to succeed Cardinal Rigali in the River City, but, at least from where I sit, especially given the state-of-affairs in the archdiocese, that was never in the cards.

Rocco Palmo, quoted by Deacon Greg over at The Bench, gets it quite right when he writes that the Holy Father's selection of the Capuchin friar "is a revolutionary choice! [The pope wants] significant changes in the culture of the archdiocese. You won’t see innovations in doctrine but the expression of the faith is about to undergo it’s most significant reboot in almost 200 years. Chaput is someone who doesn’t mind the lion’s den and he’s walking in to the lion’s den of his life." The way I see it, Archbishop Chaput's appointment is a blessing not only for Philly, but the whole Church in the U.S.

Yesterday, one of the characteristics Rocco, who lives in Philly, applied to Archbishop Chaput was "hard-core..." Well, as we sing here at the School of Rock, "you're not hard-core unless you live hard-core and the legend of the" Capuchin archbishop is way hard-core!! He is "hard-core" in the best possible way, the radically-following Jesus kind of way, as befits his Franciscan formation.

I don't mind saying that I am a little distressed by those who in light of this appointment rail against the so-called "culture war," but only do so to fire shots in this allegedly non-existent battle. Let's attend to reality and let the object determine our method: The world, along with many in the Church, will always be scandalized by someone who has been changed by an event that became for her/him an encounter and who, as a result, boldly proclaims that we are not called to hand-wringing ambiguity, or to content ourselves merely with the signs we see along the way. Our humanity, especially when it is fully alive, seeks what, nay, Who is signified. If we can't view things from that admittedly lofty perspective, at a minimum, I believe that charity demands we grant the benefit of the doubt.

So, to His Excellency (who we will miss out West), ad multos annos. I have no doubt you will be a blessing to the people of Philadelphia precisely through your brotherly love, your paternal concern, and the dynamism that flows from knowing the Lord.

St. John Neumann, pray for your successor and the people he is called to shepherd.

How occasional? Well, 5 years later it appears at least everyday!

UPDATE: The BBC 2 gave me a nice anniversary present by taking note of my post on Glenn Beck and the God of Israel.

It was five years ago today that I began blogging in earnest. It was on that day that I changed the name of this blog from Scott Dodge for Nobody to Καθολικός διάκονος and just started typing. I have hardly stopped since! What the results of my typing are is not mine to judge. From my humble beginning until now, whether you agree or disagree with me, I hope to be judged as being responsible. I endeavor to be and to remain accountable as my Integrity Notes at the bottom of the right hand margin indicate.

My in-earnest writing began with a post I entitled How Occasional? From that day until now I have averaged more than one post a day! I would be liar if I did not note two things about blogging. First, blogging is something I enjoy. Otherwise, I simply would not do it. All worthwhile undertakings are labors of love. Second, as my modest little blog has grown and gained in popularity, I am ambivalent about this enterprise. But, because tension generates energy, I believe that it is precisely my ambivalence that enables me to keep on keeping on and provides creative tension.

Like all things, blogging has to have its raison d'être. My reason, as is stated in my header (a statement I worked very hard on over several weeks to get just right), remains "to foster Christian discipleship in the late modern milieu in the diakonia of koinonia and doing so "in the recognition that 'the Eucharist is the only place of resistance to annihilation of the human subject." Second to to the Eucharist as a place of resistance to the human subject is music, in a special way rock n' roll, real rock, which is is recognizable by its authenticity.

I don't mind saying that blogging, especially as I have been blessed to reach so many readers, has been a significant vehicle of personal growth and Christian maturity. By stating that I by no means imply that I don't still have a lot of growing and maturing to do. I pray that my efforts here will foster growth and maturity in me and those who visit these pages. I make no apologies about being provocative from time-to-time. I am happy that even my mission statement, such as it is, reflects the kind of dialectical tension that is the hallmark of authentic faith, which can only be faith in Jesus Christ.

The sixth anniversary of this blog is next month, but there were only six posts from then until 19 July 2006. It's funny that what inspired my first posts was Cardinal Christoph Schönborn's commenting on evolution and intelligent design, taking particular philosophical aim at the notion of randomness!

