Sunday, April 27, 2014

Year A Second Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 2:42-47; Ps 118:2-4.13-15.22-24; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

“I was hard pressed and was falling, but the LORD helped me” (Ps 118:13). In these words from our responsorial, the psalmist expresses something that all Christians experience.

God comes to our aid again and again through His Son, Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is to meet us in our most acute need that the first gift given by the Lord to His Church after His resurrection was the Sacrament of Penance, as we see in our Gospel for this Second Sunday of Easter, which is also Divine Mercy Sunday:
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20:21b-23)
On the Second Sunday of Easter of the Jubilee Year 2000, at the Mass for the Canonization of St. Faustina Kowalska, Pope St. John Paul II (Boy, it feels right saying that!) proclaimed to the world that “from now on throughout the Church” this Sunday will be called “Divine Mercy Sunday.”

St. Faustina, the apostle of Divine Mercy, was the humble Polish nun to whom our resurrected and living Lord entrusted His message of Divine Mercy. It was our Lord Himself who, through this humble servant, requested that the Second Sunday of Easter be observed throughout the universal Church as the Feast of Divine Mercy. St. Faustina, at the request of her confessor kept a diary of her experiences. This is what she recorded about today’s feast:
On that day all the divine floodgates through which graces flow are opened. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet… The Feast of Mercy emerged from My very depths of tenderness. It is My desire that it be solemnly celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter (Diary of St Faustina Kowlaska, #699)
During an Apostolic Journey to his native Poland in 1997, while visiting St. Faustina’s tomb, John Paul II said, “I give thanks to divine Providence that I have been enabled to contribute personally to the fulfillment of Christ’s will, through the institution of the Feast of Divine Mercy.” At the airport in Warsaw, leaving his beloved homeland for the last time in August 2002, John Paul II said, “Apart from the mercy of God there is no other source of hope for mankind" As the great Polish poet Czeslaw Milos wrote, “We needed God loving us in our weakness and not in the glory of beatitude.”

Divine Mercy meets us again and again in our need. In this vein I am always reminded of St Mark’s telling the story of the paralytic man, who, rather than continuing to wait outside the house where Jesus was healing the sick and the lame, had his friends pull him up onto to the roof in order to lower him down right in front of the Lord. Jesus did not rebuke the man, or his friends, but looking upon him, no doubt, with great tenderness, Jesus said, “Child, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). This man’s need for God’s mercy was greater by far than his need to walk.

In light of our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles many ask, “Why are there no signs and wonders today?” It is both a sign and a source of wonder every time a priest, pointing to “God, the Father of mercies,” who, “through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself,” through the ministry of the Church, grants a penitent sinner (i.e., someone who grasps her/his need for Divine Mercy) “pardon and peace” by absolving him of his sins. Each time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist we behold a sign and wonder. At the Paschal Vigil last week we beheld the Baptism and Confirmation of our neophytes. What else are you looking for? If you don’t see these things for what they are, what makes you think you’re ready to behold more?

These signs and wonders are precisely what our opening collect for this Mass draws our attention to: “increase, we pray, the grace you have bestowed, that all may grasp and rightly understand in what font they have been washed, by whose Spirit they have been reborn, by whose Blood they have been redeemed.” Perhaps, like Thomas, we find this news too good to be true.

When Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council he was clear that the Council’s purpose was not to issue canons, or dogmatic formulae, let alone to promulgate condemnations. Instead, the Council’s purpose was to present the perennial truth of the Gospel in a more effective way to a world that was turning away from Christ and His Church. Good Pope John, as we was popularly known, knew that an action of God was necessary for such a renewal and so he implored the whole Church to pray for a “new Pentecost.” So, as we celebrate Easter, which culminates with Pentecost, let’s keep praying, “O, come Holy Spirit and renew the face of the earth.”

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet 1:3). Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, whose canonizations the Church celebrates today, along with St Faustina, and the entire communion of saints, are witnesses to this new birth and living hope that only Jesus Christ, who is Divine Mercy, can effect. My dear friends in Christ, we, too, are called to be witnesses. Emboldened then by these signs and wonders, let’s heed the words of Pope John Paul II, the pope who originally called for the New Evangelization: “Do not be afraid to go out on the streets and into public places like first apostles who preached Christ [who is] the good news of salvation… This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel. It is time to preach it from the rooftops” (Homily, 15 August 1993, Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary).


