Sunday, June 30, 2013

Year C Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Kgs 19:16b.19-21; Ps. 16:1-2.5.7-11-10; Gal 5:1.13-18; Luke 9:51-62

Our readings today both pose and proceed to answer the question, What does it mean to follow Jesus, to be His disciple? We see this illustrated vividly in the our first reading, taken from 1 Kings, in which, obeying the command of God, Elijah comes to Elisha, who is at work plowing his field, and confers upon him the prophetic mantle. He does this literally by placing his cloak over the younger man’s shoulders. Quickly discerning what this meant for his life (i.e., that he had to leave everything and everyone in order to place himself completely at God’s disposal by becoming Elijah’s disciple), Elisha asks if can go and kiss his Mom and Dad goodbye. Elisha’s request is reasonable. We might even say it is a good request. Nevertheless, Elisha’s request provokes a strong rebuke from the old prophet, who, apart from Moses, figures perhaps most prominently among people from the Old Testament, appearing along with Moses at Jesus’ Transfiguration, in fulfillment of the prophecy given by Malachi that before the Messiah appeared, Elijah, who was taken up to heaven in the chariot of fire (2 Kgs 2:8-14), would return (Mal 3:23-24).

Once again, quickly discerning Elijah’s meaning (there is a reason God commanded Elijah to anoint Elisha… as prophet to succeed” him [1 Kgs 19:16b]), Elisha leaves the prophet, slaughters his twelve oxen, chops his plow to bits and uses the wood and the oxen meat to host an impromptu farewell barbecue of sorts, to which he invited his entire village. After the grand meal, “Elisha left and followed Elijah as his attendant” (1 Kgs 19:21).

I am tempted to simply leave matters there because it would be difficult to find a better illustration of what Christ calls us to do in today’s Gospel. It is always tempting to tell stories about stories in an effort to reduce Christ’s radical call to our own measure. But I think it is useful to look at our second reading, from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, which helps us to see that following Jesus is the supreme act of freedom. It is important to note that our Christian conception of freedom is freedom for, not freedom from. Among other things, this means that freedom is not an end in itself, the mere multiplication of choices, but must be oriented toward the truth, otherwise our freedom enslaves and may ultimately damn us. This is what the apostle meant when he wrote, “For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love” (Gal. 5:13).

It is important to note that when St. Paul wrote about “the flesh” he was not referring euphemistically to “the body.” When he wrote about the body we read the word “body.” When the apostle wrote about “the flesh,” he was referring to those sinful tendencies and habits, those dead-end alley ways we tend to keep walking down, or desiring to walk down, which often involve our bodies.

St. Paul went on to write, “if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Gal 5:18), which is a variation on something he wrote in his Second Letter to the Corinthians: “for the letter brings death, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6b). It is important to point out that Spirit and law are not mutually exclusive, as is commonly supposed, but mutually reinforcing.

To act according to the spirit of the law is not to disregard the law, to ignore it, to dispense myself from it, or even to dispense others. When it comes to living our Christian faith, it certainly does not mean imposing it on others, or even imagining that it is imposed on us from the outside. No! Living the Spirit of the law requires discerning why it was promulgated in the first place and then it has to do with my intention, with why I obey it. The answer to both questions is love. Obeying out of love is the only way for my righteousness to exceed “that of the scribes and Pharisees” (Matt 5:20). What oppose one another, the apostle states explicitly, are Spirit and flesh, which is why even when I endeavor to live according to the Spirit “[I] may not do what[ever] [I] want” (Gal 5:17), but only what is good for me according to the teaching of Christ through His Church.

Lest there remains any doubt in your mind that it is impossible to be an accidental disciple of Jesus Christ, let’s turn to today’s Gospel, which is chock full of relevance for the circumstances we currently face.

In the synoptic Gospels, that is, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, from the beginning of His public ministry, Jesus only goes to Jerusalem once, which is why in our Gospel today the sacred author tells us that Jesus “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). It seems that initially instead of taking the well-trodden path from Galilee in the north, east across the river Jordan, then re-crossing it prior to reaching Jericho, which sits east of Jerusalem, at the foot of the mountain, thus avoiding contact with the unclean Samaritans, He desired to pass through Samaria. So, He sent messengers ahead to facilitate His journey. But because He was a Jew headed to Jerusalem the people of the first Samaritan village would not welcome Him.

Somewhat understandably, this caused Jesus’ disciples to take great offense. James and John, who in St. Mark’s Gospel the Lord calls bonanerges (Mark 3:17), which means “sons of thunder,” ask Jesus if He wants them to “call down fire from heaven” and destroy the unwelcoming village (Luke 9:54). Jesus not only demurs, but rebukes them for suggesting such a thing (Luke 9:55). This is followed by series of would-be disciples approaching Jesus only to be told by Him the unrelenting demands of belonging to Him, which reaches its culmination, thus bringing us back full circle to Elijah and Elisha, when someone approaches the Lord and says, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home” (Luke 9:61) It is very likely that Jesus had the episode of Elijah calling Elisha at the behest of God in mind when He responded by saying, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I presume you are here today because you have heard the Lord’s call in your own life. I urge you today to take stock and see what is calling you back, causing you to look behind the plow, and to commit to doing whatever you need to do to follow Jesus without reservation, to be His disciple, especially in a world, in a society that so badly needs prophetic witnesses to “the bright light of truth” (Collect for Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time). Being a prophetic witness means living according to the Spirit and not the flesh, not using freedom as an excuse to do evil, as well as being willing to suffer for the truth.

Friday, June 28, 2013

"... And failed me in biology..."

For a lot of reasons Thomas Dolby's "Blinded Me with Science" is our Friday traditio. Besides the obvious contemporary reasons for choosing this song is the fact that summertime always puts me in mind of my formative years, the early 1980s. So, to W.O. and the all-the-rest, Cheers!

It's poetry in motion
She turned her tender eyes to me
As deep as any ocean
As sweet as any harmony
Mmm - but she blinded me with science
"She blinded me with science!"
And failed me in biology

Thursday, June 27, 2013

"Pentecost is the condition of the birth of the Church"

It is not the hallmark of being a Christian to fear what comes my way by means of reality. Nevertheless, like many people, I often find myself being scared by what happens, both to me personally and in the world in general. Fear easily leads to fear-mongering, which I define as the attempt to whip-up fear in others over the same things that cause me to be afraid. This is why today and every day I must pose the question to myself, "In what, or, more specifically, in whom, do I place my hope?" This is my safeguard against becoming a victim of circumstances. I have to do this while keeping in mind the fact, which can only be learned through experience, that "perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18).

Moving to the elephant in the room: How should yesterday's Supreme Court rulings shape the witness of the Church? The best answer I have seen so far is by Dr. Russell Moore, who serves as President of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. In a post entitled "How Should Same-sex Marriage Change the Church's Witness?," he addresses reality very forthrightly, instead of wallowing in the mire of self-pity and recrimination, by writing, "Same-sex marriage is headed for your community. This is no time for fear or outrage or politicizing. It’s a time for forgiven sinners, like us, to do what the people of Christ have always done. It’s time for us to point beyond our family values and our culture wars to the cross of Christ as we say: 'Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.'" Even if you live in a state that does not grant legal status to same-sex unions, or, as in my state, one that constitutionally defines marriage as being between one man and one woman, you will still have friends, neighbors, co-workers and perhaps even fellow parishioners who are homosexual, or have people who are close to them who are, go to states that grant legal status to committed same-sex relationships and return "married" to live in their native states.

