Sunday, July 29, 2018

Year B Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: 2 Kings 4:42-44; Ps 145:10-11.15-18; Eph 4:1-6; John 6:1-15

Due to the brevity of St. Mark’s Gospel, beginning this, the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year B of our three-year Sunday Lectionary cycle, the Liturgy of Word is augmented on five consecutive Sundays by St. John’s Gospel. Specifically, our Gospel readings for these Sundays are taken from the sixth chapter of John. This chapter is called “the Bread of the Life Discourse.” Without a doubt, in the Bread of Life Discourse we have the most in-depth exposition in all of Sacred Scripture on the Eucharist.

Especially during this long stretch of Ordinary Time, when we read from the Gospels in a semi-continuous manner, it is important to follow the thread of Jesus’s story from one week to the next. If you remember way back to three weeks ago, Jesus is rejected after teaching in the synagogue of his hometown: Nazareth. Two weeks ago, after being rejected in his hometown, Jesus sent those who, in Mark’s Gospel, are identified for the first time as “the Twelve,” on a mission (Mark 6:8-9).

The mission of the Twelve, who seemed rather unprepared to venture forth, was to preach repentance, cast out demons, and heal the sick. He sent them in pairs and instructed them to take nothing with them but the clothes on their backs, the sandals on their feet, and a walking stick. He even forbade them from taking a “second tunic,” which to us would be like saying, “don’t take a jacket” (Mark 6:9). He instructed them thus so that they were to forced to rely only on God and on one another.

In our reading last week from Mark, the Twelve, who are identified for the first time as “apostles,” which means ones who are sent, reported back to Jesus their remarkable success. After hearing their report, the Lord invites them to get away from the crowds who were placing such great demands on them that they did not even have time to eat. He wanted them to cross the Sea of Galilee with him for some rest. As they shoved off, it became known to the crowds where Jesus and the Twelve were going. The crowd beat feet, as it were, arriving at the spot before Jesus and the apostles (see Mark 6:30-34).

Proving the truth of the saying “There is no rest for the wicked and the righteous don’t any,” approaching the shore and seeing that the crowd was like a flock of sheep without a shepherd, Jesus was moved with compassion Mark (6:34). Putting his plans to rest on hold, the Lord “began to teach them many things” (Ibid.). So eager were the crowds to be where Jesus was very few of them thought to bring anything to eat. Because they were apparently there for a long time, listening to the many things Jesus taught, they were hungry and due for a meal. Even were we to stick with Mark’s Gospel, the next episode is Jesus’s feeding of the five thousand (see Mark 6:35-44). But this is where we switch to St. John’s extended discourse. It is easy to see, therefore, that the insertion of these five passages from John into the Lectionary during Year B is done organically.

In its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei verbum, the Second Vatican Council, noted: “God, the inspirer and author of both Testaments, wisely arranged that the New Testament be hidden in the Old and the Old be made manifest in the New” (sec. 16). Hence, in the Lectionary, especially during the weeks in Ordinary Time, great effort was made to harmonize the Old Testament reading with the Gospel. It is easy to see how our first reading this week, taken from 2 Kings, involving the prophet Elisha’s miraculous feeding of the one hundred, harmonizes with and points forward not only to Jesus’s feeding of the multitude, but to his institution of the Eucharist.

Before the miracle, “Jesus took the loaves” and “gave thanks” (John 6:11). In Koine Greek, the language in which the New Testament was written, the word the Gospel of John puts in the mouth of Jesus is eucharistesas, a verb meaning “giving thanks.” In this and every Eucharist, we gather to give thanks to the Father through his Son for creating and redeeming us. Out of gratitude, we don’t merely offer bread wine along with whatever we put in the collection basket, we offer ourselves to the Father through Christ. Our gifts of bread and wine as well as our offering are symbolic of us offering ourselves entirely to the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit.

Nothing is more central to our faith than the Eucharist. It has been observed: “The Eucharist makes the Church and the Church makes the Eucharist.” While this may sound a bit circular it is not. Christ established the Church by instituting the Eucharist, thus the Eucharist makes the Church. It is by our gathering each Sunday to make the Eucharist that together we become the Body of Christ. Eucharist “is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed” and “the font from which all her power flows” (Sacrosanctum concilium, sec. 10). The “aim and object of [all our] apostolic works is that all who are made [children] of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord's supper” (Ibid.).

Mass is where we truly encounter the risen Lord. Christ is not only made present in the consecrated bread and wine, but in the gathering of the baptized, in the person of the priest, and in the proclamation of the Scriptures. Like the crowds who were eager to be where Jesus was, we should look forward each week to gathering together on Sunday to listen to the Lord’s teaching and be nourished by his body and strengthened with his blood. At end of each Mass, like the Twelve, we are sent forth on a mission to herald the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God we are sent to proclaim, as we see dramatically in today’s Gospel by Jesus’s slipping away rather than being acclaimed king, “does not belong to this world” (John 18:36).

In our reading from Ephesians we learn what it means to live God’s kingdom as a present reality, “to live in a manner worthy of the call [we] have received” (Eph 4:1). This means living “with all humility and gentleness” as well as having great patience with each other (Eph 4:2). Applied to our parish life, this means “bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace" (Eph 4:2-3). I am sure I am not the only one puzzled by the fact that Church life is sometimes so brutal. Let's not forget that each parish is supposed to be an outpost of God's kingdom in the world. The fact that it sometimes isn't bears eloquent witness to our brokenness and our need for the healing Christ seeks to give in the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance.

If we’re not committed to bearing with one another in patience out of love, to encouraging one another, to serving each other as well as the wider community, then what’s the point of gathering for the Eucharist? Like those Jesus sent out together, we are companions on our mission. The root of the word “companion” is the Latin word for bread: panis. “Companion” was originally coined to describe someone with whom you share a meal. Our participation together in this Eucharist makes us companions.

The Eucharist is the way the Lord remains present among us, in us, and through us until he returns in glory. The only way to know the reality of what we sang about in our responsorial – “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs” – is through the experience of participating in Mass each Sunday. Conversely, the only possible empirical evidence that the bread and wine we offer are transformed by the Spirit into Christ's body and blood is the transformed lives of those who partake of it.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

McCarrick no longer a Cardinal

It was announced this morning that Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Theodore McCarrick from the College of Cardinals. Further, the Holy Father suspended McCarrick a divinis and has directed him to live a life of penance and prayer in seclusion as the canonical case dealing with his sexual abuse of young men over many years is in process. According to canon 1333 §1, a divinis suspension is the suspension of a cleric (bishop, priest, or deacon) that prevents the cleric from licitly exercising "1° all or some of the acts of the power of order; 2° all or some of the acts of the power of governance; [and] 3° the exercise of all or some of the rights or functions attaching to an office." I believe McCarrick's suspension is all, all, and all.

At 88 years old, McCarrick was a superannuated member of the Sacred College. Superannuation occurs when a Cardinal turns 80. A superannuated Cardinal, while remaining a member of the College, does not serve on Vatican commissions or in Vatican Congregations. Cardinals over 80 are not eligible to participate in a conclave to select a new pope when the Holy See becomes vacant due to the death or resignation of the Roman Pontiff. Nonetheless, McCarrick's resignation is fitting in light of what is already known about his gross misbehavior, namely the settlements paid out by the Diocese of Metuchen and the Archdiocese of Newark. There can be little doubt that, should McCarrick survive the canonical process (he's 88 and in poor health), further penalties will follow, perhaps even laicization.

