Friday, December 30, 2016

"I don't know why sometimes I get frightened"

Because Christmas fell Sunday this year today Roman Catholics observe the Feast of the Holy Family. This feast is usually observed on the Sunday after Christmas. In my years serving at The Cathedral of the Madeleine I almost always preached on this feast. We celebrate this wonderful feast, which highlights the fact that despite the unusual circumstances surrounding His birth, God saw fit that His only begotten Son be born into a family so that He would have the care of both a mother and a father. I rather like the Alternative Prayer for today's feast provided in the Liturgy of the Hours:
Father in heaven, creator of all,
your ordered the earth to bring forth life
and crowned its goodness by creating the family of man.
In history's moment when all was ready,
you sent your Son to dwell in time,
obedient to the laws of life in our world.
Teach us the sanctity of human love,
show us the value of family life,
and help us to live in peace with all men
that we may share in your life forever.
We ask this through Christ our Lord
As theologian Dr. Tim O'Malley wrote: "The feast of the Holy Family is a celebration of divine solidarity. It's not about trying to save ourselves through becoming the perfect family."

Just because, or, as the Monty Python players used to announce at various points of their television show The Flying Circus, "And now for something completely different," our final Friday traditio of 2016 is one of the best New Wave songs of the 1980s- Split Enz singing "I Got You":

Maybe it's because I have marriage and relationships weighing heavily on my mind due to the fact that my task the rest of today is to finish my pastoral psychology term paper, which is on fostering intimacy in marriage and this can't help but cause me to indulge my own insecurities, even if just a little:
Look at you, you're a pageant
You're everything, that I've imagined
Something's wrong, I feel uneasy
You show me, tell me you're not teasin'
I know this is kind of a weak post with which to end the year, but 2016 would be a difficult year to sum up. How blessed we are that one year gives way to another; the future flows from the past through the present. So, to both of my readers, I pray only for God to pour out His blessings upon you as we approach that crucial junction that splits off into 2017.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Καθολικός διάκονος: 2016 Year in Review

The end is near. Well, at least the Year of Our Lord 2016. For me this year was very much a mixed bag. Culturally, 2016 was a devastating year. It began with the passing of David Bowie and Glenn Frey in January and culminated with the passing of George Michael and Carrie Fisher (whose death I learned about as I was composing this post). For me this year was a busy year. Frankly, it was much busier than I cared for it to be.

In July I marked 10 years of continuous blogging. However, August marked 11 years since I established this weblog (you'll notice 6 posts from that year- then a big break). It seems remarkable that still I have the desire to keep going, but I do. Way back when I started blogging regularly I grappled with why I blogged. It took me several years to realize that I blog because it is a vehicle of personal growth for me. Certainly I hope what I write is meaningful to others as well. If blogging had no value for me I wouldn't do it. It's too difficult.

This year I will finish with 163 or 164 posts, depending on whether I post anything on New Year's Eve. With the exception of 2005, which I am not sure really counts, it is the fewest posts ever. I figured out several years ago that "chasing" the headlines is no way to blog.

With that, below is a list of posts, one from each month, I think worth highlighting at the end of the year. It is something of a "greatest hits" compilation. I don't include my homilies for consideration. As always (though I've never had anyone take me up on the offer), I welcome any comments letting me know what, if anything, from my blog was meaningful to you this year.

December: An Advent Prayer

November: All right, then, have it your way

October: Visions of Scuppers: Doing the things that matter

September: "Why do you come here?": Dispatch from distraction

August: Without theories, facts make no sense

July: Criticizing the critics, going to bat for the Pope, and citing Nietzsche

June: "I was standing/You were there/Two world's collided"

May: Blogospherical bitching and missionary discipleship

April: More on sex by a believing deacon

March: Certain matters of sex and the believing deacon

February: I am not giving up alcohol for Lent

January: Epiphanising the Epiphany

Happy New Year. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, the solemnity of which we celebrate on New Year's Day, watch over you and frutfully intercede on your behalf in 2017.

Monday, December 26, 2016

On the Feast of Stephen

Christmas is not over. It's just beginning. The only people for whom Christmas is over are those who skipped Advent. Today is but the second day of Christmas, the day my true love gave to me two turtledoves. Why turtledoves? Turtle doves symbolize love and faithfulness because they mate for life, work together to build nests and raise their young together. Like marriage itself, this first and foremost points to God's faithfulness to us.

According to the law of Moses (see Leviticus 12:8), two turtle doves could replace a lamb as the sacrifice prescribed for consecrating a firstborn son to God. Because they were poor, St Joseph and the Blessed Virgin sacrificed two turtle doves, or maybe even two pigeons (Luke 2:24), in obedience to what the law required of them. It is for these reasons that turtle doves are still associated with Christmas.

Being the second day of Christmas, today is also the Feast of St Stephen. Stephen was one of the seven Spirit-filled men chosen by the primitive Church in Jerusalem, which was led by the Apostles, to ensure that the Greek-speaking widows received their fair amount of food in the daily distribution. The primitive Church described in Acts held all things in common. A dispute had arisen that, apparently, was taking up too much of the Apostles' time. Time they felt their time was better spent in prayer and preaching the Good News.

Pretty soon some of these seven Spirit-filled men, specifically Stephen and Philip, who have been considered the first deacons at least since the time of St Ireneaus of Lyons (late 100s to early 200s), were themselves proclaiming the saving power of Jesus Christ. Stephen, who was stoned to death for his witness, has an entire chapter, Acts 7, dedicated to his activities. It contains a long discourse that gives us, I think (I am with Martin Hengel, a learned New Testament scholar who insisted, contra many, on the historical accuracy of the Acts of the Apostles), the basic content of Stephen's preaching.

The Stoning of St. Stephen, by Michail Damaskinos

In no way did Stephen imitate our Lord more than when, as he was being hit with stones thrown by the angry mob, incited by a Pharisaical fanatic known as Saul of Tarsus, a graduate of the Gamaliel Rabbincal school, he pleaded for those stoning him: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). I am convinced that Saul's conversion was the Lord's answer to Stephen's prayer and his subsequent intercession for the man we know as St Paul, the Apostle.

Along with St Martin of Tours, on whose feast I was born (11 November), St Stephen (Stephen being my middle name and my Dad's name) is my patron saint from birth. Perhaps I was destined to be a deacon. Above all, a deacon is a witness (in Greek martyr) to the saving power of Christ. THese are the reasons that St Stephen has been the patron saint of Kαθολικός διάκονος since its inception (my blog existed for a little more than year as Scott Dodge for Nobody).

St Stephen, deacon and proto-martyr, on this, your feast day, pray for us.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Urbi et Orbi- Christmas 2016


Christmas 2016

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Happy Christmas!

Today the Church once more experiences the wonder of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph and the shepherds of Bethlehem, as they contemplate the newborn Child laid in a manger: Jesus, the Saviour.
“For to us a child is born,
To us a son is given.
And the government will be upon his shoulder;
and his name will be called
“Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Is 9:6)
The power of this Child, Son of God and Son of Mary, is not the power of this world, based on might and wealth; it is the power of love. It is the power that created the heavens and the earth, and gives life to all creation: to minerals, plants and animals. It is the force that attracts man and woman, and makes them one flesh, one single existence. It is the power that gives new birth, forgives sin, reconciles enemies, and transforms evil into good. It is the power of God. This power of love led Jesus Christ to strip himself of his glory and become man; it led him to give his life on the cross and to rise from the dead. It is the power of service, which inaugurates in our world the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice and peace.

For this reason, the birth of Jesus was accompanied by the angels’ song as they proclaimed:
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” (Lk 2:14).
Today this message goes out to the ends of the earth to reach all peoples, especially those scarred by war and harsh conflicts that seem stronger than the yearning for peace.