Prior the foregoing remarks Dr. Moore commented on the Church's often inadequate witness:
Following Jesus will mean taking up a cross and following a hard narrow way. It always does.

If we’re going to preach that sort of gospel, we must make it clear that this cross-bearing self-denial isn’t just for homosexually-tempted Christians. It is for all of us, because that’s what the gospel is. If your church has been preaching the American Dream, with eternal life at the end and Jesus as the means you use to get all that, you don’t have a gospel that can reach your gay and lesbian neighbors—or anyone else for that matter
Beyond all of that, I want to get a bit more fundamental and look at the nature of the Church, which is often reduced to an institution with competing existential interests, a player among worldly players. In his address to open the Synod of Bishops last Fall on the New Evangelization, Pope Benedict noted, "the Church is the method with which Christ communicates Himself in time and space, analogously to the fact that Christ is the method with which God chose to communicate Himself to men for their salvation." Hence, in my view, any Christian response to circumstances must be firmly rooted in this reality, which means it cannot be a fearful reaction. In the same address, Pope Benedict went on to speak of how belonging to the Church means being just fine with always beginning anew:

we cannot make the Church, we can only announce what he has done. The Church does not begin with our “making”, but with the “making” and “speaking” of God. In the same way, the Apostles did not say, after a few meetings: now we want to make a Church, and that by means of a constituent assembly they were going to draft a constitution. No, they prayed and in prayer they waited, because they knew that only God himself can create his Church, that God is the first agent: if God does not act, our things are only ours and are insufficient; only God can testify that it is he who speaks and has spoken. Pentecost is the condition of the birth of the Church:... God has spoken and this “has spoken” is the perfection of faith but it is also always a present: the perfection of God is not only a past, because it is a true past that always carries in itself the present and the future
In the West we live in what has been described as a post-secular society, which is most certainly an increasingly post-Christian society. The Church has, for better or for worse (in my view there are elements of both), lost its privileged place. In "secular" times the Church and state were separate, but there was enough of a societal consensus on matters, like marriage and sexuality, that the Church spoke with a voice to which most had to pay heed. Further, it seems that when the Church Herself began to be unfaithful to the Truth, which began to occur during the societal revolution that shook the West in the late-1960s, it squandered its credibility, which squandering has led to things like the HHS mandate and now the beginning of the radical re-definition of marriage. In light of this, it seems that perhaps the most important question is, Can I bear witness to the Truth living in a society and culture that is indifferent at best and hostile at worst? Having lived through some of this already as a bishop, I think Pope Francis is well-equipped to show us the way.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Marriage: seeking to ecclesially clarify

This is a slightly updated and even corrected version of a previous post I put up back towards the end of May. In light of today's two Supreme Court rulings I read back over it. As I did so, I noticed that I did not make a clear enough distinction between natural and sacramental marriage, or make an attempt at explaining how the two relate to what the Catholic Church is able to consider as a marriage. My hope in posting this is not to add to the already disheartening and poisonous invective, driven by emotion, being engaged in by people on both sides of this debate, sadly this includes even Christians who hold differing views concerning today's rulings.

About a month ago I read something written by a Catholic who made the following argument: Since the Catholic Church is not opposed to the civil marriages of non-Catholic men and women (Examples: two Methodists, a Presbyterian and an atheist, a Baptist and a Sikh, perhaps not exhaustive, but you get my point), which, according to the person making the argument, the Catholic Church does not recognize as sacramental and so are not legitimate marriages, the Church should not be opposed to the civil union, contracted under the auspices of the state, but not recognized by the Church, of two people of the same sex.

If this were the case, it would be a fairly compelling argument, as well as the misguided and uncharitable denial of "marriage equality" that the author asserts it is. While I firmly believe that the argument was made it good faith, as with the Pope Francis redemption flap, it reveals an incomplete understanding of how the Church expresses Her understanding of marriage.

It is certainly true that any Catholic who marries outside the Church is not in a sacramental marriage due to the fact that s/he is canonically obligated to be married in the Church, unless s/he has requested and been granted a dispensation from canonical form by his/her bishop. As Archbishop Sheehan of Santa Fe noted in a pastoral letter back in April 2011, one that stirred up a lot of emotion, Catholics who are not married in the Church "cannot receive the Sacraments, with the important exception of those who agree to live chastely ('as brother and sister') until their situation is regularized. Of course, those in danger of death are presumed to be repentant."

But the marriage between two non-Catholic Christians, a man and woman, is presumed to be sacramentally valid, while a marriage between a non-Catholic Christian and a non-Christian, or between two non-Christians is presumed by the Catholic Church to be merely valid marriages, but not fully sacramental. The latter is what canon law calls "natural marriage," which is the lawful union of a man and a woman from any type of religious background, assuming there are no other impediments, like previous marriages for one or both parties, marrying within degrees of consanguinity, or affection (i.e., a woman cannot marry her daughter's husband, even if her daughter is deceased, making him a widower), etc. A natural marriage is prerequisite to entering into a sacramental marriage. In other words, not all natural marriages are sacramental marriages, but all sacramental marriages are natural marriages.

Another kind of natural marriage is when a Catholic marries a non-Christian (i.e., a non-baptized person) in the Catholic Church, such a marriage is valid, but not sacramental. Of course, a dispensation must be requested and granted prior to such a marriage taking place. If/when the non-Christian spouse receives valid Christian baptism, even if not in the Catholic Church, the marriage automatically becomes sacramental.

This is true because, according to the Church's understanding, what constitutes a marriage arises from nature and not from revelation alone. One way this is made manifest is by the fact that one of the fundamental characteristics of marriage (i.e., something that makes it what it is and not something else) is the procreation and education of children (see Canon 1055 §1).

As Ryan Anderson frequently notes in his writing about the vital importance of marriage for society (see his article "The Big Same Sex Marriage Lie"), it is the prolific nature of marriage that gives the state an interest in supporting it and extending certain privileges to married couples. As with all such privileges, the state imposes certain responsibilities. As I mentioned in my previous post, today's Supreme Court ruling with regard to DOMA simply extends these privileges to same-sex couples who were married in states that recognize these unions on par with marriage (i.e., states that have enacted laws or judicial rulings to that effect).

Even when a non-Christian who was formerly married to a non-Christian becomes a Catholic and wishes to have this marriage (which almost always has to have already been civilly dissolved by means of a divorce) declared null by the Church, it is not done by means of submitting a formal petition to the appropriate marriage tribunal, but by means of a Pauline Privilege rooted in 1 Corinthians 7:15. Hence, it is a privilege extended and so no investigation into the possible validity of the marriage is even attempted. However, if either party to the previous marriage was a baptized Christian, even though neither was a Catholic, a formal petition must be submitted.

There are also some particulars about when a married couple is received into the Church together not needing to convalidate their marriage that demonstrate this too.

Among the grounds on which an an annulment can be granted is an intention on the part of one or both spouses not to have children. As is sometimes the case, a non-Christian who was previously married to another non-Christian and who now wants to marry a Catholic, but does not desire to receive baptism, the previous marriage must be proven to be invalid before it can be declared null, thus freeing the non-Catholic party to marry. This is done by means of submitting a formal petition, which is the same procedure a Catholic who was married to another Catholic in the Catholic Church must submit to in order to be free once again to marry. Of course, such petitions are not automatically or always granted. If a marriage proves to have ever been valid, it is always valid.

