Sunday, December 30, 2012

Year C Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

Readings: Sir. 3:2-6.12-14; Ps. 128:1-5; Col. 3:12-21; Luke 2:41-52

Over the days immediately following the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord we observe a number of important feasts, most notably, on the second day of Christmas, the Feast of St. Stephen, one of the Church’s first seven deacons and the first Christian martyr, followed the next day by the Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist, then comes the Feast of the Holy Innocents, when we call to mind the young boys killed on Herod’s orders to prevent the rising up of a ruler who might challenge the wicked king’s power.

In the wake of the pre-Christmas shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, we celebrated (yes “celebrate” is the correct word) the Feast of the Holy Innocents with a lot of immediacy and poignancy this year. We can celebrate this day and all the days of the Christmas only because of our hope that arises from the love God has shown us in Christ Jesus, particularly in and through His resurrection from the dead, which love is greater than any evil that can befall us, as difficult as that is to grasp at times. In this way we adhere to St. Paul’s admonition from our New Testament reading for this feast: “whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17).

There has rightly and understandably been a lot of talk these past few weeks about families that have been devastated, but on this Feast of the Holy Family let us consider some of the consequences of the on-going devastation of the family. In his annual Christmas address to the Roman Curia, delivered during the last full week of Advent, Pope Benedict XVI spoke very directly to this civilizational crisis. Reflecting back on his meeting with families from throughout the world in Milan last June, the Holy Father said it was an indication that the family remains strong and vibrant, but went on to note that “there is no denying the crisis that threatens [the family] to its foundations – especially in the western world.”

According to the Pope, “the question of the family is not just about a particular social construct, but about man himself – about what he is and what it takes to be authentically human.” This prompted the Pontiff to pose a number of questions, the fundamental one being about “the human capacity to make a commitment or to avoid commitment.” This, in turn, allowed him to pose a number of more specific questions: “Can one bind oneself for a lifetime? Does this correspond to [hu]man nature? Does it not contradict [our] freedom and the scope of [our] self-realization?” Do we come to self-realization by living for ourselves alone and only entering into relationships with others when we can break them off again at any time? “Is lifelong commitment antithetical to freedom? Is commitment also worth suffering for?”

In an article published in The Washington Times on Christmas Day, “Fathers disappear from households across America,” journalist Luke Rosiak cited some alarming figures: over the last ten years while “the country added 160,000 families with children the number of two-parent households decreased by 1.2 million. Fifteen million U.S. children, or 1 in 3, live without a father, and nearly 5 million live without a mother. In 1960, just 11 percent of American children lived in homes without fathers.” That’s a percentage increase of nearly 20% over fifty-two years. In this context, bearing in mind the growing income gap between the rich and poor in our nation, it is important to point out something else Rosiak, using statistics provided by the National Fatherhood Initiative, cites, “Married couples with children have an average income of $80,000, compared with $24,000 for single mothers.”

Considering all the issues we currently face as a nation, what Vincent DiCaro, who serves as vice president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, observed in the article isn’t much of an over-statement: “Deal with absent fathers, and the rest follows.” DiCaro went on to observe that very often we “look at a child in need, in poverty or failing in school, and ask, ‘What can we do to help?’ But what we [need to] ask [is], ‘Why does that child need help in the first place?’ And the answer is often because [the child lacks] a responsible and involved father.” While I don’t want to score cheap emotional points, it is sobering to think about the absence of the Newtown shooter’s, Adam Lanza, father, who is a very successful financier, from his life. It appears that the two had not spoken for two years prior to Adam’s spree of violence and terror, leaving an apparently troubled mother to cope to with a deeply troubled son on her own.

Responding to the questions posed earlier in his speech to the Roman Curia, the Holy Father said, “Man’s refusal to make any commitment – which is becoming increasingly widespread as a result of a false understanding of freedom and self-realization as well as the desire to escape suffering – means that [we] remain… closed in on [ourselves].” He then moved to the fundamental reason for the Incarnation of the Son of God, observing that “only in self-giving” do we discover ourselves, “and only by opening [ourselves] to the other, to others, to children, to the family, only by letting [ourselves] be changed through suffering,” do we discover “the breadth of [our] humanity. When such commitment is repudiated, the key figures of human existence likewise vanish: father, mother, child – essential elements of the experience of being human are lost.”

Considering all of the complexities of individual situations and circumstances, it is impossible to judge wholesale, let alone to condemn anyone, which are not my reasons for broaching this difficult issue. We must let ourselves be confronted and challenged by the truth because without truth there can be no love. As philosopher Donald DeMarco wrote, “The rejection of truth… moves love to the edge, where it can be reclaimed only by the recovery of truth.” This is an apt description of the suffering to which we must be willing to subject ourselves in order to discover the “breadth” of our humanity, the fullness of which is revealed to us by Jesus Christ. As Bishop Wester stated emphatically in his homily for the Nativity of the Lord, we must see in the wood of the manger, the wood of the Cross, which is the path to ultimate fulfillment and happiness, both here and in eternity. One of the great mysteries of life, taught us from our mothers giving birth to us onward, is that true joy is almost always born of suffering.

It is easy to think of the response of the boy Jesus in today’s Gospel to His Mother’s expressed concern as insouciant. It is not. By stating forthrightly that God is His Father, thus indicating St. Joseph is not, our Lord in no way denigrates the faithful fatherhood of St. Joseph. The silent witness of St. Joseph in the Gospels is nothing short of sublime. This is indicated by the sacred author noting that after this episode Jesus “went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them” (Luke 2:50-51a), but only after noting that the Blessed Virgin and her most chaste spouse did not fully grasp what they had just experienced.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

More on St. Stephen and deacons as evangelists

In his catechesis for his Wednesday Audience on the day after the Nativity of the Lord, Pope Benedict said, "On St. Stephen’s Day, we are called to fix our gaze on the Son of God, who in the joyful atmosphere of Christmas we contemplate in the mystery of His Incarnation."

He also noted, "The book of Acts presents [Stephen] as a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 6.8 to 10, 7.55); in him the full promise of Jesus recounted in today's Gospel passage is fulfilled, which is that believers who are called to bear witness in difficult and dangerous circumstances will not be abandoned or left defenseless: the Spirit of God will speak to them (cf. Mt 10:20). The deacon Stephen, in fact, worked, spoke and died animated by the Holy Spirit, bearing witness to the love of Christ to the point of extreme sacrifice."

St. Stephen fixes his gaze- St. Stephen's Church Cleveland, Ohio

In his remarks, the Holy Father reminded us, "In Baptism and Confirmation, with the precious gift of faith nourished by the Sacraments of the Church, especially the Eucharist, Jesus Christ has bound us to Him and wants to continue in us, through the action of the Holy Spirit, his work of salvation that redeems, enhances, elevates and leads all to fulfillment. Allowing ourselves be drawn by Christ, like St. Stephen, means opening our lives to the light that calls, directs and makes us walk the path of good, the path of humanity according to God’s loving plan."

