Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Truth and tolerance tested by Jason Collins' coming out

Every few weeks in our collective "Western" culture our incoherence level is ratcheted up just a little more. It seems we can't make up our minds about anything. For example, when it comes to work, does being homosexual matter or does it not? On the one hand, we're told it doesn't matter, or shouldn't matter. Then, we're told it matters hugely and that we all need to embrace the inherent goodness of homosexuality, or risk be labeled bigots who are no different than members of various Southern police forces and sheriffs' departments who turned the fire hoses and sicced dogs on civil rights demonstrators. If you don't believe me, just look at the indignity visited upon the Archbishop of Brussels (WARNING: the link features nudity), Andre-Joseph Leonard, while he was participating in a debate about blasphemy laws at the ULB University in Brussels. He was doused with water from plastic bottles in the shape of the Blessed Virgin Mary by topless female protesters who had things like, "ANUS DEi is COMiNG," scrawled on their bodies. As the attack occurred, one topless member of the group held a banner over her head that read "STOP HOMOPHOBIA."

Even recognizing that the dynamics of male and female homosexuality are different, I have no trouble accepting the fact that for many, probably even for most people who identify as being homosexual their sexual orientation is not a choice. With the Catholic Church I maintain that being homosexual is not likely biologically, or genetically, based, but arises largely from environmental and developmental psychological factors. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read, "Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained" (par. 2357). In very next section we are taught that men and women who are homosexual "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity" and that "unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided" (par. 2358).

In a 1986 Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by then-Cardinal Ratzinger, communicated the following: "It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church's pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law."

At long last this brings me to yesterday's public announcement by NBA player Jason Collins that he is homosexual. Personally, I have do not problem with a professional athlete being homosexual, even as I hold the view that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and, as such, immoral, whereas, for the many who do not choose it, simply being homosexual is not sinful. Generally speaking I believe that in the vast majority of workplaces a person's sex life and sexual proclivities are personal matters, meaning matters about which one is not asked and that one does not normally discuss. Across-the-board I think we speak about what ought to be private far too much and in more detail than we really should, often with no sense of discretion.

Archbishop Leonard reverencing one of the water bottles, shaped like the Blessed Virgin, with which he was doused

Collins' announcement creates an interesting set of circumstances for people in the sports world, athletes and journalists alike, as well as others who hold the views I hold concerning homosexuality and even for some who do not. Recently signed Miami Dolphins wide-receiver Mike Wallace has been heavily criticized and denounced as being grossly ignorant for tweeting in the wake of Collins' announcement that he simply does not understand a man being sexually attracted to other men, even while explicitly stating that he was not making a moral judgment.

ESPN commentator Chris Broussard, who was asked on ESPN's "Outside the Lines" by his friend and fellow ESPN commentator L.Z. Granderson, who happens to be homosexual, what he thought about Collins' announcement. Among the things Broussard said was this:
I’m a Christian. I don’t agree with homosexuality. I think it’s a sin, as I think all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is. L.Z. knows that. He and I have played on basketball teams together for several years. We’ve gone out, had lunch together, we’ve had good conversations, good laughs together. He knows where I stand and I know where he stands. I don’t criticize him, he doesn’t criticize me, and call me a bigot, call me ignorant, call me intolerant.
During the same appearance Broussard also said that he thought players who shared his view wouldn't say anything "because of political correctness." As a result, ESPN issued an apology for Broussard's comments. Since then he has been repeatedly and persistently lambasted and denounced as a "homophobe." At no point did Broussard state that he thought Collins should not continue to play in the NBA. In fact, in the course of his appearance he said, "Just like I may tolerate someone whose lifestyle I disagree with, he can tolerate my beliefs. He disagrees with my beliefs and my lifestyle but true tolerance and acceptance is being able to handle that as mature adults and not criticize each other and call each other names." Nonetheless the name-calling, denunciations, and calls for Broussard's firing continue unabated all for daring to express a dissenting view. In my view, the best working definition of tolerance is agreeing to disagree in an agreeable manner.

At beginning of March former Major League pitcher Mark Knudson experienced a backlash for suggesting that a homosexual athlete will probably, at some point, be attracted to certain straight teammates and that this would likely make some of those teammates uncomfortable. He did not assert that a teammate who is homosexual will inevitably be attracted all his teammates, but to some and that such an unwanted attraction could possibly create an unhealthy dynamic on the team. This was part of Knudson's expressed opinion that athletes who are gay are better off not coming out. He was nonetheless lambasted for his opinion about a workplace in which co-workers routinely undress and shower in front of each other.

On a side note, Jason's twin brother Jarron was drafted in the second round by the Utah Jazz and played here in Utah for eight years. Though not Catholic himself, Jarron would attend Mass with his wife at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, where I serve, fairly often. When he did he would usually come up during communion for a blessing. He was kind enough to always bow down low enough so that I didn't have to stand on tip-toe to bless him. I always thought that was cool. One time driving down I-15 I passed Jarron, recognized him, and waved. In very friendly way, he waved right back while smiling. In my always very brief encounters with him and his wife, they struck me as being very nice. It seems to me that so is Jason, whom I have never met. But then the issues these kinds of announcements raise are not about the "niceness" or the "meanness" of the person making them. It gets back to the maturity alluded to by Chris Broussard.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Impatience, passion, and "tenderness towards the truth"

Below is something I posted elsewhere more than three years ago:

When it comes to formation impatience and ambivalence are inevitable. On the good side of ambivalence, impatience indicates a true desire on the part of one being formed as well as on the part of the one charged with formation. This impatience is good insofar as it orients us the right way and is a response to what (i.e., Who) we truly long for. On the other side, insofar as it reveals our desire to skip experience and come to truth another way, it is inhibiting and is the cause of many throwing their hands up in exasperation. Desiring to skip experience is undoubtedly a gnostic approach. It is also true that very often the one charged with formation wants to be understood completely the first time in order to spare those being formed the same experiences (i.e., doubt, pain, etc.) he has had. In this way the one charged with formation is very much like a parent.

For the ones being formed and for the one charged with formation (under the heading of the one who teaches learns the most), "things have to be repeated and, in repeating them, it seems that they become more difficult to understand" (Is It Possible to Live This Way?: Charity, an Unusual Approach to Christian Existence Vol. 3 pg 65). Nonetheless, "if you're forced to repeat things to understand them, either you ardently desire the truth (you have a passion for the thing you are studying), or you grumble - at a certain point you grumble: grumbling coincides with understanding less" (pg. 65). If you stick with it through passion and grumbling "at a certain point it's as if, unexpectedly, the first breath of morning - the dawn - breaks, and you begin to understand...[e]ven if there are many objections, lots of darkness, many partitions that obscure the direct vision of things, the triumph of truth lies at the heart's core..." (pg.65- underlining and emboldening emphasis mine).

What is this truth that lies at the heart's core? Love for Christ, which "is not something different - it's only different in the sense that it's deeper, more gripping, than even the affection you experience with people you know" (pg. 66). What must be kept in mind to surmount impatience is "that God makes the first move" (pg. 66).

It seems fitting that the 2,500th post here on Καθολικός διάκονος features something by Msgr. Giussani.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Year C Fifth Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 14:21-27; Ps. 145:8-13; Rev. 21:1-5a; John 13:31-33a.34-35

There is something from our first reading today, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, which is easy to miss, but we miss it at our own peril. It is something that Paul and Barnabas, whose apostolic activities we have been following closely for the past few Sundays, said in order to strengthen and to exhort the Christian faithful in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch to help them “persevere in the faith”: “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22b). After strengthening the disciples with these words, we read that Paul and Barnabas “with prayer and fasting commended them to the Lord in whom they had put their faith” (Acts 14:23).