The Nativity of the Lord: Mass During the Day

Readings: Isa 52:7-10-12; Ps 98:1-6; Heb 1:1-6; John 1:1-8

My dear friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, through whom by the power the Holy Spirit, we are God’s adopted children by virtue of our re-birth in water and the Spirit at our Baptism, Merry Christmas! How beautiful it is that we are here together, as Christ’s Body, celebrating the great mystery of His Incarnation; the Incarnation of the Son of God, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, who for us and our salvation came down from heaven.

It’s important, I think, to be reminded that prior to being born in the manger in Bethlehem, Jesus existed from all eternity as the Father’s only begotten Son. When we say in the Creed that the Son- Jesus Christ- is consubstantial, or, perhaps better-stated “one in being with,” the Father, we mean that, like the Father and the Spirit, He is “true God from true God, begotten, not made.” You see, like begets like. Human parents beget human children, lions beget lion cubs, sea horses beget seahorses, and so it goes throughout nature. The divine Father eternally begets His divine Son. This is what Tradition tells us St John meant when he concisely wrote:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be (John 1:1-3)
The great mystery we celebrate here at Christ+Mass on Christmas Day is also concisely and beautifully set forth by St John a little later on in the prologue to his Gospel, which is our Gospel reading today:
And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth (John 1:14)
The Word becoming flesh for us and for our salvation is what Christmas is all about. This is the Gospel, the good news. Prior to the Word becoming flesh, as the inspired author of Hebrews tells, God spoke in varied yet partial (as opposed to complete) ways. “But,” St Paul wrote in his Letter to the Galatians, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption” (Gal 4:4). In Christ Jesus, the Father, by the power of their Holy Spirit, whose overshadowing resulted in the Blessed Virgin Mary’s virginal conception of our Savior, spoke His complete word. In lyrics composed by contemporary Christian songwriter, Michael Card, the Father
spoke the incarnation, and then so was born a Son/His final word was Jesus, He needed no other one/Spoke flesh and blood so He could bleed and make a way Divine/And so was born a baby who would die to make it mine
“When [Christ] had accomplished purification from sins,” we heard in our second reading, “he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high…” (Heb 1:3b). But He will not remain there because He is coming back to bring to fulfillment what He began in a manger in Bethlehem of Judea. It is because of Jesus’ divinity and humanity that we have received “grace in place of grace” (John 1:16).

Nativity by Rembrandt, 1654

Through Moses, God gave the law, which ultimately only served to move the chosen people farther from God, not nearer. Jesus came to bring God’s grace and truth, God’s salvation. The name “Jesus” means “God saves.”

In his homily for Christmas Day 45 years ago, Bl Pope Paul VI said,
God could have come wrapped in glory, splendor, light and power, to instill fear, to make us rub our eyes in amazement. But instead he came as the smallest, the frailest and weakest of beings. Why? So that no one would be ashamed to approach him, so that no one would be afraid, so that all would be close to him and draw near him, so that there would be no distance between us and him. God made the effort to plunge, to dive deep within us, so that each of us, each of you, could speak intimately with him, trust him, draw near him and realize that he thinks of you and loves you… He loves you! Think about what this means! If you understand this, if you remember what I am saying, you will have understood the whole of Christianity
In Christ, God comes near to us. We could never bridge the chasm, the gulf, between heaven and earth through our own efforts. Only Jesus Christ, true God and true man, could bridge the gap. It is as the bridge to this gap that St Catherine of Siena saw Christ in one of her mystical visions. In short, you can’t save yourself.

Because He loves you, the God who made came to save you. Just as Christ, the only begotten Son of the Father, drew near to us by being born of the Virgin Mary, wrapped in rags, and laid in an animal’s feeding trough, He draws even nearer to us in this Eucharist. He is not content merely to draw near to you, but desires to live in you and through you.

In our first reading from the prophet Isaiah, we heard,
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation, and saying to Zion, “Your God is King!” (Isa 52:7)
Christ’s feet are beautiful because they still bear the marks where He was pierced for you. His wounds are His most beautiful feature because they show you how much He loves you. As we read in the third chapter of St John’s Gospel:
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him (John 3:16-17)

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Nativity of the Lord: Mass at Night

Readings: Isa 9:1-6; Ps 96:1-3.11-13; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14

We gather here in the darkness of a winter’s evening not only to celebrate an event that occurred over 2,000 years ago, but to express our hope in the return of that same Someone whose birth we celebrate. St Paul, in our second reading, taken from his Letter to Titus, sums up both our commemoration and our hopeful waiting very well: “The grace of God has appeared, saving all” (Titus 2:11).

God’s grace is not something abstract and theoretical. God’s saving grace is concrete; it happens in time and space. God's saving grace is Jesus the Christ. In addition to being born of the Virgin in a manger, being crucified, rising, ascending back to the Father, and sending the Holy Spirit to be His presence in us and among us until He returns, Christ showed us what godliness looks like, sounds like, smells like, feels like, and in Holy Communion, even tastes like.

Jesus shows us, in the words of the apostle, what it means “to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age” (Titus 2:12). To live in this way is what it means to live in hope, what it means to live as Christians and not as practical atheists affected by a little religious sentimentality. Paul tells Titus that living temperately, justly, and devoutly is how one hopefully awaits “the appearance of the glory of the great God… our savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). Beloved, it is Christ who delivers us from lawlessness, who cleanses us, who transforms our hearts so that we are “eager to do what is good.”

Too often in our culture Christmas is reduced to syrupy sentimentality. When we reduce the great mystery of God-made-man-for-us in this way, we deny it the power to change our lives. It is not an exaggeration to note that history, with one approximately thirty-three-year interlude, consists of two long Advents. The first extended from the Fall of our first parents to the Nativity of Jesus Christ. The second extends from Christ’s Ascension into heaven until His return in glory. During this second Advent we live in a state of tension between the already and the not-yet.

Whether we’re here when Christ returns or He calls us to Himself before then, our lives are to be shaped by the reality of the Incarnation, which, it has been observed, “is so earth-shattering that it enacts something akin to the psychoanalytic concept of trauma” on the world (Paul’s New Moment: Continental Philosophy and the Future of Christian Theology 7). A life shaped by the Incarnation of the Son of God is cruciform, that is, cross-shaped. It is a life marked by temperance, justice, and devotion to God.

To live temperately means that if you are fairly well-off or very well-off to live below your means. To live justly means to be concerned for those less well-off, who should be the recipients of you living below your means. To live devoutly means to worship God.

Christmas is about repentance because it is about the Father reconciling us to Himself through His Son by the power of their Holy Spirit. Stated simply, Christmas is an invitation to follow Jesus more closely, to let His teachings become your life. This is what it means to belong to the “people who walked in darkness” and who “have seen a great light” to be among those who previously “dwelt in the land of gloom” but on whom now “a light has shone” (Isa 9:1). In His Sermon on the Mount, our Lord taught: “your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matt 5:16). Whatever light of ours shines before others is but a reflection of that Light who shines upon us.

With our Mass earlier this evening, we brought the much-neglected season of Advent to a close. We fail to observe Advent to our own great spiritual disadvantage. Jesuit martyr, Alfred Delp, who, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was executed by the Nazis towards the end of World War II for his persistent and public resistance, observed:
The deepest meaning of Advent cannot be understood by anyone who has not first experienced being terrified unto death about himself and his human prospects and likewise what is revealed within himself about the situation and constitution of mankind in general.

This entire message about God’s coming, about the Day of Salvation, about redemption drawing near, will be merely divine game-playing or sentimental lyricism unless it is grounded upon two clear findings of fact.

The first finding: insight into, and alarm over the powerlessness and futility of human life in relation to its ultimate meaning and fulfillment . . . The second finding: the promise of God to be on our side, to come to meet us
Of all places, God came to meet us in a manger in Bethlehem. Manger is the biblical word for what we, in English, call a trough; the thing from which farm animals eat. The word manger is a French verb, simply meaning “to eat.” In turn, the French word manger is derived from the Latin verb manducare, literally meaning “to chew.”