"Finally," the Pontiff remarked, "St. Stephen is a model for all those who want to serve the new evangelization. He shows that the novelty of proclamation does not primarily consist in the use of original methods or techniques, which certainly have their uses, but in being filled with the Holy Spirit and allowing ourselves to be guided by Him. The novelty of proclamation lies in immersing ourselves deeply in the mystery of Christ, the assimilation of His Word and of His presence in the Eucharist, so that He Himself, the living Jesus, can act and speak through His envoy. In essence, the evangelizer becomes able to bring Christ to others effectively when he lives of Christ, when the newness of the Gospel manifests itself in his own life" (underlining and italicizing emphasis mine).

This is notable, I point out once again, because apart from the intervention of Bishop Steven Croft, Anglican bishop of Sheffield, England, there was no mention made of deacons in the context of the New Evangelization at the recent Synod convened by the Holy Father. The witness of St. Stephen and St. Philip in the Acts of the Apostles show us that from the Church's beginning deacons have been and now are evangelists, performing the diakonia of veritas in caritate (i.e., truth in love).

Year in overview

I don't mind admitting that 2012 was the year I freed myself from the compulsion to post something daily. In fact, December is the only the month this year the number of posts equalled or exceeded the number of days in the month (I composed 28 posts in February, but this year was a Leap Year). On that note, it is something of an intermittent tradition for me to provide a year-end round-up of what I posted this year, something like my version of the "Best of Καθολικός διάκονος 2012." This year is runs back-to-front (i.e., December-January). I exclude homilies from consideration.

I am always happy to have others chime in and share what post they've read here over these past 12 months that struck them in some good or challenging way.

December: A dissociative digression on my need to (re-)discover my I

November: "a mystery of ultimate eschatological commitment"

October: Deacons are evangelists

September: Encounter with Marnie

August: "We feel most alive in the presence of the Beautiful"

July: Amos was a prophet and so was Pope Paul

June: A note on vocation with a diaconal twist

May: Simon, Alexander, and Rufus

April: Daily prayer "an obligation and opportunity for all"

March: Orienting desire

February: Libertas ecclesiae: freedom for the truth

January: Discipleship costly for all who follow

Friday, December 28, 2012

"You kissed the face of God"

Our Friday traditio for this fourth day of Christmas is Cee Lo Green singing "Mary Did You Know?" Somehow it also seems to express the hope we need on this Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs. In my estimation, this song also beautifully expresses the wonder of the Incarnation.

"And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).

Did you know that your Baby Boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?/The sleeping Child you're holding is the Great, I Am

Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs

Today the Church observes and, even in the wake of the pre-Christmas horror in Connecticut, I daresay celebrates, the Feast of the Holy Innocents. We can celebrate this day because we know that God's love, shown us in Jesus Christ, particularly in and through His resurrection from the dead, is greater than any evil that can befall us, as difficult as that may be to believe at times.

While it has already been given wide dissemination, instead of composing something of my own, I want to draw attention to Msgr. Robert Weiss' Christmas message to his parish, St. Rose of Lima in Newtown, Connecticut, which is on their parish blog:

Dear Parishioners,

Had I written my Christmas message a couple of weeks ago as I had planned, it would have had a far different tone than this message. We have not only witnessed one of the greatest tragedies in the world, but we as a community are called to do what we can to move forward.

I have been asked so often how do we celebrate Christmas this year. I believe that we celebrate it in its truest sense, putting aside all the secularity and simply sitting in silence and praying that the hope, healing and peace promised to us by Christ will be given to us in abundance. Perhaps, at least for us as a community, we can reclaim some of what this holyday is meant to be.

We know that some hearts in this town will be broken again on Christmas morning when that one special person is not there to open their gifts. For those whose children and spouses are with them, rather than just going right for the gifts, perhaps a hug and a prayer should come first. Prayers for those for whom this day will never be the same again and hugs for those surrounding you whose life you hold as precious. We need to know that even in these darkest hours, there is still light, light that is brighter than that great star over Bethlehem, which will take us to the place where we need to be…it will take us to the heart of Christ who will heal our brokenness, remove our anger and hurt and fill us with the peace and strength we need to not just move forward but to reclaim the life that is ours as a community in Christ Jesus. Thank you for the incredible strength that you have been for me in these days and for lifting me up in your thoughts and your prayers. I pray a special Christmas for all of us this year and for all that this holy season can hold for us as believers.

Holy Christmas, Monsignor Bob Weiss ________________________________________________________________________________

Let's not forget, today it's still Christmas...

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Logic, Narnia, Lewis, Giussani, and Plantinga

At the very beginning of the first volume of Is It Possible to Live This Way?: An Unusual Approach to Christian Existence, in which he dealt the subject of faith, Msgr. Luigi Giussani used an extended and fairly detailed example to demonstrate just how faith works, how all knowledge, maybe even the knowledge that really matters, is not grasped directly, but indirectly, that is, by someone telling us about it and the application of very basic logic.

In C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when Peter and Susan go to speak with the Professor (who is Digory Kirke, the magician's nephew) about their younger sister Lucy's insistence that she has visited Narnia by passing through a wardrobe located in a spare room in the Professor's house and their younger brother (who is older than Lucy) Edmund's denial that he visited Narnia, despite the fact that he did (a fact not known to Susan and Peter at this point in the story) and Edmund's hostility towards Lucy, the Professor proves wise.

After listening for a long time without speaking, the Professor says, "if you will excuse me for asking the question - does your experience lead you to regard your brother [Edmund] or your sister [Lucy] as the more reliable? I mean, which is the more truthful?" Peter replies, "Up till now I'd have said it was Lucy every time." When asked by the Professor, Susan concurs with Peter's assessment, adding, "but this couldn't be true about the wood and the faun."

The Professor continues by telling the concerned elder siblings that "a charge of lying against someone whom you have always found truthful is a very serious thing: a very serious thing indeed." Susan quickly replies, "We were afraid it mightn't be lying,... we thought there might be something wrong with Lucy." The Professor asks "coolly," "Madness, you mean?" He observes that all one has to do to learn that Lucy is not "mad" is to speak with her.

"Logic!" says the Professor. "Why don't they teach logic at these schools? There are are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn't tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth."

In addition to being very consonant with how Don Gius explains faith using a quite ordinary, if somewhat complex, example, what Lewis puts into the mouth of Professor Digory Kirke is also very congruent with philosopher Alvin Plantinga's epistemological concept of "warrant," laid out initially in his book Warrant and Proper Function, which was newly published and all the rage back when I was a university philosophy student. In modern analytic philosophy knowledge is usually held to be the result of a justified, true, belief. But since "true" is too objective, that is, external to the subject, and "belief" is too subjective, that is, internal to the subject, much emphasis is placed on justifying what we can believe.

While this is most certainly an oversimplification and assuming memory serves me well, Plantinga proposed "warrant" as something like a replacement for "justified" in this schema. Warrant holds something along the lines that assuming the human subject is functioning properly (i.e., not "mad" and is being honest) and no evidence can "undercut" (i.e., refute) the belief, then it doesn't need to be justified, the subject has warrant (i.e., is epistemically "authorized") to believe it.

