Saturday, February 25, 2017

Scripture, revelation- apprehending and living the truth

In a recent interview the newly elected Superior General of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits- the order to which Pope Francis belongs), Father Arturo Sosa Abascal, who hails from Venezuela, had the audacity to state the truth, not in its simplicity, which is frequently exaggerated because there are those who either don't want to engage or don't want others to engage largely due to fear, but in its irreducible complexity. He did this with regard to the currently much-debated and highly divisive topic of marriage. No doubt referring to Jesus' words as set forth in Mark 10:1-12 and Matthew 19:1-12, both of which sections are followed by the Lord pointing out the importance of children, Fr. Sosa said something that to my mind is non-controversial: that Jesus' words must be considered in their historical context, which includes factoring in the time and culture in which he lived, the intent and purpose, to the extent they can be determined, of the inspired evangelists who wrote the Gospels must also be considered, even compared to the original context of the Lord's teaching. This should not be controversial for Catholics in light of what is set forth in the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei verbum:
However, since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion, the interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words.

To search out the intention of the sacred writers, attention should be given, among other things, to "literary forms." For truth is set forth and expressed differently in texts which are variously historical, prophetic, poetic, or of other forms of discourse. The interpreter must investigate what meaning the sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed in particular circumstances by using contemporary literary forms in accordance with the situation of his own time and culture. For the correct understanding of what the sacred author wanted to assert, due attention must be paid to the customary and characteristic styles of feeling, speaking and narrating which prevailed at the time of the sacred writer, and to the patterns men normally employed at that period in their everyday dealings with one another.

But, since Holy Scripture must be read and interpreted in the sacred spirit in which it was written, no less serious attention must be given to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture if the meaning of the sacred texts is to be correctly worked out. The living tradition of the whole Church must be taken into account along with the harmony which exists between elements of the faith. It is the task of exegetes to work according to these rules toward a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture, so that through preparatory study the judgment of the Church may mature. For all of what has been said about the way of interpreting Scripture is subject finally to the judgment of the Church, which carries out the divine commission and ministry of recording and interpreting the word of God (par. 12- emboldening and italicization added by me)

Fr. Sosa went further by insisting that "there would have to be a lot of reflection on what Jesus really said." In addition to grasping Jesus' words as recorded in the Gospels in the contexts of both his teaching and the composition of these sacred texts, the Superior General went on to say that in light of our contextual understanding of the Lord's words, we need to examine, not what Jesus said- the Gospels remain authoritative- but how we have interpreted his words. Again, Dei verbum teaches that before teaching God's word, the Church's teaching authority must first "devoutly" listen to it (par. 10).

Where the confusion comes for many people, I think, is in the relationship of truth to the knowing subject. Therefore, it is important to point out that it is very often that case that truth doesn't just hang there like a red coat so that a person, at least one who is not color blind, can clearly see there is a red coat. It's a bit more complex than that.

Merely pointing to authority is a fallacious move. Therefore, those who lament the passing of a time (if one ever existed) in which people simply accepted everything on authority are, in my view, misguided. During such times authority was usually authoritarian, which is what led its overthrow. Let's face it, freedom, which is not just the multiplication of choices, is scarier than it is comforting, as the question that arose when "doughboys" returned home from Europe at the end of World War I demonstrates: "How do you keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen the lights Paris?" The simple answer is, you can't. Furthermore, you shouldn't want to, at least those who do not wish to return to the farm, some, no doubt, desired to do so. In this regard, I point to Book V, Chapter 5 of Dostoevsky's masterwork The Brothers Karamatzov, which can and often is read as a stand alone text, but is better in the context of the novel: The Grand Inquisitor.

To state the obvious, truth without context can neither be apprehended nor comprehended. It may well be the case that if the context is misunderstood, or simply ignored, words can be and often are misinterpreted. After all, Jesus certainly did not go around uttering inscrutable propositions divorced from the situations he faced. His teaching is always contextual and concrete. If Scripture is the prime vehicle for revelation and, within the Sacred Scriptures, "the Gospels have a special preeminence" (Dei verbum, par 18), then grasping the context of the Lord's teaching is indispensable for understanding what he taught and living it, this includes his teaching on marriage. Because the word of God is inexhaustible, we can always, corporately and individually, arrive at a better, clearer understanding of what is conveyed to us in words.

