Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Church as the sacrament of the body of Christ

This summer I have been slowly reading through the late Fr. Eugene LaVerdiere's Dining in the Kingdom of God: The Origins of the Eucharist in the Gospel of Luke. I would be hard-pressed to think of a book on Luke's Gospel I would recommend over this one. It is at one and the same time scholarly and accessible. It has helped me more effectively preach from Luke over the past few months. Fr. LaVerdiere was a priest of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, founded by the Apostle of Eucharist, St. Peter Julian Eymard- members of which have been very good to me over many years.

Theologically it would be difficult to exaggerate the centrality/importance of the Eucharist, of the Lord's Supper, in/for Christian life. As I grow older I experience this at deeper levels facilitated, I believe, by grace through participation in the sacred mysteries. When I think of the Lord's Supper in light of the institution narratives found in the synoptic Gospels, I realize how important is the diversity of its celebration in both historical as well as some fairly new forms. I also think it is easy to reduce the Eucharist in a variety of ways.

I find LaVerdiere's exegesis of the Last Supper in Luke 22 very insightful. He sees the meal the Lord shares with the Twelve a consisting of two parts: Last Supper and Lord's Supper. The Last Supper portion takes place in Luke 22:15-18, while the Lord's Supper is originated in Luke 22:19-22.

Before dealing with a fundamental matter concerning the Lord's Supper there is an exegetical note I want to pass along from the book. It has to do with where Jesus and the Twelve took their shared meal together- the upper room. Luke calls the room a kataluma, which in the Gospel seems to be a room built as a second story of a house and accessed by stairs leading up, not from the inside the house, but from the courtyard. According to LaVerdiere, in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures- Old Testament- in use among Greek-speaking Jews of the diaspora in Jesus' day and beyond) the word kataluma indicated "a place of hospitality for people on a journey" (130). Of course, in Luke's Gospel the Last Supper takes place in Jerusalem after the journey of Jesus and his disciples from their native Galilee. The Church was and remains the Pilgrim People of God, a people on a journey together, companions who share bread- as our readings from Hebrews over these weeks of listening to the Journey Narrative highlight. The seventh chapter of the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, is entitled "The Eschatological Nature of the Pilgrim Church and Its Union with the Church in Heaven":

DaVinci and Warhol, The Last Supper
Already the final age of the world has come upon us and the renovation of the world is irrevocably decreed and is already anticipated in some kind of a real way; for the Church already on this earth is signed with a sanctity which is real although imperfect. However, until there shall be new heavens and a new earth in which justice dwells, the pilgrim Church in her sacraments and institutions, which pertain to this present time, has the appearance of this world which is passing and she herself dwells among creatures who groan and travail in pain until now and await the revelation of the sons of God (par. 48)
Referring to what we commonly call the words of institution, Fr. LaVerdiere observes that our tendency is to interpret the word "this" in the phrase, "This is my body," which the priest says as he holds and slightly elevates the host, as referring to the host itself.

In Luke's context, LaVerdiere asserts, "this" "refers directly to Christ's action, to what he did, and indirectly to the whole event" (138-9). "This" is the celebration of the Eucharist whole and entire with all of it's full meaning, including the intended effect of the sacrament, which is accomplished once we are dismissed. By taking "this" in the phrase "this is my body" as referring specifically and/or exclusively to the bread is highly reductive. This is important because it often has a negative impact on our praxis, on what happens once we are sent forth. In short, such a view runs the risk of making the Eucharist, to cite Pope Francis, self-referential, turning it into an end and not a means. Because we remain a pilgrim people until God's reign is established, made Christ's Body by the Eucharist we share, the Eucharist remains the means God uses to restore the world to communion through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is why, as Christians, we must live sacrificial lives. To believe or live otherwise is to let go of the tension and either mistake the already for the not yet, or to reject the not yet altogether.

On LaVerdiere's reading, "The liturgical proclamation, 'This is my body, which will be given for you,' recalls the words of Christ offering himself, and speaks the words of the church associating itself with Christ's offering and making his offering present sacramentally. The body given is that of Christ. It is also that of the Church, the sacrament of the body of Christ" (139).

At least for me, keeping these fundamental truths in mind helps me not get bogged down in the liturgy battles, which I don't mind admitting I find not only tiresome, but increasingly silly.


Reading: Sir 3:17-18.20.28-29; Ps 68:4-7.10-11; Heb 12:18-19.22-24a; Luke 14:1.7-14

Some weeks our readings from the lectionary have a distinct theme. This week is one such time. The theme, in case you've not looked at the readings, is humility.

