Sunday, September 30, 2012

A tad more on being prophets

I came across a quote this afternoon, one I found my self desperately wishing I had come across earlier, while preparing my homily for this Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time. It is something that Henri Nouwen said a few weeks before his death back in 1996:

"Often we praise prophets after they are dead. Are we willing to be prophets while we are alive?"

Year B Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Num. 11:25-29; Ps. 19: 8.10.12-14; James 5:1-6; Mark 9:38-43.45.47-48

Over the course of this past summer and now into early fall, we have had ample opportunity, in light of our Sunday readings, to reflect together on what it means to be prophetic. Hopefully you know that prophesy is not about soothsaying and/or divining the future, like the fortune-teller in the carnival tent. Most prophetic predictions have to do with the prophet simply and honestly warning about the all-too-predictable consequences of continuing in a sinful or unjust mode of behavior, both here and in eternity. It is the unenviable task of prophets, both ancient and modern, to call us back to fidelity to God’s covenant, which bids us to love God with all our heart, might, mind, and strength as well as to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, bearing in mind that everyone is my neighbor, especially the stranger who needs my help, as Jesus provocatively taught (Mark 12:30; Matt 22:37; Luke 10:25-37).

Another feature of what constitutes being prophetic is that it is not exclusively, or even mainly, an institutional function, whether in ancient Israel, or in the Church today. Sure, there are prophets who rise up within these institutions, like Jeremiah of old, who was a kohen, that is, a priest from a well-regarded family, or Archbishop Oscar Romero, but they are inherently at odds, at least in some ways, with the institution from within which they arise because of the way they challenge and provoke, as did the prophets and Christ Himself. Often their fate is the same as that of Christ and the prophets before Him: they are repressed, silenced, and even killed. It is good news for all of us that within the Church, due to the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, Max Weber’s accurately articulated human principle aside, charisma is never completely institutionalized.

In our first reading, taken from the Book of Numbers, as Moses comes down from the mountain, “some of the spirit” that God gave to the great prophet was also “bestowed” on the seventy elders, who the LORD had Moses appoint to help him govern Israel, when “the spirit came to rest on them, they prophesied” (Num. 11:25). But two of their number did not go out with the others, but remained behind in the camp, Eldad and Medad (Num. 11:26). Nonetheless, the spirit came to rest on them too; much to the dismay of those who had gone to where Moses was, and so Eldad and Medad began prophesying in the camp (Num. 11:26). No less than Joshua, who would succeed Moses as the leader of the tribes of Jacob, emphatically demanded Moses to “stop them” from prophesying (Num. 11:28). But Moses sees right through Joshua’s alarm and asks him, “Are you jealous for my sake?” Then Moses says, “Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets,” saying that he wanted God to “bestow his spirit on them all” (Num. 11:29).

For those of us who are baptized and confirmed Moses’ wish is granted. God has bestowed His Holy Spirit on us. In baptism Christ called you forth and set you apart to share in His priestly, prophetic, and royal ministry. This was sealed and strengthened in confirmation. A big part of being prophetic is living in fidelity to the covenant that God established with you when you were baptized. I can think of no better description, especially given the economic state of today’s world, of what it is to be prophetic than what we hear in our second reading today from the Letter of James, which, apart from the Gospels, may well be the most challenging and provocative text in our uniquely Christian Scriptures.

When we pray in our petitions that we recognize everything we have is a gift from God and for the grace not to store it up for ourselves, but to share it so the basic needs of others are met, we are asking God to pour out His spirit on us, thus helping us live prophetically by preaching without using words and refusing to be defined according to secular, particularly political, categories and worldly logic. I don’t think it matters which side of the political divide you most identify with to be alarmed by the growing gap between the rich and the poor in our country, including the dramatic increase in the number of people living below the poverty line right here in our own community and state, which was detailed recently in an article that appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune under the headline “Utah’s poverty rate climbs to 13.5% of the population” (Sept. 26, 2012), as well as the ever-increasing polarization between the global north and south, one effect of which is to cause mass migration.

Pope Paul VI, whose encyclical letter Humanae Vitae is seen by many, including me, as a prophetic document, for which he paid a great price, was also prophetic in his 1967 encyclical letter Populorum Progresso, which was called by no less than the Wall Street Journal, shortly after it was promulgated, “warmed-over Marxism,” but this encyclical, like Pope Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical, Caritas in veritate, is nothing other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ applied to modern world.

