Sunday, November 26, 2017

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

Readings: Ezk 34:11-12.15-17; Ps 23:1-3.5-6; 1 Cor 15:20-26.28; Matt 25:31-46

Last week Fr. Rene began his homily by singing a hymn. Since today, the last Sunday of the liturgical year, we celebrate the end of the world, I thought about singing REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.” You’ll be relieved to know that I thought the better of it. I do think the refrain that runs through this song is relevant for Christians, who hopefully await the Lord’s return: “It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.”

Believing that Christ will return is fundamental to Christian faith. In the Nicene Creed, we profess: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.” In the Apostles Creed, we say: “He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from there He shall come to judge the living and the dead.” Belief in Jesus’s return as the judge is not optional because it was revealed to us by the Lord himself, as our Gospel today clearly shows.

Jesus Christ is King of the universe because he has vanquished all of God’s foes, including death. As St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth: Jesus will hand over the kingdom “to his God and Father, when he has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power” (1 Cor 15:24). No earthly kingdom or nation will endure beyond Christ’s return. This feast invites us to live sub specie aeternatatis – under the auspices of eternity, which simply means giving what matters priority in our lives.

Pope Pius XI instituted the Solemnity of Christ the King in 1925. He did so in response to growing secularism as the ancien régime overturned at the end of the First World War was replaced by a new political order. One result of secularism is the temptation to seek exclusively worldly ends using only worldly means, as the rise of fascism in Europe after the establishment of today’s observance amply demonstrated.

Observing the feast of Christ, the King does not call for us to disengage from society and culture, or to retreat from the world. On the contrary! What makes Christians the best citizens of any nation, as St. Justin Martyr noted in his First Apology way back in the second century, is our commitment to living God’s kingdom as a present reality, as if it were already fully established. Too often we live in the mistaken notion that the definitive establishment of God’s reign has little or nothing to do with us.

In positive terms, I think G.K. Chesterton summed it up nicely when he wrote: “it is the paradox of history that each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.” One almost-saint who stands in stark contrast to our age is an American of the twentieth century: the Capuchin friar, Solanus Casey. Bl. Solanus Casey, whose Mass of Beatification was celebrated in Detroit last weekend, spent most of his life as a Capuchin friar welcoming and caring for guests at the urban friaries where he served, first in New York and then in Detroit. He is a splendid example of living God’s reign as a present reality while “we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Solanus Casey left us 5 ways of living in God’s love and 2 ways for living in the awareness that we are always in God’s presence. As to living in God’s love, this simple friar, writing from his experience and not as the result of academic study insisted 1) detachment from earthly affections, or singleness of purpose, what the title of a book by the Christian philosopher Søren Kierkegaard urged: Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing - do not be half-hearted in your love for Jesus; 2) meditation on the Passion of Jesus Christ – meditating on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, walking the Stations of the Cross, or reading an account of Jesus’s Passion from one of the Gospels; 3) uniformity with the Divine Will, which means seeing God’s will and purpose at work in your life, in your failures, setbacks, and disappointments as well as in your triumphs, successes, and satisfactions; 4) mental prayer (i.e., meditation and contemplation)- praying the Rosary and/or the spiritual practice of lectio divina; 5) intercessory prayer for your own needs and those of others, heeding Jesus’s words “Ask and it shall be given you.”

The 2 ways Bl. Solanus Casey gave for always living in the awareness that you are in God’s presence are the importance of praying short prayers to God throughout the day, or, as he put it: “Raise your heart to Him by frequent aspirations” and to “Make a good intention at the beginning of each week.” Sunday Mass is a wonderful time to make a good intention for the coming week. My sisters and brothers, holiness does not happen incidentally. You can’t accidentally be a disciple of Jesus Christ. While holiness is only ever fully realized by the grace of God, attaining it requires your cooperation. Your pursuit of holiness cannot be a passive endeavor. God won’t make you holy against your will.

As his life of care and concern for others demonstrates, the practices set forth by Solanus Casey constitute a proven way of cooperating with what God is seeking to do in and through you to accomplish his purposes in and for the world. Of course, engaging in these practices, like our participation in this Mass, is not an end in itself but a means to the end of establishing God’s reign. We establish God’s reign by caring for those in need, by feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, as well as visiting and assisting those who are sick and in prison. Grouped together, we call these the Corporal Works of Mercy. Our need to engage in these works has been a persistent theme of Francis’s pontificate. It's how we bring about the end of the world as we know it and feel fine in the process.