God comes tonight to meet us in this Eucharist. The altar is the manger on which He appears under the signs of bread and wine. Just as God’s glory could only be seen through the eyes of faith in the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, that is, wrapped in rags, His coming to us in the bread and the wine can be difficult to see, which is why He lets us touch and taste Him. You see my dear friends, Christ comes not only to dwell with us. He comes to dwell in us and accomplish God’s purposes through us.

“God loves man so much,” observed Romano Guardini, “that He wants to renew the mystery of the Incarnation in every one of us. To become a true believer means to receive the risen Christ within us” (The Rosary of Our Lady 53). Or, as contemporary Christian songwriter Michael Card sang, “The mystery of life in Christ is that Christ can live in you” (“Live This Mystery”).

Friday, December 23, 2016

"Another promise fallen through"

Alfred Delp, SJ, who was executed by the Nazis towards the end of World War II for his principled resistance, wrote this about Advent:
The deepest meaning of Advent cannot be understood by anyone who has not first experienced being terrified unto death about himself and his human prospects and likewise what is revealed within himself about the situation and constitution of mankind in general.

This entire message about God’s coming, about the Day of Salvation, about redemption drawing near, will be merely divine game-playing or sentimental lyricism unless it is grounded upon two clear findings of fact.

The first finding: insight into, and alarm over the powerlessness and futility of human life in relation to its ultimate meaning and fulfillment . . . The second finding: the promise of God to be on our side, to come to meet us
"In a Big Country" by Big Country is the song for this penultimate day and ultimate Friday of Advent. It's a song of hope. The verse of this song sings hope to me is:
Because it's happened doesn't mean you've been discarded
Pull up your head off the floor, come up screaming
Cry out for everything you ever might have wanted
I thought that pain and truth were things that really mattered
But you can't stay here with every single hope you had shattered

Hope is not optimism, let alone wishing. To think otherwise is to fool yourself into thinking you're going to somehow save yourself. Such a notion is perhaps the worst self-delusion. Hope is what you have when you think or feel you have nothing else. I think this is exactly what Delp expressed. In, or in whom, do you hope? Your life tells the story your words could never express, one way or the other. Also this is little so-called "anti-culture" for the culture warriors who haven't a clue.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Year A Fourth Sunday of Advent

Readings: Isa 7:10-14; Ps 24:1-6; Rom 1:1-7; Matt 1:18-24

The author of St Matthew’s Gospel was very concerned to show from the Old Testament how Jesus was the fulfillment of the hopes of Israel. This is why he saw the ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy from our first reading today as Jesus’ birth to the Blessed Virgin Mary in Bethlehem. King Ahaz was the original recipient of this prophecy. The Hebrew word almah, which is usually translated into English as “virgin,” precisely means “a young woman of marriageable age.” Of course, Miriam of Nazareth, who is believed to have been 14 to 17 years old when she conceived and gave birth to Jesus, certainly fits that bill.

Isaiah promised the king that God would destroy his enemies. As a sign that his oracle was true, Isaiah predicted that a young woman of marriageable age would give birth to a child who would be called Immanuel, which means in Hebrew, “God is with us.” Like many of the Old Testament prophecies the author of St Matthew’s Gospel asserted that Jesus fulfilled, this prophecy also has meaning in its original context. The original context had to do with Ahaz, king of Judah, entering into an alliance with the northern kingdom of Israel and Aram-Damascus to fight against the Neo-Syrian empire, which threatened the states who sought to be allied. Of course, Jesus would come and destroy all God’s enemies, including death, and then return to definitively establish God’s reign.

This is what St Paul, in our second reading, calls “the gospel of God… the gospel about his Son, descended from David according to the flesh, but established as Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness through [his] resurrection from the dead” (Rom 1:3-4). What, or more precisely, who is “the gospel of God”? The Gospel, which means good news, is nothing and nobody except “Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 1:3).

Our Gospel reading for today is really about the “righteous” man Joseph. While the Blessed Virgin was likely a girl in her teens, Joseph was probably much older, perhaps in his 30s. I think to appreciate the birth of our Savior, it is necessary to grasp the crisis His conception created in the lives of both Joseph and the Blessed Virgin. Scripture gives us both of their perspectives. In the only two Gospels that present us with Infancy Narratives, Matthew and Luke, we have the perspective of Joseph and Mary respectively.

Betrothal was the step just before getting married. Betrothal was more than being engaged. To be betrothed was already to be committed. The main thing that occurred to change a betrothal into a marriage was for the bride to move into the groom’s home. To prevent the unexpectedly pregnant young woman from moving in, Joseph had to legally and publicly repudiate her. Joseph knew two things: how a child was normally conceived and that the child Mary conceived was not his.

Traum des hl Joseph (The Dream of St Joseph), by Anton Raphael Mengs, 1773/1774

We are told that because Joseph “was a righteous man” he did not want to expose Mary to shame. Such exposure might not only result in her being publicly shamed, it might have resulted in her death. Cheating on your betrothed amounted to adultery, which, under the law of Moses, was punishable by death. Interestingly, Joseph’s righteousness in this passage does not come from strictly obeying the law, but from his unwillingness to expose what he understandably perceived to be his adulterous betrothed to the shame and danger mandated by the law. It seems safe to conclude that, at least as far as the author of Matthew was concerned, Joseph’s unwillingness to so expose the young woman was proof of his righteousness. In other words, because Joseph was a righteous man, he extended mercy.

God then granted Joseph his own annunciation. Like his namesake, Joseph, the son of Jacob, who was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, God communicated with Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary, through dreams. An angel told him that Mary had conceived her child by the Holy Spirit, thus allaying his fears about the child’s paternity. What is noticeable in St Matthew’s narrative is that Joseph never speaks. He does what the angel directs him to do, which is to take Mary into his home as his wife. Implied by this act is Joseph assuming fatherly duties for her unborn Son. Joseph was intent to listen to and faithfully obey God, thus showing, rather than telling, us exactly what the “obedience of faith” St Paul, as an apostle, sought to bring about among the Gentiles to whom he was called to proclaim the Gospel.

We are blessed this year because Advent is as long as it can possibly be. Even after this Fourth Sunday, we have almost a week until we celebrate our Lord’s nativity. For most of us, this time of year is busy. For some of us it is downright hectic. But these “extra” days provide us the opportunity to spend time in silence, in prayer, pondering the mystery of God-made-man-for us. It allows us to prepare our hearts for Christ to be born in them anew by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I ask you to take time this week to pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary every day through Christmas Eve. This is a very fruitful way to spend time pondering the mystery of our Lord’s birth. Also, I encourage you to make a small sacrifice each day: forego sweets, or caffeine, or meat, sleep an hour less, don’t watch T.V., don't spend time on the internet. Pick one of these things each day, or pick one and be faithful to it every day. If you haven’t yet gone to confession during Advent, go this week. The Sacrament of Penance, along with the other sacraments, is only possible because of the Incarnation of God’s Son.

Above all, find time to be quiet. Light a candle in dark room and just listen, or quietly pray the Joyful mysteries. God’s first language is silence. Prayer and self-denial is how Christians, until very recently, have prepared to celebrate Christmas. As you do all of this, remember, Christmas is not only a day. It is a season. So, there is plenty of time to rejoice and celebrate.

Friday, December 16, 2016

"We need all the hope that we can get"

Our penultimate Advent Friday traditio for 2016 is The Call with "I Believe." I don't know about you, but for me the older I get life really does become more about hope. I don't think hope is the same as wishing. Not being a gifted writer, maybe the difference between the two is more subtle that I can express. But I think hope emerges from reality through genuine experience. Wishing, by contrast, is something that is more like a deus ex machina; waiting for something to happen, something that arrives from above, around, or beneath reality and experience.

