Sunday, January 27, 2013

Jesus wants us to decide

In our Gospel for this Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, the sacred author of St. Luke's Gospel tells us that it was Jesus' custom to attend synagogue on the sabbath day. We hear about this in the second part of today's Gospel, which skips from Luke's prologue at the beginning of the first chapter to part-way through the fourth chapter. According to Luke's chronology, this event occurs shortly after the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, that is, after the events of His conception, His birth, the incident in the Temple when He was 12, His growing up under the tutelage of Mary and Joseph, His baptism by John, his forty days and nights in the desert, and even a short period of ministry elsewhere in Galilee. In other words, Jesus returns home, thus lending substance to what Thomas Wolfe asserted in the title of his novel You Can't Go Home Again. It is from this episode that we derive another cliché, one that comes a little bit later, after the final words of our reading today, a cliché that is an axiom: "Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place."

In most modern English translations of the sacred Scriptures the heading of this section of Luke's Gospel is something like the one used in the New American Bible: The Rejection at Nazareth. What Jesus read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah is a messianic prophecy:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord

He proclaims Himself "anointed," which is what "Messiah" means. He also sets forth clearly His messianic mission, which is not to rally Israel and militarily defeat the Roman occupiers, or to re-establish and expand the earthly kingdom of Israel as a new King David. No! He is anointed to do the things He had already been doing at that point prior to His arrival back home in Nazareth.

This is one of those passages that makes it clear Jesus understood His mission and His identity. Like the people gathered in the synagogue at Nazareth more than 2,000 years ago, His words are meant to force us to a decision, to choose among the only possible alternatives, which C.S. Lewis laid out as "liar, lunatic, or Lord." Lewis insisted that Jesus did this deliberately. His insistence is born out by St. Paul, who wrote in his First Letter to the Corinthians,
since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles (1 Cor. 1:21-23)
It seems to me that there is a connection between participating in Jesus' messianic mission, which He seeks to carry on in and through us, and being able to profess Him as Lord.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

To Narnia and the north- journeying with a Presence

Currently I am reading through C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia with my seven year-old son. Not having been raised in any sort of orthodox Christian milieu, this is my first time reading through the Chronicles in their wonderful entirety. Of course, I have seen the films, which strike me as good adaptations of Lewis' book, but as a lifelong reader, watching the movie is never sufficient. Right now we are finishing A Horse and His Boy. I am grateful to enter these tales at 47. It is a grace and a blessing, even if it results in blog posts that may leave some readers saying "Duh!" out loud.

So far, I think the figure of Aslan is most profound in A Horse and His Boy. Last evening we read about Shasta's experience, which occurred after he, Aravis, Bree, and Hwin all escaped Tashbaan and began heading in earnest towards Narnia and the north. The malevolent Prince Rabadash of Tashbaan and his small army are right their heels. After rescuing Aravis and Hwin from the attack of a lion (an attack that left Aravis wounded and bleeding and Bree- the proud warhorse- ashamed for running away) and leading them safely to the refuge of the hermit, Shasta is urged by the hermit to proceed further into Archenland to warn the king about the imminent attack of Rabadash and his army. Before he makes it to Anvard, the capital of Archenland, Shasta encounters King Lune, who is hunting with a party of Archenland nobility. He warns the king, is given a horse, and proceeds on with the party to Anvard. Not being much of a horseman, Shasta falls behind and becomes lost. He comes to a fork in the road and does not know which road to take. Hearing the approach of Rabadash and his army, the boy hides. Seeing which way the invading army went, Shasta chooses the other way, figuring it was safest, that "all roads lead somewhere," and with the knowledge he had done his duty warning the ruler of Archenland about the impending attack.

Knowing he is lost, Shasta becomes distraught and starts feeling sorry for himself, until he senses the presence of something large and imposing beside him. After a few moments of terror, Shasta speaks to the presence. After a brief exchange, the one present to the poor boy says, "Tell me your sorrows." Shasta quickly recounts all of his misfortunes since running away from the poor fisherman who raised him without much love. In response to Shasta's conclusion that he is most unfortunate, the presence says, "I do not call you unfortunate." Replying to Shasta's complaint that that several times during his journey he was beset lions, the presence tells the boy, "There was only one lion." At this point, if there was any doubt to the reader of the Chronicles, it is Aslan who walks beside Shasta. The boy asks, "How do you know [there was only one lion]?" Aslan replies, "I was the lion."

Lewis here gives a brilliant account of how Christ works in our lives:
I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you
Next Shasta asks a question that made me choke up- "Then it was you who wounded Aravis?" Aslan admits it, saying, "It was I." Shasta asks the inevitable: "But what for?"

"Child," Aslan begins, "I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own." This prompts Shasta to inquire, "Who are you?" His answer? "Myself," repeated three times. After this the boy "was no longer afraid that the Voice belonged to something that would eat him, nor that it was the voice of a ghost. But a new and different sort of trembling came over him. Yet he felt glad too." Eventually, Shasta sees, "pacing beside him, taller than a horse, a Lion... It was from the Lion that the light came. No one ever saw anything more terrible or beautiful... after one glance at the Lion's face he slipped out of the saddle and fell at its feet. He couldn't say anything but then he didn't want to say anything, and he knew he needn't say anything."

