Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

War is ugly, chaotic, and above all, violent. The best and perhaps most concise definition of war is "organized violence." Hence war should never be romanticized. I am grateful to those gave all for our country. Contra John Lennon, if there is nothing worth dying for, then there is nothing worth living for either.

As our current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, I think it is important that we recognize there are a lot of wounded veterans who came home and who need our help, too. As this is a presidential election year, it is important to me that moving ahead we are far more reticent about using force to achieve desired ends, which means taking a moral approach to ends we seek and always grasping that even very moral ends don't justify means. As a war veteran myself, I feel I can express my opinion with some credibility.

To those who gave all, thank you. Your sacrifice bears witness to the great importance of transcendence to our being human, the loss of which damages and diminishes our humanity.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Pentecost 2012.3- Vespers homilette (synthesis)

Reading: Ephesians 4:3-6

Above all the Holy Spirit, whose initial post-resurrection descent we celebrate today, seeks to foster and bring about unity and peace, first within and then through Christ’s Body, the Church.

On great feasts, like Pentecost, which we celebrate today, but that most of our Orthodox brothers and sisters don’t celebrate for another week this year, we should be mindful, very mindful that Christ’s Body is broken, His Church is not united. We must recognize what a scandal this is. But this also means recognizing that it will require a movement of the Holy Spirit to be healed. One means of assisting in this is invoking the heavenly assistance of the great Mother of God, the Theotokos, Mary most holy, who, as the disciple par excellence, was present with the disciples when the Holy Spirit descended on them.

Pope Benedict with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

We are reminded in our reading this evening, “There is but one body and one Spirit, just as there is one hope given” us all by our call, which is issued in baptism, strengthened in confirmation, and that is nourished by our Lord present in the Eucharist, which we are gathered here to be blessed by, whose Real Presence is a masterpiece of the Holy Spirit.

It is very important for us to grasp that Pentecost is not a one-off event, but is supposed to be normative for the life of Christ's Body, which is animated by the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is the theological version of what goes up must come down. Jesus ascends and the Holy Spirit descends, just as Christ promised. Pentecost is the surest proof that as Christians we are not People of the Book, but People of the Holy Spirit, who remains the risen Christ's resurrection presence in and among us, continually pouring the love of God into our often hardened hearts, transforming us and empowering us to transform the world. So, we pray: Veni Sancte Spiritus, veni per Mariam- Come Holy Spirit, come through Mary.

Pentecost 2012.2: Spirit-filled

Some additional thoughts about Pentecost occurred to me as I drove from home to the Cathedral to serve at the day's main liturgy, during which Bishop Wester administered the Sacrament of Confirmation. First, a thought on Pentecost/Shavu'ot/the Festival of Weeks in addition to being a commemoration of Moses receiving the Law on Mount Sinai, also being an agricultural festival when the first fruits of the harvest were brought to the Temple, known in Hebrew as Hag ha-Bikkuri. The Christian version of Pentecost does not have us bringing our first fruits, but receiving the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which, according to the apostle are "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Gal. 5:22b-23a). "Against such," St. Paul insisted, "there is no law" because "those who belong to Christ [Jesus] have crucified their flesh [in Greek sarx] with its passions and desires" (Gal. 5:24).

St. Stephen in Glory, by Giacomo Cavedone (1601)

It is very important for us to grasp that Pentecost is not a one-off event, but is supposed to be normative for the life of Christ's Body, the Church. As we continue reading through the early chapters of Acts it is often written about those who speak in Jesus' name, before they speak, that they are filled with the Holy Spirit - Peter before the Sanhedrin in Acts 4:8; the Jerusalem Christian community praying for boldness to proclaim Christ in the face of hostility in Acts 4:31; the seven Greek-speaking men venerated as the Church's first deacons had to be "filled with the Spirit and wisdom" as a requirement for office (Acts 6:3b); one of these men, Stephen, is described from the first time he is mentioned as "a man filled with faith and the holy Spirit" (Acts 6:5b), who, just before his martyrdom, "filled with the holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God" (Acts 7:55).

