Sunday, March 31, 2013

"Hear the bells ringing..."

The Resurrection of Christ, by Paolo Veronese ca. 1570

The angels at the tomb on the first Easter morning asked Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, “Why do you seek the living one among the dead?" For us, it makes all the difference in the world whether we conceive of Jesus Christ as merely a historical figure, who lived more than 2,000 years ago, or experiencing Him as the Resurrected and Risen Lord, who accompanies us now, leading us to our destiny.

It would not be Easter for me without the late Keith Green's "Easter Song." He is Risen and the implications for us are huge, unimaginably huge, the biggest news in the history of world, which is why it is called "Gospel," which means Good News! A blessed and joyful Easter day and holy season to everyone.

Urbi et Orbi- Easter 2013


Easter 2013

Dear brothers and sisters in Rome and throughout the world, Happy Easter! Happy Easter!

What a joy it is for me to announce this message: Christ is risen! I would like it to go out to every house and every family, especially where the suffering is greatest, in hospitals, in prisons …

Most of all, I would like it to enter every heart, for it is there that God wants to sow this Good News: Jesus is risen, there is hope for you, you are no longer in the power of sin, of evil! Love has triumphed, mercy has been victorious! The mercy of God always triumphs!

We too, like the women who were Jesus’ disciples, who went to the tomb and found it empty, may wonder what this event means (cf. Lk 24:4). What does it mean that Jesus is risen? It means that the love of God is stronger than evil and death itself; it means that the love of God can transform our lives and let those desert places in our hearts bloom. The love God can do this!

This same love for which the Son of God became man and followed the way of humility and self-giving to the very end, down to hell - to the abyss of separation from God - this same merciful love has flooded with light the dead body of Jesus, has transfigured it, has made it pass into eternal life. Jesus did not return to his former life, to earthly life, but entered into the glorious life of God and he entered there with our humanity, opening us to a future of hope.

This is what Easter is: it is the exodus, the passage of human beings from slavery to sin and evil to the freedom of love and goodness. Because God is life, life alone, and we are his glory: the living man (cf. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 4,20,5-7).

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Χριστός ἀνέστη!

Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!

Say what?

Christ is Risen!- Truly He is Risen!

Faith on a Holy Saturday

For Holy Saturday I want to reflect on faith, especially as it pertains to adults who are typically baptized, confirmed, and brought into full communion, or incorporation, in the Church, which is Christ's Mystical Body, at the Paschal Vigil. The reflection comes from the first volume of Hans Urs Von Balthasar's theological aesthetics, The Glory of the Lord (volume's title: "Seeing the Form"). The passage is from a section of part two entitled "The Experience of Faith." In this section Balthasar wrote about the relationship between faith and experience.

Balthasar begans by citing Aquinas to the effect that we cannot have "experiential certainty" as to whether we are in a state of grace, but that we can only reach natural certainty about it by voluntarily submitting to the Church's "norm of faith." Balthasar asserts that if the Angelic Doctor had left matters here that it would amount to what he calls fides informis, or a lifeless faith. I think some dispute could be made about this in light Jesus' initial proclamation at the beginning of His ministry, at least as His words are given in St. Mark's Gospel, which, when rendered literally, enjoin the hearer/reader "to be repenting and be believing" (metanoeite kai pisteuete; 1:15). To this Aquinas adds the donum infusum, or "infused gift." After all, faith is a theological virtue. My only point here is that, especially in light of Jesus' words, might not the donum infusum sometimes be facilitated, or increased (if one may write using a quantitative term in this context) by obedience? To be clear, he did indicate earlier that obedience is the fruit of faith and an act of hope, which is manifest by caritas.

Continuing with his exploration, Balthasar insisted that together the voluntary "psychological act of believing what the Church presents as dogma," along with "the donum infusum" only make-up the very beginning of "'faith' in the fullest sense." It is from here that he ventured forth to discuss an adult convert's faith. He wrote that, of course, such a person's confessio at the time of baptism is entirely sincere, at least from the human perspective. This confessio, Von Balthasar asserted, "is only the entry into a living relationship in the covenant with God." He noted that the real sincerity of the neophyte's confessio can only be demonstrated by how that person lives after making it; "whether to his own truth and will he seriously prefers the truth of God, which is expressed in God's will and law."

L to R- Luigi Giussani, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Angelo Scola- I am indebted to Joseph Koczera, SJ for this amazing photo!

Then, after he held up Israel's covenant-relationship with God as an example, Balthasar wrote that the psychological act of gauging one's faith is always a dubious undertaking. "[W]ho can say to himself," he asked, "that he is living in accordance with the law of the Covenant, which in the New Testament is Christ himself?" He continued, "if faith is the freely given participation in the perfect covenant-fidelity of Jesus Christ, then this faith does not really belong to me in its origin and in its center, but to God in Christ." Hence, "I cannot grasp faith's supernatural reality to myself as if it were something belonging to me as a possession."

"Seen from this perspective," Balthasar concluded, "Christian experience can mean only the progressive growth of one's own existence into Christ's existence, on the basis of Christ's continuing action in taking shape in the believer: 'until Christ has taken shape in you' (Gal. 4:19)." Of course to be Christ-shaped is to be cruciform.

On this basis I can't help but note that it seems to me that this helps demonstrate the indispensable nature of the sacraments, which are the primary means, or tools, Christ uses to finish the "good work" He began in the believer (Phil 1:6). Through the sacraments we are drawn deeper into the reality of our own everyday experience, which experience, to borrow the title from Communion and Liberation's 2009 La Thuile Assembly, is "the instrument for [our] human journey."

Leitourgia is not primarily our work, but Christ's work, one from which and into which our "work" flows, our work being askēsis, which gets us back to being repenting and being believing, or obeying freely on the basis of faith, acting with hope, which is manifested in love. Such obedience is always a choice, but God's love, especially as manifested in the sacrament of mercy, is always greater than our failures, our bad choices. This why the fruit of the fifth Sorrowful Mystery of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary is persistence, or why Christ, in St. John's Gospel, repetitively enjoins His disciples, not to merely "abide" with Him, but to "adhere," that is, "stick to Him."

Jesus, I trust in You.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Triduum Continues: Good Friday

Crucifixion, by Peter Paul Reubens, ca. 1610-1611

"The same Peter who professed Jesus Christ, now says to him: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let us not speak of the Cross. That has nothing to do with it. I will follow you on other terms, but without the Cross. When we journey without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord, we are worldly: we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord" Pope Francis from his homily from the Missa Pro Ecclesia with the Cardinal Electors in the Sistine Chapel.

Of course, one could insert "deacon" in this exhortation too. In light of that and of my post yesterday, Deacon Bill Ditewig has a wonderful post on this very subject over on his blog Deacon's Today: "Pope Francis: The Deacon's Pope."

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Holy Thursday: The Triduum Begins

Jesus washing the feet of His disciples, by Albert Gustaf Aristides Edelfelt, 1898

“Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, 'Master, are you going to wash my feet?' Jesus answered and said to him, 'What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later'" (John 13:5-7).

It's quite a lot later, do we understand?