Writing for the National Catholic Reporter (see "Conservatives distort McCarrick scandal to attack Francis"), Michael Sean Winters points out how McCarrick's sickening case is being used by those often dubbed "conservatives" to spread blame and, predictably, attack Pope Francis, someone they simply cannot stand. It is not lost on Winters, nor should it be on anyone else, that many of these same "conservatives" could not abide the Dallas Charter, which, as Winters notes, agreeing with one of those he highlights who is spreading blame, should've had canonical provisions to deal with misbehavior by bishops, but did not. I remember how outraged many self-styled traditionalists were by the Dallas charter with its call for mandatory reporting and the involvement of law enforcement.

The blame-spreading extends to Cardinal Seàn O'Malley, the Capuchin friar who serves as archbishop of Boston (see "Catholic Bishops Beg for a Clear Policy against Evil"). Lest it be forgotten in our memory-impeded age, O'Malley was sent to Boston in the wake of the horrific situation there made infamous by the stellar work of reporters of the Boston Globe, whose important work was popularized by the movie Spotlight, in the wake of that diocese's well-known malfeasance and misfeasance in dealing with clerical sexual abuse. He was chosen because he handled a similar situations while serving as bishop of the Dioceses of Fall River, Massachusetts and Palm Beach very well. It's fair to say no prelate in the U.S. and perhaps no prelate in the entire world has spent more time with victims of clerical sexual abuse than Cardinal O'Malley.

It was O'Malley's track record that prompted Pope Francis to select him as head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. While heading that Commission, which rightly numbers abuse survivors among its members, O'Malley has humbly accepted the pointed criticism of the Commission by members, some of whom have publicly resigned. Hanging in there instead of quitting, he's sought to make the necessary changes. In addition to this responsibility and that of being a member of Francis's C9, he's a very present bishop. Was it not O'Malley who helped the Holy Father see he was being duped not just about the Barros situation in Chile but about something more widespread in that country? (see this AP report) It was O'Malley's intervention that led Francis to send Archbishop Scicluna to Chile to carry out a thorough investigation. After receiving Scicluna's extensive report, the Holy Father summoned all of the bishops of Chile to Rome. At the end of this three-day gathering, all the Chilean bishops submitted their resignations to Pope Francis (see "All of Chile’s Catholic Bishops Offer to Quit Over Sex Abuse Scandal") In the end, he accepted three of these, including that of Barros, whose complicity in the abuse of another priest, was the spark that lit the fire (see "Pope accepts Chilean bishops' resignation over abuse scandal").

Yet, in the National Review screed, O'Malley is castigated for being just another ecclesial bureaucrat for noting that there does, in fact, need to be canonical provisions for dealing with bishops who are wolves in shepherd's clothing. He is accused of being lawyerly by stating a letter from a prominent theologian to the Pontifical Commission he heads was received but he had not read it. Of course, it does bear asking why the Diocese of Metuchen and the Archdiocese of Newark did not make a bigger deal when they paid settlements to victims of McCarrick's despicable and self-indulgent behavior, instead of binding the victims to secrecy and carrying on with business as usual, allowing a predator like Ted McCarrick to continue his illustrious career. At the end of the day, it's the reflexive covering up that really angers most people. But there is no reason to blame the current bishop of Metuchen or the current archbishops of Newark, neither of whom immediately succeeded McCarrick, or Cardinal Wuerl, McCarrick's successor in D.C., for these things. Cardinal Tobin and Bishop Checcio (archbishop of Newark and bishop of Metuchen respectively) have acquitted themselves well by opening records of actions taken prior to their tenures and not only releasing the victims from their legal gag orders but encouraging them speak out and offering them their support as they do.

Catholics should take no relief from let any joy in what the #MeToo movement is helping to unearth in the secular realm or in other eccelesial communions, like the Southern Baptist Convention, which has been grappling with its own massive failures as of late concerning sexual abuse and its systematic cover-up.

I guess what I am trying to communicate is that the McCarrick affair is gut-wrenching for everyone who loves Christ's Bride. No sooner do we think we have turned a corner on sexual abuse than we're grabbed by the shoulders and yanked back onto to Shit Street. Yes, it grows tiresome and, worse yet, produces worry and doubt. This is why making it about anything else is so wrong. Using the trauma of victims of sexual abuse to advance one's ideological agenda renders the victims yet another injustice. If we want to look at clerical, specifically priestly and episcopal, sexual abuse through the lens of conservative/liberal we will quickly see that this not a discriminator. Priests and bishops who've horrifically abused those for whom they should've caring, thus degrading their office and sullying the Church, can be found across the conservative-liberal spectrum.

In Christ we have Someone greater than all our sins. He loves His often unfaithful Bride, whom Tradition has dubbed Casta meretrix (i.e., the chaste whore). As for us, whether we be lay person or cleric, we need to let our own light burn brightly in the assurance that what the Lord said is true:
No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel or sets it under a bed; rather, he places it on a lampstand so that those who enter may see the light. For there is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light. Take care, then, how you hear. To anyone who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he seems to have will be taken away (Luke 8:16-18- italicizing and emboldening emphasis mine)
When the massive failure in Los Angeles was revealed (see "Addressing the pastoral failure in L.A."), I wrote about a previous resignation of a Cardinal: "Turning in the red hat; resigning as a Cardinal."

Dum vero Christus, "sanctus, innocens, impollutus" (Hebr 7,26), peccatum non novit (cf. 2Cor 5,21), sed sola delicta populi repropitiare venit (cf. Hebr 2,17), Ecclesia in proprio sinu peccatores complectens, sancta simul et semper purificanda, poenitentiam et renovationem continuo prosequitur- "While Christ, holy, innocent and undefiled knew nothing of sin, but came to expiate only the sins of the people, the Church, embracing in its bosom sinners, at the same time holy and always in need of being purified, always follows the way of penance and renewal" (Lumen gentium, sec. 8).

Friday, July 27, 2018

"It could happen to you so think for yourself"

Tempest fugit! Another week has flown by. A work colleague who is in her early 30s this week mentioned to me how much more quickly time is seeming to pass for her these days. Trying to not to play too much the wizened person full of cornball wisdom, I simply said, "It only seems to go faster moving forward." Especially in the summertime, I can remember when I was in school and time seemed to move slowly, the days and weeks dragging on. In accordance with the practical application of Einstein's theory of relativity, time moves slower when you're bored and rapidly when you are not. Time seems to move at its most rapid when you're having a good time. But as the second hand on my analog watch reminds me, time is just a function of change and moves steadily and at the rate. Certainly over the course of my half-century plus on this planet, the pace of change has increased rapidly. Sometimes it seems to move at ludicrous speed. Forgive me for the dated reference but I watched Spaceballs last weekend with my three youngest children. Anyway, it is Friday once again.

St. Paul wrote something relevant to this:
Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified (1 Cor 9:24-27)
Egkrateueta is the transliterated form of the Greek word the Apostle uses and is translated into English as "discipline." Egkrateueta literally means "self-restraint."

