Sunday, March 30, 2014

Year A Fourth Sunday of Lent

Readings: 1 Sam 16:1b.6-7.10-13a; Ps 23:1-6; Eph 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

“I was blind and I now I see,” words from the Gospel and words from what is probably the most well-known English hymn. (John 9:25). Like those who questioned the formerly blind man, many who have not encountered Jesus ask those who now “see,” perhaps with a bit of suspicion, Who is this Jesus? Well, our readings from Scripture today tell us that He is the Anointed One, the Messiah, which is what the title "Christ" means. He is the Good Shepherd, who not only laid down His life for His sheep, but, by the power of His love for us, took it up again, and then sent His Holy Spirit in order to remain present in and among us until He returns again.

Who is Jesus? He is the Anointed One, the Messiah, which is what the title "Christ" means. He is the Good Shepherd, who not only laid down His life for His sheep, but, by the power of His love for us, took it up again, and then sent His Holy Spirit in order to remain present in and among us until He returns again.

The main themes found in our readings for this Fourth Sunday of Lent are light and anointing. Given that today we celebrate the Second Scrutiny for our Elect, that is, for those women and men in our parish who will be baptized, confirmed, and receive Holy Communion for the first time at the Paschal Vigil, these themes are most appropriate.

If I were to give you a bottom-line-up-front for today’s readings, it would be Jesus Christ is the Light of the World. He is God’s Anointed One. He is the Good Shepherd, who takes magnificent care of those who belong to Him. Like the blind man in today’s Gospel, it is our encounter with Jesus that allows us to see ourselves for who we are: God’s beloved, which makes it an event that changes everything! Encountering Jesus Christ is what allows us to engage reality according to all the factors that make it up. The most fundamental fact of my life and yours is that God loves us, or, another way of putting it: God loves you and there’s nothing you can do about it.

In an article on Lent, written a number of years ago, our own Owen Cummings cited an Ash Wednesday sermon delivered by Fr. Harry Williams:
It is a pity that we think of Lent as a time when we try to make ourselves uncomfortable in some fiddling but irritating way. And it’s more than a pity, it’s a tragic disaster, that we also think of it as a time to indulge in the secret and destructive pleasure of doing a good orthodox grovel to a pseudo-Lord, the Pharisee in each of us we call God and who despises the rest of what we are
My dear friends in Christ, Lent is not about making ourselves good enough for God through strenuous effort. As St Paul stated it, the Father “made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). As a result, Lent is about our desire to be drawn deeper into the love of God, into the very life shared by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the life we received in baptism and which God strengthened when we were confirmed. I don’t mind invoking again an insight by James Kushiner:
Practicing a "discipline won’t bring you closer to God. Only God can bring you closer to Himself. What the discipline is meant to do is to help you get yourself, your ego, out-of-the-way so you are open to His grace"
So, by all means, let’s persist in our prayer, fasting, acts of selfless service, and even our penances, through which we let Jesus know that we value His friendship above all else. As we do this, let’s help each other remember that these are acts of hope and of gratitude and not ways making ourselves more pleasing to God or more righteous than others.

Jesus doesn’t just come to bring the light, He is the light. As we read in the breathtaking prologue to St. John Gospel, The Word, the Logos, Jesus Christ, is “The true light [who] enlightens everyone” (John 1:9). Elsewhere in the so-called “Johannine corpus,” which is an academic way of referring to the New Testament books that include the Gospel According to St John, and the First, Second, and Third Letters of John, we read this:
Now this is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you: God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say, “We have fellowship with him,” while we continue to walk in darkness, we lie and do not act in truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:5-7)
One question that arises from today’s Gospel reading is why did Jesus choose to heal the man’s blindness in such a bizarre way? I think recent Catholic convert and former Presbyterian minister, Jason Stellman, brilliantly described what Jesus did for the blind man in today’s Gospel by spitting in the dirt and then rubbing it on his eyes before having him wash in the pool, which washing is clearly a reference, even if an oblique one, to the fundamental sacrament of baptism. Stellman wrote:
We live in a sacramental economy where spiritual blessings are communicated through physical things, where grace is not destroying nature but elevating it (kind of like how Christ’s divine nature did not destroy his human nature, but elevated it), where man is being divinized, and where the entire cosmos has been infused with a supernatural homesickness and longing to be liberated... from its bondage to decay
Today Jesus urges us, as members of His Mystical Body, the Church- “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and [I] will give you light” (Eph 5:14).

Friday, March 28, 2014

"Well it's hard enough to hear"

For Lent (and hopefully beyond), in imitation of Christ, I am trying to go easy on myself and on others. Frankly, my success has been limited and even spotty. I have also been listening to a lot of contemporary Christian music, a genre that many people I know claim not to be able to stand, which is fine. Anyway, our Friday traditio for this Third Friday of Lent is Tenth Avenue North's "Let It Go."

As N.T. Wright once said in a (fairly) famous lecture he gave at Wheaton College: "Never get so wrapped up in your salvation that you forget what you are saved for." I know I need to learn how to better rest in God's grace. Whenever you play "G-R-A-C-E" it is at least a triple word score.

Harder still to move beyond this fear
We know there's nothing I can bring
So tell me what do you want from me

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

Readings: Isa 7:10-14; 8:10; Ps 40:7-11; Heb 10:4-10; Luke 1:26-38

Today we take a pause from our Lenten preparations for our celebration of the Lord’s resurrection to observe the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. Today, nine months prior to Christmas day, we celebrate when Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, the second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, became incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It bears noting in this regard that in our recitation of the Creed, we bow as we say the words, “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” There is no event in the history of the world that is more important than the one we celebrate today. The very first words of the first encyclical of Bl. Pope John Paul II’s pontificate were: “The Redeemer of man, Jesus Christ, is the center of the universe and of history” (Redemptor Hominis, par. 1).

Just as Jesus Christ is consubstantial with the Father, He is also consubstantial with His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was through her that our Lord became fully human. This is precisely the point of the author of the Letter to the Hebrews in our second reading today. In order for the Lord suffer, bleed, and die on the Cross, He had to be fully human. In order for His cruel death to be an acceptable offering to the Father for the sins of the world, He had to be divine.

After expressing puzzlement about how what the Archangel Gabriel announced to her could come to pass, our Blessed Mother, accepting the archangel’s explanation that it would be brought about, not in the natural way, but in a uniquely supernatural manner, because “nothing is impossible for God” (Luke 1:37), freely agreed, saying the words we have come to know as her “fiat”: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Annunciation, Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1898

It was necessary for the Blessed Virgin to freely give her consent to what God asked of her. Hence, it was possible, after quickly calculating all the risks involved with unexpectedly turning up pregnant while being betrothed to St. Joseph, for her to refuse. God does not force His will on us. This is where, for us, the rubber meets the road, where all of this theology begins to be instructive for how we live. In light of the Incarnation of the Son of God, we, too, have a choice to make.

