Sunday, September 27, 2015

There is power in the name of Jesus

Readings: Num 11:25-29; Ps 19:8.10.12-14; James 5:1-6; Mark 9:38-43.45.47-48

There is a great temptation when preaching or commenting on today's Gospel to say or write something that is religiously indifferent, to imply or even insist that, in the end, it really doesn't matter, just do good things. While I think there are some ecumenical implications in Jesus' response to the man casting out demons in His name in today's Gospel, I don't think there is anything in the least indifferent in what Jesus' conveyed to John in light of the beloved apostle's complaint.

Think about casting out demons in the name of Jesus: it was something the Twelve failed to do in a previous passage from Mark chapter 9. After coming down the mountain from His Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John, Jesus encounters His disciples arguing with the scribes. Upon seeing Jesus, the whole crowd, which had gathered for the dispute, ran to Him. He asks His disciples, "What are you arguing about with them?" Before His disciples had the chance to answer, a man from the crowd told Jesus, "Teacher, I have brought to you my son possessed by a mute spirit. Wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive it out, but they were unable to do so" (Mark 9:17-18). Jesus then cast out the demon from the afflicted boy. Afterwards, when the Twelve were alone with Him, they asked the Lord, "Why could we not drive it out?" To which He replied, "This kind can only come out through prayer." Some manuscripts add "and fasting" after the word "prayer".

Perhaps what the disciples find so vexing about seeing a man who did not belong to their group casting demons in the name of Jesus (this is important) was it highlighted their failure to do so in the previous incident. My friends, there is power in the name of Jesus. It is a power given us in Baptism, in and through which you were constituted as a member of God's priestly, prophetic, and royal people. Too often we fail to recognize and so fail to leverage the power given us in this fundamental sacrament. As Catholics we recognize the Christianity of all who have been validly baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. When baptized Christians seek to come into full communion with the Church we do not re-baptize them. In fact, it's important that we don't!

Just yesterday I read a wonderful article by Fr Robert Hart in Touchstone magazine on what all Christian clergy can learn from the life, ministry, and preaching of Dr Billy Graham Billy: "Graham is a Baptist, and very clearly of the best in the Baptist tradition. But he has had ecumenical appeal and been admired by Christians from all denominations. A friend of Pope John Paul II in later years, and of many well-known figures in Anglicanism and various other Protestant denominations, he really did preach 'mere Christianity.'"

In the Second Vatican Council's decree on ecumenism (i.e., the relations between Catholic and non-Catholic Christians), Unitatis reintegratio, the Council fathers asserted,
For men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect. The differences that exist in varying degrees between them and the Catholic Church - whether in doctrine and sometimes in discipline, or concerning the structure of the Church - do indeed create many obstacles, sometimes serious ones, to full ecclesiastical communion. The ecumenical movement is striving to overcome these obstacles. But even in spite of them it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ's body, and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church (par 3)
Constituted by Baptism as God's people we can apply the words of Moses: "If only all the people of the LORD were prophets! If only the LORD would bestow his spirit on them" (Num 11:29).

Jesus casting out demons

In what Jesus teaches in today's Gospel with reference to our second reading from the the Letter of James, we see that acting in the name of Jesus is not limited to spectacular things, like casting out demons. Acting in the name of Jesus more frequently takes the form of serving those in need. In his encyclical letter Deus caritas est, Pope Benedict XVI put it this way:
The Spirit is also the energy which transforms the heart of the ecclesial community, so that it becomes a witness before the world to the love of the Father, who wishes to make humanity a single family in his Son. The entire activity of the Church is an expression of a love that seeks the integral good of man: it seeks his evangelization through Word and Sacrament, an undertaking that is often heroic in the way it is acted out in history; and it seeks to promote man in the various arenas of life and human activity. Love is therefore the service that the Church carries out in order to attend constantly to man's sufferings and his needs, including material needs (par 19)
Indeed, they will know that we are Christians, that we belong to Christ, that we follow Christ, by our love made manifest in service to those in need. Jesus also points out that any one who does good to us because we belong to Him "will surely not lose his reward" (Mark 9:41).