Looking at Humanae vitae it is easy for me to see how, as a universal pastor, Paul VI wrote in the awareness of the unruliness of sexual desire, especially as this unruliness was beginning to become more openly manifest in the late 1960s. As a result he wrote:
The right and lawful ordering of birth demands, first of all, that spouses fully recognize and value the true blessings of family life and that they acquire complete mastery over themselves and their emotions. For if with the aid of reason and of free will they are to control their natural drives, there can be no doubt at all of the need for self-denial. Only then will the expression of love, essential to married life, conform to right order. This is especially clear in the practice of periodic continence. Self-discipline of this kind is a shining witness to the chastity of husband and wife and, far from being a hindrance to their love of one another, transforms it by giving it a more truly human character (sec. 21)

Without emotional maturity it is impossible to attain spiritual maturity. Emotional maturity cannot be attained without self-discipline. Bl. Pope Paul VI was also quick to note how our collective lack of self-control could threaten our humanity by causing us to surrender to technological control or, worse yet, state control over one of the most human of all activities: conceiving children. Because he was not stupid, naïve, or ridiculously idealistic, he realized that stumbling and falling would occur even for couples committed to following Church teaching. This is why he wrote to them:
If, however, sin still exercises its hold over them, they are not to lose heart. Rather must they, humble and persevering, have recourse to the mercy of God, abundantly bestowed in the Sacrament of Penance. In this way, for sure, they will be able to reach that perfection of married life which the Apostle sets out in these words: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church. . . Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the Church. . . This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband" [Eph 5:25.28.32-33]" (sec. 25)
Given the subject today, I think Billy Idol's underappreciated song "Catch My Fall," off his incredibly good 1983 album Rebel Yell, is a good selection for our Friday traditio:

Thursday, July 26, 2018

A funeral homily on suffering

Readings: Wisdom 3:1-9; Romans 8:31-35.37-39; John 17:24-26

Faith requires an object. It is impossible to just have faith, which amounts to something like having faith in faith, which is faith in nothing at all. To have faith means to believe in something or someone. When used in a generic religious sense, faith means to believe in God. Very often when we speak of “believing in God” we simply refer to the fact that God exists. Yet, when we speak of having faith in another person, we mean more than that the person simply exists, which is a given. Saying you have faith in another person means you deem that person to be someone on whom you can rely, you come to have faith in her reliability through experience.

There is a Jewish rabbinical saying that insists “God’s existence is verified by his servants.” The servant of God, par excellence, is Jesus Christ. He is reliable. In the same way you can verify the reliability of another person you can verify Jesus’s reliability - because he is a person - through experience. You cannot verify Jesus’s reliability by using what you want as your criteria, however. Understandably, this is where faith becomes very challenging for many people. For some people, it can be an insurmountable obstacle.

In the New American Bible, the version of the Bible from which our Mass readings are taken, the section of the third chapter of the Book of Wisdom from which our first reading comes falls under the heading “On Suffering.” The Buddha was correct in his observation that to live is to suffer in some way, or in multiple ways. But it does not take a lot of experience of the world to quickly see that some people suffer more than others, to see that some people suffer their whole lives through, to see that some people, it seems, are born to suffer. What can I say, except that this a great mystery? For many of us, love is the greatest source of suffering. Because in order to truly live you must love and to love another is to suffer. We call the suffering wrought by our love for another person compassion.

God’s answer to the problem of suffering is Jesus Christ and him crucified. In her novel, Absolute Truths, Susan Howatch’s character Martin Darrow says to another of her characters, Bishop Charles Ashworth:
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
The Incarnation conceived of as God entering into the world to scream alongside us is not too far from what the Kenotic Hymn St. Paul used in his Letter the Philippians describes: “he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). Prior to his excursus on the Incarnation, Martin said, “God, isn’t life bloody sometimes?” To which the circumspect Bishop Ashworth simply replies, “Yes.”

For obvious reasons, it is very difficult for us to see how suffering, either our own or someone else’s, especially the suffering of someone we love very much, can be understood as a blessing. It can seem like blasphemy to assert that suffering is ever a blessing. Yet, just as gold is purified “in the furnace,” the inspired author of Wisdom tells us, it is through suffering that God purifies his elect, making them, by means of their suffering, “as sacrificial offerings” (Wis 3:6). It is important to tread lightly on this terrain: God is not the immediate cause of any suffering. Rather, God is at work making silk purses out of sow’s ears, or, to cite the Psalmist, turning our mourning into dancing (Ps 30:12).

"A Portrait of Julian," painted by his younger sister. He was 33 when he passed over with Christ to life through death last week. His funeral was today

Our best proof that God is able to use suffering to accomplish his purposes in and for the world is that he did not spare his own Son from suffering and God's Son, out of love for the Father and for us, willingly embraced his passion and death. St. Paul, in our reading from his Letter to the Romans, asks, even if rhetorically: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” As proof that God is for us, the Apostle asks, again rhetorically: “He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?” I am afraid that perhaps the premier way to really experience the faithfulness of God in Christ by the power of the Spirit is through suffering. After all, Jesus invites us to follow him by taking up the cross (See Matthew 10:38; 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; 14:27).

“It is Christ,” Paul insists, “who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.” This means that love is not just as strong as death, love conquers death. “What will separate us from the love of Christ,” the Apostle asks, “Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?” “No,” he insists, “in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us.” It runs very much against our natural tendencies, not to mention the swift current of contemporary society, to accept that we conquer by letting ourselves be vanquished for the love of God and neighbor. “Those who trust in [God] shall understand truth,” the Book of Wisdom tells us, and they “shall abide with him in love.”

It is by participating in Jesus’s dying and rising from the dead that you experience for yourself Jesus’s reliability, making him worthy not only of your faith but of your hope and of your love too. Of course, Julian, as we will be reminded when we sprinkle his earthly remains with water from the font at the end of this liturgy at the end of this liturgy, died, was buried, and rose with Christ in Baptism. Through this dying and rising, Jesus united Julian to the Father by the power of their Holy Spirit. This is an unbreakable bond, one that, far from being severed by death, is strengthened by death. Through the Paschal Mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection, in which Julian was immersed, his suffering was not pointless; it was redemptive.

In our Gospel reading, taken from what is typically called Jesus’s High Priestly prayer, our Lord, praying to his Father, says of those whom the Father has entrusted to him, which extends to everyone who has been baptized: “they are your gift to me” (John 17:24). Through this and every Eucharist, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus makes “us an everlasting gift to” the Father, which enables “us to share in the inheritance of [God’s] saints… on whose constant intercession we rely for help” (Roman Missal, Eucharistic Prayer III, sec. 113).

Through this Eucharist, we implore the help of our Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, who accompanies her children through “this valley of tears,” St. Joseph, St. Mary Magdalene and all the saints on Julian’s behalf. May he be free of suffering forever. Rejoicing in the arms of our Savior, may Julian proclaim his salvation to the everlasting glory of God- Free at last, Free at last, Thank God almighty I am free at last!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Humanae vitae at 50

At the end of the first section of Part 1 of his work An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, a section entitled "The Development of Ideas," John Henry Newman observes: "But whatever be the risk of corruption from intercourse with the world around, such a risk must be encountered if a great idea is duly to be understood, and much more if it is to be fully exhibited." A great idea, Newman continues, "wavers, and at length strikes out in one definite direction. In time it enters upon strange territory; points of controversy alter their bearing; parties rise and around it; dangers and hopes appear in new relations; and old principles reappear under new forms. It changes with them in order to remain the same."

