Saturday, October 31, 2015

Douthat vs certain theologians

As with the papal visit to the U.S., I deliberately posted nothing during this year's Synod on Marriage and the Family. I contented myself with praying fervently during the proceedings and reading a few articles here and there. I was especially impressed with Dr Chad Pecknold's "Leaving Hegel Out of the Synod." In my opinion, the best intervention at the Synod was not made by a bishop or theologian, but by a female Romanian lay Catholic, Dr. Anca-Maria Cernea, who stated, "What the world needs nowadays is not limitation of freedom, but real freedom, liberation from sin. Salvation." The Synod is now over, leaving us with a very ambiguous final document, known as a relatio, which is quite good in parts.

What prompts me to write now is a post-synodal dust-up precipitated by several critical articles written by Ross Douthat in the New York Times on the Synod and the Holy Father's recent motu proprio making it easier to obtain an annulment. Douthat's writing prompted a fair number of theologians, several of them quite prominent, to publish a letter-to-the-editor of the New York Times. The letter basically asserted that because Douthat, a lay Catholic and a convert to boot, was not a member of the professional guild of theologians, he had no business opining in public on these matters.

Today Douthat responded to their letter in a column published in the New York Times. I have to say I am impressed with Douthat's response. For those interested, in his column he provides links to the articles with which the theologians took issue as well as a link to their letter.

To his great credit, Douthat took something he could've easily and understandably dismissed as not very serious and, moreover, that was intended, if not to stop him from publishing opinions with which the signatories to the letter disagreed in a very popular public forum, then certainly to damage his credibility. However, I think they only succeeded in in damaging their own. It seems to me that Douthat opted to take the high and courageous road by laying down the gauntlet with clear and cogent explanations for his positions. By doing this he makes it very easy for any and all of these theologians to respond to him with their concerns.

Let's face it, the concerns laid out by Douthat are shared by many Catholics throughout the world, cleric and lay, theologians and non-theologians alike. I have no qualms about saying that I share these concerns.

Given the readily discernible ambiguity of the Synod's final relatio, no amount of post-synodal lipstick is going to pretty up the pig (to take poetic license with the sausage-making metaphor everyone seems to love so much in this context). Of course, the proof will be in the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, which the Holy Father has promised to deliver sooner rather than later. As Douthat noted, "In politics and religion alike, a doctrine emptied in practice is actually emptied, whatever official rhetoric suggests."

It seems to me that the stakes are very high, not only for the Church, but for the world. Hence, it strikes me as wholly appropriate that there should be a rigorous and vigorous disputatio, which, because of the wide-ranging effects of the outcome, should not be limited to the to the Synod hall.

Is late-modern Western society the realm of the undead?

In his short book The Burnout Society, Korean-born German philosopher Byung-Chul Han makes his case that late-modern, or "post-modern," Western society suffers from a surfeit of both sameness (homongenization) and positivity. "The violence of positivity," Han observes, "does not deprive, it saturates; it does not exclude, it exhausts, which is why it proves inaccessible to unmediated perception" (7).

In his chapter on the "Vita Activa," in which he seeks to show that, like Foucault's disciplinary society and the immunological paradigm, late modern Western society has gone beyond Arendt's attempt, made in her book The Human Condition, to rehabilitate and expand the vita activa (the active life). Before even beginning his own critique, he notes that to prioritize the vita activa over the vita contemplativa (the contemplative life) is to start off down a dead end path, just as dead an end as if one tried it the other way around.

In an endnote to this chapter the Han notes: "Counter to what Arendt claims, the Christian tradition does not attach importance exclusively to vita contemplativa." He then cites Pope St Gregory the Great:
One must know, if a good course of life requires that one pass from the active to the contemplative life, then it is often useful when the soul returns from the contemplative to the active life in such a way that the flame of contemplation lighted in the heart confers its entire perfection on activity. Thus, the active life must lead to contemplation, but contemplation must proceed from what we have observed within and calls us back to activity
I do not have the citation from the works of Pope St Gregory for this passage because Han cites Alois M. Haas' chapter "Die Beurteilung der Vita contemplativa und activa in der Dominikanermystik des 14. Jaharhundrets," from the 1985 book Arbeit Muße Meditations as his source.

According to Han, Arendt insisted that modern work, which, when she wrote, was still largely industrial, turns people into animal laborans. On Arendt's terms, becoming such meant a loss of individuality. But Han doesn't buy this: "If one abandoned one's individuality and dissolved into the life process of the species entirely one would at least have the serenity of an animal" (18). But far from having "the serenity of an animal," the late-modern person, Han notes, "is hyperactive and hyperneurotic" (18). He asks, Why does such "hectic nervousness" prevail?

Image credit: ISTOCK

It seems to me that the direct answer to the question as to why hectic nervousness characterizes people in Western societies today, an answer that Han circles around but never arrives at directly, at least not in this chapter, is a loss of a sense of transcendence: "The modern loss of faith does not concern just God or the hereafter. It involves reality itself and makes human life radically fleeting. Life has never been [I think a better word- it is a translation from German- would be "seemed"] as fleeting as it is today... Nothing promises duration or substance" (18).

While there are certainly historical dynamics in play in the Christian Tradition that prevent us from drawing exclusively with straight lines, the handing on through time of what is substantial (made substantial, that is, embodied/incarnated, by the Church through time, thus making the Church a single subject, recognizable in every age), which Catholics identify as the deposit of the faith, which, I think, can be said to be at one and the same time the Church's memory, will, and understanding, seeks to orient us to what is ultimate, or, in the words of Don Giussani, "to free us from the fascination with appearances, with the ephemeral." It seems to many (myself included) that the ecclesial crisis of our day is making Christian doctrine as fleeting as everything else. In my view, the effect of this, should it succeed, will be to make religion in general and Christianity in particular even less relevant than it is now.

"Given this lack of Being," Han observes, "nervousness and unease arise" (18). For human beings, he continues, it is not enough to belong to a species and work "for the sake of its kind" to achieve temporal aims and perpetuate itself. As a result, "the late-modern I [Ich is translated as "ego] stands utterly alone" (18).

"Even religions, as thanatotechnics [great word] that would remove the fear of death and produce a feeling of duration," Han opines, "have run their course" (18). Reading this made me consider more carefully Roger Rediger's proselytizing of Houellebecq's François in Submission. What appealed to François were the this-worldly aspects of Islam. Reflecting on René Guénon's conversion to Islam, François reasons-
why had Guénon, for example, converted to Islam? he was above all a man of science, and he had chosen Islam on scientific grounds, both for its conceptual economy and to avoid certain marginal, irrational doctrines such as the real presence of Christ in the eucharist (225)
To suggest either than Christ's real presence in the Eucharist is either marginal or irrational is just plain wrong. It is central and, while, being authentically a theological mystery, it cannot be known by the unaided light of natural reason, but is not at odds with reason.

