Friday, January 31, 2014

"I am surrounded by mercy and grace"

Twila Paris' Sanctuary album is one of those albums that has meant a lot to me over many years.

It's easy to complain about everything that's wrong with..., well, anything and everything. Twila Paris is one of those artists who personifies what is right with contemporary Christian music and  she has done this for decades.

This particular Friday, the last day of January, which has to be one of my least favorite months of the year, I want to let a bit of my charismatic side out. To that end, our Friday tradio is Twila singing "The Joy of the Lord." If He is not your joy, He should be. Jesus told His disciples, "'As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete" (John 15:9-11):

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

"Jesus Christ, and him crucified"

Currently, I am re-reading the Book of Leviticus. Like the entirety of sacred Scripture, re-reading it, in a sense, is like reading it for the first time. I have also been reading a very well-written and simple book by David Murray, Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament. It is a book I highly recommend. Even as someone long accustomed to seeking and finding Jesus in the Hebrew Scriptures, which, according Jesus Himself, are nothing but a testament of Him (see Luke 24:13-35, especially verses 25-27: "And he said to them, 'Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?' Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures"), I am enjoying Murray's insight greatly.

Despite knowing that, second only to my Friday traditio, my posts directly about the Scriptures are far and away the least popular, as with my Friday offerings, in which I make a feeble attempt to relate faith, at least my faith, to culture, I feel compelled to go on writing about the Scriptures from time-to-time regardless.

I was relieved to re-discover that I would not be considered "unclean": "When a man loses the hair of his head, he is simply bald on the crown and not unclean. So too, if he loses the hair on the front of his head, he is simply bald on the forehead and not unclean" (Lev 13:40-41).

I was struck reading this evening about the requirement for the Israelites to bring all their sacrifices to the Tabernacle once it was built, instead of offering sacrifices of oxen, sheep, and goats in the open field, with the strict warning to offer sacrifices only to the God of Israel, the one God, holy and true (Lev 17:1-7). Arising from these prescriptions was the prohibition against drinking or eating blood: "As for anyone, whether of the house of Israel or of the aliens residing among them, who consumes any blood, I will set myself against that individual and will cut that person off from among the people, since the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement on the altar for yourselves, because it is the blood as life that makes atonement" (Lev 17:10-11- emboldening and italicizing emphasis mine).

The phrase "because it is the blood as life that makes atonement" stood out to me in bold relief. I realize this is hardly an original or unique insight. But it helped me to make a more direct connection between these sacrifices, which were several and varied, and the one, efficacious, sacrifice made by the Lord on the Cross.

Coming after an exposition of the Day of Atonement as set forth in the sixteenth chapter of Leviticus, the author of the New Testatment book, Letter to the Hebrews, wrote:
Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of them, it can never make perfect those who come to worship by the same sacrifices that they offer continually each year. Otherwise, would not the sacrifices have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, once cleansed, would no longer have had any consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is only a yearly remembrance of sins, for it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats take away sins (Heb 10:1-4)
I never grow too sophisticated, or learned, to be reminded of what St. Paul wrote to remind the Corinthian Christians, namely the power and simplicity of what the Father did for us by sacrificing His only begotten Son: "When I came to you, brothers, proclaiming the mystery of God, I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Cor 2:1-2).

Keeping it simple is what 2014 is all about for me. Thank you, Jesus.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Doves released in St. Peter's Square attacked

Yesterday, during his Sunday appearance in St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis had two children release two white doves. Sadly, right after their release, the doves were attacked by a seagull and a crow. One of the doves managed to escape, but the other one was attacked quite viciously. Somehow, I sense there is a parable in this.

This put me mind of one of Jesus' more opaque sayings:
From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force. All the prophets and the law prophesied up to the time of John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, the one who is to come. Whoever has ears ought to hear (Matt 11:12-15)

It bears noting that in his weekly Sunday address, the Holy Father had been appealing for peace in Ukraine, where at least one protestor, twenty-five year-old Mikhail Zhiznevsky,has been killed.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Year A Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Isa 8:23 – 9:3; Ps 27; 1Cor 1:10-13. 17; Matt 4:12-23

The readings for this Sunday continue the theme of discipleship that we have been examining the last two Sundays. At the beginning of this new year, with our New Year’s resolutions perhaps fading a bit, such a reflection is very timely.