We live life with our bodies. We are not spirits trapped in bodies awaiting release or liberation, but fulfillment and satisfaction, which will come for the saints in the resurrection. This is something God's Incarnation in Christ Jesus shows in the most profound way imaginable. While sin may originate in our hearts, we do what is wrong, what does not lead to our flourishing or flourishing of others, with our bodies. Jesus' stark warning about the seriousness of sin and its eternal consequences cannot be ignored. In this passage our Lord uses what is called hyperbole. To employ hyperbole is to exaggerate for effect in order to make a point. Jesus' here is not literally calling on us to maim ourselves for the sake of purity in order to go to heaven. After all, we don't see the Twelve, whose sins and failings are made manifest throughout the Gospels, maiming themselves. But seeking to mortify, that is, kill our sinful habits and tendencies is something Christians have done for 2,000 years.

Sin is the mortal disease of the soul, as Jesus clearly tells us in this passage from St Mark. About Dr Graham's manner of life, even when on the road, Fr Hart observed, "He was humble enough to see himself as inherently no better than other men, as a sinner who needed, for his own sake, to remain focused on Jesus Christ." Mortification, rightly practiced, enables us to overcome temptations to sin by inducing the will to accept hardships, however great. Mortifying practices, like all spiritual disciplines, are not ends in themselves, but means to an end. The end is being one with God in Christ through the Spirit. So, we need to remain always focused on Jesus Christ, keeping the Lord between us and circumstances and not allowing circumstances to obscure our focus on Him.

Seeking to put life's hardships, large and small, in the Lord's service is what gave rise to the Catholic phrase "offer it up." Sadly, these days, this phrase is almost always used in jest in response to some minor complaint uttered out loud. But the reality is, we can offer up our sufferings and afflictions and engage in practices, like fasting, that allow us to participate in God's reconciling the world to Himself in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. One way we do this is not by complaining out loud, but quietly offering up to God our hardships and suffering, large or small. To some extent, mortification is obligatory on all Christians. It doesn't take too much self-examination for us discover sinful tendencies and habits to which we are prone. These can be overcome, even if slowly and in fits and starts, by God's grace. We must be mindful that grace builds on nature, which means that we need to freely cooperate with what God is doing, which is bringing about our sanctification.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Brief reflections on Pope Francis' visit

I suppose I will have my membership card as a Catholic blogger pulled if I don't post something on Pope Francis' Apostolic Journey to these United States. It seems that his visit is going swimmingly. It looks and sounds as if he is hitting all the right notes. I won't bore you with my run-down of his public appearances and or provide editorial commentary on his various addresses, except to say that I liked his U.N. address much better than I liked his speech to Congress and that I liked what he said at St Patrick's Church in Washington, DC, right after his address to Congress and just before joining the homeless for lunch, best of all.

Like every one else in my Catholic/Christian bubble, I am engaging (reacting to?) the papal visit on Facebook and other social media quite extensively. The older I get the more I understand that the papacy in the modern Catholic Church, while indispensable (it is one of the reasons I became and remain a Catholic), has taken on an exaggerated importance.

Last night and today, courtesy of something Rod Dreher posted on his blog over at The American Conservative, a piece that asks "Is America Post-Christian?", I have been pondering the pope's visit and hoopla surrounding papal visits in general. I happen to be of the opinion that the U.S. was conceived as and remains a secular nation. So, at least from my perspective, the United States, in a very real sense, has been a post-Christian nation since its inception, albeit one that relies on a belief in the transcendental nature of human being, deliberately left undefined, which is an ambiguity Christians often to try to exploit, sometimes in the best sense of that word (i.e., exploit) and sometimes in the worst sense.

I am content that the papal visit is taking place on the East coast, far from where I live. Further and unapologetically I felt no impetus to travel there. This is no knock on those who wanted to go and so went.

Pool/Getty Image

Dreher's post directed me to two other pieces that I found most useful: Ross Douthat's "Pope Francis and the Not-Quite-Secular West" and Mollie Hemingway's more-to-the-point "The Pope Francis Effect: Enthusiasm, But To What End?" I will not endeavor to summarize either article. If you wanted to read one and not the other I recommend Hemingway's. I will say that her piece brought out my intermittent desire to be an Anglo-Catholic, one that I expressed with yesterday's traditio.

