Monday, June 30, 2014

A few notes on rights, the HHS mandate, and contraception

In light of today's Supreme Court ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby, which exempts that company from some aspects of the horrifically unjust HHS mandate, I think it's important to note that the state is not the source of our rights. The U.S. Constitution does not grant us rights, it seeks to enumerate the rights we have in order to protect these rights.

Rights cannot be granted or rescinded by popular vote. Our constitutional order wholly depends on there being a transcendent source of rights, namely God. This is why John Adams insisted, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people."

The state never has a compelling interest to coerce people to do what is objectively and intrinsically wrong. Further, while, I suppose one can claim the freedom to engage in certain behaviors that are objectively and intrinsically wrong, one may never claim a "right" to do those things.

Contrary to popular belief concerning Church teaching, birth control is not the issue, contraceptives are the issue. Birth control is an end, not a means. Contraception is one means to the end of birth control. It is not the only means of birth control. What is at stake from the perspective of the Catholic Church (i.e., why the Church opposes the HHS mandate as unjust) is the Church holds that contraceptives are an immoral means of birth control, that the use of contraceptives, to use two terms from the language of moral theology, is "objectively disordered," or "intrinsically evil." This can be explained simply by noting that when a man and a woman have sexual intercourse and a pregnancy results something went right, not wrong. The Church teaches that sexual intercourse has both a unitive and procreative dimension (Humanae Vitae par 12). This is why acting in a sexually responsible manner chiefly requires that one only has sexual intercourse with one's spouse.

Some will argue that if using artificial contraceptives, particularly "the pill," is wrong then so should be a whole slew of other medicines. While I certainly agree that people could avoid taking a lot of medications simply by living in a healthier manner, it is an apples and oranges comparison. For example, there is nothing objectively disordered about taking medication to keep your blood pressure down, even if going for a 45 minute walk everyday and eating healthier would do the same thing, or to keep your cholesterol low, even if changing your diet would have the same effect.

It is sometimes the case that a woman will be prescribed birth control pills for therapeutic reasons. This in and of itself does not present a moral problem. However, I would argue that given the effects on a woman's health by the prolonged use of birth control pills, I do not think this could be part of a long term treatment plan. While I am not a doctor or expert on matters medical, I would be wary of taking "the pill" even over a relatively short period of time. From the perspective of the Church, a woman who takes birth control pills for therapeutic reasons should abstain from sexual intercourse with her husband while taking "the pill," which also often (not always) and unpredictably acts as an abortifacient, causing a very early term chemical abortion. The so-called "morning after pill," which was a major focal point of the Hobby Lobby suit, is nothing except an abortifacient.

One's intentions do not determine the morality of an act. However, I have no doubt that many Catholics, who use various methods of contraception, including birth control pills and who even have sterilization procedures, believe they are acting in a conscientious manner, bear little or no moral culpability because those charged with forming their consciences have in many cases either not done so, or have malformed their consciences. This is one reason why we read in Sacred Scripture, "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you realize that we will be judged more strictly, for we all fall short in many respects" (James 3:1-2a).

In an attempt to tie the two strands of this post together more tightly, I'll end by noting that the Church is not arguing that contraception should be made illegal in the U.S., just that employers should not be legally obligated to pay for contraception in the health care plans they offer their employees. This is not an attempt by the Church to gain access to your bedroom, but to keep the government and your employer out of your bedroom, as well as to prevent the state from violating our God-given rights.

Rising above the provisional nature of politics, in order for me to take the Fortnight for Freedom with any seriousness at all, the USCCB and individual bishops need to promote Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, which, this year, is 20-26 July, not only with as much, but with even more vigor than the "Fortnight."

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

Readings: Readings: Acts 12:1-11; Ps 34:2-9; 2 Tim 4:6-8.17-18; Matt 16:13-19

I think it is important for us to keep track of the liturgical year, with what’s happening now as we celebrate anew the great Paschal mystery each year. Three weeks ago the Easter season ended with our celebration of the great feast of Pentecost, which is second in importance only to our celebration of Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday. A week later we celebrated the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, or, as it is more commonly called, Trinity Sunday. Then last Sunday we participated in the magnificent feast of Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Today, only by virtue of the fact that the twenty-ninth of June falls on a Sunday, we celebrate one of a number of solemnities that can replace a Sunday: the Solemnity of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. This is an ancient and venerable feast, one that is observed by Christians East and West dating from well before the schism of AD 1054.

