Monday, July 30, 2012

Deus caritas est

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:16-19 ESV)
Something to keep in mind as we begin today, especially in light of what we did yesterday, striving to do all the life stuff we were dismissed to go do at the end of Mass, making Christ present because He is now in us. To be living proofs of His real presence.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Year B Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: 2 Kings 4:42-44; Ps. 145:10-11.15-18; Eph. 4:1-6; John 6:1-5

Like the crowds that followed Jesus, we are very often looking for a spectacle, a miracle, some kind of inexplicable, yet undeniably empirical and objective proof to substantiate what we believe. In his great novel, The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky observed,
To my thinking, miracles are never a stumbling block to the realist. It is not miracles that dispose realists to belief. The genuine realist, if he is an unbeliever, will always find strength and ability to disbelieve in the miraculous, and if he is confronted with a miracle as an irrefutable fact he would rather disbelieve his own senses than admit the fact. Even if he admits it, he admits it as a fact of nature till then unrecognized by him. Faith does not, in the realist, spring from the miracle but the miracle from faith
In our first reading from 2 Kings, as well as in our Gospel today, we are dealing with accounts of miracles. Because we are dealing with accounts of miracles, we are not confronted "with a miracle as an irrefutable fact." But even if we by-pass this philosophical nuance and deal with both miracles as reported, that is, at face value, it is noteworthy that these are still not presented to us by Scripture as irrefutable facts. There are other explanations. In the case of today’s Gospel, one famous school of interpretation insists that all of the people, inspired by the example of the boy who, as Andrew pointed out, had "five barley loaves and two fish," simply shared what they had in like manner, meaning Jesus did not miraculously "multiply" anything. While I firmly believe that the abundance of food in both passages were the direct result of miracles, judging by much of our civil and political discourse these days, I don’t know which would be the greater miracle!

Where is this taking us? Well, we believe that the gifts of bread and wine that we will bring to the altar in a few minutes will actually be transformed, or, to use a more precise dogmatic term, transubstantiated, thus becoming for us the body and blood of Jesus Christ. This is truly a most gratuitous act on the part of the God, done by the power of the Holy Spirit, taking our humble gifts of bread and wine and, in return, giving His Son to us, body, blood, soul, and divinity. But the reality of this transubstantiation is not intuitively obvious to the casual observer. In other words, it is not presented to us, or to anyone, as an irrefutable fact, nor was it ever intended to, lest it simply become a kind of magic trick, a spectacle to behold, with little or no impact on how we live. Stated simply, faith is required in order to believe.

My dear friends in Christ, the only empirical evidence that the bread and wine become the Lord’s body and blood are the lives of those of us who partake of it. To state this perhaps a bit crudely, when we are dismissed at the end of Mass today, Christ will be "in us" just as truly as He is "in" the tabernacle, which is why we are usually sent forth with an exhortation, such as, "Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life," or, "Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord."

It is through our faithful and on-going participation in the sacraments, most particularly the Eucharist that our likeness to God, lost through sin is restored, and it is through us that God sets about restoring the world to His friendship. These realizations make it all the more important that we recognize we do this together, not each one of us on our own. We also need to recognize that the desired transformation most often happens gradually and not all at once, which enables us to see that the circumstances of our daily lives are the means we use, in cooperation with God, for our sanctification. While it may be true that simply going to Church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car, not going to Church, even if you consider yourself and are considered by others to be “a pretty good person,” doesn’t make you a Christian any more than never exercising makes you an Olympic athlete.

As C.S. Lewis noted in Mere Christianity, it is more accurate to say that a person who has faith in Jesus Christ and who goes to Church, but who still behaves badly, is a Christian, even if a "bad"” one, than it is to say that a person whose behavior is much better, but who does not have faith in Christ is more of a Christian. Evelyn Waugh, another famous English writer, perhaps best known for writing Brideshead Revisited, when rebuked by a friend for behavior awful in a self-proclaimed Christian, asked his friend to consider how much worse his behavior would be if he weren't a Christian.

This brings us to our reading from the Letter to the Ephesians, which gives us a startlingly practical and provocative "take away." In this passage, we, who belong to the communio sanctorum, along with the members of the Eucharistic community in ancient Ephesus, are urged "to live in a manner worthy of the call [we] have received" (Eph. 4:1). To live in such a worthy manner requires us to be humble, to be gentle with and forgiving of one another, bearing with each other, not despite our manifest weaknesses, but precisely because of them. It is by living in this manner that we "preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3 ). God’s purpose is expressed beautifully in one of our Eucharistic prayers: "Humbly we pray that, partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, we may be gathered into one by the Holy Spirit" (Eucharistic Prayer II).

Just as Jesus’ miraculous feeding of multitude in today’s Gospel led Him to depart for fear that they would carry Him off and make Him king in order that He would continue to feed them, we, too, must not fall into the trap of instrumentalizing and rationalizing everything, thinking this undertaking, or that initiative, or this political program will solve all of our problems. Our starting point is faith, which is a gift from God. The flower of faith is hope and its fruit is love. As God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is a communion of divine persons, through our participation in this Eucharist, God seeks to form us into a communion of persons in accord with Jesus’ high priestly prayer from the seventeenth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, where praying to His Father, He says, "The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me" (John 17:22-23- ESV).

It is only by faith, which is an experience borne of an encounter, that is, something that actually happens to you, we can say, in the words of the Psalmist, "The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs."

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The justice of God

The reading for Morning Prayer this morning, which comes from the fourth week of the Psalter, is from the final chapter of 2 Peter, the first verse of which conveys,"What we await are new heavens and a new earth where, according to the promise, the justice of God will reside" (v. 13). In other translations, such as the New American Bible, the New Testament of which was not revised in the most recent revision, only the Hebrew Scriptures, "the justice of God will reside," is translated "in which righteousness dwells." In either case, what we await is God's kingdom.

I have little doubt that for those who will experience the fullness of God's kingdom, of God's justice, or righteousness, whom I hope to be among, there will be aspects that confirm and disappoint, maybe not in equal measure, but in some measure. The measure will be proportional to the preconceptions we all bring with us.

What leads me to say this? Nothing other than Jesus' teaching about the reign of God. In these times when some are asserting a strong, individualist, hyper-capitalistic ethic, consider Jesus' parable of "The Workers in the Vineyard," as recorded in Matthew 20, which begins with Jesus saying,“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard" (v. 1). Later in the morning, the landowner goes back and finds more laborers and hires them for the going daily wage. He does the same at noon, three in the afternoon, and again at about 5:00 PM. At the end of the day all the laborers are paid the same daily wage regardless as to when they were hired. Predictably, this causes some discontent.

And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’ He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? [Or] am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’ Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matt. 20:11-16)
I earnestly hope that no Christian would suggest that this teaching of the Lord has no practical application this side of the eschaton, which will definitively usher in God's reign, for which we not only wait in joyful hope, but work to bring about. I also hope it doesn't get exaggerated so as to completely eviscerate the need for personal responsibility. Nonetheless, by my reckoning the operative ethic of the kingdom of God, which reaches back to Cain and Abel in Genesis, is not so much, "God helps those who help themselves," as it is, "God looks out for those who look out for others." This is why, when it comes to matters political, we insist on seeking the common good and not our own self-interest.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Let's remember

The opening ceremonies of the Olympics feature a moment of silence- for "lost friends and family." As outrageous as it is, on this, the fortieth anniversary of Palestinian terrorists invading Olympic Village in Munich and murdering 11 Israelis, 5 athletes, 4 coaches, an Olympic judge, and a referee, there will be no moment of silence, no remembrance. Even from the point-of-view of stark self-interest, one would think that an organization that has continually been exposed as corrupt would welcome an opportunity to improve their public image.

