Sunday, August 30, 2015

Being overwhelmed and stultified

This is one of my "on-the-fly" observations on a subject that has been on my mind a good deal lately. In our contemporary world communication is instantaneous. As we witnessed with the earthquake in Haiti, the demonstrations in Egypt, and many other instances people can Tweet, or post to Facebook, Instagram, etc. what is happening as it happens from just about anywhere in the world. And so we are more aware than ever before of what is going on throughout the world without the media filtering our access to events. In many ways this is a good thing. In some ways it is not so good. This awareness threatens to overwhelm us and tends to overburden us. I don't know about you, but I upon hearing about certain things, I have the urgent feeling I need to do something. But when I consider what I might do, apart from posting something indignant on social media, or blogging about it, I am at loss. It usually amounts to providing some financial support to a worth group that is already engaged.

We have become awfully fond of saying or typing "That is a first world problem." Indeed, some of gripes and perceived indignities are not really very significant either in and of themselves or in light of what many of our fellow human beings face on a daily basis. Pope Francis was quite right to point out the gross immorality of wasting food when many people on the planet are starving, or doing what we can in our lives, in our homes, our yards, our neighborhoods, to be good stewards of the good earth God has given us.

While we need to be aware of what is going on in the world and respond appropriately, we need to understand that what we can personally do is really quite limited. In all honesty, what you can do to, say, stop ISIS, is quite paltry. We have to recognize, this reality as painful as it is. But we also need to grasp that living in the developed world, living in a Western country, has its own legitimate perils, which are indeed first world problems, which makes them, not trivial, but all the more grave and perplexing.

Clearly we live in culture that is in many ways spiritually and psychologically devastating, even if physically comfortable. Besides, like most people on planet earth, I can only live the life that I have, the life I have been given. I can't conjure up a different life and make it happen, at least not in a morally responsible manner. The more commitments we have vis-à-vis marriage and family, the less latitude we have to make radical lifestyle choices.

Spiritual poverty is the worst kind of poverty. That may sound outrageous in a world in which so many suffer from abject material want, which, again, we need to be interested in and engaged to the extent we can in alleviating. The spiritual poverty of the society I inhabit is stultifying to me. I choose the word "stultifying" deliberately. In the first instance to be stultified is "to lose enthusiasm and initiative, especially as a result of a tedious or restrictive routine." This brings up the need for us to come up with creative ways of engaging our spiritually desolate culture lest it overtakes us.

In my view, a leading cause of our spiritual poverty is that we're often too global at the expense of being local. We lack fully human communities, ones in which we engage each other in person and work for the common good of those among whom we live, seeking to solve local problems locally. Trust me, you don't have to go to a Third World country to find people who need help of various kinds. Maybe it's something as simple as visiting a neighbor who lives alone and who doesn't seem to have any family, or having that person to your house for supper, to give just one example.

Life with Christ, if it truly is life with Christ, is never tedious or, believe it or not, restrictive. It exciting and free. As the Catechism teaches- "The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to 'the slavery of sin'" (1733). This is one of those teachings that you shouldn't take anyone's word for. Why? Because it's something you can verify in reality through experience.

As Bob Dylan sang, "Gotta Serve Somebody." You serve where you are, in the circumstances in which you find yourself, not by imagining or wishing you were somewhere else. A good deal of the time all our social media advocacy amounts to nothing more than tilting at windmills. The question we need to ask ourselves each day is, Have I fully lived the circumstances in which I found myself today? This is where the ancient practice of the Examen is so valuable. After all, it was our Lord Himself who taught us, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Sufficient to the day is its own trouble" (Matt 6:4).

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Following Jesus is a matter of the heart

Readings: Deut 4:1-2.6-8; Ps 15:2-5; Jas 1:17-18. 2:21b-22.27; Mark 7:1-8.14-15.21-23

In making an attempt to comeback from a bit of a blogging vacation the last half of August I am faced with the readings for this Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time. Why do I find them daunting? I find them daunting because these are just the kinds of readings that can easily and often are dealt with in a Pelagian manner, that is, in a way that makes it sound like God helps those who help themselves and that it is by our own strenuous efforts that we are saved. (It's important to note that salvation really equates to being made whole and complete- we were made for life eternal). Orthodoxy, right belief, which informs right action, most often consists in maintaining tension between two seeming disparate ideas/concepts/beliefs. And so, as Newton's Third Law holds, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In other words, while we do not and cannot attain holiness (wholeness) by ourselves, sanctification (holiness) is not a passive endeavor.