We need to distinguish humility from self-deprecation. C.S. Lewis, as he did with so many aspects of Christian faith, stated it in a pithy manner in his book Mere Christianity: "Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less." In fact, Lewis' quote could easily serve as a comprehensive summary of Jesus' teaching today. But I would add, humility consists in not thinking too highly or too lowly of yourself. It's tempting to say, humility consists in seeing yourself as you truly are, but that quickly becomes very complex. Suffice it to note that only God sees you as you really are, which is as someone beloved.

When discussing humility it seems almost always necessary to point out that it comes from the Latin word humus, meaning soil. In the spiritual life, then, humility is the soil in which the virtues can be cultivated. Among the seven deadly sins pride holds pride of place. Each of the seven deadly sins has a contrary virtue. The contrary virtue of pride is humility.

Because humility consists in both putting others before yourself, as Jesus indicated in his parable in the Pharisee's house, as well as not thinking of yourself in too exalted or debased a manner, it is a virtue that requires our constant care. At this point an objection might be raised that Jesus, in today's Gospel, instructs us to think of ourselves in the lowest way, unworried about balance. While he certainly urges us not to exalt ourselves, it is with reference to other people. In other words, he is telling us to put others before ourselves, especially the blessed ones: the poor, the sick, the lame, the powerless. This is what it means to observe the second of the Lord's two Great Commandments, loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. We are to have a just love of self.

Neither does Jesus urge us to take the lowest seat out of calculation, only in order to gain a more exalted place. It seems that, too, would be self-serving. I think it's about being a beggar who is grateful for being invited to feast at all.

The horizon of Jesus' parable is eternity. If it's not, then what he teaches is meaningless. In God's kingdom the humble will be exalted and the proud will be cast down. Casting down the humbling the exalted is an echo from our Lady's Magnificat: "he has scattered the proud in their conceit, he has cast down the mighty from their thrones." Our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews gives us the horizon. In our reading from Hebrews the inspired author discusses approaching "the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem," something we do when we gather to celebrate the Eucharist each Sunday. It is there that we encounter not only "countless angels in festal gathering," but "the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven," along with "the spirits of the just made perfect" (Heb 12:22-23)- by participating in Mass we participate in a very real way in the communion sanctorum. The kingdom of God will consist only of those who put others before themselves. This why St. Paul constantly encourages the early Christian communities to do this.

In one of my favorite chapters in all of Sacred Scripture, Romans 12, Paul urges - "Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor" (Rom 12:9-10).

I can do no better discussing humility than did Metropolitan Anthony Bloom in his short, powerful book Beginning to Pray:
The word "humility" comes from the Latin word "humus" which means fertile ground. To me, humility is not what we often make of it: the sheepish way of trying to imagine that we are the worst of all and trying to convince others that our artificial ways of behaving show that we are aware of that. Humility is the situation of the earth. The earth has always been there, always taken for granted, never remembered, always trodden on by everyone, somewhere we cast and pour out all the refuse, all we don’t need. It’s there, silent and accepting everything and in a miraculous way making out of all the refuse new richness in spite corruption, transforming corruption itself into a power of life and a new possibility of creativeness… Learn to be like this before God; abandoned, surrendered, ready to receive anything from people and anything from God (35)
In his goodness, God, indeed, as our Psalm response declares, has "made a home for the poor."

Friday, August 26, 2016

"Inject your soul with liberty"

At least for Roman Catholics Fridays are days of penance. Today I read an article on confession by Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble in which she asks ten priests about how to go to confession. No doubt the priests were trying to make going to confession seem welcoming and not daunting. But with all due respect, what about people, like Sr. Threresa, who go to confession and leave wondering if they've made what is still called "a good confession"?

As a penitent and not a priest, I offer some advice to people who go to confession:

Examine your conscience using a good examination of conscience and then confess your sins in kind and number. Say what you've done, how many times you've done it, sincerely tell the Lord you're sorry and promise with his help to go and sin no more. Then do your penance expeditiously.

One of my confessors, knowing how many things I have going at once used to give me my penance and stipulate I do it in the church right now before hitting the street.

Go regularly enough that every confession is not like your first confession.

If you need spiritual counseling, make an appointment. Confession is not usually the place for that, but a spiritual counseling session may include confession.

I am grateful for the late Fr Piacetelli, CM for teaching me how to make a good confession and teaching me to keep short accounts and to trust Christ's mercy and in his grace.

Last, but not least, something along the lines of what is offered in Sr. Theresa's piece: We don't go to confession to admit defeat, but to claim our victory in Christ by the power of the Spirit.