Saturday, April 26, 2014

From the archives: Homily for first anniversary of JPII's passing

Below is a homily I preached at a Memorial Mass for Bl Pope John Paul II on 3 April 2006, which Mass marked the first anniversary of his passing into eternity:

In the words of the prophet Isaiah from our first reading: “Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us” (Isa 25:9)!, we hear echoes of the equally bold proclamation made by our Lord himself on several occasions, “Be not afraid” (Matt 10:31; 14:27; 28:5; 28:10)! These are the words chosen by the Servant of God, the late Pope John Paul II, in whose memory we gather this day, as the motto of his papacy.

In our gospel today Jesus tells us that “no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him” (Matt 11:27). Without doubt the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, revealed his Father to Karol Wojtyla. Additionally, the Lord Jesus gave to this young Polish boy, deprived of his mother from a very young age, his own mother, Mary, just as he gave her as a mother to the beloved disciple as he hung on the Cross. On the eve of Poland’s invasion and occupation, the young Karol also lost his beloved and righteous father. In characteristically paradoxical fashion, God our Father made of this orphan a father for the whole world. It was in this paternal role while speaking to his beloved youth that John Paul summed up his own mission by telling the young people, “I have come to bring to you to Christ and to call you to pray.” In this, too, we hear an echo- the echo of words the of Peter on the road to Caesaria-Phillipi: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16). This is the message Peter’s successors have proclaimed throughout the past two millennia. Perhaps no man who has walked in the shoes of the Galilean fisherman communicated so clearly that the Truth is not a series of propositions, nor is Truth completely captured by words. Hence, a central point in all of John Paul II’s teaching is that all of us, great and small alike, can know the Truth because the Truth is a person, the Lord Jesus Christ. His first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, promulgated a mere four months after his election, begins with the words: “The Redeemer of man, Jesus Christ, is the center of the universe and of history” (par 1).

Elected as Bishop of Rome at the relatively young age of 58, he walked in Peter’s shoes for 26 years, five months, and two weeks, thus making him the third longest serving pope in the 2,000 year history of the Church of Jesus Christ. Only St. Peter himself and the Blessed Pius IX served the People of God longer. The achievements of his pontificate are monumental by any measure. Beginning with the aforementioned encyclical from which “we can trace the entire path of his ministry,” he wrote fourteen encyclicals and numerous apostolic constitutions. “The volume and density of these documents are so great that, last October, in an interview with Polish Television marking the twenty-seventh anniversary of John Paul II’s election, Pope Benedict XVI said: ‘My personal mission is not to issue many new documents, but to ensure that his documents [on almost all of which our current Holy Father was a trusted collaborator] are assimilated, because they are a rich treasure . . .[that help] us to be the Church of our times and future” (Palmo, The Profound Legacy of John Paul II, in The Liguorian).

His episcopal motto Totus Tuus (totally yours) reflected his complete devotion and consecration to Mary, the Mother of God, who always brings Jesus to us. Therefore, it came as no surprise that eight centuries after tradition tells us the rosary was given to St. Dominic, he added five new Luminous Mysteries to the rosary. These mysteries allow us to meditate, through the privileged channel of the Virgin Mary, on the life of our Lord; his baptism in the Jordan, his miracle at at the wedding in Cana, his proclamation of the Kingdom, his Transfiguration, his institution of the Eucharist. In 1983 he brought to completion and gave to the Church a new Code of Canon Law, begun some twenty years earlier at Vatican II. In 1992 he set forth a revised Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Churches. Also in 1992 he promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the first universal catechism since the one issued by the Council of Trent in 1566.

