Saturday, November 30, 2013

Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses

Know that the Lord is coming and with him all his saints; that day will dawn with a wonderful light, alleluia.

Having written so much this month on sin, death, and Purgatory, which I don't regret in the least as November, the final weeks of the liturgical year, is a more than appropriate time to consider such things, that is, ultimate things, I want to bring it all to a close the way November began, by focusing on the saints, a literary technique known as "framing."

A short quote I came across some years ago now, words spoken by Fr. Tonino Lasconi, the author of numerous volumes on the renewal of catechesis in Italy, sticks with me: "Without the saints, the faith vanishes." But their vanishing, nonetheless, seems to continue apace. I sincerely hope that one of the ways my blog fosters "Christian discipleship in the late modern milieu in the diakonia of koinonia" is by writing often about the communio sanctorum (i.e., the communion of holy people and things).

Lately, I have been re-reading large portions of Romano Amerio's Iota Unum, which is his far-ranging critique of the Second Vatican Council and its aftermath. I believe it is important reading for anyone who is truly interested in the Council, its effects, and our continuing search for a "hermeneutic," a quest that arises, Amerio insists, from the ambiguous nature of many of the main conciliar texts. While very critical, this book was for Amerio a work of love.

Just this week, I came across this passage about the post-conciliar diminishment of the cultus sanctorum, which appears in the midst of a phenomenon he calls "Circiterisms." A circiterism, according to Amerio, "consists in referring to an indistinct and confused term as if it were something well established and defined, and then extracting or excluding from it the element one needs to extract or exclude" (104). In discussing the subject of this post (i.e., the saints), he discusses "hiding one truth behind another so as to be able to behave as if the hidden truth were not only hidden but simply non-existent":

When the Church, for example, is defined as the People of God on a journey, the other side of the truth is hidden, namely that the Church also includes the blessed who have already reached the end of the journey, and that they are the more important part of the Church, since they are the part in which the purpose of the Church and of the universe has been fulfilled. In the next stage, the truth which was still part of the message but which has been put in the background will end up being dropped from the message altogther, through the rejection of the cult of the saints (105)
I am not sure what the Italian word Amerio used is translated into English as "rejection" is, but it seems to me that "neglect" might be the more operative term. Having recently led a 12 week study on the Letter to the Hebrews, I cannot recommend that book of sacred writ highly enough, dealing with these twin realities in a perfectly balanced manner.

The discomforting fact is that, in the end, the Church will only consist of the saints, after the great day of reckoning, known in Catholic theology as the General Judgment, when the wheat is separated from the tares. So, when we hear and repeat things like Bloy's famous, "There is only one sadness, and that is not to be saints," or, "Be a saint what else is there?" we should be convicted, provoked, spurred, inspired. This should cause us to turn to the saints in light for their help and assistance as well as to assist the souls in Purgatory.

There is one post from this past year to which I want to draw attention: "Saints are theologians par excellence." If you remain unconvinced, I refer you to this post about Bl. Rupert Mayer, SJ, by my friend, Fr. Peter Nguyen, SJ.

Know that the Lord is coming and with him all his saints; that day will dawn with a wonderful light, alleluia (Antiphon 2 of Evening Prayer I- First Sunday of Advent)

Friday, November 29, 2013

A creed is only as persuasive the person professing it

A wonderful "old" song by Sting, "All This Time," is our Friday traditio for this last Friday of this year of grace. The release of Pope Francis' post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, earlier this week, plus the advent of the Friday dubbed "Black," is what prompted me to choose this song (well that and the fact I heard while working out on Wednesday, exercise, especially running is a great source of synthesizing thoughts for me).

The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose
This is nothing new. As evidence for proof of this assertion, I offer- Rerum novarum, Quadragesimo anno, Populorum progresso, Centesimus annus, a document that was badly distorted by several leading Catholic thinkers in the U.S. shortly after its promulgation, Caritas in veritate, which began as an update of Populorum progresso 40 years on (in the manner of Quadragesimo anno to Rerum novarum), but was delayed in order to weigh in on the 2008 global financial meltdown, and now Evangelii gaudium. There are not merely threads, but thick-gauge cables that pull these documents of the past 100+ years of papal social teaching together.

While it is true that Pope Francis' exhortation is not primarily about economics, but evangelization, it is also true that evangelization is not first and foremost about preaching, especially in our day and age. As the late Christopher Hitchens wrote in his final piece for The Atlantic, which was a review of Ian Ker's biography of G.K. Chesterton, "The Reactionary": "we are all fully familiar with the religious practitioner who can’t or doesn’t live up to the merits of his creed. There’s nothing innately paradoxical in that. Any solution, however, is a bit like the Golden Rule: the creed is only as morally strong as the person who happens to be uttering it."

Blessed are the poor, for they shall inherit the earth/
Better to be poor than a fat man in the eye of a needle/
And as these words were spoken I swore I hear/
The old man laughing/
'What good is a used up world and how could it be/
Worth having'

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Thanksgiving apologia of sorts

Ah, Thanksgiving! The day that people in the United States pause to express gratitude. It seems that some people, a small minority, both in the U.S. and abroad, have a problem with this observance. As Christians, it goes without saying that every day ought to be a thanksgiving. We should be thankful everyday to God for everything, even life's seeming setbacks and challenges, as well as to other people. We should, to employ a popular and apt slogan, cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Means that serve that end seem to me laudable, not lamentable.

Dedicated days of Thanksgiving, it seems, have been part of the history of these United States since our founding. It was President George Washington who issued the first presidential Thanksgiving proclamation on 3 October 1789. But it was not until 1864 that an annual day of national Thanksgiving was proclaimed and instituted by President Abraham Lincoln.

I think it is significant that our national institution of Thanksgiving came during a time of great national strife, our Civil War, or, the War Between the States. A lot can and has been said and written about the results of the outcome of this bloodiest of conflicts in light of our constitutional principles. I certainly have my own views on these matters, but that is not my point today.

These days harmonious convergences between the sacred and the secular are rare enough. Many who decry the increasing godlessness of Western civilization often turn, and, with their very next breath, denounce institutions like Thanksgiving in the United States. Such a dichotomy strikes me as self-evidently incoherent and contradictory.

Is it really so bad to heed St. Paul's exhortation to Christians in ancient Thessaloniki, "In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thess 5:18)? Let's not forget what St. Paul writes in his Letter to the Romans (Rom 13:1-7), which passage, like interpreting the results of the U.S. Civil War vis-à-vis our founding principles, certainly requires some unpacking and explication in light of what the apostle writes elsewhere. I also think that gratitude for what I have inevitably brings to my awareness those who have not and that, in light of my bounty, I am duty-bound to share, to give. Acts of genuine giving, in my view, are acts of justice and gratitude, not necessarily of charity.