Many years ago, during a late night undergraduate "deep" conversation, a close friend and I tried to describe what the normal, everyday, facial expressions of people we knew seemed to convey. Inevitably we wound up sharing what each of us thought the default facial expression of the other expressed. My friend said mine was ambivalence. If that's true, I think it's accurate.

For me, hope is the space that exists between pessimism and optimism. This insight helps me in my ambivalence. Ambivalence, in this context, understood as "simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings (as attraction and repulsion) toward an object, person, or action."

Friday, September 25, 2015

"My days are like a shadow that declineth"

I fancy myself as something of an Anglo-Catholic. One thing for certain, I love Anglican choral psalmody. Psalm 102, known as Domine, exaudi )"Lord, hear me") is our Friday traditio for this week.

A rough outline of Psalm 102 goes something like this: a sorrowful complaint of great afflictions; (1-11) Encouragement by expecting the performances of God's promises; (12-22) The unchangeableness of God. (23-28). Verse one from the King James Version: "(A prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his complaint before the LORD.) Hear my prayer, O LORD, and let my cry come unto thee.

"For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping, Because of thine indignation and thy wrath: for thou hast lifted me up, and cast me down" (Psalm 102:9-10).

Today, my oldest daughter turns 19.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Year B Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Wis 2:12.17-20; Ps 54:3-6.1; Jas 3:16-4:3; Mark 9:30-37

The late Fr Benedict Groeschel used to point out regularly that the world usually mocks holiness. In our first reading this Sunday taken from the Book of Wisdom we hear a good example of what Fr Groeschel meant. The sacred author puts on the lips of the wicked, those who act contrary to God, harsh words against the “just one.” The wicked find the just, or righteous, man “obnoxious” because “he sets himself against” their wicked actions and “reproaches” them for their wickedness (Wis 2:12). This comes in the first verse of our first reading after which we skip 5 verses from the second chapter of Wisdom, jumping from verse 12 to verse 17. Those five verses carry on in the same manner as verse 12, reciting all the ways the wicked people find the just man, the righteous man, obnoxious to them. In verse 15, for example, it is noted that the life of the righteous man “is not like that of others,” noting that “different are his ways” (Wis 2:15). As a saying typically attributed to Flannery O’Connor goes, “You shall know the truth and the truth will make you odd.”

Despite being obnoxious, the righteous man has clearly pricked the conscience of the wicked, which is why the wicked, in order to determine whether or not the righteous “one is the son of God” (Wis 2:18), or truly righteous, proposes to persecute him “with violence and torture,” even going so far as to “condemn him to a shameful death” (Wis 2:20). The wicked put the righteous one to the test in order to see if in the face of violence, torture, and even death he will remain steadfast in “gentleness” and “patience” (Wis 2:19). You see, the righteous person does not threaten the wicked by vehemently denouncing their wickedness, but by confidently living the truth, contra mundi (against the world), that is, peacefully and gently, for all to see. This is how Christians bear witness to what is beautiful. What is truly beautiful is so because it is also true and good. It is by living for God that we reproach wickedness. To reproach is to express disapproval or disappointment

We read and interpret Scripture too glibly if we jump from our first reading immediately to the life and witness of our Lord Jesus Christ, even though, clearly, these words are fully realized in His passion, and death. The corollary to this in our own time ought to be obvious to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear. If we are truly living for God, which means rejecting political ideologies whether of the right or the left, we run the risk of being seen as somewhat politically incoherent because our politics, as such, do not derive from the platforms of political parties, but from the Gospel of Jesus Christ found in Sacred Scripture and Tradition as set forth by the magisterium of the Church.

Hence, when it comes to matters of life and death- whether confronting the evils of abortion or physician-assisted suicide, which, time and again, has proven only to lead to euthanasia, or the myriad of other ways society disregards and seeks to simply dispose of vulnerable human beings that a truly just society would protect and not kill- we must take a stand. We must be willing to be courageous when it comes to conscientiously bearing witness to the truth about the nature and purpose of marriage, which, for a Catholic, cannot be reduced to a matter of personal opinion, as well as the growing confusion about sexuality that is the result of a cultural mindset that sees this life as all there is. We also must be peacemakers, especially when it seems we have become so callously bellicose, one result of which is the current flood of refugees into Europe from the Middle East, a region destroyed by wars waged by Western powers. Neither can we remain neutral about the growing economic inequality in which more and more wealth is concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people.