Pentecost is the theological version of what goes up must come down. Jesus ascends and the Holy Spirit descends, just as Christ promised. During the Last Supper discourse in St. John's Gospel Jesus said, "But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you.e But if I go, I will send him to you" (John 16:7). A bit earlier on Jesus tells Philip, who asks Him to show them the Father, "whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father" (John 14:12).


"When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.

"Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, 'Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his native language? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God' (Acts 2:1-11).

Jews from every nation were gathered in Jerusalem for Shavu'ot, the Festival of Weeks, also known by its Greek name, Pentecost. This festival is written about in the Torah (i.e., the Pentateuch) in Leviticus 23:15-16.21: "Beginning with the day after the sabbath, the day on which you bring the sheaf for elevation, you shall count seven full weeks; you shall count to the day after the seventh week, fifty days. Then you shall present a new grain offering to the LORD... On this same day you shall make a proclamation: there shall be a declared holy day for you; no heavy work may be done. This shall be a perpetual statute through all your generations wherever you dwell."

In addition to being an agricultural festival marking when the first fruits were harvested and brought to the Temple, known as Hag ha-Bikkuri (i.e., Festival of First Fruits), it is also a celebration of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and is also known as Hag Matan Torateinu (i.e., the Festival of the Giving of Our Torah).

Pentecost, then, is the surest proof that as Christians we are not People of the Book, but People of the Holy Spirit, who is the risen Christ's resurrection presence in and among us, the Gospel being poured into our hearts, transforming us and empowering us to transform the world- "Come Holy Spirit and fill the face the of earth!"

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Sex and sanity: knowing who('s) you are

Few topics draw as much interest as sex. It doesn't really seem to matter what aspect of sex you might be discussing, be it encouragement to healthy sexuality or discussing the less healthy aspects of it. This goes to show how obsessed we are with sex and how confused we are about this aspect of being human. I readily acknowledge that few things turn people away from discussions of sex than getting all doctrinal about it, or a long discourse on chastity, especially when chastity is used as a code word for the inherent "badness" of sex. Nonetheless, I think it very worthwhile to quote what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about chastity:
Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man's belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman.

The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift (par. 2337)
I think this helps us tremendously because it tells us a lot about our sexuality, which is part and parcel of our humanity, but only a part. In other words, we are not defined by our sexual preferences of proclivities. This is why I don't define myself as an heterosexual. I am a male human being who is heterosexual, but there is a lot more about me than that, Deo gratias!

This evening, as we enter into the great Feast of Pentecost, a day when the Sacrament of Confirmation is often administered by bishops in their cathedrals, it is important to ruminate on our true identity. The Lord Jesus' confirmation took place immediately following His baptism by John in the river Jordan: "On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, 'You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased'" (Mark 1:10-11). The word we use to describe this mystery, "confirmation," is used in a very ordinary sense. What was confirmed as Jesus came up out of the water was His identity as the Father's only begotten Son. What is confirmed when we are anointed is our baptismal identity as children of the Father, through Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. For a Christian, this is who you are, it precedes and under girds anything and everything else about you!

St. Paul is very adamant about this throughout his letters. This is what he meant when he wrote to the Church in Corinth, "So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come" (2 Cor. 5:17). While this is by no means limited to our sexuality, it certainly includes it. In his First Letter to the Corinthians, the apostle, after likely writing about the immorality of engaging pagan temple prostitutes, the apostle wrote: "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body" (1 Cor. 6:19-20). The exploitative nature of ancient temple prostitution was highlighted by Pope Benedict in his first encyclical, Deus caritas est, in answer to the question Nietzsche posed and answered in the affirmative, Did Christianity destroy eros? The Holy Father noted that, like many other ancient cultures, the Greeks thought of eros "principally as a kind of intoxication, the overpowering of reason by a 'divine madness' which tears man away from his finite existence and enables him, in the very process of being overwhelmed by divine power, to experience supreme happiness" (par. 4). In part, the way this understanding was religiously and cultically lived out was through "'sacred' prostitution which flourished in many temples. Eros was thus celebrated as divine power, as fellowship with the Divine" (par. 4).