N ewmanconcludes this first section of Part 1 of his essay with a sentence that contains one of his most famous quotes: "In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often." In short, Newman held that to really get to truth of a good idea, of something that is true, requires a journey and that this journey is an arduous one on the winding, twisting road of history, lest we bind ourselves to an abstraction, a tendency to which are all too predisposed. I think this is true of the teaching set forth by Pope Paul VI in what became his final encyclical letter (though we would serve as pope for another decade until his death on 6 August 1978), Humanae vitae. Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation of this encyclical.

As any long-time reader of this blog knows, or as any new reader can easily ascertain by searching the contents of my blog, I am no dissenter from what is set forth in Humanae vitae. Of course, the most well-known teaching from this encyclical is the absolute ban on contraception. I do not think it too personal to write that, with my beautiful wife, over 25 years of marriage, I have endeavored to be faithful to the teachings contained in Humanae vitae. In and of itself, this makes me morally superior to nobody. My endeavor to be faithful has not always gone smoothly or been pretty.

I had not planned to post anything to mark Humanae vitae's fiftieth anniversary until yesterday when I read two pieces on this encyclical. Both were written by Catholics who, like me, support the Church's teaching. But judging from these and, no doubt, a number of other blog posts and articles, you'd think there was no sexual misbehavior in the Church or the world until contraception was made legal and became widespread. At least the two authors I read, there seems to be some strange link between rejecting Humanae vitae and Cardinal McCarrick's sexual abuse of young men, mostly but not exclusively, seminarians and young priests of the dioceses he headed as bishop. Let's be frank, when it comes to sex there is nothing new under the sun.

One of the two pieces I read yesterday invoked the #MeToo movement and seemed to blame the deeply institutionalized culture of sexual harassment and assault on society's rejection of Humanae vitae, as if this kind of institutionalized sexism and misogyny did not exist prior to the late 1960s. #MeToo was long overdue. Behaviors that ultimately prompted the movement long pre-existed Humanae vitae and the advent of the birth-control pill less than a decade earlier. In fact, it was due to the invention of "the pill" that Pope John XXIII convened a commission to study the Church's teaching on contraception, causing him to take the issue off the table for the Second Vatican Council and reserving judgment on this matter to himself or his successor. It was his successor, Paul VI, who expanded the commission to include lay experts, including women and married couples. In the end, Paul VI rejected the report of the commission's majority, which resulted in the absolute ban of any and all forms of contraception under all circumstances with the exception of therapeutic surgeries that had the secondary effect of rendering one sterile (like hysterectomies) and not done for the express purpose of making the patient infertile (tubal ligations, vasectomies and the like).

Child sexual abuse and clerical sexual abuse also went on prior to Humanae vitae. While I am on the subject of child sexual abuse in the Church, I recently finished Church historian Hubert Wolf's book The Nuns of Sant' Ambrogio: A True Story of a Convent Scandal. The book tells the story of a Third Order Franciscan convent in Rome in which, from its beginning in the eighteenth century until is disbanding in the mid-nineteenth century, was a depraved place in which bizarre cultic practices, many of which involved sexual abuse, took place. The convent's secrets were exposed in a canonical trial that resulted from a report given by a German princess who became a nun there and left, narrowly escaping with her life.

In the convent of Sant' Ambrogio, older nuns sexually abused younger nuns who, in turn, perpetuated the abuse via the practice of religious rituals which were idiosyncratic to this religious institution. In the Roman convent of Sant' Ambrogio, there were also sexual shenanigans between Jesuit chaplains and certain of the high-ranking nuns. Cutting to the chase, far from laying in a return to some imaginary time of innocence, progress lies in people being able to say "Me too" and being believed and not blamed or being told you are imagining things. For too many people, what are often extolled as the days of innocence were days of being oppressively silenced.

It is often the case that proponents of Humanae vitae are the biggest obstacle not only to the acceptance of its teachings among Catholics, both lay and clerical, but to anyone simply reading the encyclical, despite it being quite short and fairly easy to understand. Because of this what is frequently overlooked by the encyclical's proponents and opponents alike, who become fixated on it prohibition, is its progressive aspect. This progressive aspect is the recognition of the moral liceity of married couples having sex for healthy and positive reasons other than procreation. This is what is referred to in the encyclical as the "unitive" dimension of sexual intercourse, which, Paul VI insists, should not be engaged in by contraceptively impeding the "procreative" dimension.

Even more revolutionary, while the procreative dimension is not to be artificially impeded, the teaching set forth in Humanae vitae permits couples who, for "for serious reasons" at a given point in time are not desirous of conceiving a child, to reserve intercourse to those times when the wife is not ovulating. In terms of the Church’s magisterial teaching, which for the previous century or so was deeply rooted in what is now referred to as neo-Thomism but is more accurately dubbed pseudo-Thomism, this was not just progressive but revolutionary. While revolutionary perhaps fifty years ago, this is no doubt hastily judged to be retrograde by most people today. It is on matters like this that Newman's insistence that the truth of a great idea - in the case of Humanae vitae, the great idea is not completely severe procreation from sex lest it simply become recreation - needs to be tested by experience over time.

To give some idea as to just how revolutionary this teaching was, I will turn to a section of Wolf's book in which he describes the special blessing given by the Jesuit chaplains of the convent of Sant' Ambrogio to the abbess and/or other of the nuns who held leadership positions in the order. A part of this special blessing called for a lingering French kiss. "In the moral theology of the nineteenth century," Wolf points out, "kissing with tongues was a mortal sin" both in deed as well as in intent (303). Citing the fourth volume of a work on moral theology in use at the time, Pierre Dens's Theologia moralis et dogmatica in an end-note, Wolf notes
Kisses...on unusual parts of the body, for example on the chest, the bosom, or more columbarum [in the manner of doves], in which one puts the tongue into the mouth [of another] are to be censured. They are viewed as an expression of lustful intentions or at least leading to a serious danger of lust, meaning one cannot save oneself from mortal sin (432)
"Even partners who were joined in holy matrimony," Wolf continues, "weren't allowed to kiss this way" (303). Those who seek Catholic retrenchment seem intent on nothing less than returning the Church to this inhumane approach to sexuality. We must be wary of those who seek to turn faith into rearguard action by engaging in culture wars lest we reduce faith to moralism and make of it a political ideology, that is, something we seek to impose rather than propose by our witness.

In the section of Humanae vitae addressed specifically to married couples, Pope Paul VI acknowledges "the difficulties, at times very great, which beset the lives of Christian married couples" when it comes to adhering to the Church's teaching in this regard (sec. 25). Given that, in the United States, many ardent adherents of the teachings set forth in Humanae vitae tend to vote Republican, we need to begin thinking about creating an economy and a society that are conducive both to marriage and having families.

While it would take me too far afield, I don't mind invoking what I have come to call the triptych of Pope Paul VI's papal magisterium, which consists of two of his last three encyclicals (i.e., Populorum progresso and Humanae vitae - the encyclical that comes between these and that could be considered a fourth panel is Sacredotalis caelibatus- on Priestly celibacy) and his last Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, which followed the 1974 Synod of Bishops that was dedicated to evangelization in the modern world.

It is in Evangelii nuntiandi, in a passage citing an address Paul VI gave to a gathering of lay people in France the previous year, that something very relevant to conveying the beauty and truth contained in Humanae vitae is set forth: "Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses" (sec. 41). Reading Humanae vitae in this context also helps one arrive at a deeper understanding of the truth it sets forth according to Newman's method.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

God's love for us is tireless

Readings: Jer 23:1-6; Ps 23:1-6; Eph 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34

No doubt you've heard the saying, "There's no rest for the wicked and the righteous don't need any." Well, it's no exaggeration to state that this is not a bad summary of the message the readings for this Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time seek to convey.

