Friday, December 30, 2011

"You believed in me, but I'm broken"

Lost in Paradise by Evanescence is our last Friday traditio of 2011. The song is off the group's eponymous (i.e., self-titled) third album. "Evanescence" is that which evanesces, or dissipates like vapor. Time certainly dissipates like vapor. I have to say that this year is a year I am not sorry to see pass. It is a year that changed me more than any year I can think of going back a long way.

At least originally, "apocalypse" meant "to uncover." What has been revealed to me this year is the transitory nature of life, which is hardly a new or original discovery, I know. But more than that, what I have experienced is how much I long for what is not transitory, but that which lasts

I've been believing in something so distant/As if I was human/And I've been denying this feeling of hopelessness/In me...

It is not what I grasp abstractly, but what I learn through experience, that I really know and understand if not completely, then certainly better. Experience, after all, is the instrument for my human journey.

So, that's enough for one year. I'll catch you, dear reader, in 2012.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The transcendence of man and the limits of history

In my post yesterday concerning Chiaromonte and Camus I quoted what Gustaw Herling wrote about how the thoughts of the two converged on important points, specifically about "the transcendence of man over history" and the "truth that no social imperatives can obliterate." Man transcends history because Christ is the Lord of history. This became clear to me this evening as I was once again reading Joseph Mangina's fine theological commentary on Revelation, specifically his comment on Chapter 21, verse 2, where we read about the new Jerusalem that comes "down out of heaven from God." The key point, as N.T. Wright makes clear in his book Surprised by Hope, is that heaven is not someplace we go up to, but the city that comes "down out of heaven from God."

The New Jerusalem, Gustave Doré

Apropos of both Herling's insights about Chiaromonte and Camus as well as of the new Jerusalem, Mangina writes that the heavenly city is not the product "of any human scientific or technological achievement." This new city that comes "down out of heaven from God," Mangina insists, is "sheer miracle," that is, "a gift apocalyptically bestowed at the end of history and not the outcome of history itself" (underlining emphasis mine).

Mangina is emphatic that this does not render history meaningless, or even "that God does not invite human beings to build their cities with as much ingenuity and creativity," even while honoring God by acting justly towards their neighbors.
There is a place in Christian theology for saying that "grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it" (Thomas Aquinas Summa theologiae 1.1.8 §2). This is as true on the social and political level as it is in individual life. Yet such language has its limits, and the Apocalypse provides us with some sense of what those limits are

Holy Innocents' Day

The Massacre of the Holy Innocents

"When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:

'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. 2:16-18)

The last verse of this passage from St. Matthew's Gospel is Jeremiah 31:15, a passage in which the prophet foresees the restoration Israel, which will be celebrated with great rejoicing. Nonetheless, Rachel, the wife of Jacob and mother of Joseph, mourns her children who are no more. This lamentation is a fitting response to Herod's ruthless slaughter of innocents. It applies to us today. As Peter Hitchens wrote last year about the Feast of the Holy Innocents: "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 a much lighter note, just as the Feast of St. Stephen is a day for deacons and the Feast of St. John the Apostle a day for priests, the Feast of the Holy Innocents is a day for altar servers. Yet, in recent years and to the Church's great shame, there remains some shame borne of guilt surrounding these things as well. In March 2010, the Movement of Communion & Liberation asked, "Alongside all the limitations and within the Church’s wounded humanity, is there or is there not something greater than sin, something radically greater than sin? Is there something that can shatter the inexorable weight of our evil?" At Christmas we celebrate the coming into the world of the One who is greater than...

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The invisible secret enclosed in the human heart

In March 1946 Albert Camus gave a lecture at Columbia University. His lecture was published as The Crisis of Man. Upon his arrival in New York, Camus was greeted by the Italian author and activist Nicola Chiaromonte. The two first came to know each other when Chiaromonte left France, where he was in exile because of Italy's fascist government, before the Nazis took Paris, for Camus' native Algeria. Chiaromonte was also a close friend of the Polish writer Gustaw Herling, whose writing I enjoy immensely.

Four years after Chiaromonte's death (he died in 1972), Herling was reading through the third volume of Chiraomonte's selected works, which was edited by another friend. This volume contained Chiaromonte's notes on Camus' lecture. The passage that struck Herling from his deceased friend's notes was this passage:
Now that Hitler has gone, we know a certain number of things. The first is that the poison which impregnated Hitlerism has not been eliminated; it is present in each of us. Whoever today speaks of human existence in terms of power, efficiency, and "historical tasks" spreads it. He is an actual or a potential assassin. For if the problem of man is reduced to any kind of "historical task," he is nothing but the raw material of history, and one can do anything he pleases with him. Another thing we have learned is that we cannot accept any optimistic conception of existence, any happy ending whatsoever. But, if we believe that optimism is silly, we also know that pessimism about the action of man among his fellows is cowardly. We opposed terror because it forces us to choose between murdering and being murdered; and it makes communication impossible. This is why we reject any ideology that claims control over all human life
Reflecting on the affinity of his friend's thought with that of Camus, Herling saw that both despised "the 'global' claims of any ideology." Both believed "in the invisible secret closed in the heart of every man, in the transcendence of man over history... and in a truth that no social imperatives can obliterate."

In his homily for the Twenty-sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A), which he preached at Mass during his Apostolic Visit to his homeland in September, commenting on Matthew 21:32, which reads, "Truly, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the Kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him, and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him," Pope Benedict XVI said, "Translated into the language of our time, this statement might sound something like this: agnostics, who are constantly exercised by the question of God, those who long for a pure heart but suffer on account of our sin, are closer to the Kingdom of God than believers whose life of faith is 'routine' and who regard the Church merely as an institution, without letting their hearts be touched by faith."

If neither optimism nor pessimism, then what makes communication possible? In his Letter to the Romans St. Paul wrote, "For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance" (Rom. 8:24-25). Writing about how Bashmachkin, the main character in Nikolai Gogol's The Overcoat, and Melville's Bartleby both paint vivid pictures of alienation and how even back almost forty years ago Western society was already growing more solipsistic, Herling observed: "In times of relentlessly growing solitude, a vision of apocalypse is the last sensation we can share as a community."

Feast of St. John, apostle

Oh the richness of the octave of Christmas! Following right on the heels of the Feast of Stephen is the Feast of St. John the Apostle. Just as our observance of St. Stephen's day is something of a celebration of deacons, our celebration of St. John's Feast is a celebration of the glorious priesthood. Where would we be without those who gave up all to follow and even to imitate Christ? Even though priestly vocations remain on the up-tick, we certainly need more priests to meet the sacramental and pastoral needs of the even more rapidly increasing number of the faithful.

I only have time for a short reflection this morning, but given the number of priests who have blessed my own life and the number I am privileged to count as my friends, I would be remiss to let this wonderful feast pass by without comment.

St. John, holy apostle, pray for us, especially our priests, and for more men to respond to Christ's call.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Who stood up for Stephen?

Today is the Feast of St. Stephen, proto-martyr. He is my patron from birth and the patron of this blog. Stephen, along with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, that last of whom Scripture tells us was "a convert to Judaism," is traditionally identified as one of seven men who were set apart by the apostles to serve the earliest Christian community, within which some division had started to take place. The nature of the division was that the Greek-speaking widows felt that they were not being treated fairly in the daily distribution. These men were called to oversee the daily distribution, insuring it was carried out in a more equitable manner. Traditionally, 26 December is a day for deacons.