The religion of Israel always stood in opposition to this deformed religion, even in the northern lands of Israel, where such fertility cults flourished to the point that many Israelites, who were always called back to fidelity to their covenant with God, participated. The Holy Father insisted that this was by no means a rejection of eros, but a vehement rejection of what he described as "a warped and destructive form of it, because this counterfeit divinization of eros actually strips it of its dignity and dehumanizes it" (par. 4). He goes on to note explicitly something Paul only implied in the sixth chapter of his First Letter to the Corinthians, namely that the temple prostitutes, whose job it was "to bestow this divine intoxication, were not treated as human beings and persons, but simply used as a means of arousing 'divine madness': far from being goddesses, they were human persons being exploited" (par. 4).

The pursuit of sexual pleasure for its own sake is not, Pope Benedict insisted, "an ascent in 'ecstasy' towards the Divine, but a fall, a degradation of man" (par. 4). Hence, to be truly human, "eros needs to be disciplined and purified if it is to provide not just fleeting pleasure, but a certain foretaste of the pinnacle of our existence, of that beatitude for which our whole being yearns" (par. 4).

In his apostolic exhortation, Familiaris consortio, Blessed Pope John Paul II, who more than any other pope, and probably more than any bishop even prior to becoming pope, understood and articulated the sacramental nature of marriage, noting that like all of the seven sacraments, marriage "is a real symbol of the event of salvation" (par. 13). As with each sacrament, the sacrament of matrimony is a symbol of the event of salvation in a particular and unique way (par. 13). Because spouses participate in the sacrament of matrimony precisely as a couple, the first effect of marriage, according to Pope John Paul II, is "the Christian conjugal bond," which he identifies as "a typically Christian communion of two persons” because it is symbolic of the mystery of Christ’s nuptial relationship to the church (par. 13; Ephesians 5:32). Then he noted something that is vitally important, namely that conjugal relations between spouses constitute the “content” of their participation together "in Christ’s life" (par. 13).

This is so, John Paul II reasoned, because "conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter- appeal of the body and instinct, power of feeling and affectivity, aspiration of the spirit and of will" (par.13). Hence, marital love, which is conjugal by nature, seeks the realization of inter-personal unity in which becoming one flesh in and through sexual union is necessary in order for the spouses to form "one heart and soul" (par. 13). This is perhaps the primary reason that marriage is indissoluble and requires spousal fidelity to the other "in definitive mutual giving; and it is open to fertility" (par. 13).

Friday, May 25, 2012

The surety of confident silence

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. 'Pooh?' he whispered.

"'Yes, Piglet?'

"'Nothing,' said Piglet, taking Pooh's paw. 'I just wanted to be sure of you.'"

This post is a collaborative effort between A.A. Milne, my lovely friends Marymargaret and Lara Serene, and me. I guess you could call this sentimentality, but it is really nostos algos, a longing for home.

"The Greek word for 'return' is nostos. Algos means 'suffering'. So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return" (Milan Kundera). If I were forced to pick a musical selection for this today, it would have to be There is a light that never goes out.

"There's always someone around you"

Our traditio for what is shaping up to be a dark, rainy Friday here along the Wasatch Front is The Velvet Underground's "Sunday Morning." This is one of three beautiful and wistful songs about Sunday morning, which retains, even in our rapidly de-Christianizing culture, a day apart. The other two songs that come to my mind are "Sunday Morning Coming Down," especially as sung by Johnny Cash, and Morrissey's "Every Day is Like Sunday", which was a traditio several years ago. Are there others? If so, drop a comment.

Sunday morning/brings the dawn in/it's just a restless feeling by my side

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Year B Solemnity of the Ascension

Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Ps 47:2-3.6-9; Eph. 1:17-23; Mark 16:15-20

On this Seventh Sunday of Easter we are celebrating the Solemnity of the Ascension of our Lord, Jesus Christ, which is ordinarily and by ancient tradition celebrated forty days after Easter, meaning it always falls on a Thursday. We learn from our reading of the Acts of the Apostles that during the time between Christ’s resurrection and ascension into heaven that He appeared to the apostles “during forty days” and spoke to them “about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3), teaching them the doctrines of the kingdom. What Jesus taught the apostles between the time of His resurrection and ascension is traditionally known as The Gospel of the Forty Days.