So, today as a Christian, as a citizen of the U.S., I have no qualms whatsoever about pausing from the busyness of my day-to-day life and expressing gratitude: "Give thanks to the LORD for he is good. His love is everlasting" (Psalm 107:1). Besides, I think it only human to long for an idyll, at least once in awhile. It is nothing more than our longing for home.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Who stood up for Stephen?: Deacons as Evangelists

Since I am a deacon and my blog is Καθολικός διάκονος, I think it appropriate to note the following from Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation, released to great fanfare today: "How good it is when priests, deacons and the laity gather periodically to discover resources which can make preaching more attractive!" (Evangelii Gaudium, par 159). I cite this because it is the sole mention of deacons in the entire document. It would be disingenuous of me to insist that I don't find this a bit disappointing because the nature of the restored and renewed diaconate is nothing if not evangelical (see here). Of course, this omission does nothing to dampen my own evangelical fervor.

St. Stephen in glory, by Giacomo Cavedone, 1601

Since Pope Francis' "exhortation" is the post-synodal exhortation for last Fall's Synod on the New Evangelization, convened by Pope Benedict XVI, it is necessary to point out that deacons didn't receive much consideration during the Synod. Hence, it is hardly surprising deacons don't receive much of a mention in the Holy Father's post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation.

It also bears noting, again, as I did at time of last Fall's Synod, that it was the Anglican Bishop of Sheffield, England, Dr. Steven Croft, who mentioned deacons during his brief intervention, during which he said, "Finally, who will be the new evangelisers? I commend further reflection on diakonia and the ministry of deacons." A commendation that largely seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

Deacons were mentioned in the Propositions submitted to the Holy Father at the end of the Synod's deliberations, towards the end of Proposition 49 to be exact: "The Synod recognizes and encourages the work of deacons whose ministry provides the Church great service. Ongoing formation programs within the diocese should also be available for deacons."

Looking at the Lineamenta, or, preparatory document, for the Synod on the New Evangelization, there are 30 questions posed in section 22. Number thirty is: "How has the ministry of the permanent deaconate (sic) been included in the Church's mandate to evangelize?" This is the only place where deacons or the diaconate is mentioned. It's not an open question. Deacons, by the very nature of the ministry of our order, are evangelists!

Apostolic Exhortation: Evangelii Gaudium



1. THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.


2. The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.

3. I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”. How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. Christ, who told us to forgive one another “seventy times seven” (Mt 18:22) has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven. Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew. Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards!

4. The books of the Old Testament predicted that the joy of salvation would abound in messianic times. The prophet Isaiah exultantly salutes the awaited Messiah: “You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy” (9:3). He exhorts those who dwell on Zion to go forth to meet him with song: “Shout aloud and sing for joy!” (12:6). The prophet tells those who have already seen him from afar to bring the message to others: “Get you up to a high mountain, O herald of good tidings to Zion; lift up your voice with strength, O herald of good tidings to Jerusalem” (40:9). All creation shares in the joy of salvation: “Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth! Break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones” (49:13).

Zechariah, looking to the day of the Lord, invites the people to acclaim the king who comes “humble and riding on a donkey”: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he” (9:9).

Perhaps the most exciting invitation is that of the prophet Zephaniah, who presents God with his people in the midst of a celebration overflowing with the joy of salvation. I find it thrilling to reread this text: “The Lord, your God is in your midst, a warrior who gives you the victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing, as on a day of festival” (3:17).

This is the joy which we experience daily, amid the little things of life, as a response to the loving invitation of God our Father: “My child, treat yourself well, according to your means… Do not deprive yourself of the day’s enjoyment” (Sir 14:11, 14). What tender paternal love echoes in these words!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Today we liturgically celebrate the end of time, when Christ will return in glory to judge the living the dead and establish His reign. He will/can judge everyone because He, and He alone, is King. Nonetheless, as our Gospel reading demonstrates, He is not a king like other kings, like any king, who has ruled in this world over passing kingdoms. Even the most benevolent monarch pales when compared to kingship of Jesus Christ.

In addition to our Gospel reading of St. Luke's account of Jesus' death, our second reading from the first chapter of St. Paul's Letter to the Colossians also gives us deep insight into why Jesus Christ is a king unlike any other:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he himself might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.(1:15-20)
It is important to note, in reference to our first reading, that the only reason Saul was anointed as king of Israel was because Israel wanted to be like the other nations and have a king, which, as the prophet Samuel pointed out them, constituted their rejection of God as king (see 1 Samuel 8, especially verse 7 "The LORD said: Listen to whatever the people say. You are not the one they are rejecting. They are rejecting me as their king").

The Church is the new and everlasting Israel. Jesus Christ is King of Israel. It is important as Western civilization becomes less and less Christian, or, de-Christianized, that we never lose sight of this fact. I believe that a lot of how Pope Francis engages matters concerning the state, which is deliberately less confrontational than his predecessors, at least going back as far as Pope Pius XI, who instituted today's solemnity back in 1925 to combat growing secularism and even the glorification of the state, is for the Church's witness to stand out in bolder relief. He is not making concessions to the world, acting as though evil is not evil, injustice is not injustice, but recognizing and seeking to foster our Christian call to joyfully live and give witness to what is good, true, and beautiful. As Pope Benedict XVI made clear in his first encyclical, Deus caritas est: "The Church's deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable" (par 25a).

This past week here in the United States we marked the fiftieth anniversary of our first (and to date, our only) Catholic president, John F. Kennedy. To mark the occasion, Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete wrote a brief piece that appeared on the English language page of Il Sussidiario- "Catholicism and the American Understanding of Freedom," which I makes a lot what I am trying to say quite clear. It seems to me that, when it comes to political matters, it is all too easy to get all crazy and engage reality from an imaginary position. The way I see it, the only true stance is to face circumstances as they actually are. not as we want them to be. In the end, whether you love, hate, or are indifferent to democracy U.S.-style, as Albacete observes, "The problem is whether all the public expressions of faith [have] to be respected, or only those limited to the area of worship."

Of course, the correct answer to the question posed, especially in the context of the U.S., is that ALL public expressions of our faith must be respected and permitted, which is why standing up against the terribly unjust HHS mandate is so important. But this serves as an excellent case-in-point for today's observance of Christ the King. Christ bids us not to be content to wage battle in the courts against the state's unjust mandate, but to return to complete fidelity to Him, that is, to the clear proclamation and observance of the truth. What is the truth regarding this matter? The intrinsic evil of contraception, the widespread use of which, even among Christians, as Pope Paul VI prophetically predicted in Humanae Vitae, has played more than a bit part in the dissolution of marriage.

I like very much the reading from Morning Prayer for today's glorious observance: "Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body’s growth and builds itself up in love" (Eph 4:15-16).

Saturday, November 23, 2013

"To thee do we come poor, banished children of Eve"

Contrary to something that seems to be growing in popularity, we're not saved by an abstraction, even an "objective" one, but by a Person, who works by loving us to our destiny. I remember reading in one of his Assemblies with Memores aspirants, in a volume of Is It Possible to Live This Way?, Don Giussani saying it is not enough to know that Jesus died for world, which can easily be and usually is an abstraction, I must know He died for me!

I think only that can make me fall on my face.

With this, as November winds down and we approach (tomorrow) the last Sunday of the liturgical year, the feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, I am able to synthesize, at least somewhat, what I have written on sin, Purgatory, and indulgences throughout this month. In my first post I cited then-Cardinal Ratzinger, who, addressing the topic of Purgatory, concluded: "The encounter with the Lord is the transformation, the fire, that fashions us into the unsullied being that can be the vessel of eternal joy."

