Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Gone Lenten

Over these days of Lent I am blogging day-by-day, meaning some days I will post and some, like yesterday, I won't. Over the course of this holy season I hope that I am able to write and share some things that are useful to anybody who reads these pages. It will be interesting to see where this wait-and-see attitude will lead.

In his book Living Prayer, Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, writing about leaving slavery for freedom, using the Exodus of Israel from Egypt to explain, wrote: "They had to take risks, because no one is ever freed by a slave owner, and they had to cross the Red Sea; but beyond the Red Sea it was not yet the promised land, it was a burning desert and they were aware of it and knew that they would have to cross it in the face of great difficulties. And so are we when we decide to make a move that will liberate us from our enslavement: we must be aware that we shall be attacked by violence, by beguilement, by the inner enemies that are our old habits, our old craving for security, and nothing is promised, except the desert beyond. Beyond that is the promised land, but far beyond, and we must accept the risks of the journey."

Monday, February 27, 2012

Pope Benedict teaches us about Lent

Last Wednesday, 22 February, which was Ash Wednesday, during his weekly audience, the Holy Father gave a wonderful Lenten catechesis. The complete translation comes to us by way of Sandro Magister's website Chiesa, and his faithful translator, Matthew Sherry.

In his introduction to this important catechesis, Magister observes that Lent has lost much of its dynamism in the West, noting that we tend to pay more attention to the Islamic month of Ramadan. Lent is the Christian holy time, the time during which we prepare to celebrate the Paschal mystery of our Lord's death and resurrection, which the Holy Father calls "the heart of the mystery of our salvation:"
Dear brothers and sisters, in this Catechesis I would like to dwell briefly on the season of Lent. It is a journey of forty days that will lead us to the Paschal Triduum, memorial of the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord, the heart of the mystery of our salvation.

In the early centuries of the Church this was the time when those who had heard and accepted the message of Christ began, step by step, their journey of faith and conversion to receive the sacrament of baptism. It was a drawing close to the living God and an initiation of the faith to be gradually accomplished, through an inner change in the catechumens, that is, those who wished to become Christians and thus be incorporated into Christ and the Church.

Subsequently, penitents, and then all the faithful were invited to experience this journey of spiritual renewal, to conform themselves and their lives to that of Christ.

The participation of the whole community in the different steps of the Lenten path emphasizes an important dimension of Christian spirituality: redemption is not available to only a few, but to all, through the death and resurrection of Christ. Therefore, those who follow a journey of faith as catechumens to receive baptism, those who had strayed from God and the community of faith and seek reconciliation and those who lived their faith in full communion with the Church, together knew that the period before Easter is a period of metanoia, that is, of inner change, of repentance, the period that identifies our human life and our entire history as a process of conversion that is set in motion now in order to meet the Lord at the end of time.

In an expression that has become typical in the Liturgy, the Church calls the period in which we are now entering "Quadragesima," in short a period of forty days and, with a clear reference to Sacred Scripture, it introduces us to a specific spiritual context. Read the entire catechesis

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Year B First Sunday of Lent

Readings: Gen. 9:8-15; Ps 25:4-9; 1 Pet. 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15

"The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15). With these, the first words spoken by Jesus Christ at the beginning of His ministry in St. Mark’s Gospel, we begin our Lenten journey. Jesus proclaims these words after His baptism by John in the river Jordan, just as He emerges out of the desert after forty days. It is important to pay attention to the order of these events that inaugurate His ministry. First, Jesus was baptized by John and then, as if in response, He entered the desert. It also important to note that immediately following His baptism came His confirmation as God’s Only Begotten Son, the Messiah and Lord, when, upon His coming forth from the water, the heavens were “torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descend[ed] upon him. And a voice came from the heavens [saying], "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased" (Mark 1:10-11).

In addition to, "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return," the other injunction that can be used when imposing ashes on Ash Wednesday, is "Repent and believe in the Gospel." To repent means to change, to be transformed, to be converted. The Greek word we translate into English as "repent" is metanoia. In today’s Gospel the word issuing from Jesus’ mouth is metanoeite, a form of metanoia that indicates repentance is on-going. Metanoeite, translated literally, means "be repenting," just as the word that follows it, pisteuete, literally rendered, means "be believing." All of this just means that repenting and believing the good news are not one-time events, but are on-going, that is, together they constitute a way of life. Again, the ordering is important; Jesus does not say, "believe and repent." Rather, He says, "Be repenting and be believing in the Gospel," indicating that the two are inextricably bound together, the one, believing, flowing from the other, repenting.

Our Psalm response today helps us understand this better. A few moments ago we sang together, "Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant." This prompts the question, "What about those who do not keep God’s covenant?" For those who do not keep God’s covenant, which you entered into when you were baptized, God’s ways are not love and truth, but just so many rules, a lot of prescriptions and prohibitions, merely a lot of "dos" and "donts." One mistake often made by those who do not see God’s covenant as love and truth, is to think they must believe in order to repent, which makes faith something abstract instead of something concrete, something spectral instead of bodily. It is important to grasp that God has only ever sought to establish one covenant with humanity. God’s covenant was succinctly articulated by the prophet Jeremiah, whose words are quoted directly in the New Testament by St. Paul, in 2 Corinthians, and the author of the Letter to Hebrews: "I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jer. 31:33; 2 Cor. 6:16; Heb. 8:10).

God, speaking through the prophet Ezekiel, in a passage we can’t help but turn to during Lent, says, "I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you… I will put my spirit within you so that you walk in my statutes, observe my ordinances, and keep them ... you will be my people, and I will be your God" (Ezk. 26a. 27. 28b). Lent is the time when we seek to put to death the flesh so that we might have life in the Spirit. Life in the Spirit is not disembodied life.

The word "flesh" in our reading today from 1 Peter is a variant of the Greek word sarx, as opposed to the Greek word soma, meaning "body." This is a crucial distinction, lest we tend towards a gnostic dualism, the kind that sees the human being as a spirit trapped in a body trying to get out. While Jesus was put to death in the flesh, life in the Spirit, which is eternal life, was fully realized by the resurrection of His body. Lent is the time of repentance, the time for penitential acts, the time for mortification, that is, putting to death everything in ourselves that is death-dealing instead of life-giving. Prayer, fasting, and alms-giving are but means to this end of being converted, changed, becoming more like Christ.

It is only by serving God in freedom that we realize God’s ways are love and truth. Paul warned the Galatians not to use their freedom "as an opportunity for the flesh," but to "serve one another in love" (Gal. 5:13). Paul says the one who lives by the Spirit does "not gratify the desire of the flesh" (Gal. 5:16). A person who lives by the Spirit, according to the apostle, realizes that "the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want" (Gal. 5:17). Even though the Spirit-filled person is not to do only what s/he wants, that is, often desires to do, such a person is "not under the law" (Gal. 5:18). What are the works of the flesh? St. Paul leaves us no doubt: "immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like" (Gal. 5:19-21a). Paul warns those who indulge in such fleshly pursuits, that they “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:21b). By way of contrast, the apostle tells us that "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Gal. 5:22-23a). Those "who belong to Christ [Jesus],” St. Paul concludes, "have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires" (Gal. 5:24).