As one might easily imagine, there is an important convergence between these encyclicals.

Towards the beginning of Populorum Progresso, Pope Paul wrote, “The hungry nations of the world cry out to the peoples blessed with abundance. And the Church, cut to the quick by this cry, asks every man to hear his brother's plea and answer it lovingly” (par. 3). He goes on to pose the question asked by the sacred author of the First Letter of John, “If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him” (3:17)?

Our second reading for today uses far stronger words than those cited by Pope Paul in his encyclical. Writing to the wealthy who, in the words of Populorum Progresso, acquire and store up “surplus goods solely for [their] own private use when others lack the bare necessities of life” (par. 23), the sacred author warns: “You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure; you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter” (James 5:5). In this context Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31), and more specifically His parable of the rich fool, both found in Luke’s Gospel, come to mind. Here is the parable of the rich fool:
“There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God” (Luke 12:16-21)
Therefore, the pertinent question for us is not whether you built it yourself, but what you do with what you have built-up, keeping in mind not only the fact that you can’t take it with you, but that you will be judged with what you did with any largesse.

Indeed, there are many prophetic voices in our world today that are not Catholic voices, or even Christian voices. As Jesus told His disciples, who were alarmed in the same way Joshua was when they encountered someone driving out demons in Jesus’ name, “whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40). I think that the order of Jesus’ words here matter a great deal. Notice that He does not say, “Whoever is not for us is against us,” but, rather, “whoever is not against us is for us.” In language the inverse property of multiplication, which tells us that 2x3=6 and 3x2=6, simply does not apply.

We are prophetic when we live by the words we read from the Letter of James a few Sundays ago: “Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works” (James 2:18).

Friday, September 28, 2012

"All the way sank"

I just finished watching a film I had planned to watch for a long time, Tyrannosaur, a film directed by Paddy Considine and winner of the 2011 BAFTA (the U.K.'s film awards, similar to our Oscars) for best drama. I know it sounds trite and vague, but words escape me when trying to describe this film. It is very Celtic, which, at least to me, means it is very existential, or, if you prefer, realistic, so much so that it takes on a transcendent quality. This description is not meant to be too cute, or an attempt at playing Captain Conundrum. The transcendence comes from the interiority, that is, the hearts of the two main characters, Joseph and Hannah, played by Peter Mullan (the actor, not to be confused with the Rev. Dr. Peter Mullen) and Olivia Colman respectively.

It is their longing that draws them towards each other, not romantically, sentimentally, or even erotically. The U.K.'s Guardian newspaper had an interesting debate as to whether Considine's directorial debut was "povery porn." While I think Natalie Haynes makes some points worth considering arguing that Tyrannosaur consitiutes a kind of "poverty porn," I side with Jason Solomons that it is not.

After the dust settles in the film, Joseph writes Hannah, who is in prison, a letter, part of which reads:
I prayed for ya the other day, it's not somethin' I do, but I figured I was talkin' to myself and saying a prayer. I don't even believe in all that shit, as you well know. I'd like to come and see you, there's things I want you to know. I know you asked me once why I was in the shop [the Goodwill shop where Olivia volunteered and where he saw her], but I never told ya. I didn't go in there lookin' for God. I wanted you. I just went in there because, apart from Sam [little boy who lived across the street] you're the only person who smiled when I'm around you and I wanted, I wanted you to soak into me and bring me up. I thought you were beautiful. I just wanted to look at you, that's all. I didn't want to know ya because I knew that if I got to know ya that you'd have your own shit, you wouldn't be perfect and I didn't want that feelin' ruined, but it's alright
The film ends with Joseph visiting Olivia in prison, they hold hands and just look at each other.

The Leisure Society's "We Were Wasted," the last song in the film seems a great way to end.

"If the end comes faster than we had expected"

Before being distracted last week by Chaka Khan, I posted to back-to-back REM songs off what will probably be their final studio album, Collapse Into Now. As I have mentioned before, I think this album was largely overlooked due to the fact that around the time of the album's release the band announced that they had mutually and very amiably decided to call it quits. I suppose I hope that putting up some of the songs from the album on Fridays does a little to make it better known.