Insisting that those murdered be remembered is not about politics, as some have suggested. These athletes, coaches, and officials came to Munich in peace and friendship, what used to be known as the Olympic spirit, a time when everyone tried to put political differences aside. Despite this, they were murdered by those who were (literally) hell-bent on pursuing politics through terror and cold-blooded killing. Hence, observing a moment of silence, in my estimation, would be anti-political.

I was seven at the time. I was a huge sports fan, the Olympics were exciting, even as I rooted for my Charlie Finley-owned Oakland As. I still have vivid memories of Jim McKay reporting on this horror. I can remember how quiet our living room was and being scared.

So, below are the names of those murdered:

Moshe Weinberg (wrestling coach)
Yossef Romano (weightlifter)
Ze'ev Friedman (weightlifter)
David Berger (weightlifter)
Yakov Springer (weightlifting judge)
Eliezer Halfin (wrestler)
Yossef Gutfreund (wrestling referee)
Kehat Shorr (shooting coach)
Mark Slavin (wrestler)
Andre Spitzer (fencing coach)
Amitzur Shapira (track coach)

Kudos to Bob Costas for taking a moment of silence for the murdered athletes coaches, and officials.

From Wikipedia Commons

The inscription on the Memorial, which is in front of their Olympic quarters, reads: "The team of the State of Israel stayed in this building during the 20th Olympic Summer Games from 21 August to 5 September 1972. On 5 September, [list of victims] died a violent death. Honor to their memory."

Archbishop Niederauer enters retirement

The Holy See announced this morning that Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the resignation of Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco, who reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 in June 2011. Abp Niederauer served the Archdiocese of San Francisco for a little over six years. Before that, he was bishop of Salt Lake City for almost 11 eleven years. When I think of Abp Niederauer, who ordained me, I think of a model pastor, a man with great concern for people, possessed of much common sense, a highly intelligent and educated person, who wears his erudition lightly, someone who is funny, with an incisive, but gentle wit. I wish him many happy and healthy years in retirement, especially after the rigors of serving as a bishop for the past 17 years. Without a doubt his presence will be missed.

The Holy Father named Bishop Salvatore Cordileone, who, until today, served as bishop of the Diocese of Oakland, a position he has held since March 2009, as Archbishop Niederauer's replacement. Prior to that he served as an auxiliary bishop in his native San Diego. To the Archbishop-designate, ad multos annos.

Already this morning I read an overly dramatic and highly politicized account of these happenings, likening it to an natural disaster, or a bomb-blast. Let's never forget that we are called by the Lord to communion and that maintaining that communion, both with the Bishop of Rome, and through him, the rest universal Church, as well as within the local Church, is the primary duty of a bishop. So, by its very nature, being a bishop who is head of a diocese is an exercise in holding things in tension.

Along these same lines, I remember Abp Niederauer saying once in a homily, "Asking if I am 'a liberal' or 'a conservative' is like selling me a car asking me if I want a break pedal or a gas pedal."

"We'll pray to all of our saints/Icons of mystery"

Two days ago my friend Fred posted an article about Patti Smith's recent visit to Assisi, where, as the picture shows, she helped in the restoration of one of Giotto's frescoes. Her latest album, Banga, was inspired by St. Francis. While in Assisi, Patti spent time meditating before Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone's tomb.

As one might imagine, this has put me on a bit of a Patti Smith jag. Instead of a stroll down memory lane, our Friday traditio is a song off Banga- "April Fool"

We'll ride like writers ride/Neither rich nor broke/We'll race through alleyways/In our tattered cloaks so

Patti is so cool. I love how she deals with the lyric screw-up and just keeps the band going and brings it back around.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Natural Family Planning Awareness Week

Before the alarm goes up, or I am branded what one Catholic commentator recently dubbed a "NFP fundamentalist," I will note that this is my last post on NFP for quite awhile. Besides that, I am always aware of what Owen Cummings warned against in his book Deacons and the Church, namely becoming a one issue deacon, though for anyone who knows me, reads my blog, or is even my Facebook friend, I can hardly or justly be accused of being preoccupied with one issue.

What prompts this post is the fact that this week is NFP Awareness Week, an annual event that occurs each year during the week of the anniversary of Pope Paul VI's promulgation of what was to be his last encyclical, Humanae Vitae- 25 July 1968.

It is widely held that this was Paul VI's last encyclical letter, which is probably the most authoritative form of the ordinary exercise of the papal magisterium in our time, because of the waves of dissent and resistance unleashed against it, especially among theologians of a certain school, but also by many priests and even some bishops. One would think that given all the notoriety this issue is receiving due to the show-down between the Church and the Obama Administration over the unjust HHS mandate, this week would be made more well-known this year, but, for whatever reasons, it is not.

One important distinction that I feel compelled to reiterate just about every time I write, teach, speak, or preach on Natural Family Planning is the necessary distinction between "birth control" and "contraception." The Church is not opposed to the former, even holding that it is a moral responsibility for married couples, but holds that the latter is intrinsically evil, objectively disordered, something that is always wrong. Birth control is an end, contraception in one means to that end, an immoral one. After all, ends do not justify means.

One fact that is frequently overlooked is the frequency of contraceptive failure, even for married couples (my understanding is that it is even higher among young, unmarried people). The important take away from this is that too many people use various forms of contraception with a false sense of security. It is also important to be honest about the abortifacient potential of certain methods of contraception, as well as the deleterious long-term health effects use of these same methods have on women's health, as well as the recently surfaced environmental and unintended human effects of these chemicals, which, if Melinda Gates has her way, will be used by every poor woman on the planet. If you think I am exaggerating the scope of Gates' ambition, I direct you to the segment of Al Kresta's 18 July program for which Dr. Janet Smith, who is one of the foremost expositors of the Church's teaching on these matters, is the guest (see his website for podcast). What gives Kresta's treatment of this matter credibility is that uses Melinda Gates' own words, expressed in her recent, televised interview, as his starting point, posting links to that and other media sources on his website.

None of these empirical/instrumental reasons trump the truly human reasons for living the truth in this regard, but they can be a useful starting point. At end of the day, couples are certainly free to choose, the Church does not desire take away that freedom. Even with the HHS dust-up, the Catholic bishops of the U.S. are not seeking to outlaw, or ban, all contraceptives for everyone, they are just asking that they not be forced to violate Catholic teaching by being made to pay for them. Better information results in making better, in this case, better moral, decisions. Besides, a properly formed conscience requires a properly informed intellect.

There are two other things that I think bear mentioning. First, too many people still think NFP is the old rhythm method. It is not. There are various forms of NFP (i.e., the Billings Ovulation Method, the Sympto-thermal Method, which can be used alone, or along with Billings, and the Creighton Model). Secondly, the difficulty of learning and practicing NFP is typically exaggerated beyond all reason or reality. For most couples who practice NFP and "who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time" (HV, par. 10), all that is required is some periodic abstinence, which does not require heroic virtue. Let's not forget that Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity continue to have great success teaching NFP to poor women in India.