It's Friday and so our traditio is The Cranberries' "Salvation"

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Year C Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Isa 66:18-21; Ps 117:1-2; Heb 12:5-7.11-13; Lk 13:22-30

This week we continue our journey with Jesus and his disciples from Galilee to Jerusalem. Remember, in the synoptic Gospels (i.e., Matthew, Mark, and Luke), the Lord makes only one journey to the holy city. The journey of Jesus and his disciples from their native Galilee to Jerusalem begins toward the end of the ninth chapter and concludes in the middle of the nineteenth chapter, when he makes his ascent up the mountain to the holy city from the east, thus, in some sense, entering the land via the same route as the ancient Israelites after their forty years in the desert.

The Journey Narrative is preceded by Luke’s Infancy Narrative, including the incident when Jesus was 12 and traveled with Joseph and Mary to Jerusalem for Passover, when they accidentally left him behind only to find him in the temple discoursing with the doctors of the law, his baptism by John in the Jordan, his forty days and nights fasting in the wilderness, and the beginning of his ministry in his native Galilee. It is then that Luke tells us: “When the day for his being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). Our Gospel reading today begins with these words: “Jesus passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem” (Luke 13:22).

Along the way, the Lord is asked a provocative question: “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” His answer will no doubt spark the preaching of hellfire and damnation from many a pulpit this weekend. But such homilies are exercises in missing the point, not having what Jesus calls, “ears to hear” (Luke 8:8). Rather than restricting salvation and setting the bar improbably high, Jesus greatly expands the scope of salvation offered through him.

Our first reading from the last chapter of Isaiah provides us with something of an interpretive key for our Gospel reading. God, speaking through his prophet says, “I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory” (Isa 66:18). Perhaps most surprisingly, the prophet declares that God will enroll some gentiles as priests and Levites – “a far cry from what is found elsewhere in the [Old Testament]” (Coggins, The Oxford Bible Commentary, “Isaiah” 484).

The message of the passage from Isaiah is clear: salvation is not exclusively for Israel, as many Israelites supposed. God chose Israel in order to bring about salvation through them for everyone and not for them alone. This is why, when God called Abram to go from his home to the promised land, he promised him, “All the families of the earth will find blessing in you” (Gen 12:3b). God sending his only Son is the fulfillment of that divine promise.

In today’s Gospel Jesus, speaking to his fellow Jews, tells them that the patriarchs and prophets as well as some who “come from the east and the west and from the north and the south . . . will recline at table in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:29). He warns them that if they do not strive to enter through the narrow door, which is him, but persist in their small-mindedness, they will not be so favored. Jesus nowhere says few will be saved nor does he confirm, even by way of implication, that few will be saved. Rather, he expands access to salvation through him to everyone. In the end, the people who are in trouble are not only those who think they will save themselves by their own righteousness, but those who seek to exclude others from God’s mercy.

Jesus’ words to his fellow Jews, or Luke addressing these same words to his fellow first century Christians, might sound harsh. Indeed, Jesus could be quite harsh, especially to those who were harsh with others. We often seem quite eager to inflict God’s punishment both on ourselves and on others, which is why when things go wrong we often wonder, “Why is God punishing me?,” or, when something bad happens to someone else, “What did s/he do to anger God?” These are very immature questions for a Christian to ask. Nonetheless, there are those who persist in saying that things like the flooding now happening in Louisiana are God’s punishments for this or that evil.

Our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews clearly tells us that our trials are not punishments when it exhorts us to endure our “trials as discipline” (Heb 12:7). This is true whether our trials result from decisions we have made, or whether they come unexpectedly for other reasons. In his book Disappointment with God, author Philip Yancey, writing about Job, insisted that one of the main take-aways from that inspired book “is that you can say anything to God.” You can throw “your grief, your anger, your doubt, your bitterness, your betrayal, your disappointment” at him. God can absorb them all. Isn’t this what Christ did on the cross? The answer to suffering is Christ crucified, who, as St. Paul noted in his First Letter to the Corinthians is “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor 12:23b-24).

In her novel Absolute Truths, Susan Howatch, through her character Martin Darrow, a priest and spiritual director, who, like Bishop Charles Ashworth, with whom is conversing at this point, has recently gone through a self-induced personal catastrophe, tells the bishop how good it is, when going through a difficult time, to have a frank conversation with “someone who's gone through hell lately.” This leads Martin to say, “It makes all the difference to know there's someone else screaming alongside you - and that's the point of the Incarnation, I can see that so clearly now. God came into the world and screamed alongside us.”

Let’s not forget that Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem seemed to end with his crucifixion. While still in Galilee, that is, just prior to setting his face toward Jerusalem, after the twelve returned from their first mission, Jesus asked them who people were saying he was before asking them, “Who do you say that I am?” St. Luke wrote Peter’s response to Jesus’ question succinctly: “The Messiah of God” (Luke 9:20). After telling them not to divulge his identity to anyone, the Lord told them he “must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22).