Faith, in addition to being the first of the three theological virtues, is the fruit of the first Glorious Mystery of the Rosary, which mysteries are so beautifully depicted along the East side of our lovely Cathedral. Faith is the fruit of the mystery of Christ’s Resurrection from the dead.

It is important to note that while faith certainly includes belief, believing does not exhaust faith, is not synonymous with faith. The first step of faith is not necessarily to believe, but to trust and then to obey. In St. Mark’s Gospel, Jesus begins His ministry with these words: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

If we were to translate the last sentence of this verse from its original Greek in a more literal way, we would hear- “Be repenting and be believing.” There are two things that are important to note about this more literal translation. First, it is a continual call, which elicits a continual response. It is not a one-time deal. Second, the order of the words is not accidental. Stated less theologically, Jesus’ disciples are to learn by doing, discipleship is a “hands-on” proposition.

Just as faith is not synonymous with belief, repenting does not primarily mean being sorry for your sins. To repent is to have a change of mind, a change of heart, one so profound that it causes you to turn around and walk in a new direction. This is what Pope Benedict meant at the beginning of his first encyclical Deus caritas est, when he wrote, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with… a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (par. 1). To have a real encounter with the Resurrected Lord is life-changing, how could it be otherwise?

To turn your life around and follow Christ is an act of hope, which is both the second theological virtue as well as the fruit of the second Glorious Mystery of the Rosary, which is Jesus’ Ascension into heaven. Hope is the flower of faith. Acting in a hopeful way is how we verify in reality, through our many hardships, that God is more than worthy of our trust.

The fulfillment of our hope is the realization of the kingdom of God, which will be definitively ushered in at Jesus’ glorious return. As we hear in our second reading from Revelation, God’s kingdom comes “down out of heaven” (Rev. 21:2). When God’s kingdom comes, if we are numbered among those, who we heard about last Sunday, “who have survived the time of great distress” and who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:14),” then, as we are assured in our reading from Revelation today, God “will wipe every tear from [our] eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

Love is the third theological virtue, as well as the fruit of the third Glorious Mystery of Rosary, which is the Holy Spirit’s coming upon the Blessed Virgin Mary and the apostles at the first Christian Pentecost. Jesus’ command in today’s Gospel, “Love one another,” is a lot harder than it sounds. As most of us know from our own experience, belonging to the Church, being married, being a parent, being a child all present unique difficulties and challenges for us. These are the means the Lord uses to perfect us in love, to conform us to His likeness, to make us more like Him.

The Lord gives us to each other to perfect us in love. To be holy is nothing other than to love perfectly. When it comes to loving the way Jesus’ loves, practice, along with frequent doses of God’s grace, makes perfect. The practice that perfects us is learning to bear with one another, to forgive one another, help each other, and persevere together. This goes a long way towards answering both the why and how of Christian marriage being a sacramental representation of the relationship between Christ and His Bride, the Church. After all, we call the Christian home “the domestic Church.” Blessed Pope John Paul II called the family a school of love, which, connected as it is to the Church by the sacraments, is the foundation for building a civilization of love, which is the counter to the culture of death. God’s kingdom is nothing other than the full realization of the civilization of love.

I am sure that after this Mass we could all go down to coffee hour and regale each other with stories about the difficult, painful, and hurtful encounters we have had with people in the Church, or in our other relationships. If you’re like me, there would be a healthy preponderance of what others have inflicted on me, as opposed to focusing on what I have done to them. But what would that accomplish? You and I know that it would accomplish nothing at all.

In a recent homily Pope Francis said, “I think that many times when difficult things happen, including when we are visited by the cross, we run the risk of closing ourselves off in complaints.” Drawing from my own experience, this rings very true. When I focus on everything that is going wrong for me I am unable to recognize the Lord, who is walking with me, because I become closed in on myself, preoccupied my problems. This is a great spiritual danger, which is why I think Paul and Barnabas strengthened their brothers and sisters the way they did in our first reading. Complaining and obsessing over everything I perceive to be wrong dashes hope because it is a refusal to love, which, if authentic, is always about the other and not about me.

Jesus tells us plainly today, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). The word “if” makes this a conditional statement, meaning “if” we do not have love for one another, then it will not be evident to anyone that we are Jesus’ disciples, no matter what we might say. In the end, love alone is credible.

Friday, April 26, 2013

"We are beggars all"

I am always puzzled by people who denounce entire genres of music, usually by saying something like, "I hate contemporary Christian music," "I hate Country music," "I hate classical music," etc. Being honest, I am sure I have uttered such blanket judgments myself a time or two. Regardless, I can unabashedly say that I really like quite a lot of contemporary Christian music. My primary reason for this is that I find much of it is good. But, as with any genre, there is good and bad. It would perhaps be even more incoherent to say, "I love all contemporary Christian music." My reason for being so familiar with many contemporary Christian artists goes back to the early years of my own conversion. To wit: I didn't have a lot of support and so, once I discovered Rich Mullins, Michael Card, John Michael Talbot, Amy Grant, Mark Heard, Susan Ashton, Twila Paris, et al., with many more to follow, they provided me with support and encouragement that I found difficult to come by otherwise. Over the past 25 years or so it has been my practice to often begin my prayer/reflection/contemplation time by listening to such music.

A few weeks ago, with a gift card I received for speaking at Salt Lake Community College as part of an interfaith forum, I bought two books and a CD (one of which I am most excited about: The Lion's World: A Journey into the Heart of Narnia by Archbishop Rowan Williams). The CD was Audrey Assad's The House You're Building. I have listened to it many times over the past three weeks because I like it! Hence, "Breaking Through" is our Friday traditio.

I've got no voice to sing the songs/Written by the prophets on the subway walls/The kingdom is a golden table and we are beggars all

Pretty much a lifelong Christian, Assad entered the Catholic Church in 2007 at the age of 23 or 24 (I was 24 when I entered the Church back in 1990). Tony Rossi, writing for the Christopher's blog back in July 2010, interviewed Audrey. Rossi asked her- "In 2007, you converted to Catholicism. The Church, a lot of times, gets knocked for being behind the times, having too many rules. Yet you chose to embrace this Church. Why? How did you see through the fog of what the culture says about the Church to find there was something of value there?" Her response was striking:
I met a Catholic. I was taught a lot of untruth about the Catholic Church -- you know, the classic "whore of Babylon" and Catholics aren't Christians, all that stuff. And growing up in Italian-Irish Catholic New Jersey, it was certainly plausible because everybody that I knew was Catholic and most of them didn't go to Mass, so I just assumed things. I think what enabled me to see through that was a person, a living person who shattered all those pre-conceived notions with his knowledge and his zeal and, foremost, his passion for Christ. That was what initially jolted me out of my opinions about the Catholic Church. Then from there, the teachings slowly just won me. It was the Eucharist ultimately, the teaching on Communion, that won my heart. I think I knew at the beginning when I started reading about it that if that was true, I had to sign up for that
Who wouldn't? To me this song is best described as being about what theologian Nicholas Lash captured in the title of his book: Easter in the Ordinary.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Jesus Christ is the sole criterion

I am quite often moved by words. Yes, moved. If words don’t move us, that is, spur us to do something, especially words that are preached, then they remain mere words. As Don Giussani once observed, for too many Christians, religion is only words. When religion is reduced to words, maybe nice words beautifully strung together, or even heartfelt words, but words nonetheless, it quickly becomes pointless and sterile.