I recently read something by Catholic evangelist and teacher Peter Herbeck that addresses this reality: the decision to follow Jesus is “like an earthquake or a revolution. It’s a response to the shocking truth that the living God, the creator of the universe is calling me” (Is Real Change Possible? 18-19). As a result, Herbeck insisted, “What matters is who He is and what He requires of me. The decision to follow Jesus means yielding my right to define and control my own destiny” to Him (19). It is necessary, but not sufficient, for me to acknowledge Jesus Christ as my Savior. I must also crown Him Lord of my life!

If we have any grasp of the great mystery we celebrate today, we’ll understand that “the Incarnational Event of God becoming human… is so earth-shattering that it enacts something akin to the psychoanalytic concept of trauma” (Paul’s New Moment: Continental Philosophy and the Future of Christian Theology, 7). After we experience something traumatic, nothing is ever the same for us again. What does this mean in relation to the Incarnation of the Son of God? It means that the Incarnation really happened, that eternity entered time, that it is a fact, and so is ineradicably part of the world. If you have truly encountered the resurrected and living Son of God, this event, this encounter, is part of your life. As a result of your encounter, you “are forever thrown off balance” (7).
The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary; and she conceived of the Holy Spirit. Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to Thy word. And the Word became Flesh, and dwelt among us
May Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh in the Virgin’s womb, come to dwell in us by the power of His Holy Spirit.

Friday, March 21, 2014

"Living, He loved me/Dying, He saved me"

I hate to harsh anyone's buzz, but Lent is a time of hope, not of despair. My bishop, John Wester, issued what I think is a wonderful Lenten message for this year. He begins by reminding us that Lent is the time we prepare to celebrate the Lord's resurrection at Easter. Most importantly, at least for me, he reminded us, "There is nothing I can do to enhance or improve on that salvific act of love that came about when God the Father gave us his only Son, who in turn suffered, died and rose again so that we might have life eternal."

I have recently had the great grace to be reminded in powerful ways of the love the Father has for me, poured out for me in the precious body and blood of His Son, my Lord, Jesus Christ, and poured into my heart by the Holy Spirit. When I consider how undeserving I am for what Christ did for me, God's great love stuns me. On the one hand, I can't believe it. On the other, it is so real that it makes me fall on my face.

I can't really think of another Friday traditio than Casting Crowns' "Glorious Day (Living He Loved Me)"

One day they led Him up Calvary's mountain/
One day they nailed Him to die on a tree/
Suffering anguish, despised and rejected/
Bearing our sins, my Redeemer is He/
Hands that healed nations, stretched out on a tree
And took the nails for me

I urge you to take a break and let God's love wash over you. At least for me, the love of God is the only thing that makes everything, good or bad, worthwhile.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today is a Solemnity. Hence, it is a bigger day than St Patrick's Day. Today we mark the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Along with many people throughout the world, I am completing a Novena to St Joseph today. While today is not a holy day of obligation in the United States, it is in many parts of the world. I would encourage you to attend Mass if you can, as befits all solemnities. Next Tuesday, 25 March, nine months prior to our celebration of the Lord's Nativity, we will observe the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord.

Today also marks the first anniversary of our Holy Father, Pope Francis', inauguration as Pope. He delayed this event by a few days so that the Church could celebrate this event on the Solemnity of St Joseph, who is the Patron of the Universal Church.

We know from sacred Scripture that St Joseph, a descendant of King David, was a just and even a kind man. He was unwilling to expose the pregnant young woman, to whom he was betrothed, to shame for turning up pregnant without having had relations with him. Of course, an angel of the Lord clarified the matter before he "put her away." St Joseph appears most prominently in the Gospel narratives in St Matthew's and St Luke's infancy narratives.

St Joseph, pray for us

He is also mentioned briefly in one other place- St John's Gospel:
The Jews murmured about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” and they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”- John 6:41-42
After that, he disappears. One of the persistent traditions regarding St Joseph, being significantly older than our Blessed Mother, which was not unusual at the time, is that he passed away prior to Jesus' public ministry.

As is fitting, St Joseph has patronage of many things. In addition to the Universal Church, St Joseph is patron of the dying, of workers, of social justice, of family life. This is not exhaustive. He is also "terror of demons." I am convinced that every devout Catholic man should have some level of devotion to St Joseph. There is a prayer to St Joseph in the Handbook of Indulgences that one can receive a partial indulgence for praying. If you did not make the Novena to St Joseph in the days leading up to his solemnity, start the novena today beginning on his glorious feast.

In his Wednesday audience, Pope Francis said, "We think of how Joseph, as the carpenter of Nazareth, taught the young Jesus his trade and the value of work. Joseph also quietly imparted to Jesus that wisdom which consists above all in reverence for the Lord, prayer and fidelity to his word, and obedience to his will. Joseph’s paternal example helped Jesus to grow, on a human level, in his understanding and appreciation of his unique relationship to his heavenly Father."

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Receiving God's strength

In our reading from the New Testament letters for this Second Sunday of Lent we hear about bearing our "share of hardship for the gospel" (2 Tim 1:8b). As the Scripture tells us, we are incapable of bearing our share of hardship on our own. In order to bear it, we need "the strength that comes from God" (2 Tim 1:8b).

Sometimes when I read Scripture, or hear it proclaimed, things like bearing our hardships for the sake of the Gospel sounds inspiring, like something I ought to do, like something I want to do for God's glory. And so I determine to do it. Usually this amounts to trying to do it using only my own strength, my own fortitude, my willpower. As often as I do that, I am crushed beneath the weight of my hardships, even if, in the big scheme of things, the hardships that befall me are not huge, which only shows how spiritually weak and impoverished I am. This leads to discouragement for awhile and then, after a time, a repeat performance.

The hardship that crushes me could be something as minuscule as failing to bear a wrong, or a perceived wrong, patiently; refusing to brush off a personal slight, not holding a grudge against the person by whom I feel slighted, not looking for a chance to get even, or maybe slightly ahead.

How do you receive "the strength that comes from God"? You receive God's strength through fervent prayer, fasting, and selflessly serving others. By engaging in these spiritual disciplines, you do not earn or merit God's favor, or God's strength, you merely open yourself to experiencing it firsthand. Experience is what makes all the difference. Trusting God is no small matter. To place your trust in God, especially if you have not verified God's trustworthiness through experience, can result in being afraid, like Peter, James, and John in today's Gospel. As He said to them, Jesus says to us, "Rise, and do not be afraid" (Matt 17:7). This is why elsewhere in the New Testament we read, "the victory that conquers the world is our faith" (1 John 5:4).