Of these seven men, we only hear more about Stephen and Philip. Both of whom took to preaching and evangelizing, Stephen in Jerusalem and Philip in Samaria. The boldness of Stephen's preaching about Jesus Christ drew the attention of the Jewish religious authorities. Stephen's martyrdom is recorded in the seventh chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. Of course, it is in this passage that we first encounter one Saul of Tarsus, specifically in verse 58: "They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul."

Stephen's plea to God that the sins of those stoning him not be held against them was not enough to move Saul's zealous heart. Nonetheless, I cannot help but think that this was a necessary prelude to his conversion, which is recorded in Acts 9, as well as the apostle's own account in the first chapter of Galatians.

Because today is a day for deacons, I want to draw attention, especially the attention of my brother permanent deacons who are married, to a wonderful post by my friend Deacon Bob Yerhot, whose blog Catholic Faith and Reflections, is well worth reading for everyone. The post is Not Doing Enough, Deacons? Or, Too Much?.

St. Stephen, pray for us, that, like you, we may glorify the Lord by our lives.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Urbi et Orbi- Christmas 2011



Christ is born for us! Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to the men and women whom he loves. May all people hear an echo of the message of Bethlehem which the Catholic Church repeats in every continent, beyond the confines of every nation, language and culture. The Son of the Virgin Mary is born for everyone; he is the Saviour of all.

This is how Christ is invoked in an ancient liturgical antiphon: “O Emmanuel, our king and lawgiver, hope and salvation of the peoples: come to save us, O Lord our God”. Veni ad salvandum nos! Come to save us! This is the cry raised by men and women in every age, who sense that by themselves they cannot prevail over difficulties and dangers. They need to put their hands in a greater and stronger hand, a hand which reaches out to them from on high. Dear brothers and sisters, this hand is Christ, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary. He is the hand that God extends to humanity, to draw us out of the mire of sin and to set us firmly on rock, the secure rock of his Truth and his Love (cf. Ps 40:2).

This is the meaning of the Child’s name, the name which, by God’s will, Mary and Joseph gave him: he is named Jesus, which means “Saviour” (cf. Mt 1:21; Lk 1:31). He was sent by God the Father to save us above all from the evil deeply rooted in man and in history: the evil of separation from God, the prideful presumption of being self-sufficient, of trying to compete with God and to take his place, to decide what is good and evil, to be the master of life and death (cf. Gen 3:1-7). This is the great evil, the great sin, from which we human beings cannot save ourselves unless we rely on God’s help, unless we cry out to him: “Veni ad salvandum nos! – Come to save us!”

The very fact that we cry to heaven in this way already sets us aright; it makes us true to ourselves: we are in fact those who cried out to God and were saved (cf. Esth [LXX] 10:3ff.). God is the Saviour; we are those who are in peril. He is the physician; we are the infirm. To realize this is the first step towards salvation, towards emerging from the maze in which we have been locked by our pride. To lift our eyes to heaven, to stretch out our hands and call for help is our means of escape, provided that there is Someone who hears us and can come to our assistance.

Jesus Christ is the proof that God has heard our cry. And not only this! God’s love for us is so strong that he cannot remain aloof; he comes out of himself to enter into our midst and to share fully in our human condition (cf. Ex 3:7-12). The answer to our cry which God gave in Jesus infinitely transcends our expectations, achieving a solidarity which cannot be human alone, but divine. Only the God who is love, and the love which is God, could choose to save us in this way, which is certainly the lengthiest way, yet the way which respects the truth about him and about us: the way of reconciliation, dialogue and cooperation.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord

"While they were there [in Bethlehem], the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" (Luke 2:6-7).

This is how Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, who became human for us and for our salvation, was born.

Incarnating God's love

There's time for one more post before the great Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord commences. So, I am posting on something that is near and dear to my heart, vocation. I cannot repeat often enough that there is but one Christian vocation: to follow Christ. All vocations are rooted in and so arise from the primal sacrament of baptism. This includes, still to the vexation of some, marriage. It also includes the vocation to celibacy (i.e., not getting married) with its inherent, at least in Christian terms, requirement for perpetual continence (i.e., not engaging in sexual relations), in all the various forms this takes (i.e., priesthood, religious life, secular institutes, like my beloved friends who belong to Memores Domini, and those who simply live single in the world glorifying the Lord by their lives). The excellence of this form of life is indisputable for Christians.

In this regard it is interesting to consider Matthew 19:11, where Jesus says to His disciples, "Not all can accept [this] word, but only those to whom that is granted." It is unclear whether Jesus is referring back to His teaching on marriage and divorce, which immediately precedes this quote, or whether He is referring back to His disciples' inference from that teaching, "If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry" (Matt. 19:10).

New Testament scholar Dale Allison, Jr., writing on St. Matthew's Gospel in the The Oxford Bible Commentary, holds that it is likely not only a reply to the disciples' conclusion that given the level of commitment marriage requires and the difficulty of leaving a marriage that "it is better not to marry," but a correction. Allison notes that the conclusion of the disciples is a universal one, whereas Jesus makes clear, not only in verse eleven, but in the following verse, where He says, "Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it," that the call to celibacy is not for everyone.

Allison goes on to opine that the author of Matthew's Gospel might have been combating "a perceived excess in his community" with regard to celibacy. Allison also notes that Jesus' teaching includes two previously known categories of eunuchs, the first category being men "who had either been literally castrated or who had sometime after birth lost the power to reproduce." The second category consisted of those males who were born with defective genitalia. To these Jesus adds a third category- men who remain unmarried by choice, who have had a "duty placed on them" such that "it is best discharged outside of marriage." Allison concludes, "For these people, the good and valuable thing that marriage undoubtedly is must be sacrificed in view of the demand made up them by something greater."

Since we are on the verge of the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord Jesus Christ, it seems opportune to point out that the case of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose perpetual virginity Roman Catholics revere, and St. Joseph, whom we laud in The Divine Praises Litany as the Blessed Virgin's "most chaste spouse,"which I take to mean living in a continent manner though married to the Blessed Virgin, are understandably a very unique case.

John Garvey, who is a married Orthodox priest, in a lovely piece that appeared in Commonweal magazine back in 2010, "Good Gift, Bad Rule: The Uses and Abuses of Celibacy," relayed the story of a young man who asks a monk whether he should marry or become a monk. The monk wisely responded, "If you have to ask that question you shouldn't be a monk. You should be a monk if the alternative to being a monk would make you go crazy."

In a similar vein, in the film Of Gods and Men, a young Algerian woman who helps Frère Luc, a monk who is a physician, in the dispensary asks the now elderly Cistercian how to tell if one is in love. Frère Luc responds: "There’s something inside of you that comes alive. The presence of someone. It’s irrepressible and makes your heart beat faster, usually. It’s an attraction, a desire. It’s very beautiful. No use asking too making questions. It just happens. Things are as usual, then suddenly happiness arrives, or the hope of it. It’s lots of things. But you’re in turmoil. Great turmoil. Especially the first time." Seeking verification that transcends abstraction, the young woman then asks Luc the truly important question, if he has ever been in love. "Several times," he answers. Then, referring to his monastic vocation, he says, "And then I encountered another love, even greater. And I answered that love. It’s been a while now. Over 60 years."

