Friday, August 31, 2018

"She bought a clock on Hollywood Boulevard the day she left"

A month ago I went to a concert here in Salt Lake City. Three bands played, The Fixx, X, and Psychedelic Furs respectively. Friday the week of the concert (3 August) "Stand or Fall" by The Fixx was our traditio (see "State your peace tonight"). It was my intention over the following two weeks to use a song from X and then one from the Furs as our Friday traditiot (correct plural nominative). Well, my friend and brother deacon died and then all hell, quite literally, broke loose. Oh, and that great musical gem, Aretha Franklin, also went to the Lord.

X- John Doe and Exene Cervenka- not DJ Bonebreak on drums- he was playing another instrument to Doe's right- 31 July in Salt Lake City, UT

"Los Angeles" by X is our traditio for this last Friday in August, not merely to get back on track but because it seems fitting. It's a song about fear and suspicion. It is about a divided world in which people are at odds with each other. Of course, this is a fitting description of the Church and the world these daze. I am firmly convinced that we are in dire need of a punk rock revival.

It was a great privilege to see X live.

Year II Twenty-first Friday in Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Cor 1:17-25; Ps 33:1-2.4-5.10-11; Matt 25:1-13

What does it mean to be wise? According to St Paul in our first reading, wisdom consists of knowing Jesus Christ and him crucified. I imagine that many first-time visitors to our church are struck by the giant crucifix suspended over the altar. Despite spending a lot of time here in the church, I am often struck by it. Somehow, I think St Paul would approve of our giant crucifix.

Because it is a great mystery, Paul is correct, it is difficult to speak eloquently about what Jesus accomplished by being crucified. The point he is making is that nobody comes to know the wisdom of God by being really smart or studying really hard. Knowing the wisdom of God results from experience. The experience that results in our grasping, even if in a small way, God’s wisdom is by encountering Jesus Christ, who wasn’t just crucified but who also rose from the dead.

Jesus spent the forty days after his resurrection appearing to the apostles and teaching them things they could understand only after experiencing his death and his rising from the dead (Acts 1:3). On the fortieth day after his resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven (Acts 1:6-12). Ten days after he ascended, he sent his Holy Spirit upon the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Apostles on the first Christian Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). It is by means of his Holy Spirit that Christ remains present in us and among us until he returns in glory.

In a few moments when we receive Holy Communion, Christ will be in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. It was the Holy Spirit, after all, who transformed the bread we will receive into Christ. Because he comes to be in us in this amazing way, Christ can make himself present through us to others in an equally amazing way. Each time we gather together and receive the Body of Christ, in addition to once again being made his Body, we are sent forth to make Christ present wherever we are by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is summed up very nicely by a quote that is usually attributed to St Teresa of Ávila:
Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes with which he looks with compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world
Wow! That’s a lot to think about. But we have to think about it not only to believe and understand but, more importantly, in order to live like Christians. Believing this and trying to live it might look foolish to a lot people who don’t share our faith. I think you agree that being a Christian can sound kind of crazy. As Christians, instead of getting back at those who do us wrong, we seek to forgive them. Instead of hating our enemies, as Christians, we are supposed to pray for them and seek their good. As Christians, instead of spending all our time and energy trying to grow very wealthy, we are to live below our means and use our money to help those in need. Instead of complaining about the suffering that comes our way in life, as followers of Jesus, we are take up our crosses. All of this is summarized in these words of Jesus: “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt 16:25).

Crucifix, St Olaf Church Bountiful, Utah- taken by Deacon Scott Dodge

The Greek word St Paul for wisdom in our first reading is sophia. All of you probably know at least one person named Sophia. In Greek, sophia does not just refer to wisdom, it means something like “awareness of reality according to all the factors that together constitute reality.” “Say what?” you might be asking. To make it a bit easier to understand, what I mean is that, even before God enters the picture, there are plenty of things that make up reality that we don’t perceive with our senses.

Let’s now bring God into the picture by turning to the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, who taught elementary school for a few years. He experimented with teaching algebra to kindergartners. Let's just say it didn't go very well. Anyway, Wittgenstein observed: “To believe in God means to see that the facts of the world are not the end of the matter. To believe in God means to see that life has a meaning” (Notebooks, 1914-1916, 8.7.16).

You realize the meaning of life by living wisely. This brings us to the parable Jesus tells in our Gospel today. Before going right to the parable, in addition to believing in Jesus’s death, resurrection, ascension and his sending the Holy Spirit, we believe Jesus will return again. As his disciples stood watching him ascending to heaven, two men dressed in white stood beside them. One of the two, speaking to Jesus’s dumbfounded disciples, said: “why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven” (Acts 1:11). As Christians, we live in anticipation of Jesus’s return. This is what Jesus’s parable is about in today’s Gospel.

Jesus’s parable is an allegory. Christ is the bridegroom. The ten virgins are those who believe in Christ. Because they believe in Christ they eagerly await his return. The Bride, who is not explicitly mentioned, is the Church. The wedding feast is what we usually refer to as heaven. Of course, the wedding feast cannot begin until the groom arrives. It is the duty of the ten virgins to greet the groom when he turns up. It is important to notice that all ten fall asleep as they wait for the groom, who is delayed. When the groom finally arrives, waking up quickly, those who were prepared by bringing extra oil quickly prepared to greet the groom, while the other five tried to run out and buy some more oil. When they came back, it was too late, the wedding feast had begun without them and the door was locked and, despite their banging, the groom would not let them in.

The important question is, what does the oil represent in this parable? In all honesty, there is probably more than one way to answer this question. Jesus used parables as provocative illustrations, not precise expositions. Because of this we have to tread lightly when interpreting them. I think the oil just might be the presence of Christ in us. As we discussed, even in the Eucharist, Christ comes to be in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Just as it is the oil that keeps the fire burning in the lamps, it is the Holy Spirit who keeps “the flame of faith alive” in our hearts so that “When the Lord comes, [we] may go out to meet him with all the saints” (Rite of Baptism for Several Children, sec. 64).

By receiving the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, but also by going to confession regularly, we receive the oil, or grace, we need to live wisely, which is to live for Christ. Perhaps the price we pay for living wisely is to look like fools to some who don’t believe.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Make abusive and gravely errant clerics penitents

Like many Catholics I am troubled by the notion of “reducing” an errant cleric to the lay state. Such language clearly implies that the clerical state is superior to the lay state. It is not. All of us in orders are ordained to serve our sisters and brothers. While the need for the transitional diaconate (something that I go back-and-forth on) is questionable, the fact is every priest, which means every bishop, is ordained and so remains a deacon. Taken to its logical conclusion, at least when approached from a Catholic perspective, such a view also implies that men are superior to women, despite protests to contrary. Because Baptism is the foundation on which all other vocations are built, including clerical ones, belonging to the order of the laity is an elevated state. The alb we clerics wear under our vestments, over which we don our stoles and other vestments (i.e., chasubles, dalmatics, copes, etc.) symbolizes our Baptism. In view of this, it would be perfectly acceptable for all the baptized to wear an alb at Mass. I understand that most lay women and men who read this will say, "No thanks." I am simply trying to make a point using an illustration. I feel the same way about wearing clerics, something I do a few times a year.