The primary means at our disposal for receiving "the strength that comes from God" are the Sacraments. Hence, going to confession and receiving Holy Communion, not rarely, not occasionally, but frequently, is how we experience the gratuitous gift God longs to give us, which gives us the strength to persevere. This is why the author of 2 Timothy went on to write:
He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began, but now made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus, who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Tim 1:9-10- italicizing and emboldening emphasis added)
In communion we receive nothing less than Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul, and divinity. It's important to note that we don't receive communion alone, but along with our sisters and brothers in Christ. One of the features of Christian koinonia is helping one another bear our burdens (Gal 6:2). This is not only one of the ways we receive "the strength that comes from God," but provides a way for us to cooperate with God in strengthening others.

As we make our way through Lent to our celebration of Jesus Christ's death and resurrection, let our psalm-response for today be our plea: Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.

Friday, March 14, 2014

"To worship Him with your wounds/For He's wounded too"

I could never really express what Michael Card's music has meant to me lo these many years. So, I won't try. Our Friday traditio for the second Friday of this Lent is his lovely song "Come Lift Up Your Sorrows."

Lent can never be the time when we decide anew to save ourselves, to correct all our faults by sheer acts of the will. It is the time for us to experience all over again the intensity of our deepest longing, for what we, in our heart of hearts, really and truly desire. Only because Jesus Christ was wounded for you and me can we lift up our sorrows to God the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit as an acceptable sacrifice, thus knowing, again, what it means to be friends with Jesus the Lord, to be united with Him in suffering. During this season we can seek to make reparation for our wrongs, for those times we have rejected Jesus' friendship. How, you might ask? We make reparation through our prayer, fasting, and alms-giving.

In this most Holy Place
He's made a sacred space
For those who will enter in
And trust to cry out to Him;
You'll find no curtain there,
No reason left for fear;
There's perfect freedom here
To weep every unwept tear

Today is the fourth day of the Novena to St. Joseph. Being 3.14 (14 March), today is also international Pi[e] Day:

I will leave it up to you, dear reader, to resolve the dialectical tension between today being a Lenten Friday and International Pie Day, but only after noting that cherry pie, my favorite, contains no meat!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Pope Francis one year on

One year ago today we witnessed this exciting scene:

Happy anniversary Holy Father! We love you. We pray for you. Ad multos annos!

Like everyone else in the Catholic trapeziodalsphere, I wrote a good deal about all of this last March. But one piece I wrote, which didn't garner a lot of attention, stands out in my mind, especially given how the first year of Pope Francis' pontificate has unfolded:

Papa Francesco calls on the Church to emerge

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

You are you, past, present, future

This morning in my daily on-line engagement, which I am trying to keep to a minimum these days, I encountered this: "In order to fully embrace your future, you have to completely release your past." Like a lot of self-help pabulum this sounds good, but only if you don't think about it too much, or really think about it at all.

My question, especially for Christians who are so enamored of the advice of secular self-help gurus, or the self-help gospel of false "Christian" teachers (see Shai Linne's "False Teachers") is, If you "completely release" your past, then how do you remain yourself? If you "completely release" your past, then how do you remember, like Israel of old, how God delivered you?

My point? Memories matter, even painful and embarrassing ones. A life without pain (both received and inflicted) and regret is not a human, let alone a redeemed, life. To "completely release" your past amounts to turning your back on yourself and your God. After all, who are you in Christ? You are a new creation, but not a new creation without a past. As Oscar Wilde famously observed, "The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future" (A Woman of No Importance, Act 3).

In Christian terms, you cannot become who God created, redeemed, and is sanctifying you to be without your past. Faith that merits the name is not about denying reality. Rather, as Msgr Giussani taught, faith is about engaging reality according to all the factors that go into making it up. Reality is made up of nothing except the past, present, and future. While it is true that we should not drag our past hurts around like Jacob Marley's chains, we can never lose sight of, that is, cease being grateful for, being delivered from those things that otherwise would hold us back. But you can't forgive, or be forgiven, if you forget.

Reading through the Hebrew Scriptures, how many times does God remind Israel that He delivered them from Egypt? In the New Testament, St. Paul frequently reminds Christians of the liberation they have received from Christ. For example, in his Letter to the Colossians, St. Paul wrote:
And you who once were alienated and hostile in mind because of evil deeds he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through his death, to present you holy, without blemish, and irreproachable before him, provided that you persevere in the faith, firmly grounded, stable, and not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard (1:21-23)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Pope Francis reminds us that "one can’t dialogue with Satan"

Of the many things I find useful in the teaching and witness of Pope Francis, I most appreciate and benefit from how forthrightly and unflinchingly he speaks about Satan, the devil, who, we read in sacred Scripture, "is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour" (1 Pet 5:8). Therefore, "Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings" (1 Pet 5:9).

In his Angelus address for the First Sunday of Lent, commenting on our Gospel reading, the Holy Father, with his characteristic frankness, stated:

Jesus decisively rejects all these temptations and reaffirms [His] firm intention to follow the path established by the Father, without any compromise with sin or with the logic of the world. Note well how Jesus responds: He doesn’t dialogue with Satan, as Eve did in the terrestrial Paradise. Jesus knows well that one can’t dialogue with Satan, because he is so cunning. For this reason, instead of dialoguing, as Eve did, Jesus chooses to take refuge in the Word of God and to respond with the power of this Word. Let us remind ourselves of this in the moment of temptation, of our temptation: not arguing with Satan, but defending ourselves with the Word of God. And this will save us. In His responses to Satan, the Lord — using the Word of God — reminds us, first, that “one does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4; cf. Dt 8:3), and this gives us strength, sustains us in the fight against the worldly mentality that lowers human beings to the level of their basic needs, causing them to lose the hunger for what is true, good, and beautiful, the hunger for God and His love. He also recalls, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’” ( v. 7), because the road of faith also passes through darkness, doubt, and is nourished by patience and persevering expectation. Jesus notes, finally, that “it is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve,’” that is, we must get rid of idols, of vanities, and build our lives on the essentials.

These words of Jesus will then find concrete responses in His actions. His absolute fidelity to the Father's plan of love will lead Him, after about three years, to the final confrontation with the “prince of this world” (Jn 16:11), in the hour of the Passion and of the Cross, and there Jesus will achieve His final victory, the victory of love!
Of course, defeating Satan with the Word of God means knowing the Word of God. Jesus Christ is the Word of God. But, as St. Jerome averred, "ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." It seems that if we are to know Christ, let alone grow to the fullness of His stature, we must study Scripture. What is your plan for more consistently and intensely engaging Scripture during Lent? If you don't have one, keep it simple, read the Gospel According to St. Matthew and perhaps one of St. Paul's shorter letters, like his Letter to the Galatians.