I could be wrong and I am too lazy to verify this hunch, but it seems to me that no matter which cycle of Sunday readings we're in (A, B, or C) during the middle-to-late part of summer we are confronted with some very challenging Scripture readings. During these long weeks in Ordinary Time, when our readings from the Hebrew Bible are largely taken from the Nevi'im, that is the prophets, which are harmonized with our Gospel reading, we can arrive at some very deep and practical insights about what it means to be followers of Jesus. This is why, in addition to attending Mass, we should spend time each week preparing for the Sunday liturgy by reading, pondering, and praying with the Lectionary readings.

The prophet Jeremiah, in our first reading, castigates the political and religious leaders of ancient Judah for scattering the flock by their lack of care and concern for them. He even accuses these leaders of misleading God's chosen people. The scattering to which the prophet refers is the destruction of Jerusalem and the the consequent exile of Judah in Babylonian, neither of which have yet occurred. But this scattering does not constitute the divine punishment, it is but the natural consequence of the misfeasance of Israel's appointed shepherds.

While from a Benjaminite village, Jeremiah was a priest (i.e., a kohen), that is, a Levite who served in the Temple. As such, he could've contented himself with being a member of the priestly caste and living a fairly comfortable life. But God called him to warn Judah and to call them back to fidelity to the covenant. This, of course, made him a trouble-maker as well as caused him to be a somewhat troubled person.

A few chapters earlier than the chapter from which our first reading is taken, Jeremiah complains about the wearying and excruciating nature of his prophetic calling. Reflecting on how his divine calling to proclaim "violence and outrage" has led to him being the object of reproach and derision, Jeremiah tells of his refusal to speak on God's behalf but of his determination to never again mention the LORD's name. In this passage, the prophet accuses God of seducing him. But no sooner does Jeremiah make this resolution than the word of the LORD begins to burn like a fire in his heart, which fire is "imprisoned" in his bones. His bones cannot contain the fire of God's word and so he "grows weary" of resisting and can no longer refrain from prophesying (see Jeremiah 20:7-9).

In addition to predicting that God would preserve a faithful remnant through the exile, Jeremiah prophesied of a time when the LORD would raise up "a righteous branch for David;" a king who "shall reign and govern wisely," doing "what is right and just in the land" (Jer 23:6). The name of this Good Shepherd is "The LORD our justice" (Jer 23:6).

Our Gospel today picks up precisely where last Sunday's Gospel left off. Last Sunday we heard about Jesus sending the Twelve off on a mission to preach the reign of God, calling people to repentance, casting out demons and healing the sick. At the end of the reading, the Twelve, despite their seeming lack of qualification for their mission, report back to the Lord, seemingly with astonishment, that by doing just as they had been instructed their mission had been successful (see Mark 6:7-13).

Today's Gospel passage, which is separated from last week's reading by Herod's view of Jesus and the passage telling of the beheading of the Baptist, which occurred at the urging of Herodias after Salomé's mesmerizing dance, has Jesus inviting the Twelve, whom the inspired author at this point deems as "apostles" for the first time, to go with him across the Sea of Galilee to rest. "Apostles," of course, means the ones who are sent.

As Jesus and the disciples are making their way to other side of the inland sea by boat, a multitude heads to the same destination on foot. As a result, upon their arrival, Jesus and the Twelve find the crowd there waiting: "When [Jesus] disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things" (Mark 6:34).

The phrase "his heart was moved" is a translation of the Greek word σπλαγχνίζομαι, which transliterates as splagchnizomai. This word literally means "to be moved in one's bowels," which is perhaps best translated "he was deeply moved." So, instead of resting with his apostles, which was his motivation for crossing the Sea of Galilee, he taught the lost people. Like Jeremiah before him, despite sometimes being feeling the effects of his mortality, Jesus was never too weary to serve his Father by serving his sisters and brothers. Jesus is never too tired for you nor does he grow tired of you, which is more than can be said of any other person you've ever met, including your spouse, your parents, or your friends, no matter how strongly they might insist otherwise.

This past week, I ran across an article in Church Life Journal by Paul Griffiths entitled "Ora et Labora: Christians Don’t Need Leisure." In his piece, Griffths notes how our self-centered culture encourages us to think of leisure as doing nothing. He uses the Latin for doing nothing otium. He notes that otium, which he describes as "the state or condition of doing nothing, of being otiose, of occupying a place in which nothing is expected and there is nothing to do," as hell. We take respite from our labor by worshiping God. This side of the end of the world, we are to work and to pray. I think today's Gospel reading supports Griffths's thesis quite well. While it may sound Stoic, this manner of loving is joyful because it brings us joy. It is the path to joy, to fulfillment, especially when compared with the hedonistic pleasure-seeking that is really what our society's obsession with "leisure" truly is.

By insisting that it's important that we do not become what one of my former bosses described as "chronic recreators," I am not saying that we don't need to rest. We need to rest and take breaks. This is accomplished daily by our going to bed, which is a bit like dying, before arising to for a new day of ora et labora in the service of God and neighbor.

John R. Quinn, the Archbishop emeritus of San Francisco, died last summer. Due to the good graces of his one-time priest-secretary, now-Archbishop John Wester, I had the opportunity to meet Archbishop Quinn on a few occasions and to speak with him a little. Like most bishops I have known, such as John Wester himself, who was formerly my bishop, and my current bishop, Oscar Solis, Archbishop Quinn was a good shepherd. This means that he engaged in his ministry whole-heartedly, serving God's people with great fervor and zeal. In his homily at Archbishop Quinn's funeral Mass, Archbishop Wester shared a story about when he served as Quinn's secretary. One of the duties of a bishop's priest-secretary is to travel with the bishop. This means serving as chauffeur. Wester told of driving Quinn home on a Sunday evening after a particularly grueling day when Quinn told him "he was 'experiencing a certain lassitude.'" The young priest replied: "You just can't bring yourself to say you're tired." To which the archbishop replied, "Certainly not!"

My friends in Christ, may we never give into weariness as we make our way through hac valle lacrimarum in worshiping the Lord and serving others out of love as we eagerly await that day when we "will run and not grow weary" and will "walk and not grow faint" (Isa 40:31). '

Friday, July 20, 2018

A political non-rant II

In "A political non-rant," earlier this week I said there was only one possible exception to my desire not to have any living president serve again. Who is that exception? Jimmy Carter. According to the off-the-shelf narrative, we're supposed to think that Carter was a terrible president but a great human being. I readily admit that when Carter left office the country was at low-ebb. It's easy to overlook that Carter inherited many problems. He came into office not long after our Vietnam debacle came to its humiliating end with the dramatic news footage of the evacuation of Saigon in 1975. He also served in the wake of Watergate, Nixon's resignation, and Ford's pardon of Nixon. who was likely guilty of committing felonies. In the chaos that succeeded the dramatic year of 1968 during which Dr. Martin Luther King and Senator Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated, the nation found itself adrift in rapidly changing times without the kind of leadership it needed. When he was elected in 1976, Jimmy Carter, who came out of nowhere to win the Democratic nomination and then the presidency, was seen as a breath of fresh air.