I remember then-Bishop George Niederauer (he went on to serve as archbishop of San Francisco) sharing a story about another bishop. As I remember it, at supper for men who he was ordaining to the priesthood the next day, this bishop, who was going to ordain them, stood and addressed them with words like these: “Tomorrow the Church will ordain you priests because she can't trust you to be good laymen.” It is a famous story. I am sure someone could easily supply the details in a comment should s/he be so inclined. It is the not the details of the story in which I am interested but the point of the remark, which I am confident I have conveyed accurately enough. In his homily at our ordination Mass, Niederauer warned my classmates and I against thinking of ourselves as "Special Catholics." We were being ordained to serve our sisters and brothers and the wider world, not to gain some status for ourselves. Thinking about it now, it seems that at ordination we were reduced to the diaconate.

While this may be a proposal others have made in some form, what follows is my own formulation:

Instead of "reducing" erring clerics to the lay state, the Church should consider bringing back the order of Penitents and reserve this order only for abusive and gravely errant clerics. Upon their removal from the clerical state, abusive and gravely errant clericss are enrolled in the order of penitents. They remain penitents for a fixed minimum of time, which can be extended until such a time as they show the fruits of conversion. Only after this can a man be, once again, elevated to order of the laity. If an errant cleric refuses to become a penitent, he is automatically and publicly excommunicated. The only way he can ever be admitted back into the Church is via the order of penitents. Once excommunicated, the Church bears no responsibility to maintain him materially, except through her charitable programs, which we extend to anyone in need. Essentially, he's on his own until he wants to repent in sack cloth and ashes, literally. Even as a penitent, he is reduced to a very simple existence, which is both part of and conducive to repentance. I think, if done correctly, this can be restorative justice.

More fundamental still, I think Roman Catholics in particular require a saner, more biblical, more historical, that is, more Traditional, theology of holy orders. No reform is acceptable that does not include a more authoritative role for members of laity and women in particular. This should pertain not only to episcopal accountability but to the selection of bishops. After all, Baptism, not ordination, is the fundamental sacrament of Christian life.
For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:27-28)
In my view, the problems the Church continues to face do not flow from the Second Vatican Council, unless it is in reference to the Church not yet fully implementing it, but from the First Vatican Council. Vatican I, as it is called in ecclesiological short-hand, was the culmination of the ultramontane bender the Roman Catholic Church went on in the nineteenth century. This summer I read three books that really brought this home: the late Archbishop John R. Quinn's Revered and Reviled: A Re-Examination of Vatican Council I; John W. O'Malley's Vatican I: The Council and the Ultramontane Church; Hubert Wolf's The Nuns of Sant'Ambrosio: The True Story of a Convent in Scandal.

In our current situation, the Church could use more bishops like John Quinn. Not that he was perfect but he was a committed Christian, which translated into being a committed and serious bishop, one who demonstrated how a bishop needs to learn and to grow, to read the signs of the times while remaining faithful to God's revelation in Christ as handed on in Scripture and Tradition. This summer I also re-read Quinn's Reform of the Papacy: The Costly Call to Christain Unity (Ut Unum Sint). While the program of reform he suggested in this book was a good-faith response to Pope John Paul II's invitation, issued in his encyclical letter Ut Unum Sint, Quinn was marginalized for setting it forth. We would be wise to consider much of what he proposed.

Instead of a response, Vatican I was a reaction to a rapidly-changing world. Vatican I was the climax of the Counter-Reformation, which went on way too long. One of the overarching goals of Vatican II was to bring an end to the Counter-Reformation. Ending the Counter-Reformation clearly falls under aggiornamento, an Italian word used by Pope John XXIII in his speech of 25 January 1959. It was in this speech Good Pope John surprised the world by announcing he was convening an ecumenical council. Essentially, aggiornamento refers to "bringing up to date." Along with the French word ressourcement, which invokes a return to the sources (i.e., Scripture and the early Church), aggiornamento constituted the program of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. With regard to re-establishing a better theology of the sacrament of orders, ressourcement is precisely what I am calling for. It's time to fully recover from the effects the Church's nineteenth century bender. Among other things, the current crisis presents the Church with an opportunity to do this.

In his Letter to the People of God, Pope Francis pointed to clericalism as the root cause of abuse and cover-up. Citing a letter he wrote to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who, in addition to serving as Prefect for the Congregation of Bishops, serves as President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, the Holy Father noted that clericalism "not only nullifies the character of Christians, but also tends to diminish and undervalue the baptismal grace that the Holy Spirit has placed in the heart of our people." Continuing, the Pontiff wrote: "Clericalism, whether fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons, leads to an excision in the ecclesial body that supports and helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we are condemning today. To say 'no' to abuse is to say an emphatic 'no' to all forms of clericalism."

Sunday, August 26, 2018

What can it mean to say "I do"?

Josh 24:1-2a.15-17.18b; Ps 34:2-3.1-21; Eph 5:21-32; John 6:60-69

Jesus tells his listeners in today's Gospel, many, if not most, of whom seem to be in the process of walking away- "the spirit gives life, while the flesh is of no avail" (John 6:63). In a seemingly incongruent manner, he says this in the context of telling them something they found not merely scandalous but deeply offensive to their religious beliefs and sensibilities, something that causes them to walk away from following him and return to their former way of life: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him" (John 6:54-56). The language that Jesus uses in describing himself as life-giving food and drink is very literal language. His listeners, who the inspired author no doubt conceived of as exclusively Jews, grasped this. Observant Jews are not even allowed to eat (think blustwurst- blood sausage) or drink the blood of animals, let alone human blood. To eat human flesh would be as unthinkable to them as it is to us and probably far more disgusting. There is a reason that one charge that was sometimes brought against Christians in the early Church was that of being cannibals.

Each Eucharistic Prayer in the Roman Missal features an epiclesis. Epiclesis is a Greek word meaning "to call down." Saying the epiclesis with hands extended over the bread and wine, the priest calls down the Holy Spirit upon these gifts. Here is the epiclesis for Eucharistic Prayer II:
Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the Body + and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ
It is the Holy Spirit, then, who transforms our gifts of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Based on this, which, in turn, is rooted in the Incarnation as well as the death and resurrection of the Son of God, it seems the Spirit gives us life through the flesh and blood of Christ. It is by eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ that together we are made the Body of Christ, the Church. The Church is Christ's Bride.

It's not such a big leap from the Body of Christ to the Bride of Christ. In St. John's Gospel, Jesus's public ministry begins with the miracle at a wedding feast in Cana. As I am sure you remember, at his mother's behest, the Lord turned six twenty-to-thirty gallon stone jars filled with water into the most excellent wine so the party could continue unabated. Mary's role in this event is highly significant. This strikes me as a coherent way to connect our reading from Paul's Letter to the Ephesians to our Gospel reading.

I hope that your parish used the longer the version of the reading from Ephesians. I hope this because reading the entire passage is the surest way to understand what is being communicated and to avoid the pitfalls of a truncated interpretation. It is of the utmost importance to note that this passage begins by establishing the equality of wife and husband: "Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Eph 5:21). The equality of spouses is affirmed in the Latin Church's Code of Canon Law:
The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized" (Canon 1055 §1)
In Latin, which is the original language of the Roman Catholic Code of Canon Law, the word translated into English as "partnership" is consortium. Consortio ("con" = with + "sortio" = casting lots). Forming a consortium by being married, two people cast their lots together. In English, "consortium" remains part of our business lexicon. Translated a bit more smoothy, a consortium, as it relates to marriage, means for two people to be "bound by the same destiny."