Teri Mann, in a very well-written and short post I read, NFP Awareness Week- About, noted the following:
If you’ve ever thought about investigating NFP, this is the perfect week to do so! As the BBC reported, a German study in 2007 found that the sympto-thermal method, the most common method of NFP in use today, is 99.4 percent effective when practiced correctly. Of course, unlike other methods of regulating birth, Natural Family Planning is not “set it and forget it.” But with a little bit of research, study, and training, you can enjoy the many benefits of NFP–including easier conception when you decide that the time is right to start or expand your family
I encourage everyone to go to the USCCB National NFP Awareness Week website.

UPDATE: This post was picked up and published on-line, by Il Sussidiario, where I am a contributor- US/ Natural Family Planning Awareness Week

Monday, July 23, 2012

Amy Winehouse, a year gone

Today marks the first anniversary of Amy Winehouse's death. Over the past year I have been doing some remembrances of her. She was an incredibly gifted singer. This ends my time of observance.

I can think of no better song to mark this sad event and bring my observance to completion than her singing "Tears Dry on Their Own."

"All I can ever be to you is a darkness that we know/And this regret I got accustomed to"

Amy dreamed of some day having children, not just one or two, she mentioned having six. Her fiancé, Reg Travis, recalled after her death, "She wanted to have children and stay at home and look after them. The fame didn’t bother her, she didn’t crave that, she was about the love of music." I find her aspiration wonderful in a day when having children is widely seen as more of a detriment to happiness than a source of it, making Amy's untimely death all the more sad.

Amy was a daughter of Zion and so I'll end with some words from the Jewish Kaddish prayer, which also strike me as something appropriate in the wake of last week's horror in Colorado: "May there be abundant peace from heaven,[and] [good] life satisfaction, help, comfort, refuge, healing, redemption, forgiveness, atonement, relief and salvation for us and for all his people [upon us and upon all] Israel; and say, Amen"

Sunday, July 22, 2012

"We, all of us, are a 'cry for love'"

It's felt a little weird, a little like being in denial, to have a Catholic blog and not post anything about the horror that took place in Aurora, Colorado last week. Among the many things experience has taught me is not to react, especially in writing in the public forum. I certainly understand all the reactions I have read, which run the range from disbelief, to vengeance, to ideological soliloquies about gun laws, to expressions of grief and sympathy.

Yesterday, in between household chores and chasing my three amazing little boys around, I came across something written by a friend of mine, Riro. It was published by another dear friend, Dario, on Il Sussidiaro's English website ( a site I urge you check often)- COLORADO SHOOTING/What pushes us to do evil?.

Being a Communion & Liberation fellow-traveler, I follow the charism given to its founder, Msgr. Luigi Giussani, even if imperfectly and unevenly. This is how both Riro and Dario, along with many others, became my friends. So, what struck me in Riro's article was this: "We, all of us, are a 'cry for love', a cry, a question, a plea for Good. We live only for this and we are not able either to give it or to receive it, at least not enough. Even James Holmes cannot but be like this, but after a journey of 24 years, it seems that he did not find a better way to express his cry." I was not surprised that when I posted a link to Riro's article headlined by the quote above on Facebook yesterday afternoon, I received only one "Like" and no comments.

But I was also struck by his assertion that public responses, even as heartfelt and sincere as they are, usually only serve to deepen our despair by re-affirming our helplessness in face of horrible circumstances. So, on this the Feast of St. Mary Magadalene, who was the first witness of Christ's Resurrection, I very much like what my friend shared from Don Giussani, which is basically the Gospel, thus requiring faith, which itself results from an encounter of the kind had by Mary of Magdala, but that is most often mediated and not immediate, as was hers:
Do you remember... when Jesus was walking through the fields with his Apostles, near the town of Nai[n], and saw a woman weeping as she followed her dead son to his burial? He went up to her; he didn't say, "I'm going to raise your son". He said, "Woman, don't weep", with a tenderness, affirming unmistakable tenderness and love for the human person! And then he gave her back her son alive. But this isn't the point, because even other people can work miracles, but this charity, this love for man that is proper to Christ is quite beyond compare!
Only He can bring hope that overcomes despair even while He tenderly grasps our human response to such a horror, which mostly stem from fear. He bids us not to be afraid.

My dear brother Frank not only gives me reasons for being alive, but being Catholic by stating that he is Catholic Because Life Goes On, And Is Worth Living.

Solemnity of St. Mary Magdalene

Normally, throughout the world, today is the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene. In most places her feast is superceded this year by Sunday. However, in my parish, The Cathedral of the Madeleine, we observe today as a solemnity because St. Mary Magdalene is our patroness. So, our main Mass for today moves from 11:00 AM to 6:00 PM and will immediately be followed by a huge party on the Cathedral plaza (corrected from the original).

The Cathedral of the Madeleine is where I serve as a deacon and is the only cathedral in the United States dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, first witness of the resurrection, making her what she has been referred to continuously since at least the tenth century, apostula apostulorum, that is, "apostle to the apostles." This also means that she is patroness of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. She is also known as myrraphore, which means myrr-bearer, referring to the oil she would've brought to anoint the body of Jesus as it lay in the tomb, and perhaps also to her anointing his feet and drying them with her hair in the house of Simon the Pharisee in Luke 7:36-50. It is not clear on the basis of Scripture alone that this sinful woman, probably a prostitute, was Mary Magdalene, but Tradition certainly identifies her as such.

Magdalene with smoking flame, Georges de La Tour, ca. 1640

One part of Tradition that identifies St. Mary Magdalene as the sinful woman is a prayer composed by St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), who also composed a lovely prayer to St. Stephen, asking for her intercession. His prayer begins,
St Mary Magdalene, you came with springing tears to the spring of mercy, Christ; from him your burning thirst was abundantly refreshed through him your sins were forgiven; by him your bitter sorrow was consoled.

My dearest lady, well you know by your own life how a sinful soul can be reconciled with its creator, what counsel a soul in misery needs, what medicine will restore the sick to health.

It is enough for us to understand, dear friend of God, to whom were many sins forgiven, because she loved much.

Most blessed lady, I who am the most evil and sinful of men do not recall your sins as a reproach, but call upon the boundless mercy by which they were blotted out.

This is my reassurance, so that I do not despair; this is my longing, so that I shall not perish.

I say this of myself, miserably cast down into the depths of vice, bowed down with the weight of crimes, thrust down by my own hand into a dark prison of sins, wrapped round with the shadows of darkness.

Therefore, since you are now with the chosen because you are beloved and are beloved because you are chosen of God, in my misery, I pray to you, in bliss; in my darkness, I ask for light; in my sins, redemption; impure, I ask for purity.
Post-Lauds addendum: I absolutely love that the Scripture reading for Morning Prayer on the feast of our lovely patroness is one of my favorite passages: "I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect" (Rom. 12:1-2).

Sancta Maria Magdalena, ora pro nobis.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Our stewardship of creation

The Old Testament Canticle for Saturday Morning Prayer of Week III of the Psalter is taken from the Book of Wisdom: "Lord of mercy, you who have made all things by your word. And in your wisdom have established humankind to rule the creatures produced by you, And to govern the world in holiness and righteousness, and to render judgment in integrity of heart" (Wis. 9:1-3- NAB).