After predicting his own passion, he then told them: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24). Note the word “anyone.” Jesus invites everyone, without exception, to follow him on the road to the cross, which, paradoxically, is the way to life everlasting. As our reading from Hebrews insightfully tells us, “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it” (Heb 12:11).

Our experience of helplessness is not only our invitation to receive God’s mercy, but constitutes precisely how God saves us. God saves us through our experience, not apart from it. Our experience is our own journey to Jerusalem with Jesus and should lead us to extend mercy to others and not selfishly claim it only for ourselves, or those like us. As we read elsewhere in Scripture- “God wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). Because we are Jesus’ disciples, like those who trekked with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, we don’t walk the road alone with Jesus. We journey with companions. Let’s not forget that the word “companion” literally means “one who breaks bread with another.”

Friday, August 19, 2016

"I'd listen to the Gospel ringing in my ears"

Our Friday traditio is two songs.

First up is Detroit's own MC5 with "Sister Anne."

A second one by Fred Sonic's (of MC5) wife, the high priestess of punk, Patti Smith, "Glora":

When a protest kicked up back in 2014 about Smith's playing at the Vatican being blasphemous, Patti said in an interview: "I had a strong religious upbringing, and the first word on my first LP is Jesus [the album was Horses]. I did a lot of thinking. I’m not against Jesus, but I was 20 and I wanted to make my own mistakes and I didn’t want anyone dying for me. I stand behind that 20-year-old girl, but I have evolved."

This year's presidential election should spark a resurgence of punk. As Jello Biafra, founder, lead singer, and chief lyricist of Dead Kennedys said in an interview, when asked if punk is dead: "In some ways maybe it [punk] should die 'cuz then it could be reborn."

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

"Then you're a mug"- owning our human condition

Writer William McIlvanney is sometimes referred to as Scotland's Camus. He passed away in December of last year. I've discovered his writing only very recently. I am currently reading the first of his trilogy of crime novels featuring Glasgow detective Jack Laidlaw, entitled simply, Laidlaw. McIlvanney is known as both the father and king of so-called Tartan Noir. According to his obituary in the Telegraph, "McIlvanny himself was not altogether happy with the accolade. He was concerned with morality, with how people behave and should behave to each other, not with sensation."

Laidlaw is in a rocky marriage. He and his wife, Ena, have two children. He is seen as a liberal and idealist by most of the other Glasgow police officers with whom he associates. The crime in the book is the rape and murder of an attractive young woman whose body is found in the bushes of Kelvingrove Park on a Sunday afternoon. Detective Inspector Laidlaw is assigned to investigate the case using his own strange methods while another, more conventional, investigation is conducted in parallel. Detective Constable Harkness is assigned to assist him and report back to their superiors any information that would help the more formal investigation. Prior to being assigned to work with Laidlaw, Harkness had worked with Milligan, a hardened police officer who thought Laidlaw was soft on criminals and a bit too philosophical, who sees things in very black and white and terms- it's us against them; we're good, they're bad. Indeed, Laidlaw keeps some works of Kierkegaard, Camus and Unamuno in a locked drawer of his desk.

During their first day together, Laidlaw lays out some of the forensic details of the murder, which included an act necrophilia, to Harkness over breakfast. What Laidlaw describes nearly makes Harkness ill. He balks at Laidlaw's suggestion that in order to catch the murderer they had to find a way to relate to him, to connect with him. At this suggestion Harkness retorts, "It's hopeless. How are we supposed to connect with something like this? How do we begin to relate to him?"

In response to Harkness' objection, Laidlaw says, "Because he relates to us." Harkness replies, "Speak for yourself." Laidlaw asks him, "What do you mean?. . . You resign from the species?" Defensively, Harkness retorts with an all too familiar response that smacks of denial, "No. He did." To which Laidlaw sensibly answers, "Not as easy as that." "It is for me," says Harkness, still trying to put as much moral distance between himself and the murderer as he can. "Then you're a mug. You'll be telling me next you believe in monsters. I've got a wee boy of six with the same problem." Harkness then asks, no doubt referring to the perpetrator of the heinous crime, "Don't you?" Laidlaw retorts, "If I did, I'd have to believe in fairies as well. And I'm not quite prepared for that." This prompts Harkness to ask, "How do you mean?"