I urge each of you between this Sunday and next, which is the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of a new year of grace, to spend some time reflecting on how you can enthrone Christ as King in your heart. Being a subject of Christ the King is not a matter of being subjugated, as it is with those who exercise worldly power, but a matter of knowing you are loved and “in the hands of the one who writes straight with crooked lines” (Pope Benedict XVI).

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Religious freedom

In my presentation, What the Catholic Church Learned from the Reformation, I highlighted 5 lessons: "Baptism and the Priesthood of All Believers," "Scripture for Liturgy and Life," "Liturgy: Full, Active, Conscious Participation," "Religious Freedom," and "Indulgences: Pope Paul VI addresses Martin Luther." Today I am posting my brief section on religious freedom.

We’re so used to understanding religious freedom as a human right that the revolutionary nature of the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignatatis humanae is often lost. But the Catholic Church’s recognition of the importance of freedom and the primacy of conscience when it comes to religious belief and practice, is very much a lesson learned as a result of the Reformation. It was a lesson perhaps best articulated by that reformer of the Reformation, John Wesley, about whom Dennis Shaw spoke last week. It is a lesson learned by both Catholics and Protestants as a result of the religious pluralism wrought by the Reformation in Europe.

Wesley’s best articulation of the principles underlying religious freedom were two notable sermons: “A Caution Against Bigotry” and “Catholic Spirit.” Fourteen years prior to his birth in 1703, the Toleration Act, which permitted Protestant communions other than the Church of England to freely gather and worship.1 What Wesley sought to demonstrate is that religious tolerance and the freedom to which it gives rise is part and parcel of being a Christian.

John Wesley

In his “Catholic Spirit” sermon, Wesley noted that religious toleration and freedom are often confused with religious indifferentism. He asserted that nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, he noted that religious toleration and freedom indeed gives rise to many different religious viewpoints and acknowledges that this can be very confusing. Such confusion, he asserted, is a curse, not a blessing. Therefore, a person who has the catholic spirit “does not halt between two opinions, nor vainly endeavor to blend the two into one.”2 In other words, such an environment requires what Pope Francis has dubbed a culture of encounter.

In Dignitatis humanae, the Catholic Church asserted that each person is “bound to seek the truth,” especially as it pertains to God, “to embrace the truth they have come to know, and to hold fast to it.” 3 The Council also declared “that the human person has a right to religious freedom.” 4 According to the decree, religious freedom means being “immune from coercion” by any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.” 5

The Council further declared “that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself.” 6The Council stated unambiguously that “the right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.” 7

Pope St. John Paul II went so far as to assert that next to the right to life, the most fundamental right a human being possesses is that of religious freedom.

1 Jake Raabe, “What John Wesley Would Say to Bernie Sanders and Diane Feinstein,” Christianity Today, November 8, 2017.
2 Ibid.
3 Second Vatican Council, Dignatatis humanae [Declaration on Religious Freedom], Vatican website, December 7, 1965, sec. 1, accessed November 8, 2017,
4 Dignatatis humanae, sec. 2
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Exercising diakonia: being a servant

Readings: Mal 1:14b-2b.8-10; Ps 131:1-3; 1 Thess 2:7b-9.13; Matt 23:1-12

Our readings for this Sunday culminate with the last two statements made by the Lord in today's Gospel: "The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted" (Matt 23:11-12). These words could easily serve as a compelling homily on these readings. As a deacon, I like to think I am attuned to passages like this that exalt the importance of serving others.

In the original Greek, the final word of the eleventh verse of the twenty-third chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel, a word translated as "servant," is diakonos. It would not be any exaggeration at all, but a very literal translation of that verse to be translated in this way: "The greatest among you must be your deacon." Christ is the model Deacon. If a deacon, by the grace received through the Sacrament of Orders, acts in the person of Christ, it is not in persona Christi captis, a way in which only bishops and priests act, but in persona Christi Servi- in the person of Christ the Servant. Jesus was the greatest among those whom he addressed in today's reading. Hence, He is their Servant, their Deacon.

Diakonia, the name for the service rendered by deacons, is something every Christian is called to do. If we share in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ by virtue of Baptism, then we also share in the one diaconate of Jesus Christ. We are God's priestly people because we are God's deaconly people. As James Keating noted in his book The Heart of the Diaconate: "There can be no sacrifice (priesthood) without service (diaconate)." While this is rather abbreviated, I think it goes back to the insistence of Old Testament prophets that sacrifice is unacceptable to God without selfless service to others, particularly and specifically helping those in need.