What struck me about these words this morning, in light of a few short chapters on positivism and its consequences I read last night in Von Balthasar's short descriptive summary of his grand triology, Epilogue, is not that we are to govern the world, but how we are to govern it, "in holiness and righteousness," that is, as stewards, who will be held to account for our stewardship by the Creator. This flies in the face of those who insist that Christianity is responsible for environmental devastation. This specific challenge was met quite a few years ago by the then-Cardinal Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Joseph Ratzinger, in a series of Lenten lectures that was later published as 'In the Beginning…': A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall, which, among other things, noted that the natural environment was in far worse shape in the then still communist block countries than in the West, though the West is not let-off-the-hook.

Something else worth considering in this regard, a point made emphatically by N.T. Wright in Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, is that, according to Christian belief, heaven comes down to earth. In other words, to paraphrase the only phrase of the tenth LDS Article of Faith with which I agree, the earth will be renewed and receive its celestial glory.

Of more immediate concern is something Von Balthasar noted: "the aim of science is seen, with fewer and fewer exceptions, to lie in controlling or 'changing' whatever comes within its grasp. Science subordinates itself to technology and productivity

"The consequences of this restriction are tragic: we get precisely the opposite of what we bargained for: slavery, not freedom" (Epilogue, pg. 23).

Since I am tossing out titles of relevant works, I would be remiss not to suggest Heidegger's philosophical essay "The Question Concerning Technology", in which he observed, "The current conception of technology, according to which it is a means and a human activity, can therefore be called the instrumental and anthropological definition of technology."

To end on a lighter note, I'll use Kip, Napoleon's brother from the movie Napoleon Dynamite, as an example both of the anima technica vacua as well as human resistance to it, at least token resistance because, after all, he "still love[s] technology always and forever"-

Friday, July 20, 2012

Ramadan begins

For Muslims throughout the world, Ramadan began today. It just so happens that traditionally Fridays are days of fasting and/or abstinence for Christians, thus giving us an opportunity to fast and pray along with Muslims. Later in the month of Ramadan, 1 August on the Gregorian calendar, Orthodox and most Eastern Catholic Christians begin the Dormition Fast, which runs until what we Latins observe as the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which falls on 15 August and is a holy day of obligation. While Christian fasting takes a different form from what Muslims do during Ramadan, like Muslims, during these times Christians are also to pray more and give alms more generously. As I never tire of mentioning, these three spiritual disciplines, which are fundamental to any authentic Christian spirituality, are common to the Abrahamic faiths- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Along these same lines, especially in light of the fact that later this year we will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, this seems to me a good time to cite an important passage from an important decree of the Council, Nostra Aetate, known in English as Declaration on the Relation of the Church To Non-Christian Religions:
The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting (par. 3)
With a deep diaconal bow to my brother and friend, Deacon Greg, who drew my attention to this over at The Bench, I recommend reading Ramadan Observed, by Dr. Elias D. Mallon, which appeared in the truly excellent and award-winning publication of the Catholic Near Eastern Welfare Association, One (for which Deacon Greg is Executive Editor- probably a connection between that it winning awards).

By the way, CNEWA is a worthy recipient of your alms-giving.

A note on the challenge of the New Evangelization

Because I am long overdue reading more Von Balthasar, this blog is long overdue in featuring a lengthy extract from his ouvre. Last night I began reading his book Epilogue, written after his magnificent trilogy, which, when complete, came to some sixteen volumes. His reason for writing a succinct epilogue was "to afford the weary reader something like an overview of the whole enterprise." He is most emphatic that it is not "a kind of Reader's Digest version" of his magnum opus.
The slogan is much bruited about these days that we should try to meet modern man "where he is". According to one report, "in America an adolescent by the time he has reached the age of seventeen has on average sat in front of a television set for 15,000 hours, the equivalent of almost two full years." Here in Europe, according to a recent study, children even as early as three- to six-year olds sit before the TV screen on average of five to six hours a week, and ten- to thirteen-year olds devote more than twelve hours a week to to it. Hans Meier quite justifiably wonders aloud "whether, in this age of the media, we are handing on a cultural legacy (and a religious faith)" and, if we are not, "whether we not finally lose, with the lost language, our very ability to hear and see anything at all."

So severe is this situation that most teachers of religion ask, with equal justice,just who these ruins are whom we should try to "meet" (against their will) "where they are". A missionary toiling in the savannas of Africa or on the atolls of the Pacific has it relatively easy: he encounters a perhaps primitive anima natura christiana. What might come across to the native as pure theological Chinese he can easily translate into the simplest of languages. But where is the famous "point of contact" with the anima technica vacua? I for one certainly do not know. Some table-rapping, a séance or two, some dabbling in Zen meditation, a smattering of liberation theology: enough"
The anima technica vacua is the empty technical soul of the modern human person. It is important to note that these words were initially published twenty-five years ago, in 1987, just a year before Von Balthasar's death. He is not giving in to despair and expounding hopelessness, just highlighting the challenges we face of the kind that Catholic bloggers and others seriously engaged in media outreach are trying to face. Most importantly, he highlights the insurmountable limits of such technologies. To give a simple example, watching Mass on TV is very different from going to Mass at your local parish.

In memoriam: Maria Antonia

For Bastille Day last Saturday I watched a film I had been meaning to watch, well, ever since it came out in 2006: Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette. In this well-made film Kirsten Dunst does a remarkable job playing Marie Antoinette, Queen of France and Navarre. This was a great movie to watch on Bastille Day because I truly believe that the French Revolution was one of the worst debacles ever to befall Europe. This is not to say that the House of Bourbon was not decadent and far too careless about the well-being of their people. As a citizen of the U.S., I have to give Louis XVI credit for supporting the American Revolution, even given his ulterior motives. In my estimation, Marie Antoinette truly is a very sympathetic figure. Apart from Pope Pius XII and perhaps one or two others, I think Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna has been the recipient of one of modern history's rawest deals.

Marie Antoinette at age 13 by Martin van Meytens, 1767- a year before she went to France

One of the coolest features of Coppola's film is the soundtrack, which is largely comprised of 1980s New Wave and post-punk artists. Among these artists are Siouxsie and the Banshees, New Order, The Cure, and Bow Wow Wow. It does also features some lovely baroque pieces of the era, works by Antonio Vivaldi, Jean-Philippe Rameau and Domenico Scarlatti.

Predictably, "Ceremony," by New Order is our Friday traditio with clips from Marie Antoinette

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Discontentment can be spiritually formative

Today I read the introduction that Dallas Willard wrote to a book co-authored by two pastors who, after chasing and catching the Evangelical mega-church vision, took a more discipleship-based approach in their ministry and began a transformation of their church that apparently took the better part of ten years. The two pastors are Kent Carlson and Mike Lueken and the very appropriately Franciscan title of their book is Renovation of the Church: What Happens When a Seeker Church Discovers Spiritual Tranformation. What struck me in Willard's introduction was something he quoted from the text of the book: "it is spiritually formative to be dissatisfied and unable to resolve it".

