Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween

Of course, it would not be Halloween here at Καθολικός διάκονος without posting a version of the the late, great Warren Zevon singing "Werewolves of London"- this is "Werewolves of New Jersey," a shout out to all my beloved friends still reeling from Hurricane Sandy. I know in Jersey, Gov. Christie, who's not going to personally miss out on any candy, has designated Monday, 5 November as Halloween in that state this year. So, hey, if you haven't yet, make a donation to Red Cross, Catholic Relief Services, or any other organization that does great work helping those who need it.

With no further delay, Zevon from a 1982 performance in Passaic, New Jersey:

Have some fun and always remember, "if we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7).

A note of reform for Reformation Day

It is often overlooked that in addition to being Halloween (All Hallows Eve, or All Saints Eve), it is also Reformation Day. It was on 31 October 1517 that the Augustinian monk and Bible scholar Martin Luther, with whom I share a patron saint (St. Martin of Tours, whose liturgical memorial falls on my birthday, 11 November- Luther was born on 10 November 1483- this is why he was named Martin) nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenburg. There is some dispute as to the door of which Church he nailed his document, addressed to the local bishop and entitled Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum, which came to be known simply as "The Ninety-five Theses," but it is typically taken to be the Church of All Saints.

door of All Saints Church Wittenburg, Germany
In July 1520, Pope Leo X answered Luther's disputatio with the papal bull Exsurge Domine (i.e., Arise, Lord). It is no exaggeration to say that, at least in 1517, it was not Luther's intention to divide the Church, but work towards meaningful reform within the Church, which remains ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda until our Lord returns in glory. At least on my view, if the Council of Trent is the counter-Reformation Council, then the Second Vatican Council is the Reformation Council.

Today I read an interview on Zenit with His Eminence, Cardinal Koch, who is head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian unity, in which he discussed the possibility of a Lutheran Ordinariate, along the lines of the various Anglican Ordinariates now being established, like the one for the U.S., The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.

Towards the end of the interview, Cardinal Koch discusses Vatican II, or rather the proper way of interpreting the council. He refers to the Holy Father's tremendously important speech to the Roman Curia delivered in December of 2005, in which he spoke of a "'hermeneutic of reform', of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us." His Eminence said,
the Pope calls his interpretation of the Council not 'hermeneutics of continuity' but 'hermeneutics of reform.' It is a question of renewal in continuity. This is the difference: the progressives profess a hermeneutics of discontinuity and break. The traditionalists profess a hermeneutics of pure continuity: only that which is already noticeable in the Tradition can be Catholic doctrine, therefore, practically, there cannot be a renewal. Both see the Council equally as a break, even if in a very different way. The Holy Father has questioned this understanding of the conciliar hermeneutics of the break and proposed the hermeneutics of reform, which unites continuity and renewal

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

For those being pummeled by Sandy

I am praying for those affected by Hurricane Sandy. I have many friends who live in states on the Eastern seaboard. This is a picture taken in the aftermath of the fire in Queens caused by the storm. The fire destroyed 80 houses.

I am praying for the help of our Blessed Mother and the intercession of St. Medardus of Noyon, who is the patron saint of weather. He was a bishop who lived in France in the 5th and 6th centuries. The story is told that when he was a child Medardus was sheltered from heavy rains by the wings of an eagle that hovered over him.

We'll keep praying, especially as we come upon the holy days this week, All Saints and All Souls. So, to my friends and any affected by the storm who may read this, I pray not only that God blesses you and keeps you, but that through these circumstances draws you closer to Himself.


Seeing how your holy and powerful maternal intercessions and safe haven for the storm tossed, count us worthy of your prayers during this season of uncertain and threatening weather. Beg your divine human Son to grant us mercy, forgiveness, health, safety and salvation over the coming months. For He is sure to listen to you, His mother, the woman whom all generations call blessed. Amen.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Bonhoeffer and theology

We are not observing a Year of Faith this year to celebrate "faith." After all, one does not have faith in faith. The occasion and focus of this particular Year of Faith is the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, an amazing event in the life of the Church. So, the purpose of this year is to focus on the Council, to study, discuss, and seek to more fully and faithfully incorporate the documents of the Council in the life of the Church. Generically, of course, every year is a year of faith.

For some reason, the combination of the Year of Faith and Synod on the New Evangelization have put me in a very ecumenical state-of-mind, as my posts about the interventions of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican bishop of Sheffield, England indicates. Today I received in the mail my copy of Dr. Ferdinand Schlingensiepen's Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance. In the preface to his book Dr. Schingensiepen wrote something about Bonhoeffer that put me very much in mind of Good Pope John's rationale for calling Vatican II (the thought crossed my mind that it would've been most wonderful had Bonhoeffer lived long enough to participate in the Council as an ecumenical observer):

To be able to live, to act, and to die as Bonhoeffer did requires traits that even he did not inherit, but rather acquired in youth, in his parents' home and during his time at university: intellectual curiosity, an incorruptible sense of right and wrong, and the courage to make uncomfortable decisions with potentially dangerous consequences. In these ways Bonhoeffer is an example for others, and of interest even to people who no longer expect anything from the Church. However, they must be prepared - with intellectual curiosity of their own- to become engaged with what, for Bonhoeffer theology was. Bonhoeffer wanted to expose theology to the fresh air of modern thinking. He insisted that the message of the Church must always apply concretely to the reality of the world. Timeless truths he considered useless, for "what is always true is precisely what is not true today"
Of course, that last phrase requires a lot of unpacking, perhaps even a close reading of his Ethics. I think it also has something to do with the question about how something timeless can remain anything but an abstraction. In Christ, after all, eternity entered into time, thus bringing God not just near, but right in our midst ("and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" John 1:14a- which literally means "tents among us").

It strikes me that it was fresh air Bonhoeffer, and to a greater extent, Karl Barth, who engaged in the same struggle, brought to Protestant Christians through their critique of the stale style of dogmatics formulated by Bonhoeffer's professor Adolf von Harnack and others, which, it seems to me, was a factor in them acting courageously.

A confused response to being culturally struck

Recently there have been a number of "things" I have encountered that have struck me in such a way as to make it virtually impossible for me to synthesize and so make something coherent out of them. Besides, I don't really have the time I used to have to write. As a result, I will limit myself to two of these encounters and see where that leads.

Hans Urs Von Balthasar meets Mickey Mouse

The first is an installment of Martha Gill's "Irrational Animals" column, which she writes for the U.K.'s New Statesman. Her post, entitled "How God corrupts creatures great and small: Only Mitchell and Webb's Bad Vicar can save them".

The second cultural artifact (how's that as a substitute for "thing"?) is Béla Tarr's 2011 film The Turin Horse, also known as Nietzsche's Horse.

In seeking commentary about Tarr's movie, I came across a post by blogger Katie Smith, who captures what she aptly describes as "the heart" of the film by posting a monologue that gives great insight into what Tarr is trying to show.

This gets at the heart of Nietzsche's critique of Christianity, with which Balthasar, whose doctoral dissertation, which was not in theology and was entitled Apokalypse der deutschen Seele (i.e., Apocalypse of the German Soul), was quite sympathetic.

Speaking about how everything is in ruins, Tarr has one of his characters, Bernard, say, "it’s about man’s own judgement over his own self, which of course God has a hand in, or dare I say: takes part in. And whatever he takes part in is the most ghastly creation that you can imagine." While Gill highlights "[t]he skewing effect of a compassionate God can be seen even on lower, pettier levels. In exams, students who believe in a forgiving deity are far more likely to cheat, and in lab studies, Christian participants who spend ten minutes writing about God’s merciful nature showed increased levels of petty theft when assigned a money-based task afterwards. More recently, a comprehensive study found that crime rates are significantly higher in places where people believe in divine redemption."