It is with these pieces, and only with them, that I can begin to grasp what Pope Paul VI wrote in Indulgentiarum Doctrina:
Every sin in fact causes a perturbation in the universal order established by God in His ineffable wisdom and infinite charity, and the destruction of immense values with respect to the sinner himself and to the human community. Christians throughout history have always regarded sin not only as a transgression of divine law but also—though not always in a direct and evident way—as contempt for or disregard of the friendship between God and man, just as they have regarded it as a real and unfathomable offense against God and indeed an ungrateful rejection of the love of God shown us through Jesus Christ, who called his disciples friends and not servants (par 2)

If I am following Pope Paul, he insisted that we must regard sin "in a direct and evident way" precisely "as contempt for or disregard of the friendship between" us and God, which Jesus Christ came to establish, calling us friends and not servants (John 15:15). In confession when I say my Act of Contrition, I acknowledge this: "In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things."

For many it seems to be all about the tired old objectivity vs subjectivity (realism vs idealism) debates of the early 20th century. As I see it, it is really about how the infinite breaks into the finite, how the Holy Spirit pours the love of God into our hearts (Rom 5:3-5).

And so on this Saturday, the day between our weekly day of penance and our celebration of your Son's resurrection, we turn to you O Most Blessed Virgin Mary- "to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears."

Remembering the unforgettable C.S. Lewis

In addition to marking the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination, yesterday was also the anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis (as well as of Aldous Huxley, who wrote Brave New World, which is one of those books that should be read along with Orwell's 1984, Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Chesterton's The Ball and the Cross, and Benson's Lord of the World). While I posted a lot on Facebook concerning Lewis, it occurred to me this morning that I did nothing here. An oversight that needed to be corrected.

Before I was in my mid-to-late 20s I had never heard of C.S. Lewis. Once I knew about him, I quickly read several of his so-called apologetics works. It wasn't until I was in my 30s that I read Til We Have Faces, which remains my favorite among his fictional works. I have read his Space Trilogy and, as of about a month ago, having received them all in one nicely bound volume last Christmas, I finished reading the Chronicles of Narnia for the first time, which I read out loud to my son, Nate, something we did over a number of months.

Culture is not only important, but unavoidable. I did not grow up in a culturally refined milieu, but that does not mean I was lacking culture. So, those books, films, and television shows, as well as the music I experienced shaped and formed me. This is why I am not terribly concerned about whether you like what I like, or whether I like what you like. Nonetheless, I remain open to new things, like reading the Chronicles of Narnia for the first time in my late 40s, or opening myself to Chesterton's fiction. For example, a year ago I would not have included his novel The Ball and the Cross in the list at the top of this post.

In The Weight of Glory, Lewis wrote the following:
The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited

Friday, November 22, 2013

"You used to hold my hand when the plane took off"

(Another) Late Friday traditio. Man this week went by quickly! Nothing since writing on Purgatory. With no apologies, I love the music of Sinéad O'Connor. I always wished she could've met with Pope John Paul II after her SNL performance. I feel quite certain that he would've given her a big fatherly embrace.

"Last Day Of Our Acquaintance" is a sad song for certain. I've been reading a lot lately about what canonical and legal remedies are needed in order to "save" marriage. I am not opposed to this approach, or even to some of what is being suggested. However, I do not think any canonical or legal remedy, or various combinations of them, can ultimately "fix" what's wrong with marriage. What's wrong with marriage is what's wrong with us.

Divorce, I think, rather than the way it is often described by people arguing for the permanence of marriage (something I think is of huge importance), as something done for a lot of glib reasons that can be reduced to statistics and then subjected to reductive analysis, is excruciating for most people who get divorced. Very often divorce is like a death, sometimes even worse, which is why this song is a kind of dirge. So, reductive analysis and policy prescriptions are way too abstract and cold. My pastoral and personal experience with friends who have gone through a divorce is that divorce is much more like what O'Connor sings about in this song: devastating. If a devastated person cannot find shelter in the Church, which extends the arms of Jesus, then where?

Endlessly repeating social statistics in not persuasive here. As with anything that truly matters, the ultimate answer cannot lie with external remedies, but in the heart, by Jesus' Sacred Heart, with which He loves us all the way to our destiny, especially in and through our brokenness. Why do think, though now risen and never again to die, He still bears the scars? To me, His scars are His most beautiful feature.

Two years ago the seed was planted/
And since then you have taken me for granted/
But this is the last day of our acquaintance/

Honestly, there are times in even marriages that don't end in divorce that some of what is sung about here happens. In my view, the answer is not to de-personalize marriage, but precisely to re-personalize it, or, more accurately in my view, personalize it for the first time. I refuse to live my life in loyalty to an "institution," which are always abstractions and ephemeral, but only to a Person and to (through?) other persons. Love has a face. Love has a name.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

It's the end of the world as we know it, how do you feel?

Well not quite yet and we don't know when. Our first reading:
Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire, leaving them neither root nor branch, says the LORD of hosts. But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays (Mal 3:19-20a)
From our Gospel for this Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, close to the Solemnity of Christ the King, we contemplate the end of the world and Jesus Christ coming "again in glory to judge the living and dead," a core Christian belief. But in our Gospel reading for today, the Lord tells us, "See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’ Do not follow them!" (Luke 21:8).

"Before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name (Luke 21:12)...You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives" (Luke 21:17-19).

"To offer me solutions is to offer me alternatives and I decline!"

I can't help but wonder how many homilies this Sunday will seek to divert attention from this mystery of faith, rather than help us enter more fully into it. My guess is, quite a few.

Purgatory: are Roman Catholics losing our religion?

While I am not really prepared to write extensively about Indulgences, which still exist (during his pontificate Benedict XVI sought to revive the practice of obtaining indulgences according to the manner in which they were reformed after the Second Vatican Council), in light of this passage from Lumen Gentium, "if any abuses, excesses or defects have crept in here or there, to do what is in their power to remove or correct them, and to restore all things to a fuller praise of Christ and of God" (par. 51), it is important to note that, at least early on, Martin Luther did not oppose Indulgences in principle.

In writing a short treatise on the theology of Indulgences, which he addressed to Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz and Magdeburg on the fateful day, 31 October 1517, the still-Augustianian friar noted:
Although indulgences are the very merits of Christ and of His saints and so should be treated with all reverence, they have in fact nonetheless become a shocking exercise of greed. For who actually seeks the salvation of souls through indulgences, and not instead money for his coffers? This is evident from the way indulgences are preached. For the commissioners and preachers do nothing but extol indulgences and incite the people to contribute. You hear no one instructing the people about what indulgences are, or about how much they grant, or about the purpose they serve. Instead, all you hear is how much one must contribute. The people are always left in ignorance, so that they come to think that by gaining indulgences they are at once saved
The promulgation of a revised and reformed Enchiridion Indulgentiarum with the Apostolic Constitution Indulgentiarum Doctrina: Whereby the Revision of Sacred Indulgences is Promulgated, given 1 January 1967, represents just one of many ways that the Second Vatican Council completes the Catholic Church's response to the Protestant schism, which response began with the Council of Trent, which, in addition to responding, reforming, and clarifying, was also forced to react in various ways. In this Apostolic Constitution, Pope Paul VI, before proceeding to his reform, buttresses Tradition:
It is a divinely revealed truth that sins bring punishments inflicted by God's sanctity and justice. These must be expiated either on this earth through the sorrows, miseries and calamities of this life and above all through death, or else in the life beyond through fire and torments or "purifying" punishments. Therefore it has always been the conviction of the faithful that the paths of evil are fraught with many stumbling blocks and bring adversities, bitterness and harm to those who follow them.