In what became known as his "Great Malaise" speech - it is called this despite the fact that he did not use the word "malaise" in the speech - Carter set out to diagnose the roots of the nation's crisis. The speech, given to the nation on 15 July 1979. It is probably better called Carter's "Crisis of Confidence" speech. I was reminded of this speech by an article in Sojourners by David Schwartz: "Revisiting Jimmy Carter’s Truth-Telling Sermon to Americans."

After Fourth of July, Carter went to Camp David for ten days to consider the problems facing the country and his own political problems. During his Camp David retreat, Carter read from the Bible, he read Christopher Lasch’s book The Culture of Narcissism and E.F. Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful, which Schwartz describes as "a meditation on the value of local community and the problems of excessive consumption." Schumacher's book, at least in my view, is still a must read.

In addition to the reading, he consulted with religious leaders, business and union leaders, other politicians and assorted intellectuals. "By the end of his retreat," Schwartz observes, "Carter had concluded that the country faced more than a series of isolated problems. Collectively they comprised a fundamental cultural crisis."

In his speech to the nation Carter asserted, "In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities and our faith in God, too many of us now worship self-indulgence and consumption." The speech went over very well and saw Carter's support jump significantly nationwide.

Shortly after the speech, Carter, who was making changes in his personal life-style even while president, seeking to build on the momentum of his speech, massively reorganized his Cabinet. Rather than making changes incrementally, he sought rapid and wholesale change. This move, politically-speaking, was a miscalculation and ultimately spelled his electoral doom.

With Some years after leaving office, Carter, who was famous for being an practicing Baptist and committed Evangelical, left the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) as it was being overtaken by the Fundamentalists. These same Fundamentalists who succeeded in taking over the SBC are the same group who quickly co-opted the term "Evangelical." Evangelicalism was initially conceived of after World War II as a solid middle way between fundamentalism and extreme theological liberalism. It is this same group who, due to their "complementarian" sexism, are currently in hot water as the SBC experiences its #MeToo moment. The façade of the brutishness known as fundamentalism has been stripped away.

While I readily acknowledge the overly simplistic nature of this assertion, the country basically ignored the hard truths Carter told us in his Crisis of Confidence speech by electing Ronald Reagan in 1980. The deregulation and militarization mania that characterized the Reagan years has led to a lot of bad consequences since. Without exception, since that time we have been governed by Republican and Democratic neo-conservatives. It seems to me that we were at something of a crossroads at the end of the 1970s and chose to go down one road, the one we've been moving down ever since, which I can't help but think has reached its terminus with our present situation. Let's not forget that since the 1980s we have built in an economy that lives or dies by consumer spending and consumer debt. This was a major cause of the 2008 collapse. Rather than take a lesson, we've set about rebuilding the same economy. The only constant in such an economy is that more and more wealth is distributed upward and the divide between haves and have-nots grows wider. And so, we lurch from one bubble to the next. It is significant to note that Reagan was elected with overwhelming "Evangelical" support, aided in a big way by the nascent Morality Majority, headed by a Fundamentalist who branded himself an Evangelical- Reverend Jerry Falwell. This brings me to another aspect of this post, the theological one.

In July of 2017 Fr Anthony Spadoro. S.J., editor of the quasi-official Jesuit monthly La Civilitá Cattolica (the contents of each issue are reviewed and approved by the Holy See's Secretariat of State prior to publication), along with Presbyterian minister Marcelo Figueroa, published an article on religion and politics in the United States: "Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism: A Surprising Ecumenism." This article caused a bit of a stir and outraged those Catholics who are part of the alliance Spadoro and Figueroa identify and criticize. While there was a lot of sputtering, among the several rebuttals I read there was really not a persuasive response. Just the other day, Spadoro and Figueroa marked the anniversary of their first article with a second one: "The Prosperity Gospel: Dangerous and Different."

Whereas in their first piece they identified and addressed the problem of Catholics participating in this Fundamentalist-led alliance as well as its implications and effects, in "The Prosperity Gospel," Spadoro and Figueroa seek the roots the problem. At the very beginning of their article, the authors write this about the Prosperity Gospel:
The "prosperity gospel" is a well-known theological current emerging from the neo-Pentecostal evangelical movements. At its heart is the belief that God wants his followers to have a prosperous life, that is, to be rich, healthy and happy. This type of Christianity places the well-being of the believer at the center of prayer, and turns God the Creator into someone who makes the thoughts and desires of believers come true.

"The risk of this form of religious anthropocentrism, which puts humans and their well-being at the center, is that it transforms God into a power at our service, the Church into a supermarket of faith, and religion into a utilitarian phenomenon that is eminently sensationalist and pragmatic"
This, of course, is not Christianity but its inverse. While being careful to distinguish the two as well as making an effort to see some positive in certain conceptions of the American Dream, the authors go on to link the Prosperity Gospel with the so-called "American Dream," seeing between them a symbiotic relationship. They also note how rapidly the Prosperity Gospel has gone global.

In a section of their article entitled A theology of the American Dream?, Spadoro and Figueroa cut-to-the-chase:
This theology [the theology of the American Dream] clearly serves the economic-political-philosophical concepts of a neo-liberal model. One of the conclusions made by exponents of this theological tradition is geopolitical and economic in nature, and tied to the place of origin of the prosperity gospel. It leads to the conclusion that the United States has grown as a nation under the blessing of the providential God of the Evangelical movement. Meanwhile, those who dwell south of the Rio Grande are sinking in poverty because the Catholic Church has a different, opposed vision exalting poverty. From political connotations, it is even possible to verify the link between these positions and the integralist and fundamentalist temptations.

In truth, one of the serious problems that the prosperity gospel brings is its perverse effect on the poor. In fact, it not only exasperates individualism and knocks down the sense of solidarity, but it pushes people to adopt a miracle-centered outlook, because faith alone – not social or political commitment – can procure prosperity. So the risk is that the poor who are fascinated by this pseudo-Gospel remain dazzled in a socio-political emptiness that easily allows other forces to shape their world, making them innocuous and defenseless. The prosperity gospel is not a cause of real change, a fundamental aspect of the vision that is innate to the social doctrine of the Church
To the critics who insist Spadoro and Figueroa lack an understanding of U.S. politics both domestic and global, these two articles show they have a deeper understanding than do most citizens and leaders of the U.S. Being a quasi-official publication of the Holy See, in addition to showing how the theology and politics of this alliance are at odds with the Gospel, they also highlight with specificity what Pope Francis, in his papal magisterium, addresses more generally.

If you want to hear about the mores that publicly matter, listen to Carter's "Crisis of Confidence Speech" for yourself (a link to a video of the speech is provided above or you can click here). Hey, Carter only served one term. So, he's not constitutionally ineligible to serve again. To date, the only president in our nation's history to serve two non-consecutive terms is Grover Cleveland, who served from 1885-1889 and again from 1893-1897. At 92, I don't think Jimmy Carter is inclined to seek a second term but he is something that most people in the U.S., Christian or not, do not know exists, or existed, in politics: a committed Christian who is not right-wing. Another exemplar of this was the late Republican Senator from Oregon, Mark O. Hatfield, who died in 2011.

"I'm gonna kick tomorrow"

I have long loved the sound of the '90s band Jane's Addiction. While doing some music listening recently, I ran across this acoustic version of what is perhaps the band's signature song: "Jane Says."