In simple terms, being a disciple means being a follower. Christian discipleship, as we know from today's Gospel reading, is not something we take upon ourselves. It is our response to Jesus’ call. In Baptism we are called to follow Jesus. And, just as immediately after His own Baptism, with the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Him, Jesus was revealed to be the Christ, the anointed one, we, too, are anointed in Confirmation and empowered by the Holy Spirit to carry out Christ’s mission in and for the world. Though the call to discipleship is unique for each one of us, we can be certain that the call to follow Jesus is a call out of our comfort zone, a call forward into the unknown.

Venturing into the unknown, like a child stepping into a dark room, can be scary. The metaphor of light shining in the darkness, which we encounter in our first reading from Isaiah and quoted again in our Gospel reading, is a way of expressing the disciple’s radical dependence on the Lord as s/he ventures into the unknown, certain only that God is with us and deeply cognizant that the success of the journey does not depend on us, only the decision to undertake it is. Today’s readings help us see that discipleship calls us from certain ways of living and calls us to live in a new way.

As disciples we are called from pettiness and division. We are called from the kind factionalism that, in today’s second reading, threatened the Corinthian community. Paul’s words apply well to us today; we are called from narrow-mindedness and mean-spirited competition. We are called from absolutizing our own interpretation of the Gospel message. As we begin to see, it is "much easier to leave [our] nets than to leave the web of [our] prejudices.” Yet, this is the darkness out of which we are called (Bergant and Fragomeni, Preaching the New Lectionary: Year A, 221).

The new way of living to which Jesus calls us can be summarized as servanthood, or, being of service. Not all of us are called, as were Simon and Andrew, James and John, to leave our occupations and give up our worldly goods to follow Jesus. For most of us our everyday lives of marriage, family, friends, work, and community involvement is where we are called to function as disciples. How well we heed the call to serve God by serving others is the only true measure of holiness and constitutes the only credible evidence that the bread and wine we receive is truly the Body and Blood and Jesus Christ.

It is safe to say that the most recognizable forms of servanthood, or being of service, are the ordained priesthood and consecrated religious life. But we need to know that these vocations are not inherently holier than any other Christian’s calling. Recognizing and responding to the unique call Jesus Christ places on you is the holiest state-of-life to which you can possibly aspire.

One of the ways we serve one another is by generously sharing what we have for the sake of the Gospel. So it is fortuitous and likely not accidental with the call to discipleship so explicitly issued in our readings for today that this weekend marks the beginning of the annual kick-off of the Diocesan Development Drive, or, DDD. The DDD is the primary means of providing operating funds for our diocese. It is how we all pull together, under the leadership of Bishop Wester, to ensure that the needs of the Church in Utah are met.

When it comes to "the Church" we very often tend view it as something external to ourselves (i.e., something we don’t see ourselves as part of). As a result, there is a lot that we take for granted, simply assuming that with no effort or concern on my part, "the Church" will just be there when I need it or want it to be there for me. In the first instance, along with the rest of the baptized, you are “the Church.” As such, along with the rest of your brothers and sisters, you have a responsibility to help make sure that the Church is here, not just for you, but for anyone else in need of our service. While it is very good news that the Church in Utah is growing, growth brings with it a lot of challenges, a lot of needs, both spiritual and material.

As disciples, we know that following Jesus makes demands on us: demands on our time, demands to share our talents and gifts, and demands to give of our treasure, thus storing up treasure in heaven, in the knowledge that where our treasure is that is where are our hearts are (Matt 6:19-21). None of these demands are ends in and of themselves, but they are means to God’s end. They are means of accomplishing God’s purpose in each one of our lives and, through us, not only individually, but precisely together as "Church," the means God uses to accomplish His purpose in and for the world. After all, the three fundamental spiritual disciplines (i.e., means of holiness, ways we cooperate with God’s grace) given to us by our Lord Himself, are prayer, fasting, and alms-giving.

There are many worthwhile endeavors you can financially support. I certainly encourage you to be generous and support as many as you can. But I also urge you to consider that just as you have the responsibility to first take care of the material needs of your own household, when it comes to charitable giving, we are all, laity and clergy alike, "to help to provide for the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability" (Compendium of the Catechism par. 432). Bear in mind that one of the five precepts of the Church, which, "guarantee for the faithful the indispensable minimum in the spirit of prayer, the sacramental life, moral commitment and growth in love of God and neighbor," is our obligation to materially support the Church (par. 432).