In my view, truth without context only comprises so much ontological clutter. For Christians, merely repeating doctrinal propositions is self-defeating and no way to proclaim saving truth. This is where beauty comes into play. To matter, truth must resonate within a person, or to borrow Luigi Giussani's preferred term, truth must "correspond" to my need and my desire, scratch my itch, say something to me about my life.

How, then, do we communicate the liberation that only the truth can bring? We do so by living the truth joyfully, lovingly, and (GASP!) non-judgmentally. We must be the ones within whom the truth resonates so that we can radiate. From a theological perspective, faith aids reason, that is, helps us apprehend, comprehend, and appropriate the truth. Truth must e incarnated, another word for which is lived. Faith is a gift from God. While faith that merits the name includes one's response to God's gracious initiative, it is not a strictly voluntaristic endeavor. Simply stated, truth, while by no means exclusively subjective, has a subjective dimension. How else can truth set the captive free?

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Year A Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Lev 19:1-2.17-18; Ps 103:1-; 1 Cor 3:16-23; Matt 5:38-48

In today's Gospel, taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the Lord no doubt deliberately echoes the words God spoke to Moses in our first reading about being holy, or perfect, as God is holy and perfect. This prompts the question, what does it mean to be holy, or perfect?

The short answer to this question is: To be holy and perfect is to be like God. Since God fully revealed himself in Jesus, to be holy is to be like Jesus. To be like Jesus requires one “to love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” and to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:37.39). To be holy, therefore, is nothing other than to love perfectly. What is sin if not the refusal to love God and/or your neighbor? While there are ways we love God that are distinct from how we are to love our neighbor, Scripture is clear: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar” (1 John 4:20).

It has been said of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that after the Beatitudes, with which the Sermon begins, the rest is about how to live them. Last week we began to hear Jesus’ so-called theses and anti-theses. In one of these, Jesus taught: “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (Matt 5:21-22a).

Jesus’ thesis in this part of the Sermon is the fifth commandment: “Thou shall not kill” (Ex 20:13; Deut 5:17). His anti-thesis, which begins with the words, “But I say to you,” sets the bar considerably higher than not killing others. He taught that remaining angry, which is a choice, also makes one liable to judgment and, if a person persists in choosing to remain angry, s/he may be liable “to fiery Ghenna” (Matt 5:22c), which is a way of referring to hell. In today’s Gospel, Jesus continues his theses and anti-theses concerning the commandment not to kill, expanding even further on the love that sanctifies, or makes one holy. He does this by first addressing the so-called lex talionis, the law of retaliation.

Jesus expresses the lex talionis in its most familiar form: “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” It means to give as good you get, or perhaps even to escalate the violence. For example, if someone punches you, maybe you should stab him. The Lord uses a straightforward example, being struck by another person: “offer no resistance to one who is evil,” Jesus teaches, “When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well” (Matt 5:39). Because, according to the Beatitudes, we are to be peacemakers (Matt 5:9), the Lord teaches us to break the cycle of violence by refusing to be violent in the face of violence.

As in all things, Jesus is not content with merely telling us how to act. He demonstrated what he taught when, during his passion, he offered no resistance to those who arrested, beat, whipped, spat upon, insulted, and finally crucified him. As Tevya, the main character in Fiddler on the Roof, observed concerning the lex talionis: “’An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth!’ Very good. That way, the whole world will be blind and toothless.”

Jesus does not limit his teaching to passivity in the face of violence. He calls on his followers to give an active response. This is where he brings his teaching concerning the commandment not to kill to its fullest expression: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:43-44). To love your enemies, to pray for those who seek to do you harm, is what it means to love perfectly, to be holy, to be like Christ, to be perfect as the Father is perfect. God loves everyone, even those who persist in doing evil. It is important to note that God loves you even when you are guilty of doing evil. Loving your neighbor as you love yourself means desiring that they receive divine mercy as much as you desire divine mercy for yourself. For proof, we need look no further than our Psalm response: “The Lord is kind and merciful.” The attitude “God forgive me but damn him” is damnable.

