Monday, December 31, 2018

Καθολικός διάκονος: End of the year roundup

2018 was the year Καθολικός διάκονος nearly died. But my work here is truly a labor of love. Up until the end of October, despite posting pretty sporadically for most of the year, things stayed pretty much the same in terms of the number of people who read my posts. Then I went 12 days without posting (from 21 October to 2 November). Subsequently, I posted only eight more times in November. For whatever reason(s), since then the numbers of readers for each post have dropped by more than half. Experiencing this has been a gift because it led me to hearken way back to 2006, the year I began blogging in earnest.

The first several years I blogged (if I may use that word as a verb), I did not garner a very large readership. I was neither surprised nor disappointed by this. For most of that time, I remained utterly amazed that I could post my thoughts on the worldwide web. After a while, when I seemed to gain no traction in terms of readership, I was forced to ask myself, often out loud in blog posts- "Why am I doing this?" I answered that question by realizing that I posted on my blog because I found it personally useful. This realization helped me to relax and not worry about the number of people who read what I write. Keeping in mind that the term blog began as a shorthand way to refer to a weblog, ever since my second or third year of blogging I have thought of this cyber-space as a kind of online journal, albeit one that contained entries suitable for sharing publicly. Looking back, there were certainly times I overshared. But as anyone who writes regularly knows, writing about something is perhaps the best way to clarify your own thoughts and feelings about it. Whoever wants to read what I post here is free to do so. If someone is helped in some way, if what I write contributes to our common humanity, even in some microscopic manner, then God be praised.

Another lesson I re-learned as a result of more or less starting over late this year is that constantly blogging about blogging is boring. I know, I know, how self-contradictory to write that in a blog post! But an end-of-the-year round-up seems an appropriate time to blog about blogging. I will try to remain conscious of this moving ahead.

I have to admit that it wasn't until about 2011 that I began "finding my own voice" as a writer/blogger (I hate the phrase "finding my own voice," by-the-way). The surest way to see that is when I began to "find my own voice" (sorry) is that in 2011 the number of posts began to drop. There was a dramatic drop in the number of posts between 2011 and 2012. With the exception of a slight increase from 2012 to 2013, I have posted fewer times each year. Last year and this year I did not even post 10 times a month. When I picked up again this year at the beginning of Advent, I was not certain I would reach 100 posts for the year.

I certainly intend to keep blogging in 2019. In August of next year, I will mark the 14th anniversary of Καθολικός διάκονος and the 13th anniversary of blogging regularly. The weekly anchors of my blog will remain the Friday traditio and my commentary on the Sunday readings for the weeks I do not preach and my homilies for the weeks I do. Typically, I try to post something on solemnities and major feast days as well. Once in a while, I post on other matters theological, pastoral, philosophical, cultural, historical or political. While I don't avoid politics altogether, I don't mind saying that I write about them far less than I did formerly. At present, I have don't want to add too much to all the noise. Very often posting on these and other matters is provoked by reading something with which I disagree in whole or in part.

Moving ahead, I expect to post between 100-120 times a year. This means posting 8-10 times per month. Looking at the number of posts I put up in my first five years of blogging, I can honestly say I will never return to that volume, especially when I consider the quality of many of those posts. Writing a lot of bad pieces, however, was necessary for me to become a better writer. Don't worry, I don't think I am a good writer, let alone a great one. From time-to-time, I must admit to suffering from delusions of adequacy. But without a doubt, blogging has helped me to write better.

One temptation I have had to resist over the course of the last two years is to go back and delete posts that set forth viewpoints I no longer hold (I have deleted a few, very few, terrible posts, however). What allows me to overcome this temptation is keeping in mind what I wrote above about this being a weblog. Hence, I like the fact that it (hopefully) shows that my thinking evolves.

In keeping with my tradition, below you will find what I think is the best post for each month of the past 12 months. Feel free to leave a comment about a post(s) from Καθολικός διάκονος this year that you found useful, insightful, or interesting.

January - "We'll find another end" - Dolores O'Riordan requiscat in pace

February - Remembering Billy Graham with mixed emotions

March - Another note on salvation in Christ, a papal one

April - Post-resurrection Christianity

May - Year B Pentecost Sunday. I usually don't consider my homilies or reflections on the Sunday readings for inclusion in this end-of-the-year list. I also don't consider the Friday traditio posts for this list. Given the paucity of choices for May, this is the one.

June - A political non-rant II. Since I posted nothing in June, I am picking a second July post.

July - Humanae vitae at 50

August - Make abusive and gravely errant clerics penitents. This was far-and-away my most read post in 2018.

September - Ephphatha! Open our hearts

October - Ushering in God's Reign is not primarily a political project

November - Beginning a bit early: a pre-Advent reflection

December - Exclaiming "Alleluia!" at Christmastide

In any case, for better and for worse, this post brings my 2018 blogging to en end. See you on the other side of midnight.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Exclaiming "Alleluia!" at Christmastide

After praying Morning Prayer today, the rest of my daily devotional prior to heading out to preach and serve at Mass was reading and meditating on the Rule of St Benedict. In conjunction with reading Abbot Patrick Barry's English translation of the Rule, I am reading Esther de Waal's commentary on it: A Life-Giving Way. Chapter 15 of the Rule was the focus of today's meditation.

The title of the fifteenth chapter of the Rule of St Benedict is "When the Alleluia should be said." Alleluia, it bears repeating, is a Hebrew phrase that has passed through Greek, Latin, English and pretty much all languages spoken by people who have received the Good News more or less untranslated. In its original language, the phrase means "Praise Yahweh." I know, I know, we're not supposed to use the tetragrammaton. In any case, because we are an Easter people, whenever Christians exclaim Alleluia it is an expression of Paschal (i.e., Easter) joy.

In her commentary, de Waal asserts that not saying Alleluia during Lent, "is a mark of the fasting and repentance of the forty days waiting for the coming of Easter." What I take this to mean is that not saying Alleluia during Lent generates anticipation. How good it feels to proclaim Alleluia at the Easter Vigil! How wonderful it is, as a deacon, to say to the presider at the great Vigil, even before it is sung: "Reverend Father, I bring you a message of great joy, the message of Alleluia." Does not proclaiming Alleluia! at Christmas also bid us to look forward to Easter?

"This short chapter [15] encourages me," de Waal wrote, "to ask myself what role the reality of death and new life, of dying and rebirth, plays in my life. Do I say Alleluia sufficiently often in recognition of the victory of the Cross?"

As nice a meditation as it was, upon finishing it, I thought it really didn't cohere with the liturgical season we're currently celebrating: Christmas. Yes, I tend to be rather didactic, not to mention pedantic, at times. Throughout the liturgical year, the Paschal Mystery unfolds. It culminates with our celebration of Christ's resurrection. But remembering this today took some time. In future, I will try never to lose sight of this!

At both Sunday Masses today, we sang the first two verses of "Silent Night" as our second Communion hymn. Singing verse two, which is my favorite verse, I was deeply moved by its words:
Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia! (italicizing emphasis mine)
Christ, the Savior is born/Christ, the Savior is born
Upon my arrival at the Church, I had to wait to set up for Mass because, this week, our communal Rosary was recited prior to the early Mass. As I busied myself in the vestry, I could hear the Rosary through the speaker. As I listened, I heard the fourth Glorious mystery- Mary's bodily Assumption in heaven- invoked. I though to myself, "How liturgically tone deaf! Why do we do things in a such rote way? The Joyful mysteries would be more appropriate for today." It was not until quite awhile later, after the mid-morning Mass, when I was walking Maisey, our Australian Shepherd, that I thought, like the heavenly hosts who sang Alleluia in "Silent Night," meditating on the Glorious mysteries at the end of the Octave of Christmas was a great opportunity to say Alleluia!, "in recognition of the victory of the Cross."

It also occurred to me during my walk that even during the penitential season of Lent, Sundays remain celebrations of the Christ's resurrection. Saying Alleluia more often, as a reminder and mini-celebration of Christ's victory, is a great resolution for the New Year. After all, Christ's Easter victory is our Easter victory.