Jesus, I trust in You.

Friday, January 25, 2013

"Do whatever has to be done again today"

As one or two of my longtime readers may be aware, I was a longtime reader and peripheral acquaintance of the late Michael Spencer, more popularly known as the Internetmonk, or IMonk. Michael succumbed to cancer in April 2010. His legacy is still carried on very well by Chaplain Mike and Jeff Dunn over at InternetMonk: Continuing Michael Spencer's Legacy of Jesus-Shaped Spirituality. My most notable interactions with Michael were his comment on my post, "When we in our weakness believed we were strong"(Michael Card). . .words from bald guys, in which I mentioned him and his subsequent writing about being mentioned in my post (what he liked was that I mentioned him along with Thomas Merton), and our on-going discussion about the place of the Creed in Christian worship, more specifically worship in an imagined "ideal" Church (I insisted it had to be a part, he was not so sure.)

Right now, as part of my early morning prayer/devotional time (something I find less and less able to live without- as I grow older I can no longer pretend that I am not a need), I am reading Michael's one and only book, published a few months after his death: Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality.

Michael Spencer- a pic I poached off IMonk

Michael loved Mark Heard's music and so do I. Heard died from a heart attack way back in 1992. So today Heard's "Nod Over Coffee" is a most appropriate Friday traditio. Heard had a great head of hair, by the way.

If we could see with wiser eyes
What is good and what is sad and what is true
Still it would not be enough
Could never be enough

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Ordination anniversary

Today marks the ninth anniversary of my ordination to the diaconate. It's difficult to believe it has been that long! It doesn't seem possible.

My fellow ordinands and I prostrating before the altar in The Cathedral of the Madeleine

I am reminded today of something from the prayer of ordination for deacons:

"Lord, send forth upon him the Holy Spirit, that he may be strengthened by the gift of your sevenfold grace to carry out faithfully the work of the ministry."

My prayer is to faithfully carry out the work of Christ's ministry until I draw my last breath. This thought brings to my mind Jerry Shea, Anniceto Armendariz, and Scott Chisholm, three brothers who were also ordained on 24 January 2004.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

An observation

I have observed more than once that without truth there can be no love. Sadly, there can be truth without love. We read in the fourth chapter of Ephesians it is by "speaking the truth in love" that "we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ (Eph. 4:15 ESV). I think the Incarnation is the best example of the relationship between truth and love.

I'm not sure why, but this struck me with some force this evening. I know sometimes I am guilty of speaking the truth without love. In trying to keep this bounded by God's word, speaking the truth, even in love, is often very difficult, at times even excruciating, just as knowing when and how to do so is something for which we must rely on the Holy Spirit.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Communion of saints: St. Agnes

In past years I have posted a lot about various saints on their feasts and memorials. It is a practice I have gotten away from for no really acceptable reason. But as I was preparing my homily last week, which was on the unique role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the oikonomia of salvation, I was once again struck by how necessary it is to grasp that the Church is communio sanctorum, that is, the communion of holy people and things, a communion that transcends time and space. Veneration of the saints has been part and parcel of Christianity if not from the very beginning, then since shortly after the beginning, from at least the martyrdom of my beloved St. Stephen onward.

An important part of venerating the saints is appealing to them to pray for us, to intercede for us. While this is analogous to asking our living Christian brothers and sisters to pray for us, it is different in at least one important aspect, namely believing that the saints are already in the presence of God, caught up in the beatific vision, which makes their help much more efficacious.

The convergence of the day the United States celebrates the human rights legacy of Dr. Martin Luther, Jr. this year, the fact that it is the day of Barack Obama's second inauguration as president of the United States, and the day the Church annually observes the Memorial of St. Agnes of Rome, Virgin and Martyr, strikes me as significant.

Pope Benedict blessing the lambs today in Rome

The twenty-first of January has been the date of St. Agnes' feast since the fourth century. Hers is a feast so ancient, dating for certain from shortly after the first ecumenical council (the Council of Nicea)- likely from before- that she is celebrated today among Christians both East and West. She is believed to have been martyred in Rome during the persecution of the emperor Diocletian around AD 304. She was only 12 or 13 at the time of her death. For many centuries the symbol used to represent St. Agnes has been a lamb, a sign of her innocence. It is on this day that the Roman Pontiff solemnly blesses two lambs. It is from the wool of these consecrated animals that pallia given (usually given ceremonially and in person these days) by the Holy Father to newly named archbishops are made.