Loving one’s enemies is one of the things that makes Jesus’ followers distinct from everyone else. The Lord himself pointed out, if you only love those who love you how are you different from the tax collectors and pagans? It’s easy, it requires no change of heart, to love people who love you. Christ’s teaching to love your enemies is a huge provocation, a tremendous challenge. But it is a non-negotiable, something you must do if you would call yourself a Christian.

A typical response to this teaching is attempting to carve out exemptions: “What about what this person did? What about what that person said?” We need God’s grace to love as Jesus loved. We need God’s grace to become holy. The primary means God puts at our disposal to receive his grace are the sacraments. Hence, you should go to confession regularly. God makes you holier by forgiving your sins. We should also pray, fast, and selflessly serve others.

St. Paul, in our second reading, articulates well that to live as a Christian often seems like foolishness: “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool so as to become wise, For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God” (1 Cor 3:18-19). Living according to the wisdom of the world, which teaches you to live by the lex talionis, is to live the law of karma instead of living in the grace of God. According to Jesus, living the lex talionis is the highway to hell.

One of the most famous lines written by French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre is, “hell is other people.” Like a lot of famous lines, this line is often taken out of context and misused. The line comes from Sartre's one act play, the English title of which is No Exit. The play, set in hell, begins with the arrival of three people in the inferno. Naturally, they try to figure out what led them there and what punishments they’re in for. Without too much delay, they realize that there is no one there to punish them; being put together is their punishment. Hence, the relevant quote is: “All those glances that I eat … Ha, you’re only two? I thought you were much more numerous. So that’s hell. … I never thought You remember: the sulphur, the stake, the grill. Oh, What a joke. No need to grill: hell is other people.” With reference to Jesus' teaching, hell is the realm of people who refuse to be loved and to love. This confirms what most of us have experienced in one way or another: the absence of love, the refusal to love, is hell.

Friday, February 17, 2017

"For with the LORD is [loving]kindness"

As a penance I was directed by my confessor to read and reflect on Psalm 130. I have to say, it was most fruitful:

Psalm 130
Prayer for Pardon and Mercy

1. Out of the depths, I cry to you, O LORD;
      Lord, hear my voice!
2. Let your ears be attentive
    to my voice in supplication:

3. If you, O LORD, mark iniquities,
      LORD, who can stand?
4. But with you is forgiveness.
    that you may be revered.

5. I trust in the LORD;
6. My soul waits for the LORD
      more than sentinels wait for the dawn.

More than sentinels wait for the dawn,
7.     let Israel wait for the LORD,
For with the LORD is kindness
      and with him is plenteous redemption;
8. And he will redeem Israel
     from all their iniquities.

The word "kindness" in verse seven is a translation of the Hebrew word that is usually transliterated as hesed. It means loving-kindness. It is a kindness lovingly expressed that isn't deserved by the one on whom God lavishes it. God is kind. God is merciful. God loves me. During this week's Wednesday Angelus address, Pope Francis, as he does so beautifully, reminded us of the heart of the Gospel, the Sacred Heart of Jesus:
We know that even in the most difficult and shocking times, the mercy and goodness of the Lord are greater than anything, and nothing will tear us from His hands and communion with Him. Also in this bad time? "God loves me." And if I have done a terrible and ugly thing? "God loves me." This security is not taken away from anyone. We must repeat it as a prayer: "God loves me," "I am sure that God loves me," "I am sure that God loves me"
Penance that is truly penance seeks for the penitent to experience God's mercy.

"But there ain't no saint just for killers"

My favorite reason of all reasons that be given has long been for no particular reason. Therefore, I sometimes introduce things by saying or writing, "Apropos of nothing, ..." Our traditio for this Friday in mid-February is the polar opposite: Apropos of many things, if not everything, our song this week is the late, great Joe Strummer singing "Evil Darling," off the soundtrack of the 1987 movie Straight to Hell, in which he also starred.

Straight to Hell is an independent film co-written and directed by Alex Cox. It was kind of a parody of Spaghetti Westerns. The movie is based on a criminal gang who, while stranded in the desert, stumble into a town populated by coffee-addicted killers. Straight to Hell was based on Django...If You Live, Shoot, a 1967 movie by Giulio Questi. Straight to Hell was re-mastered and re-released on DVD in 2010, complete with extended soundtrack.