It is this logic that has helped me assist several young people to discern and pursue not vocations that require celibacy, but celibate vocations of the kind described by Jesus, Garvey, Frère Luc, and responded to in a unique way by the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph. I often wonder why we're so scared of the Holy Spirit, which simply amounts to wondering why we don't trust God more. My experience is that the sexual excess of our current culture is exactly the kind of dark abyss that God's ru'ah (i.e., breath or wind) can sweep over bringing life and fruitfulness for God's kingdom.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Love and marriage 2011

Back in July I sought to aggregate all my posts on marital sexuality vis-à-vis Church teaching. The result of my effort was Marriage as the total gift of self on Καθολικός διάκονος. I want to update this by posting, from latest to earliest, my posts on marriage over this past year, both those that deal with marital relations and those that deal with other aspects of marriage:

Papist musing about marital relations

Pledging troth, knowing to Whom you belong

Thoughts on the ecclesisal nature of Christian marriage

NFP: a faithful reality check

The joy of NFP

The ideology of so-called same-sex marriage

An academic extract: marriage and deacons

More on marriage and pastoral care

Marriage as a sacrament of salvation, a channel of God's grace

Καθολικός διάκονος- 2011 review

With the Winter solstice now past and Advent slowly giving way to the light of Christmas, I am feeling a little less dark this morning. It also helps that our gray, cloudy, misty weather was cleared away the night before last by a storm. So, today is bright and sunny, if cold. While we're still more than a week away from starting a new year, I can say that 2011, while it was surely a year during which I experienced God's grace in profound ways, is not a year I am sad to see pass.

Every year I pick a post from each month that stands out for me. I suppose it is a way of self-validating what I attempt do here. I exclude my homilies because I do not write them as blog posts. I also do not choose from those posts, like the lengthy extract from Havel from earlier this week, or from the Friday traditio posts, because both amount to posting something written or created by someone else. It is also a way of drawing the attention of new readers to past content, which in this age of constantly pressing forward, easily becomes lost and forgotten. Though I have never received an overwhelming response, but I certainly invite both of my readers to share their favorite posts from 2011. Of course, in sharing something one is free to chose whatever post(s) s/he may with no restrictions of the kind I impose on my own selections.

January- What we must never lose sight of...

February- Democratic perils in Egypt

March- What is penance and why do it?

April- More on marriage and pastoral care

May- T(w)oo absurd(ists)

June- Witnessing what it means to be a father

July- Marriage as the total gift of self on Καθολικός διάκονος- This, too, is a compilation post, in which I sought to provide links to relevant posts on marriage over the history of my blog, which I did at the request of a reader.

August- Can a Catholic in good conscience vote for a Mormon for president? I think so

September- Baptism of Evan Gabriel

October- Some notes on conservatism and the priority of culture

November- Watching our language

December- Pledging troth, knowing to Whom you belong

Since I remain very ambivalent about blogging, it will be interesting to see how things develop here in 2012. It bears noting that I derive much of my energy from my ambivalence. One thing in the works for next year is participating in an effort that has been brilliantly conceived by a fellow deacon to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, an effort that will run for three years- from the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the Council, which falls on 11 October, to the fiftieth anniversary of its ending, 8 December 2015.

This is the 2100th post on Καθολικός διάκονο.

"Skip a life completely"

It's easy to forget that when Václav Havel became president of the still-united Czechoslovakia he wanted Lou Reed be appointed U.S. ambassador. His desire was politely declined by the first Bush Administration. I was tempted to write "wisely declined," but who knows?

So, Lou Reed doing Velvet Underground's Pale Blue Eyes is our Friday traditio. Under the circumstances, it seems quite fitting. I also forgot that this song is a Willie Nelson-esque country song, which is a good kind of song, at least in my estimation.

If I could make the world as pure and strange as what I see/I'd put you in the mirror/I put in front of me.

I was happy to find a live cover of Pale Blue Eyes that REM did way back in 1984.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"I never felt so much alike"

Today marks the ninth anniversary of the way-too-early passing of Joe Strummer. Strummer was only 50 when a previously undetected heart defect killed him. He is most famous for being a member that amazing group The Clash. More than any group, it was The Clash that first brought punk to the mainstream. Since this week has already become tribute week here on Καθολικός διάκονος, what's one more, especially for a man who deserves one? Besides, it's almost Christmas. Since I "do" Advent, while everyone is near to petering out, I'm just getting started. This will not take the place of tomorrow's traditio.

"Authority is supposedly grounded in wisdom. But I could see from a very early age that authority was only a system of control." This takes me back to something of Hitch's I quoted back 2009: Morality is not faith and religion is not social control.

London calling to the imitation zone/Forget it, brother, you can go it alone/London calling to the zombies of death/Quit holding out, and draw another breath

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

How do I respond to grace? Not gracefully

Okay, I am just going to admit this: When it comes to Christmas, I am a heel. The only presents I personally purchase are for my wife and children, meaning I buy them each one thing. My lovely wife does all the rest of it. I feel the need to admit this because every year I receive so many wonderful gifts from both expected and unexpected people. It's funny, I love Christmas, but given what's involved in gift exchange (i.e., having to go shopping), I just don't do it. It's funny, I would actually be alright with getting nothing for Christmas, with the exception of a beautiful Mass and a lovely breakfast, with mimosas, of course.

Nativity, by William Congdon

It's a ham-fisted and sentimental connection, I know, but my wholly inadequate and often awkward response to receiving gifts seems a pretty realistic response to the Mystery we acknowledge.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Václav Havel: Champion of being human

I have been too overwhelmed by many things to post a fitting tribute to Václav Havel. Learning of his death Sunday morning I posted my reaction on Facebook: "I awoke this morning to learn of yet another tremendous loss. What is it these days? I'm sure it's a function of my own growing older that causes me to wonder if we will have people like Havel in the future. I certainly hope we do. A world that grows less humane by the moment needs men and women who champion humanity over and against all the de-humanizing forces we face. Havel was one of the greatest champions of being human, having experienced Communism first-hand."

Since Havel was first and foremost an artist, a playwright and poet, but also a brilliant essayist, there is nothing I can write to do him justice. So, I am putting up a long extract from "Politics and Conscience," which he originally composed as a speech to deliver at the University of Toulouse on the occasion of being awarded an honorary doctorate in 1984. Of course, he was unable to attend the ceremony. Playwright Tom Stoppard represented him. The first English translation, done by Erazim Kohák and Roger Scruton, of this work was published in the January 1985 edition of the Salisbury Review.
I am convinced that what is called "dissent" in the Soviet bloc is a specific modern experience, the experience of life at the very ramparts of dehumanized power. As such, that "dissent" has the opportunity and even the duty to reflect on this experience, to testify to it and to pass it on to those fortunate enough not to have to undergo it. Thus we too have a certain opportunity to help in some ways those who help us, to help them in our deeply shared interest, in the interest of mankind.