Lewis used a similar argument in Mere Christianity:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about [Jesus]: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
It seems to me that if there's one thing that overeager atheists most often lack, it is anything remotely resembling an epistemology. In every instance, as J.R.R. Tolkien told the younger, not yet believing C.S. Lewis, they lack imagination, choosing a two-dimensional view.

Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist

Not wanting to hit the blog gong too hard over these quiet, snowy days (at least here in the foothills of the Wasatch), I will relegate myself to simply noting that today, following closely on the heels of the Feast of St. Stephen, is the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, the Beloved Disciple.

Just as St. Stephen's day is a day, or the day, for deacons, St. John's day is a day for priests, without whom we would be lost. Who else, to use an old word I recently encountered in a Walker Percy novel, shrive us of our sins on a regular basis, anoint us for healing, and above all preside at the Eucharist, all in persona Christi captis (i.e., "in the person of Christ the head)? This should motivate each of us to both pray for vocations to the priesthood and encourage those young men so inclined to pursue this truly awesome vocation.

St. John the Evangelist, by Pedro Berruete

Each year on the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, known more popularly as Christmas (couldn't resist, sorry), for Mass During the Day, we read the first eighteen verses of the first chapter of St. John's Gospel, which constitute the Gospel's prologue. In verse fourteen we read,
And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth
The original Greek word used for "dwelling" literally means "tabernacle." In Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, commenting on this passage, Pope Benedict XVI wrote, "The man Jesus is the dwelling-place of the Word, the eternal divine Word, in this world. Jesus' 'flesh,' his human existence, is the dwelling-place of the Word: the reference to the sacred tent of Israel in the wilderness is unmistakable.

To bring this reflection a little closer to earth, just think of the presence of Msgr. Robert Weiss, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Newtown, Connecticut, along with his parochial vicar, Father Luke Suarez- (More on that tomorrow on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs).

God our Father,
you have revealed the mysteries of your Word
through John the apostle.
By prayer and reflection
may we come to understand the wisdom he taught.

Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit
one God, forever and ever. Amen

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Feast of St. Stephen: deacon, martyr

Today, the day after we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, we celebrate the Feast of St. Stephen. Like the other six men on whom the apostles laid hands, thus setting them apart, that is, consecrating them, to serve, Stephen was a Greek-speaking Jew. These men were set apart to insure that the daily distribution of food was divided equally between Greek-speaking and, presumably, Aramaic-speaking widows in the earliest Christian community in Jerusalem. It was the complaining of the Greek-speaking members of the community that led the apostles to ask the community to select seven men to serve the community (Acts 6:3-4).

Just after Easter this year, I was re-reading parts of the late Jaroslav Pelikan's theological commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, which is the very last book published by the great historian of Christian doctrine before his passing in 2006. In the course of my reading I came across his commentary on Acts 2:1, which says, "When the day of Pentecost was fully come."

In his theological commentary on this foundational passage, Pelikan highlighted "[t]he theological theme of the connection between the Holy Spirit and 'fullness'," which, he noted, "runs through the entire narrative of Acts." He went to on cite examples from the text of this companion volume to The Gospel According to St. Luke, sometimes called "The Gospel of the Holy Spirit," of those who were filled with the Holy Spirit, along with the example of Ananias (Acts 5:1-11), who was not. In this he points forward to Acts chapter six, where we read about the seven men being set apart for service. The instruction of the Twelve to the community was "pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty" (Acts 6:3 ESV). Note: being filled with the Spirit was a requirement.

Despite being set aside and consecrated for service, specifically "table" service, we quickly find St. Stephen preaching. Apart from the teaching of our Lord Himself and St. Peter's Pentecost preaching, which led to the baptism of many, many people, Stephen preaches perhaps the greatest sermon in the whole of Sacred Scripture (Acts 6:8-13; Acts 7:1-53). Stephen was indeed  "a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom' (6:5)." Stephen, Pelikan went on to point out, was also noted for being "'full of grace and power (6:8)"... who at his protomartyr's death, 'full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus stand at the right hand of God' (7:55)."

St. Stephen, by Ulisse Sartini

This painting of St. Stephen, which I discovered on New Year's Day 2012, is by the contemporary Italian master Ulisse Sartini and was commissioned by an anonymous benefactor. Sartini depicts St. Stephen dressed in a golden dalmatic with the palm of martyrdom in his right hand and the Book of the Gospels held between his left arm and his body. At the top of the picture the Cross is barley detectable. The original is in the Church of St. Stephen, Martyr in the city of Rivergaro, Italy.

St. Stephen's day is the day the Church celebrates deacons. In my own diocese, the Diocese of Salt Lake City, the restored and renewed diaconate was inaugurated by Bishop Joseph Lennox Federal on 26 December 1976.

St. Stephen, who, along with St. Martin of Tours, on whose feast I was born, is my patron saint from birth, my middle name being Stephen. He is also the patron of Καθολικός διάκονος, which remains dedicated to the diakonia of koinonia (i.e., the service of communion). Koinonia is the transliterated form of the Greek word κοινωνία, which refers to being in communion by "intimate" participation. It is the word used frequently throughout the New Testament to describe the fellowship (i.e., the communion) of the Early Church. Specifically, it is used to describe the Eucharist.

St. Stephen, proto-martyr, pray for all deacons, that, like you, we may be witnesses, that is, martyrs, for Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Urbi et Orbi- Christmas 2012



“Veritas de terra orta est!” – “Truth has sprung out of the earth” (Ps 85:12).

Dear brothers and sisters in Rome and throughout the world, a happy Christmas to you and your families!

In this Year of Faith, I express my Christmas greetings and good wishes in these words taken from one of the Psalms: “Truth has sprung out of the earth”. Actually, in the text of the Psalm, these words are in the future: “Kindness and truth shall meet; / justice and peace shall kiss. / Truth shall spring out of the earth, /and justice shall look down from heaven. / The Lord himself will give his benefits; / our land shall yield its increase. / Justice shall walk before him, / and salvation, along the way of his steps” (Ps 85:11-14).

Today these prophetic words have been fulfilled! In Jesus, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, kindness and truth do indeed meet; justice and peace have kissed; truth has sprung out of the earth and justice has looked down from heaven. Saint Augustine explains with admirable brevity: “What is truth? The Son of God. What is the earth? The flesh. Ask whence Christ has been born, and you will see that truth has sprung out of the earth … truth has been born of the Virgin Mary” (En. in Ps. 84:13). And in a Christmas sermon he says that “in this yearly feast we celebrate that day when the prophecy was fulfilled: ‘truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven’. The Truth, which is in the bosom of the Father has sprung out of the earth, to be in the womb of a mother too. The Truth which rules the whole world has sprung out of the earth, to be held in the arms of a woman ... The Truth which heaven cannot contain has sprung out of the earth, to be laid in a manger. For whose benefit did so lofty a God become so lowly? Certainly not for his own, but for our great benefit, if we believe” (Sermones, 185, 1).