The key to John Paul II’s successful papacy, however, does not lie in any of these achievements. Neither is it to be found in the key role he played in bringing about the demise of the false and cruel system of communism. Rather, he showed how effective the gospel message can be when it isn’t just spoken but "lived to the hilt" (Palmo, The Profound Legacy of John Paul II, in The Liguorian). He showed this as a vigorous, athletic pope swimming, mountain climbing, and skiing. He did it by breaking the mold of the papacy when he began Mass in Anchorage, Alaska by exiting a tepee, and by kissing ground of each country he visited. One vivid Christ-like moment occurred when, in Los Angeles, he jumped down from a four-foot stage and, to the surprise and worry of his security detail, he ran across the arena to embrace Tony Melendez, a guitarist born with no arms, who sang and played for the Pope with his bare feet. Before him and I daresay for a long time after, popes don’t and won’t act like this. The greatest challenge for a preacher of the gospel is to live what he preaches. In this, too, John Paul set an example when, in the twilight of his life, he made incarnate in himself that which he wrote in 1984 in the Apostolic Letter Salvifici doloris: "Suffering is present in the world to emit love, to make born works of love for our neighbor, to transform all of human civilization into 'a civilization of love'" (par 30). "His courageously-faced illness made everyone more attentive to human suffering, to all physical and spiritual pain; he gave dignity and value to suffering, witnessing that the human being's value does not depend on his efficiency or appearance but on himself, because he was created and loved by God" (Benedict XVI, remarks delivered at Rosary Vigil 2 April 2006).

Jesus Christ is the Lord of whom Isaiah prophesied and who Pope John Paul proclaimed. It is to Him we look rejoicing in gladness that “he has saved us” (Isa 25:9). Let us also rejoice in Christ for the gift of the blessed life of Karol Wojtyla. Last night at a Marian vigil held in St. Peter’s Square, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, said: “Let us . . . not be afraid to follow Christ, to bring to all the proclamation of the Gospel” (Benedict XVI, remarks delivered at Rosary Vigil 2 April 2006). John Paul II certainly expects no less of us as he intercedes for us in heaven.

Friday, April 25, 2014

"Making vows that just can't work right"

I kept pretty quiet over the Easter octave. The Triduum was amazing. Life continues apace. These days at a faster pace than, frankly, I care for, but I am blessed beyond measure. Of course, the culmination of Lent is the renewal of our baptismal vows at Easter. At least for me, nothing beats renewing my baptismal promises at the Paschal Vigil just after those who are now neophytes (a word that means something like "newly planted"- consider Jesus' so-called "Parable of the Sower") make theirs and are baptized.

Proof of Mother Church's fruitfulness- Cathedral of the Madeleine neophytes and godparents with Bishop Wester, Fr. Diaz, Fr. Barrera, and yours truly

Lent seemed long to me this year, which is likely also the reason it seemed so fruitful. Whatever spiritual fruit occurred over Lent was the work of God, not the direct result of my own efforts. So, it seems like it's been a long time since I rock and rolled. This is why Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones playing the Led Zepplin classic "Rock and Roll" with the Foo Fighters is our Friday tradito for this Friday in the Octave of Easter.

Today is the penultimate day of the annual Divine Mercy novena. We're just two days away from the canonization of Bl Popes John XXIII and John Paul II.

Crammed a lot into this, kinda like at the end of the Credo. A joyous Easter to both of my readers!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Urbi et Orbi Easter 2014


Easter 2014

Dear Brothers and Sisters, a Happy and Holy Easter!

The Church throughout the world echoes the angel’s message to the women: “Do not be afraid! I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised… Come, see the place where he lay” (Mt 28:5-6).

This is the culmination of the Gospel, it is the Good News par excellence: Jesus, who was crucified, is risen! This event is the basis of our faith and our hope. If Christ were not raised, Christianity would lose its very meaning; the whole mission of the Church would lose its impulse, for this is the point from which it first set out and continues to set out ever anew. The message which Christians bring to the world is this: Jesus, Love incarnate, died on the cross for our sins, but God the Father raised him and made him the Lord of life and death. In Jesus, love has triumphed over hatred, mercy over sinfulness, goodness over evil, truth over falsehood, life over death.

That is why we tell everyone: “Come and see!” In every human situation, marked by frailty, sin and death, the Good News is no mere matter of words, but a testimony to unconditional and faithful love: it is about leaving ourselves behind and encountering others, being close to those crushed by life’s troubles, sharing with the needy, standing at the side of the sick, elderly and the outcast… “Come and see!”: Love is more powerful, love gives life, love makes hope blossom in the wilderness.

"Christ is risen from the dead!"

As per long-standing Καθολικός διάκονος tradition on Easter Sunday morning, Keith Green's timeless classic "He Is Risen."

This reality changes everything!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Christos anesti!