Our second reading from the Letter of St James sets forth the roots of wickedness, not just in the world, but even among ourselves, the followers of Christ. “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice” (Jas 3:16), James tells us. Last week we heard the Lord Himself lay down the conditions of discipleship, of following Him: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34). If you wish to save your life you must lose it for Jesus’ sake and the sake of the Gospel.

Jesus reiterates His call to selfless service in our Gospel today when, after the twelve tell Him what they had been arguing about on their way back to Capernaum, which was their home-base. What they had been arguing about was which of them, besides Jesus, was the greatest among them. By the mere fact they were having this argument it is clear that they didn’t yet understand who Jesus is. Clearly some, if not all, of the twelve were holding onto a mistaken idea of the Messiah, even after Jesus’ stern rebuke of St Peter in last week’s Gospel. In other words, what they expected was waiting for them in Jerusalem, to which they would start making their way after this stopover in Capernaum, were thrones and not the Cross.

The Cross is a difficult message, it is not the message of the purveyors of the false Gospel, propounded by people like Joel Osteen, which is so popular in our day that bids us follow Jesus and all will be well in this world, we will be healthy and wealthy. This is why it bears repeating what Jesus repeated to those who, after His resurrection, He would send as apostles to preach the Gospel and to build up His Church. We know He repeated it because in our Gospel today we hear that Jesus, after first telling them what was to happen to Him while on the road to Caesarea-Philippi, “was teaching his disciples and telling them, The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise” (Mark 9:31). Often it seems that this is no big deal to us because we live on the other side of the resurrection, but it should be a big deal to us in light of Jesus telling us, as His followers, to take up our cross and sacrifice ourselves for Him.

Just as in the early centuries of the Church, today the martyrs show us what Jesus meant by taking up the cross, by losing our lives in order to save them, which is the central paradox of our Christian faith. This paradox is only resolved by Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Therefore, our take away for today comes from the Letter to the Hebrews:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God (Heb 12:1-2)
Jesus beckons us to where He is, but the only way there is through the Cross.

Friday, September 18, 2015

"‘Cause right now I need a little hope"

"Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access [by faith] to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God" (Rom 5:1-2). I am feeling hopeful on this Friday, which is also a Fall Ember Day. Nonetheless, we live in a very lonely society, which is why, my brothers and sisters, we're called to community and to invite those who don't belong to belong.

This week's traditio will keep us in the realm of Contemporary Christian Music. It's Sidewalk Prophets with "Save My Life."

Tell me what I need to hear
Tell me that I’m not forgotten
Show me there’s a God
Who can be more than all I’ve ever wanted
‘Cause right now I need a little hope
I need to know that I’m not alone
Maybe God is calling you tonight
To tell me something
That might save my life

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Holyrood Embering: Observing Holy Cross Ember Week

Tomorrow, Monday, 14 September, is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which makes this week an Ember Week. Historically Christians in the Western Church observe Ember Weeks by fasting and/or abstaining on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Days of fasting and/or abstinence only amount to a diet plan when not accompanied by more time spent in prayer and concrete acts of charity (i.e., selflessly doing things for other people). Observing Ember Days is no no longer obligatory for Roman Catholics. However, Ember Days 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 we received the English mnemonic: "Fasting days and Emberings be Lent, Whitsun, Holyrood, and Lucie." "Holyrood" refers to the Feast of the Holy Cross, the occasion for making this week an Ember Week.

In addition to fasting and prayer, we are encouraged to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance during Ember weeks by going to confession. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal calls for bishops in various countries where the Church is present to set forth Ember Days and provide texts for their celebration.

Due to all the criticism, often exaggerated and unjust, of the Second Vatican Council when it comes to such matters, I firmly believe that what the Council Fathers and Bl 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. It seems obvious to me that prayer and fasting are precisely what we need more of, along with a reduction in rancor.

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. I also invite you fast and pray for the upcoming Synod on the Family, which is my intention this week.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Bearing the Cross is love

Readings: Isa 50:5-9a; Ps 116:1-6.8-9; Jas 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35

The readings for this week should be read over and over until your heart absorbs them. In our Gospel for this week Jesus teaches His disciples the central paradox of our Christian faith: "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it" (Mark 8:35).