Our second reading for this First Sunday of Lent taken from 1 Peter, is one of the few times the lectionary bids us to take up Purgatory. St. Catherine of Genoa begins her Treatise on Purgatory, by saying a soul finds "herself, while still in the flesh, placed by the fiery love of God in Purgatory, which burnt her, cleansing whatever in her needed cleansing." It is interesting that St. Catherine spoke about the soul still being "in the flesh." Based on what she went on to say, I take her to be referring to the soul still encumbered by the fleshly desires, those that were enumerated by St. Paul, that were not mortified, that is, burnt out by the soul’s love of God before death. One goes to Purgatory to be purged of what St. Catherine described as all of "the rust and stains of sin" a person did not seek to rid himself of during mortality. She goes on to say that in Purgatory one can no longer ignore his/her issues, that is, those habits and affections that landed her/him there. Bearing witness to God’s great mercy and love, she went on to observe, "I believe no happiness can be found worthy to be compared with that of a soul in Purgatory except that of the saints in Paradise."

St. Paul stated that it was "[f]or freedom [that] Christ set us free" (Gal. 5:1). If this is true, then how do we get around the fact that during Lent the Church obligates us to do certain things, like to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, as well as to abstain from the meat of warm-blooded animals on Fridays? It doesn’t take too much investigating to arrive at the conclusion that you are only obligated insofar as you obligate yourself. The Church has no enforcement mechanism for such matters, nor should it.

For example, when we fast we get hungry. When we are hungry we want to eat, which makes fasting difficult. It is precisely here where we engage in the struggle between Spirit and flesh, especially in our gluttonous culture, which forbids that any hunger pang should ever go unsatisfied. It is precisely when you experience this that you are forced to ask yourself, "Why am I doing this, again?" It is important in such a moment to understand that you are free, free to go ahead and eat something, realizing God will not love you less for doing so. So, what ought to stop you? The only thing that ought to stop you is your own desire, your desire for what is ultimate, your desire for complete fulfillment, your desire for God. This also helps you to see your weakness, which helps you understand how much you need God, shows you your true condition, which gives you a great opportunity to experience for yourself that God’s ways are love and truth. This realization is the only starting point for life in the Spirit because it is life in the Spirit, which is life eternal, that which was described by St. Augustine in a letter to the Roman widow, Proba, as "the life that is truly life." So, over these weeks leading us to Easter and beyond, be repenting and believing in the Gospel!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Desire is desire for God

In the Christian tradition it is said of fasting, which always refers to fasting from food, that it quickly reveals what controls us, be it our belly, our anger, our pride, etc. Hence, along with revealing to us both our need for bodily sustenance and, at least in our overfed society that typically laments injustice even as our manner of life makes us, even if indirectly, complicit in it, how much less sustenance we need when compared with how much we normally take, it also shows our other weaknesses, additional areas of need. It is a truism that if we fail control appetites, whether for food, or anything else, our appetites quickly control us. If you get angry at the slightest provocation, pretty soon being provoked by anger becomes your response to anything in life you find slightly challenging, irritating, or annoying. You become angry without giving it any thought.

Appetites that are totally out of one's control are addictions. Perhaps the most difficult thing for someone in the grip of an addiction is to admit that they are an addict, which is to admit that they have no control, not only over a particular appetite, but, as a result of an out-of-control appetite, over her/his life, which is controlled by the addiction. Also, to admit an addiction is to admit that it is an appetite you need help to get under control, the realization you can't do it on your own. Something that can be very discouraging to someone who has admitted an addiction, sought help, and is making progress, is the realization that the appetite, the desire, doesn't ever go away, it diminishes, lessens for a time, only to pop up again. Desire, after all, is an existential condition that constitutes our humanity.

In his book Fasting, which I have referenced several times over the past few weeks, Scot McKnight cites the example of Carl Lundquist, a university president who did not become familiar with fasting until he was a bit older. Walking back to his hotel from a meeting he attended in Korea during which Dr. Joon Gon Kim shared his own experience with fasting so that a political decision by the South Korean government would be overturned, Lundquist realized that he "had never fasted like that." He came to the further realization that the reason he had never fasted like that was likely because he "had never desired a work of God with the same intensity." McKnight uses Lundquist's experience to further his point "that it is the desire, the yearning, the 'want-it-ness' that gives rise to the kind of fasting that benefits the one [who fasts]." All of this is merely to pose the question, What do you want, I mean, really desire, both for yourself and others?

In a lovely book of blessings, To Bless the Space Between Us, the late John O'Donohue composed a blessing "For An Addict," that recognizes the desire:

On its way through the innocent night,
The moth is ambushed by the light,
Becomes glued to a window
Where a candle burns; its whole self,
Its dreams of flight and all desire
Trapped in one glazed gaze,
Now nothing else can satisfy
But the deadly beauty of flame...

May some glimmer
Of outside light reach your eyes
To help your recognize how
You have fallen for a vampire...

That your lost and lonesome heart
Might learn to cry out
For the true intimacy
Of love that waits
To take you home."
I don't think you have to be addict to receive this blessing, which is one that God, who because of Jesus we can call "our Father," wants to bestow on each one of us. Nonetheless, God, precisely because He is love, always respects our freedom, that is, not only waits, but longs for us to recognize our need and to begin to fulfill our desire.

Friday, February 24, 2012

"What good am I - if I know and don't do"

Brother Jones' appeal to your conscience and mine is our traditio on this first Friday of Lent.

One book of Scripture we should all spend some time reading over Lent is the Letter of James. Here's one reason why: "Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his own face in the mirror. He sees himself. then goes off and promptly forgets what he looked like" (James 1:23-24).

As Golda Meir once said (I am sorry I don't know the context): "Don't be humble. You're not that great." Sounds like something my maternal grandmother would've said to me.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Libertas ecclesiae II: importance of transcendence for society

This post is a brief follow-up to my post the other day, which was picked up and published on-line by Il Sussidiario, Libertas ecclesiae: freedom for truth. On 25 January 2012, incidentally the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, during a New Year's meeting traditionally held by the French president with the country's religious leaders, President Nicholas Sarkozy gave a speech that would puzzle most Americans, who are so deeply invested pragmatic liberal (not in the narrow ideological sense, but in the broader sense) secularism, said, "A secular society is one which has decided to separate churches from the state, so the state doesn’t have to account for its choices to churches, and churches don’t depend on the state to live and organize –this is secularity, a secular republic." Indeed, such a state is a secular republic as we well know. His remarks were given in response to the public support of his main challenger in this year's French presidential election, the Socialist candidate Francois Hollande, that the 1905 law of separation of Church and state be written into the French constitution.

In a relatively widely reported speech he gave at the Cathedral of St. John Lateran in December 2007, Sarkozy addressed laïcité, a French concept meaning something like a state of detente between the Church and the state, in which religions have no involvement in government affairs and are, in turn, left alone by the state, which is what the 1905 French law set forth. In his speech in Rome he said the law should be interpreted and applied "more positively" so that religion is viewed "not as a danger, but as an advantage."

In his January 2012 speech he went on to say, "But this doesn’t mean churches, respecting the law, are forbidden from speaking. Nor does it mean your words shouldn’t go beyond the walls of your places of worship. That would be a strange idea of democracy: Everyone has a right to speak, except you."