Like many great saints, such as one my two patrons, St. Martin of Tours, who formerly garnered wide and deep veneration among the Christian faithful, the cultus of St. Agnes has waned. I am convinced that no true renewal of the faith will occur without restoring the saints to their rightful place. As Fr. Tonino Lasconi, a parish priest and author of numerous volumes on the renewal of catechesis in Italy, observed, "Without the saints, the faith vanishes." Among the reasons I favor Pope Benedict's restoration of the Extraordinary Form is the profound veneration of the saints it fosters. In the hoped-for cross-pollinization between the Ordinary and the Extraordinary forms of the Sacred Liturgy, moving towards a synthesis and further renewal, a unique time in history when the Roman Church has two rites, one enrichment I pray for is the restoration of the saints, ancient, modern, and in between, to their rightful place in liturgy and the devotional life of the faithful.

Given where we're at societally and where we seemed to be headed, martyria- which means "witness"- will remain what many Christians are called to, especially in light of the ever-increasing encroachment of the modern state and the reduction of religious liberty to the mere freedom to worship (i.e., what we do in Church on Sunday), an encroachment that has to be resisted peacefully, but no less vigorously.

Sancta Agnes, ora pro nobis

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Year C Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Isa. 62:1-5; Ps. 96:1-3.7-10; 1 Cor. 12:4-11; John 2:1-11

“Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). These are the words spoken by the Blessed Virgin Mary to the servers in today’s Gospel. Come to think of it, when we consider all of the approved apparitions of Our Lady at places like Lourdes, Fatima, Knock, La Salette, this is the message She continuously gives. It is interesting that last week we brought the season of Christmas to an end with our celebration of the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, a celebration referred to by most Eastern Christians, both Catholic and Orthodox, as Theophany, which closely follows Epiphany on the liturgical calendar.

Epiphany means something like a striking manifestation, or appearance, whereas Theophany refers specifically to a manifestation of God. In our Gospel today, Jesus is made manifest at the behest of Our Lady albeit in a less dramatic way, that is, not by a star, or a voice from heaven accompanied by the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove, but by granting His Mother’s request, miraculously providing, not just more wine, but the very best wine for the wedding feast, something known only to Himself, His Mother, and the servers. While there is much to unpack in this episode which, in St. John’s Gospel, marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, let’s stick with what is perhaps most obvious- the direct connection between the Lord’s acceding to His Mother’s request by performing a miracle with Her on-going intercession on our behalf.

It seems fitting at the beginning of our annual week of Christian unity to give thanks to God that relations between Christians have improved so much over the last fifty years since the start of the Second Vatican Council. Nonetheless, even today, it is not uncommon for some of our non-Catholic sisters and brothers to ask us whether we worship the Blessed Virgin Mary. Of course, the simple answer to this question is “No.” Worship is due to God and God alone, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As far as the saints, those holy women and men who, throughout all the ages of the Church, have shown us concretely what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, we venerate them, that is, hold them in high regard, look to them as examples, and ask them to pray for us, to intercede on our behalf. While we do much the same when it comes to the Blessed Virgin Mary, She falls into a category all her own.

Jesus summarized the Ten Commandments in His Two Great Commandments- to love God with all our heart, might, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, giving us His radical and challenging definition of neighbor in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The first three commandments (i.e., worshipping God and God alone, not taking God’s name in vain, and Sabbath observance) are about loving God. The final seven are about how we relate to our fellow human beings. The fourth commandment, which enjoins us to honor our parents, like the Blessed Virgin, occupies a unique place, falling between the commandments about loving God and those about loving our neighbor. This, in turn, helps us to recognize the singular place parents occupy in the lives of their children. It also points us to unique role of the Blessed Virgin in God’s plan of salvation.

Pentecost window- The Cathedral of the Madeleine

The Greek word for the worship, or more accurately, the adoration, that is due to God and God alone is latria. Similarly, the Greek word for the veneration we give to the saints is dulia. The very cool Greek term used to describe the uniqueness of our relationship to Our Lady is hyperdulia, which means something like “super” veneration, which falls short of worship, but consists of more than veneration.

The stained glass window on the East side of the Cathedral, the second window to the South of the Resurrection window, is typical of the Church’s iconography of Pentecost, which most often depicts our Blessed Mother in the middle of the disciples, when, in fulfillment of Her Son’s promise, the Holy Spirit descends on them, appearing, not as a dove, but as tongues of fire (Acts 2:1-3). In our reading from First Corinthians we find St. Paul’s explanation of the role of the Spirit in the life of the Church and of the individual Christian.

Regarding the Holy Spirit, it is important to note something St. Paul wrote in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, namely that “the Lord is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:17a), which is what we profess in the Creed when we acknowledge the Holy Spirit as Dóminum et vivificántem, or, “the Lord, the giver of life.” However, we do not profess the Holy Spirit as Lord in such a way as to negate what we profess earlier in the Creed: “I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ.” Something written quite a few years ago by theologian and New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson helps us to reconcile this: “The Holy Spirit is the mode of Jesus’ resurrection presence to the world” (Living Jesus 15). The word “mode” is a little technical, but simply means “way.” So the Holy Spirit is the “way” Jesus remains present in and for the world. Of course, the primary actions of the Holy Spirit that make Jesus present in and for the world are the sacraments, especially the Eucharist of which we partake and from whence, empowered by the Spirit, we are sent out to make Jesus manifest. It is the Holy Spirit that impels us to heed the exhortation of today’s Psalm response: “Proclaim his marvelous deeds to all the nations.”