Some thoughts on Pope Francis and deacons

Referring back to my post about Pope Francis calling on the Church to emerge, I have to say that I am struck by the fact that the Holy Father's ecclesiology, which informs his missiology, does not yet seem to include the ministry of permanent deacons. This is not surprising given that as of 2011 his former diocese, the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, according Catholic Hierarchy, had only 7 permanent deacons. In addition to being a highly significant number in scriptural numerology, the number seven is significant as it pertains to the diaconate. After all, seven is the number of men who were set apart by the apostles in the sixth chapter of Acts and who are considered to be, at least since the time of St. Ireneanus, the Church's first deacons. Traditionally Rome had seven deacons. Today, by the count given again on Catholic Hierarchy, the Diocese of Rome has 114 permanent deacons.

In his homily today for Rome's Chrism Mass, the Holy Father, speaking to priests, said, "We need to 'go out', then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the 'outskirts' where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters." I agree with this wholeheartedly. I suggest that one of the ways a priest "goes out" is by sending his deacons.

When meeting with journalists for the first time after his selection as Pope, the Holy Father mentioned that he encouraged his priests to rent space beyond the 600 meters that sociologists say the influence of a parish extends. As far as I could tell, these spaces were to be makeshift chapels where the Blessed Sacrament is present. He mentioned these chapels could be run by laymen, which is fine, I suppose, but such a ministry of presence and prayer strikes me as prime diaconal ministry, one that frees up the laity more to heed the call reissued to them in Lumen Gentium, and frees up priests to more freely administer the precious sacraments, a mediating ministry, which is what the restored and renewed diaconate surely is.

In the thirty-first section of Lumen Gentium, also called Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, the laity are defined as "all the faithful except those in holy orders and those in the state of religious life specially approved by the Church." The Council Fathers went on to note that while "those in holy orders can at times be engaged in secular activities, and even have a secular profession" they are ordained to perform "sacred ministry." "Sacred" here is contrasted with "secular," not by way of elevating it above, but in order to distinguish two different and complementary activities. A similar distinction is made concerning those in religious life. "But the laity, by their very vocation," the Council Fathers ascertained, "seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God." It is important to note that it is in an earlier section (section 29) of Lumen Gentium that the Council calls for the restoration of the diaconate as a permanent order of ministry in the Church, one that could even be conferred on married men.

In an artcle that appeared in Christianity Today back in July of last year about Iranians converting to Christianity in Germany in fairly large numbers, "The Other Iranian Revolution," mention is made of a place that seems to me to bear some resemblance to what Pope Francis had in mind when he served as Archbishop of Buenos Aires: "Across Berlin in Neukölln, a district with a nearly 20 percent Middle Eastern immigrant population, deaconess Rosemarie Götz baptized 16 Persians on Easter Day in her modest house of prayer, Haus Gotteshilfe ("God's Help"). The baptisms doubled her tiny congregation, which belongs to the Landeskirchliche Gemeinschaft, a pietistic group within the otherwise liberal Protestant church of the Berlin-Brandenburg region." I remember one Catholic theologian, in fact the person who brought the article to my attention, lamenting the fact that the Lord did not seem to be leading people in that milieu to the Catholic Church. The article mentions some of the reasons why this is so, like the fact that, along with the mainstream Protestant ecclesial communities, the Roman Catholic Church is not interested in evangelizing Muslims due to sensitivities about interfaith relations. This would explain why there is no similar Catholic presence, at least in these places.

I hope and pray that as he turns his energies to being Bishop of Rome, which is clearly his preferred title, as opposed to Pope, Roman Pontiff, etc., that he is soon able to encounter his deacons, to see for himself both the ministry in which they are engaged and the potential for the diaconate in fulfilling his vision for the "fruitful for the evangelization of this most beautiful city," something he mentioned in his first remarks after being chosen as Rome's 266th bishop.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

“For the love of Christ impels us”

In light of the U.S. Supreme Court hearing oral arguments in the case challenging the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, this morning I posted the picture below on Facebook. Above the image I wrote something like- “To love someone is to point them towards their destiny.” In a comment below the image, I wrote that it was now more important to give witness to marriage by joyfully living it fully, especially when it comes to divorce, child-bearing, and raising children, than to discourse about it. Hardly the stuff of hate speech, a reasonable person would think.

Not long after posting it a friend posted something on my Wall asking if I had been censured by FB. Initially, I was puzzled and responded that to my knowledge I had not been. Then, scrolling down, I noticed this image, along with my caption and comment, were no longer there. Not noticing anything on FB, either on my Wall, or a private message regarding this, I checked the email account I use to log onto FB to see if there was something at least notifying me that this had been removed and give me some indication as to why. I received nothing. Everyone I knew who posted the picture this morning had it inexplicably removed. Many of us re-posted it and it is still there. My best guess is that someone complained, and so without checking, FB administrators removed it and by the time we re-posted it they had determined it was not "inappropriate," like FB can make that call, at least judging by what I see show-up in my newsfeed on a regular basis.

I find this disturbing on a number of levels. We all know that social media is a mixed bag, bringing both good and bad. I don’t want to exaggerate and fall prey to a martyr complex, or put myself forward as a prophet. I know myself too well to do either of those things. Nonetheless, I won’t give in to hate and bitterness. To do so would be to lose when it comes to what matters most. Suffice it to say, when it comes to speaking, writing, posting the truth in love, I won’t be silenced. These days especially, the truth is often the minority opinion, but truth is not determined by a democratic process, this falsehood was revealed in humanity’s fall from its state of original grace.

In an interview he gave recently to the U.K.’s Catholic Herald newspaper, the USCCB’s point man on marriage, Archbishop Salvatore Cordilione of San Francisco, it was noted, “Even if opponents do not agree with his stance on same-sex marriage, he commands respect for his persistence in arguing for marriage between a man and a woman, in the face of being called homophobic and charged with the erroneous idea that he discriminates against gay people and lesbians. All the same, it must be unnerving at times to be on the receiving end of such hostility in San Francisco. But he doesn’t let it get to him. ‘All our detractors can do is call us names,’ he says. He throws his hands up in the air, and adds: ‘Big deal if they shout at us or throw insults!’

“When I say that people in Britain who oppose gay marriage have been slammed as ‘bigots’, by people who won’t allow any opinion but their own, he says: ‘How ironic!’” How ironic, indeed!

You can delete what I post off Facebook in Big Brother fashion, but you can’t silence me because, to borrow a phrase from St. Paul, who knew what it was to really be persecuted for speaking the truth in love: “For the love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died” (2 Cor. 5:14). At the end of my comment I stated that the truth remains the truth no matter what the U.S. Supreme Court decides, what any legislative body determines, or what any executive power on earth may mandate. I stand by this comment. In the end, only the truth remains. While it is true that there is no love without truth, one can speak, or communicate, the truth in an unloving way. The challenge is always to speak the truth in love, out of love and then let the chips fall where they may. My reason for not supporting so-called same-sex marriage is not because I am a homophobe (which term is simply agitprop from the Stanlist diagnostic manual), but because I love people by loving their destiny, which is another thing not subject to any worldly power.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Papa Francesco calls on the Church to emerge

During the recently concluded Conclave, from whence he emerged as Pope Francis, at least according to Jaime Cardinal Ortega, Archbishop of Havana, then-Cardinal Bergoglio, in a speech shortly before being selected by his brothers as the Bishop of Rome, said, “The church is called on to emerge from itself and move toward the peripheries, not only geographic but also existential (ones): those of sin, suffering, injustice, ignorance and religious abstention, thought and all misery.” In making these remarks, Cardinal Ortega said in an interview that he was given written permission by the Pope to share this publicly. In this speech, the soon-to-be Pope Francis, according to Ortega, said that the new pope needed to be “a man who… helps the church to emerge from itself toward the existential outskirts.”