One such fundamental experience, that which I called "anti-political politics", is possible and can be effective, even though by its very nature it cannot calculate its effect beforehand. That effect, to be sure, is of a wholly different nature from what the West considers political success. It is hidden, indirect, long term and hard to measure; often it exists only in the invisible realm of social consciousness, conscience and subconsciousness and it can be almost impossible to determine what value it assumed therein and to what extent, if any, it contributes to shaping social development. It is, however, becoming evident—and I think that is an experience of an essential and universal importance—that a single, seemingly powerless person who dares to cry out the word of truth and to stand behind it with all his person and all his life, ready to pay a high price, has, surprisingly, greater power, though formally disfranchised, than do thousands of anonymous voters. It is becoming evident that even in today's world, and especially on this exposed rampart where the wind blows most sharply, it is possible to oppose personal experience and the natural world to the "innocent" power and to unmask its guilt, as the author of The Gulag Archipelago has done. It is becoming evident that truth and morality can provide a new starting point for politics and can, even today, have an undeniable political power. The warning voice of a single brave scientist, besieged somewhere in the provinces and terrorized by a goaded community, can be heard over continents and addresses the conscience of the mighty of this world more clearly than entire brigades of hired propagandists can, though speaking to themselves. It is becoming evident that wholly personal categories like good and evil still have their unambiguous content and, under certain circumstances, are capable of shaking the seemingly unshakeable power with all its army of soldiers, policemen and bureaucrats. It is becoming evident that politics by no means need remain the affair of professionals and that one simple electrician with his heart in the right place, honouring something that transcends him and free of fear, can influence the history of his nation.

Yes, "anti-political politics" is possible. Politics 'from below'. Politics of man, not of the apparatus. Politics growing from the heart, not from a thesis. It is not an accident that this hopeful experience has to be lived just here, on this grim battlement. Under the "rule of everydayness" we have to descend to the very bottom of a well before we can see the stars.

When Jan Patocka wrote about Charter 77, he used the term "solidarity of the shaken". He was thinking of those who dared resist impersonal power and to confront it with the only thing at their disposal, their own humanity. Does not the perspective of a better future depend on something like an international community of the shaken which, ignoring state boundaries, political systems, and power blocs, standing outside the high game of traditional politics, aspiring to no titles and appointments, will seek to make a real political force out of a phenomenon so ridiculed by the technicians of power—the phenomenon of human conscience?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Year B Fourth Sunday of Advent

Readings: 2 Sam. 7:1-5.8b-12.14a.16; Ps. 89:2—5.27.29; Rom. 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

Our readings for today cascade downward in a very useful sequence. Hence, I think we are best-served by simply looking at the Scriptures, seeing how they fit together in order to discern what God is saying to us as we enter the final week of Advent. In our first reading, taken from Second Samuel, we hear about King David, who, after vanquishing Israel’s foes and firmly establishing a united kingdom consisting of all the tribes of Israel, with their capital in Jerusalem, worries out loud that while he, the king of God’s people, dwells in a palace, the Ark of the Covenant, which was God’s presence among the chosen people, continued to be housed in a tent. The “tent” to which David refers was a portable tabernacle like the one built during Israel’s exodus from Egypt and carried around with them during their forty year sojourn to the promised land, which they now largely possessed and inhabited. This prompts David to tell Nathan, at least to hint to the prophet, that he would like to build a magnificent palace in which to place the Ark. In other words, he speaks of a plan to build a temple.

Nathan, who as we know from the Bathsheba incident, was no mere yes man, initially thinks the king’s idea is a good one and says to David, “Go, do whatever you have in mind, for the LORD is with you” (2 Sam. 7:3). But then Nathan has a dream with a message from God for King David. God asks David through Nathan, “Should you build me a house to dwell in?” (2 Sam 7:5) The LORD then recounts to Nathan, so that the prophet can remind David, of all that God has done for David from the time he was a humble shepherd called by God to lead Israel by the prophet Samuel, to where David is now (2 Sam. 7:8-11). David is also reminded that God has never asked Israel to build Him a permanent dwelling, “a house of cedar” (2 Sam. 7:7). The point of the dream is that God does not want David to build a temple. Rather, God will make of David a house, that is, a kingdom, which will last forever. God relays to David through Nathan that after David’s death, God
will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever (2 Sam. 7:12.14a.16)
This is followed in the lectionary by our Psalm, in which God is praised for His goodness and fidelity to His promises, like the promise made to David in our first reading: “I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to David my servant: Forever will I confirm your posterity and establish your throne for all generations” (Ps. 89:4-5).

We now move briefly to our New Testament reading, taken from the very end of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, in which passage the apostle identifies Jesus Christ as “the revelation of the mystery kept secret for long ages,” who is now “made known to all nations” in order “to bring about the obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:25-26).

Ark of the Covenant Monstrance at St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, Chicago

Before looking more closely at our Gospel reading for today, it is important to note that Tradition hands on to us that the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom we revere in an especially enthusiastic way during the Advent season, is the new Ark of the Covenant. The original Ark, the one that David wanted to build a temple for, the one for which Indiana Jones searched, held three items: the stone tablets on which the 10 Commandments were written, some manna God provided to feed the Israelites during their forty years in the desert, and Aaron’s rod, the one that, though detached from the plant and its root system, re-sprouted, thus becoming a self-sufficient source of life. The womb of Mary, whom we revere as Theotokos- God-bearer, or, more commonly, as the Mother of God, held Jesus Christ, the Word-made-flesh (John 1:14), the Bread of Life (John 6:35), and the True Vine whose branches we are (John 15:5), the very One whom St. John tells us “pitched his tent among us” (John 1:14).

There are many parallels between the Annunciation as conveyed to us in our Gospel today and the Ark of the Covenant, beginning with Gabriel’s use of the word “overshadow” in reference to Mary conceiving God’s Son (Luke 1:35). This word is significant because it is used in reference to the cherubim “overshadowing” the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark was made with pure gold (Exodus 4ff), but Mary, whose Immaculate Conception we affirmed and celebrated a little more than a week ago, was even purer and more beautiful. There are many more typological parallels that have been identified regarding the Blessed Virgin as the new Ark of the Covenant.

So if Jesus is “The Word Made Flesh,” then Mary is “The Ark Made Flesh,” the house God promised David He would establish forever. Yes, Jesus is present here in the tabernacle, but as a result of this Eucharist, He is just as present in you and me. This is the great scandal of the Incarnation: that Christ, the everlasting God, is conceived in the womb of a humble virgin, a marginal person who belonged, at least in terms of the ancient Roman Empire, to a marginal, if trouble-making, people. During our profession of the Creed, just before we say the words, “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man,” we bow in awe. The scandal doesn’t stop there. While Jesus is present here in the tabernacle, but as a result of this Eucharist, He is just as present in you and me. Like Mary, we are to be temples of God’s presence in and for the world. The Son of God, in this very Eucharist, makes Himself present in us by the power of the Holy Spirit! When we say "Amen" to the words "the body of Christ" and "the blood of Christ," like the Blessed Virgin, who is our model of faith, we say "Yes" to God, to serving Him, to cooperating in bringing about His kingdom.

In his homily for Midnight Mass in 2006, Pope Benedict reminded us that “God’s sign is simplicity. God’s sign is the baby. God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us.” "God," the Holy Father continued, “does not come with power and outward splendor. He comes as a baby – defenseless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness." In the womb of the Virgin of Nazareth and in this Eucharist God becomes small so that we are able to grasp him, to welcome him, and to love him. As we enter into this last week of Advent, let us contemplate this great mystery. One of the best ways of doing this is by praying and meditating upon the seven “O Antiphons,” the first of which made its annual appearance in Evening Prayer last night: “O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.”