Regarding the album's title, singer Michael Stipe said "It's the final thing I sing, the last song on the record before the record goes into a coda and reprises the first song. In my head, it's like I'm addressing a nine-year-old and I'm saying, 'I come from a faraway place called the 20th century. And these are the values and these are the mistakes we've made and these are the triumphs. These are the things that we held in the highest esteem. These are the things to learn from."

And predictions lead us to the final fall/If the flowers crack the grave/And leave the pattern of the pavement/I can hear you shouting over it all

As the late Kurt Cobain once said of REM, "I don't know how that band does what they do... they're the greatest. They've dealt with their success like saints, and they keep delivering great music." Amen.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

In the morning Lord, show us thy mercy

To show how truly lovely are traditional Anglican forms of worship, I am posting the general confession taken from Morning Prayer in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. At certain times during the year, I resort to using Morning and Evening Prayer from the traditional Book of Common Prayer, both of which are considerably longer and more involved than Morning and Evening Prayer as found in the Roman Catholic Liturgy of the Hours:
Almighty and most merciful Father, We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep, We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, We have offended against thy holy laws, We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, And we have done those things which we ought not to have done, And there is no health in us: But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us miserable offenders, Spare thou them, O God, which confess their faults, Restore thou them that are penitent, According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesu our Lord: And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake, That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.
Since, along with Fridays, Wednesdays are traditionally days observed in a penitential manner, this seemed wholly appropriate to me this morning, apart from this confession really meeting my need this morning as I prayed. Also, today is Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.

To give some idea of the beauty of the Anglican tradition, I am posting the singing of the Nunc Dimittis at Evensong by the King's College Choir-

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Encounter with Marnie

Leaving the Cathedral this afternoon after Lauds, Mass, and a nice, if emotional, precatechumenate gathering to grab a spot of lunch, I was waved down on the Cathedral plaza by a woman I did not know, not even by sight. I rolled down the passenger side window of my car and asked her how I could be of assistance. She wanted to know who I was, what my role at the Cathedral was, etc. I told her that I was one of the deacons at the Cathedral. She asked, "What's a deacon?" I explained that I was one of the members of the clergy assigned to serve here and that my "job" was to teach, assist with worship, and help people as I am able. This opened a flood-gate of problems, which began with, "I was born and raised Jewish, but three years ago I became a Christian and my life went to shit."

Just for the record, these kinds of encounters are not unusual where I serve, which is an urban parish in the heart of the city. From time-to-time a particular encounter stands out, like this one. She and I spoke for a few minutes with her standing next to my car. I finally parked, got out, and proceeded to sit and chat with her on the back porch of the diocesan Pastoral Center, which is located just across the plaza from the Cathedral church where I serve. Needless to say, for the next hour and-a-half she told me all her troubles, difficulties, and set backs that resulted in her being in a place of destitution and desolation. I was able to give her some assistance, a good referral, and what I hope was some practical guidance. Thankfully, most of her physical needs were currently being met.

In these kinds of encounters it is difficult to discern what is true from what is false, greatly exaggerated, or understated. The way I have learned to approach it, this doesn't much matter, at least not up-front. Suffice it to say that after she became a Christian she quickly became involved with a series of people who were all too eager to take advantage of her in various ways. Hence, one of the things that I told her was she needed to affiliate with a group of believers among whom structures of accountability exist. I also told her that even this was not 100% guarantee, but decreased the probability of bad things by orders of magnitude. I also spoke to her about the need for relational boundaries and that the success of someone guiding you spiritually is best gauged by decreasing need and dependency, not increasing dependency.

I am convinced that these encounters are not accidental. Nonetheless, when I walk away from them I always wonder why, in the context of my life and God's larger scheme of things, they happened. It's not the kind of question that really has an answer. One thing I know was reinforced for me through this encounter was how limited I am. Another, more important thing, was how much it means to another person just to sit and listen with concern and speak very little. She was wondering if she had made God angry and was being punished, which seems (understandably) to be a recurrent theme with people in dire situations. I said that was important for her not inflict what she imagined to be God's punishment on herself. I also taught her a new word, "axiomatic," which I used when I told her that God's love for her is axiomatic, which I explained just means that it is a given no matter the circumstances, and that, unlike us, God isn't fickle, moody, or manipulative. I tried to explain that God's love is not something she ever need worry about, no matter how "bad" she feels she has been.

After we parted and after I ate lunch, I read this from John O'Donohue's book Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom: "Human presence is a creative and turbulent sacrament, a visible sign of an invisible grace." I am convinced that my encounter today, while clearly on the turbulent side, was graced.