From the blog Mortal Flesh

Experience has its way of clarifying what, or Who, it is I really long for. I don't consider myself old, but I am certainly not young. I guess that means I have reached that dreaded time of life we call middle age. I think in a way similar to how adolescence bridges the gap between childhood and adulthood, middle age is a bridge to old age. It's a transitional time.

Increasingly life for me is about looking for and attending to the light I see in what St Paul called "this present darkness" (Eph 6:12). In his short (less than one page) Preface to his book The Rosary of Our Lady, Romano Guardini observed: "The longer one lives, he more plainly one sees that the simple things are the truly great. But for that very reason, they are also the most difficult to master."

Anyway, The Call expresses it better that I have:

But I still believe.
I still believe.
Through the shame,
And through the grief.
Through the heartache,
Through the tears,
Through the waiting,
Through the years

Sunday, December 11, 2016

An Advent prayer

It was my privilege this evening to give the closing prayer for the Bountiful Interfaith Christmas Service. The service was held in the lovely sanctuary of Bountiful Community Church. It program was well-chosen and beautifully performed. The last hymn, just before I offered the prayer, was the congregation singing of one of my favorite Christmas hymns: O Holy Night.

I had planned to use the collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent as the closing prayer. But about two-thirds of the way through the service, a prayer began to form in my heart. It was this prayer I prayed to close the service:

Lord our God,
we thank you for gathering us together in the dark of a winter's night
around the light of our shared faith in your Son, Jesus Christ.
Bless us as we prepare to celebrate his Nativity.
Prepare our hearts that he might be born in them anew by the power of your Spirit.
And may his rebirth in us bear fruit for the coming of that kingdom where
he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Lord, "show leniency towards my wretchedness"

After today the season of Advent we are currently observing makes its turn from preparing for the great and terrible day of Christ's glorious return to preparing for our celebration of the Lord's Nativity. It's important not to present these two distinct aspects of Advent as too much of a dichotomy, making up as they do the tension of living between the already and the not-yet.

As I mentioned yesterday, this week, while traveling, I read Peter Seewald's final book-length interview with Pope Emeritus Benedict: Last Testament: In His Own Words. I found some remarks by the Pope Emeritus towards the beginning of the book, where Seewald is inquiring about his post-papal, life fitting to bring this early part of Advent to a close.

Seewald asks His Holiness: The central point of your reflections was always the personal encounter with Christ. How is that now? How close have you come to Jesus? In answering this unanswerable question, the Pope Emeritus recalls an episode that happened when he was a young priest, one involving Romano Guardini, who, the Holy Father recalls, was staying as a guest at a Protestant parish in the vicinity of where he (then-Father Ratzinger) was serving as a chaplain. Benedict recalls Guardini saying to the Protestant pastor, speaking of relating to the Lord, "in old age it doesn't get easier, but harder." He shares that what Guardini said that day, "deeply impacted" him because "there is something true in it."

What Pope Benedict was finding true in Guardini's observation through his experience of living a monastic life in the Mater Ecclesiae convent in the Vatican Gardens as an old man, is that while being old one is "more deeply practiced," your life has "taken its shape." In other words, you've done what you were going to do. "On the other hand," he observes, "one feels the difficulty of life's questions more deeply, one feels the weight of today's godlessness, the weight of the absence of faith which goes deep into the Church, but then one also feels the greatness of Jesus Christ's words, which evade interpretation more often than before" (9).

Benedict's answer prompts Seewald to ask: Is this connected to a loss of God's nearness? Or with doubt? His Holiness says, referring to Scripture, "one notices that the depths of the Word are never fully plumbed." As an example he discusses an aspect of the Word that the lack of faith he mentioned previously makes most of us eager to ignore: "some words of wrath, of rejection, of the threat of judgement," saying, these "certainly become more mysterious and grave and awesome than before" (9).

A bit further on, in response to Seewald's question about whether he fears death, Pope Emeritus Benedict, wisely responds the only way a person of faith can respond, yes and no. Of particular interest to me was this: "Another thing is that, despite all the confidence I have that the loving God cannot forsake me, the closer you come to his face, the more intensely you feel how much you have done wrong. In this respect the burden of guilt always weighs on someone, but the basic trust is of course always there" (11).

A few weeks ago, commenting on the observation that "history" will judge Fidel Castro, I wrote: "'History' will not be [Castro's], or anyone else's, judge. The judgment of history is human judgment. Christ will judge Castro and all of us, living and dead, when He returns in glory. I pray that God has mercy on him, I truly do. I will need mercy on judgment day too. In fact, the plan for my defense on that day is to prostrate myself before the Judge, who is also my Savior (in Hebrew, my go'el), and say what I hope will be a perfect enough Act of Contrition." In response to Seewald's question, So when you stand before the Almighty, what will you say to him?, Pope Benedict answered simply: "I will plead with him to show leniency towards my wretchedness."

Friday, December 9, 2016

"But would you suspect My emotion wandering"

Initially, I had some fairly good plans for posting this week. But sometimes life takes precedence over writing. I didn't even put up a reflection on last week's readings. I didn't because I was busy with my final preparations for a presentation I gave for our parish on the Immaculate Conception.

Heaven forbid that I miss posting a Friday tradito! Well, alright, I miss posting these once in awhile too. While I have discovered my readers don't much care for poetry and personal, theological commentary on poems, I am gratified by the reception my weekly traditio normally receives these days. Given my depressive disposition, Advent and Lent seem particularly fruitful times to post songs.

I've shared this before, but one way I measure certain kinds of songs, especially certain love song and relationship songs, is to replace either the subject or object of the song with God and see how it works. There are plenty of very good love and relationship songs that aren't reversible in that way. Human love, especially so-called romantic love, at its best can serve as something of an analogy for divine love. By the same token the futility, pain, and anguish caused by the love of one person for another is sometimes transferable to our relationship with God, who can, at times, seem quite distant, unconcerned, and uninvolved life. This method, if you can call that, works both ways: you speaking to God or God speaking to you, perhaps even sometimes it can be a dialogue.

Pope Emeritus Benedict, while still pope

This week I read Peter Seewald's final book-length interview with Pope Emeritus Benedict: Last Testament: In His Own Words. I am not going to lie. Reading this book made me miss Pope Benedict. I remember how surprised and disappointed I was the day he announced his resignation- the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes: 11 February 2013. My wife's birthday. While there is much more I could write, I will limit myself for now to sharing the epigraph to his book, which was taken from the talk he have to the Curia at the end of their 2013 Lenten retreat, which followed almost immediately after Benedict announced his resignation to a stunned world: "Faith is nothing other than the touch of God's hand in the night of the world, and so - in the silence - to hear the word, to see love."

Our Friday traditio for this Second Friday of Advent is The Thompson Twins' "If You Were Here"

Friday, December 2, 2016

"We long for the time when all time is past "

One passion I have that clearly not too many people share, at least not people inclined to read this blog, is my passion for poetry. However, I can't promise I won't post anymore poetry or any more about poetry. It's too important to me not to do so. Besides, I don't do it nearly as much as I want to.

I have been planning all week to post something appropriate for this first Friday of Advent. "Today," I read in the Advent issue of The Word Among Us for the first day of Advent last Sunday, "it seems that Advent is much more about celebrating Jesus' first coming rather than anticipating his Second Coming." Nonetheless, "the Church reminds us to use this time to prepare for Christmas and," as the Catechism instructs us, to "renew [our] ardent desire for [Jesus'] second coming" (par 524).

This dual purpose of celebration and anticipation makes Advent a season of hope- the baby born in Bethlehem, who grew, was baptized by John in the Jordan, confirmed by the Father and the Holy Spirit as he emerged from the river, made God's reign present in his very person, called apostles, was Transfigured, healed and taught, died, was resurrected, ascended, and sent his Holy Spirit, will return again in glory.