In our readings for this Sunday we see a stark contrast between the Old and New Testaments. In our first reading from Deuteronomy Moses enjoins the Israelites to faithfully keep all of the commandments that God has enjoined on them through him. Moses tells them that the commandments of God, far from being an arbitrary set of rules that make little sense, are the paragon of wisdom and virtue. Of course, we know the subsequent history of Israel is a long story that veers from fidelity to infidelity to their covenant with God. Through it all, God remained (and remains) faithful to Israel. But it took Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, to fulfill in His own person what Israel was unable to do over the long course of its history.

Ultimately, keeping the commandments of God is a matter of the heart. This is the point made in our second reading from the Letter of James as well as what Jesus focuses on in our Gospel. This is not to say that obeying the commandments, which can be summarized as loving God with your whole being and loving your neighbor as yourself, is unimportant. Rather, it's why, as a disciple, as a follower, of Jesus you strive to live your life in a certain manner. St Paul wrote about just this in his Letter to the Colossians:
Therefore, from the day we heard this, we do not cease praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding to live in a manner worthy of the Lord, so as to be fully pleasing, in every good work bearing fruit and growing in the knowledge of God, strengthened with every power, in accord with his glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy giving thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light. He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (1:9-14)
We may well ask, "Is it possible to live this way?" Our answer comes from the lives of so many saints, people like Mother Teresa, Gianna Molla, Utah's own Cora Evans, St Francis of Assisi, St Faustina, et al.

While we practice, or ought to practice, spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting and abstinence, solitude, and confession on a regular basis, as Christians we do not have elaborate prescriptions and proscriptions of the kind found in the 613 mitzvot followed by observant Jews, or even the fewer laws of Islam. We don't believe that practicing these disciplines are ends in themselves, but means to an end, namely closer union with God and living in a more self-sacrificial manner. It is because, as Jesus taught, "Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile" (Mark 7:15) that we can fairly say being a Christian is more difficult, more demanding, than being anything else.

In his book Unapologetic, Francis Spufford captured this well when he observed that, in contrast to Judaism and Islam, Christianity does not consist of "a set of sustainable rules for living by" (43). To wit:
Jewish laws of behavior and Muslim laws of behavior may be demanding to keep at times, but they can be kept. That's the point of them, that's what they're for. Eating kosher or halal can involve juggling with saucepans and reading the sides of packets carefully, but it isn't privation. Getting up at dawn for prayer can be a pain, but it won't leave you short of sleep, if you go to bed at a sensible hour. Refraining from work on Shabbat is tricky, if you define "work" to include all household chores, and it takes some organization, but not an impossible organization. Wiggle-room is kindly built in to the rules, so that you can cope if your water bursts on Shabbat, or if you're traveling and there really is no way of telling the direction to pray in. Nothing crazy or superhuman is required of you... In Judaism and Islam, you don't have to be a saint to know that you are managing to be a good man (44)
"Christianity," Spufford notes, "does something different. It makes frankly impossible demands. Instead of asking for specific actions, it offers general but lunatic principles" (45). Unsurprisingly, unlike its older (Judaism) and younger (Islam) siblings, "These principles do not amount to a sustainable program" (45). In fact, according to Spufford, the whole question of how someone could possibly maintain this way of life is completely ignored. The saints make this concrete for us. We neglect them to our own detriment.

More to the point of today's readings, as Christians, what we mean by our behavior is as important as the behavior itself. I shrink back from saying it's more important in a categorical way because I do not believe, nor does the Church teach, that the morality of an act can be determined by intention alone. However, I do believe that what we mean by a particular behavior is more important than the behavior when it comes to doing what is right. As T.S Eliot wrote in Murder in the Cathedral, "The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason." As Spufford observes, with what I surmise is a nod to St Paul (1 Cor 13:1-3), "You could pauperize yourself, get slapped silly without fighting back, care for lepers and laugh all day long in the face of the futures market, and it still wouldn't count, if you did it for the wrong reasons" (45). All of this should both ease us over any Pelagian tendencies and show us in what genuine love consists.