It seems that Western societies today at least remain, to borrow from Flannery O'Connor, "God-haunted." But I think Han is quite right to note, "The denarrativization," what the late Fr Richard John Neuhaus, borrowing from certain post-modern theorists, might call the loss of our meta-narrative, "of the world is reinforcing the feeling of fleetingness. It makes life bare" (18). The net effect of this, according to Han, is that it renders every person expendable, but not entirely expendable, that is, people who can be killed absolutely, but renders us "undead, so to speak" (19).

While Han never writes in this chapter about the need for a transcendent turn, he does end it by pointing out our very human need for contemplation. I don't think that regaining an ability to contemplate can have any effect except to restore our sense of transcendence, the religious sense. Our religious sense is not simply "part" of being human, but precisely what constitutes us human beings made in the imago Dei.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Pope St John Paul II and Michel Houellebecq

I just finished Michel Houellebecq's Submission, a novel I read carefully this week, interspersed with reading Huysmans' Marthe: The Story of a Whore. After reading Houellebecq's book, I am even more convinced of that the mystery central to reality is the Incarnation, which is, indeed, the manifestation of the mysterium tremendum. I also have no problem admitting that Islam in its finest form, which is the form with which Houellebecq deals, is perhaps in some ways better suited to worldly dominance than is Christianity. While it can be and has been used as a form social control, such a use is fundamentally at odds with the nature of Christianity.

Houellebecq grasps something very fundamental, something we see playing out in the Church right now in a big way in the wake of the Synod on the Family. It is a diagnosis that the author of Submission gives in a parenthetical note towards the end of the book, as his main character, François, summarizes an article written by one Robert Rediger:
liberal individualism triumphed as long as it undermined intermediate structures such as nations, corporations, castes [the Church, as Houellebecq describes a few pages later], but when it attacked that ultimate social structure, the family, and thus the birthrate, it signed its own death warrant...
Michel Houellebecq

Here is what Houellebecq writes concerning the Church a few pages later, as François contemplates the reasons for René Guénon's conversion to Islam:
Thanks to the simpering seductions and the lewd enticements of the progressives, the Church had lost its ability to oppose moral decadence, to renounce homosexual marriage, abortion rights, and women in the work place
In this Houellebecq can be read as echoing, certainly not exactly, Pope St John Paul II. Unlike Houellebecq's take on gender relations according to Islam, John Paul II, while firmly insisting on the difference and complementarity of men and women, asserted a fundamental equality of persons.

In his 1994 Letter to Families, Papa Wojtyla observed:
No human society can run the risk of permissiveness in fundamental issues regarding the nature of marriage and the family! Such moral permissiveness cannot fail to damage the authentic requirements of peace and communion among people. It is thus quite understandable why the Church vigorously defends the identity of the family and encourages responsible individuals and institutions, especially political leaders and international organizations, not to yield to the temptation of a superficial and false modernity...

Pope St John Paul II

This kind of critical reflection should lead our society, which certainly contains many positive aspects on the material and cultural level, to realize that, from various points of view, it is a society which is sick and is creating profound distortions in man. Why is this happening? The reason is that our society has broken away from the full truth about man, from the truth about what man and woman really are as persons. Thus it cannot adequately comprehend the real meaning of the gift of persons in marriage, responsible love at the service of fatherhood and motherhood, and the true grandeur of procreation and education
Stated pointedly, there's more at stake than many people realize.

In light of this, our Friday traditio is a repeat- Paul Young singing "Love of the Common People":

Monday, October 26, 2015

Prayer is hope

Since I wrote about hope at the end of last week, I thought it would be nice to write about it again in the early part of this new week. This was made easy by my reading of the following this evening from Michel Houellebecq's novel Submission:
The idea behind the offices of Terce, Sext, and None was "to return us to the presence of God over the course of the day." Every day there were seven offices, plus Mass. None of that had changed since Huysmans's time. The one concession to comfort was that Vigils, which had been observed at two in the morning, was now at ten p.m. During my first visit [twenty years before], I had loved Vigils, with the long meditative psalms chanted in the middle of the night-as distant from Compline, and its farewell to the day, as it was from Lauds, which greeted the new dawn. Vigils was an office of pure waiting, of ultimate hope without any reason for hope (176)
The voice is that of the main character, François, who is beginning a short visit the French Benedictine monastery, the Abbey of Ligugé.

François has just been given a very early retirement from the Sorbonne, where he was a professor of literature (the writing of Joris-Karl Huysmans being his area of interest), for political reasons. He's re-visiting the monastery where Huysmans became a Benedictine oblate and where Huysmans himself had hoped to retire, even going so far as building a house. He did not remain at Ligugé, but returned to Paris. Houellebecq's anti-hero has no plans to remain and, in fact, can only manage a very short stay.

Ligugé Abbey cloisters

It seems to me that François would surely be numbered among those who, according to Václav Havel's taxonomy of hope (see "Some restless thoughts on hope"), wait for Godot, which waiting is not really waiting, but resignation brought about by hopelessness. Do not fear, François remains mostly unmoved by all of this, despite finding Liturgy of the Hours and Mass lovely.
The voices of the monks rose up in the freezing air, pure, humble, well meaning. They were full of sweetness, hope, and expectation. The Lord Jesus would return, was about to return, and already the warmth of his presence filled their souls with joy. This was the one real theme of their chants, chants of sweet and organic expectation. The old queer Nietzsche had it right: Christianity was, at the end of the day, a feminine religion (179)
When one thinks of the Church as Christ's Bride, mystically referring to the soul as feminine, etc., Nietzsche was not totally out-to-lunch. However, much more needs to be said both about ecclesiology and theological anthropology in response to Nietzsche's conclusion, or Houellebecq's conclusion that, in the end, Islam will "win" because of the feminine inheritance that bled from Christianity into late-modern European secularism. So much for all the patriarchy, which is a not-so leitmotif running through Houellebeq's novel.

I like defining hope as "sweet and organic expectation." There is waiting for Godot and then there is waiting joyfully with expectation.

My verse for today

This morning, as I was ending my prayer and reflection time, I picked up off the floor my copy of Pope St John Paul II's book Memory and Identity. I read the chapter "Europe As 'Native Land.'" I removed the book from the shelf the last time I was preparing to preach, but I did wind up using the quote I looked up. Reading this chapter, however, was a nice complement to finishing Havel: A Life.

Digressing from his analysis "of the European spirit," the Pope referred to Jesus' allegory of the vine and the branches, found in St John's Gospel, the fifteenth chapter. He quoted these words of Jesus: "I am the vine and you are the branches" (v. 5). With this, the saintly pope insisted, the Lord "develops this great metaphor, sketching as it were a theology of Incarnation and Redemption. He is the vine, the Father is the vine grower, and individual Christians are the branches"(98). He went on to say that Christ was incarnate so that the Father, by the power of the Spirit, could graft humanity "onto the stock of the divinity of his only-begotten Son" (98). From the beginning, Papa Wojtyla observed, our humanity, originally created in both God's image and likeness, was made for this. Further, "it is only by agreeing to be grafted onto Christ's divine Vine that man can become fully himself" (99).