In our reading from First Corinthians St. Paul does not undertake to set forth a comprehensive list of spiritual gifts, but give to give the Church at Corinth an idea of the great diversity of the Spirit’s many, perhaps innumerable, gifts. Moreover, he insists that the Spirit gives all the baptized some “manifestation of the Spirit… for some benefit” (1 Cor. 12:7). Just as the great gift of the Eucharist is misconceived if we see it as an end in itself, so are the gifts given us by the Spirit. We need to be good stewards of the gifts the Spirit bestows on each one of us. This requires us to discern our gifts and then put them to good and constant use as our way of making Jesus manifest. It is in this way that we heed Our Lady’s admonition, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:7). This is why it is fruitful to pray often: Veni Sancte Spiritus, veni per Mariam- “Come Holy Spirit, come through Mary.”

Friday, January 18, 2013

More on marriage: "Tous nés d'un homme et d'une femme"

Far from being hopeless, the recognition of the fundamental importance of marriage for society, the importance of which is recognized by many people who are homosexual, along with no small number of atheists and agnostics, runs broader and deeper than many think. There are growing signs of this both here in the U.S. and abroad, including Europe, where previously moribund populations seem to be waking up to the civilizational suicide being inflicted on them by the European Union in concert with the governments of many nation-states. The two European countries where these sparks have ignited into a flame are the United Kingdom (i.e., the country formerly known as Great Britain) and France.

In addition to the arguments expressed in an important essay opposing "same-sex marriage" by the Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, whom the Holy Father cited in his Christmas speech to members of the Roman Curia, Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, Chief Rabbi of Rome, earlier expressed his well-argued opposition. Rabbi Di Segni's article was posted in translation recently on Sandro Magister's indispensable Chiesa blog. In an earlier article, while not providing a translation, Magister also provided a link to the essay by Chief Rabbi Bernheim- Mariage homosexuel, homoparentalité et adoption.

Last Sunday, 13 January, a large demonstration took place in the streets of Paris. While the official police estimate put the number of protestors at around 340,000, other credible sources reported that it was much higher, perhaps as high as 1.3 million people. The demonstration was called in protest to a law proposed by French president, François Hollande, to radically redefine marriage. In the words of one commentator, J.C. Von Krempach, writing for the blog Turtle Bay and Beyond: Intenational Law, Policy, and Institutions, "The turnout was overwhelming and dwarfed even the most optimistic forecasts... the number of demonstrators who, despite the biting cold, came to Paris last Sunday to rally against the socialist-led government’s plans to legislate for same-sex 'marriages' ... it now turns out that the number of protesters amounted to 1.3 million rather than the official number of 340.000."

In the days prior to the protest, President Hollande met with France's religious leaders, including Chief Rabbi Bernheim. In a move typical of the passive-aggressive style of radical governance exhibited by such politicians, "Hollande did not comment directly on the concerns expressed by the religious leaders about the draft law."

One of the hallmarks of French opposition to their government's attempt to radically redefine marriage is noted by Krempach:
The reality is: in France, one of the most secularized countries on this planet’s most secularized continent, opposition against same-sex "marriage" is not limited to religious believers, be they Catholic or Muslim [or Jew], but it comes from the heart of society, including many atheists and secularists, supporters of President Hollande’s Socialist Party, and even many homosexuals who say that they, having never wanted to marry and adopt children, do not feel represented by the President’s radical social agenda
It bears noting that Hollande was the longtime partner of fellow Socialist Party leader Ségolène Royal, who was the unsuccessful Socialist candidate for president in 2007, losing to Sarkozy, whom Hollande beat last year. The two have four children together. As stated in one article, "They never married, considering it too 'bourgeois', but they often posed around the breakfast table with their four children." Predictably, they are no longer together. My only point in noting that is simply to show that the president proposing this radical redefinition of marriage does not see marriage as an institution of any importance, but as a relic of a bourgeois past, one that, in his early 1970s view, society needs to move beyond.

Sylviane Agacinski-Jospin, the wife of former Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, who is often described as a philosopher and feminist and author of a book entitled Sexual Politics, is one of the more prominent opponents of Hollande's attempt to redefine marriage.

Jospin himself is on record as opposing such a redefinition. The former PM is a Reformed Protestant.

"A heaven, a gateway, a hope"

For some reason "Temptation" by New Order (i.e., Joy Division reincarnated after the untimely suicide of Ian Curtis) struck me as a great Friday traditio for this January day in the first week of Ordinary Time. By way of a brief explanation, the aptness of my choice is largely due to my realization that, with Easter falling on the last day of March this year, Lent (already) draws neigh. So I offer this live performance in New York City way back in 1981. Because for my previous post I dug into the Καθολικός διάκονος archives, I'll do so here as well: "Surrendered to self preservation" Lord save me!- one of my more self-revealing posts.

