Friday, May 31, 2013

"Blessed is the fruit of your womb"

Today we end of May, a month dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, by observing the the Feast of the Visitation:
During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Luke 1:39-45)

So what can we put up as our traditio? How about the Magnificat by Arvo Part?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day in a more personal key

In order to keep a promise made some weeks back, my lovely wife took three of our children to "Mummies of the World: The Exhibition" today, the last day it is Salt Lake City. In the meantime, the Snack (our 4 year-old son) and I made our way up to the Clinton City cemetery to pay tribute to my Dad.

Stephen R. Dodge was a veteran of the U.S. Navy. He was in the submarine service and did his duty as a crew member on-board the U.S.S. Blue Gill (S.S. 242) between the years 1956-1960. My Dad was always very proud of his honorable service to our nation.

I have to admit that I have always found it a little awkward to visit cemeteries, especially on Memorial Day when so many people are around. I find it awkward because I don't really know what to do. Usually I go on my own, during lunch, on a regular weekday, when I am almost always the only one in the cemetery. As we made our way across the cemetery I saw people doing all kinds of things. One family was sitting on a bench that was part of the memorial to their loved one. Another family, closer to my Dad's grave, brought lawn chairs and were sitting around the grave enjoying some beverages and visiting. It looked like they were going to be there for awhile. Frankly, I found this a little intimidating, again, because what does one do?

Snack on Memorial Day, remembering his Grandpa, my Dad

Snack and I went to my Dad's resting place and removed our hats. I had my son place the flowers we brought (one you can later retrieve and plant) on the upper left-hand side of the headstone so I could take his picture. Then we said a few prayers and just sat there for a few minutes. I asked Snack if he missed his Grandpa. He said he did and was glad Grandpa Al (my wife's Dad) was still alive. I am too.

Even after two and-a-half years, it's still weird think my Dad isn't around anymore. It also forces me to face my own mortality. Back in my early 20s I had a dream in which my Dad had died and I was at his viewing. It was so real and normal that it took me a few minutes after waking up to realize it hadn't happened. When it happened for real about 25 years later, it seemed like a dream and it still kind of does.

I'm grateful for my one-on-one time with my son. I love the simplicity of children. So, please excuse me, our time today isn't yet up.

Memorial Day, the day we gratefully remember

It wouldn't be right not to post something for Memorial Day. While for most of my fellow citizens it is a day to remember our beloved dead in general, let's not forget, even as we do that, the primary purpose of Memorial Day is to remember those who gave their lives in the service of our great nation.

Since he was just awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously, I am thinking today of Fr. Emil Kapaun, who served as a U.S. Army chaplain during the Korean War. Fr. Kapaun was executed while being held as a prisoner-of-war. Before and during his captivity, during which he was beaten many times by his captors, Emil Kapaun never ceased ministering to those the Lord, in His infinite wisdom and unfailing care, had put in his pastoral charge, Catholic or not. There is a growing ground-swell of support for his canonization, which I support. Please visit the website. Really, this is how canonizations should happen, start with the acclamation and veneration of a holy man or woman by the faithful and bubble up.

Here are some words of Fr. Kapaun's from one of his homilies delivered at his parish in Kansas, Saint John Nepomucene: "Saints were much different than the ideas we have from worldly things. Their values were true and lasting values, not the passing, trivial things of this world."

As relayed in the book The Miracle of Father Kapaun: Priest, Soldier, and Korean War Hero, by Roy Wenzl and Travis Heying, as it became clear Kapaun was going to be taken and executed, he exhorted his comrades not to fight and stir-up more trouble for themselves on his behalf. He handed his gold ciborium, his stole, and the holy oils to Lt. Walter Mayo and told him, "Tell them I died a happy death." To another, Ralph Edwards, he handed over a prayer book and said, "You know the prayers, Ralph, keep holding the services, don't let them make you stop." One soldier grabbed Kapaun by the arm and said, "I'm terribly sorry." Emil Kapaun looked at him and said, "You're sorry for me? I am going to be with Jesus Christ. And that is what I have worked for all my life... You should be happy for me." To another soldier he had counseled he said, "When you get back to Jersey, you get that marriage straightened out, or I'll come down from heaven and kick you in the ass." To yet another grieving soldier he said, "Don't take it hard Mike, I'm going where I always wanted to be. And when I get up there, I'll say a prayer for you all."

Fr. Emil Kapaun

Echoes of the Last Supper, n'est ce pas? A priest acting in persona Christi captis in a most transcendent and luminous way!

My friends, this is the victory we have in Jesus Christ. To my mind, this is how it looks this side of heaven. Christ strengthens us in our abject powerlessness, using our powerlessness to show His glory. In one of his homilies, given back in Kansas, Fr. Kapaun said, "First of all we must be humble enough to acknowledge that we are too poor to help ourselves and are in great need of help."

Praising God under the worst circumstances #winning!

St. Paul, in what may well be the first book of the New Testament to be written, urges the Christians in ancient Thessaloniki- "See that no one returns evil for evil; rather, always seek what is good [both] for each other and for all. Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thess. 5:15-18). Even a man as holy as Emil Kapaun struggled with this, struggled with loving his captors, those who mercilessly beat him and ultimately killed him, but, by the grace of God, he succeeded, which is why we can say, I believe, "Emil Kapaun, pray for us!"