"Jane Says" is a song about being addicted to drugs and to the idea "I'm gonna kick [quit] tomorrow." While listening(/watching) on Youtube, I read this comment by a commenter posting under the moniker "Absentee Childhood":
I had no idea what this song meant 25 years ago although I loved it and was sadly living it for the most part..being 43 and watching this just allowed me to let a lot if heavy stuff go and celebrate 20 years of being clean. This song so vividly captures beautifully what addiction is without glorifying it. Thank you for sharing your talent, gentlemen. You don't even know me but you saved my life during some dark shit. I live in light and happiness now. Thank you. *drug free since 94
Sobering. At least I hope it is.

One of the blessings composed by the late John O'Donohue that appears in his lovely book of blessings, To Bless the Space Between Us, is called simply For An Addict. Here is a stanza:
May you crash hard and soon
onto real ground again
where this fundamentalist shell
might start to crack
for you to hear again
your own echo
Anyway, "Jane Says" is our Friday traditio this week. It goes out to all those I know who have kicked and to those still kicking. It is certainly dedicated to those who want to kick but to whom that seems impossible. Don't give up hope.

Venerable Matt Talbot, pray for us. May all who are addicted find a tomorrow on which they can kick and start to live again, or maybe for the first time.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

A political non-rant

In the wake of yesterday's Helsinki press conference, which, like a lot of my fellow U.S. citizens, as well as many people abroad, left me more than a little stunned, I thought it might be a good idea to post something on politics. Please don't bail, it is not a commentary on yesterday's extraordinary event. There's plenty of commentary on that, you don't need me to weigh in. I am writing more generally and trying to set forth where I stand in the presently overheated political climate. While I am sure to fail at times, one of my goals in my renewed blogging effort is to be more succinct.

Like many people on all sides of our presently intense political situation, I lament the polarization that has occurred. The political divide in our country grows daily wider. In this context, in order to establish my less partisan credentials, it's important for me to point out that while I appreciated the way President Obama conducted himself while in office (and since leaving office, which has included being quite circumspect on what he comments on and how he does it), as well as the kind of person he strikes as being, I do not pine away for his return to office. In fact, I don't want any of the living former presidents to serve again, with one possible exception I will address in a subsequent post. I spoke out on issues about which I disagreed with President Obama and there were quite a few. One need only to peruse the Καθολικός διάκονος archives for proof of this. In addition to domestic social issues, my critiques extended to both our Libyan and Syrian misadventures.

I try to speak out publicly on matters that are not partisan. Most recently on social media as well as in person, I was very vocal about the immorality of separating immigrant families. No matter whose policy it is or was, regardless to which party the executive issuing the policy belongs, or the stated reasons for doing it, it is wrong to rip children from the parents. While I've already invoked our Libyan and Syrian misadventures, I will go so far as to say that both Democrats and Republicans need to own up to the U.S.'s complicity in creating situations in places like Syria and Central America from which people feel the need to flee in order to survive. For this reason, I oppose revoking the protected immigrant status of people from El Salvador and Nicaragua.

All of that being said, I am willing to grant that many people voted for President Trump for prudential reasons and did so with some reservations and no little hesitation. In other words, I don't see people who supported Trump as necessarily being more duped than people who vote for virtually any candidate in our broken presidential election system. I imagine, whether they're willing to admit it or not (pride is a strong force), many regret their choice even as they ponder the not-so-great alternative(s). However, the unbridled aggression demonstrated by many who oppose President Trump only exacerbates the matter, making it almost impossible to have an honest and open discussion. On the other hand, there are some alarmingly pro-Trump fanatics who, frankly, worry me. This highlights some of the understandable concerns about the impact of this presidency on the long-term health of our constitutional democracy.

(from the WSJ, used under fair use provision- I do not blog for profit)

Being neither a Democrat nor a Republican - if forced to identify with a political party I would have to go with the American Solidarity Party because in the aggregate the policies and positions they take are most in-line with my own. As a cleric, it is essential to note, I belong to no party and endorse no party or candidate. I don't mind saying I frequently vote for third party candidates and do so with no apology. I am convinced that one of the things that ails our nation the most is the disenfranchisement of many citizens who do not think either party represents their interests or aspirations. One of the contributing factors is the two-party duopoly.

I do have to say that as I was typing this post, I became aware- via my Facebook feed (a post by one of my favorite theology professors)- of the candidacy of Catholic theologian, Dr. Holly Taylor Coolman, for a seat in the Rhode Island House of Representatives (see "Theology professor runs for a seat in the Rhode Island legislature"). When I led a seminar for deacons at Notre Dame back in the summer of 2015, I had the chance to briefly meet and hear a magnificent lecture by Dr. Taylor Coolman. Here's an important excerpt from her interview with Crux:
Above all, I begin with the conviction that human beings have profound dignity, and that each individual person should be treated in a way that recognizes that dignity. Any system that undermines that fundamental human dignity has to be challenged.

Catholic Social Thought also insists that individuals are profoundly connected to one another.

The notion of the common good means that we aren’t just independent agents, navigating, negotiating, or manipulating one another, but that there is a good in which we all share. In the big picture, I can’t really seek my own good without concern for you, and vice versa.

All this has implications for the way I engage with other people, including constituents, political opponents, etc. Politics, just like other systems, falls too easily into simply using people for various kinds of gain. I’m committed to keep reminding myself that, in any encounter with any person, I’m dealing with a human being who is valuable in his or her own right
This strikes me as the only basis for a truly human politics, for what might be called, to borrow a phrase from one of the only politicians I can say I truly admire: Václav Havel, an anti-political politics.

As a result of my views, there are many reforms I favor. To name just two of the most fundamental ones: comprehensive campaign finance reform aimed at getting money out of politics and the expansion of the number of representatives in the House of Representatives. As to the latter, the U.S. lags far behind other democracies in the ratio of elected representatives to those represented (see "U.S. population keeps growing, but House of Representatives is same size as in Taft era"). This leaves us lacking the democratic accountability we so desperately need.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Heeding the most important call of all

Readings: Amos 7:12-15; Ps 8:9-14; Eph 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13

Like Amos in our first reading, "the Twelve," as the inspired author of Mark's Gospel calls Jesus's closest disciples, are not professional prophets or teachers. Also like Amos, it is precisely their lack of credentials that make it necessary for them to rely solely on God to accomplish what they were sent them to do. In Amos's case, he was sent to prophesy at the shrine of Bethel in the northern kingdom, what was usually referred as "Israel" (as opposed to the southern kingdom of Judah, where Jerusalem was located).

It is important to point out that Bethel was the major religious center of the northern kingdom. Hence, the invitation extended to him to go prophesy in Judah and not to continue his prophesying at Bethel. At that time there were apparently schools of professional prophets whose "job" it was to prophesy. Often this amounted to just saying things the leaders and people wanted to hear. Amos was intent on bringing them the message God wanted to them hear, which was one to which they were not terribly receptive. This explains Amos's defensive retort that he was a shepherd and "dresser" of sycamore trees," not a prophet. His reason for speaking out was not personal gain but because God told him to speak. The message of his prophesying was to call Israel (i.e., the northern kingdom) back to fidelity with God by adherence to the covenant.

On the other hand, Jesus sent the Twelve to preach repentance, cast out demons, and heal the sick. In other words, the Lord sent them to carry out and to perhaps further his own mission. In so doing, they were to rely solely on God by taking nothing with them except the clothes on their backs (no extra clothes) and confidence that God would provide them on their mission.