And he knew how hard it was to cry
This evil darling, this deep blue sky
To be the rain in a dying man's eye
Cry for water and you get no reply
Beg for mercy and laughter fills the sky

Year I Sixth Friday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Gen 11:1-9; Ps 33:10-15; Mark 8:34-9:1

The question our Scripture readings pose to us today is, How do we realize the greatness we seem to desire? How do we satisfy our human longing for fulfillment? In our first reading we heard about the Tower of Babel. The idea was to build a tower so high that the people who built it would be known over all the earth for their very high tower and remarkable city. They also felt that building this tower would unify them and keep them from being scattered. But their plan did not please God. The result of God’s displeasure was he confounded their language. As a result, this people went from speaking a common language to speaking many languages. So, they could no longer communicate well enough to continue building their great city or finish great tower, which was to be the city's focal point.

It is from the word “Babel” that we derive our word babble. Babbling is what a person who speaks a language unfamiliar to you sounds like and what you sound like to people who do not understand English. If you were dropped into a rural Chinese village and started speaking English to the people of the village, while they would know that you were speaking a human language and trying to communicate with them, they likely would not understand a word you said. To them, you would be babbling. Once the villagers understood you were stranded in their village and, recognizing your human needs, which are the same as theirs, and they began to offer you food, water, and shelter, you would understand what their gestures of taking care of you meant. This giving and receiving would mark the beginning of communication.

In our Gospel today, Jesus answers the questions I posed- How do we realize the greatness we feel called to? How do we satisfy our human longing for fulfillment?- very directly:
Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it (Mark 8:34-36)
I think, if we're honest, Jesus' answer isn't really what we want to hear. His answer is counter-intuitive, a paradox, meaning his answer doesn’t seem to make sense. It's like saying you become rich by giving all of your money away. Jesus’ answer is that you achieve greatness, you are fulfilled and satisfied, not by seeking the things you want, not by putting yourself first, seeking your own interests before all else, but by sacrificing your wants and desires in order to serve others, helping to meet their needs. This is certainly not the message we receive most of the time from those around us. The Lord went on to ask: "What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? What could one give in exchange for his life?" (Mark 8:37) What he implies by asking this question is that living your life so as gain the whole world is the way to lose your soul.

It's also important to point out that we don’t sacrificially serve others in order to make ourselves feel good. In fact, the more we serve others the more aware we become of how many people there are in need of help. As followers of Jesus, we’re called to seek out the lowly, those in need, and to help them. Like most things, this is easier said than done. Last night during our Parish Council meeting Mrs. Jacobs was sharing with the council many of the things all of you are doing to serve those in need. I was particularly impressed by the fund-raising efforts St Olaf school is making in order to help Syrian refugees. These are outstanding efforts that are in harmony with what Jesus teaches us to do in today's Gospel.

Taking up your cross means becoming a compassionate person. To show compassion for another person means to suffer with that person. I don’t know about you, but I never feel more alone than when I suffer. It helps when another person comes alongside me and is present to me. Maybe there isn’t anything that person can do to alleviate my suffering except to be with me. But the gift of yourself, your presence, your friendship, your solidarity with someone who suffers should not be underestimated. All of these things begin with, are sustained by, and helped immensely by praying for those in need, praying for them by name, and bringing their specific needs to God in prayer. In other words, it is not enough to give money. You must be willing to give yourself, to give the gift of your time. It is almost never convenient to give time to someone in need. It's good for us to remember something we've all heard: actions speak louder than words.

We will enter Lent in less than two weeks. Every year on Ash Wednesday the Lord calls on us to renew our practice of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. These are the practices Jesus taught his followers to do. Just as faith and hope lead us to act charitably, prayer and fasting should lead us to alms-giving, which, in addition to giving money, requires us to engage in selfless service to others. In the Mass Jesus is not content to tell us, but shows us what it means not only to give of one's self, but to give ourselves whole and entire. Just as in the Eucharist Jesus gives himself to you, body, blood, soul, and divinity, he asks you to give yourself body, blood, soul, and humanity. At the end of Mass, you will be sent out in peace to glorify the Lord by your life. How you do this is by sacrificing yourself for the good of others in imitation of Jesus.