One area of discipleship that I cannot ignore today is our call to be at the service of the most vulnerable among us. Among the ways we serve them is by bearing witness to the inherent value and sanctity of each and every human being. As followers of Jesus, we are called not only to combat what Bl. Pope John Paul II called "the culture of death," but to positively foster a "culture of love." Love, as St. Thomas Aquinas succinctly stated, "is profuse," that is, love is life-giving. The new life we receive in and through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, in turn, calls us, as His followers, both to defend and foster life. This past Wednesday, 22 January, marked the forty-first anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in the case of Roe v Wade, which legalized abortion throughout the United States. Each January Catholics in the United States are called upon by our bishops to reaffirm the dignity and value of every human being and to peacefully petition and pray for “the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right of life.” Without the right to life, the relevance of other human rights lose their significance.

As disciples of Jesus we are called to be light in a world of darkness. We are called to witness to unity and peace first and foremost by being unified and peaceful among ourselves. It is a busy time of year and so it also bears noting that this past week was the annual Week of Christian Unity. Let’s be mindful that our unity and peace flow from the Eucharist, which the Church makes and is, in turn, made by. It is the nourishment we derive from this Eucharist, which provision we should never take for granted, that strengthens us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus the Lord, Who leads us "by His passion and Cross," the way of self-emptying love, "to the glory of His resurrection."

This is the 2,700th post here on Καθολικός διάκονος.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul

Today the Church celebrates the conversion of St. Paul. Perhaps no event in the early Church, apart from Pentecost and the establishment of the Church, is of more significance than when the resurrected Lord knocked Saul of Tarsus from his feet and asked the zealous Pharisee why he was persecuting, not the Church of God, but Jesus Himself (the Church being the Lord's very Body).

After identifying Himself to Saul, telling Him, upon being asked who He was, "I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting" (Acts 22:8b), Saul asks, "What shall I do, sir?" (Acts 22:10a) In this simple exchange we are able to gain an understanding of faith, what it is and how it works. In other words, while faith, as we clearly see in the case of St. Paul's dramatic conversion, is a gift from God, that is, God's initiative towards us, by giving it, God seeks to elicit a response. Saul does not respond by saying, "Okay, cool. Gotcha" and then heading back to Jerusalem to ponder what this encounter might mean for him. He immediately grasps that this encounter changes everything. By asking the Lord, much like the Blessed Virgin Mary did in her fiat ("Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word"- Luke 1:38) "What shall I do?", Saul the zealous persecutor of the Church acknowledges Jesus the Nazorean as Lord.

The risen Lord tells Saul, "Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told about everything appointed for you to do" (Acts 22:10b). Saul was free to ignore the Lord's direction and to perhaps flee back to Jerusalem in an effort to make sense of what happened, but, led by the hand, due to being blinded by the light, he pressed ahead to Damascus. Ultimately he was directed to the house of a Jewish Christian, Ananias. Suffice it to say that Ananias, knowing of Saul's reputation as a persecutor of Christians, despite being told by the Lord to receive Saul, was apprehensive about so doing.

On this glorious feast, the question for each of us is, What is the Lord asking me to do? In other words, what is my response to God's gracious gift of faith? It is a perennial question, even a daily question, just as it was for St. Paul. Paul was an apostle, even if one who, by his own description, was "born out of due time" (1 Cor 15:8- KJV). One of the distinguishing marks of the Church, Christ's mystical Body, is that it is "apostolic." When we profess this in the Creed it is easy, especially as Catholics, to restrict the meaning of "apostolic" to apostolic succession (i.e., that the Church's authority is derived from and can be traced back to Christ and the apostles). This is tremendously important. But the word "apostle" means "one who is sent out."

Formerly, before we adopted the word "ministries," Catholic "ministries" were called, and sometimes still are called, "apostolates." By virtue of our Baptism, our Confirmation, our participation in the Eucharist, we are sent to bear witness to the Gospel. While we can certainly say we are to witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we must never lose sight of the fact, made known to Saul so powerfully on the road to Damascus, that Jesus Christ is the Gospel!

Let's not forget that the word "Mass" is derived from the Latin word missa, which means to be dismissed, that is, sent. As a deacon, it is my great privilege to say, or sing, the dismissal at the end of the eucharistic liturgy. So, today and everyday, "Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord."