I would reference Gill's remarks to the writings of Peter Hitchens, whose adult conversion to Christianity began with a memorable viewing of Roger van der Weyden's Last Judgment painting.

I can't leave you wondering about the Bad Vicar...

The bottom line is, people like the Bad Vicar aside, orthodox Christianity really doesn't have a lot trouble reconciling these things. Too often in contemporary discourse we consider these issues in isolation. Nietzsche did not do this because he possessed the learning necessary to comprehensibly engage such large matters.

When it comes to religious belief, no matter the kind of theism is being considered, there is a tendency to philosophically short-circuit these issues. Gill does this when she writes that "Religious morality is not quite like other kinds of morality, because instead of consulting your sense of right and wrong, you’re consulting the moral sense of an invisible being who takes sides depending on who believes in him the hardest." This is certainly not a fair statement about Christian morality. This is what make the Bad Vicar's comically un-pastoral harangue ring with no small amount of truth.

UPDATED: Disruption and societal deconstruction

This morning while looking at my Facebook newsfeed (makes me sound very tech savvy, does it not?), I saw an article posted by one of my many insightful friends, Sharon. Her tumblr blog quaerere deum is really stunning. She daily demonstrates that a picture is not worth merely a million words, but can move us beyond words. When she resorts to words she posts only that which is worth reading and considering. The article she pointed me to, entitled "Travis Shrugged," by Paul Carr, is short, but no less profound for its brevity.

In his short piece, Carr goes some short distance towards explaining why so many people, especially fairly young, well-educated people, develop what I can only describe as a kind of solipsistic libertarianism. The broad features of this view strike me as economic Darwinism, and being societally atomic (i.e., individualistic), failing to grasp the inevitably interpersonal nature of human society and so leading to a kind of dystopia (i.e., how does letting X do A affect Y?)- a kind of socially destructive utilitarianism.

I certainly don't want to co-opt Carr for my own purposes, but reading his article, especially his description of the purpose of legislative regulation (i.e., "Laws don’t exist merely to frustrate the business ambitions of coastal hipsters: They also exist to protect the more vulnerable members of society"), brought to mind the fact, even the memory of which is rapidly fading, that at the root of Western civilization, what makes it identifiable as a single entity (i.e., "Western civilization"), is Christianity, which, among other things, affirms that we are each others keepers.

On a practical, even political level, this makes it important to identify those who hold or run for office who are willing to do the bidding of these folks, who can't have the common good in mind because, much like Heidegger's view of human nature, they don't see the common good as real, let alone binding. On their view, society is best served by everyone doing what is best for one's self and not worrying about how that might impact the other, the whole.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which, citing Vatican II's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes (paragraphs 26 & 71), defines the common good as "the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily," also states that "In keeping with the social nature of man, the good of each individual is necessarily related to the common good, which in turn can be defined only in reference to the human person:

"'Do not live entirely isolated, having retreated into yourselves, as if you were already justified, but gather instead to seek the common good together'" (par. 1905).

Along these lines, it is not insignificant that Rand's most famous and influential follower ever is Alan Greenspan.

Concerning altruism, Carr points out that Rand wrote "the issue is whether the need of others is the first mortgage on your life and the moral purpose of your existence." In her ideological novel Atlas Shrugged, Rand famously wrote: "I swear by my life, and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine." It's short step from there to Gordon Geckko's insistence
Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures, the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind and greed...
In Christian theology, of course, we do not call such an approach to life altruistic, but properly "Christian," characterized by selfless love, agapé, caritas, even kenosis, or self-emptying. We are only disciples of the Carpenter from Nazareth to the extent that we live an other-centered life.

The article concludes with a recognition that responding to this emerging state-of-affairs in a truly human manner is not easy:
I’ve written before that to be truly disruptive (small ‘d’) the startups must have a moral dimension, even when that jars with the pursuit of profit. It’s just hypocritical for me to argue that on one hand while sidestepping those same ethical choices myself. And so, as of about ten minutes ago, the Uber app has taken its place in the dustbin of services I’ll just have to live without, at least while the company’s founder continues to celebrate the ugliest face of capitalism
Carr's honesty is refreshing, recognizing, as he does, how easy it is to be complicit in all of this (the digital age variant of North/South polarization). He is quite correct, at least on my view, to describe this in his subtitle as "The creepy, dangerous ideology behind Silicon Valley’s Cult of Disruption" and not just because Halloween is almost here.

UPDATE: A friend, who is also a brother deacon, someone whose intelligence and judgment I trust, and who works in the tech industry, informs me that "disruption theory" as applied to business is not necessarily underpinned by Rand's Objectivist philosophy and so does not inevitably lead to the kinds of things Carr writes about with regard to Uber. I certainly claim no extensive expertise in any kind of business theory. Nonetheless, I do find myself wondering what effect this particular business model has on things such as labor. It is important to point out that that is not really the focus of my post, which is, rather, the attraction of Objectivist philosophy in a society and culture in the throes of not only losing any memory of its Christian foundations, but losing any transcendent understanding of the human person altogether, keeping in mind that, being the personalist I am, one person is no person.

Friday, October 26, 2012

"'Ere thrice the sun done salutation to the dawn'"

Since it's the Friday before All Hallows Eve, the first of our annual 3-day Fall festival, The Smith's "Cemetry Gates" is our Friday traditio.

I was going to see Morrissey on my birthday, but my plans fell through, which means always go with your original plans and don't ever double-clutch, things sounding great usually turn out terribly, or not at all, as Morrissey would no doubt tell you. Don't ever confuse optimism for hope or pessimism for despair. Optimism usually being the cause of me feeling hopeless.

They were born/And then they lived/And then they died/It seems so unfair/I want to cry

Morrissey's recent appearance on Colbert, was, well, interesting, which is what he brings to the table...

Suffice it to say there is much about which he and I would disagree, but I find him interesting, that is, not boring and I still love his music after all these years.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Kateri Tekawitha: In her, faith and culture enrich each other

Along with 6 others, Kateri Tekawitha was raised to the altar today by none other than the Holy Father himself. Kateri was a member of the Mohawk nation. She was baptized when she was 20 years old. She died at age 24. From the time of her baptism until her death, she worked at St. Francis Xavier Mission near Montréal, Canada.

It is precisely because Christ seeks to make us who God created and redeemed us to be that the only way we can really follow Him, be His disciples, is to be fully ourselves, which is why in his homily at today's Canonization Mass, BXVI said,
Kateri impresses us by the action of grace in her life in spite of the absence of external help and by the courage of her vocation, so unusual in her culture. In her, faith and culture enrich each other! May her example help us to live where we are, loving Jesus without denying who we are. Saint Kateri, Protectress of Canada and the first native American saint, we entrust to you the renewal of the faith in the first nations and in all of North America! May God bless the first nations!
Too often we make mistake being faithful to conforming ourselves to a faulty idea of what it means to be holy. Despite all of the cookie-cutter hagiographies of yesteryear, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more diverse group of people than the saints.

St. Kateri Tekawitha, pray for us!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Deacons: called, ordained, and sent to serve

Today marks only the third time in more than 6 years of blogging that Καθολικός διάκονος features a guest blogger. Our guest today is Deacon Norbert Wethington, Ph.D, a dear friend, who serves in the Diocese of Toledo, Ohio, the parish of St. Joseph in Fremont, a community he serves as Pastoral Associate. Dcn Norb is also deeply involved in diaconal formation in his diocese.

This week I made much of the fact that at the Synod of Bishops meeting in Rome to discuss the New Evangelization, it took an Anglican bishop, Dr. Steven Croft of Sheffield, England, to mention deacons as evangelists. Dcn Norb in his homily, which he will preach at this evening's vigil Mass, does a great job of turning theory into practice, making what can all too easily remain abstract concrete when it comes to just how deacons serve, that is, exercise diakonia, which, as Dr. Croft noted, is the theological root of evangelization, the ministry of deacons being "listening, loving service, and being sent on behalf of the Church." _______________________________________________________________________________

My story today goes back about ten years.