St. Joseph, pray for us

Nine days from now, on 19 March, the Church will celebrate the Solemnity of St. Joseph. Throughout most of the world, 19 March is a holy day of obligation. It is not in the United States, but it is a solemnity. Do we really need to be "obligated" in order to attend Mass on days other than Sundays?

I am a firm believer that every husband and father should have some kind of devotion to St. Joseph. I was deeply moved that, after being selected as pope on 13 March 2013, Pope Francis delayed his papal installation for a few days in order to celebrate it on St. Joseph's Solemnity, which is a huge day in Italy. St. Joseph is also the Patron of the Universal Church.

The significance of today being nine days prior to the Solemnity of St. Joseph is that it is the day we begin the annual Novena to him. I encourage everyone, but especially my fellow husbands and fathers, to find some time and fervently pray the following prayer for the next nine days. I would also encourage everyone who reads this and who participates in this novena to fast this Friday. End the Novena by going to Mass on 19 March. Arrive for Mass a bit early. If your parish Church has a statute, or image of St. Joseph, say your final novena prayer before it. If not, then simply say it in the Church. Go to confession during the Novena in order to make a good communion on his Solemnity.

Novena Prayer:
Saint Joseph, you are the faithful protector and intercessor of all who love and venerate you. I have special confidence in you. You are powerful with God and will never abandon your faithful servants. I humbly invoke you and commend myself, with all who are dear to me, to your intercession. By the love you have for Jesus and Mary, do not abandon me during life, and assist me at the hour of my death

Glorious Saint Joseph, spouse of the immaculate Virgin, Foster-father of Jesus Christ, obtain for me a pure, humble, and charitable mind, and pefect resignation to the Divine Will. Be my guide, my father, and my model through life that I may merit to die as you did in the arms of Jesus and Mary.

Loving Saint Joseph, faithful follower of Jesus Christ, I raise my heart to you to implore your powerful intercession in obtaining from the Heart of Jesus all the graces necessary for my spiritual and temporal welfare, particularly the grace of a happy death, and the special grace I now implore: [Mention your request here]. Guardian of the Word Incarnate, I am confident that your prayers on my behalf will be graciously heard before the throne of God
St. Joseph, pray for us.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Year A First Sunday of Lent

Readings: Gen 2:7-9.3:1-7; Ps 51:3-6.12-13.17; Rom 5:12.17-19; Matt 4:1-11

In order to experience God's mercy, you must first acknowledge your need for it. Our Psalm response for this First Sunday of Lent, which is the same response we sang on Ash Wednesday, is nothing except our cry for God’s mercy. It’s important to note that, even though it’s Lent, we utter our plea for mercy in the knowledge that God has heard and answered our cry by sending Jesus Christ, who is Divine Mercy.

It was the famous journalist and author Malcolm Muggeridge, an adult convert to our Catholic faith, who noted that original sin is the most empirically verifiable fact in the world. Our first reading today is part of a tremendously creative narrative that tells about the fall, what we refer theologically as the “ancestral sin.” Humanity originally existed in a state of original grace, which was lost through disobedience. It is not the purpose of the two creation narratives we find in the Book of Genesis to enlighten us about how things came to be. They were written as theological narratives to tell us why there is something rather nothing and to answer the big existential question, “Why do I exist?”

The narrative of our first reading depicts a world of harmony prior to the fall, what we might call a world in communion. There is communion between people and God. Their relationship with God is immediate. God speaks directly to them and they speak directly to God. There is harmony between the man and the woman. Lastly, there is harmony between people and nature.

The man and woman live in a vibrant garden, surrounded by the beauty of nature, a garden containing many fruit-bearing trees. God tells them they can eat of the fruit of all the trees in the garden, except the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. This tree in the middle of the garden is symbolic. Mainly, it symbolizes the limits of our creatureliness, the main ontological barrier between God and humanity. God is self-subsistent. Without God nothing else would exist. By contrast, we are creatures, who exist only because God created us and continues to hold us in existence.

One day along comes the serpent and asks the woman if God really commanded that she not eat from any of the trees in the garden. Of course, the woman replied by saying that almost the opposite was true, she could eat from all the trees, except the one and noted that God said if she ate from that tree she would die. Here is where we gain deep insight into our human condition, from which condition Christ came to save us. The serpent declares, “You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil” (Gen 3:4-5). Seeing that the fruit looked pretty tasty, the woman picked a piece and ate it, thus doing the one and only thing God commanded her not to do!

There are many silly ideas about exactly what the ancestral sin was. Some wonder exactly what kind of fruit it was and whether we should eat that kind of fruit ourselves, others, noting that the man and the woman became aware of their nakedness may then have engaged in relations, which relations constitute the original sin. It does not matter what kind of fruit it was. No specific kind of fruit is mentioned. As to the second, the command to be fruitful and multiply was given prior to their disobedience. My friends, the temptation to which they succumbed, to which they gave in, is the same one you and I give into whenever we sin- the temptation to usurp God’s place and install ourselves in His stead, seeking to order the world, what is right and wrong, each one for himself. The Act of Contrition we make when we go to confession states this very well: “My God I am sorry for my sins with all my heart. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you, whom I should love above all things.” Sin is when we choose to love ourselves more than we love God and neighbor. Hence, following Jesus Christ means dying to ourselves and endeavoring to live lives of selfless service.

Extending our first reading a bit beyond the lectionary, we read that after the woman eats the fruit and gives some to her husband the previously mentioned harmonies rapidly break down: God comes to find them, they try to hide. Of course, you can’t hide from God. When God asks the man if he has eaten fruit from the forbidden tree, instead of answering “Yes,” he turns to the woman and says, “The woman whom you put here with me—she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it” (Gen 3:12). When queried by God, the woman says, “The snake tricked me, so I ate it” (Gen 3:13b). It has been God’s sole purpose ever since to restore the world to communion, to a state of grace.

Original sin is not transmitted biologically. Neither can it be characterized as God continuing to take out His anger on us in vengeance for the ancestral sin. Perhaps the best way to characterize original sin is as the dysfunction of the human family. After all, even our most private sins affect others, if in no other way than in how we view and relate to other people.

This is precisely what St. Paul is getting at in our second reading: “For if, by the transgression of one person, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one person Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:17).

In light of this, our lives are accurately summarized as a journey, a pilgrimage, from one garden to another garden. In the context of our Cathedral, the journey from the font to the altar (with the aid stations we call “Confessionals” to help us on our way). Those who, in a few moments we will “send” to the Rite of Election/Call to Continuing Conversion, will begin a new leg of their journey towards the Easter sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist through their participation in these rites with Bishop Wester next Saturday, passing an important milestone on their pilgrimage.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus, in His freedom, chooses to deny Himself three times, choosing instead to love the Father and us by persevering in His fasting in preparation for the beginning of His earthly ministry, which ended with His passion, death, and resurrection. His self-denial stands in contrast to the self-indulgence of the Fall. The selflessness of Jesus shows us concretely what St. Paul meant when he wrote that even though Jesus “was in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself…" (Phil 2:6-7a).