After briefly laying out the allegory of the vine and the branches, John Paul II asked, "Why, at this point in our reflections on Europe, do I speak of the vine and the branches?" He did so because he thought it offered "the best explanation of the drama of the European Enlightenment" (99). By rejecting the Lord, or marginalizing "his place in human history and culture," a "revolution" occurred in European thought (99). This revolution severed man from the vine, which vine "guarantees him the possibility of attaining the fullness of his humanity" (99). Further, this severing opened up a path "that would lead toward the devastating experiences of evil" that followed (99). While not in such an explicitly Christian way, Havel too, insisted on the necessity of attending to humanity's transcendent dimension, even going so far as to recognize the Christian foundation of Europe.

Later in the morning, praying with my wife and using Sarah Young's devotional Jesus Calling, I encountered the same passage, even the same verse (John 15:5). This second encounter with the same passage in the same morning grounded it some, said something to me about my life, especially about my need to surrender daily to Christ the Lord: "True confidence comes from knowing you are complete in My presence" (313).

Maybe it's because we're in the midst of fall that I was so attentive to this Scripture today, attuned to the image of vines, branches, and leafs.

A leaf drops from a branch dead, there to decay on the ground, or be raked up, sucked up, or mowed up. Chaplain Mike passed along the poem Autumn Song, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti:

Know’st thou not at the fall of the leaf
How the heart feels a languid grief
Laid on it for a covering,
And how sleep seems a goodly thing
In Autumn at the fall of the leaf?

And how the swift beat of the brain
Falters because it is in vain,
In Autumn at the fall of the leaf
Knowest thou not? and how the chief
Of joys seems—not to suffer pain?

Know’st thou not at the fall of the leaf
How the soul feels like a dried sheaf
Bound up at length for harvesting,
And how death seems a comely thing
In Autumn at the fall of the leaf?

Saturday, October 24, 2015

It is the blindman who sees all along

Readings: Jer 31:7-9; Ps 126:1-6; Heb 5:1-6; Mark 10:46-52

I think it is important to note that in the pericopé that is our Gospel reading for this Sunday, it is "Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus" who sees from the get-go, even before Christ heals him. Attend to how Bartimaeus calls out to the Lord: "Jesus, son of David, have pity on me." With these words the blind man gives evidence that he sees who Jesus is- the Messiah. Notice that, while the Lord grants Bartimaeus his request (to see), He tells the son of Timaeus that his faith has saved him.

"Faith" and "saved" are two very important words in this passage. What these words mean are crucial for Christianity. The word "saved" in this passage in a translation of the Greek verb that transliterates as sesoken (literally "has saved"), which is derived from the verb sōzō, which has a range of meaning from being made well to being delivered from peril. There is no need to reduce what our Lord says to only one meaning.

As for "faith," the Greek noun employed in this passage is pistis. Pistis is (too) often viewed as the opposite of  gnosis, or "knowledge." Such a false opposition gives rise to the persistent temptation to divorce faith from reason, which separation is the sad legacy of the Protestant revolt. As Von Balthasar explained in the first volume of his theological aesthetics, The Glory of the Lord:
The contrast between 'pistics' and 'gnostics' is basically that between, on the one hand, the Christian who, by 'bare faith'..., relates in a purely external manner to the content of faith (who, therefore, does not progress beyond a faith based solely on authority, which primarily means obedience to the ecclesial kerygma), and, on the other hand, the Christian who energetically strives to appropriate interiorly what he believes and, in so doing, sees the essential content of faith unfold before his vision..." (137)
Jesus Heals Bartimaeus, by Nicolas Poussin, 1650

We know from Christ Himself that a person can only know Him as Messiah and/or Lord by faith, which comes by way of revelation, an unveiling (Matt 16:17), or, in the words of Luigi Giussani: an event (i.e., something that happens to you) that becomes an encounter. Faith, by its true nature, as St Anselm of Canterbury noted long ago, seeks understanding. In other words, faith strives to know. Hence, faith and reason work together to bring us to the knowledge of the Truth.

Now, I readily grant that the above is an oversimplified explanation of the dynamic at work in faith, but I hope I give what amounts to a useful sketch. However, in Jesus' healing of Bartimaeus we have a perfect, and very dramatic, example of how pistis (i.e., true faith) leads to, or tends towards, gnosis (true knowledge).

Our first reading, taken from the book of the prophet Jeremiah, is about God doing for His people what Christ did for Bartimaeus. In our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, the inspired author seeks to explain something of just how God does this in and through Jesus Christ, the great and true High Priest. So, with the psalmist and with Bartimaeus, let us rejoice, singing: "The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy."

Some restless thoughts on hope

One helpful way I have found to understand the most elusive of the theological virtues, hope, is by saying it is the flower of faith and its fruit is charity. I think there is an interesting correlation between the theological virtue of hope and the spiritual discipline of fasting, just as I think there is a correlation between prayer and faith as well as between alms-giving and charity. At least for me, hope remains elusive and so I am always looking for better and deeper ways of understanding it.

I am about to finish Michael Zantovsky's biography of Václav Havel: Havel: A Life. It is a book I highly recommend. After resigning from the presidency of Czechoslovakia, which he did shortly after the decision to dissolve the Czech and Slovak federation was reached in 1992 (the formal dissolution of the federation happened 1 January 1993), Havel was made a member of the French Academy of Humanities and Political Science.

Václav Havel greets crowds in Prague's Wenceslas, November, 1989

In his speech accepting membership in the French Academy, delivered 27 October 1992, Havel reflected on the meaning of hope, a reflection that arose very much from his experience of serving for three years as president. According to Zantovsky, "In the speech he drew a line between two different kinds of the phenomenon of waiting. One, waiting for Godot, is provoked by hopelessness. People who feel powerless to change the conditions of their life pin their hope on some indeterminate 'salvation from outside... It is the hope of people without hope'" (421).

"The other type of waiting 'was based on the knowledge that it made sense on principle to resist by speaking the truth, simply because it was the right thing to do, without speculating whether it would lead somewhere tomorrow, or the day after, or ever... waiting as a state of hope, not an expression of hopelessness" (421-422)

According to Zantovsky, this short discourse on hope led him to talk about impatience, which Havel identified as the "vain belief in the primacy of reason" and the false belief that "the world is nothing but a cross-world [not a misspelling of "word"] puzzle to be solved" (422). "Without even being aware of it," Havel confessed, "I, too, submitted to the perverted belief that I was a master of reality, that the only task was to improve reality according to some existing recipe" (422). He admitted that he gave into the illusion of thinking time belonged to him. "It was, of course, a big mistake. The world, Being and history have their own time. We can, of course, enter that time in a creative way, but none of us has it entirely in his hands" (422)

Properly understood, Christian hope must take the form of the latter because it has nothing to do with the former. In the book The Surprising Pope: Understanding the Thought of Pope John Paul II, which is a series of eleven interviews with Fr Maciej Zieba O.P., a close associate of then-Cardinal Wojtyla in Poland, and, prior to ordination, a Solidarity activist, conducted by Adam Pawlowicz, responding to a question that Christianity is somehow opposed to success in the world, Zieba responded:
success is not a Christian category, but nor is failure. The real categories are 'for Christ' and 'against Christ' - and the first will lead to success, the second to defeat. These categories, however, do not translate as success and failure in the world. Besides, we know that in time there are no ultimate successes or ultimate failures. That is clear from the Gospels. Faith in Christ makes it possible for us to perceive within the temporal dimension the weightiness of spiritual reality and opens up the horizon of time to a dimension larger than human life (77)
Both of these expositions on hope show us that it has little to do with optimism.