As regards the Eucharist as sacrifice, Christ gives himself to us so that we can give ourselves to him by selflessly serving others. At the end of the day, the only convincing proof that the bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Christ are the lives of those eat and drink it. Moreover, service before sacrifice was modeled perfectly by our Lord himself.

Our second reading is from St. Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians. Dating from around AD 50, it is most likely the earliest New Testament book. In this passage, the Apostle provides a concrete example of what the Lord taught. What Paul highlighted to the Christians in ancient Thessaloniki is that while he was among them, in addition to preaching, teaching, and exercising pastoral care, he worked and earned his living by his own hands so as not take from them. not to be a burden to them. The earliest Christian communities consisted largely of the urban poor. Elsewhere Paul asserts his right to be supported by the Christian community (1 Cor 9:4-15). He usually, or maybe even always, forfeited this right and worked as a "tent maker," the nearest contemporary equivalent to which would be a canvas and awning business. In this way, as well as others, Paul engaged in diakonia. Hence, the Apostle imitated his Master by being their deacon, their servant.

A diakonos is distinct from a doulos. As mentioned, a diakonos is a deacon, which denotes a type of servant, whereas a doulos is a slave. Paul calls himself a slave only in reference to Christ. In his Second Letter to the Corinthians he wrote that he was their slave, but only for Jesus's sake (2 Cor 4:5). Paul thought of himself as the slave of Christ, a slavery he chose in freedom and to which he continued to adhere out of the same freedom. It was as Christ's slave that he became the servant to those Christians in the communities he founded.

Diakonia is the selfless service rendered to others, particularly those in need, in the name of Christ. Providing such service is how we make Jesus present, how we proclaim his Gospel, how we glorify him by our lives.

Friday, November 3, 2017

A deacon on a layman about deacons

This morning, a friend of mine, who is also a Roman Catholic deacon, brought to my attention something Karl Keating, founder of Catholic Answers, posted on Facebook about deacons:

I just read a piece by a deacon who claims that nobody--nobody at all--is confused by Pope Francis.

Isn't it a sufficient refutation to note that many people claim to be confused by things the pope has said or written? Even intelligent people? Even high clerics?

Or are all these people nobodies?

. . . . .

There are notable exceptions, but, on the whole, over the years I have been disappointed with homilies given by, and essays or posts written by, deacons.

I've been disappointed with plenty of things said or written by bishops, priests, and laymen, but the proportion has been notably worse with deacons. I'm not sure why that should be, but that's how it's been.

This isn't a new observation for me. It's been nagging me for well over twenty years, and it applies even to many deacons who are well degreed.

I suppose I first noticed it when, after a parish seminar I gave, a deacon came up to me and proudly noted that he never read religious books published before 1965, the year that Vatican II ended. (I wasn't quick-witted enough at the moment to ask him whether he ever read the Bible.) After that, I began to pay more attention to what deacons said and wrote.

It seems that in many cases men have been ordained beyond their ability to speak or write cogently--or even adequately. I appreciate what deacons do in parishes, but I remain largely disappointed in deacons who go public. I wish it were otherwise, but that's how it is for me.

[Watch for it. I will get complaints from fine deacons who don't contribute to this impression of mine. They will be unnecessarily defensive, imagining they have to defend the entire brotherhood. They don't. I'm not referring to them but to what seems to me to be the generality of deacons.]
If I am not mistaken, Keating's post is a response to something Deacon Bill Ditewig, Ph.D. (he holds a doctorate in theology from the Catholic University of America) posted on his blog, Deacons Today. However, I cannot be sure exactly to whom Keating is responding because his post is in that passive-aggressive mode so commonly employed on social media.

Ditewig's post, in turn, is a response to an open letter theologian Fr. Thomas Weinandy, OFM, Cap, wrote to Pope Francis. In his letter, Weinandy has five complaints. His basic point to the Holy Father is that he (the Pope) is confusing people. You can read it for yourself here. You can also read a very good response to Fr. Weinandy's open letter by the theologian who preceded him as executive director of the USCCB's Secretariat for Christian Doctrine, Msgr. John Strynkowski, here. Weinandy served as executive director of the secretariate from 2005-2013. It bears noting, I think, that Deacon Ditewig served as executive director of the USCCB's Secretariat for the Diaconate from 2002-2007.