Each way I turn, I know I'll always try
To break this circle that's been placed around me
From time to time I find I've lost some need
That was urgent to myself I do believe

Unpacking the lyrics above, at least for me, while losing "some need" has often been a matter of urgency for me, it is only by acknowledging my need as fully as I can that "break the circle placed all around me."

It is amazing to me that this is 2,400th post on Καθολικός διάκονος.

On marriage: refuting a stupid argument

Today on his blog Peter Hitchens takes down what he rightly terms "A Particularly Stupid Comment," or, what I will call for my purposes, a particularly stupid argument. It is a stupid argument because it is demonstrably false, despite being employed quite frequently by well-meaning people. In my view, this argument amounts to sophistry. Consciously engaging in such sophistry, as Hitchens notes, is a tactic employed by "the unscrupulous debater." What is attempted, whether consciously or not depends on the intelligence of the debater, is the identification of like with unlike. Once the identification is made, the debater then proceeds on the basis of that faulty premise to dismiss those who reject "same-sex marriage" as illogical bigots.

Due to the nature of my blog and the fact that I blog as a Catholic deacon, my use of the word "stupid" requires some qualification. I use this word to describe this argument both because it is the term Hitchens used and because I think it is an apt description. Hence, I use "stupid" as an adjective. There are several specific meanings that can be assigned to "stupid" when used as an adjective. The specific meaning I assign to the word in this post I take from the Merriam-Webster's on-line dictionary; "marked by or resulting from unreasoned thinking or acting." The good news about this is that such stupidity is remediable.

This argument asserts that if you are in favor of a man and a woman of different races being allowed to marry, then, logically, you must be in favor of two people of the same gender being allowed to marry. The argument runs something like this- If you favor the former (i.e., "interracial" marriage) and not the latter (i.e., "same-sex marriage"- differing placement of quotation marks is not accidental), then you are illogical and incoherent, thus making you an intolerant bigot, whose views fly in the face of reality. Since ultimately what is at stake here, at a deeper level, is reality and our engagement with it, I would draw the interested reader's attention to Douglas Wilson's recent and relevant post on Wendell Berry's public support for "same-sex marriage"- Wendell Berry's Halcyon Bean Patch. In this regard, I would also draw attention to one of my previous posts, Opposing God to nature: the denial of the ontologically obvious.

While it has been years since I've done serious philosophical work, it is precisely the kind of subtlety noted above that makes this argument sophistry- logically identifying like with unlike and then drawing out the implications of this, all-the-while depending on the fact that most people intuitively grasp the following form of logical argumentation:

If A, then B
A, therefore B

If you support "interracial" marriage, then you must support "same-sex marriage"
You support "interracial" marriage, therefore you must support "same-sex marriage."

Such debaters also rely on the fact that most people won't examine the truthfulness of the premises, which, in this case is premise A (i.e., If you support "interracial" marriage, then you must support "same-sex marriage"). This is untrue because a false identification is made, equating like with unlike, commonly referred to as comparing apples to oranges.

The falsity of the premise is easily demonstrated by briefly examining the teaching of the Catholic Church on "interracial" marriage. Canon law, going to back the earliest era of the Church, has never prohibited a man and a woman of different races from marrying. In the course of history, including here in the United States, civil governments have done so. The Church has always viewed such legal prohibitions as unjust, despite not always being in the vanguard of change and/or having certain of Her hierarchy and membership agreeing with and in some cases supporting such unjust laws.

In an article on Catholics for the Common Good's website, entitled "Bans on Interracial Marriage were About Eugenics, Not Redefining Marriage" (eugenics, supported by such American luminaries as Teddy Roosevelt, has always been denounced by the Church), I read about a 1948 California Supreme Court decision that ruled in favor of permitting an interracial (Catholic) couple to marry. The Catholic Church legally backed the couple's suit and they were married in the Church.

As Peter Hitchens noted in his piece, "The law in this matter ["interracial" marriage] correctly recognises that there is one race, the human race." A human being is a human being regardless of the color of her/his skin, or even his/her sexual orientation. But when it comes to gender there are two: male and female. As we read towards the end of the first creation account in Genesis:
God created mankind in his image;

in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them

This seems an apt observation at the beginning of the weekend we celebrate the human rights legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Baptism of the Lord

Vespers this evening brings the Christmas season to a close for this year, at least for Roman Catholics in the United States. The liturgical year takes us through the entire Paschal mystery. During these weeks of Christmas we have celebrated not only our Lord's Nativity, but the Feast of the Holy Family, which in Year C, the year we primarily read from St. Luke's Gospel on Sundays, features the pericopé of Jesus being found by Mary and Joseph in the Temple, the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, and the Epiphany. It is fitting, therefore, that this season ends with the beginning of Jesus' public manifestation, or epiphany, which takes the form of a theophany; the voice of the Father sounding from the heavens and the Holy Spirit descending on Him in the form of a dove.

The Theophany we hear about today is no mere affirmation of Jesus as the long awaited Jewish Messiah, or even as Lord, but as Son of God. It is important to note that in today's Gospel Jesus is not only baptized, but confirmed. He is confirmed, not by anointing with sacred chrism, but by the direct anointing of the Holy Spirit, who descended on Him at the same time the voice of the Father "confirms" Jesus' identity His Son.