Works born of faith amount to selfless service of others. The Cross reveals to us the way we should live. Christ's resurrection, of which He gives the disciples only the briefest hint in today's Gospel, shows us what it means to be saved. Of course, all will be resurrected. Our Lord Himself said, "Do not be amazed at this, because the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation" (John 5:28-29).

The common objection to this line of reasoning usually consists in drawing the conclusion that Christianity, at its core, is selfish. This selfishness bids the believer to be good, not for goodness sake, but to receive a reward. I suppose in some instances this objection may be spot-on. But I contend that wanting to live forever is not selfish. It is our deepest longing. This longing is present in everyone, whether or not s/he is a Christian.

Living forever is the very purpose for which God made us and for which He redeemed us. Therefore, this desire is the spark of the divine image within every person and so our longing, at its deepest level, is love of God. It is the only thing that makes it possible for us to respond to God, which is why, in the end, it is all grace. It is this love that also constitutes our just love of self. It has been noted that to truly love another is to love his/her destiny. This principle is very important today with everything happening in our society.

All of this helps us to grasp Jesus' exhortation in today's Gospel as well as His summary of the law, a few chapters on in St Mark's Gospel: the two great commandments- "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:30-31). We were made from love in order to love. Hence, only those who truly love, who become selfless, will be saved. It is not too much to say that becoming selfless is salvation. Selflessness is certainly liberating.

French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, in his play No Exit, which is about the afterlife, famously wrote, "Hell is other people." In the context of the play Sartre was referring to what he called "the Look," by which he meant something like the lifelong struggle of worrying about how other people see us. Indeed, this can be hell, which is why people who aren't hung up worrying about this are happier than those who do. Because in the end it is all about love, you need not fear how others will see you because they will love you as they love themselves and you will love them as you love yourself. It seems to me that the cause of our deepest insecurity is worrying that if people knew us we knew ourselves, they wouldn't like us and may even loathe us. Just as we want to be known and loved we must recognize that this what other people want too. But this is where the Cross comes in, where things like not just forgiving, but loving your enemies comes into play.

The words of Isaiah's Suffering Servant are really the culmination God's word for us today: "The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; Therefore I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame. He who declares my innocence is near. Who will oppose me?" (Isa 50:7-8a).

Friday, September 11, 2015

Lux Aeterna

Today is 9/11. Let us honor those who were murdered with dignity. Above all, let us pray for peace. "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Rev 21:4). That is all I am going post about it.

Our Friday traditio for 9/11 is Part of Lux Aeterna by Morten Lauridsen:

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

UPDATED: On the Holy See's Annulment reforms

I assume that most of my readers are aware that today Pope Francis issued two Apostolic Letters motu proprio (i.e., on his own authority as Supreme Pontiff) concerning how petitions of the faithful to annul marriages are adjudicated: Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus and Mitis et Misericos Iesus, respectively. These letters change the Codex Iuris Canonici, the code of canon law governing the Latin, or Roman Catholic, Church and the Index Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalum, the unified code of canon law governing the 22 Eastern Churches in communion with the Holy See. These changes to Church law are the result of the work of a commission appointed by the Holy Father last September shortly before the opening of last fall's Extraordinary Synod on the Family.

Being a Roman Catholic deacon I am only concerned with Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus, which reforms canon law for the Latin Church. Without waxing too editorial or exceeding my very limited competency, here are the major reforms set forth in the Holy Father's motu proprio as I understand them:

First, annulments will be free of charge. Apparently in some dioceses the cost to petition for an annulment is quite expensive. This is not so in my diocese, even for a formal case, and never has been. I suppose the effect on diocesan finances and tribunal staffing will vary from place to place. Perhaps this will be an incentive for dioceses to establish and maintain not only robust marriage preparation, but better lifelong marriage and family life ministries. There seems to be some leeway left for there to be administrative fees, however.