The Resurrection of Christ (detail), Jacopo Tintoretto, 1579-1581
Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ Behold, I have told you (Matt 28:5-7)

The Triduum Continues: Holy Saturday

It is a beginning without parallel, as if Life were arising from Death, as if weariness (already such weariness as no amount of sleep could ever dispel) and the uttermost decay of power were melting at creation’s outer edge, were beginning to flow, because flowing is perhaps a sign and a likeness of weariness which can no longer contain itself, because everything that is strong and solid must in the end dissolve into water. But hadn’t it - in the beginning - also been born from water? And is this wellspring in the chaos, this trickling weariness, not the beginning of a new creation?

The magic of Holy Saturday.

The chaotic fountain remains directionless. Could this be the residue of the Son’s love which, poured out to the last when every vessel cracked and the old world perished, is now making a path for itself to the Father through the glooms of nought?

Or, in spite of it all, is this love trickling on in impotence, unconsciously, laboriously, towards a new creation that does not yet even exist, a creation which is still to be lifted up and given shape? Is it a protoplasm producing itself in the beginning, the first seed of the New Heaven and the New Earth?- Hans Urs Von Balthasar

Friday, April 18, 2014

Divine Mercy Novena: Day One

"On Good Friday, 1937, Jesus requested that [St.] Faustina make a special novena before the Feast of [Divine] Mercy, from Good Friday through the following Saturday. [Jesus] dictated the intentions for each day. By means of a specific prayer she was to bring to His Heart a different group of souls each day and thus immerse them in the ocean of His mercy, begging the Father - on the strength of Jesus' Passion - for graces for them."

Because the Lord commanded St. Faustina to write down the specific prayer intentions for each of the nine days of the novena, it seems that His intention was for others to pray the Divine Mercy novena as well.

Today, then, is the first day of the Divine Mercy novena. "It is greatly recommended that the" novena prayer intention for each day "be said together with the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, since Our Lord specifically asked for a novena of Chaplets, especially before the Feast of [Divine] Mercy." For those who do not know, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy is prayed on normal rosary beads. You can click on either of the two links to see in what prayers the Chaplet is made up.

Day 1: "Today bring to Me all mankind especially all sinners, and immerse them in the ocean of My mercy. In this way you will console Me in my bitter grief into which the loss of souls plunges me."

Most Merciful Jesus, whose very nature it is to have compassion on us and to forgive us, do not look upon our sins but upon our trust which we place in Your infinite goodness. Receive us all into the abode of Your Most Compassionate Heart, and never let us escape from It. We beg this of You by Your love which unites You to the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon all mankind and especially upon poor sinners, all enfolded in the Most Compassionate Heart of Jesus. For the sake of His sorrowful Passion show us Your mercy, that we may praise the omnipotence of Your mercy for ever and ever. Amen
For the intentions of and prayers for the remaining 8 days, please go here.

Lumen Christi

This morning I kept to my schedule for reading the entire Bible in a year. I finished the Book of Ezra. In the ninth chapter, Ezra becomes keenly aware of how unfaithful Israel has been to God by intermarrying against God's explicit command prohibiting this. It seems that God's reason for this prohibition was to keep Israel from worshiping idols and false gods. Given that today is Good Friday, I was struck by Ezra's penitential prayer, which I will make mine today:
My God, I am too ashamed and humiliated to raise my face to you, my God, for our wicked deeds are heaped up above our heads and our guilt reaches up to heaven (Ezra 9:6)
Like Israel of old, who returned to the Promised Land from exile, "mercy came to us from the LORD, our God" (Ezra 9:8).

Jesus Christ is Divine Mercy. He came to deliver us from the land of our exile, from our alienation and estrangement from God, from our shame and guilt, not because we deserve it, but because God loves us that much. "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him" (John 3:17). Nonetheless, "the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil" (John 3:19). We can condemn ourselves by our lukewarmness or by our outright refusal of God's love and mercy. Choose this day to end your exile, your estrangement, from God, who longs for you to address Him as "Abba, father." As St Paul wrote:
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him (Rom 8:15-18)

The Triduum Continues: Good Friday

The Crucifixion, Bartolomé Estebán Murillo, ca. 1675

"He mounted the Cross to free us from the fascination with nothingness, to free us from the fascination with appearances, with the ephemeral."- Msgr. Luigi Giussani

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Triduum Begins: Holy Thursday

So, during supper, fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Master, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.” Jesus said to him, “Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over;...

So when he had washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” (John 13)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Birthday greetings to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Today is His Holiness, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's 87th birthday. I am so grateful for the life, witness, and papacy of this humble worker in the Lord's vineyard.