This morning I checked, as I do each day, the homepage of The Catholic Herald. The Herald is a national Catholic newspaper in Great Britain, similar to the National Catholic Register in this country. As I perused the content my eye quickly caught this headline “Bishops must act like disciples and not ‘mere managers.’” I quickly discovered that the article was the text of a homily delivered by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, at a Sunday Mass the week before last (Third Sunday of Easter) with the Bishops of England and Wales, who were visiting Rome on the occasion of the ad limina visit, which occurs every five years.

The title immediately reminded me of something Pope Francis said in his homily the following Sunday, known as Good Shepherd Sunday, during a Mass at which he ordained ten new priests: “You are pastors, not functionaries. Be mediators, not intermediaries.”

In his homily, Cardinal Ouellet also relayed how the Holy Father “makes us feel uncomfortable.” Here, I think, he is talking as a bishop, a cardinal, a prefect of curial a congregation, to his fellow bishops because I am quite certain that Pope Francis does not make the rest of the faithful feel uncomfortable at all. He goes on to tell the bishops what he thinks is the source of this hierarchical discomfort: “Pope Francis’ sole criterion is Jesus Christ. The Holy Father does not get distracted by peripheral considerations. He goes to the heart of things with simplicity and boldness.” Then, citing a passage from Pope Francis’ homily preached at the Missa Pro Ecclesia, he quotes the Pope as saying, “If we do not profess Jesus Christ, things go wrong. We may become a charitable NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of the Lord” and uses the quote Francis used from Léon Bloy in that same homily: “When we do not profess Jesus Christ, we profess the worldliness of the devil, a demonic worldliness.”

Speaking of the week they were spending together in Rome, Cardinal Ouellet told the bishops something that applies to all of us: “The Risen Lord is calling you to this shore because He knows that authentic interior renewal can only happen in the personal encounter with Him, not as an abstract deity, but in His risen flesh on the shore. And so He calls you.”

What is your answer?

Feast of St. Mark, Evangelist

In addition to being the traditional date of the Major Rogation, today is the Feast St. Mark, Evangelist. While there are some important critical and even dissenting views, it is the overwhelming consensus that Mark's was first of the four canonical Gospels to be written. According to the Four Source Hypothesis, the sacred authors of both Matthew and Luke used Mark's Gospel as a source.

It is also important to note the original ending of Mark's Gospel (ending with verse eight of the sixteenth chapter) did not feature an encounter with the Risen Lord by any of His followers, including St. Mary Magdalene. Instead, when Mary Magdalene, Mary, who is identified as "the mother of James," and Salomé arrive at the tomb on the first day of the week, they wonder who will roll the stone from the mouth of the tomb for them so that they could enter. But, finding the stone already rolled back, they entered the tomb where they encountered an angel, "a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe" (Mark 16:1-5). The angel said to them, "Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you'" (Mark 16:6-7). The original ending concludes by conveying that the women fled and "said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid" (Marl 16:8).

From the façade of St. Mark's Cathedral, Venice

There is an ancient tradition, largely accepted today, that Mark's Gospel was written in Rome sometime shortly after AD 70.

The symbol for the Evangelist Mark is a winged lion. The symbols for all of the Evangelists date to back to the early Church, at least as early as St. Ireneaus of Lyons, who lived in the late second/early third centuries. The symbols are derived from Sacred Scripture: Ezekiel 1:1-14; Ezekiel 10:1-22; Daniel 7:1-8.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Preparing to ask: A quick "take" on Rogation Days

This Thursday, April 25, in addition to being the Feast of St. Mark, Evangelist, is, at least traditionally, also the major Spring Rogation Day. You might be asking, Row-gay-shu what? For the most part, we no longer observe Rogation Days in the Spring or Ember days in the Fall. I want to be clear, there is absolutely no obligation to observe either Rogation or Ember Days at all. Historically, Rogation and Ember Days were days set aside to observe a change in the seasons. Rogation Days were tied to planting crops. Roman Catholics traditionally observed four Rogation Days, a Major Rogation, which is 25 April, and three Minor Rogations, which fall on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday just before Ascension Thursday (which in my neck-of-the-woods is transferred to the Seventh Sunday of Easter).

So, how are Rogation Days observed? According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Rogation Days are days "of prayer, and formerly also of fasting, instituted by the Church to appease God's anger at man's transgressions, to ask protection in calamities, and to obtain a good and bountiful harvest." The word "rogation" comes from the Latin word rogatio, derived, in turn, from the verb rogare, which simply means to "to ask."

Fasting, when done in the proper spirit, accompanied by more frequent and heartfelt prayer as well as acts of charity and alms-giving, is a beautiful exercise in Christian freedom. Yes, you read that correctly, a beautiful exercise in Christian freedom. In a lovely sermon he gave recently, Alistair Begg (who would likely be very surprised to find out he was mentioned on a Catholic blog), preaching on 1 Corinthians 9:15-18, said, "The ultimate exercise of freedom, for Paul, was the freedom to restrict his freedom. That's how he showed how free he really was by not using the freedom that really had." At least for me, this the only way to approach to fasting.

Thursday's Major Rogation Day presents us with an opportunity to exercise our Christian freedom by fasting and praying, asking God to bless the fields and crops, our own gardens, those of our neighbors. We might expand this to include prayers for resolving the vexing problem of world hunger, both physical and spiritual. We might also take this opportunity to give alms to organizations, like Catholic Relief Services or the Catholic Near Eastern Welfare Association, or to your local food pantry, or other outreach that seeks to help those in need where you are.

In another of her lovely posts, "There’s certainly an ‘end times’ feel to today," Francis Phillips notes that "in Pope Francis’s new book, On Heaven and Earth... he writes that 'Maybe his [the Devil’s] greatest achievement in these times has been to make us believe that he does not exist and that all can be fixed on a purely human level.' Well, he does exist, he has been overcome by Christ’s death and Resurrection and he is defeated today, as always, by prayer, fasting and the sacraments." Or, as Msgr. Giussani said, let "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."

I invite you to fast and pray with me on Thursday. The main prayer for Rogation Days, Major and Minor, is the Litany of the Saints.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

"We are his people, the flock he shepherds" (Ps. 100:3)

Since it is late, I am only going to offer a brief sketch of some thoughts I had for the readings for this Fourth Sunday of Easter, also known as Good Shepherd Sunday, which is also World Day of Prayer for Vocations.

In today's Gospel Jesus says, "My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27). In our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul, speaking to those assembled in Pisidian Antioch (as opposed to Syrian Antioch), quotes the Lord: "I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth" (Acts 13:47). Finally, concerning the "great multitude," who stood worshiping "before the throne and before the Lamb" in our reading from Revelation, we learn that "the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Rev. 7:9.17).

From our readings we can discern a dynamic: the Lord calls His followers; His followers hear His voice and respond by following Him; like Paul and Barnabas, they are sent; He leads His flock to green pastures, that is, home to the house of the Father. Only those who follow the Good Shepherd reach their destination.