I realize there is an irreducible degree of complexity involved in understanding what the Church teaches on marriage, but I hope what I have written here is clear enough to show that the argument I am seeking to refute is an invalid conclusion because it is reached on the basis of a faulty premise, namely that the Catholic Church views the civilly sanctioned unions of non-Catholic men and women as invalid (i.e., not real marriages). While it is certainly less offensive than the argument for so-called same-sex marriage on the basis of interracial marriage, it is still a bad argument.

I am not interested in debating what the Catholic Church teaches. In this post my only intention is to objectively explain it to the best of my ability and to defend it against attempts at distortion. Given the complexity of canon law, which arises from more than a millennia of jurisprudence and development, and the fact that I am not a canon lawyer, I am certainly open to correction and clarification by those who are more qualified.

Marriage in the U.S.: an opportunity for witness

As a result of two separate Supreme Court rulings, for many people in the U.S. on both sides of this hot-button issue, today is an emotional day.

In the United States v. Windsor, the Court overturned the part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), passed during the Clinton Administration (and signed into law by then-President Clinton), that did not permit same-sex couples married in states that legally recognize these unions as marriages (i.e., Washington, now-California, more on that in a minute, Minnesota, Iowa, Maryland, Delaware, New York, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island,and the District of Columbia), to claim spousal Social Security Benefits, to file federal taxes returns jointly, and a few other benefits reserved by the federal government to married couples.

As far as Caifornia's Proposition 8, a popularly enacted ballot measure that amended that state's constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman, the Court simply ruled that the defendants in Hollingsworth v. Perry had no standing to file suit, which means that the lower District court ruling, which declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional on the basis of the equal protection clause of the U.S. constitution's fourteenth amendment, to stand. This can in no way be taken to mean that the Supreme Court agrees with the lower court ruling. It does mean that California is now one of the states that grants the same legal recognition to same-sex unions as it does marriages.

I think giving a quick synopsis of what happened and what the immediate consequences are helps to keep things in perspective. Not knowing what will come of this legally, societally, or culturally, I do not want to underestimate or overestimate the effects of today's decision and non-decision.

I agree with His Eminence, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who serves as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), writing on behalf of the USCCB, that today's rulings lead us one step closer to a society in which true marriage, an already unstable institution, due to the poor way it has been lived by far too many men and women, including many Christians, becomes endangered (if everything counts as marriage, nothing counts as marriage, as the title of the USCCB's website, Marriage: Unique for a Reason, implies):
When Jesus taught about the meaning of marriage – the lifelong, exclusive union of husband and wife – he pointed back to “the beginning” of God’s creation of the human person as male and female (see Matthew [19:1-12 and Mark 10:12- I added what it is brackets]). In the face of the customs and laws of his time, Jesus taught an unpopular truth that everyone could understand. The truth of marriage endures, and we will continue to boldly proclaim it with confidence and charity
In addition defining of marriage as between one man and one woman, by pointing to what I call the Bible's ur verse on marriage (i.e., Genesis 2:24), in these passages our Lord also issues a correction to those who, while holding to the sexual complementarity required by marriage, reject its indissoluble nature, if not in theory, then at least in practice.

As Catholics, this also hits on the matter at stake in the HHS mandate, namely contraception. This is the discussion that leads to understanding marriage on the basis of nature and not on revelation alone.

At a Communion and Liberation Diakonia several years ago (back when I was a practicing member), I remember Fr. Carrón saying something to the effect that it doesn't matter if you have the perfect doctrine of marriage if you don't live it. It is true that living out the sacrament of marriage is difficult, it's hard. In most marriages it is easy to come up with reasons to call it quits, to revoke the consent you gave the day you were married, employing reasoning like, "If I would've known it was going to be like this I never would have gotten married!" Because it precludes giving in to inertia (i.e., not knowing what else you would do) and economic concerns (i.e., not knowing how you would get by) you can't live out the sacrament of marriage without God's grace, especially when one considers that Christian marriage means making visibly and tangibly present in and for the world the relationship of Christ to His Bride, the Church- talk about a husband with understandable grounds for divorce!

As I posted on Facebook, "Today and every day we must constantly pose to ourselves the question, In what, or, more specifically, in whom, do I place my hope?" It is certainly not in the state, or any state institution. The Church, after all, has survived the rise and fall of many nations. Perhaps it is a bit more urgent to ask ourselves if we can follow Christ without the robust support of the state. We know that the Supreme Court has no power to change to the truth concerning marriage, but do we have the courage, or, more precisely, the hope to live it as an eschatological sign of the reign of God.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Being a fact, Christianity is the way we respond to reality

The next day again John [the Baptist] was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, "What are you seeking?" And they said to him, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?" He said to them, "Come and you will see." So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour (John 1:35-39- ESV)
Fr. Carrón, in the Communion & Liberation Exercises, Who Will Separate Us from the Love of God in Christ?, commenting on the method taught by Msgr. Giussani, holds out the above encounter between the Lord, John, and Andrew as "the criterion for verifying whether Christianity is happening to us now, whether it is the predominance of a presence," or whether we have reduced our faith "to a category, an abstract definition."

Giussani was insistent: "Christianity is an event. There is no other word to indicate its nature, neither the word law, nor the words ideology, concept, or plan. Christianity is not a religious doctrine, a series of moral laws or a collection of rites. Christianity is a fact, an event. All the rest is consequence."

What is meant by "event"? Something that is happening now. "God became an event in our daily existence," Giussani said, "so that our 'I' might recognize itself with clarity in its original factors and attain its destiny, be saved."

Something to think about today as we head off to Mass to hear the same words, spoken first by the Baptist, that provoked John and Andrew to follow Jesus: "Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world." To our question, "Where are you staying?" His answer is, by means of our communion, "I long to abide in you." I don't know about you, but this helps me to grasp what Don Gius meant when he spoke and wrote about the need to recognize myself with clarity, to see who I am in the light of Christ, which is my true identity, every other one being false.

Preaching Saturday evening of the Exercises on John 6:52-59 and Acts 9:1-20, the latter of which tells of Paul's encounter with Christ, Fr. Stefano Alberto, referring to the Eucharist and the fact that Christ was able to seize "Peter, the rough fisherman" and "Paul, the refined intellectual, the Pharisee, the persecutor, transforming him... why can't he seize- grab- me and you now, in this gesture that is full of tenderness and passion for the life of each of us? Why resist? What is there to oppose? Is there anything simpler than letting His life enter mine...?"

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Fortnight for what?

Today the Church remembers both St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, two men whose stalwart witness to and suffering for the truth led to their martyrdom: one was a bishop (John Fisher) and the other a layman (Thomas More).

In light of recent revelations disclosing the fact that several Catholic dioceses, most notably the Archdiocese of New York, along with many Catholic institutions, have already caved to state mandates that we violate our collective conscience (maybe this is a strange way of acknowledging subsidiarity, a rare thing for the Church is the U.S.), I suggest that during the Fortnight for Freedom we take a week to examine our consciences, followed by a week of reparation for compromising our witness to the truth. This would also include repenting of still expecting to be seen as credible on this matter despite our collective failure. This gets back to my persistent point that this cannot be about some content-free assertion of religious liberty. It is about a specific issue, an important issue, an issue of truth on which the Church has vacillated a lot since 1968. Again, not to play the prophet (heaven forbid), I can hardly believe that the whole issue of religious liberty reached this flash-point on the basis of this issue by pure chance.