The Gospel of the Forty Days is important because as the fathers of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council stated clearly in their Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, “there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture” (par. 9). They went on to note that both Sacred Scripture and sacred tradition flow “from the same divine wellspring” and “merge into a unity and tend toward the same end” (par. 9), namely making known the Lordship of Jesus Christ, in and through whom the Father revealed all there is to reveal. We consider the writings that comprise the Bible to be Sacred Scripture because each one was written “under the inspiration of the [Holy] Spirit” (par. 9). Sacred tradition works in a slightly different way; by handing on “the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles” and their successors “in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known” (par. 9). The English word “tradition” comes from the Latin noun traditio, which, in turn, derives from the verb tradere, which means to hand over, to give for safekeeping. So, our English word “tradition” can be used as both a noun and a verb referring both to what is handed on as well as the act of handing on.

The Gospel of the Forty Days constitutes the foundation of sacred tradition. The fathers of the Council of Chalcedon, which was the fourth ecumenical council, held in 451 AD, whose main contribution was the dogmatic definition of what we call the hypostatic union, that is, the uniting of two natures, one human and one divine, in the single person of Jesus Christ, in their concluding statement of faith, made the claim that everything the council taught came from a single authority: “the Holy Scriptures as Christ had interpreted and fulfilled them according to tradition” (Pelikan, Acts 38). Just as Jewish tradition holds that there was an oral Torah given to Moses during his forty days on Mount Sinai alongside the written Torah, Christian tradition has constantly held that what Jesus taught the apostles during these forty days is an oral Gospel, alongside the written Gospels (Pelikan 38). As we look forward to our celebration of Pentecost next Sunday, let’s not forget that Pentecost was and remains a Jewish Festival that celebrates Moses receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai.

Because the Acts of the Apostles is a follow-on to St. Luke’s Gospel, we can see that Christ’s post-resurrection instruction began on the road to Emmaus, when, before making Himself known in the breaking of the bread, He instructed the two distraught disciples, interpreting “to them what referred to him in all the scriptures… beginning with Moses and all the prophets” (Luke 24:27).

A part of the Gospel also included in our first reading today, an aspect we must not neglect, even though it is often dealt with in various silly ways, something we must believe with divine and catholic faith, is our conviction and hope that Jesus Christ will return in glory. As the apostles stood looking up as Christ ascended, the angels said to them, “This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Hence, being a Christian does not consist of standing there dumbstruck looking up to heaven, but calls us to full engagement in the world, making way for God’s kingdom by seeking to bring it about “as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ” (Roman Missal).

This brings us to our Gospel, which is St. Mark’s version of the Great Commission, wherein Jesus tells His disciples, “go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). The Lord then makes it clear to them that this is a matter of life and death, a matter of the utmost urgency, meaning nothing is more important (Mark 16:16). I recently saw the results of a poll that indicated only 38% of Catholics in the United States believe they have a duty to share their faith. My brothers and sisters, this means that 62% of us don’t grasp what our Lord commanded, what Pope Benedict XVI has said repeatedly, reiterating something emphasized by two other very evangelical popes, Paul VI and John Paul II, that the Church is missionary by her very nature and will be until Christ returns. So, if you are a baptized believer, you are part of the Church’s mission, meaning you are a missionary. It’s striking, especially in light of the angels’ exhortation to the apostles in Acts, that after relating that Jesus “was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19), the sacred author begins his next sentence with the disjunction “But.”- “But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs” (Mark 16:20). Of course, the Lord worked with them and confirmed what they taught by accompanying signs by the power of the Holy Spirit, which descended upon them at Pentecost.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

For Christians marriage "is a status, an office"

"Marriage is more than your love for each other. It has a higher dignity and power, for it is God's holy ordinance, through which he wills to perpetuate the human race till the end of time. In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage you are a link in the chain of the generations, which God causes to come and to pass away to his glory, and calls into his kingdom.

"In your love, you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal—it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man. As high as God is above man, so high are the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of marriage above the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of love. It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love."