Detail from the Sarcophagus of the Good Shepherd, Catacomb of Praetextatus, Rome, AD 390s

Especially in today's Gospel and in our reading from Revelation we are reminded of the uncomfortable fact that not everyone the Lord calls hears and not everyone who hears His call responds. Elsewhere the Lord says, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter'" (Matt. 7:21). Jesus came to do the will of the Father. He calls those who the Father has given Him to do the Father's will, which is done in service of establishing the reign, or the kingdom, of God.

An "apostle" is one who is sent. When we profess that the Church is apostolic, we mean it in a twofold sense. First, we refer to apostolic succession. Too often, as Catholics, we stop there. The Church is apostolic in a second, equally important sense, as we are reminded, not only at the end of each Mass, when are dismissed ("Go in peace;" "Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life;" "Go in peace, proclaiming the Gospel of the Lord"), but by the very word "Mass," which comes from the Latin word missa, meaning to be dismissed, or, more accurately, as we see from the dismissals, to be sent.

In our readings today we are able to form a pretty good idea of what it means to "his people, the sheep of his flock" (Ps. 100:3).

No kidding, the rest of this week will be light posting- look for a traditio on Friday, something on Wednesday in honor of the major Rogation day Thursday, 25 April, which is also the Feast of St. Mark, Evangelist. Next weekend I am preaching, look for my homily.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

God and man, man and God

I have not decided whether or not to add to Pope Francis' book, co-written with Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka, On Heaven and Earth, which was originally published in Spanish back in 2010 as Sobre el cielo y la tierra, to my immediate reading list. I did appreciate John Allen's useful overview of the book's content, which he wrote for the National Catholic Reporter: "Book indicates pope is a moderate realist." Having been corrupted from a very young age by philosophy, I had to chuckle at the title and remind myself that the qualifier "moderate" as used by Allen is not intended to be applied to Papa Francesco's "realism," but that he is both moderate and a realist, maybe to push the envelope a bit, his moderation arises from his realism.

Especially in light of something I did not quote, but also read last night in Chesterton's The Ball and the Cross, I was struck by something written by then-Cardinal Bergoglio, but first back to Chesterton.

At the end of the seventh chapter of Chesterton's novel, which segues into the exchange between Turnbull and MacIan I quoted extensively in my previous post, the two protagonists have an interesting exchange prompted by MacIan's insistence on asking a slightly inebriated farmer to settle their dispute, something not about the nature of man, but about what I might call practical anthropology, to which both men appeal:
And the old man went on wildly singing into the night.

"A jolly old creature," said Turnbull; "he didn't seem able to get much beyond that fact that a man is a man."

"Has anybody got beyond it?" asked MacIan.

Turnbull looked at him curiously. "Are you turning an agnostic?" he asked.

"Oh, you do not understand!" cried out MacIan. "We Catholics are all agnostics. We Catholics have only in that sense got as far as realizing that man is a man. But your Ibsens and your Zolas and your Shaws and your Tolstoys have not even got so far."
We could substitute fashionable thinkers of our day for Ibsen, Zola, Shaw (who was a dear friend of Chesterton)- Tolstoy still has some resonance- but who, like the majority of those mentioned by Chesterton, will be unknown or little known in a hundred years. Here is what Allen wrote that reading Chesterton in the evening caused me to remember: "Francis expresses a healthy skepticism about claims of healings, revelations and visions, saying that God is not like Federal Express, sending messages all the time. The real tests of supernatural phenomena, he says are 'simplicity, humility and the absence of a spectacle' -- otherwise, he said, we may be dealing with a 'business' rather than the presence of the divine."

In one of his increasingly popular homilies (from last Thursday) delivered at the early morning Masses he enjoys celebrating at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, this same Begoglio said- "We believe in God who is Father, who is Son, who is Holy Spirit. We believe in persons and when we talk to God we speak with persons' who are concrete and tangible, not some misty, diffused god-like 'god spray' that’s a little bit everywhere but who knows what it is."

I think this also speaks to those who seem to want to reduce the Eucharist to a cheap magic trick, who seek to evade the inescapable fact that, on the whole, the only empirical evidence the bread and wine become Jesus Christ "body, blood, soul, and divinity," are the lives of those of us who partake of it, both individually and corporately (that which makes us the Body of Christ), which is as Jesus intended it.

Even during His earthly life and ministry Jesus' own attitude towards miracles was ambiguous at best. So maybe I am not done reflecting on the Church. It is better to remain open to what is placed before me in reality. Both Bergoglio and Chesterton insist that we encounter God by simply attending to reality as it presents itself to us, taking it in according to the totality of factors that make it up, which we do by remaining open and not being bound by our preconceptions one way or the other.

I wrote about some of this before for Il Sussidiario: "Chesterton on the intolerance of friendship."

Faith: living sanely in an often insane world

A few weeks ago Monday, upon awakening and getting ready to take my youngest daughter to school and make my way to work, I discovered that I had left my wallet in my office at the parish where I serve. As a result, after dropping my daughter off at school, I had to make my way some 15 miles in the opposite direction from my workplace in order to retrieve my wallet. As I am sure both of my readers can imagine from similar experiences, this was not a great way to begin a new work week. But one lesson I have learned over many years of petulance, impatience, and even anger at such circumstances (I am even angrier when, as in this instance, I have no one to blame but myself), such things frequently offer some consolations.

This particular Monday my consolation was being able to listen to Patrick Coffin interview Dale Ahlquist, a Catholic convert and founder of the U.S. Chesterton Society. If nothing else (there were many things) I discovered that Ahlquist's sister, Pamela Fay, was Larry Norman's first wife. Larry Norman, who passed away in 2008, was really the founder of Christian rock and even contemporary Christian music. Among his many compositions over the years "Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?" More importantly it was Norman who first encouraged the young Dale Ahlquist, who was very "into" C.S. Lewis at the time, to read Chesterton. Life is often weird the coolest way.

Of course, there are times when life is not only weird in the worst possible way, but seems downright insane and spiraling out-of-control. In the wake of our national nightmare this week, which began on Monday with the utterly brazen and evil bombing of innocent Boston marathon spectators and runners, we're all left feeling a little raw, a little stunned, perhaps even a little scared. All of which are understandable responses.

During all of this I have been reading Chesterton's novel The Ball and the Cross. It is a remarkable work, one that causes me to think, as a relatively new reader of Chesterton, that in his fiction Gilbert Keith does a better job of explicating the deep truths he is better known for encapsulating in so many neat little paradoxical aphorisms, which I frankly often find a little annoying. My annoyance made me reluctant for many years to seriously engage Chesterton. Of course, I have read Orthodoxy and other of his apologetic works even before now. As I am finding, a lot of those who quote Chesterton and admire him a lot are in the same boat, they have not read a lot of Chesterton, but have been attracted, as I was repulsed, by his many aphorisms, entire libraries of which, in the internet age, are readily available via any search engine you care to choose.

St. Francis of Assisi, about whom Chesterton also wrote

Returning to the reality of our living in a world that often seems insane, no more so than in the wake of senseless violence, in the eighth chapter of The Ball and the Cross, through a most wonderful literary character, the devout Roman Catholic from the Scottish Highlands, Evan MacIan, who is having a rolling duel with the atheist, Turnbull, who is himself a very decent man, as it turns out, Chesterton avers,
Catholic virtue is often invisible because it is normal... Christianity is always out of fashion because it is always sane; and all fashions are mild insanities. When Italy is mad on art the Church seems too Puritanical; when England is mad on Puritanism the Church seems too artistic. When you quarrel with us now you class us with kingship and despotism; but when you quarrelled with us first it was because we would not accept the divine despotism of Henry VIII. The Church always seems to be behind the times when it is really beyond the times; it is waiting until the last fad shall have seen its last summer
This is MacIan's reply to Turnbull's standard athetistic assertion "that however elaborate be the calculations of physical science, their net result can be tested. Granted that it took millions of books I never read and millions of men I never heard of to discover the electric light. Still I can see the electric light. But I cannot see the supreme virtue which is the result of all your theologies and sacraments."