Failing to grasp the fundamental equality of spouses is bound to lead to a disastrous interpretation of this passage, especially verses 22-24. Understandably, many women lectors preparing to proclaim this reading and many who make a point of pondering and praying with readings over the course of the week, dreaded reading or hearing this passage at Mass. Too often these three verses (22-24) are cited independently and so out of context, thus turning Scripture on its head and making a mockery of God's inspired word. The word translated into English as "subordinate" or sometimes as "submit" are the appropriate forms of the Greek word ὑποτάσσω, which transliterates as hypotassō. Hypotassō means "set under." Especially to my female readers, before you start muttering to yourself, "Oh crap, here we go!", let me note that a wife is "set under" her husband as the Church is set under Christ. So, before bailing on me, let me try to answer the question, "How is the Church set under Christ?"

Sticking with St. John's Gospel in seeking to determine how the Church is set under Christ, it is important to point to the section of Jesus's Last Supper Discourse in which he says to his disciples: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father" (John 15:13-15). What command did the Lord give to his disciples? "This is my commandment: love one another as I love you" (John 15:12). As theologian James Alison noted in a deeply insightful essay, "Theology Amidst the Stones and Dust" - "love depends on equality" (in Faith Beyond Resentment, 49). Alison's main thesis in this essay is that Jesus is our teacher because he made himself our equal. Because equality is necessary for love it is a requirement of divine pedagogy.

It is only by dealing with all of that we can move on to how husbands are to set themselves under their wives "out of reverence for Christ" (Eph 5:21): "husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body" (Eph 5:28-30). Because marriage is a sacrament, in this way, too, flesh becomes life-giving spirit by the power of the Holy Spirit. Such a life-giving manner of life was intended by God from the beginning. Genesis 2:28, which is the Bible's Ur verse on marriage, is then cited prior to pointing out that this entire passage is about the relationship between Christ and his Bride, the Church, human marriage serving only as an analogy. It is Genesis 2:28 that proved decisive in Jesus's disputation with the Pharisees about divorce (see Matt 19:1-12 and Mark 10:1-12).

For anyone who is married or has been married it goes without saying that, eventually, there are plenty of reasons to leave, to get a divorce. In order to remain married both spouses must look for reasons to stay. This two becoming one flesh, while nice in the context of conjugal relations and pretty awesomely manifested by having children- a human being who, while being distinctly herself, is also a combination of both spouses- is agonizing work. I think much the same thing can be said about belonging to Christ's Body, the Church, particularly right now. I would imagine nearly all practicing Christians, lay and clergy alike, could tell of times when leaving the Church, or at least quitting our active participation, has been a serious consideration and often for good reasons. Many Catholics have walked away. For example, how could you blame someone for leaving as the result of experiencing abuse? While some who have left have returned, many have not. As our first reading indicates, we must choose each day whom we will serve. Stating it like this makes it seem like the choice is as easy as it is obvious. Often it is neither obvious nor easy. Staying can sometimes be a more difficult choice than leaving.

Whenever we hear or read Scripture we can't help but imagine the scene. It is inevitable that we do this, unless you're not paying attention. Keeping in mind what had happened prior to the passage of the sixth chapter of St. John's Gospel we read today, I don't imagine Jesus asking his disciples the question "Do you also want to leave?" in an accusatory or taunting manner. I imagine him asking it earnestly and with great affection, perhaps in a tone indicating "I wouldn't blame you for leaving." This just goes to show, yet again, that God never compels us, but respects our freedom completely. Our rejection does not unleash God's wrath, as many people have experienced for themselves by staying home on Sunday morning instead of coming to Mass and living to tell about it. Believing otherwise is childish.

A naturally valid and/or sacramental marriage hinges on the free consent of spouses. If there is some defect in the consent of either spouse, meaning if their freedom was impeded in some significant way, there can be no valid marriage and certainly no sacrament. Our participation in Mass also requires our free consent. We have to get out of bed, get ready, and go. With Peter, recognizing Jesus as the Holy One of God, as the one who has the words of eternal life, as the One who is the Word of Life, we come and we stay because we have learned there is no one else to whom we can turn, which is just to say we have experienced the Father's love, given us in Christ, by the power of their Holy Spirit. And so, each Sunday, we participate in Mass, which is both something of a participation in and anticipation of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. Tony Campolo was correct in his assertion, which he used as a title for one his books that I read quite a few years ago, The Kingdom of God is a Party. I don't know about you, but a great party would be suit me down to the ground right about now.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Hope or hopelessness? Updated

In the wake of last week's flurry of bad news, once again, I decided to do make some dramatic changes concerning my use of social media. After five years, I decided to delete my Facebook account and start over. I did this in 2013 after about 4 years of being on Facebook. In the past I have had a Tumblr and Instagram accounts but I deleted those. I still use Twitter and G+, albeit much less.

What prompted this was posting an article on a speech given by the Papal Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, to The Meeting in Rimini, Italy. The Meeting is an international gathering held each year in Rimini. It is hosted by Communion and Liberation, an ecclesial group of which I am formally a member but, for the past several years, not a very good one. Here is what I posted above the link to the article:
I met Pierre briefly last year. It was a nice encounter.

"The 'encounter with Christ happens in and through the church,' the archbishop said. 'There is an ecclesial dimension to the encounter. The pope calls the whole church to accept its responsibility for facilitating this personal experience of Jesus, who fills life with joy'
With almost no pause, certainly not one long enough to read the article, one "friend" chimed in asserting that Archbishop Pierre's speech was nothing more than "damage control." Not missing a beat, another "friend" went on a diatribe asserting the Church has not done enough. I readily grant that the latter point is accurate enough. The trouble with making that point in this context is that neither Archbishop Pierre nor I had said or implied any such thing. In fact, quite to the contrary. Keeping in mind his speech was directed to Roman Catholics, the most provocative thing Pierre is reported to have said, at least on my reading of the article (a quote I was first tempted to post on FB is conjunction with posting the article, but I thought it might be too provocative and so did not), was: "We must never stand outside the church to judge her; we are the church. We all are responsible for the church, including when there are problems in the church." To my mind, judging from within looks very different than judging from without.

"Friend" one had been pushing all week for some inchoate but very radical reformation of the Church. Making an attempt to engage on this, I employed a reductio ad absurdum:
here's an idea. We can remove all bishops, laicize the rest of the clergy, sell all assets, and divvy up what remains after setting debts proportionally among contributing members. We can meet up at local sound stage, sing Hillsong United songs, listen to a 30 minute talk loosely based on the Bible. It could be our post-modern version of the Scottish Reformation. I am just kidding, of course, and trying to inject a bit of sarcastic humor
My point was, this is not the route of reform the Church should take. In fairness, I readily admit to liking some Hillsong United songs. I even used one as a Friday traditio a few years back (see "And there I find You in the mystery").

Arriving at my point, this is where "friend" two told me he was offended by my reductio ad absurdum concerning Church reform. He made it very clear that he thought I didn't take abuse seriously and strongly implied that my comment about Church reform somehow made light of clerical sexual abuse. Here is the second of my two-part final comment on that thread:
When I converted and became Catholic at 24 I risked a lot and lost a good deal. I love the Church and am deeply grieved by what we are going through right now. This is not a mere emotion. As a permanent deacon I serve the Church with as much creativity, intelligence and energy as I can muster while also working full-time, being married and being a Dad. Granted I am not that creative and probably not all that intelligent. I am okay recognizing my limits. I do it all essentially without any remuneration. I felt I needed to put that out there and let it sit before taking a social media break and completely re-calibrate my engagement on this platform. I am pretty thick-skinned but everyone has limits
An overreaction? Perhaps. But it is really the culmination of something that has been building up for awhile based on these kinds of things happening not just on a regular basis and not just to me but with increasing frequency on many threads. Frankly, I don't want to be in that kind of milieu if I don't have to be. I certainly don't have to be on FB.