Just think of how many gave their lives heroically and whose stories are lost to us. But nothing is lost to God. Above all, today is a day of gratitude, or thanksgiving, which is what Eucharist means.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Year C Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Readings: Pvbs 8:22-31; Ps 8:4-9; Rom 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

For those who might be unaware, today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, known more simply as Trinity Sunday. While the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, which is best summarized as one God in three divine Persons, sits atop the hierarchy of truth, we do not start from the top and work our way down. Rather we begin at the bottom and work up. Our starting point is the Incarnation of the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ.

To acknowledge Jesus as Lord requires a revelation (Matt. 16:17; 1 Cor. 12:3). We make a mistake to think that revelation is something that always crashes in from above. Very often revelation is something that happens in the here and now that is unveiled before our eyes. Explaining the rationale for writing his book At the Origin of the Christian Claim, Msgr. Luigi Giussani wrote- “I have tried to show the evidence for the reasonableness with which we attach ourselves to Christ, and then are led by the experience of the encounter with His humanity to the great question about His divinity. What makes us grow and broadens our mind is not abstract reasoning, but finding in humanity a moment when the truth is reached and spoken.”

A good example of what Giussani describes is Jesus walking with the Twelve on the road to Caesarea-Phillipi. As they’re walking along, Jesus asks them who people are say He (Jesus) is. They tell Him all the rumors, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Matt 16:14). He then asks the Twelve the only question that really matters: “But who do you say that I am?” It is Peter who steps forward and boldly proclaims, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:15-16). This prompts the Lord to say, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father” (Matt 16:17). Now plenty of people had witnessed Jesus doing and saying the things Peter saw Him do and heard Him teach, but not everyone was able to reach the conclusion Peter reached concerning Jesus’ identity.

Sunday after Sunday, when we come to Mass, we enter a moment when the truth is spoken. While this is true of the entire Eucharistic liturgy, this happens in a very specific way during the Liturgy of the Word, when the Scriptures are proclaimed out loud in and to the assembly. Hearing the Scriptures proclaimed is a moment when, as in the consecration of Eucharistic elements, Christ is made really and truly present by the power of the Holy Spirit, who, as the Lord tells His disciples in our Gospel today, does “not speak on his own,” but speaks only what he hears (John 16:13).

What the Holy Spirit speaks glorifies Christ Jesus. As the Lord told the Twelve, the Spirit “will take from what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:14). He further tells them that everything the Father possesses He gives to the Son. The Son, in turn, gives it to the Spirit who, as St. Paul tells us in our second reading, pours it into our hearts (Rom. 5:5).

As Blessed Pope John Paul II said, “The Father who begets loves the Son who is begotten. The Son loves the Father with a love which is identical with that of the Father. “The Father and the Son,” John Paul II further stated, “are not only united by [their] mutual love as two Persons infinitely perfect,” but “their reciprocal love… proceeds,” to use the word from the Creed, “from them as a person.” Hence, the Father and the Son “spirate,” or breathe, the Holy Spirit, who is “consubstantial with them” (General Audience 20 November 1985).

To be “inspired” is to be breathed into. This is why St. Paul tells us that “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5). It is God’s whole purpose to share this divine life with us, to draw us into the very life of the Most Holy Trinity. This is the end for which we are created, redeemed, and for which we are being sanctified, in no way more than our participation in this Eucharist, which itself is a participation, a foretaste, of life everlasting, which can only be divine life.

When we gather for Mass, we witness the dynamic of the Most Holy Trinity for ourselves. One way that this unfolds before us is when priest pronounces the epiclesis, a Greek word meaning “to call down from on high,” over the gifts on the altar, saying something like, “You are indeed Holy, O Lord, the fount of all holiness. Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dew-fall, so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eucharistic Prayer II).

But how does this look in so-called “real” life? How do we start out from below, from what is right in front of us and so move to what is above? Well, just this past week a very dear friend of mine from high-school, a committed Evangelical Christian from her teen years, who lives in Florida and is now in the process of becoming Catholic, was having a lovely day off. As a registered nurse and busy mother of several teenagers, she was taking a day for herself. She’d visited the beauty salon and was headed to get a massage. As she stopped for a light, “Boom!” Someone had rear-ended her. I am quite certain that something like, “Oh great, the end of my well-planned ‘me” day,” was what went through her mind.

She soon discovered that the person who hit her was a woman in her 80s, someone who had never been in a car accident before, and who felt terrible about what she had done. As my friend spoke to her, she discovered that she was a widow, who never had children, owned no pets, who had moved to Florida to take care of her ailing brother, who passed away four years ago. She was pretty much all alone. My friend, who started out angry, soon realized that she was keeping an appointment God had set up for her. I have to admit I choked up when I received this “tweet” from my friend concerning her new friend: “We will be going to lunch soon. Ah The Lord and His mysterious ways!”

It is fitting that Trinity Sunday is always the Sunday following Pentecost because it gives us an opportunity to synthesize the great Paschal Mystery we live so intensely over the fifty days of Easter. Today we are urged to continue living out this great mystery of love in which, by God’s grace, we participate. So, in the concrete circumstances of our everyday lives, let’s bring God’s love to bear wherever we may find ourselves, and so play our part in showing forth how wonderful is God’s name throughout all the earth.