It bears noting that it was 25 January 1959, during the papal visit to St. Paul Outside the Walls in order to mark this significant feast, that Bl Pope John XXIII announced that he would convene the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.

Friday, January 24, 2014

"Barren enough to conceive"

This past week I have been reading Hans Urs Von Balthasar on the "theological style" of St. John of the Cross, which account is found in the third volume of The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics: Studies in Theological Style: Lay Styles. My reading of Balthasar on St. John of the Cross was prompted by re-reading Michael Waldstein's introduction to the thought of Bl. Pope John John Paul II, which constitutes the first 128 pages of the paperback edition of Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology Of The Body.

Hannah prays to the Lord, by Marc Chagall, ca. 1952-56- Like Sarah and Elizabeth, the mother of the prophet Samuel was barren enough to conceive

Writing about the Spanish Carmelite in the context of his medieval milieu, Balthasar observed,
Medieval ways to God were, for the most part, 'asecents', ladders that were meant to lead the soul closer to God by means of an ingenious series of spiritual acts and habits (active renunciations and contemplative dispositions). St. John of the Cross lived within this tradition and even availed himself of entire sections of these schemes of ascent in his works (such as the decem gradus amoris sec. S. Bernardum of pseudo-Thomas Aquinas). Nonetheless, his criticism of all acts and habits places him far beyond these ways of ascent. His approach is no matter of cleverly dovetailing the via negativa and the via positiva into the via eminentiae. No, John is much closer to the original rhythms of Denys, although he is much more consistent and relentless in his logic: everything is gained when everything is abandoned, the ship lands when it is wrecked, you leap on to firm ground when all rungs of your ladder break
This put me mind of the song "Faith Enough" by Jars of Clay. This song is off their 2003 album Who We Are Instead, which ranks among my top five contemporary Christian albums of all-time, is our Friday traditio:

The land unfit enough for planting
Barren enough to conceive
Poor enough to gain the treasure
Enough a cynic to believe
Enough a cynic to believe

It bears noting that today is the tenth anniversary of my ordination as a deacon. Tempus fugit! As I continue in ministry, I pray that I am strong enough to recognize and acknowledge my weakness and inadequacy to accomplish what I have been called to do and so come to know, as did St. Paul, that "when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor 12:10).

Monday, January 20, 2014

Finding my own Penmaen Pool

For more years than I care to recall I have forgotten the importance of recreation, which is really my need to be re-created. This dawned on me with great clarity, yet again, this morning as I read and re-read Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem Penmaen Pool.

Being re-created in, through, and by a direct encounter with creation, which is the work of the Creator, is necessary for me. There is certainly a sense in which creation can be said to be sacramental. Does the psalmist not state forthrightly, "The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament proclaims the works of his hands"? (Ps 19:2)

Don't we all

"long for rest... look for pleasure
Away from counter, court, or school"?

Wooden toll bridge built in 1879 over the Mawddach River estuary in Penmaenpool, North Wales

I don't mind saying that getting out, not just more (I have always managed to "get out," even when it meant being coaxed out by my wife, who often cares for me more than I care for myself), but a lot more is one of my resolutions for this year, one I hope extend beyond the somewhat artificial boundary of the 365 days that will constitute this year.

Growing up along the Wasatch Front of the great Rocky Mountains, I spent a lot of time hiking, marveling at the beauty and grandeur of creation. I remember being fascinated by finding the seashells, fossils of the pre-historic Lake Bonneville, which filled the valley in which I grew up, hiking in the canyons, which, at least when compared to the dry, dusty, rocky, and barren westward front of the mountains, which were accessible from my house, seemed green, lush, and cool. Where, oh where, are you, my Penmaen Pool?

January sunset along the Wasatch Front

Appropriate to today are more lovely words from Hopkins' poem:

Then even in weariest wintry hour
Of New Year's month or surly Yule
Furred snows, charged tuft above tuft, tower
From darksome darksome Penmaen Pool.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

"Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis"

"Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). These words should be familiar to us. We say them together and out loud each and every time we participate in the Eucharistic Liturgy. By saying these words I explicitly acknowledge two things: my need for a Savior and that Jesus Christ is the Savior that I need (i.e., my Savior and the Savior of the whole world).