What bothers me the most is that was the reaction to posting something hopeful. Archbishop Pierre, who was likely asked to speak at The Meeting many months ago, addressed the issue. He said that, given his position, he had to speak discreetly at present. What he said was not offensive nor was it dismissive of victims or the grave harm done to them by the abuse to which they were subjected. He did not seek to evade or avoid responsibility for the abuse, the subsequent cover-ups, re-assignments, etc. While I can understand the anger, disappointment, grief, perhaps even a touch of despair concerning the release last week of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, coming as it did on the heels of revelation of McCarrick's abusive behavior, which took place over many years, I refuse to believe there is no hope for the Roman Catholic Church. Yes, I think the Church needs further reform.

Specifically, I think the Church needs reforms with regard to the accountability of bishops. With many others, I think any bishop who was involved in covering up abuse, silencing the victims of abuse, and/or reassigning abusers, thus endangering others, should resign or, failing that, be removed. I think this should happen even if such complicity occurred before the man became a bishop, especially if he was serving in a senior leadership role, like Vicar General or Vicar for Clergy. Just a such a resignation took place in Australia recently. Archbishop Philip Wilson resigned as archbishop of Adelaide because he failed to report or act on abuse he knew about as a young priest some 40 or so ago (see "Adelaide archbishop Philip Wilson resigns after covering up child abuse").

I will push matters even farther. I hope every diocese is transparent enough to welcome an investigation of the kind conducted in the six Pennsylvania dioceses. Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis has invited the Missouri Attorney General to review his diocese's files (see "St. Louis archdiocese agrees to open files to AG’s office"- in light of the fact the archbishop basically asked for the review, this headline is a bit misleading). While we're facing up to the truth, let's face the fact that the sexual abuse of children and young people is society-wide scourge. This goes back a long way, at least the 70 years covered in the Pennsylvania probe. Of course, pointing this out excuses the Church of nothing. What happened by way of abuse and cover-up is inexcusable (NB: only that which is inexcusable requires forgiveness).

At least in the U.S., I doubt there's any other institution that serves children that has looked into itself (many dioceses conducted the mandated 50 year review in 2002 and publicly released the results in an honest and forthright manner) or been looked into more than the Roman Catholic Church. Far from being a criticism, I am grateful that this comprehensive looking into continues to take place. I hope it continues until all that has been kept in darkness is brought into the light. As we learn more, we need to begin to reckon with what needs to change in the Church. What needs to change in the Church runs deep and is very fundamental as it concerns our humanity. To give you some idea of what I am talking about, I will point again to Fr. James Alison's writing on this issue, prompted by the revelations concerning Theodore McCarrick. While the articles appeared in the British Catholic weekly The Tablet, they were helpfully posted together on his website under the title "We're in for a rough ride." You can even download them as a .pdf. Serious enough for you? I still don't think the Church's divine constitution should be chucked out the window.

Our Friday traditio is Charlie Peacock singing "Now Is the Time for Tears" off a wonderful album he did with a number of other contemporary Christian artists in 1992, Coram Deo- In the Presence of God. As you might've guessed from the album's subtitle, Coram Deo means "in God's presence." In Christian theology, the phrase has typically been used to explain that Christians, even now, because of Christ's death and resurrection, live in God's presence.

Our traditio is dedicated to all victims of sexual abuse. I can only imagine how all of the news of the past week or so must be triggering for so many people. At the expense of being self-referential, I am going to re-state something I said in my homily last Sunday: "Here’s the truth: Jesus is always on the side of victims." With that, I am giving FB a break and, barring any more ghastly revelations or worthwhile developments, like resignations or removals, I am giving blogging about clerical sexual abuse a break, even as I continue to fast and pray for abuse victims and for the Church, which is the entire People of God, not just its hierarchy.

While there's still a long row to hoe, I choose hope. With Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Holy Father (see his Letter to the People of God), and I am sure many others, I see the Gospel, the Good News that is Jesus Christ crucified and risen, as the answer to sin and hopelessness. The Good News is, indeed, communicated by and through the Church. Hence, in the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, we have the remedy for ails humankind. What ails humankind is sin unto death.

On this penitential Friday, it bears repeating this passage from the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium: "While Christ, holy, innocent and undefiled (Heb 7:26) knew nothing of sin (2 Cor 5:21), but came to expiate only the sins of the people (Heb 2:17), 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" (sec. 8).

In spirit of the Holy Father's letter and as Catholics should each Friday, I urge you to make today a day of penance. Abstain from meat and maybe forego some other good things, perhaps no Friday beer, wine, or cocktail. I encourage you to pray more and more fervently today, especially for victims of child sexual abuse. Finally, find a way to serve someone else selflessly. Prayer is linked with faith, hope is tied to fasting, and love is shown in service (i.e., alms-giving). These things, my friends, form the basis of any spirituality that can be considered Christian. I certainly dispense any victim of sexual abuse from these penitential acts.

As for me, I will also try to exercise the Spiritual Work of Mercy that bids me, as a follower of Christ and in imitation of him, to bear perceived wrongs with greater patience.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Year B Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Prov 9:1-6; Ps 34:2-7; Eph 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

Over fourteen years of preaching, I don't remember a week during which preparing a homily was so difficult. There have been few times in my life when I have realized the inadequacy of words to address reality. In the light of what we’ve learned over the course of the past month or so, I imagine there are many Catholics right now who are somewhere between disgust and despair. While the abuse and the cover-ups of abuse with regard to Theodore McCarrick and as a result of the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report last Tuesday occurred almost exclusively during the same period of time as those made known by the reporting of the Boston Globe in 2002, the fact that most of what we learned happened awhile ago does not make any of it easier to take.

No sooner than the Church in this country seems to turn the corner on clerical abuse than more horrifying revelations come to light. As upsetting as the abuse is, I think perhaps what many people find more infuriating is the failure of quite a few bishops, who are supposed to shepherd and safeguard their flocks, to remove the wolves. The failure of some bishops to immediately remove abusers from ministry, their failure to notify police, and, most of all, reassigning them, that is, placing them in situations that endangered other young people, is unspeakably maddening. No matter how many times such failures come to light the scab will be pulled from the wound and the bleeding will begin again.

If there’s any good news in all of this it is that since 2002 and the implementation of the Dallas Charter in the wake of the Boston-centered scandal, the Church has put into place a zero-tolerance policy, which means that any member of the clergy against whom there is a credible allegation of abuse, in addition to the matter being turned over to the police, is automatically and immediately suspended from any and all ministry pending the outcome of the investigation. If the credible allegation is found to be true, the deacon or priest is permanently barred from ministry in the Church. In such cases, an effort is usually made to canonically remove the man from the clerical state.

It is also good news that our society is rapidly reaching a point at which victims of harassment and/or abuse feel free to speak out about what happened to them. Nonetheless, it still takes a lot of courage for victims to speak up and speak out. As painful as it is to hear what victims of abuse have to tell us, we should never fear being told the truth. I am very conscious of the fact that I may well be addressing someone who has suffered abuse, either by someone in the Church or in a different setting. If so, I am sorry for what you’ve been put through by no fault of your own.

Far from weakening the Church, telling the truth strengthens the Body of Christ. Indeed, the Church is the Body of Christ. When one “part suffers, all the parts suffer” (1 Cor 12:26). One of the worst mistakes we can make in our present moment is to think the hierarchy is the Church. In fact, the hierarchy, which includes all of us in holy orders, each of us ordained to serve our sisters and brothers, while necessary according to the Church’s divine constitution, makes up a very small portion of the Body of Christ.