Year C Feast of the Holy Family

Readings: Readings: 1 Sam 1:20-22.24-28; Ps. 128:1-5; 1 John 3:1-2.21-24; Luke 2:41-52

I want to begin by pointing out that that Christmas is not yet over. One of the results of foregoing Advent and jumping right into Christmas is that Christmas, as a season, receives short-shrift. Instead of enjoying the feast that follows the fast, many people busy themselves over Christmas with cleaning and getting things “back to normal.” In addition to celebrating today’s Feast of the Holy Family, during Christmastide we also celebrate the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God on 1 January. Next Sunday, 6 January, we observe Epiphany. Because Epiphany commemorates the visit of gift-bearing magi to the Holy Family, traditionally and in some countries even today, Epiphany, not Christmas, is the main day for exchanging gifts (but please don’t tip-off the stores about this). This year, as Roman Catholics in the United States, for whom Christmas ends on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord and not on Epiphany, we have two more weeks of Christmas!

It is also important to note that the Holy Family is very much a non-traditional family. One might say that the Holy Family is the proto-typical non-traditional family. After all, the Holy Family was formed as the result of a near break-up prior to marriage due to a surprise pregnancy. If the Infancy Narratives of Matthew and Luke are what we go by, Joseph was Jesus’s foster-father or something like that. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus powerfully reminds Joseph and Mary who he is by reminding them whose he is. His reminder came after Mary (understandably) castigated him, saying, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” (Luke 2:48). He then asks: “Why were you looking for me?” In other words, what does it mean to seek and find Christ? “Did you not know,” the Lord continued, “that I must be in my Father’s house?” The Gospel-writer then adds: “But they did not understand what he said to them” (Luke 2:50).

How often is it the case with us that we do not understand the meaning of Jesus’s words? To understand his words, we need to recognize that he spoke them not only in a specific context but in a particular time, place, and culture. When one closely examines Jesus’s teaching, it becomes clear he was not overly concerned about what we call “the traditional family.” As a matter of fact, he sometimes pointed to family attachments as an obstacle to receiving the Good News. The so-called “nuclear" family, consisting of father, mother, and children, which is often invoked today for ideological purposes, was not what people in Jesus’s time and culture understood as “the family.” In Jesus’s culture, the family was multi-generational and consisted not only of mothers, fathers, and children, but grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, great-aunts and uncles, second cousins, etc.

Nuclear families produce individuals. Because we were made for communion by a communion of divine persons, we know that one person is no person. Along with Jesus, Mary and Joseph constituted the Holy Family because, like the Son of God made man, both of them were wholly committed to doing the Father’s will come what may.

The family with which Jesus was concerned, the family Jesus came to establish, is the eschatological family of God. Included in this holy family are those who are cast-off from their own, natural families or those who, for whatever reasons, find themselves with no family. God's family, to paraphrase a still-popular Christmas show, just might be the Island of Misfit people. Does this mean family doesn’t matter? Of course not! It does mean that families now and always have taken different forms and come in different sizes.

Baptism was our re-birth as children of the Father through Christ Jesus by the power of their Holy Spirit. This reality is what prompted the inspired author of our second reading to exult: “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God” (1 Jn 3:1). Our Baptism makes us children of the Father and members of God’s family, the Church. As members of the family of God, each of us can take our rightful place at the Eucharistic table. As in any reasonably healthy family, there is always enough for room, enough food, enough love for one more. And it is always to quote Kurt Cobain, “come as you are.”

Pope Benedict XVI noted in his encyclical letter, Deus caritas est (i.e., God is Love), God’s family fulfills its mission by engaging in three endeavors: leitourgia, martyria, and diakonia (Deus caritas est, 25a). Leitourgia, or liturgy, refers to worshiping God. This is what we are doing at this very moment. While we worship God in many ways, the principal manner in which worship is through our celebration of the sacraments. But our participation in the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium, sec. 11). Among other things, the Eucharist is the Sunday supper of the family of God, a motley crew, indeed.

Martyria, or martyrdom, refers to being a witness. There are two distinct but related aspects of martyria: evangelization and catechesis. To evangelize means to tell others the Good News. Evangelizing primarily consists of bearing joyful witness to the love of God you have experienced through Jesus Christ. Especially in this age of anxiety, when depression and loneliness are so widespread, the most persuasive means of evangelizing is not apologetics, but true joy, the joy that only comes from knowing Jesus.

Catechesis means to “echo,” or, in this context, to “resound” the apostolic teaching. To catechize means to impart the Christian faith, to hand it on to those who have come to believe. It is clear that infants and small children cannot have faith apart from that of their parents and godparents, who promise to untiringly teach them the faith by word and example. Catechizing young people, which is very different from indoctrinating them, is a major effort every parish undertakes. Teaching the faith is so much more than trying to have people memorize doctrinal formulae or, worse yet, trying to impart a bit of morality.

Faith is often reduced in two ways: we reduce it to sentimentality (something that Christmas might stand as the example par excellence), or we reduce it to morality, to mere moralism. “The Church has nothing to say about morality,” Fr Timothy Radcliffe observed, “until our listeners have glimpsed God’s delight in their existence… We have nothing to say at all until people know that God rejoices in their very existence… Jesus is the incarnation of God’s pleasure in us, in everything that we are, body, mind and soul” (What is the Point of Being a Christian?, Kindle Locations 1154-1157, Bloomsbury Publishing, Kindle Edition).

Many people are alarmed at the rate young people seem to be abandoning the Church and all religious practice. This can be traced, at least in part, to a failure of both evangelization and catechesis, or, stated more precisely, the lack of evangelization in catechesis. Our response to this seeming crisis results in the development of strategies for keeping young people “in the Faith,” by which we mean practicing the faith on their own as adults. We always bear in mind, however, that because faith is a theological virtue, it can only be given by God, who is always offering himself to everyone. God’s always-being-offered gift of himself in Christ only becomes faith when a person receives it.

The most effective way to share your faith with your own children, with your grandchildren, with the young people in our parish, is to demonstrate by your own practice how much your faith means to you, how much joy you experience by being a Christian. Just as it is not our goal as parents to produce clones of ourselves, but authentic human beings, as people gifted by God with faith, our call is not to make carbon copies of ourselves, but to make disciples of Jesus Christ (Matt 28:19).

Finally, in a Christian context, diakonia, a Greek verb, from which we derive the word “deacon,” means serving others in Jesus’s name for the sake of God’s kingdom. In Deus caritas est, Pope Benedict noted:
The Church is God's family in the world. In this family no one ought to go without the necessities of life. Yet at the same time [this love] extends beyond the frontiers of the Church. The parable of the Good Samaritan remains as a standard which imposes universal love towards the needy whom we encounter “by chance” (cf. Lk 10:31), whoever they may be (sec. 25b)
Those who because of their faith in Christ worship God in the power of the Spirit and so are impelled by the same Spirit to give joyful witness to the love of God, and who serve each other, as well as those in need, together make up the Holy Family of God.

Friday, December 28, 2018

"When the violence causes silence"

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Innocents. On this day Christians commemorate those boys aged two and under "in Bethlehem and its vicinity" who were murdered by order of King Herod (Matt 2:16-18). The liturgical color for today's feast, as it was two days ago on the Feast of Stephen, as it is on the feasts and memorials of all the martyrs, is red; red for blood. While we celebrate Stephen as the first Christian martyr, often referring to him as the Church's "proto-martyr," I think the murdered children of ancient Bethlehem make a better claim to the title proto-martyr. "Proto-" means not only "original" but "primitive."

This year in particular, we must not be content to let the Feast of the Holy Innocents be merely a commemoration of a horrific event that we've somehow managed to sanitize over two millenia. Rather, we need to let today's feast challenge us. This month alone two children immigrating from Guatemala died while being detained by the U.S. government. Felipe Gomez Alonzo, age 8, died in New Mexico on Christmas Eve. Jakelin Caal, age 7, died on 8 December, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in El Paso, Texas.