In addition to being very much in concert with the charism of Msgr. Luigi Giussani, the founder of Communion & Liberation, these remarks also bring to mind something else, something heretofore limited to the Post-Evangelical Protestant phenomenon in English-speaking countries known as the Emerging Church. One of the three books that together constitute something like the theological foundation of this movement, which has lost quite a bit of steam over the past 4-5 years, is The Emergent Church: The Future of Christianity in a Post-Bourgeois World, by Roman Catholic theologian, Johann Baptist Metz, who is German.

Metz was a student of Karl Rahner, albeit a student who broke with his teacher's "transcendental Thomism," preferring instead a theology of praxis. Metz's theology exerted a strong influence on various liberation theologians, like Gustavo Gutiérrez, who wrote the landmark work A Theology of Liberation, in which he sought to link faith to life: “The unqualified affirmation of the universal will of salvation has radically changed the way of conceiving the mission of the Church in the world. . . . The work of salvation is a reality which occurs in history.” So, while Father, then Bishop, Archbishop, and Cardinal Bergoglio resisted the tendency of the more radical strains of various liberation theologies, it is clear from what already exists of his papal magisterium that he took to heart much of what the healthier, that is, more orthodox theologies of liberation, like of that of Gutiérrez, had to say about the state-of-affairs in post-colonial South America.

When taken as a whole, there is much critical that can and has been said and written about the post-Evangelical Emergent phenomenon, as with Liberation Theology. The biggest "knock" on the Emergents is that they often lack a solid doctrinal foundation. Nonetheless, there is something at the root of this phenomenon that the Catholic Church needs, not to discover, but recover. Having shown great discernment sifting the wheat from the chaff in various liberation theologies while serving as Provincial Superior of Jesuits, Pope Francis seems well-suited for this complex task of the New Evangelization. As Benedict XVI said in his homily at the Mass to begin last fall’s Synod on the New Evangelization, “The Church exists to evangelize.” This leads one to ask, What is the thrust and what are the fruits of evangelism? To introduce to others to Jesus, who, turning again to Benedict’s homily, "alone who fills existence with deep meaning and peace.”

Metz's book The Emergent Church is a compilation of various talks he gave over a two year period in the late 1970s. The first chapter is entitled "Messianic or Bourgeois Religion?" He begins the talk by saying that, by-and-large, the Roman Catholic Church of what was then still West Germany was bourgeois at the expense of being messianic. He was not using "bourgeois" strictly as a term of abuse, seeing that such a Church had "great value for society," but he asks does it have a "messianic future." He is speaking of what, at least among many Evangelical Christians in the U.S., is now called by some commentators, most recently Byron Yawn, "suburbianity."
When the church in West Germany repeats the messianic sayings regarding the reign of God and the future disclosed therein, it is speaking primarily in this case to people who already possess a future. They bring their own future, as it were, into the church with them - the powerful and unshakably optimistic to have it religiously endorsed and uplifted
In his memorable first encounter with journalists, Pope Francis mentioned that he asked his priests in Buenos Aires to rent garages in order to extend the influence of the local Church, the parish, beyond the 600 meters sociologists of religion say is the maximum distance such influence reaches. This puts me in mind of something written by the Servant of God, my beloved Madeleine Delbrêl, a piece that begins with these words, "We, the ordinary people of the streets...
When we live with others, obedience also means we set aside our own tastes and leave things in the place others have put them. In this way, life becomes an epic film in slow motion. It does not make our head spin. It does not take our breath away. Little by little, thread by thread, it eats away at the old man's frame, which cannot be mended and must be made new from the ground up
This is emergent Christianity!

According to Cardinal Ortega, while a still a Cardinal speaking to the Sacred College gathered in Conclave, Jorgé Bergoglio said, “When the church does not emerge from itself to evangelize, it becomes self-referential and therefore becomes sick. ... The evils that, over time, occur in ecclesiastical institutions have their root in self-referentiality, a kind of theological narcissism.”

In his homily for Palm Sunday Papa Bergoglio quoted something said by his predecessor to the Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church: "you are princes, but of a king crucified." He went on to preach- "Why the Cross? Because Jesus takes upon himself the evil, the filth, the sin of the world, including the sin of all of us, and he cleanses it, he cleanses it with his blood, with the mercy and the love of God. Let us look around: how many wounds are inflicted upon humanity by evil! Wars, violence, economic conflicts that hit the weakest, greed for money that you can’t take with you and have to leave. When we were small, our grandmother used to say: a shroud has no pocket."

Evangelization is to point someone towards his/her destiny!

Monday, March 25, 2013

St. Dismas, the saved sinner

While the Solemnity of the Annunciation has been transferred this year to Monday, 8 April, because of Holy Week and then Eastertide (i.e., the Octave of Easter), it is with a deep diaconal bow to Fr. Z that I remind everyone (as he reminded me) that today remains the liturgical memorial of St. Dismas. Dismas is the name Tradition gives to one of the two criminals who was crucified on either side of our Lord. St. Dismas is "the Good Thief," the one who rebukes the other criminal who was pleading with Jesus to save them all if He was truly the Christ. Frankly, it is easier for me to identify with him than it is with Dismas, who recognizied Jesus as Lord even in those dire circumstances, which recognition is always the work of the Holy Spirit.

The first time I ever heard the name "St. Dismas" was in the 1992 movie American Me, starring Edward James Olmos.

St. Dismas

So, it is fitting to remember St. Dismas, the one who said to our crucified Lord, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Luke 23:42). Whenever I lead Stations of the Cross I have a hard time saying those words without my voice cracking. I am even more moved by the Lord's amazing response: "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43).

I also remember years ago attending Mass at St. Albert's Priory in Oakland, CA, home of the Western U.S. Province of the Dominicans. For our communion hymn we sang this as a repetitive refrain: "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom".

This memorial seems to me a fitting way to begin Holy Week, not that the Annunciation wouldn't be. In St. John's Gospel Jesus replied to Pilate after the Roman procurator asked Him, "Then you are a king?": "For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice" (John 18:37). We all know Pilate's reply to Jesus' statement. Unlike the Pilate and because of his desperate need, St. Dismas listened to the Truth and gained Paradise.

Apart from the Baptist (Matt. 11:11), there is no one in Scripture who's salvation is assured from the lips of our Blessed Lord other than St. Dismas.

To top it off, it somehow seems fitting that Flannery O'Connor birthday is today.