Saturday, December 17, 2011

"Forsake not the works of thine own hands"

I am very disheartened, even dispirited, that I am starting to see snide, chiding, and sarcastic pieces written by Christians on the passing of Christopher Hitchens. I guess being provoked both by reality and by those who themselves are so provoked, especially those who arrive at very different conclusions, has no place in the lives of some Christians. In his book The Religious Sense, Msgr. Giussani discusses at length the "big" questions, the existential questions, that arise for all simply by being human, by being self-conscious. Humanity for Giussani being "that level of nature wherein nature becomes aware of itself and of its own purposes." These are the questions that initiate our search for meaning, which is our search for happiness, for complete fulfillment, those that constitute us as human beings. Giusanni also details the many ways, some of them quite ingenious to the point of being convincing, in which some have sought to banish these questions, or at least to attenuate them.

UPDATE: Msgr. Albacete reflects on his encounter with Christopher in New York in 2008 Hitchens/A man with a wounded heart in Il Sussidiario.

One of the great things about Hitch, as he was popularly known, is that he neither avoided these questions nor sought to attenuate them. He did go to lengths to criticize and even make fun of those who, at least in his view, did not do justice to the questions, short-circuiting them by taking a leap of faith.

Remembering his brother on his passing, Peter Hitchens wrote: "The one word that comes to mind when I think of my brother is ‘courage’. By this I don’t mean the lack of fear which some people have, which enables them to do very dangerous or frightening things because they have no idea what it is to be afraid. I mean a courage which overcomes real fear, while actually experiencing it." Christopher Hitchens faced the big question squarely and never more so than after being diagnosed with the cancer that ultimately killed him. In a piece that appeared in Vanity Fair- "Topic of Cancer"- he described his response to his diagnoses:
The notorious stage theory of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, whereby one progresses from denial to rage through bargaining to depression and the eventual bliss of “acceptance,” hasn’t so far had much application in my case. In one way, I suppose, I have been “in denial” for some time, knowingly burning the candle at both ends and finding that it often gives a lovely light. But for precisely that reason, I can’t see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it’s all so unfair: I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me. Rage would be beside the point for the same reason. Instead, I am badly oppressed by a gnawing sense of waste. I had real plans for my next decade and felt I’d worked hard enough to earn it. Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Center rise again? To read—if not indeed write—the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger? But I understand this sort of non-thinking for what it is: sentimentality and self-pity
Provocative, no?

His friend, the writer Ian McEwan, who is also an atheist, wrote in Friday's New York Times about his final visit with Hitch. McEwan revealed that at the time of his passing, Hitchens was working on a long piece critical of G.K. Chesterton. I for one would love to read it because, unlike his contemporary and friend, Hilare Belloc, with whose name he was linked as Chesterbelloc, about whom even Catholics ask, Is Belloc best forgotten?, it seems to me that Chesterton has never really been subjected to much intelligent scrutiny.

Bl. John Henry Newman had an unbelieving older brother, Charles Robert Newman, who lived a very dissolute life, often only being able to eat and keep a roof over his head with the financial help of John. Nonetheless, Charles was very ungrateful and often went out of his way to demonstrate his ingratitude. He died unrepentant and unreconciled. Of course, it was left to John to see to and pay for his brother's burial. John had this epitaph carved on the headstone of Charles: "Forsake not the works of thine own hands" (Ps. 138:8- KJV).

In my view, the biggest failure we can have as Christians is to fail to see both ourselves and others the way Christ sees us, to look on others, including those whose views diverge from ours and who might despise our beliefs, with a loving gaze.

I feel that I must post the first video clip of a dialogue that took place between Hitch and Msgr. Albacete back in September 2008 because it gives me hope, unlike some of what I read today, which made me realize all over again that some of Hitch's withering criticism of religion and those who are religious were more accurate than many would care to acknowledge:

Papist musing about marital relations

On 3 January 2012 the book Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship & Life Together co-authored by Pastor Mark Driscoll and his wife Grace, will be released. For those unfamiliar with Pastor Mark, he is the senior pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. He is also a leader in the Acts 29 Network. Without a doubt Mark Driscoll is one of the most influential Evangelical leaders in the United States. To understate his approach to ministry, he is very provocative. It seems that he remains provocative in his about-to-be published book, at least according to Tim Challies, who offered a preview of it in a Christian Post article last Thursday. Writing in response to the about-to-be-released book, an advanced copy of which he apparently read, Challies takes issue with what the Driscolls see as their necessarily forthright approach to questions about sex in marriage. I have addressed some of Pastor Mark's ideas on this subject before: "...we must refuse to speak in sanitized clinical euphemisms" (WARNING: It contains frank language about sex). I think how we discuss sex depends on who we are talking to, what our relationship with them is, and the context. With reference to what I wrote in my earlier post about appreciating the frankness with which Pastor Mark dealt with the topic of pornography, I still think there is a place for Christian men to speak frankly to other Christian men about sex, mostly about how we get it wrong and what we need to overcome our brokenness.

In this preview of what he says will be a comprehensive review of Real Marriage, Challies takes up chapter ten of the Driscolls' book. This chapter is called " "Can We________?" and deals with matters the authors insist are questions about sex that people are too embarrassed to ask their pastors. According Challies, the questions the Driscolls answer range from "self-stimulation to the use of sex toys and forms of cybersex. The most provocative of all involves sodomy within marriage." The real issue is whether the Driscolls, in light of the very frank and direct questions people have about sex, which curiosity arises from our current socio-sexual climate, are correct to insist, as Challies puts it, that "[i]t falls to us, as Christians, to be ready with answers." The authors of the book think that we have to be ready and willing to frankly answer these blunt questions because if we don't "people will find worse answers elsewhere." The Driscolls base all of this on the  assumption that people, though mostly young men, are familiar with these things by viewing pornography.

The Driscolls' assumption about pornography, while sadly true and part of the pastoral landscape these days, really boils down to, as Challies observes, "Is it okay for me to act out porn on my wife?" I think we have to be careful about making what young people (young men in particular) see done in pornography the model for sexual relations in marriage. It's funny that in a publication warning men about the dangers of pornography on The Resurgence website, an outreach of Pastor Mark's ministry, entitled "Fornicating on the Battlefield," men are urged to imagine being engaged in spiritual warfare of the kind depicted in Revelation: "Just imagine for a moment that this is reality: You’re on a battlefield. It’s dark. Chaotic. Cold wind is whipping your face. The stench of death fills the air. Corpses of demons lie all around you and the field is soaked in blood. You can hear the sounds of armor and weapons colliding while sparks are flying... You’ve got your pants down around your ankles. You’re roaming in circles looking for the seductress that’s calling you by name. You can’t wait to fornicate on the battlefield." While I think that depicting the sheer ridiculousness of giving in to lust looked at under the aspect of eternity can be and often is useful when men speak to men, I can't help but notice the mixed and confusing message that is sent when this is juxtaposed with the marital advice on offer in Real Marriage.

Challies writes that he is not convinced that answering these questions the way Driscolls answer them in Real Marriage is wise. He thinks "there is a much better way" and so do I. He goes on to propose that if we agree that this a discussion we must have (he casts some wise doubt on the necessity of having such frank discussions), then we should seek to elevate it. "Even in an extremely sexualized culture in which most men are learning about sex primarily through pornography," Challies goes on to ask, "can we provide real, helpful, biblical answers without being as frank as what Real Marriage offers?" We most certainly can!