St. John Fisher, bishop and martyr

Empty cheer-leading and political posturing can't save us from ourselves, only Christ can do that. Lest any reader think I am engaging in despair, I am not. I see the Lord at work in this too. Hence, I am reminded of words spoken by Pope Benedict XVI in an address to lay Catholics in his native Germany during his Apostolic Journey to his homeland in September 2011: "Once liberated from material and political burdens and privileges, the Church can reach out more effectively and in a truly Christian way to the whole world, she can be truly open to the world." This means not compromising the truth, a perennial temptation, but living it fully and bearing witness to it by our joy in a culture that is indifferent at best and hostile at worst.

Taking to heart the words of my brother deacon, St. Efrem, I will concern myself with my own witness before the face of God:

"Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see mine own faults and not to judge my brother. For blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen."

Liberation theology: the war that never was

Yesterday several friends brought to my attention an article by Gianni Valente that appeared on La Stampa's Vatican Insider website the headline of which announced, "The war between the Liberation Theology movement and Rome is over." To point out the obvious, the working assumption here is that there was a war in the first place. I contend that this is not just an exaggeration, but a gross exaggeration. To be fair, Valente's piece is very balanced. As someone who has articles published from time-to-time, one must keep in mind that headlines are written in order to grab attention, even when this sometimes results in a disconnect with the content of the article.

All the way back in 1984, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then headed by Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, issued an "Instruction on certain aspects of 'The Theology of Liberation.'" As the title indicates, this was not a wholesale condemnation of "liberation theology."

Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez, OP

It is important to recognize that there is really no such thing as "liberation theology." There is certainly a liberation(ist) strand of Catholic theology, but it is not monolithic and never has been. I challenge anyone to read Gustavo Gutiérrez's The God of Life, or On Job: God-talk and the Suffering of the Innocent, and not be deeply moved and better informed.

Jon Sobrino is another liberation theologian whose works, despite running into some issues with the CDF, are also well worth while. In its "Notification on the works of Father Jon Sobrino, SJ," the Congregation pointed out that Sobrino's "works contain propositions which are either erroneous or dangerous and may cause harm to the faithful." It is important to note that Sobrino was not condemned, censured, or forbidden from teaching or publishing by the Holy See. It is a bit odd, even humorous perhaps, to note that the archbishop of San Salvador forbade Sobrino from teaching and lecturing on theology anywhere in his metropolitan province- here comes the funny part- the archbishop pulled the previously granted nihil obstat from Sobrino's writings.

A nihil obstat is an official guarantee, granted by legitimate ecclesial authority (in most instances a bishop, after the work has been reviewed by a qualified censor liborum- a qualified theologian), that the book contains nothing contrary to the Catholic faith. The trouble that Sobrino ran into serves to highlight the major area of concern about liberationist theologies in general, namely that Jesus' human nature is emphasized at the expense of His divine nature, reducing liberation to merely an existential concern without a transcendent dimension. Of course, there are also those who breached the banks of orthodoxy, such as Leonardo Boff, as well as those who were carried away by Marxism, whose influence is what the Holy See sought rightly to curtail. In other words, there were and remain some very radical theologies of liberation that are actually anti-thetical to Christianity in many ways.

It was well known at the time of his appointment by Pope Benedict XVI that the current Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Müller, who, as I noted in a previous post this week, wrote his doctoral dissertation on the sacramental theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, is, shall we say, favorably disposed towards "good" liberation theology. As Valente notes in his La Stampa piece, back in 2004 Müller and Gutiérrez co-authored a book of essays on liberation theology, which was published in Germany, the translated title of which is On the Side of the Poor. The Theology of Liberation. It was also well-noted at the time of his election that Pope Francis, when he served as Provincial of The Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in Argentina, also fought against the more extreme tendencies among liberationist theologians. One can certainly do this while vigorously supporting the healthy strands and tendencies of liberation theology.

Archbishop Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

In a post over on Cosmos The In Lost, "Colm Tóibín’s Regensburg Moment & Macauley’s Catholic Dissidents," Artur cites from a recent article by Philip Jenkins, noting "Rome’s effectiveness in flexibly absorbing and directing the energies of eccentric figures and movements in ways Protestantism doesn't," which is highly relevant to this whole issue of liberationist theologies.

Here are some links from the Καθολικός διάκονος archives:

5 June 2007- "The God who gives life and who invites us to call him Father"

20 July 2007- "Reflections on the God of the covenant in light of chapter 3 of Gustavo Gutiérrez's The God of Life"

1 April 2008- "Jesus Christ, the liberator of humankind"

The Congregation ended its "Instruction on certain aspects..." by citing paragraph 27 of the Servant of God, Pope Paul VI's Credo of the People of God:
"We profess our faith that the Kingdom of God, begun here below in the Church of Christ, is not of this world, whose form is passing away, and that its own growth cannot be confused with the progress of civilization, of science, and of human technology, but that it consists in knowing ever more deeply the unfathomable riches of Christ, to hope ever more strongly in things eternal, to respond ever more ardently to the love of God, to spread ever more widely grace and holiness among men.

Friday, June 21, 2013

"When you're married, you'll understand the importance of fresh produce"

With the unexpected death of Jimmy Gandolfini this week in Rome at age 51 of a heart attack, this week's traditio is a no-brainer- the final scene from The Sopranos. I posted twice previously on the hit HBO series: "Redemption in Popular Culture: The Sopranos" and "Resistance is Futile."

I'll spare you all the details of Gandolfini's death and pass along just this: he was a man of great passion, a word that means to suffer. Here's Lou Lumenick's remembrance from the New York Post: "We won’t fuhgedd about this class act."

Requiescat in pace James Gandolfini.

Upon learning of Gandolfini's death, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, the band for which Stevie Van Zandt, who was a Sopranos castmember, plays guitar, performed Born to Run and dedicated it to Gandolfini.

So, here's a bonus:

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Christianity, religion of the heart

St. Clement Mary Hofbauer (1751-1821) is often considered the second founder of the Redemptorists, which religious order was originally founded by St. Alphonsus Liguori. Originally apprenticed to a baker because his family had no means to pay for his education, which was required for him to become a priest, which was his desire, he was eventually ordained to the priesthood as a Redemptorist after two kindly patronesses agreed to pay for him to study in Rome. It was in Rome that he was drawn to and eventually joined the order to which he would belong for the rest of his life.

He was a native of Austria, which meant that his native tongue was German. After being ordained and professed in Rome, the Redemptorists sent him back to Vienna, from whence he came, but he eventually wound up in Warsaw, Poland. In Poland he discovered many German-speaking Catholics who had been left priestless because of the suppression of the Jesuits. He and his companion took charge of the pastoral care of these Catholics. Eventually he experienced hardship, imprisonment, and was exiled back to Vienna,  where he eventually died. He was canonized in 1909.