Of course, Saints Peter & Paul are united by the fact that they both met their deaths in Rome. Paul was beheaded for an offense of which he had earlier been convicted, which conviction he appealed to the emperor. Making such an appeal was his right as a Roman citizen. He lost his appeal and was beheaded, probably in AD 67. The reason he was put to death by beheading, which was considered merciful, was also due to his being a Roman citizen. Peter was likely martyred during Nero’s persecution of Christians, which occurred in AD 64. Tradition hands on to us that St Peter, who, as we heard in today’s Gospel, was the first to confess Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16), insisted on being crucified upside down because he did not deem himself worthy to suffer and die in the same manner as Jesus Christ.

Peter’s profession, which the Lord made clear was not a conclusion he arrived at on his own, but was revealed to him, was the reason, to quote an ancient sermon for today’s solemnity by Pope St Leo the Great, that Jesus entrusted “to one Apostle alone… what was communicated to all the Apostles” (Sermon 83/2).

St. Peter in the West transcept of The Cathedral of the Madeleine

As most of us know, there was tension between these two apostles that stemmed primarily from a dispute about the role of the Mosaic law in the life of the primitive Church. This was a very divisive issue, one that was resolved by the “Council of Jerusalem,” the proceedings of which are described in the fifteenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. In the second chapter of his Letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote that when Peter “came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong. For, until some people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to draw back and separated himself, because he was afraid of the circumcised” (Gal 2:11-12). Paul here accused Peter of consorting with the so-called Judaizers, who insisted that in order to become Christians even Gentiles had to observe the law of Moses, including men being circumcised.

Conversely, in 2 Peter 3:16, concerning the complex composition of Paul’s letters, we read: “In them there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures.” This is only one of a number of examples that could be given to show something that many people find very vexing, namely that there have been disagreements in the Church from the beginning.

It was G.K. Chesterton, who apparently came with a pithy quote at the rate of about two per minute, who observed, “Every heresy is a truth taught out of proportion.” Christian orthodoxy, beginning with the most fundamental mystery of our faith, that of the Most Holy Trinity, usually requires holding two or more disparate things in tension. And so I think it is fitting that the sanctuary of our lovely Cathedral, including the very ambo from which I am now preaching, is flanked by these two great apostles: St Peter to the West and St Paul to the East.

St Paul in the East transcept of The Cathedral of the Madeleine

In the end, I think the antiphon for the Magnificat for Evening Prayer I of this great solemnity states the matter well: “How glorious are the apostles of Christ; in life they loved one another; in death they rejoice together forever.” You see, my friends, love, at least on this side of heaven, is not devoid of conflict and strife. In fact, it is precisely through conflict and strife that our love is brought to perfection. This is not only true of Sts Peter & Paul, but of wives and husbands, parents and children, brothers and sisters, friends, and, yes, even of fellow parishioners.

The what that united Peter and Paul during their earthly lives and unites them forever is not a what, but a who: Jesus Christ. Both men sealed their apostleship with their blood. The lives and deaths of these holy apostles demonstrate the truthfulness of our Psalm response- “The angel of the Lord will rescue those who fear him.”

Our takeaway today, I think, is encouragement. We should be encouraged by the fact that the Lord has provided and will continue to provide for his Church until He returns. The ordinations we celebrated yesterday are concrete proof of that. This should give us the courage to say, with St Paul, who was not spared a martyr’s death, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly Kingdom” (2 Tim 4:18).

Saints Peter and Paul, holy apostles and martyrs, pray for us.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is a lovely celebration and observance. Many Catholics, when they think of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus probably think about all the kitschy depictions of it. Since I converted to Catholicism as a young adult and having been raised in the least Catholic of environments, I actually find a lot of Catholic kitsch attractive, if not attractive, then certainly intriguing, but I understand the sentimentality attached to a lot of it, which can have the effect diluting true devotion.