She and I are supposed to meet later this week. I have no idea if she will be there (I tend to doubt it), but that is up to her. It was also no accident that the reading for Evening Prayer today, from Week I of the Psalter, was,
Praised be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of consolation! he comforts us in all our afflictions and thus enables us to comfort those who are in trouble, with the same consolation we have received from him (2 Cor. 1:3-4)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Lanes to the infinite

When it comes to the visual, plastic, or musical arts I really have to no talent whatsoever. Nonetheless, the cool thing about constantly carrying around a phone that has a camera is that it allows me to (try) capture images that strike me. My oldest daughter is a very gifted artist, one of her great gifts is photography, as is my dear friend Sharon's, who constantly posts her amazing pictures over on quaerere deum (I urge you to visit her site for a daily dose of beauty). Besides, being artistically inept gives me that much more appreciation for the gifts of so many others.

The images that seem to most strike me as I live and move around are man-made objects juxtaposed with nature. So, while I won't pretend for one minute that this is art, I have no problem sharing that as I left the ice cream parlor I was at with two of boys, where we had a post-soccer game treat, the image below immediately captivated me (the haze is from a fire in southern Idaho that has been hovering most of this past week):

Indeed, lanes to the infinite are always available!

"You refuse to put anything before your pride"

Wow! It's been an amazingly busy, and productive, few weeks. Even though it's a day late and perhaps even a dollar short, Chaka Khan's "Tell Me Something Good" is our Friday traditio, a change of pace from what  I've been putting up. One of the last two weeks I spent in lovely St. Louis, Missouri. While there, driving to a meeting one morning, I heard this classic song. It has been more than a week since that happened, but it's been in my mind, making me feel great as we enter into one of my favorite times of the year, early fall, when there always seems to me to be a kind of electricity in the air. Such breaks help me with my Lenten commitment not to be obsessive about posting something everyday. Here as elsewhere, I hope quality trumps quality.

One little known fact about Chaka (born Yvette Marie Stevens) is that, unlike a lot of R & B performers, who began in music by singing in Gospel choirs, she was born and raised Roman Catholic by devout parents in Chicago.

Got no time, is what you’re known to say/I’ll make you wish there were 48 hours to each day/The problem is, you ain’t been loved like you should/What I got to give will sure enough do you good

Friday, September 14, 2012

"This is not a parable"

Back-to-back Fridays with something from what is likely REM's final studio album, Collapse Into Now, which, as I mentioned last week, received short-shrift due to the fact that it was released around the time the band announced they amiably decided to call it quits after nearly 40 years together.

"It Happened Today" is our traditio this week, which is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross:

We'll leave the allegory/To another Bible story/Out of deference/Defiance, the choice

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Repenting/believing; Doing/hearing

In The Gospel According to St. Mark, Jesus speaks His very first words after emerging from forty days spent in the desert, where He went immediately after being baptized by the Baptist in the river Jordan. Upon emerging from the desert, these words kick-off His public ministry: "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15).

Last February, as I was preparing to preach on the First Sunday of Lent, I was struck by the order of the words "repent" and "believe" in Jesus' proclamation. It is seemingly a minor thing. After all, don't you have to believe in order to repent? The first problem, one that is easy to dispatch, is that "repent" does not (as we often take it) mean simply and only to express sorrow for sin. I suppose it includes that, but the Greek word we translate into English as "repent" is metanoia. In this verse from the first chapter of St. Mark's Gospel the word issuing from Jesus’ mouth is metanoeite, a form of metanoia that indicates repentance is on-going.

This is how all of this came out in February homily
Metanoeite, translated literally, means "be repenting," just as the word that follows it, pisteuete, literally rendered, means "be believing." All of this just means that repenting and believing the good news are not one-time events, but are on-going, that is, together they constitute a way of life. Again, the ordering is important; Jesus does not say, "believe and repent." Rather, He says, "Be repenting and be believing in the Gospel," indicating that the two are inextricably bound together, the one, believing, flowing from the other, repenting
Just this week I started to read Jana Riess' book Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor. In the first chapter she notes an insight from Lauren Winner concerning the seventh verse of Exodus 24, in which, after been given the Ten Commandments, the children of Israel vow, "All that the LORD has said, we will hear and do."