I was born on Holy Saturday, 16 April 1927, in Marktl am Inn. The fact that my day of birth was the last day of Holy Week and the eve of Easter has always been noted in our family history. This was connected with the fact that I was baptized immediately on the morning of the day I was born with the water that had just been blessed. (At that time the solemn Easter Vigil was celebrated on the morning of Holy Saturday). To be the first person baptized with the new water was seen as a significant act of Providence. I have always been filled with thanksgiving for having had my life immersed in this way in the Easter mystery, since this could only be a sign of blessing (Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977, 8)
Ever since I first read Pope Benedict's autobiography, I have loved this passage. I was baptized at the Easter Vigil in 1990. But no matter on what day you were baptized, your life, too, is to be immersed in the Paschal Mystery of Christ's death and resurrection.

I take great comfort knowing that Pope Emeritus Benedict spends most of his days praying. God's ear is particularly attuned to the prayers of His righteous ones. I would be remiss not to draw attention to Artur Rosman's recognition that the most recent Benedictine papacy was more radical than the Franciscan one so far: "What Do We Make of a Disturbingly Radical Papacy?"

Saturday, April 12, 2014

"This traitor is loved"

One of the most difficult things for me is learning to look at myself with the same tenderness with which Jesus looks at me. I just started Fr Paul Donoghue's book The Jesus Advantage: A New Approach to a Fuller Life. Just now I read this:
Jesus asserts that we are to love God with the entirety of our being - mind, heart, soul. The touchstone for the truth of our love for God is the love of our neighbor. 'You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.' But there's the rub. We don't really love ourselves. If the criterion of how we love our neighbors is the love we have for ourselves, our neighbor may be in trouble

Writing from my own, often painful experience (most of the pain self-inflicted), I would add that it is only the love God gives me in and through Christ by the power of their Holy Spirit, the kind of love Andy Freeman described Jesus having for Judas in Episode 28 of 24-7 Prayer's Anagnorisis series, that allows me to love myself. Hence, I can love because I am loved.

Speaking of God's love, no sooner had I posted this than I began to think about that ol' Ragamuffin, Brennan Manning. My thought was prompted by the profile picture of one of my Facebook friends that looked like Brennan. It turned out to be a photo of René Girard. I thought what a fitting time to think of Brennan Manning! Then it dawned on me that he died exactly one year ago this very day, 12 April 2013.

In his book Abba's Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging, Brennan wrote: "Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion." Please remember this week that Jesus did it all for love of you.

Palm Sunday: Prepare ye the way for the Lord...

Prepare ye the way for His Kingdom...
They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them,
and he sat upon them.
The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road,
while others cut branches from the trees
and strewed them on the road.
The crowds preceding him and those following
kept crying out and saying:
“Hosanna to the Son of David;
blessed is the he who comes in the name of the Lord;
hosanna in the highest.”
Holy Week begins. Come let us worship.

Pope Francis on the current milieu- a few thoughts in passing

Towards the end of my post castigating Brandeis University (see "Conscience: A matter on which I must take a stand") for siding with the oppressors instead of the oppressed by unilaterally deciding to withdraw the honorary doctorate they were going to confer on Ayaan Hirsi Ali, I wrote:
Let's not forget that Christians are not entirely guiltless in related matters. May we continue to repent and seek to live in the triumphant love of Jesus Christ, which we are preparing to celebrate at Easter. I think it's important for victims to be able to share their stories without fear of more violence
Therefore, I was very happy to read the very next morning what Pope Francis said about this matter during his meeting with the leadership of the France-based International Catholic Child Bureau:
I feel called to take responsibility for all the evil some priests – large in number, but not in proportion to the total – have committed and to ask forgiveness for the damage they’ve done with the sexual abuse of children.

The Church is aware of this damage
While I do not presume to lecture the Holy Father on what he should say, I do think, at least from where I sit, that continually expressing surprise that this would, or even could, happen in the Church, as the Pope did when he said that it was hard for him to believe that "men of the Church" would do such thing, is harmful. It can and has happened. We need to know that certain "men of the Church" are more than capable of such things. Who knows what evil lurks in the human heart? On the other hand, Deacon Greg, citing John Allen, rightly draws our attention to what Pope Francis did right in his remarks: "Why what Francis said about sex abuse yesterday matters."