Maria von Wedemeyer

The above is a wedding sermon written while Dietrich Bonhoeffer was in prison. It is important to note that prior to being arrested, imprisoned, and ultimately hung naked with a wire just days before Germany's surrender that Bonhoeffer was engaged to be married to Maria von Wedemeyer. They were never married.

Simon, Alexander, and Rufus

In my post last Monday for the Feast of St. Mathias, the thirteenth apostle, I mentioned Simon of Cyrene, who, we learn from reading St. Mark's Gospel, was the father of Alexander and Rufus. I made the comment that it seems Simon, Alexander, and Rufus were known members of the earliest Christian community in Jerusalem. Well, this aside prompted my dear friend and brother deacon Norb, who is always educating me in reality, to convey to me that my writing about this family reminded him of a friend of his who is an African-American minister. This friend of Norb's heads up several independent pentecostal churches that are notable for the fact that they are bi-racial, which is awesome, given that Sunday morning remains one of the most segregated hours of the week in the United States.

It was this friend who let Norb know that Simon of Cyrene is held in high esteem by African-American Christians because he was from Cyrene, which is in modern-day Libya, that is, Africa. He is identified by many as a black African, along with his sons Alexander and Rufus. Of course, this has a lot of implications that can be easily unpacked.

Now, whether Simon was actually black is a matter of dispute. It is most likely that he was a Jew who had either immigrated to Jerusalem, or was in town on an extended stay for Passover. It seems to be a well-established archaeological fact that the ancient Mediterranean city of Cyrene had a large Jewish community. It is also pretty well-established that in Jesus' day the Jews of Cyrene had a synagogue in Jerusalem where they gathered for major feasts, such as Passover and Pentecost.

An ancient tradition has it that Simon's sons, Rufus and Alexander, became missionaries. One attempt at validating this tradition, given that Mark's Gospel originated from Rome, is to suggest that naming these brothers by name indicates they held some standing within the Christian community in ancient Rome. Some even hold that the "Rufus" Paul named in Romans 16:13 is Simon's son. Some also link some or all three with the "men of Cyrene" mentioned in Acts 11:20.

This brings us full-circle. Perhaps Rufus bears some resemblance to Chris Rock after all.

"That long black cloud is comin' down"

Our one day late Friday traditio is Bryan Ferry covering my all-time favorite Bob Dylan song, which for me is like a hymn: "Knocking on Heaven's Door." As both of my long-time readers know, a few years ago I posted several covers of this song. Frankly, we're overdue. Bryan Ferry covers Dylan frequently and beautifully.

A deep diaconal bow to my friend Mark for opening to me the panoply of Bryan Ferry's Dylan covers. This one goes out to Mac who is headed to Seattle this morning and is truly knocking on heaven's door, as is Tami this weekend. Bring them both healing and wholeness and give them the peace that only You can give.

Lord Jesus you told us that the Father has handed "all things" over to You because only You know the Father. You reveal the Father to us through your gentle love, which is why You say, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:27-30- ESV).

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The deacon proclaims the Gospel

In the course of the Sacred Liturgy there are several times when the ministers say prayers sotto voce, as it were. One of those times is immediately following the reading of the Gospel, when the deacon, or, in his absence, the priest, according to the Missal, whether in the Ordinary or Extraordinary Form:

Then he kisses the book, saying quietly:

Through the words of the Gospel may our sins be wiped away.

Gospel book cover with central carving by Jonathan Pageau

In Latin:

Per evangelica dicta deleantur nostra delicta.

It is also interesting that in a Church built facing east, that is, ad orientum, originally meaning the altar was against the east wall towards which the priest, the other sacred ministers (i.e., deacon and subdeacon, and, in a Pontifical Mass sung by a bishop, the assisting priest), and servers faced when at the altar (the congregation always faced that way), that the deacon sang the Gospel from a special ambo facing north, not west towards the congregation. Why north? There are two reasons. The first and most practical being that the deacon should not turn his back to the altar or priest. As a result, in such a configuration, he is not able to face the congregation full-on. Facing north, then, represents what might be called the half-way solution. There is also something to be said for the reasoning that, given the Mediterranean locus of the Church's ancient origin, north, in the words of Martin Mosebach, "is the abode of the pagans." So, the Good News is broadcast through the wall to those who have not yet heard and received it. I like the second reason much better. I agree with Mosebach who asserts, "We should almost always be suspicious of these attempts to derive [liturgical] practices from profane utility."