Being struck by a line like that is not unusual for me, nor does it usually result in me writing something, especially in these days when I have slowed down, but only serves to remind me that I am created and redeemed for something greater, something infinitely great because only something that great can really match my desire, which is what is bursting forth when I feel discontented. After all, I cannot be content with discontentment! But then I read an introductory chapter of Robert Fryling's book The Leadership Ellipse, a book that is now on my Kindle reading list. The passage that spoke clearly and plainly to me from this book began with a lengthy quote by Henri Nouwen:
I want to love God but also make a career. I want to be a good Christian but also have my successes... I want to be a saint but also enjoy the sensations of sinners. I want to be close to Christ but also be popular and liked by people. No wonder that living becomes a tiring enterprise
Picking up this and addressing Christians leaders, Fryling chimes in with,
We proclaim the good news of the gospel and invite people to come to Jesus so that he will meet their needs. But when they come to Jesus, they find out what their needs are - they need to do this and need to do that! In wanting to do better, we seek to more and to accomplish more. We grasp for the forbidden fruit of living beyond our limits and then impose this grasping on others All of this grasping, though, only provides more discontent

This leads to two very useful pieces of wisdom. The first, from Christian tradition, which serves as the epigraph of this first chapter of the book, a quote from Blaise Paschal: "We could avoid most of our problems if we only learned how to sit quietly in our room." The second is from Scripture, which has only three verses:

        O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
     my eyes are not raised too high;
     I do not occupy myself with things
     too great and too marvelous for me.
        But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
        like a weaned child with its mother;
        like a weaned child is my soul within me.
     O Israel, hope in the LORD
        from this time forth and forevermore (Ps. 131-ESV)

After a discussion about what means to "weaned" in a spiritual sense, Fryling concludes that "our personal contentment should not and cannot be just a privatistic experience" because "[w]e are created to be in relationship with God and others." While finding time both for prayer and solitude, which is what Paschal is getting at in his quote, are vitally important to ease to our existential discontent, "we can't be content for long all by ourselves." While it is quoted far too often and much too glibly, what St. Augustine observed at the very beginning of his Confessions truly applies: "You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You."

Of course, our discontent and dissatisfaction, described more dialectically as existential angst, can also lead us in other directions and down dead-end paths. But these, too, by the grace of God, can be spiritually (trans)formative.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Good news on the cause for Cora Evans' sainthood

For my dear reader who is seeking and asking me to seek the intercession of the Servant of God Cora Louise Evans, a LDS convert to the Catholic faith, who became a mystic, and for Lori, who has also come to the assistance of this dear sister, I have some very good news, brought to my attention by a very dear friend, who is a sister, Marymargaret.

A Catholic News Agency report filed on Friday afternoon by Valerie Schmalz from San Francisco announced that the Holy See has paved the way for a complete investigation into the cause for Cora's canonization. In a letter dater 29 March 2012, the Prefect of the Congregation for Causes of Saints, Angelo Cardinal Amato, granted the necessary nihil obstat for “the Cause for Beatification and Canonization of the Servant of God, Cora Louise Evans.” Lest we get too carried away, there is no certainly she will ultimately be raised to the altar, but the way has been opened for her cause to proceed. In Schmalz's words, "The Vatican has approved a complete investigation into the cause of sainthood of a former Mormon wife and mother who reported visions of Jesus and a mission to promote “The Mystical Humanity of Christ.”

Cardinal Amato's letter was written to Bishop Richard Garcia of Diocese of Monterey in California, who is the ordinary of the place where Cora ended her mortal life and so the one who permitted and promoted her cause going forward up to this point.

According to Schmalz, Bishop Garcia has appointed Marianist Father David Schuyler to take testimony of approximately eight eye witnesses, including Evans’ daughter. In addition to the interviews, "A theological review of Evans’ writings will begin and a historical commission will collect relics and other materials. The completed dossier will be sent to Rome."

Servant of God Cora Louise Evans

I first wrote about Cora in June 2011. In that post, Cora Evans, Servant of God, I noted that it was San Francisco's current archbishop, His Excellency George Niederauer, formerly the bishop of Salt Lake City (who ordained your blogger), who gave his imprimatur to the Prayer for the Intercession of Cora Evans. The prayer was composed by her long-time confessor and spiritual director, Fr. Frank Parrish, S.J. I encourage any who read this blog to bring any particular needs to Cora, asking for her intercession. Below is the approved prayer:

First - Visit the Blessed Sacrament

Cora prayed that she would be given the same gift as Saint Thérèse, the Little Flower, spending her heaven on earth doing good. But, first visit the Blessed Sacrament.

Second - The Prayer - Ask Cora to intercede in your behalf

Dearest Jesus, You blessed Cora Evans with many supernatural mystical gifts as a means of drawing us to a deeper and more intimate union with your Sacred Heart through Your Divine Indwelling, Your Mystical Humanity. I ask You through her intercession to help me in my special request (name the favor) and my efforts to do Your will here on earth and be with You, Your Blessed Mother, Saint Joseph and the whole Court of Heaven forever.

Third - Say three times

For more on the Servant of God Cora Louise Evans, just on her picture located on the right-side of this blog. Please, do not hesitate to seek her intercession, especially for those who are tempted to leave the Catholic faith, but also for any need.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Amos was a prophet and so was Pope Paul

Our first reading for this Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time is a Gospel preacher's dream. Taken from the Book of the Prophet Amos, it is an explanation of how this farmer from the Northern kingdom, called Israel, while the Southern kingdom was called Judah, came to prophesy in the name of the LORD. You see, Amos was not one of the prophets who lived and worked in the vicinity of Bethel, which was the major religious Jewish shrine in the Northern kingdom, where the kings of the Northern kingdom worshiped and presumably sought advice and counsel from the prophets there.

Amos was unknown to these prophets of Bethel, but he showed up and started to speak in the name of LORD, calling Israel back to fidelity to the covenant. This is why Amaziah, a priest of the shrine, tells Amos to go to the Southern kingdom of Judah to prophesy, but leave Bethel and never speak an oracle there again. Amos' response indicates that among Amaziah's concern, perhaps chief among them, was that Amos the farmer, who now fancied himself a prophet, was honing in the business of prophecy and the material rewards that came along with being a prophet at the royal sanctuary of Bethel.

It is clear that Amos could care less about all that. He just wants to be faithful to the calling the LORD has placed upon him, "to prophesy to my people Israel." This prompts the question, "What does it mean to be a prophet?"

Very often we think it is the essence of prophecy to foretell the future. While it is true that prophets warn of the things to come if their message from God is not heeded, they do not necessarily see, that is, have mystical visions about the future. A good example of prophecy in our own day, one that is very relevant to the on-going conflict over the HHS mandate, is the prophetic nature of Pope Paul VI's encyclical letter Humanae Vitae.

Not being a seer, Pope Paul did not look into a crystal ball or receive a mystical vision of what would happen once contraception became cheap and readily available. Rather, knowing fallen human nature, he was able to trace out the natural consequences. Addressing the consequences of the widespread availability and use of contraceptives, Pope Paul asked that we
consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife (par. 17)
The Church continues to issue these same kinds of warnings in the in face of many supposed "advancements," like the development of more advanced weapons systems and certain kinds of bio-technological endeavors that violate the inherent dignity of the human person. The Church also warns against the kind of arrangements and de-regulation that led to and continue to fuel the worldwide financial crisis that has the effect of concentrating wealth in fewer and fewer hands, which culminates in the privatization of gains and socialization of losses, and is indicative of a form of unchecked, greedy, crony and crisis capitalism that benefits the few at the expense of the many and is especially harmful to the poorest of the poor.

In his annual Christmas speech to the Roman Curia back in 2008, which year marked the fortieth anniversary of the promulgation of Humanae Vitae, Pope Benedict XVI concisely summarized the prophetic character of Pope Paul VI's magisterial pronouncement, which flew and continues to fly in the face of the world's reasoning, which is instrumental, even as regards the human person: "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."

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Being Christian, an all-encompassing vocation

Lately I have had several things on mind. A few days ago, as I was thinking on these things, I achieved something of a synthesis, which I will attempt to write out in this post.