Annunciation of the Lord

Annunciation, by Paolo de Matteis, 1712

With Easter falling on the last day of March this year, the Feast of the Annunciation, which we normally celebrate on 25 March, due to the fact that it falls exactly nine months prior to the Nativity of the Lord (i.e., Christmas), is delayed until Monday, 8 April. This places our observance of this important event on the first day after the conclusion of the Octave of Easter. However, such a move throws our liturgical calculations off (as does observing the Ascension on the Seventh Sunday of Easter, instead of the Thursday after the Fifth Sunday of Easter, or forty days after Easter).

With the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception falling, as it does, on 8 December, I am frequently asked, "How can Jesus be conceived on 8 December and be born on 25 December?" Of course, the Immaculate Conception refers, not to Jesus' conception by the Holy Spirit, but to the conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which conception we believe happened in the normal manner. Today is the day we observe what we profess in the Credo: At the words that follow up to and including and became man, all bow

"and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man."

While today may not be a Solemnity, it remains, at least for me, the Annunciation of the Lord.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Beauty is catalytic

Just as there is a dynamism among the three core spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving, there is a similar dynamism that obtains among the three transcendentals: Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. Once again, returning to the fact that prior to discerning a call to priesthood and religious life, Pope Francis trained to become a chemist, earning a Master's degree in Chemistry from the University of Buenos Aires, I'll employ a chemical metaphor. Instead of polyvalence, I turn to a more familiar concept, that of a catalyst. A catalyst is a substance introduced to increase the rate of a chemical reaction.

Unknown Master, French, Three Scenes (1350-75), Alabaster, Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Antwerp

According to this metaphor, in the case of the three core spiritual disciplines, fasting serves a catalyst, moving prayer to service, or alms-giving. Applied to the three transcendentals, Beauty is the catalyst, helping to transform Truth into Goodness. Of course the fundamental dynamism of reality is the Most Holy Trinity. If I were push this metaphor, which is really to do nothing other than economically schematize God, it seems to me that the Son is the catalyst.

Even Plato noticed, across many of his Socratic dialogues, that threeness, if you will, seems built into the structure of reality, most notably in his tripartate division of the human soul (i.e., pysche) in the Republic.

Stated simply, just as fasting helps turn prayer into service (i.e., diakonia) Beauty helps turn Truth into Good[ness]. Beauty also opens us to wonder, which is necessary to apprehend truth.

The consequences of sneering at beauty

Along with Truth and Goodness, Beauty is one of the three transcendentals. Aesthetics is concerned with the expression of beauty. Hence, one need not apologize for seeking what is Beautiful along with what is Good and True. Societally, we remain afflicted by the neurosis of Kierkegaard when it comes to aesthetics. But even for Kierkegaard, aesthetics only becomes problematic when it becomes an end-in-itself, that is, ceases to be a transcendental. Disconnected from Goodness and Truth, meaning cut-off from the end for which we are made, the pursuit of Beauty can become decadence, leading a person to despair. Dostoevsky is not taken out of context when he is quoted- "Beauty will save the world."

The aesthetic aspect of Christian worship is important and always has been in the Church. If we wanted no frills worship, in these days, we have no shortage of options.

As Von Balthasar wrote: “We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it. Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness... We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past -- whether he admits it or not -- can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love."

It seems to me that we are having a revival in these days of sneering at beauty because of the prevalent reductivist mindset. In the liturgy especially, aesthetics don't happen in a vacuum. Among the many "duties" aesthetics performs in the context of the liturgy is linking us to the past, drawing us into the communio sanctorum, which is the communion of holy people and things. If Truth is symphonic it is only because beauty, of necessity, is multi-dimensional, which is not to say it is wholly subjective, it is not.

Back in 2007 Andrea Tornielli, writing in the Communion and Liberation publication Traces, had this to say about the theme of the Fraternity's Spiritual Exercises that year, which was taken from the poet Jacopone da Todi- "Christ in His beauty draws me to Him:"
We are the irrepressible desire for the Infinite, and we depend so deeply that we can say to God, “I am You who make me.” The person cannot be reduced to his psychological, biological, or sociological elements, though the modern mentality would have it so, reducing and thus isolating man. In contrast, in affirming the dependence on God, solitude is eliminated at its root, because communion is in the “I.” Our dependence is such that we are moved to acknowledge that without His beauty we cannot be ourselves

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Why go?

I just watched this over at The Deacon's Bench. I just have to pass it along. It is only 5 minutes and 10 seconds long (4 minutes and 5 seconds sans credits), with credits. Watch it! Show it to one other person, maybe a young person of your acquaintance who struggles with going to Mass, who wonders why it matters.

It's easy to say, "Jesus died for the world." We must be able to say, to affirm, "Jesus for me."

Passion (Palm) Sunday

"dicentes: 'Benedictus, qui venit rex in nomine Domini: pax in caelo, et gloria in excelsis.' Et quidam pharisaeorum de turbis dixerunt ad illum: 'Magister, increpa discipulos tuos.' Quibus ipse ait: "Dico vobis, quia si hi tacuerint, lapides clamabunt."

"They proclaimed: 'Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.' Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He said in reply, “I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19:38-40).

I'm not a huge Andrew Lloyd Webber fan, but I have always loved this from his Requiem:

Pope Francis visits Benedict, his predecessor

Words cannot express what gratitude I felt as I watched this video. How richly the Lord has blessed His Bride by entrusting Her to the stewardship of these two men. It put me in mind of how the Father entrusted His Son and the Blessed Virgin Mary to the Guardianship of St. Joseph.

One man named Josef at his Baptism, the other, waiting a few days longer to be installed as Bishop of Rome so he could do it on St. Joseph's Solemnity. St. Joseph, Protector of Holy Church, pray for us!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Luigi Giussani, Servant of God, pray for us

I am not always, or even usually, as aware as I should be. But I am surprised that I missed the promulgation of the prayer to be prayed to the Servant of God Father Luigi Giussani by those seeking his intercession back in May 2012.

In seeking the intercession of a person for whom the process of canonization is underway, but in the first stages, these prayers must receive ecclesiastical approval in the form of an official imprimatur. This prayer was granted an imprimatur by His Excellency, Angelo Mascheroni, a retired auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Milan, Msgr. Giussani's home diocese. Use of this particular prayer also comes with some instructions from Fr. Julián Carrón, Giussani's successor as head of Communion and Liberation:

"In order to respond to a need that has arisen in the life of many people after the request to introduce the cause of beatification of Fr. Giussani, that is, to be able to invoke his intercession in an orderly way, corre- sponding to the true nature of his charism, the Fraternity has requested and received from the appropriate ecclesiastical authority approval of an invocation to be used–take note!–for private devotion, the only form allowed by the Church for a Servant of God, which Fr. Giussani now is. We strongly encourage you to avoid composing and distributing other forms of invocation. The Fraternity disapproves of any other initiative."

O Merciful Father, we thank You
for having given Your Church and the world
the Servant of God Fr. Luigi Giussani.
He, with his life lived with passion,
taught us to know and love
Jesus Christ present here and now,
to ask Him with humble certainty that
“the beginning of every day be a yes to the Lord
who embraces us and makes fruitful
the soil of our heart
for the accomplishment of His work in the world,
which is the victory over death and evil.”
Grant, O Father,
through the intercession of Fr. Giussani,
according to Your will,
the grace we implore,
in the hope that he
will soon be numbered among Your saints.
Through Christ, our Lord. Amen

Veni Sancte Spiritus.
Veni per Mariam

"But I need more than myself this time"

Our Friday traditiones lately have been a little anomalous. I hope it keeps them from being stale and predictable. Besides, these are my least read posts without fail each and every week, thus making these almost Scott Dodge for nobody, which was the original title of this blog. That title originated from an old community radio program here in Northern Utah, Tom Waits for nobody that aired late Sunday night. I was a devoted listener. But it is also inspired by the title of my favorite book about Pater Tom A Song for Nobody, by Ron Seitz.