Friday, May 24, 2013

More on the Pope Francis redemption flap

Due his hard ideological turn, I am not as big a fan of Stephen Colbert as I used to be. Don't get me wrong, often I still find him laugh-out-loud funny and, at times, quite brilliant, not merely clever. I just get the sense that, like Jon Stewart, he knows his viewer demographic and so most of the time just panders to them, which is the stuff of entertainment, I suppose.

Nonetheless, once in awhile Colbert strikes gold. When viewed as the reductio ad absurdum I think (at least I hope) it is intended to be, the clip below is a quite brilliant parody of the reaction of many in the in religiously illiterate news media and those still hoping for a morph from Francis into Pope Groovy the Oneth.

In addition to what I posted the other day, there are two things worth noting as regards the great Pope Francis redemption flap. The first comes courtesy of a Facebook friend, the very same one who reminded me that today is Bob Dylan's birthday, Chad Pecknold, who is a professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at the Catholic University of America. Dr. Pecknold was invited to comment on Pope Francis' remarks made in a homily this week, namely that everyone, including atheists, are redeemed by Christ, by CNN.

Pecknold tried to address this issue as a matter of redemption being an objective order in which each one of us are invited, but not forced, to (subjectively) participate. Sticking with the distinction between redemption and justification, being justified is the result of our subjective and free choice to participate in redemption. While analogies limp, here's one: I could offer to buy your lunch, but if you're intent on paying for it yourself, then my offer is voided by your refusal.

For Catholics the pope's statement that everyone, including atheists, are redeemed is non-controversial, or should be. The fact that it is proving to be controversial is just one more discouraging sign concerning the poor state of catechesis.

The second thing comes from Pope Francis' homily on the feast day of his baptismal patron, St George, back on 23 April. Referring to the first reading that day (Acts 11:19-26), the Holy Father said,
And so the Church was a Mother, the Mother of more children, of many children. It became more and more of a Mother. A Mother who gives us the faith, a Mother who gives us an identity. But the Christian identity is not an identity card: Christian identity is belonging to the Church, because all of these belonged to the Church, the Mother Church. Because it is not possible to find Jesus outside the Church. The great Paul VI said: "Wanting to live with Jesus without the Church, following Jesus outside of the Church, loving Jesus without the Church is an absurd dichotomy." And the Mother Church that gives us Jesus gives us our identity that is not only a seal, it is a belonging. Identity means belonging. This belonging to the Church is beautiful (underlining and emboldening emphasis mine)
Theology that merits the name requires one to hold things in tension. In fact, one can argue, as Cardinal Newman did quite convincingly, that Christian orthodoxy, which foundationally has to do with dogma, is nothing but an exercise in holding what can easily be seen as disparate, but not contradictory, things in tension.

I think a good way to wrap this up is by pointing to a wonderful article by Megan Hodder that appeared in The Catholic Herald newspaper. In her piece, entitled "The atheist orthodoxy that drove me to faith," she wrote wonderfully about coming to subjectively participate in the objective order of redemption:
My friendships with practising Catholics finally convinced me that I had to make a decision. Faith, after all, isn’t merely an intellectual exercise, an assent to certain propositions; it’s a radical act of the will, one that engenders a change of the whole person. Books had taken me to Catholicism as a plausible conjecture, but Catholicism as a living truth I came to understand only through observing those already serving the Church within that life of grace

Authenticity, friendship, and happy birthday Bob Dylan

As I am towards most things, I am ambivalent about Facebook. By ambivalent, I mean of two minds. On the one hand, it gives me many benefits and has enabled me to make friends with people I would otherwise would not have privilege of knowing and interacting with, as well as maintaining connections with people I know from different periods of my life. On the other hand, due largely to some mistaken notions on my part, it can become a bit of a nightmare, a battlefield.

I am on Facebook and Google + for friendship, which is why I recently deleted my old FB account and established another account. I figured it didn't make sense to be "friends" with a whole bunch of people who I have either never met in person, or people from my distant past, like high school, with whom I was not particularly close during those years or since, and who I have blocked from my newsfeed and who have blocked me. So, our "friendship" consisted of placing each other on ignore in a virtual forum. No thanks. I also had one "friend" who stated plainly that she was not on FB for friendship and mutual exchange, but to market her own internet enterprise and give others the benefit of her opinion. I'll take a pass. I now deliberately have one-third of the "friends" I used to have.

I also tired of people copying and pasting things I wrote and posting them as original thoughts, not videos, articles, and the like, but my own words. This is just base behavior. With reference to those with whom I interact on FB I can now simply type friends with no scare quotes. I have asked any of my friends that rather than removing me from their newsfeed to simply to "unfriend" me. Authenticity, I think, is something to strive for no matter the medium, no less virtually than in person.