The first thing has to do the on-going battle for religious liberty here in the United States in light of the unjust HHS mandate, which, among other things, seeks to reduce religious freedom down to mere freedom of worship, to what actually goes on in the Church, to what we do on Sunday. Any authentic form of Christianity is all-encompassing and can never be reduced merely to going to Church. Of course, this is in no way to denigrate Sunday Eucharist, which is the source and summit of our Catholic faith, but merely to insist that our participation in the Mass, which comes from a Latin word meaning "dismissal," for it to be authentic and in accord with what the Lord intended and commands, must have consequences in the world by having consequences in the lives of those who participate. It seems to me that many Catholics have already voluntarily reduced "being Catholic" to going to Mass. For many, this does not necessarily mean going every Sunday.

The second issue that gave rise to these musings and that dovetail from my first thought, especially as later this year we will observe the fiftieth anniversary of start of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, is the collapse of Catholic devotional life after the Council, which was surely an unintended consequence of the far-reaching reforms. Let there be no doubt, by calling for the Church's liturgy to be celebrated in the vernacular, it was hoped that the reform would facilitate the full, active, and conscious participation in the liturgy by everyone. This was bound to have the effect of impacting the Church's devotional life in some manner, especially regarding devotions to the Eucharist, which very often had nothing to do with the eucharistic liturgy. However, the practical ways that Catholics lived their faith everyday were never the target of authentic conciliar reform. Take for example Friday abstinence, which was a hallmark of Catholic identity, so much so that it led to such derisive names as "mackerel snapper." It never occurred to anyone, let alone Pope Paul VI, to abolish the ancient Christian custom, or tradition, of observing Friday as a day of penance. It was desired that people would practice their faith in a more mature manner, that is, without all the positive law and its punishments and penalties. I wrote a fairly extensive post about this way back in 2006- I'll have the filet o' fish with no tartar sauce, please. But way better than anything I have written is Cambridge historian Eamon Duffy's article, "Fasting, our lost rite," which appeared in The Tablet back in 2004.

So, how Catholics is various parts of the world were to observe Fridays as a weekly day of penance was left up the different conferences of bishops, but not whether Fridays were to be observed in this manner- this remains a given. It was decided by the U.S. bishops that the only obligatory days of abstinence are Fridays of Lent (by "obligatory" is meant something like "on pain of sin"). The only two obligatory days of fasting and abstinence are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. However, to this day the normative way that Catholics in the U.S. are to observe all Fridays of the year as days of penance, excepting Fridays on which a solemnity may fall, in which case the solemnity "trumps" the penitential day, meaning you observe the solemnity as a feast day, like a Sunday, is by abstaining from the meat of warm-blooded animals. If one should choose not to observe Friday in that manner, one can choose to perform a conscious act of charity, meaning doing something for someone else that requires going out of your way, requiring a real effort on your part. Recently, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales re-instituted obligatory Friday abstinence. It is also good news, at least in my opinion, that the new English translation of the Roman Missal has retained the section on Rogation and Ember days (for an explanation of these see Shawn Tribe's article On Rogation Days over on New Liturgical Movement).

To wit: the ways that days and liturgical seasons were formerly observed in Roman Catholic homes, truly making them the domestic Church, have by-and-large been abandoned. A home is no more of domestic Church than a Church is a Church if no liturgies are celebrated in it! While there are many ways of interpreting the oft-quoted witticism "Going Church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car," I take this to mean that what I say and do outside of the sanctuary matter a lot. After all, the only empirical evidence that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus Christ are the lives of those who partake of it. This line of thinking is also what prompted me in a post last week, Jesus of Nazareth, the revelation of God, to discuss some practical take-aways from my Christological reflection on Cardinal Schönborn's writings.

The third thing leading up to my synthesis is the recent, very live, discussion of women deacons. I am not going to make any pronouncements on this subject because I am not theologically or ecclesially qualified to do so, which is not to say I don't have my opinion on the matter. I will be content simply to note that this issue cannot be reduced to a historical one, as many try to do. It is an issue that involves what I call fundamental ecclesiology as well as no small dose of theological anthropology. For the former I would refer the reader specifically to Monica Migliorino Miller's Sexuality and Authority in the Catholic Church.

You can also listen to the recent episode of Catholic Answers Live on which Dr. Migliorino Miller was the guest. While the topic of the program was "Why Only Men Can Be Priests," due to the questions she received from callers, she ventured considerably further afield, namely into the fundamental mystery of the Church as the Bride of the Christ. While we must be careful and not conflate and confuse issues that arise from priesthood with those that stem from the diaconate, I think her comments have some bearing on the new Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Müller's, position on women deacons, about which Deacon Greg posted: Muller and deacons: “Only a man can represent this relation of Christ with the Church.”

As to the best, meaning the most accessible, not the most technical, setting-forth of theological anthropology, I recommend Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, by Bl. Pope John Paul II. The specific portion of the book I would draw attention to is Dr. Michael Waldstein's ninety-nine page introduction.

Someone who is well-qualified to comment on this issue is Dr. Bill Ditewig. He has done so recently on his blog, Deacons Today. I don't mind noting that I am the friend who emailed him concerning the indisputable fact that Phoebe is the only person in the New Testament specifically referred to as a "deacon." Referring to some cursory research I did on the exegesis of Romans 16:1, the verse in which she is designated as such, I wrote that no matter where various New Testament scholars stood with regard to the question of female deacons, "it was not clear what [sic- should be "that"- mistake in my original email] the term 'deacon' in this context referred to holding an ecclesial office. Most [scholars] noted that it was likely too early to attribute to her an established office in the Church, let alone one received by ordination." All of that being said, I have yet to read the new book on the female diaconate, Women Deacons: Past, Present, and Future, or to read Martimort's dialogue partner, Gryson. I am, however, quite familiar the patristic and other early Church sources on the subject. For those who pay attention to this unfolding discussion, if you must categorize me, put me in what has been described by Ditewig himself as "a kind 'fourth order' for deaconesses" camp.

Before I move to my synthesis, it is necessary to add a caveat up-front, namely that I don't see the argument for women deacons as necessarily flowing from what I have outlined in my first two musings, it just happened to be the catalyst, though for some people who employ some lines of argumentation what follows applies. Arguably, one result of voluntarily reducing our faith to what we do on Sundays is that it becomes increasingly important for many people to have a prominent part in the liturgy. This brings me back Waldstein's articulation of the theology of Bl. Pope John Paul II, especially regarding his comprehensive work on carrying out the renewal called for by Vatican II, in every session of which then-Bishop and later Archbishop Wojtyla was a partipant, written before he became pope, Sources of Renewal. According to Waldstein, for Wojtyla "[b]eing a member of the Church means having faith." In order to be clear, I always it is necessary to note when the context calls for it, as it does here, that authentic faith can only be faith in Jesus Christ. For this reason, according to Wojtyla, "the implementation of the Council consists first and foremost in enriching that faith." Waldstein's concise comment in light of Wojtyla's assertion cuts to the chase of what I am trying to get at, "enrichment being understood as the reception and realization of faith in personal subjectivity, in conscious experience" (emboldening and italicizing emphasis mine).