When you give yourself selflessly you speak God's language. Love is the language of God's kingdom.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

What you need is a change of heart

Readings: Sir 15:15-20; Ps 119:1-2.4-5.17-18.33-34; 1 Cor 2:6-10; Matt 5:17-37

I am convinced that when it came to many of his encounters with the Pharisees that are written about in the Gospels, the crux of Jesus' teaching was often in response to those with whom he spoke mistaking means for ends. After all, one could keep the 613 so-called mitzvot, or "words," meaning rules (i.e., prescriptions and proscriptions- dos and donts) and still not be holy. At least from a Christian perspective, to be holy means nothing other than to love perfectly.

At St. Matthew records it, when queried by the Pharisees about which of the commandments is the greatest, Jesus replied:
You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments (Matt 22: 37-40)
From this it is easy to see that the basis of morality, of moral action, of living a moral life, is love. It bears noting as often as this passage and the one like it in Luke's Gospel, which is followed by the Parable of the Good Samaritan, is invoked that Jesus is doing nothing other than reciting the law back to those seeking to trip him up, namely Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 respectively. One can argue that a distinct feature of Jesus' teaching in Matthew is his teaching that it is upon these two commandments that the law and the prophets depend. This is why Christians call these "the two Great commandments." In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, as well as in Matthew's Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that the stranger is our neighbor, one's enemy is his neighbor, etc., and not only one's kinsman or fellow Israelite.

Like many of the Pharisees with whom Jesus interacted, some Catholics, become very hung up on rule-keeping, mistaking it for holiness and allowing one's imagined holiness to provide justification for judging the failure of others to be as observant. It's just this attitude Pope Francis has sought to challenge over the course of his nearly four year pontificate. In his straightforward way, the Holy Father has denounced this as pelagianism. In today's Gospel Jesus assures his listeners that he came to fulfill, not abolish, the law. He came to show what perfect observance of the law looks like in "real" life, which apparently bore little or no resemblance to what at least some Pharisees conceived when they considered observing the law of Moses. What the Lord demonstrated is that the law was given as a means to the end of loving God and neighbor perfectly and not some exercise in what might be called, perhaps a little anachronistically, Stoic virtuosity.

What Jesus showed us is that why we do what we do matters every bit as much, perhaps even more, as what we do. As his disciples, the reason for our thoughts, words, and deeds should be love. In short, we can do the right things for the wrong reasons. This is just what the Lord calls to our attention with his theses and antitheses: "You have heard that is was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment"- thesis (Matt 5:21). He then says, "But I say to you whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment"- antithesis. In his teaching on divorce Jesus' shows us that it is the result of a failure to love. What Jesus taught and demonstrated is that holiness, Christlikeness, is a question of your heart, not of adherence to rules externally imposed, which is legalism. With regard to the law and its fulfillment in Jesus, he accomplished in his own person what Israel could not accomplish over the course of its long history.

Les pharisiens questionnent Jésus, by James Tissot, 1886-1894)

With regard to the Lord's exhortation not to swear oaths, I think theologian Stanley Hauerwas summed it up best: "oaths are a sign that we live in a world of lies." This is why, as disciples of the One who is Truth personified, our "Yes" should mean Yes and our "No" mean No. If this were the case oaths would not be necessary.

Jesus' words about plucking out eyes and lopping off appendages are the rhetorical device of hyperbole - an exaggerated statement that is not meant to be taken literally. It is meant to demonstrate what happens when a person refuses to love. Sartre's line that "hell is other people" is often ripped out of context and misused. But the quote, in context, has a lot of relevance for today's Gospel reading. These words are taken from Sartre's one act play, which in English is entitled No Exit. He wrote the play in 1943.

No Exit is set in hell and begins with the arrival of three people in the inferno. As one might imagine, the characters try to determine what led them to hell and what punishment(s) they might be in for. Without too much delay, they come to realize that there is no one there to punish them; being put together is their punishment. Hence, the relevant quote is: "All those glances that I eat … Ha, you’re only two? I thought you were much more numerous. So that’s hell. … I never thought You remember: the sulphur, the stake, the grill. Oh, What a joke. No need to grill: hell is other people." With reference to Jesus' teaching, hell is the realm of people who refuse to be loved and to love. This confirms what most of us have experienced in one way or another: the absence of love creates hell on earth.