These punishments are imposed by the just and merciful judgment of God for the purification of souls, the defense of the sanctity of the moral order and the restoration of the glory of God to its full majesty. Every sin in fact causes a perturbation in the universal order established by God in His ineffable wisdom and infinite charity, and the destruction of immense values with respect to the sinner himself and to the human community. Christians throughout history have always regarded sin not only as a transgression of divine law but also—though not always in a direct and evident way—as contempt for or disregard of the friendship between God and man, just as they have regarded it as a real and unfathomable offense against God and indeed an ungrateful rejection of the love of God shown us through Jesus Christ, who called his disciples friends and not servants... (par 2)

...That punishment or the vestiges of sin may remain to be expiated or cleansed and that they in fact frequently do even after the remission of guilt is clearly demonstrated by the doctrine on purgatory. In purgatory, in fact, the souls of those "who died in the charity of God and truly repentant, but before satisfying with worthy fruits of penance for sins committed and for omissions are cleansed after death with purgatorial punishments. This is also clearly evidenced in the liturgical prayers with which the Christian community admitted to Holy Communion has addressed God since most ancient times: "that we, who are justly subjected to afflictions because of our sins, may be mercifully set free from them for the glory of thy name (par 3)

More on Purgatory

The "Yes that makes it possible for us to receive God's mercy," as then-Cardinal Ratzinger noted in the extensive quote I posted last evening, is no easy thing, it cannot be glib, or half-hearted acquiescence. Of course, the model for the "Yes" we must say is the fiat, or "Yes," uttered by the Blessed Virgin Mary to the Archangel Gabriel: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38). The "crucial decision" we make by saying "Yes," as then-Cardinal Ratzinger observed, is "oppressed and suppressed on all sides." I take that to mean from without and from within. He nonetheless focuses on the opposition from within, our self-absorption, our self-centeredness, what he calls our "egoism."

Through Jesus Christ's saving sacrifice and the ministry of the Church through the priest, the eternal punishment, namely hell, that our sins merit, is done away with in the Sacrament of Penance. However, the temporal punishment is not. So, we do penance in this life, offer up our pains and suffering, as well as engage in penitential practices (i.e., willingly deprive ourselves of good things, like meat on Fridays- to pick just one example) in order detach ourselves from things and thus strengthen ourselves for when temptation comes knocking and to lessen the intensity of our purgatorial experience or avoid Purgatory altogether. It is not our aim "to avoid Purgatory," but to be with God in heaven. Penitential acts are how we make satisfaction for our sins, without which we cannot attain heaven.

Purgatory is a dogma of the Catholic faith. It is not something that can be wished away. We ignore this fundamental truth at our own peril. It is through acts of penance that the "egoism," which is probably our biggest obstacle to sanctification, invoked by then-Cardinal Ratzinger, is confronted, challenged, and, by our cooperation with God's grace, given us especially through the sacraments, eventually overcome by living the circumstances of our lives united to Christ.

An Angel Frees the Souls of Purgatory, by Ludovico Carracci, 1610

The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, invoking the Second Council of Nicea, the Council of Florence, and the Council of Trent in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, decreed: "This Sacred Council accepts with great devotion this venerable faith of our ancestors regarding this vital fellowship with our brethren who are in heavenly glory or who having died are still being purified; and it proposes again the decrees of the Second Council of Nicea, the Council of Florence and the Council of Trent. And at the same time, in conformity with our own pastoral interests, we urge all concerned, if any abuses, excesses or defects have crept in here or there, to do what is in their power to remove or correct them, and to restore all things to a fuller praise of Christ and of God" (par. 51).

To cite just one of the three references made by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council, from the Council of Florence: "If they have died repentant for their sins and having love of God, but have not made satisfaction for things they have done or omitted by fruits worthy of penance, then their souls, after death, are cleansed by the punishment of Purgatory."

In the second section of her "Treatise on Purgatory," St. Catherine of Genoa wrote:
There is no peace to be compared with that of the souls in purgatory, save that of the saints in paradise, and this peace is ever augmented by the inflowing of God into these souls, which increases in proportion as the impediments to it are removed. The rust of sin is the impediment, and this the fire continually consumes, so that the soul in this state is continually opening itself to admit the divine communication.

As a covered surface can never reflect the sun, not through any defect in that orb, but simply from the resistance offered by the covering, so, if the covering be gradually removed, the surface will by little and little be opened to the sun and will more and more reflect his light. So it is with the rust of sin, which is the covering of the soul
The point is that we are to cooperate with God's work in this life so as to remove the "rust of sin" as much as possible so that we, to use St. Paul's words to the Philippians, "shine like lights in the world" (Phil 2:15), living lives ordered towards our supernatural end.

I would also refer you, dear reader, to sections 45-48 of Pope Benedict XVI's second encyclical letter, Spe salvi for more on Purgatory. In these sections Pope Benedict sought to give an understanding of Purgatory in light of more recent theology.

Friday, November 15, 2013

"Yes that makes it possible for us to receive God’s mercy"

St. Teresa interceding for souls in Purgatory
Today, anyone who questions theology about Purgatory will be hard put to find an answer. The Bible seems silent on the subject. But, in that case, what ground can Tradition offer for speaking about it? That is why the subject is avoided. But, on the other hand, can we possibly imagine a Church in which the deceased are not prayerfully remembered? We might reply that the self-evident certainty with which the prayer of all ages has always included the deceased is itself a living expression of a deeper knowledge, peculiar to the Faith, that the interrelationship of human beings with and for one another does not end with death but is precisely that which death cannot destroy. But can we not express this knowledge more concretely? It seems clear today that the fire of the judgment of which the Bible speaks is not a form of punishment beyond the grave but rather the Lord himself, whom we encounter at the moment of judgment. But if we consider the matter clearly, just what does that mean? It means that when we come face to face with the Lord in judgment all the “straw and hay” of our life will be consumed and nothing will be left but that which is truly lasting. It means that we are transformed by our encounter with Christ into what we really should and could be. The crucial decision for us is, then, that Yes that makes it possible for us to receive God’s mercy. But this crucial decision is so oppressed and suppressed on all sides that it is only with difficulty that it peers through the latticework of the egoism that we are unable to shed. The encounter with the Lord is the transformation, the fire, that fashions us into the unsullied being that can be the vessel of eternal joy. Joseph Ratzinger (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (pp. 360–361). San Francisco: Ignatius Press

"We were born before the wind"

Van Morrison singing "Into the Mystic" is our Friday traditio

And when that fog horn blows I will be coming home
And when the fog horn blows I want to hear it
I don't have to fear it

This version of this song positively crackles with the requisite Celtic spirit. A song of longing, a song of the wanderer longing for home, a song of love.