In my estimation, Vatican II was a long overdue response to certain aspects of the Reformation, specifically the reformers' focus on the necessity of personal faith, practice, and holiness. Due to Wojtyla's being influenced mainly by St. John of the Cross, Max Scheler, and Immanuel Kant, in that order, Waldstein cites something very relevant by Von Balthasar to make the necessary connection: "What was challenging and scandalous in the Carmelite response to Luther was the manner in which it integrated the entire monastic tradition from the Greeks through the middle ages into the new Christian radicalism and gave to that tradition a hitherto unknown radicality by the modern turn toward the personal, the experiential and the psychological."

The take away to all of this is to re-focus us on the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council's universal call to holiness, which each of us is given in baptism, has reiterated, renewed and strengthened in confirmation, as well as each time we receive communion, and restored in penance. After this we have our primary and, for most of us, our secondary vocations. Our primary vocation is the state-of-life in which we live out our baptismal vocation- married, celibate, ordained, lay, consecrated, etc. Our secondary vocation is what we do for a living. All of these are means of holiness, through which we cooperate with God in the on-going work of our sanctification. For my money, this too often gets lost and the issues of power and authority in the Church tend to predominate, reducing the Church to a body politic instead of being the Body of Christ.

"I know that things can really get rough"

As I seem to bring up each Saturday lately, blogging over these months has been sketchy at best, non-existent at worst. What I have lacked in quantity I hope I have at least partially made up for in quality. One of the biggest obstacles to posting more regularly as of late has been regular access to a computer at home. For the past several months we have had but one computer shared among four people, two of whom are students with a lot of homework. So, my on-line activities have been curtailed by that. I am happy to announce that today I am blogging from my new, personal lap top computer, thus making regular on-line access once again a norm.

I don't think I will return to daily posting, however. I am probably looking at putting something up 3 or 4 times a week. I have been pretty faithful to the Friday traditio, even when it has been a day late, like today. So, how about some new music to mark a new era as I approach my sixth year of serious blogging, my seventh, if you count the year after I began, when I posted next to nothing? Our traditio is an acoustic version Albuquerque's own The Shins "Simple Song":

Could be there's nothing else in our lives so critical/As this little home

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Thorns in flesh, the experience of grace

Our New Testament reading for this Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time is 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. This is one of those passages with which many people are familiar, thus making it one of those passages that is easy to water down and approach glibly. But if we take it as the apostle intended it, writing from the deep well-spring of his own experience, it is a provocation.

If we let ourselves be provoked, we can verify the truth of what we hear about in this passage, namely that "when I am weak, then I am strong," precisely because Christ's grace is sufficient. You see, it is not a sign of weakness to acknowledge our on-going need for the Lord's assistance. In Paul's case it is clear that Christ is not the cause of whatever "thorn in the flesh" against which the apostle contended. What is clear is that it was not going to be taken away in an instant, or even over a prolonged period of time, but remain precisely so that Paul, who enjoyed such close communion with Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, would not only constantly be reminded how much he needed to rely on Christ, but so that he could more clearly see that his weakness was his strength because it forced him to rely solely on Jesus Christ.

I spent some time his afternoon laying out the course of my seventh grade daughter's catechesis for the upcoming school year. We are using the seventh grade curriculum of the Image of God series, which is predicated on the theology of Bl. Pope John Paul II, the unifying element of which is, according to Fr. Richard Hogan, "the human person - created by God in His own image and redeemed by the God-man," Jesus Christ. I liked very much how Fr. Hogan explained grace. You know, that thing of Christ's He tells Paul is sufficient.

Grace has three functions, three things it does for us: "unites us to God here on earth; makes it possible for us to live with God forever in heaven; and enables us to think and to choose as human beings, as images of God." Most apropos to the passage of Sacred Scripture I am considering here, "Grace does not always make it easy to act as we should, but it makes it possible for the mind and will to govern the body, that is, for the human body to express the human person," who, in turn, is best expressed as a bearer of imago dei. It is by grace that we are restored to God's likeness. Grace is experienced through our experiences, the circumstances we encounter all day everyday.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Turkey anyone?

Since I have been laid up ill for the past three days with a very nasty chest cold, I have treated myself to a Turkish film festival. First I watched On the Edge of Heaven, followed by Takva: A Man's Fear of God, finished off by Distant. Of the three I liked Takva the best as it is an Islamic tale about the impossibility of serving God and mammon, how religious institutions inevitably struggle with this, and also about the human desire to please and honor God and how we need grace, that is, God's help to live that way. Takva also offers a glimpse of Sufi Islam, thus helping Westerners to see that there is a diversity within in Islam and rather benevolent forms. As for Distant, I came across this very insightful film review: Distant. This is in no way to the detriment of On the Edge of Heaven. I recommend all three.

A still from Distant, directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Ever since visiting Turkey numerous times in throughout the '90s, I have loved Turkish popular music. I haven't listened to any for quite awhile. So, our Friday traditio is Yildiz Tilbe singing "Delikanlım":

My roses bloom indefinite times for you/They won't fade even if you pick them up and throw away "Delikanlïm" means "My Boy."

Thursday, July 5, 2012

"Homo technicus" or truly human?

Because it is an issue that I frequently write about, I am posting something put up on Facebook by Ignatius Press; a quote by Hans Urs von Balthasar from his book New Elucidations, regarding Natural Family Planning, which is not, at least when practiced in the proper manner, merely a natural form of contraception.
There is all the difference in the world between using one's awareness of the periods of infertility and arrogating to oneself the right to impose radical restrictions on fertility by the use of artificial contraception.

Many see little difference here. And perhaps there is little difference, so long as man views himself as an entity that invents itself and regulates itself: homo technicus. Were this view of man the truth, no limits at all could be set on his manipulation of his own nature.

But the difference is great to the eyes of any man or woman who thinks as a Christian. For in using the infertile days they are not setting bounds to their love. Otherwise, one would have to say that intercourse in the full Christian sense is impossible after a woman's menopause. Married persons who think as Christians set no barriers between the two objects of marriage: procreation and the expression of mutual love. They let the two stand together, the physical side, with its own proper laws, and the personal side. One's awareness of the opportunities provided by nature does not mean one is imposing calculation on the inner spirit of love
All of this is to more than hint at that in no realm more than in bio-technology do human beings run the risk of re-capitulating the original sin, which is our constant human desire to reject our creaturliness and establish ourselves as supreme. As with so many things, bio-technology is a two-edged sword, which is often to put to use to accomplish good ends by means that are not morally objectionable. Nonetheless, we must be careful not to fall into the trap that just because we can do something by means of technology, we should.

Jesus of Nazareth, the revelation of God

In his still timely book, one that I re-read from time-to-time, Razing the Bastions: On the Church in This Age, Hans Urs Von Balthasar wrote, "that theology is the doctrine of the divine meaning of the revelation of the historical events of revelation themselves - nothing above them, nothing behind them, nothing that one could take away and retain as a suprahistorical substance - and that therefore, the more the historical discloses itself in a theological sense, the more does theology develop" (30). Von Balthasar's definition is cited by Christoph Cardinal Schönborn is his Christology, God Sent His Son. Building on Balthasar's insight, Cardinal Schönborn moves to a critique of scholastic Christology, which, he insists,"concentrates on illuminating the significance of [Christ's] birth... in its ontological respect and that of his death in its soteriological respect" (218). This leads, at least in His Eminence's estimation, to the roughly "thirty-three lying between the birth and the events of Triduum" seeming "at most to be of significance [only] for Christ's moral message" (218).