Friday, August 28, 2015

"The reason we breathe is to sing of his glory "

While I posted much more in July than I had planned, my blogging in August has tapered off. My lack of posts is certainly not driven by a lack of things to write about or events on which I could comment. I certainly intend to pick up the pace in the days and weeks to come. Last week I did not even post on the last of the six readings from our Lord's Bread of Life discourse, which we hear proclaimed every three years during Year B of the three-year Sunday lectionary cycle.

Suffice it to say 2015 has been a year of transition and, by nothing other than the grace of God, a year of growth for me. This summer in particular has been a graced and blessed time. By calling these past few months "graced and blessed" I do not mean to infer that it has all been smooth sailing and without its struggles. At times the waters have been kind of choppy and the struggles, mostly internal (the soul is the true battlefield) not the world. The way we win is by surrendering. How's that for a paradox, just the kind of which constitute Christianity. With St Paul, I decided "to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor 2:2).

It's Friday, the day on which we remember our Lord's sacrifice on the Cross, a day of penance. And so our traditio this week is Mercy Me singing "All of Creation."

Look for more here as the days progress.

Friday, August 21, 2015

"Perverse and foolish oft I strayed..."

Michael Card singing one of my all-time favorite hymns, "The King of Love My Shepherd Is," is our Friday traditio this week. The tune to which Card sings this hymn was composed by St Columba, a sixth century Irish monk and missionary, who is credited with leading the mission that brought Christianity to Scotland. This is hymn is basically the twenty-third Psalm.

Card's 2006 album Starkindler: A Celtic Conversation Across Time, for which "The King of Love My Shepherd Is" was recorded, in the words one reviewer, was brilliant because instead of "writing an album's worth of original songs in a faux Celtic style, Card unearths the source material--ancient Irish texts and melodies, some stretching back to the fourth century. By doing so, he builds a bridge where the modern church can be reminded of and inspired by the faith of the Christian Celts."

...yet in love he sought me;
and on his shoulder gently laid,
and home, rejoicing, brought me

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Year B Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Prv 9:1-6; Ps 34:2-7; Eph 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

Forsake foolishness and put on wisdom. But what is wisdom? In Isaiah we read that “the wisdom of the wise shall perish [and] the prudence of the prudent shall vanish” (Isa 24:14). Building on this verse, St Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, wrote about true wisdom: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor 3:22-25).

In our first reading from Proverbs we hear that Wisdom has built her house, prepared a banquet, and sent her maidens to call out over the city an invitation to the simple, to anyone who lacks wisdom, to eat her food and drink her wine (Prv 9:4-5). The invitation to feast on wisdom is given to one and to all. The one who eats and drinks wisdom does so to forsake foolishness and advance in understanding in order to have life, the life that is truly life. To live wisely is to live in such a way that you engage reality, that is, the circumstances you face each and every day, according to all of the factors that together make it up. At center of reality is the Incarnation of the Father’s only begotten Son. Pope St John II began his very first encyclical, Redemptor hominis (i.e., Redeemer of man), promulgated all the way back in 1979, with these words: The Redeemer of man, Jesus Christ, is the center of the universe and of history” (par 1).

You might be saying, “Okay, fine and well. I have no problem with that.” But I urge you today to consider this question, “Is Jesus Christ the center of my life?”

Faith that is truly faith is so much more than mere belief. Faith is our response to God’s initiative towards us. While it is a gift from God, faith is not passive, which is why we can’t reduce faith to mere belief. A person who has faith seeks to put Christ at the center of her/his life. To have faith means striving to make Jesus the axis around which everything else revolves - relationships, work, success, failure, joy, suffering, etc.

Applying truth to life is perhaps the best way to define wisdom. Too often, despite our mental and verbal professions, we fail to live as if what we profess to believe is true. Our reading from Ephesians tell us, “Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons, but as wise… because the days are evil” (Eph 5:15-16). It is not easy now nor will it become easier to live as Christians, as those who seek follow Jesus wholeheartedly. We seem increasingly to inhabit a culture that moves between indifference and hostility to our faith. As Flannery O’Connor stated this well, “You shall know the truth and the truth will make you odd.”