Pope St John Paul II in Poland, 1983

It always helps to use examples. Therefore, the intervention at the now-concluding Ordinary Synod on the Family, made a week ago yesterday, by Dr. Anca-Maria Cernea, President of the Association of Catholic Doctors of Bucharest (Romania) serves very well: "Material poverty and consumerism are not the primary cause of the family crisis. The primary cause of the sexual and cultural revolution is ideological" (read the whole thing here).

Hope that is truly hope bids us to engage time "in a creative way." Christian hope is not hopeless. Because of the Incarnation, a Christian does not look for "salvation from outside," but rather sees it arising from within.

Speaking of waiting as an act of hope, the season of Advent begins in little more than a month. Enjoy "Donchás" (i.e., "Hope") by The Crossing.

Friday, October 23, 2015

"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord" even amidst ruins

Yesterday I bought a copy of the English translation of Michel Houellebecq's latest novel Submission. Because I have been waiting eagerly to read it, I started right away. One reason I couldn't wait to read Houellebecq's latest is because I am well-acquainted with and very appreciative of the writings of Joris-Karl Huysmans. In Submission the main character, François, is a professor of French literature whose main interest is Huysmans. His interest in his subject goes beyond being merely academic.

One of the blurbs for the book is by Steven Poole, who apparently reviewed Submission the Guardian newspaper: "The real target of Houellebecq's satire - as in his previous novels- is the predictably manipulable venality and lustfulness of the modern metropolitan man." It seems to me that in his novel Houellebecq unfolds the consequences of manipulability of the Catholic Church in recent times, which manipulation has reduced her neraly to the point of utter irrelevance, at least in the West. The only enthusiasm the Church seems able to generate these days in Europe and throughout the Americas is by toying with letting herself be more and more shaped and formed by this decaying culture. It should go without noting that this is not the path to vitality.

Don't get me wrong, I am not arguing for an attempt to re-establish "Christendom" as such, just for the Church to be herself come what may. Early in the book an interesting discussion on patriarchy that takes place between François and one of his student lovers, Myriam. Their dialogue cuts to the chase of what I am talking about- it gets to the fundamental matter of our humanity and is about man and woman, husband and wife, having and raising children- just the kind of thing that Woody Allen usually winds up concluding in his movies.

I'll take this opportunity to remark that I detect faint echoes of Huysmans in some of the films of Catherine Breillat. In her film Anatomie de l’enfer, in addition to these faint echoes, her voice is very much in concert with that of Houellebecq. Of course, neither Breillat nor Houellebecq are well-received in France. Huysmans, who is usually and, in my view, mistakenly, categorized as a "Decadent," shows us that serious faith, far from being a deus ex machina, arises from one's experience of the world and not as a rejection, but a growing realization. I hope this is something the Church does not forget. But lest I grow too weary, I offer this from Artur Rosman: "Why Did Hans Urs von Balthasar Remain Catholic?"

The ambo of St Sulpice Church, Paris

Houellebecq uses a passage from Huysmans' novel En route as something of an epigram to Submission:
A noise recalled him to Saint-Sulpice; the choir was leaving; the church was about to close. "I should have tried to pray," he thought. "It would have been better than sitting here in the empty church, dreaming in my chair - but pray? I have no desire to pray. I am haunted by Catholicism, intoxicated by its atmosphere of incense and candle wax. I hover on its outskirts, moved to tears by its prayers, touched to the very marrow by its psalms and chants. I am revolted with my life, I am sick of myself, but so far from changing my ways! And yet . . . and yet . . . however troubled I am in these chapels, as soon as I leave them I become unmoved and dry. In the end," he told himself, as he rose and followed the last ones out, shepherded by the Swiss Guard, "in the end, my heart is hardened and smoked dry by dissipation. I am good for nothing"
It strikes me that the salient part of this passage is when Huysmans' semi-autobiographical main character, Durtal, confesses, "I am revolted with my life, I am sick of myself, but so far from changing my ways."

Anyone who has read Huysmans' trilogy, consisting of Là-Bas, En route, and La cathédrale, knows Durtal changes his ways, as did Huysmans. The Church with which he was so "intoxicated" in this sad passage, was there, not to facilitate (meaning to make easier), but to entice and then demand he change. Change he must, he did not need the Church to tell him this. He needed the Church in order to begin making the changes. In other words, the Church was there in her unbending and truly maternal way.

The culmination of En route is Durtal going to confession. The final words of his confessor:
"have confidence, do not attempt to present yourself before God all neat and trim; go to Him simply, naturally, in undress even, just as you are; do not forget that if you are a servant you are also a son; have good courage, our Lord will dispel all these nightmares."

And when he had received absolution, Durtal went down to the church to await the hour of mass
Since our traditio comes in the evening, it is the Blessed Virgin's Magnificat, chanted, sung, or recited in Evening Prayer, known traditionally as Vespers:

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Truth, love, and the role of conscience

It really should go without saying that without truth there is no love and vice-versa. Another way to state this is that without justice there is no mercy. Of course there is a difference between morality and moralism. Morality maintains the complementary relation between truth and love while moralism divorces truth from love and so leaves no room for grace, let alone mercy.

For Christians the Ten Commandments constitute the foundations of morality. When one looks at the Ten Commandments through the lens of Jesus' Two Great Commandments (i.e., love God with all your heart, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as you love yourself) one can easily see that the first four commandments are about loving God- the fourth commandment about honoring one's parents is perhaps the most interesting of the ten- and the final six concern love of our fellow man. Fr Basil Maturin, in his book Christian Self-Mastery: How to Govern Your Thoughts, Discipline Your Will, and Achieve Balance in Your Spiritual Life, noted: "It is by placing ourselves under certain laws of commandment and prohibition [dos and donts] that the heart becomes trained to turn toward its true end."

Commenting on the Ten Commandments, Fr Maturin pointed out:
These commandments say nothing directly about love. But they forbid that which destroys it and direct certain practices that tend to develop it aright. Love is there. Like a stream, it is ever flowing; it needs to be directed into its proper channel, and the soul needs to be warned against that which destroys it

Yesterday the National Catholic Register published an article by moral theologian Dr Mark Latkovic, professor at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, about conscience: "The Primacy of Conscience, the Synod and the Catholic Faith." In his piece, Dr Latkovic provides a concise and very readable summary on the important, even the "sacred," role of conscience in moral decision-making, while noting that un(in)formed conscience does not reign supreme. Pointing to the Second Vatican Council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, he notes that conscience is the "echo" of God's voice within us. Formulated more traditionally, "conscience makes reference to the law inscribed on our hearts."