From Fr Peter Nguyen, SJ's blog Alfred Delp: A Self-surrender at the heart of the world, these words from Alfred Delp, SJ
Familiarity with God entails no lack of reverence. We are no longer familiar with the secret life of the devout. But the devout is the only true person. Only he is capable of the immense experiences and benefits of the human heart, of prayer and of love.

The kitschy nature, which annoys many a heart when it comes to the call of mercy in the message of the devotion to the Heart of Jesus obstructs the call of mercy and has ruined so many human echoes, stems from this lack of reverence
We honor the heart of your Son broken by man's cruelty,
yet symbol of love's triumph, pledge of all that man is called to be.
Teach us to see Christ in the lives we touch,
to offer him living worship by love-filled service to our brothers and sisters.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Our Friday traditio is "Sacred Heart" sung by The Civil Wars:

It's one of those songs the beauty of which depends on to whom you imagine yourself singing it.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Corpus Christi

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink" (John 6:52-56)
In this passage Jesus spoke quite literally. Why else would His words elicit that response?

The empirical evidence that bread and wine are transformed by the Holy Spirit into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ is supposed to be the lives of those of us who regularly partake of the Blessed Sacrament. I have no doubt that our Lord intended it to be that way. Such a view does not preclude or exclude eucharistic miracles. But keep in mind that Jesus was quite ambivalent about the miracles he performed. This view is given credence by something earlier in the sixth chapter of St. John's Gospel.

After the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, Jesus, along with His disciples, crossed the Sea of Galilee (during which crossing Jesus joined the disciples by walking on the water). The crowds followed and, upon finding Him the next day, they asked Him, "Rabbi, when did you get here?" Jesus replied:
Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal (John 6:26-27)
You see, the miracle He performed was a sign, that is, it pointed beyond itself to something else. There are those who balk at using the words "sign" and "symbol" to describe Christ's Real Presence, but, the fact is, it is both a sign and a symbol. Objections to describing the Blessed Sacrament using those terms are, I believe, the kind of thing Walker Percy had in mind when, in his treatise on semiotics, he wrote: "There is an almost intractable confusion about the terms sign and symbol."

The Blessed Sacrament is neither "merely" a sign, it is an efficacious sign, nor merely a symbol, though it surely is that too. It is a symbol when the Son of God makes Himself present to us in and through these every day things. Our words and categorizations always fall short of the mysterium tremendum. It is precisely this about which Corpus Christi seeks to remind us.

Walker Percy on escaping solipsism by means of language

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had read the section of semiotics in Walker Percy's Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book. As I read it, I was outlining a fairly lengthy post, making all kinds of connections. Semiotics excite me because back in my student days, when I was a Philosophy student, I was immersed in the Philosophy of Language. I was particularly engaged with the work of Jacques Derrida and Ludwig Wittgenstein. I still have books, notes and plans for a thesis on a comparative study of some aspect of language between these two philosophers.

The main reason I have not posted much here the past few months is simply a function of not having the time to do so. As summer gets underway, I plan to post more regularly. Like most people who have "blogged" for a long time, it was an evolution realizing that quality trumps quantity. But, since we love to quantify, with this post, I have exceeded last month's output by 1.

Jacques Derrida

Instead of the post I rigorously outlined, I simply copied and pasted my notes and highlights from the Notepad document I copied from my Kindle, on which I read Lost in the Cosmos. I hope I did this in a way that is coherent and comprehensible:

"The wonder to the scientist is not that God made the world but that the works of God can be understood in terms of a mechanism without giving God a second thought" Percy

"Is it not indeed more wonderful to understand the complex mechanisms (dyads) by which the DNA of a sperm joins with the DNA of an ovum to form a new organism than to have God snap his fingers and create an organism like a rabbit under a hat?" Percy

"The nearest thing to a recorded world of signs is the world of H. C. Earwicker in Joyce’s Finnegan's Wake Percy

A note I made: language and the loss of wonder. Giussani saying new things with old words. John XXIII language and dogma, etc.

"FIRST BIRD WATCHER: What is that? SECOND BIRD WATCHER: That is only a sparrow. A devaluation has occurred. The bird itself has disappeared into the sarcophagus of its sign... A sparrow can be recovered under conditions of catastrophe. The German soldier in All Quiet on the Western Front could see an ordinary butterfly as a creature of immense beauty and value in the trenches of the Somme" Percy

A note I made: the twilight of Christendom, does it present us with such a possibility- the possibility of recovery through catastrophe?