Laidlaw then spells it out for the junior officer who is still full of his own moral superiority: "What I mean is, monstrosity's made by false gentility. You don't get one without the other. No fairies, no monsters. Just people. You know what the horror of this kind of crime is? It's the tax we pay for the unreality we choose to live in. It's fear of ourselves." Harkness, seemingly softening a bit, asks, "So where does that leave us?" Laidlaw says that, as cops, they're "stand-ins." He then goes on to explain, "Other people can afford to write 'monster' across this and assign it to limbo. I suppose society can't afford to do anything else, or it wouldn't work. They've got to pretend that things like this aren't really done by people. We can't afford to do that." I would say, likely not with McIlvanney's agreement, judging by the views on Christianity expressed in his book, which no doubt arise from his own experience, that Christians can't do this either.

Observing the people as the two detectives step out the café, Laidlaw, trying to help Harkness see the connection, observes: "Your way of life is taught to you like a language. It's how you express yourself. But any language conceals as much as it reveals. And there's a lot of languages. All of them human. This murder is a very human message. But it's in code. We have to try and crack the code. But what we're looking for is a part of us. You don't know that, you can't begin." To which Harkness says, "Forgive me if I feel a bit sick with a part of us." To which Laidlaw responds, "All right . . . You can even cry if you want. It clears the eyes."

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Mud, water, and Spirit: Why not become fire?

Readings: Jer. 38:4-6.8-10; Ps 40:2-4.18; Heb 12:1-4; Luke 12:49-53

In our brief Gospel reading Jesus, enroute to Jerusalem, said to his disciples- "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!" Jesus here was likely referring to the baptism of his passion, death, and resurrection; his literal dying, being buried, and rising to new life. When you were baptized you, too, experienced this, at least ritually. In baptism, confirmation, and in each Eucharist, you and I are sent to be fire-starters.

The result of this baptism, just as the result of his baptism by John in the river Jordan, was an unleashing of the Spirit. Jesus was confirmed as he came up out of the water. It was then the Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove and the Father's voice was heard to say, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased" (Luke 3:22). The outpouring of the Holy Spirit that followed the baptism to which he referred in today's Gospel reading occurred during the first Christian Pentecost. It's fair to say that the fire Christ came to ignite on the earth was set then, thus fulfilling what the Baptist said to those who wondered whether he (John) was the Messiah:
I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire (Luke 3:16-17)
Like the water with which you were baptized, fire is both deadly and purifying. I don't believe we need discuss two fires. It's the effect of the fire, which will burn, or burn in, everyone. It is nothing other than the fire of God's love. After all, is not the Holy Spirit the love between Father and the Son personified?

In our first reading Jeremiah is cast into a cistern because his incessant prophesying was seen - to use a contemporary description - as unpatriotic. Once in the cistern, which contained no water, "Jeremiah sank into the mud." We are made from the dust of the earth and came to life only when "God blew into" the "nostrils" of the first human being "the breath of life" (Gen 2:7). In the end, thanks to the intervention of a court official named Ebed-melech, which name translates from Hebrew to "servant of the king," Jeremiah was freed before he died of dehydration or starvation. We are rescued by none other than the King himself, who breathes his Spirit, who is also the Spirit of the Father, into you and me. Stated another away, he lights us on fire and then blows on us to increase the flame; "Spirit" means "breath."

As St. Paul wrote in his First Letter to the Corinthians:
If anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, the work of each will come to light, for the Day will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire [itself] will test the quality of each one’s work. If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person will receive a wage. But if someone’s work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire (1 Cor 3:12-15- a good biblical reference for Purgatory, btw)
As Catholics we are suspicious and perhaps rightly so of what Pentecostals call "baptism in the Holy Spirit." In his book Sober Intoxication of the Spirit: Filled With the Fullness of God, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, Preacher of the Papal Household, New Testament and patristic scholar, who is perhaps the Roman Catholic Church's leading Pentecostal/Charisamtic noted, "The term 'baptism in the Spirit' indicates that there is something here that is basic to baptism. We say that the outpouring of the Spirit actualizes and revives our baptism." A bit further on in his book, Fr. Cantalamessa pointed out, "Sacraments are not magic rites that act mechanically, without people’s knowledge or collaboration. Their efficacy is the result of a synergy, or collaboration, between divine omnipotence (that is, the grace of Christ and of the Holy Spirit) and [human] free will." Trying to describe baptism in the Spirit, Cantalamessa wrote:
What has happened to some people is similar to what happens when a fire is lit in a fireplace in a house. At first, the fire moves through material like paper, straw and dry twigs. But after this initial flame, either the fire succeeds in enkindling large pieces of wood and lasts until the following morning to warm the whole house, or it does not continue to burn and accomplishes nothing. This latter fire is a “flash in the pan.” In the context of spiritual renewal, either the initial flame engulfs the heart and transforms it from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh, or it does not reach the heart but remains on the periphery and soon burns out, leaving no trace of itself
How can we create conditions for perpetual burning of the fire of the Spirit? Fr. Cantalamessa insisted, "We need to be more serious about certain fundamental rules concerning holiness, which can be specifically observed in the lives of saints who are recognized as such by the Church." He went on to explain, after expressing his frustration with fellow charismatics who insist that living in the light Christ's Resurrection leaves no room for suffering:
At the beginning of a spiritual journey, grace is experienced in gifts and great consolations, so that a person may become detached from the world and make a decision for God. But afterward, once a person is detached from the world, the Spirit urges that individual to go the “narrow way” of the gospel, the way of mortification, obedience and humility. There is no reason that the Lord today would radically change His method and make saints in a different way, a way paved with sweetness and lofty experiences from beginning to end
St. Maximilian Kolbe