“If we believe”. Here we see the power of faith! God has done everything; he has done the impossible: he was made flesh. His all-powerful love has accomplished something which surpasses all human understanding: the Infinite has become a child, has entered the human family. And yet, this same God cannot enter my heart unless I open the door to him. Porta fidei! The door of faith! We could be frightened by this, our inverse omnipotence. This human ability to be closed to God can make us fearful. But see the reality which chases away this gloomy thought, the hope that conquers fear: truth has sprung up! God is born! “The earth has yielded its fruits” (Ps 67:7). Yes, there is a good earth, a healthy earth, an earth freed of all selfishness and all lack of openness. In this world there is a good soil which God has prepared, that he might come to dwell among us. A dwelling place for his presence in the world. This good earth exists, and today too, in 2012, from this earth truth has sprung up! Consequently, there is hope in the world, a hope in which we can trust, even at the most difficult times and in the most difficult situations. Truth has sprung up, bringing kindness, justice and peace.

Yes, may peace spring up for the people of Syria, deeply wounded and divided by a conflict which does not spare even the defenceless and reaps innocent victims. Once again I appeal for an end to the bloodshed, easier access for the relief of refugees and the displaced, and dialogue in the pursuit of a political solution to the conflict.

May peace spring up in the Land where the Redeemer was born, and may he grant Israelis and Palestinians courage to end to long years of conflict and division, and to embark resolutely on the path of negotiation.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Joy to the World

The Nativity by Carl Heinrich Bloch

"While they were there, 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).

Yesterday in Magnificat's Advent Companion (I can't remember the author), I read that when we celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ we are not celebrating the Incarnation per se, which we celebrated nine months ago on the Annunciation of the Lord. At the Nativity we celebrate the revelation of God's human face. To use the title of a book written by the late Dominican, Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx, who, incidentally, passed away on 23 December 2009, Christ the sacrament of the encounter with God.

So, to both of my readers a Blessed, Merry, Happy, Wonder-filled Christmas!

God made the first move

"'Why do you think it is,' [JB] went on, 'that people spend so much on Christmas? What it is they are looking for in the bright lights and decorations, food and drink? Each one is lonely. Each one is chasing friendship and community'" (The Advent Calendar). One of the major themes explored by the late John O'Donohue in nearly all of his published writings is our deep need to belong, to be accepted, loved. One expression of this same desire is the number of people who turn up at Church on Christmas, many are people who are otherwise never to be found there, except perhaps also on Easter.

Nonetheless, many Christians, those of us who are there every Sunday, on all Holy Days of Obligation, who manage to make it to confession regularly, remain content to play the role of the older brother in St. Luke's parable of the Prodigal Son, and grump, complain, and groan about the audacity of those who only "bother" to turn up only once or twice a year. So, it helps for us to be reminded of just what people are seeking so that we can be welcoming, joyful, plumb glad they are with us to celebrate our Lord's Nativity. Failure to do so only shows us our need, our insecurity, our fear that we are not fully accepted and loved. In order to be secure, we must first know that we are loved.

Throughout this Advent, which concludes at sunset today, the Lord, in His infinite goodness, has led to me to reflect on my deep need and desire to be loved and to show me, yet again, that He just as deeply desires to meet my need. Plus, to recognize that this is a need that I, in turn, as a disciple, a husband, a father, a friend, a deacon, need to recognize in others and to witness to them just how He has met my need by loving them.

Angels announce the birth of Jesus to the shepherds

"The hunger to belong," noted O'Donohue, "is not merely a desire to be attached to something. It is rather sensing that great transformation and discovery become possible when belonging is sheltered and true."

Turning a last time to The Advent Calendar, to the wise guide JB (for the John the Baptist)- "the most important lesson in preparing for Christmas is this: use these weeks before the Holy Day to practice forgiveness, to be reconciled, to let go of old hurts and wounds, to bring hearts and lives together again. There is no better way to get ready for the King."

Like Alice, who in that moment was harboring some deep hurts, we might be a little hesitant, a bit hardened, and ask, "Shouldn't you wait, sometimes, for the other person to make the first move?" To which JB responds, "If each is waiting for the other, the waiting will last for all eternity. Make the first move. Make up. Be reconciled. Forgive and you will be forgiven." It is a lesson best learned, as JB tells his hesitant friend, "in the doing not the hearing."

With the Incarnation, God made the first move.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Expected of the nations and their Savior. Come and save us, O Lord our God.

The verses that make up the final antiphon are Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 33:22.

Our Gospel for the final Sunday of Advent is St. Luke's account of the Blessed Virgin to her cousin Elizabeth, who, after a life of barrenness, was pregnant with John the Baptist. Immediately after the Blessed Virgin greets her, Elizabeth said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled."

Franz Anton The Visitation- 1771-77. Fresco in St. Nicholas Cathedral, Vác, Hungary

Emmanuel, God with us. How does this happen to me, that the Lord Himself comes to me in the bread and in the wine? How does it happen that the Lord comes to me daily in so many distressing disguises?

Since this episode is the second of the five Joyful mysteries of the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, it is worth pointing out that the fruit of this mystery is love of neighbor, one Jesus' two great commandments, the one St Paul says "fulfills the law" (Gal. 5:14).

Christ calls us to fellowship

Prompted by a question that was posed to me last evening inquiring about what someone might read to explain the Roman Catholic position on Salvation, that is, to use technical theological language, "soteriology," I directed my inquirer to Christoph Cardinal Schönborn's recently translated (2009) God Sent His Son: A Contemporary Christology, particularly chapter 2 of Part IV.

Having given this answer, I felt a bit compelled to go back and peruse it in order to refresh my memory. My effort was rewarded by a great reminder of what an invaluable and indispensable (words cannot describe) gift the Eucharist is and how important it is to remain focused on the Eucharist both during these remaining few days of Advent and on into in Christmas. Why?

His Eminence begins by citing St. Augustine from De civitate Dei, noting that the great bishop of Hippo Regius' insight is very biblical, arising as it does "wholly from the ancient world": "A true sacrifice is every work that is done in order that we may cling to God in holy fellowship, that is to say, that has a reference to that goal of the good, through which we may be truly blessed." He then notes, "Sacrifice builds up fellowship."

Cardinal Schönborn points out that even in the Hebrew Scriptures sacrifice builds up fellowship, creating "fellowship with God among men," which "is why they almost always end with a meal, the sign of restored fellowship." He singles out Exodus 24:11, which tells us that "the sacrifice to seal the covenant ends with the elders eating a meal in view of God"- "Yet he did not lay a hand on these chosen Israelites. They saw God, and they ate and drank." He concludes this brief section by stating, "This connection between sacrifice and meal is seen in the Eucharist. There, too, the sacrifice creates fellowship."