My friends, through this Lent we are invited to participate in the Paschal Mystery, to more consciously walk our journey of faith, seeking to identify and, with divine assistance, put to death our selfishness, those behaviors that get in the way of our relationship with God and our relationships with other people. Thank you, my dear Catechumens and Candidates, for accepting the Lord’s invitation to join our company and giving us fresh inspiration and energy as we make our pilgrim way together to the fullness God has prepared for us from the beginning.

Friday, March 7, 2014

"Have mercy on me, God"

It seems fitting for this Friday after Ash Wednesday to contemplate Psalm 51, often called the Miserere mei, or, even more succinctly, the Miserere.

Except for certain days and times, the Church's Morning Prayer for Friday each week begins with the recitation of Psalm 51. The reason for beginning Morning Prayer on Friday with this psalm is because, typically, Fridays are days of penance. So our Friday traditio today is a lovely Anglican chant setting from St. John's Anglican Church in Detroit of this penitential psalm.

Have mercy on me, God, in accord with your merciful love;
in your abundant compassion blot out my transgressions.
Thoroughly wash away my guilt;
and from my sin cleanse me.
For I know my transgressions;
my sin is always before me.
Against you, you alone have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your eyes
So that you are just in your word,
and without reproach in your judgment
Behold, I was born in guilt,
in sin my mother conceived me (verses 3-7)

From Georges Rouault's Miserere series

Turn away your face from my sins;
blot out all my iniquities.
A clean heart create for me, God;
renew within me a steadfast spirit.
Do not drive me from before your face,
nor take from me your holy spirit.
Restore to me the gladness of your salvation;
uphold me with a willing spirit. (verses 11-14)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

"O Lord, make haste to help me"

I always find Ash Wednesday to be a day filled, perhaps a bit excessively for my sometimes (too) rigid sensibilities, with celebration. I was joking last night before Mass, as I was reading the Gospel, preparing to proclaim it in the assembly, that Ash Wednesday "brings out my inner Protestant," which is an unfair and uncharitable way of referring to my rigorist tendencies regarding certain matters. It does this by featuring a Gospel that tells us to pray, fast, and give alms in secret, without being "seen" by anyone but God. Immediately after hearing these words we are summoned forward to receive a big, black smear of ashes right in the middle of our foreheads. Indeed, there something at least "dialectical" about this, a tension that needs to be resolved. In his amazing book, The Gospel According to St. Paul: Meditations on His Life and Letters, Cardinal Martini wrote that faith is living the dialectic tension between the seen and the unseen. So this seeming contradiction with which are presented cannot be resolved by a masterful homily, let alone a blog post, but by our living it out through our observance of Lent. This strikes me as wonderfully provocative way to begin this holy season, during which we are invited, called, to engage reality with a renewed attentiveness.

I find that it is always necessary for me to be reminded that "celebrating" the beginning of Lent as we do, especially at a Cathedral church, we do not observe Lent as though Christ is not alive and reigning at the right and of the Father, as though we have not received the Holy Spirit. At least for me, Lent begins in earnest today, in the quietness of the early morning. Christ invites me to engage reality simply as it presents itself to me through people and circumstances I face. I appreciate very much the succinct Lenten message of my bishop, Bishop John Wester: "Lenten sacrifices remind us that we need God."
There is nothing I can do to enhance or improve on that salvific act of love that came about when God the Father gave us his only Son, who in turn suffered, died and rose again so that we might have life eternal.

However, there is something I can do to better embrace this reality in my life, to open myself to the graces of Christ’s resurrection.
As James Kushiner stated it, "A discipline won't bring you closer to God. Only God can bring you closer to Himself." I think Bishop Wester's challenge to "open myself," to get myself out of the way, precisely to "see" how much I am loved, is the challenge of Lent. Besides, I gave up on "making myself" holy a long time ago. For that to happen, I pray, "O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me."

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ash Wednesday, Lent begins

As for own Lenten journey, I am looking to Pope Benedict's final Message for Lent, issued last year:
Faith, as gift and response, causes us to know the truth of Christ as Love incarnate and crucified, as full and perfect obedience to the Father’s will and infinite divine mercy towards neighbour; faith implants in hearts and minds the firm conviction that only this Love is able to conquer evil and death. Faith invites us to look towards the future with the virtue of hope, in the confident expectation that the victory of Christ’s love will come to its fullness. For its part, charity ushers us into the love of God manifested in Christ and joins us in a personal and existential way to the total and unconditional self-giving of Jesus to the Father and to his brothers and sisters. By filling our hearts with his love, the Holy Spirit makes us sharers in Jesus’ filial devotion to God and fraternal devotion to every man (cf. Rom 5:5).

The relationship between these two virtues resembles that between the two fundamental sacraments of the Church: Baptism and Eucharist. Baptism (sacramentum fidei) precedes the Eucharist (sacramentum caritatis), but is ordered to it, the Eucharist being the fullness of the Christian journey. In a similar way, faith precedes charity, but faith is genuine only if crowned by charity. Everything begins from the humble acceptance of faith (“knowing that one is loved by God”), but has to arrive at the truth of charity (“knowing how to love God and neighbour”), which remains for ever, as the fulfilment of all the virtues (cf. 1 Cor 13:13)
I pray that everyone who begins their Lenten journey today will, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI stated it, accept the great gift of faith, offered to us all freely, by responding in love.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Latter-day quandry and resolution

As most of my readers know, I am a convert to the Catholic faith. For most adults, leaving the religion of one's upbringing and joining another is a highly significant life event. It certainly was for me. I was born and raised as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (i.e., Mormon Church). My Mormon roots run deep seven of eight of my great-grandparents were born and raised LDS. In other words, I am the descendant of Mormon pioneers, those who arrived in Utah from the mid-to-late 1800s. I served a full-time proselyting mission from March 1985-March 1987 in the New Mexico Albuquerque Mission. During my mission I served as Mission Financial Secretary, twice as a District Leader, and twice as Zone Leader, and, for the last several months of my mission, I served as a special assistant to the mission president. Upon honorably completing my mission I attended the LDS Church twice: my homecoming in my ward and, the following week, going with a member of the Stake High Council to another ward and delivering another homecoming talk, before ceasing to be active. In the few years that followed, I attended what the Mormons call Sacrament Meeting on a few occasions while staying with my maternal grandmother. I realize that probably none of this is of any real significance to anyone, except those it may put on the defensive.