Le Christ et le peintre - L’artiste et son Modèle ("The Christ and the painter - The artist and his Model"), Marc Chagall, 1951

At its most fundamental, what it means to be a Christian is to acknowledge Jesus Christ as “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) Jesus doesn’t just speak the truth, he is the Truth. Therefore, when he taught “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). he was not referring to an abstract body of doctrines, or even to a moral or ethical code. He was pointing out the importance of knowing him.

Here’s the truth: Jesus is always on the side of victims. Telling the truth strengthens Christ’s Body, the Church because it liberates victims from their private hell of shame and embarrassment. Telling the truth strengthens the Church because it is the way everyone is held accountable, including cardinals and bishops, even the pope. Paraphrasing the Blessed Virgin's Magnificat, which was our Gospel reading for last Wednesday's Solemnity of the Assumption: the truth is powerful enough to scatter the proud in their conceit and to cast down the mighty from their thrones (see Luke 1:46-56). Telling the truth strengthens the Church because it provides abusers and their enablers the opportunity to acknowledge their sins and to repent. Telling the truth strengthens faith, which remains in him who is the Truth. Telling the truth gives us hope for a better future and the courage to do what is necessary to ensure it. This is why, in and of itself, telling the truth is an act of charity.

This is where what I have said so far ties in with our readings. The central theme of our readings is wisdom. Truth is more than accurate information. In addition to dealing in reality as it is and not as one might wish it to be, truth is also a matter of the heart. There is no truth without love and there is no love without truth. Living according to the truth is what it means to be wise. This why in our first reading from the Book of Proverbs Wisdom herself says: “To the one who lacks understanding, she says, Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding” (Prov 9:4-6).

In our second reading, taken from the Letter to the Ephesians, we are exhorted to live wisely and instructed as to what that means, at least in part. Above all, we are exhorted to be discerning. Being discerning means trying “to understand what is the will of the Lord” (Eph 5:17). The observation that “the days are evil” (Eph 5:15) will remain true until Christ returns in glory. Because to be wise is to live according to the truth and the truth is Jesus Christ, we are to live lives of gratitude to him for what he has done for us. At the center of a life if gratitude is the Eucharist, which means thanksgiving.

It was the Servant of God Dorothy Day who, in a letter to a friend in which she was lamenting the shortcomings of bishops in a very pointed and direct manner, wrote: “It is the saints that keep appearing all through [the Church’s] history who keep things going.” Rather than be discouraged, let’s relentlessly pursue holiness, which means nothing other than loving God and neighbor in the manner of Jesus. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” wrote the inspired author of the Letter to the Hebrews, “let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith” (Heb 12:1-2).

The food and wine of Wisdom turn out to be Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Today Wisdom sets her table in our midst. She urges us, “Come, eat and drink” and so taste and see Christ’s goodness and experience for yourself what it means to know him, to know the Truth who sets you free.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now...

I had big plans for blogging this past week. As the old saw goes, "I plan. God laughs." I had planned a post for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary last Wednesday. I had planned a Friday traditio and then re-planned it due to Aretha Franklin's death. Since it is the third Sunday of the month, I was looking forward to preparing, preaching, and then sharing a homily on our penultimate reading from Jesus' Bread of Life Discourse the sixth chapter of St. John Gospel. I may well have planned but God sure as hell wasn't laughing this week. I am pretty sure God is crying. All of my plans were derailed on Tuesday by the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report on the sexual abuse of minors and the systematic mishandling of many of these cases. I came home from work Tuesday, downloaded the report (you can find it here), and over the next fours hours or so read it in its entirety. Coming as it does on the heels of the McCarrick scandal, I can only say that after reading it I was devastated.

As devastated as I am by just reading about clerical sexual abuse and efforts aimed at not divulging and evading responsibility for it, it is not about me. Those who were abused and then treated shabbily are the ones who have truly been devastated. A social media friend of mine, who is an Anglican priest, noted something worth passing along in this regard: "When great crisis and scandal is uncovered in the church people find comfort in big picture ideas like 'the church will never end' but it does end for some people based on the actions of the church and that’s a catastrophe." Just to be clear, from my perspective, the catastrophe of Church ending for victims of abuse is a catastrophe for the Church. The victim who leaves experienced the catastrophic in his/her abuse and often in their horrible treatment after the abuse. For them, getting away is probably a relief.

Due to the unpleasantness of these revelations, many faithful Catholics, both lay and clergy, are sometimes too eager to make these things pass and/or explain these things away. As for myself, I can think about any number of things I would rather blog about. As a Catholic blogger who is a member of the clergy, I would be forced to revoke my own Catholic blogging card if I avoided these matters. I apologize for not having anything really insightful to write. What is there to say?

To be clear, the Pennsylvania grand jury report went back 70 years. Hence, it mostly covered the same period of time, prior to 2002, when the U.S. bishops enacted the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, covered by the Boston Globe's reporting in 2002. It was the Boston Globe reporting that led to the enactment of the Dallas Charter. For an easy way to learn about the Boston mess that started the ball rolling, I urge you to watch the 2015 movie Spotlight. As a result of this scope, most of the harrowing abuse and failures in light of the abuse detailed in the report occurred decades ago. Nonetheless, in 2002 dioceses the U.S. were supposed to review all priest personnel files going back 50 years and divulge details on abuse and how the diocese handled abuse cases. The fact that it took the Attorney General of the state of Pennsylvania convening a grand jury to investigate 6 of the 7 dioceses in the state (the seventh, which is the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Philadelphia, had already been subjected to this kind of legal scrutiny) to discover this information represents another massive failure on the part of each of these dioceses. This certainly gives the claims bishops have made about being transparent a false ring.

A very Assumption-like painting by artist Patricia Brintle, 2008

All of this led me to go back and look at the statement issued by the bishop of my diocese at that time. In 2002 then-Bishop George Niederauer, who went on to lead the Archdiocese of San Francisco, the man who ordained me in 2004, put out a detailed statement you can find here. This week, my current bishop, Oscar Solis, who has led the Diocese of Salt Lake City for about a year-and-a-half, put out a statement you can read here. I suppose, if nothing else, I can offer you a one-stop place to see all official Church responses to the grand jury report. To that end, here is the response of United States Conference of Catholic Bishops put out by Conference president Cardinal DiNardo, who serves as archbishop of Houston and here is an article on the only response so far made by the Holy See, issued by the director of the Vatican Press Office, Greg Burke. Finally, a link to what is in the Database of Publicly Accused Priests in the United States for the Diocese of Salt Lake City.

I think it is very important to keep the victims of abuse in the forefront of our hearts and in our prayers during these trying days. Defaulting to concern about anyone other than the victims is a symptom of what is wrong. I know many faithful priests and I am sure that they are not worried about themselves but the victims and the damage inflicted on people by abuse and cover-ups. Making it about someone other than the victims is myopic and narcissistic, or, to use Pope Francis's term, self-referential. It's equally important to note that the hierarchy is not the Church. All the baptized constitute the Church. This means that the vast majority of victims belong to the Church, to Christ's wounded Body, even those who understandably feel they can no longer participate or be among us.