The Crucified Embracing Bernard and Luther, a sculpture by Werner Franzen

The reason I am writing about this little-known saint is because of something he wrote about the German Reformation, which was started by Martin Luther. Five years before he died, Hofbauer wrote a letter to publisher Frederich Perthes that included, as Michael Casey, in his Forward to Franz Posset's book, Pater Bernhardus: Martin Luther and Bernard of Clairvaux, described it, "an assessment of the German Reformation that is as worth pondering today as it was unusual among his contemporaries":
Ever since I have been in a position to compare, as papal legate, the religious situation of Catholics in Poland with that of Protestants in Germany, I have become certain that secession from the church has come about because the Germans both did and do feel the need of being religious. The Reformation has spread and taken root, not purely on account of men who were heretics and philosophers, but on account of men who genuinely sought after a religion of the heart. I have said this to the Pope and the cardinals in Rome, but they did not believe me, maintaining rigidly that the cause of the Reformation was hostility to religion (Perthes, 8- according to the footnote this passage was originally translated in 1964 by Karl Blockx for an article, "Si Quae Culpa..." published in Eastern Churches Quarterly)
This is but one small piece of evidence for my contention that the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council was the Catholic Church's actual response to the Protestant Reformation, which implies that the Council of Trent was a reaction to it, albeit a necessary reaction given the radical nature the attempted reform quickly took, which called for a lot of much-needed clarification.

Let's not forget that the current Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Müller, wrote his doctoral dissertation, which was supervised by then-Professor Father Karl Lehmann, later Cardinal Lehmann, who is the bishop of the Diocese of Mainz in Germany, on the sacramental theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Casey went on to observe that despite Hofbauer's "fair-minded assessment it was only in the twentieth century that Catholic scholars began to acknowledge the reality of abuses in the Church that cried our for reform and thereby opened the way to accepting Martin Luther as a homo religiosus whose actions were dictated by genuine religious sentiment and did not spring from perversity, contentiousness or psychological troubles, as their more polemical forebears had claimed" (Posset 8).

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

St. Joseph added to Eucharistic Prayers II, III, & IV

I realize that by now this is hardly news, but I am very grateful that Pope Francis consented to and the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments decreed this week "that the name of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary is henceforth to be added to Eucharistic Prayers II, III, and IV, as they appear in the third typical edition of the Roman Missal, after the name of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as follows: in Eucharistic Prayer II: ut cum beáta Dei Genetríce Vírgine María, beáto Ioseph, eius Sponso, beátis Apóstolis; in Eucharistic Prayer III: cum beatíssima Vírgine, Dei Genetríce, María, cum beáto Ioseph, eius Sponso, cum beátis Apóstolis; and in Eucharistic Prayer IV: cum beáta Vírgine, Dei Genetríce, María, cum beáto Ioseph, eius Sponso, cum Apóstolis."

With this act, I have to say, "Pope Francis, what an amazing pope! No pope in the history of the Church has done such a thing!" Oh... wait... never mind (Sorry, I couldn't resist being sarcastic). It seems that St. Joseph's name was added to the ancient Roman Canon (a.k.a., Eucharistic Prayer I) by Bl. Pope John XXIII in 1962, when the last reform of the sacred liturgy prior to the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council was made- there was only one Eucharistic Prayer in the Latin liturgy prior the reform. When celebrated in the Extraordinary Form, Holy Mass is sung(/said) according to the 1962 Missale Romanum.

It still bears noting that Pope Francis delayed his installation as Bishop of Rome by a few days so that it would be held on the Solemnity of St. Joseph, probably not least of which because, among other things (like the dying, demons, etc.), St. Joseph is the Patron of Italy.

This change will not go into effect in the Ordinary Form celebrated in English until the Congregation for Divine Worship provides an approved translation, or a translation undertaken by the English-speaking conferences of bishops submit a translation to and it is approved by the same Congregation. The decree seems to indicate that the Congregation will issue an approved translation in English.

Fr. Z, over at his blog, which began life as "What Does the Prayer Really Say," as is his wont, offers very credible translations, which I cite below:

Eucharistic Prayer II: "that with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, with Blessed Joseph, her Spouse, with the blessed Apostles"

Eucharistic Prayer III: "with the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, with blessed St. Joseph, her Spouse, and with your blessed Apostles and glorious Martyrs"

St. Joseph with the Infant Jesus, by Clemente de Torres

Eucharistic Prayer IV (the one that virtually nobody uses, ever): "with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God with blessed Joseph, her Spouse, and with your Apostles"

I love the way the Congregation began this marvelous decree: "Exercising his paternal care over Jesus, Saint Joseph of Nazareth, set over the Lord’s family, marvelously fulfilled the office he received by grace. Adhering firmly to the mystery of God’s design of salvation in its very beginnings, he stands as an exemplary model of the kindness and humility that the Christian faith raises to a great destiny, and demonstrates the ordinary and simple virtues necessary for men to be good and genuine followers of Christ. Through these virtues, this Just man, caring most lovingly for the Mother of God and happily dedicating himself to the upbringing of Jesus Christ, was placed as guardian over God the Father’s most precious treasures. Therefore he has been the subject of assiduous devotion on the part of the People of God throughout the centuries, as the support of that mystical body, which is the Church."

Sancte Ioseph, ora pro nobis!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

CL Exercises 2013: A fruitful beginning

After hesitating for a long time, last night I finally started reading the 2013 Exercises of the Fraternity of Communion & Liberation. I do not feel bad for waiting. I do not feel bad for feeling like, at first, that I did not want to engage them. Why? Because of something Fr. Carrón said right in the Exercises.

In context, Fr. Carrón said this on the morning of the first full day. Quoting Msgr. Giussani, he said, "Christianity is an event." He notes that those who belong to the Movement known as CL, the so-called cielini, this should have the ring familiarity. I'd even say that for many it has even perhaps become a cliché.

What does it mean to say that "Christianity is an event?" It is not enough, at least for one desirous of "living Christianity according to its true nature," Carrón insisted, to merely know the correct definition: "Christianity reveals itself, in its nature, in response to a present need."

The Criterion Theatre, Coventry, England

If you do not recognize the persistence of your on-going need, then faith becomes empty, simply a matter of inculcated habit, which results in moralism, or sentiment- "I go to mass because it makes me feel good," or, "I go Mass because going helps me to be good, I learn good values." As Msgr. Giussani observed, "In Jesus' time, the problem was how to live, not who was right: this [latter] was the problem of the scribes and Pharisees."

The question that arises, at least for me, is, "Does it matter who is right?" I'd have to say, "Yes," but only insofar as being "right" helps me to solve the problem of how to live, assists me in realizing my destiny, to  be happy. This is something I must verify in reality, not answer abstractly, as a theoretical problem. The criterion against which I measure happiness is my own heart.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Memory and Morality: God remembers all

Today, reading once again from Milan Kundera's most recent book of essays and reflections, Encounter, I was struck by something, but this time by something brief, a fleeting observation. The observation was about the persistence of the evils human beings commit, especially against each other.

The context of Kundera's observation is a short (3 page) commentary on a novel I had never heard of (The Curtain Falls), by an author I had never heard of (Juan Goytisolo). There is no need for me recap either Goytisolo's novel or Kundera's commentary.