Allegory of the Eucharist, by Unknown English artist, painted between 1676-1725

Living according to the wisdom of God revealed in Jesus Christ makes it necessary each day to seek to “understand what is the will of the Lord” (Eph 5:17). As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done” (Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer).

Out His great love and infinite mercy God gives us various means to receive the grace He so freely seeks to communicate to us. Grace is nothing other than God- who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- sharing divine life with us. In addition to the sacraments, which are the primary means of obtaining grace, God places prayer at our disposal. Priest and theologian Romano Guardini observed, “Without prayer, faith becomes weak and the religious life atrophies. One cannot, in the long run, remain a Christian without praying, as one cannot live without breathing” (The Art of Praying 5-6). Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, whether during adoration or simply before the tabernacle, is a most efficacious way of praying, of communing with our Lord, which is why the spiritual fruit of the fifth Luminous Mystery of the Holy Rosary, which mystery is our Lord’s institution of the Eucharist, is Adoration of the Eucharist and Active Participation at Mass.

What ties our reading from Ephesians to our Gospel today is the last verse: “giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father” (Eph 5:20). The word “Eucharist” is Greek simply meaning to give thanks.

To obtain spiritual maturity we must move beyond mere sentiment. This does not mean that faith does not have an affective dimension. If it is truly faith, it assuredly does. We can’t help but be moved by the goodness and beauty of what God has done for in Christ Jesus our Lord. Who could not be moved, one way of the other, by these words of our Lord from today’s Gospel, which are direct and straightforward: “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” (John 6:53-54). Do you believe this? Have you experienced this for yourself? If so, what difference does it make in how you live each day?

My sisters and brothers, as He does each and every Sunday, even each and every day if we are able, our loving Lord invites us to the Eucharist, the wisdom feast, so that we can experience for ourselves, firsthand, His goodness, His love, His mercy, His wisdom. Let me be frank, what ails us is death. For a Christian death is not just a natural part of life, but is a horrific discontinuity, a monstrous disruption. God did not create us to die, but to live forever. Death came into the world and remains in the world because of sin. St Ignatius of Antioch, a second century bishop and martyr, summed up Jesus’ words to us today very well when he wrote that the Eucharist “is the medicine of immortality, the antidote against death, enabling us to live forever in Jesus Christ” (Letter to the Ephesians, chap 20). What gives St Ignatius' words credibility is that he wrote them while being in led in chains to Rome where he died a martyr. He had no illusions about what would happen to him. This is true wisdom, the wisdom of God, which confounds human wisdom.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Guido Reni

It was right that she who had kept her virginity unimpaired through the process of giving birth should have kept her body without decay through death. It was right that she who had given her Creator, as a child, a place at her breast should be given a place in the dwelling-place of her God. It was right that the bride espoused by the Father should dwell in the heavenly bridal chamber. It was right that she who had gazed on her Son on the cross, her heart pierced at that moment by the sword of sorrow that she had escaped at his birth, should now gaze on him seated with his Father. It was right that the Mother of God should possess what belongs to her Son and to be honored by every creature as the God’s Mother and handmaid- St John Damascene as quoted by Bl Pope Pius XII in his Apostolic Letter, Munificentissimus Deus: Defining the Dogma of the Assumption (par 21), promulgated 1 November 1950.

It strikes me as fitting that this glorious solemnity falls the day after the liturgical memorial of St Maximilian Kolbe, whose devotion to our Blessed Mother was beautiful and sustained him to the end. It was St Maximilian who said, “Never be afraid of loving the Blessed Virgin too much. You can never love her more than Jesus did.”

Friday, August 14, 2015

"Every heart longing for our King"

I promised last week to have a traditio this week. So, on this day on which the Church remembers the witness of St Maximilian Maria Kolbe, O.F.M, it seems fitting to cry the cry of the saints: "Come, Lord Jesus!" (Rev 22:20). It's important to remember that, in the end, the Church will be the Lord's spotless Bride and, therefore, composed only of the saints.

Our traditio is Tommee Profitt and Brooke Griffith beautifully covering Chris Tomlin's "All of Creation (Even So Come)."