As with all truly good things, I am grateful for this on-going experience. I am grateful to God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I am grateful to my readers, and to those wonderful friends I have made along the way, many of whom are my companions in these on-line endeavors.

How long will this last? Truly only God knows, which it what makes it not only a journey, but an adventure!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Something solid for a Sunday evening

Given all of the negativity and consternation that is generated by the so-called Catholic blogosphere, I believe that it is both necessary and useful to point out once in awhile there is also much that is good and truly valuable that emanates from it. One of the truly valuable things about the Catholic blogosphere is that it provides a means of familiarizing us with practical things we would not otherwise know anything about. This is certainly true for about a post over on Vivificat about some observations made by Fr. Joseph Kentenich, founder of the Schönstatt Movement, written about by Fr. Nicholas Schwizer and entitled Eagles or Chickens. I don't mind admitting that I had never heard of this movement until about a month ago, but I was impressed by what I heard then. I certainly encourage you to read the entire piece, which is a valuable discernment tool.

The part of this piece that struck me was concerning leadership:
Another leadership quality is "firmness of character and principles." If tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, we have to our right or to our left someone of whom we are embarrassed, the community also ends up losing its own self-esteem. The leader must then be a person solidly rooted in the ultimate principles and truths, in the supernatural world. For that, he/she must study, know the doctrine of the Church and of his/her community.

Additionally, the leader personality must stand out for his/her "capacity to commit himself/herself, to accept and fulfill commitments." For the majority it is not too difficult to accept commitments. What really is difficult is to fulfill the assumed commitments.
Father Kentenich, founder of the Schoenstatt Movement

The capacity to commit yourself to fulfill the commitments you make entails "knowing how to reject commitments which one does not feel capable of fulfilling well." In other words, you must have the ability to simply say "No" to commitments you do not want to fulfill and to commitments you are incapable of fulfilling (i.e., everybody is not called to do everything). Very often we let ourselves be convinced by someone who we find persuasive and agree to do something, even "with the intention of not fulfilling it." Such a move reveals "a lack of responsibility, a lack of serious commitment."

The piece ends with this important and often glossed over injunction: "Our words should always express our inner conviction. If not, it is better that we remain silent!.....because someday we will be made accountable, also for what we say." A week or so ago I sent in response to my requested opinion about an article that was mildly critical of some episcopal responses to New York's law permitting so-called same-sex marriage this saying of Jesus: "Let your 'Yes' mean 'Yes,' and your 'No' mean 'No.' Anything else is from the evil one" (Matt 5:37). Within the charism to which I adhere, we don't talk about being chickens or eagles, but protagonists or nobodies.

So, a deep diaconal bow to Teófilo for bringing this valuable and very practical piece to my attention!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Prayer, discernment, and the Spirit's groanings

This Sunday, the sixteenth of Ordinary Time, marks the third of four Sundays during cycle A that we read from the eighth chapter of St. Paul's Letter to the Romans. Next week I am preaching. So, I will post a complete homily (he wrote anticipating much groaning). In the context of the readings for this Sunday, especially the Gospel, not knowing how to pray as we ought keeps us from being able to discern things clearly. We should not despair about our inability. Rather, we should rejoice not only to recognize what great need we have, but that, as Paul assures us, "The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness," interceding on our behalf "with inexpressible groanings."

St. Dominic at the Cross, by Fra Angelico

Only in this way (i.e., the Spirit's intercession) can we really pray the prayer that falls too easily from our lips: "not as I will, but as you will" (Matt. 26:39b).Only in this way, too, can we act in a discerning manner, as Jesus indicates in today's Gospel, because from the realization of our dependence arises our realization of our limited perspective. Since I tried all week to post something concerning Balthasar's writing about the rejection on the part of many Catholics, both so-called conservatives and so-called liberals (using such terms within the ekklesia is for me like running fingernails on a blackboard) of the papacy, I am glad that this ties in with what I posted earlier today, this Sunday's Gospel, as well as with something I posted last month: "In the field they will be with you."