Hope is the least understood of the theological virtues. But you can't live without hope. Life without hope is not life, it's mere survival. Life is a journey, a pilgrimage. The Church is a pilgrim people making our way to God's kingdom. This makes Advent, too, can be a journey should you choose to diverge from the path of holiday chaos and spend time seeking the Lord in prayer, in Scripture and other spiritual reading.

In English, Revelation 22:20, the penultimate verse of Revelation and, as such, of the entire Bible, in most translations, ends with the words, "Come, Lord Jesus." In the original text, these three words are one Aramaic word: maranatha. In the context, maranatha most likely an imperative statement, meaning "come, O Lord." "Maranatha" is the response to the Lord's promise he is coming soon: "The one who gives this testimony says, 'Yes, I am coming soon.' Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!" Jesus Chris is my hope.

Our Friday traditio is a repeat- Michael Card's "Maranatha"

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

"All right, then, have it your way"

Yesterday marked the 118th anniversary of the birth of Clive Staples Lewis. November twenty-second marked the 53rd anniversary of his passing into eternity. He died on the same day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, which was also the day that prescient author Aldous Huxley died. To honor the life of C.S. Lewis, it seems fitting, as we are in the early days of the season of Advent, a time when we think about, prepare for, and look forward to Christ's glorious return, to cite this from his book The Great Divorce:
There are only two kinds of people: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, "All right, then, have it your way"
What does this mean, or, perhaps more acutely, what might Lewis' assertion look like if it is true? I think Edna St Vincent Millay painted a very poignant picture of what Lewis asserted in her poem "The Suicide." Her poem begins with the narrator saying,
Curse thee, Life, I will live with thee no more!
Thou hast mocked me, starved me, beat my body sore!
And all for a pledge that was not pledged by me,
I have kissed thy crust and eaten sparingly
That I might eat again, and met thy sneers
In what way has life mocked, starved, and beaten this distressed person?
Ah, Life, I would have been a pleasant thing
To have about the house when I was grown
If thou hadst left my little joys alone!
I asked of thee no favor save this one:
That thou wouldst leave me playing in the sun!
And this thou didst deny, calling my name
Insistently, until I rose and came.
I saw the sun no more.—It were not well
So long on these unpleasant thoughts to dwell,
Need I arise to-morrow and renew
Again my hated tasks, but I am through
With all things save my thoughts and this one night,
So that in truth I seem already quite
Free,and remote from thee,—I feel no haste
And no reluctance to depart;
In light of the rest of the poem, it seems to me the key phrases here are "playing in the sun" and "hated tasks."

After the seventh stanza there is a break in the poem marking the act of suicide- the passage from life to death. When "the suicide" reaches the other side, she finds herself in her "father's house." When she arrives at the house there is a feast in progress. Looking in on the feast, she notices how shabbily dressed she is compared to those who are feasting at table. Recalling that this her father's house, she summons the courage to knock on the door;
Tattered and dark I entered, like a cloud,
Seeing no face but his; to him I crept,
And "Father!" I cried, and clasped his knees, and wept
There is another break, like the one marking the act of suicide. I find it intriguing that no mention is made of her being invited to join in the feast. After this break she describes her life in the father's house:
Ah, days of joy that followed! All alone
I wandered through the house. My own, my own,
My own to touch, my own to taste and smell,
All I had lacked so long and loved so well!
None shook me out of sleep, nor hushed my song,
Nor called me in from the sunlight all day long

But after awhile she begins to wonder what else is happening, what her father's business is and how she might participate in it:
"Father," I said, "Father, I cannot play
The harp that thou didst give me, and all day
I sit in idleness, while to and fro
About me thy serene, grave servants go;
And I am weary of my lonely ease.
Better a perilous journey overseas
Away from thee, than this, the life I lead,
To sit all day in the sunshine like a weed
That grows to naught,—I love thee more than they
Who serve thee most; yet serve thee in no way.
Father, I beg of thee a little task
To dignify my days,—‘tis all I ask
Forever, but forever, this denied,
I perish"
To which the father soberingly responds:
..."All things thy fancy hath desired of me
Thou hast received. I have prepared for thee...
No pleasure shalt thou lack that thou shalt name. But as for tasks—" he smiled, and shook his head; "Thou hadst thy task, and laidst it by," he said."
In his homily at daily Mass just a few days ago (Friday, 25 November to be exact, the penultimate day of the liturgical year) Pope Francis said:
Eternal damnation is not a torture chamber. That’s a description of this second death: it is a death. And those who will not be received in the Kingdom of God, it's because they have not drawn close to the Lord. These are the people who journeyed along their own path, distancing themselves from the Lord and passing in front of the Lord but then choosing to walk away from Him. Eternal damnation is continually distancing oneself from God. It is the worst pain, an unsatisfied heart, a heart that was created to find God but which, out of arrogance and self-confidence, distances itself from God
Pray for the dead, especially those who for reasons known only to them and certainly to God (in some instances, no doubt, only to God), took their own lives. We know that serious mental illness is the cause of many suicides, which certainly inhibits freedom and in some instances, no doubt, prohibits making a free choice. Inhibited and prohibited freedom diminshes or entirely eliminates culpability altogether. Have hope. God, as Popes Benedict XVI and Francis, C.S. Lewis, and Edna St Vincent Millay all tell us, is a kind and merciful Father.

Of far more relevance than theologizing or psychologizing about suicide, especially during Advent, in the midst of what I find to be incomprehensible "holiday" chaos, is to take the opportunity to honestly ask yourself, "Am I seeking to draw closer to the Lord, or am I arrogantly walking my own path and, by so doing, acting presumptuously?" Hell is not, as Sartre famously averred, other people. Hell, to use a phrase of St Augustine's of which Luther was quite fond, is Homo curvatus in se that is, "man curved in on himself."

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Fidel Castro, may God have mercy on him

The news of the day is that the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro died peacefully in Cuba at the ripe old age of 90. Castro was a man who, during and in the immediate aftermath of his guerilla war against the U.S.-backed and undoubtedly corrupt right-wing dictator Fulgencio Batista, generated much hope among his people. He had the opportunity to be their liberator, a truly heroic person. But Castro took a pass on being a true liberator of his people, choosing instead that warmed-over Leninism known as Stalinism and spent the rest of his life, at least until he grew too weak to rule, brutally dashing the hopes and aspirations of the vast majority of the Cuban people. It's easy to forget that Castro did not publicly declare that he was a Communist and ally himself with the Soviet Union until after the success of his revolution.

Along with Andrew Roberts, writing for Great Britain's Spectator, and in the wake of certain responses to news of Castro's death, like that of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Great Britain's Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbin, who called Castro "a champion of social justice," I find myself asking, "Why are left-wing dictators always treated with more reverential respect when they die than right-wing ones, even on the Right? The deaths of dictators like Franco, Pinochet, Somoza are rightly noted with their history of human rights abuses front and centre, but the same treatment is not meted out to left-wing dictators who were just as monstrously cruel to people who opposed their regimes."

Unsurprisingly, the response of President Obama, which was quite measured, and that of President-elect Trump, which was quite blunt, could not be more different. In comments he made to the press about Fidel Castro's death, President Obama said something about history being the judge of Castro and his legacy.

I do think President Obama made the right choice to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba and begin to ramp down the U.S. embargo. However, during Castro's prime, I think the embargo was a good idea. Otherwise, we would've been enabling another dictatorship. When it comes to Latin America, the United States badly needs to examine its conscience and seek to make amends. I'll give Castro this, he outsmarted the CIA for many years, which, if written and published accounts are to be believed, wasn't that difficult in the '60s and '70s. That was a sad era that was brought to an end by the Church Committee hearings in the U.S. Senate.