"A poet can wrench signifier out of context and exhibit it in all its queerness and splendor" Percy. Followed by my note: Tricia Lockwood does this

"Scientists recover the inexhaustible mystery of the signified from the mundane closed-off simulacrum of the world-sign" Percy. Followed by my note: Yes, but scientists like Tyson also get confused and truncate this by reducing God to an endeavor undertaken by a sign user, namely science, which descriptive and which spurs creativity from something, not nothing. One of the worst mistakes is believing you can derive metaphysics from physics, or world from environment without triadic relation

A note I made: we are creatures of meaning.which is why the question "Why?" is constitutive of our humanity. it is also a sure sign of the ontological barrier between God us, whom Von Balthasar dubbed the "humanum." See Lewis from A Grief Observed on Eucharist of signifier for Christ - effacacious sign

"Then, like von Frisch and his bees, he discovered there is no end to the mystery of ants" Percy

"What Descartes did not know: no such isolated individual as he described can be conscious" Percy

Walker Percy

"It is no etymological accident that the prefix con- is part of the word, since the origin of consciousness is the initiation of the sign-user into the world of signs by a sign-giver" Percy

"joyful concelebration of the world through an utterance in which the ancient environment of the Cosmos is transformed and beheld in common through the magic prism of the sign, it is also, semiotically speaking, an Eden which harbors its own semiotic snake in the grass" Percy

"Semiotically, the self is literally unspeakable to itself" Percy. Followed by my note: Wittgenstein's private language. Indeed, one person is no person

"You are not a sign in your world" Percy. Followed by my note: Descartes Kant, etc.

"From the moment the signifying self turned inward and became conscious of itself... As a consequence of the unprecedented appearance of the triad in the Cosmos, there appeared for the first time in fifteen billion years (as far as we know) a creature which is ashamed of itself and which seeks cover in exile from Eden is, semiotically, the banishment of the self-conscious self" Percy.

"Might they not have achieved the world of signs without succumbing to the terrible penalty?" Percy. Followed by my note: The fall- oh happy fault? Becoming like God, but in a satanic, or hellish way. In other words, it is to be deceived about divinity and to pursue that- idol worship. God is a communion of divine persons, we are singular non-divine persons. Divinization, what ever that may entail, is something that can't happen on my own. Hence, loving my neighbor. Is it a turning from the concelebration of the world to a solitary absorption with self?

"In a post-religious technological society, these traditional resources of the self are no longer available, leaving in general only the two options: self conceived as immanent, consumer of the techniques, goods, and services of society; or as transcendent, a member of the transcending community of science and art... That is to say, he stands in a posture of objectivity over against the world, a world which he sees as a series of specimens or exemplars, and interactions, energy exchanges, secondary causes—in a word: dyadic events." Percy. Followed by a note, which is a quote from C.S. Lewis' A Grief Observed: “If H. 'is not,' then she never was. I mistook a cloud of atoms for a person. There aren’t, and never were, any people. Death only reveals the vacuity that was always there. What we call the living are simply those who have not yet been unmasked. All equally bankrupt, but some not yet declared"

"The alienation of the artist puzzles many, both the scientists and technologists who are happy and busy and their lay beneficiaries who are happy in the immanence of consumption... it is no accident that, for the past hundred years or so, the artist (poet, novelist, painter, dramatist) has registered a dissent from the modern proposition that, with the advance of science and technology, man’s lot will improve in direct proportion" Percy

"the self can be as desperately stranded in the transcendence of theory as in the immanence of consumption" Percy ==========

"The paradox comes to pass because the impoverishments and enrichments of a self in a world are not necessarily the same as the impoverishments and enrichments of an organism in an environment" Percy. Followed by my note: Intersubjectivity.