Beyond this thrust and parry of their on-going duel, the two protagonists' rolling sword duel providing something of a comic backdrop, although not without a deeper purpose, Turnbull tries another standard atheistic tactic, which is an attempt to reduce to faith to mere morals: "If you think your creed essential to morals why do you not make it a test for these things?" To which MacIna responds, "We once did make it a test for these things... and then you told us that we were imposing by force a faith unsupported by argument. It seems rather hard that having first been told that our creed must be false because we did use tests, we should now be told that it must be false because we don't. But I notice that most anti-Christian arguments are in the same inconsistent style."

This dialogue occurs as Turnbull and MacIan walk through the countryside all night long. Finally, with a little exasperation, Turnbull asks, "but the question still remains: Why don't you confine yourself more to Christians if Christians are the only really good men?" It is here that Chesterton puts into the mouth of MacIan what I find to be an amazing answer:
Who talked of such folly?... Do you suppose that the Catholic Church ever held that Christians were the only good men? Why, the Catholics of the Catholic Middle Ages talked about the virtues of all the virtuous Pagans until humanity was sick of the subject. No, if you really want to know what we mean when we say that Christianity has a special power of virtue, I will tell you. The Church is the only thing on earth that can perpetuate a type of virtue and make it something more than a fashion. The thing is so plain and historical that I hardly think you will ever deny it. You cannot deny that it is perfectly possible that tomorrow morning, in Ireland or in Italy, there might appear a man not only as good but good in exactly the same way as St. Francis of Assisi. Very well, now take the other types of human virtue; many of them splendid. The English gentleman of Elizabeth was chivalrous and idealistic. But can you stand still here in this meadow and be an English gentleman of Elizabeth? The austere republican of the eighteenth century, with his stern patriotism and his simple life, was a fine fellow. But have you ever seen him? have you ever seen an austere republican? Only a hundred years have passed and that volcano of revolutionary truth and valour is as cold as the mountains of the moon. And so it is and so it will be with the ethics which are buzzing down Fleet Street at this instant as I speak. What phrase would inspire the London clerk or workman just now? Perhaps that he is a son of the British Empire on which the sun never sets; perhaps that he is a prop of his Trades Union, or a class-conscious proletarian something or other; perhaps merely that he is a gentleman when he obviously is not. Those names and notions are all honourable; but how long will they last? Empires break; industrial conditions change; the suburbs will not last for ever. What will remain? I will tell you. The Catholic Saint will remain
I think this is as good a way as any to end my quite unintentional reflections on the nature and necessity of the Church this week. I also want to add that, believe it or not, I am finding a lot of convergence in this book with Walker Percy's Love in the Ruins: The Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time Near the End of the World, which I read earlier this year. One main difference is Chesterton's more stalwart protagonists. But it is the angst, ambiguity, and world-weariness that gives Percy's novel it's charm

Friday, April 19, 2013

"Christianizing the American dream"

Shai Linne tells it straight, which is why his "Fal$e Teacher$" is the first rap song to be a Καθολικός διάκονος Friday traditio.

Health and wealth, "living your best life now," you can have it all in this life, are ever present temptations for Christians, for the Church. This is why Pope Francis, when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, following the fine tradition set by such Latin America bishops as the late Brazlian Archbishop Hélder Câmara, who turned his archepiscopal mansion into a homeless shelter and food kitchen, lived in a simple urban apartment rather than the mansion he could've inhabited. In his first meeting with journalists, which occurred the Saturday after he was selected to walk in the shoes of the fisherman, at one point he said, "How I would like a poor church for the poor."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose martyrdom I remembered on 9-10 April, gives us the antidote to what Shai correctly denounces as "selfism" in his song: "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." Of course, Bonhoeffer's words are an echo of those of our Lord, who said, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me" (Matt. 16:24- emboldening and italicizing emphasis mine).

Shai Linne

In a Christian Post article about Shai's hard-hitting lyrics, James Arinaitwe, a Yale University global health fellow from Uganda, speaking at a recent forum, highlighted the same issue: "This kind of Christians in the evangelical movement preach love your neighbors as you love yourself but then the pastor is driving a BMW, a Benz and is living by the sea in a mansion while the congregation is living without healthcare or food. This is what I see in Uganda when I go home, so where did we lose that peace?"

During the 1994 Synod of Bishops that took up the consecrated religious life in the Church, I remember some bishops of the developing countries criticized Western religious orders for living such wealthy lifestyles amidst what is often grinding poverty, saying that it compromised their Gospel witness. Of course, this falls far short of the shenanigans of those Shai called out by name (Osteen, Meyer, Hinn, Paula White, etc.).

Don't be deceived by this funny biz, if you come to Jesus for money, then he's not your God, money is! Jesus is not a means to an end, the Gospel is He came to redeem us from sin, and that is the message forever I yell! If you're living your best life now you're heading for hell!

If you're interested in what has ensued since the release Linne's song, namely an exchange which began with an open letter by Paula White's son Brandon Knight to Shai. When pressed about what aspects of White's teaching were problematic, Linne produced a video with this text: "Paula White did a series called '8 Promises of the Atonement,' that at the time of my writing this, is currently featured on your ministry website. In it, she states that physical healing and financial abundance in this life are provided for in the atonement of Christ." You can read more over on the Christian Post's Jesus Musik blog. Of course, as with all of these teachers, this is but one of many examples that could've been given.

Papa Benedetto, we remember and give thanks for you

In addition to celebrating his 86th birthday last Tuesday, 16 April, today marks the eighth anniversary of the selection of Josef Aloysius Ratzinger to succeed Bl. Pope John Paul II as the Vicar of Christ, the Bishop of Rome. He walked faithfully in the shoes of the Galilean fisherman until 28 February of this year. As much as I love Pope Francis, I still miss Papa Benedetto and take great comfort in the fact that he is praying for us, climbing that mountain the Lord has summoned him to climb.

I remember how moved I was that day, moved to tears. Since my last two posts were on the necessity and the nature of the Church, here are some amazing words from Benedict XVI's last General Audience in St. Peter's Square- 27 February 2012:
The Pope belongs to everyone and so many persons feel very close to him. It is true that I receive letters from world leaders – from heads of state, from religious leaders, from representatives of the world of culture, and so on. But I also receive many many letters from ordinary people who write to me simply and from the heart, and who show me their affection, an affection born of our being together with Christ Jesus, in the Church. These people do not write to me in the way one writes, for example, to a prince or some important person whom they do not know. They write to me as brothers and sisters, as sons and daughters, with a sense of a very affectionate family bond. Here one can sense palpably what the Church is – not an organization, an association for religious or humanitarian ends, but a living body, a communion of brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ, which makes us all one

Thursday, April 18, 2013

More on the Church

While, at least since my previous post, I am on the subject of the Church, I came across these words in G.K. Chesterton's fascinating novel The Ball and the Cross (you can obtain it for free for your Kindle), which he puts into the mouth of Evan MacIan, a devout Catholic from the Scottish Highlands who, after arriving in London, assaults a Scot from the lowlands by the name of Turnbull, who is the editor and publisher of The Atheist, for insulting the Blessed Virgin Mary:
The Church is not a thing like Athenaeum Club... If the Athenaeum Club lost all its members, the Athenaeum Club would dissolve and cease to exist. But when we belong to the Church we belong to something which is outside all of us; which is outside everything you talk about, outside the Cardinals and the Pope. They belong to it, but it does not belong to them. If we all fell dead suddenly, the Church would still somehow exist in God. Confound it all, don't you see that I am more sure of its existence than I am of my own existence?