Here's the punchline, the foregoing was a segue into being thankful that a FB friend reminded me, after I put up today's traditio, that today is Robert Zimmerman's 72nd birthday. In my view, Dylan is one of the postmodern masters of authenticity, who, despite repeatedly being labelled things like "the voice of a generation," insists he is "a song and dance man." Anyway, here's something from the Καθολικός διάκονος archives: YouTube orthodoxy and Saturday miscellania and another one to mark Bobby Z's birthday three years ago: "They’re selling postcards of the hanging"

As both of my longtime readers are aware, I love Dylan's "Knocking on Heaven's Door." Over the years I have posted quite a few versions and covers of this song. So, for our well-deserved bonus traditio, here is Dylan singing this classic hit (one of those songs you have to know to be in the band) with Tom Petty:

"With the dream in her eyes no one's seen"

For today's traditio I am reaching back again, as I did last week with Modern English. So, today's song is "The Seer" by Big Country, headed by the late Stuart Adamson. When Big Country recorded this song in studio for their third album, also entitled "The Seer," backing vocals were provided by the ever lovely Kate Bush.

Stuart Adamson

For those familiar with Big Country you know the tale of Adamson's tragic death by suicide in 2001. He was a close friend of the Edge, U2's guitarist, who eulogized him. The song U2 and Green Day recorded together to raise money for Katrina relief, "The Saints Are Coming," was composed by Adamson. The Edge paid tribute to his friend by playing the guitar solo exactly the way, note for note, Adamson had played it.

Back in 2011 fans in his hometown of Dunfermline, Scotland raised money and put a bench in a city park. The bench is engraved with lyrics from Adamson's songs.

I listened for so long that day that I can hardly tell/If what she said was heaven sent or brought to bear in hell/That men of hope would stand alone and still be cast a lie/Just as the Romans cast them on the day they were to die

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

All Who Do Evil Are Redeemed- Christians Included

We're going through one of those periods in which the fallen-ness and broken-ness of the world is readily apparent: the hacking to death on a London street of a British soldier by two Islamic terrorists, the devastating tornadoes that ripped through Oklahoma, the worrisome governmental scandals and probable cover ups involving the IRS, DOJ, and State Department, etc. So it seems perfectly natural that many of us are searching for rays of light in this present darkness.

I am very glad that for an increasing number of people Pope Francis is the man who delivers it. He does so especially through his well-publicized homilies, which are short and to the point. Typically, he preaches these at the daily Masses he usually celebrates in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Vatican guest house where he has chosen to take up residence, instead of in the papal apartments.

Yesterday, Wednesday, 22 May, he preached on the short daily Gospel, which consisted of a mere three verses from the ninth chapter of St. Mark's Gospel:
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us. Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward
Commenting on this passage, the Holy Father said,
The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there
It seems clear that the "there" to which the Pontiff makes reference is not heaven, but doing good. The Christian and the charitable atheist will meet "there" at the soup kitchen, the food pantry, the homeless shelter, the refugee center, the AIDS hospice, the free clinic, etc., which becomes the place of encounter.

This led the HuffPo to put up a most unfortunate and misleading headline: "Pope Francis Says All Who Do Good are Redeemed- Atheists Included." It would've been more accurate to write that "All Who Do Evil Are Redeemed- Christians Included." As St. Paul wrote, "For there is no distinction; all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:22b-23).

People have been jumping all over this as if the Holy Father had announced some new breakthrough in Catholic teaching, or, as some surely hoped, articulating some actual change in doctrine, leading towards universalism. Of course, he was doing neither.

Christ Crucified between the Two Thieves: The Three Crosses Rembrandt

It seems to me that in this passage Pope Francis was articulating two things:

1) People who are atheists can perform acts of charity with selfless motivations (Of course they can, who asserted otherwise?)

2) That Christ died to redeem everyone, even people who are atheists (Of course He did, because by His holy cross, He has redeemed the world and everyone in it.)

I think the enthusiasm is probably generated either by a conflation of redemption and justification, or simply by ignoring justification altogether.

While the Catholic Church dogmatically rejects sola fide, insisting that faith is not mere subjective confidence that one is pardoned by God, but includes righteous works, she recognizes that justification itself is a work of grace. As the Catechism states: "Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high. 'Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man'" (par. 1989). So, contra the misinformed headline, we don't redeem or justify ourselves.

Should an unbeliever attain heaven, which is not an impossibility (this is nothing new either- see Romans 2:12-18), it would be because of Jesus Christ, without whom, no one, including His Blessed Mother, would go to heaven.

Allow me to turn again to St. Paul, who summed up redemption well as part of his formulation of what is very likely the first Christian creed: "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3). And also in Romans 5:8: "But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!"

In a recent speech, Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury, England exhorted the faithful to be wary of the media's agenda when reporting on Pope Francis: "Expectations are subtly or less subtly raised that this is the man who will change the Catholic faith itself in accordance with the commentator’s own wishes and agenda." This episode, I think, provides us with a great case-in-point, which why a basic grasp of redemption is a good place to start.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Ordinary Time resumes

Picking up where we left off before Lent began, today is the Seventh Monday in Ordinary Time. It seems weird that with Vespers yesterday evening Easter is now over this year. I was planning to continue my leisurely pace of posting, but I felt I needed to mark this important transition.