Scandal reaches the Church not only from the outside but also from the inside. 'Structure', which, because of its impersonality, seems immune to scandal, can become the prime seat of infection. Only discernment of spirits can help us here, received in answer to fervent prayer, such as the saints have achieved for themselves and for us all. It is not the structure, not the form, not the skeleton of the body or of the community that is dead and needs to be surgically removed, it is the spirit enlivening the body that is good or bad (The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church, pgs. 19-20)

Disjointed note on Balthasar about Catholicism that is anti-Roman

The anti-Roman attitude within the Catholic Church is nothing new. As Balthasar noted in his book The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church, "we cannot but suspect that" this attitude "has something to do with the Church being flesh," that is, sarx, just as Paul used the word. It also has to do "with the close interdependence of her members." We must not forget that which Balthasar seeks to remind us, namely that the "Church as a whole is not pure spirit nor angelic idea, and neither are her leaders." This is not just some fact employed to keep us from being infuriated with leadership failures, but to remind us that a Church of pure spirit or angelic essence "would not be appropriate for the Church of the Incarnation" because not only did the Word become flesh and make "his dwelling among us" (John 1:14), the Word did not leave us orphans (John 14:18), which is why we have the Church and why we see the first Christian Pentecost as the founding movement of the Church.

Balthasar notes the "hardness" with which "Jesus forms Peter to make him the 'rock,'" thus enabling him, empowering him, "to support his brothers." Indeed, Jesus spares Simon Peter no "censure" or "humiliation." Why? Because Peter "must learn that the love of Christ is uncompromising at the very core of his 'meek and lowly' heart." Peter has to learn this in order to teach it, to communicate it, to others. Finally, we are getting to the crux of the matter concerning the Church. Christ does not allow Peter "to be merely meek and lowly with also – in the name of his Master – representing the inexorable love of God, whose demand for ‘more’ might seem to be a lukewarm person to a 'law' externally imposed." In truth, this ‘more’ that is demanded "is built into" Peter, that is, it is internally realized in relationship. "The saints," Balthasar tells us, "knew how to distinguish between the representation of this 'more' and the weakness of the representative."

Two further things need to be touched on. The first, which flows from the necessary distinction I just noted is the relationship between office and charism. The second is the matter of infallibility. As to office and charism, Balthasar clearly states that there is no contradiction here, at least not theologically, of the kind imposed by the Weberian reduction (i.e., "the routinization of charisma). There is, however, a tension, which is a sign of life. He begins by noting that "'Office' in the New Testament clearly has a charismatic aspect." The trouble here is distinguishing, yet again, between the office and the office-holder. Only one who grasps, at least to some extent, "the mysterium of the Church" "can try- nonpolemically, impartially- to show how tension-filled facets of Christ's one truth mirror each other."

As to infallibility, Balthasar asks, can we truth the authority given to the papacy? This determination "is not a matter of opinion because the Gospels speak of Peter and his office in clear language." Nonetheless, precisely because of his office and its importance to the Church, Peter "is subject to temptation in a special way." Balthasar notes that the promise that "the gates of hell will not prevail" is no guarantee, as subsequent experience (i.e., history)shows, "that the Church and the office of Peter will not be attacked by all sides." Instead, the Lord's promise is "a magnetic pole that attracts the darkest powers of world history: 'Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat' (Luke 22:31)." Balthasar goes on to show that "the tempter and the tempted are brought even closer together - even to the point of exchanging roles" when, on the road Caesaria Philippi, Jesus "rebuked Peter and said, 'Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God but of men' (Mark 8:33)."

As defined by the First Vatican Council, infallibility "is not a personal trait of the empirical Church or of her representatives, but - in the words of Reinhold Schneider - it is the rock that juts out from temptation's foaming turmoil and, by the merciful act of God, saves the Church from foundering." One cannot think about the twin dogmas of infallibility and immediate universal papal jurisdiction, both of which were wholly validated by the Second Vatican Council, apart from the circumstances in which these were promulgated, just as one cannot think about these same dogmas separate from how carefully and circumspectly they have been exercised. So, whether you like it or not, both are necessary for the Church.