I agree that one of the legitimate criticisms of the Ordinary Form, the so-called Missal of Pope Paul VI, is the insistence on being so didactic, so linear.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Matthias or Rufus: the thirteenth apostle

Contrary to Kevin Smith's assertion in his movie Dogma, the thirteenth apostle was not a black man named Rufus, but St. Matthias, whose feast we celebrate today.

According to Acts 1:15-26, Matthias was chosen to take Judas Iscariot's place among the apostles:
So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles (Acts 1:21-26-ESV)
It's not as though there is no Rufus in the New Testament, however. According St. Mark's account of our Lord's Passion, Simon of Cyrene, who was enlisted to help Jesus carry His Cross, was the father of Alexander and Rufus, indicating that Simon and his sons were members of the early Christian community, perhaps known to some of the readers, or at least known to the author of the Gospel. In this regard, it is interesting to note that a very ancient tradition holds that the origin of Mark's Gospel is the preaching of St. Peter in Rome.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

"Deus caritas est"

At the beginning of a homily delivered quite a few years ago, Msgr. M. Francis Mannion noted that to profess that God, as a communion of divine persons, is love is quite different from professing that love is God. After all, syntax matters, n'est ce pas? Because God is love, God loves us. How do we know God loves us? Is God's love simply a nice sentimental thought that gives us a warm feeling inside as we take a stroll at sunrise? What about those times when life proves difficult, challenging, even excruciating? Our New Testament reading, or, in Anglican parlance, lesson for this Sixth Sunday of Easter tells us how we know: "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's love comes first, seeking to elicit our response.

God's love is not sappy, soggy, and sentimental intended to give us a case of spiritual diabetes, but real and reliable, proven through crucible of experience. most especially through suffering. I think this is an appropriate enough Scripture for Mother's Day because perhaps the closest human analog to the God who is love is a mother's love for her child. Of course, this can't help but put us in mind of the great Mother of God, Mary most holy, who was, as the wise, old Simeon predicted, pierced by a sword on account of her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Being selfless, dying to ourselves and living for others for Christ's sake and the sake of God's kingdom is the call of every Christian and the hallmark of a true disciple. Plus, it's difficult even to the point of being impossible to do it on our own, which is why Jesus said of Himself with regard to us: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends" (John 15:13).

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Our failures constitute Christ's victory

Jesus' Easter victory is our victory, or so we profess, at least according to the logic of lex orandi, lex credendi (literally- the law of prayer is the law of belief, more accurately how we pray articulates what we believe). I'm going a bit more radical, a bit more Martin Luther, who, in a letter to Philipp Melanchthon wrote: "Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. For he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here we have to sin. This life in not the dwelling place of righteousness but, as Peter says, we look for a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells." This is actually to take one's cue from St. Paul, who wrote to Christians in ancient Rome: "Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 5:20-21 ESV). I would suggest that our failures are Christ's victory.

Christ Triumphant Over Sin & Death, by Peter Paul Reubens ca. 1615-1622

"For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith" (1 John 5:4- ESV). This is why Christians should never be discouraged. Discouragement means you are relying on yourself, thinking you are your own savior, which leads to the temptation of giving up, throwing in the towel. Friends, we know how it ends, we win! We are always already victorious. So, be neither afraid nor discouraged. It's like going to confession. We don't go to confession to find out whether God will forgive us. We're always already forgiven. We go to experience God's love and mercy firsthand, up close and personal.

This is the boldness of the Gospel, which is why it is attractive and doesn't need to be watered down, to be made difficult because of our individual and sometimes collective need to feel we are righteous, which is nothing but self-righteousness. The Church is screwed up because we're screwed up, which is why we chose and were called to belong to Christ, who is ever-faithful, especially when we are not.

Friday, May 11, 2012

"All your yesterdays are pictures lost in time..."