Fundamentally, the "law inscribed on our hearts" is the law of love. Adhering to the law of love prevents morality, moral decision-making, from ever becoming autonomous. Keep in mind that what constituted the primordial sin that resulted in original sin was the desire to be autonomous, to become a law unto one's self, becoming "like gods" knowing as God knows (Gen 3:5).

In order to link Fr Maturin's insight about directing our love into its proper channel to Dr Latkovic's important observations about conscience we turn to Pope St John Paul II's 1993 encylical letter Veritatis splendor (The Splendor of Truth), particularly a section Dr Latkovic cites at length:
the authority of the Church, when she pronounces on moral questions, in no way undermines the freedom of conscience of Christians. This is so not only because freedom of conscience is never freedom ‘from’ the truth, but always and only freedom ‘in’ the truth, but also because the magisterium does not bring to the Christian conscience truths which are extraneous to it; rather, it brings to light the truths which it ought already to possess, developing them from the starting point of the primordial act of faith. The Church puts herself always and only at the service of conscience (par 64)
While I am neither a cynic nor a skeptic, I am often surprised at how often Church teaching on these matters is shunted aside when it comes to dealing with difficult challenges to the truth. Conversion, which, of necessity, involves proper formation of one's conscience, is a lifetime endeavor. We call this endeavor "discipleship." In some instances, when one considers Purgatory, it is an endeavor that perhaps exceeds one's lifetime. Moral autonomy and being Catholic are not just difficult, but impossible, to reconcile.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Year B Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Is 53:10-11; Ps 33:4-5.18-20.22; Heb 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45

In our first reading today we hear verses from one of Isaiah’s so-called Servant Songs. The Servant Songs of Isaiah are probably the most direct prophesies of Jesus Christ that we find in all of the books that together comprise the Old Testament. Referring to Christ as the Suffering Servant, Isaiah wrote: “through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear” (Isa 53:11). Indeed, through His suffering and death, Jesus Christ bore the guilt of our sins. Through His resurrection he overcame the consequence of our sin: death.

In one of his daily homilies, delivered the May after he was selected as Pontiff, Pope Francis created a stir when he said, “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone!” When we discuss salvation we have to know the meaning of words, which is not as difficult as some try to make it out to be. Salvation is an overarching term that, theologically, can be divided into three constituent parts: redemption, justification, and sanctification.

What Pope Francis said was true, everyone is redeemed. Jesus Christ died for all. In his novel Perelandra, C.S. Lewis observed: “When [Christ] died in the Wounded World He died not for men, but for each man. If each man had been the only man made, He would have done no less” (217).

Who is justified? While God offers salvation to all through Christ, He does not force salvation on anybody. Justification is a theological word for freely accepting what God freely offers us through Christ. But even our acceptance is the work of the Holy Spirit, which is why faith is a gift from God. As St Paul wrote: “For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved” (Rom 10:10). Yes, even for Catholics, we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is our response to God’s initiative towards us. God’s initiative towards us we call grace.

Sanctification, which is the theological term for being made holy, is what begins once we are justified. Sanctification is the process of being restored to the likeness of God, which likeness is lost through sin. We cooperate with God’s grace through the everyday circumstances of our lives. Another way to describe sanctification is “becoming Christ-like.”

What does becoming like Christ involve? In today’s Gospel Jesus gives us a very good idea in his explanation to the sons of Zebedee: “whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43b-45).

Divine Mercy, besides being the impetus behind our redemption and justification, is indispensable for our sanctification. God’s mercy never ends. It is inexhaustible. In one of his Sunday Angelus addresses, Pope Francis noted: “the Lord never tires of forgiving! It is we who tire of asking forgiveness.” We all need Divine Mercy. Recognizing our need should enable us to become aware that we need to be merciful to others (Eph 4:31-32).

A priest of our diocese, Fr Richtsteig, recently wrote: “The Mercy of God is not magic. Like all Grace, God will not force it on anyone. A person needs to be open to it. For it to be effective, we need to open ourselves to it by repentance. Without repentance, it is as if it did not exist.”

Assuming mercy without repenting, which includes both sorrow for sin and a firm commitment to cooperate with God’s grace in changing our ways, is called presumption. Presumption may be defined as hoping for salvation, relying on God’s mercy and power, without seeking pardon for your sins. We can call this phenomenon the “I’m a pretty good person” syndrome. Christ did not call us to become “pretty good” people, but to “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). This is sanctification.

As followers of Christ, becoming more and more like Him by cooperating with God’s grace is the very point and purpose of our lives. Walking the narrow path Jesus showed us is often hard, frustrating, and even discouraging. This journey lasts a lifetime; when we consider Purgatory, perhaps more than a lifetime. Sanctification is the path of love, which path we cannot walk without the aid of Divine Mercy.

We are assured in our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). It is in and through Jesus, by the power of His Spirit, that we can “confidently approach the throne of grace” (Heb 4:16). Can the throne of grace only be found in heaven? No. Gathered here together today we are before the throne of grace.

When we go to confession we approach the mercy seat, not the judgment seat. In the Old Testament the mercy seat was the golden cover of the Ark of the Covenant. On the Day of Atonement it was on the mercy seat that the High Priest sprinkled the blood of sacrificial animals (Lev 16:14–15). Several chapters on in the Letter to the Hebrews, we read that Christ, the High Priest, “entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (Heb 9:12).

On 8 December we begin what the Holy Father has proclaimed as the Year of Mercy. In his letter on the upcoming jubilee, Pope Francis wrote: “It is important that this moment be linked, first and foremost, to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to the celebration of the Holy Eucharist with a reflection on mercy.” What’s our take away today? Receive what you know you need, namely God’s mercy, by going to confession soon and with increased frequency thereafter. Echoing our responsorial Psalm, it is the best way of saying, Jesus, I trust in You.

Friday, October 16, 2015

"Lemme tell ya them guys ain't dumb"

What a busy week! By busy I don't mean bad. A bit challenging? Sure. But what's life without some challenges?

Our Friday traditio this week is simple: Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing"- the original MTV video, or, as Hank Hill would say "Vidya." Notice Sting providing some back-up vocals.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Sketching the antinomy of the anatomies of heaven and hell

In my post "Metaphysical dialectics vs Sophiology" I linked to something I posted nearly six years ago on Catherine Breiallt's film Anatomie de l’enfer (i.e., "The Anatomy of Hell"), a movie based on her novel Pornocratie: "Opposing God to nature: the denial of the ontologically obvious."

Today as I organized my den I uncovered the composition notebook I was using back in 2009, one in which I took notes on Breiallt's film. Anatomie de l’enfer is a very sexually explicit movie. The male star, in fact, is none other than controversial pornographic actor and director Rocco Siffredi. Because of this I don't necessarily recommend the movie. Due to the nature of the film I give fair warning here that what follows in this post is not for everyone. It is rather more prosaic "take" on what I took up in my "sophiological" post on Saturday:
The woman, taking an unused tampon from the box, say, referring to her "period" - "We make such a big deal of it." Then, referring to the tampon, she says, "See the space it takes up and one can't even feel it?" The same space as most human penises. Proof that intercourse the act isn't what matters, but its meaning."
My question in response to this was, "Don't act and meaning go together? Can they be separated? We tend to focus on act w/out meaning, but where there is no act there cannot even be the possibility of meaning."