Kundera answers the question posed by God in a dream to the novel's main character - "Why do people go on reproducing?"
Because the scandal of forgetting (forgetting that "great bottomless hole where memory drowns," the memory of a beloved woman as well as the memory of a great novel or of a slaughter)
It bears noting that memory and forgetting are major themes in all of Kundera's own fiction. This is brought forward very well by Maya Jaggi, writing for the U.K.'s Guardian back in 2008: "The struggle of memory against forgetting," which is about an accusation, by all appearances false, made against Kundera, dating back to when Czechoslovakia was still under communist rule (Kundera emigrated to France in the mid-1970s).

Milan Kundera

While I think the question is an important one, one that vexes many, especially in the West, as a Christian, I don't buy Kundera's answer for a minute. In fact, I would turn 180° out and say that the reason most people reproduce, excluding, of course, Westerners who see conceiving as the result of intercourse as an "accident," is an act of hope.

In December 1999, as a way of preparing for the great Jubilee year of 2000, at the behest of Bl. Pope John Paul II, the International Theological Commission published Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past. To the best of my reckoning, the document is about two things: the importance of not forgetting as well as the importance of reconciliation through process of confession and forgiveness.

Since I don't want to belabor this, I will cite the second paragraph of Memory and Reconciliation:
The purification of memory is thus “an act of courage and humility in recognizing the wrongs done by those who have borne or bear the name of Christian.” It is based on the conviction that because of “the bond which unites us to one another in the Mystical Body, all of us, though not personally responsible and without encroaching on the judgement of God, who alone knows every heart, bear the burden of the errors and faults of those who have gone before us.” John Paul II adds: “As the successor of Peter, I ask that in this year of mercy the Church, strong in the holiness which she receives from her Lord, should kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters.” In reiterating that “Christians are invited to acknowledge, before God and before those offended by their actions, the faults which they have committed,” the Pope concludes, “Let them do so without seeking anything in return, but strengthened only by ‘the love of God which has been poured into our hearts’ (Rom 5:5).” (both footnotes refer to Incarnationis Mysterium, par. 11)
Then-Cardinal Ratzinger

All of this is merely a prelude to pointing out that one of the main functions of Christ's Church, the communio sanctorum, is to keep memory alive. This was beautifully expounded on by then-Cardinal Josef Ratzinger in 1991, in an address he delivered to the U.S. Bishops gathered in Dallas, Texas, entitled "Conscience and Truth." Quoting St. Augustine's observation that "We could never judge that one thing is better than another if a basic understanding of the good had not already been instilled in us," then-Cardinal Ratzinger went on to note, "This means that the first so-called ontological level of the phenomenon conscience consists in the fact that something like an original memory of the good and true (both are identical) has been implanted in us, that there is an inner ontological tendency within man, who is created in the likeness of God, toward the divine." He then expresses something rather beautiful, especially since I have been pre-occupied with conscience formation this week:
This Christian memory, to be sure, is always learning, but proceeding from its sacramental identity, it also distinguishes from within between what is a genuine unfolding of its recollection and what is its destruction or falsification. In the crisis of the Church today, the power of this recollection and the truth of the apostolic word is experienced in an entirely new way where much more so than hierarchical direction, it is the power of memory of the simple faith which leads to the discernment of spirits. One can only comprehend the primacy of the Pope and its correlation to Christian conscience in this connection. The true sense of this teaching authority of the Pope consists in his being the advocate of the Christian memory. The Pope does not impose from without. Rather, he elucidates the Christian memory and defends it. For this reason the toast to conscience indeed must precede the toast to the Pope because without conscience there would not be a papacy. All power that the papacy has is power of conscience. It is service to the double memory upon which the faith is based and which again and again must be purified, expanded and defended against the destruction of memory which is threatened by a subjectivity forgetful of its own foundation as well as by the pressures of social and cultural conformity
Simple faith has the power of memory. This reflection also has a lot of bearing on atheism: God remembers everything!

Another preliminary note on Hebrews

His Grace, Bishop N.T. Wright, the retired Anglican bishop of Durham, England and one of the leading English-language New Testament and early Church scholars, describes the Letter to the Hebrews in this way:
Half the fun of Christmas morning, especially for young children, is the exciting packages in glittering wrapping, with ribbons and bows, all telling you something about how wonderful the present itself will be. Many small children are so excited by the wrapping and the beautiful boxes that they almost ignore the present itself.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews is anxious that the people it is written to should not make the same mistake. The wrapping of the old covenant and its sacrificial system had come off the present; and the present was Jesus himself, God's own, unique son, sent to fulfill everything the law and the prophets had spoken of. They could move on from the earlier stages of God's purpose and gladly live out the new one which had dawned. Hebrews is written to urge its readers to not go back to their old ways (Hebrews: 13 Studies for Individuals and Groups)
My dear friend and Catholic reporter extraordinaire, Christine Young, did a very nice write-up for our diocesan newspaper, The Intermountain Catholic: "Deacon Scott Dodge to lead 12-week course on Letter to the Hebrews for Year of Faith."

Friday, June 14, 2013

Conscience and catechesis: a catechetical reformation

In an attempt to be constructive and not just critical when it comes to the need to have a properly formed and informed conscience, I thought back to my preparations for a catechumenate discussion this week on Christian Morality. Part of my preparation consisted of consulting the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church concerning the important matter of conscience (this would be anathema to those advocates of content-free RCIA catechesis). At least for me, the Compendium is an invaluable catechetical tool. Due to the fact that, like the Bible, not nearly enough Catholics are very familiar with its contents, it is difficult to get across that what are admittedly complex matters can be dealt with fairly comprehensively in a relatively simple and concise way. It also demonstrates how Spirit and letter are meant to go together and not be turned into a false dichotomy.

In a recent article, "Repenting of the Failure of Parish-Based Catechesis," which I would extend to catechesis in Catholic schools because it is no better (just are there are parish exceptions, there are school exceptions), Barbara Nicholosi makes the case about the long-standing failure of catechesis throughout the Catholic Church in the United States. I don't want to restate what she wrote, but when it comes to the formation of the human conscience, I want to cite the Compendium (the numbers, like 1776-1780, are references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church):

372. What is the moral conscience?

1776-1780 1795-1797

Moral conscience, present in the heart of the person, is a judgment of reason which at the appropriate moment enjoins him to do good and to avoid evil. Thanks to moral conscience, the human person perceives the moral quality of an act to be done or which has already been done, permitting him to assume responsibility for the act. When attentive to moral conscience, the prudent person can hear the voice of God who speaks to him or her.

374. How is a moral conscience formed to be upright and truthful?

1783-1788 1799-1800

An upright and true moral conscience is formed by education and by assimilating the Word of God and the teaching of the Church. It is supported by the gifts of the Holy Spirit and helped by the advice of wise people. Prayer and an examination of conscience can also greatly assist one’s moral formation.

375. What norms must conscience always follow?


There are three general norms: 1) one may never do evil so that good may result from it; 2) the so-called Golden Rule, “Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them” (Matthew 7:12); 3) charity always proceeds by way of respect for one’s neighbor and his conscience, even though this does not mean accepting as good something that is objectively evil.

376. Can a moral conscience make erroneous judgments?

1790-1794 1801-1802

A person must always obey the certain judgment of his own conscience but he could make erroneous judgments for reasons that may not always exempt him from personal guilt. However, an evil act committed through involuntary ignorance is not imputable to the person, even though the act remains objectively evil. One must therefore work to correct the errors of moral conscience.