As Lent draws towards to a close this year, I was struck by the Red Hot Chili Peppers song "Snow" off their 2006 album, Stadium Arcadium. While I don't want to write anything very lengthy today, at least for me, this is about the need we all have to recover, rediscover, or discover our I. All of which puts me in mind of something the Apostle wrote: "At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known" (1 Cor. 13:12).

Deep beneath the cover of another perfect wonder where it's so white as snow/
Finally divided by a word so undecided and there's nowhere to go

Thursday, March 21, 2013

"Come now, let us set things right" (Isa. 1:18a)

These days I try to avoid being overly political. I have not eschewed weighing in on political matters altogether, however. After all, while the Gospel is not an ideology, despite the best efforts of many on both the right and left to reduce it to one, it does have implications in and for the world. One of the issues that should bring people from opposite sides of the spectrum together is the cause of peace. There are many issues that arise from waging war: the killing of innocent civilians, whom we write-off as "collateral damage," the displacement of persons, turning everyone, including families with small children, into refugees, the mental, emotional, and spiritual damage done to our own soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, etc.

Then, especially as it pertains to Iraq, Libya, and now Syria, there seems to be little care taken to apply jus ad bellum principles (i.e., what justifies military, that is, violent action- war is nothing other than organized violence), such as taking seriously that the ultimate goal of a just war is not only to re-establish peace, but, more precisely, to insure that the peace established after the war is preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought. I did not mention Afghanistan because I think it falls into a different category, though not without some criticism. This simple principle speaks volumes to our short-sightedness, especially in light of the human cost. We're coming perilously close to the Orwellian maxim from 1984, "War is peace." As Sen. Rand Paul asked during his recent filibuster with regard to the War on Terror: "Is perpetual war OK with everybody?" After having written all that I can still state that I am not a pacifist! Nonetheless, at least in the period after the Second World War, I believe non-violence has accomplished more good for humanity, more lasting, positive change, than violence.

It seems to me that the "War on Terror" is boundless by design, like the threats of communism in Latin America during the Cold War, which were used to justify many things in places like Nicaragua, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Chilé. This brings me at last to the matter I want to weigh in on, yet another consequence of war, how to treat prisoners, especially prisoners taken in this ill-defined war on terror and the legal complexities involved. I am writing to add my voice to those who think it's time, or past time, to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Dr. Susan Windely-Daoust (a.k.a. The Ironic Catholic- her post links you to how you can make your voice heard) has organized a "Close Gitmo Blog-in" among Catholic bloggers.

Like "collateral damage," "detention facility" sounds far too clean. Most people are unaware that some of the 166 detainees at Guantánamo, the exact number is not known, are on a hunger strike to protest the inhumane conditions there. You likely do not know this because in the U.S. we have a failed fourth estate, one that's more worried about discussing things like Scarlett Johansson's "leaked" nude pictures than issues that really matter (financial regulation reform anyone?). Their stated reason for striking is the alleged descration of the Qu'ran (see my post Burning the Qu'ran is not the way a Christian acts). It's difficult to verify anything, but apparently some of the striking prisoners are now being force fed, which shows how serious they are. As we know from their trials, or other legal proceedings, a number those detained over the years at Guantánamo, who were held sometimes for years, were found innocent . It was only in September last year that Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen, was repatriated to Canada after being held at Gitmo for eight years. Though we tend to forget, several years ago our closest ally, the United Kingdom, due to their concerns about conditions at Gitmo and the problematic pace and quality of justice, insisted that all of their citizens being held at Gitmo be repatriated and dealt with there. Undoubtedly some of those detained were engaged in combat and some in terrorist activities. But justice and humane treatment are not meted out on a sliding scale, even on the basis of presumed guilt or innocence.

As a Christian I cannot countenance the inhumane treatment of any human being, this includes being opposed to "enhanced interrogation techniques" (a.k.a. torture). Ends do not justify means; we may never do evil that good may come of it. As we approach Holy Week and the Sacred Triduum, especially Good Friday, the day we venerate the Cross of Jesus Christ as the Tree of Life, let's be reminded of the words of Jesus: "Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword" (Matt. 26:52). Violence begets violence. As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to break the cycle of violence, of an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth. In a fallen world, this is a provocation. In 2008 Pres. Obama promised to close "Gitmo." The Atlantic Monthly's Wire blog has a post, "Obama's Failed Promise to Close Gitmo: A Timeline" that tells you all you need to know about how this is going.

In explaining the rationale behind his choosing of the papal name Francis, the Holy Father, speaking to the news media for the first time said, "Then I thought of all the wars, as the votes were still being counted, till the end. Francis is also the man of peace." Let's not forget St. Francis of Assisi's journey to Egypt and Palestine. He undertook it during the Crusades with the intention of converting the Sultan Kameel and bringing fighting to an end. In the wake of 9/11 Ann Coulter proposed something different: "we should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." I'll leave you to judge which is the better of these two approaches in light of the Gospel.

During Lent we hear from the prophets. So let's pay heed to the Prophet Isaiah, through whom the Lord said, "Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged" (1:16-17b).

In addition to the IC's post, Thinking About Hunger Strikes (a Close Gitmo Blog-in post),
please check out:
Frank Weathers
Mark Shea
Erin Manning
Sherry Antonetti and
Thomas MacDonald

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

How does God's revelation confront us?

In the first volume of his theological aesthetics, The Glory of the Lord: Seeing the Form, Hans Urs Von Balthasar wrote something stunning about apologetics, one of those things that is as relevant today as it was when he penned it back in 1961.
The central question of so-called 'apologetics' or 'fundamental theology' is, thus, the question of perceiving form - an aesthetic problem. To have ignored this fact has stunted the growth of this branch of theology over the past hundred years. For fundamental theology, the heart of the matter should be the question: 'How does God's revelation confront man in history? How is it perceived?' But under the influence of a modern rationalistic concept of science, the question shifted ever more from its proper centre to the margin, to be re-stated in this manner: 'Here we encounter a man who claims to be God, and who, on the basis of this claim, demands that we should believe many truths he utters which cannot be verified by reason. What basis acceptable to reason can we give to his authoritative claims?' Anyone asking the question in this way has really already forfeited an answer, because he is at once enmeshed in an insoluble dilemma. On the one hand, he can believe on the basis of sufficient rational certainty; but then he is not believing on the basis of divine authority, and his faith is not Christian faith.