Fr. Weinandy's tenure as executive director was quite tumultuous and marked by public disputes with some of the U.S.'s more prominent theologians, like Sr. Elizabeth Johnson. Since the conclusion of his directorship, Fr. Weinandy has served as a consultant to the U.S. bishops doctrine committee. In the wake of his letter he resigned.

As noted, Keating's post is thoroughly passive-aggressive. In his view, with "notable exceptions" (no doubt few) deacons are, theologically-speaking, below par. Despite Karl Keating's views, it is important to point out that, as clerics, deacons are ordained to represent the Church publicly. This does not mean our public words are in any way magisterial. In this way, deacons are like priests. We don't even speak on behalf of our bishop unless expressly deputed to do so. There is a tab at the top of this entitled "Integrity Notes." It is my disclaimer.

Along with "some notable exceptions," Keating acknowledges that some deacons "do not contribute to [his negative] impression" of not being capable of speaking or writing cogently or correctly. Some of these, he surmises, might take umbrage at his assertions regarding deacons and become defensive. He assures his readers that he is not out to offend the notable exceptions or those who do not contribute to his negative impression. He is merely trying to criticize most permanent deacons, at least most of those he has heard speak and preach and/or whose writing he's read over the past 20 years.

What I find lacking cogency is Keating's purely anecdotal argument that many, perhaps most, permanent deacons are in over their heads when the issue he sought to dispute was his assertion that Ditewig argued nobody at all is confused by anything that Pope Francis has spoken or written. If that is the case, if people, even notable people, like bishops, are confused by some of the Pontiff's public utterances and written proclamations, then wouldn't a few notable examples serve to make his case?

Ditewig's point, it seems to me, was not really that nobody claims to be confused by Pope Francis. There are certainly those who claim confusion. What Ditewig points to is the elephant in the room: those who claim the Pope is spreading confusion are those who simply disagree with him, those who dissent from his properly exercised papal magisterium. It has become a common tactic of the Holy Father's detractors to claim he is confusing people. Ditewig challenges their assertion by claiming people, on the whole, really aren't confused.

In my view, it is the cacophony of Francis detractors, each of whom presumes, even if implicitly, to speak with authority superior to the Pope and bishops, who confuse the faithful. This makes me all the more thankful that the genuine sheep are able to hear and recognize the voice of their shepherds.

As a deacon likely not fit, at least in Keating's view, to hold forth in public, I also think that what the Church needs is evangelists, not more self-styled "apologists." An evangelist is a witness, not a didactic Cathsplainer (Catholic version of mansplaining). As Bl. Pope Paul VI put it in Evangelii nuntiandi:
Above all the Gospel must be proclaimed by witness. Take a Christian or a handful of Christians who, in the midst of their own community, show their capacity for understanding and acceptance, their sharing of life and destiny with other people, their solidarity with the efforts of all for whatever is noble and good. Let us suppose that, in addition, they radiate in an altogether simple and unaffected way their faith in values that go beyond current values, and their hope in something that is not seen and that one would not dare to imagine. Through this wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them? Why are they in our midst? (par 21)
Should Catholics be well catechized and able to intelligently discuss our faith when appropriate? Yes. Who would argue otherwise? This brings us to a question that is a different topic entirely: What is catechesis? I will state that catechesis which leads to the kind of witness Christians are called to give is mystagogical.

"You do it this way"

Hey, a Friday traditio! Actually, last month I only missed Friday, last Friday. I did miss posting something specific for All Saints and All Souls. I'd rather actively observe those sacred days than write about them. It is difficult for me to believe that it is November, the month of my birth. Like last year, for my birthday this year I am going to a Morrissey concert. Instead of seeing him live at the Hollywood Bowl on my birthday (that would be a dream come true), I am seeing him a week later here in Salt Lake City. I have excellent seats in Kingsbury Hall on the campus of my alma mater, the University of Utah.


The pace of life right now prevents me from devoting any serious time to listening to music. As a result, it's catch as catch can. Recently I heard a song from the post-punk band Killing Joke: "Eighties." It is off their 1985 album Nighttime, an excellent record. "Eighties" was the last song on side two of the LP.

The unique thing about this song is that Nirvana borrowed from it for their song "Come As You Are," which was their magnificent 1991 album Nevermind. I did not this discover this myself. It something I learned this week. Nothing too serious, just a song, as it should be sometimes, probably most of the time.

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...