A still from Breiallt's Anatomie de l’enfer

Taking the wrapping off the tampon, she says, "Look. There's a whole device to make it look complex. So one can insert it without touching one's self, keeping one's virginity intact without exploring one's genitals while inserting the tampon." She goes on to describe it as being like giving herself an injection, "As if to staunch a wound that is painful and highly sensitive."
Here's what I wrote: "Pain of childbearing, a wound a alienation between woman and man?- She says the whole operation is laughable [Chesterton made a similar observation- he was wrong, as is "Woman" in Breiallt's film- sex is beautiful. I'll stick with Wojtyla's Theology of the Body, which has been badly exploited by some Catholics to point of being almost unrecognizable], but she can't laugh because "it foretells of something terrifying that lurks in the brain of whoever designed and put his servile signature on this infamous thing. A man for sure."

Reflecting on all of this again six years later in the aftermath of reading Lewis' Perelandra, I see even more clearly that the line between awful and awesome, the line between exhilarating and terrifying, is quite thin.
The Garden of Eden, by Marc Chagall

God qua God is not a man: "God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God. He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard: no one is father as God is Father" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par 239). Just as we know that God is a tri-unity of persons only because God has revealed this to us, so we know that God, while being the source of femininity and masculinity, transcends both gender and sex:
God created mankind in his image;
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them (Gen 1:27)
Because we're creatures it is impossible for us to transcend either gender or sex. Our attempts to do so flow from the original sin, which is to displace God and put either ourselves, or our idols, which are nothing but our distorted self-projections, in God's place. In attempting such a transcendence we not only reject our creaturliness, but our very selves. Self-alienation is perhaps the most pernicious effect of the primordial sin.

Too often we misread the story of the fall and see the alienation, the breaking of communion between God and humanity, between human beings, and between humanity and nature, as not only being the woman's fault, but as having something to do with sexual temptation. Contra Springsteen, Eve did not tempt Adam "with her pink Cadillac." If we allow the Creation narratives to maintain their integrity we see that there was sex in the garden before the fall. While I hesitate to write posts like this one, it is well beyond time that we put sound theology into dialogue with contemporary culture precisely through culture to set forth an anatomy of heaven.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Life and how to live it

Readings: Wis 7:7-11; Ps 90:12-17; Heb 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-30

Jesus is the Wisdom of Father made incarnate. Jesus is the Word of God.

In terms of first of these assertions, St Paul wrote: "Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor 1:24). As to the second, C.S. Lewis rightly noted: "It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true Word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him."

In today's Gospel we see what the sacred author of the Letter to the Hebrews meant when he wrote: "the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart" (4:12).

You see, holiness is not merely the observance of externally imposed proscriptions and prescriptions. The rich young man in today's Gospel knew and kept the commandments from his youth, yet still he recognized something was lacking, namely life, the life that is really life, the life the only Jesus can give: eternal life. This lack, this need, is what caused him to approach Jesus. But let's be clear, Jesus did not tell the young man that keeping the commandments was stupid, unimportant, or even unnecessary. It seems to me that what Jesus frequently sought to teach in this regard is the importance of not mistaking means for ends.

As an observant Jew who knew and kept the commandments, which were the 613 mitzvot- 613 individual rules the observance of which made one an "observant Jew"-, the young man would've been considered "righteous" or "just" in the eyes of his fellow Jews. But this was not enough for him, as it is not enough for anyone who honestly interrogates his/her own heart. Observance of the commandments is what we might call a necessary but not sufficient condition for achieving what we truly desire, which is only to desire that for which we are made. I think it's also important to point out that this is not something anyone had to tell him; he knew it.

Jesus, looking on the young man with love, quickly discerned that it was the young man's attachment to his apparently considerable possessions that kept him from experiencing life, from experiencing the hundredfold Jesus promised to His disciples. Indeed, our attachment to and seeking our fulfillment in and through earthly goods is a common obstacle, especially in wealthy Western societies. What do you think will give you security, money or God? The question today's Gospel invites us to ask ourselves is, "What keeps me from experiencing life, true life?" or, "In what or who do I place my hope?"

We must careful when discussing the hundredfold lest we fall prey to the prosperity Gospel, which means that if you give a $100 you can expect to receive $10,000 in return. This is not at all what Jesus promised, note in the list Jesus gives His disciples in telling them of the hundredfold He includes "persecutions"... "Blessed are you..." (Matt 5:10-11).

Wisdom is worth more than earthly riches. If the wisdom of God seems like foolishness, then it stands to reason the wealth of God is experienced through poverty, that is, through detachment from earthly things. The ultimate wisdom is to know Jesus: "Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ" (John 17:3).

All of this was summed well by Pope Francis in his Angelus address today:
The young man [in today's Gospel] did not allow himself to be won over by Jesus’ loving gaze, and therefore could not change. He said that only by accepting with humble gratitude the love of the Lord do we free ourselves from the seduction of idols and the blindness of our illusions

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Metaphysical dialectics vs Sophiology

Yesterday after finishing the second novel of C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy, Perelandra, I began reading Michael Zantovsky's biography of Václav Havel, Havel: A Life. Havel is someone I admire very much. In my reading of Zantovsky's book today, specifically the chapter on Havel's seminal play The Garden Party, I found something that seemed to me to apply to what I will call the innovators at last year's and this year's Synods on marriage and the family.

While Havel was certainly making reference to Czechoslovakia's communist system, most, if not all, of his insights can be applied to any and all who seek to foster ideology instead of truth. What Havel referred to as "metaphysical dialectics" (not a complimentary term) seems to me something that the innovators play at. According to Zantovsky, the meaning of "metaphysical dialectics" is "fostering a 'proper' ideology, by means of which it was possible to affirm or reject absolutely everything as need be, and often to affirm and reject something simultaneously" (71).

I think it's important not to leave things hanging there as simply an accusation. It's necessary to point to the truth that gives lie to the ideology. This is where Lewis comes in. Perelandra is an amazing book. As much as I enjoyed it's prequel, Out of the Silent Planet, I reveled in the second book of the trilogy. In the penultimate chapter of his novel, Lewis delivers a wonderful reflection on a very deep truth, a truth that ideology has been hard at work seeking to supplant for a long time, but especially over the course of the past 50 years in Western societies, the truth about how deeply embedded in creation is masculinity and femininity.

Before leaping to Lewis, this is not a new issue on Καθολικός διάκονος; see "Opposing God to nature: the denial of the ontologically obvious." Some years ago now, Juan Manuel de Prada observed, "The battle that is joined today is not ideological, but anthropological..." What God seeks to do in and through Christ, in and through the Church, is to restore us to our "authentic nature, permitting [us] to emerge from the Babelic confusion fomented by ideology" (see "Catholic Spain Has a New Herald").