From here we might move to the difference between vincible and invincible ignorance (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1790-1794). Access to resources such as the Catechism and its Compendium demonstrate that most of the ignorance so prevalent among adult Catholics today is not of the invincible variety, even if it is not, in most cases, wholly willful.

"Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one's passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church's authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct" (Catechism, par. 1792).

A bit of a passive-aggressive observation

Scandal-mongering is a cheap way to cash in, which is why it is so popular, even in the so-called Catholic blogosphere (I'd assert that it's trapezoidal). Hey, without morbid curiosity, our desire to be titillated (if that word doesn't pique your prurience, then I've failed as a writer- not for the first or last time), and our vicarious need to act to defiantly, all of which are surely external proofs of our fallen human nature, members of various spheres that comprise "the media," "the new media," etc., would simply be reduced to reporting on or writing about things that actually matter.

Morbid curiosity= the hope of seeing blood and guts, and/or being told the gory details.

titillation= the hope of seeing someone naked, and/or being given the details about someone's sexual proclivities and shenanigans.

Vicarious defiance= faux "sticking-it-to-the-man"-type things.

For whatever reason the last of these seems to be a Catholic favorite. Examining this a little and working on the assumption that those who pass these things along, adding their own spin, are acting sincerely, at root, such a view would seem to suggest that truth isn't paramount, but conscience. This is usually where Cardinal Newman's quote about toasting conscience is violently ripped out-of-context and sloppily applied as an undercutting argument.

Once this argument is accepted, then it's all about mis-formed and malformed consciences acting in defiance of authority, regardless as to how gently or prudently authority is asserted. Of course, on those not-so-rare occasions in local churches, when authority is asserted imprudently and/or is high-handed, it only serves to exacerbate the problem, like when a parent overreacts to something a child does wrong, thus enabling the child to justify her/his wrong action on the basis of the parent's overreaction.

Ah, the nice, polite, white, middle-class people acting the hippy, even when the results of their "worldview" are demonstrably destructive. It never gets old, n'est ce pas?

While truth not expressed in a loving manner is pointless, freedom untethered from truth is slavery. Other than the fact that I see too much of this on daily basis, I am not sure why this is such an issue for me right now. I'll stick with what I wrote in one my posts from last week, "many Catholics are content to stand, as did Pontius Pilate, asking, 'What is truth?' Or, worse yet, simply assert[ing] their own 'truth.'"

As a polite version of a (fairly) old saying goes- "Opinions are like elbows, everybody's got one." This implies, of course, that not all opinions are equal.

"They're still runnin' today"

We're keeping our Καθολικός διάκονος traditio very simple today, no additives or preservatives, just a song. What song? Steve Miller's "Take the Money and Run."

Nice weather, off work, chillin', which always requires tunes. For a minute, I could've sworn that was a slimmed-down Sam Kinison on the maracas!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Spirit and letter: a few thoughts

Spirit vs. letter. What a dichotomy! It certainly is, at least the way we usually employ it, and a false one at that. It seems to me the same is true for law and freedom. After all, who would argue that freedom without law is truly freedom?

I don't think that to act in the spirit of the law is to disregard the law, to ignore the law, to dispense one's self from the law, or even to dispense others from it. Of course, when it comes to living our Christian faith, it certainly does not mean imposing it on others, or even imagining that it is imposed on ourselves from the outside. It is proposed to us and we, in turn, once we have accepted the proposal, propose it to others. Living the law of Christ, according to the Spirit, means concerning ourselves first and foremost with our own obedience and not that of others.

In Sacred Scripture St. Paul mentions "spirit" and "letter" in 2 Corinthians 3:6. To locate his words in their context, he is writing about his call to be an apostle, noting first that he was called according to the spirit, not according to the letter, before noting that the letter kills, but "the Spirit gives life."

One way to summarize what he goes on to write is by pointing out that if one wants to see how to observe the law according to the Spirit, one needs to look to Jesus. We look to Jesus precisely because of the perfect way He not only obeyed, but, through His perfect obedience, fulfilled the law. Continuing, the apostle notes that "if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, was so glorious that the Israelites could not look intently at the face of Moses because of its glory that was going to fade, how much more will the ministry of the Spirit be glorious?" (2 Cor. 3:7-8) The reason Paul refers to the law given to Moses as "the ministry of death" is not because the law was defective. No! As Jesus showed so luminously, the defect is in us!
For what the law, weakened by the flesh, was powerless to do, this God has done: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for the sake of sin, he condemned sin in the flesh (Rom. 8:3)
In the first instance, living the Spirit of the law requires discerning why it was promulgated. Then it has to do with my intention, with why I obey it. The answer to both questions is love. Obeying out of love is the only way for my righteousness to exceed "that of the scribes and Pharisees" (Matt. 5:20). This why Jesus taught- "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments" (Matt. 22:37-40).

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Our bad habit of being forces a recognition

In his most recent piece for the English language version of Il Sussidiario, "The Fundamental Question: What is the Human Person?," Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, one of the best bad Catholics I know, began by quoting Msgr. Giussani: "when... the grip of a hostile society tightens around us to the point of threatening the vivacity or our expression, when a cultural or social hegemony tends to penetrate the heart... stirring up our already natural uncertainties, then the time of the person has come."

This struck me because of something my friend Artur posted today on his new blog Cosmos in the Lost: "all those Catholics (and others) who complain about the compromised bishops, big crisis of the church, the cabal of the clergy, and so on (ad nauseaum) are anathema to me. I embrace my historical continuity with bad Catholics of all stripes, times and ages.

"It would feel extremely uncomfortable (like in the back of a Volkswagen) if everyone were as unalloyed as both the New York Times Catholics and Neo-Conservative Catholics make themselves out to be."

Flannery O'Connor in front of her self-portrait

Finally, this from a 2010 Communion & Liberation statement, Greater than Sin, concerning one of those things that cause many, me included, to complain: "Alongside all the limitations and within the Church’s wounded humanity, is there or is there not something greater than sin, something radically greater than sin? Is there something that can shatter the inexorable weight of our evil?"

Well, is there? If not, then screw it. If so, then "the time of the person" has arrived indeed.

Since I closed my last post with a sentence about hell, it bears noting that Albacete, quoting Georges Bernanos' Diary of a Country Priest, asserts something quite complimentary: "Hell is not to love anymore." Moreover, in one of her letters, Flannery O'Conner wrote, "It takes two to love. It takes liberty. It takes the right to reject. If there were no hell, we would be like the animals. No hell, no dignity."

"I felt a little like a dying clown," or "faith, hope, and love remain"

I read a lot of C.S. Lewis in the years immediately following my conversion to Christianity. My reading of Lewis in those days consisted of what I would call his apologetic works (i.e., Mere Christianity, Miracles, etc.). My first experience with his fiction, which remains my favorite, was Til We Have Faces. I was reminded of this today as I sat in my den facing the fiction section of my personal library, but only after retrieving Milan Kundera's most recent book of essays, Encounter, off the shelf and re-reading the first essay in the book, "The Painter's Brutal Gesture: On Francis Bacon." While Reading Kundera's essay, in which he writes about "the painter's hand" coming "down with a 'brutal gesture' on a body, on a face, 'in hopes of finding in it and behind it, something that is hidden there,'" because Lewis is right next to Kundera in my alphabetical arrangement. Random, I know...