On reading this, Riess writes, "Wait a minute... Shouldn't that be the other way around? How can we do what God commands until we've heard it first? Riess, along with Winner, wisely prefers the rabbinic explanations to the highly rationalized ones of Bible scholars: "some rabbis have taught that we can't really hear what God is saying, or let it sink into our souls and beings until we have tried to do what God is saying. The practice precedes the belief."

She moves from Winner to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (making recourse to him is never a bad move):
A Jew is asked to take a leap of action rather than a leap of thought. He is asked to surpass his needs, to do more than he understands in order to understand more than he does. In carrying out the word of the Torah he is ushered into the presence of spiritual meaning. Through the ecstasy of deeds he learns to be certain of the hereness of God
Just the other day I publicly called what Christians commonly refer to as the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures. I do this because I am not a supercessionist (i.e., believing that the covenant God entered into with Israel has somehow been revoked, rather than extended to all through Christ). This prompted a friend to assert the Hebraic nature of our uniquely Christian Scriptures, the New Testament. I agree with him wholeheartedly. After all, there is something rather deep to the assertion of Pope Pius XI's assertion that "spiritually," Christians "are all Semites."

The logical place to take my pondering is 1 Corinthians 13, which begins with, "If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal," but I'll leave that to you.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Beauty shows us the way beyond

I thought instinctively of Schubert's quintet [finished] a few hours before he died. When one listens to such works, it is easier to believe in the existence of the next world, its aura only rarely, and yet sometimes with sufficient clarity, permeates the souls of the dying. Oh Lord, God of artists and of the faithful with pure souls, how magnificently You are able in the hour of death to reveal Your presence! And how tenaciously the artist must work to earn this privilege before departing our bitter and barren earth (Gustaw Herling from his story "The Madrigal of Mourning")

"To thee do we cry, poor, banished children of Eve, to thee do we send up sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus, O merciful, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary!"

Christ's resurrection "opens wide [our] gaze"

The Fraternity of Communion and Liberation originated in Milan and still has its home there. Hence, all ceilini belong, at least in some peripheral way, to the great Ambrosian see of Milan. The recently departed Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini, who served as archbishop of Milan from 1979 until 2002, was a great supporter of this ecclesial Movement, founded by Msgr. Luigi Giussani, a priest of the Archdiocese of Milan, making him a collaborator with his bishop, in a way extending his ministry internationally.

Below is a letter written by Msgr Giussani's successor, Fr. Julián Carrón, a Spanish priest who now lives in Milan as head of CL. It is a great tribute to the pastoral heart of His Eminence.

______________________________________________________________________________ President of the Fraternity of CL “In his heart, there was always room for us”

Carrón: I am saddened, we could have collaborated more

Dear Editor,
The death of Cardinal Martini gives me occasion to reflect on some key words of his life, and on his relationship with Fr. Giussani and the movement of Communion and Liberation. I wish only to give a simple witness.

Ecumenism. His ability to enter into a relationship with everyone testifies to the Cardinal’s tension toward intercepting every bit of truth to be found in whoever we meet. One who has encountered Christ cannot but have this ecumenical passion. I was struck by how the Cardinal responded to those who asked him what he considered to be the climax of Jesus’s life (the Sermon on the Mount, the Last Supper, or the prayer on the Mount of Olives): “No. The climax is the Resurrection, when He opens His tomb and appears to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary.” It is the certainty introduced by the resurrection of Christ that opens wide the gaze of the Christian.

The ancient term oikumene emphasizes that the Christian gaze vibrates with an impetus that renders it capable of exalting all the good that exists in all that one encounters, as Fr. Giussani reminded us: “Ecumenism is therefore not a generic tolerance, but a love for the truth that is present in anyone, even if only a fragment of it. Nothing is excluded from this positive embrace. If there is the tiniest bit of truth in something, I affirm it.” Only a tension like this can generate a true peace among men, and this, too, was a constant preoccupation of Cardinal Martini’s

Charity as sharing of needs. We must treasure this desire to intercept man’s need, which the Archbishop found throughout the journey of his life. The Church can never be indifferent to the questions and needs of human beings. These questions, which are also ours, are a challenge for us as believers, because only thus do we become aware that we have something in our experience to communicate to one who asks us the reason for our hope. This is the advantage of the present time for we believers: formal repetition of the truths of faith is not enough, as Benedict XVI continually reminds us. Others await the communication of our experience, not an abstract discourse, though it be neat and proper. As Paul VI told us: our age needs witnesses more than teachers. Only a witness can be a teacher. I am sure that Cardinal Martini, from Heaven, will accompany us in sharing the needs of men and in finding ways to respond that are equal to their questions.