I received Christian baptism at St. Catherine of Siena Newman Center, adjacent to the University of Utah, on 14 April 1990. I was twenty-four years old. The story of my conversion to the Catholic Church, while not very long (less than two years), is a winding story of intellectual discovery involving a lot of disparate factors (i.e., John Henry Cardinal Newman, Martin Scorcese's film adaptation of Kazantzakis' The Last Temptation of Christ, which led me to read the novel itself, this reading led me to re-read the canonical Gospels for the first time in a modern translation- the New American Bible- and without Mormon preconceptions). When I made the conscious decision to leave Mormonism, not being an atheist and still believing in Jesus Christ, about the last place I thought I would land was in the Catholic Church. The reason why I am writing about this on the verge of Lent is that 14 April 2014 I will mark the twenty-fourth anniversary of my baptism, which means that I have been a Roman Catholic half of my life, but almost all of my adulthood. Such an occasion prompts me to look back and a re-engage with those aspects of Mormonism about which I always had doubts and concerns. In truth, I wrote the bulk of this post late in the summer of 2013 with the intent to post it on my 48th birthday last November.

During my first year of being Catholic I undertook several attempts to write an apologia for myself, one that might turn into something perhaps worthy of publication. My efforts never did turn into much. I made these efforts in the University of Utah computer lab and on the Apple computer of my then fiancée (now wife). I have kept copies of those attempts in hard-copy manuscript. Keep in mind that, while older than most undergraduates, I was at that time a mere college sophomore who had recently decided to major in Philosophy and was taking my first serious, that is, lower division level, non-general, courses.


My current religious beliefs were obtained (though I was quite unconscious of it during the process of obtaining them) by following a very Cartesian method. I cast aside all of my beliefs in Mormonism because, at root, the only reason I held them was because they were the only beliefs to which I had been exposed. So, I had accepted them uncritically, without having considered any alternatives. Considering the vast number of alternatives, ranging from atheism to Hinduism, is a daunting task for anyone to undertake. In light of the immensity of the task of determining through which religion God has spoken, if any of them, or, perhaps in some way through all of them, it would seem to many people that the only responsible stance is agnosticism, resulting in an amiable religious indifferentism. However, agnosticism has always seemed to me to be a cop-out, a decided effort to ignore the most important questions of life: "Why?" "To what end?" "For what purpose have we come to be and to be here?" Religious relativism, which endeavors to give equal weight to all religious claims, strikes me as untenable because it ignores the exclusive claims that most religions make, including Christianity and Mormonism.

Both Mormonism and traditional Christianity claim that the basis of their respective beliefs are actual historical events. Hence, the truth or falsity of the claims of these religious movements can, to a large extent, be determined largely by a critical evaluation of their historical claims. The question then becomes, "Based on the evidence, can I believe these events actually occurred at some point in history?"

For Mormons the question of historical reality must first be asked about Joseph Smith, Jr.'s First Vision. Smith claimed that in the year 1820, in western New York state, God appeared to him. According to Smith's official account as recorded in "Joseph Smith- History" [which can be found in the Pearl of Great Price, one of the four books revered by the LDS as being inspired and, therefore, Scripture], what motivated him to ask God which of all the denominations of Christendom was the one, true, church, was the alleged tremendous religious excitement in and around [the towns of] Palmyra, Manchester {in] Ontario County, New York during the year 1820. It is this claim of religious revival in 1820 that first creates problems for the historicity of Smith's claim.

Wesley P. Walters, lately a Presbyterian minister in Illinois [I have a note here to check in which city in Illinois- I never followed up], a noted historiographer of Mormonism, cast serious doubts on Smith's explicit claim that there was a revival in his hometown in the year 1820. In his [official] history, Smith states that he was born in 1805 and that during his "tenth year, or thereabouts," his family moved from Vermont to Palmyra, Ontario County, New York (J.S. History 1:3). Giving Joseph Smith, Jr. some leeway, we can place his early move in either 1815 or 1816 (1805+10=1815, or 1805+11=1816). Eighteen hundred sixteen is a better guess than 1814 because Smith's birthday is 23 December. It would seem that 1817 would be the latest. So, we can, without demanding unreasonable exactness, place his move to Palmyra between 1814-1817. However, since Smith uses his "tenth year," 1816 suffices for a good base year...[I trail off here with some more about 1814-1817 mentioning chronological problems].


A photograph discovered almost 5 years ago that some believe is of Joseph Smith, Jr.

The point I was driving at here in a very meandering and indirect way were the problems with the official account of Joseph Smith, Jr.'s First Vision, which are now, as then, well documented. Even better than the yeoman's work of Wesley Walters is that of Dale L. Morgan, who was a highly regarded historian of the American West. Being a native of Utah and a Mormon by birth, Morgan was an invaluable historiographer of early Mormonism, especially on the pre-prophetic career Joseph Smith, Jr. and his family. His indefatigable work on Smith's origins is quite exhaustive, extending on the Smith side to the arrival of Robert Smith in Topsfield, Massachusetts in 1638 and the story of the religious conversion of his maternal grandfather, Solomon Mack, and the alleged prophecy of his paternal grandfather, Asael Smith, about one of his descendants lifting his family from obscurity to some kind of prominence.

Morgan's main concern was to show that Joseph Smith, Jr. was wholly a product of his time and place. He set about writing what he originally conceived of as a three volume work on the origins of Mormonism, which work he began in earnest, with the aid of a Guggenheim Fellowship, in 1945. Prior to his death from cancer in 1971 at the age of 56, Morgan only managed to complete fairly advanced drafts of seven chapters, along with two documentary appendices. In the Introduction to the book, published by Utah's own Signature Books, Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism: Correspondence & a New History, which includes a complete bibliography of all Morgan's published work (his voluminous papers are housed at U.C. Berkely's Bancroft Library), John Phillip Walker observed, "The seven chapters Dale more or less completed of his Mormon history reveal both the artist and the scholar in full command of his material" (17).

Sticking with my focus on Joseph Smith, Jr.'s "First Vision," it is important to note that in writing about this Morgan sticks very close to the evidential shore. I have no intention of recreating Morgan's work in this post. I will, therefore, point out two significant issues he raises as to the veracity of the official account of the First Vision:

Morgan notes that "Joseph told two distinctly different stories to account for his having become a prophet of God. The First Vision is the last of these, entirely unknown to his followers before 1838... and was not published in any form until late in 1840, and not by Joseph himself until the spring of 1842" (247). This is problematic because "as early as 1834-35, Joseph had published in the church periodical a history of his life" (247). Central to the first account is the figure of a Methodist minister, one George Lane, who, incidentally, was not in Palmyra until 1823. In this early account, the excitement Lane stirred up in Joseph Smith culminated not in a vision of the Father and the Son, but of the Angel Moroni.