"There is an almost intractable confusion about the terms sign and symbol" Percy

"My own conviction is that semiotics provides an escape from the solipsist prison by its stress on the social origins of language—you" Percy

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Just last night I read a very good and rather short article in Commonweal by Prof Scott Moringiello, who teaches at Villanova: "Perpetua, Feliciy, Ludwig." Moringiello discloses a plan (one I hope he carries out):
I’ve been playing around with an idea for a paper that would compare Wittgenstein’s dictum that following a rule is fundamental to a language game with Irenaeus of Lyon’s conception of the rule of faith as the measure of a proper interpretation of Scripture. I haven’t gotten as far as I’d like with the paper, but in my reading (and in many cases re-reading), I’ve been reminded about how seriously Wittgenstein took questions of witness. For him, doing philosophical work was part of living life as a fundamentally decent human being. Wittgenstein did not consider himself a Christian, but he famously said to a friend, “I am not a religious man, but I can’t help seeing every problem for a religious point of view.” I dislike the words “religion” and “religious” for reasons that need not detain me here. But Wittgenstein seems to mean that a religious person understands himself as ethically serious and he sees the world as a source of wonder

Friday, June 20, 2014

"I Am the Lord of the Dance"

I just finished watching Series 3 of the British television program "Rev." This scene, which I post with no spoilers, I found simply breathtaking.

If this doesn't move your heart, you're overdue for a spiritual check-up. I think I can say that we've all been in this place- trying to keep something that matters to us alive and realizing we just don't have the strength to do it. It's beyond discouraging. In my experience, Jesus never comes more quickly to meet me than when I am close to despair. He doesn't give me all the answers, or even try to solve all my problems for me. These experiences are probably why this scene resonates so deeply with me.

Let's face it, life can be a bitch. What's the point in pretending otherwise? I think this is one of the clues, what Rowan Williams might call a "token of trust," that we are made for more. It's okay to follow my heart, as long as I am ruthlessly honest, which is often excruciating.

Writing only on behalf of myself, Jesus always reminds me that, indeed, the open hand has the strongest grip, and that when I am weak, then I am strong. You know what? That's just how it is. I have to trust that it is all leading me not just somewhere, but to where I want to be.

Given all this, smile a little, even through the tears. What the hell? Sing and dance too!

"Morning has broken, like the first morning"

"Morning Has Broken," which is our Friday traditio this week, while made popular by Cat Stevens in the early 1970s, was not composed by him. First and foremost, "Morning Has Broken" is a Christian hymn, with words composed by English writer Eleanor Farjeon. It was first published in 1931. The hymn uses a traditional Scottish Gaelic tune called "Bunessan."

I use this hymn a lot when presiding at Morning Prayer when there is no set program, including no predetermined opening hymn. If every going to sleep is a little death, then every awakening is, in a sense, to arise anew, then resurrection is part of our everyday experience, which gives us true hope, thus not relegating us merely to some exercise in wishing. "Morning Has Broken" captures this well, at least it does for me, just as it helps us sing our longing.

Esther Ofarim, a lovely Yemeni Jewish chanteuse, singing this beautiful song, is our traditio today, which here, along the Wasatch Front, after this week's cooling rain (snow in the higher elevations), is glorious. People who try to force me to choose between one beautiful thing and another beautiful thing (I don't believe anything is more both/and than beauty), are engaging in what I can only describe as a form of spiritual fascism.

Verse 3:
Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God's recreation of the new day

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Trinity Sunday reminds us "God is love"

I am firmly convinced that as Christians our reflections about the nature of God should begin with Jesus Christ, Theanthrōpos ("the God-man"). Any other starting point is defeated from the get-go for its failure to take account of the fullness of God's revelation, which nothing apart from God's becoming incarnate in the Person of Jesus Christ. In 2 Corinthians St. Paul wrote about this. He begins by noting that when Moses came down off the mountain after his direct encounter with the living God he had to veil his face "so that the Israelites could not look intently at the cessation of what was fading" (2 Cor 3:13). Then Christ came. As a result, we are now able to gaze "with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord" even as we "are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Cor 3:18).

Of course, there is nothing more Trinitarian than the Eucharist. While the Mass is Trinitarian from beginning to end (beginning and ending by our making the Sign of the Cross), I find the epiclesis to be particularly so: "Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the Body + and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ" (Eucharistic Prayer II).