Regarding the relationship with CL, Fr. Giussani always spoke of the paternity of Cardinal Martini, who had embraced and accepted a reality like CL in the diocese of Milan. In his heart as a pastor, there was always room for us. I remember Fr. Giussani’s gratitude when the Archbishop allowed him to open a chapel in one of the rooms of the movement headquarters in Milan, so that the Lord would always be present there.

from Cardinal Martini's funeral

And like Archbishop Montini, who initially confessed that he did not understand Fr. Giussani’s method, though he did see its fruits, Cardinal Martini also encouraged us to go forward. I am still moved by the words that he addressed to Fr. Giussani in 1995, during a meeting of priests, when he thanked “the Lord, who gave Msgr. Giussani this gift for continually re-expressing the core of Christianity. ‘Every time that you talk, you always return to this core, which is the Incarnation, and – in a thousand different ways – you propose it again.’”

And so it pains and saddens us if we did not always find the most adequate way to collaborate with his arduous mission, and if we have given a pretext for equivocal interpretations of our relationship with him, starting with myself. A relationship that never failed in obedience to the Bishop at all costs, as Fr. Giussani always witnessed to us.

I am sure that, together with Fr. Giussani, he will accompany us from Heaven in continually becoming that for which the Spirit generated, precisely in the Ambrosian Church, a charism like that of CL. The deaths of Cardinal Martini and Fr. Giussani constitute a reminder for all of us that, with a variety of sensibilities, we all have the Ambrosian Church at heart. It is my hope that we never tire of searching for that collaboration which is indispensable – especially today – to the mission of the Church, as the Cardinal said in 1991: “The ‘novelty’ of the so-called ‘new evangelization’ should not be sought in new techniques of announcement, but first of all in the rediscovered enthusiasm of feeling ourselves believers and in trust in the action of the Holy Spirit,” so as to “evangelize contagiously…from person to person.”

Julián Carrón
President of the Fraternity of CL

Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today we celebrate the birth of her who was immaculately conceived, that is, conceived in the normal way, but, by a unique and singular grace, preserved from the stain of original sin.

I readily admit that as a convert (of some twenty-three years now), while I did not have a difficult time accepting the Blessed Virgin's indispensable role in God's economy of salvation, I did have a hard time warming to her. As odd as it sounds, I am quite impatient in spiritual matters, which arises from my resistance to abandoning myself entirely to God's care (I have trust issues, I guess you could say- trust is really what the theological virtue of hope, which is the flower of faith, is all about). But now, I could not imagine not having recourse to our Blessed Mother's unfailing care and intercession, despite the fact that I can make no claim to be her most faithful son.

When people ask me to pray for them, typically there are six ways I do this

1) I pray Memorares to the Blessed Virgin for the particular intention
2) I pray for them during the intercessions of Morning and Evening Prayer
3) I include their intention in my Rosary intentions
4) I seek the intercession of a particular saint
5) When very urgent and serious illness or injury is the intention,
     I include them in the prayers of the faithful at Mass

Birth of the Virgin, Le Nain Brothers, c.1645, (Paris, Notre-Dame)

On 15 August the Church observes the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, then, a week later, the liturgical Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Hearkening back to another post from this past week, The Word of God seeks a listening heart, I once again set forth Hans Urs Von Balthasar's "Marian Principle," which seeks to encapsulate the reason that the Church exists, namely to be the sacrament (i.e., the visible and tangible sign) of God's infinite love in and for the world. Balthasar dubs this the "Marian principle" because with her fiat (i.e., "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word" Luke 1:38), the Blessed Virgin, paraphrasing Fr. Jordi Rivero, is the prototype of just the kind of love response required from the Church. Fr. Rivero notes that by referring to Mary as "the prototype," Balthasar saw her as "the first finished model of what all Christians should become." Von Balthasar writes: "Before men were placed into office, the whole Church was present in Mary." For this she was born, which is why observe this feast day of her birth.