St. Paul, in our New Testament reading, taken from his First Letter the Corinthians, reinforces that life is about love: What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor 2:9). Because it fundamentally means "listening to," genuine obedience requires love. Stated another way, without love there is no true obedience. What the Pharisees with whom Jesus interacted in this passage from St. Matthew's Gospel lacked was love. This is why Fr. Timothy Radcliffe insisted we have no business discussing morality with another person until that person knows God loves him/her.

What the Lord seeks to bring about in each one of us is repentance, metanoia, a change of heart. Love, not fear of punishment, is the force that enables our hearts to change.

Being chosen, belonging, being a deacon

The opposite of being chosen is being left out. Being left out means not belonging. I don't know about you, but I want to belong and so I fear being left out. I am disappointed when I am not chosen. Even now in my fifties I still wrestle with this. Sometimes I internally lambast myself for not being more self-actualized. What makes this phenomenon even stranger in my case is that I am without doubt an introvert, which might mean not being chosen is a relief. Frankly, I often experience a contradictory tension, but that is a different subject perhaps for another post (perhaps not).

In the introduction to his beautiful book To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings, the late John O'Donahue wrote:
While our culture is all gloss and pace on the outside, within it is too often haunted and lost. the commercial edge of so-called "progress" has cut away a huge region of human tissue and webbing that held us in communion with one another. We have fallen out of belonging
Two years ago last month I made the decision, prayerfully discerned with my wife from the previous Easter, to walk away from a position very much in the center of things, a place I felt chosen and where I felt belonged. My sense of being chosen and belonging, upon close examination, turned out to be, not exclusively, but in too great a proportion, a lot egotism. While I have not regretted my decision in the least and when I think about it would not want to return, there are times when I find myself, due to nothing external, feeling unchosen, like I don't belong. Based on a few events unfolding right now, which are actually somewhat remote from me and shouldn't affect me at all, I awoke this morning feeling down, feeling unchosen.

As I am wont to do in my healthier moments when I feel anxious, despairing, scared, or cast out, I offered this to the One to whom I belong (I won't go into how I react in my unhealthier moments, it's not good). Like most people of faith, I suppose, I pray better when I feel my need most acutely. This morning, I uttered, "Lord, I feel unchosen, like I don't belong." Without any delay, here's what flooded my soul: "Scott, I chose you by name in baptism. I chose you by name in confirmation. Holly chose you in marriage. I chose you in ordination for service to my people and the world."

If I refused to believe that Christ chose me, according to the mystery of His divine will and not for anything I am able to offer in return (St Paul's words to the Corinthians apply here: "God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong" 1 Cor 1:27 ), then I would have to resign myself to forever being the outsider, the one who doesn't belong, even if my life looked like one of belonging. Self-imposed exile is exile nonetheless.

All of this, oddly enough, confirms my diaconal vocation. In the third chapter of his book The Heart of the Diaconate: Communion with the Servant Mysteries of Christ, Deacon James Keating asserted that in ordination a deacon receives a brand, or a wound, indicating that he is no longer his own. It is through ordination that a deacon gives himself to Christ. In turn, Christ gives the deacon to the Church for service. Looking back over 13-plus years of being a deacon, I have often experienced my ordination as a wound. According to Keating, to be chosen in this way means to bear this wound "that renders [the deacon’s] very being vulnerable to share Christ’s own servant mysteries." Therefore, it makes sense that the essential "'work' of diaconal spiritual life is to keep this wound open" so that the deacon can "learn how to receive grace even while ministering."

Fundamental to being a deacon is seeing that nobody feels unchosen or left out, but to remind everyone, especially those on the fringes who are often truly left out, that they are chosen and belong.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Separation from my beloved makes me sad

I have been utterly terrible about a Friday traditio so far this year. Part of that has to do with being away from home for the past three weeks with limited internet access, part of it has to with the fact that, due to circumstances, I haven't been listening to much music lately, and it has partly to do with working on the frequency and quality of what I post here. With all that in mind, I felt pretty determined to post a traditio today.

Fortunately, I did not have dig deep to figure out what I might post. Jesus and Mary Chain, a Scottish band that came to prominence in U.S. in the late eighties, has been back in the studio. Their new album is Damage and Joy. Since I prayed my "Jesus and Mary chain" today walking to class, it seems fitting.