In addition to Balthasar's treatment of the office of Peter and the structure of the Church, I cannot recommend too highly Hermann Pottmeyer's Towards a Papacy in Communion: Perspectives from Vatican Councils I & II.

Friday, July 15, 2011

"Have you seen Junior's grades?"

Van Halen with And the Cradle Will Rock is our fourth installment in the on-going Καθολικός διάκονος Friday traditio series of rock songs about rockin' The request line is still open.

Only Diamond Dave could wear those kinds of get ups without raising certain questions. But Big Bad Bill is Sweet William now, sorta.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The structural disproportion that constitutes us: desire

Someone who is "truly attentive to experience," Fr. Carrón recently observed, "cannot help but recognize the structural disproportion that constitutes our 'I' ("Whoever Is In Christ Is A New Creation" p.21). Say what? That is a common reaction I tried to address in a previous post: For too many "the reasons complicate".

But what is this "structural disproportion" that is part and parcel of both what and who we are? Well, Fr. Carrón uses a quote from Giacomo Leopardi's book Pensieri, which is patterned after La Rochefoucauld's Maxims: "...the inability to be satisfied by any worldly thing or, so to speak, by the entire accuse things always of being inadequate and meaningless; to suffer want, emptiness, and hence noia- this seems to me the chief sign of the grandeur and nobility of human nature." However, it can easily lead to despair, or a sense of world-weariness of the kind we find in Ecclesiastes:
What profit has man from all the labor which he toils at under the sun? One generation passes and another comes, but the world forever stays. The sun rises and the sun goes down; then it presses on to the place where it rises. Blowing now toward the south, then toward the north, the wind turns again and again, resuming its rounds. All rivers go to the sea, yet never does the sea become full. To the place where they go, the rivers keep on going (1:3-7)
This inability is the structural disproportion that constitutes my "I"; no matter how much I have, I want more, yet I realize even in my wanting that having more will not quench my desire. This insight, Carrón tells us inevitably dawns upon anyone who is truly attentive to experience! In other words, it can be verified. Giussani states this in a more direct way: "The inexhaustibility of the questions heightens the contradiction between the urgent need for an answer and our human limitations in searching for it." What are these question we urgently need answered, but that our human, that is, creaturely, limitations hamper us from answering in a satisfactory manner? Existential questions, like "What is the ultimate meaning of existence?" This question is posed from the perspective of a being who is ineradicably disposed toward the transcendent, as Leopardi indicates. "Why is there pain and death, and, in the end (to paraphrase Archbishop Sheen), is life worth living?" It was no less a man than Camus who insisted that suicide is the only "truly serious philosophical problem."

"This irresolvable contradiction," Carrón insists before quoting Leopardi again, is "the eternal mystery of our being." Even for religious people, who try to leap experience, even existence, from here to God, Carrón insists, "God is not missing; the mystery of our 'I' is missing, this eternal mystery of our being!" As result "we have no need of Him and therefore seek the answer where everyone looks for it." Or, worse yet, we jump right over our "I" to God and act, even to ourselves, as though we know. Yet this is a knowing that brings no satisfaction, only moralism and sentimentality.

I am invoking the Welborn protocol for the first time, but I am sure Frank, who is now the driving force behind the blog Why I Am Catholic, won't mind. I do so to demonstrate the result of ignoring the issue that Carrón places squarely in front of us:
"Food for thought... because this is the age old, nay, timeless, question. 'Why are we here?'

"The modern atheist here has shot his wad. Somebody says 'read the Catechism' to him. Hmmm, not a great answer to the dude who wants, no, DEMANDS, that the 'book' be written by God Himself, and that all changes, and modifications thereof be delivered 'in person' by Himself. God as messenger boy of His Technical Publications Office with all the latest updates to the Magisterium Code, Annotated."
Frank is correct, "not a great answer," especially for a person who seems to understand the urgency of the question. The atheist's demand is honest, the reply "read the Catechism" is an evasion, not a witness precisely because it lacks the person's 'I'.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Is Israel's God Glenn Beck's god?