Fidel Castro no doubt during one his boring, hours-long discourses (Getty)

In these final hours of the last day of this Year of Grace, liturgically approaching the end of time, it bears noting that "history" will not be Fidel Castro's, or anyone else's, final judge. The judgment of history, as important as it is, is a human judgment. Christ will judge Fidel Castro, just as He will judge you and me when He comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead. I pray that God has mercy on Castro, I truly do. I sincerely hope that he repented before his passing. God is merciful. I pray this for a number of reasons, among which is my realization that on judgment day, I, too, will need God's mercy. My plan for my defense on that great and terrible day is to prostrate myself before the Judge, who is also my Savior (in Hebrew, my go'el), and say what I hope will be a perfect enough Act of Contrition.

In my post for the First Sunday of Advent I already cited Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical letter Spe salvi, which is on the theological virtue of hope. Hope is far and away the least understood of the three theological virtues, which are called "theological" because, unlike the natural virtues, these can only be obtained as gifts from God. During his pontificate Benedict XVI issued two encyclicals: Deus caritas est, on the theological virtue of love, and Spe salvi. It fell to Pope Francis to complete the series, which he did by promulgating Lumen fidei, on the theological virtue of faith. This last in the series, it is generally acknowledged, was largely composed by Pope Benedict prior to his resignation and added to in parts by Pope Francis prior to its formal promulgation. In the spirit of bringing our faith to bear on reality, on what really happens in the world, I cite the forty-fourth paragraph of Spe salvi more fully:
To protest against God in the name of justice is not helpful. A world without God is a world without hope (cf. Eph 2:12). Only God can create justice. And faith gives us the certainty that he does so. The image of the Last Judgement is not primarily an image of terror, but an image of hope; for us it may even be the decisive image of hope. Is it not also a frightening image? I would say: it is an image that evokes responsibility, an image, therefore, of that fear of which Saint Hilary spoke when he said that all our fear has its place in love. God is justice and creates justice. This is our consolation and our hope. And in his justice there is also grace. This we know by turning our gaze to the crucified and risen Christ. Both these things—justice and grace—must be seen in their correct inner relationship. Grace does not cancel out justice. It does not make wrong into right. It is not a sponge which wipes everything away, so that whatever someone has done on earth ends up being of equal value. Dostoevsky, for example, was right to protest against this kind of Heaven and this kind of grace in his novel The Brothers Karamazov. Evildoers, in the end, do not sit at table at the eternal banquet beside their victims without distinction, as though nothing had happened

"For you do not know on which day your Lord will come"

Readings: Isa 2:1-5; Ps 122:1-9; Rom 13:11-14; Matt 24:37-44

Being Christians requires us live our lives to the fullest. This means doing everything in the mindfulness of our destiny. We love our neighbors as we love ourselves by also loving his/her destiny. Realizing your destiny means realizing the very reason God created you and sent His Son to redeem you. It was for you and for your destiny that Christ took on flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Advent is the season during which we not only prepare to celebrate the Lord's Nativity in the manger at Bethlehem, but it is a time we spend thinking about and preparing for when He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. As our Lord himself said in the verse that immediately precedes the beginning of our Gospel reading for this First Sunday of Advent in Year A of the three-year lectionary cycle: "But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone" (Matt 24:36).

At least the first half of Advent, as our readings for this Sunday amply demonstrate, has an undeniably penitential tone and tenor. I note this because these days, among the relatively few Roman Catholics in the United States who observe Advent, not only is the penitential aspect of the season overlooked, it is often denied.

In addition to not knowing the day or the hour of the Lord's return, you don't know the hour or the day of your own passing from time into eternity, should you die before Christ's return. Not knowing the day or the hour of these events makes everyday a day of judgment. Living each day as a day of judgment ought to make us people of sober minds. Once our minds are duly sobered we can take the time to recollect on what this means, what this says to us about our lives.

Your recollection should show you that far from living in misery-driven angst and fear, living in this way is the source of your greatest joy. Why joy? Because living in this way frees you to live in accordance with your true nature. It permits you, with the help of God's grace, to become who God created and redeemed you to be. This becoming is called sanctification, a big word meaning being made holy. Living each day as a day of judgment allows God to restore you, by grace, to His likeness. Living in this joyful way is never the easiest way because the path of least resistance is not the trail to glory. Living everyday as a day of judgment allows you to embrace reality according to all the factors that together constitute it. Engaging reality according to all the factors that together make it is what it means to really live.

In his second and, at least in my view, far too overlooked second encyclical letter, Spe salvi, Pope Benedict XVI, in his clear, precise, and yet beautiful manner, which I miss very much, wrote about judgement:
The image of the Last Judgement is not primarily an image of terror, but an image of hope; for us it may even be the decisive image of hope. Is it not also a frightening image? I would say: it is an image that evokes responsibility, an image, therefore, of that fear of which Saint Hilary spoke when he said that all our fear has its place in love. God is justice and creates justice. This is our consolation and our hope (par. 44)
Last Judgment triptych, probably by Hans Memling, executed between 1467-1471

One of the best ways to live everyday as a day of judgment, which gives you the opportunity to live joyfully by growing in charity, which is the fruit of hope, is to seek God's mercy each day. A time-tested way of bringing forward those things for which we need to implore God's mercy, which Christ died, rose, and sent the Holy Spirit in order for us to receive, is the daily, or at least weekly, practice of the Examen. What is the Examen? It is a form of prayer set forth more than 400 years ago by St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, popularly known as the Jesuits. It is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day, or week, in order to find those words, those actions, those thoughts for which you need God's mercy, to discover God's grace at work in your life, and to discern His direction for you moving forward.

Like lectio divina, the practice of the Examen is ordered and easy. It has five steps:
1. Pray for God to give you light to see
2. Give thanks to God for the gift of the day (even if, maybe particularly if, it was a "bad" day)
3. Look back over your day, start from where you are and work backwards (my preferred method), or go back to the beginning of the day and start from there
4. Face your shortcomings, what you did wrong in your thoughts and in your words, in what you did and failed to do, ask for mercy- perhaps pray an Act of Contrition; in this step also recall those moments during the day when you experienced God's presence, His grace at work
5. Look forward to tomorrow. Praying for God's assistance in what is to come is called hope. There is a petition found in the Intercessions for Saturday Morning Prayer for Week II of Ordinary Time that captures this well: "From your generosity we have received the beginning of this day, grant us the beginning of new life"
A good time to practice the Examen is close to the time you go to sleep. Going to sleep is a "little death" and arising to the dawning of a new day is a "little resurrection." You can download and print a free card on how to practice the Examen here. You can also read an article on the Examen, written by Fr. Dennis Hamm, SJ; "Rummaging for God: Praying Backwards Through Your Day."

Practicing the Examen with regularity helps you to make a good confession, which, in turn, enables you to make a better communion with Christ at Mass, and respond to God's grace by clearing away the debris that accumulates. Rather than making the message of our readings for this First Sunday of Advent abstract, practicing the Examen gives you something concrete in response to God's word to the Church on this First Sunday of Advent, a way to observe a fruitful Advent as you wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Keep in mind a discipline itself isn't a magic formula to obtain God's favor or transport you, apart from living your life everyday, into the kingdom so beautifully described in our first reading from the book of Isaiah. As James Kushiner memorably noted: "A discipline won’t bring you closer to God. Only God can bring you closer to Himself. What the discipline is meant to do is to help you get yourself, your ego, out of the way so you are open to His grace." I would submit that, apart from actually going to confession, nothing helps you get your ego out of the way better than regularly practicing the form of prayer we call the Examen.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thanksgiving, mercy, and the Advent of the Lord

It was my plan to post something yesterday for Thanksgiving Day. Instead, I wound up spending the day in a much better way. I prayed Morning Prayer, read from the little book The Crusade of Fàtima (the centenary of the apparitions is next year), served at Mass, came home and cleaned the kitchen, helped prepare our Thanksgiving meal, cleaned up again, fixed a pretty healthy relish tray for snacking (olives, carrots, hummus, feta cheese, cheddar cheese, ham, pita bread), took a breather, during which I read out loud to my wife about Nathan Hale from Eric Metaxas' book If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty, went for a long walk (after the snowstorm Wednesday evening, it was a beautiful day here along the Wasatch Front) with my wife, during which we prayed the Rosary together, played with my boys in the snow for a few minutes at the end of our walk, came in and played board games with my boys, ate, took on the task of cleaning the kitchen, had pie, cleaned again, prayed Evening Prayer, then watched a couple of episodes of the old British television show 'Allo, 'Allo, which is even racier than I remember, but in a sly, certainly not subtle, way.