Summer was rapidly approaching and our Diocese had developed some urgency about recruiting qualified men to become a part of a new Deacons Class that was to be starting in the following Fall. The problem was, they had the applicants . . . and the interest. . . but most of those names they did have on file needed a “Prep School” – a crash course “Prep School.”
So a sense of urgency was created;
Mercy College in Toledo volunteered to provide the classroom space;
and instructors were lined up for the week-long program.
And, YES, it would be in the daytime . . . and, YES, interested applicants might have to take some time off from work to attend.

Much to everyone’s surprise and delight, well over thirty men signed up for this very intense series.

I had been tapped to do a 12 hour long block on Church History . . . BUT . . . this block also had to include a strong emphasis on how deacons flourished in our church throughout the almost 2,000 years that Christianity has ministered to the wider world.

In my opening remarks, I introduced my topic by talking about the fact that historically Deacons were ministers of service to the people of God.

The Book of Acts, for example, describes how the very first deacons were empowered to minister to the disenfranchised Greek widows of their era.

The history of the medieval church describes deacons as the almsgivers –- making sure the sick were taken care of, making the hungry were fed and making sure the homeless were housed.

Then, I reminded my class that these guys worked in the background . . .

. . .and this ministry to the poor . . . the disenfranchised . . . the marginalized . . . was done in such quiet ways that 99%+ of the everyday lay-folks in those moments of history simply did not even realize what was going on.

Finally, I jumped to late-twentieth century Northwest Ohio:
--I told them about one area deacon who, even now in 2012, ten years after my talk at Mercy College -– toils without any recognition as the Port Chaplain of the Port of Toledo. He meets every foreign merchant ship as they dock, helps the crew take care of personal issues, provides for their religious needs by making sure they got rides to their own houses of worship, or connects with local residents with roots in their home countries; provides books for their ship’s library and even gives each of those sailors simple gifts from Toledo before they depart.

--I told them about a second deacon, now gone to his eternal reward, who during the worst of the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua ten years before that class, spent a great deal of his time working with un-documented immigrants who had fled Central America in absolute fear of their lives and were now living in our area. He was taking care of their food and shelter needs while others were working on the legal issues of political asylum.

--and lastly, I told them about a classmate of mine, a World War II veteran, who with his wife had a special ministry to the street people in Toledo: the homeless and the hungry . . . to pimps and prostitutes alike . . . spending most of his time walking the streets and finding those folks who actually hide in plain sight
and getting them connected to the help they need. The point I was making -- the same point that Jesus makes in today’s Gospel -- is that while personal ambition is the worst enemy for all sorts of pastoral ministers -- lay or clerical -- it is especially dangerous for deacons.

Deacons become great in the eyes of their God by ministering to the invisible -- ministering to the folks that society –- and maybe even some of its leaders -- dismiss as unimportant and meaningless and not worth worrying about.

At my first break, I got my expected reaction.

One of the guys in the class – whose size and “Type A” personality reminded me of a former professional football player –- came up to challenge me.

He accused me of being a “socialist” and even – far more dangerous in his eyes – a puppet for some political party or another.

        --No one in the Church had a right to tell him how to spend his money;
        --No one in the Church had a right to tell him who to associate with
            . . . at whichever Country Club he was a member;
        --No one in the Church had a right to tell him where to worship his God.

The rant went on for a good five minutes.

Finally, when he got it out of his system and managed to take a deep breath. . .

I said simply: “Deacons – you have to realize -- are ordained for service to a God who washes feet !.”

He walked away. The look on his face was one of amazed contempt.


For a moment, let’s break away from this story and go back to the Gospel reading we used last Sunday:
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God!”
The disciples were shocked by his words. So Jesus again said to them in reply, “Children . . . It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”

Now, with that second scripture passage in mind, here is how my story-line for today finally ends up.

Deacon Norb Wethington, Ph.D.

My challenger . . . obviously . . . did not finish that class on Church History and . . . thus . . . dropped–out of that “crash” program to become a deacon.

Becoming a deacon did not seem to be important to him anymore. In fact, he wanted no part of it at all – perhaps it was far too threatening to the values that he held.

But the story does continue. Less than three years after that summer school I just described, my challenger died at a surprisingly young age.

When I read his obituary in the Toledo Blade, I found out some amazing things about him that I did not know . . . but probably should have suspected:
--As young as he was, he was an extraordinarily wealthy businessman whose name –- at that time -- was well known in northwest Toledo from Franklin Park Mall all the way out to Sylvania Township.

--He was very used to getting his own way and was not afraid to use his wealth as a source of his power.

--He apparently had been very involved in one of those smaller Toledo area Polish ethnic parishes that Bishop Blair closed at the same time that Saint Casimir’s locally was closed.

--Thus . . . I have every reason to believe . . . that his opposition to Bishop Blair’s decision –- over ten years ago now -- was very loud and very noisy and very VERY obnoxious.
You know, folks, there is a God out there who has the power to look after all of us. God does all that by using human tools.

Deacons are a part of God’s cosmic tool-box. From day one, deacon candidates are taught that in their formation program.

I have to wonder whether . . . when my former student did check-in with St. Peter a few years back now . . . the response might not have been something like this:

“My friend, let me remind you -- there is only one God ! And you ain’t it!”

You know, somehow, it seems to me that this would be a good teaching for all of the leadership in our church – whether we are the Pope, OR Bishops, OR Priests, OR Deacons, OR Religious Sisters, OR lay-folk. . . .

A teaching –- squeezed out of today’s Gospel -- to take really REALLY seriously!

“There is only one God ! And you ain’t it!”

Friday, October 19, 2012

Forgiveness is the ministry of all Christians

I apologize up-front for once again imposing what I am currently reading on both of my readers, but it's not possible for me to refrain from so doing when reading a really good book, like Fr. Radcliffe's new one (mentioned in my previous post). I teach about and encourage people to go to confession quite often. Of all the things Catholics do, going to confession is the most fascinating and probably the most scary. But going to confession is not scary, not in the least.

A few years ago, while preparing to teach on confession, it struck me that we don't go to confession to find whether or not God will forgive us. We go to confession in the confidence that, in and through Jesus Christ, we are always already forgiven. The natural response to this is, "If I'm already forgiven, then why go?" You go to realize, that is, make real that fact, to have an objective, first-hand experience of God's forgiveness. An -ology is "the study of" something (i.e., theology is the study of God, has God as its object), whereas an -urgy is something you do. As with all the sacraments, the sacrament of penance, or reconciliation (i.e., confession) is a simple liturgy. It's how we not only enact, but experience not what we believe, but Who we put our trust in.

I was very struck by how Friar Timothy describes forgiveness and how we experience it in confession. After describing how it "works," he writes that "It belongs to the priesthood of every Christian to forgive."

Forgiveness is not the scrubbing out of our sins, pretending that they never happened. Forgiveness is a blessing through which even our failures are taken up into God's grace and become part of our way to God
He also notes, "The priest offers this blessing on behalf of the whole community" because "[w]e cannot all crowd into the room, and so someone is ordained to represent the whole Body of Christ."

It is important also to note that someone is not only ordained to "represent" the rest of the Church, but to serve everybody else "re-presenting" Christ. The word "minister" means one who serves. Just as we Catholics tend to fixate on the priest acting in persona Christi and "confecting" the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the bread and wine to the exclusion of the other two ways that Christ is equally really and truly present in each Mass (i.e., in the gathering of the baptized and in the proclamation of the Word), we tend to forget what Fr. Radcliffe wonderfully notes here, something equally important, namely that the priest also acts in persona ecclesiae (i.e., in the person of the Church, the ekklesia). The Prayer of Absolution shows us this quite clearly:

God, the Father of mercies,
through the death and resurrection of His Son
has reconciled the world to Himself
and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins;
through the ministry of the Church
may God give you pardon and peace,
and I absolve you from your sins
in the name of the Father, and of the Son, +
and of the Holy Spirit.