In Latin this period is called tempus per annum- "time through the year." Nonetheless, there are mile markers along the way. Understandably we have a hard time letting go of Easter. Therefore, this Sunday is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity and the following Sunday, at least in the U.S., is Corpus Christi. At the end of June we celebrate the Solemnity of Sts. Peter & Paul. For my parish, The Cathedral of the Madeleine, on 22 July, we observe the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene as a solemnity. Of course, 15 August marks the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is a holy day of obligation. On it goes until we begin the cycle all over the First Sunday of Advent, which this year falls on 1 December.

During this time, each Friday is a "little" Good Friday and every Sunday is "Easter." I always see this lengthy period of Ordinary Time as an opportunity to reflect on the Paschal Mystery we focus on so intensely, really, from Advent to Pentecost. Yes, I realize there a brief period of Ordinary Time that separates Christmas from Lent.

To begin this year, during which we use Year 1 of the weekday lectionary, we are given 15 verses from the ninth chapter of St. Mark's Gospel to reflect on. We read about Jesus casting a mute and deaf spirit, an evil spirit, from a boy. After He heard cries to help this boy "if He can," Jesus responded by saying, "If you can! Everything is possible to one who has faith." At that point the boy's Dad cried out "I do believe, help my unbelief!" Seeing a crowd gathering round, Jesus said, "Mute and deaf spirit, I command you: come out of him and never enter him again!"

After these words the boy convulsed and it appeared to the crowd that he was dead. When His disciples asked Jesus why they were unable to cast out the evil spirit, Jesus replied, "This kind can only come out through prayer."

It is through prayer that our faith is strengthened. Our interior life needs to be nurtured by daily contact with God through Christ in the power of the Spirit. It is this that makes all time extraordinary.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pentecost: the "moment when the truth is reached and spoken"

Today is Pentecost, the day we mark the founding of the Church. Pentecost, which is also the Jewish observance of Shavuot, commemorating God's giving the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai, comes 50 days after Easter, or 50 days after Passover for Jews.

At the first Christian Pentecost the Paschal Mystery was brought to completion. We say, write, and hear the term "Paschal Mystery" very often. In the end is a shorthand way of referring to Jesus' life, death, resurrection, ascension, and the descent of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is the way Jesus Christ remains present in us and through us until He returns to definitively establish the reign of God. This is why we read (in one of the options for our second reading) from, St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, "No one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:3b). Now, one can certainly utter the words "Jesus is Lord" and not mean it, or even do it in a mocking way. What the apostle notes here is that no one can truly acknowledge Jesus as Lord except by the Holy Spirit. We see this even during Jesus' ministry.

On the road the Twelve, in route to Caesarea Philippi, when asked by Jesus who he says the man from Nazareth is, Peter confesses that He is Lord and Messiah (Matt. 16:16). Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father" (Matt. 16:17).

So we can say that to acknowledge Jesus as Lord requires a revelation. Revelation means an unveiling. It is not something that comes from above, but happens in the here and now. Explaining the rationale for writing his book At the Origin of the Christian Claim, Msgr. Luigi Giussani wrote- "I have tried to show the evidence for the reasonableness with which we attach ourselves to Christ, and then are led by the experience of the encounter with His humanity to the great question about His divinity. What makes us grow and broadens our mind is not abstract reasoning, but finding in humanity a moment when the truth is reached and spoken."

The first Pentecost was truly a moment of encounter, a moment when the truth was reached and spoken, which is why Peter said, "God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses. Exalted at the right hand of God, he received the promise of the holy Spirit from the Father and poured it forth, as you (both) see and hear" (Acts 2:32-33). The response was overwhelming, resulting in "about three thousand persons" accepting Peter's message and receiving baptism (Acts 2:41).

Building from this, Fr. Julián Carrón adds that "what broadens reason so as to enable it to recognize Christ is not abstract reasoning, but rather the correspondence between man and Christ, which is realized in a real, historical encounter in the present." According to Carrón, it is this encounter in the present (i.e., something that happens to us) that "makes the journey of faith simple."

Fr. Carrón also notes what happens "when this encounter does not take place"– "Christianity is reduced to a discourse, to a doctrine, to morality." As a result, our humanity is reduced. Further, "man and Christ find themselves totally opposed to each other, with a deep chasm of estrangement between them."

Hence, the Father sends the Holy Spirit to breach this chasm.

Loosen our tongues to sing your praise
in words beyond the power of speech,
for without the Spirit
man could never raise his voice in words of peace
or announce the truth that Jesus is Lord (from the Alternative Prayer for Morning Prayer)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A preliminary note on the Letter to the Hebrews

This morning I began my preparations for leading a thirteen session Bible study on The Letter to the Hebrews. Along with a few other commentaries, my preparations led to me look at the part of the revised edition of Luke Timothy Johnson's The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation that deals with what is likely an ancient homily. Johnson notes that one of the reasons many Christians are not more familiar with this inspired text is that, across virtually its entire thirteen chapters (excepting perhaps only verses 22-25 of chapter 13), it makes "a sustained argument from beginning to end."

It is interesting that Johnson locates the crux of this sustained argument towards the end of the fourth chapter, where the writer, using the image "The Sabbath Rest," exhorts his hearer/reader:
Therefore, let us strive to enter into that rest, so that no one may fall after the same example of disobedience. Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account (4:11-13)
I am also finding attributions to various authors fascinating. While I agree with Origen's conclusion that "God only knows" who the author is, I found the arguments in favor of attributing the letter to Apollos plausible, but not convincing. I was intrigued by this especially in light of the fact that to Apollos is often attributed the faulty concept of resurrection that St. Paul seeks to correct in 1 Corinthians 15.