Monday, November 11, 2013

St Martin of Tours: "a man words cannot describe"

Today is the Feast of St. Martin of Tours, Armistice Day (the day World War I ended), Veteran's Day, and my birthday. I think of today in that order (it is also the birthday of Fyodor Dostoevsky; yesterday marked the birthday of Martin Luther, who was named in honor of the great Bishop of Tours). Of course, St. Martin was a soldier who had a profound conversion, which made him a servant of Christ, thus a servant of peace. He went on to become the bishop of Tours in what is now modern day France. While his cultus has shrunk dramatically, for a long time he was a highly revered saint, along the lines of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Thérèse of Lisieux. It is fitting that Armistice Day and Veteran's Day (as a combat veteran today is a day I pray for peace in an especially fervent manner) are observed on his feast. It is the Feast of St. Martin that makes today far more than a secular observance.

St. Martin lived in the fourth century (316-397). Living to be 80-plus years-old in Europe at that time was a rare occurrence. Martin was consecrated Bishop of Tours in 371 and served until his death. Sulpicius Severus, a Christian writer and chronicler who lived in the fourth century and into the fifth, wrote a biography of St. Martin. Sulpicius' moving account of St. Martin's death is the second reading for today's Office of Readings in the Church's Liturgy of the Hours. You can hear a lovely song dedicated to St. Martin of Tours here.

In his old age, when he knew he was dying and had not long to live, St. Martin, upon being informed that the clergy in the town of Candes, which was in his diocese, were fighting, despite his age and illness, he went to reconcile them and to restore peace. While he was at Candes, but after he had restored peace, his health took a turn for the worse and he died.

As he lay dying his spiritual children, according Sulpicius, implored him, saying, "Father, why are you deserting us? Who will care for us when you are gone? Savage wolves will attack your flock, and who will save us from their bite when our shepherd is struck down? We know you long to be with Christ, but your reward is certain and will not be any less for being delayed. You will do better to show pity for us, rather than forsake us."

(Above is El Greco's painting of the famous incident in which St. Martin of Tours, while still a soldier, using his sword to cut his cloak in two in order to give half to a freezing beggar, who was wearing only rags in the depth of winter.)

Upon hearing their pleas "he broke into tears, for he was a man in whom the compassion of our Lord was continually revealed. Turning to our Lord, he made this reply to their pleading: 'Lord, if your people still need me, I am ready for the task; your will be done.'" Martin, as he is remembered, "was a man words cannot describe. Death could not defeat him nor toil dismay him. He was quite without a preference of his own; he neither feared to die nor refused to live. With eyes and hands always raised to heaven he never withdrew his unconquered spirit from prayer." He is said to have caught a glimpse of the devil on his deathbed. His response was to rebuke Satan firmly, saying, "Why do you stand there, you bloodthirsty brute? Murderer, you will not have me for your prey. Abraham is welcoming me into his embrace."

It was reported last week, in Great Britain's Daily Mail, that the World War I diaries of a British soldier, a certain Harry Drinkwater, were discovered. I was struck by the disjunctive nature of his entry for Easter Sunday, 23 April 1916, which I think shows the effect of war on a person's humanity:
Easter Sunday. A beautifully sunny [rest] day. I’m writing in a field beside a brook — I can easily imagine myself back in England.

We’re all struck with the strangeness of things; one week in Hell and the next in comparative bliss.

Harry was also helping to dig deep shafts that branched out towards the enemy lines. The idea was to lay explosive charges beneath German trenches - but as the Germans were doing likewise, the mining teams often tried to blow each other up halfway across
St. Martin is the Patron Saint of beggars, reformed alcoholics, soldiers, tailors, and (oddly enough, in that lovely Catholic manner) also of wine-growers.

Sanctus Martinus Turonensis, ora pro nobis.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Jesus on the resurrection

Our Gospel reading for this Thirty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C), taken from the twentieth chapter of St. Luke's Gospel (20:27-38), puts Jesus in dialogue with the Sadducees, who denied the resurrection of the body (So, they were sad, you see!- old joke). The Sadducees invoke what is known as "the law of the levirate," which called for an unmarried man to marry the widow of his brother.

It was on 11 November 1981 (the day I turned 16), during his weekly General Audience, which audiences in our day feature a short papal catechesis, that Bl. Pope John Paul II (Pope St. John Paul II after April 2014) delivered the sixty-fourth (of 129) installment of what has come to be known as his Theology of the Body, which takes this same text, and its parallel passages in the other synoptic Gospels (Matt 22:24-30 and Mark 12:18-27), as his starting point.

So, for your edification this week, below is the catechesis in its entirety. It is the English text, which I found on the EWTN website, originally published in L'Osservatore Romano, the official international newspaper of the Holy See, Weekly Edition in English 16 November 1981, page 3.

There is no English translation on the Holy See's official website. I have not compared this translation with the undoubtedly more accurate one produced in Michael Waldstein's book, which is indispensable for any English-speaking person who is serious about Theology of Body, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body. I am also posting the whole thing to show something that I feel I must point out quite often: Theology of the Body is not primarily about sex!

1. After a rather long pause, today we will resume the meditations which have been going on for some time, which we have called reflections on the theology of the body.

In continuing, it is opportune to go back to the words of the Gospel in which Christ referred to the resurrection. These words are of fundamental importance for understanding marriage in the Christian sense and also the renunciation of conjugal life for the kingdom of heaven.

The complex casuistry of the Old Testament in the field of marriage not only drove the Pharisees to go to Christ to pose to him the problem of the indissolubility of marriage (cf. Mt 19:3-9; Mk 10:2-12). Another time, it also drove the Sadducees to question him about the so-called levirate law. This conversation is harmoniously reported by the synoptic Gospels (cf. Mt 22:24-30; Mk 12:18-27; Lk 20:27-40). Although all three accounts are almost identical, we note some differences, slight, but at the same time significant. Since the conversation is reported in three versions, those of Matthew, Mark and Luke, a deeper analysis is necessary, since it contains elements which have an essential significance for the theology of the body.

The Resurrection of Christ, by Paolo_Veronese, ca. 1570)

Christ refutes belief of Sadducees

2. The revelation of this dimension of the body, stupendous in its content—and yet connected with the Gospel reread as a whole and in depth—emerges in the conversation with the Sadducees, "who say that there is no resurrection" (Mt 22:23). They had come to Christ to set before him an argument which in their judgment confirmed the soundness of their position. This argument was to contradict "the hypothesis of the resurrection." The Sadducees' argument is the following: "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the wife, and raise up children for his brother" (Mk 12:19). The Sadducees were referring here to the so-called levirate law (cf. Dt 25:5-10). Drawing upon the prescription of this ancient law, they presented the following case: "There were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and when he died, he left no children. The second took her, and died, leaving no children, and the third likewise, and the seven left no children. Last of all the woman also died. In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife" (Mk 12:20-23).