Like so many other responses we give at Mass, we can say these words without giving them any thought, without contemplating what these words mean, what they say to me about my life and how I live it. If nothing else, when we say these words we should acknowledge, as today's USCCB Gospel reflection for this (the second) day of the 9 Days For Life Novena put it, "There is nothing we could ever accomplish on our own that could atone for our daily failures to love others with the merciful and sacrificial love of Christ." That's right, nothing! Without Jesus Christ we are lost. St. John the Baptist, even in the womb, recognized Jesus as Lord and Messiah. As the last of the prophets, he proclaimed the coming of the Anointed One, the Messiah.

Jesus gave us effective means in order to communicate to us what He came to give us, which is nothing other than Himself whole and complete. These effective means we call "sacraments." There is a particular sacrament He gave as the very first gift to His Church after His resurrection, having instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper: the Sacrament of Penance in and through which He effectively takes away our sins, or at least the eternal punishment due for our sins, which is hell. Through acts of penance (prayer, fasting, alms-giving) and availing ourselves of indulgences, the temporal punishment, which we must pay, either now or in Purgatory, because experience, that is, life matters, are also lessened, or eliminated. As an act of mercy, we can apply the indulgences we receive to souls in Purgatory.

Yesterday, driving my oldest daughter to her friend's house, we were listening to Barbara McGuigan's "The Good Fight" radio program. She was interviewing Dr. Ralph Martin, whose recently published book (a version of his doctoral dissertation) Will Many Be Saved: What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization, has caused a bit of s stir. One of the points Dr. Martin made during the interview is one that many of us have been making, namely that among Catholics, when it comes to salvation, there seems to be a lot of presumption. I think the brevity, clarity, and urgency of St. John the Baptist's words, a proclamation he made on two successive days, according St. John's Gospel, ought to wake us from any complacency.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Woman created "for her own sake"

At least from my perspective, 2014 seems to be moving ahead at a quick clip. For the past few years how much I will post here on Καθολικός διάκονος is not something pre-planned. Last year and the year before I posted less than in previous years. This year, Who knows? Certainly not me.

It's been more than four years since I watched Catherine Breillat's Anatomie de l’enfer (i.e., "Anatomy of Hell"-see "Cultural Crisis=cultural turning point" and "Opposing God to nature: the denial of the ontologically obvious"). I am currently re-reading Bl. Pope John Paul II's breath-taking Theology of the Body in Michael Waldstein's invaluable Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology Of The Body, which feature Waldstein's magnificent introduction to the philosophy/theology of Karol Józef Wojtyła (a.k.a. Blessed Pope John Paul II), which, in my view is indispensable for anyone serious about grasping the essence of Theology of the Body.

What many people may not know is that what became Theology Body, which was delivered by John Paul II during weekly Wednesday Papal Audiences from 5 September 1979 to 14 November 1984 (not straight through, there were some interruptions), was written as book entitled Man and Woman He Created Them. Then-Cardinal Wojtyła, who also authored several other major works, most notably as regards theology of the body specifically, The Acting Person and Love and Responsibility, brought the completed Polish manuscript to Rome with him when he was elected Pope in October 1978.

What does one of the most controversial films by one of France's most controversial film-makers have to do with Bl Pope John Paul II's theology of the body? A lot, one might say without exaggeration, "Everything!" It would be utterly fascinating to analyze Breillat's film vis-à-vis Wojtyła's theology of the body. Due to its extremely graphic content, I can't really recommend watching Anatomie de l'enfer. This implies no judgment or ridicule of those who simply, and for very good reasons, do not watch sexually explicit movies (although I would argue that sex in Breillat's movies is not depicted in a prurient manner, far from it!). Even the music video I flirted with as today's traditio is too much to post (but not to link to- BE WARNED "Anatomie De L' Enfer music video").

Genesis 2:23-25 enables us to deduce that woman, who in the mystery of creation "is given" to man by the Creator, is "received," thanks to original innocence. That is, she is accepted by man as a gift. The Bible text is quite clear and limpid at this point. At the same time, the acceptance of the woman by the man and the very way of accepting her, become, as it were, a first donation. In giving herself (from the very first moment in which, in the mystery of creation, she was "given" to the man by the Creator), the woman "rediscovers herself" at the same time. This is because she has been accepted and welcomed, and thanks to the way in which she has been received by the man.