In the context of readings for this Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, particularly our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, we need to keep "our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God" (Heb 12:2). What does it mean to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus? To resist sin to point of shedding your own blood. Transliterated, the Greek word translated into English as "resisted" is antikathistēmi. In this context it likely means to stand against, or resist. The word can also be used to mean placing in opposition, or, more specifically, to set an army in a line of battle.

A well-known story from lives of the desert fathers strikes me as relevant:
Abba Lot came to Abba Joseph and said: Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and, according as I am able, I strive to cleanse my heart of thoughts: now what more should I do? The elder rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said: Why not become fire?
If today were not Sunday the Church would observe the memorial of St. Maximilian Kolbe, who, like Fr. Cantalamessa, was a Franciscan. I think what Cantalamessa was trying describe in the passage I quoted about the necessity of sacrifice and suffering is captured well by my friend Artur Rosman in his post "Last Eyewitness Explains What the Sacrifice of St. Maximilian Kolbe Means." Like Jeremiah, Fr. Kolbe epitomized the manner in which a person on fire with the Holy Spirit lives, proving, yet again, that it is possible to live this way: on fire with the love of God, even in the mud.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Deacons and deaconesses: more viewpoints

Sr Sara Butler weighed in this week and now Dawn Eden.

While I have studied certain aspects of the diaconate academically- particularly the origins and history of clerical continence and celibacy- and I am currently doing so (DMin dissertation is going to be on the elements of diaconal spirituality), this is a fair question. While the diaconate has been the subject of at least two in-depth Vatican studies, I am not sure the issue of what deaconesses did and how their ministry was different from or similar to that of deacons has been looked at specifically. I do know that we use the word "ordination" in a much more specific way than it was used in the early Church and that the history and development of the sacrament of orders is rather more complex than many think it to be.

On the other hand, I am wary of those who want to turn this ideological and make it about gender equality, etc. On a Christian view women and men are equal, which is why the Church, in Can. 1055 §1, describes marriage as "a partnership of the whole life." Partners are equals. This is underlined, not undermined, by Ephesians 5:21-33.

This is a question that Pope Francis has had since before becoming pope. We should not fear a committee report, which is what the Holy Father will receive, or what may result from it. This is why, as Catholics, we are to pray for the pope every day. Personally, I am interested in a variety of views on the matter. I think the views of theologically well-educated women are particularly relevant. The views of one or another theologian, while they may or may not cohere with my own viewpoint (yes, I have one), are not definitive. The person leading the discussion has no clue what a deacon is, "except for the sacraments" and all that nonsense.

One reason why I am not interested in any and all opinions is that, frankly, few people understand what a deacon is. Dawn is tracking along the lines of Pope Francis, who has repeatedly spoken out against the clericalization of the Church. Speaking once about the clericalization of the laity he asked, "Why would we want to afflict them with our disease?" One of my favorite bishops, John Keenan of the Diocese of Paisley, Scotland, recently delivered a homily at a Mass to conclude his diocese's synod, which he convened to set the course for that local Church for the foreseeable future. I was struck by this passage:
[Christ] has founded this [what it means to be his disciples] on our better understanding of the first sacrament we received, the sacrament of Baptism. He has revealed to us how this sacrament is more essential to our identity than whether we are priests, laity, religious or married, deacons, teachers, young people or parents
Too often we forget this powerful fact.

Another important thing I read today is by Deacon Bill Ditewig, Ph.D: "Deacons: Myths and Misperceptions." In this piece, he does an excellent job of succinctly describing the restored and renewed diaconate. In his post he also hints at something I took on in one of my deleted posts: if you're looking for what Aretha sang about, namely R-E-S-P-E-C-T, the diaconate probably won't scratch your itch.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Deacons, blogging, and "Crimson and Clover"

August is shaping up a lot like June. It's been good to step back and reassess what I am doing here and, frankly, take it down a notch or two. Rather than blogging I've been doing some spiritual journaling. Keeping a journal is something that I have previously found to be too difficult. I don't know why now I am finding it easy. What I write daily, which I limit to one page of a composition notebook, comes from practicing lectio divina each morning, which I've done for awhile though now I am, by the grace of God achieving better consistency. After ten years of writing, it's not possible to just stop.