Let's not forget that 2018 was the year that the U.S. government instigated a truly dehumanizing policy of separating immigrant children from their parents and holding these children in harsh and inhumane conditions, including putting them in cages (see "The Trump administration’s separation of families at the border, explained"). We need also keep in mind the U.S.'s involvement in Saudi Arabia's incomprehensible war in Yemen. This war has also been the the cause of illness, starvation, and death from many children in southern part of the Arabian peninsula (see "Yemen conflict: A devastating toll for children").

Even though I have posted on the topic extensively in the second half of this year, it would be hypocritical of me, not only as a Catholic but as a cleric, not to mention the additional revelations about child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. While these revelations are about abuse that happened years, they help us to see the horrifying scope of the problem and how far the Church's hierarchy has to go in order to repent.

Immigrant children separated from their parents being held in cages in Texas in 2018, courtesy of The Guardian

Sadly, we cannot relegate today to a cozy little observance on which we recognize and appreciate the efforts of altar servers- though we should appreciate every day the efforts of young women and men who serve at Mass. Instead, we need to let today's observance not only challenge but provoke us to stand-up for children all over the world. The Lord loved children, which was a bit out of the ordinary in his day. While we don't need to go all Holden Caulfield, which literary character is a projection of a rather unhealthy aspect of its author's psyche, we need to stand-up for those who cannot stand-up for themselves. Happy Feast of the Holy Innocents! The spirit of Herod is alive and well and not just in the United States but in parts of Europe and other places too. We must resist this spirit using all the creative non-violent means at our disposal.

It's difficult to think of music to pair with the somberness today's feast forces on me. It's not my ideal to tinge the last traditio of the year with so dark a color. But I am going with the song "Zombie" by The Cranberries. "Zombie" was written by the late and badly missed Dolores O'Riordan to protest two IRA bombings carried out by the Provisional IRA in Warrington, England in 1993. The song was dedicated to the two young victims of that attack: Johnathan Ball, who was 3 years old and Tim Parry, who was 12 when he was murdered. The version I chose is a beautiful acapella version recorded this year in O'Riordan's memory:

As we stand on the threshold of a new year, let's remember that violence begets violence.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

On the Feast of Stephen

My middle name is Stephen, after my father, whose first name was Stephen. When I was baptized and confirmed at age 24, I did not feel inclined to choose the name of another saint. This was before I ever had an inkling I would discern my call to be a deacon. Since I renamed my weblog in 2007, which is when I started "blogging" in earnest, St Stephen has been the patron of this cyber space. So, today is a very special day to me.

On second day of Christmas, the Church observes the Feast of St Stephen. Along with six other men, who the Acts of the Apostles tell us were "filled with the Spirit" (Acts 6:3), Stephen was chosen to serve the earliest Christian community by ensuring an equal distribution of the Church's goods. Of particular concern were the complaints of the Greek-speaking widows that they were being shorted in the daily distribution of food. It was to deal with this potential rift that the community, not merely the apostles, chose seven men to ensure a fair distribution of Church's commonly held goods.

And so, for the purpose of ensuring the fair daily distribution of food, "Stephen, a man filled with faith and the holy Spirit, also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism" (Acts 6:5), were then set apart, one might say "ordained," by the apostles laying hands on them. In reality, it is anachronistic to use the term "ordained" in the context of the primitive Church. While these men, going back at least to St Irenaeus, have been held to be the Church's first deacons and while the office of deacon was instituted early on in Church (possibly prior to the order of presbyter), the seven men are never referred to as deacons in the relevant passage: Acts 6:1-7. Their not being referred to as deacons, or even being said to engage in diaconal service in this passage is made even more interesting by the fact that the Greek word diakonia is used in this passage four times: three times as a noun and once in verb form.

The next thing we read about in Acts is Stephen, "filled with grace and power," preaching the Gospel (Acts 6:8-15 and Acts 7:1-3). His preaching about Jesus Christ drew the attention of a zealous Pharisee: Saul of Tarsus. At Saul's instigation, a whipped-up Jewish mob stoned Stephen to death (see Acts 7:54-60). All of this is interesting biblical background but it is important to try to discover what it might mean.

A friend, Fr Peter Nguyen, SJ, who teaches Theology at Creighton University in Nebraska, posted a homily by his fellow Jesuit, Alfred Delp. Fr Delp delivered this homily on today's feast back in 1941. Delp was arrested, imprisoned, and ultimately killed by the National Socialist government for opposing them by belonging to a resistance group known as the "Kreisau Circle" as well as for preaching against the Nazi's evil ideology. He was executed in February 1945. I think Fr Delp's homily, especially when coupled with his own witness, cuts to the meaning of today's feast in a powerful way.

I am wholly indebted to Fr Peter for bringing Fr Delp's homily to my attention. I am equally indebted to him for "showing me" Peter Webb's amazing painting of Stephen's stoning.

The Stoning of Stephen, Peter Webb
Today’s feast destroys two illusions in the midst of the Christmas experience. It rips up the dream of an idyllic Bethlehem. Christmas is not about lingering happily in that magical hour of that miracle. This God chooses to descend to us and to encounter our difficult questions. Paul calls this the kenosis of the Lord, the self-emptying, the self-giving, self-surrender, the descent. Christmas is this decision of God’s devotion to us. And so, the Feast of Christmas always confronts us with the question of the meaning of this Divine devotion.

The red robes, which I wear today in the start of the Christmas holiday, points to it: the birth of Christ conveys more than a happy memory; it communicates something that speaks to the heart, to the soul, to the very interiority of one’s decision-making.

And the second illusion that the Feast of St. Stephen shatters is the idea of a triumphant God and triumphant Church. It is clear that this idolatry must end. Since Christmas, it is precisely this peculiar life that God, the Lord, came into this world, but not in order to march triumphant on the "via regia" of history and to shake men and women through this type of splendor, to thrill people with this type of majesty, to engross people with this type of glory.

From this time onward, one knows that the Lord is there, and one has experienced Him in a thousand miracles again and again and that at the same time one knows, the Lord is drawn into our perdition, he is there in our loneliness. The Lord neither sends us whom he has interiorly touched beyond catastrophes nor sends us into storms and lets us sink in them.

And that is the miracle that comes up repeatedly throughout the ages: that one can bear catastrophes and deal with it, instead of avoiding them.

[Alfred Delp, Homily on the Feast of St. Stephen, 1941]
I follow Melissa Florer-Bixler, who pastors a Mennonite community in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Twitter. Yesterday, commenting on the spectacle many churches attempt to put on at Christmas, she tweeted: "If your goal is to get people to show again because of your slick production values imagine the distressing sense of bait and switch when you tell them they are called to die."

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Urbi et orbi- Christmas 2018


Christmas 2018

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Happy Christmas!

To you, the faithful of Rome, to you, the pilgrims, and to all who are linked to us from every part of the world, I renew the joyous proclamation of Bethlehem: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those whom he favours” (Lk 2:14).

Like the shepherds who first went with haste to the stable, let us halt in wonder before the sign that God has given us: “A baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12). In silence, let us fall to our knees and worship.

What does that Child, born for us of the Virgin Mary, have to tell us? What is the universal message of Christmas? It is that God is a good Father and we are all brothers and sisters.

This truth is the basis of the Christian vision of humanity. Without the fraternity that Jesus Christ has bestowed on us, our efforts for a more just world fall short, and even our best plans and projects risk being soulless and empty.

For this reason, my wish for a happy Christmas is a wish for fraternity.

Fraternity among individuals of every nation and culture.

Fraternity among people with different ideas, yet capable of respecting and listening to one another.

Fraternity among persons of different religions. Jesus came to reveal the face of God to all those who seek him.

The Nativity of the Lord: Mass During the Night

Readings: Isa 9:1-6; Ps 96:1-3.11-3; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isa 9:1). We are gathered here at midnight because we have been drawn to the light. Just a few days ago, we observed the Winter Solstice. The Winter Solstice is the name those of us who live in the northern hemisphere give to the shortest day of the year. As we drive and walk around the neighborhoods of our city this time of year, we see many lights. As you walked into the church tonight it is likely you noticed the lights illuminating the lovely stained-glass window above the main doors. In the dark and cold of a deep winter’s night, the light draws us, comforts us, gives us hope for longer, warmer days.