President Sarkozy went on to insist, "No religion will impose dogmas and precepts in France on those who wish to avoid them. But nothing can prohibit the idea of transcendence from being present in our society. The concord and harmony governing relations between the different religious currents here and irrigating the social body provide an excellent guarantee of peace."

It is tempting to let this last passage go without comment, but it is important that nothing prohibits the idea of transcendence from being present in society (not that the Mystery is limited by such prohibitions, as history has shown). Only a society that not only makes room for, but that facilitates, transcendence has a chance of being a fully human society. Conversely, we must resist the distillation of religion into so many values.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday: "Repent and believe in Gospel"

On this Ash Wednesday, I merely want to post the prayer of my brother deacon of old, St. Ephrem the Syrian, which can be prayed daily throughout Lent. The prostrations make our prayer a bodily act of worship:

O Lord and Master of my life, Grant not unto me a spirit of idleness, of discouragement, of lust for power, and of vain speaking. [Prostration]

But bestow upon me, Thy servant, the spirit of chastity, of meekness, of patience, and of love. [Prostration]

Yea, O Lord and King, grant that I may perceive my own transgressions, and judge not my brother, for blessed art Thou unto ages of ages. Amen. [Prostration]

May we bear the wounds of your Son in our bodies, for through his body he gave us life.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Keeping the "Fat" out of Tuesday

In his very good book on fasting, which is part of the Thomas Nelson Publisher's The Ancient Practices Series, Protestant theologian Scot McKnight observes that the tradition of so-called Fat Tuesday is a lot older than what is happening this evening in New Orleans. He draws attention to St. John Chrysostom's statement about preparing for a fast in a gluttonous manner:

"But since many men, both when about to enter upon a fast, as if the belly were on the point of being delivered over to a sort of lengthened siege, lay in beforehand a stock of gluttony and drunkenness; and again, on being set at liberty [at the end of the fast], going forth as from a long famine and grievous prison, run to the table with unseemly greediness, just as if they were striving to undo again the advantage gained through the fast, by an excess of gluttony"
The virtue that is contrary is the vice of gluttony is temperance.

So, here's to a fruitful and holy season of fasting, prayer, and alms-giving. None of these things are ends in themselves, but means to an end, the very end for which you were made, redeemed, and are now being sanctified. I once again offer this quote from James Kushiner, who is Orthodox: "A discipline won’t bring you closer to God. Only God can bring you closer to Himself. What the discipline is meant to do is to help you get yourself, your ego, out of the way so you are open to His grace." May God, in His infinite mercy and goodness, grant you the grace of a holy Lent by drawing you more deeply into the fire of His love.

Monday, February 20, 2012

"All we are is all we are"

Today would've been Kurt Cobain's forty-fifth birthday. As a high school friend wrote today: "Happy birthday Kurt Cobain. I miss your future very very much--all the things that could have been...Sigh."

In the sun, in the sun I feel as one/In the sun, in the sun/Married, buried

Santiago Ramos at the end of August last year in a piece he called Defending Kurt Cobain's Sadness wrote: "We love Nirvana, and Kurt Cobain, because his sadness was human, and his music was a moving expression of that very human sadness. He was an extreme case, sure. And he was no Camus or Mahler or whatever. But he commanded the loyalty of millions of fans because he expressed something real in a way that in certain moments was beautiful. Whether we like it or not, we have more than a few things in common with Kurt Cobain."

Somehow I don't think Cobain ever really grasped this "all" that we are, though I do think he was struck by the mystery of his I, just not knowing to really discover or really unveil it.

Libertas ecclesiae: freedom for the truth

Reading Bl. Pope John's radio address of 11 September 1962, I came across something that is very germane to the current contraception kerfuffle. Well, in reality two things. First, he said that the Second Vatican Council would "present, in clear language, solutions which are demanded by the dignity of man and of his vocation as a Christian." Among these solutions was "the strenuous defense of the sacred character of matrimony (which imposes upon the married couple an understanding of generous love, from which results the procreation of children), considered in its religious and moral aspect within the framework of the gravest responsibilities of a social nature, in time for eternity" (italicized and emboldened emphasis mine).

A little later in the address, Good Pope John asked, "What is to be said concerning the relations between the Church and civil society?" To which he replied, "We are living in the midst of a new political world. One of the fundamental rights which the Church can never renounce is that of religious liberty, which is not merely freedom of worship.

"The Church vindicates and teaches this liberty, and on that account, she continues to suffer anguishing pain in many countries.

"The Church cannot renounce this liberty, because it is inseparable from the service she is bound to fulfill. This service does not stand as the corrective or the complement of what other institutions ought to do, or have appropriated to themselves, but it is an essential and irreplaceable element of the design of Providence to place man upon the path of truth and liberty which are the building stones upon which human civilization is raised" (italicized and emboldened emphasis mine).

That is why on matters like the Department Health and Human Services mandate and the attempted accommodation are never merely matters of religious liberty. Freedom is rooted in the truth both about God and man. Pope John also bore witness to the need for the Church to proclaim the truth in season and out, not compromising on what matters the most, even that doesn't sit well. By giving consistent witness to the truth we don't force ourselves to ignore the issue at stake, those things that we need to be free practice, to do or not do. Freedom can never an empty concept because freedom is not an end in itself.

To put a little meat on the bones offered, I offer one remark by Giorgio Vittadini made in the course of a discussion that took place in Rome back in December 2004 (thanks to my dear friend Dario for correcting the date of this conversation for me) on Libertas Ecclesiae and the Lay State:

"We cannot counteract with an idea of Church, an ideology about the Church; we can only offer an historical experience of the Church, an experience of freedom in life, in the family, in love, in our work; an historical experience that reveals the truth. In this way, we vindicate the possibility of this living experience.

"When Catholics let go of experience, they don’t defend the libertas ecclesiae, because they no longer know what libertas or ecclesia are."

In short, we cannot become secularized and secularizing pragmatists and give consistent and compelling witness to the truth.

The task of Vatican II: Regnum Dei

In a radio address he delivered on 11 September 1962, Bl. Pope John XXIII, discussing the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, which was to begin in exactly one month, said, "The phrase Regnum Dei (The Kingdom of God)- expresses fully and precisely the tasks of the council. Regnum Dei signifies and is in reality the Church of Christ: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic." To extend this excerpt a bit, he went to say,
"Just as Jesus, the Word of God made man, founded her, for twenty centuries He has preserved her, and still today vivifies her by His presence and His grace. Through her, He is continually renewing the ancient miracle which during successive ages, at times harsh and difficult, bore her in adversity and in prosperity, thus multiplying the victories of the spirit: Victories of truth over error, of good over evil, of love and peace over divisions and opposition.

"Good and evil are with us still and will remain with us in the future. This is because the free will of man will always have the freedom to express itself and the possibility of going astray. But the final and eternal victory will be with Christ and His Church in every chosen soul and in the chosen souls of every people" (Vatican II, Sessions 1 and 2, edited by Floyd Anderson and published by the Press Dept. of the Natn'l Catholic Welfare Conference)
"For the kingdom of God is not a matter of food and drink, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the holy Spirit" (Rom. 14:17).