In baptism we are reborn as children of the Father, receiving adoption through Christ Jesus. In confirmation we are called by name, just as we are in baptism. Like Jesus, we are anointed, thus having our baptismal identity as God's children confirmed and sealed. Maybe a good motto for confirmation would be: "God seals the deal." Okay, probably not.

By virtue of our anointing in confirmation we are also made priests, prophets, and royalty. All of this is predicated on being the daughters and sons of the Father in Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

This year there is only a month between the end of Christmas and the beginning of Lent. In tracing the arch of the Paschal mystery during this liturgical year, after Jesus' baptism by John in the Jordan, he enters the desert for forty days of fasting and prayer prior to embarking on his short, but intense and revolutionary public ministry.

On the twenty-fifth day of Christmas, our loving Father gives to us, one Savior, Lord, and Brother! Knowing Jesus is the greatest gift of all!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Chesterton on the intolerance of friendship

At its best, blogging is an intermediate form of expression. When done well it doesn't really descend to the banality and near cultural, historical, philosophical illiteracy of contemporary journalism, but neither is it an academic exercise, nor an on-line personal diary (David Letterman's old diary, "I love eggs. Boy do I love eggs"). At least for me, when done well blogging is a journal of ideas, a sharing of interests and passions. In my case, not new ideas, but consideration and re-consideration of enduring ideas (I make no claim either to being very original or to have mastered the art of blogging). This conception has the advantage of allowing me to look far afield, from what I am reading, movies I see, music I hear, and even public (rarely private, then with appropriate caution and even permission) discussions I engage in with friends near and far. As both of my longtime readers know, I particularly enjoy exploring provocative ideas and taking on lazy assumptions in the conviction that authentic faith can never lead us to the kind of smug certainty many people (myself included) often seem to want.

With that lengthy wind-up, first thing this morning I read a very insightful review of Ian Ker's recent G.K. Chesterton: A Biography by Ralph Wood of Baylor University in Books and Culture. Rather than review Wood's review, I want to stick to the topic of tolerance, namely its current tyranny.

Before tackling tolerance head-on, it is useful to note, as Wood does, that part of the invective Christopher Hitchens hurled at Chesterton, whom he read on his deathbed and whose article on Gilbert Keith, "The Reactionary," appeared in The Atlantic some months after his death on 15 December 2011, consisted of this: "when [Chesterton] was posing as a theologian, he was doing little more than ventriloquizing John Henry Newman at his most 'dogmatic.'" It is also helpful to know that Ker wrote John Henry Newman: A Biography. All of this puts the reader of both biographies in a position to judge whether Hitchens' criticism is accurate.

There can be no doubt that Chesterton, who traveled the same road as Newman from Canterbury to Rome, read Newman and was influenced by the great man. Wallace highlights Chesterton's indebtedness to Newman for his understanding of what I will call the dialectical permanence of Christian dogma and doctrine. Chesterton held that human beings are by nature dogmatic (among men there is perhaps none more dogmatic than the atheist or Darwinian evolutionist- often the same person, but not always).  As Chesterton helpfully noticed, "Trees have no dogmas" and "Turnips are singularly broad-minded." This prompts Wallace to assert that "Chesterton's high estimate of dogma gives him a low regard for tolerance." It is this insight that leads me to the heart of the matter.

Wood is correct to alleviate the concern Chesterton's rejection of "tolerance" by pointing to some contemporary thinkers who notice the same things, but whose critiques are less pithy and more academic, namely Michael Walzer and Stephen Carter. "Tolerance," Wallace writes, "keeps an allegedly neutral peace when it is in fact an exercise of force." He goes on to cite Carter's insistence that "The language of tolerance is the language of power." Wallace unpacks this sentence: "The tolerator grants liberty to the tolerated only when the latter behaves tolerantly, i.e., in accord with the tolerator's notion of what is safe and appropriate and acceptable." I cannot help but apply this to the current attempt to redefine marriage in many Western societies.

For Chesterton the response to the tyranny of tolerance is a form of intolerance, it's called friendship. According to Wallace, this point is made in very decent literary fashion by Chesterton in his novel The Ball and the Cross. This story features two enemies, who bear some resemblance to Chesterton and Hitchens (I think of Hitchens' encounter with Msgr. Albacete), who, to use Wallace's words, "learn not to tolerate each other but to become the most hospitable of friends." It's a sad commentary that so many of us find that answer so surprising. Of course, when overstated and/or exaggerated, this, too, can become a banality, a cliché. Such resolution requires both good faith and genuine affection. I would also add that even friendship that arises from diametrical opposition, while not seeking to avoid or evade that opposition (it creates a space for honest expession), also calls for a kind of loyalty born of affection that is a requirement of any friendship, at least for me.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Prayer as "habitus"