Morgan holds that the revival Smith invokes as the immediate cause of his retiring to a secluded place in the woods to inquire of God as to which Church he should join did not occur in 1820. He cites multiple historical records that indicate there were lively revivals in the vicinity of Palmyra in 1816 and then again in 1823-24. Morgan's research into and exposition of the results of his research is very thorough and factual. At least as it pertains both to what Joseph claimed to have first experienced by way of a vision and when it occurred, Morgan offers very little interpretation, remaining content to set forth the results of his research. In so doing, he also casts serious doubts as to the reliability of Lucy Mack Smith's recollections as recorded in her work, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations, which was not begun until after Joseph's death in 1844, when she was in her sixties.

There is a review of this book on the Maxwell Institute website written by Gary Novak- "The Most Convenient Form of Error": Dale Morgan on Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon." Novak's piece strikes me, an admitted non-expert, but someone who has read and re-read Morgan's seven chapters, as effectively ignoring the sources on which Morgan's work depends, as well as paying scant attention to what Morgan actually wrote. Rather, Novak sets about attacking Morgan's historical method, especially what Novak invokes as his "historical naturalism," which is certainly true and something about which Morgan engaged in a heated exchange with Bernard DeVoto, which debate arose in response to Devoto's review of Fawn McKay Brodie's controversial biography of Joseph Smith Jr., No Man Knows My History. In the end, Novak seeks to diminish Morgan's work on early Mormonism, breezily failing to acknowledge Morgan's standing during his lifetime as one of the pre-eminent historians of the American West, having published works, such as The Humboldt: High Road of the West, Utah: A Guide to the State, and Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West, that are still considered historically relevant today. It's funny that Novak makes the claim that Morgan was obsessively committed to defending Brodie's Smith biography, given that he seems implicitly critical of her psychological method throughout his own work. What Morgan was obsessive about, as his testy correspondence with DeVoto shows, is correcting what he saw as factual errs made in reviews.

Novak apparently thinks he struck rhetorical gold by writing, "Dale Morgan's unfinished history has had little, if any, influence in the community of those who know or care about Mormon history. No one cites On Early Mormonism as an authority for some opinion on Joseph Smith." While he goes into great detail about Morgan's collaboration with Brodie, he only mentions Juanita Brooks three times in the body of his piece (more in his footnotes), never mentioning her collaboration with Morgan, even though this is made explicit in the correspondence published in the very book (8 of 50 letters, constituting 16% of the published correspondence) he is reviewing. I think there are better explanations as to why Morgan's work on the background and early years of Joseph Smith, Jr. and the origins of Mormonism have not had the kind of influence Novak thinks they should have in order to be relevant. First, at the time of his early death, Morgan's work was unfinished and unpublished. It was only published by Signature in 1986. Another reason I believe it is little used or referred to is that most people who are interested in traversing the unstable terrain of LDS origins are Evangelical Christians looking to disprove Mormonism for religious reasons. Like Novak, these people would certainly be put off by Morgan's "historical naturalism." Little use is made of the stellar work of former BYU professor D. Michael Quinn, against whom Novak fires an ad hominem broadside towards the end of his piece. In his book, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, Quinn attempted something similar to what Morgan achieved in his seven chapters.

Another major issue for me was the historical accuracy of Book of Mormon, which claims to be the actual history of the Americas from roughly BC 600 to AD 400. Yet another difficulty arises from how Smith came to possess the plates and how he "translated" them, plus the highly dubious testimony of the witnesses. Morgan's work on this, too, is outstanding. In short, Mormonism makes a lot of claims that are empirically provable or disprovable, but still asks people to accept even the disproven claims on faith, which, at a fundamental level, strikes me as a perversion of the relationship between faith and reason.

In addition to my anniversary, the LDS Church is (finally) trying to address the many issues that arise from comparing the Church's official account of Joseph Smith, Jr.'s First Vision, which account, taken to be scriptural, is given in the book "Joseph Smith- History," which is contained one of the four books the LDS count among their scriptures, the Pearl of Great Price, with the various, irreconcilable, accounts Smith himself gave during his lifetime, as well as with the historical record. One attempt at doing this is the posting of an article on their official website, "First Vision Accounts." But, in the end, it is the same story of being told to pray about what amount to empirically verifiable claims, at least claims to be weighed on the basis of the evidence available, urging
Neither the truth of the First Vision nor the arguments against it can be proven by historical research alone. Knowing the truth of Joseph Smith’s testimony requires each earnest seeker of truth to study the record and then exercise sufficient faith in Christ to ask God in sincere, humble prayer whether the record is true. If the seeker asks with the real intent to act upon the answer revealed by the Holy Ghost, the truthfulness of Joseph Smith’s vision will be manifest

Latter-day Saints on Καθολικός διάκονος

My earlier post today prompted me to do a "look back" over the almost eight years since I began blogging in earnest in order to compose a post featuring links to all the significant posts I have written concerning the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Below you will find links from my earliest post to my latest post on this subject, excluding my post from earlier today. My main point as regards Latter-day Saints, Catholics, and non-Catholic Christians is that before we can engage in intelligent discourse, we must first grasp and even agree upon what differences exist between us. Please keep in mind that some of these posts were written a long time ago. Looking back at some I kind of shudder. But blogging has been a vehicle of growth for me, really and truly.

Embracing the inevitable

In the Archives

Are the LDS Christians? The red herring that won't go away

Romney's primary problem is not being LDS

Religion and Politics: The case of Governor Romney

The letter

An irksome issue, indeed

"Then shall they be gods, because they have no end" (D&C 132:20)

Adding to political moments that will live in infamy

Where is Zion?

Cora Evans, Servant of God

Is Israel's God Glenn Beck's god?

Can a Catholic in good conscience vote for a Mormon for president? I think so

Partakers of the divine nature, but how and to what extent?

Some thoughts on chasity and obedience

Good news on the cause for Cora Evans' sainthood

Pioneer Day: looking back

Servant of God Cora Evans in the news

Becoming "like" God, or becoming Gods?

At least to much local acclaim, the "Gospel Topics" section of the official website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,, has recently featured an essay entitled "Becoming Like God." Apparently this article was posted in an effort to explain the odd Mormon take on what Christians, especially Eastern Christians, have traditionally called "deification." The purpose of the essay is to debunk caricatures of LDS belief on this matter. Without a doubt, there are crude caricatures of this belief. Nonetheless, the piece strikes me as more than a bit disingenuous. As I hope to briefly show, the disingenuous nature of the essay arises from placing the emphasis on becoming "like" God rather than on the the traditional LDS emphasis of becoming as God "is," or a "god" in your right. As anyone who has ever made even a cursory study of informal logic knows, analogy and identity sit pretty far apart.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
Since our knowledge of God is limited, our language about him is equally so. We can name God only by taking creatures as our starting point, and in accordance with our limited human ways of knowing and thinking.