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Repetition of the miraculous

Today's Gospel reading is one of my favorite episodes in all the Gospels, the pericope of the paralytic young man who wanted to be healed by Jesus so badly that he had his friends lift him up on the roof of the house where Jesus was, open the roof, and lower him down inside. Once he was there in front of Jesus, the Lord did not rebuke for cutting in line, or otherwise chastise him. Why? Because, as we read, "Jesus saw their faith," which indicates that our Lord not only saw the faith the paralytic man, but of his friends, who went to such great lengths to place their friend in front of Him.

When Jesus saw their faith He offered the paralyzed man what he came for, healing. Jesus did this by saying, "Child your sins are forgiven." It was only in response to those who were shocked by Jesus forgiving the man's sins and to prove that He possessed the divine power to do so that He asked them why they doubted He had the power to forgive sins and asked them, "Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, pick up your mat and walk?'"

Most of us, if we were to answer honestly, would say that it is easier to say "Your sins are forgiven" because what would count as proof? On the other hand, saying to someone who cannot walk, "Rise and walk," is verifiable, either get up or they keep laying there. In reality, it is much more difficult to say, "Your sins are forgiven." It's like praying, as Jesus did during His passion, "Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will," or, as we pray in the Lord's Prayer, "thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." These are easy words to say, but difficult words to mean because it is not only an attitude of trust, but of surrender to God's will as expressed by what is happening to you right now and what will happen to you down the road, down which you can't see very far.

It has always seemed to me that Jesus' attitude toward miracles was ambivalent at best. I think this was because there were many in the crowds who came to see the spectacle, the magic show. There is a way of viewing the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, in a like manner, which makes it wonderful that, in the end, we are forced to acknowledge that the only proof the bread and wine become Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul, and divinity are the transformed lives of those who partake of it. The Lord's attitude with regard to miracles is shown clearly when He says in our Gospel reading today, "But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth" -he said to the paralytic, "I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home." So, which was the greater miracle?

Because Jesus gave this same power to His Church, we must answer that the greater miracle is His absolving the sins of paralyzed man. This miracle is repeated over and over again, when in the sacrament of penance we hear, "ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis," or, "I absolve you of your sins." This is done "through the ministry of the Church" and in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." It is truly miraculous.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Freedom and rebellion

A few days ago on Facebook I "shared" a quote by Albert Camus from L'Homme révolté: "Le seul moyen d'affronter un monde sans liberté est de devenir si absolument libre qu'on fasse de sa propre existence un acte de révolte" (i.e., "The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion"). As with a lot what Camus wrote this gets us no further than posing the question, In what does being free consist? For many people it means being wholly self-determining. It is difficult to reject this altogether without doing irreparable damage to the notion of freedom. On the other hand, as John Dunne poetically noted a long time ago, "No man is an island," a line Pater Tom used for the title of one of his books. In "Me And Bobby McGee," Janis Joplin soulfully sang, "Freedom is just another word for nothin' left to lose."

It was Jesus who, seeking to reverse the hubristic self-assertion of humankind, which is imaginatively and beautifully told in the third chapter of Genesis, by teaching, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31b-32 ESV). Of course, those who are Jesus' disciples understand that He is the Truth, which is what also makes Him "the way" and "the life" (John 14:6). One of the chief themes of the papal magisterium of Bl. John Paul II was this insistence on the necessary connection between freedom and truth, leading to his further insistence that you can know the truth because the truth is a person.

In this context, it also seems necessary to note that the kind of rebellion, or revolt, Camus advocates is "metaphysical rebellion" against the absurdity of life, which culminates in death. He, therefore, personally rejects other kinds of rebellion and revolt. This has huge implications for human culture

"If all the world were clear, art would not exist." - Albert Camus

We turn once again this morning to Metropolitan Anthony, who inhabited the same world as Camus during the German occupation of France, actively participating in the la Résistance française, who, using the Egyptian slavery of ancient Israel as his starting point, wrote:
"The people of God had gradually become enslaved. The conditions of their life brought home to them their state of slavery: work was heavier and heavier, the conditions of living more and more miserable; but this was not enough to make them move towards real freedom. If misery increases beyond a certain point, it may lead to rebellion, to violence, to attempted escape from the painful, unbearable situation; but essentially neither rebellion nor flight make us free, because freedom is first of all an inner situation with regard to God, to self and to the surrounding world"
In other words, freedom requires engaging reality according to all the factors that make it up. I believe the people of Egypt today are experiencing first-hand and painfully that rebellion itself doesn't make you free. As regards fleeing, Social Distortion, in their song "Ball and Chain," got it quite right when they sang, "But wherever I have gone/I was sure to find myself there/You can run all your life/But not go anywhere." This gives meaning to the usually silly truism, "wherever you go, there you are."

For me, being a Christian is certainly a form of just the kind of rebellion Camus advocated. But because it is rooted in the Truth, which allows me to attain the necessary "inner situation" in relation to reality, it also my path to freedom. It was Flannery O'Connor, in her wholly unique manner, who averred, "You shall know the truth and the truth will make you odd."

Friday, February 17, 2012

"by any means possible"

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead (Phil. 3:8-11 ESV- underlining emphasis mine)
Too often we try to render Christianity Christless. Why? Because of the scandal of the Cross. The Lord bids us follow Him, but in the next breath He tells us what this means, which is to follow Him to the Cross, to daily die to self. In meeting the Lord we must die in the process, it will kill us, nobody encounters the living God and survives intact: "the old Adam must die," Metropolitan Anthony succinctly observed. "We are intensely attached to old man," he continued, we are "afraid for him, and it is very difficult, not only at the outset but years after we have begun, to feel that we are completely on the side of Christ, against the old Adam." In short, it is a prolonged, violent death because we hold on thinking, "Better the devil I know than the Lord God Almighty, who was, who is, and who is to come."

It seems clear from Scripture and is verified through experience that in order to know the power of His resurrection we must share His sufferings. So that, becoming like Him in His death, we may live for ever. It is the unavoidable paradox. Our baptism is a powerful symbol of just what is at stake. As a friend of mine who was going through a life-and-death experience a few years back responded when I told her the Lord was at work, using what she was going through to draw her to Himself: "I prefer that He use other methods."

Jesus, I trust in you.

Father, he who knew no sin was made sin for us,
to save us and restore us to your friendship.
Look upon our contrite heart and afflicted spirit
and heal our troubled conscience,
so that in the joy and strength of the Holy Spirit
we may proclaim your praise and glory before all the nations. Amen.

"Has your conscience shown?"

Collective Soul, doing an acoustic version their song "The World I Know" in Morocco, is this week's traditio. In last night's post I mentioned the importance of viewing things sub specie aeternatis, especially painful things, (i.e., "under the aspect of eternity"), which Don Gius calls "living in the awareness of your destiny." This is nothing other than our inherent longing for transcendence, which longing constitutes our humanity. Why mention all of that? Because I find this song captures that longing beautifully.

Are we listening?/Hymns of offering./Have we eyes to see?/Love is gathering./All the words that I've been reading/Have now started the act of bleeding/Into one

Thursday, February 16, 2012

"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive ..."

According to Metropolitan Anthony Bloom in his timeless book Living Prayer, there was a Russian Orthodox bishop who insisted that the reason it is a privilege for a Christian to die a martyr is "because none but a martyr can, at the last judgment, take his stand in front of God's judgment seat and say, 'According to thy word and thy example, I have forgiven. Thou hast no claim against them anymore.' Which means that the one who suffers martyrdom in Christ, whose love is not defeated by suffering, acquires unconditional power of forgiving over the one who has inflicted the suffering." Metropolitan Anthony goes on to note that this principal is applicable in everyday life, even when it comes to minor injustices. He warns that "this is a two-edged sword; if you do not forgive, you will not be forgiven."