By insisting we keep the focus of sympathy and compassion on the victims, I am not suggesting that perpetrators of abuse or those who facilitated abuse by ignoring it and seeking to cover it up should be let off easily, or let off at all. Justice matters. One thing this past month has amply demonstrated is how important it is for bishops to be held accountable. Bishops, like McCarrick, who abuse as well as bishops who knew of the abuse and did nothing or, worse, poured salt in the wounds of victims, as well as bishops who made settlements with victims in exchange for the victims' silence need to be held accountable. By that, I mean these bishops need to resign or be removed. If probable cause indicates laws may have been broken, they need to be investigated and, if warranted, prosecuted. If prosecuted and found guilty, such bishops need to be justly sentenced.

I hope it is not Churchsplaining to point out that there are a few signs of hope. Since 2002 abuse in the Church is way down. When abuse occurs, it seems dioceses in the U.S. most often adhere to the established protocols by suspending errant clerics and lay ministers when a credible allegation is made, notifying law enforcement so they can investigate the matter and bring criminal charges when warranted and, if it is determined abuse occurred, permanently removing the abuser from ministry. If the abuser is a cleric it is now much easier to involuntarily dismiss him from the clerical state. Dioceses and Catholic institutions seem committed to preventing abuse and acting swiftly and decisively when it is reported. I will address this again in my homily for this Sunday, which I will post tomorrow. After tomorrow, unless there is something new, I plane to post minimally on this topic. I wary of adding to the words in which we are already drowning.

Our late traditio this week is the amazing Aretha Franklin, who was truly a national treasure, singing "Mary Don't You Weep."

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Jesus: bread of life and food for our pilgrimage

1 Kgs 19:4-8; Ps 34:2-9; Eph 4:30-5:2; John 6:41-51

Whenever it's been a quiet week on Καθολικός διάκονος it means I am having a busy week. This past week I was very busy. I did manage to post a traditio on Friday and today I am posting something on this week's Sunday readings.

In terms of our Gospel reading, this is the third of five weeks when we read from the sixth chapter of St. John's Gospel. This chapter, of course, is called the Bread of Life Discourse. As I mentioned a few weeks back, due to the brevity of the Gospel According St. Mark, in Year B of the three-year Sunday cycle, during which our primary Gospel is Mark, on Sundays of weeks 17-21 in Ordinary Time, the Church supplements Mark with the Bread of Life Discourse. Hence, these five weeks give us an opportunity to focus very intensely on the central act of our faith: receiving Holy Communion at Mass.

In our first reading the prophet Elijah, who is at the point of despair and begging God to kill him, finds a place to rest under a broom tree. Upon being awakened by an angel, he finds bread and water. On the strength provided by this nourishment and hydration, he makes his forty day and forty night pilgrimage to the mountain of God. Allegorically, our life, too, is a pilgrimage to God's mountain. Atop the mountain of God sits Jerusalem, our true home. Taking our cue from Abraham, our father in faith, God's people has always been a Pilgrim People. Hence, Christ's Church is a Pilgrim Church (see Lumen Gentium, Chap. VII). The Eucharist is our food and drink for the journey.

Like Elijah plopping down under the broom tree, it is likely that at certain points along our pilgrim path we might grow weary and be tempted to despair. I think given the seemingly ceaseless scandals the Church faces, which reveal to us that what ails the Church runs more deeply than we have heretofore thought, it is very easy to wonder whether or not it's worth it to continue the journey, or, like the ancient Israelites in last week's first reading, if our journey has a destination, wondering if we've been sold a bill of goods and left to fend for ourselves. Even through these doubts, anger, and fear, I remain firmly convinced that the Eucharist sustains us.

Looking ahead to our Gospel reading in two weeks, in the wake of all the deeply disturbing revelations of very dark sins by men who were without a doubt wolves wearing a shepherd's costume, like those disciples who were scandalized by Jesus telling them they had to eat his flesh and drink his blood, we are tempted to return to our former way of life and no longer follow Jesus, to no longer affiliate with or adhere to the Church. I don't know about you, but having encountered the risen Jesus in a life-changing way, like Peter, when asked by the Lord, "Do you also want to leave?" I can only reply: "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." (John 6:67-68).

You might be thinking something like, "Yeah, you're a deacon. You're a member of the clergy. What else are you gonna say?" Well, as a deacon and a member of the clergy who does not make a living through ministry but who ministers largely for free, my answer would be something like: "I don't give this answer because I am ordained. I am ordained because this is my answer." Like Zack Mayo, whom Gunny Foley is committed to breaking by making him quit in the movie An Officer and a Gentleman, "I got nowhere else to go." There is no one to whom I can turn but the One who took pity on my nothingness, who loves me not just to the point of death but to the point of rising from the dead, thus proving to me, at least, that he is "the Holy One of God" (John 6:69).

The Church is holy because Christ is holy. The Church is pure because Christ is pure. The Church is the Lord's sometimes straying Bride, what the Tradition has dubbed the casta meretrix (i.e., the chaste whore). In making this assertion I do not mean to suggest for one minute that the hierarchy is the Church. It is not. The Church is the entire Pilgrim People of God, those who died, were buried, and who rose with Christ to new life through the waters of Baptism. Presently, however, it is those in the hierarchy, some of whom, like Theodore McCarrick, who ascended to the heights of the hierarchy, whose infidelity and betrayal is causing so much distress for so many Church members. Nonetheless, Christ remains faithful even when his Bride is unfaithful. As we read in 2 Timothy: "If we are unfaithful he remains faithful." Christ remains faithful because he condescended to become one of us in order to incorporate us into himself; "he cannot deny himself"(2 Tim 2:13). Besides, when Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against his Church (Matt 16:18), he did not guarantee it wouldn't be pressed against the bars of said gates.

In that wonderful passage on the sacramental and eschatological nature of marriage found a bit further on in the fifth chapter of Ephesians, St. Paul wrote about this very thing:
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So [also] husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body (Eph 5:25-30
In our reading from Ephesians today we hear about just the kind of healing our faithful participation in the Eucharist should bring about. In imitatio Christi, we renounce "All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling," as well as "all malice" (Eph 4:31). Instead, we are to "be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ" (Eph 4:31). As God has forgiven you in Christ... you need to always keep in mind the great mercy the Father gives you in Christ by the power of their Holy Spirit. This does not mean you overlook egregious sin or wrong-doing. When considering the sickening sin of clerical sex abuse, it certainly does not mean forgetting about justice for victims. I think one of the Intercessions for today's Evening Prayer (Sunday Evening Prayer II, Week III of the Psalter) frames this very well:
Through your Son, the herald of reconciliation, the victor of the cross,
   -free us from empty fear and hopelessness
In his magnificent encyclical on the theological virtue of hope, Spe salvi, Pope Benedict XVI wrote something that is well worth remembering when thinking about justice and mercy:
Both these things—justice and grace—must be seen in their correct inner relationship. Grace does not cancel out justice. It does not make wrong into right. It is not a sponge which wipes everything away, so that whatever someone has done on earth ends up being of equal value. Dostoevsky, for example, was right to protest against this kind of Heaven and this kind of grace in his novel The Brothers Karamazov. Evildoers, in the end, do not sit at table at the eternal banquet beside their victims without distinction, as though nothing had happened (sec. 44)
Picking up a thread from last Sunday's Gospel, in which Jesus told the hungry crowd that doing the work of God means believing "in the one he sent" (John 6:29), in today's Gospel Jesus tells the same crowd, "whoever believes has eternal life" (John 6:47).