Fr. Rivero summarizes Balthasar's Marian principle well: "This Marian total surrender of love to God is the essence of holiness. All dimensions of the Church, all structures and institutions, including the hierarchy are totally ordered to foster this holiness in her members. Mary is the point of reference. Where the Marian principle is central there is an authentic presence of the Church."

Like our Blessed Mother, God asks us four our "Yes!", too, which is also the reason we were born and redeemed.

This post on the Blessed Virgin's Nativity is the 2300 post here on Καθολικός διάκονος.

Friday, September 7, 2012

"Where, where would I go?"

I'm a little late with today's Friday traditio, the posting of which is the last remnant of the original title of this blog (i.e., Scott Dodge for Nobody), but c'est la vie, n'est pas?

As my diligent readers know, Fridays here at Καθολικός διάκονος are penitential in tone. Today's traditio is from what is likely to be REM's last studio album, the much underrated Collapse Into Now, which is an amazing album. What I mean by amazing is that is an album worthy of putting on your head phones, sitting and listening to.

Anyway, the particular song for today, the one struck a chord in me driving to work (and home) is "Walk It Back"- that I have loved since the album was released.

Time reversing me why/erasing me vice/and tried to start again

You, don't you turn this around/I have not touch the ground in/I don't know how long

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"you understand my thoughts from afar"

Last week, during my weekly catechesis session with my youngest daughter, I assigned her to write psalm loosely based on the first six verses of Psalm 139. Here is what she wrote:
God is the Greatest thing everywhere,
not one single thing can hold him, nor stop him.
He has put us to the top,
but we only lower ourselves by lowering others.
When we lower ourselves then we mustn't sit
and let our days go by
When we don't break others down,
we fly

The Word of God seeks a listening heart

As a convert to the Roman Catholic Church who became a somewhat reluctant cleric, I am still struck, almost 23 years after becoming Catholic, by how obsessively clerical Catholics often are. What I find even stranger is that this tendency is actually stronger among what I would identify as more liberal Catholics, or, to use Fr. Timothy Radcliffe’s less polemical term, “kingdom” Catholics, which he opposes to “communio” Catholics (with Radcliffe, I am convinced we need both). If Vatican II can be said to have clearly emphasized one thing, it is the universal call to holiness rooted in baptism. To my mind, Trent aside, this is the true and constructive response to the Protestant reformation. The lay state is not in any way inferior to the clerical state. Being a Christian is about serious engagement with the world, not beating a retreat to the safety of the sanctuary, or a deep desire to preach to the already converted.

While it is true that, unlike bishops, priests, and, to a lesser extent, deacons, lay Catholics don’t administer the sacraments (though in some circumstances lay people may baptize and, when licensed by their bishop, even witness marriages) their ministry is sacramental. If, at a fundamental level, a sacrament is a visible and tangible sign of Christ’s presence in and for the world, then by virtue of our baptism, we, in our very persons, are to be sacraments!

Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, states this rather clearly:
the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer (par. 31)
It seems that for many Catholics the fundamental sacrament is ordination instead of baptism. In his final interview, given shortly before his death, which has been graciously translated by Fr. Joe Komanchak, Cardinal Martini outlined three ways for renewal, for revival (revival is not only a Protestant word!), in the Church. Taking the least controversial of his three suggestions, he said, "Vatican II restored the Bible to Catholics. ... Only someone who receives this Word in his heart can be among those who will help the renewal of the Church and will know how to respond to personal questions wisely. The Word of God is simple and seeks as its companion a heart that is listening. ... Neither the clergy nor Church law can substitute for a person’s inwardness. All the external rules, the laws, the dogmas were given to us in order to clarify the inner voice and to discern spirits." How could any serious Christian, one who knows the Word of God, possibly disagree?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Marriage: a participation in the saving power of the covenant bond

A few years ago while on annual retreat with my brother deacons of my diocese and their wives, we had the tremendous privilege of having Fr. Ray Carey as our retreat master. In one of our conferences, Fr. Carey, who is a psychologist, said something in passing that struck me as quite true, namely that the Roman Catholic Church did not really have a theology of marriage until the Second Vatican Council.

The theology to which Fr. Carey referred was first articulated in the first chapter of the second part of Vatican II's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes (par. 47-52).