Not that in anyway I come close to the example of the holy martyrs, but something I have always found useful in dealing with some actual grievance I have against someone, be it petty or fulsome, is to think, "If my grievance is all that stood between that person and heaven, would I condemn them?" I consider it nothing except a great grace that I have, at least up to now, always answered, "No," even when it was a struggle. It helps to see things sub specie aeternatis.

Holy martyr, Shahbaz Bhatti, pray for us

He also tells the story of priest who was imprisoned by the Communists shortly after the Russian Revolution, when he was still young. This priest emerged from his imprisonment "a broken man." When he was asked what was left of him after his experiences, he replied, "Nothing is left of me, they have burnt out every single thing, only love survives." This led Anthony to write, "A man who can say that has the right attitude and anyone who shares his tragedy must also share in his unshakeable love."

The final words of St. Stephen, proto-martyr, as he felt the impact of the stones thrown by those whose cloaks were held by one Saul of Tarsus, come to mind: "Lord, do not hold this sin against them" (Acts 7:60 ESV). Don't let your love be defeated by suffering, or even death, both of which Christ conquered because He loves you.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

HHS mandate: Why the kerfuffle?

I have been very reluctant to to post anything about the current stand-off between the U.S. Catholic bishops and the Obama Administration caused by the implementation of the Department of Health and Human Services mandate, not least of which because Church teaching on the matter at stake is a subject I write about fairly regularly. I also hate to be one of the few voices to break the news to my sisters and brothers that the current dust-up is about contraception. By insisting that it is about contraception, I do not deny the fact that it is also a matter of religious liberty about which all citizens of United States should be concerned, whether they are Catholic or not, religious or not. But outside the secular realm, in the ecclesial realm, concerns about religious liberty are only of secondary importance. I have to admit that it strikes me as very odd that a rule mandating Catholic institutions, through their health insurers, offer free contraceptives to their employees is what would spark a row between the U.S. bishops and the Obama Administration.

The reason I find it odd is because the coverage that the Department of Health and Human Services is seeking to require is already provided by many of the affected Catholic institutions. Of course, there are also many Catholic institutions that, in keeping with Church teaching do not offer such coverage. This brings up the uncomfortable question about why, when we are remonstrating so vigorously against the mandate, are so many Catholic institutions given a free pass by the bishops? Is it one thing to be required to violate one's religious beliefs and another to do so voluntarily? Of course, the answer to this rhetorical question is clearly "Yes." But in terms of the Church's teaching as it applies to institutions who claim the name "Catholic" this is problematic to say the least and goes some distance towards robbing the Church of creditability on the subject in the political debate.

In light of this unfolding saga it seems clear that whether the Catholic Church in the United States wants to or not, we will be forced to discuss the matter that is the cause of such a mammoth political battle. The only way to avoid that outcome is for the bishops to accept the Obama Administration's "accommodation" (as opposed to compromise) on the matter and call it a day. The president is standing pat, as is his Catholic secretary of the Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius. Their reason for doing so is because they know that when it comes to contraception most Catholics either ignore or actively dissent from the Church's teaching, this includes many clergy and not a few bishops. After all, the argument that access to contraception is a form of "preventative care," rooted in the fairly insane notion that pregnancy is a disease, that is, something to mostly be mostly avoided, has proven very persuasive. Senator Barbara Boxer of California is already making the obvious case in favor of the HHS rule, arguing that an individual's right to contraceptive coverage trumps religious liberty. She went on to warn, using the most specious slippery-slope reasoning imaginable, that repealing the rule would have even more dire consequences.

Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete in his recent article, HHS Mandate/The true rights of women and men, is right when he opines that "the conflict will be framed from now on: contraception vs women's rights." We are already at the point at which any insistence that this is "only," or even primarily, a question of religious liberty, is passed. We must have the courage to tell the truth, even when it seems clear that the truth will not be convincing to most people, including many Catholics. One Catholic commentator boldly stated that by rejecting the administration's "accommodation," the U.S. bishops were snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. But the bishops were right to insist that the proffered solution was no victory, as tempting as it must have been to put the matter the rest. Our bishops deserve credit for the courage they have shown in rejecting the "accommodation."

In his annual Christmas speech to the Roman Curia for 2008, Pope Benedict XVI said, "An integral part of the Church's proclamation must be a witness to the Creator Spirit present in nature as a whole, and, in a special way, in the human person, created in God’s image.

"From this perspective, we should go back to the Encyclical Humanae Vitae: the intention of Pope Paul VI was to defend love against sex as a consumer good, the future against the exclusive claims of the present, and human nature against its manipulation."

A friend of mine, Catherine, during a discussion prompted by posting the link to Albacete's article on Facebook today, wrote: "I'm going to suggest that a true feminist will balk at women forever being told to impair their fertility, especially as 99% of the time, it is in order to accommodate men. Sorry, no. It's not liberating if we're still making this a "woman's issue" as if men don't matter and don't have anything to do with reproduction." This strikes me as a verification of what Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae predicted: "Another effect [of the use of artificial contraceptives] 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).

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sts. Cyril & Methodius, more than an inside joke

There are so many things to write about, but so few that are really of interest to me at present. I have to be honest, not having access to a computer last week and so not posting for several days helped me to accomplish something I was trying to do as the new year began, which was not to put pressure on myself to post something everyday, to prudently keep certain observations to myself, and to post only when I had the inclination. So, I am grateful for that, especially since Lent is just around the corner.

It somehow seems fitting that Valentine's Day this year falls a week from Shrove Tuesday (i.e., the day before Ash Wednesday, in some cultures called "Fat Tuesday"). Next year Valentine's Day will be the day after Ash Wednesday. Were it not for the leap year this year we would witness something truly cataclysmic; the extraordinarily secular(ized) Valentine's Day falling on Ash Wednesday! I would be lying if I wrote that I am glad or relieved I don't get witness this spectacular collision of the sacred and profane.

So, on this Valentine's Day, here's to the great brothers Saints Cyril and Methodius, natives of the ancient city of Thessoloniki, where the Apostle Paul himself established the Christian Church, apostles to the Slavs, my wife's people. Since the reform of the Roman liturgical calendar after the Second Vatican Council, today has been the liturgical memorial of these two, falling on what the Roman Church believes to be the day of the death of St. Cyril. Today's memorial is an obligatory memorial, meaning that in the Church's liturgy it cannot be disregarded in favor of the Sixth Tuesday of Ordinary Time.