Okay, still chillin'. I have a post for tomorrow and one for Sunday, which feels pretty good. I am late with this week's traditio, which is a brand new one by The Offspring, "Days Go By."

This is one of those songs that struck me the first time I heard it:

Never enough/Towers crumble to dust/Looking back on the moments of our lives... What you had and what you lost/They're all memories in the wind/Those days go by/And we all start again

Sunday, May 6, 2012

"on Easter morning, there begins the new creation..."

Well, dear readers, my unplanned and unexpected Easter blogging hiatus keeps expanding. Now that we are well into the month of May, which is the month of our Blessed Mother, I hope to post several times a week, including our Friday traditio and a reflection on the Sunday readings, focusing on either the first reading or the New Testament reading.

One great advantage of this Easter season for me has been the great gift of time, which I have spent reading and absorbing, instead of trying to read synthesize and write about. I am firmly convinced that anyone who writes, in order to write anything worth reading, must spend at least as as much if not more time reading than writing.

A lot that I would have normally commented on has transpired over these weeks, both in the Church and in the world. I am not going to make any attempt to get caught up. A few years back I proposed for Christian bloggers what I dubbed "the Ephesians 4:29 rule," which bids bloggers to heed the exhortation given to members of the ancient church at Ephesus: "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear" (ESV). I feel more and more compelled to follow this because I personally tire of what I call scandal-mongering. As a certified and long-time member of the loosely constituted Catholic blogosphere I am well aware that when I weigh in on whatever controversy is currently brewing or bursting in some part of the Church the number of people who read what I write increases. It is the Catholic blogosphere's version of "if it bleeds it leads."

One of the many books I have read over these blessed weeks of Easter is Martin Mosebach's The Heresy of Formlessness: The Roman Liturgy and Its Enemy. While there is much in his treatment of the post-Vatican II liturgical reform I take issue with, there are, at least in my view, many more valuable insights. In an appendix to his book of short essays and insights entitled "This Is My Body," Mosebach includes an extract from Charles Péguy's profound poem "The Portal of the Mystery of Hope":

"Jesus Christ, my child, did not come to waste the little time
      he had in telling us trifles.
What are three years in the life of a world?
What are three years in the eternity of this world?
He had no time to lose, he did not squander it on tomfoolery
      and guessing games,
intellectual guessing games,
subtle charades,

ambiguities and wretched strained witticisms.
No, he had neither time nor effort to lose.
He didn't have the time.
 - Oh, tremenedous efforts he had to make! -
No, he did not prodigally pour out his whole being,
he did not make this vast, terrible self-emptying,
this emptying himself, of his being, of everything,
and at such a price,
merely to give us coded messages to work out,
tricks to solve, silly pranks, sleight of hand,
clever deceptions like a village sorcerer,
like a country trickster,
like a vagrant fool, like a quack in his cart,
like the local card-sharper, like the most cunning fellow
      in the tavern."

Then, seeking to demonstrate this, Mosebach continues by saying, "Péguy expresses what emerges from the Gospels' literary context" even as he "expresses something that goes beyond this context." Noting that in this magnificent poem Péguy calls Jesus, who Mosebach descibes as "the man who in all earnest refers to a piece of bread as his body," Salvator mundi. In this poem Péguy, according to Mosebach, "professes the Church's faith that Jesus is God's Son, the second Person of the Trinity, who became a creature to rescue creation." Then Mosebach provides us with a lovely exposition of Holy Week:
Holy Week mirrors the six days of creation with astonishig exactness: on the first day of creation, when light was created, Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph. On Holy Thursday, the very day the mammals were created, he eats the Easter lamb. On the day when man was created, the God-man (crucified over what, according to an ancient tradition, was the site of Adam's grave) redeemed mankind, which had sinned in Adam. On the day when the Creator God rested, Jesus lay in the tomb. Then, on Easter morning, there begins the new creation of humanity that is now able to free itself from its inherited burden of guilt
It's still Easter and during the glorious spring weather we're enjoying here along the Wasatch Front it is easy to experience this, especially on a glorious Sunday such as this when creation is so in synch with the mysterium tremendum of the Paschal Mystery.

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...