(underlining and emboldening emphasis mine)

Life-giving water; giving water for life

Just like last Friday, I am feeling a burn for justice today. This burn, I am unashamed to say, was sparked by reading yet another very good book, the latest by Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, OP, Take the Plunge: Living Baptism and Confirmation, with a little fuel added by listening to Robert Griffo's personal tale, which he told to StoryCorps and that aired on NPR's Morning Edition today (click either link to hear it- go on, it's short!)- it seemed like symmetry to me that NPR named Griffo's story "'Black Monday' Plunge: From 'High Life' To Street Life."

Because he is writing about baptism throughout most of the book (despite our best efforts over the past century, it makes no sense to discuss confirmation apart from baptism), he can't help but write about water, which forces me to move from burning to thirsting. One of the biggest problems in the world today is access to suitably clean water. What I have offer is an excerpt from Fr. Radcliffe's book.

After observing with regard to account of the fall and expulsion from the garden in Genesis 3 that "those first gardeners failed and were thrust out of the garden," he writes,

The sign of our alienation is that the ground became sterile and brought forth thorns and thistles. But when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son Isaac, and so destroy the fruit of his loins, he found a ram caught in a thorn bush. According to Jewish tradition it was in a thorn bush, burning but not consumed, that Moses encountered the living God and the summons to journey to the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey. Finally the one who would free the land from sterility and bring the springtime of grace, carries on his head a crown of thorns. So it is in this symbol of the badlands, weeds that are neither beautiful nor useful that we find the promise of a new fertility. It is fitting that when, on Easter morning, Mary Magdalene comes looking for the corpse of of the one whom she loves, she meets someone she mistakes for a gardener
It is little known that one of the main points of contention between Turkey and Syria is the water of the Euphrates River, which, as Radcliffe also notes, along with the Tigris and the Nile, also sources of political dispute, is one of the great rivers according to biblical geography. Consider this fact conveyed by Friar Timothy: as of 2007 "the average amount of water used daily by one person living in Ethiopia, Somalia, Eriteria, Djibouti, Gambia, Mali, Mozambique, Tanzania, or Uganda equals that used by someone in a developed country brushing his or her teeth with the tap running."

While "the right to private property is not absolute and unconditional," (Populorum Progresso par. 23), at least according to Catholic social teaching, "the right to safe drinking water is a universal and inalienable right" (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church par. 485).

According to St. John's account of Jesus' crucifixion, our Lord's penultimate words were, "I thirst" (John 19:28). Many times Jesus commends those who, in the hot desert climate of the Holy Land, offer a drink of water to one who thirsts, telling His disciples that those who offer them a drink "will surely not lose his reward" (Mark 9:41). Among the corporal works of mercy is giving the thirsty a drink.

Math, physics, music, Vijay Iyer

Our traditio for this Friday that finds autumn in full swing here along the Wasatch Front is the Vijay Iyer Trio playing "questions of agency."

You've never heard of Vijay? Check out his recent Bullseye interview, or his new album Accelerando.

To get an idea of where Vijay is coming from, you can you read the article he wrote for the U.K.'s Guardian, which was published almost exactly two years ago, "Strength in numbers: How Fibonacci taught us how to swing." Here is an excerpt: "Fibonacci was a 13th-century Italian mathematician who brought the Indian-Arabic number system to Europe. He also wrote about this set of numbers that now bears his name. I became intrigued by these numbers some years ago, and have used them to structure much of my work ever since.

"The Fibonacci sequence begins: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144 and continues from there. Each number in the sequence is the sum of the previous two numbers, and it continues ad infinitum. If you look at the ratios of two successive Fibonacci numbers, and keep going up the sequence, you get: 1, 2, 1.5, 1.667, 1.6, 1.625, 1.615, 1.619, 1.618 … As you go up the sequence, this ratio gets closer and closer to a famous irrational number called the "golden ratio": 1.6180339887."

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Deacons are evangelists

As a follow-up to John Allen’s observation that at the Synod on the New Evangelization currently being held in Rome nothing had been said about the role and ministry of permanent deacons, who Bl. Pope John Paul II, the man who called for the New Evangelization, identified as “apostles of the New Evangelization," I want to note that this changed today. In his intervention at the Synod, Dr. Steven Croft, Anglican bishop of the Diocese of Sheffield, England, a man whose entire life as a Christian minister has been dedicated to mission and evangelization, commented on the role of deacons in evangelization, seeing them, as did JPII, as ideal evangelists, working side-by-side with lay evangelists, taking the Gospel to the streets, in a manner of speaking: “This process of going and listening and serving and forming new communities requires particular gifts. In the Church of England we have named this cluster of gifts ‘pioneer ministry’. We have recognized pioneer ministry as a focus of both lay and ordained ministry in our Church. Pioneer ministry is rooted theologically in diakonia and the ministry of deacons: listening, loving service, and being sent on behalf of the Church.”

Dr. Croft, who is the author of many books on mission and evangelization, in addition to a lovely novel about the meaning of Advent, The Advent Calendar, also located evangelism in discipleship saying, “new evangelization calls for a clear vision of what it means to be a disciple. The new evangelization is a call to whole life discipleship: an invitation to follow Christ for the whole length of our lives, with every part of our lives, and into wholeness and abundance of that life.”

St. Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch

Going all way back to the seven men who are considered the Church’s first deacons, evangelism has been, as Bp. Steven observed, “rooted theologically in diakonia.” It is interesting to note that St. Philip, on whose liturgical memorial, 11 October, the Second Vatican Council and our current year of faith, which marks the 50th anniversary of that momentous occasion, began, was among the first to preach the Gospel outside of Jerusalem, preaching in Samaria. Then there is, of course, his encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch, after which encounter we are told, “Philip came to Azotus, and went about proclaiming the good news to all the towns until he reached Caesarea” (Acts 8).

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Deacons are among the new evangelists

John Allen, the intrepid Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, noted that at the Synod on the New Evangelization currently being held in Rome the role of deacons has not even been broached in any of the interventions. In light of today's anniversary, here is what Bl. Pope John Paul II said about deacons and the New Evangelization, in a speech he gave during the Jubilee Year in 2000, which Allen mentioned in his post:

"Dear deacons, be active apostles of the new evangelization. Lead everyone to Christ! Through your efforts, may his kingdom also spread in your family, in your workplace, in the parish, in the Diocese, in the whole world!

St. Laurence, deacon

"This mission, at least in intention and zeal, must stir the hearts of sacred ministers and spur them to the total gift of themselves. Let nothing stop you, but persevere in fidelity to Christ, following the example of the deacon Laurence whose revered and celebrated relic you have wished to bring here for this occasion.

"In our times too there are people whom God calls to the martyrdom of blood; far more numerous, however, are those believers who must endure the 'martyrdom' of misunderstanding. Do not be upset by problems and conflicts but, on the contrary, have ever greater trust in Jesus who redeemed humanity through the martyrdom of the Cross."

Bl Pope JPII we still miss you

Thirty-four years ago today Karol Józef Wojtyła became 264th Bishop of Rome. It was an amazing day, which led to an amazing 27 years:

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Year B Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Wis. 7:7-11; Ps. 90:12-17; Heb. 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-30

In today’s Gospel Jesus says, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25). Rather than waste our time trying to water down what Jesus says by grasping at straws, like erroneously insisting that Jesus here is referring to a fairly narrow gate found in the wall of ancient Middle Eastern cities (He is not; He is referring to an actual needle, the ancient equivalent of the kind we hold between our thumb and forefinger as we try to thread it- this is why it is literally impossible for a camel to pass through), we need to make an attempt deal with the full force of His challenging words in light of our present circumstances. Doing this is the only way we experience what the inspired author of the Letter to the Hebrews tells about the “word of God” being “living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).