In 1985, Bl. Pope John Paul II, himself a Slave, promulgated what is perhaps his least known encyclical letter, Slavorum apostoli, concerning these two great saint. In his Apostolic Letter of 31 December 1980, Egregiae virtutis (there is no official English translation), along St. Benedict, who was proclaimed the Patron Saint of Europe in 1964 by Pope Paul VI, he made Saints Cyril and Methodius Co-Patron of Europe. Below is a brief, but important, section from the encyclical, that helps see that the saints we memorialize today are more than an inside joke among Catholics who seek to order their lives around the sacred calendar of the liturgical year. Additionally, what he Bl. Pope John Paul wrote about the relationship between faith and culture transcended the subject of his encyclical:

Sts. Cyril and Methodius

21. The Brothers from Salonika were not only heirs of the faith but also heirs of the culture of Ancient Greece, continued by Byzantium. Everyone knows how important this heritage is for the whole of European culture and, directly or indirectly, for the culture of the entire world. The work of evangelization which they carried out as pioneers in territory inhabited by Slav peoples-contains both a model of what today is called " inculturation the incarnation of the Gospel in native cultures and also the introduction of these cultures into the life of the Church.

By incarnating the Gospel in the native culture of the peoples which they were evangelizing, Saints Cyril and Methodius were especially meritorious for the formation and development of that same culture, or rather of many cultures. Indeed all the cultures of the Slav nations owe their "beginning" or development to the work of the Brothers from Salonika. For by their original and ingenious creation of an alphabet for the Slavonic language the Brothers made a fundamental contribution to the culture and literature of all the Slav nations.

Furthermore, the translation of the sacred books, carried out by Cyril and Methodius together with their pupils, conferred a capacity and cultural dignity upon the Old Slavonic liturgical language, which became for many hundreds of years not only the ecclesiastical but also the official and literary language, and even the common language of the more educated classes of the greater part of the Slav nations, and in particular of all the Slavs of the Eastern Rite. It was also used in the Church of the Holy Cross in Cracow, where the Slav Benedictines had established themselves. Here were published the first liturgical books printed in this language. Up to the present day this is the language used in the Byzantine liturgy of the Slavonic Eastern Churches of the Rite of Constantinople, both Catholic and Orthodox, in Eastern and South Eastern Europe, as well as in various countries of Western Europe. It is also used in the Roman liturgy of the Catholics of Croatia.

22. In the historical development of the Slavs of Eastern Rite, this language played a role equal to that of the Latin language in the West. It also lasted longer than Latin in part until the nineteenth century-and exercised a much more direct influence on the formation of the local literary languages, thanks to its close kinship with them. These merits vis-a-vis the culture of all the Slav peoples and nations make the work of evangelization carried out by Saints Cyril and Methodius in a certain sense constantly present in the history and in the life of these peoples and nations.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Why pray?

The vast majority of Christians acknowledge that prayer is vitally important, even as many acknowledge they don't pray as often as they should or as often as they would like. As regards the frequency of prayer, it is like any other activity in life, you just need to set aside time to pray. Setting aside times to pray each day brings up the other challenge, namely how to pray. There are no shortage of ways to pray. There is always spontaneous prayer from-the-heart. Lectio divina is certainly a well-proven way to pray, a manner of prayer that is mostly listening. The Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which bids us to focus on the mysteries of our Lord's life and help us to imitate Him in our own lives is another time-tested way of praying. More recently, there is the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and other devotions that can help you focus and shape your spirituality. For example, each day at the end of Morning Prayer I recite the Litany of St. Joseph for three fixed intentions and other immediate and more specific intentions that flow from them.

With Lent less than two weeks away, it is important for us understand the importance of prayer in order to begin to pray more. Our prayer often wanes because we wonder, "If God knows everything, including what I need before I ask Him, then why bother?" Well, in the first instance prayer is not merely about asking God for things, stated more academically, all prayer is not petitionary prayer. Nonetheless, Eugene Peterson, in his book Like Dew Your Youth: Growing Up With Your Teenager, reminded us, "God will do nothing apart from the prayers of the people His Son redeemed. The power is His; the privilege is ours." I take this to mean something like, God can work through any means He chooses and the means He chooses are the prayers of His people.

Peterson continued in our vein from last week, which was opened up by the provocative missive by Fr. Rutler, "We who are in Christ have no reason to fear or surrender to hell's program. We have been redeemed to be prayerful agents of God's blessing, authority, and power on earth; to pray for the earthly manifestation of His heavenly righteousness and will." Peterson concludes this thought by stating what should be obvious to us, but often is not: "That will happen when we seek God's kingdom first."

Do not be mistaken, hell has a program. The fact that you do not pray as frequently as you know you ought to is proof enough of that, as is the challenge of praying once you do start. In a recent post entitled Know the Enemy, Pastor Tim Challies, with the aid of the sixth chapter of Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, helped us to know who our enemy is and to understand his program so that we can do battle. "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Eph. 6:12 ESV).

So, why pray? To usher in God's kingdom- "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

This week I will take a brief look at those other two spiritual disciplines that, along with prayer, constitute the foundations of any authentic Christian spirituality: fasting and alms-giving.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes

On this date in 1858 the Blessed Virgin Mary began appearing to young Bernadette Soubirous outside the town of Lourdes in southwest France. Bernadette was 14 years-old at the time. There were seventeen more apparitions that year. The Virgin said to the young woman, "que soy era immaculada concepciou," "I am the immaculate conception." In 1862 Pope Pius IX permitted the veneration of Our Lady of Lourdes. Prior to all this, on 8 December 1854, with massive support from bishops throughout the world, with his bull Ineffabilis Deus, Pius IX, and even prior to the First Vatican Council's formal definition of the dogma of papal infallibility, defined the dogma of the Virgin Mary's immaculate conception ex cathedra:
We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful.

St. Bernadette Soubirous

Like the humble Virgin of Nazareth, God chose Bernadette Soubrious, a simple peasant girl from a troubled family, who had difficulty learning her catechism, to see, hear, and simply proclaim what she witnessed. On 8 December 1933 she was raised to the altar by Pope Pius XI. This proves yet again what the apostle wrote to the Corinthian church long ago, "God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God"(1 Cor. 1:27-29 ESV). Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us. St. Bernadette, pray for us.

Because Lourdes has become a place of so much healing 11 February is also the day the Church sets aside as World Day of the Sick. In that regard, with the recent flap about the the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services requirement dictating that Church-run institutions must provide contraceptive coverage for free (even though many, perhaps even most, already do), contraception is not "preventative care" because being pregnant is not an illness. Oh, and it is about contraception, at least on the level that matters or makes any difference. Otherwise, it seems to me that it only amounts to ripples across the surface of the water.

I would be remiss not to mention that, fittingly, today is also the birthday of my lovely wife. Today is also the twenty-ninth anniversary of the charism of Communion & Liberation being officially recognized by the Church.

Friday, February 10, 2012

"And every demon wants his pound of flesh"

I took a break from blogging this week because I did not have access to a computer at home. I have to say, it was something I needed. I am back in time for our Friday traditio, if a bit late, which this week is Flo(rence)+ The Machine= good tunes and "Shake It Out."

Our love is pastured, such a mournful sound/Tonight I'm gonna bury that horse in the ground/So I like to keep my issues strong/But it's always darkest before the dawn

Sunday, February 5, 2012

"and he drove out many demons"

"When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him" (Mark 1:32-34).

I was tempted to post something more existential on our first reading from the Book of Job this morning, but then a dear friend sent me a copy of Fr. Rutler's weekly missive to his parish, Our Savior in New York City. When people today speak of "being pastoral" they typically refer to a manner of relating to people in which "the pastor" seeks always to comfort but never to challenge, or provoke, often even at the expense of the truth, telling people what they want to hear as opposed to what they sometimes need to hear for the good of their souls (there is no higher good). I think Fr. Rutler is most pastoral in his letter and in his entire ministry as a priest.