Wisdom and power of God himself

3. Christ's answer is one of the answer-keys of the Gospel, in which there is revealed—precisely starting from purely human arguments and in contrast with them—another dimension of the question, that is, the one that corresponds to the wisdom and power of God himself. Similarly, the case had arisen of the tax coin with Caesar's image and of the correct relationship between what is divine and what is human (Caesar's) in the sphere of authority (cf. Mt 22:15-22). This time Jesus replied as follows: "Is not this why you are wrong, that you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven" (Mk 12:24-25). This is the fundamental reply to the case, that is, to the problem it contains. Knowing the thoughts of the Sadducees, and realizing their real intentions, Christ subsequently took up again the problem of the possibility of resurrection, denied by the Sadducees themselves: "As for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God said to him, 'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not a God of the dead, but of the living" (Mk 12:26-27). As we can see, Christ quoted the same Moses to whom the Sadducees had referred, and ended with the affirmation: "You are quite wrong" (Mk 12:27).

Another affirmation

4. Christ repeats this conclusive affirmation even a second time. In fact, he said it the first time at the beginning of his explanation. Then he said: "You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God" (Mt 22:29). We read in Mark: "Is not this why you are wrong, that you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?" (12:24). In Luke's version (20:27-36), on the contrary, Christ's same answer is without polemical tones, without that, "You are quite wrong." On the other hand, he proclaimed the same thing since in his answer he introduced some elements which are not found either in Matthew or in Mark. Here is the text: "Jesus said to them, 'The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die any more, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection'" (Lk 20:34-36). With regard to the possibility of resurrection, Luke—like the other two synoptics—refers to Moses, that is, to the passage in Exodus 3:2-6. This passage narrates that the great legislator of the old covenant had heard from the bush, which "was burning, yet not consumed," the following words: "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Ex 3:6). In the same place, when Moses had asked God's name, he had heard the answer: "I am who am" (Ex 3:14).

In this way, therefore, speaking of the future resurrection of the body, Christ refers to the power of the living God. We will have to consider this subject in greater detail later.

Msgr Giussani: a rambling personal reflection

Right now on the front page of the international Communion & Liberation website is a 6 minute video on CL founder Luigi Giussani, which I encourage everyone reading this to watch. Watching this video, remembering Albert Camus on his 100th birthday, my impending 48th birthday, which roughly marks my being Catholic for half of my life (baptized at 24), are what I attribute with prompting these reflections. In mentioning that I would not be Catholic were it not for Albert Camus, John Henry Cardinal Newman, and Nikos Kazantzakis (with an assist from Martin Scorsese), some of my friends might ask, "What about Giussani, about whom you are constantly going on about?"

Well, I did not encounter Don Gius until after I became a Christian, but shortly afterwards. I was baptized in 1990 and encountered Gius in 1994. So, add to what I listed above the 20th anniversary of my discovery of Giussani, which I also wrote about- "He is if he changes."

On the advice of a friend I subscribed to 30 Giorni (30 Days in the Church and in the World- the magazine is no longer published, but the website remains a treasure trove). A few times a year the magazine would include a sizeable booklet. The first one I received was by then-Cardinal Ratzinger on prayer. The next one was by this Luigi Giussani, of whom I never heard. It was entitled and "He is if He Changes." I was fascinated by it. I read it and re-read, then sought more of his writings. I have ever since.

His bio always mentioned CL, the Movement he founded. Participating in the Movement, as such, which I did not do until around 2007, really did not "work" for me, it made me kind of miserable, truth be told, but I hung in there for several years. I have no doubt that the failure is completely attributable to me. So there is no bitterness now (there was for awhile). But I have wonderful friends and our friendship and my continuing engagement with the writings of Giussani are the ways I participate.

The six minute video (watch it!) ends with a quote that really gets to the heart of the charism given to Don Gius, one in which I still imagine myself participating in some manner:

Msgr. Luigi Giussani
"Woman do not weep." This is the heart with which we are placed before the gaze and the sadness, before the pain of all the people with whom we come into contact, in the street, along our way, in our travels.

"Woman do not weep!" What an unimaginable thing it is that God- "God, who is making the whole world at this moment,"- seeing and listening to man, could say, "Man, do not weep! Do not weep because I did not make you for death, but for life! I put you in the world and placed you in a great company of people!"

Man, woman, boy, girl, you, all of you, do not weep! Do not weep! There is a gaze and a heart that penetrates to your very marrow and loves you all the way to your destiny...
This IS the Euangelion- the Gospel- the Good News. Whatever is not a means towards this end in the Church is wasted, extraneous. I believe that this is precisely, despite the sloppy, slap-happy media coverage at which I took aim yesterday, what Pope Francis, whose walk with the Lord was also influenced by Don Giussani, is trying to say to us, to model for us, like Paul, who said, "imitate me as I imitate Christ" (1 Cor 11:1). Shortly after his election as pope in March, I posted about Giussani's influence on Bergoglio- "Pope Francis moved by Msgr. Giussani."

Above all, it was Giussani who taught me that if Christ loves me so much then reality, all of it, precisely as I experience it day-to-day, is for me and not against me. This helps me to engage when I would rather disengage, which is quite frequently. I would never be a good contemplative because my contemptus mundi would lack love.

By remaining in the world I am forced to make a choice for everyday. Don Giussani helps me formulate my questions more concretely. So, instead of the abstract question, taken from the title of Hans Urs Von Balthasar's book, Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? (emphasis on HOPE- important, lest we quickly set up a straw man and claim to have refuted Balthasar), the question, at least for me, in light of my encounter with Don Gius, is, "Dare I hope that I am being saved in and through the here and now because of reality and often despite myself?" Hence, it only remains for me to choose daily whether or not to kick against the goads, to resist reality, or entrust myself to reality, which is to entrust myself to Christ.

Luigi Giussani, Servant of God, pray for us- (here is a link to the prayer for his intercession- "Luigi Giussani, Servant of God, pray for us").

Friday, November 8, 2013

Is your life of faith routine?- UPDATED

Looking back this morning at some of the posts I linked to yesterday for my dear Camus' 100th birthday, one in particular stands out: "The invisible secret enclosed in the human heart." It stood out for something preached by Pope Benedict XVI, which I applied to Camus. This "something" is a passage from one of Pope Benedict's homilies, delivered in Freiburg, during his September 2011 Apostolic Visit to his native Germany. His homily for the Twenty-sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A).

Commenting on the Gospel reading, taken from the twenty-first chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel, where we read, "Truly, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the Kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him, and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him," Pope Benedict XVI said, "Translated into the language of our time, this statement might sound something like this: agnostics, who are constantly exercised by the question of God, those who long for a pure heart but suffer on account of our sin, are closer to the Kingdom of God than believers whose life of faith is 'routine' and who regard the Church merely as an institution, without letting their hearts be touched by faith."

Increasingly it seems to me that many of us simply weren't paying attention, like the inattentive of old, during Jesus' own life and ministry. In this distracted age, during which entertainment reigns supreme, we constantly demand a spectacle. Is it really the spectacle that touches our hearts? Jesus did not seem to think so.

In the words of the late Kurt Cobain, from "Smells Like Teen Spirit"- "Here we are now, entertain us."