I think Cardinal Schönborn, who serves as archbishop of Vienna, Austria, quite right to insist that "what the life of Jesus was actually like is of central importance, inasmuch as the period of [his life], this brief span of time in the history of mankind and of Israel, represents the eschatological revelation of God and his definitive salvation" (218). It is in light of Jesus' Resurrection that the events, words and actions, of his earthly life "acquire their full Christological implications... precisely as historical events," that is, things that actually occurred in the world. "For on the basis of Easter," Schönborn continues, Jesus' words and actions "acquire an eschatological, eternal significance. If the Risen One is he who lived on earth, then nothing about the earthly One is trivial" (218).

Jesus' miracle at the wedding feast of Cana

Cardinal Schönborn, who served as general editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, then paraphrases something crucial from the much-maligned Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx, thus moving from Von Balthasar's "Christology from above" to a more existential "Christology from below." The work of Schillebeeckx's he cites is his very provocative and, as a result, generally misunderstood Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter With God: "In the reading, getting to know, and following the concrete figure of Jesus [as depicted in the canonical Gospels], it is a matter not only of a theological work or of material for spiritual contemplation, but of the decisive question, vital for our salvation, of whether we accept God's revelation of himself and his saving acts, or whether we fail to do so" (218).

Perhaps the most concrete "take away" from this is, come to know Jesus by reading, studying, pouring over, praying over the Gospels. The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, reiterated, even if in an understated manner, "It is common knowledge that among all the Scriptures, even those of the New Testament, the Gospels have a special preeminence, and rightly so, for they are the principal witness for the life and teaching of the incarnate Word, our savior" (par. 18).

Another time-proven way to come to know Jesus is by meditating on the mysteries of His life by praying the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary. A quick look at these (i.e., Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious) verify the gap posited by Cardinal Schöborn. It seems to me that this what Bl. Pope John Paul II sought to remedy when, with the promulgation of his Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, in 2002, he instituted the Luminous Mysteries of Christ's life: "(1) his Baptism in the Jordan, (2) his self-manifestation at the wedding of Cana, (3) his proclamation of the Kingdom of God, with his call to conversion, (4) his Transfiguration, and finally, (5) his institution of the Eucharist, as the sacramental expression of the Paschal Mystery" (par. 21).

While these two suggestions may seem a bit pedestrian, spirituality is a mode of life, it's how we live everyday. We have various means at our disposal to draw closer to God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. The sacraments, of course, play an indispensable role in this, but we have to have things we can do on our own, things that are quiet and simple, things we can incorporate into our daily lives without too much difficulty, things that help us meet Christ in the here and now, in the hurly-burly.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Constitutionally transcendent redux

Over the history of my blog I have re-posted few things. But this Fourth of July, given that it brings to a conclusion the Fortnight for Freedom, during which we have prayed that our religious liberty, not only as Catholics, but as citizens of the U.S., would be preserved in light of the attempt by the Department of Health and Human Service to impose its unjust mandate on the Church, which would also have the effect of reducing freedom of religion in this great nation, I am re-posting what I put up last July 4th with a few minor tweaks. Once in awhile, something is more relevant than it was when it was written.

Today we celebrate the 236th anniversary of that day when the United States, originally 13 British colonies, declared its independence from Great Britain. This post unapologetically builds on my post from two years ago, "When in the Course of human events..." In the powerful declaration, publicly proclaimed in Philadelphia, we read these important words: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Furthermore, John Adams, who was perhaps the most influential Founding Father, writing to some officers of the Massachusetts militia in 1798, well after our Constitution was ratified, offered this- "we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

John Adams, painted by Gilbert Stuart 1798

Constitutionally, the United States is built on the assumption of a transcendent order. Many of our struggles today arise from a general loss, or at least diminishment, of our collective sense of transcendence. We are tempted to interpret Adams' words to mean religion as a form of social control, but to read them that way is to take them anachronistically. In his book, published last year by Catholic University Press, The Turn to Transcendence, Dr. Glenn Olsen wrote that Christianity, like Judaism before it, is cosmological, meaning that Christians "see human life both as dramatic, centered on a struggle to achieve a proper use of freedom, and as eschatological, receiving its orientation from beyond history" (208). Indeed, rather than as a form of social control, Adams, in his address, seems to also be concerned with the proper use of freedom. As St. Paul wrote in his Letter to the Galatians: "For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another" (5:13- ESV).

Olsen goes on to note that is was Heidegger who "compared the meditative knowledge of medieval figures such as St. Bernard of Clairvaux, aimed at the transformation of our being in the light of destiny, with the calculative thinking of the modern world" (209). The calculative thinking of the modern world often holds that what counts as true knowledge must be empirically verifiable, despite the devastating critique of so-called verificationism by Wittgenstein, among others. Indeed, the calculative thinking of the modern world is instrumental insofar as it is "aimed acquiring tools of action" (209).

Calculative thinking, which is instrumental, Olsen goes on to note, quoting Adriaan Peperzak, is "'rationality without receptivity,' thinking without 'admiration, gratitude, and compassion, but rather ...[based on] celebration of human intelligence, possession, engineering, and mastery'" (209). He is quite correct to note that the movement from the transformation of being in light of our destiny to so-called calculative thinking leads to a loss of transcendence, the further obliteration of the question of Being that it was Heidegger's project to recover.

Being constitutionally transcendent is exactly what still makes the United States of America exceptional. Hence, losing that which constitutes us as a nation is a perennial temptation we must resist.

I'll end this post with the last part of the Prayer for the Protection of Religious Liberty:

Grant, we pray, O heavenly Father,
a clear and united voice to all your sons and daughters
gathered in your Church
in this decisive hour in the history of our nation,
so that, with every trial withstood
and every danger overcome—
for the sake of our children, our grandchildren,
and all who come after us—
this great land will always be "one nation, under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

We ask this through Christ our Lord.


Monday, July 2, 2012

Christ perfects our humanity, making us all God intended

I am currently reading Christoph Cardinal Schöborn's God Sent His Son: A Contemporary Christology, which is well written, accessible, and comprehensive. Just yesterday I read his treatment of the twenty-seven article Christological formula promulgated at the Council of Chalcedon, held in AD 451.

It is easy to forget that, in addition believing that the Son is homoousios, that is, consubstantial, or one in being, "with the Father as to his Godhead," we also believe Him to be "homoousios with us as to his personhood, in all things like unto us, sin only excepted, and in these last days, the Same, for us and for salvation, born of Mary the Virgin Theotokos." Cardinal Schönborn, at the beginning of his detailed analysis of the Chalcedonian formula, comments on Christ's perfection "in personhood," observing that it "is surely among the most important credal statements of the Christian faith" (157). He goes on to point out that "being human is not a defect, a deficiency, but has its own essential perfection" (157).

Reading this reminded me that, echoing the ancient words of the Council of Chalcedon, the fathers of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of which we mark this year on 11 October, in its one-of-a-kind document, the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, reiterated the importance of our humanity and of the Incarnation for us:
The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. It is not surprising, then, that in Him all the aforementioned truths find their root and attain their crown.

He Who is "the image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15), is Himself the perfect man. To the sons of Adam He restores the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward. Since human nature as He assumed it was not annulled, by that very fact it has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too. For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin (par. 22)
"Jesus' human existence," Schönborn insists, "is distinguished from that of all other men, not by what it is, but by how it is lived" (157). In his Christmas Urbi et Orbi message back in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI summarized this all succinctly, even giving it practical application: "Christ does not save us from our humanity, but through it; he does not save us from the world, but came into the world, so that through him the world might be saved (cf. Jn 3:17)."

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...