Belief requires an object, which means that believing means believing in something, or, in this case, believing in someone. What one needs to believe to have eternal life is that Jesus is "the bread of life" (John 6:48). By believing Jesus is the bread of life, which belief prompts you to partake of it, you will not die but be raised on the last day (John 6:50; John 6:44). This is the cornerstone of Christian faith. Pull it out and everything collapses. Faith, or believing that Jesus is the one sent by God to save us, is called a theological virtue because it is a gift from God. This what Jesus means when he says "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him" (John 6:44). Faith is our response to God's initiative towards us. Faith is neither irresistible, as some suppose, nor is it compelled. You are always free to respond to God's initiative or not. In concrete terms, you respond to God's initiative each time you come to Mass and partake of the bread of life.

Christ summons each one of us to gather together every Sunday and on holy days, like the one coming up this Wednesday, 15 August - the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Believing means being eager to heed the Lord's loving summons. So, together let's partake of the nourishment we need as we make our pilgrim way to the mountain of God, to the eternal city, to the wedding banquet of the Lamb. If, like Elijah, you find yourself at the doorstep of despair, it becomes all the more important to "Taste and see the goodness of the Lord" for yourself.

Friday, August 10, 2018

A day for deacons

Today, 10 August, the Church marks the Feast of St. Lawrence of Rome. Lawrence was one of the seven deacons of Rome. He lived in the third century. Along with his bishop (Pope Sixtus II) he was martyred during a persecution of the Church that took place in Rome during the reign of the Emperor Valerian in AD 258. It is fitting, therefore, that today my local Church, the Diocese of Salt Lake City, laid to rest to a great deacon, Silvio Mayo. Deacon Silvio was ordained with the first class of permanent deacons for our diocese by Bishop Joseph Federal. This first ordination of permanent deacons took place in The Cathedral of the Madeleine on 26 December 1976. Of course, 26 December is the feast of that other great deacon, St. Stephen, who was the Church's first martyr. Somehow, this book-ending seems very fitting for Silvio.

Deacon Mayo, I believe, was the first permanent deacon to serve as Diocesan Chancellor of any diocese, at least in the U.S. if not worldwide. He served our diocese as Chancellor for nearly 30 years - from 1984-2013. I had the privilege of serving with him at The Cathedral of the Madeleine from the time of my ordination in 2004 until his retirement in 2013. For the first year or two, given not only our age difference but my relative youth (I was 38 when I was ordained- Silvio was then in his late 70s), we couldn't quite figure each other out. Our relationship for those first few years was cordial.

After serving with each other for a few years, however, Silvio and I became good friends and we enjoyed each other's company. We would sit have a cup of coffee in the kitchen of the Cathedral rectory at least once a week. Man, did we joke around and give each other a hard time. To be frank, what we discovered we had in common was that we were both smart alecks. After he retired, when I was still serving at the Cathedral, on a Sunday here or there when I did not have duties at the altar, I would go to Mass with him. I remember one year, 2014 I believe, we were at Mass together on the First Sunday of Lent. Listening to the homily, the homilist mentioned he was giving up coffee for Lent. Silvio looked at me with his mischievous smile and said: "Let's not get carried away."

Deacon Silvio Mayo's funeral card

Deacon Silvio's funeral Mass at the Cathedral today was beautiful. This young punk deacon (I am still the youngest permanent deacon in my diocese) was honored to be asked to sit at the screen on the Cathedral chancel and to pray the Intercessions. Silvio was 93 at the time of his passing.

Silvio lived a long and fruitful life, a diaconal life, that is, a life of service to others. It bears noting that his son, Monsignor Joseph Mayo, was the Cathedral Rector during our years of service there together. I often felt like I was a member of the Mayo family. Silvio, along with the rest of his diaconate class, laid a firm foundation for the diaconate in our diocese. There are only two members of that class who are still alive, both of whom are no longer in active ministry. Our Chancellor today, George Reade, who is a member of my diaconate class, serves our diocese as Chancellor, continuing what I hope will be long-lasting tradition. Requiscat Silvio in pace.

In light of all that it's difficult to pick a Friday traditio. It's good to give this some thought each week.

After giving this quite a lot of thought after making my way from Silvio's funeral, our traditio for the Feast of St. Lawrence is Samuel Barber's Agnus Dei.

Composed by Barber in 1967, his Agnus Dei composition has its roots in his 1936 composition Adagio for Strings. Sung in B-Flat Minor, Barber's piece is a musical setting for this part of the Mass: Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis/Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis/Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem - "Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace."

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Jesus: the true bread from heaven

Readings: Ex 1:2-4.12-15; Ps 78:3-4.23-25.54; Eph 4:17.20-24; John 6:24-35

There is an easily discernible harmony between all of our readings this week. Given the importance of this 5-week interlude during which we take a break from reading the Gospel of Mark and read the Bread of Life Discourse found in St. John's Gospel, I think it is important to stay close to the shore and examine what the Scriptures tell us and not become distracted by rushing to carve out a neat moral, or by our desire to reduce what Christ reveals by telling a different story, or by making a joke in the face of this opportunity and so shrink back from the intense encounter with reality to which Jesus invites us.

In our reading from Ephesians, the Apostle exhorts the members of the Church in ancient Ephesus to live in what he called in last week's second reading "a manner worthy of the[ir] call" ( Eph 4:1). Just like you and I, the Christians of ancient Ephesus received their call in Baptism. In this week's reading, which moves us a bit further along in the same chapter, the nature of this call is made more explicit. They are to live like they have "learned Christ" (Eph 4:20). The result of learning Christ is that one puts "away the old self," thus eschewing her "former way of life," which is "corrupted through deceitful desires" (Eph 4:22). Our corruption "through deceitful desires," which promise us fulfillment but fail to deliver, Paul often calls "flesh." While neither word is used in this passage, in Koine Greek, the language of the entire New Testament, "flesh" is sarx, not soma. Soma refers to your physical body, which is in no way to be denigrated, whereas sarx refers to the deceitful desires that threaten to corrupt us, even after Baptism.

The "futility" of mind referred to in our reading from Ephesians (4:17) is the result of giving in to the deceitful desires that corrupt, mistaking our indulgence in them as fulfillment. What this futility of mind amounts to is the willingness to sell yourself short, to settle for less in the belief that "this is as good as it gets." In his sermon, The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis accurately describes what it means to sell oneself short in this way:
it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased
In Baptism we put "away the old self" when make our three-fold rejection of sin. Because Jesus is the Gospel, the Good News, the One who brings life from death, there is a positive aspect as well. This positive aspect is conveyed in the Rite of Baptism by the three-fold profession of faith. At the heart (i.e., in the middle) of our profession is the question:
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered death and was buried,
rose again from the dead
and is seated at the right hand of the Father?
One's answer to this question is one's answer to reality. It is one's answer to reality because it is the recognition of all the factors that together constitute (i.e., make up) reality. To answer this question affirmatively in a casual manner or without really meaning it just might be the worst blasphemy there is. The result of one's positive answer is Baptism. The result of Baptism is being "renewed in the spirit of your minds," putting "on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth" (Eph 4:23-24). Another feature of the Rite of Baptism is being clothed with a white garment after emerging from your submersion into the very life of God. This white garment is a symbol of putting on one's new self, of putting on Christ.

Early third century depiction of Eucharistic bread and fish, Catacomb of San Callisto, Rome, from Wikipedia

Being made new in Christ enables one to see with new eyes. Among other things, seeing with new eyes enables you to see God at work in and through all things - in all people you meet and through all the circumstances you face. Just as beta carotene, which our bodies convert into Vitamin A, is important for good eye health and vision, our spiritual eyesight is nourished by receiving Holy Communion. This is brought home in a dramatic way in our reading from Exodus and in our Gospel reading.