"But what is hidden there," Kundera goes on to ask, "Its 'self'?" He notes that "every portrait ever painted seeks," to some degree or other, "to uncover the subject's 'self.'" According to Kundera, the painter whose work is the subject of this essay, Francis Bacon (1909-1992), lived "in time when the 'self' [had] everywhere begun to take cover."

Francis Bacon, Self-Portrait

Kundera begins his novel Immortality by writing about his main character (the authorial voice in this novel is one of its most interesting aspects) observing a woman in her sixties taking a swimming lesson in a pool. He finds watching her swim mildly amusing. As he is observing her, his attention is diverted and when he resumes watching her, the lesson is finished, she is out of the pool and walking toward the exit. As she passed the lifeguard, who had also been watching her with some amusement, "she turned her head, smiled and waved to him." As soon as the character who was narrating scene saw her gesture, Kundera writes, "I felt a pang in my heart!" Why? "That smile and that gesture belonged to a twenty-year-old girl!" He ultimately described it as "the charm of a gesture drowning in the charmlessness of the body" before observing, "There is a certain part of all of us that lives outside time." Then, returning to the swimmer, he wrote: "The essence of the charm, independent of time, revealed itself for a second in that gesture and dazzled me. I was strangely moved."

Returning to Kundera's essay on Bacon, he insists that "our most commonplace personal experience teaches us (especially if the life behind us is very long) that faces are lamentably alike." Human faces are easily mistaken one for the other and "differ one from the next only by something very tiny, barely perceptible, which mathematically only represents barely a few millimeters." This is what leads him to conclude that the portraits painted by Francis Bacon "are an interrogation on the limits of the self," an exploration into how much distortion a person can undergo and still remain herself. His portraits seek the border beyond which a self ceases to be itself, but not to cross it, which might be to enter into a void.

It seems that during Bacon's career as a painter his art was often compared to the writing of Samuel Beckett, a comparison that Bacon was not too fond of, apparently. Citing an interview the painter gave to Michel Archimbaud in his studio, just prior to his death in 1992, Kundera conveys what Bacon said after rejecting this comparison: "I've always found that Shakespeare expresses more poetically, more accurately, and in a much more powerful way what Beckett and Joyce were trying to say," then following up by saying "I wonder if Beckett's ideas about his art didn't end up by killing his creativity.... There's something too systematic and too intelligent about him, which is perhaps what's always made me uncomfortable" (ellipsis in Kundera's text).

I would just say that if reading Beckett doesn't make you uncomfortable, doesn't unsettle you, then you're not comprehending what it is you are reading. "When one artist talks about another," Kundera insists, "he is always talking (indirectly, in a roundabout way) of himself, and that is what's valuable in his judgment."

Francis Bacon, The Crucifixion, 1933

In the words of The Who's Pete Townsend, "Who are you? I really want to know." As the apostle observed, "At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13:12-13).

All of this at least helps us to begin to see what is the most important take-away from Trinity Sunday, which we observed 2 weeks ago: One person is no person. So, the questions are always, Who am I to you? and Who are you to me? The question, Who am I to myself?, is a dislocated question because it dislocates me. To determine location one always requires at least a point of reference, what in geodesy is called a "datum." It seems to me this is why, say, in the writings of Giussani, to take an example with which I am familiar, he insists on things like learning to look on myself with the same tenderness with which Christ looks on me, something I wrestled with all-night last night, like Jacob with the angel. Like him, I walked away wounded.

It strikes me that to be personally dislocated in the way described above, to have no point of reference apart from myself, is a fairly good definition of hell, which is frightening to an introvert such as myself.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

Today is the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is also a first Friday. I hope many of you go to confession, attend Mass, and go out of your way to help someone in need, even by only making a financial contribution.

Our Friday traditio is Jars of Clay with the hymn "God Be Merciful to Me."

Wash me, make me pure within/Cleanse, oh, cleanse me from my sin/My transgressions I confess/Grief and guilt my soul oppress

O God, who in the Heart of your Son,
wounded by our sins,
bestow on us in mercy
the boundless treasure of your love,
grant, we pray,
that, in paying him the homage of our devotion,
we may also offer worthy reparation.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Care: the recognition that turns redemption into justification

I don't really know how to begin this post because I really try to avoid scoring cheap points, especially by taking advantage of tragedy. But today I came across a news story in the Daily Mail about the suicide of a couple who together hosted a monthly radio program on New York's WBAI-FM called "The Pursuit of Happiness." Prior to reading this story I had never in my life heard of Lynne Rosen or John Littig. Apparently Rosen was a psychotherapist and Littig a motivational speaker and drummer. Their work was counseling and teaching people how to be happy; the Daily Mail described them as "happiness gurus."

What makes their demise even more sad is that they apparently killed themselves a week ago and their bodies were only discovered today after they had begun to decompose. The means they used to kill themselves were described by an article in the New York Daily News as "exit bags." According to the same article, which quotes a New York Fire Department website,"exit bags" are "fast becoming one of the most prescribed forms of Euthanasia worldwide.” The bags, the article continued "are said to provide a fast, peaceful, undetectable death to those wishing to commit suicide."

Maybe the article reporting the deaths of Littig and Rosen caught my attention because just last night I started to read Walker Percy's book Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book, which he begins by reflecting on how much we can easily learn and know about many things external to ourselves and about how little we know about ourselves. At one point in his book Percy observed- "You live in a deranged age - more deranged than usual, because despite great scientific and technological advances, man has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing."

I have to be honest, I thought about using the distinction made by Percy between a "non-suicide" and an "ex-suicide." Between these two is the person who commits suicide. At least for Percy, what distinguishes a non-suicide from an ex-suicide is care. As far as I can tell, an ex-suicide doesn't care, a non-suicide recognizes that she is cared for, and a suicide, at least most often, cares too much, but does not recognize he is cared for, or at least how much he is cared for.

Since I turned to Heidegger last Saturday when I brought up the issue of boredom, I'll turn to him again as my entry way into briefly discussing care. For Heidegger "care" (in German Sorge) is caring about something, or, more straightforwardly, being interested in something. As a Christian I have to go with recognizing that I am cared for, even when it seems that nobody cares for me, which is a feeling I experience more often than I should and reveals a great selfishness on my own part because I am cared for by so many wonderful people. Above all, God cares for me infinitely, just as God infinitely cares for Lynne Rosen and John Littig, who sought happiness, it seems, in a way that too many today seek it, through the deception of self-fullfillment. I experience God's infinite care each time I go to confession and when I receive Holy Communion. Amor, ergo sum: I am loved, therefore I am, or, in light of Percy's distinction, I am loved, therefore I can choose to live.

To really live is to empty myself out in love. It pleases me once again to direct my readers to another article by Francis Phillips that makes my point much better than I do: "The example of Edith Cavell proves a woman can sacrifice herself and be proud of it." Along these same lines is the witness of a man about to be beatified, Odoardo Focherini.

I am convinced that it is this recognition- that I am infinitely cared for - that enables me to take the leap from being redeemed to being justified, which is why Pope Francis, in his provocative homily, preached about the need (Yes, the need) we have to serve others. He called meeting in the places where "we do good to others" the place of encounter with each other, which creates a place where it is possible to encounter yet Another.

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 ...