This passage drew my mind to this majestic and magisterial passage written by St. Paul: "He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he himself might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross [through him], whether those on earth or those in heaven" (Col. 1:17-20).

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Church is neither incidental nor accidental

In the context of considering Christ's Ascension into heaven, where He reigns at the Father's right hand, it takes only a bit of reflection to inexorably lead one to considerthe Church as our vehicle between the already and the not-yet. The late Jesuit Cardinal and theologian Jean Daniélou, in his book Étude d'exégèse judéo-chrétienne, which is cited by Christoph Cardinal Schönborn in God Sent His Son: A Contemporary Christology, observed, "Between the last of the mysteries of the life of Christ that have already occurred, the Acension, and that for which we are still waiting, the Parousia, there is one mystery - and only one - that is contemporary with us: that Christ is seated at the Father's right hand."

This mystery is nothing other than the mystery of the Church, which is Christ's Bride, as well as His Mystical Body. "The future heavenly Kingdom of God," Cardinal Schönborn avers, "is at the same time a present reality." This inextricably ties the Church and the Eucharist together. It has been observed many times over that the Eucharist makes the Church and the Church makes the Eucharist (see paragraph 26 of Bl. John Paul II's final encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia). It is this tie that leads Schönborn to write, "The fact that Christ is enthroned at the Father's right hand is shown precisely in his living, bodily presence in the Eucharist," which, in this context, puts the locus right in the heart of the Church.

As it was stated in the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium- "the Church, equipped with the gifts of its Founder and faithfully guarding His precepts of charity, humility and self-sacrifice, receives the mission to proclaim and to spread among all peoples the Kingdom of Christ and of God and to be, on earth, the initial budding forth of that kingdom. While it slowly grows, the Church strains toward the completed Kingdom and, with all its strength, hopes and desires to be united in glory with its King" (par. 5).

"Since the famous saying of Alfred Loisy (d. 1940) that Jesus had promised the coming of the Kingdom of God but instead it was the Church that came," Schönborn notes, "we are constantly being told that we must not identify the Church with the Kingdom, since the latter is a strictly eschatological reality, whereas the Church is merely a sign of the Kingdom, pointing toward it." Such a view of the Church, he writes, is a defective and reductive ecclesiology because it reveals a reductive Christology: "the Church is being seen too little in terms of her basis in Christ and too much in terms of her contingent historical and institutional aspect."

It seems that one of the chief aims of Pope Francis' young papacy is to help the Church's basis in Christ shine forth by reducing the importance of the Church's institutional dimension as it regards the papacy. One telling sign of the accuracy of Cardinal Schönborn's thesis is that even when Catholics refer to "the Church" they simply mean the hierarchy, but the hierarchy reduced to the pope and the bishops. While the Church is constitutionally hierarchical this does not mean that the Church must be overwhelmingly institutional, especially when this results in institutionalism, which seeks to squelch, or even stamp out the Spirit.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

"Follow me"- Jesus

During these days of Easter our Sunday readings are full to over-flowing. As one of my very good priest friends once wisely said to me about preaching, referring to the readings, "You can't preach everything." This is true and any preacher who attempts this has probably set too difficult a task for himself.

I also think sometimes it is worthwhile to focus on the first or second reading, which are often neglected in preaching. Of course, during Easter, instead of taking our first reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, we read from the Acts of the Apostles, which is without doubt one of the most exciting books of Sacred Scripture. It is also the case that our reading for today from Acts follows nicely from my post yesterday about fearlessly speaking the truth in love to power.

Our reading is from the fifth chapter of Acts (verses 27-32 and 40b-41). It begins with some of the apostles being dragged before the Sanhedrin, the same body that participated in Jesus' trial and condemnation. They are reminded by the high priest no less that they (the apostles) had been forbidden to teach in Jesus' name. In reply Peter boldly says, "We must obey God rather than men." He does not leave it there, but testifies- "The God of our ancestors raised Jesus, though you had him killed by hanging him on a tree God exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins. We are witnesses of these things, as is the holy Spirit that God has given to those who obey him." In a tweet earlier today, Pope Francis summarized this well, tweeting, "Let us not forget: if we are to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus, our lives must bear witness to what we preach."

Peter Preaching, Tomasso Masolino da Panicale, ca. 1427

There is often a price to pay for bearing witness to the truth in word and deed. It is important to grasp that only bearing witness with words is probably not much of a threat to anyone. Peter's words had power only because of the deeds he, along with the other apostles, had been doing in Jesus' name.

Turning again to Pope Francis, particularly to one of his famously succinct homilies given at one of the daily Masses he often celebrates in the Casa di Santa Marta (this one from last Saturday, 6 April), the Holy Father broached the subject of religious freedom really for the first time as pope. Being a thoroughly post-secular pastor, he didn't spend time or effort lamenting the hostility Christians often face in living and standing up for the truth of the Gospel. But neither did he castigate those who are hostile to what is said and done in the name of Jesus. Here's what he said: "To find the martyrs it is not necessary to go to the catacombs or to the Colosseum: the martyrs are living now, in many countries. Christians are persecuted for their faith, today, in the 21st century, our Church is a Church of martyrs."

He then preached on the necessity of bearing witness to the faith in its fullness: "The faith is not negotiable. There has always been, in the history of the people of God, this temptation: to cut a piece away from the faith, perhaps not even very much. But the faith is how we speak of it in the Creed. We must overcome the temptation to do a bit as everyone does, not to be so very rigid, because right from there begins a road that ends in apostasy. In fact, when we begin to cut up the faith, to negotiate the faith, to sell it to the highest bidder, we start down the road of apostasy, of infidelity to the Lord."

Finally, as Sandro Magister observed in his article about all of this, "The Unprecedented 'Presumption' of Changing the World," "For Pope Francis, religious freedom means above all 'having the courage to bear witness to faith in the risen Christ.' A faith that is complete, and public. A faith that presumes to transform society."

Our readings today are not chronological. Our first reading from Acts shows what happened after St. Peter's amazing experience with our resurrected Lord, in which Jesus restored him after his three-fold betrayal. Peter begins to see for himself just what the Lord meant when He said,
"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"
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship- "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." This dying, paradoxically, is the only way to eternal life (Luke 9:24).

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Can we face the truth, deal with reality?

My good friend Frank Weathers, who is scribe over at Why I Am Catholic, in his post "Anderson Cooper Tacks To Windward, Asks Hard Questions About the Gosnell Case," makes an important point, namely that given the refusal of our failed fourth estate to provide coverage of the Gosnell case (I posted about this more than two years ago, when it first came to my attention), it is important to give credit where credit is due. I'm glad Anderson Cooper took up the Gosnell case (it's horrifying) and did ask some of the hard questions. However, I think by focusing mainly on questions about where the regulatory officials were, he rather misses the point, which is that abortion is murder and late term procedures are, as anyone who cares to pay attention now knows (if they didn't before), infanticide. To wit: Gosnell's house of horrors is NOT an isolated incident.