Friday, May 17, 2013

"I heard you calling a thousand miles away"

Prompted by some reading this week, I am feeling a little nostalgic and, at the same time, recognizing that nostalgia is a longing for home, understanding that the way home is forward, not backward. Seems pretty straightforward, but, at least to me, it's not.

It may surprise many people almost 30 years later, but in addition to "Melt With You," Modern English has a few other very good songs, like "Hands Across the Sea," which is our late-appearing Friday traditio. It's fitting that I was able to find Modern English playing this nostalgic song just a few years ago. It captures my mood nicely.

I can't explain this feeling/I won't begin to try/There is still a chance if we just close our eyes

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Ascension reminds us that Jesus IS the Gospel

In my diocese, as in several other local churches, this Sunday is Ascension Day. No, this is not a rant about how this throws our liturgical arithmetic off, even though it does. I admit that this "transfer" remains incomprehensible to me, at the end of the day it is what it is.

I usually take my point-of-departure from the reading from Acts, but today I want to focus on our reading from St. Luke's Gospel. Of course most believe it is the case that Luke and Acts were composed by the same author. I am among those who believe that is true. Nonetheless, Luke's Gospel has an account of Jesus' Ascension in addition to the one we find in the first chapter of Acts.

The Ascension, by Benjamin West, 1801

The part of the Gospel reading I want to focus on are the words of Jesus:
Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:46b-49)
In these words are contained both the content of evangelization and the call to evangelize. This nicely complements something from earlier this week, namely that being forgiven our sins, to borrow a few words from David Platt, "is God's greatest gift because it meets our greatest need."

Jumping over to St. John's Gospel, which, in turn, brings up the whole issue of Divine Mercy Sunday, which I like because it upsets so many academic Catholics, we see that the first gift Jesus gave to the Church after His Resurrection was the Sacrament of Penance (see John 20:19-23). Despite all of this, I can still understand the disciples pleading, even with their eyes and faces, "Jesus, please don't go!"

Friday, May 10, 2013

"There ain’t no grave gonna hold my body down"

Depending on where you live, either yesterday or this coming Sunday is the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. Where I live it is this Sunday. Jesus' ascension into heaven forty days after he arose from the dead is the second of the five Glorious Mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Of course, May is the month of our Blessed Mother. The fruit of the mystery of the Ascension is the theological virtue of hope.

Most of all "we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ." In the Ascension as relayed to us in the Acts of the Apostles we are pointed towards this as well. As Jesus ascended, His disciples stood there watching Him go up. The angels who were there said to them, "Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven" (Acts 1:11). Of course, all of this is to do nothing other than to once again draw out attention to the resurrection, not only of Jesus', but our own. Of course, without His there would be no possibility of ours. As St. Paul wrote: "For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins" (1 Cor. 15:16-17).

All of this is why Tom Jones singing "Ain't No Grave" is our Friday traditio for this Sixth Friday of Easter, falling either the day after or two days before the Ascension:

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Forgiveness, the healing that prevents paralysis

Being Christian means living your life sub specie aeternitatis (i.e., under the aspect of eternity), living in the awareness of your destiny, seeking to fulfill the end not for which you were created, but for which you were redeemed at a great price. One reason why health and wealth preachers, psychics, horoscopes, astrology, etc. all hold a certain attraction for so many is that they feed off the underlying belief that this life, here and now, is all that ultimately matters. This is not true, which is not to say that this life doesn't matter, it matters hugely, but as something like a means to an end. It is not a means to an end, but the means to your end. So, what we do, how we engage reality, does really matter.

Let's look to the life of Jesus, which as Christians we do too little, to show us what matters.
And there people brought to him a paralytic lying on a stretcher. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Courage, child, your sins are forgiven.” At that, some of the scribes* said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” Jesus knew what they were thinking, and said, “Why do you harbor evil thoughts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic, “Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.” He rose and went home (Mark 2:1-11)

You see, the physical healing was secondary, or even tertiary. It was not primary. What Jesus did for the man who was paralytic was forgive his sins, heal his soul, restore his heart by an incomprehensible act of love, not enable him to walk, which was something the Lord did merely to silence His critics.

In his book Follow Me: A Call to Die. A Call to Live, David Platt lays this out pretty simply: "Forgiveness is God's greatest gift because it meets our greatest need."

Pope Francis laid it out more comprehensively and just as simply in his first Angelus appearance on 17 March:
Let us not forget this word: God never ever tires of forgiving us! “Well, Father what is the problem?”. Well, the problem is that we ourselves tire, we do not want to ask, we grow weary of asking for forgiveness. He never tires of forgiving, but at times we get tired of asking for forgiveness.