It is still Advent. So, in light of this reflection and on this day when we pray the penultimate (I love finding occasions to use that word!) O Antiphon, "O King of the nations," it seems necessary to point out that it was to establish this "fellowship," to restore the harmony between God and humankind ("Peace on earth and mercy mild/God and sinners reconciled"), between people(s), and between human beings and the rest of creation, He was born, lived and taught, died, was resurrected, ascended, sent His Holy Spirit to establish His Church (giving all who believe in Him a new geneaology as God's children), and for this He will return to fully and finally establish God's kingdom, over which He will reign forever and ever. Amen. Precisely because our Lord desires fellowship with us (why else would He become incarnate?), He will not reign as earthly kings do, by force and coercion. This kingdom is often described, using an image from Revelation, as the wedding feast of Lamb. All of this and more, the beginning and the end, is present and happens in each and every Eucharist.

The Eucharist, which is nothing other than Christ Himself, does not exist in a vacuum, is not closed in on itself, but is given in order to be intimately connected with the lives of those who participate. "Sacrifice builds up fellowship" is a succinct summary of Christ's two great commandments, is it not? This, too, puts me in mind of Pope Benedict's speech to the Curia last Thursday, the part where he talked about the sacrifice required in being married and raising a family: "only in self-giving does man find himself, and only by opening himself to the other, to others, to children, to the family, only by letting himself be changed through suffering, does he discover the breadth of his humanity."

O Rex Gentium

O King of the Gentiles and the Desired of all, you are the cornerstone that binds two into one. Come, and save man whom you fashioned out of clay.

The verses of Scripture that combined make-up today's antiphon are Isaiah 28:16 and Ephesians 2:14.

Just how do we acknowledge Christ as our King? By making ourselves subject to Him.

Three days ago, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, wrote a brief editorial for London's Financial Times. In his article, "A time for Christians to engage with the world," the Pontiff lays out what this means:
Christmas can be the time in which we learn to read the Gospel, to get to know Jesus not only as the Child in the manger, but as the one in whom we recognize God made Man.

It is in the Gospel that Christians find inspiration for their daily lives and their involvement in worldly affairs – be it in the Houses of Parliament or the Stock Exchange. Christians shouldn’t shun the world; they should engage with it. But their involvement in politics and economics should transcend every form of ideology.

Christians fight poverty out of a recognition of the supreme dignity of every human being, created in God’s image and destined for eternal life. Christians work for more equitable sharing of the earth’s resources out of a belief that, as stewards of God’s creation, we have a duty to care for the weakest and most vulnerable. Christians oppose greed and exploitation out of a conviction that generosity and selfless love, as taught and lived by Jesus of Nazareth, are the way that leads to fullness of life. Christian belief in the transcendent destiny of every human being gives urgency to the task of promoting peace and justice for all

It is likely no accident, especially given the Year of Faith we are observing due the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, that what the Pope writes is an echo from the Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, which noted, "What specifically characterizes the laity is their secular nature" (par. 31). This is developed later in the constitution: "the laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth. Thus every layman, in virtue of the very gifts bestowed upon him, is at the same time a witness and a living instrument of the mission of the Church itself 'according to the measure of Christ's bestowal'" (par. 33).

Friday, December 21, 2012

Defending our humanity: Pope Benedict speaks to his Curia

Yesterday the Holy Father delivered his annual pre-Christmas speech to the Roman Curia. In this annual speech the Pontiff takes the opportunity to review the past year and speak on several topics that he feels are of the utmost importance. As he did back in 2008, which year marked the fortieth anniversary of Pope Paul VI's (whom Pope Benedict declared "Venerable" yesterday as well) promulgation of Humanae Vitae, Benedict XVI addressed the issue of prioritizing "gender" over "sex," or the tendency even to eliminate "sex" (i.e., what you are by nature) in favor of "gender" (posited as a social construction and so having little or nothing essential to do with the identity of any individual human person).

In this year's address, the Holy Father cited the prioritization, or complete replacement of "sex" with "gender" as one thing that is perilous. Citing the work of the Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, Pope Benedict said,
that the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper. While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question. He quotes the famous saying of Simone de Beauvoir: “one is not born a woman, one becomes so” (on ne naît pas femme, on le devient). These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term “gender” as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves. Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist
Given the inevitable flame that insight sparks, it is easy to overlook the other thing cited as a grave threat to marriage and society, namely "the human capacity to make a commitment or to avoid commitment," an observation that leads the Pontiff to a series of questions that bear on both marriage as well as priesthood and religious life: "Can one bind oneself for a lifetime? Does this correspond to man’s nature? Does it not contradict his freedom and the scope of his self-realization? Does man become himself by living for himself alone and only entering into relationships with others when he can break them off again at any time? Is lifelong commitment antithetical to freedom? Is commitment also worth suffering for?"

(Photo by Eric Vandeville-Pool/Getty Images)

These questions are followed by these pastoral observations: "Man’s refusal to make any commitment – which is becoming increasingly widespread as a result of a false understanding of freedom and self-realization as well as the desire to escape suffering – means that man remains closed in on himself and keeps his 'I' ultimately for himself, without really rising above it. Yet only in self-giving does man find himself, and only by opening himself to the other, to others, to children, to the family, only by letting himself be changed through suffering, does he discover the breadth of his humanity."

The two other topics covered by the Holy Father in his speech were the New Evangelization and inter- religious dialogue. Towards the end of his brief reflection on the challenge of evangelization, saying that "the Church represents the memory of what it means to be human in the face of a civilization of forgetfulness, which knows only itself and its own criteria," addresses the issue, practically forced by his earlier discussion of marriage, that of the relationship of the Church to the state: "In her dialogue with the state and with society, the Church does not, of course, have ready answers for individual questions. Along with other forces in society, she will wrestle for the answers that best correspond to the truth of the human condition. The values that she recognizes as fundamental and non-negotiable for the human condition she must propose with all clarity. She must do all she can to convince, and this can then stimulate political action."

O Oriens

Our Friday traditio is a little known collaboration between U2 and the late Johnny Cash. "The Wanderer" seems almost too fitting a traditio for the final Friday of this Advent. I'll keep it spare.

I stopped outside a church house/Where the citizens like to sit/They say they want the kingdom/But they don't want God in it

"Locusts and honey ... not since John The Baptist has there been a voice like that crying in the wilderness. ... Every man knows he is a sissy compared to Johnny Cash."

-Bono's tribute to Johnny Cash on the day Cash died

O Antiphon:

O Rising Dawn, Radiance of the Light eternal and Sun of Justice: come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Taken from Isaiah 9:1, Malachi 3:20, 2 Peter 1:19.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

O Clavis David

Our O Antiphon for today seems particularly fitting for this year. In the aftermath of last week's horror I think we're all very conscious of the existential fact that we "sit in darkness and the shadow of death." One does not need to be a believer to grasp this aspect of reality. It was Heidegger, I believe, who wrote something along the lines that death is the horizon against we live our lives. Even for believers, those of us who believe life continues over that horizon, we cannot see beyond it. Eternal life is our hope, which is not a wish, but a desire that burns within us. It is Jesus who unlocks the gates of death, making His Father's house accessible to us.