A little more than a week ago, Deacon Greg also noted that reports of such outrageous behavior on the part of "men of the Church" continues to be reported here in the U.S. Some of these accusations proved to be substantial. According to the most recent USCCB audit, conducted for the period between 1 July 2012 - 30 June 2013, "936 Allegations Of Sexual Abuse Were Made Last Year." Of those, 27 "allegations have been substantiated." More than 700 clerics were accused of abuse, including more than 500 priests and 11 deacons.

At least Pope Francis seems to partially refute his dismay concerning certain evils committed by "men of the Church" with his refreshing emphasis on the fact that, precisely as Christians, as "men of the Church," our enemy has us in his cross-hairs. In his homily for daily Mass just yesterday, the Holy Father noted:
We too are tempted, we too are the target of attacks by the devil because the spirit of Evil does not want our holiness, he does not want our Christian witness, he does not want us to be disciples of Christ. And what does the Spirit of Evil do, through his temptations, to distance us from the path of Jesus? The temptation of the devil has three characteristics and we need to learn about them in order not to fall into the trap. What does Satan do to distance us from the path of Jesus? Firstly, his temptation begins gradually but grows and is always growing. Secondly, it grows and infects another person, it spreads to another and seeks to be part of the community. And in the end, in order to calm the soul, it justifies itself. It grows, it spreads and it justifies itself
It is impossible for our Enemy to succeed without our complicity.

As we asked some four years ago, "Alongside all the limitations and within the Church’s wounded humanity, is there or is there not something greater than sin, something radically greater than sin? Is there something that can shatter the inexorable weight of our evil?" We need to end the denial so as to end our collective self-deception by continually returning to the only One who is greater.

According the U.K.'s Catholic Herald newspaper, there were a few other things in Pope Francis' comments that, understandably, were lost as the result of his apology and strong condemnation of sexual abuse within the Church. I think these things are worth noting. I will even be so bold as to assert that these issues are tangentially related.

The first was the Pope's insistence of the need to defend a child's right "to grow in a family with a mother and father able to create a healthy environment for their growth and affective maturity," which allows the child to mature "in relationship to the masculinity and femininity of a father and a mother."

His Holiness also strongly defended the "right" of parents to determine the proper "moral and religious education" for their children. He insisted that this parental determination should not undermined by, or given a lesser priority, than the cirriculum offered in schools. School cirricula, he pointed out, to use the words from the Catholic Herald article, is often constituted by "thinly veiled courses of indoctrination into whatever ideology is strongest at the moment." In this vein, he went on to say that it is sometimes difficult to discern whether parents are sending their children to school for authentic education, or if they send their children "to a re-education camp" like those run by totalitarian regimes.

In his balanced manner, which balance is frequently lost in secular media reporting, he went on to state that children can't be raised in "glass jars," but need to be taught and equipped, as part of an authentic education, to grapple with contemporary issues in a media-saturated culture while respecting the freedom and dignity of others.

Friday, April 11, 2014

My bishop and the Rosman/Rocha Immigration Manifesto

Last Sunday, 6 April, just before the 11:00 AM Mass at The Cathedral of the Madeleine, where I am privileged to serve, I had the pleasure of welcoming my bishop, John Wester, back from his excursion earlier in the week to the southern Arizona desert. It was a trip he took with Cardinal O'Malley and eight other of his brother bishops to the border. As he shared some of the criticism he had received, much of it quite harsh, it occurred to me that immigration is about people before it is about politics. It is about politics because it is about people.

In my on-line browsing this week I spotted something in my Twitter feed from my friend Artur Rosman, who I believe to be one our brightest young Catholic thinkers, about immigration. Co-authored with Sam Rocha, I am happy to say that in their Immigration Manifesto, I have finally found an immigration position I can support.