Blessed John Paul II, who, based on his personalist philosophy, had a very positive view and progressive view of marital sexuality, created a great stir when he suggested that lust within marriage exists and remains sinful. Though I have referred to this chapter in several posts recently, I feel compelled to return to Fr. Radcliffe's take on lust, which he set forth in the fifth chapter of his book What Is the Point of Being a Christian?, in which he writes wonderfully well on the virtue of chastity:
Lust may look as if it is sexual passion gone wild, but St. Augustine, who understood sex well, believed that lust was more about the desire to dominate other people than for sexual pleasure. Lust is part of the libido dominandi, the impulse to control and make ourselves God. Sebastian Moore, OSB wrote that 'lust, then, is not sexual passion out of control of the will, but sexual passion as a cover story for the will to be God' (pg 102)
One aspect that is necessary in keeping our wits about us when it comes to sex is not severing the connection between sexual intercourse and procreation. In the section of his prophetic encyclical Humanae Vitae in which he warned about the effects of the widespread use of contraceptives on the well-being of women, Pope Paul wrote: "Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection" (par. 17).

Friday, December 16, 2011

"Doot Doot Doot..."

Freur's Doot Doot, released in 1983, is our Friday traditio for this Third Friday in Advent.

Christopher Hitchens, "Hitch," passed away today. While I disagreed with him on the most fundamental matters, I appreciated his humanism, which is something he had in common with his brother Peter, with whom I agree on most important matters. Hitch's book Why Orwell Matters is without a doubt the best book on Orwell I have read. It is a monument to Hitch's care for the human. It seems, as his book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything attests, that his biggest problem with religion is the inhumanity that religious institutions and religious people often exhibit. One doesn't have to be an atheist or even irreligious to grasp this sad truth. I believe an admission along these lines is what endeared Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete to him during a public discussion they had on religion a few years back in New York City. Suffice it say that news of Hitch's passing this morning makes me sad.

What's in a name?/Face on a stage/Where are you now?/Memory fades, you take a bow

Thursday, December 15, 2011

"The Awe Factor of God"

I hope to never lose my sense of awe, my sense of wonder.

In Proverbs we read, "Fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge" (1:7). Then, in both Proverbs and the Psalms we learn, "The beginning of wisdom is fear of the LORD (Proverbs 9:10; Ps. 111:10). "Fear" in these verses, I think, can be taken as "awe" and in both senses of the word. To me, the two senses of "awe" are "awful" and "awesome," which are negative and positive respectively. I think we are meant, at least initially, to take it in both ways.

Writing about Lars Von Trier's most recent film Melancholia for Relevant magazine, Brian McCracken juxtaposes this somewhat pessimistic, if not nihilistic, apocalyptic treatment with Terrance Malick's Tree of Life, which is certainly a more hopeful film. By hopeful I don't mean sentimental, or, how we use "hopeful" most of the time, as a synonym for "wishful," but realistic, and engagement with reality.

Succinctly comparing and contrasting the two films, McCracken writes that "Melancholia, like Tree of Life, vividly depicts man’s flawed, sinful nature and his temporal smallness in the grand scheme of things. But whereas Life offers a hopeful portrait of human potential for redemption and hints at the existence of a meaningful, grace-filled telos in the world, Melancholia offers a bleak, bereft-of-hope portrait of humanity as irredeemably self-destructive and helpless, at best deluded by idealized notions of love and purpose." McCracken also notes that the resonance of the films by Malick and Von Trier merely tap into our innate grasp of the temporary nature of things, at least things as they now are: "There's a sense in which every human instinctively knows the Earth will not last forever and that fiery destruction is in some way deserved."

Chan, in the second chapter of his book Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God, entitled "You Might Not Finish This Chapter," urges his reader to imagine human existence on the earth from start-to-finish as a movie. The first thing he notes is that the movie is not centered on you, or me, or any of us. God is the main character. Our role lasts for about two-fifths of a second and features maybe a sideways shot of the back of your head. I find in Chan's explication of reality a more popular film version of themes dealt with by the auteur Hans Urs Von Balthasar in his five volume Theo-drama, about which Balthasar writes:
By and large the actor’s nature and person do not coincide with the role he has to play, and this is true not only of the stage play…but also of the theatrum mundi itself. In the play that takes place on the world stage, the author, director, and producer is—in an absolute sense—God himself. True, he allows [human] freedom to act in its own part according to its nature—and this is the greatest mystery of creation and of God’s direct creative power—yet ultimately the play [God] plays is his own. In this play there can be and tragic or comic dichotomy between the actor and the role; and this produces the comedies and tragedies of world history…Only in the drama of the God-Man do we find identity between the sublime actor and the role he has to play.
What, or better yet, Who resolves "awful" into "awesome"? Jesus Christ: "There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love" (1 John 4:18). Yes, the crazy love of a relentless God!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Prayer: Making our words match our hearts

I came across an article today in the Christian Post that discussed the first of a scheduled seven of Pastor Francis Chan's BASIC series. In this installment Chan is talking about praying. He addresses head-on why so many prayers go unanswered, finding the answer in the Scriptures- it's amazing what you find in holy writ when you read it: "You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?" (James 4:2b-4a ESV)

Chan compares his prayers with those of Jesus' earliest followers: "As I look at the way the disciples prayed back then and as I look at the way Jesus taught us to pray, I realize it’s a lot different from what I was taught. Prayer to them was really different, they asked for things that were different from what I typically asked for." His focus on the prayer of Jesus' earliest disciples made me call-to-mind the beginning of this year's Communion & Liberation Spiritual Exercises. The theme, or focus, of the exercises "Whoever Is In Christ Is A New Creation", taken from St. Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (5:17 ESV).

At the very beginning of the Exercises, Fr. Carrón urged us to "try to identify with the disciples after Easter." Asking, "What prevailed in their hearts, in their eyes, in their self-awareness, if not His living presence?" Indeed, what prevailed in their hearts was Christ's presence and, Fr. Carrón insisted, His presence "was so evident for them that they could not rip it away." Fr. Carrón asked, "Who of us would not desire such intensity of life?" Presumably, no one, at least nobody bothering to listen to people like Francis Chan and Julían Carrón. "But if we compare what the disciples experienced that week of Easter with what we have lived," Carrón continued, "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."

While Chan sees in James' letter the answer to the question, "Why prayers go unanswered," it is the Lord's Prayer that gives us not just a model of prayer, but speaks volumes about the content of prayer. He notes how we just say this prayer, without knowing what we are saying, or really, at least more often that we'd probably care to admit, without caring.

What he says is convicting. I was struck by his take on the phrase "lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil": “Haven’t you prayed that at times in your life when you were actually still were holding on to some temptation? Maybe you weren’t even ready to let go of all of your sin and yet you’re saying it. It’s like your words weren’t matching up to your heart.” I have and quite recently. As a matter of fact, as recently as last night.

While preaching and exhortation can always use some theological tweaking and improvement, I think what Pastor Chan is proposing here is sound. It is a proposal, maybe even a provocation. It is something that can be verified by experience. Consider this question asked by Chan- "Maybe we haven't seen... His power because we haven't been praying for the things that He wanted us to pray for." Like the early disciples, we too can experience Christ as "something happening" to us. As Fr. Carrón asserted, for the His first followers, Jesus "was not a doctrine, a list of things to do, a sentiment. Yes, He was an external presence, different, but one that permeated their life."

To add a thought of mine own, it seems that maybe God changes us, that is, our hearts, through prayer and then sends us to change the world- just a thought.