But the light we hear about in our reading from Isaiah is not electric light, firelight, or even candlelight. Rather, Isaiah has in mind the Light of World. Jesus Christ is the Light of the World. The light of Christ was given to each of us symbolically at our Baptism when the priest or deacon lit a taper from the Paschal Candle and, handing it to one of our godparents, said: “Receive the light of Christ” (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, sec. 579). Once we received the candle from our godparent, or, if baptized as an infant, with the godparent standing next to us, the celebrant exhorted us to:
keep the flame of faith alive in [our hearts].
When the Lord comes, may you go out to meet him
With all the saints in the heavenly kingdom (Ibid.)
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his followers: “You are the light of the world.” After speaking of what it means to be the light of the world using two brief images- a city set on a hill and setting a lamp on a lampstand in order to give light to the whole house- the Lord exhorts his disciples: “your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matt 5:16). Last Friday, in his annual Christmas speech to the Roman Curia, Pope Francis noted: “Salvation is a gift … but one that must be accepted, cherished and made to bear fruit” (Matt 25:14-30; Pope Francis, Christmas Greetings to the Roman Curia). Our Baptism marked our own passage through the Red Sea that delivers us from what Isaiah described as the “land of gloom" (Isa (9:1). This safe passage was given us by Christ, who is our Passover, so that we might “live in the freedom of God’s children” (Isa 9:1; Rite of Baptism for Children, sec. 94).

In our second reading, taken from the Letter to Titus, we receive practical guidance on how to heed the Lord’s exhortation to be the light of the world. Living as a Christian means living ascetically. The Greek word askesis, or “ascesis,” as it is usually pronounced in English, “means ‘exercise,’ ‘practice,’ or ‘training’ for the purpose of obtaining something that is worth aspiring to, that represents an ideal” (R. Arbesman. “Asceticism,” in New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, 772).

Living temperately, justly, and devoutly means practicing the three spiritual disciplines taught to us by our Lord himself: prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. Prayer corresponds to being devout, fasting to being temperate, and alms-giving to being just, not merely charitable. This is how we make ourselves and the world ready for “the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ” (Tit 2:13).

Advent, the season that ended at sundown yesterday, far from being a season for parties and feasts, is the time are to use preparing ourselves for the feast of the Lord’s coming-into-the world. As Christ’s disciples, we should always be sober and alert, ready for his coming. What it means to live between the already and the not-yet is to encounter Christ is unexpected and sometimes uncomfortable ways: in the distressing disguise of a person in need, as a piece of bread or sip of wine, as a gracious reconciliation, or in someone who is gravely ill.

Living ascetically is not an end in itself. It is the means to the end of making God’s reign present here and now. Christ’s birth dramatically shows us how this looks in reality. We meditate on Jesus’s Nativity as the third Joyful mystery of the Holy Rosary. The spiritual fruit of this mystery is Poverty. It is far too easy to sentimentalize the Lord’s birth. In English, we say he was “wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12). But what is meant is that poor couple, who were forced to stay in shelter used for animals, where their baby was born, wrapped the newborn in rags and laid him in a feeding trough.

Since Jesus, as the great Church Father Origen insisted, is autobasileia: “the kingdom in person,” it is no exaggeration to say that the reign of God on earth began with a baby wrapped in rags and lying in a feeding trough. It’s difficult to imagine a less imposing start to a kingdom that, once fully established, will encompass the universe and last forever. But until Christ returns in glory, God’s reign is established almost exclusively in ways that are inconspicuous, not likely to make the headlines, the evening news, or trend on Twitter.

Msgr Luigi Giussani insisted: “we get up every morning… to help Christ save the world, with the strength we have, with the light we possess, asking Christ to give us more light and more strength” (Luigi Giussani, Is It Possible to Live This Way?: An Unusual Approach to Christian Existence, Vol. 3- Charity, 127). We do this by living ascetically, by practicing temperance, justice, and devotion to God through Christ. This is what it means to be to be people who have not only seen a great light but who have been bathed in light by the “Father of lights” and called to illuminate “this present darkness” (James 1:17; Eph 6:12).

Going back to Baptism, the sacrament by which we are reborn as children of the Father through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, once those who have just been baptized are holding their tapers lit from the Paschal Candle, the celebrant, addresses them directly, saying: “You have been enlightened by Christ. Walk always as children of the light” (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, sec. 579). It is by our walking as children of the light that the light of Christ, the light of Christmas, continues to shine in the darkness until the dawning of that day when he returns in glory and the “not yet” becomes the eternal now.

The city of God, we learn in the Book of Revelation, will have “no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God” will give “it light, and its lamp” will be the Lamb of God (Rev 21:23). The one who will be all the light the city of God needs is the same Lamb of God who was born in Bethlehem and was wrapped in rags and placed in a feeding trough for animals. The same Lamb of God who died, rose, ascended and will return, by our participation in this Eucharist tonight, will illumine us from within before sending us out to radiate light in the darkness of this world. This is the same Lamb of God who is Emmanuel, God with us. “Behold,” says the angel of the Book of Revelation, “God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them” (Rev 21:3). It is God always with us, Emmanuel, we celebrate in the darkness of this holy night.

As Martin Luther observed: "For this purpose Christ willed to be born, that through him we might be born anew" (See "Born to Us"). Alleluia! Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Being a blessing to your neighbor

Readings: Micah 5:1-4a; Ps 80:2-3.15-16.18-19; Heb 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45

Today is one of those liturgical days on which there are so many convergences that as I ponder them my head nearly explodes. First, today is the last day on which the Church prays the so-called O Antiphons. Hence, the O Antiphon for today is:
O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.
Emmanuel, of course, is a name meaning "God is with us."

Our Gospel reading for today is the same as it was on Friday- Luke's account of Mary's visitation to her kinswoman, Elizabeth. According to Luke, Elizabeth, too, is the beneficiary of a child conceived with divine assistance. Her son, John the Baptist, while conceived in the normal way, came to be after Elizabeth had passed, or was on the verge of passing, child-bearing age. While Luke's account of the Baptist's conception and birth is less dramatic that Sarah's conception of Isaac in Genesis (see Gen 18:1-15), it bears a resemblance to Hannah's conception of the prophet Samuel (see 1 Samuel 1).

Mary's visitation of Elizabeth is the fourth Joyful mystery of the Holy Rosary. As I noted on Friday, the spiritual fruit of this mystery is the love of neighbor. Note the joy of their meeting. Mary greets Elizabeth. Upon the sound of the Virgin's greeting reaching her ears, the child in Elizabeth's womb "leaped." Filled with Holy Spirit, Elizabeth calls her young kinswoman thrice blessed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb" (Luke 1:42); "Blessed are you who believed" (Luke 1:45). By believing what the Archangel Gabriel revealed to her, Mary believed all that was spoken by the prophets, like the prophecy from our first reading, taken from the Book of the Prophet Micah.

As my bishop preached last Friday, joy is the fruit of love. How loving of Mary to share the Good News with Elizabeth and Zechariah. Luke tells us that Mary went "in haste" to their house (Luke 1:39). Truly good news makes you eager to share it with others. Love of neighbor prompted by the love of God is really the Gospel, the Good News, in its most succinct form. God was with Elizabeth in a concrete way because Mary bore him the distance from Nazareth to the village in the Judean hill country. By loving your neighbor for the love of God gives you make Christ present in a way not that different from that of the Blessed Virgin.

Visitation, Cathedral, Toledo, Spain, taken Sharon Mollerus during a visit several years ago

Our reading from the magnificent Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that Christ is truly human and truly divine. He came to make of himself an offering to the Father so that all who, like Mary, believe God's revelation in Christ might be gathered together and comprise his Body, allowing Christ to make an offering of us to the Father. Our offering is lives of loving service. As Psalm 51, which is called the Miserere, puts it:
For you do not desire sacrifice or I would give it;
a burnt offering you would not accept.
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn
This brings us to the first of the Rosary's Joyful mysteries: the Annunciation. The spiritual fruit of this mystery is humility. As a saying that is often attributed to C.S. Lewis holds: "Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less." The trouble with this quote is that there is no evidence that Lewis ever spoke or wrote it. The realization that it is misattributed does not diminish its truth, however. There is a lesson in that, I think, for how we approach both Matthew's and Luke's Infancy Narratives in their respective Gospels.