One thing I've done since last posting is deleted my two most recent posts on diaconate, specifically my replies to initial reports of Pope Francis telling a gathering of religious sisters that he would appoint a commission to study women and(/in?) the diaconate. I believe I made some valid points in both posts, but I made my points in the wrong way and without drawing from what I know about the history of the diaconate. Since then Pope Francis has appointed the commission. I am content to let the commission do their work and see what comes of it. It's important to let the Holy Spirit do his work.

An important female voice who was not appointed to the commission, but who previously served on the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's International Theological Commission, is that of Sr. Sara Butler, M.S.B.T. She was formerly an advocate for women's ordination, but no longer advocates for it. She wrote a book, The Catholic Priesthood and Women: A Guide to the Teaching of the Church, about it. Recently she weighed in with a short piece on the recent public conversation about women deacons: "The Burden of Proof Concerning Women Deacons." It's a short piece and so much is left undeveloped. She does point to the unity of the sacrament of orders, which is one sacrament and not three, which was the centerpiece of one of my deleted posts and remains a large issue in the on-going discussion about the diaconate.

I am intrigued by how there has been an ever-increasing distinction made by the Church's magisterium between what might be called the diaconal modality of the sacrament of orders and the presbyteral modality. The most recent of which was promulgated in Benedict XVI's motu proprio Ominum in mentem, which made it clear that a deacon never acts persona Christi captis (i.e., in the person of Christ the head). This broaches another question I posed in one of my deleted posts that is relevant to the one about the unity of the offices that make up the sacrament of orders, does a deacon act in the person of Christ, in something that Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles called in his Foreward to James Keating's recent book, The Heart of the Diaconate, acting in persona Christi Servi (i.e., in the person of Christ the servant)? If so, how does that factor into the discussion?

Along the same lines as a papally-appointed commission studying the diaconate vis-à-vis women, I read something today that the next Synod may be on the subject of pastoral ministry with a focus on making the sacraments more available to the faithful, which is important given the seemingly ever-shrinking priest to people ratio. Bishop Fritz Lobinger, the retired bishop of the Diocese of Aliwal, South Africa, has a bold proposal: "Homegrown clergy: The case for a new kind of priesthood."

One thing about being Catholic during the pontificate of Pope Francis is that there is never a dull moment. I find this refreshing. It seems like the Church of the third millennium is finally moving ahead by looking back to the first Christian millennium. Roman Catholics, including myself, often to seem very rooted in the second millennium. One question I have concerning Bishop Lobinger's proposal is what, if any, role exists for deacons? To frame my question, for those who might be interested, I point to Bill Ditewig's doctoral dissertation, The Exercise of Governance by Deacons: A Theological and Canonical Study and what was set forth about deacons in the Second Vatican Council's decree on the mission activity of the Church, Ad gentes. I still find it puzzling that, apart from the possibility of ordaining women deacons, the diaconate is largely ignored, as it was in both the Synods on the Eucharist and Evangelization.

I know that's a lot in a few dense paragraphs, which means it's time for our Friday traditio. Since I skipped last week for no other reason than I wasn't up to it, I am putting up two by Joan Jett, one of the best female rockers of all-time: "Crimson & Clover" along with "I Hate Myself."

Friday, August 5, 2016

Without theories, facts make no sense

This morning I received an email from on one of my Mount Angel Seminary classmates in which he affectionately referred to me as a “staunch defender of metaphysics.” This refers back to our pastoral psychology class, which, while tremendously informative, very useful and extremely well-taught, was, on my view, sometimes a bit reductive, especially when metaphysics was rejected, but only after the insistence that existence precedes essence, which is surely a metaphysical stance. The good news is metaphysics are inescapable and so require no defense. As soon as you reject or accept, say, a creator you’re firmly in the realm of metaphysics. This post is a bit of ramble, or perhaps more accurately, a sketch, a blogospheric reflection on not severing reason from faith, for looking at the world holistically.