Upon his arrest by the Nazis in February 1941, which odyssey would lead to his death in Auschwitz concentration camp on 14 August 1941, the former missionary to China and Japan said to his confreres: "Courage, my sons. Don't you see that we are leaving on a mission? They pay our fare in the bargain. What a piece of good luck! The thing to do now is to pray well in order to win as many souls as possible."

Pray, fast, serve while remaining sober and alert.

St Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us.

Monday, August 10, 2015

St Lawrence, deacon and martyr

Today we observe the feast of St Lawrence, deacon and martyr. Lawrence was a deacon of the Church of Rome who lived during the third century (ca. 225-258). Like Pope Sixtus II, his bishop, Lawrence was martyred in the persecution of the Church conducted by the Roman Emperor Valerian in AD 258. It is believed that Lawrence was a Spaniard. He met Pope Sixtus II in Zaragoza, Spain, where Sixtus, who was Greek, was a renowned teacher. At that time Zaragoza was an important academic center. Upon becoming the Bishop of Rome, Sixtus ordained Lawrence a deacon. And so he became one of the seven deacons of Rome. Despite his young age, Pope Sixtus made him first among the Roman deacons, or, something of an archdeacon. In that role Lawrence had charge of the Church's treasury and the distribution of it.

In August 258, Valerian issued an edict that all bishops, priests, and deacons should immediately be put to death. On 6 August, Pope Sixtus was captured and summarily executed while celebrating the liturgy. Lawrence later turned himself in after being summoned by the Roman Prefect to appear and turn over all the Church's treasury. He did not appear until three days after the summons. In the meantime, he worked diligently to give all of the Church's wealth away to the poor. Upon his appearance and after making some defiant replies to the Prefect, he was seized and put to death. There are many traditions surrounding the death of St Lawrence. Some of them quite dubious and even humorous. What we know is that he was a servant of the Lord and a servant of the poor who was put to death for his steadfast faith in Christ Jesus made manifest by his service to the poor.

On the Vatican website Fr Francesco Moaglia, a professor of dogmatic theology, has a wonderful article on St Lawrence, "St Lawrence: Proto-Deacon of the Roman Church." At the end of this article is a nice summary of the diaconate, of which he holds up St Lawrence as a model, he discusses the uniqueness of the diaconate in three points-

St Lawrence, by Francisco de Zurbaran, 1636
1. It is necessary to look critically on those positions- which in reality have been superseded - which interpret or present the diaconate as a ministry leading to the clericalisation of the laity and to the laicization of the clergy, thereby weakening the identity of both.

2. The Deacon, who is distinguished from Bishops and Priests in that he is not ordained "ad sacerdotium sed ad ministerium" [not to to priesthood but to service], is constituted in an authentic grade of the hierarchy and cannot be regarded merely as an accessory to the priesthood.

3. The Deacon is destined for the service of charity in close dependence on the Eucharist and to the privileged service of the poor. He is destined both to the service of the table (corporal works of mercy) and to the service of the word (spiritual works of mercy). He also remains open to that service of a greater love or charity which is martyrdom.
Sanctus Laurentius, ora pro nobis.

Incidentally, the first bishop of my diocese, the Diocese of Salt Lake City, was Lawrence Scanlan.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Jesus, the living bread that came down from heaven

Readings: 1 Kgs 19:4-8; Ps 34:2-9; Eph 4:30-5:2; John 6:41-51

Jesus Christ is the bread of life. Do you believe this? I would even ask, Do you want it to be true? If so, what difference does it make in your life and the lives of others?

In our Gospel reading for this week, once again from the Gospel According to St John, chapter 6, Jesus says something that has far-reaching implications: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day... Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me" (6:44.45b). I am not able to unpack all the implications of even this small bit of our passage, but it does have bearing on discipleship and evangelization. As St Paul writes elsewhere:
For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring [the] good news!" But not everyone has heeded the good news; for Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what was heard from us?" (Rom 10:13-16)
In no way does Jesus draw us more than in and through the Eucharist, the miracle of which makes what happened to Elijah - who, representing the prophets, appeared with with Moses, who represented the Law, alongside Jesus at His Transfiguration, which great feast we commemorated last Thursday - pale in comparison.