In his homily yesterday our pastor referenced Common Preface IV of the Eucharistic Prayer;
It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation
always and everywhere to give you thanks
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.

For, although you have no need of our praise,
yet our thanksgiving is itself your gift,
since our praises add nothing to your greatness
but profit us for salvation,
through Christ our Lord
Even our ability to give thanks to God is a gift from God, a grace. Our Thanksgiving feast is not turkey, but Jesus Christ. He is our Eucharist. I am glad the United States of America dedicates a day once a year to giving thanks to God for the abundant blessings we enjoy. This should not puff us up. It should humble us. Our humility should focus us on our need to perfect our national unity as well as on being a blessing to other nations.

As we were coming to the end our walk, I told my wife that I am glad I've somehow maintained the tradition that was handed on to me growing up, which is to observe Thanksgiving as mainly a religious day, like a Sunday. It is not a boast on my part, but a humble acknowledgement, made with gratitude, to my parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. I long for a return to the days when practically all businesses are closed on Thanksgiving. It's not likely to happen, but that doesn't have to impact how I observe the day. I very much like being counter-cultural in this way.

KBYU FM- Classical 89 had what I can only describe as magnificent programming on Thanksgiving Day. It's what we listened to and, at times, talked and worked over, as we cleaned, cooked, cleaned, cooked, and then cleaned. In inverse order here are the programs: Giving Thanks to Music, A Thanksgiving of American Folk Hymns, A Feast for the Ears, and Giving Thanks: A Celebration of Fall, Food, and Gratitude. I particularly enjoyed Giving Thanks: A Celebration... (you can still listen here). In the second hour of Giving Thanks between music by Mendelssohn and a choral arrangement of "We Gather Together," in succession, were readings from Kerouac's The Dharma Bums, Chartres Cathedral story; Psalm 104 — read by Charles Laughton.

St Olaf Parish (my parish), Bountiful, UT, getting ready for the ... getting ready (Advent)

It's hard to believe we are at the threshold of another Year of Grace. Most of the current liturgical year consisted of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, which concluded last Sunday. Inaugurated by Pope Francis, it began on 8 December 2015, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, which struck me then as it does now as wholly fitting.

This week I read Pope Francis' Apostolic Letter Misericordia et misera, which he promulgated to conclude the Extraordinary Jubilee. It is a remarkable document, one that every Catholic as well as Christians of good will should read. The title is a phrase taken from Tractate XXXIII, Chapter 5 of St Augustine's On the Gospel of John. The great bishop of Hippo Regius penned the phrase while commenting on the episode in which Jesus encounters the woman taken in adultery. As the Holy Father wrote: "It would be difficult to imagine a more beautiful or apt way of expressing the mystery of God’s love when it touches the sinner: 'the two of them alone remained: mercy with misery'" (par 1). Our prayer should always include some variation of the Jesus Prayer: "Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner."

My lovely wife serves as music director at our parish. When I awoke this morning she was in the kitchen planning music for the First Sunday of Advent, which is this Sunday. She was contemplating a new take on an old hymn: "The King Shall Come," by Trevor Thomson. I don't mind saying that hearing this song was a nice way to begin my day. Because it was nice for me, I want to hand it on to you. Hence, it will be our traditio for this final Friday of the current liturgical year:

In my mind, Advent is best understood and observed as a season of hope. Hope is the flower of faith and its fruit is caritas, charity, or, if you prefer, love.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Year C Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Readings: 2 Sam 5:1-3; Ps 122:1-5; Col 1:12-20; Luke 23:35-43

“It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine,” so sang REM nearly thirty years ago. Today we celebrate the end of time, the end of the world, that great and terrible day when Christ will return in glory to judge the living and the dead. How does this article of our Christian make you feel? Does Christ’s return, the date of which nobody knows, make you feel hopeful or frightened? If you can’t quite get your mind around Christ’s return, then simply consider your own mortality.

Christians call the spiritual discipline of contemplating one’s mortality memento mori, which simply means “remember death.” A number of years ago I listened to an interview with a retired international journalist. After he retired he went back and interviewed people he had met during his career who struck him as being happy for a book he hoped to write. One of the people he talked to was an elderly German man, a Christian, who shared this secret of his happiness: spend a few minutes every day reflecting on your own death. There is nothing morbid about doing this, it is an essential part of living well because, if nothing else, it helps you keep things in perspective.

Among the many stories handed on about St. Francis of Assisi is one that tells about a time he was in the community’s garden hoeing beans when he was asked, “What would you do if you knew the world would end today?” To which he calmly replied, “I suppose I would finish hoeing this row of beans.” In a similar vein Martin Luther once said, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” This demonstrates that both Francis and Luther were people of hope. If the solemnity we celebrate today is about anything, it is about hope.

Of the three theological virtues (i.e., faith, hope, and love) without a doubt hope is the least understood. In English, we often use the words “hope” and “wish” synonymously. “Now hope that sees for itself,” St Paul wrote in his Letter to the Romans, is not hope.” After all, he went on to ask, “who hopes for what one sees?” The apostle insisted that “if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance” and it is in hope that we are saved (Rom 8:24-25). Hope is the flower of faith and charity is its fruit. Stated a bit differently, faith gives birth to hope which, in turn, produces love. A Christian is joyful because s/he is hopeful. Hope is very different from optimism. Optimism is pragmatic, whereas hope is audacious.

The source of our hope is God’s love for us, which is not only as strong as death, but, as Christ’s resurrection shows us, is strong enough to conquer death. “In this is love,” we read in St John’s First Letter, “not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins” ” (1 John 4:10).

In the aftermath of our recent election, regardless of how you voted or even whether you voted, it’s important to reaffirm in what, or as a Christian, in whom you place your trust, that is, your hope (hope is more akin to trusting than to wishing). As the psalmist exhorts: “Put no trust in princes, in children of Adam powerless to save. Who breathing his last, returns to the earth; that day all his planning comes to nothing” (Ps 146:3-4). Rather, “Blessed the one whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD, his God, The maker of heaven and earth, the seas and all that is in them, Who keeps faith forever” (Ps 146:4-6). This is very same God who for us and our salvation became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, who was raised from the dead, who “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,” and whose “kingdom will have no end.” Everything and everyone else will ultimately fail you.

Our Gospel today demonstrates that the Cross is Jesus’ throne. One thief wanted immediate, instant proof that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah of God. He had no hope. The good thief, who tradition named St Dismas, after rebuking the other thief, demonstrated true hope when he humbly pleaded, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). Jesus, gave him a promise he could trust: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). My friends, there is no question about whether you and I are thieves, the only question concerns which thief you are.