At root, Amos's message was to point out how badly Israel had betrayed their God and broken the covenant by their lack of care for widows and orphans. He also lambasted them for cheating the less well-off when trading and other like misbehaviors. According to the author of the Introduction to the Book of Amos found on the NABRE on-line version of the Bible, Amos insisted that religious observance "without justice is an affront to the God of Israel and, far from appeasing God, can only provoke divine wrath."

When preaching repentance, the Twelve were to no doubt echo (the word "catechesis," which is Greek in origin, means to "echo" or "resound") Jesus's own preaching, which is summarized in Mark's Gospel thus: "The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel" (see Mark 1:14-15).

Like the Twelve, who had already left everything to heed Jesus's call (see Mark 1:16-20), Amos's embarking on his prophetic mission likely came at great cost to himself. It is no small thing to leave your flock and field behind in order to go to the major religious shrine of your nation and call on the political and religious leaders to repent. In an oracle directed at the northern kingdom, Amos famously inveighed:
For three crimes of Israel, and now four— I will not take it back [his rejection of them]— Because they hand over the just for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals; They trample the heads of the destitute into the dust of the earth, and force the lowly out of the way. Son and father sleep with the same girl, profaning my holy name. Upon garments taken in pledge they recline beside any altar [worship of false gods by the practice of usury]. Wine at treasury expense they drink in their temples (Amos 2:6-8)
Amos, by Naomi Friend, 2014

For whatever reason, culturally, we are inclined to zero in on the sexual immorality piece. But we do so from a moral perspective that was unknown to Amos and his hearers. The Hebrew verb (which transliterates into English as ilku) translated in the NABRE, from which I took the citation, as "sleep with," is a bit ambiguous. Literally, it means something like "go in unto." Most scholars agree that it probably refers to a man and his son having sexual relations with the same young woman. Because what Israel is being lambasted for in this oracle has to with injustice and oppression, this verse "perhaps suggests [sexual] exploitation" (Jennifer M. Dines, "Amos" in The Oxford Bible Commentary, 583). In other words, it likely refers to prostitution and/or the exploitation of poor young women for whom it is necessary to go into servitude to eek out a living. That such exploitation took place is witnessed by the fact that in the Book of Ruth Boaz sought to protect Ruth from just this kind of thing when she turned up as a gleaner is his part of the communal field: "Listen, my daughter. Do not go to glean in anyone else’s field; you are not to leave here. Stay here with my young women. Watch to see which field is to be harvested, and follow them. Have I not commanded the young men to do you no harm?" (see Ruth 2).

Based on Amos's response to God's call and the response of the Twelve to Jesus, you'd think it was the most important thing in the world. Well, for one who has heeded it, God's call is the most important thing in the world. God will never make you do what he calls you to do. He calls and allows the one he calls the freedom to respond or not. You were called by name when you were baptized. Your call is to participate in Christ's prophetic, priestly, and royal mission. You were sealed and further strengthened for this call when you anointed in confirmation. This call is renewed and you are strengthened to undertake it each Sunday at Mass, at the end of which you are sent (i.e., dismissed) to carry it out.

While it also refers to a specific office in the Church (one that only twelve, perhaps 13- if you count Matthias, who was chosen to replace Judas - people were ever called to; the office continues because bishops are "successors of the apostles" and exercise the apostolic office), at root the word "apostle" means "one who is sent for a purpose." When, in the creed, we confess that the Church is "apostolic" (as well as "one, holy, catholic") we refer at one and the same to the apostolic office, which is handed on through apostolic succession, and to our being sent forth with words like, "Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord" (one of four authorized dismissals - the other three being "Go forth, the Mass is ended," "Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life," or simply, "Go in peace" - The Roman Missal, sec. 144). Like Amos and the Twelve, you can be sure that heeding this call will cost you something. But, then again, it is the most important thing in the world.

Friday, July 13, 2018

"The pleasure, the priviledge is mine"

There is probably nothing more stultifying than reading a blog post about why a blogger has not been posting. Therefore, my answer is simple. I have not been posting because I've been busy. I've been busy being married, being a Dad, going to work, serving as a deacon in my parish as well as busy completing the requirements to earn a Doctorate in Ministry (DMin) from Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon. Along with 5 other classmates, I am privileged to be a member of the seminary's first-ever doctoral class. If things go as planned, I will complete my degree requirements by March of next year and graduate in May, which will be the culmination of three-and-a-half years of intensive effort.

More importantly, it is my intention to resume posting with some regularity here on Καθολικός διάκονος . True to form, I am going to begin again by resuming my least popular features: the Friday traditio and reflections on the Sunday readings for the weeks I don't preach and my homilies for the Sundays that I do. Since I am doing a lot of writing for school, I will probably post what I think are some interesting fragments of some of that work, both excerpts of what I write and observations that arise from my reading and writing. Then, finally, back to form, posting on a variety of things a few times a week.

It has become a custom over the past several years for me to note that I began blogging on 6 August 2005. Initially, this blog was named Scott Dodge for Nobody, which was a pretty blatant rip-off of the name of an old Sunday night radio program that used to air on KRCL in Salt Lake City: Tom Waits for Nobody. Pretty imaginative, don't you think? I remember being amazed at how easy it was to create a blog and start posting in the realization that anybody on the worldwide web who wanted to could read what I wrote. Though, in all honesty, back then I could not imagine anyone wanting to read anything I wrote. This is why after six posts I ceased blogging.

Not quite a year later, on 19 July 2006, after renaming this blog, I began blogging in earnest. The post that marked this true beginning was "How Occasional?" From 2007-2011 I posted on average just shy of 384 times a year. Yes, that is an average of more than once a day! Predictably, my most active year was my first year of consistent blogging, during which time I posted 422 times. The past six years, during each of which I posted fewer times successively (this year will maintain that trend), I have posted on average about 208 times a year. For an independent blog authored by one person, I somehow managed to far exceed any expectations I might've had when I started blogging in earnest as to how many people might want to read what I write.

In a good way, a sizeable readership places a burden on the blogger in terms of quantity, quality, and timing of posts. Another reason for my recent semi-hiatus is that during most of that time I just didn't feel like I had much of interest to say. Lest I become carried away, it was only 53 days between this post and my last post. Thirteen days was the break between the post prior to this and the post that preceded it, which followed a 12-day break between posts. This, in turn, followed an 18-day break. When considered over the course of 12 years (144 months), my post-Easter semi-hiatus is just a blip. Yes, I am doing all of this arithmetic for my own sake. I am a little more obsessive than most people realize.

Why do I blog? First and foremost, it has been an amazing vehicle, for lack of a better word, of personal growth. That may sound selfish, but if I did not benefit from this endeavor there would be little reason to engage in it. It is not selfish because it is a recognition that it may very well be the case nobody, or very few people, will read what I write. I am deeply conscious of this as I resume posting. On the hopeful side, I hope to continue to reach a few people who otherwise might not be inclined to listen to Christian minister. Maybe, as a deacon, I offer a different Catholic perspective, perhaps that of a medic, as opposed to a physician, at the field hospital Pope Francis insists the Church should be.

While it might seem more fitting to put up a Tom Waits song for this return traditio, I am going to post Teeth & Tongue's very nice cover of The Smiths' classic "There is a Light that Never Goes Out." It's good to be back. I hope both of my long-time readers are glad too. Sometimes it's good to strip things down and begin again. Besides, can you think of a more propitious day to begin again than Friday the thirteenth?

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...