While I've invoked Emmanuel, God is with us, along with the Annunciation, you may have noticed that the Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent is the same prayer we use to end the Angelus:
Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord
your grace into our hearts,
that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son
was made known by the message of an Angel,
may be his Passion and Cross
be brought to the glory of his Resurrection...

Friday, December 21, 2018

"If love was a train, I'd throw my body on her tracks"

All week I was planning a fairly lengthy post for today. But then today came, I awoke, shaved, brushed my teeth, showered, dressed, and flew off church to serve alongside my bishop at Mass. The Gospel reading for 21 December is a concentrated treatment of the Visitation of Mary to her kinswoman, Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist (see Luke 1:39-45). Since it was a school Mass, my bishop, Oscar Solis, tailored his homily for the children. He preached on joy and love or, more specifically, the joy borne of love.

Of course, the spiritual fruit of the second Joyful mystery of the Holy Rosary, which bids us to meditate on the Visitation, is love of neighbor. By their respective conceptions, both women knew the love of God, the Blessed Virgin in a particularly intimate way. Experiencing the love of God has the peculiar effect of one who has received it not being able to keep it to herself.

Not only did my bishop preach what I needed to hear, in gearing towards children, he preached it in a tone that my heart heard. I am not going to try and replicate here what he said. What is the point of that? All I can say is that I often "forget" I am loved. This results in me sometimes living like I am not loved. What does that mean? It means not loving others, especially the person to whom I am closest.

Our Friday traditio, then, for this Third Sunday of Advent is an old song of which I was reminded this week: "If Love Was a Train." It is a song by a chanteuse I like very much, both as an artist and a person, Michelle Shocked. Because of privacy restrictions, you'll have to click the link to listen to the song. It's worth your while to do so.

Why this song? Because, like a lot of blues, it is about the kind of love we all desire but can never find. As Michelle herself figured out, there is what Steve Winwood called "a Higher Love." To experience it, you must take time with the One who loves you infinitely. If love was a train, along with Michelle, I would never get off.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Updated reporting on clerical sexual abuse

Back in August I posted on how my diocese, the Diocese of Salt Lake City, responded after the U.S. Bishops approved the so-called Dallas Charter (see "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now...") back in 2002. In a report publicly released on 14 June 2002, our then-bishop, George Niederauer, who went on to become archbishop of San Francisco a few years later, divulged the number of clergy (all of whom were priests), going back to 1950, who had credibly been accused of sexual abuse: 13 in total. In the report he also gave the number of reported incidents: 18. Additionally, he provided information about what the diocese had paid out to that point to victims: $58,000 in total, $43,000 for pastoral outreach, $15,000 on legal fees, and $0 in settlements. $20,000 of the cost of pastoral outreach was covered by insurance. Then-Bishop Niederauer did not divulge the names of abusive clerics, where they served, what happened as a result of their being credibly accused, or their current status. Neither did he reveal the nature of any of the credible allegations.

Today, the current bishop of Salt Lake City, Oscar Solis, released a statement and, more importantly, a detailed spreadsheet that provides the names of priests against whom credible accusations have been made, along with other information concerning the allegations.

By my count, since 14 June 2002, twenty more allegations have come to light. Considering one allegation, alleged to have occurred earlier this year, was dismissed by the Utah Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS), the number of credible allegations released today can be numbered at 19. Seventeen of the of these additional credible incidents are attributable to twelve priests. One allegation is against a religious brother who belonged to the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales and one was made against a seminarian. Of the twelve priests, three had been credibly accused of at least one incident of sexual abuse prior to the June 2002 report.

As noted, the 2002 report gives as 13 the number of priests with at least one credible allegation of sexual abuse. The spreadsheet put out today includes nineteen names. As I pointed out above, two of those who appear on the spreadsheet were not priests. This leaves 17 priests who, since 1950, have at least one credible allegation of sexual abuse against them, according to today's disclosure. Judging by the dates given as to when the diocese learned of the allegations, there were credible allegations against 9 priests that the diocese did not receive until after the release of the June 2002 report. For example, one incident, involving Paul Franco, was reported to the diocese on 17 June 2002, just three days after the diocese's initial report.

Coat of arms of the Diocese of Salt Lake City

Comparing today's report to the 2002 report, the number of priests who have served in the diocese since 1950 and who have credible allegations of sexual abuse against them should go up from thirteen to twenty-two. But today's accounting lists only 17. I realize these things can be trickier than many people assume and that there may be some older instances for which complete information is not available, but it seems to me there is a difference of 5 priests between the 2002 report and today's disclosure. Perhaps it is a case of a few dates entered erroneously. In any case, I laud the transparency of today's data release. I am very pleased at detailed information provided. I have no doubt about my diocese's commitment to safeguarding young people and vulnerable adults.

According to the 2002 report, from 1950 to 2002 a total of 476 priests had served in the Diocese of Salt Lake City. The number of priests who have served in our diocese has increased in the past 16 years. I do not know by how many. Judging from some of the questions I received after my post last August, the most valuable information on the spreadsheet consists of the current status of these men, what actions were taken in light of the credible allegations against them, and where each one served and the years in which they served in each place.

Seven of the seventeen priests on the list are now deceased, as is the religious brother. It appears six of the eleven who are still alive were removed from the clerical state, five forcibly and two voluntarily by leaving the priesthood. One of those forcibly removed from the clerical state, James Rapp, is incarcerated in Oklahoma. Four men were retired from ministry and had their faculties to minister as priests removed. In this latter category is David Gaeta. In August of this year he was credibly accused of two instances of sexual abuse that are alleged to have occurred in Ogden in 1982. His retirement and the removal of faculties was announced today by Bishop Solis. According to the bishop's statement, "Removal of faculties means the individual may no longer engage in public ministry, including dressing as a priest, presenting himself as a priest in good standing, performing public Masses, hearing Confessions, or conducting Baptisms, Marriages, or administering other Sacraments." The seminarian against whom there is a credible allegation of sexual abuse has long since been dismissed.

Looking at the two publicly available reports, it would appear that the total number of incidents reported since 14 June 2002 is one more than double of the number previously reported. But instead of 37 incidents (18 + 19= 37), the report released today includes 29 credible allegations (30-1; the one being the allegation dismissed by the DCFS). Not dismissing the difficulty of this kind of accounting and reporting, I think this represents progress. Looking at the dates on which the additional nineteen sexual abuse incidents are reported to have taken place, 2 of those have occurred since June 2002. One of those is the incident involving the now-dismissed seminarian and that happened in 2002. The other credible report was from 2003. There were no updates on any financial pay-outs the diocese may have made since 2002.

It also bears noting that one priest of the diocese is currently suspended pending the diocese's determination in the wake of pleading no contest to a charge for soliciting prostitution (see "Priest of Salt Lake Catholic church charged with soliciting prostitution").

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Year C Third Sunday of Advent

Readings: Zeph 3:14-18a; Isa 12:2-; Phil 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18

Today, Roman Catholics along with many other Christians, celebrate Gaudete Sunday. In practical terms, this means today is the day we light the rose-colored candle. Why is it called Gaudete Sunday, you might ask? We call today Gaudete Sunday because Gaudete, which is Latin for “Rejoice,” is the first word of the Introit for today’s Mass. Your next question is probably, “What is an Introit?”

The word Introit is Latin. It is a combination of intro-, “to enter into,” and the Latin root word, ire, a verb meaning “to go,” “to take action.” So, the Introit means entering into an action, to start something. Think of it like the overture of a symphony, in which the all the musical themes taken up by the composer in the various movements that comprise the work are introduced.

When considering the purpose of the Introit, it is most useful to keep in mind that the word “liturgy,” which is of Greek origin, refers to the work of the people as well as work done on behalf of the people. The suffix of “liturgy,” -urgy, from whence we derive our word “urge,” refers to a deliberate action, or work. To engage in liturgy, then, means to take part in and/or be the recipient of a deliberate and beneficial effort. The work in which we engage in liturgy is not only directed to a specific end but is the primary means through which God seeks to complete creation.