Here's a newflash for my fellow Christians: yes we should be Christ-like when discussing these issues, speaking the truth in love, especially to pregnant women in difficult circumstances. We need to do more than speak to them, we need to materially help them - BUT if you think abortion and legalized infanticide are Christian issues you're wrong and being reductive. These are human issues, life is the most fundamental human rights issue in the world! If you don't have a right to life all of your other rights are pretty meaningless.

The prophet Jeremiah, by Michelangelo

Speaking the truth in love is not about letting your mouth, or your fingers typing on a keyboard, become dispensaries of cheap grace. What it means to speak the truth in love depends on who you are speaking to and the forum you are speaking in. I think of the prophet Jeremiah, who spoke the truth in love to power, which means he said a lot of things that weren't "nice." I am not assuming the prophetic mantle, but merely pointing out that sometimes just telling the unvarnished truth is the most loving thing we can do. When we speak the truth in love to power it is often that way. I have no qualms about challenging any member of Congress, either in the House or the Senate (or any state legislator) who has voted to keep partial birth abortion (i.e., infanticide) legal to read the transcripts of the Gosnell trial and then contemplate your complicity in this evil. Don't kid yourself, you're complict! I also challenge those who think and vote this way to do the same. I write this as someone who is not on-board with the whole right-wing agenda. I have written plenty of things critical of that as well on these pages- though I post much less about political matters these days.

This morning I came across something that struck me, by that I mean had the the effect of hitting me in the chest, by Jack Shafer, writing for Reuters: Our national pastime: Press criticism. I am an unapologetic critic of the news media. I truly believe the U.S. has a failed fourth estate, one that, with some exceptions, is ideologically driven and blind, that is, not all that interested in the truth. I would be happy to debate anyone on the issue. Warning: if you take me up on the challenge it'll be no-holds-barred because it is too important an issue to beat around the bush  (to give you an indication- instead of Gosnell we get Rainbow flags outside the Supreme Court and Jodi Arias porn from a Phoenix courthouse). Shafer draws attention to a conversation that my beloved Camus, who was not a professing Christian, had way back in 1946 with press critic A.J. Liebling.

In the conversation about which Shafer writes, Camus spoke of an idea he had for a newspaper, one that would be published an hour after the other newspapers and "would evaluate the probable element of truth in the other papers’ main stories, with due regard to editorial policies and the past performances of the correspondents. Once equipped with card-indexed dossiers on the correspondents, a critical newspaper could work very fast. After a few weeks the whole tone of the press would conform more closely to reality." If anyone could've pulled this off it was Camus, who was relentless in the face of reality. So relentless, in fact, that he wondered this about his own idea- "But do people really want to know how much truth there is in what they read? Would they buy the control paper? That’s the most difficult problem."

Friday, April 12, 2013

God loves you, Brennan Manning RIP

It seems that Ragamuffin-in-Chief Brennan Manning has passed after a long illness and decline.

I read his memoir, All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir, in January 2012 (I have read several of his books).

Brennan Manning- like me, one of those jars of clay St. Paul wrote about

Manning was in many ways a troubled soul, one who had a difficult relationship with the Church (to state it nicely), this is why he was such a perfect messenger for God's mercy. Manning didn't just teach and preach, but showed us how much God loves us no matter how screwed up you are, or how screwed up you see yourself.

Here's what he wrote in his memoir, which I "poached" from an old post by the late Michael Spencer, the IMonk, who was surely, in many ways (not all), a kindred spirit with Brennan.
Warning: Mine has been anything but a straight shot, more like a crooked path filled with thorns and crows and vodka. Prone to wander? You bet. I’ve been a priest, then an ex-priest. Husband, then ex-husband. Amazed crowds one night and lied to friends the next. Drunk for years, sober for a season, then drunk again. I’ve been John the beloved, Peter the coward, and Thomas the doubter all before the waitress brought the check. I’ve shattered every one of the Ten Commandments six times Tuesday. And if you believe that last sentence was for dramatic effect, it wasn’t
I'm pretty sure Michael and Rich Mullins are there for him, ragamuffins all. I read Manning's autobiography on the first anniversary of my Dad's passing. Something from his book helped me through my grief. I wrote about it: How does grace work?

Your trust in Jesus will lead you home dear brother. Rest in His arms.

"Without tenderness there's something missing"

My dear friend Fred, who is one of my oldest and dearest friends I have never met in person, is a wonderful writer. In fact, it was the medium of blogging that Christ used to bring us together as friends. His old blog was Deep Furrows, but now he writes over at Late Papers. Last Friday he composed a post on tenderness that struck me. By "struck," I mean delivered a blow to me.

Fred wrote this: "A sensitivity to the joy of others— who would not prefer this in others? There are people we know who welcome our joys and give them room to blossom; but others tend to crush the joy, often without realizing what they're doing. A receptivity to our joy is something we all need to embrace happiness and to grow"

I don't know about you, but I always need to be reminded about tenderness, of my need for it and the need of others, a need Christ often desires to meet for others through me. Too often instead of being tender, I am hard-hearted towards others, being one of those who crushes joy.

Our Friday traditio for this week is "Tenderness" by General Public.

I don't know where I am but I know I don't like it/I open my mouth and out pops something spiteful/Words are so cheap, but they can turn out expensive/Words like conviction can turn into a sentence

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A historiographical note on Bonhoeffer's death

In light of my post late last night on the martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, especially given that I cited the well-known and oft-quoted testimony of the SS doctor at the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp, one H. Fischer-Hüllstrung, I feel it is important to take note of something that came to my attention today. Steve Perisho, who blogs over at Libe Locorum Communium, in a March 2011 post entitled "Cost of Discipleship," produces a quote from a review by Keith Clements of Ferdinand Schlingensiepen's biography Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance, which appeared in Theology 114, no. 2 (March/April 2011). I will let you drive over to Perisho's blog to read the quote and look at the footnote from which it was derived. The executive summary is that at least one source asserts that Fischer-Hüllstrung's testimony "is apparently a lie."

Of course, dying in a slower, more painful manner than previously believed does nothing to diminish the witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or to enhance it- a martyr's death cannot be quantified in that way. It is well attested by his fellow prisoners that right up until the time he was removed from the school in Schönberg, where they were being kept after their arduous and bizarre odyssey over the back roads of parts of rural Germany, even as he was being led away, that Pastor Bonhoeffer was composed and serene, even leading services on the Sunday, 8 April, the Sunday following Easter.

It bears noting that the footnote cited by Clements appeared in a work published twenty years ago and has not resulted in a serious revision of Bonhoeffer's last moments. Just taking the footnote at face value, it cites a Danish prisoner being held at the Flossenbürg camp, "L. F. Mogenson," as the source for the fact that "the executions of Admiral Canaris and his group were drawn out from 6 a.m. until almost noon." The assertion that the doctor, whose job sounded utterly evil, even more evil than that of the executioners, "could not have seen Bonhoeffer kneeling in his cell, neither could Bonhoeffer have said a prayer before his execution and then climbed the steps to the gallows. There were no steps" is not, at least not in the footnote (I have no idea what the main text relays), well-attested.