In our reading from Exodus, the Israelites complain to each other about going hungry in the desert. They begin to lament the fact that God liberated them from Egypt by the hand of Moses. Despite the fact that, in Egypt, they were slaves treated with increasing hostility, at least they ate their fill every day. Hearing their grumbling, God promised to provide them with manna in the morning and quail in the evening every day. Later, of course, they will complain about this too (see Numbers 11:1-15). Seeing with the eyes of faith enables one to proclaim in times of trouble, even when your very life feels imperiled, those times when God seems absent or far away, using the words of last week's responsorial: "The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs."

In today's Gospel, Jesus and his closest disciples re-cross the Sea of Galilee and come back to Capernaum, which served as home-base for their Galilean mission. It seems that the same crowd that followed them from Capernaum to the spot on the other side also followed them back. Jesus quickly discerns why they followed him back: they wanted him to keep feeding them. It is important to note, I think, that the Lord does not criticize them for this. He does not call them "lazy" or "dependent." This is most likely because those who followed him for this reason were very poor. These folks probably did not enjoy what we call today "food security." In all likelihood, just as the working poor do today, they worked very hard for very little. Stated starkly, they probably worked very hard and yet did not receive what they needed to get by. While it is not the point of this passage, their plight and the injustice that underlies it was a matter of deep concern to the Lord. Therefore, it should be a concern for anyone who claims his name. Taking care of the poor and seeking to overcome the injustice that leaves people lacking what they need surely constitute part of what it means for Christians to live in manner worthy of our call.

Seizing the moment and leveraging the interest of those who were so intent on following him, Jesus tells them to "not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life" (John 6:27). With this exhortation, the Lord catches their interest. They ask: How do we accomplish God's work? (John 6:28). Jesus's answer to their question is very important: "This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent" (John 6:29). Seemingly aware that Jesus is referring to himself as the one God sent, in a most human manner, they ask Jesus (keep in mind, John portrays these as being the same people who were not only witnesses to but beneficiaries of the feeding of the multitude) to show them a sign so that they can accomplish the work of God, the opus Dei. They point to the event set forth in our reading from Exodus as an example of the kind of sign they seek. Nonetheless and quite understandably, their demand for a definitive sign still seems to be tied to food security, which, again, is no criticism of these people who probably went hungry quite often. This is the point at which Jesus begins to tell them the Good News.

Jesus says that while the bread Moses gave the Israelites (i.e., manna) was, indeed, bread from heaven, it was not the "true" heavenly bread (John 6:32). He goes on to tell them something shocking (the shock of what he tells them will reverberate for us across the next three weeks): "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst" (John 6:35).

Friday, August 3, 2018

"State your peace tonight"

As you may have heard, yesterday Pope Francis promulgated a change to section 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Section 2267 concerns the death penalty. From he first edition of the Catechism, which was promulgated in 1992 (published in English in 1994), to the second edition, which came out in 1997, this same section was revised to reflect what Pope John Paul II had written in his encyclical letter Evangelium vitae. Here is the revised text promulgated yesterday:
Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”, and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide

The footnote after the direct quote refers the reader to a speech given by Pope Francis on 11 October 2017 to those participating in a meeting convened by the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization. 11 October is a significant date because it marks the day on which, in 1962, Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. It was on 11 October 1992, the thirtieth anniversary of the opening of the Council, that Pope John Paul II promulgated the Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum, by means of which he gave the Church its Vatican II Catechism, something the 1985 Synod of Bishops asked him to do.

This is the text of 2267 in the second edition of the Catechism:
The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor. "If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

"Today, in fact, given the means at the State's disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender 'today ... are very rare, if not practically non-existent.'[John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56.]
To give you a complete picture of the history of 2267 in the forms promulgated by the ordinary papal magisterium, as opposed to various schemata that may have been proposed during the seven years it took to compose the Catechism, the first edition of the Catechism stated:
If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person
In my view, the change between the first and second editions of the Catechism represented a greater development in Church teaching than Pope Francis's revision, which simply builds on the logic of the previous revision. Accompanying the revised text, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sent a letter to bishops providing a fuller treatment of the matter.

There is a lot I could write about the changes and the reasons for them but I am going to push that off to another day, maybe. Besides, we have a traditio to get to.

I will confess my personal bias, which is always in favor of life regardless of the issue (i.e., abortion, euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, war, etc.). This is my default setting, not only as a Christian but as a human being. I have opposed the death penalty since reading George Orwell's essay "A Hanging" when I was 17. While I recognize that, at least with regard to egregious cases that arguably merit the death penalty in which the guilt of the person has been duly determined, there is no absolute moral equivalency between the death penalty and abortion, I am puzzled by those who oppose abortion and yet whole-heartedly support the death penalty. It bears noting that, while not absolute, there is some moral equivalency between abortion and the death penalty, most obviously both include killing a defenseless person. However, I must admit that I am more puzzled by those who support abortion and oppose the death penalty.

Recently philosopher Edward Feser, along with Joseph Besette, published a full-throated defense of capital punishment: By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment. Fortunately, theologian David Bentley Hart took the time to respond to the book's outrageous thesis and poor argumentation. His initial review of Feser's and Bessette's book, "Christians & the Death Penalty," was published in Commonweal. His reply to Feser's response to his Commonweal review, "Further Reflections on Capital Punishment (and on Edward Feser)," was published in the on-line publication Church Life Journal. I have to state that, as a Christian, I cannot really wrap my mind around retributive punishment, which strikes me as being very much at odds with the teaching of Jesus Christ. In the course of human events, it is sometimes necessary for the Church re-discover the Gospel in its radical depths.

Since I invoked so-called "retributive justice," while it has to do with imprisonment and not the death penalty, - I live where retributive justice is practically an article of faith for the majority religion, including something called "blood atonement" (this does seem to be changing) - I read something the other day that broke my heart: "'I'm so sorry I was a coward that day': Man seeks parole for killing Utah trooper 25 years ago while 18." Of a crime committed 25 years ago (shooting and killing Utah Highway Patrol officer Dennis "Dee" Lund) by a then-18 year-old, now 43 year-old, who has always expressed deep remorse for his crime a representative for the family of the slain trooper said: "As a family, we want the max for him. I hate to say that. He's probably making a lot of progress. But that doesn’t help my family make progress. We still suffer. I don’t say he should suffer. But we just want him to pay his maximum sentence like it's designed." While I usually don't recommend this, I urge you to read the comments on the article. Sadly, many people arguing in favor of continued Rodney Lund's incarceration would likely be among the first to insist the United States is a Christian nation.

Tuesday evening, I went to a concert. Three bands performed: The Fixx, X, and the Psychedelic Furs, respectively. It was a great show. Of course, this gives me ample fodder for our Friday traditio for the next several weeks. I will begin with "Stand or Fall" by The Fixx.

Gaining popularity in the early 1980s, many of The Fixx's songs have a heavy Cold War vibe. Listening to "Stand or Fall" last Tuesday, I was struck by the renewed relevancy of its lyrics. I remember in the immediate aftermath of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the concomitant break-up of the Warsaw Pact news commentator Danial Schorr opining that the dangers of the bi-polar world look relatively safe when compared with what was to come as a result of a multi-polar world. If the 21st century has proven anything, it's the truth of Schorr's assertion. It seems to me that the U.S. has yet to find a strategic foothold in the multi-polar world.

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...