I read in the LDS Church-owned Deseret News today where LDS convert Glenn Beck (he grew up Catholic), ever the showman, told the Israeli Knesset yesterday "Where you go, I shall go... Your people is my people, your God is my God" (Ruth 1:16). He was quoting from the Book of Ruth, when the protagonist, a Moabitess (i.e., not-a-Hebrew), says these words to her mother-in-law, Naomi, who urged her to return to her own people upon the death of her husband (Naomi's son). Granted, given that it was uttered in the context of a speech to a political body and that it was Glenn Beck, it was as much an ideological statement as a theological one. I am so rarely imaginative enough to come up with a provocative headline that on the rare occasion I do, I feel I must "go with it."

Beck's politico-theology operates on the basis of a common reduction; reducing faith to morality. Hence, if you derive the correct morals from your faith, your faith (i.e., specific beliefs) does not matter. Even among some Catholics and Evangelicals such a reduction that ultimately leads to religious indifferentism is not uncommon.

Last week in this same newspaper, I read a story about the response of a LDS scholar to a BBC program, Did God Have a Wife?. This documentary is based on the work of Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou, a self-professed atheist, who asks what to biblical scholars is a pretty non-controversial question, which in essence, is not did God have a wife, but were the ancient Israelites strict monotheists? Tresa Edmunds is LDS and responded to the provocative question used as the title to Stavrakopoulou's program in the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper: "God's wife, the mysterious mother of Mormons: The doctrine of Heavenly Mother offers hope for the position of women within the Mormon church".

In her piece Edmunds writes:
The doctrine of Heavenly Mother was introduced by Joseph Smith in the early days of the church, and affirmed by prophet after prophet in the years since, but without much elaboration. Much of the discussion about Heavenly Mother consists of references to the logic of the relationship – if God is the father of our spirits, as Mormons believe, then there would need to be a mother.

Edmunds piece provides a nice segue to the LDS doctrine of God, which I have written about before (one place is Romney's primary problem is not being LDS). The LDS doctrine of God can be characterized by two very brief summations. First is Doctrine and Covenants Section 130, verse 22, which states: "The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us" (the Doctrine and Covenants, along with the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price, are books that the LDS revere as scripture in addition to the Bible). Second, is what is called in the Lorenzo Snow couplet: "As man is God once was. As God is man may become." Snow was the fifth president of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and so was revered by members of that church as "prophet, seer, and revelator," just as the current president of the LDS is, along with his two counselors and the entire Quorum of the Twelve of Apostles.

LDS Plan of Salvation

Since the Jewish people do not believe in the Trinity, contrasting LDS belief with the most fundamental dogma of Christian faith is not necessary. However, believing that God was a human being like we are and progressed to become a god. Further evidence of this progression can be found in Doctrine and Covenants Section 132, particularly verse thirty-seven, which clearly states that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, primarily by taking multiple wives and having concubines in obedience to the Lord's command, "have entered into their exaltation, according to the promises, and sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are gods."

It is the third chapter of the Book of Abraham, found in The Pearl of Great Price," that sets forth the LDS view that is most incompatible with the theologies of the great monotheistic faiths at the most fundamental level. It does this by showing how we are ontologically no different from even God the Father, as well as rejecting creation ex nihilo. According to the LDS view we have all always existed. We began as unembodied intelligences who became embodied via a heavenly father and mother. This embodied state is called the pre-earth life. After this we were born into mortality. With reference to the diagram above, the eternal existence as an "intelligence" would come prior to "Premortal Existence."

All of this is not to "Mormon-bash," but simply an effort to point out legitimate religious differences between Mormonism and mainstream contemporary Judaism and, by extension, to note authentic differences between LDS beliefs sincerely held and those of orthodox Christians. After all, religious tolerance begins with understanding, n'cest ce pas? This is precisely where people, like Gov. Huckabee, who, during the 2008 Republican primaries, said that Mormons believed that Christ and Satan were spirit brothers, or something to that effect, could benefit from a better and deeper understanding of LDS doctrine. While such an apparently spectacular claim may well be true, in the context of LDS belief it is not all that significant.