It does seem that the dubious nature of the testimony surrounding Bonhoeffer's last moments was taken into account by Schlingensiepen, who cites none of these when writing about Bonhoeffer's execution:
During the morning hours of 9 April, Wilhelm Canaris, Hans Oster, his colleagues, Theodor Strünck and Ludwig Gehre, Karl Sack, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer were hanged and cremated. Friedrich von Rabenau was to follow them a few days later. Their ashes, together with those of many thousands of other victims of Hitler's regime, form the now grass grown pyramid in the middle of the former concentration camp at Flossenbürg
Here is something that is authentically from Bonhoeffer, a short commentary on Romans 13:1-7, which applies to governments: "No authority can legitimately interpret Paul's words as a divine justification of its existence... Those in authority... could never interpret it as a divine authorization of their conduct in office."

You want a revolution? Well, the world is already saved

Dear reader I will warn you up-front that this post is longer than it should be and not as well thought out as it ought to be. The reason for this is that I am not a professional writer, nor do I possess the time necessary to think about, outline, draft, edit, and post.

As you may have heard, Baroness Margaret Thatcher died on Monday, 8 April 2013. She was the last surviving member of what writer Francis Phillips, in her well-written tribute to the Iron Lady, “Thatcher’s role in defeating Communism was her greatest legacy,” referred to as "the remarkable triumvirate," which also included Bl. Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan.

In addition to the passing of Baroness Thatcher, I was also struck this week by an article, “RINOs and CINOs: The Cult of Mammon and the Future of America,” by John Médaille, especially this observation:
Faith is not something optional, as certain liberals would have it; indeed, the claim to be standing on some 'neutral' ground is always bogus, always an attempt to gain an unfair advantage for one’s own faith by claiming it is not a faith at all. What is usually meant by this claim is a naïve and touching faith in something called 'progress,' a progress that advances by crushing or at least marginalizing any competing faith. The great questions of politics will always involve contending faiths, that is to say, contending visions of what constitutes the 'good' for men and society. Nor is this a question that can be settled by some' science,' for it lies completely outside the domain of empirical science and depends on sciences of a different order
I think this captures the pragmatic urge of many people, especially in Great Britain and the U.S., where we tend to be less explicitly ideological than in other parts of the world, which naïveté, especially when mixed an emotional appeal, only makes us more vulnerable. I think we can call this inadvertent ontological arrogance.

Baroness Margaret Thatcher

Before I go too far down the path I am heading, I feel I need to state that for there are many people who do not believe in God because they are unable to do so in good conscience. Such people are not militant atheists and probably describe themselves as agnostic when it comes to the proposition “God exists.” These people do not devalue or mock religious belief. There are many people who fit this description who recognize the contribution of Christianity to human civilization and its on-going importance. One example of such a person is the late Oriana Fallaci. These are people who support genuinely human values, the “men and women of good will” often mentioned by the Church's magisterium. However, there are militant atheists, who, with a straight face, see religion as a threat, but whose logic, when played out in history, has proven to be responsible for the worst horrors in human history and a death toll that exceeds all the horrors they rail against put together. It is even more sobering when one considers that the huge death toll was managed in one century, the twentieth, which was described by Pope John Paul II as “a century of tears.”

This brings me to something by Peter Hitchens’, “Atheism Kills, Persecutes, and Destroys. Wicked Things are Done in its Name.” I am not going to try to paraphrase his entire piece, but it is a wonderful example of the kind of yeoman’s work he does taking on the atheists of the global village, who are often not well-meaning, philosophically coherent, or historically astute:
The exasperating and yet comically unshakeable conviction... that the assertion of atheism is not a positive statement, that it is a mere passive absence, is directly contradicted by the death-dealing, violently destructive, larcenous and aggressively propagandist application of their own passionate and positive atheism by the Soviet authorities, as soon as they had the power to put their beliefs into action. If atheism is merely an absence, why on earth should it need to do these things to those who did not share its allegedly passive, non-invasive beliefs? And why, I might add, were both the Bolsheviks and the National Socialists so profoundly hostile to the idea of the Christian God (or, as Mr ‘Bunker’ would sniggeringly put it ‘gods’ )?

Well, because these people, imagining mischief as a law, have set themselves up as their own source of good, and cannot tolerate any rival to their own beliefs, in the minds of men. One thing you can say for them: they understood very well what it was they believed
Sadly understanding mischief as a law, instead of understanding the law as a means of building society, which requires some transcendent conception of the human person, has gone beyond imagining and become reality. The reason for this requirement is that it accords with reality, not a conception of reality, but arises from human experience.

Bl. Pope John II returns to Poland in 1979 for the first time after becoming Pope

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Oscar Romero, Maria Skobtsova, and the other martyrs, including St. Paul, who posed a threat to the power of the Roman Empire, attest, Jesus Christ is the only true revolutionary in human history. A revolution of love aimed at bringing about the Kingdom of God. In an address he gave at World Youth Day, held in Cologne, Germany in 2005, Benedict XVI told the young people-
only from the saints, only from God does true revolution come, the definitive way to change the world.

In the last century we experienced revolutions with a common program - expecting nothing more from God, they assumed total responsibility for the cause of the world in order to change it. And this, as we saw, meant a human and partial point of view was always taken as an absolute guiding principle. Absolutizing what is not absolute but relative is called totalitarianism. It does not liberate man, but takes away his dignity and enslaves him.

It is not ideologies that save the world, but only a return to the living God, our Creator, the guarantor of our freedom, the guarantor of what is really good and true. True revolution consists in simply turning to God who is the measure of what is right and who at the same time is everlasting love. And what could ever save us apart from love?
Because there is no love without truth, the Kingdom of God is a place where all lies are dispelled. It is a Kingdom of truth and love, which is why it can also be a place of joy and peace. This brings me to a final piece, Dr. William Oddie's "Some think it ironic that pugnacious Mrs Thatcher should pray for harmony. But she was closer to St Francis than you may think." As Dr. Oddie also notes, that her contribution to ending the evil Soviet empire "was acknowledged again yesterday by Lech Walesa, who described her (not for the first time) as 'a great person.'"

"The LORD has done great things for us" (Ps. 126:3a)

Today we mark Wednesday of the Second Week of Easter. Hopefully, at least as it pertains to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, your So what? factor is not waning. In service of the end of living in the light Christ's glorious Resurrection, we need to drink from deep wells. I discovered one such well last summer, Cardinal Schönborn's "contemporary Christology," God Sent His Son.

Let's take a sip:
Since the Reformation, Protestant, but also Catholic, dogmatics have so strongly emphasized the meaning of Jesus' death for salvation that it often seems as if the Resurrection were "just a corroborative appendage to the expiatory death of Christ that justifies us" [here His Eminence quotes a 1966 book by J. Kremer]. Yet a one-sided view of Jesus' death as penal satisfaction reduces its significance for salvation to either a merely good moral example or a forensic justification in which God revokes a judicial sentence on sinful mankind and promises them his salvation
The Resurrection of Christ (center piece of triptych), by Peter Paul Rubens, 1611-12

What, then, is the soteriological significance of Jesus' Resurrection? Christ's rising is the beginning of the universal resurrection. Cardinal Schönborn demonstrates this, draws water into the deep well of his Christology from the living stream of apostolic preaching:
But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being. For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order: Christ the firstfruits; then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ; then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father, when he has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power (1 Cor. 15:20-24)
I want to extend the passage beyond the four verses used by the Cardinal:

"For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death, for 'he subjected everything under his feet.' But when it says that everything has been subjected, it is clear that it excludes the one who subjected everything to him. When everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will [also] be subjected to the one who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all" (1 Cor. 15:25-28).

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 ...