O Key of David and Scepter of the House of Israel; you open and no man closes; you close and no man opens. Come, and deliver from the chains of prison those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

The Scriptures that together constitute today's antiphon are Isaiah 22:22 and Revelation 3:7.

I heard something yesterday while driving to pick my oldest daughter up from her violin lesson, a news story by John Barnett on All Things Considered- "Newtown Tragedy: Would A Good God Allow Such Evil?" The honest answer is that while evil is a great mystery, for whatever reasons, God, in His all-knowing, all-loving mercy, does allow such things, at least for now. At the end of the day there is no satisfactory answer as to why God allows such evil. It was the consensus of all those interviewed that we should be wary "of anyone who says he or she has the answer."

In his song "Hard to Get," the late and still greatly missed Rich Mullins, sang/prayed,

And I know you bore our sorrows
And I know you feel our pain
And I know it would not hurt any less
Even if it could be explained

All I know is that Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, sending of the Holy Spirit, as well as His glorious return are the key to answering this question and overcoming the pain, or fear, or doubt evil generates.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

O Radix Jesse

Today is the third day of the Church's annual recitation of the O Antiphons and so we pray:

O Root of Jesse, you stand as a sign for the peoples; before you kings shall keep silence and to you all nations shall have recourse. Come, save us, and do not delay.

Jesse Tree

The passages of Scripture that make up today's antiphon are both from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah: Isaiah 52:13, 15; 53:2. These passages prophesy about David's throne being restored, of a new branch sprouting from an old root. Jesus is the fulfillment of these prophecies, plus many more.

The Archangel Gabriel, at the Annunciation, declared to the Blessed Virgin, "Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." (Luke 1:32-33).

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

O Adonai

The memory of Oscar Wilde has been reduced to that of a flamboyant and defiant homosexual, a martyr for the cause. In reality, he was no such person. Like all similar ways of remembering, this is reductive (memory has a tendency to be reductive). It is perhaps one of the worst distortions of the time in which we live to reduce a person, any person, to her/his sexuality.

Wilde's stay in Reading gaol (jail), which was the result of his being convicted in May 1895, along with Alfred Taylor, of "gross indecency," was the occasion of the composition of one of his best-loved poems, The Ballad of Reading Gaol. In an on-line article, "The Long Conversion of Oscar Wilde," Andrew McCracken wrote:
The year 1898 saw the publication of The Ballad of Reading Gaol. Wilde's imprisonment and his alienation from friends and society are clearly at the root of this poem, but while the author's experiences were bitter, the poem is not. Gone are the arch aphorisms and mocking paradoxes of his earlier work; gone is the hopeless sense of sin that finds no redemption. The Ballad tells of the execution that Wilde witnessed at Reading Gaol, and conveys the inhuman isolation that the condemned man felt as he awaited his death. Here Wilde's latent Catholic sentiments reveal themselves unequivocally. The poem condemns the petty censoriousness and miserly justice of this world, but not from the pose of anti-bourgeois snobbery that might be expected of an artist, nor in a fit of vindictiveness over society's harsh treatment of the author. Rather, he returns to a tone that he used to good effect in his fairy tales for children, one of compassion:

"Ah! Happy they whose hearts can break And peace of pardon win! How else may man make straight his plan And cleanse his soul from Sin? How else but through a broken heart May Lord Christ enter in?"

It was also Wilde who pithily observed, "The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future." Advent is that time when we joyfully anticipate that future.

The above seems to me to be a fitting reflection for our O Antiphon for today, the second of seven, O Adonai:

O Adonai and Ruler of the House of Israel, you appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and on Mount Sinai gave him your law. Come, and with outstretched arm redeem us.

The Scripture passages that form this antiphon are Exodus 3:2 and Exodus 6:6.

Monday, December 17, 2012

O Sapientia

With yesterday's celebration of Gaudete, or "Rejoice," Sunday, we turned a corner in Advent. The season moved from one of penance and judgment, to one of rejoicing and joyful expectation, "as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ." At least for this particular year, the best manifestation of this shift following Gaudete Sunday is our recitation of and immersion in the "O Antiphons," which we begin reciting every year on 17 December and conclude on 23 December.

In the Church's liturgy the O Antiphons are part of Evening Prayer, known in Latin as Vespers. These lovely antiphons address Christ with different biblical titles. In the Church's liturgy the antiphons are used with the Gospel Canticle, reciting them before and after praying the canticle itself, which today is Ephesians 1:3-10, a passage that begins with "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens."

These antiphons can and often are, perhaps even usually, prayed and recited alone, outside of the Liturgy of the Hours. This is most fitting, especially in family situations. In English, today's antiphon, "O Wisdom," is:

O Wisdom, you came forth from the mouth of the Most High and, reaching from beginning to end, you ordered all things mightily and sweetly. Come, and teach us the way of prudence.

All of the O Antiphons are composites, made up of different scriptural passages. Today's antiphon is from Sirach 24:3 and Wisdom 8:1.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

"Now the people were filled with expectation"

Today is Gaudete Sunday (the Sunday we light the rose colored candle). The Latin word Gaudete simply means "Rejoice." It is taken from the Introit of the Mass. At The Cathedral of the Madeleine, where I am privileged to serve, the Introit is that music sung by the choir, in Latin, back by the Baptismal font before Mass starts. The Introit for the Third Sunday of Advent is: Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus enim prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum. Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob. Say what?

In English, the Church says this- "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob" — (Philippians 4:4–6; Psalm 85 (84):1).

With the Third Sunday, Advent undergoes a not-so-subtle shift, from what I think is best described as a penitential time to a time of joyful expectation, even anticipation. Our readings for today amply demonstrate this shift: the response of the Baptist's hearers in today's Gospel, as well as the opening words of our first reading from the prophet Zephaniah, but also our Psalm response and our reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians (the same passage from which the opening part of the Introit is taken).

There is no way we can enter into worship this Sunday not mindful of the horror that happened in Connecticut on Friday. While this violence is still a raw wound on our national consciousness, it is important, if a bit incomprehensible (at least when we think in a worldly manner), that even this can be an occasion for hope, for just the sort of joyful expectation we're called to today. As I did in my post on Friday evening, I turn once again to Bishop Steven Croft's The Advent Calendar, the entry for 14 December, in which Alice, upon being brought into a vast chamber where, through headphones, she could hear prayers and see angels receiving and conveying these plaintive petitions upward, asks her guide, JB (for the John the Baptist), "Can every prayer be answered?" To which he responds,
Every prayer is heard child... Each prayer which is the cry of the heart makes a difference. Each tear is counted. Many more are answered than you or I can know. But prayers are not like the wishes in your stories. Not all can be answered yet. There is too much that is still bitter and twisted and evil in the world. Too much is still to be set to rights. But the day will come. The day will come when the King returns... Then every sorrow and every sigh will flee the earth forever
As I believe the author intends, this puts us in mind of the beginning of the twenty-first chapter of Revelation:

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them [as their God]. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away.' The one who sat on the throne said, 'Behold, I make all things new'" (Rev. 21:1-5a). This does not constitute so much the "why" of heeding Paul's exhortation to "have no anxiety about anything," so much as it tells us how to do just that; to be people filled with joyful expectation, even as we make our way through this valley of tears.