In my view the best and probably most succinct way to define the Most Holy Trinity is "one God in three divine persons." The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, while distinct persons (i.e., distinct and distinguishable One from the Other), all share equally in the divine nature, having such attributes as omniscience, omnipotence, simplicity, infinitude, aeternity, etc. As I never tire of pointing out, the mystery of the Holy Trinity, which is, properly speaking, a mystery of faith (i.e., not knowable by the unaided light of natural reason, but requires revelation to be known), is not somehow trying to get your mind around a gross arithmetical error (i.e., How does 3=1?). The mystery lies in grasping that "God is love" (1 John 4:8.16), which is more experiential than intellectual.

Don't we call the Eucharist the sacramentum caritatis, the sacrament of love? Given the many, many different meanings, under the weight of which the English word "love" gets crushed, it's important to distinguish the kind of love referred to in this passage. The word used in both 1 John 4:8 and 1 John 4:16 is agapé. Most of the time way too much is made by Christian exegetes about the uniqueness of this word. So, sticking with Johannine corpus (and the lectionary), let's turn to John 3:16-17: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him."

Love requires requires a lover and beloved. Love is also profuse, not closed in. Hence, love is fruitful. I think the collect for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity provides a beautiful way of wrapping up this reflection:

God our Father, who by sending into the world
the Word of truth and the Spirit of sanctification
made known to the human race your wondrous mystery,

grant us, we pray, that in professing the true faith,
we may acknowledge the Trinity of eternal glory
and adore your Unity, powerful in majesty.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Friday, June 13, 2014

"that third way is love, we're going to love you"

Because I have not been posting much lately, it is without hesitation that I post a second time today. What I am posting is the film The Third Way. The run time for the film, without credits, is about 35:50. If nothing else, it gives us the opportunity to hear from several men and women who are homosexual. For me, this reinforced the need to listen and to love without judgment. The Church needs to be a place where we can all come, just as we are and be accepted. God will heal and change what needs healing and changing, our job is to love and to let ourselves be loved (the latter is not as easy as it sounds, at least not for me). If Christians refuse to love like Jesus loves, then who will do it?

It's important to note that the women and men who share their experiences in this film do not reflect the experiences of all men and women who are homosexual. But by sharing they give us the great privilege of listening to their stories. Regardless of sexual dispositions, or pre-dispositions, or whatever, our greatest need, as human beings, is to be loved. This goes to the core of our being, to the imago dei we all bear; we're made from Love and we're made to love. But to experience being loved, we have to see ourselves as lovable (again, not as easy as it sounds). We're not so different. I'll be so bold as to assert what for Christians ought to be commonplace- we're all disordered in some way, probably in some very "deep" way.

Another place I would draw to attention is Sarah and Lindsey's blog A Queer Calling: Reflections on the experiences of a celibate, LGBT, Christian couple. I can't begin to express how grateful I am to them for sharing their views and insights.

UPDATE: To my mind something like this film is merely a starting point, a way of helping a lot of us get over our fear of the other. One can't just watch this short movie and say, "Okay, now I get it," and leave it there. This is true for no other reason than, as I mentioned already, the experiences so generously shared by those featured in the film are not comprehensive. Like any human issue, while grasping some generalities may help, everyone's experience is different. It's safe to say that many homosexual men and women, like Joey in the film, live well-adjusted lives in committed relationships and without the self-destructive behaviors of drug and alcohol abuse. Heaven knows there are plenty of traumatized heterosexual people who engage in self-destructive behaviors and whose relationships are toxic as a result.

In a letter he wrote to Dorothy Day, Pater Tom (Merton) noted
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody's business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy if anything can
What renders us worthy is the imago dei of which we are all bearers. The divine image, in which each human being is lovingly created, is ineradicable. To use the quote by N.T. Wright, which appears in my masthead at the top of my blog: Amor, ergo sum: I am loved, therefore I am.

"Cause we may not be the young ones very long"

With the unexpected death of actor Rik Mayall this week, I think our traditio needs to be related to one of my all-time favorite television shows, which aired on MTV in the 1980s- The Young Ones. Mayall was one of the show's creators and writers. For those who are unfamiliar with this program, there is plenty you can find on the internet, which will spare me the effort of exhaustively explaining it.