As Dr Elwin Ransom, professor of Linguistics at Cambridge University, reaches the top of the mountain from whence he will be transported from Perelandra (Venus) back to earth (he visited Mars- "Malacandra" in Out of the Silent Planet), he encounters two eldila (superhuman extra-terrestrials), which are Malacandra (Mars) and Perelandra (Venus) personified. Yes, think men are from Mars and women are from Venus. In trying to describe how the two affected him, or were perceived by him, Ransom "said that Malacandra was like rhythm and Perelandra like melody," or "Malacandra affected him like a quantitative and Perelandra like an accentual metre." But the narrator, a friend and colleague of Ransom named, oddly enough, Lewis, finally states that "what Ransom saw at that moment was the real meaning of gender."

Erato, Muse of Lyric Poetry, by Edward John Poynter, 1870

"Everyone," Lewis notes, "must have wondered why in nearly all tongues certain inanimate objects are masculine and others feminine." He goes on to note that this is not merely a function of language and that gender is not "an imaginative extension of sex." In other words, according to Lewis, "Our ancestors did not make mountains masculine because they projected male characteristics into them. The real process is the reverse."

On Lewis' view, "Gender is a reality, and a more fundamental one than sex." He goes on to observe that sex is "merely the adaptation to organic life of a fundamental polarity which divides all created beings." Think about these poetic words from Genesis:
God created mankind in his image;
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them (1:27)
The Hebrew word translated "mankind" is a neuter word. While there are sometimes biological mutations, there are no neuter human beings. All human beings are in some way engendered.

"Female sex," Lewis points out, "is simply one of the things that have feminine gender; there are many others, and Masculine and Feminine meet us on planes of reality where male and female would be simply meaningless... the male and female of organic creatures are rather faint and blurred reflections of of masculine and feminine." Then, digging deeper, as did Dante, Lewis confirms this even among the pagans of old. No longer calling them "Malacandra" and "Perelandra," but by their earthly names, Ransom says, "My eyes have seen Mars and Venus. I have seen Ares and Aphrodite." The humbled human being then asks these eldila how the earthly poets of old knew of them: "When and from whom had the children of Adam learned that Ares was a man of war and that Aphrodite rose from the sea foam?" The professor's question is given a rather detailed answer that is summarized poetically: "Memory passes through the womb and hovers in the air. The Muse is a real thing. A faint breath, as Virgil says, reaches even the late generations."

I hope and pray that last phrase is true because it seems the ideology being deployed is quickly erasing memory and polluting the air. Sophia, Lady Wisdom, infuse our memory and purify the air that we may once again hear the kithara of Erato.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Prayer on a Friday morning

This morning after serving at Mass and doing my diaconal duty, which I love, of purifying and carefully putting away the sacred vessels and straightening up the sanctuary, I found myself alone in church with the Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament. Not knowing when else over the course of the day I would have the opportunity to pray the Rosary, I stayed and prayed.

After praying up to the first Sorrowful mystery, instead remaining in place sitting or kneeling, I decided to pray while walking in a circle around the church looking at the stained glass windows, which I love, and, more particularly, the Stations of the Cross. The parish church where I now serve is a contemporary church building. It was built in the late 1960s. I have no doubt many of my fellow Catholics would find it either ugly or nondescript and unappealing. I do not think that at all. In fact, I quite like it. 

Confessional St Olaf's Catholic Church Bountiful, Utah

As I was making my way around the Church for the first time I stopped and stood looking at the Station that shows Jesus falling for the second time. As I did so it occurred to me that the Stations of the Cross are like a long meditation on the fourth and fifth of the Sorrowful mysteries (i.e., Jesus carrying the Cross and His Crucifixion). Then I was struck by the thought that perhaps, like integers, the "space" between each mystery of the Rosary is infinite. There can be no end of meditating on and contemplating the mysteries of our Lord's birth, life, passion and death, and resurrection, on the great Paschal mystery we celebrate all the time, the very mystery that God in His goodness is always at work drawing us more deeply into.

As I continued my walking and praying I ventured into one confessional and then into the other before winding up kneeling before the altar to finish my prayer. Apart from what I shared above, my experience this morning was indescribable. As I was praying in our parish church, which is located in the heart of our city, I think I experienced something very much like what Henri Nouwen must've had in mind when he wrote: "The spiritual life does not remove us from the world but leads us deeper into it."

Year I Twenty-seventh Friday in Ordinary Time

Readings Joel 1:13-15. 2:1-2; Ps 9:2-3.8(16).8-9; Luke 11:15-26

Today’s first reading, from the Book of the Prophet Joel, sounds a little scary. In this passage Joel, who was a prophet in Israel before the time of Jesus, is calling the priests of Israel to repentance, to return to God, to be faithful to their covenant with God.

A covenant is simply a solemn, binding, and formal agreement entered into by two parties. The covenant between God and Israel is simple: “I will be your God and you will be my people” (Ex 6:7). God said to Israel through another prophet, Jeremiah, “Listen to my voice; then I will be your God and you shall be my people.” (Jer 7:23). Through Joel, God is only asking Israel to keep their end of the covenant.

You entered into God’s covenant when you were baptized. You entered into this covenant with God through Jesus Christ. This covenant was ratified, or made official, by the Holy Spirit. This is true even if you were baptized when you were a baby. If you were baptized as a baby your parents and godparents made very solemn promises to do everything in their power to raise you to practice our Christian faith and to “keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor.” This covenant is renewed when you are confirmed and, not just at your First Holy Communion, but every time you receive communion, including this morning.

In Holy Communion the Lord gives Himself to us whole and entire. In return, He invites us to offer ourselves to Him completely. When we say “Amen” before we receive Christ's Body and Blood we are telling the Lord that we are for Him, not against Him, that we are committed to do His will in loving response to His great love for us, which He poured out on the Cross.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we recognize that we sometimes, perhaps even often, fail to keep our part of the covenant. Confession is where you go to repent in just the way Joel is calling on the priests of Israel to repent in our first reading. You may be saying, “I am not a priest. Why does that apply to me?” It applies to everyone who is baptized because, by our baptism, we are made members of God’s prophetic, royal, and priestly people.

In today’s Gospel Jesus explains that it is impossible to cast out evil spirits in the name of the devil. He reasons that if the devil casts out demons by his own power he would undermine his on-going efforts to separate people and the world from God. Jesus tells those who question His power, “But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you (Luke 11:20). We know that Jesus did what He did by the power of God because Jesus is God and so the Kingdom of God is now at hand. Christ’s continues His presence in the world by means of the Church, which includes us.

In the creed, which we recite every Sunday and on solemnities, we say of Jesus that “he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” This is an article of our faith. In St John’s Gospel Jesus says something very much like what God said through Jeremiah: “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Jesus gave us two great commandments- to love God with all your heart, might, mind, and strength; to love your neighbor as you love yourself (Matt 22:37-40; Luke 10:27). This is how we are for Jesus and not against Him.

When we’re sent forth at the end of this Mass we are sent forth to keep these commandments, but we do so, not because we are scared of God, but because we know God loves us and we want to love Him in return. Jesus is the proof of God’s love. There is no way Jesus loves us more than by giving Himself to us in Holy Communion. This morning let us come forward and renew our covenant with God through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

"You never told me about the fire"

The end of September and the beginning of October have been very slow here on Καθολικός διάκονος. I have had several commitments that have prevented from posting regularly. I hope to resume writing here more regularly. My lack of posting certainly hasn't been the result of lack of things happening in the Church and in the world. I suppose the three biggest stories are Russia's involvement in Syria, the on-going Planned Parenthood pettifoggery, and the Ordinary Synod on Marriage and the Family now taking place in Rome.