So she finds herself again in the very fact of giving herself "through a sincere gift of herself," (cf. Gaudium et Spes 24), when she is accepted in the way in which the Creator wished her to be, that is, "for her own sake," through her humanity and femininity ("Theology of the Body" Catechesis, #17, delivered 6 February 1980)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

Today we bring an end to the holy season of Christmas, at least here in the United States, with our celebration of the Feast of the Lord's Baptism. As several Church Fathers insisted, at His baptism by John in the River Jordan, Jesus sanctified the waters of the world, making them fit for the conferral of the life of grace.

Immediately upon His coming out of the water, Jesus was confirmed when the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove and the Father's voice was heard saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” St. Irenaeus of Lyons wrote: " the name of Christ is understood he who anoints, he who has been anointed, and the anointing itself by which he has been anointed: He who anoints is the Father, he who has been anointed is the Son, and he has been anointed in the Spirit, who is the anointing" (Adv. Haer, III,18,3). What is confirmed in this Trinitarian theophany is Jesus' identity as the Only Begotten Son of the Father.

Our reading today from the Acts of the Apostles is a key passage for understanding the universality of the salvation Jesus Christ, still now, seeks to give. Of course, both our Gospel passage and reading from Acts can be seen as the fulfillment (Matthew's account of the Lord's baptism) and realization (Peter baptizing the household of the Roman Cornelius) of what Isaiah prophesied.

Baptism of Christ, by Francesco Albani, 17th century, via Wikipedia commons

In an effort to demonstrate the reciprocal relationship between Advent and Christmas (always summarized well for me in the words of my favorite Christmas carol, "Oh Holy Night"- "Long lay the world in sin and error pining/Till he appear'd and the soul felt its worth/A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices/For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!"), the realization of the fulfillment of God's plan in, through, and by Jesus Christ will continue until the Lord's glorious return.

It bears noting once again that Baptism is the fundamental sacrament of the Christian life, not the conferral of the sacrament of orders, as many seem these days to suppose. The Sacraments of Initiation remain Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist (in that order, I might add, getting them out of order has caused a lot of confusion). Hence, the Sacrament of Orders does not complete Christian initiation, receiving Holy Communion does.

So, we live our Baptism, thus seeking make our very lives sacraments, that is, visible and tangible signs of Christ's presence in and for the world.
Springs of water were made holy as Christ revealed his glory to the world. Draw water from the fountain of the Savior, for Christ our God has hallowed all creation (Antiphon 2 for Morning Prayer for today's Feast)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

"If I could buy my reasoning, I'd pay to lose"

I am posting this week's Friday traditio a bit early. It is Talk Talk's "It's My Life."

"Happiness in reality consists only in rest, and not in being stirred up. This instinct conflicts with the drive to diversion, and we develop the confused idea that leads people to aim at rest through excitement" Dallas Willard

Funny how I blind myself, I never knew
If I was sometimes played upon, afraid to lose

Monday, January 6, 2014

Sanity and social responsibility prevail

When I first wrote about Judge Richard Shelby's ruling that Amendment 3 to the Utah State Constitution violated the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, among other things, I called his ruling culturally obtuse and socially irresponsible (see "Year-end socio-political commentary"). I stand by those observations. The social irresponsibility was made explicitly known when Shelby insisted his striking down of the state constitutional amendment go into effect immediately and was compounded even further when he refused to grant an injunction requested by the State of Utah so that the status quo ante would prevail until the state could appeal his ruling to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. In my view, there is Shelby's ruling in-and-of-itself and then there is the manner in which he more-or-less insisted be put into effect right away.

His insistence and subsequent refusal resulted in the immediate issuance of marriage licenses to many same-sex couples, which continued until today, when the Supreme Court unanimously issued an injunction, clearing the way for the case to be taken up by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The State of Utah's request went to Justice Sotomayor, who, wisely, I believe, did not grant the injunction all by herself, which she could have done, but sought the input of the other Supreme Court Justices. The stay was issued with none of the 9 justices dissenting. It reads as follows:
(ORDER LIST: 571 U.S.)




The application for stay presented to Justice Sotomayor and by her referred to the Court is granted. The permanent injunction issued by the United States District Court for the District of Utah, case No. 2:13-cv-217, on December 20, 2013, is stayed pending final disposition of the appeal by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.
Amendment 3 to the Utah State Constitution added Article 1 to Section 29 and states:
1. Marriage consists only of the legal union between a man and a woman.