Let us never tire, let us never tire! He is the loving Father who always pardons, who has that heart of mercy for us all. And let us too learn to be merciful to everyone
Forgiveness gives us hope, which often gives us the strength we need to carry on. Hope is the antidote to despair. It is the cure for being paralyzed in the face of reality, which is often overwhelming because it is unyielding.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Preparing to ask: Minor Rogation Days

Almost two weeks ago, a few days before the day on which the Church formerly marked the Major Rogation Day, 25 April, the Feast of St. Mark, Evangelist, I posted something on Rogation Days. By way of reminder, Rogation Days in the Spring and Ember Days in the Fall were, traditionally, days of prayer, fasting, and supplication. On Rogation Days the Litany of the Saints was prayed.

It bears repeating that the word "rogation" comes from the Latin word rogare, a verb, meaning "to ask." So why post on this again so soon? Well, in most places throughout the world (not in my diocese), this Thursday, 9 May, being the fortieth day after Easter, marks the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. Minor Rogation Days were observed from the fifth century until after the Second Vatican Council, when their observance, along with Ember Days in the Fall, was not abolished, but left up to national conferences of bishops (much like observing Fridays as penitential days). The Minor Rogation Days were(/are) the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday prior to our observance of the Lord's Ascension. In his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, with which he established the use of the 1962 Roman Missal as the extraordinary form of the liturgy and the calendar specific to it, Pope Benedict XVI brought back, at least for some of the Roman Catholic faithful, these observances.

Again, to be clear, these days nobody is in any way bound or otherwise obligated to observe these days in any manner. Hence, observing them is strictly voluntary, which, in my view, makes observing them far more valuable.

Minor Rogation Days originated in fifth century and were started by St. Mamertus, Bishop of Vienne in France, who began them in response to a series natural calamities that occurred in his diocese. In the first volume of The Golden Legend we read this about Minor Rogation Days:
And is said the Litany the less, the rogations and processions. For it is the lesser Litany to the difference of the first, because that this lesser Litany was instituted of a lesser, which was a simple Bishop, in a lesser place, and for lesser malady...

It is said also Rogations, for then we pray and demand the suffrages of all the saints, and we thus have good cause for to keep this ordinance and fast in these days. And for many reasons it is instituted. First, because it appeaseth the battles, that commonly begin in primetime. Secondly, because that the fruits which be then tender, that God will multiply. Thirdly, because that every man should mortify in himself the movings of his flesh, which in that time boil. Fourthly, because that every one dispose himself to receive the Holy Ghost; for by fastings, by orisons, and by devotion is one more able and more worthy. But, two other reasons assigneth Master William of Auxerre, because then, when Jesu Christ would ascend into heaven he said: Ask ye duly and ye shall have. And we may the more faithfully demand when we have the promise of God. Secondly, because that holy Church fasteth and prayeth that she have but little flesh, that is to make the body lean by abstinence, and to get wings by prayer.
Blessing the fields in Hever, Kent (England) from Wikipedia Commons

In addition to the Litany of the Saints, which we pray on Rogation Days, below is a prayer you may also use: A Prayer for Rogation Days
Almighty God, Lord of heaven and earth:

We pray, in Your mercy, for the seasons ahead:

for favorable growing conditions,

for abundant harvests,

for safety in our labors,

for just returns to all who invest and labor in agriculture, and for joyous homecomings in all seasons.

Remembering the account we must give at the last day, we pray for You to make us wise stewards of all that You have given us, that this generation and those to come may continue to enjoy, thank and praise You for Your providence;

Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and The Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Being Spirit-filled

Our readings for this Sunday point us towards Pentecost, towards the Father's sending the Holy Spirit at Jesus' request. It is by the Holy Spirit, who effects the sacraments, that God fills us with Himself, thus empowering us to live the new life we received through our Paschal death, burial, and resurrection, which occurred at our Baptism. The Holy Spirit is the mode, or the precise way, that Jesus remains present in us and through us between His Glorious Ascension to the Father's right hand, where He reigns forever, and His return in glory.

In St. Matthew's Gospel Jesus said to the high priest, who demanded that our Lord tell him "under oath before the living God whether you are the Messiah, the Son of God" (Matt. 26:63), "You have said so. But I tell you: From now on you will see 'the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power' and 'coming on the clouds of heaven.'" (Matt. 26:64).

In the Acts of the Apostles, the final words of Jesus just prior to His Ascension are, "you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

Our Gospel for this Sixth Sunday of Easter, the Sunday prior to the Church's observance of the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, which is normatively observed on the Thursday between the Sixth and Seventh Sundays of Easter, is from Jesus' Last Supper Discourse in St. John's Gospel. Jesus reassures His disciples, who are worried that He has told them He is going away, by telling them that the Father will send them an "Advocate," in Greek parakeltos, from whence we derive the word Paraclete, which means someone you call to your side to help you. Jesus tells them this is the "Holy Spirit... [who] will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you" (John 14:26). In the context of the passage it seems that the things about which the Holy Spirit will remind them are what it means "to Keep" Jesus'"word." The "word," of course, as we know from last Sunday's Gospel, is "love," or, agapé.

Jesus promise was fulfilled at Pentecost, when His disciples "were all in one place together" (Acts 2:1), when "suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim" (Acts 2:2-4). They proclaimed Jesus Christ: "God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses. Exalted at the right hand of God, he received the promise of the holy Spirit from the Father and poured it forth, as you (both) see and hear crucified, buried, and risen from the dead" (Acts 2:32-33).