Their album Darklands remains a favorite. You can listen to the whole album here.

"Always Sad," off Damage and Joy, is our Friday tradition. While I am at times afflicted with the Celtic gloom, I am not always sad. I need to frequently remind myself to take life's consolations when and where I can. Much of the time, though not always for someone like me, happiness is a choice. In fact, the thought of being reunited with sweetheart tomorrow on her birthday makes me very happy, not to mention excited. To paraphrase the song- my lovely wife is the best I've ever had, it seems we've been a million miles away and, on at least a few days during our separation, being away from her has made me sad:

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Experiencing marriage as a sacrament the hard way

I've been away from home for a little more than two weeks and I have about a week to go before I return. Leaving home for extended periods of time has always been difficult. As I grow older, being away for weeks becomes more difficult for a variety of reasons. What has always made it difficult to be away is how much I miss people, even as I am meeting new people. I miss my children, I miss my friends, I miss those I serve as a deacon, I miss those with whom I serve, I miss my colleagues at work, etc. Above all, first and foremost, I miss my lovely wife. To borrow the famous line from the movie Jerry Maguire, she completes me. Oh, I do alright being away from her for about a week, then it becomes difficult. At times my difficulty being away from her nearly overwhelms me. It's true, I am never alone. But I find that being away from her for an extended period of time, especially when busy-ness and space make me feel disconnected from her, negatively impacts my ability to pray. Yes, this is a weakness of mine- I have many.

From last Sunday until yesterday afternoon, despite often desperate attempts on my part, I felt disconnected and far away from my wife. This led to a lot of self-pity and, I am sad to say, some recrimination. Let me just say, absence (and what goes along with it) does make the heart grow fonder, but in my case often in a demanding and impatient manner. Being the person she is, she bore all of this patiently. But then, by the miracle of modern technology, late yesterday afternoon, we were able to spend some one-on-one time together. Our time allowed me to make a 180 degree turn around emotionally and spiritually.

As I was leaving Mass this morning and pondering the week past, thanking God for His great mercy towards me, I was struck by the fact that it is impossible for me to feel connected to God and not to my wife. I believe this was grace enabling me to experience and then better apprehend the reality that my marriage is, by the grace of God, a sacrament, which means it is not just an expression of my profound need for grace to live out this sacrament at the service of communion, but a source of grace for me, (hopefully) for my wife and children, as well as (hopefully) for the Church and the world. It is important for us to stay closely connected when we're apart using the means we have at our disposal. But even so, it is a challenge, especially for me. Our spending time together allowed me to receive the affirmation from her I needed. It also reminded me, again (I am slow and forgetful, too eager to have my perceived needs met), I need to give her the affirmation she needs just as selflessly as she affirms me.

This time next week my wife and I will be reunited. I return next Saturday, which is her birthday as well as the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. While I understand that all I long for is to be found in God, I realize more all the time that how God sets about satisfying my deepest longing is often in a reified way. This is especially true when it comes to how He works in my marriage through my amazing wife. I am not sure what I did to deserve the love of this wonderful woman. When I think about it, I did nothing to deserve her. She is God's grace personified for me. Being joined to her by, in, and through God- Who is a communion of divine persons- is not merely a sign or token along my way to realizing fully that for which I deeply long, but a participation in it. I think it is analogous to the way I already participate in the not yet by participating in the Eucharist.

Tolerance, respect, the Gospel, and civil society

I continue blogging catch-as-catch-can. It will be at least another week before I can return to doing so regularly. In light of the new administration and the seemingly endless vituperation, which, I think, is a direct result of last year's presidential election campaign, which was generally not worthy of the U.S.A. as a nation, I found myself reflecting not only on the importance of tolerance and respect, but the necessity of both for a civil society. Let's face it, a republic such as we have in the United States relies on a civil society. Given that we have become a nation divided, being civil is increasingly difficult. As Christians, being civil in a society that is increasingly indifferent towards, often suspicious of, and sometimes even a bit hostile towards our faith (it's important we do not exaggerate the latter), our current state-of-affairs provides us with the opportunity to be what Jesus calls His followers to be in today's Gospel reading: salt and light.