The basic concept is four ostensible and very disparate university students living together in London. Mayall played Rik the thoroughly bourgeois anarcho-socialist who is studying sociology and domestic studies. Rik is a bit of a walking contradiction, who fancies himself "the People's Poet," the voice of his generation, but who absolutely idolizes Cliff Richard, about whom my friend Patrick wrote, "No one rocked a center-part, white man overbite, and bulging crotch pants like Cliff Richard!" In short, Rik is a poseur.

The brilliance of the show was its ham-fisted, silly, highly exaggerated, and frentic nature. Oh, and it was just straight up funny, but certainly with some depth. In addition to The Young Ones theme, our traditio will feature a poem "Cliff," by the People's Poet, and a "Best of Rik" compilation:

Mayall went on to do other things, most particularly The New Statesmen, in which he played a MP, the Right Honorable Alan B'stard. You may read Rik Mayall's obituary in the Telegraph.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Whitsun Embering: Observing Pentecost Ember Week

In the Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions the week between Pentecost and Trinity Sunday is an Ember Week. Historically Christians who belong to these traditions participate in an Ember Week by observing Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday as days of fasting and abstinence. As always, days of fasting and abstinence call for more time in prayer. Rogation and Ember days, while no longer obligatory for Roman Catholics, were not abolished after the Second Vatican Council.

Ember days were uniformly set forth for the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Clermont in AD 1095, the same council at which Pope Urban II called forth the First Crusade. As a result, there was a Latin mnemonic: Dant Crux, Lucia, Cineres, Charismata Dia/Ut sit in angariâ quarta sequens feria. From this an English mnemonic: Fasting days and Emberings be Lent, Whitsun, Holyrood, and Lucie, "Holyrood" refers to the Feast of the Holy Cross, observed 14 September, and "Whitsun" is Pentecost Sunday. It is the "Whitsun" Embering we have the opportunity to observe this week.

In addition to fasting and prayer, we are encouraged to celebrate (yes, celebrate) the Sacrament of Penance during Ember weeks. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal indicates, "In the drawing up of the Calendar of a nation, the Rogation Days and Ember Days should be indicated (cf. no. 373), as well as the forms and texts for their celebration" (par. 395). Due to all the criticism, often exaggerated and unjust, of the Second Vatican Council when it comes to such matters, I think it is important to note that what the Council Fathers and Venerable Pope Paul VI, who was given the arduous task of the implementing the Council, were seeking was not to abolish these tried and true means of spiritual and ecclesial growth, but to promote spiritual maturity among the faithful not by laying heavy burdens on them, but issuing an invitation.

They sought to promote such growth by lifting the obligatory nature of such practices, including Friday abstinence outside of Lent, which is even now the preferred way of observing each Friday as a penitential day. It bears noting that by stating that something is obligatory, it means that a member of faithful's deliberate failure to do it amounts to committing a sin. As with Friday abstinence outside of Lent, the failure to promote Ember days after the Council has undoubtedly resulted not only in them being little observed, by even very little known about by large numbers of the faithful, including the clergy (who are a subset of faithful, not a group over and above them). Currently there are only two obligatory days of fasting: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. I remember teaching an adult Sunday school class a number of years ago and trying to make this exact point.

As I was discussing the change in Catholic practice of fasting and abstinence after Vatican II, an older lady in the class stated that she remembered a priest telling her straight up that if you ate meat on Friday and did not repent and confess it you would go to hell. I do not believe that failure, or even refusal, to abstain from meat on Fridays is a damnable offense for a number of reasons, but that's another post (actually a number of previous posts). Fasting, along with prayer and alms-giving, is a spiritual discipline given us by our Lord Himself. Along with prayer and alms-giving, it is one necessary component of any authentic Christian spirituality. I have written on the various ways these disciplines work together to open us to God's grace. In my view, fasting serves what might be described as an integrating function between prayer and alms-giving. I will end with an observation made by James Kushiner (one I run the risk of over-using):
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"
I invite you to join me this week, not because you have to, or out of a guilt-ridden sense of obligation, which is foreign to Christianity, but because it is a great opportunity.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Some reflections on Pentecost and the Holy Spirit