A bit more down-to-earth, the Introit is a short verse that sets the tone or lays out the themes of the liturgy for a given eucharistic celebration. Our parish, like the vast majority of parishes these days, does not sing nor does the priest recite the Introit at the foot of the altar. A few churches, churches, like our Cathedral, still sing it each week.

The Introit for Mass for the Third Sunday of Advent is taken from our epistle reading, which is a passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.” Or, in Latin: Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, Gaudete. Dominus enim prope est.

It is vitally important that the work in which we engage during the liturgy extend beyond the end of Mass. Hence, it is highly relevant to note that our term “Mass,” from the Latin missa, refers to our being dismissed when it ends. Missa, in turn, is related to missio from whence we derive the word “mission.” It does not mean to be “dismissed” in the pejorative sense. Rather, it means being sent. This is what makes the Church, makes us, apostolic; we are those whom the Lord sends to make him present wherever we are.

Every year, the Gospel reading for the Third Sunday of Advent is about the mission of John the Baptist. Among Western Christians, the Baptist’s prominence has faded quite a bit over the centuries. Like the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Baptist plays a singular role in God's economy of salvation. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of his one-of-a-kind ministry. He was not only or even primarily the last of the Old Testament prophets. He was the one uniquely chosen by God to be the herald, the forerunner of the Messiah. St. Luke even tells us that while the Baptist was still in the womb of his mother, Elizabeth, he was filled with the Holy Spirit and leaped at the approach of the Messiah, who was still in Mary’s womb (Luke 1:39-45). The final chapter of the Book of the Prophet Malachi, which is the final book of the Old Testament contains a prophecy:
Now I am sending to you Elijah the prophet, Before the day of the LORD comes, the great and terrible day; He will turn the heart of fathers to their sons, and the heart of sons to their fathers (Mal 3:23-24)

Speaking of the Baptist, Jesus himself said:
among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist… All the prophets and the law prophesied up to the time of John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, the one who is to come (Matt 11:11.13-15)
Of course, Elijah, who was taken up into heaven in a chariot of fire (see 2 Kings 2:8-14), was greatest of the strictly Old Testament prophets.

I admit that what I have said so far might be dismissed as academic; “Interesting, but so what?” This brings us to the question that constitutes the heart of today’s readings, especially our Gospel text: “What then should we do?” (Luke 3:10). The “crowds” asked this question after the Baptist, who began by denouncing them as a “brood of vipers,” challenged them to repent and “Produce good fruits as evidence of [their] repentance,” lest they “be cut down and thrown into the fire” (See Luke 3:7-9).

Hearkening back to extending our work of liturgy beyond the Mass, it is useful to note that the crowds do not ask the Baptist “What shall we believe?” They certainly did not pose the question that in all honesty we are sometimes tempted to ask: “How shall we interpret John’s words in such a way that we may maintain our comfort while our neighbors suffer?” (See Austin Crenshaw Shelley, “December 16, Advent 3C, (Luke 3:7-18)”). As Austin Shelley pointed out, the Baptist’s reply to the question of the crowds could not be clearer: “Repentance has to do with ethics, with action, with the Holy Spirit’s compelling us to be God’s hands and feet in the world—with attention to the needs of others rather than preoccupation with our own salvation” (Ibid).

In our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, in which he urges them to rejoice always, the apostle points to one sure source of joy, and so of rejoicing: “Your kindness should be known to all” (Phil 4:5a). The Greek word translated into English as “kindness” is epieikés. Literally, epieikés means “true equity,” or “true justice.” In other words, Paul is urging them to be heralds of Christ by enacting “justice beyond ordinary justice.” I can only conceive of justice beyond ordinary justice as mercy and compassion.

The psychological distress of American #Christmas,” tweeted the satirical but often insightful Werner Twertzog last week, “is the result of unsustainable cognitive dissonance regarding its overt claims and its covert purposes” (See Werner Twertzog, 14 December 2018. 8:18 AM). In other words, there often seems to be a disconnection between who we celebrate and how we go about celebrating. Our giving in to the temptation to leap over Advent in our rush to Christmas is one sure sign of this disconnection.

The people asked the prophet, “What shall we do?” It’s easy to imagine the answer is complicated. But in this instance, the answer is quite straightforward. Consider the Baptist’s first response, which applies to everyone and not only to unique situations he addresses with regard to tax collectors and soldiers, whose interest in his message serves to highlight the power of John’s preaching: “Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise” (Luke 3:11). These are the works in which, as disciples of the One whose herald the Baptist was and whose heralds we are called to be by virtue of our Baptism, we should be engaged. Such works are the fruits produced by anyone who is genuinely repentant. It is by engaging in these works that we extend the liturgy. By going forth to make Christ present to those with whom we find ourselves, especially helping those in need, they can rejoice that the Lord is near.

Friday, December 14, 2018

"Well that’s how broken I would be"

I don't know about you, but despite my best efforts over the past several years, Advent is just a busy time. This year, I don't mind admitting, Advent, at least thus far, has been downright hectic. On the First Monday of Advent I was hit by a pick-up truck with a snowplow on the front of it while driving to work. The driver of the truck ran a red light and t-boned me. Somewhat surprisingly, I walked away from the crash uninjured. My car, however, was totaled. For the past 12 days, I have been driving a rental car paid for by my insurance company. But now the settlement for the totaled car has been figured and I have to turn the rental back in tomorrow. This is means I have to buy a car today or tomorrow. We have only gone looking at cars once, a few hours last Saturday. Of course, this comes on top of everything else. While I am prone to complaining, I really shouldn't. I don't have much to complain about.

Looking back over the past year, I can honestly say that I am not sure I could survive another year as physically and emotionally draining as 2018. Someone once quipped that in the middle everything feels like a failure. Being middle-aged, at least for me, takes that observation to a whole new level. Stated another way, I have gained a lot of humility since turning 50 a little more than three years ago. I am not at a point, even yet, where I think of myself as old. I am starkly conscious that I am no longer young. It's a strange place, a vulnerable place.

In light of the above, it is fitting that the Old Testament canticle, included in the Psalmody for Friday Morning Prayer, Week II of the Psalter, is taken from the Book of the Prophet Habakkuk. The canticle includes this:
For though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit appears on the vine, Though the yield of the olive fails and the terraces produce no nourishment, Though the flocks disappear from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, Yet I will rejoice in the LORD and exult in my saving God (Hab 3:17-18)

Last night driving home from my office pre-Christmas party I was regaling my lovely wife with songs I like as she drove us home. I played Morrissey, The Pretenders, The Smiths, The Cure, Joy Division, and New Order. My wife, for those who don't know, is a classically-trained pianist and music theorist. She mostly tolerates my music and even finds it amusing at times. Last year, the week after my birthday, she accompanied me to see Morrissey live in concert. After listening to 3 or 4 songs, I told her not worry that many people found my musical tastes odd. Being the luminous and lovely person she is, she said, "No, you just like poems set to music." I liked that and she meant it sincerely, which made me feel better about myself.

As I pondered my wife's words early this morning, in much the same way my thoughts drifted to David Bowie's Blackstar album last Friday, to another album recorded while the artist was dying: Leonard Cohen's You Want It Darker. Cohen, for certain, was a poet who set many of his poems to music. Specifically, I thought of Cohen's "If I Didn't Have Your Love." Like most truly great love songs, this song works on many levels, both human and divine. Here 's a verse:

And if no leaves were on the tree
And no water in the sea
And the break of day
Had nothing to reveal
That’s how broken I would be
What my life would seem to me
If I didn’t have your love
To make it real

Sending this out to the One who loves me and the one I love, "If I Didn't Have Your Love" is our Friday traditio for this Second Friday in Advent:

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Readings: Rev 11:19a.12:1-6a; Judith 13:18-19; Luke 1:26-38

Esta es la Misa de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe para los gringos. ¿No lo es? iNo! En realidad esta es una celebración para toda nuestra parroquia, los latinos, incluso aquellos que no son mexicanos, para los anglos, para los japoneses, para los samoanos, para todos. ¿No es nuestro patrón, Olaf, noruego? Porque la Iglesia es universal, la veneración de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe es universal

It is right at fitting that over the course of Advent we celebrate two great Marian feasts. Just last week we celebrated the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and today we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. For us, as inhabitants of the continent of North America and of the country the United States of America, these are important observances. The Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe, is patroness of all the Americas. Under the title Immaculate Conception, she is the patroness of these United States of America. I do not call her “Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception,” but only "the Immaculate Conception” because this is how she revealed her identity to St Bernadette in Lourdes, France in 1858, after the young peasant girl, at the behest of her pastor and the local authorities, had been imploring the one she called, in her local dialect, un petito damizelo, which in English is “a small young lady,” to reveal who she was.