Updated The heart of the reform is the so-called "fast-track" annulment. Such an annulment, which will be adjudicated locally on the authority of the(/a- some dioceses have auxiliary bishops) bishop, must be consented to by both parties. Petitions that can be "fast-tracked" will be decided locally within the diocese and will not be subjected to review by a tribunal of second instance. Of course, only formal cases, as opposed Ligamen, Lack of Form, Pauline Privilege cases, will be heard in this way. The other types of petitions are already determined locally and relatively quickly in most instances. Currently all formal cases are adjudicated by the tribunal of first instance, the diocesan tribunal with competency to hear the case, and a tribunal of second instance.

The tribunal of second instance is usually the tribunal of another diocese in the same metropolitan province, or archdiocese. For example, in my diocese, the Diocese of Salt Lake City, which is a suffragan diocese of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, or, as I like to say, we're the eastern-most outpost of the archdiocese, the Marriage Tribunal for the Diocese of Oakland serves as our tribunal of second instance.

Appeals of judgments made in "fast track" cases will be made to the archbishop of the metropolitan province. For examples of grounds for a "fast-track" annulment along with a canonical discussion of them see Dr Ed Peters' "A second look at Mitis, especially at the new fast-track annulment process."

Updated The third reform is related to the second: if, after being summoned twice, the Respondent (i.e., the spouse not petitioning for an annulment) doesn't respond to the tribunal, then the annulment will move forward on the assumption that s/he consents that the marriage is null, presumably on the stated ground(s). This makes it possible for a petition to be fast-tracked in cases where the consent of one the parties is not explicitly given.

Fourth, in cases that are adjudicated locally by a bishop, the judge must be a cleric, that is, a bishop, priest, or deacon. I don't believe this is a change, but merely a reiteration of what is in the current law.

There will be likely be more to follow here on this and marriage as we make our way to next month's Synod.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

"Ephphatha!"- Be opened!

Readings: Is 35:4-7a; Ps 146:7-10;Jas 2:1-5;Mark 7:31-37

I think the key to understanding our readings for this Sunday is found in the reading from the Letter of James. The key is stated in the form of a question: "Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him?" (Jas 2:5). Of course, this is what is commonly referred to as a rhetorical question, that is, a question to which the answer is already known by the questioner. Nonetheless, questions have a way of making us think about things a little more deeply. Even rhetorical questions serve this function. In case anyone is wondering, the answer to the question posed in James is, Yes, God chooses those who are poor in worldly terms "to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom."

In our first reading from Isaiah we encounter a prophetic utterance about the salvation God was to bring and give to us in Christ Jesus. What will the salvation of God look like to those who can see and hear? It's a world restored, one in which the blind see, the lame not only walk but leap, the mute speak, the desert blooms, sands become pools of refreshing water. It is a world transformed, unrecognizable to those who cannot see and hear.

If you were to refer to one of the maps in your Bible that show Israel in Jesus' time you would notice that in this pericope ("pericope" being a coherent unit in the canonical Gospels- most of the our Gospel readings at Mass are pericopes) Jesus covers a lot of territory. It is around 20 miles from Tyre to Sidon and some forty miles from Sidon back to the Sea of Galilee. Once at the Sea of Galilee He moves along its shore to area of the Decapolis, an area where ten pagan cities could be found, the same area in which the village of Gadara was located. It was outside of Gadara that Jesus, immediately upon His arrival after a tempestuous crossing of the Sea of Galilee, encountered the demoniac from whom He cast out demons into a herd of pigs (Mark 5:1-20). After possessing the pigs, the demons caused them to run headlong off a cliff and into the sea drowning them all. This is what our enemy desires, to kill us, causing both mortal and eternal death. So terrible was this demonstration of Jesus' power that the Gadarenes asked Him to leave.

The unnamed man from whom Jesus cast out the demons wanted to go with Him, but the Lord bid him to stay where was and to tell the people there what He had done for him. Our Lord's exhortation for him to stay behind and testify to what Jesus had done for him was a departure from Jesus telling others, particularly His fellow Jews, not tell anyone what He had done for them. Hence, I don't think it's too far-fetched to surmise that the reason there was a crowd that met Jesus upon His arrival was due to the ministry of the man from whom Jesus cast out the demons.