2. No other domestic union, however denominated, may be recognized as a marriage or given the same or substantially equivalent legal effect
The amendment was approved by essentially two-thirds (65.86%) of voters in the November 2004 general election.

Whichever way the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals rules, the decision will almost certainly be appealed to the Supreme Court. It will then remain to be seen whether the Supreme Court will take up the case, or allow the lower court ruling to stand. It is difficult for me to imagine that a case with such huge constitutional implications will not be ruled on by the Supreme Court, but who knows? The nation's highest court has shown a great of reticence in taking up this incendiary issue, which has far-reaching implications for the state-of-the-union. Their ruling in United States vs. Windsor (see "Marriage in the U.S.: an opportunity for witness") was quite cautious.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Epiphany: Jesus Christ fully reveals us to ourselves

"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" (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et spes, par. 22).

One can use the alternative prayer, or collect, set forth in the Liturgy of the Hours for the Solemnity of the Epiphany, which we observe today here in the United States. This collect sets forth and, I dare say, pushes forward, as it were, the statement above, so loved by Bl. Pope John Paul II (who was likely its author, engaged as he was in the composition of Gaudium et spes):
Father of light, unchanging God
today you reveal to men of faith
the resplendent fact of the Word made flesh.
Your light is strong,
your love is near;
draw us beyond the limits which this world imposes,
to the life where your Spirit makes all life complete.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Mindful of the words spoken by His Eminence, Achille Cardinal Silvestrini at Federico Fellini's funeral,"We should put our questions to the poets, listen to them for the knowledge they have of the suffering world," and to really "flesh" out this Epiphany of God made man for us, let's turn to the priest-poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ, specifically to his poem about our longing for what Epiphany so strikingly shows us: "The Caged Skylark":
As a dare-gale skylark scanted in a dull cage,
    Man's mounting spirit in his bone-house, mean house, dwells —
   That bird beyond the remembering his free fells;
This in drudgery, day-labouring-out life's age.
Though aloft on turf or perch or poor low stage
   Both sing sometímes the sweetest, sweetest spells,
   Yet both droop deadly sómetimes in their cells
Or wring their barriers in bursts of fear or rage.

Not that the sweet-fowl, song-fowl, needs no rest —
Why, hear him, hear him babble & drop down to his nest,
   But his own nest, wild nest, no prison.

Man's spirit will be flesh-bound, when found at best,
But uncumberèd: meadow-down is not distressed
   For a rainbow footing it nor he for his bónes rísen.

Friday, January 3, 2014

"If music be the food of love then laughter is its queen"

For our first Friday traditio of 2014 I was in the mood for something a bit off-beat. So, Annie Lennox singing the Procol Harum song "A Whiter Shade of Pale."

Maybe I chose this song, released in 1967, because it's winter, snow on the ground, but it's been there awhile and so looks a bit used, like it could use a fresh whiter shade of pale. But I think it is because the song is wonderful and Annie Lennox is fascinating.

It seems strange to me that in the minds of many (not me, I was 2 at the time) the song is associated with the "Summer of Love." But it is good enough to overcome all of that. As Patrick Coffin noted in his wonderful book, Sex au Nautrel: What It Is and Why It's Good For Your Marriage, the next year, 1968, would see both Woodstock and the promulgation of Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae. A year that historian Paul Johnson wrote was the occasion of "America's suicide attempt" (diaconal bow to Coffin for that too). Sadly, it wasn't our last attempt, not by a long shot.

At the 1977 Brit Awards, "A Whiter Shade of Pale" tied with "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen for "Best British Pop Single 1952–1977." But I digress:

She said, 'I'm home on shore leave,'
though in truth we were at sea
so I took her by the looking glass
and forced her to agree
saying, 'You must be the mermaid
who took Neptune for a ride.'
But she smiled at me so sadly
that my anger straightway died

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Religious Freedom, an on-going concern

Prior to entering the New Year, like many people, I reflected back on the past year. I don't mind writing that I am still recovering from the shock of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. In addition to the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God and the last day of the Octave of Christmas, as I mentioned in my previous post, today the Church also observes the World Day of Peace. It is customary for the Pope to issue a message for this observance. The message is usually released in advance of the day, as was Pope Francis' first Message for the World Day of Peace, entitled Fraternity, the Foundation and Pathway to Peace.