Wedding Feast at Cana, by Vladimir Grygorenko

The late Fr. Lawrence Boadt, a well-regarded Scripture scholar, stated what Fr. Carey only alluded to and did so succinctly and plainly in an article entitled "Scriptural Reflections on Marriage and Marital Love":
Since the Second Vatican Council, the Church's emphasis on marriage has been expressed much more in the spiritual categories of salvation, grace, and divine promise than in the language of legal contracts. By choosing the language of the Scriptures rather than canon law to redefine marriage, the Church avoids the appearance of stressing the need to merely hold on through the problems of married life and instead positively encourage couples to develop their relationship to Christ in order to turn difficulties into opportunities of loving concern and reject any indulgent self-love as the basis of their union. Through prayer, they may be assured that their marriage can survive and flourish, because it participates in the saving power of the covenant bond between God and Israel, Christ and the Church

Monday, September 3, 2012

"Marriage reveals the mysterious nature of God's love"

In preparation for taking and family and marriage counseling class this fall and putting together a preparation series for 4 couples in our parish who are planning to be married, I started to read a book I first acquired a few years ago, Roy Petitfils' What I Wish Someone Had Told me About the First Five Years of Marriage.

Something I read in the first chapter struck me, made me reflect on my own marriage, and was one of those moments when I see clearly, not that God is at work in my life, which is vague and abstract, but points me to how, in the words of Paula D'Arcy, "God comes to us disguised as our life."
None of us is perfect. We're all a mixed bag. Inside each of us coexists light and darkness, good and bad, grace and sin. Ideally, sacramental marriage is a safe place where we can be confronted on our "stuff." Left to our own natural devices, our first and only reaction would be to fortify our ego, stand our ground and be right. Grace enables a relationship to transcend our natural inclinations. Grace can transform what would otherwise be a convenient living arrangement into a sacred space where we feel safe enough to expose our brokenness and receive forgiveness.

Marriage is not for the faint of heart. It will call upon all of your existing resources and require you to find more. It requires courage to remain committed to a relationship when it seems easier to bail. On our own it would be a no-brainer. It would make sense to check out and disengage. But in a covenantal relationship we are not alone. God's spirit lives in and among us. A husband and wife can offer God's grace to one another like no other relationship can
Conversely, I would add, a husband and wife can remain selfish and deny God's grace to each other like no other relationship, except possibly the parent/child relationship (parent withholding grace from his/her child), giving the enemy, whose goal is to divide and throw us inward on ourselves, a foothold. Getting back to being mixed bags, for those of us who have been married for awhile, we've done both, which is why, in the words of Bishop Daniel Flores, the generosity of marital love, which is to be a visible and tangible sign of Christ's presence in and for world, thus revealing the mystery of Christ's love for His Bride, the Church, "shows itself in [the couple's] ability to forgive."

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The first factor in human development: life in Christ

Three years ago today, on the Communion & Liberation-focused blog I used to maintain, shortly after it was promulgated (29 June 2009), I posted an extract from Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical, Caritas in veritate, which translates as Charity in truth:

"In 1967, when he issued the Encyclical Populorum Progressio, my venerable predecessor Pope Paul VI illuminated the great theme of the development of peoples with the splendour of truth and the gentle light of Christ's charity. He taught that life in Christ is the first and principal factor of development and he entrusted us with the task of travelling the path of development with all our heart and all our intelligence, that is to say with the ardour of charity and the wisdom of truth. It is the primordial truth of God's love, grace bestowed upon us, that opens our lives to gift and makes it possible to hope for a 'development of the whole man and of all men', to hope for progress from less human conditions to those which are more human' obtained by overcoming the difficulties that are inevitably encountered along the way" (par. 8- emboldening and italicizing emphasis mine).

Allowing ourselves to be bound and limited

"Whoever closely observes reality, whoever trains themselves to notice the apparent 'strangeness' of many of its manifestations, knows that we allow ourselves to be limited and bound in our way of looking at 'natural or plausible' events, seeking in them exclusively that which appeals to our sense of realistic level-headedness. There is no division into 'strange' and 'natural' things. There is - if one absolutely insists - a division into 'common' and 'uncommon' things, things that are 'ordinary' and those that are 'difficult to grasp'" (Gustaw Herling from his short story The Silver Coffer).

Last night's blue moon

Something my friend Sharon put up on quaerere duem dovetails nicely with Herling's observation: "Negativity is glib. It fritters away ourselves, others, the matters of the world with its perceived lack, the dregs of failed manipulation. Whereas wonder, initiated in quiet, engages renewal and opens to an ultimate fulfillment."

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...