I followed last year's Extraordinary Synod very closely and have maintained contact with the issues that arose from it. It has since occurred to me, however, that Synods produce documents. The definitive document a Synod produces is a post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation. Let's face it, documents don't necessarily produce results, especially ones that only seek to exhort.

Probably the two best known post-synodal exhortations since Bl Pope Paul VI inaugurated the Synod of Bishops after the Second Vatican Council are Pope Francis' Evangelii gaudium, which was the exhortation after the Synod on the New Evangelization, which took place while Benedict XVI was still pope, and Pope St John Paul II's Familiaris consortio, the exhortation following the 1980 Synod on the family. In any case, I am very doubtful that the exhortation following these synods will improve on Familiaris consortio, but we'll see.

The dirty little secret is that in many dioceses and parishes marriage preparation is minimal to non-existent and ministry to married couples with children is pretty rare, at least in my experience. But, hey, it's only the future of the Church in each place we're talking about. I suppose we can always just hang our hats on the Lord's promise not to abandon the Church. But we should be well-aware that there are places where Christianity formerly thrived that the Church now either exists only very minimally or does not exist at all, even as the Church Universal remains. It seems to me that every diocese in the United States should be taking pastoral challenges to marriage and family very seriously.

Family Life, by Vincent Evans- City & County of Swansea: Glynn Vivian Art Gallery Collection

It would be nice if this year's Synod was not dominated by discussions and debates about further weakening the bonds of holy matrimony and other issues that only fall tangentially within the scope of the Synod. I read where on Canadian bishop took the opportunity to make an intervention on ordaining women deacons. He's a bishop who was invited to participate and so I guess he can speak about whatever he wants. I will grant that in the lineamenta, the preparatory document for the Synod, women in ministry was mentioned. Now I am not saying that what His Excellency brought up isn't a topic worthy of discussion, it is. But it struck me as a bit beside the point given the enormity of the challenge that needs to be addressed.

In a recent interview with Billboard Stevie Nicks confirmed that her song "Sara" was about aborting the child she conceived with Don Henley. She said that if she had married Henley and given birth to a girl she would've named the child Sara. I am pretty sure that one of the ways women who have had abortions are encouraged to heal is by naming the child. So, I hope this song was something that helped her heal from her abortion. Women are told a lot of lies about abortion and many who believe them wind up crushed.

Our traditio this week is Fleetwood Mac's "Sara"-

Sara, you’re the poet in my heart
Never change, never stop
And now it’s gone
All I ever wanted
Was to know that you were dreaming
(There’s a heartbeat
And it never really died)

Thursday, October 8, 2015

God is love and loves you, no matter what

This morning I read Mark 14:43-52, which tells of Judas leading "a crowd with swords and clubs who had come from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders" (43). Judas' purpose was to identify Jesus and see that He was arrested. The signal by which Judas let the crowd, or mob, know it was Jesus was by kissing Him.

It's easy for us project our thoughts and feelings about Judas onto Jesus in that moment. I think it's important to remember that Jesus' disposition towards Judas did not change, even then. Jesus loved Judas, even in that critical moment no more and no less than He loved him previously. Why do I mention this? Because I think we are prone to doubt our Savior's love for us when we have sinned. I realize that this may be a case of me projecting my thoughts and feelings onto you.

God is not fickle, like us. God, who is a communion of love- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- is always at work through the circumstances of our lives bringing about our greatest good. What is our greatest good? Union with Him, to participate, even now, the divine life of the thrice holy God, who is love. It is never a question whether of whether God love us. God loves you and there is nothing you can do about it. Yes, sometimes knowing this is excruciating. The relevant question is always, Do you love God?

All sins are not the same. Dietrich Bonhoeffer observed, "It is not the sins of weakness, but the sins of strength that matter." I think this is true. Sometimes we fail because we're weak. But sometimes we sin in quite deliberate ways, like Judas in his betrayal.

In the Act of Contrition we confess to God, "I have sinned against You, whom I should love above all things." It is so vitally important that we grasp this simple fact: Your failure to love God never, ever causes God, who is our Father because of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, to stop, cease, or temporarily take a break from loving you.

In St Matthew's Gospel we read that after betraying the Lord, realizing what he had done, Judas flung the 30 pieces of silver into the temple and went out and hanged himself (27:5). Think about how different things would've been, if, instead of hanging himself, Judas had flung the money into the temple and beat feet to find Jesus and express his sorrow, instead of deciding to take his own life, which decision was far more fatal than his decision to betray Jesus. I can only surmise that Judas concluded, in the wake of his betrayal, that Jesus stopped loving him. All we need to do to verify this is look at how differently Peter's denial turned out. It's easy to imagine Peter slinking away from the courtyard that night and never being heard from again.

Brennan Manning, that ol' ragamuffin, once that said that he believed the only question Christ will ask us on judgment day is, "Did you believe that I really loved you?" Knowing you are loved no matter what is the only foundation on which to build a happy life.

Friday, October 2, 2015

"Thoroughly wash away my guilt"

It's been refreshing to remind myself over the past week that even if I don't blog about events they still happen. There is so much going on in the world right now that it's difficult to keep up, let alone process. Beginning this evening and extending to mid-day Sunday I will be leading the annual retreat for my brother deacons of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. I would appreciate any prayers you might be willing to offer that God will bless our time together. Our specific focus will be on the various aspects of what constitute diaconal spirituality. To that end, we'll discuss Christian spirituality in general and diaconal spirituality in particular. We'll consider prayer, specifically praying Morning and Evening Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. We'll also discuss the importance of immersing ourselves in Scripture as well penitential practices and the centrality of the Eucharist. Each of these take their origin from what deacons do in the liturgy: lead the prayers of the faithful, read the Gospel and preach, lead the penitential litany, set the table of the Lord and dismiss the faithful.

Anyway, it's Friday, a day of penance during which we remember what our Lord Jesus Christ did on the Cross. It is a cliché to note that we all have our crosses to bear, but we do. We never need go looking for suffering because it has no trouble finding us. It is the Cross of Christ that can keep our suffering from being meaningless. By implying that suffering can be meaningful and even put at the service of God in His on-going mission to reconcile the world to Himself, I don't mean to imply that we will know the specific reasons why we suffer. By and large human suffering is mysterious, made even more so by our Christian belief that God is all-loving, all-good, and all-powerful. In reality, a good portion of my own suffering is simply the result of the choices I make, not all of them bad choices. We can suffer for doing what is right and good.

Because there is so much manifest suffering in the world right now it seems fitting to have as our Friday traditio the Choir of New College Oxford singing Psalm 51, Miserere Mei, Deus:

"Have mercy on me, God, in accord with your merciful love; in your abundant compassion blot out my transgressions" (v 1).

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 ...