You can watch the entire segment, which is about 15 minutes long, on the Relevant website. I also recommend Francis' short and powerful book, Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mass: A brief Tuesday consideration

For what it's worth I am posting the concluding passage of a Liturgy paper I wrote several years back for a graduate course. My topic was. Why Go to Mass? In addition to improbably citing Nehemiah (who'da thought?), I also (again!) allude to Timothy Radcliffe's What Is the Point of Being a Christian? Additionally, I refer to some class notes from my professor, Msgr. Michael Clay and cite a passage from Msgr. Kevin Irwin's fantastic book, Models of the Eucharist. As with my post yesterday, the paragraph below is part of the conclusion of this paper, which centered on answering this question for young adults. In now way is my answer comprehensive. It was designed as a presentation to give young adults.

Why go to Mass? Indeed, we acknowledge that all creation is infused with the divine! Nonetheless, just as God became incarnate as a particular human being at a certain time and in a specific place, Christ is present in the eucharistic liturgy in a unique way. Christ is really present in the eucharistic liturgy in four distinct ways, two of which we have covered extensively. Allow me to paraphrase something I have heard now-Archbishop George Niederauer say many times, especially to young adults: As Catholics it is not the case that we have to go to Mass. Rather, we get to go to Mass. What Fr. Radcliffe observes may very well be true, that our eucharistic assemblies often lack a sense of mutual rejoicing. But, before we can rejoice we must find joy in the first place. Where do we find joy, in whom do we find joy? Our faith tells us that our joy is Christ who becomes present through us, in the person of the priest, in the proclamation his word, and, completing the circle, in the bread and wine, which we eat and drink and by which we are transformed. The author of the Book of Nehemiah tells Israel as they prepare to begin worshipping God in the divinely prescribed manner after exile, rejoicing in the LORD is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). How we approach the sacred mysteries enacted in liturgy also matters. What do we see as the point, purpose, or reason for gathering and celebrating liturgy?

So much of what young adults do, either in your chosen vocations or in a voluntary manner, is aimed at making the world a better place. Many of these efforts do a great deal of good in the community and in the world. Sometimes the Church can be quite disappointing in this regard. We must remember that we are now “’the pilgrim church on earth’” and “not the fully united and perfectly sinless bride of Christ” (Irwin 86). This why your presence and mine are so needed at Mass, to help God’s pilgrim people arrive at our destination. We must keep in mind that “The purpose of the Eucharist is not primarily to change bread and wine but change you and me” (Clay "Liturgy and Spirituality" 4). You and I, in turn, are sent forth to change the world, or at least the part of it in which we find ourselves.
Short posts this week due to making final revisions on my Integrated Pastoral Research paper, known in some circles as a thesis.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Jesus: A brief Monday consideration

For what it's worth I am posting the concluding passage of a Christology paper I wrote several years back for my graduate Christology class. The topic was Did Jesus of Nazareth Know He Was Divine? The works I cite in this passage are Elizabeth Johnson's Consider Jesus: Waves of Renewal in Christology and Raymond Brown's An Introduction to New Testament Christology. I was limited to using these two assigned texts for the course. There were, of course, other assigned texts, like O'Collins seminal work.

Because theology is largely synthetic and biblical scholarship is predominantly analytic, it is fitting to look theologically at the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, which is made known to us primarily by the canonical Gospels, through the lens of biblical scholarship. “From the way Jesus talked about God and enacted the reign of God, it is obvious that he had a special and original experience of God...” (Johnson 57). It is the originality of Jesus’ experience of God that points us toward his divinity. Many use Jesus’ reference to God as Abba as the premiere example of the originality of his relationship to God. However, there is some controversy concerning whether the Aramaic term Abba is really “a babble word,” equivalent in meaning to “papa” and “dada” (57). In the Gospels the word Abba is only transliterated into Greek once, in Mark 14:36 (Brown 86). It is not until around AD 200 that the term abba replaces abi as a child’s manner of addressing her father (86).
Jesus "advanced a little and fell to the ground and prayed that if it were possible the hour might pass by him; he said, 'Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will'" (Mark 14:35-36) Taken from Mark's account of our Lord's prayer in the garden of Gethsemane.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Gaudete Sunday: "The Lord is near"

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near" (Phil. 4:4-5).

Today is the Third Sunday of Advent. The Third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday. "Gaudete" means "Rejoice" in Latin. The name for today is taken from the introit for the Mass, which comes from the fourth chapter of St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians, verses 4-5. It is the Sunday we light the rose candle on our Advent wreaths.

Personally I see the Third Sunday of Advent as a kind of turning point in the season, the time I begin to focus more on the Savior's birth in Bethlehem. However, intimations, hints, and explicit acknowledgments continue to keep before me the necessity of being prepared to meet Him, which strikes me as the almost exclusive focus of the first half of Advent. It is safe to say that Advent is the most complex of the liturgical seasons, thus requiring us to hold things in tension, which is a good summary of the Christian life. As the late liturgical scholar Mark Searle observed, "tension creates energy." Nonetheless, in season and out, in good times and in bad, we are to rejoice in the Lord always.

Our second reading for today is taken again from St. Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians. In this letter, too, the apostle urges us, "Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus." Our second reading concludes with the apostle's reassurance, "The one who calls you is faithful,and he will also accomplish it." It is the Lord's fidelity that is the source of our joy. We can also look to the next verse of the fourth chapter of Philippians, "Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God."

In a word, pray. Advent is only half-way gone. If you have managed to sucked into the swirling vortex of "the holiday season" all is not lost. Start today by going somewhere quiet and spending time in the presence of God, or go for a walk and pray a rosary. The possibility for prayer is always there, it's just a matter of our seizing it.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Archbishop Martin on acting in accord with conscience

In a recently-filmed documentary, the archbishop of Dublin, the very courageous and faithful Diarmuid Martin, tells lapsed Catholics to go ahead and leave, well sorta. In the film he says, "It requires maturity on those people who want their children to become members of the church community and maturity on those people who say 'I don't believe in God and I really shouldn't be hanging on to the vestiges of faith when I don't really believe in it.'" He also talks about the necessity of the Church breaking ties with some Catholic schools, the ones that are not really Catholic. On my view, such schools are not merely neutral, but are often antithetical to faith.

Be discerning in how you read accounts of this story, how the story is spun. Like Archbishop Michael Sheehan's pastoral letter on marriage, which he promulgated in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe earlier this year, there will be many whose responses will range from, "How rude!" to those who will claim Archbishop Martin's comments are un-pastoral. When it comes these matters I have no problem playing the contrarian because groupthink and lazy assumptions sometimes reign even in the Church.

Diarmuid Martin is a truthful, loving pastor. He is urging people to act in accord with their consciences, not kicking people out. He was the lone voice among the Irish episcopate calling his fellow bishops to account and, in some cases, to resign because of their mishandling and, in a few instances, complicity with the great sex abuse scandal. Pastorally-speaking maybe it takes losing what you take for granted in order to desire it. If not, then at least your life ceases to be make-believe. In any case, if we believe what we do in Baptism, better yet, what God is doing and asking of us (which belief I doubt in many cases all around, faith being reduced to sentimentality), we are setting people up for the ultimate failure by having them make promises to God they have no intention of keeping. Being mature means living with integrity, which certainly requires one to act in accord with one's conscience.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin

It seems to me the question for those who take offense at what Archbishop Martin is saying is, "Do you believe?" If so, "Is it an act of charity to be facilitator for people acting against their consciences before God?" If, on consideration of the true nature of the sacraments, especially Baptism and Matrimony (Holy Communion doesn't present much of a problem for the reason discussed by Archbishop Martin, namely people don't tend to present themselves for it that often, but when they do the same problem persists), we discern the deficiency of our deeply ingrained pastoral practice, do those of us who at our ordinations pledged to be good stewards of the Sacred Mysteries think that we will not only be held accountable, but more accountable?