I know that it was my desire to receive Christ in communion that developed over several months that ultimately caused me to become Catholic when I was an undergraduate more than twenty-five years ago. In effect, I heard the Lord bidding me, "Taste and see my goodness." Over the past twenty-five years my hunger and thirst for Him only increases. How can we come to know the Lord in this way and not feel compelled to share what we taste and see with others? When we are dismissed at the end of each Mass we are sent forth to do just this, make Him known. As St Paul notes, not everyone will heed the good news, that is, repent and believe the Gospel. Faith, after all, is a gift from God. But their response is not your responsibility, faith, conversion, is the work of the Holy Spirit.

Our partaking of the Body and Blood of the Lord is to transform the way we live, as indicated in our reading from Ephesians. After all, our witness must have credibility, which only comes from sincere discipleship, which is borne of love. As the title of one of Kierkegaard's works put it, Purity of heart is to will one thing. We cannot serve the Lord with a divided heart.

The journey to God's kingdom is long and, as we know from our current circumstances, often treacherous. In this Eucharist, like Elijah, God bids us "Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you." We are refreshed before we're sent forth

Approaching milestones

My blogging has tapered off lately. I am not sure why other than feeling caught between too much to write about (the horrific evil that is Planned Parenthood, the proposed nuclear deal with Iran, Pope Francis' upcoming visit to the U.S., the kick-off of the 2016 presidential campaign, etc.) and nothing really to write about. Yesterday I did not even post a Friday traditio, which are usually my least viewed posts. I am very conscious of three things as I write this morning:

1- I am approaching 50

2- 16 August 2015 will mark the 10th Anniversary of Καθολικός διάκονος

3- This post is my 3,000th on this blog

All of this has made me rather reflective. While my blog, originally named Scott Dodge for Nobody after a late Sunday program from years ago on a local community radio station: Tom Waits for Nobody, began in August 2005, I did not begin blogging in earnest until 19 July 2006. But either way, 9 or 10 years is a long time! No, this is not a sign-off, just a reflection.

Over the years I have blogged on a broad range of topics. In my first few years I blogged about anything and everything. During the first several years I repeatedly pondered the question, "Why do I blog?" The answer that I settled on goes back to the meaning of "blog," which is short for weblog; maintaining a log, for me, is akin to journal-keeping. Of course, a weblog is a public journal, not a private one. I remember times when I tried to keep a private journal. I could never answer the question, "For whom am I writing this?" Frankly, posterity was not an audience I felt I could engage. Blogging for me is a vehicle of personal growth, a way to work things out while having to be responsible for what I write. This does not result in being less honest, but more honest. Like everyone else, I am prone to reacting to the circumstances in my own life as well as to events in the world. It useful to prayerfully gain some perspective when it comes to most everything. I still take seriously the words in my blog header, which serve as an epigraph of sorts. The purpose there stated is what informs everything I post in one way or another.

Looking back it is easy to see that, by the grace of God, I have grown more humble over time. I have to note that this year in particular has been very humbling for me. While I do not think of myself as old or feel particularly old, I do recognize that I am no longer a young man. As I age I become more aware of my limitations in every aspect: physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. I have come to realize that I am not very good at anything in particular. I don't have any special competencies or abilities that set me apart. While it's taken a year of wrestling with this insight, I am growing more comfortable with it and even finding a great sense of relief in just letting go of certain things. These days I cut myself off whenever I start to go back in time and think, "What if I had done [fill in the blank]." I don't want to live in the past, especially when that means fretting over not choosing an alternate path with the benefit of hindsight. I can think of nothing more useless. While there are still things I want to do and plan to do, there are other endeavors and undertakings that have left port and sailed out to sea- Bon voyage! Over the course of my life not being particularly good at anything has had the effect of making me commit to those things I need and want to do, often only after excruciating procrastination. I'll admit that my insecurities and fears surface daily, sometimes leading to anxiety and depression.