Let's make today's collect our prayer, as we pray for the victims, their families, and, yes, even for the perpetrator of this incomprehensible evil:

O God, who see how your people
faithfully await the feast of the Lord's Nativity,

enable us, we pray,
to attain the joys of so great a salvation
and to celebrate them always
with solemn worship and glad rejoicing.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Church: sensus fidelium is not public opinion

As with the State, when it comes to the Church, most important news and information goes unreported. Hence, these important events and statements never enter the public discussion, leaving it as the almost exclusive domain of either unknowing and uncaring commentators, or fairly knowledgeable commentators with an ideological ax or two to grind. When it comes to speeches by Pope Benedict XVI this seems to be the case almost all the time. To be fair, this is also a function of the Holy Father’s penchant for addressing important thoughts to appropriate audiences and not speaking off-the-cuff to uncomprehending people, thus avoiding the risk of having his message badly distorted. As we near the end of the year, we approach the time when he will give his annual Christmas address to the Roman Curia, which is something like his annual State of the Church address. One can learn much by reading his previous seven December speeches.

On 6 December the Pontiff addressed the International Theological Commission, gathered for their annual plenary session and for the first time under their new president, Archbishop Gerhard Müller, who is president by virtue of his being Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In his speech, Pope Benedict takes on two major threats to authentic Church teaching: the use of public opinion against the magisterium and the idea that faith, particularly monotheistic faith that claims to possess universal truth, inevitably leads to violence.

He began his speech by referring to two recent documents issued by the Commission: Message of the International Theological Commission on the occasion of the Year of Faith and Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles and Criteria. In his speech, the Holy Father said of the latter document that it takes note of “the vitality and variety of theology subsequent to the Second Vatican Council, this document seeks to present, so to speak, the genetic code of Catholic theology, namely, the principles that define its identity and consequently guarantee its unity in the diversity of its achievements.”

The Holy Father goes on to speak of one criterion set forth in Theology Today, namely the role of the sensus fidelium (the “sense” or “consensus” of the faithful). He went on to note that Vatican II reaffirmed “the specific and irreplaceable role that the Magisterium must play” in addition to emphasizing “that the People of God, in its entirety, participate in the prophetic office of Christ, thereby fulfilling the inspired wish expressed by Moses: ‘would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!’ (Num 11:29).” Pointing to the Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, the Holy Father noted that “the whole body of the faithful who have an anointing that comes from the holy one (cf. 1 Jn 2:20,27), cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of the faith (sensus fidei) of the whole people, when, ‘from the bishops to the last of the faithful’ they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals’” (par. 12). It is with this that we finally arrive at an important correction:
In the believer this gift, the sensus fidei constitutes a sort of supernatural instinct which has a vital co- naturality with the object of faith itself. We note that the simple faithful carry with them this certainty, this firm sense of faith. The sensus fidei is a criterion for discerning whether or not a truth belongs to the living deposit of the Apostolic Tradition. It also has a propositional value for the Holy Spirit never ceases to speak to the Churches and to guide them towards the whole truth. Today, however, it is particularly important to explain the criteria that make it possible to distinguish the authentic sensus fidelium from its counterfeit. It is certainly not a kind of public ecclesial opinion and invoking it in order to contest the teachings of the Magisterium would be unthinkable, since the sensus fidei cannot be authentically developed in believers, except to the extent in which they fully participate in the life of the Church, and this demands responsible adherence to the Magisterium, to the deposit of faith.
What I think is of particular note is his insistence that the development of the sensus fidei in any individual believer is proportional to how fully s/he participates in the faith. To wit: when one looks at public opinion polls among Catholics in the United States it is often the case that there is almost a complete reversal of opinion when one compares the views of self-identified Catholics who do not fully participate in the life of the Church (i.e., don’t go to confession, don’t attend Mass, don’t participate in faith formation, etc.) with those who do. My guess is that this phenomenon is not limited to the U.S. I think another theological note worth citing is that, in the end, only the saints make up the Church.

BXVI in Regensburg with then-Bishop Müller behind him

Following closely on the heels of this important correction, Pope Benedict also used this occasion to respond to one of the persistent criticisms of the so-called “new atheists”:
Today, this same supernatural sense of faith in believers also gives rise to vigorous reactions against the prejudice which holds that religions — and in particular the monotheistic religions — are intrinsically vehicles of violence, especially because they claim the existence of a universal truth. Some consider that the “polytheism of values” alone would guarantee tolerance and civil peace and would be in conformity with the spirit of a pluralistic democratic society
Having set forth the problem, the Holy Father here, too, gives the correction:
it is essential to remember that faith in the one God, Creator of heaven and earth, encounters the rational needs for metaphysical reflection, which is not weakened but reinforced and deepened by the Revelation of the mystery of God-Trinity. On the other hand, it is necessary to emphasize the form that the definitive Revelation of the mystery of the one God assumes in the life and death of Jesus Christ, who goes to the Cross like a “lamb that is led to the slaughter” (Is 53:7). The Lord testifies to a radical rejection of every form of hatred and violence in favour of the absolute primacy of agape. Hence, if in history there have been or are forms of violence perpetrated in God’s name, they must not be attributed to monotheism but rather to historical causes, and, principally, to the errors of men and women. Rather, it is forgetfulness of God itself that immerses human societies in a form of relativism which inevitably gives rise to violence. When the possibility for all to refer to an objective truth is denied, dialogue becomes impossible and violence, declared openly or hidden, becomes the rule of human relationships

Friday, December 14, 2012

Evil is an absence

Since 30 November, a few days before Advent began, early each morning, I have been reading a chapter a day of Bishop Steven Croft's book The Advent Calendar. Even though I was up in plenty of time this morning to read today's chapter, I really didn't feel like it. Internally, I tried talking myself into it, but to no avail, thinking, "I'll read it tonight." Read tonight I did; here's the very first paragraph:
Alice woke early the next morning, her mind full of the image of the great tree, rotten to the core and falling to the ground. What was it, she thought, that caused people to go bad? Where did badness come from? How did it grow so that it took over your whole life?
In the wake of today's evil, many are asking this question tonight. St. Augustine taught that evil is simply the privatio boni (i.e., privation of good). Evil is insubstantial, it is not an (ontological) entity. I think this is why evil almost always seems to throw the world into chaos. In the wake of today's horrific events the most human question is Why?

President Obama summed it up well when he said, "our hearts are broken today." So, at the end of this horrifying day I am happy to be home with all my children, even as I am heartbroken to think about those parents and those children who can't do that tonight. I pray for them and all who are left devastated by today's violence. While this is always controversial, I pray, too, for Adam Lanza, the sad soul who perpetrated today's horror. Kyrie eleison/Christi eleison/Kyrie eleison.