At the level of what might be called "political theory," I especially applaud this:
This is why the Catholics need to look beyond national loyalties on this issue and many others. In 1960, when John F. Kennedy promised the Southern Baptists that he wasn’t going to be taking orders from Rome, he was telling them that he wouldn’t take the Vatican hardline on supporting the Civil Rights movement. Where has this gotten Catholics in American public life? Nowhere
In economic terms, especially given my distributist leanings, calling out this reality was refreshing:
The more important point is that, besides the covert and hidden ways we collectively profit from undocumented labor, there is the economic principle that is invoked on both sides of the U.S. political establishment: global capitalism. The idea, made concrete in NAFTA and countless political speeches and policies, by which goods and capital can move as freely as possible across borders, with little to no restraint, whereas people and their families are glued to their geopolitical and temporal conditions, is a perverse and inverted reversal

Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City takes a picture of a discarded backpack in the Arizona desert (photo by Nancy Wiechec for CNS)

Manifestos call for action. My posting this is my way of sharing this with my local Church as well as affixing my name to it. As Artur and Sam insist:
The United States must stop living in a scapegoating lie. Let’s face up to it: Our most basic services (food, farming, building) are provided by people from other countries, especially Mexico. The laws under which illegal immigrants live are fundamentally unjust. They are skewed toward corporations that take advantage of a labor force that’s legally captive. The corporations also collude in propagating laws that are designed to keep that labor force legally captive. We then have the temerity to impute the label illegal to these people whom we clearly need
Getting back to the bishops' trek to the border, I have long wondered if (and if not, why not) the Mexican bishops are actively redressing their government for the kind of political and economic reforms that would result in fewer people taking this life-threatening risk.

Jesus or religion: an oblique take on a false dichotomy

Here's a thought that occurred to me late this afternoon: One of the ways Catholics and Evangelicals fail to communicate is when Evangelicals denounce "religion" and insist on the primacy of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

I think the subtitle of Jefferson Bethke's book can help get past this impasse. It does this by succinctly stating what Evangelicals (often/usually) mean when the denounce "religion": Jesus > Religion: Why He Is So Much Better Than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough.

Even with this there remains some what we might call "ecclesiological dissonance." It seems to me that for Catholics and Evangelicals alike, the question is, How do we evangelize? Do people feel like they have earn acceptance in order to belong?

The truth of the Gospel is- Jesus did what you needed in order for to be good enough for God. Hence, nothing you can do will make God love you more, or less. I know this remains a scandal for many. You certainly can't add anything to what Christ did for you.

As I frequently mention, the question is never "Does God love me?" Rather, it is, "Do I love God?" At least for me, the honest answer is "Not as much as I should, not even as much as I think I want to." Isn't how much I want to, at least to some degree, shown forth by what I say and do?

In any case, what we "do" must have its source in love and be for love. Hence, I think the fundamental issue that remains between most Evangelicals and Catholics is whether grace is imputed or imparted. Imputed grace is a succinct way of referring to forensic justification, which holds that Christ's righteousness "covers" my unrighteousness like snow can cover a pile of dung (A metaphor used by Luther)> Imparted grace refers to God transforming me from the inside out, which speaks to the necessity of the sacraments and, in a particular way, the Eucharist. This is why I find the most compelling definition of grace to be, "God sharing divine life with us." I think we agree that whether grace is imputed or imparted it cannot be earned. If it were earned it couldn't be grace, right?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Conscience: a matter on which I must take a stand

As many of my readers know, Brandeis University, caving into intimidation, unilaterally decided the withdraw the honorary doctorate they were going to award Ayaan Hirsi Ali during their commencement next month. For those who do not know, Hirsi Ali first came to prominence in the Netherlands for collaborating with Theo Van Gogh on his film Submission. As a result of making this film, Van Gogh was stabbed-to-death in broad daylight on the street by an Islamic extremist. Ever since, Hirsi Ali, who briefly served as a member of the Dutch Parliament before running into citizenship issues, has lived in danger of being killed for letting her story be told in the film. Undaunted, she has bravely persisted in telling her story. Here is part of her response to the school's disgraceful act:

Ayaan Hirsi Ali
When Brandeis approached me with the offer of an honorary degree, I accepted partly because of the institution’s distinguished history; it was founded in 1948, in the wake of World War II and the Holocaust, as a co-educational, nonsectarian university at a time when many American universities still imposed rigid admission quotas on Jewish students. I assumed that Brandeis intended to honor me for my work as a defender of the rights of women against abuses that are often religious in origin. For over a decade, I have spoken out against such practices as female genital mutilation, so-called ‘honor killings,’ and applications of Sharia Law that justify such forms of domestic abuse as wife beating or child beating. Part of my work has been to question the role of Islam in legitimizing such abhorrent practices. So I was not surprised when my usual critics, notably the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), protested against my being honored in this way.