While on the subject of metaphysics and reductive thinking, a few weeks ago I imprudently wandered into the middle of one of the most pointless on-line conversations I have ever allowed myself to get sucked into. The comment that prompted the exchange stated that philosopher Alvin Plantinga was off-base for suggesting in a lecture delivered some time ago that Intelligent Design (ID) should be included in certain biology classes as a theory alongside [neo-]Darwinistic theories. The dismissal was made without argument. While I was not privy to the audio of Plantinga’s lecture, I would be shocked if he provided no argument or rationale for making this suggestion. It stands to reason that a rebuttal should at least identify Plantinga’s reason or argument for making this suggestion and respond to that instead of dismissing his suggestion outright, or even taking the suggestion as a freestanding proposition. To be honest I am not certain what I think about teaching ID in biology. Given that the metaphysics of materialistic naturalism manage to creep into the classroom, I am inclined endorse giving them a run for their money.

What prompted this post was an article I came across today by physicist Carlo Rovelli that appeared in New Republic magazine slightly more than two years ago: “Science Is Not About Certainty: The separation of science and humanities is relatively new – and detrimental to both.” Rovelli’s piece begins:
We teach our students: We say that we have theories about science. Science is about hypothetical-deductive methods; we have observations, we have data, data require organizing into theories. So then we have theories. These theories are suggested or produced from the data somehow, then checked in terms of the data. Then time passes, we have more data, theories evolve, we throw away a theory, and find another theory that's better, a better understanding of the data, and so on and so forth.

This is the standard idea of how science works, which implies that science is about empirical data; the true, interesting, relevant content of science is its empirical content. Since theories change, the empirical theories change, the empirical content is the solid part of what is science

Rovelli is moving toward the view that science is not the empirical data, but consists of efforts to make sense of the data, which means theorizing. Some theories become so entrenched and are held so dogmatically that they don't change as more data is gathered, or rival interpretations of existing data emerge in the light that passes through the holes of existing theories. As a result, those who would challenge the predominant theory immediately become heretics of a sort, who must be separated from the believing community. Rovelli takes his own field, theoretical physics, to task not so much for the kind of dogmatism that Darwinists of various sorts are often guilty, but, at least in part, for having “the wrong ideas about science,” which results in doing something “methodologically wrong.” In support of his assertion he notes: “There hasn’t been a major success in theoretical physics in the last few decades,” even though there are no shortage of hypotheses (he points to loop quantum gravity and string theory).

In the realm of the life sciences, to cast the net broadly, thinking beyond or outside of the Darwinistic paradigm threatens the goring of many sacred oxen, many of which are metaphysical, to extend the metaphor. For more than a century there has been a paucity not only of theories, but even of scientific hypotheses.

Personally, when it comes to how science works, I am more of the Feyerabend school, which sees science working successfully in a less institutionalized and more anarchic way. I think the institutionalization of science, which often includes the insistence that science is about facts and that facts, not being theoretical, amount to certainty, which is the very thing Rovelli argues against (the seventh chapter of MacIntyr'es After Virtue is a great treatment of the modern obsession with facts). Rovelli insists that this is detrimental to science. Perhaps the best way to break out of this is interdisciplinary collaboration.

Towards the end of his article Rovelli asked, “Should a scientist think about philosophy or not?” He sought answer his own question:
It’s the fashion today to discard philosophy, to say now that we have science, we don’t need philosophy. I find this attitude naïve, for two reasons. One is historical. Just look back. Heisenberg would have never done quantum mechanics without being full of philosophy. Einstein would have never done relativity without having read all the philosophers and having a head full of philosophy. Galileo would never have done what he did without having a head full of Plato. Newton thought of himself as a philosopher and started by discussing this with Descartes and had strong philosophical ideas
I could not agree more with Rovelli’s conclusion:
Restricting our vision of reality today to just the core content of science [data] or the core content of the humanities is being blind to the complexity of reality, which we can grasp from a number of points of view. The two points of view can teach each other and, I believe, enlarge each other
All of this before we ever consider important moral and ethical questions about our increasing instrumentalization of the material world, which instrumentalization relies on the moral axiom that being able to do something is sufficient justification for doing it, or addressing the even more fundamental question of something coming from nothing, or organic life emerging from inorganic matter.

In his book The Religious Sense, Luigi Giussani asserted, "Man is that level of nature where nature itself becomes conscious of itself, that level of reality where reality begins to become aware of itself, begins to become reason" (25). The form this awareness takes, the form reason takes, what constitutes our humanity, is a question: "Why?" As Heidegger stated it in the first sentence of his first lecture in An Introduction to Metaphysics, as translated by Ralph Manheim, “Why are there essents [beings, things] rather than nothing?” (1) To take the theoretical position that the question is either unanswerable or nonsensical is still to take a metaphysical stance and, as Giussani notes, this runs counter to experience and eviscerates our humanity. As Giussani also asserted, “Realism requires a certain method for observing and coming to know an object, and this method must not be imagined, thought of or organized and created by the subject: it must be imposed by the object” (The Religious Sense 5).

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 ...