In our reading from Acts chapter fifteen this Sunday we see the Holy Spirit at work in the Church at the so-called "Council of Jerusalem." The council was convened to determine whether Gentiles, who Paul and Barnabas were instrumental (acting as instruments of the Holy Spirit) in converting at a rapid pace, needed to first become observant Jews and live by the Mosaic law, including men receiving circumcision. The conciliar decision was written and conveyed to the churches via letter and began: "It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities" (Acts 15:28).

You, too, are to be filled the Holy Spirit. You receive the Eucharist, which we also call the sacramentum caritatis (i.e., "the sacrament of love"), for this very purpose. From here you are dismissed, that is, sent out, re-filled with the Holy Spirit, to be a witness for Jesus Christ outside these walls, "glorifying the Lord by your life," announcing "the Gospel of the Lord." This amounts to telling others what Jesus has done for you; first by the manner in which you live and then, because what you say will be credible, by your words.

May is the Month for the Blessed Virgin Mary

It has only taken me until 4 May to post that the month of May is typically the month that Roman Catholics honor the Blessed Virgin in a ramped up way. But then we always honor her in such a manner. We do not worship the Virgin Mary. Worship is reserved for God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and Him alone. At the other end, we do not only "venerate" her, as we do the rest of the saints and the angels. As one might expect, given her unique status in God's oikonimia (which literally means "household management"), which status is testified to by the four Marian dogmas, she is in a category all by herself, between God and even the other saints.

Since Mary, the Mother of God is also Mater Ecclesiae (i.e., Mother of the Church), the Fourth Commandment applies. Jesus gave us two great commandments: love God with our heart, might, mind, and strength; love our neighbor as ourselves. We often summarize the Ten Commandments by saying that the first three (worshiping God and God alone, observing the sabbath, and not taking God's holy name in vain) have to do with obeying the first of our Lord's two great commandments and the final seven (i.e., not murdering, living chastely, not stealing, not lying, etc.) are how we obey His second commandment. But this schema fails to recognize the importance of the fourth commandment- "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you." Hence, the Decalogue recognizes that our parents, even deceased or absent parents, occupy a unique place between God and everyone else. This is true of our Blessed Mother- she is our Mother because we, through faith in Jesus and by virtue of our Baptism, are God's adopted children.

The "ramped up" way we honor and venerate the Blessed Virgin is called hyperdulia, as opposed to mere dulia, or "veneration" we owe to the other saints and to angels.

Regina Caeli

Since I mentioned the four Marian dogmas, I will list them so as not to leave either of my two readers hanging:

1) Her Divine Maternity: this is why call her "Mother of God," or Theotokos (i.e., God-bearer), as opposed to "Mother of Christ," or Christotokos (i.e., Christ-bearer). Of course, she is both, but some in the early Church insisted on only the latter to exclusion of the former.

2) Her Perpetual Virginity: even after the birth of our Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary maintained her virginity.

3) Her Immaculate Conception: she was conceived by her parents (Joachim and Anna, as tradition hands on their names) in the normal way, but by a unique and singular grace was preserved from original sin and remained sinless

4) Her Bodily Assumption into heaven: her body was never subjected to decay in the grave

One other important doctrine concerning the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is the fifth Glorious Mystery of her Most Holy Rosary, is her Coronation as Queen of Heaven.

So, during this month honor her. If you have a statue, or image of her, find a way to crown it with flowers. Pray the rosary every day. Pray the Regina Caeli thrice daily (morning, noon, and evening) until Pentecost, then the Angelus thereafter. Say Memorarés for your intentions and those of others. When you end your prayers, make the Sign of the Cross and say, Veni Sancte Spiritus. Veni per Mariam ("Come Holy Spirit. Come through Mary), which seems a fitting way to prepare for Pentecost.

Friday, May 3, 2013

"I must have died alone a long, long time ago"

Our Friday traditio is David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World" performed by Nirvana. This is my first post of May. Besides I missed Kurt Cobain's birthday, which is 5 April. It's hard to believe that next year marks the twentieth anniversary of his suicide.

I was recently interviewed for an article on suicide for the Salt Lake Tribune. Here is the main quote from the interview that made it into the article: "'What the [Catholic] church tends to recognize now,' Dodge said, 'is that most people who [commit suicide] suffer from probably a grave psychological problem or really deep depression or sometimes, sadly, that happens in the grips of some kind of addiction.'"

Suicide is something I have had more experience with, both personally and pastorally, than I would care to have had. It is impossible to explain the pain involved when someone takes his/her own life. I find it strangely reassuring, however, that survivors of those who commit suicide are very concerned about the eternal status, if you will, of their loved one. I find it reassuring because it is an opportunity for those people to experience firsthand the tenderness, mercy, and goodness of God, which shines very brightly amidst devastation and ruin if we have eyes to see.

The part that did not make the article is that Catholics pray for our dead and otherwise assist them, in the hope that they will ultimately complete their journey home to God. The Catechism reassures survivors of suicide about this: "We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives" (par. 2283).

I searched for form and land / For years and years I roamed / gazed a gazely stare / At all the millions here

Koinonia: One God, three persons

The end of our second reading is from the conclusion of Saint Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians. Koinonia is the Greek word trans...