UPDATE: To take what I am trying to express a bit further, I refer you, dear reader, to a striking piece by my friend Max Lindenman, who blogs wonderfully over at Diary of a Wimpy Catholic- "A Nameless Dignity."

have mercy on me [the] sinner

Björk sings the Jesus Prayer in Greek, Church Slavonic, Coptic, and English in a composition by John Tavener:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Albert Camus' centenary

One hundred years ago today Albert Camus, who is a charter member of my community of the heart, was born in Dréan, Algeria to a poor pieds-noirs family. Reading Camus taught me a lot about what it means to be human. Even as a Christian I embrace his starting point: "Accepting the absurdity of everything around us is one step, a necessary experience: it should not become a dead end. It arouses a revolt that can become fruitful," as well as his conclusion: "The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion." How this relates to, or, in my case, results in, being a Christian is best summarized in the Second Vatican Council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et spes (a document not lacking problems, but also with many lovely passages)- "Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear" (par. 22).

Below are links to posts here on Καθολικός διάκονος in which Camus' thought figure prominently:

Can we face the truth, deal with reality?

"You say you want a revolution, well..."

Freedom and rebellion

The transcendence of man and the limits of history

The invisible secret enclosed in the human heart

"an ignorance that negates nothing"

"Rebellion is profoundly positive"

What happens when language prevails over reality

A fundamental question

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

On Guy Fawkes Day and being a revolutionary

Today is Guy Fawkes Day. What historical event is commemorated on Guy Fawkes day?

Guy Fawkes, one of the Gunpowder plotters, was arrested around midnight on 4-5 November 1605 while guarding explosives outside the House of Lords in London. The Gunpowder Plot was an extensive plot aimed at overthrowing King James I and re-establishing Catholic rule in Great Britain. The plot was slated to begin by blowing up the House of Lords during the State Opening of England's Parliament, which was scheduled for 5 November. This, according to the plan of the plotters, would lead to a revolt in the Midlands and result in the King James' 9 year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth, being placed on the throne as Catholic Head-of-State.

The plot was given away to authorities by Baron William Parker, who sent an anonymous letter in late October. During a search of the House of Lords around midnight on 4 November 1605, Guy Fawkes was arrested for guarding thirty-six barrels of gunpowder—enough to completely level the House of Lords. Hence, the plot failed.

It seems, given the increasing peril of religious liberty in this country, that this commemoration certainly retains some relevance. The celebration of Guy Fawkes Day was imported from Great Britain to the Britain's American colonies and was, at least for a time, known in this country as "Pope Day."

Increasingly, just living my Catholic faith seems to be a revolutionary act, especially being the father of six children. I take both comfort and strength from the fact that it is the witness of the saints that shows us how to participate in the only true revolution in human history: the one started by Jesus Christ and continued in history by His Church. When referring to "the Church," I do not reduce that to the hierarchical Church. After all, it is the saints who are the true revolutionaries and who, ultimately will comprise the Church! I like very much like the title of selections from the sermons and writings of Archbishop Oscar Romero in English, The Violence of Love.

During his Apostolic Visit to Lebanon in September 2012, speaking to the Christian young people of that troubled country and region, Pope Benedict XVI told them,
Bring the love of Christ to everyone! How? By turning unreservedly to God the Father, who is the measure of everything that is right, true and good. Meditate on God’s word! Discover how relevant and real the Gospel can be. Pray! Prayer and the sacraments are the sure and effective means to be a Christian and to live “rooted and built up in Christ, and established in the faith” (Col 2:7). The Year of Faith, which is about to begin, will be a time to rediscover the treasure of the faith which you received at Baptism. You can grow in knowledge and understanding of this treasure by studying the Catechism, so that your faith can be both living and lived. You will then become witnesses to others of the love of Christ. In him, all men and women are our brothers and sisters. The universal brotherhood which he inaugurated on the cross lights up in a resplendent and challenging way the revolution of love. “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:35). This is the legacy of Jesus and the sign of the Christian. This is the true revolution of love!
As The Beatles sang, "So you say want a revolution? Well, you know, we all want to the change the world." But how? As in all things, Jesus shows us the way, which is not the easy way.

I am reminded of a dialogue from the original Muppet Movie between Fozzie Bear and Gonzo:

Fozzie: Hey, why don't you join us?
Gonzo: Where are you going?
Fozzie: We're following our dream!
Gonzo: Really? I have a dream, too!
Fozzie: Oh?
Gonzo: But you'll think it's stupid.
Fozzie: No we won't, tell us, tell us!
Gonzo: Well, I want to go to Bombay, India and become a movie star.
Fozzie: You don't go to Bombay to become a movie star! You go where we're going: Hollywood.
Gonzo: Sure, if you want to do it the easy way.
Fozzie: [to Kermit] We've picked up a weirdo...
Weirdos or revolutionaries? Being Catholic, I have to reject the false dichotomy and go with both. As Flannery O'Connor observed, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd." Oddness is a small price to pay for being joyful.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Getting Tradition right and learning as I go

Not long ago I posted on Tradition: "Tradition must not become an empty shell". In that piece I sought to highlight the importance of preserving the connection between what we do and why we do it. From the position of a bit more perspective, I would add that this does not preclude such gestures increasing in significance by taking on more meaning over time, as long the connection is maintained and barnacle-like accretions don't obscure the sign. I still maintain that it is important to know why we do what we do, especially in the Holy Mass.

As an example to highlight my point, I used the gesture of making the Sign of the Cross on one's forehead, lips, and on one's breast just before the Gospel reading is proclaimed during Mass. In my zeal to make my point, I wrote, "this custom is nowhere called for in the rubrics and is not, at least to my knowledge, a universal practice. It is widespread, it seems, throughout the United States."

As it turns out, I was mistaken. After looking into the matter a bit more, specifically at the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, or, in shorthand, the GIRM (pronounced "germ"), I (re-?)discovered this called for gesture. In the instructions for "Mass without a Deacon," it is stipulated (par. 134)-
At the ambo, the Priest opens the book and, with hands joined, says, The Lord be with you, to which the people reply, And with your spirit. Then he says, A reading from the holy Gospel, [according to St. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John,] making the Sign of the Cross with his thumb on the book and on his forehead, mouth, and breast, which everyone else does as well. The people acclaim, Glory to you, O Lord. The Priest incenses the book, if incense is being used (cf. nos. 276-277). Then he proclaims the Gospel and at the end pronounces the acclamation The Gospel of the Lord, to which all reply, Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ. The Priest kisses the book, saying quietly the formula Per evangelica dicta [, deleantur nostra delicta] (Through the words of the Gospel [, may our sins be wiped away])- all italicizing, emboldening, as well the added words in brackets (added from the Roman Missal) are mine

In the instructions for "Mass with a Deacon" (par. 175) read:
At the ambo the Deacon greets the people, with hands joined, saying, The Lord be with you. After this, at the words A reading from the holy Gospel, [according to St. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John,] he signs with his thumb the book and then himself on his forehead, mouth, and breast. He incenses the book and proclaims the Gospel reading. When this is done, he acclaims, The Gospel of the Lord, and all reply, Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ. He then venerates the book with a kiss, saying quietly the formula Per evangelica dicta [, deleantur nostra delicta] (Through the words of the Gospel [, may our sins be wiped away])- all italicizing, emboldening, as well the added words in brackets (added from the Roman Missal) are mine
This correction came was prompted by reading the answer to a question posed to Padre Antonio over on Aleteia. He writes nicely about what this Tradition, this custom, this gesture means: "We are all invited to examine ourselves on how we receive the Gospel, how we involve ourselves in the proclamation of this message, and how we conform our lives to its instructions. We are called to become an 'illustrated Gospel' – the 'fifth Gospel,' written not with ink but with our lives. We receive with the mind, we proclaim with our lips, and we preserve the treasure of the Word in our hearts. Along this road, let us entrust ourselves to the Lord to be a reflection of the true light through the darkness of today’s world."