What did surprise me was the behavior of Brandeis (you can read her complete statement here)
So our early Friday traditio is Part One of Submission in English:

This makes me feel slightly better for not being able to post yesterday on the 69th anniversary of the martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Let's not forget that Christians are not entirely guiltless in related matters. May we continue to repent and seek to live in the triumphant love of Jesus Christ, which we are preparing to celebrate at Easter. I think it's important for victims to be able to share their stories without fear of more violence. I commend Ayaan Hirsi Ali for her courage, for not being intimidated into silence, even as I upbraid Brandeis University for their reprehensible cowardice.

UPDATE: Mark Shea weighs in on Brandeis University's poltroonery- "Gutless Brandeis U Chickens Out."

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Jesus Christ, Son of David

As I think I mentioned at the beginning of the year, I am following a program of reading the Holy Bible straight through in a year. Currently I am reading the book of 1 Chronicles. This is one of those books that begins with a lot of genealogies, which, even for a seasoned student of Scripture, can get a bit tedious. As with most worthwhile things in life, perseverance pays off. What struck me today was a prophecy given by God to Nathan, who, in turn, conveyed it to King David. This "word of God" (1 Chron 17:3) was given to Nathan at the time David was determined to build a temple, a House of the LORD, noting- "See, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of the covenant of the LORD is under tentcloth" (1 Chron 17:1).

Initially, Nathan encouraged David to carry out this plan. But God would not permit David to do so. This "word of God" ultimately proved to be more prophetic than either Nathan or David, both of whom surely believed this prophetic word to be fulfilled in a more this-worldly manner, could've imagined:
I was with you wherever you went, and I cut down all your enemies before you. I will make your name like that of the greatest on the earth. I will assign a place for my people Israel and I will plant them in it to dwell there; they will never again be disturbed, nor shall the wicked ever again oppress them, as they did at the beginning, and during all the time when I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will subdue all your enemies. Moreover, I declare to you that the LORD will build you a house: when your days have been completed and you must join your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you who will be one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He it is who shall build me a house, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me, and I will not withdraw my favor from him as I withdrew it from the one who was before you; but I will maintain him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be firmly established forever (1 Chron 17:8-14)

Of course it was David's son, Solomon, who built the first Temple in Jerusalem. Why not David? The answer David gives to Solomon a bit further on in 1 Chronicles, which the king received as a word from God, another word with both an imminent and ultimate meaning, is an answer that speaks, certainly not in a completely satisfactory manner, to all the violence we encounter in the Hebrew Scriptures.
My son, it was my purpose to build a house myself for the name of the LORD, my God. But this word of the LORD came to me: You have shed much blood, and you have waged great wars. You may not build a house for my name, because you have shed too much blood upon the earth in my sight. However, a son will be born to you. He will be a peaceful man, and I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side. For Solomon shall be his name, and in his time I will bestow peace and tranquility on Israel.It is he who shall build a house for my name; he shall be a son to me, and I will be a father to him, and I will establish the throne of his kingship over Israel forever (1 Chron 22:7-10)

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Cross of Christ: "the secret power of the true God"

I think politics matter, but not as much as we often suppose. Politics are provisional, not permanent. Let's not forget, "Blessed are you...," which is precisely that to which our truly persecuted sisters and brothers give witness. In our present milieu here in the United States, I reject that notion that fomenting fear is evangelization.

"The resurrection demonstrates that the true God has a power utterly superior to that of Caesar. The cross is thus to be seen, with deep and rich paradox, as the secret power of this true God, the power of self-giving love which (as Jesus said it would) subverts the power of the tyrant (Mk. 10:35-45)" N.T. Wright on Paul’s Letter to the Romans

If I accept what Paul so strongly asserts, the only question I have to answer is, How do I make Christ’s Cross present in the world?

Friday, April 4, 2014

"How bout that ever elusive 'could've'"

This week's Friday traditio is a video with vignettes from the movie "The Way." My first post in the month of April.

It's not just about the journey, it's also about the destination. As we make our way, we're pilgrims. Let's walk together, you and me.

This hill though high I covent ascend;
The difficulty will not me offend;
For I perceive the way of life lies here.
Come, pluck up, heart; let's neither faint nor fear-
John Bunyan from The Pilgrim's Progress

How bout me not blaming you for everything
How bout me enjoying the moment for once
How bout how good it feels to finally forgive you
How bout grieving it all one at a time

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...