Of course, as Our Lady of Guadalupe she revealed herself centuries before her appearances in Lourdes to another lowly person, an indigenous man, St Juan Diego. During the time he was favored with the appearances of Our Lady, Juan Diego was a catechumen, a member of what we today call RCIA. In other words, he was receiving instruction to be baptized. The first apparition he experienced was while walking from his home to the Franciscan mission where he was receiving instruction. According to the sources we have, the Blessed Virgin appeared to Juan five times. It was in her very first appearance that she requested, through Juan Diego, that the bishop build a chapel in her honor. The bishop Juan Zumárraga, while never seriously doubting the witness of Juan Diego, asked for a sign to authenticate what he was being told.

It was during her fourth apparition that Our Lady provided the sign requested by the bishop. This appearance took place under interesting circumstances. Juan Diego was determined to miss his appointment with Our Lady because his uncle had fallen ill and was in danger of death. As a result of his uncle’s illness, he set out to retrieve a priest to hear his uncle’s confession, anoint him and give him communion. In order not to be delayed by his appointed meeting with the Virgin, Juan chose another route, one that avoided the place he was to meet her. But she appeared along his alternate route and asked him where he was going. After Juan explained, the Virgin gently chided him for not having had recourse to her, using her most famous words to him, the words that today are etched over the main entrance to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City: ¿No estoy yo aqui, que soy tu madre? (Am I not here, I who am your mother?).

The Blessed Virgin assured Juan Diego that his uncle was now completely healed. She then instructed him to climb a nearby hill and collect flowers growing there. Heeding her instructions, Juan found many flowers growing out of season on a rocky outcrop of the hill where normally only cactus and scrub brush grew. Using his open mantle, or tilma, as a sack (with the ends tied around his neck) he returned to the Virgin; she re-arranged the flowers in his mantle and told him to take them to the bishop. On gaining admission to the bishop later that day, Juan Diego opened his mantle, the flowers poured to the floor, and the bishop saw that the flowers had left on the mantle an imprint of the Virgin's image which he immediately venerated. Juan’s tilma is with image of Our Lady of Guadalupe can miraculously still be seen today.

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros

Our first reading, taken from the last book of the Bible- Revelation- gives us much of the imagery we find in the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This shows us that the Blessed Virgin is the one who gave birth to God’s son, who took away the curse of our first parents.

All what was predicted way back after the fall began to be fulfilled in a cave in the little town of Bethlehem, where Miriam of Nazareth gave birth to her son, who she named, in obedience to what was revealed to her by the Archangel Gabriel, Jesus, which name means “God saves.” My dear friends, as our Blessed Mother herself, along with Sts Juan Diego and Bernadette Soubirous, shows us, God brings about his purposes in the world through the lowly and humble. Our Savior’s birth is the most perfect example of what St Paul clearly wrote about in his First Letter to the Corinthians: “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God” (1:27-29). (1:27-29).

In thinking of the flowers the Virgin used to imprint her beautiful image on Juan’s mantle, it’s important to note that our word “Rosary” comes from the Latin word rosarium. A rosarium is a garland of roses. It’s vitally important to pray the Rosary often, preferably daily. Offering our prayers and petitions and those of people who have asked for our prayers to God through our Blessed Mother. So, don’t ever hesitate to ask the Virgin Mary to intercede for you and/or for others. She constantly says to us what she said to the humble man, Juan Diego centuries ago: ¿No estoy yo aqui, que soy tu madre?

Sunday, December 9, 2018

"Prepare the way of Lord"

Readings: Bar 5:1-9; Ps 126:1-6; Phil 1:4-6.8-11; Luke 3:1-6

In his detailed commentary on St. Luke's Gospel, Franciscan scholar Robert Karris, commenting on the first two verses of the third chapter, points out that these two verses are "one long periodic sentence (kinda like this sentence!)" (The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 685). Karris calls these verses "an elegant beginning to Luke's story of how John [the Baptist] affects world history" (Ibid). Karras then immediately points out something even more important: "just below the surface of literary finesse lies the tragic reality of negative response to God's word and its messengers" (Ibid).

Unlike Luke's Infancy narrative, all of the rulers mentioned in this passage seem to accurately correspond with the period about which the inspired author is writing. Relevant to the negative reception of God's word and its messengers, Karras points out that with the exceptions of Philip and Lysanias, the latter of whom we know very little, all of the rulers mentioned are complicit in Jesus's crucifixion or, as in the case of Herod the Great, among whose sons his kingdom was divided at his death, the attempt to kill Jesus when he was an infant (see Matthew 2:1-12). God's word, is rarely received as good news by the rich and powerful. It is rejected by the rich and powerful as well as by the comfortable and complacent because it is a word that seeks to overthrow the status quo. For the rich, powerful, comfortable and complacent, God's word is a huge provocation, the implications of which are huge, at least for those who hear it.

Keep in mind that it is only two chapters earlier in Luke that we encounter the Magnificat of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Far from being a sloppily sentimental effusion of fluff, the Magnifcat is highly subversive. In this timeless Canticle, Mary proclaims that God, through his Anointed, "has scattered the proud in their conceit"; "has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly"; "has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty" (see Luke 1:46-56). Kathleen Norris observed this about the Magnificat:
Mary utters a song so powerful that its meaning still resonates in profound and disturbing ways. In the twentieth century Mary's "Magnificat" became a cornerstone of liberation theology, so much so that during the 1980's the government of Guatemala found its message so subversive that it banned its recitation in public worship
John the Baptist Preaching, by Mattia Preti, ca. 1665

After this "elegant beginning" to the ministry of the Baptist, our passage continues, telling us: "John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan," we learn, "Proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Luke 3:3).

As the subsequent theological geology, taken from Isaiah 40:3-5, shows, the effect of the proclamation of the word of God is to completely reshape the world. By "world" I mean what Wittgenstein meant: "The world is all that is the case" (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1). It's easy to see why those for whom the present state of the world works well, or very well, might be inclined to outright reject the word of God. More insidiously, many are inclined to alter it in ways that make it congruent with the current state-of-the-world. This view calls for a certain passivity as we await a cataclysmic end to the world.

I presume anyone reading this has either accepted God's word or is at least not hostile to it in its true meaning, while rejecting its many "Christian" distortions. If you're like me, there's plenty in God's word to challenge and daily provoke you to wake up and begin participating in God's reign, which is already present, even if it's only the size a metaphorical mustard seed. This is what Advent, especially its first week, is all about. Very often we seem content to revel in syrupy sentimentalism.

If you've responded, or maybe more accurately, you're endeavoring to respond, or at least have not rejected God's word, then God has begun a good work in you. Through your cooperation and perseverance, God "will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil 1:6). It's time to let God's word cause an earthquake in your soul, thus changing your spiritual geography in order to conform you more to the image of Christ, whom we claim to follow, or at least whose message we deem worthy of our attention.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

Readings: Gen 3:1-9.15; Ps 98:1-4; Eph 1:3-6. 11-12; Luke 1:26-38

The most obvious way Catholics both honor the Blessed Virgin Mary and seek her intercession is by praying her Most Holy Rosary. As I suppose nearly everyone here knows, there are four sets of mysteries we can contemplate as we rattle the beads, as the old saying puts it.