Fortunately, my mistake does not undermine the point I sought to reinforce, but arguably makes it stronger.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Zacchaeus, "Jesus, I trust in you"

"Now a man there [in Jericho] named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was." Thus begins our Gospel reading for this Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time- Luke 19:1-10.

What was it that made Zacchaeus seek to find out "who" Jesus was? It is important to note that the inspired author does not record that Zacchaeus merely sought to get a look at Jesus, but desired to see "who" He was. So, when Jesus, seeing him up in the sycamore tree, said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house" (Luke 19:5), the wealthy tax collector "came down quickly and received [Jesus] with joy" (Luke 19:6).

If this encounter had ended there that would be enough, but it does not. Zacchaeus received Jesus into his house, a place Jesus entered despite the grumblings of those who did not deem it fit for Him to enter the house of so manifest a sinner. And, without Jesus making any demands on him whatsoever, Zacchaeus, whose business was tax collecting and, hence, to some degree, extortion, spontaneously declared that he was giving half of possessions to the poor and would repay anyone he had extorted four times more than the amount he had taken from them.

I think this stands in some contrast to the rich young man from the previous chapter of Luke, who, upon asking Jesus what he was required to do to gain eternal life, went away sad when Jesus said that in order to gain to eternal life he needed to sell all his possessions, give them to the poor, and then follow Jesus, that is, join his itinerant band. You see, the rich young man's righteousness (he had kept all the commandments from his youth) was not enough to "save' him because only Jesus "saves."

Zacchaeus found out who Jesus is- our Lord and Savior. Did not the Lord say, after Zacchaeus publicly repented, "Today salvation has come to this house"? Our Lord also declared Zacchaeus, who was very likely a Jew, but certainly not an observant one, as opposed to the rich young man, who was observant, to be a "descendant of Abraham."

What made Zacchaeus a descendant of Abraham and an heir to God's promises? His repentance and placing his trust in Jesus, in a word, his faith. Faith is our response to God's initiative towards us. Zacchaeus is a model of faith because, unlike the rich man, who asked, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Zacchaeus began with the question, "Who is Jesus?" and the desire to know Him.

Surely, both men had heard of Jesus prior to seeking Him out, but there seems to be a qualitative difference in how they approached our Lord. Present in the contrast between Zacchaeus and the rich young man, though not as stark, is something of the same dynamic expressed by Jesus in His parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in last Sunday's Gospel. As a result of his approach, based on Jesus' statement in the previous chapter that "it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God" (Luke 18:25), which was made immediately following His encounter with the rich young man, Zacchaeus becomes living proof of Jesus' words, "What is impossible for human beings is possible for God" (Luke 18:27).

In the Book of Revelation the risen Lord says, in His words to the Church in Laodicea, after saying, he reproves and chastises those He loves, and urging them to earnestly repent, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me" (3:19-20). God's Kingdom is a banquet, a wedding feast, of which the Eucharist, situated as we are between the already and the not yet, is both a participation in and foretaste of. Like Zacchaeus, let us receive Jesus with great joy!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

All Souls and the requisite Celtic spirit

For me the connection between All Saints/All Souls and Samhain, far from being off-putting, is beautiful. As contemporary Irish theologian James P. Mackey asserts, in his one volume systematic theology, Christianity and Creation: The Essence of the Christian Faith and Its Future among Religions (a book with many deep flaws, but also containing a number of good insights- not least among which is his attempted rehabilitation of Pelagius), every authentically human culture has something like it's own Old Testament. Isn't it lovely the Church has sought to recognize this in her mission ad gentes (the times she has not done so are low ebbs in her history) and to embrace what is already good and redeem what is not?

The denial of what Mackey asserts, to pick up a discussion I was having with some friends about the defectiveness of one of Chesterton's far too smug and overly generalized denunciations of "Protestantism," is where theologians, like Karl Barth, at least to my mind, get it wrong. Is Jesus Christ the fulfillment of all human longing and seeking, or something apart from that, crashing in from nowhere, as it were? This is but one place where Barth's analogia Christi breaks down. I think, despite his best effort, Balthasar did not succeed in showing how Barth's analogia Christi is really the analogia entis.

Van Morrison and The Chieftans singing "Celtic Ray"

When the coal brick man comes 'round
On a cold November day
You'll be on the Celtic Ray
Are you ready? Are you ready?

Of what relevance is any of this? I think it has to do with the Christian stance towards culture. As Catholics, as the All Saints/All Souls/Samhain connection shows, we stand within culture and act as leaven. We don't stand apart from culture, denouncing and denigrating it. After all, only love can redeem. Of course, this does not mean accepting the world on the world's terms, but transforming the world. Look at how quickly and easily Jesus appealed to the Celtic heart and took root in it. It is easy now, in this age of forgetting, to underestimate the impact of the Celtic encounter on Christianity, which has never been the same since, but Celtic culture was even more transformed by the Gospel.

Pope John Paul II's cultural resistance to the Nazis is, for me, his most inspiring exploit, in a life full of such exploits. It strikes me as an embodiment of something like this same thing among the Slavs and the gift of the Poles to the Western Church. As my friend Artur continually demonstrates quite regularly on his blog CosmosTheInLost and elsewhere, Czesław Miłosz embodies this as well.

Where we locate ourselves with regard to the prevailing culture, as Pope Francis (and certainly Giussani did as well) grasps, is what will make all the difference for the so-called New Evangelization.

"beams of thy light and heavenly comfort"

Today is the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, or All Souls. The entire month of November we remember and pray for our beloved dead more attentively and intentionally, especially the souls in purgatory. I can think of nothing more fitting for this day than the short film The Coffinmaker, by Dan McComb. It's 3 minutes and 40 seconds long (3 minutes and 18 seconds if you don't watch the credits).

"I think one of the most important aspects of the coffin is that it can be carried. I think we're meant to carry each other..."

A beautiful collect from the 1929 Scottish Book of Common Prayer:
O Eternal Lord God, who holdest all souls in life: We beseech thee to shed forth upon all the faithful departed the bright beams of thy light and heavenly comfort; and grant that they, and we with them, may at length attain to the joys of thine eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Year B Third Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 3:13-15.17-19; Ps 4:2.4.7-9; 1 John 2:1-5a; Luke 24:25-48 “You are witnesses of these things,” Jesus tells his incredulous...