Earlier today when describing prayer as work, as opposed to work as prayer, I mentioned "ascesis." I pointed out that this word, which in transliterated Greek is askesis, refers to a type of training, or exercise. If I had extended my post beyond that almost inevitably I would've mentioned virtue. To that end, a friend, Artur Sebastian Rosman, with whom I had a brief discussion about virtue just a few days ago, posted something to my attention on Facebook this evening that is worth considering. I am most appreciative that he translated this from Polish:

"All, then, as I said, are naturally constituted for the acquisition of virtue. But one man applies less, one more, to learning and training" (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata). The Greeks, and Clement follows them, understand virtue (both intellectual and moral) as a certain skill or ability (dynamis). Ancient philosophy remains in the shadow of an immense discovery, which unveiled the role that habit plays in our spiritual life, that is, the stable predisposition, which, as Democritus said, is capable of becoming a second nature to man. The whole understanding of virtues and vices is essentially a conceptualization of the habits that we gain through frequent repetitions. Is it any wonder that the philosophy which leads to perfection is full of martial and athletic metaphors, and philosophy itself can be understood as a set of exercises (Greek askesis) that make the spirit more capable?'

Dariusz Karlowicz, Socrates and Other Saints, trans. Artur Sebastian Rosman
Indeed, prayer is a work, that is, ascesis, when it is a habitus, something retained or maintained, that is, kept up, improved upon, perfected, it becomes a habit.

To pray is to... well, pray

I find it interesting that so many people want call many things that aren't prayer praying. The Benedictine call is Ora et Labora (i.e., "Pray and Work"). It is important to note that prayer comes first and work second. Their call, their motto, is not Opus est oratio (i.e., "Work is prayer," or more specifically, in the much ballyhooed quote by John Singer Sargent, usually cited with no context- I am not picking on Sargent as I don't know myself know the context of that quote- "to work is to pray.") No, to pray is to pray. It is the core spiritual discipline.

Prayer is prayer. I think we'd all be better off just spending some dedicated time everyday in prayer instead of calling whatever else we do prayer. Even should we insist on a connection between work and prayer, which strikes me as good, work is no substitute, or replacement for prayer. If not, my question to my Catholic and Orthodox readers is, "Are we really that Calvinistic?"

In my experience, it would be more accurate to say, prayer is work. After all, "ascesis" refers to kind of "exercise" or "training." You don't train for a marathon by working on your cooking skills.

We could extend the contextless quote ad nauseum: to snowboard is to pray, to eat jelly-filled donuts is to pray, to drink a good beer is to pray, to drive fast in my car is to pray, etc., etc. It is easy to detect that this is a pet peeve of mine. In my view, one of the worst curses of our age is not the just the refusal, but the increasing inability, to make important distinctions. Among other things, this unwillingness and/or inability disables us when it comes to making important connections and relations, like the one to be made between work and prayer. But to simply mis-identify something by calling it what it is not just leads to confusion.

Perhaps the worst conflation is the one made by the so-called "new atheists" (they're atheism is only "new" if everything old is new again), who repeatedly fail to make the distinction between physics properly understood and that which is truly metaphysical. Yes, even atheists espouse a meta-" physics.

I love people who take great care with words, like Msgr Giussani. But I believe it was Nicholas Lash who insisted that the theologian is the person who "watches their language in the presence of God."

To pray frequently is the only way to learn to pray well. It is prayer that sanctifies work, just ask a Benedictine.

Snowy Friday

This New Year of 2013 is off to a slow start here on Καθολικός διάκονος. This is due exclusively to the fact that your humble deacon has been busy, which has the added benefit of keeping me out of trouble. What has kept me busy is my participation in the 2013 Cathedral Ministries Conference, which was hosted by The Cathedral of the Madeleine under the leadership and oversight of our Rector, Msgr. Joseph Mayo.

Looking up State Street to the Utah State Capitol on a snowy day in 1925

I gave two workshops: Everything you wanted to know about Mormonism... but were afraid to ask and Fully Implementing RCIA. While I am certainly not the best judge, I felt both presentations went well. So, at least I feel like my efforts were worth it.

It is a snowy day here along the Wasatch Front, by snowy I mean more than 2 feet of accumulated snow overnight at our house, which is on the bench. Because of the snowfall here and the fact that it's still the season of Christmas, 'til Sunday, the "Snow Song" from the movie the 1954 movie White Christmas, featuring Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye, and Vera-Ellen seems utterly fitting today as our traditio. I am very glad that I had already scheduled today to be off work.

Sunday, January 6, 2013


In Christian Tradition there has long been the connection between the wood of the manger and the wood of the Cross. Jesus-shaped living, which is true discipleship, is cruciform. In this same vein, on this Solemnity of the Epiphany, when considering Matthew 2:11- The magi "prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh"- that the last of these gifts, myrrh, which was used as an embalming oil, it points forward to His death.

There is a very real sense that the life Jesus' disciples' is, in imitation of our Lord, a sacrificial death, a continual dying to ourselves and living for others, most particularly for Him. This is why, later in St. Matthew's Gospel, He says, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matt. 16:24-25). Any Epiphany that does not lead to or reinforce this is hardly worth having.