Woody Allen once quipped that he did not want achieve immortality through his work, he wanted attain it by not dying. We laugh because we know exactly what he meant. Contrary to popular belief expressed in boring clichés, there is nothing natural about death. Death was not part of God’s plan. Death is the wages sin pays. Our desire not only to go on living but to continue living as ourselves is really what makes us human beings created in God’s image. It is to fulfill this, our deepest desire, that Christ became one of us. Let the words of St Paul from our second reading, which he likely took from an early Christian hymn, be our words on this day when we rejoice in Christ’s kingship:
Let us give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light. He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col 1:12-14)
The word for what the Father has done for us in Christ by the power of their Holy Spirit is “mercy.” Today we bring to a close the year-long Jubilee of Mercy. While the Jubilee may be over, God’s mercy is without end. As recipients of God’s mercy, we, in turn, are to be ministers of mercy to others. We need to keep practicing the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, not until we perfect them, but until our practice of them perfects us.

As we look forward to end of the world as we know it, let us feel fine by expressing our hope in the words of our Collect for today’s glorious solemnity:
Almighty ever-living God,
whose will is to restore all things
in your beloved Son, the King of the universe,
grant, we pray,
that the whole creation, set free from slavery,
may render your majesty service
and ceaselessly proclaim your praise

Faith and hope; poetry, scripture, and death

My homily for today's Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus, King of the Universe is about hope. Without faith there is no hope (and without hope there is no love, no caritas). Last night after preaching at the Vigil Mass, eating supper with my family, watching a Charlie Brown program on the pilgrims who came to the shores of what is now Massachusetts, and just before retiring, I read Edna St. Vincent Millay's poem Interim.

It's clear that Interim is an expression of grief at the very recent death of someone close, someone with whom you live and who you love in that deepest of ways, someone whose absence is palpable. In light of my homily on hope and considering the necessity of faith in order to have hope, I was very struck by lines 177-194:
—What do I say?
God! God!—God pity me! Am I gone mad
That I should spit upon a rosary?
Am I become so shrunken? Would to God
I too might feel that frenzied faith whose touch
Makes temporal the most enduring grief;
Though it must walk awhile, as is its wont,
With wild lamenting! Would I too might weep
Where weeps the world and hangs its piteous wreaths
For its new dead! Not Truth, but Faith, it is
That keeps the world alive. If all at once
Faith were to slacken,—that unconscious faith

Which must, I know, yet be the corner-stone
Of all believing,—birds now flying fearless
Across would drop in terror to the earth;
Fishes would drown; and the all-governing reins
Would tangle in the frantic hands of God
And the worlds gallop headlong to destruction!
The touch of faith, which produces hope, makes the most tenacious grief fleeting. Writing in what was likely the very first of his New Testament letters, 1 Thessalonians, St. Paul exhorted the community, who expected Jesus to return right away, which expectation caused them to worry and doubt when some their number began dying - "We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep" (1 Thess 4:13-14 emboldening and underlining emphasis mine). Such faith, along with the hope it generates, is a gift from God, one unwrapped by suffering.

I also like that she asserts that faith is "what keeps the world alive." We have faith because we hope that what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians is true. Hope is audacious or it is nothing at all. If faith were to even "slacken," the poet observes, the birds would fall from the sky and the fish would drown; everything would unravel sending even God into crisis. It's a serious question, one fitting to ponder on today's solemnity, when Jesus asked, "when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (Luke 18:8).

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Young Prometheans

This post features the latest poem by a dear friend and gifted poet, duly published and awarded, Craig Helms. He told me that that final stanza of his poem was "inspired by John Waters' book Beyond Consolation." The accompanying photograph was taken by another gifted and dear friend, Sharon Mollerus.
Whispers in the grass fade into nothingness.
Between the light and dark of twilight, stars
explode and disappear without a sound.
Savage colors dance on grim cathedral walls,
spin ever faster in the silent, sapphire night.

The gaping mouth of desperation
howls like a wounded phantom
tortured screams that echo deep
into the chasm’s hollow blackness,
and swallows fire as if to still
a hunger only love can quench.

Mendocino Rock, by Sharon Mollerus

We shine like martyred prophets, broken
as fragile ships cast upon jagged rocks.
We reach in vain for ways to conquer death, to
sidestep pain. We are more than men, but less than gods;
young Prometheans bound to our presumptuous dreams.
Poem published with permission of the poet who retains the copyright: © C. F. Helms 2016. The photograph posted with the permission of the photographer, ©Sharon Mollerus 2016.

Friday, November 18, 2016

"Have a care and say a prayer"

The highlight of my birthday this year was attending Morrissey's Salt Lake City concert at the new Eccles Theater in downtown Salt Lake City. As someone who enjoys both Morrissey and his music, it no doubt damages my credibility to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the show from start to finish. I even enjoyed watching the film clips, including music videos, while waiting for the show to begin.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

One of the clips played was of Anne Sexton reading her poem Wanting to Die. Morrissey also paid tribute to poet Edna St Vincent Millay. When the picture above was projected over the stage, he told the audience that he constantly received letters asking him who was this a photo of before asking, "Do you know of her?" then saying, in his way, "Oh, who cares?"

Our traditio for this Friday in November, is Morrissey singing "The World Is Full of Crashing Bores":

Friday, November 11, 2016

"We sold ourselves for love but now we’re free"

It was announced yesterday thata truly wonderful person, a gifted artist, whose poetry, music, and prose touched and enriched the lives of many people, including my own, Leonard Cohen, passed away. He was 82.

Leonard Cohen

Like David Bowie, who passed away in January (2016 busts us in the chops coming and going), Leonard Cohen released an album on his final birthday before his passing. On Friday, 21 October, his eighty-second birthday, Cohen released You Want It Darker? Like Bowie's Blackstar, Cohen's You Want It Darker? is masterful, a fitting going away present that largely captures the essence of his art. The title track off his final album was our traditio just few week ago (see "Leonard Cohen on the ascesis of marriage").

This week's traditio then is Leonard Cohen singing "Treaty" off his final album for this Friday that is all at once the feast of the converted Roman soldier who became a holy bishop, St. Martin of Tours, Armistice day, marking the end of the Great War (World War I), Veteran's Day here in the United States, and my 51st birthday.

Do yourself a favor and read the lyrics for "Treaty," which you can find here. I also urge you to read some of his poems, many of then can be pulled up here.

I had a difficult time deciding which of Cohen's songs to put up as our traditio. I considered his standard and probably best known song "Hallelujah." I also thought about one my personal favorites, "Everybody Knows," which features these lyrics:

And everybody knows that you're in trouble
Everybody knows what you've been through
From the bloody cross on top of Calvary
To the beach of Malibu
Everybody knows it's coming apart
Take one last look at this Sacred Heart
Before it blows

In her biography of Cohen, I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen, published in 2013, Sylvie Simmons noted, "In spite of his deep involvement with Buddhism, Leonard insisted to anyone who asked that he remained a Jew. 'I have a perfectly good religion,' he said, and pointed out that Roshi [his Zen master] had never made any attempt to give him a new one. When Bob Dylan went public with his conversion to Christianity in 1979 'it seriously rocked [Leonard's] world,' said Jennifer Warnes, who was staying at that time at Leonard's house. He would, 'wander around the house, wringing his hands saying, "I don't get it. I just don't get this. Why would he go for Jesus at a late time like this? I don't get the Jesus part.'" (316).

Cohen was raised in an observant Jewish home, had 2 children, Adam and Lorca, with Suzanne Elrod, who was also Jewish, albeit from a secular background, and raised his children as observant Jews. "Kohen," or Cohen, is the transliteration of the Hebrew word for priest. Leonard was well aware that his surname was taken to mean that he was a direct, patrilineal descendant of Moses'brother Aaron, Israel's first high priest.

Leonard Cohen was a gentleman in the very modern sense of the word, meaning the good sense of the word. A man of culture, manners, and grace, not a member of the landed gentry. A man who could not only handle the grit and grimness of reality, but a bit of a prophet who could transform it into beauty, into song, into poetry.

The passing of Leonard Cohen leaves us all poorer. But he left us an am amazing inheritance. May perpetual light shine upon him.

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...