A claim was madeby a prominent Evangelical, Dr. Richard Mouw, in a speech delivered in the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City in November 2004 that the Lorenzo Snow couplet had "no functioning place in present-day Mormon doctrine." For those who are interested in this question, Ronald Huggins, formerly of Salt Lake Theological Seminary, who currently teaches at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, responded to this claim by Mouw "Lorenzo Snow's Couplet: 'No Functioning Place in Present-Day Mormon Doctrine?'": A Response to Richard Mouw."

Whenever I speak or write about this topic the title of an essay by Blake Ostler, which I read in a book of scholarly LDS essays ( Line Upon Line) years ago, pops into my mind: "The Concept of a Finite God as an Adequate Object of Worship."

Monday, July 11, 2011

St. Benedict, pray for us

As most of my readers have undoubtedly been reminded this late in the day, today is the liturgical memorial of St. Benedict of Nursia, who is revered as the founder of Western, cenobitic, monasticism ("cenobitic" is the Καθολικός διάκονος word-of-the-day), is also the patron of Communion and Liberation, which was formally founded as Communion and Liberation thirty-one years ago today. Of course, this was not the formal founding of the Movement, which dates to 1954.

St. Benedict is the patron of Communion and Liberation because, in 1980, it was "canonically recognized by the ordinary abbot of Montecassino, Martino Matronola." You can read more about this in an excellent post over Paul Zalonski's blog, Communio.

From the Rule of St. Benedict:
Whenever you begin any good work you should first all make a most pressing to Christ our Lord to bring it to perfection; that he, who has honored us by counting us among his children, may never be grieved by our evil deeds. For we must always serve him with the good things he has given us in such a way that he may never - as an angry father disinherits his sons or even like a master who inspires fear - grow impatient with our sins and consign us to everlasting punishment, like wicked servants who who would not follow him to glory.

So we should at long last rouse ourselves, prompted by the words of Scripture: Now is the time for us to rise from sleep...
I love that five years after moving into our home, we still find St. Benedict medals in the house, left here by the previous owners, especially over doorways and windows. Of course, when we find them, we revere St. Benedict, make a mental note, and put it back.

St. Benedict, pray for us.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

We groan as await adoption and the redemption of our bodies

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us... We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies (Rom. 8:18.22-23)

This week marks the second of four consecutive Sundays that we read from the eighth chapter of St. Paul's Letter to the Romans. Last week I attempted a detailed exegesis of the second reading. Today I simply want to focus on something that is rather obvious- that redemption/sanctification is a process. It is Paul's concern throughout the eighth chapter of Romans to highlight the indispensable role suffering plays in what God is doing in our individual lives and in the collective life of Christ's Body, the Church. To avoid the pitfalls of late modern theodicy, God does not cause us to suffer, that is, inflict suffering upon us, in order to test and perfect us. The unavoidable consequences of life as a sinner in a fallen world takes care of that for us. Neither do we need to go in search of opportunities to suffer, inflicting it on ourselves, as it were. But realistically, how else do we overcome our fallen-ness if not through experience?

Furthermore, these groans within ourselves, Paul tells us, looking ahead a few verses, express the depths of our hearts. As we groan inwardly, the Spirit comes to our assistance, just as we implore at the beginning of each liturgical hour of prayer when we say, "O, God, come to my assistance. Lord make haste to help me." The Spirit, the apostle tells us, "comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings" (Rom. 8:26).

"And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God's will" (Rom. 8:27).

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Marriage as the total gift of self on Καθολικός διάκονος

I was asked to provide more insight on the Church's teaching with regard to marital sexuality, or, to provide a more in-depth take on Humanae Vitae. Rather than write another post I thought I would catalogue my posts from over the years on the subject of marriage and marital intimacy. I have dealt with this subject a lot over the years largely due to the fact that the sacrament of matrimony is something I endeavor, with aid of my lovely wife and the grace of God, to live:

NFP: a faithful reality check

The reality of the human person

"Not everyone can receive this saying"

"I believe that children are our future" and so does the pope

Humanae Vitae and the communio sanctorum

An amateur stab at moral reasoning

A humane view of "Of Human Life"

Starting from a positive hypothesis: marriage is unity

Starting from a positive hypothesis: marriage is indissoluble

More on marriage

Humane Vitae turns 40, part II

Humane Vitae turns 40

Pope John Paul I on "this most delicate matter"

Marriage and the Gift of Life: Some Diaconal Observations

UPDATE: I would like to add to this post the link to the website for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Subcommittee For the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, which, like the USCCB's site, For Your Marriage, is an excellent resource. In addition to reading Humanae Vitae, the USCCB's Married Love and the Gift of Life is also a must read.