Virtually every Bible commentator links Jesus' healing of the deaf and mute man in today's Gospel with our first reading from Isaiah 35. It is also interesting to note, as Michael Card does, that the word used by Mark and translated as "groaned" is akin to the word "Paul uses for the Spirit's groaning on our behalf in Romans 8:26" (Mark: The Gospel of Passion 102). Card further notes that Mark depicts, not just here but throughout his Gospel, "the emotional Jesus" (102). From our Lord's deep groan He speaks the Aramaic word Ephphatha, which means, as Mark indicates, "Be opened!" (Mark 7:34)

Then, as now, those with disabilities were marginalized, set aside, not included in society. People with disabilities are usually among the poor and dispossessed of the world, which means they are beloved by the Lord and heirs of God's kingdom. The fact they are beloved is often made manifest in the beautiful faith many disabled people have, which they very often communicate by their joy. What we fail to see is that our need is not only not less than theirs, but is greater. Being well-off and possessing gifts that enable us to succeed in the world can be a greater handicap than those conditions we usually think of as being handicaps.

One of the prayers that constitute the Rite of Baptism for infants and small children is called "Ephphatha." It takes place after the child is baptized, anointed with chrism, clothed in the baptismal garment, and the parents and godparents are presented with a baptismal candle. As this prayer is said, the celebrant touches the child's ears and mouth while saying,
The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father
As Card discerns, "Jesus' groaning words, 'Be opened,' represent the deepest hope of the gospel: that you and I might truly hear and eventually clearly speak the good news" (Mark: The Gospel of Passion 102). The good news can be spoken in two words: Jesus Christ.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Twenty-third Friday in Ordinary Time

St Olaf's Weekly School Mass

Readings: Col 1:15-20; Ps 100:1b-5; Luke 5:33-39

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to see God? Or, have you wondered what God would be like if He were to come into the world?

Twenty years ago, which is a really long time ago, I know, there was a song recorded by Joan Osborne. The title of the song was “One of Us” Here are the lyrics of the beginning of the song:
If God had a name, what would it be? And would you call it to His face?
One of the really great things about being Christians is we know that God did become one of us. God’s name when became one of us is Jesus. As we heard in our first reading this morning, Jesus “is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). In other words, Jesus is God in the flesh. Like a lot of things we talk about in Church we have a name for Jesus, who is God, becoming one of us. Does anyone know the word we use to describe God becoming one of us? (Incarnation)

How do we know what Jesus was like? Where do we find this out? In the Scriptures, in the Bible, but particularly in that part of the Bible we call the Gospels. How many Gospels are there? (4) What are the names of the Gospels? (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).

Today we read from the Gospel According to St Luke. In our Gospel this morning Jesus and His followers (followers of Jesus are called “disciples”) are asked by some of their fellow Jews why, instead of fasting and praying a lot, like followers of John the Baptist and a group of Jews called the Pharisees, they “eat drink” (Luke 5:33). The way Jesus answers their question tells us a little bit about what Jesus was like.

The Wineskins by MazTaz (aka Marianne (Maz) Gill-Harper)

How many of you have ever attended a wedding? Did you have fun at the wedding? Was there music and dancing and food, including cake, or did everyone sit around quietly not eating anything? Jesus tells those who ask that His disciples don’t fast like many other Jews because while the groom is present at the wedding everyone celebrates. So Jesus equates His becoming one of us with a wedding and likens Himself to the groom. The Church is Jesus’ bride. Marriage is very important in God’s plan. There is a wedding at the beginning of the Bible, in Genesis chapter 2, in which Adam and Eve are joined together. There is a wedding at the end of the Bible, in the Book of Revelation, which describes Jesus’ return at the end of time as a wedding.

By becoming one of us, God started something very new. This explains the other two answers Jesus gives. If you sew new fabric to old fabric, the garment you mend will become worse than it was before you tried to patch it because the new fabric sewn to the old, already shrunk and broken in, will make a bigger tear. Old wineskins, like boda bags that are still around today, once they are empty of wine, dry out and shrivel up. Once the skin has dried up, if new wine is poured into it, the skin bursts, spilling all the wine.