Friday, January 4, 2013

"If there's a burning in your heart" (not heartburn)

Here we are, the first Friday of 2013. As it turns out, this year it is the Friday before the Solemnity of Epiphany, which we Roman Catholics in the U.S. (oddly) celebrate on Sunday, instead of which ever day of the week 7 January happens to fall on, but that's a whole different issue and one that is well-hashed over each and every year.

Immaculate Heart of Mary- pierced and crowned

For those few who read Καθολικός διάκονος on a consistent basis, you know that I like to make connections and stick with themes and ideas, lest my blog just become a vehicle for random, unconnected, one-off throw away posts. So, since, by means of a beautiful poem, composed by my lovely friend Stefania, for New Year's, I mentioned "heart" in my post for New Year's Day, my mind turned to a song by Death Cab for Cutie: "You Are a Tourist," which is a song I find very moving.

Cause when you find yourself the villain
In the story you have written
It's plain to see
That sometimes the best intentions
Are in need of redemption
Would you agree?
If so please show me

There is a lot in this simple song to consider. I was also struck the day after New Year by something written and posted by Paul Tripp on his ministry's blog about making and keeping our New Year's Resolutions:
The little moments of life are profoundly important precisely because they're the little moments that we live in and that form us. This is where I think "Big Drama Christianity" gets us into trouble. It can cause us to devalue the significance of the little moments of life and the 'small-change' grace that meets us there. And because we devalue the little moments where we live, we don't tend to notice the sin that gets exposed there. We fail to seek the grace that is offered to us.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

Each year on this Solemnity the Church also observes the World Day of Peace. It has become customary for the Roman Pontiff to promulgate a papal message for this day. In his message, the Pope addresses the on-going need for the Church and Her members to be a force for peace and human solidarity in the world and extends this call to adherents of other faiths and all women and men of goodwill.

This year, Pope Benedict XVI begins his message by pointing to the hope many of us express at the beginning of a New Year: "Each New Year brings the expectation of a better world. In light of this, I ask God, the Father of humanity, to grant us concord and peace, so that the aspirations of all for a happy and prosperous life may be achieved." This hope is shared by many people throughout the world and is not limited to believers, or adherents to any specific faith, indeed it extends to people who claim no faith.

In his 2013 message, the Holy Father touches on many things. Of those things I want to focus briefly on what he has to say about economics and economic development, which remarks flow from his latest encyclical Caritas in veritate.

In the first section, the Pope notes: "It is alarming to see hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor, by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism. In addition to the varied forms of terrorism and international crime, peace is also endangered by those forms of fundamentalism and fanaticism which distort the true nature of religion, which is called to foster fellowship and reconciliation among people."

The Holy Father dedicates the fifth section, entitled Building the good of peace through a new model of development and economics, to this theme. In this section he takes aim at "The predominant model of recent decades," which "called for seeking maximum profit and consumption, on the basis of an individualistic and selfish mindset, aimed at considering individuals solely in terms of their ability to meet the demands of competitiveness." In addition to not being sustainable, such a model denigrates our common humanity.

He goes on to note that "true and lasting success is attained through the gift of ourselves, our intellectual abilities and our entrepreneurial skills, since a 'liveable' or truly human economic development requires the principle of gratuitousness as an expression of fraternity and the logic of gift. Concretely, in economic activity, peacemakers are those who establish bonds of fairness and reciprocity with their colleagues, workers, clients and consumers. They engage in economic activity for the sake of the common good and they experience this commitment as something transcending their self-interest, for the benefit of present and future generations. Thus they work not only for themselves, but also to ensure for others a future and a dignified employment." In short, while success is not to be eschewed, it cannot be calculated solely on the basis of profit.

Blessed Virgin Mary in Prayer, Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato

The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, according to many Fathers of the Church, "was the receiver of God's word par excellence. She welcomed the Word in her mind before the Word became flesh in her body. In those secret months of cherishing and nurturing the Word, she became the model of the contemplative Church. Her words at the Annunciation might well be ours as we begin lectio [divina]:" "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word" (Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina, Michael Casey, O.C.S.O.; Luke 1:38).

Stefania, a friend of mine posted this on Facebook yesterday morning: "Nulla di ciò che ci è donato finisce, ma il cuore ha una sete insaziabile di un nuovo inizio. Sempre questo povero cuore attende un nuovo inizio. Per questo nel Cielo si leva la luna e sorge il sole, per calmare la sete di chi sulla strada attende." Which, according to my poor translation, says, "Nothing that is given to us is over, but the heart has an insatiable thirst for a new beginning. Again this poor heart is waiting for a new beginning. In the heavens the moon and the sun rise, to quench the thirst of those for the road ahead."

It is my fervent prayer that this New Year is a new beginning for all hearts wise enough to recognize their poverty. Happy New Year to one and all.

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: Hosea 2:16.17c.18.21-22; Ps 145:2-9; Matthew 9:18-26 Our Gospel today is Saint Matthew’s version of events first written about ...