He begins his column by writing that "God so loved the world that he spared us the indignity of making us feel good about ourselves." He then cites Sacred Scripture: "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8). From there he proceeds to say what today we are often so hesitant to acknowledge, that the devil is a real, personal being, angry that he is not God and so is hell-bent on our destruction. In our Gospel last week, as Jesus taught in the synagogue of Capernaum, an evil spirit shouts out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God" (Mark 1:24)! In today's Gospel, after the previous outburst, Jesus does not allow the demons to speak because they would also proclaim His identity. Referring to the outburst in the synagogue of ancient Gailiee and after noting that "Satan hides behind the plural," pretending "to be more than he is," Fr. Rutler notes that "in the presence of the Truth, even Satan cannot lie. He drops the plural and confesses what no mortal yet knew."

"Satan never looks like Satan," writes Fr. Rutler. Rather, "He drapes himself in celebrity and humor and humanitarianism, using celebrity to mislead, humor to mock, and humanitarianism to de-humanize." Examples of de-humanizing humanitarianism abound, the recent Health and Human Service rule mandating that Catholics violate their consciences by paying for contraceptives, which, in of themselves, as Pope Paul VI prophetically warned more than forty years ago, contribute to the de-humanization of what God designed to be the most human of acts. Another example is the idea that the spread of HIV in poor parts of the world, namely sub-Saharan Africa, be fought exclusively or mostly by the distribution of condoms, the reasoning being that such people cannot control themselves and so we have to control them for their own good.

While it is predictably a field ripe for fraud and abuse, meaning it requires great discernment, we still need to be concerned with spiritual warfare, which is why I frequently recommend C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters. You can read Fr. Rutler's entire missive on his parish website. I encourage you to do so.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

On the "object" of Vatican II

According to Peter and Margaret Hebblethwaite in their book Pope John XXIII: Pope of the Century, one of the ways Bl. Pope John solicited input for the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council he announced it was when he came across a pastoral letter by a diocesan bishop that impressed him he wrote to that bishop right away seeking his advice about the Council. Of all the pastoral letters written by bishops prior to the Council two seem to have particularly struck him. The very first one that grabbed the pope's attention was by Cardinal Léon-Joseph Suenens of Belgium, who would go on to become something of star at the Council, and the other, promulgated for Lent 1962, by then-Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, archbishop of Milan, who would succeed him as Pope Paul VI, bring Vatican II to its conclusion, and begin to implement the Council.

Suenens was concerned that the Council not deal exclusively with ad intra issues, but would take up questions that concern everyone, issues such as war and peace, nuclear weapons, birth control (a question that in 1963, with the Council underway, Pope John reserved to himself and appointed a Papal Commission to study, the culmination of this process, of course, was Paul VI's last ever encyclical letter, Humanae Vitae), et al.

Montini's Pensiamo al Concilio (i.e., Let's Think About the Council) was a lengthy treatment of the upcoming Council. He believed "the central theme of the Council would be the mystery of the Church." He stated that he did not think the Council would declare any new dogmas. He clearly came down on the side of those who believed that the Church needed to cease being a kind of medieval fortress in the midst of the world and to better engage the world: "The Church will divest itself, if need be, of whatever royal cloak still remains upon its sovereign shoulders, so that it may put on the simpler forms modern taste demands." He went on to opine that "We shall have a Council of positive rather than punitive reforms, and of exhortation rather than anathemas."

Affirming Montini's impressions, Pope John, with his motu proprio establishing the commissions for the upcoming Council, set forth on 5 June 1960, wrote, "On the occasion of our first encyclical letter [Ad Petri Cathedram], we made it clear that the ecumenical council was being held with this primary object: 'The growth of the Catholic Faith and the renewal along right lines of the habits of Christian people, and the adapting of ecclesiastical discipline [the promulgation of an updated code of canon law and a unified code for the Eastern Churches in communion with Rome] to the needs and conditions of the present time.'"

The touchstone speech of his pontificate, at least to date, on the correct interpretation of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council remains Pope Benedict's 2005 pre-Christmas speech to the Roman Curia, in which he said, "there is an interpretation that I would call 'a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture'; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the 'hermeneutic of reform,' of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God." While I have quoted this passage numerous times, I found a corollary to it last night when I read the following passage from Pope John XXIII's Apostolic Letter, promulgated in August 1962, Appropinquante Concilio: the Council, according to Good Pope John, "will be a demonstration of the Church, always living and always young, which feels the rhythm of the times and which in every century beautifies itself with new splendor, radiates new light, achieves new conquests, while remaining identical in itself, faithful to the divine image impressed on its countenance by its Spouse, who loves and protects her, Christ Jesus."

Friday, February 3, 2012

The surprise of Vatican II

In his lengthy apologia about what he saw as the deleterious effects of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council on the Church, Iota Unum: A Study of Changes in the Catholic Church in the XXth Century, Romano Amerio gave an account of Vatican II that leaves little doubt that things did indeed change after the Council. In his proclamation last October of the Year of Faith, which begins 11 October 2012 and ends on the Solemnity of Christ the King in 2013, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the Council, Pope Benedict XVI once again insisted on a "correct hermeneutic" with which to interpret the Council. Contrary to popular belief, Pope Benedict has never called for "a hermeneutic of continuity," even as he has insisted on the inadequacy of "a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture" with the Church's Tradition. Rather, in his first annual speech to the Roman Curia, delivered on 22 December 2005, he called for a "hermeneutic of reform." This way of receiving and incorporating the much-needed changes called for by the fathers of Vatican II is to achieve "renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God." While it is certainly right to reject "a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture," I think this way of stating it may require more parsing: Does "discontinuity" (i.e., change) necessarily imply rupture? Before someone goes nuts about that question, what discontinuities, especially in praxis, liturgical and otherwise, can be objectively traced from the early Church councils to Trent, or between councils East and West prior to the schism, including such matter as celibacy and clerical continence, just to name two with which I am familiar, let alone the evolution of the prerogatives of the papacy?

Indeed, in Vatican II's striving both to return, at least to some extent, to the sources of Christian Tradition and to open the Church more to the world, as Von Balthasar notably and, at least at the time of its publication, notoriously, called for in his short book Razing the Bastions: On the Church in This Age, there is what we can rightly call a dialectical tension. From his careful elocution of the delicate matter of interpreting the Council without negating it, Pope Benedict grasps the tension that any honest reading, let alone interpretation and application, of the Council's documents generates. After all, as a young theological advisor to Cardinal Frings, one of the more influential participants in the Council, the relatively youthful Fr. Ratzinger played a crucial role in drafting several of the Council's most important documents.

Another aspect of Vatican II Amerio confirms is its surprise, which is likely why Bl. Pope John announced his intention to call it trembling a little with emotion (emboldening and italicization added by me). Amerio noted that both Pius XI and Pius XII considered reconvening the First Vatican Ecumenical Council that was disrupted by fighting in the Italian war of unification without being formally concluded in 1870, but not before issuing the twin dogmas of papal infallibility and the pope's immediate and universal jurisdiction over the entire Church. In truth, the latter of these two dogmas is probably a bigger obstacle to Christian unity than the former. Interestingly, in his speech announcing his intention to convene an ecumenical council, Pope John made no mention of Vatican I.