God becoming one of us in Jesus Christ only happened once in the whole history of the world. It is the most important thing that has ever happened in the whole world. Jesus’ becoming one of us changed everything. This reality of God becoming one of us “equals fresh clean cloth and new wine” (Michael Card, Mark: The Gospel of Passion 50). It’s important for us to understand that Jesus isn’t one of many, He is one of a kind. He is fully human, that is, like us in everything except that He never committed a single sin, even though He was tempted, like we are (Heb 4:15), which is why we can trust Jesus completely, and fully divine. As we prepare to receive Him in Holy Communion let's reflect that it is in communion that that we experience that the new wine Jesus came to give us is Himself.

"I'm lost without you"

Just as some complain every chance they get about contemporary Christian music, I tire of people who claim that God can't possibly be communicated in any new way, by any new medium, or meter, that aspects of contemporary culture, like the love ballad, can't be adapted and put in the service of the Gospel. But the history of the Church shows us something very different. Everything may not stand the test of time and be handed on for centuries or millennia (there are plenty of lost or disregarded forms) but that does not mean it has no value whatsoever. Maybe some things are meant to appeal only to people in a certain time and in a certain place. Is that so difficult to conceive? Of course, not everything is to everyone's liking, which is perfectly fine too.

I think simplicity is always fitting for prayer, worship, and meditation. Also, I like singing love songs to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, without whom I am lost and for whom I am desperate. So, Michael W Smith's "Breathe" is our Friday traditio:

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Anticipating an Extraordinary Jubilee

The Holy Father, Pope Francis, has given us a wonderful gift to begin the month of September in anticipation of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, which will begin on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, 8 December 2015. This morning the Holy See released the letter written by the Pontiff to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, who serves as President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization. In the letter, which I find to be an amazing statement of our divine and Catholic faith, the Holy Father describes in beautiful detail how this Jubilee can be entered into fully by all the faithful. Additionally, as is so characteristic of Papa Bergoglio, there are some astonishing surprises in his letter, but ones that are wholly consonant with our Catholic faith, thus showing how far-reaching is the Father’s infinite mercy.

First and foremost Pope Francis describes how all the faithful may obtain the Jubilee Indulgence. In his letter the Holy Father expresses his “wish that the Jubilee Indulgence may reach each one as a genuine experience of God’s mercy, which comes to meet each person in the Face of the Father who welcomes and forgives, forgetting the sin forgiven.” Indulgences are not a thing of past, but remain an important practice of Christian faith. Once again, I encourage everyone to read Bl Pope Paul VI’s Apostolic Constitution Indulgentiarum Doctrina.

Pilgrims to Rome for the Jubilee can obtain the Jubilee Indulgence by making a pilgrimage to one of the four Papal Basilicas and churches “traditionally identified as Jubilee Churches” each of which will have a Door of Mercy. Every Cathedral in each diocese will have a Holy Door to which one can make a pilgrimage. Only a brief visit, made as expression of one’s “deep desire for true conversion,” is requested. I expect miracles.

The Holy Father makes provision for those who are ill and elderly. In a deeply moving passage in his letter, Pope Francis makes it possible for prisoners to obtain the Jubilee Indulgence by making prison chapels sites on par with Papal Basilicas, Jubilee Churches, and Cathedrals.

In his letter Pope Francis allows all priests, during the Jubilee Year, to absolve women who have had abortions of that sin. Since having an abortion incurs latae sententiae excommunication, under normal circumstances, absolving this sin is reserved to the bishop. However, some bishops have permitted some of their priests to grant absolution to women for this sin, which very often a source of deep regret, leaving a scar on their souls.

Stating that the “Jubilee Year of Mercy excludes no one,” the Roman Pontiff, surprisingly, invoking his desire for full communion, grants priests of Fraternity of St Pius X the faculty to administer the Sacrament of Reconciliation licitly and validly during the Jubilee to those faithful who approach them for this sacrament.

Commenting on the letter in Great Britain’s Catholic Herald magazine, Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith rightly notes that the upcoming Jubilee provides all of us a great opportunity “to brush up on one’s Catholicism…brush up on your Purgatory, your Indulgences, your theology of the Church and of Grace, and your Canon Law.” But above all, with Fr Lucie-Smith, I urge you to “find out where your nearest church is where you can obtain the indulgence.” But first find out what is required, apart from the visit, to obtain the indulgence. Foremost among the conditions for obtaining an indulgence is making a good sacramental confession. A  good first start in preparing for the Jubilee would be reading this short letter.

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...