By the grace of God, the Rosary of the Blessed Mary presents us with a set of mysteries we call “Luminous.” The Luminous mysteries allow us to contemplate key events in the Lord’s life and ministry. We also have the Sorrowful mysteries that bid us reflect on Jesus’s passion and death. Next, we have the Glorious mysteries, by means of which we contemplate Christ’s Resurrection, Ascension, and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The final two events we contemplate when meditating on the Glorious mysteries are Our Lady’s bodily Assumption into heaven and her Coronation as Queen of Heaven.

During the season of Advent, which we started last Sunday, we focus in a particular way on the Joyful mysteries of the Rosary. Of course, it is through the Joyful mysteries that we bring our attention to the events surrounding Jesus’s birth. First among the Joyful mysteries is the Annunciation. St Luke’s account of the Annunciation, which is the only account we have, is our reading for this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

To be clear, we celebrate the Annunciation as a Solemnity in its own right on 25 March each year. 25 March, as you might expect, falls exactly nine months prior to 25 December, the day on which we celebrate the Nativity, or birth, of our Lord and Savior.

What we celebrate today is the Blessed Virgin’s chosenness. Her wholly unique role in God’s plan of setting the world to rights. Once set right, God’s creation will be completed. Mary’s Immaculate Conception does not refer to the manner in which she was conceived. Mary, the Mother of God in the flesh, was conceived by her parents, who Tradition tells us were named Joachim and Anna, in the normal way. Her Immaculate Conception refers to the reality that by a unique and singular grace, through the merits of her Son, she was conceived without Original Sin.

Saying she was born without Original Sin, however, is to muddy the waters a bit. What her Immaculate Conception truly means is that, like our first parents, Miriam of Nazareth was born in the State of Original Grace. This is why our first reading is the account of our first parents’ fall from the State of Original Grace. It bears noting that the Church, practically from her beginning, sees the Blessed Virgin Mary as the new Eve.

It is in this State of Original Grace that God originally intended and still intends human beings, whom he made male and female in the imago Dei- the image of God- to live. For the rest of us, we are born into the State of Original Grace when are reborn through the waters of Baptism. But so strong is the weight of our fallenness that we tend to sin, even after being baptized. This tendency to sin after Baptism we call concupiscence. Nonetheless, as our reading from Ephesians tells us, like the Blessed Virgin, by virtue of our Baptism, we, too, are “chosen… so that we might exist for the praise of [God’s] glory” (Eph 1:11a.12a).

Each year during Advent we celebrate two great days for Our Lady: today’s Solemnity and the Feast of the Patroness of all the Americas, Our Lady of Guadalupe. I urge all of you to come next Wednesday, 12 December, for our celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The spiritual fruit of the first Joyful mystery is humility. The Blessed Virgin is nothing if not humble. When she is greeted by the Archangel Gabriel with such grand words, she cannot believe this angel of light is referring to her. This is why, upon hearing the angel’s greeting, “she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be” (Luke 1:29 ). Once she received the news that she was to conceive a Son by the Holy Spirit- a development that put her at risk of being accused of serious immorality in her culture- she delivered her Fiat to Gabriel: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:28). Much to the delight of Star Trek fans, perhaps the most accurate way to translate the Latin word Fiat is, “Make it so!”

Arnold Geulincx, a little-known Dutch philosopher of the seventeenth century, in his best-known work, Ethica, wrote: Ubi nihil vales ibi nihil velis (John Calder, The Theology of Samuel Beckett, 16). What this sentence seeks to communicate is that where one is nothing, one should act accordingly, as though s/he is nothing. Because God is love, we are not made only something; through the Incarnation of his Only Begotten Son, God makes us children by rebirth in Baptism.

And so, my sisters and brothers, with the words of the Annunciation ringing in our ears, fresh in our minds, and hopefully rooted in our hearts, let us go forth and use this Advent season to humbly prepare ourselves to receive Christ anew. Praying the Joyful mysteries of the Rosary is a great aid in doing this. Christ wants to be born into the world through each of us and all of us together who comprise his Body. In his song “Distressing Disguise,” singer/songwriter and Bible scholar, Michael Card, beautifully tells us how this happens:
Every time a faithful servant serves
A brother that's in need
What happens at that moment is a miracle indeed
As they look to one another in an instant it is clear
Only Jesus is visible, for they've both disappeared

Friday, December 7, 2018

"This way or no way"

I spent a good part of the early afternoon today reading The Theology of Samuel Beckett by John Calder while listening to David Bowie's final album, Black Star. At least for today, prior to the beginning of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which starts at sundown (about 5:00pm where I live), engaging in these activities constitute my rebellion against Christhaunkwanzika. I don't mind sharing that engaging in these activities feels to me like Advent: sitting in the dark waiting for a glimmer of light. Being a bit more honest, it's more accurate to say I am savoring the darkness a bit.

Commenting on Beckett's late work Worstward Ho, which he sensibly sees as the sequel to another of Beckett's undervalued late works, Ill Said, Ill Seen, John Calder, commenting on Beckett's take on blind evolution à la Charles Darwin, insists that for Beckett
Creation, growth and advance in terms of progress is not a positive thing but a disaster. Even Darwin did not perceive any benevolence in evolution, but only the continual advance of power. In economic terms capitalism exactly fits the description, and greed, which is the motivating force behind power, although looked at with a negative eye by much of civilized society, is certainly responsible for much of the suffering that pervades the world (The Theology of Samuel Beckett, 77)
Unsurprisingly, this is very Schopenhauerian. That Beckett was well acquainted with Schopenhauer's philosophy is a well-established fact.

Samuel Beckett

Worstward Ho takes Darwinian evolution as its starting point, while Ill Said, Ill Seen is Beckett's creation account. God is the narrator of Ill Said, Ill Seen. While Worstward Ho has clear Schopenhauerian bent, Ill Said, Ill Seen is rooted in the philosophy of one Arnold Geulincx (1624-1669), who was Dutch or, what amounts to virtually the same thing, a Flemish-speaking Belgian. According to Calder, Beckett came across Geulincx's Ethica almost by accident while a student at Trinity University in Dublin. According to Calder, as a young man, Beckett took to heart something Geulincx wrote: Ubi nihil vales ibi nihil velis (The Theology of Samuel Beckett, 16). What this sentence seeks to communicate is that where one is nothing, one should act accordingly, as though s/he is nothing.

This disciple of Descartes took his line of inquiry into the nature of God and the human condition way beyond Descartes's investigations. While Descartes endeavored to remain within the bounds of Catholic orthodoxy, Geulincx did not. Epistemologically, Geulincx was what is now called an occasionalist and an extreme one at that. In other words, he believed that God is the cause of all events and that human perception of cause and effect relationships is illusory. Metaphysically, this little-remembered Cartesian disciple saw "God as being so far away that he was not necessarily aware of our very presence, a remote group of intelligent beings on a far away planet" (The Theology of Samuel Beckett, 16). A metaphor of Geulincx that stuck with Beckett and is evident in virtually all his work is that an aware human being is like someone on a ship headed West but who wants to go East. The aware person cannot steer the ship eastward or get off the ship. short of death. Therefore, all s/he can do stand at the stern of the ship, thus placing herself as far East as she possibly can.

As far as what turned out to be Bowie's final album, I am eager to see a documentary released last year: David Bowie: The Last Five Years. Andy Green's review of this film, "Inside David Bowie's Final Act: New Doc Dives Into Lazarus," begins with this paragraph:
In October 2015, David Bowie decided to end his cancer treatments after learning the disease had spread too far to recover from. The very same week, he traveled to a Brooklyn soundstage to shoot a video for his new song “Lazarus,” the name of a biblical figure that Jesus brought back from the dead. Bowie spent the day in a hospital bed as cameras captured him with a bandage around his head. "Look up here, I’m in heaven," he howled. "I’ve got scars that can’t be seen"
In the anti-spirit of the of this soul-sucking season, I offer a second Friday traditio: "Lazarus" by David Bowie.

This way or no way
You know, I'll be free
Just like that bluebird
Now, ain't that just like me?

Koinonia: One God, three persons

The end of our second reading is from the conclusion of Saint Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians. Koinonia is the Greek word trans...