Today‘s Gospel highlights Jesus’ continued proclamation of the kingdom of God. In case it hasn’t yet dawned on you, God’s kingdom isn’t at all what you and I expect, which just shows us how at odds our hearts usually are with God’s purpose. Perhaps the most salient feature of God’s kingdom, at least according to Jesus, is that those who smugly think they are in will be out and many who think they are out will be in.

In light of today’s Gospel we see that entrance into God’s kingdom is not first and foremost a matter of keeping the rules, which is not to say that observing the commandments is unimportant, but does take a dim view of keeping them for merely selfish reasons. As He usually does, Jesus invites us to go deeper, beyond the externals of observance, to the heart of the matter, to look at our own hearts and ask ourselves why these things are important enough for us to do, or not to do, as the case may be. Note that Jesus does not rebuke the rich man, who asks Him the only question that really matters, for observing the commandments as Jesus Himself sets them forth. He simply tells the man that there is something he still lacks, namely total commitment to loving God with all his heart, might, mind, and strength and loving his neighbor as himself.

There is something easy to miss in the rich man’s encounter with Jesus, which took a friend pointing it out for me to grasp it. He begins by calling Jesus “Good teacher” (Mark 10:17b). Jesus responds with the question, “Why do you call me good?” (Mark 10:18), indicating that perhaps, just perhaps, the man is seeking to affirm, or maybe even to flatter Jesus, in the hope that Jesus will, in turn, affirm him, not only his righteousness (“Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth” [Mark 10:20], he says in response to Jesus’ exhortation to keep the commandments), but his righteous desire, something Jesus steadfastly refuses to do. Instead, Jesus, looking on him lovingly, ups the ante, calling him to self-sacrifice, to self-forgetfulness, which causes the rich man’s face to fall and also results in him going “away sad” (Mark 10:22). Lest we take too negative a view of either the rich man, or his encounter with Jesus, his fallen and face and his sadness show that Jesus struck a chord in him, a beautiful note that lures him away from self-absorption and self-righteousness, seeking to place his feet on the narrow path to God’s kingdom. Jesus blessed him with uncertainty and inquietude. By upping the ante, Jesus sought to turn the rich man outward, helping him become less self-conscious, less self-absorbed, to leave all and join the community of disciples.

As Dr. Rowan Williams, who serves as Archbishop of Canterbury, noted in his intervention last week at the Synod on the New Evangelization being held in Rome, “The enemy of all proclamation of the Gospel is self-consciousness, and, by definition, we cannot overcome this by being more self-conscious.” This prompts a reflection for us who would be followers of Jesus, “Do we look anxiously to the problems of our day, the varieties of unfaithfulness or of threat to faith and morals, the weakness of the institution? Or are we seeking to look to Jesus, to the unveiled face of God’s image in the light of which we see the image further reflected in ourselves and our neighbors?” (Archbishop’s address to the Synod of Bishops in Rome).

The great Jesuit theologian, Henri de Lubac, whom Dr. Williams cited in his speech, wrote in a book of aphorisms entitled Paradoxes of Faith, “He who will best answer the needs of his time will be someone who will not have first sought to answer them.” This observation points us back to Jesus’ words with which He begins His ministry at the beginning of St. Mark’s Gospel: “Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15b). It is important that He does not say, “Believe and repent,” but “repent and believe.” De Lubac also insisted “[t]he man who seeks sincerity, instead of seeking truth in self-forgetfulness, is like the man who seeks to be detached instead of laying himself open in love.”

These reflections prompted by Sacred Scripture, it seems to me, are especially important, not only politically, due to the fact that this year is an election year, but moreover because Bishop Wester has asked us to consider, as individuals, as families, as a parish, and as a diocese, what it means to be good stewards of the many gifts God gives us and to prayerfully and thoughtfully discern ways we can become better stewards, responding to Jesus’ call to give sacrificially. As we do this let’s keep in mind these oft-repeated words from the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, who dramatically renounced his wealth by stripping naked in the town square, “it is in giving that we receive.”

The pillars of the Year of Faith, which we began this past Thursday, are to profess, to celebrate, and give witness to our faith in Jesus Christ. Stewardship, which is really a name for figuring out the practicalities of being witnesses, is the loving, self-forgetting response to Jesus’ challenge in today’s Gospel, which can be elicited, but never coerced. As Mother Teresa said, “Faith in action is love and love in action is service.” Expanding on this a bit, another name for “service” is diakonia, which is not so much an institutional office at the lower end of the hierarchy (Lumen Gentium, par. 29) as it is the way to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

After hearing Jesus say that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person enter the kingdom of God, the disciples, absorbing the full impact of these words, which also included this statement- “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:24) - they asked Him, “Then who can be saved?” (Mark 10:26). Jesus, who is the embodiment of both hope and wisdom, reassured them by saying, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God” (Mark 10:27), indicating that nobody, rich or poor, is automatically precluded from God’s kingdom.

In contrast to the rich man who went away sad because Jesus told him to give away everything he had to the poor and become a disciple, Peter points out that he and his fellow disciples have voluntarily left everything to follow Jesus. The Lord commends them for, in the words of our reading from Wisdom, deeming riches as nothing when compared to Wisdom, for seeing “all gold” as “a bit of sand” and “silver as mire” when compared to following and knowing Him (Wis. 7:9). This is perhaps best articulated by St. Paul in his Letter to the Philippians, who wrote that he considered “everything as a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus…” (Phil. 3:8- NIV).

Jesus assures them and us that those who are persecuted and who “give up, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands” for His sake and for the sake of the Gospel will be blessed now and have “eternal life in the age to come,” before telling them that in God’s kingdom “many that are first will be last, and [the] last will be first” (Mark 10:30-31).

Friday, October 12, 2012

Homiletic outtakes: Economic injustice

I was able to begin preparing early for preach this Sunday. Consequently, I gathered a lot of material and made one start before deciding, with the help of a friend, to take a slightly different approach to the readings. Initially I planned to preach something close to Part II of my last homily, which I preached the Sunday before last, the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings for this Sunday, which will be the Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time are Wis. 7:7-11; Ps. 90:12-17; Heb. 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-30. Below is the outtake:

In our Gospel two Sundays ago we heard Jesus engage in hyperbole, telling His listeners that it is better to cut off body parts that cause them to sin than for them to be cast into hell physically whole. By way of a reminder, hyperbole is a rhetorical device in which the speaker makes an extravagant statement that is not intended to be taken literally in order to make an important point. One example of hyperbole is to say to someone who has kept you waiting a long time, “I’ve been waiting for you forever!” The point being made by way of exaggeration is, “You’re late!”

On that same Sunday, I mentioned that one of the most vexing realities we face today, both nationally and globally, is the growing wealth gap, the concentration of more and more wealth into the hands of fewer and fewer people. Many economists, including Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, who recently wrote an entire book about this issue, The Price of Inequality, seek to demonstrate how this growing inequality is destabilizing economically and, as a consequence, politically, as the international Occupy movement and other protests show. In a recent National Journal article, “Inequality and Its Perils,” economic journalist Jonathan Rauch gives several examples of the destabilizing effect of this disparity, one of which highlights how it became a major contributing cause to the global economic crisis that began almost four years ago:
Of every dollar of real income growth that was generated between 1976 and 2007… “58 cents went to the top 1 percent of households.” In other words, for decades, more than half of the increase in the country’s GDP poured into the bank accounts of the richest Americans, who needed liquid investments in which to put their additional wealth. Their appetite for new investment vehicles fueled a surge in what [one economist] calls “financial engineering”—the concoction of exotic financial instruments, which acted on the financial sector like steroids
It appears that financial instruments were devised and invested in explicitly contrary to the common good, solely for the private gain of a few, then the losses were socialized, that is, paid for by everyone. Sharing Rauch’s article with a few friends prompted a Jesuit friend to quip, “if your financial instrument causes you to sin, cut it off”!

Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in a recent article for the Financial Times, memorably described the frustration expressed in and through the Occupy protests, while noting its vague and impractical nature, as figuring out “how to square the circle of public interest and protest.” In his article, Dr. Williams sees some of the answers in a document issued last year by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace that begins with this “Presupposition,” citing Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes (par. 34):
Every individual and every community shares in promoting and preserving the common good. To be faithful to their ethical and religious vocation, communities of believers should take the lead in asking whether the human family has adequate means at its disposal to achieve the global common good. The Church for her part is called to encourage in everyone without distinction, the desire to join in the “monumental amount of individual and collective effort” which men and women have made “throughout the course of the centuries ... to better the circumstances of their lives…”

Then, just today, the Economist posted an article from the current print edition, "Inequality and the world economy," which seeks to address this issue objectively and constructively.

"You've been trying to reach me"

I just recently discovered a very good band from the U.K., Bloc Party (I am not as quick on the up-take as I used to be when it comes to these things). For the past week or so I have really been enjoying their music, which is why their song "Modern Love" is our Friday traditio today. To be honest, one of the main reasons Bloc Party's music really resonates with me is that they remind me more than a little of Joy Division.

To be lost in the forest/To be cut adrift/You've been trying to reach me/You bought me a book/To be lost in the forest/To be cut adrift

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Year of Faith

Fifty years ago today, amidst great excitement and anticipation, Bl. Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, which he called for on 25 January 1959, during a visit to the basilica of St. Paul-Outside-the Walls in Rome on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul (I was ordained on 24 January 2004, the day before this feast. My fellows ordinands and I likely would've been ordained on 25 January, but it fell on a Sunday that year. 25 January is also the date on which the man who ordained me, Archbishop George Niederauer, was himself a ordained a bishop). So, the Council was more than three years in the making.

Pope John's speech was historic, to match the occasion. It is a pleasure to post it in its entirety. So, if you have never read, please read it. It won't take too long. It will give you a sense of the great hope the Council represented. It contains what I think is the true spirit of Vatican II. ______________________________________________________________________________

Mother Church rejoices that, by the singular gift of Divine Providence, the longed-for day has finally dawned when -- under the auspices of the virgin Mother of God, whose maternal dignity is commemorated on this feast -- the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council is being solemnly opened here beside St. Peter's tomb.

The Councils -- both the twenty ecumenical ones and the numberless others, also important, of a provincial or regional character which have been held down through the years -- all prove clearly the vigor of the Catholic Church and are recorded as shining lights in her annals.

In calling this vast assembly of bishops, the latest and humble successor to the Prince of the Apostles who is addressing you intended to assert once again the Magisterium (teaching authority), which is unfailing and perdures until the end of time, in order that this Magisterium, taking into account the errors, the requirements, and the opportunities of our time, might be presented in exceptional form to all men throughout the world.

It is but natural that in opening this Universal Council we should like to look to the past and to listen to its voices whose echo we like to hear in the memories and the merits of the more recent and ancient Pontiffs, our predecessors. These are solemn and venerable voices, throughout the East and the West, from the fourth century to the Middle Ages, and from there to modern times, which have handed down their witness to those Councils. They are voices which proclaim in perennial fervor the triumph of that divine and human institution, the Church of Christ, which from Jesus takes its name, its grace, and its meaning.

Side by side with these motives for spiritual joy, however, there has also been for more than nineteen centuries a cloud of sorrows and of trials. Not without reason did the ancient Simeon announce to Mary the mother of Jesus, that prophecy which has been and still is true: "Behold this child is set for the fall and the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted" (Lk. 2: 34 ) . And Jesus Himself, when He grew up, clearly outlined the manner in which the world would treat His person down through the succeeding centuries with the mysterious words: "He who hears you, hears me" (Ibid. 10:16), and with those others that the same Evangelist relates: "He who is not with me is against me and he who does not gather with me scatters" (Ibid. 11 :23).

The great problem confronting the world after almost two thousand years remains unchanged. Christ is ever resplendent as the center of history and of life. Men are either with Him and His Church, and then they enjoy light, goodness, order, and peace. Or else they are without Him, or against Him, and deliberately opposed to His Church, and then they give rise to confusion, to bitterness in human relations, and to the constant danger of fratricidal wars.

Ecumenical Councils, whenever they are assembled, are a solemn celebration of the union of Christ and His Church, and hence lead to the universal radiation of truth, to the proper guidance of individuals in domestic and social life, to the strengthening of spiritual energies for a perennial uplift toward real and everlasting goodness.

The testimony of this extraordinary Magisterium of the Church in the succeeding epochs of these twenty centuries of Christian history stands before us collected in numerous and imposing volumes, which are the sacred patrimony of our ecclesiastical archives, here in Rome and in the more noted libraries of the entire world.

As regards the initiative for the great event which gathers us here, it will suffice to repeat as historical documentation our personal account of the first sudden bringing up in our heart and lips of the simple words, "Ecumenical Council." We uttered those words in the presence of the Sacred College of Cardinals on that memorable January 25, 1959, the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, in the basilica dedicated to him. It was completely unexpected, like a flash of heavenly light, shedding sweetness in eyes and hearts. And at the same time it gave rise to a great fervor throughout the world in expectation of the holding of the Council.

There have elapsed three years of laborious preparation, during which a wide and profound examination was made regarding modern conditions of faith and religious practice, and of Christian and especially Catholic vitality. These years have seemed to us a first sign, an initial gift of celestial grace.

Illuminated by the light of this Council, the Church -- we confidently trust -- will become greater in spiritual riches and gaining the strength of new energies therefrom, she will look to the future without fear. In fact, by bringing herself up to date where required, and by the wise organization of mutual co-operation, the Church will make men, families, and peoples really turn their minds to heavenly things.

And thus the holding of the Council becomes a motive for wholehearted thanksgiving to the Giver of every good gift, in order to celebrate with joyous canticles the glory of Christ our Lord, the glorious and immortal King of ages and of peoples.

The opportuneness of holding the Council is, moreover, venerable brothers, another subject which it is useful to propose for your consideration. Namely, in order to render our Joy more complete, we wish to narrate before this great assembly our assessment of the happy circumstances under which the Ecumenical Council commences.

In the daily exercise of our pastoral office, we sometimes have to listen, much to our regret, to voices of persons who, though burning with zeal, are not endowed with too much sense of discretion or measure. In these modern times they can see nothing but prevarication and ruin. They say that our era, in comparison with past eras, is getting worse, and they behave as though they had learned nothing from history, which is, none the less, the teacher of life. They behave as though at the time of former Councils everything was a full triumph for the Christian idea and life and for proper religious liberty.

We feel we must disagree with those prophets of gloom, who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world were at hand.

In the present order of things, Divine Providence is leading us to a new order of human relations which, by men's own efforts and even beyond their very expectations, are directed toward the fulfilment of God's superior and inscrutable designs. And everything, even human differences, leads to the greater good of the Church.

It is easy to discern this reality if we consider attentively the world of today, which is so busy with politics and controversies in the economic order that it does not find time to attend to the care of spiritual reality, with which the Church's Magisterium is concerned. such a way of acting is certainly not right, and must justly be disapproved. It cannot be denied, however, that these new conditions of modern life have at least the advantage of having eliminated those innumerable obstacles by which, at one time, the sons of this world impeded the free action of the Church. In fact, it suffices to leaf even cursorily through the pages of ecclesiastical history to note clearly how the Ecumenical Councils themselves, while constituting a series of true glories for the Catholic Church, were often held to the accompaniment of most serious difficulties and sufferings because of the undue interference of civil authorities. The princes of this world, indeed, sometimes in all sincerity, intended thus to protect the Church. But more frequently this occurred not without spiritual damage and danger, since their interest therein was guided by the views of a selfish and perilous policy.