It seems that Amerio is quite accurate in his assertion that Bl. Pope John XXIII conceived of the council with "no prior consultations" either with the Sacred College of Cardinals or the global episcopate. Nonetheless, in his speech announcing the Council Pope John solicited from the cardinals and bishops present as well as from throughout the world "an intimate and confident word assuring us of their attitude." He further asked for input and suggestions "on how to carry out this triple program" (i.e., diocesan synod for Rome, the ecumenical council, and a revised and updated code of canon law).

The Council and updating canon law

I read today for the very first time Bl. Pope XXIII's speech, delivered on 25 January 1959 in the Basilica of St. Paul's Outside the Walls in Rome. It was this speech that the pope announced three things of great import for the Church: "a diocesan synod for they city [of Rome], and an ecumenical council for the Universal Church," as well as an updated code of canon law (the Church's first unified code, the so-called Pio-Benedictine code, was promulgated in 1917), "which," Pope John said, "should accompany and crown these two tests of the practical application of the provisions of ecclesiastical discipline, as the Spirit of the Lord will suggest to us little by little along the way." Papa Roncalli also alluded to the promulgation of a unified code of canon law for all of the Eastern Churches in communion with the Holy See. Given that he said, "The forthcoming promulgation of the Code of Oriental Law will give a presage of these events," it seems reasonable to conclude that he envisioned the enactment of the unified Eastern code even before the synod and the council.

It is interesting to note that the updated Latin code (Codex Iuris Canonici) was not promulgated until 1983 and that the unified Eastern Code (Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium) was not set forth until 1990. In 1983, the Latin code was promulgated by Bl. Pope John Paul II on the twenty-fourth anniversary of John XXIII's speech.

Since 1983 the Latin code has been updated several times by papal fiat. With regard to permanent deacons the most recent change, set forth by Pope Benedict XVI on 26 October 2009 in a motu proprio, Omnium in mentem, along with amending some canons regarding marriage, Canons 1008 and 1009 were also amended.

Canon 1008 was reconstituted to read: "By divine institution, some of the Christian faithful are marked with an indelible character and constituted as sacred ministers by the sacrament of holy orders. They are thus consecrated and deputed so that, each according to his own grade, they may serve the People of God by a new and specific title.

More significantly, a third paragraph was added to Canon 1009: "Those who are constituted in the order of the episcopate or the presbyterate receive the mission and capacity to act in the person of Christ the Head, whereas deacons are empowered to serve the People of God in the ministries of the liturgy, the word and charity."

In my recently completed Integrated Pastoral Research paper (i.e., thesis), relying on the more scholarly work of Dr. Bill Ditewig (who also recently posted on his blog concerning Bl. Pope John's amazing announcement, Marking a Wonderful Milestone), I noted something with regards to how even the current, updated, code deals with permanent deacons:
"Setting theological concerns about this legislation aside, Omnium in mentem is an effort to critically examine the language used to describe the diaconate over against the presbyterate. As Ditewig noted in his doctoral dissertation, The Exercise of Governance by Deacons, published in 2003, citing canonist James H. Provost, care must be taken not to use sacerdotal language rightly applied only the episcopate and presbyterate to deacons (4). However, like most efforts in this regard, Pope Benedict’s motu proprio applies to deacons negatively, merely stating what deacons are not. Provost states that because "the diaconate is an ordained ministry in its own right," although permanent deacons are a new reality in the church, "language unique to the order, and legal expressions flowing from that language, must continue to develop" (Ditewig, Exercise of Governance 4).

"be careful of them in the dark"

Today's traditio is one of Tom Waits' most mainstream songs (it was covered by Rod Stewart in a predictably anodyne manner and became a hit), "Downtown Train."

You wave your hand and they scatter like crows/they have nothing that will ever capture your heart/theyr'e just thorns without/ the rose/be careful of them in the dark/oh if I was the one/you chose to be your only one/oh baby can't you hear me now

As a bonus for this first Friday in February, Howlin' Wolf, who is a big influence on Waits, singing "Smokestack Light'ning"

If you want see and hear classic Waits, check out his 1988 appearance on Letterman to support his still magnificent film, Big Time, which was more-or-less based on his stage play, Frank's Wild Years.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Today is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on which we celebrate Jesus being presented in the Temple by Our Lady and St. Joseph in accordance with Jewish law. This event is also the fourth mystery of the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the fruit of which is obedience. It is in Luke's Gospel, where we read about our Lord' Presentation, we encounter the figures of Anna the prophetess and Simeon.

"Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said," (Luke 2:25-28 ESV)
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel (Luke 2:29-32 ESV).
This prayer, known as the Nunc dimmittis (the first words of the prayer in Latin, "now dismiss," "now you are letting ... depart"). The Nunc dimmittis is the Gospel Canticle for Night Prayer just as the Benedictus is for Morning Prayer and the Magnificat is for Evening Prayer.

For centuries the Feast of the Presentation, formerly known as Candlemas, formally marked the end of the Christmas season. My lovely wife leaves out Nativity up in one of the nooks of our fireplace mantle until the Presentation, which I appreciate and enjoy greatly. So, even if it is not you practice, especially if it is not your practice, pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary today, bringing your needs and those near to you to Our Lady, who, as this feast shows, is always faithful, humbly petitioning her for her maternal help.

Fifty years ago today, 2 February 1962, Bl. John XXIII announced the opening date for the Second Vatican Council, which my dear brother, Deacon Eric, has chronicled over on Conciliara.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Bl. John XXIII and the plight of Italian hens

Because later this year we will mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, I have been doing some reading about the Council and events leading up to it. Right now I am reading a book published in 1959 by Dominican friar, Fr. Paul Perrotta, on the election of Bl. John XXIII as pope: Pope John XXIII: His Life and Character. After reading the chapters on the origins of the papacy, the history of the papacy, the pontificate of Pope Pius XII, the death of Pius XII, and the conclave that selected Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli as pope, I began the first chapter on Good Pope John, "His Antecedents and Background." It was in this chapter that I read a passage, which I found equally delightful and funny. After stating how poor the farming Roncalli family was, Perrotta wrote,

It is hard for us Americans to accept that farmers in Italy use very little milk and eggs on their table. Milk is converted into cheese because there is no refrigeration and eggs are jealously kept for the sick or for traditional cakes. They produce few eggs at best, because hens in Italy are not the spoiled darlings of farmers, bulging as they do here with purina chow, but have actually to scratch for a living 'mid the refuse of the barnyard.
I found myself wondering what the jovial Papa Roncalli, who was indeed raised in such humble circumstances, would make of such an observation, especially given that in a biography of John XXIII I read some years ago the author wrote, "he was known as a good fork," meaning he loved to eat!

Since sundown marks the beginning of the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, formerly known as Candlemas (when candles to be used, not only for special liturgical purposes, but even at home, were blessed), below is a brief clip of Bl. John XXIII on Candlemas 1959 blessing what appear to be Paschal Candles:

Year B Third Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 3:13-15.17-19; Ps 4:2.4.7-9; 1 John 2:1-5a; Luke 24:25-48 “You are witnesses of these things,” Jesus tells his incredulous...