Mass scene from Rohmer's Ma nuit chez Maud

Or, on the other hand, he can achieve faith by renouncing all rational certainty and believing on the basis of mere probability; but then his faith is not really rational. This is the kind of apologetics that distinguishes between a content to be believed which remains opaque to reasons and the 'signs' that plead for the rightness of this content, signs which, alas, prove either too much or too little. How strange it is that such an apologetics does not see the form which God so conspicuously sets before us... [ellipsis in original] For Christ cannot be considered one 'sign' among other signs (at least not as understood in this kind of apologetics); the dimmest idea of what a form is should serve as warning against such leveling (173-174)
This commentary on the temptations of apologetics in our (late/post-)modern age goes a long way towards giving the theology articulated by Jean-Louis, the protagonist of the very best of Éric Rohmer's films that make up his Six Moral Tales, Ma nuit chez Maud. In the film, Jean-Louis, an engineer, resists the power of Pascal's wager, which Rohmer articulated through Jean-Louis' philosopher friend, Vidal, who is also a Marxist. Even as Jean-Louis agrees with Pascal, contra Vidal, about what is at stake, namely everything, aeternity (See Hope is not a mathematical calculation, but it entails a risk).

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Homily for Mass to Inaugurate the Petrine Ministry



Dear Brothers and Sisters, I thank the Lord that I can celebrate this Holy Mass for the inauguration of my Petrine ministry on the solemnity of Saint Joseph, the spouse of the Virgin Mary and the patron of the universal Church. It is a significant coincidence, and it is also the name-day of my venerable predecessor: we are close to him with our prayers, full of affection and gratitude.

I offer a warm greeting to my brother cardinals and bishops, the priests, deacons, men and women religious, and all the lay faithful. I thank the representatives of the other Churches and ecclesial Communities, as well as the representatives of the Jewish community and the other religious communities, for their presence. My cordial greetings go to the Heads of State and Government, the members of the official Delegations from many countries throughout the world, and the Diplomatic Corps.

In the Gospel we heard that “Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary as his wife” (Mt 1:24). These words already point to the mission which God entrusts to Joseph: he is to be the custos, the protector. The protector of whom? Of Mary and Jesus; but this protection is then extended to the Church, as Blessed John Paul II pointed out: “Just as Saint Joseph took loving care of Mary and gladly dedicated himself to Jesus Christ’s upbringing, he likewise watches over and protects Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, of which the Virgin Mary is the exemplar and model” (Redemptoris Custos, 1).

How does Joseph exercise his role as protector? Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand. From the time of his betrothal to Mary until the finding of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem, he is there at every moment with loving care. As the spouse of Mary, he is at her side in good times and bad, on the journey to Bethlehem for the census and in the anxious and joyful hours when she gave birth; amid the drama of the flight into Egypt and during the frantic search for their child in the Temple; and later in the day-to-day life of the home of Nazareth, in the workshop where he taught his trade to Jesus.

Solemnity of St. Joseph

El Greco, St. Joseph

An abbreviated Litany to St. Joseph

St. Joseph, pray for us
Joseph most chaste, pray for us
Spouse of the Mother of God, pray for us
Head of the Holy Family, pray for us
Glory of home life, pray for us
Pillar of families, pray for us
Hope of the sick, pray for us
Patron of the dying, pray for us
Terror of demons, pray for us
Protector of Holy Church, pray for us

St. Joseph, pray in a special way for Pope Francis, protect him, inspire him, strengthen him, that, like you cared for and safeguarded the Blessed Virgin Mary and the child Jesus, he may care for and safeguard the Bride of Christ. Today also, I ask your powerful intercession on behalf of Benedict XVI, who was given your name at his baptism.

Here is the first paragraph of Pope Francis' homily for his Mass of Installation as Bishop of Rome:

"I thank the Lord that I can celebrate this Holy Mass for the inauguration of my Petrine ministry on the solemnity of Saint Joseph, the spouse of the Virgin Mary and the patron of the universal Church. It is a significant coincidence, and it is also the name-day of my venerable predecessor: we are close to him with our prayers, full of affection and gratitude."

Monday, March 18, 2013

Truth is stranger than you think

As a Catholic, I am comfortable that the most fruitful philosophical approach to truth is by means of analogy. For example, "the Most Holy Trinity is like a shamrock." One thing being "like" another thing is wholly different from being identical with it. This is why distinctions matter when it comes to things such as, say, the constitutive elements of marriage, to pick a salient and relevant example.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states this quite well:
In defending the ability of human reason to know God, the Church is expressing her confidence in the possibility of speaking about him to all men and with all men, and therefore of dialogue with other religions, with philosophy and science, as well as with unbelievers and atheists.

Since our knowledge of God is limited, our language about him is equally so. We can name God only by taking creatures as our starting point, and in accordance with our limited human ways of knowing and thinking.

All creatures bear a certain resemblance to God, most especially man, created in the image and likeness of God. the manifold perfections of creatures - their truth, their goodness, their beauty all reflect the infinite perfection of God. Consequently we can name God by taking his creatures" perfections as our starting point, "for from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator".

High Cathedral of St. Peter, Cologne, Germany

God transcends all creatures. We must therefore continually purify our language of everything in it that is limited, imagebound or imperfect, if we are not to confuse our image of God --"the inexpressible, the incomprehensible, the invisible, the ungraspable"-- with our human representations. Our human words always fall short of the mystery of God.

Admittedly, in speaking about God like this, our language is using human modes of expression; nevertheless it really does attain to God himself, though unable to express him in his infinite simplicity. Likewise, we must recall that "between Creator and creature no similitude can be expressed without implying an even greater dissimilitude"; and that "concerning God, we cannot grasp what he is, but only what he is not, and how other beings stand in relation to him" (par. 39-43)
One of the divine attributes, according to the Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith from the First Vatican Ecumenical Council, is that, even in His Trinity, God is "completely simple."

The reason truth cannot be reduced, which is why we should not be reductive about truth (i.e., what makes Catholics et/et people) is that truth is in- finite, that is, unbounded. The prefix in is a negative prefix. By contrast "finite" means bounded (the same is true for ae-ternal- the diphthong being a negative prefix). Being reductive is a human attempt to fence truth in. Another way of stating this, which is rooted in the teaching of Msgr. Giussani, is that when we are reductive (this hearkens back to then-Cardinal Bergoglio's short essay in A Generative Thought, especially the short passage about our collective loss of wonder, or transcendence- see Pope Francis moved by Msgr. Giussani) we seek to reduce God and His providence to our measure, which is like insisting you can pour the ocean into a 12-oz glass. As Wittgenstein straightforwardly observed, the only thing that is impossible is a contradiction. As the Archangel Gabriel said to the uncomprehending Virgin Mary after telling her that her heretofore barren cousin, the old woman Elizabeth, had also conceived, "nothing will be impossible for God" (Luke 1:37).

At least for me, this leads into questions about the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy and how it shows all of this time and time again. Pat Archbold wrote (arch)boldly about this last Saturday in "Card. Mahony Tweets On Liturgy. So Do I". Here's one of Archbold's tweets: "humility is about forgetting self, not forgetting beauty." This prompted a few tweets of my own along these same lines: "self-forgetfulness opens us to beauty" and "beauty leads us to self-forgetfulness by striking us with wonder."