In this regard, we confess to you that we feel most poignant sorrow over the fact that very many bishops, so dear to us are noticeable here today by their absence, because they are imprisoned for their faithfulness to Christ, or impeded by other restraints. The thought of them impels us to raise most fervent prayer to God. Nevertheless, we see today, not without great hopes and to our immense consolation, that the Church, finally freed from so many obstacles of a profane nature such as trammeled her in the past, can from this Vatican Basilica, as if from a second apostolic cenacle, and through your intermediary, raise her voice resonant with majesty and greatness.

The greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously. That doctrine embraces the whole of man, composed as he is of body and soul. And, since he is a pilgrim on this earth, it commands him to tend always toward heaven.

This demonstrates how our mortal life is to be ordered in such a way as to fulfill our duties as citizens of earth and of heaven, and thus to attain the aim of life as established by God. That is, all men, whether taken singly or as united in society, today have the duty of tending ceaselessly during their lifetime toward the attainment of heavenly things and to use. for this purpose only, the earthly goods, the employment of which must not prejudice their eternal happiness.

The Lord has said: "Seek first the kingdom of Cod and his justice" (Mt. 6:33). The word "first" expresses the direction in which our thoughts and energies must move. We must not, however, neglect the other words of this exhortation of our Lord, namely: "And all these things shall be given you besides" (Ibid. ). In reality, there always have been in the Church, and there are still today, those who, while seeking the practice of evangelical perfection with all their might, do not fail to make themselves useful to society. Indeed, it from their constant example of life and their charitable undertakings that all that is highest and noblest in human society takes its strength and growth.

In order, however, that this doctrine may influence the numerous fields of human activity, with reference to individuals, to families, and to social life, it is necessary first of all that the Church should never depart from the sacred patrimony of truth received from the Fathers. But at the same time she must ever look to the present, to the new conditions and new forms of life introduced into the modern world, which have opened new avenues to the Catholic apostolate.

Pope John XXIII gives his blessing at the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council: Oct. 11, 1962

For this reason, the Church has not watched inertly the marvelous progress of the discoveries of human genius, an has not been backward in evaluating them rightly. But, while following these developments, she does not neglect to admonish men so that, over and above sense -- perceived things -- they may raise their eyes to God, the Source of all wisdom and all beauty. And may they never forget the most serious command: "The Lord thy God shalt thou worship, and Him only shalt thou serve" (Mt. 4:10; Lk. 4:8), so that it may happen that the fleeting fascination of visible things should impede true progress.

The manner in which sacred doctrine is spread, this having been established, it becomes clear how much is expected from the Council in regard to doctrine. That is, the Twenty-first Ecumenical Council, which will draw upon the effective and important wealth of juridical, liturgical, apostolic, and administrative experiences, wishes to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion, which throughout twenty centuries, notwithstanding difficulties and contrasts, has become the common patrimony of men. It is a patrimony not well received by all, but always a rich treasure available to men of good will.

Our duty is not only to guard this precious treasure, as if we were concerned only with antiquity, but to dedicate ourselves with an earnest will and without fear to that work which our era demands of us, pursuing thus the path which the Church has followed for twenty centuries.

The salient point of this Council is not, therefore, a discussion of one article or another of the fundamental doctrine of the Church which has repeatedly been taught by the Fathers and by ancient and modern theologians, and which is presumed to be well known and familiar to all.

For this a Council was not necessary. But from the renewed, serene, and tranquil adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness, as it still shines forth in the Acts of the Council of Trent and First Vatican Council, the Christian, Catholic, and apostolic spirit of the whole world expects a step forward toward a doctrinal penetration and a formation of consciousness in faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine, which, however, should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought. The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another. And it is the latter that must be taken into great consideration with patience if necessary, everything being measured in the forms and proportions of a Magisterium which is predominantly pastoral in character.

At the outset of the Second Vatican Council, it is evident, as always, that the truth of the Lord will remain forever. We see, in fact, as one age succeeds another, that the opinions of men follow one another and exclude each other. And often errors vanish as quickly as they arise, like fog before the sun. The Church has always opposed these errors. Frequently she has condemned them with the greatest severity. Nowadays however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity. She consider that she meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of her teaching rather than by condemnations. Not, certainly, that there is a lack of fallacious teaching, opinions, and dangerous concepts to be guarded against an dissipated. But these are so obviously in contrast with the right norm of honesty, and have produced such lethal fruits that by now it would seem that men of themselves are inclined to condemn them, particularly those ways of life which despise God and His law or place excessive confidence in technical progress and a well-being based exclusively on the comforts of life. They are ever more deeply convinced of the paramount dignity of the human person and of his perfection as well as of the duties which that implies. Even more important, experience has taught men that violence inflicted on others, the might of arms, and political domination, are of no help at all in finding a happy solution to the grave problems which afflict them.

That being so, the Catholic Church, raising the torch of religious truth by means of this Ecumenical Council, desires to show herself to be the loving mother of all, benign, patient, full of mercy and goodness toward the brethren who are separated from her. To mankind, oppressed by so many difficulties, the Church says, as Peter said to the poor who begged alms from him: "I have neither gold nor silver, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise and walk" (Acts 3:6). In other words, the Church does not offer to the men of today riches that pass, nor does she promise them merely earthly happiness. But she distributes to them the goods of divine grace which, raising men to the dignity of sons of God, are the most efficacious safeguards and aids toward a more human life. She opens the fountain of her life-giving doctrine which allows men, enlightened by the light of Christ, to understand well what they really are, what their lofty dignity and their purpose are, and, finally, through her children, she spreads everywhere the fullness of Christian charity, than which nothing is more effective in eradicating the seeds of discord, nothing more efficacious in promoting concord, just peace, and the brotherly unity of all.

The Church's solicitude to promote and defend truth derives from the fact that, according to the plan of God, who wills all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (l Tim. 2:4), men without the assistance of the whole of revealed doctrine cannot reach a complete and firm unity of minds, with which are associated true peace and eternal salvation.

Unfortunately, the entire Christian family has not yet fully attained this visible unity in truth.

The Catholic Church, therefore, considers it her duty to work actively so that there may be fulfilled the great mystery of that unity, which Jesus Christ invoked with fervent prayer from His heavenly Father on the eve of His sacrifice. She rejoices in peace, knowing well that she is intimately associated with that prayer, and then exults greatly at seeing that invocation extend its efficacy with salutary fruit, even among those who are outside her fold.

Indeed, if one considers well this same unity which Christ implored for His Church, it seems to shine, as it were, with a triple ray of beneficent supernal light: namely, the unity of Catholics among themselves, which must always be kept exemplary and most firm; the unity of prayers and ardent desires with which those Christians separated from this Apostolic See aspire to be united with us; and the unity in esteem and respect for the Catholic Church which animates those who follow non-Christian religions.

In this regard, it is a source of considerable sorrow to see that the greater part of the human race -- although all men who are born were redeemed by the blood of Christ -- does not yet participate in those sources of divine grace which exist in the Catholic Church. Hence the Church, whose light illumines all, whose strength of supernatural unity redounds to the advantage of all humanity, is rightly described in these beautiful words of St. Cyprian:

"The Church, surrounded by divine light, spreads her rays over the entire earth. This light, however, is one and unique and shines everywhere without causing any separation in the unity of the body. She extends her branches over the whole world. By her fruitfulness she sends ever farther afield he rivulets. Nevertheless, the head is always one, the origin one for she is the one mother, abundantly fruitful. We are born of her, are nourished by her milk, we live of her spirit' (De Catholicae Eccles. Unitate, 5).