All creatures bear a certain resemblance to God, most especially man, created in the image and likeness of God. the manifold perfections of creatures - their truth, their goodness, their beauty all reflect the infinite perfection of God. Consequently we can name God by taking his creatures" perfections as our starting point, "for from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator."

God transcends all creatures. We must therefore continually purify our language of everything in it that is limited, imagebound or imperfect, if we are not to confuse our image of God --"the inexpressible, the incomprehensible, the invisible, the ungraspable"-- with our human representations. Our human words always fall short of the mystery of God (par. 40-42)
This is precisely what makes the Incarnation so cosmos-shattering, or, as the authors of Paul's New Moment put it- "this Event of God becoming human is so earth-shattering that it enacts something akin to the psychoanalytic concept of trauma..."

It is important to mention up-front that Latter-day Saints clearly and explicitly reject the dogma of the triune God, perhaps best and most succinctly summarized as "one God in three in divine persons." In fact, as recently as January this year, a LDS General Authority, Gérald Caussé, who serves as second counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, speaking to LDS mission presidents, reminded them of something that it seems to me the LDS frequently try to gloss over: "Among the critical elements of the doctrine of the Church that are an essential contribution of the Restoration are a correct knowledge of the identity of God, that God and Jesus Christ are separate and distinct, each with a body of flesh and bone." This teaching arises directly from LDS scripture, particularly from the Doctrine and Covenants, which book is comprised almost exclusively of a series of revelations Smith claimed to have received directly from God. In the Doctrine and Covenants we find, "The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s" (130:22). It is for reasons surrounding this that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, back in 2001, definitively concluded, answering a dubium, or question, formally posed several years prior, that LDS baptism is not sacramentally valid. The LDS, however, refuting their own claim to be Christians "like we are Christians," baptize everyone and anyone who joins the LDS Church regardless of any prior baptism.

Perhaps the best summary of this distinctive LDS belief, and if not the best, at least the most famous, is something known as the "Lorenzo Snow couplet." Lorenzo Snow was the fifth president of the LDS Church. Latter-day Saints believe their president, along with the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, is a "prophet, seer, and revelator," a belief much more robust than the Catholic belief in papal infallibility. Snow served as president from 1898 until his death in 1901. His couplet states, "As man is God once was, as God is man may become." This is perfectly coherent with what is taught in LDS scripture, particularly the third chapter of the Book of Abraham and sections 130-132 of the Doctrine and Covenants. In addressing the couplet, the essay insists that not much is known by way of revelation with regard to the first half of the couplet. At least to me, it does not seem on its face to be terribly abstruse. I take it to mean that at one point God was like we are now. Brigham Young, Joseph Smith, Jr.'s successor as LDS prophet, took it that way too. Young went so far as to assert during a General Conference in 1852 something he insisted he was taught by Smith, namely that Adam is "our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do." This is known as the "Adam-God" theory or doctrine.

Book of Abraham Facsimile 1

In addition to revealing passages from the Doctrine and Covenants, the Book of Abraham, which can be found in the Pearl of Great Price, which, along with the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Bible, is one of the books revered by Latter-day Saints as scripture, we find that there actually is a fair amount revealed about both halves of couplet. In fact, it's fair to say that the couplet arises from what is written here. Of course, as with all theology, doctrinal statements require correlating what is claimed to be revealed with the claimed sources of revelation.

While on the subject of claimed sources of revelation, it bears noting that Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the LDS Church, claims to have translated the Book of Abraham from some papyrus scrolls that he acquired by purchasing an Egyptian mummy from a carnival man. Smith made the purchase and claims to have translated the scrolls prior to the deciphering of the ancient Egyptian language, which resulted from decoding the Rosetta Stone. It became clear after the decoding of the Rosetta Stone that the scrolls, facsimiles of which have long been published as part of the Pearl of Great Price, Smith claims to have translated as the Book of Abraham were, in fact, copies of the Egyptian book of the dead.

It is in the third chapter of the Book of Abraham that the key to understanding where LDS theology fundamentally diverges from historic Christianity can be found (this is where the essay strikes me as disingenuous). It is this chapter that seeks to show that everyone, you, me, God the Father, God the Son, etc., has always existed. The official summary of Abraham 3 states, "The Lord reveals to him [Abraham] the eternal nature of spirits." This "eternal nature of spirits," it seems, is precisely what obliterates the most obvious ontological barrier between God and His creatures: being eternal, that is, self-subsistent, or uncreated. In other words, according to LDS belief, we have all always existed.

The progression, according to the LDS "Plan of Salvation" (see graphic below), works something like this: you first and eternally exist as an uncreated "intelligence," then you are born into a pre-earth, or pre-mortal existence, a "spiritual," yet embodied,state (Doctrine and Covenants 131:7-8: "All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter"); from this pre-mortal existence, you are born into mortality, which is a period of testing, then, after the resurrection (there is a temporary, "spiritual", abode between death and the resurrection, a place- must be a place because you are still material- where righteous LDS people proseltyze others in a last ditch effort- this is why they perform baptisms for the dead- for you to accept Mormonism between your death and the resurrection); should you enter the highest level of the highest kingdom, called exaltation (see Doctrine and Covenants 131:1-4), sticking with Snow's couplet, you become "as God is." For those who obtain exaltation, which requires being married (see Doctrine and Covenants 131:2),
Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have call power, and the angels are subject unto them (Doctrine and Covenants 132:20)
Most telling is this passage, also found in Doctrine and Covenants 132, referring to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, states, "because they did none other things than that which they were commanded, they have entered into their exaltation, according to the promises, and sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are gods" (132:37).

In addition to the vast expanse stretching between "like" and "is," the problem I see with the essay is that there is no effort to connect the dots of what the LDS Church claims to have been revealed by God about God and man, even claiming ignorance where there is evidence. Hence, there is no attempt to show how that "revelation" bears on man's eternal destiny, but an effort to obscure what seems, based on the evidence, pretty clear. At root, because of the belief that we, like God, have existed eternally, beginning as uncreated intelligences, the main ontological barrier that Jews, Christians, and Muslims discern as existing between God and humanity is done away with, thus clearing the way for human beings to become "as God is," which is just what former Catholic priest, now Mormon, Jordan Vajda, insisted in his relatively famous master's degree thesis "Partakers of the Divine Nature." Along these lines, see my post from a few years ago- "Is Israel's God Glenn Beck's god?" That is much different than becoming as much "like" God as you can become, given the ontological difference between Creator and creature.

If I am not mistaken, the original (more precisely, the "ancestral") sin consisted mainly in the rejection of creaturliness, preferring instead to usurp God. It looks like March roared in like a lion here on Καθολικός διάκονος!

Servant of God Cora Louise Evans, pray for us.

Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Kings 21:1-6; Ps 5:2-7; Matthew 5:38-42 Jesus, Ahab, or Jezebel? This is the question posed to us by our readings. What do yo...