For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

I'm more convinced than ever that our greatest need is to be loved. The absence that is evil is overcome by a Presence, "the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5).

"Now I'm playin' it real straight"

Okay, as of today I am letting go of the hipster meme. It's time to move ahead. In all actuality my embrace of the snide insinuation that I am a hipster (an insult, not a compliment), while it has served as a source of amusement for me, really made me realize, even more deeply, just how unhip I am. Like most terms of this sort, "hip" is an equivocal term. Being a "hipster," at least to my way of reckoning, means being a person who hops on every band wagon slightly before it goes mainstream and then denounces said book, group, song, trend as soon as it becomes popular. Someone who is obsesses with being "hip," or "cool." I suppose there are other similarly negative ways of defining a "hipster," but it just goes to show that it is an insult, not a compliment.

On the other hand, it seems that being "hip" (but not a hipster) is still alright, I think. To my mind this would be something like being a trend-setter, a person who, while "with it," does not necessarily let trends dictate their attitude (i.e., someone who is "cool," or "bad," or whatever the current appellation might be). As the 47 year-old father of three teenagers, I am well aware that I am not hip, but to use a term that also fades in and out of use, I am a "square."

Bass Weejun "top-siders"

I came of age in the early-to-mid-1980s, during the Reagan years. It was a pretty conservative time, a time of Levi's 501 button-up jeans, button-down Oxford shirts, Izods and other brand polo shirts, top-sider shoes and penny loafers- I had black loafers (worn without socks, or with colorful argyle socks), etc. A favorite television show of mine from that time was Square Pegs. The term "preppy" came into vogue back then. One of the most popular bands of that era was Huey Lewis and the News. The films of the late John Hughes captured my high school time brilliantly.

All of the above is just a big wind-up to this Friday's traditio, an oldie and goodie: Huey Lewis and the News' "Hip To Be Square," surely a song beloved of "unhip" Dads of a certain age- a song also featured in American Psycho. I would be forced to concede the horn section is "hip"- that's the positive one, remember?

I like my bands in business suits, I watch them on TV/I'm working out most everyday and watching what I eat

And so, I am who I am, someone in the process of becoming (hopefully) who God created and redeemed me to be. I think that is precisely where all of this has some relevance to Advent.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A dissociative digression on my need to (re-)discover my I

Reading Jacob Needleman’s book Lost Christianity: A Journey of Rediscovery, I encountered the extraordinary figure of Fr. Sylvan, a Christian monk Needleman met while traveling home from an inter-religious conference in the Far East in the early 1970s. Fr. Sylvan’s affiliation is not clear, even to Needleman, not even after he received a package containing a journal the monk wrote for him after their encounter, an attempt to answer the questions posed by Prof. Needleman during their time together, which was sent to him after Fr. Sylvan’s death. My guess is that Fr. Sylvan was probably a Coptic monk, but perhaps Orthodox, or maybe Syriac.

In the extract of the journal published by Needleman I was particularly struck by Fr. Sylvan’s insistence of the necessity of what might be called, to borrow from Don Giussani, the discovery of one’s I. Fr. Sylvan wrote:
We must work to know what God is doing in ourselves and then God will enable us, through power, to love my neighbor. We need power, energy, to love, that is, to not get absorbed by our emotional reactions to the other. This energy... cannot appear without self-struggle of a specific, revealed nature"
I don’t mind relating that the word I eliminated by using an ellipsis is the word “magic,” which would take more effort to put into context than I am willing to make here.

It seems to me that love must factor in here somewhere, not silly, sappy, emotive, sentimental love, but true love, something like what I think Fr. Aldo Trento meant when, describing his personal experience with Don Gius, gazing on myself with the same tenderness with which Christ gazes on me, or God taking pity on my nothingness. Jesus' command to love my neighbor as I live myself, it seems to me, is at the root of this (Matt. 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27).

Fr. Sylvan wrote about the need, to borrow something from Walker Percy, whose Love in the Ruins: the Adventures of a Bad Catholic At a Time Near the End of the World I just finished reading, the importance of not to being abstracted from one's self and the need to align one’s perceptions with reality. This is where I detect yet another connection with the teaching of Don Gius. The problem also consists of experiencing what you believe and adequately conveying that experience, which quickly puts you up against the limitations of language, but enables one to grasp something Derrida insisted upon, the ontological priority of writing over speech.

In an attempt to align my observations and the connections they have prompted with reality, I note something that Sean Penn said in a recent interview with Esquire. I do not do so in order to be judgmental in the least, but because of the honesty of Penn’s observation and, frankly, its convenience for making at least part of my point. Referring to his fourteen year marriage to Robyn Wright, he shared, "There is no shame in my saying that we all want to be loved by someone. As I look back over my life in romance, I don't feel I've ever had that. I have been the only one that was unaware of the fraud in a few of these circumstances blindly." He went on to say, "When you get divorced, all the truths that come out, you sit there and you go, What the fuck was I doing? What was I doing believing that this person was invested in this way? Which is a fantastically strong humiliation in the best sense. It can make somebody very bitter and very hard and closed off, but I find it does the opposite to me."

He went on to describe what his reaction to this realization was, both initially and subsequently: "And so I go out and I strike out four nights in a row, drinking at a bar and ending up home, you know, drunk. And on the fourth day I said, 'I could just go sit in the middle of the bed and watch TV at four in the afternoon, too. I don't have anything.' My daughter's eighteen and she's doing her thing, my son's with his mother. So I turned on the TV and there was this earthquake in Haiti.” His response to that is amazing. Whatever you might think of Penn or his outspoken politics, you can’t argue with what he has done in Haiti, for Haitians, or, for that matter, what he says here (well, as my experience on social media has taught me, people can and will argue with anything and everything- I am certainly that argumentative at times). I can’t help but wonder whether he has yet found that love he so deeply desires, that we all desire. I do appreciate his public honesty. No doubt he’ll pay a price for that, which, at least from my perspective, makes it all that much more valuable.

My experience has taught me that no human being can bear the weight of my need to be loved. Nonetheless, it is a lesson I have to re-learn with more frequency than I care to admit. This, in turn, puts me in mind of a favorite hymn: "Lord, whose love in humble service," which begins, "Lord, whose love in humble service bore the weight of human need." We have no greater need than to be loved. "In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10). God sent His Son to expiate our sin by loving us even though we are unlovable, to resolve the contradiction at core of our being: our deep need to be loved and our refusal to love.

Please permit me another insight from Fr. Sylvan and a connection, one that the departed monk made himself, namely with Kierkegaard. The wise monk wrote, "Purity of intention is to seek and struggle for one's own self" Is this much/any different from what Kirkegaard insisted upon when he averred that "Purity of heart is to will one thing"? Lest we overlook it, the subtitle of this work is "spiritual preparation for the office of confession" Writing of Kirkegaard, I think in our present moment, with the New Evangelization in mind, Kierkegaard’s distinction between Christianity and Christendom, a variation on the Augustianian postulation of two kingdoms, but as filtered through Luther and in vehement response to Hegel, is most useful.

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 ...