Venerable brothers, such is the aim of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, which, while bringing together the Church's best energies and striving to have men welcome more favorably the good tidings of salvation, prepares, as it were and consolidates the path toward that unity of mankind which is required as a necessary foundation, in order that the earthly city may be brought to the resemblance of that heavenly city where truth reigns, charity is the law, and whose extent is eternity (Cf. St. Augustine, Epistle 138, 3).

Now, "our voice is directed to you" (2 Cor. 6:11 ) venerable brothers in the episcopate. Behold, we are gathered together in this Vatican Basilica, upon which hinges the history of the Church where heaven and earth are closely joined, here near the tomb of Peter and near so many of the tombs of our holy predecessors, whose ashes in this solemn hour seem to thrill in mystic exultation.

The Council now beginning rises in the Church like daybreak, a forerunner of most splendid light. It is now only dawn. And already at this first announcement of the rising day, how much sweetness fills our heart. Everything here breathes sanctity and arouses great joy. Let us contemplate the stars, which with their brightness augment the majesty of this temple. These stars, according to the testimony of the Apostle John (Rev. 1:20), are you, and with you we see shining around the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles, the golden candelabra. That is, the Church is confided to you (Ibid.).

We see here with you important personalities, present in an attitude of great respect and cordial expectation, having come together in Rome from the five continents to represent the nations of the world.

We might say that heaven and earth are united in the holding of the Council -- the saints of heaven to protect our work, the faithful of the earth continuing in prayer to the Lord, and you, seconding the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in order that the work of all may correspond to the modern expectations and needs of the various peoples of the world.

This requires of you serenity of mind, brotherly concord moderation in proposals, dignity in discussion, and wisdom of deliberation.

God grant that your labors and your work, toward which the eyes of all peoples and the hopes of the entire world are turned, may abundantly fulfill the aspirations of all.

Almighty God! In Thee we place all our confidence, not trusting in our own strength. Look down benignly upon these pastors of Thy Church. May the light of Thy supernal grace aid us in taking decisions and in making laws. Graciously hear the prayers which we pour forth to Thee in unanimity of faith, of voice, and of mind.

O Mary, Help of Christians, Help of Bishops, of whose love we have recently had particular proof in thy temple of Loreto, where we venerated the mystery of the Incarnation dispose all things for a happy and propitious outcome and, with thy spouse, St. Joseph, the holy Apostles Peter and Paul St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, intercede for us to God.

To Jesus Christ, our most amiable Redeemer, immortal King of peoples and of times, be love, power, and glory forever and ever.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Dr. Rowan Williams intervenes at the Synod

As some you may know, the Synod of Bishops, convened by the Holy Father to discuss and set forward something of an agenda for the New Evangelization, is now underway. For those who are truly interested, there is plenty of coverage of this event. So, you don't need to waste time deciding whether or not to ignore me banging on about all the small details and nuances.

It is significant that tomorrow, the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and, as a result, the first day of the Year of Faith proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI to observe this important event, falls during the first week of the Synod. In true Vatican II style, the Synod has an ecumenical dimension, that is, there are invited observers and even participants from other churches and ecclesial communions. One of the more prominent ecumenical participants is Dr. Rowan Williams, who serves as the Archbishop of Canterbury, but who is also retiring at the end of this year.

Archbishop Rowan delivered a very pertinent intervention during the Synod, which I think is worth quoting at length (you can read his whole address at his official website). This is the first time an Archbishop of Canterbury has addressed a Catholic Synod of Bishops, which itself is an instrument of collaboration established by Pope Paul VI as a post-conciliar reform. I simply want to post the sections of this speech that I take to be the heart of his remarks, which is about how our humanity is fully realized in and through contemplation. I wish I had more time at present to unpack this just a bit, but I don't. Besides, given the wonderful clarity with which Abp. Rowan expresses himself, I don't think I would have much to add that is of value:
5. To be fully human is to be recreated in the image of Christ’s humanity; and that humanity is the perfect human ‘translation’ of the relationship of the eternal Son to the eternal Father, a relationship of loving and adoring self-giving, a pouring out of life towards the Other. Thus the humanity we are growing into in the Spirit, the humanity that we seek to share with the world as the fruit of Christ’s redeeming work, is a contemplative humanity. St Edith Stein observed that we begin to understand theology when we see God as the ‘First Theologian’, the first to speak out the reality of divine life, because ‘all speaking about God presupposes God’s own speaking’; in an analogous way we could say that we begin to understand contemplation when we see God as the first contemplative, the eternal paradigm of that selfless attention to the Other that brings not death but life to the self. All contemplating of God presupposes God’s own absorbed and joyful knowing of himself and gazing upon himself in the trinitarian life.

6. To be contemplative as Christ is contemplative is to be open to all the fullness that the Father wishes to pour into our hearts. With our minds made still and ready to receive, with our self-generated fantasies about God and ourselves reduced to silence, we are at last at the point where we may begin to grow. And the face we need to show to our world is the face of a humanity in endless growth towards love, a humanity so delighted and engaged by the glory of what we look towards that we are prepared to embark on a journey without end to find our way more deeply into it, into the heart of the trinitarian life. St Paul speaks (in II Cor 3.18) of how ‘with our unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord’, we are transfigured with a greater and greater radiance. That is the face we seek to show to our fellow-human beings.

7. And we seek this not because we are in search of some private ‘religious experience’ that will make us feel secure or holy. We seek it because in this self-forgetting gazing towards the light of God in Christ we learn how to look at one another and at the whole of God’s creation. In the early Church, there was a clear understanding that we needed to advance from the self-understanding or self-contemplation that taught us to discipline our greedy instincts and cravings to the ‘natural contemplation’ that perceived and venerated the wisdom of God in the order of the world and allowed us to see created reality for what it truly was in the sight of God – rather than what it was in terms of how we might use it or dominate it. And from there grace would lead us forward into true ‘theology’, the silent gazing upon God that is the goal of all our discipleship.

8. In this perspective, contemplation is very far from being just one kind of thing that Christians do: it is the key to prayer, liturgy, art and ethics, the key to the essence of a renewed humanity that is capable of seeing the world and other subjects in the world with freedom – freedom from self-oriented, acquisitive habits and the distorted understanding that comes from them. To put it boldly, contemplation is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit. To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly. It is a deeply revolutionary matter.

9. In his autobiography Thomas Merton describes an experience not long after he had entered the monastery where he was to spend the rest of his life (Elected Silence, p.303). He had contracted flu, and was confined to the infirmary for a few days, and, he says, he felt a ‘secret joy’ at the opportunity this gave him for prayer – and ‘to do everything that I want to do, without having to run all over the place answering bells.’ He is forced to recognise that this attitude reveals that ‘All my bad habits…had sneaked into the monastery with me and had received the religious vesture along with me: spiritual gluttony, spiritual sensuality, spiritual pride.’ In other words, he is trying to live the Christian life with the emotional equipment of someone still deeply wedded to the search for individual satisfaction. It is a powerful warning: we have to be every careful in our evangelisation not simply to persuade people to apply to God and the life of the spirit all the longings for drama, excitement and self-congratulation that we so often indulge in our daily lives. It was expressed even more forcefully some decades ago by the American scholar of religion, Jacob Needleman, in a controversial and challenging book called Lost Christianity: the Words of the Gospel, he says, are addressed to human beings who ‘do not yet exist’. That is to say, responding in a life-giving way to what the Gospel requires of us means a transforming of our whole self, our feelings and thoughts and imaginings. To be converted to the faith does not mean simply acquiring a new set of beliefs, but becoming a new person, a person in communion with God and others through Jesus Christ
He ends his intervention with these words: "evangelisation is always an overflow of something else – the disciple’s journey to maturity in Christ, a journey not organised by the ambitious ego but the result of the prompting and drawing of the Spirit in us. In our considerations of how we are once again to make the Gospel of Christ compellingly attractive to men and women of our age, I hope we never lose sight of what makes it compelling to ourselves, to each one of us in our diverse ministries."

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...