A book that I have come cherish over this past year, one I read slowly, just a little bit each morning, is Fr Lawrence Lovasik's Basic Book of Catholic Prayer. I love the plain sounding title. The book is what it says, a basic book on how to pray. It is a gem. Just yesterday morning I came across this quote from St Augustine's Confessions at the end of the chapter entitled "Pray to atone for sin" - "Our Father, who hast exhorted us to pray, who also bringest about what Thou hast asked of us; since we live better when we pray to Thee and are better: hear me as I tremble in this darkness and reach out Thy hand to me. Hold Thy light before me, and recall me from my strayings, that with Thee as my guide I may return to myself and to Thee. Amen." I was struck by the phrase "I may return to myself" from my strayings. I won't discourse on why that struck me, suffice it to note that it did.

This morning as I was quietly reflecting on how humbling life has been since roughly my last birthday I read in Fr Lovasik's book about the need to be humble in prayer (the next chapter is on praying with confidence): "Prayer must, first of all, be humble, for it is precisely to keep us mindful of our nothingness, sinfulness, and complete dependence upon Him that God has commanded us to pray." Like C.S. Lewis' observation that "Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done," this can sound harsh and lead to saying, "Forget it." But prayer is nothing at all if it is not grounded in reality, in the truth about ourselves, the world, and God. As our loving Father, God wants to save us from our nothingness and, through His Son and by the power of the Spirit, make us someone we can't even imagine, to make us into who He created and redeemed us to be. This "making" is sanctification. We must play an active role in our own sanctification, even while we realize that only God can finish the good work He has begun in those who believe (Phil 1:6).

Anyway look for a traditio next week. In the meantime enjoy this.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord: Some thoughts

Today is the glorious Feast of the Transfiguration. Today we commemorate when Christ Jesus took Peter, James, and John up Mount Tabor and was "transfigured" before them. Appearing alongside Him were Moses and Elijah, representing the law and the prophets respectively. The apostles present there also heard the voice of the Father declare, "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him." As important as the law and the prophets are to God's plan of salvation, Jesus is God's final, perfect, word. The Transfiguration was a preview of what was to come in the Resurrection. It was glorious, an explosion of God in the world.

Seventy years ago, 6 August 1945, another explosion occurred that transfigured, or, more accurately, scarred the world. This one did not happen in the land we call Holy, but in Hiroshima, Japan. It was the detonation of an atomic bomb. A second bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki on 9 August 1945. As a result of this, Japan formally surrendered on the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 15 August 1945.

There is an important moral axiom that applies always, everywhere, and to all: one may not do evil that good may come of it, or, stated another way, ends do not justify means, even in war. According to the laws of Just War an important distinction must be made between combatants and non-combatants, that is, civilians. Just as with the firebombing of the German city of Dresden, the use of nuclear weapons against Japan is not morally justifiable. The most common justification I hear in favor of the bombings is that it forced the Japanese to surrender, thus preventing the U.S. from having to invade Japan in a D-Day-like manner. This argument continues - because we dropped two atomic bombs "millions" of lives were saved. No less a person than General Dwight Eisenhower opposed the use of nuclear weapons: "I was against it on two counts. First, the Japanese were ready to surrender, and it wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing. Second, I hated to see our country be the first to use such a weapon."

On 6 August 1978 Bl Pope Paul VI passed into eternity at Castel Gandolfo. He was a holy and humble servant of God as well as a courageous and even prophetic leader. I was gratified when Pope Francis referred to him "the great Pope Paul VI." At the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council Papa Montini wrote this in his personal journal: "Perhaps the Lord has called me and preserved me for this service not because I am particularly fit for it, or so that I can govern and rescue the Church from her present difficulties, but so that I can suffer something for the Church, and in that way it will be clear that he, and no other, is her guide and savior." Suffer he did, but it did not deter him as he pressed forward with the conciliar reforms and experienced the chaos that rapidly ensued. In my view, there has been nothing promulgated since that comes close to the grandeur of his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi. It ought to be read and implemented as the magna carta for the New Evangelization. "This fidelity both to a message whose servants we are and to the people to whom we must transmit it living and intact is the central axis of evangelization" (Evangelii nuntiandi par 4).

Finally, of significance to our family, on 6 August 2011, our youngest son, Evan Gabriel was baptized by His Excellency now-Archbishop John Wester in the Cathedral of the Madeleine.

My friends, the Transfiguration bids us to look at Jesus, to follow Him. It gives a glimpse of the glory that awaits us. I don't know about you, but in Him I place my hope.

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...