In the wake of the great Irish sex abuse scandal, which has caused so much animosity between Eire and the Holy See, Archbishop Martin, in his Easter homily back in 2010, noted, "The two factors which bring about a change in the attitude of the early disciples were their great love for Jesus and their willingness to be guided by the spirit to rightly interpret the scriptures." A bit later in the homily he asked, "But what of those who love the Church? How do we overcome our disgust and shame for the sins of Christians?" Answering his own question, he goes to say,
The sins of the Church can well be exposed by the spotlight of the media; but the Church will be converted, renewed and reformed only when it allows the light of Christ to inspire it and guide it. It is the light of Christ which will show the real significance of the darkness that has slipped into our lives. The light of Christ will expose the sins of Christians but the light of Christ does not abandon us naked and alone in the exposure of our shame and sin. The light of Christ heals, it leads; there is no way we can switch off or dim that part of the light that exposes the sad realities of the past; there is no way we should switch off or dim the light that can open the path to a new future. No generation is too sophisticated not to need the light of Christ; no generation is too sophisticated not to be able to comprehend that light and what it can bring to society
I see in his undoubtedly controversial and provocative comment the same determination, making him, at least to me, an admirable shepherd. In order to speak the truth in love, you must first speak the truth. It follows, to speak the truth means knowing and accepting it, perhaps even despite some uncertainties. Loving others by loving their destiny means trusting God totally. This also means recognizing that Christ's Church is no mere earthly and voluntaristic association, but Christ's Bride, with all that entails.

I give a deep diaconal bow to my dear friend and brother deacon Greg Kandra, author of The Deacon's Bench, for bringing the Irish Independent article to my attention.

Pledging troth, knowing to Whom you belong

I just finished reading a book I would recommend to anyone, especially over the early weeks of Advent: John Henry Cardinal Newman's Callista: A Tale of the Third Century. In addition to being an inspiring tale of early Christian martyrdom, Newman manages to seamlessly write a lot of compelling catechesis. I am not making an attempt to unfold the tale, which is beautiful, as most things are, because of its noble simplicity, but merely highlighting one ancillary digression Cardinal Newman made at the beginning of the eleventh chapter about marriage. In the context of the story, it is a marriage that never happens, but turns into something much more beautiful for God on the part of both Callista and her suitor Agellius. As narrator, Newman writes from the perspective of an ancient North African Christian after the passing of the imperial persecutions, looking back on the events about which he is writing.

Agellius, who along with Callista is the protagonist of the story, has remained a Christian despite the fact that the Church in his town, Sicca, has stopped functioning as the result of previous persecutions. As a Christian with no community, Agellius is a truly like a fish without water. While he remains fairly devout, especially given his circumstances, his love of Christ has started to cool, verging on becoming lukewarm. With the help of his uncle, a committed Roman and pagan, he approaches Aristos, Callista's brother and guardian, about marrying the lovely, talented, and brilliant young woman, despite the fact that she is not yet a Christian. The passage with which I am concerned occurs as Agellius approaches the abode of Aristos and Callista.

About the contemplation of marriage, Newman writes that it is a "solemn moment," indeed, "under any circumstances...when anyone deliberately surrenders himself, soul and body, to the keeping of another while life shall last." It is certainly true that any authentic mode of Christian life has an eschatological dimension, including marriage, which cannot be seen merely as a concession to human weakness. Noting this, Newman wrote that giving one's entire person to another still requires one to reserve "the supreme claim of duty to the Creator."

When looked at objectively, Newman insists, marriage "is so tremendous an undertaking that nature seems to sink under its responsibilities." Looking at marriage by way of an analogy to religious life and, to a lesser degree, priesthood, Newman notes the supernatural strength needed to live both. In religious life and, by extension marriage, "the Christian binds himself" to God through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, thus surrendering himself "to Him who is all-perfect, and whom he may unreservedly trust." However, it is of the essence of these modes of life to be subject to another human being; the religious superior, in the case of a religious, and the spouse for those who are married, marriage, according to Scripture, requiring the mutual submission of husband and wife to each other under the headship of Christ (see Ephesians 5:22-33- DO NOT SKIP ANY VERSE!). Newman rightly observes that we are naturally wary of making "such a sacrifice." Nonetheless, because faith enjoins it, the Church is required to "sanction and bless it." It stands to reason, at least for Newman, "that either the bond should be dissoluble, or that the subjects of it should be sacramentally strengthened to maintain it." A Christian recognizes the latter, thereby placing himself/herself in submission to God, in whom we "may unreservedly trust."

Fr. James Blaine giving the Nuptial Blessing to a newly-married couple in The Cathedral of the Madeleine

It is clear from the beginning of the proposition that he seek to marry her that Agellius is infatuated with Callista. Infatuation, which, according to Fr. Timothy Radcliffe OP, is the mirror image of lust. Infatuation, as Radcliffe describes it, is when another person "becomes the object of all our desires and the symbol of all we have longed for, the answer to all our needs." No human being can possibly bear this weight, but that they can use it to their advantage and the to detriment of the one who is infatuated. Both lust and infatuation are idolatrous. Lust worships the self; infatuation worships the other. Callista begins their interview by recalling a slave woman, Chione, who used to be in Callista's service. According to Callista, Chione was a Christian from a Christian family who died young. Speaking of her late slave, Callista says, "She was unlike any one I have seen before or since, she cared for nothing, yet was not morose or peevish or hard-hearted." The beautiful and inspiring love of Chione for Christ becomes the criterion against which Callista judges the faith of Agellius.

Agellius keeps bringing up his "Master," expressing his wish that Callista may come to know Him, but Callista cuts him short, chastising him for never saying anything meaningful to her about Christ, despite their long-time acquaintance: "Your Master! who is your Master? what know I of your Master? I suppose it is an esoteric doctrine which I am not worthy to know; but so it is, here you have been again and again, and talked freely of many things, yet I am in as much darkness about your Master as if I had never seen you." Calling out his infatuation of her, the physically beautiful Callista says to Agellius, "Your words, your manner, your looks were altogether different from others who came near me. But so it was; you came, and you went, and came again; I thought it reserve, I thought it timidity, I thought it the caution of a persecuted sect; but O, my disappointment, when first I saw in you indications that you were thinking of me only as others think, and felt towards me as others may feel; that you were aiming at me, not your God; that you had much to tell of yourself, but nothing of Him! Time was I might have been led to worship you, Agellius; you have hindered it be worshipping me." Of the last sentence, my friend Maria Elena wrote: "best quote ever."

Hence, his infatuation with her is the reason Callista very sagely rebukes Agellius, thus slapping his conscience back to life, putting them both on the royal road to salvation. It is a classic instance of loving another by loving his destiny, of showing how veritas precedes caritas. As a result of his infatuation with Callista, Agellius failed to acknowledge that God has the supreme claim upon him, something that Callista makes unmistakably clear to her would-be suitor. This shows us that it is not always evangelical zeal, but lukewarmness, that many non-Christians, at least those like Callista who have grasped the futility of life and who are looking for what their existence truly means, for fulfillment, find so unappealing.

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 ...