"Truth is symphonic," it resists reduction

Since my post Pope Francis: What's in a name?, the Holy Father has provided us with an answer to the question, "Why the name Francis?" In his address to journalists last Saturday, Pope Francis shared the following:
Some people wanted to know why the Bishop of Rome wished to be called Francis. Some thought of Francis Xavier, Francis De Sales, and also Francis of Assisi. I will tell you the story. During the election, I was seated next to the Archbishop Emeritus of São Paolo and Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes: a good friend, a good friend! When things were looking dangerous, he encouraged me. And when the votes reached two thirds, there was the usual applause, because the Pope had been elected. And he gave me a hug and a kiss, and said: “Don't forget the poor!” And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then I thought of all the wars, as the votes were still being counted, till the end. Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi
I appreciate the clarification and love the simplicity of Pope Francis' story (who wouldn't?). Predictably, I have received a few "nanner, nanner"-type replies to my post, despite the fact that I admitted to not knowing why he chose "Francis" and thought I made it clear that I was simply exploring possibilities, which exploration spilled over into my next post (Concrete polyavlance: the communion of saints). These responses brought to my attention, yet again, how on-line interaction often renders us less mature and causes some people to regress to Piaget's "concrete operational" stage of development.

All of this brings me back to the concept, or idea, of polyvalence. I want to apply that concept more specifically to language. So, for an explication of what I was pointing to as we awaited some clarification as to why the Holy Father chose the name "Francis," I turn to that philosopher whose prose style is said to have been been dubbed by Michel Foucault obscurantisme terroriste (i.e., terrorist obscurantism- I have never found it to be so, but some of Foucault writings are, in my estimation, moral terrorism). Whatever else might be written of Derrida, he grasped the mystery of language and how it is language that leads us into an intense encounter with reality ("In the beginning was Logos"- John 1:1). Too many philosophers and theologians, failing to grasp the mysterious nature of language, seek to be definitive about what they write and work very hard to make their prose unequivocal, bearing a singular message, one that is not subject to any other way of understanding it. Derrida's point was never that authorial intention doesn't matter when trying to understand a text (though some extremists of the "deconstructionist" school tried to make this case and drew on Derrida to do so). On the contrary, he insisted that it is one of the markers that constitute the boundaries of what a text can mean.

Pope Francis' papal coat-of-arms

Derrida's point, as I understand it, was that language resists our attempts to reduce the meaning of a text exclusively to what we think were the specific intentions of its authors, even when the intentions are fairly well known, but especially when the are not. This brings to mind many critical passages written by St. Paul. Nothing demonstrates this better than attempts to reduce the interpretation of Sacred Scripture by application of the historical-critical method. It is the post-critical, that is, theological expositors of Scripture that help us grasp the polyvalence of the sacred texts. Anyone who has read Benedict XVI's Jesus of Nazareth books knows firsthand what it is to explicate Scripture in a post-critical way. It was Hans Urs Von Balthasar, especially in the first chapter of his first volume of his theological aesthetics, Seeing the Form, who pioneered the post-critical approach, which does not discount the insights wrought by those who mine the historical-critical vein, but refuses to be reductive, or let the atomizing of Scripture be the last word because it leaves us only with fragments and shards, saying nothing. Returning to those passages by St. Paul, to grasp their possible meanings in the absence of clear authorial intention, we look to how these have been interpreted by commentators whose works help to make up what we call Tradition. We also have what we call the "four senses of Scripture" (see "Henri de Lubac and the Spiritual Sense of Scripture" by Dr. D'Ambrosio).

Those who refuse the inherent polyvalence of language, which is made of words, are reductivists. Derrida, Von Balthasar, and those who have a deeper understanding of and appreciation for language and the words that comprise it, seek to demonstrate the futility of the authoritarianism over language exhibited by those seek to be definitive, or unequivocal. To borrow words from Steve Martinot, "the polyvalence of language calls in question what 'say' and 'think' mean, what the 'who' that does it is." So, while we are now clear about what led the Holy Father to choose "Francis" as his papal name, let's not seek to reduce to his witness, or restrict the communio sanctorum. Even with the Pontiff's clarification, I am sticking with both/and. As Balthasar noted, "truth is symphonic."

For those who think I am really stretching, I ask you simply to consider Papa Begoglio's episcopal motto: Miserando atque eligendo. He chose this motto, not when he was chosen to be Bishop of Rome last week, but when he became a bishop back in 1992. Translated fluidly it means "Lowly yet chosen," or, a bit more literally, "Poor but elected." His motto exemplifies the very tension I am trying to articulate. I would also draw your attention, dear reader, to a piece posted last Friday on the Catholic Answers blog by Todd Aglialoro: A Pope of Contradictions. Moreover, like my beloved Benedict, Pope Francis strikes me as a Pope who resists reduction.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Pope Francis moved by Msgr. Giussani

Yesterday, while flying eastward from my beloved Utah (the true Zion, for those who are unaware), I took the opportunity to re-read then-Cardinal Bergoglio's short essay in A Generative Thought: An Introduction to the Works of Luigi Giussani, a book of essays explicating the thought of my dear Don Gius. Before I address the now-Pontiff's essay, I want to make a some observations.

In addition to Pope Francis' contribution, the book also features essays by two of the other leading papabili: Cardinals Angelo Scola and Marc Ouellet. This shows how deeply the charism given to the Church through Luigi Giussani has penetrated. Of course, Don Angelo is a true son of the Movement known as Comunione e Liberazione, so no surprises there. Benedict XVI's ties to the Movement are also well known, his household consisting of members of Memores Domini, with whom he is said to engage in weekly School of Community- the study and discussion of life in the light of the teachings of Msgr. Giussani. It was then-Cardinal Ratzinger, just a few months prior to becoming Pope, who, in February 2005, was sent by Bl. John Paul II as papal legate to celebrate the funeral mass for Msgr. Giussani at the Duomo in Milan, at which he delivered one of his remarkable homilies.

People have me asked if I was disappointed that Cardinal Scola was not elected pope by his brother cardinals. My answer is simply and emphatically, No! I had no preconceptions at all, really and truly. But I knew that both Ouellet and Bergoglio were also close to the Movement. Even then, I had no expectations. As John Allen wrote after Bergoglio's selection as Bishop of Rome: "Over the years, Bergoglio became close to the Comunione e Liberazione movement founded by Italian Fr. Luigi Giussani, sometimes speaking at its massive annual gathering in Rimini, Italy."

Judging by the length of his piece in A Generative Thought, by the length of his inaugural homily, and his prior reputation, I think, building on the great teaching and reforming legacies of Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI, this will be a pontificate dedicated almost exclusively to praxis, walking the walk in the everyday circumstances of our lives, not that the previous two papacies weren't about that too, lest we get carried away and exaggerate. I look for not so many words from, but a lot of actions by Pope Francis. In terms of the on-going tension concerning the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, I believe that the fact that Pope Francis was ordained a priest after the Council (in 1969- a result of the lengthy process of Jesuit formation) is significant and represents a generational shift. To give credit where it is due, I think my beloved Benedict sensed the need for this while discerning his decision to abdicate.