NFP: a faithful reality check

I would like to thank Danielle Bean for her article over at Crisis magazine, “Five Ways I Don’t Love NFP”. The article is good in my estimation for two reasons. First, she takes on the cheerleading vs. daily living aspects of Natural Family Planning (NF). Second, it is not a diatribe against the Church’s teaching in any way, shape, or form, but a beautiful affirmation of it. She does the latter by noting that while various methods of NFP (i.e., Billings, Creighton, Sympto-thermal) are certainly useful aids for couples who seek to live in fidelity to the truth, none of these methods are either necessary or absolutely indispensible to achieve that end.

It is very easy, as I noted not long ago in my post “Not everyone can receive this saying,” to promote NFP as a kind of acceptable form of “natural”, as opposed to “artificial”, contraception is a futile exercise in missing the point because it employs logic that is at variance with fundamental Christian morality. The logic that promotes NFP as an acceptable form of contraception cannot that hold up under scrutiny because makes the error of determining the morality of something on the basis of intention alone. Thinking all the way back to the Engaged Encounter my wife and I attended prior to our wedding, I remember that during the NFP talk, when the person talking was basically promoting NFP as an acceptable of form of “natural” contraception, one of the guys, who was certainly no trained moral theologian and none too happy about NFP, basically said, “If you’re going to contracept, why does it matter if you use a condom or NFP?” When the morality of something is determined on the basis of the intention of the persons engaging in it, then such concerns become very legitimate to point of actually refuting, or “undercutting,” the argument.

The most striking feature of Catholic morality, the aspect that often puts the Church at odds with the world, is that it is objective in nature. Rather than posting a long digression on the sources of morality, I simply refer those interested to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, specifically paragraphs 1750-1754. Hence, it is objectively immoral, according to the teaching of the Church, for couples to ever employ artificial means of contraception (see Humanae Vitae, par. 14). It is also immoral to approach NFP with what might be called a contraceptive mindset (see Humanae Vitae, par. 16).

Couples can, for serious reasons, decide not have more children either temporarily or indefinitely (an intention against children altogether on the part of either one or both parties renders a marriage sacramentally invalid) Humanae Vitae, par. 10). However, even when their determination to not have children is for serious reasons, should they choose not to abstain, they are not free put barriers against conception.

I am particularly impressed with Bean’s fifth reason for disliking NFP, which she concludes with these words:
We need to remember that abstinence inside of marriage is not a good in and of itself. I worry sometimes that the NFP promoters would have us believe that the challenge of abstinence is the same for everyone, and we can all perfectly plan the sizes of our families (just use some of that self-control, folks!), when nothing could be more potentially harmful than expecting that.

Our personal differences as individuals and couples are a good thing. Our temperaments are part of God’s providence working its way into our lives, even in places where we might be tempted to believe we have control. A married couple that finds abstinence especially difficult, for example, is more likely to have a large family, whether they were planning to or not.
I liked it because it automatically put me in mind of these words by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae:
Responsible parenthood, as we use the term here… concerns the objective moral order which was established by God, and of which a right conscience is the true interpreter. In a word, the exercise of responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society.

From this it follows that they are not free to act as they choose in the service of transmitting life, as if it were wholly up to them to decide what is the right course to follow. On the contrary, they are bound to ensure that what they do corresponds to the will of God the Creator. The very nature of marriage and its use makes His will clear, while the constant teaching of the Church spells it out (par. 10)
Bean gets it quite right when, referring to good intentions of those who teach and promote NFP, she says, “I think we are all better served, however, when the happy talk is balanced by an occasional reality check.”

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: Hosea 2:16.17c.18.21-22; Ps 145:2-9; Matthew 9:18-26 Our Gospel today is Saint Matthew’s version of events first written about ...