Pentecost, which has it origins as the Jewish celebration of God's giving the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai, is the Christian celebration and commemoration of the Father and the Son sending the Holy Spirit upon the Blessed Mother, the apostles, and other disciples who were assembled together fifty days after Christ's resurrection. We mark this event as the beginning of the Church, which remains, even now, as a Spirit-gathered assembly, or, to use transliterated Greek, ekkleisa. The airburst detonation of the Holy Spirit as recorded in Acts 2 bears more than a passing resemblance to what happened immediately after our Lord was baptized by John in the Jordan, when the Spirit descended on Him in the form of dove, thus anointing Him and confirming His messiahship. In like manner, the Holy Spirit descended upon, formed, and has remained with the Church, thus confirming that She, like Her Bridegroom, is simultaneously human and divine. One final observation along scriptural lines is that just as "a mighty wind" swept "over the waters" (Gen 1:2) at the dawn of creation bringing forth new life, so the Spirit exploding over the gathered disciples brings forth new life. The takeaway here is that, contrary to what many believe, Christians are not fundamentally "people of the book." Christians are the Spirit-filled people of the resurrected and living Lord. As Luke Timothy Johnson wrote in Living Jesus: Learning the Heart of the Gospel- the Spirit is mode of Christ's resurrection presence in us and among us. In other words, the Holy Spirit is the way that Jesus Christ fulfills His promise to always to be with us, to never abandon us.

As the apostle wrote, "we were all given to drink of one Spirit" ( 1 Cor 12:13). The Holy Spirit is God's life-giving breath. Receiving our Lord in communion happens by the power of the Holy Spirit. Being forgiven our sins in confession is effected by the power of the Holy Spirit. Marriages are not just made sacramental, but become sacraments, that is, visible and tangible signs of Christ's presence in and for the world, by the Spirit's power. Too often we take our cue from the world, seeing the gifts of the Spirit only in those who stand out in some way, who are good singers, good preachers, good teachers, gifted painters, able to write well, articulate, good looking, etc. This is to be mislead and often leads to being deceived and results in many leaving the faith. Being drawn this way builds up the egos of the ones who possess these things and usually has bad results.

Pentecost, by István Dorffmaister, 1782

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord. The fruits these gifts bear in the lives of Spirit-filled people are not necessarily things like speaking in tongues, prophesying, healing, etc., etc. The fruits of the Spirit are laid out by St. Paul in his Letter to the Galatians: "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (5:22-23). While it is possible to utter the words "Jesus is Lord" in an insincere, or even joking and mocking manner, it is impossible to truly profess Him as Lord except by the power of the Holy Spirit. The evidence that Jesus is Lord of your life is your manner of living, whether the Spirit is bearing fruit in you. Jesus said,
By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit.
A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit.
Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
So by their fruits you will know them (Matt 7:16-20)
I want to end with a few stanzas from the Sequence for Mass During the Day on Pentecost, the Veni, Sancte Spiritus:

O most blessed Light divine,
Shine within these hearts of yours,
And our inmost being fill!

Where you are not, we have naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill.

Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.

Friday, June 6, 2014

"Got a ticket to my destination"

Another week without posting. Hence, this is my first post for the month of June. I have several things in the works. I decided beforehand not to post much during Easter. I made that decision for no reason other than I knew I would be busy. I have been even busier than anticipated. I spent the past week in Georgia and Alabama. While humid, northern Alabama is lovely. I just arrived home about an hour ago.

Reading Walker Percy's treatment of semiotics in Lost in the Cosmos took me back and moved me ahead. Something good will come of that I am certain.
My own conviction is that semiotics provides an escape from the solipsist prison by its stress on the social origins of language--you have to point to an apple and name it for me before I know there is such a thing--and the existence of a world of apples outside ourselves
Since language is how we, as human beings, access reality, it's a short-to-medium leap from this to, "One person is no person." As a Christian there's no better marker for that than the triune nature of God, which we will celebrate a week from tomorrow.

Ferdinand de Saussure

In honor of my homecoming today, Jack's Mannequin covering Simon & Garfunkel's "Homeward Bound" is our Friday traditio. There's an f-bomb in the pre-song introduction. So, if you're bothered by that you can take a pass:

And each town looks the same to me, the movies and the factories
And ev'ry stranger's face I see reminds me that I long to be,
Homeward bound,

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: Hosea 2:16.17c.18.21-22; Ps 145:2-9; Matthew 9:18-26 Our Gospel today is Saint Matthew’s version of events first written about ...