In this regard, tolerance means the willingness to put up with views and opinions with which you do not necessarily agree or even with which you strongly disagree. Respect, on the other hand, means always holding the other person in esteem, granting the other her/his inherent dignity. Failing to do either is disgraceful, that is, lacking in grace. Acting disgracefully causes you to lose favor with the other, hardening them towards you. A truly Christian understanding of the human person (i.e., seeing every human being as a bearer of the divine image, the imago Dei) is the basis for according everyone due respect. Neither tolerance nor respect imply, let alone require, acceptance of someone else's viewpoint. When it comes to politics, to the "liberal/conservative" divide, it seems to me that both sides talk about how important tolerance and respect are when they're in power, but out of power, generally speaking, they engage in intolerant and disrespectful behavior.

What prompted this reflection are the levels of intolerance we are now experiencing. In particular the violence brought to bear in Berkeley, a city that regards itself as a bastion of free speech, to keep alt-right Breitbart editor, Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking. This turned Berkeley into a bastion of restricted speech, a place of repression, maybe even oppression. These violent actions seem to be aroused by some imagined fascist takeover of the United States. Keep in mind that I write this as someone who did not vote for President Trump (I didn't vote for Secretary Clinton either). Yiannopoulos holds many views with which I disagree. As applied to the current president and his administration, the reductio ad hitleram fallacy is a gross exaggeration, just as were claims that President Obama was a communist or some sort of Islamist Manchurian candidate. It is faulty reasoning because it is not rooted in reality. No matter what you think or how you feel about Donald Trump, he was elected constitutionally (his election, in my view, was a great vindication of the Electoral College). I believe he will leave office constitutionally either when he is defeated for re-election, decides not to seek re-election, or serves two four year terms as president.

I encourage you to read a fairly short article by Sean Blanda: "The 'Other Side' Is Not Dumb."
This is not a “political correctness” issue. It’s a fundamental rejection of the possibility to consider that the people who don’t feel the same way you do might be right. It’s a preference to see the Other Side as a cardboard cut out, and not the complicated individual human beings that they actually are
When I called for tolerance and respect, one friend observed: "Tolerance just means putting up with the other guy. Our faith requires us to love one another. That's a far greater task, and it is the only way that true healing and community can occur." To which I can only respond, Amen! Thinking about this and trying to make a connection, it occurred to me that when it comes to, say, another person's political views, or perhaps her/his sexuality, to use two prevalent examples, these aren't the most important or even the most interesting thing about the other person, especially when these things are taken in and of themselves and not seen as part of the greater whole of who that person is. I can love someone with whom I disagree, even someone with whom I disagree on fundamental matters, only by tolerating the views they hold with which I disagree. Such tolerance, admittedly, is a necessary but not sufficient condition for loving both my neighbor and my enemy. Without tolerance the other is a person "on other side," my opponent, or maybe even my enemy. Catholics need to heed Pope Francis' call to create a culture of encounter. Encounter is where evangelization and conversion happen. Yes, it requires you to take certain risks. Let's not forget that bearing joyful witness is absolutely essential. How can you convince someone that living according to what you understand to be the Truth is the way to happiness if you are not discernibly happy?

Who knows, maybe by loving a person with whom I disagree, I will listen to them and by listening to them find out how they came to hold the views they hold. Maybe- hold onto your hat- your view might be moderated or even changed. Tolerance can move us to respect, even if not all the way to agreement. It's a starting point. But even if we can only ever bring ourselves to tolerate and respect people who hold different views we're doing better than a lot of people and by so doing we help foster a civil society. It was pointed out by another friend that in his famous Letter Concerning Toleration, the only thing John Locke felt could not be tolerated was Catholicism. I don't think tolerance need not be handicapped by Locke's myopia. But even so, bearing wrongs patiently is not only virtuous, but a work of mercy, a way of imitating the One we claim to follow. If I follow Jesus, loving not only my neighbor, but my enemy, is an imperative, not an option.

All of this reminded of something I read awhile ago: "This new city [the heavenly city] will not emerge from any of our human projects. It is not the culmination of an ideology or program or ideal. It is a pure gift of God, taking what we have broken and bloodied, and transforming it into wholeness, where Christ himself will be our unity" (Tyler Wigg-Stevenson).

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...