Now to then-Cardinal Bergoglio's brief, but powerful essay on the influence of the thought of Luigi Giussani on his life and ministry, simply entitled, For Man. I read the article when I was first given the book by a friend some years ago. So I looked to see what, if anything, in his five page piece I had highlighted. It was this from the last page:
The beginning of every philosophy is wonder, and only wonder leads to knowledge. Notice that moral and cultural degradation begin to arise when this capacity for wonder is weakened or cancelled or when it dies. The cultural opiate tends to cancel, weaken, or kill this capacity for wonder. Pope Luciani once said that the drama of contemporary Christianity lies in the fact that it puts categories and norms in the place of wonder"
At the beginning of his essay, which is a revised version of a lecture he gave while personally presenting the Spanish edition of Giussani's book The Religious Sense, , he wrote that he agreed to do this as an expression of gratitude to Don Gius: "For many years now, his writings have inspired me to reflect and have helped me to pray. They have taught me to be a better Christian, and I spoke to bear witness to this."

From the same book, in the opening essay by Cardinal Scola (an essay that is must reading for anyone who really wants to grasp Giussani), something that struck me in light of my trip later today to the the National Shrine of Divine Mercy, located in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, something that also shows Giussani's deep and authentic ecumenism, a trait that Pope Francis also possesses. Scola quotes Don Gius:
Theologising and being committed to an immediate activity of apostolate do not seem to me at all separate or incompatible. I would say rather that I cannot understand how it is possible to theologise unless theology is a systematic and critical self-awareness of an experience of faith in action and thus a commitment to the mystery of Christ and of the Church, a passion for the salvation of the world therefore... [ellipsis in Scola's piece] Jonathan Edwards was able to write a colossal work like Freedom of the Will (1754), with pages of extraordinary value on freedom, on religious affections and so on, while he was living with his family amidst grave poverty, committed to the mission amongst the Indians of the village of Stockbridge in the remote woods of Western Massachusetts in the first half of the eighteenth century

I believe this gives us a little insight and background for statements like this from Papa Bergoglio: "We have to avoid the spiritual sickness of a self-referential church. It's true that when you get out into the street, as happens to every man and woman, there can be accidents. However, if the church remains closed in on itself, self-referential, it gets old. Between a church that suffers accidents in the street, and a church that's sick because it's self-referential, I have no doubts about preferring the former."

"No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name"

Thanks to my friend Alex I have a clear-cut selection for this week's Friday traditio, Franz Liszt's beautiful Cantico del Sol di San Francesco d'Assisi. I offer this in gratitude for our Holy Father, Pope Francis. Vive il Papa! It bears noting that the historical evidence supports the claim the Francesco Bernadone was a deacon, never a priest.

St. Francesco d' Assisi receiving the Stigmata, by El Greco, 1571

Canticle of the Sun, by St. Francis of Assisi:

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord! All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing. To you, alone, Most High, do they belong. No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you brighten the night. He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you; through those who endure sickness and trial. Happy those who endure in peace, for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no living person can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Happy those she finds doing your most holy will. The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks, and serve him with great humility.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Concrete polyvalence: the communio sanctorum

There is nothing I cherish more than belonging to the communio sanctorum. In light of my last post, my dear friend, Fred, offered this list of saints named Francis, in addition to those I wrote about previously:

Saint Francis of Paola (1416–1507), Italian (Calabrian) founder of the Order of the Minims

Saint Francis Borgia (1510–1572), Spanish Jesuit priest; third leader of the Jesuits

Saint Francis Solanus (1549–1610), Spanish Franciscan missionary to South America

St. Francis Borgia, the third Superior General of the Society of Jesus

Saint Francis Caracciolo (1563–1608), Italian priest who co-founded the Congregation of the Minor Clerics Regular

Saint Francis Ferdinand de Capillas (1607–1648), Castilian Dominican missionary; first Roman Catholic martyr killed in China

Saint Francis de Geronimo (1642–1716), Italian Jesuit priest

Since St. Frances of Rome, whose liturgical memorial we celebrated 9 March, was a woman, I think we can rule her out.

More and/and/and.. I think we'd have to agree that among these Sts. Francis of Assisi, Francis Xavier, and Francis de Sales stand out. I also think in the case of Pope Francis we have to narrow it down to St. Francis of Assisi and Francis Xavier. But who knows? I certainly make no claim to have exhausedt the polyvalent possibilities in my last post, or to know the mind of the Holy Father.

It's also fascinating to me that when the Society of Jesus (i.e., the Jesuits) were suppressed in the eighteenth century, it was the Franciscan, Pope Clement XIV, who suppressed them with his papal bull, promulgated in 1773, Dominus ac Redemptor.

Pope Francis: what's in a name?

The true answer to the question I posed in the title is, "We don't know." Like everyone else, my mind went immediately to St. Francis of Assisi. I thought, "Interesting name for the first Jesuit Pope." But a little later someone reminded me of the great Jesuit missionary, St. Francis Xavier. Later still, another friend, as well as a brother deacon, asked, "What about St. Francis de Sales?"

Before discerning his vocation to priesthood and religious life, a young Jorgé Mario Bergoglio studied to become a chemist, earning a master's degree in the subject from the University of Buenos Aires. Hence, he is familiar with the term poly- or multivalence, which is a term that is also used in logic, music, and medicine. As a non-scientist (but one who has studied logic), as I grasp it, in chemistry a "valence" refers to the number of valence bonds a given atom has formed, or can form, with one or more other atoms. In logic polyvalence refers to inexact, or approximate, reasoning. In other words, it is not binary. In either case, I think that this is the best we can do right now when discerning what his choice of the name indicates. This seems to suit his character as he is both quiet, unassuming, and simple as well as firm, decisive, and eloquent when he speaks.

In the true Catholic spirit, I have to go with Assisi/Xavier/de Sales, and/and/and, not either/or/or. It seems to me that the thread that weaves together the three Francises is being a missionary. This also links his papacy, at least to some extent, to that of Benedict XVI. Francis of Assisi, a missionary whose task, given him by our Lord, was to rebuild, that is, reform the Church. St. Francis Xavier who traveled far and died on Shangchuan Island, where he was waiting to continue his missionary journeys by taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Chinese mainland. His other missionary destinations included Japan, Indonesia, and India. St. Francis de Sales, of course, was the Counter-Reformation bishop of Geneva, the city of Calvin, a master communicator, and so also a missionary who led many back to the Catholic faith.

Pope Francis assuming the mantle

In his brief remarks, he said: "And now let us begin this journey, the Bishop and people, this journey of the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches, a journey of brotherhood in love, of mutual trust. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world that there might be a great sense of brotherhood . My hope is that this journey of the Church that we begin today, together with help of my Cardinal Vicar, be fruitful for the evangelization of this beautiful city." Being a missionary, I can only take him to mean ab urbe, ad mundi (i.e., from the city to the world).

I loved that he led us in prayer for our beloved Benedict and that he asked us to pray for him before he blessed us.

I know from reading the late Peter Hebblethwaite's biography Paul VI: The First Modern Pope that Papa Montini was haunted by a verse from the Gospel According to St. John, something Jesus says to Peter after "the Rock's" threefold confessio in answer to the Lord's persistent question "do you love me?" and after telling Peter "Feed my sheep"- "'Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.' He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him, 'Follow me'" (John 21:15-19). In light of this, let's commit to praying for our Holy Father daily.

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 ...