Since Pope Francis has captured the world's attention in a singular way this year, when the message was publicly released, it garnered more buzz than these papal messages have for quite sometime. It is my personal hope that as people read, think about, discuss, and generally let themselves be provoked by what the current Pontiff writes and promulgates, that it will cause at least some people to go back and ponder papal messages of previous popes, especially those of Pope Benedict XVI, many of which are simply magnificent.

One such magnificent message, issued on 1 January 2011, after the conclusion of the Synod of Bishops, convened by the then-Holy Father, to consider the plight of the Church in throughout the Middle East, was Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace. This particular message stands as an insightful elaboration as well as a vindication of sorts of the one of the most controverted documents promulgated by the Second Vatican Council, of which Karol Wojtyla, later Pope John Paul II, was a major contributor, especially in the document's later phases, giving it more of a philosophical and theological gravitas, the Declaration on religious freedom, Dignitatis Humanae.

In his remarkable piece, which has as much bearing on the whole uproar concerning marriage as it does on the subject that prompted it, namely the HHS mandate, "The Repressive Logic of Liberal Rights: Religious Freedom, Contraceptives, and the 'Phony' Argument of the New York Times", David L. Schindler draws on Pope Benedict's 2011 message:
[Human] nature appears as openness to the Mystery, a capacity to ask deep questions about ourselves and the origin of the universe, and a profound echo of the supreme Love of God, the beginning and end of all things, of every person and people. The transcendent dignity of the person is an essential value of Judeo-Christian wisdom, yet thanks to the use of reason, it can be recognized by all. This dignity, understood as a capacity to transcend one’s own materiality and to seek truth, must be acknowledged as a universal good, indispensable for the building of a society directed to human fulfillment. Respect for essential elements of human dignity, such as the right to life and the right to religious freedom, is a condition for the moral legitimacy of every social and legal norm (par. 2)
Most importantly, going directly to the roots of the empty and indifferent liberal conception of rights, Benedict XVI noted "Openness to truth and perfect goodness, openness to God, is rooted in human nature; it confers full dignity on each individual and is the guarantee of full mutual respect between persons. Religious freedom should be understood, then, not merely as immunity from coercion, but even more fundamentally as an ability to order one’s own choices in accordance with truth" (par. 3).

While perfectly consistent with and even explicitly set forth in Schindler's piece, this passage from Pope Benedict's 2011 Message for the World Day of Peace does not appear, but summarizes it all quite well, in a masterfully succinct manner: "A freedom which is hostile or indifferent to God becomes self-negating and does not guarantee full respect for others" (par. 3).

Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God

On the first day of the New Year, which is also the Eighth Day of Christmas, the day we bring the Octave of Christmas to a close, the Church celebrates the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Mother of God. What a fitting way to start the year! It is also the day on which the Church observes the World Day of Peace. After all, the Blessed Virgin is Mother of the Prince of Peace.

A good resolution is to pray the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary more frequently in 2014. I urge both of my readers to pray 5 decades, one complete set of mysteries, each and every day, beginning today with the Joyful Mysteries.

A few days ago, as I was prayerfully reflecting on what resolves I needed to make for this New Year, I came across this insight by Jon Bloom: "Resolves are intentions with strategies attached to them. You don’t just hope something is going to happen; you are planning to make it happen. To be resolved is to be determined."

It's easy to overwhelm ourselves with trying to make every change under the sun, which is a recipe for setting yourself up for failure, meaning that by being too serious you are not being serious enough. Praying the rosary each day is a simple enough resolution. Just do it. If you miss a day, pray the next day. See what a difference praying the Rosary makes in your life.

The late English Domnican, Fr. Vincent McNabb, a friend, spiritual director to, and chaplain of sorts to Hilare Belloc's household, said in a homily for "Rosary Sunday" back in 1936: “The Incarnation is the centre of all our spiritual life.. One of the means by which it is made so is the Holy Rosary. There is hardly any way of arriving at some realisation of this great mystery equal to that of saying the Rosary. Nothing will impress it so much on your mind as going apart to dwell in thought, a little space each day, in Bethlehem, on Golgotha, on the Mount of the Ascension.”

To everyone near and far, I pray that this New Year of 2014 is happy, healthy and, indeed, blessed. Nothing profound or terribly insightful today. It will be exciting, at least for me, to see what unfolds during 2014 here at Καθολικός διάκονος.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now (at the beginning of this New Year), and at the hour of our death.

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...